The Bride

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).

William Willimon, Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Duke Divinity School, once quipped that “the church may be the bride of Christ . . . but he married beneath himself.” You may respond with a hearty ‘Amen.’ Spend any time around a church and you do begin to wonder if Jesus couldn’t have done better.

Whenever we speak the words of the Apostles’ Creed we affirm our belief in the ‘holy catholic Church.’ Often we trip up over the adjectives ‘holy’ and ‘catholic.’ That’s not a hard obstacle to overcome. A good dictionary and a few moments’ thought can pretty well take care of our questions about holiness and Catholicism.

There is another reason why the words of the creed about the church get stuck in our throats. This reason is widespread and it is very hard to eradicate.

The Burned and the Bummed

Many people cannot say they believe in the church because the church has repeatedly disappointed them. Its flaws are too glaring and the wounds it inflicts are too deep. Far from believing in the church, they no longer have anything to do with it. Some might say that distancing themselves from the church was the only way to save their faith.

There’s only one problem: Jesus doesn’t offer that as an option. The kind of faith that gets saved by rejecting the church isn’t much of a faith. We may not like that, but that’s the truth.

I’m not unsympathetic to the burned and the bummed. I’ve spent my entire life in close affiliation with the church. I’ve spent more than two decades serving the church as a pastor. I cannot recall many instances of being vilified by the non-believing, un-churched pagan world. They may ignore me, but that world has never actively sought to harm me. However, I can make a list of hurts suffered at the hands of other devout people. The church can be brutal.

To say “I believe in the church” is not to say “I find it fun, comfortable, and consistently uplifting.” Too often the church is not that. What the church is – always – is the bride of Christ. We are in a covenant relationship. We don’t stay with it because it is comfortable. We stay with it because of a covenant.

“I Don’t Like Your Wife”

The church isn’t our idea and it isn’t our project. God has willed that his presence in this world be made real in a community of people. Those communities may be deeply flawed, fractured, and sometimes raucous. But those communities are the means of God’s redemptive work in this world. That’s a staggering claim – but that’s what we’re saying when we say “I believe in the church.”

I like to imagine that perhaps someone receives these daily reflections who doesn’t belong to a church. There may be good reason for that. A church is not always easy to belong to. But if you’re one of those people, today I’d like to appeal to you to once again take your place among the community of God’s people. The reason is simple: It is not really possible to have Jesus while rejecting his bride. It’s a little awkward to tell a man “I like you but I can’t stand your wife.”

There’s a wonderful hymn text that speaks of Jesus as “The Church’s One Foundation.” In the first verse of the hymn we sing these words about the Church: “From heaven he came and sought her to be his Holy Bride.” Plenty of people can find plenty of reasons to be down on the church. But let’s never forget this: Jesus loves the Church. Jesus loves your church.

To honor Jesus is to honor his bride. To belong to him is to belong to his people.


We give you thanks, O God, for your covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. Teach us to honor you and love you as you have loved us. Grant us grace that we might love your people, your bride, the church. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Truth in the Booth

And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him . . . (Romans 8:28)

They had been warned, but it didn’t seem to matter.

They wanted a leader who would do what no human leader could possibly do. They wanted someone to govern and guide them in such a way that their presence and power would be established among the nations. They wanted to know that someone was in charge, ruling with the kind of clout that would provide security within their land and gain the respect of their neighbors.

The people wanted a king. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and to fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

In God We Trust

If you look at any piece of American currency, paper or coin, you’ll see four very familiar words: “In God We Trust.” To some the words are cherished. Many regard them as a nice sentiment reflecting the bygone era of our founders. Some find the words offensive; they wouldn’t mind seeing the phrase erased entirely from our civic consciousness. In the early pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, however, that phrase was far more than sentiment. It captured the system of government that ordered the life of God’s people.

God’s rule over his people – his care and protection and guidance – was direct and unmediated. The people were to order their lives in conformity to God’s ways, his laws and statutes. God would keep his promise to bless them. The people would know God’s favor. They would experience his wholeness and peace, his strength and security, his shalom. God would take care of them. He would be their shepherd.

Sounds good. But there was a problem with this system of government. The sin and estrangement from God that had entered the world through the very first man and woman (see Genesis 3) was alive and well many years later as God’s people were becoming a nation. Seems that people have a stubbornly persistent inclination to ignore God. We resist his will and his ways; we ignore his word; we feel certain we can manage our lives quite well on our own.

The disaster that this brings about can be seen in much of the Old Testament. After Moses and Joshua, God’s people were led by a series of ad-hoc militaristic figures called ‘Judges,’ but that period was dark and chaotic. “Everyone did was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). No nation can survive that way.

So Here We Are

When the people went to Samuel with their demand for a king, God instructed the prophet to give them what they wanted. They were warned that the leader they were looking for wasn’t really out there, and the leader they would get wouldn’t meet their expectations. It didn’t matter. They wanted a king, and a king they got.

And so began the mottled and messy history of Israel’s monarchy. A history that started poorly, reached its zenith in David, and then went mostly downhill from there. Some of the nation’s leaders walked in God’s ways and led the people to do the same. So many of them did not.

But here’s the thing: throughout their history and through the worst of their leaders, God was always faithful. God remained ever sovereign.

So here we are. After centuries of kings and emperors, princes and governors, prime ministers and presidents, we find ourselves in a time and place in history in which we are electing a leader for our nation. Both the Bible and books of secular history give mixed reviews to heads of state and governing authorities. However, people of faith are never allowed to despair when it comes to our political leaders or our civic duties. Angry resignation isn’t an option.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

As you vote today, remember . . .

Remember that God remains sovereign over nations and rulers. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1).

Remember that no king or president can bear the weight of the life you desire for yourself or for your children. Don’t set your hope on princes (or presidents) who cannot save you. A day will come when they will be long gone, and all their plans and policies and promises will not have amounted to much (Psalm 146:3).

Remember that the state can never claim the highest allegiance or affection of your heart. “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but render to God that which is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Remember Jesus standing before Herod and Pilate, neither impressed nor intimidated. “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Remember that your lawful and peaceful participation in civic life is a part of your Christian witness (1 Peter 2:13-15).

Vote. Pray. Love your neighbor. And trust in God works in all things for our good and to whom belongs “power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (Revelation 5:12).


Give us this day, O God, your wisdom and your peace as we elect a leader for our nation. And grant that in all things we might place our trust in you, looking to you to lead and to guide us, knowing that you are our mighty king and faithful shepherd. We pray for our nation and all our leaders, seeking the mercy that comes through Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.