Archive for May, 2014

What About the Change?

planting

What About the Change?

“Nice sermon, Max. It really made me think.” I know that as he left worship that day he meant those words as encouragement. I didn’t see the need to tell him right then that whether or not a sermon made someone think doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. I simply don’t care whether anything I say makes someone “think”. I care whether they experienced the Holy Spirit in worship, and whether something in that experience led to a changed life. I took the encouragement and simply said, “Thank you. See Wednesday for breakfast?” That’s a better place for a conversation about the difference between “thinking” and “experiencing”, and “sparked interest” and “changed life”.

For our community, what happens on Sunday morning is not only not all of “church”, it isn’t even all of worship. We live life together here. And we live sent. Apart from Mondays, which are days of reflection, people are engaged in God’s mission every day. There are prophetic worship happenings, and healing worship on other days of the week than Sunday. We break bread together regularly. We meet for accountability sessions. And we pray together. We disciple one another around supper tables knowing that disciples aren’t really disciples if they aren’t making disciples. And we serve together in the mission. We get dirty together, fear together, cry together, and toil together. And we see miracles together, signs and wonders of the coming and present Kingdom. Corporate worship on Sundays is a celebration of all that the Lord has done in the mission during the week. And it’s a time to put the pieces together…to go after those parts of ourselves that Christ is trying to redeem and to claim as his. Part celebration and part reflection and part Spirit connection, corporate worship on Sunday is designed as an opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit in a unique way that leads us to change our behaviors, and thus to change our lives. A closer and closer walk. A deeper and deeper obedience. A thickening of our souls.

So, I don’t measure effectiveness by what folks say on the way out on Sunday. I am grateful for the encouragement because it has historically been few and far between. But I am looking for the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of folks, and in myself. Am I kinder? Am I better at discerning what’s really going on? Is my heart breaking for what’s breaking God’s heart? Am I more patient? Does my heart, and do my hands, reach out to people who I could never get anything from? Am I responding with my life and all that I have to the urgency of the situation in the world? Am I praying with all my heart for blessings upon those who have sought with all their hearts to do me harm? Am I inviting others into Kingdom participation with me…the most precious thing in my life? If I lost my checkbook and my calendar and you found them, would you be able to tell from them that I believe in a Kingdom not of this world…and that I am a Christ-follower? For me, those are better indicators of the effectiveness of our missions and ministries, and better indicators that the Holy Spirit has, indeed, come by here. Did that make you think? I love you, but I really don’t care if it made you think. It’s about the fruit. It’s about the change.

When I was a Stranger…

Love thy neighbor

When I was a Stranger…

They drove up to Adams and found him lying in a pile of trash in his trailer. He was alive, but too weak to move much. They’d been friends for years. I get the sense that Harold didn’t have a lot of friends, and that the ones he did have, he cherished. Mike and Jean couldn’t leave him like that. The cancer in his lungs was going to take him, but this was no way to go. So, they packed him up, locked up the old trailer, and took him home to their house so that he could die with some dignity among friends.

Harold has nothing of earthly value. In fact, he owes. There’s no estate. There’s just a mess of bills and papers to sort through and figure out, and a ravenous dysfunctional couple of cousins circling Harold like vultures. And Harold is rough. He’s an ex-biker with a lot of really broken stuff in his rearview mirror. There was no upside in the decision to take him in. There was only knowing that doing what’s right is the only blessing in this life. They did it because that is who they are. They could not NOT do this. They aren’t “walk away” people. They don’t worry about what will happen if they take him in. That just doesn’t cross their minds. They worry deeply about what will happen if they DON’T take him in.

I’ve gotten to know Jean and Mike first as volunteers at the food pantry. They came with a group of bikers who chose to volunteer, and they have been coming back ever since. Since then I have gotten to know them as a part of our faith community, and now through motorcycles. Our words between each other have not been many, but those words have been encouragement for each other. In many circumstances I would say that I did not really know them because we haven’t spent long hours talking together. But I do know them. I know them by the love they have shown over and over and over again to people who can give them nothing in return. They shun credit. They deflect it to others. They have given themselves away to feeding the hungry, and to giving warm clothing and hot coffee to people who would otherwise freeze to death living on the street. And now they have taken in a man no one else even really knew existed so that he could die with dignity and grace, after giving him years of their friendship when no one else did.

A long time ago, a man that we now know as Matthew felt compelled to write about his experience of faith and that of his community. His writing can be found in a part of the Bible called the New Testament. He relates a vision of Jesus foretelling the last judgment that he presents as taking place when we all stand before the Lord one day. In that passage, we find Matthew portraying Jesus saying these words:

‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

When we dropped Harold off at hospice today, he knew and we knew that that would be his last car ride in this life. He didn’t say much on the way. He just looked at the green that was finally emerging after a long winter. And he was looking beyond it, too, at something that he was beginning to see that none of us still living can yet see. I thought to myself, “Take it all in, Harold. Drink it deep.” We got him in and settled into what will most likely be his death bed in a few days.

After a long period of silence…not uncomfortable silence, but appropriate and almost holy silence, Harold spoke. He said, “I’m working through the fear.” Nothing profound. Just his truth. It struck me that at our end, truth is enough. After another period of silence, Harold said, “It’s okay. You can go.” I said, “I’ll come back tomorrow. If you’ve already left, I’ll see you on the other side. Save me place. I’ll be along.” He smiled as though he understood.

As I walked down the long hall with bright sunlight pouring in windows from one side of the building and cutting colored slashes across the floor ahead of me, I thought, “Today, I know what church is.” See, none of these people that I’ve mentioned here have a fish on their car. None of them hold membership in an institutional church that counts members to report them to their denominational higher-ups. They’re bikers and sinners, just everyday people. They don’t know the Creeds, and they don’t have the Jesus T-shirts. But they are living both ends of what Matthew was talking about, neither one realizing which end of it they are on. Where a hungry person is given something to eat, Jesus is alive there. He is actually there. And where a stranger like Harold is taken in and given shelter by people like Jean and Mike, Jesus is alive there. Where two or three people are gathered together in the way that Jesus would have gathered together, he is among them. And where people are gathered and Jesus actually is, that is church. I was in church today…the real church. And I walked away strangely healed.