We’ve Got To Do Better: Making Ministry the Heart of Church

I am not among those who have given up on the local church.

But I AM critical of the way we in the U.S. –and especially the Southern U.S. -do church.

Let’s be honest. 

Most of us go to church because it makes us feel good, refuels our spirits for the week ahead and is a safe spot to park our kids for a few hours respite from the demands of parenthood.

An added bonus is that sometimes we get to contribute to a cause, a mission or a personal need without having to get TOO involved.

So we come away feeling pretty good about who we are, what we believe and how much we “sacrifice” for others and the Kingdom.

But this is not what Christ came for folks.

He didn’t come so that we can have a weekly club meeting, soothe our souls and shut out the world.  He came so that desperate hearts on the fringe could draw near.

He rent the veil so that no one who trusts His finished work is excluded.

Not even the messy and imperfect.

Not even the poor or unlovely or slightly crazy.

We have got to do better.

We have got to make church a place where people who have no hope feel like they are welcome.  We have got to reach out and reach down and reach across and pull those hurting hearts inside.

I know (believe, me, I know!) that it takes more energy than you want to exert.  It takes more flexibility than a crammed-full schedule can allow.  It takes more time and more emotional investment than any of us really want to spend.

But this is what Christ came for.

He came to expose the barriers religious people had erected between God and man. 

He came to make a way where there was no way.

How welcome are the truly broken to our house of worship? Do we want to see their pain, entertain their questions and offer hope that includes walking the road alongside them and giving support for the long haul?

Jesus came to heal the broken.

Healing takes time and resources. It requires personal commitment to those God brings into our lives. It is messy and can’t be boiled down to a formula or pamphlet.

Jesus has invited is to be His hands and feet.

Will we accept the invitation?

christ has no body but yours teresa of avila

Oh, Glorious Day!

The body, the casket of this immortal jewel, is left for a season to the dishonors of the tomb. But it is only for a brief ‘night-watch.’ That dust is precious, because redeemed. Body as well as soul was purchased by the life-blood of Immanuel.

~George S. McGuinness, The Bow In the Cloud,

I have to pass the church cemetery where my son’s body waits every time I leave my home since it’s right down the road.

I always remind myself that he is facing east,

waiting for the trumpet,

and will rise, whole, healed and joy-filled

If you know that this is not the only world, the only body, the only life — that one day you will have a perfect life — you will be able to persevere through any type of adversity. There is hope on the other side, and there will be calm after the storm.

Paul writes: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).”

The resurrection gives us hope. It confirms that this life isn’t the end of our story

~Dave Furman, Kiss the Wave

if we died with christ we will be raised with him

You Are Not Invisible

I know, precious heart, as the months and years roll by and everyone else has moved forward and moved on, it’s easy to feel like no one sees your wounds, no one takes note of your sorrow, no one remembers your pain.

It can make you feel invisible.

You feel like a black and white pasteboard cutout in a world peopled by technicolor action figures.

But you are NOT invisible.

god sees you in your desperate places

The God of the Universe sees you.

He keeps track of every. single. tear.

He cares.

Even if you are still angry with Him.

Because His love is an everlasting love.  He doesn’t give up on us just because we don’t have the strength to reach out to Him.  He will bridge the gap between what we are capable of doing and what needs to be done.

Sit silent in His Presence and He will come to you.

Gentle, loving, quiet and peace-filled He will come.

No matter how many humans have written you off, your Faithful Father has not forgotten you.

www.jessicaoverholt.com

He sees you.

He waits with open arms.

He wants to embrace your wounded heart and your broken life.

Come home.  ❤

God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them, pleads with them, begs and urges them to come home.

~Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal

Trusting God After Loss: Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

One of the greatest challenges I faced this side of child loss was finding a space where I could speak honestly and openly about my feelings toward God and about my faith.

So many times I was shut down at the point of transparency by someone shooting off a Bible verse or hymn chorus or just a chipper, “God’s in control!”

They had NO IDEA how believing that (and I do!) God is in control was both comforting and utterly devastating at the very same time.

It took me awhile to revisit the basic tenets of my faith and tease out what was truly scriptural and what was simply churchy folklore. 

It was worth it.

Because while my faith looks different today than it did the day before the deputy knocked on my door, it is still faith.  And it is rock-solid, founded squarely on the truth of the Bible, the words of Jesus and the unalterable promises of God Almighty.  

I spoke on this topic last October and developed a series of posts to make what I shared available here.

So as a follow-up to yesterday’s post (if I didn’t scare you off!),  I’m putting the links to all the posts in my series “Trust After Loss” in one place.

Here they are, with a brief description of each:  

God is sovereign-He rules.

God is good-He loves.

How do those two truths live together in a universe that includes child loss? How can I trust the rest of my life and my eternal future to a God who lets this happen?

Read the rest here:  Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

“Faith does not eliminate questions but faith knows where to take them”

~Elisabeth Elliot

Read the rest here:  Trust After Loss: Acknowledge Doubt and Ask Questions

The same God Who keeps the earth in orbit around the sun has ordained that death will not have the last word.

Light will triumph.

Darkness will have to flee.

Read the rest here:  Trust After Loss: Access the Truth

This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:  

I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.

Read the rest here: Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

God is no respecter of persons. 

What He did for me, He will do for you.  

Ask Him to guide your heart and He will do it

 

Only A Horizon

We enter this world when we leave our mother’s womb.

That is the beginning.

But our lives never end.  We are eternal beings, created in the image of God, destined to spend forever with Him-IF we receive the gift of redemption made possible by the blood of Christ Jesus.

Love is immortal-it stretches like a golden cord between those that remain and those that go before.

God Himself has guaranteed its supremacy.

Love wins.

Death is awful for those of us left to remember and miss and sorrow over the absence of a loved one.

But it is not the end.

Hallelujah.

Amen.

life is eternal and death a horizon

*Graphic by fellow Waiting Mom Jennifer Coleman*

Death is The Enemy, Jesus Our Victory

We live in a culture where we see death often but experience it rarely.  

Movies, video games, cartoons, news stories all flash images of death across the screen so frequently that most of us either ignore them or they register only as numbers, not as human beings.

Of course many of the images are manufactured-the actors don’t REALLY die, the characters in video games are not real-but how often do we wait for a news report to tell us how many AMERICANS died in a plane crash or terror attack?

As if only those affiliated in some way with our own heritage “count”.

But when death comes knocking at your own door, walks in and settles down, that changes everything.  

I can no longer sit and consume death like a meal, meant to feed my appetite for entertainment.

And every single time I hear a report listing casualties I think of the families ripped apart by the absence of a life they loved.

Death is the enemy.  

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he said, “You shall not surely die.”  

He was wrong.

A single sin ushered in all kinds of sorrow and woe and the ultimate sadness was death.  It meant separation from breath and life, separation from those we love and, without the atoning blood of Christ, separation from God in eternity.  

My ninety-nine-year-old aunt died this week.  She lived a long, useful and fairly healthy life (until the last couple of years).

You’d think that in light of my own son dying at only twenty-three I’d be more OK with her leaving this life and moving to Heaven.  

But I’m not.  

Somehow her death-more than all the other souls I’ve known and loved that have left us since Dom ran ahead-has knocked me to my knees.

mel and mattie lou sahara

Maybe it was how hard and how long she fought against our common enemy.  

Maybe it was just the time of year.  

I don’t know.  

But she reminded me again that death is always sad.

And that Jesus is the only One Who can save us from death’s power.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

me too sharing the path

I have learned so much from these precious people.  

Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:  

Everyone has a story.  No one comes to tragedy a blank slate.  They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden.  Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise.  Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background.  Be gracious-always.  

Everyone deserves to be heard.  Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again.  That’s OK.  If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard.  Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart.  But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”.  Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving.  “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”.  And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us.  But there isn’t.  Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source.  But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child.  Out of order death is devastating.  “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.

Everyone can be nicer than they think they can.  Here’s the deal:  I THINK a lot of things.  I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them.  I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice.  But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage.  Snark is never helpful.  If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.

Everyone has something to give.  I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer.  It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.

Everyone deserves grace.  Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet.  Sometimes I forget this.  I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me.  But grace is the oil that greases human relationships.  Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.

Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross.  There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  We are all servants.  I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do.  My works are not your works and your works are not my works.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”.  The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.

Everyone needs courage.  When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”What??? How could that be better?  But it WAS.  Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself.  He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts.  And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another.  The bravest among us quivers sometimes.  You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.

There are dozens more things I could share.

I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.

They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.  

I am thankful for what they are teaching me.

heart hands and sunset