Friday, November 04, 2005

Loving the Unlovely--Loving the Church

Michael Haykin of Historia Ecclesiastica has written a thought provoking post

He begins:

"What a precious text is Ephesians 5:25b: “Christ … loved the church and gave himself for her.” Before time began or space was formed, the One we know as the Lord Jesus Christ had set his heart on dying for those human sinners who would one day make up the church, the Bride of the Lord Jesus. Not out of necessity or from need, not by constraint or grudgingly, but from a heart of love, out of mercy and kindness, freely and willingly, Christ came into this world to die for the church."

Sometimes it's hard to love. Every church has its cast of characters, some more lovable than others. Michael's post brought to mind one of those. . .

Years ago, I came face to face--for the first time--with a woman in the church that was plain old "unlovable". Rachel was ornery and cantankerous. When you say a child is ornery, you think of an active, lively, sparkle-in-the-eye charmer. But when you say an adult is ornery and add cantankerous to it--well, I think we all know the type. . .

Rachel was dissatisfied with life in general and with the church in particular. It seemed she was always on the hunt for something to complain about or something negative to say--and say it, she did, at every opportunity! She had a loud, booming voice, so people always knew when she was coming. Many in the church heard that voice and made a quick exit. I was one of those people.

I wanted nothing more than to avoid Rachel, but she came to a Bible study that I hosted in my home, so I couldn't duck out. Every week I prayed for patience and every week, God helped us all get through. But it wasn't easy.

Then one day I got a call from Rachel. She knew that I liked to decorate and had some experience in painting and she asked me to come help her strip wallpaper in her kitchen and then paint. I didn't want to do it. Several days with Rachel on her own turf seemed too much to bear, but as I had helped several other women paint; how could I refuse?

Rachel and I worked together over a period of several days, stripping and painting and then ended up re-arranging the whole house. It's hard for women to work side by side and not share a bit about each others lives. And so, as we worked together, I began to learn more and more about Rachel.

She talked about her marriage, her children, her hopes and dreams for their family. You see, Rachel's husband was not a Christian and had absolutely no interest in becoming one. She had spent years trying to "get him saved"--praying, begging, pleading, until she finally descended into bullying. She had a lot of regrets about her marriage and with tears she told me that she feared that, because of her actions, her husband would never come to Christ. She felt she had failed him and the church had failed her. Her only hope was to raise her children to be Christians. Maybe they could reach him.

We prayed for her husband, we talked about God's patience with sinners, His loving-kindness, His omnipotent powers, His sovereign ability to take stony hearts and make them hearts of flesh.

By now you're ready for the big finish. I wish I could say that Rachel did a 180 degrees turnaround, that her husband is saved and serving Christ, that we became friends. But that wouldn't be true. Rachel remained the same overbearing, domineering person she ever was and I still prayed for patience when she came to Bible study. We even had a huge run-in several months later.

But something had changed. Me. I had learned to love "Not out of necessity or from need, not by constraint or grudgingly, but from a heart of love, out of mercy and kindness, freely and willingly."

"If we love Christ we cannot but love what he loves and be filled with the sweet love he has for his church."

But no One ever promised it would be easy...


Blogger Glenda, saved by grace said...

wow, this post touched my heart, and made me look at cantankerous people in a different light. thank you

8:53 AM  

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