You may not realize it, but there’s a full scale war being fought right now. A war so long lasting, a war so wide reaching, a war so calculatingly destructive, that it makes both of the World Wars look like a couple of little boys playing with toy soldiers. This war, however, is not fought with guns and bombs, tanks and planes, submarines and aircraft carriers. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. This war is over the Church. Not one church, or a collection of churches, but against The Church. The collection of all of God’s people united for God’s purposes in this world. The Church is God’s signature on this world. Nero couldn’t stop it. Hitler couldn’t stop it. Stalin couldn’t stop it. The Chinese government won’t be able to stop it. And no Muslim country can suppress it. Not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. The Church is beautiful, not because it is made up of beautiful people. Her people are sinful, prideful, wicked and destructive. It’s beautiful, because we are those people, we crucified God’s son, we lived in our rebellion, and God still extends grace to us every single day. God could have been angry. He could have destroyed any one of us. Instead, He chooses, time and time again, to extend grace. To offer forgiveness. To bring us back into the fold, and make us co-heirs with Christ Jesus. And to make us part of the work that He has set about doing in restoring His relationship with every single person on the face of this earth. The time that churches run off the rails are when they get misaligned with what the Church is. The Church isn’t made up of the elect, the do-gooders, and the goody two-shoes. The Church is made up of prisoners, slaves, drug addicts, porn addicts, sex offenders, and even… oh my… cussers. The Church’s responsibility is not to shout at the world. To condemn it for its great sins. The world is already condemned all on its own. What a futile waste of time condemnation is. The responsibility of the Church is to preach the Good News. And the Good News is this: there is a God. He isn’t mad at you. He loves you, and has gone to great lengths to have a relationship with you. We know, not because some book says so, but because we have experienced it first hand. We experience His new mercies every single day. And we extend you the same love, kindness and mercy God gives us every day. We’re not going to run out of it from Him, and you’re not going to run out of it from us, no matter how deep your pit goes. Or, as St Francis of Assisi said much better: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” The Church, the Church God established to show the world His great and never ending love and mercy, is the most beautiful thing the world has ever known. Words can not describe it. But there is an enemy. An enemy that thinks God has no right to do any of this. An enemy that is nothing if not persistent. An enemy that does not want this beauty to ever be seen. An enemy that will stop at nothing to prevent people from having a relationship with their Maker, just because he thinks of himself as better than God. Here’s the battle plan. If he can sell you into slavery—actual bonafide slavery, or slavery to porn, sex, alcohol, drugs, money, your stuff or anything else—he’ll do it. In a heartbeat, he’ll do it. If he can lie, cheat, steal and destroy—he’ll do it. If he can push you so far down into a pit that you can’t see daylight anymore and you think help is impossible—he’ll do it. If he can get you to pledge allegiance to him for the sake of money, or power, or fame, or anything else—he’ll do it. He doesn’t have your best interests at heart. No way, no how. And if none of those things work on you, and you still become a part of the Church, and you become a part of God’s plan for this world, he’ll find something else. He’ll goad you into prideful political battles on the church board you serve on. He’ll spread gossip and lies about you, in the church. Among church people! He’ll tempt you into sin, then trap you there like a bird in a cage because of the lie that you can’t come clean, you have too much to lose. And if none of that works, you are better than most, and he’ll just make you very extremely busy. Too busy to help the orphans and widows. Too busy to extend grace. To busy to be involved in God’s great work in this world. Too busy to be the Church. The times that I’ve been most centered in God’s will for my life, have always been the times of greatest pain. Without exception. I’ve seen and been involved in more of the stupidest and most ridiculous disputes and debates within the Church than I ever have outside it. I’ve had encountered more pride, more stubbornness, more conflict and more difficulty inside church walls than I ever have outside. Why? This is God’s great plan for the world. This is God’s work in the world. There is no plan B. It’s just the Church. It’s just us. We can quit, and give in to the enemy’s numerous, lasting, and far reaching insidious advances. Or we can stand up, in God’s mercies that are new every day, and be the Church. Go. Be the Church. Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words, but only if necessary.