Nothing held her attention more than the broken church light, and the irritation it caused ran through her entire body. It had been years since she had attended a worship service, and she could not focus. She wondered why she was even there.
The church was smaller than she remembered. The other 43 people in attendance seemed to fit perfectly in the run-down facility. In her mind, none of them were impressive. She was vaguely familiar with a few of them and knew they were not the kind of company she liked to keep. After a cursory look, she also knew she had no desire to get to know the others. She used the broken light to justify her disdain for them.
Not only were there cracks running through the glass fixture, but the bulb had burned out as well. What bothered her most is that it was a low ceiling. All it would take to fix the light would be to stand on the chair and put in a new bulb, and it was a standard glass fixture, which they could easily replace at any big box hardware store.
How lazy would these people need to be to leave it that way? In her corporate work, she got things done. She would never tolerate something like this with those under her charge. If the people responsible did not fix it, she would be breathing down their necks. She also knew that the pressure would come down on her if it were not fixed quickly enough.
She worked in a culture that pushed for perfection. Anything not done with excellence would feel the wrath of the corporation; it would attack the problem like an immune system attacking bacteria. Yes, it would attack something as insignificant as a broken light. It expects perfection not only in your work but also in the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the kind of company you keep. There is an image you must maintain if you want to represent this organization. When this work culture deals with imperfection, you can never tell if they are attacking the problem or the person.
With all this running through her mind, she remembered why she came to the church in the first place. She had fallen short in a couple of areas in her leadership role that had embarrassed the company. She had seen things like this happen before, but she had never been the bacterium the corporate culture was trying to cure.
She was in this situation because she had begun feeling ill, and she was having trouble keeping up with the demands of her job. She hated that broken light because it reminded her of herself; she was not up to code and felt dark inside. She thought, if this church could not fix the light, how could it help her.
Her parents raised her in this church. Before they died, they were faithful members for years. She had not been there since she was 18. That was almost 30 years ago. In leaving for college, she unconsciously started down a path that drew her away from the church and all its teachings. It started slow. In college, she uncritically began to accept teachings that undermined her faith. After four years of wading into the river of current societal thought, it was not long before the current swept her away. She found the entire process exhilarating because it came with rewards. In college, others became attracted to her because of her newfound sexuality, and she knew how to wield its power with precision. After graduation, she began to climb the ladder of success. With each rung came more wealth and more power. Eventually, she became the picture of success, and there was no idea in popular thought that was not intriguing to her, and she embraced most of them.
Sitting there, hearing the Bible taught for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, she realized the church had not changed its core beliefs in the past 30 years. They had not moved, but society had. The world around this little church had shifted dramatically. This church, which used to seem normal, now felt like a fringe group. The church’s views on marriage and gender, which they had held for their entire existence, would now earn them the title of hate group by some of her friends. Though she found none of these church-goers impressive according to her standards, she knew they were not hateful. The thought struck her that those who claim to be her most tolerant friends were some of the most belligerent towards those who held opposing views.
Views on marriage and gender, held for most of human history, had been entirely uprooted in the past 30 years, and somehow, those who still agree with most of human history are considered the extremists. Remembering the teaching of her youth and comparing the life she was living now began to fill her heart with conviction.
The pastor was preaching from 2 Corinthians chapter 4, where Paul says: But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
He explained that the jars of clay are our mortal bodies, and the treasure within them is the Holy Spirit and the new life Christians have in Jesus. The pastor explained that a couple of years ago, the church had been targeted on social media and other outlets because two men asked if they could use the church for their wedding ceremony. After the pastor explained the church’s views on marriage and offered suggestions for other locations, they went to the media.
From there, the accusations of bigotry and hatred started to fall on them like an avalanche. In the busyness of her career, she had somehow missed that story. It had such an impact on the church that about 40% of the congregation left, not because they disagreed with the church’s teaching, but because they did not want to be associated with a church that had such a bad reputation. A group of them even tried to remove the pastor, saying he mishandled the situation. Even though the church disagreed with their views on marriage, the courts had ruled that these two men had the right to marry in this country, and he should have let them use the church. Some even argued that it is how the church ought to love the lost in our culture.
Since all of this took place, the church seemed to be slowly dying. Unless something happened, this month would be the first month they would not make the mortgage. Despite all of this, something about the preacher and the remaining congregation kept them from despair. Their hope was not in their building, nor their reputation, nor in their societal influence. Their hope was in God.
The pastor then explained that Paul had been beaten, imprisoned, and faced countless other hardships for the gospel. Paul did not find his hope in the standards of success held out by this world; it was found in Christ who was alive in him. Even though his body had been given over to death, instead of hindering the gospel, it furthered it. The Lord used the breaking of Paul’s body and the other apostles to bring spiritual life to those around him.
Then it all came together in a way only providence could have orchestrated. The pastor related Paul’s experience to an old testament passage. He said that some Bible scholars believe that when Paul wrote about the treasure in earthen vessels, he had the story of Gideon in mind. In the book of Judges, God sent Gideon out with only 300 men to confront a large army that had come against the people of God. First thing in the dark of the morning, Gideon and his men took trumpets and jars with torches hidden in them to the place God had instructed. Once there, in the presence of their enemies, they blew the trumpets, broke the pots, held out the torches, and let the light shine. In this simple act, God delivered his people.
The pastor said, “Often, it is not until your earthen vessel begins to break that the light of God within you begins to be most visible to the world.” He closed by saying, for those who have faith in Christ, all our sins, our wandering, our rebellion against his word, and our trust in the things of this world can be forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus’s body was broken so he, being a just God, could forgive sinners and call them his children. He died and was raised so we can be right with him.
Hearing the gospel for the first time in so long did something to her. Immediately, she looked up to the cracked light and felt something within her flicker with life. It was like something she remembered as a child, but it was also entirely new. The new life in her seemed so profound she continued staring at the light, wondering if it would miraculously start to glow to match the new disposition of her soul. The Lord was using a broken light, in a broken church, with a broken congregation led by a broken pastor to show her the surpassing value of Christ over everything she had been chasing for the past 30 years.
What she did not know at that moment was that she would eventually fall in love with these people she was so unimpressed with when she first arrived. They were going to love her and reacquaint her with the scriptures she knew as a child. These scriptures were going to make her wise unto salvation and fully equipped for every good work. What she did not know, was that God had plans to use her illness and broken body to shine his light on those around her. She was about to become a broken church light that would call others out of the darkness and into his marvelous light, but that is a story for another time. For now, however, she thought, I think I will come back next week.
Read part 2 here.
Read part 3 here.