The 13th chapter in 1 Corinthians is among the Bible's most beloved, but it's the last few words in the chapter which have resonated with me in particular this week.
"... but the greatest of these is love."
Maybe it sounds silly to say it out loud, but I know my church loves me. I'm tempted to say in spite of my strangeness, my many failings -- but then I'd be interjecting my own thoughts onto something that's not really there. They love me in a way that doesn't choose to notice, doesn't choose to linger on what's not-perfect with me. They love me in a way that selects lenses of loving kindness to view me: my inward and outward blemishes fade, the more-like-Christ person I am becoming seems obvious.
I arrived home from the desert last spring with a broken spirit. Our church embraced my family, and have showered us with what seems to be implausible grace. It's just love, really. When I'm in their company, I never even notice all the warts I've self-imposed on my mindset.
I had missed that sort of corporate love, and I've delighted in it. It has served to help heal broken places, to restore my hope and my joy. I was thinking of that kind of love as I talked to Charles and Misty Lohn this week, and to the staff at Shelbyville Mills. Not only did Charles make some Really Big Mistakes, his actions hit the church in an area of particular vulnerability. No, not the finances, those can be replenished -- but the lives of the youth group he had been trusted to lead and shepherd.
Charles spoke the language and lingo of the church, but it was as a "sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." He did a lot of the right things, mimicked the correct motions in a Christian life, but -- and he will admit this now -- he didn't yet know or understand the love of Christ, and thus profited nothing.
Shelbyville Mills had a lot of choices when Lohn's house of cards crumpled. Pastor Jonathan Sims tells me that from the very beginning the church was resolved in their what their end goal would be: Charles' repentance. Verses six and seven: "Love ... does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
It is the love of a church family which healed Misty's heart while Charles was away. It was the love of a church that restored them both and brought Charles to a true repentance. Through both church and civil discipline, the Lohn's have paid a price for Charles' mistakes, and will continue to reap the consequences for many more years. But they know that their church loves them.
Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, I hope you are in a place of being loved. I hope you know that your church loves you too.