Monday, October 29, 2018

Stolen Grief

Yesterday, October 28th, was the 8th anniversary of my mom’s passing. Mom was just 54 years old when she, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer. It is always a tough day but has become more normal over the last eight years. Normal, but not easy. I can see today how God was working in my life even during that most difficult time. Had mom never gotten cancer and eventually died from it, I don’t know if I’d be where I am right now. God laid the path, starting then, for me to go into ministry. But that’s another story.
                After mom’s funeral, I was a wreck. I remember being in the lobby of the funeral home, crying, when someone came up to me. She asked, “Mike, why are you crying?” How does one answer this question? Isn’t it obvious? “My mom just died,” I replied. Exactly what she said after my response, I do not recall, but it was along the lines of, “Don’t be sad, your mom is in Heaven! You should be happy!” (Mom was a strong Christian woman, I know she was in heaven as soon as she breathed her last. But that doesn’t remove the pain I felt when she left her earthly body.) Just at that moment, one of my oldest friends, Dave, came up to me and I turned and started talking to him. I was so angry at that insensitive comment that if Dave hadn’t come up at that point, things could have gotten ugly.
                My pain was stolen from me. Was I wrong for being sad? Was my grief selfish now that mom was in a far better place? Can anyone that professes Christ mourn the death of someone they love? These were questions I wrestled with for many years. “Mike, why are you crying?”
                I got back into church and drew closer and closer to Christ starting a few years ago. I noticed something in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. It was the story of the death of Lazarus. Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus and good friends of Jesus, that Lazarus is sick. Jesus waits a few days before heading to Bethany and in that time, Lazarus dies. When Jesus arrives, he is greeted by Martha who is distraught over her brother’s death. Eventually Mary also comes out and is grieved just as much as Martha. Both of them said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, 32)
                As Jesus looks around, he sees how much pain everyone is feeling at the death of Lazarus. And Jesus, the fully-human and fully-divine Jesus, also feels this pain. It was then that “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 NIV) Jesus weeps just moments before he raises Lazarus from the dead! He knows He is about to see His friend again in just a few minutes, yet He feels the natural human pain of loss, of death. When Jesus wept at the death of someone He loves, He gave us permission to weep as well.
                Since being asked, “Mike, why are you crying?”, I have been given the opportunity to speak at two prayer services or funerals. I have told the story of the death of Lazarus at both occasions, telling everyone that it is okay to cry. Jesus knew He was about to see Lazarus again in just a few moments; yet, Jesus wept. For us, the death of a Christian brother or sister can certainly be a celebration of a life well lived, and an eternity to be spent with our Savior. But we still feel the terrible pain of death. Jesus wept, you may weep too.

(From 1987, me, mom, and my sister Melissa)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Shopping for a church

                We recently had a guest on a Sunday morning that mentioned to me they were “shopping” for a church. Now, I don’t say the following to try and single out this person or anyone that has ever used the term “shopping” while looking for a church. But this phrase has really stuck with me since I heard it and I’ve spent some time thinking about what it really means. So let’s explore the idea behind using this common turn of phrase.
                We live in a consumer driven culture. When we shop, we ask questions such as: Am I getting the best deal? Is this product going to live up to my expectations? Will this serve me as I need it to? How will my life be made better or easier by using this product? And those are valid questions to ask when we are purchasing the things we need. Is that Thanksgiving turkey going to feed the family? Is that new car going to get me to work and back home again? Is this shirt going to fit?
                But when it comes to consuming things, we rarely, if ever, ask how we will be of benefit to that stuff. What can I contribute to that Thanksgiving turkey that will make its existence better? How can I make this car have an easier life? (Sure, we take the car in for regular maintenance, but that is more of a benefit to us than the car since it extends the life of the thing we use so much.) Am I making this shirt better by wearing it?
                A church is not something to be consumed. It is something to be lived in, something to be a part of. To paraphrase the words of John F. Kennedy from his inaugural address in 1961, “Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.” What is your reason for seeking a church? Are you trying to find a place to fit in, to utilize your gifts, to become and integral part of? Or are you seeking a group from whom you can take, that will fulfill your needs, that will only benefit you in your life?
                Being part of a church family will be of benefit to you, no doubt. There is a satisfaction that comes to us in not only belonging to the greater Body of the Church of Jesus Christ, but becoming immersed in a local church as well. Of course, we must find a church in which we fit. But remember, there is no such thing as a perfect church! If that is what you are seeking, or shopping for, you will never find it. If you are a t-shirt and jeans guy and that church requires a suit on Sunday, that probably isn’t for you. 
                When seeking a church, I suggest you ask yourself these three questions: How can I contribute to the lives of this group of imperfect, broken people? How can my gifts be tapped to benefit my new congregation? How can my presence be a blessing here?

Blessings to you on your journey towards our Savior, Jesus Christ!
Pastor Mike

Monday Evening Check-In