“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)
Years ago in a Christian gathering the speaker asked those present a simple question – “What are we to be as His people: are we like marbles in a bag or like grapes on a vine?” The answer was obvious of course – grapes – we are to be connected to the vine – but as I pondered my personal experience at that point in my life, I sincerely felt like I had been more like a lone grape tied to Jesus – emphasis ‘lone’. I loved Jesus, but I still felt alone.
When I had come to faith from the ‘Egypt’ season of my life (pre Jesus)’ I had been rescued out of what I might describe as a loner in the wilderness – I was, for all intents and purposes, the poster child of a life of individualism; an orphan lifestyle, a self preservation mode defined by a guarded heart with 20 foot high walls around it, seeking comfort in all the wrong places. When he won my heart, I let Him in; but it would take some doing to deconstruct the walls around my life.
Moving from the slavery phase into learning to fully trust Him did not take 40 years like the Children of Israel, thankfully, but it was far from being overnight. In hindsight, I see why – the protective layers around my heart (and yours too perhaps), would require ‘spirit-led’ locksmiths to carefully crack the many unique combinations and codes the enemy’s viruses had hacked into me over the years. Unlocking these codes would eventually reveal that real freedom was possible. Each successive orphan layer was peeled away like old paint on a sunbaked fence.
I was to learn that my orphan-heartedness could never create a real spiritual family; only a true Father could do that.
In the Old Testament God is described as Father only a few times before we see Jesus revealing “Abba Daddy”. One of these places would be the key my heart was seeking to let Him remove the walls. I saw it in the life of David, the man after Gods own heart. I came to realize that David, the loner Sheppard, actually knew the reality of being a ‘lone grape’. In Psalm 27 he notes his own personal revelation, “even though my mother and father have abandoned me, He will never forsake me. ” He would go on to declare what his heart had come to see and experience, “He is a Father to the fatherless; He puts the lonely in family.” (Psalm 68)
The gospel Jesus declared actually is so clear that a child can understand it – it is all about a Father who lost His kids, and He simply wants them back again. Because the majority of the human race has great difficulty loving or trusting authority figures for various reasons, our heavenly Father didn’t actually come himself. His Son came to show us exactly what He was like – He showed us how a Son trusts and relates to Father God. He gave his life that we can have a relationship with God as Father the same way Jesus did. Its utterly amazing when our hearts “see” this – we come to experience what God tells us – He will be a Father to us (2 Cor 6:17-18).
And this family, this authentic community Jesus describes as “His Church”, are people simply learning to live out the same love with others that they have discovered in Father, through Jesus (“we love because he first loved us”). We learn the advocate, the counselor, the “Holy Spirit comes to shed abroad the love of God into our hearts” (Rom 5:5), and when we are being transformed in our hearts by God’s revelation, we become more and more like Him. Having experienced this love and generosity, this family can’t help but let that love and compassion overflow to others. That alone is all God needs to accomplish His purpose in His church. Life literally flows from His presence in our hearts, and in doing so makes that presence visible to believers and unbelievers alike by words and deeds.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22) The unity that marks authentic Christian community cannot rise out of charity, compromise, or concession. It rises only out of people who are seeking; hungry to be changed into those that reflect his image – a desire to be JUST like Dad. To move from being orphans in our hearts to being sons, joint heirs with Jesus!
As God is changing me, I have learned of the incredible connection with others He is also changing. Without even trying, I’m suddenly aware of their needs and how I can help them, while also being aware of gifts and insights they can add to my life. For people hungering after God, opening our lives to others is not a cumbersome obedience, but a means to allow the transforming love of God to bring tangible encouragement, strength, and comfort to me and even through me. In the same way we have been comforted, we comfort others.
There is a cost. Real community, real spiritual family, can only happen among disciples – learners; people sincerely desiring to be changed by Christ and the power of God’s love, into his image.
The cross is the heart of all authentic fellowship, and it is only through the cross that fellowship is deepened and matured. This will involve the frequent and sometimes painful crucifixion of ‘self’ in all its forms – self-seeking, self-centeredness, self-righteousness – and the willingness to remain vulnerable with others in the family.
Real community cannot happen until ‘self’ surrenders at the cross. Jesus told his followers this was the key, “deny yourself daily, pick up your cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
There have been days where, in the process, I shrunk back just like the folks in John’s story (Read John 6:63-69). Jesus had been sharing this same truth with the large crowds who wanted all the benefits of community but also wanted to remain as individual orphans living from ‘self’. The story relays the real choice we all have – it’s a hard read – so many were unable to believe this was the Fathers invitation into real life, they opted for the kingdom of self and, as scripture notes, many simply walked away. Have you wondered why Jesus was so direct with them? Was Jesus being mean in describing the cost? How was this exchange loving? Was he saying the church was an elite crew of blind followers?
Of course not. He knew real community is not possible without real love – and that love cannot come from human effort. It first has to flow from God (he first loved us) into our hearts. And to receive this love, it requires our 100% surrender to being self-led. Self-centered people can’t make a real home, only a Father can.
As we contemplate the connections in our life this season, remember we always have a choice – we can chose to pick up our cross (be willing to deny our orphan-self ways) and step into the wacky, messy family the scriptures call “Gods family”, or we can go around the dessert. I have been around the dessert enough times to where I fully and loudly declare, ‘as for me and my household, we choose messy life in community. We choose life.’
My sincere prayer for us all is not much different than Jesus prayed in John 17 to Father: “make us one, Dad.” I can’t help but be extremely grateful that Father God has put me, one of the lonely, into His family; and I can’t help but sense that there are many more out there just like me… oblivious that He too is putting them into family.
Father, get us ready so that we can love others the same way you’re loving us.
John 13: 34,35 “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Acts 2: 44-47 “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.”
Brant Reding is the Lead Pastor of UChurch, Calgary; although, he prefers to be called a “cultural architect.” With over 20 years experience in corporate Calgary, Brant truly has unique strategic insight and creative thought. He currently sits on the board of several local and international organizations, and is a leader of leaders; but most importantly, he lives as a beloved son of our Father. We’re blessed to have Brant serve our family – he’s awesome!