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

If I Could Sing One Song This Would Be It: “Love the Broken”

I definitely don’t have a solo quality voice.

I can carry a tune but it’s best carried mixed in with others in a choir so the occasional missed note is barely noticeable. 

But if I was granted the ability to belt out a single song and have it broadcast far and wide, this would be it:  “Love the Broken”.

Not, “Love the Lovely” or “Love the Sexy” or even “Love the One Who Loves You Back”.

Nope.  

It would definitely be, “Love the Broken”.  

do justly love mercy

This is the song I’ve learned the hard way.  It’s the song that’s been burned into my heart and mind and soul and spirit.  It’s the song that resonates in any language, across time and across miles.

It’s the song every single heart can understand.

Because we have all been broken at one time or another.  

And we have all desperately needed love at one time or another.

I’m really not that great at many things.  I’m a decent cook, a mediocre housekeeper, a devoted but probably not up-to-the-highest-standards shepherd, a lazy gardener, and a wish-I-could-follow-directions-better crafter.

But I am a full on, all out, no-holds-barred lover.  

I am unashamed to speak blessing over strangers in public places.  

I will not be silenced by a sheepish glance when my kids wish I’d just stop telling them how very much they fill my heart with so many good things.  

I hug.  I give cheek kisses.  I hold the hand of a person whose heart is breaking just so they know they are not alone.

I believe with my whole heart that at least one verse of the New Song we will sing in Heaven is “Love the Broken”.  

Because isn’t that really what Christ came to do?

His ultimate act of sacrifice was to bring the broken and outcast into the Kingdom.  

He is Hope for the hopeless, love for the unloved, peace for the war weary soul. 

Truth is, I’m going to spend my life on something.

I want to spend it like Jesus.

the one little person you love

Hard Stops: When You Can’t Ignore the Missing

Most of the time I’m just kind of rolling along.

There are things to do, places to go, people to see, animals to feed.

I get up, get going and get on with it.

But there are some days that are what I call “Hard Stops” on this journey.  They are the days that force my heart to take special notice of the fact that Dominic isn’t here.

Sometimes they are milestone days like birthdays or holidays or the anniversary of that awful knock on the door.

Sometimes they are events where he should be there-like seeing his brother one more time before he deploys half-way around the world.

These days make my heart measure the time since I last hugged his neck, heard his voice, saw his strong, square hands reach across the table for the salt shaker-and I am overcome with how long it has been!

Then my heart shifts to the months and likely years I will have to live with this aching empty place where he should be but isn’t and I fear I just can’t do it!

Many days I’m able to distract myself from the sorrow and to live with the missing.

But these “hard stop” days force me to face it head on. and it is overwhelming. 

Every. Time.

So what do I do? 

When my heart is overwhelmed, I take it to the Rock that is higher than I.  

rock that is higher than i

I run to the Refuge of my Faithful Father.  

sing of strength you are my refuge

I turn my eyes to my Savior Who will redeem and restore.

restore after season of suffering

I put my hand firmly in the hand of my Shepherd Who will not leave me in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

And I pray for myself-and every heart having a hard time holding onto hope today-that we will feel the Father’s loving arms around us and that He will give us strength to stand.  ❤

Something to Hold On To When You Feel Like Letting Go

I have to talk to myself all the time.

Literally.

There are some mornings I open my eyes and would do just about anything to be able to stay in bed, hide under the covers and wish the day away.

But I can’t.

So I recite truth until my heart can hear it.  I speak courage to my own spirit.

If you are feeling weak and weary today, may I share a few of my favorites?

 

blessed is the one who perseveres

I don’t have to arrive at the finish line cute and perky, I only have to complete the course even if I’m barely crawling or dragging myself the last few feet.

Endurance IS the victory and perseverance IS faith.

 

my grace is sufficient

God’s grace is enough.  Sometimes I don’t believe it but that doesn’t make it untrue.  God promises to provide the strength I need when I need it.  When I am weak, He is strong.

lamentations-3-22-23

Even the very WORST day of my life only lasted 24 hours.  All I have to do is live this moment, this hour and this day.  Every morning is a new beginning with new mercy and sufficient grace.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God is still on the throne and still in control.

you keep track of all my tears

What a precious promise that the King of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the God of Heaven is keeping track of MY tears!  Not a single drop hits the ground but that He scoops it up and saves it.  One day every one will be redeemed.

began a good work

God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is working in and through me to conform me to the likeness of Christ.  That work is often painful.  But He is going to use even this most awful, heartbreaking thing.

revelation-21_4

When all else fails and a day is full of tears and sorrow, I remember that there will be a Day-a glorious Day!-when every single tear will be wiped away and, in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every bad thing will come untrue.”

Hallelujah!

Amen!

no evil can conquer grace forever

 

Prayer After Child Loss: What’s the Point?

One of the most devastating questions I had to face after Dominic ran ahead to heaven was, “What difference does prayer make?”  

I had prayed-diligently prayed-for every one of my children since before they were born.

Even Dominic’s name, which means “belonging to God” was chosen carefully to reflect my heart’s desire that this child follow hard after Jesus.

Dominic had served Christ’s church with his time, talents and resources his whole life.  Yet he was not quite 24 when he met Jesus face to face.

So why didn’t prayer “work”?  Why did my son die in an accident when others live?

I thought I understood prayer. 

I thought that if I followed the formula I’d been taught:

  • praise God;
  • confess my sins;
  • thank Him for the blessings He gave;
  • and then submit my petitions;

He would be obligated to grant them.

But I was wrong.  

Prayer is not a vending machine-put something in and get something out.  

I wrote this just a few months after he left us:  

Did the mother whose son died pray less or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

We must be careful to remember that God is sovereign and while we are commanded to pray, our words do not dictate His actions. He alone knows the end from the beginning. He alone is the Alpha and Omega.

I now understand that prayer is privileged communication with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. 

It is an opportunity to align my heart with His.  

It’s a way to tap into the Living Water that Jesus promised the Samaritan woman He met at the well.

LivingWatersWallpaper

It’s two-way conversation where I need to do as much listening as talking.  

So I no longer come with a basket full of petitions, hoping they are granted.  

Instead I kneel, hands outstretched. longing only for His touch, His Presence, His grace, mercy and sustaining strength.  

woman touching his hem

I still pray but it is a simple prayer: 

“Lord, I need You.”

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

 

Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

What If I’m Angry* With God?

God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Yes, I know, the commonly touted wisdom in church circles is not to ask, “Why?”

It’s also bad form to admit that you might actually be angry* with God. 

But I can pretty much guarantee that over half of any congregation sitting in the pews on a given Sunday has had at least one moment when, with raised eyes they screamed, “Why?????” to the sky aimed at a God they didn’t understand but believed in anyway.

I know I have.  

David did.

Paul did.

Job did.

So what does a heart do if it’s upset with God?  Stuff it?  Reason it away?  Shame it to silence? Hope it fades on its own?

I think the only thing a heart can do with that anger and doubt and disappointment is take it straight to the Throne of Grace where we are promised to find help in an hour of need.

Hebrews-4_16

That’s what I did.  

I wrote hundreds of pages of journals with my Bible beside me.  When the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to mind as I was writing, I looked it up, read it and usually copied it into my journal right alongside my questions and rambling.

Sometimes I would write the letters large and decorate them or look up the meaning of words in a concordance or dictionary and write the definitions or synonyms out to help me deepen my understanding.

In the end, my heart was finally able to accept the truth of Who God is-my loving, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Heavenly Father-even when I do not like what He is doing.

Reaching a place of accepting His will while still acknowledging the pain it brings me (like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) has given me a measure of peace.

It has freed me to walk on in this life and to take the good, the bad, the painful and the wonderful in stride.

Do I still have moments (days!) when I want to scream?

Absolutely. But I am submitted to God and bow my heart to His.

It took a long time.

The more I read and studied Scripture, the more I found evidence of anguish, tears, and the messiness of human emotion. When we are in pain, the pain we are facing is temporary, even though it never feels temporary. Pain can linger, and it will always be with us, but for the believer in Jesus Christ, pain is never the final destination.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine, p. 134

*I am lumping a lot of strong (often considered “negative”) emotions in with the one word “angry”-for me, it was actually disappointment-God did not live up to my expectations (which is not to say He should or that my expectations were accurate).  For others it might be distrust and for some it might be doubt (does God love me?).  I’m most certainly NOT suggesting that Jesus was angry with God in the garden but it is plainly stated in Scripture that He begged God for another, less painful way that would still accomplish the Father’s plan.