Where can we find a true church? What is the church, after all? Let me tell you a story.
Over the past year, I have had the privilege of counseling many people, but I want to focus on two in particular. For anonymity’s sake, we will call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill are both overcoming distorted ideas about God due to harrowing pasts with father figures who have failed them. They are about the same age and know each other from church.
Several months ago on a Sunday night, I ended up taking Jack to the hospital for self-inflicted wounds. After a police officer declared Jack a “5150” (a danger to oneself and others), Jack, pastor Heath, and I sat talking, praying, and crying in the ER for about six hours until two paramedics arrived after midnight to strap Jack onto a stretcher and transfer him to a “behavioral health center” (a nice euphemism for mental hospital) in Concord. This was the only hospital that would take his insurance and wasn’t full.
By that time it had been several months since I had been in touch with Jill. Due to mountains of debt that wasn’t helping her recovery from depression and codependency, she had decided to move back in with her parents in the Central Valley to save money while commuting to her soul-sucking job in the Tri Valley.
On Monday, I got a call from the hospital. It was Jack notifying me that he would be in for at least one more day. After some small talk, Jack told me with a wry tone in his voice that there was someone that he wanted me to talk to. After the awkward rustling sound of a phone exchange, I heard a stunned and sober voice on the other line: Jill’s.
Jill’s emotional state had gone downhill since moving back to the Central Valley and she had become increasingly suicidal, dealing with stress by detailing a plan to leap from a parking garage. At the last moment, she confessed her plans and, long story short…was 5150’d by a police officer and transferred to the one behavioral health center in Concord that would take her insurance and wasn’t full. Sound familiar?
For the next day and a half, Jack and Jill clung to each other’s fellowship and sat together through group therapy, discussing the regimen of self-help psychology in light of the Gospel of Grace. On Tuesday as I arrived to pick up Jack, the three of us stood together in the hallway, them in their hospital issued baggy T-shirts and non-slip socks (with grip on both sides just in case someone doesn’t know how to put on socks), laughing, praying, and wondering at God’s providence. Today, neither story is over, but each is one chapter closer to an eternal happily ever after.
So where can we find a true church? Many have used Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 (regarding church discipline) about Jesus being present where two or more are gathered to justify skipping Sunday services to hang out and do more “organic” things like watch football, drink beer, or have a Bible study. I myself will stick with the traditional definition of the place where God’s Word is faithfully preached and where discipline and the sacraments are faithfully administered. However, when it comes to caring for wounded people, our beautiful God is not bound. He is there where two or more are gathered—even in a mental hospital. In fact, He gathers them Himself.
And what is the church? As I was processing this miracle during a phone conversation with Pastor Heath that week, he noted a beautiful analogy: the church is a small fellowship of recovering believers in an insane asylum—the world.
Sin is soul insanity. This world is crazy and broken. And the bad news is that apart from grace, we only make it worse ourselves. We are broken; we are part of the crazy. But here’s the good news. God entered this mad world as perfect sanity, as Jesus Christ, to be deemed insane and possessed, to be tried in a kangaroo court and mocked on the cross for His delusions of grandeur. But the Spirit of peace and power that raised Him from the dead now dwells in our mortal bodies, quieting our ravings. And to this day, a hospital exists for crazies, for the wild ones like us. It is called the church. You don’t need insurance. And it is never full.
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Just read this. I was unable to attend service tonight due to being sick and I yearned to be with others to fellowship and worship our beautiful God . Thank you Dane for writing and sharing this peace. This is a story of grace and eternal hope.