You only have to turn on the news to see some of the total rubbish happening in the world right now: war, famine, poverty and political unrest. Mental illness is at unprecedented levels. There are horrific stories of abuse, both recent and historical. It would be easy to turn off the TV and close news apps and newspapers in an attempt to ignore and forget about it. But the problems are very present and very real. The world is desperate for answers, answers that I believe are found in Jesus and his church.
The church can often be seen as an old grandfather clock. It sits nicely in a corner, dinging its bell every Sunday. It’s majestic, worth a lot of money and generally looks down on people. It’s admired by some, ignored by others. It’s been inherited by generations of sentimental family members and maybe not for a while, but one day, it will slowly fade away.
THAT IS NOT MY CHURCH!
When I talk about my church I not only mean the congregation I am a part of but also the wider church of people who love Jesus and take seriously the impact their faith must have on the world. I am unapologetic in my love for Jesus and the genuine Jesus loving church (not one that takes the title, uses it for selfish gain and shows little shred of the love and grace that Jesus so explicitly demonstrated….but that’s another blog).
My church does not hide from what is in the news. It is not a grandfather clock. It does not ding the church bells once a week. It is relevant, alive, growing and filled with people who actually give a hoot about our broken world and contributing to it.
As part of the global church, I worship amongst world changers in every sphere of influence. People who run phenomenal, highly regarded, life-saving and life-changing charities. People with OBE’s, people heavily involved in government and politics trying to bring change in places of authority to help people most in need. Authors, actors, teachers, lawyers all using their skills to help others.
But where the heck do I fit?
Seriously! I can see all this devastating stuff and the incredible things people are doing to impact it happening around me. I am so desperate to help and make a real difference, but my current circumstances don’t exactly scream global revivalist.
I am a stay at home Mum and a full time carer for my daughter who has Type 1 diabetes. I am knee deep in nappies, homework, diabetes supplies and vegetable peelings. My time is dictated by blood glucose monitoring and ensuring every morsel of food is offset by a precise dose of insulin. I respond to frequent unpredictable high and low blood glucose levels and the horrible side effects they carry. It is a 24/7 job and it can be exhausting.
Some days I’ve had more than 2 hours sleep and dream of setting up 18 charities to reach the poorest, most isolated people. I would fly around the world sprinkling Jesus magic (?!?) being a lycra clad Super-Christian-Woman. Then reality hits me round the face like the hand of a 2 year old at 04:35 and I am back in Stockport, filling out endless school letters, thinking about my Aldi shopping list and responding to yet another insulin pump alarm.
For a long time I have felt like the best is yet to come. Like there has to be more to life than this. I try to attend as many inspiring teaching sessions as possible. I love a TED talk as much as the next person. I sit in church and listen to completely brilliant preaches which could motivate a dead hippo into action, but then I feel like I’ve just run as fast as Usain Bolt into a brick wall. I have often thought that once this phase is over then I can really begin to make a big difference.
But this phase I am in is similar to one that many people face. Having young children or being a carer. Working in a tough old job that can sap every ounce of energy you have but that you know is absolutely where you should be. Struggling with sickness or just getting to the point where energy reserves are a bit lower than they used to be. For many, the phase is not only long but life-long.
The thing is, being a world changer should never be our primary goal. Being successful should never be our primary goal. God does not define us by our circumstances. He does not love us because we fit a certain mould or criteria. He loves us because he loves us. And because of that, Jesus tells us exactly what our primary goals should be:
They are the 2 greatest commandments that Jesus gave. He prioritised them above all others and asked us to do the same. They are the same primary goals he asks of royalty, people who are homeless, the church, those in government, business workers, prostitutes, medics, teachers, stay at home parents and everyone in between:
Love God. Love others.
Of course there are so many more things he can and does call us to. There is such huge need in the world. God can use people in every sphere of influence, but before all else he needs us to be grounded in loving him and loving others. Love should impact everything else we do.
It sounds so simple and so straightforward but love isn’t easy. It’s really tough. People get hurt and disappointed. So many of my dear friends have been hurt most by the people that should have loved them most. Parents leave or abuse children. Husbands and wives have affairs. Inheritance and money can tear families apart. Some of you will read this having been hurt terribly by the church. A place that should have been a safe-haven of love has instead hurt you, seemingly beyond repair. I am so desperately sad and sorry if any of these have been your story. But I believe a better example of love awaits you.
God in his wisdom has not merely asked us to love. He has specified the order in which we should do it.
The first thing is to love God. He is the creator, the author and perfect demonstrator of love. If you read parts of the Old testament in the Bible or look at the suffering in the world today this can be a hard concept to grasp. (I won’t explain in detail in this blog how this all works but urge you to look deeper by attending an Alpha course or if you know me, please come along to church with me.) Through Jesus Christ laying down his life for us we know that God has demonstrated the greatest expression of love.
The Bible tells us what love looks like: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
It is a tough list. Love is not an easy choice and requires self sacrifice and self awareness. It requires saying sorry when we get it wrong and being accountable to other people, especially when it feels tough. I love my church because not only does is demonstrate love, it also encourages us to love better. From relationship courses to addiction recovery, it helps people to find God, the ultimate source of love. And that’s the key to being able to love best, even when it seems impossible. Go directly to the source to get re-fueled.
Love should be at the root of everything we do. It shouldn’t be an excuse, that we only have to love and nothing else, but it should motivate everything else we do. That may be something beyond your wildest dreams and a great, wild adventure; or it may be persevering in the hardest of times. Whatever it is, with love as the foundation and the root, incredible things can and will grow. Even if it might not look significant to others, following those great commands will be more spiritually significant than you can imagine.
God has a reputation for getting it right. If we do what he says by loving him and loving others as our greatest priority, whether it be a whole nation at a time or one person at a time, the world will change. Even as a stay-at-home-parent-carer, I can be a world changer, and so can you.