I hear so much “bad” about churches. It seems like the people with the loudest voices are the ones who have a perverse or crooked message to spread, and those with hurting hearts latch on to the message and say, “See?? You’re all the same.” But listen… here’s the deal. I grew up in the church. And the church was not a building. It was not a set of rules. It was not a club or a click where you had to do certain things to belong. It was a family. I have an amazing blood family, and I have an amazing family in the Church. And it’s a family that spans borders and continents. And yes, there are some that claim to be apart of it that have no idea what it means and end up turning people away. And yes there are people that are apart of this family that are human and make grave mistakes and turn people away. But there are even more . . . like family, who invite the masses in, the broken, the healed, the mourning, the joyful, and the strangers and the friends, and call them “family”.
But hear me in this… the Church. The body of Christ, us people as His hands and feet on this earth, is the best part of my life. I was nurtured with my blood family and loved fiercely, and I was nurtured and loved in the Church with people whose eyes well up with tears just like my own grandma when they see me after years away.
So for all of you that have had terrible experiences in the church and with Christians, let me just share with you a few examples of what the family of God has been like to me.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and spent 6 months fighting for her life, my parents’ mail box was flooded with cards of encouragement, constant offers to help, people paid for house cleaners, and daily meals were brought for over 6 months, and longer until there was too much food and we had to ask them to stop. The Church family helped right alongside my own family, helping, cooking, cleaning.
When she died, over 1,000 people showed up at the church that day to mourn with us. Their hands raised to the sky weeping with us, thanking God for our time with that amazing woman, and questioning along with us… “why?” They brought comfort to a family that was in complete shock.
Every time I made the drive to Redding during that time, which was every 3 weeks and more, people would slip me money to pay for the trip. Nick and I never went without, even though hundreds and hundreds of dollars were spent making sure that I could spend precious time with my mother. My own family did the same… slipping hundred dollar bills in my pocket. People called me to check on me, people sent cards, messages . . . I was never forgotten. My own family would embrace me and cry with me, and in the next moment, my Church family would do the same.
Each time we have moved, friends of the Church and family have given us gift cards to help make the transition smoother. Every time I have had a child, heaps of food and gifts and gift cards have been given. Even when I miscarried a baby, the gifts came. Food came. Hot meals to bring comfort. And I must say too… even people that wanted nothing to do with the church… they brought comfort as well. Showing up at our door just for love’s sake. They hugged, they cried, they prayed. They carried our pain.
When we moved away from Oregon and drove halfway across the country into the unknown (North Dakota), we were scared. What were we doing? But the Church was waiting. They met us at our door and brought food, snow clothes for our kids (because somehow they knew we would not be prepared for sub zero temps ;). And even more showed up to help us move our furniture in temperatures so low you cannot imagine. They gave phone numbers, several would check in on us before they drove home after work, just to see if we needed anything. Honestly, I cannot tell you how loved we were then, by strangers, and how loved we still are today. But this experience is not new to us. This is how we have been loved so much of the time . . . by the Church.
And yes. We have been hurt by the Church. Hurt by people with good intentions, hurt by people with bad intentions. But thank God above that we did not walk away from this family because of those that hurt us. Think of the love we would have missed out on! Those that have hurt us are a drop in the bucket compared to those who have loved us!
I could go on and on. I have testimony after testimony of what the Church family has been to us.
And that’s the thing I’m getting at. Here is my point. If you have known good family, good loyal friends, then you known what being apart of Church can and should feel like. If you are attending a building that is rules, and regulations, and clubs and clicks… then keep looking, because you haven’t found it yet.
If your idea of church is how you dress, how you act, how you pretend . . . then you haven’t found Church yet.
If your idea of church is pointing fingers, shaming people on the street, humiliating those who are not like you . . . then you haven’t found Church yet.
I have recently heard that the church is racist. Well, if that’s your experience with them . . . then you haven’t found the Church yet.
If your idea of church is a group of people who are perfect and will never make mistakes and will never ever hurt you . . . sigh. Then you haven’t found Church yet either. I wish it weren’t so . . . but have you noticed how broken we all are? Can you honestly tell me that you have never hurt someone? I have. I have hurt so many. Sometimes I did it in the name of Christ, with the best of intentions. God forgive me. God, please forgive me.
Perfection does not await in the family of God. But family does. Mercy does. Grace does. Forgiveness. Comfort. Help. Unity. Community. And the thing that unites us is our faith and love in the unseen, one true God. We believe in His message . . . God is love. He defined it first, He defines it now, and He will define it forever. If you will, He is a perfect Father, calling us in as His children. None of us can imagine a perfect Father, but for some it might be easier than others.
And in that love, He invites us in. To be a family. To love each other and to love the world around us, and to serve. To help each other, to comfort, to protect, to serve, to love. Because face it… we can’t live this life alone. We need family.
And the entire reason that this is on my mind today is because our church is out in the city serving. Some are working at a horse ranch that needs help, some are giving away free food to those in need, some are repairing, moving, cleaning at places that need help. And they are not the first church we have been apart of to do that. Many churches do that. There was a time in Oregon when we were all very sick, and had been for a while, and our lawn was so piled with leaves that it was embarrassing. We woke up one morning to find a group of families raking leaves in our yard. A church on the hill had decided to go out and help their community. Most people had turned them away because… they thought it was weird. But they came to our yard, saw what we needed help. They bagged up 12 bags of leaves that day. Just to help us. And they didn’t even know us.
And you know what? You’re apart of that family too. Even if you’re the one that stays home and sits on facebook and just talks about all the bad you experienced from one group of people. I’m so sorry that that happened to you, but don’t let those people who hurt you rob you of more love than you can imagine. Keep looking. Find a church that will invite you in with open arms and call you family… because THAT is Church.
Find a church that hugs you like your grandma. That helps you fix broken things like a father or grandfather. Find a church that welcomes you when you walk in. And let the light of God so shine on your heart, that joy, despite your circumstances, floods from your lips in song… because you have seen the goodness of God, because you have felt comfort of God, because you have experienced the LOVE OF GOD through the hands of His people.
And if you have not yet . . . then keep looking. It’s out there. Sometimes it’s closer than we know. Sometimes it feels so far away. North Dakota felt a world away at one time in my life. Now? It’s right outside my front door.
One example of what the Church looks like to me, comes from someone so dear to me. She is like a mother to me. She never had the chance to meet my own mom, she hasn’t even met most of my family, though I hope she can someday, but she stepped in and has done her best to love me like a mother. Nine years ago, Nick and I were running a college group in California. On the first night, a group of college freshman stumbled in and took the table covered in food. That was night we met one young man . . . who would later go on to be mentored by Nick, who would go on to become one of our dearest friends, and whose mother would take to us like we belonged to her. Nearly a decade later, we are still family. We are half a country apart, but we are family. All because of the Church.
These are some memories… blood family and Church family. There are many not pictured because I wasn’t sure if they would want that. But hear my heart… if you gave church a chance and they hurt you. . . try again. Find Church. Find family. Because Church is supposed to be like family. I am so thankful to have both . . . a blood family, and a Church family, to do this life with.