Calvary Love

We just moved through the feel-good season of Christmas where we look with awe on baby Jesus, cute and cuddly in swaddling clothes, surrounded by His loving parents.

But what most moderns miss is that even in His birth, His death was foretold.  

The manger was most likely hewn from stone, as was His tomb.  And while the wise men’s gifts were costly and appropriate, they not only spoke of His kingship, they also included myrrh which was used for embalming the dead.

Jesus came to live so that He could die.  

Both His life and his death are models for my own. 

Every day of ministry was a day of self-denial-a pouring out of life onto and into the ones He came to serve.  

And if anyone-if ANY. ONE.-could have lifted Himself above those who presented their brokenness like offerings at His feet, He certainly could.  Not only was He without sin, He was God Himself in the flesh.

But look how gently Jesus welcomed the lost and lonely.  See the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His confused sheep.  Notice the love and kindness as He gathered the children around Him.

THIS is my example.

I am most certainly not above my Master.  

I am called to love and serve as He did-not in a condescending way that says, “I am helping you because I am better than you.”  But in a way that says, “I am helping you because I AM you.”

I have nothing I did not receive.  I have nothing to give except from the bounty of my Lord.  

My heart is just as broken as the next heart.  

We all need His touch.  

calvary love

Strong or Weak? How Labels Harm the Hurting

Labels and categories can be helpful.  When cruising the grocery aisles I’m thankful for the signs that point the way to “vegetables” or “baking needs”.

But labels can be harmful when applied to people.

Read the rest here:  Strong or Weak? How Labels Harm the Hurting

Love First, Always and Forever

Usually I write about how child loss has impacted my life and the lives of my family.

Part of the reason I do that is to offer encouragement to other bereaved parents and guidance for people walking with and ministering to them.

Sometimes I address my writing to a broader audience that may include people who do not follow Jesus because some topics have more to do with general situations and less to do with faith-although my faith informs my life in every way.

But today I want to say something directly to the Body of Christ in the world whether or not you have personally suffered tragedy:

If we are gathering in the name of our Blessed Saviour and pushing the wounded to the fringe of our fellowships,

we have got it all wrong.

Jesus came for the broken,

the wounded,

the limping,

the very ones who were unwelcome in the “upstanding community”

of synagogues and the Temple.

He had no where to lay His head, carried no purse full of gold and walked everywhere He went.

He died between two thieves, mocked and naked, bleeding and helpless (in the human sense).

When He met people, He spoke directly to their HEART, regardless of their outward appearance.

He met REAL needs.

He LOVED in ways that made a difference.

We are calledI AM CALLEDto be like Jesus.

If I memorize the entire New Testament and miss this truth, I have missed Him.

We read I Corinthians 13 at weddings and treat it like a marriage survival guide.

But that passage wasn’t written to two young people joining lives and “in love”, it was written to the CHURCH as a guideline for how Christ in us should be present in the world.

I don’t want to be a clanging gong!

I want to sing hope to those I meet by reflecting the love of Jesus everywhere I go.

I’m starting this morning at my own church door.

1Corinthians.13.2_lg have not love am nothing

Please-Just. Listen.

It’s hard-it’s hard to stay the words that come unbidden to mind and threaten to fly out of your mouth.

It takes restraint.  And patience.  And wisdom.

But when I finally open my locked box of hurt and pain and memories and heartache-please, please-just listen.

I know better than you that nothing anyone says, or does or hopes to do can change the facts.

Dominic’s not here-he’s there.

And I also know that makes you feel helpless.  I feel helpless too.

I’m not looking for pity.  I don’t want attention.  I have no desire to make you sad.

I have to let it out or I’ll burst.  If others saw the fullness of emotions brimming in my heart they would stand amazed that I could push them down and keep them inside so much of the time.

But speaking my sorrow is empowering.  

It provides a witness.  It means that he matters, that I matter and that this awful reality is recognized by someone other than just me.

When you shut me down or shut me out I. am. crushed.

Again.

In the end, you can walk away.  You have another life to go back to.  My pain is tangential to the reality of your every day.

It is central to mine.

So, please-encourage my heart with compassionate presence and just listen.

presence best gift

 

 

 

Wow! Just. Wow!

I’m always a little frightened to expose my vulnerable underbelly to the sometimes vicious wilderness of the worldwide web.

So when I clicked “send” for yesterday’s post I had immediate regrets-was it too personal? too negative? too self-focused?

I am overwhelmed by the comments both on the blog and on Facebook-comments of encouragement, understanding and hope-not condemnation or condescension.

All I can say is,  “Thank you!”

And I was reminded that isolation is a powerful weapon in the hands of the enemy of our souls.

But godly community disarms it.

So I want to make sure that everyone who reads this blog knows about two online Facebook sites that offer hope and healing through the truth of Scripture and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Each has a public page visible to anyone on Facebook and features posts of interest to bereaved parents and those walking with them.

While We’re Waiting is a large, well established non-profit organization.  In addition to the online presence, it offers in-person support to bereaved parents through retreats and support groups.  I am very grateful to the Sullivans and Browns who founded the group after experiencing child loss-their obedience has been a blessing in my life and in the lives of many other grieving parents. 

Heartache and Hope is the name of a page I created as an additional resource, along with the blog, for those who are grieving a child.

To receive posts in your newsfeed, simply “like” the public page and benefit from the encouragement.

From each group’s public page, bereaved parents and grandparents can request admission to a closed discussion group.

The private discussion groups are just that-private. Only bereaved parents and grandparents may participate.  It’s a safe space where everyone understands and shares your pain.

As I read and was encouraged by each comment on yesterday’s post, I thought of an image many of us have seen-a defensive circle of elephants facing outward-the vulnerable calves safely tucked in the middle.

circle of elephants

A lion can prowl around the edges but knows it is already defeated.  Nothing can penetrate the powerful perimeter that protects the potential prey.

Peter warned early believers:

Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone.

I Peter 5:8 VOICE

That’s what community feels like.  

I’m surrounded and protected.  

That old lion-the enemy-can roar all he wants to.  He can’t touch me.

For God did not choose us to condemn us, but that we might secure his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. He died for us, so that whether we are “awake” or “asleep” we share his life. So go on cheering and strengthening each other with thoughts like these, as I have no doubt you have been doing.

I Thessalonians 5:9-12 PHILLIPS

 

Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago.  So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.

Jesus called Himself, “the Good Shepherd” and He told Peter to “feed My sheep”. The relationship of shepherd to sheep is important if we are to understand how God wants His church to function.

Many churches serve more people than the number of animals in my care. And a pastor is only one person.  He (or she) cannot personally meet every need of every member of the congregation.

Still, a pastor is in a unique position to demonstrate priorities to a church and lead by example in ministering to the weakest and most vulnerable among them.

So how can a pastor lead the church to love the grieving and other hurting people well?

Cultivate a Culture of Compassion:

Does your local body welcome the wounded?  

Like those carrying the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability. Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

Pain is a reminder that this world is broken. It’s uncomfortable to feel it, to be near to someone who is feeling it. We try so hard to “fix” our own and other people’s pain.  And sometimes if we don’t feel like we can fix it, we ignore it.

A cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion means “to suffer alongside”.  It requires getting to know someone and listening to their story.  It means inviting others into your life, not only your pew.

Is your congregation too busy to truly SEE? The business of the church is people.

If we are to minister to the broken, we must reach out to them.  The first step is to welcome them in.  Then show them that you care.

Come alongside, bear witness to the tears, lay a hand on an arm, reach out with only love-often in silence. This is compassion, it touches the soul of one who hurts and reminds them that pain is not all there is.

No one should leave a church service ungreeted.  No one should leave feeling more alone than when they entered the building.

Communicate the Cost of Compassionate Response:

God is the God of inexhaustible resources, yet sometimes we act as if we are in a zero-sum community.  If we give too much over here, there won’t be enough over there.  But God has promised to supply every need according to His riches in glory.  

If we are to live in true fellowship with one another, loving one another through thick and thin, then it will be costly.  Ministry requires giving of resources, energy and time.

I have written elsewhere that, “There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.”

But it is what we are called to do.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

We shouldn’t set a time limit or a resource cap when we minister to those He has placed in our midst.

Commit to Continue:

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with ongoing challenges.

Ministering to hurting people rarely leads to a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.We need to be honest about this.  A weekly program is not going to be enough.

Pastors can help a congregation remain focused on compassionate response so that members do not abandon the broken to sit alone with their pain.

True ministry involves RELATIONSHIP.  And relationship is time-consuming.

But relationship is at the center of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No longer separated from God by our sin, we are invited to His table–welcomed into His family.

We are all broken.  And without the compassionate love of our Savior, we are all without hope.

When we welcome the wounded, we are living the Good News.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG