I just returned home from a two-day roundtable in San Diego with a small group of leaders from several nations. The one leader from China, who is a real father figure to the massive underground church there, said something to me that stuck in my mind as I flew home. He said, “Churches without Fathers and Mothers become orphanages.” Now, I have always taught that the church is a family, not an institution, but I never considered the possibility of a church being an orphanage.
Obviously, local churches are organized like institutions are, but we so much more. The strongest metaphor for God’s people in scripture is that of family. Both the Old and New Testaments liken us to God’s household. And Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father.” If we do not receive the spirit of adoption and learn to know God as our Father, we go on living as orphans. The Bible says in Psalm 68 that God “puts the solitary in families” not orphanages.
So, a church might be an orphanage if it is primarily a gathering of those who are not living as “sons and daughters.” It might be an orphanage if the church is primarily organized to meet the needs of its members. It might be an orphanage if there is no culture of family and cohesive acknowledgment of belonging. And it might be an orphanage if there are no fathers and mothers who parent the believers. In orphanages professionals do their work of meeting needs but without family relationships.
This same Chinese leader told me that we must raise up fathers and mothers in the church or we will lose the next generation. He referred to what the prophet Malachi said that God “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”(Mal. 4:6) That is a sobering word. And I think it applies not only to our biological family but also our spiritual family. We all need real people to model and apply the parenting that God wants to express toward us as his children.
Is your heart turned towards those you could call father or mother? Or is your heart turned away? Is your heart turned toward those who may need you to father or mother them? Or is your heart turned away?
I believe that Isaiah 60 is where we are right now. The chapter begins with “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” If Jesus the Light has come to you, it’s time to rise up and get ready. Every time Jesus shows up anywhere: in a person, a church or a region, the light comes, and Isaiah 60 can be fulfilled. It says that the glory of God will be seen on us by others.
I have often taught about sonship and the Fatherhood of God but it has not been until the last two years that I have begun to really get it and see the importance of it. It is critical that we get our identity from God rather than trying to pull it from others. Many, even in ministry are on a life long search for significance and ministry sadly becomes the source of their identity. I believe that a faulty identity system is the source for much of the relational tension in the body of Christ as we become competitors rather than brothers and sisters in a family. Orphans will be more independent and self reliant, they will strive for praise and approval from others constantly striving to earn favor with God. They will be jealous and competitive, and will be so insecure they find it hard to receive help or correction from others. Orphans will see authority as a source of pain rather than one of safety and guidance. Saddest of all they will continually feel distant from God and often unable to hear Him or sense his presence.
If you have received the “true Light that has come into the world”, it’s time to rise up and place the Light where it can be seen by all. Be encouraged that when Light shines, it always overcomes darkness. ALWAYS.
Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you;
A friend of mine recently shared with me a new thought he had about John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled” He said that often we read that and think about the trouble, but he said the emphasis should be on our hearts. There can be trouble all around us, but that doesn’t need to affect our hearts. We can remain in peace, undisturbed by the trouble around us. That is how Jesus lived, and I believe that he wants to enable us to live the same way. The sea may roar and foam around us on the outside but inside we can be in peace.