Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I woke up Monday morning to find this little scene in my back yard. Almost exactly one year to the day of its completion, my fence had suffered its first tragedy.
Oh sure, it has had a few bumps and scrapes in the past - the graffiti of last month, the clasp that got hung last fall, but this gaping hole is the first real brush with death that my poor fence has had to experience.
I'm a little worried about it, and I was wondering if you would all put my fence on your prayer lists.
We had the fence built in the week between closing on the house and moving in to it from Eastern NC. It is a very well constructed fence, and several people have asked for the name of the contractor after seeing it. It is tall and strong, and as far as I know, my fence has never done anything to anybody. Being a fence, it isn't aggressive, but merely a passive way to keep dogs in and people out. I've never seen it "drink or chew or pal around with with those who do." My fence doesn't vote, so it can't be blamed for the situation in our country, or in the world. Sure, you may say, "Jason, your fence has also never been down the aisle in church!," and of course you would be right, but I'm certain from the good fruit of self service and sacrifice that my fence is a follower of the Way.
So why did this happen?
Isn't that what we ask each other, ourselves, and God after tragedy strikes? I don't mean to make light of what people go through in this world, but you have to admit the way I have described my fence is the same kind of reasoning, questioning, and examining we go through when we or someone we know experiences trauma.
A friend recently asked why we put people on our prayers lists. "Why pray anything other than 'Your Will be done?'" Its a good question, really, and one I will try to explore further in another blog post.* What it made me think about was not why we pray for others but what we are praying about.
I have been to India once, and Honduras six times, and each time I have attended at least one church service. The poverty you see in both of these countries is far beyond the imagination of most Americans. The daily struggle just to find food and survive is all consuming for many people, not to mention a lack of quality water, or any health care at all. I've even been blessed to preach at a little village church in Honduras (through an interpreter of course, my Spanish es no bueno!)
During the times of prayer, you know what I have noticed? They don't pray for sickness or tragedy the way we do. They don't make lists of people battling cancer, they make lists of people who are living lost.
For us, as Americans, pain and sickness and tragedy must break in to our otherwise great lives, for them, it is simply a daily reality.
Only in America do we honestly think that something is out of place when chaos interrupts our orderly lives.
Only in America could something as out-of-touch-with-reality as the "prosperity Gospel" flourish, because only in America can you find enough people with enough prosperity to believe that God must want them to have the life they already have!
Now, I'm not contending that we shut down our prayers lists. I think they are a great way to lift our burdens to one another. In fact, each Sunday we do just that right smack in the middle of our worship service. As long as it takes, we want to hear the joys and despairs of those who have gathered together in His Name. What I am asking is that we start praying more - not just against death, but for life! Not just against sickness, but for wholeness. Not just for the neighbor who fell in their yard, but for the one trapped in a fallen life.
No matter your theology, we should all be praying for those who have yet to find life in Jesus.
If you are evangelical, you should be praying they find the joy of life in Christ, and rescue from perishing.
If your theology is more mainline, you should be praying for people to begin enjoying the fruits of service to God in the here and now, as well as for their contribution to be added to His Kingdom, making it more on earth as it is in Heaven.
If you are reformed, maybe you were predestined to be the one affects another life for eternity, and since Sovereign God has given us a commission, you should be praying as a part of that mission.
If you don't know what to call yourself, but have found the Joy of the Lord through Jesus Christ, then you should pray for your friends and family members to have their eyes opened to the real world that lies hidden within the false one that surrounds us.
One of the most amazing chapters in all of Scripture is John 17. It is the final chapter before Jesus is arrested, which He obviously knows is coming. Jesus doesn't spend that time asking God to take away his pain - he spent it in prayer for his friends,
"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." John 17:15-19
Do we love our friends and family that much? Are we praying for people to come to new life? Are we asking God to set them apart? Lets not wait until a "bad thing happens to a good person" to pray, lets start now so they can face an always chaotic world in fellowship with Him.
*in short - because it allows us to empathize and sympathize with others - we all know we're not telling God something He doesn't already know, right?
at 10:08 AM
Monday, August 15, 2011
The picture above is the famous photo-turned-painting at the end of Rocky 3. It is the very last thing the audience sees before the credits roll, when Rocky and Apollo Creed are sparring, and after two monumental bouts, still seem to be evenly matched to the last. The impression we are supposed to get is simple: Nobody wins. Or maybe, between Rocky and Apollo, everybody wins.
In real life, though, when nobody wins, it often means everybody loses.
Ask a family torn apart by divorce. I know, because I'm from a family like that, and I can tell you nobody wins.
Ask a citizen of a nation that has seen war - not on TV like we are accustomed to as Americans, but in their streets. When human beings kill each other over politics, oil, religion, or "stuff," nobody wins. I've been to villages in the Himalayas that have seen war between Pakistan and India, believe me, nobody there feels like a winner.
Ask a church member who has seen their church split, or split from another church. When believers come to the point of breaking fellowship, nobody wins. I know, because I pastor a church that has been through just that.
This past Wednesday, we had a time set aside for leadership training, specifically for our Youth and Children's Sunday School departments. I was going to go over some basics, and then try to get some ideas from the teachers as to what we as a church could do to improve our Sunday School. Within 10 minutes, the meeting became something very different - it became a time when raw feelings bubbled to the surface, and a group of people who have been scratching and clawing for several years expressed in the most honest way how truly tired they are.
Imagine going from 30 kids on one Sunday to 6 or 7 the next. Imagine losing all that laughter, all those smiles, all the running and giggling and hugs and love. Imagine losing all those children's parents who were workers in the department. That is what our church went through some years ago. To be honest, I had never allowed myself to imagine what that must have felt like. I wasn't here, and so in order to keep myself from taking any sides or being affected by the past, I haven't allowed myself to go there. But I did Wednesday, and to think about it truly broke my heart. Even though time has passed, the feelings are still very real and raw, and they still carry weight into our current day.
When relationships break, people are broken too.
There are "trust gaps," that form, where people have a hard time trusting again. I know because I had them after my parents divorce, and I know because I see them here. There are people in our congregation who still have a hard time trusting me - some who don't even realize that is what they are doing. Its hard to blame them, so I don't. I just work hard to try and one day earn that trust.
There are also bystanders. There are people who weren't really a part of our church yet, but who were attending when everything went down. I had dinner with one such couple two Fridays ago, and I sat amazed that they were back with us now. Its only because they had bond of friendship that were stronger than the broken trust that they are. There are others all over the community who we won't ever be so lucky with, and so our church - and they - lose.
I think the most amazing part of Wednesday was what kinds of feelings I heard. Yes, there was frustration and fatigue, but there was no blaming. No name calling. No "its all their fault" mentality. What I heard was a very real sense of loss.
I don't imagine for a second that any of the people who left Grace Crossing read this blog, but if they did, I would bet they feel that same loss.
When churches break, nobody wins.
I confess, when I wrote this blog in my head while pulling weeds on Friday morning I daydreamed about reconciliation. I imagined what it would be like if we could get everybody in a room together, to explore the hurt, and then move forward in the power of Grace that only God gives. I imagine what a powerful testimony of God's Spirit that would be, not only in our church, but in the whole community. I imagine our church moving forward in victory.
But then its back to reality. We're all human, and those kinds of reunions don't normally happen.
Sometimes, nobody wins.
Sometimes, everybody loses.
at 9:48 AM