Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Questions...

   I've spent these few weeks weary. Tired of watching someone I love go to great and dangerous lengths to run away from God. Tired of witnessing my mom suffer long with chronic pain, auto immune diseases, and a wound in her ankle that refuses to heal for two long months now. Heavy with my father's weariness as he cares for her and suffers along side of her. Praying hard and prayed out. I've been plagued by questions.

   Why does God continue to allow my mom to suffer when He could heal her? Isn't four years long enough? What will it take for my loved one to stop running from God?  When I pray that God will do whatever it takes...what exactly will the "whatever it takes" turn out to be? Why....why does God allow suffering to last for what seems like forever?

   In the middle of all this questioning comes Holy week and a question is asked of me. I am asked to read a meditation for the Good Friday service. Me. I haven't done anything that would require me to stand up in front of a congregation (besides church membership or a baby dedication) for two decades. For the first time in a very long time, saying no doesn't come easily and I have to pause and pray about it. Not certain as to why I feel compelled to say yes, I reluctantly agree to do  it. At our rehearsal I read the meditation for the first time. The words " Mary puts a face on the suffering love of God and reminds us that God weeps with us in our pain and grief." leap off the page at me. I know that those words are why I am there...they grabbed a hold of me. They wouldn't let go of me for the rest of the night.

    I laid in bed last night and thought about God weeping with us in our pain and our grief. Somehow, it still didn't feel like He understood. I told Him, "You just don't understand how much it hurts to  see my mom suffering for so long."  As I rolled over to go to sleep I heard Him say, " How do you think I felt when I watched my Son die on that cross."  I fell asleep with those words and woke up with them this morning. In all my years of following Christ, I never once considered what it must have been like to be Father God, watching His only Son suffer so.

    As the day wore on, more questions came. I was on my way to care for my mom and the song "Good, Good Father" came on the radio. I found myself asking where His goodness is in the midst of suffering. The next song to come on the radio was "Just Be Held".  The lyrics to this song encourage the listener to let go and let God hold them through their suffering, especially when the answers seem far away. They remind the listener that He is there right in the midst of life's storms. The song begins with "Hold it all together. Everybody needs you strong." It was as if someone had put words to how I had been feeling lately. Until I heard this song today, I had forgotten that when I am busy holding it all together...I deprive myself of experiencing God's goodness. We can't see His goodness in the midst of our storms until we let go and let Him hold us. It's resting in His grip that allows us to experience His goodness in the midst of suffering.

   I decided to share the songs that I heard on the radio with my mom. I watched her as she listened to them. I thought for certain that the one that would speak to her most was "Just Be Held."  I was wrong. The one whose suffering lead me to question God's goodness, absolutely loved the song "Good, Good Father".  There it was...the fruit of suffering. My mom is convinced of God's goodness. Because of her suffering, she has experienced His love in ways that I can't begin to imagine. She has experienced the depths of His love and the comfort of His presence in such a way that she can say to the only One who could heal her instantly...but doesn't "You're a good, good Father" and truly mean it! I am in awe of her.

     I sit here now, thinking about the questions...and I've asked God a few more. They're not the kind that really need answering. They're more for reflection I suppose. I keep coming back to this:  Father God knew how horribly Jesus would suffer on the cross. He knew how heart wrenching it would be to watch His Son suffer the anguish of the cross. Yet He sent Jesus anyway. He sent Him to die on the cross for me. Me...who questioned His goodness and accused Him of not understanding. Why do any of us matter that much to Him for Him to do such a thing? Why put Himself through that suffering for people like us who consistently hurt and disappoint Him?  Love...it's the only possible answer. A love that I can't begin to understand but is strong enough to welcome my questions.

     What are you questioning tonight? Go to God whose love is strong enough... whose grip is tight enough to hold on to you when you are weary with questions and ready to let go.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Why I Still Believe..

    There are a growing number of millennials who are leaving the church. I know some of them personally. They say the church isn't relevant, isn't living the gospel, is too concerned with outward appearances, doesn't allow for free thinking or expression of thoughts that are not black and white. They say it is a place where rules reign supreme. They say these things based on what they've experienced in the church. I believe they say them from a place of deep hurt. This hurt has caused them to lose all hope for the church. But...I still believe in the church.

     I still believe because every Sunday I spend time with a group of imperfect people who show up to worship God with authenticity. They come in all shapes and sizes, dressed up, dressed casually, from all different back grounds, but they have one thing in common...Christ. His love has united us and because of this we don't care about appearances. Every Sunday I am greeted by a man in a suit. He and his son are the only men who regularly wear suits to church. Most everyone else comes dressed casually. He greets everyone with a smile and talks to everyone as if they were dressed up just like him. He doesn't judge the rest of us for not wearing a suit and we don't judge him either. I respect him for living out his convictions. Sometimes as I make my way into the sanctuary, I pass by my buddy. He is sixty something, loves motorcycles, and has many interesting tattoos. I have absolutely no tattoos. I just never had the desire. His tattoos don't bother me one bit, he is my brother in Christ, and we've shared life together. We pray for each other. To look at us you wouldn't expect us to be friends or have anything in common...but we do. We have Jesus and He is enough.

   I still believe in the church because the church I attend is living the gospel and that is what makes it relevant today. Some of my church family are homeless. Some of them are struggling with addiction. Others used to be homosexuals who came to Christ because the church loved them, and God used that love to transform them. Friday night I shared life with a homeless man. We didn't talk about the fact that he carries his life around in a back pack. We talked about my children, and his mother. He asked me personal questions that I didn't hesitate to answer because I was standing in my Father's house and if my Father loves this man, so must I.

   I still believe in the church because I've experienced a church that doesn't just read the headlines...it becomes part of the story. When the media was highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis, the church found people on the front lines and sent them help. Once we were made aware of the widespread problem of human trafficking, we set out to abolish that kind of slavery. We house the homeless, run a food pantry and clothing closet, and provide a Celebrate Recovery program for those struggling with life issues and addictions. In a culture that is becoming more racially divided by the minute, we have purposed to look beyond racial tensions and love, because we are loved by God. We are a church of many colors.

   I still believe in the church because our youth director went the better part of his night fielding questions from a new kid that came to youth group. Sure, he had a lesson planned...but instead of sticking to his plans or following some unwritten rule about how to run a youth group, he spent time in the gray area. I still believe in the church because I've met a youth director who couldn't answer all of this kid's questions and admitted it! I still believe in the church because this child walked away knowing his questions were welcomed, his thoughts mattered, and he was loved!

    I still believe in the church because our pastors welcome my questions. They don't set themselves above us as having arrived somewhere deeply spiritual. They walk alongside us, sharing their own journeys and lessons learned in Christ. I still believe in the church because at one point in time, one of our pastors was humble enough to spend time with me discussing concerns I had about something he said in his sermon. He did it with love.

     My intention is not to brag, although I know it can easily seem that way. My intention in writing this is to offer hope to you, especially if you've given up on the church. There certainly are churches out there that do not fit the description I just gave...I've attended a few of them myself. However, as long as there is Christ there is hope for the church. The church I attend isn't perfect. I've given you a glimpse into the best of us. Stick around any church long enough and you'll find flaws. I've chosen not to list our flaws here. I believe in building up the body of Christ, not tearing it down. I believe in letting God deal with our flaws and letting God transform us. I believe in being part of the solution...not the problem. Perhaps you think it's okay for you to give up on the church because you're still following Christ. It's not possible to truly follow Christ but give up on the church. To truly follow Christ, we have to love how He loves and who He loves. Christ loves the church...flaws and all. Ephesians 5:25 puts it in perspective this way, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."  

     I want to leave you with a few parting thoughts. The first is from author Shane Claiborne. He wrote, "There is a movement bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of."  Will you move beyond cynicism?  It's no easy task especially if you've been hurt by the church...but there's a simple remedy for that. Go to the God who loves you and gave His Son for you and let Him heal you...then forgive. Will you be a part of the solution? Be the church you dream of? Millennials...we love you and we  need you.