In the past few years my wife and I have become empty nesters. One of our children graduated from college last year and the other one is attending a Nazarene university. When kids move away, parents have the opportunity to be reflective and remember all of those moments that led to the empty nest. It is hard for me to do that without going back to my college years--after all, I met my wife there. Now with our daughter at the same school, it seems that our family has come full circle.
Yet the college story of our family is not ours alone. It could not have been possible without countless folks, most of whom I have never met. I think about all the people who trudged to jobs at factories day after day, and then gave every Sunday. They gave when they liked the new pastor, and they gave when they liked the old pastor better. They gave when the church bought carpeting instead of the new piano, even if they thought the piano was needed first.
Those churches then contributed to the college where I met my wife. They gave so kids they did not know could go to a place and meet their spouses, be trained to earn a living, and give themselves to a church, so their children could grow up in a Christian environment.
I sometimes think about the church my kids have experienced. It wasn't the largest church, but the people there loved them. The pillars of the church who were there every Sunday set an example. The church even had its fair share of eccentric folks who contributed as well. Of course, there were lots of people in between, who left their marks in one way or another.
Along the way there were musical groups from the college, church camps, and winter ski retreats. In spite of date conflicts, we did our best to make sure our kids were a part. Perhaps we are old-fashioned, but we just seemed to think that each encounter along the way offered an opportunity for God's grace to touch our kids. It provided an environment where perhaps they could hear God's voice over the commotion of a loud culture.
I am thankful for my church and its heritage. It is a legacy of people who loved other people enough to give of themselves so that my children could go to church, be taught in a class, and go to a college and meet people who are changing their lives. It is a legacy of holiness lived out"a holiness that gives and sacrifices for people yet unknown. This giving cannot be accomplished separately like it can when we are together and demonstrating to the world our love through our actions.
As I look around my world today, an uneasiness has started to unsettle me. I hope I am wrong. It seems that we are beginning to lose sight of what is possible together.
The church has always been a place where vastly different people come together and try to live out this holiness we are called to live. We did not always do it in the same way, and often we had disagreements about one issue or another, yet we loved enough to realize the kingdom is bigger than my little world.
I think we are losing sight of this simple observation. In its place we seem to have taken hold of an individualism that seeks to compel everyone to agree. So the obvious answer is to leave and pull away when the church board decides to buy carpet instead of a piano, or agrees to a design choice that we would not have chosen. We forget there is a loss when we do this.
It is hard not to notice some similar trends among us. I am seeing harsh words being used, and pejoratives directed at people from a distance. We condemn colleges over mere rumor and easily assume the worst about classes we have not even taken. We seem so ready to attack without taking the time to dialogue, or to remember this is a brother or sister in Christ, and we are more powerful together than apart.
Perhaps this is a good time to remember the factory worker who trudged to the steel mill every day and gave sacrificially so my daughter can have a nice classroom. It is also a good time to remember those who study sacrificially for years, and then give their lives to teach my daughter what she absolutely loves to learn. Unfortunately, she is also coming to grips with a church she has never known, a church that seems too ready to condemn a misplaced concern and too ready to pull back from others.
In Ephesians 3:10-19 Paul addresses the church with a truly majestic thought. Look at verses 10 and 11:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Paul is stating that God actually uses the Church to announce to the world what His kingdom will look like. When we live together and love each other in spite of our differences, God's kingdom is being shouted to the world!
We do not need a Caesar to tell us what to do, nor do we need a magistrate to govern our affairs. Look at the love we have.
This is the message that threatens every earthly power, and we proclaim it when we love each other and appreciate each other. This is the reason that Paul prays in verses 17-18 that we might be established in love, so that we can be filled with the fullness of God, and every power on earth can see.
Now out of a sense of concern, we seem to want to pull away and condemn. We may even justify it on the grounds we are upholding some higher standard. Yet when we pull away, and seem eager to do so, every earthly power looks at us and says, "See, there was nothing there after all. They don't love each other. I told you it was fake." I still think we have something to announce to the world, but holiness requires that I love my neighbors and be reconciled to them.
To the factory worker, I say thank you. To my seventh grade Sunday School teacher, Roger, I owe a double thank you. To everyone who ever gave and it seemed no one noticed, thank you. To every professor who studied and ate macaroni and cheese for three years, thank you. Together, we can say something to the world.
Doug Ward is pastor of Mundelein, Illinois, Church of the Nazarene and is adjunct professor of New Testament at Olivet Nazarene University.
Holiness Today, January/February 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.