Life Study of 2 Thessalonians Message 4:
“Because the church life is a kitchen for God’s cooking, the church will not always have an appearance that is neat and orderly. This is usually the situation in a kitchen when a good meal is being prepared. Do not expect your local church to be perfect. A kitchen is a place of process. Because of this process, many things are not ready, but they are in the process of being made ready.”
“Do not expect that everything in the church life will be marvelous and orderly. This is not the situation of any local church on earth. Furthermore, we should not think that the local churches at Paul’s time were better than the churches today.”
“Often the messy condition of a kitchen indicates that an excellent meal is being prepared. The kitchen may be messy, but the food that is being cooked will be very tasty. If you want the food in your local church to be flavorful, you must be willing for your kitchen to be messed up.”
I grew up as the second of four children born to a family meeting with the local church in Irving, Texas. Before I arrived, our family had moved to Irving to support Witness Lee’s ministry through volunteering their free time, supporting other volunteers, hosting visitors in their home, and enjoying the riches being unlocked in the Bible. Us kids grew up with other families in our home and in their homes as well. It was a lot of fun as a child, as I had plenty of people to play (and get in trouble) with, and I was blessed to be loved and cared for by many different people from all over the world.
One practical byproduct of such a shared childhood is abundant opportunities for people to be offended. I still remember all the concerned looks on parents’ faces when a visiting young boy fell from our family’s swingset and broke his leg. Or the first time we illicitly escaped our homes (we were probably around 9) and “ran away” together in a large group. We fought (sometimes with fists!), argued, feuded, and swindled our way through a blissful adolescent existence – that was also full of backyard baseball, parking lot hockey, afternoons at the local arcade, and lots and lots (too many!) of Slurpees and banana splits. Through it all, I witnessed and made a lot of mistakes, apologies, and problems. There are a lot of things I would do differently; but nothing I would change about the circumstances that started me out in this life.
I realize now, looking back, how easily long-term hurt can be caused while we are young. People’s opinions and perspectives are still forming; things like bullying or isolation can have lasting effects. For example, I bear some responsibility through my complicity for very unfortunate instances of excluding others because they were not “cool”. This is one of the main things I regret, and wish I could go back in time and change. It doesn’t reflect who I am, and was not representative of the large hearts we were raised by. In such a rapidly moving lifestyle – full of meetings, trips, visitors, and activity – it is easy to just move on without realizing what you are doing.
I also realize, and would like to emphasize, the “amateur” level of caretakers that took responsibility for me and the fourteen other young boys in my grade-level. These were not professional teachers or young-man-formers, but normal people with full-time jobs who were devoting their time to us in many different forms for the sake of our parents’ enjoyment of the Lord and participation in the ministry. They did the best they could in formal settings such as church meetings or conferences to keep us safe and feed us Christ according to our various capacity. It was not an easy task, and more than once I remember these men – most of them old enough to be my Dad – losing their temper or venting frustration. I clearly recalled one particular instance when we were in fifth grade where a Friday night skit-practicing session went so off-the-rails it brought one of these dear brothers in Christ to tears (sorry Brother! You know who you are…). We were not a well-behaved group, but we never had any lack of volunteers to try and shepherd us.
Their care was not limited to formal settings. They were also our Little League baseball coaches. Our chaperones on weekend Christian camp-outs. Our taxis to and from Saturday night pizza parties. And, more and more as we got older, our trusted confidants and guides. They taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to bowl, and how to swing a bat. These were all things my own Dad was more than happy to teach me at home, but we had a lot of time with this group of older brothers, and they proved to be effective teachers. Again, this is not because they were trained to be teachers, but because they were filled with Christ as the Real Shepherd-Teacher who loved us with God’s love. I treasure their service, sacrifice, and their respective families for letting them spend so much time (and money!) on us.
Our time and childhood was not without negative experiences, though, as I assume no one’s is. Every time something happened, it was handled transparently with thorough contact with our parents and any other relevant adults. Though we were in High School, great care was always taken to keep us safe and give us the opportunity to serve the Lord in the future. There were many times I led others astray (or got caught straying myself!). The brothers faithfully included my parents in all matters disciplinary, and though I resented the oversight at the time, I appreciate their tender and cautious care now that I have four children of my own. Their standard was high, but their dealing with me was always as a father with a son (Prov. 3:12). Even today, these brothers are still praying for me, asking how I am doing, and know the names of all my children. What a blessed and privileged life! We may not have grown up with much in material terms, but were rich with patterns, praise, and encouragement.
That was a long time ago. Now my grade-level of boys are all grown up. Some of us still love the Lord, others have chosen another way for now. No matter where we are today, we can’t deny we grew up in this “messy kitchen” spoken about in the quote above – surrounded by normal people striving to accomplish a glorious goal. There were problems, mistakes, and even mishandlings. But the love we felt and were raised by was real – as sure as our salvation – and the care was always there. Thank You Lord Jesus for the great feast you are preparing (Luke 14:17). And for the messy kitchen church you will prepare it with.