Our church built its first building in 2017 after years of meeting in other churches. Before we moved into the building we were given a walk-through tour. After a long period of construction, it was remarkable to see the finished product.
This past week the leader who oversaw and managed the construction details gave us a behind-the-scenes look at his heart on the project. He was pleased with the outcome, as he should have been.
Everything was new and shiny and spotless. The project completed almost on time, within budget, and better than many of us expected. Two weeks after we moved in, the church hosted a vacation bible school for the kids. Over the course of a few days, the leader was horrified as he observed children doing what children do… using the walls for crayon art, having accidents (vomit and poo!), and generally making a mess of things. These are small human beings that had no contribution to the construction, fund-raising, cleaning or preparation of the building. Meanwhile, at the other end of the building, we’ve been meeting to worship and praise God for who He is and what He’s done in our lives.
We chose to keep the building even though it was stained and had seen tiny humans using it in unrighteous ways. And we graciously chose not to kick the kids out just because they made a mess of the place. After all, it’s our place of worship.
It occurs to me this is symbolic of how human beings act in God’s creation. Between the endless advertising and graffiti, exhausting and polluting the resources, destroying lands, waging war on other humans, dropping bombs on pristine countryside, and breaking the hearts of our loved ones… well, those kids have nothing on the adults. Meanwhile, we go about praising God and worshiping Him.
To my recollection, I have never vomited or left poo in a church. But I have left stains upon the earth and on some of God’s most beautiful creations. I have allowed the worst kind of graffiti to be written on my heart. I dropped emotional bombs on people. I took what I wanted, and left messes behind me. I lived like a toddler.
So far, God hasn’t kicked me out or told me I’m not welcome in His kingdom. In fact, He has done the opposite: I have been invited in, messy and stained, to stand in His presence. I contributed little to His causes, and taken far more than my share. My finest gifts to Him are rubbish. And yet… I am allowed to worship and praise God, even to seek His face.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6
O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. Ezra 9:6
To be honest, when I consider how God loves me, I am not able to comprehend it all.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19
We are called to love others, stained and messy as they may be. To be like Jesus, we must love them like Jesus. It is easier to do with people I know and like; but other peoples’ childish tactics in rush hour driving challenge and frustrate me. Love them? Ha! Fortunately, my own childish driving doesn’t bother me at all.
Oh, and those kids at church… do you know who cleaned up their messes? It wasn’t the kids. They couldn’t. Someone with more power, abilities and resources did it. It’s just another way we teach the gospel.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved – Ephesians 2:1-5