For some, Church can feel like a friendless, loveless and lonely place. Growing up, I felt that I would not choose to attend Church, given any measure of choice. Meditating on the roast dinner my Mum lovingly prepared for us every Sunday got me through manys a Sunday service. Tradition and religion made me feel so uncomfortable as a child that I often kept the 50p my parents gave me for the “collection plate”, and spent it on sweets later on in the week (not proud of that memory!)
Later, through school friends, and my parents’ encouragement, I had my first ever tangible experience of the love of God. I was 15 years old and as I went to bed late that night having given my life to Jesus, I awoke the next morning to find life had taken on a new sheen. As I began to explore the depths of God’s love, it was like I was seeing everything through new eyes. I knew His love must be changing my heart. It was like nothing I had experienced before.
When I asked the question “why Church?” I was taught that she is the family of God. In the same way families can be broken and dysfunctional, the church can be also. But Jesus loves her. He has compassion on her. She is His bride. His idea and design, that the world might see the manifold wisdom of God by bringing many different people together and knitting them together into one family. In that family, the glory and beauty of God can be seen. To my utmost surprise, God began to birth a love in my heart for His Church.
In Ephesians 5 we see that Jesus and His Church are in a family relationship. Just like a marriage. In the same way marriage can be unhealthy, so Church can also be. However we are still called to love this bride, as Jesus does. He lays down His very life for her, so that the rest of the family could come home and be connected again. He sees the beauty of what the Church can become… glorious, spotless, holy and without a single fault. When Church is led like a business, or an organisation that simply wants something from people, it is unhealthy and people get hurt. But God brought the Church into creation, not to be an organisation, but a family. God is all about family.
The purpose of a family is to communicate love. True families are born out of love & when children are born, love begins to grow and develop. As there are challenges in a natural family when children come along, so the Church also faces challenges. We see genealogies in the Bible. Lists and lists of names that are important, because everyone is introduced as somebody’s son or daughter. God describes Himself as the Father to the fatherless. I love this, as our heart in loving and serving the children in our care is that the Church would be known for welcoming them, not just “us”. The true identity of the Church is to partner with what God the Father is already doing, just as Jesus did. By welcoming these children, we get to see Him place them into families, as His hands and feet on the earth. His bride. His Church.
God’s love develops something amongst us as a family, when we live out this call to love the Church. It is worth seeing. As God’s love is poured into our hearts the world sees what the family of God looks like. I absolutely love the fact that when people visit our home they see God, as they see His family. We rarely need to “preach the gospel”. People see it lived out, as the Church responds to her calling to place the lonely in families. One of my all-time-favourite-memories of what we do here, was having a biological father stand beside the cot where his son slept in our home, saying to us “this house is so different to how I thought it would be. I can’t offer my son this”. This particular child’s mother had abandoned her child. I told this father that the difference was Jesus, & asked if he wanted Jesus to come and live in his heart too. This father stood beside his son’s cot and with tears, received the love of God into his heart. Weeks later the law caught up with this father and he was put in prison. But he went there with the love of God in his heart. Before he did, this father consented to his son being fostered by a loving Christian family who had been waiting for years for a second child. Perfect Father God, covering all our brokenness with love. Providing a one year old boy with a family who love him entirely.
It is impossible to fulfill your God-given calling without the wider body of Christ. We simply need each other. Church, like marriage, is a great way the Lord uses to teach us how to get good at forgiving one another. The danger in abandoning the Church is that we isolate ourselves, much like orphans. We become self-reliant. It is within the context of Church family that we realise what sonship and daughterhood truly looks like. In the same way God can restore relationship within our biological families, so we can discover a love for the Church as we see that no matter how messy we get, God cannot stop loving us.
Often we judge “the Church” who in reality, are brothers and sisters who love God & want to please Him. They too have hurts and brokenness. They too are driven at times by a need for love and approval, (which we are too at times, if we’re honest). We are the Church. He loves us, in order that we can love the family of God into growth and development… for the sake of the world. Jesus walked in the fullness of the love of God, and He regularly attended Church and engaged in worship with people who misunderstood and mistreated Him. Some of these people wanted Him dead! But Jesus was able to look with compassion at the people He worshipped alongside. Forgiveness and compassion in His heart, kept Jesus free from bitterness.
John 13 says “your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples”.. and so as we learn to live in God’s love together as family, as sons and daughters of God, in the context of Church, others will want to live in that love too. Receiving His love enables us to have love for one another. God wants us, the Church to become all that we can be because we are birthed and nurtured in love. Not in rules, but in love. Because that is what we were all made for.
If Jesus is teaching us to forgive as we read this… can we also forgive the Church? At times Church can fail our expectations, but Father God is able to give us all the love and understanding that at times the Church cannot. If you wish to forgive the Church then pray with me:
Father, thankyou that you set the lonely in families. Teach us how to be family, that the love you’ve poured into our hearts might nurture the Church. We know that the mess and dysfunction in Church is because family lives are broken, but we know that it’s you who puts us back together again. Right now Father we forgive our brothers and sisters, and ask for forgiveness when we have judged them and held onto bitterness in our hearts. Teach us to walk as sons and daughters alongside our brothers and sisters. That in your Church your wisdom and authority would be displayed, and people would see the love that exists between Christ and the Church. We pray that people would look in and see that we truly are the household of God. Thankyou that no matter how messy we get, you still love us Father. Thankyou for your goodness, kindness and faithfulness. Amen.