This post is from my church’s newsletter that’s going out in July.
How They See
I’m thankful that Jeff’s first Sunday here was also Father’s Day. His message was powerful and thought-provoking. I want to be a Cedar in my family’s lives; for the sake of the pine trees that might be watching (Zechariah 11). I hope you caught the vision that this idea doesn’t end at families and Father’s Day messages, but it encompasses our every day relationships with the world around us; both the ones we’re aware of and the ones we aren’t.
No pressure, but somebody’s watching you. I was talking recently with my morning discipleship group about the song “Every Breath You Take” by the Police (They didn’t know that song and thought I meant “Every Move I Make” that we used to sing at church). The ‘older’ song is one of my favorites but the lyrics can be interpreted on the “creepy” side of things. ‘Every move you make, every step you take; I’ll be watching you‘. I’ve heard it jokingly described as “the stalker song” and you can maybe see why.
But it illustrates an even creepier truth. The people in our lives that know us as “church people”, “Christians”, or whatever other names they give us are always watching us. Sometimes they’re watching out of curiosity. Sometimes they’re watching, respecting us for our faith; sometimes not. Sometimes they’re watching to see if we mess up. Sometimes they just want ammunition to use against us. Sometimes we give it to them.
I need to clarify: I don’t care all that much (maybe a little bit) about how the world sees me. I do care how the world sees Jesus.
That brings to my mind a certain degree of pressure; even tension. And I hope that we can live with it! Right now, the world’s most common thoughts about Christianity are not flattering. But in many cases; they’re at least partly right. We get a lot of press for all the wrong reasons these days. When we do Ephesians 4 backwards and speak the truth in hate; we effectively crush the power of the truth to change people’s lives.
It’s my hope that this church body will continue to go against the flow of the more infamous and unloving groups that seem to stand for Jesus. We have a small voice here in our small town; but we have big hearts and open arms. I always hear from visitors that one of the best things about our church is how welcoming and friendly we are.
We can never water down truth. We can never water down grace. Remember in John 1:14 how John described Jesus as coming to us from the Father, full of grace and truth? Somehow, he is 100% both and that’s where I left off in my last sermon. I didn’t have time to express much about how we also need to live and emulate this ‘bad math’ that teaches good theology. So there it is. This should be a major part of our legacy as a church body; that we “speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)” and people that watch us will see it. There’s really no room for any grumpiness or discord among our people because they’re watching; and because HE is watching. There’s really just room for God’s Word and God’s Grace.
Big Weekend. Ohio Teens For Christ was on my mind and was the mountain-top experience that it normally is. Our students showed up and growed up (bad grammar, lame joke, don’t care)! I got to see/catch up with a good old friend and watch him do ministry in a way he is extremely gifted for (name-dropping Mr. KJ-52). I helped emcee the convention a little bit and that’s exciting to do. I got to see some of the world’s greatest youth sponsors minister to our students in ways that only youth sponsors can (better than youth ministers many times). I saw students get challenged and get excited about doing ministry.
All the while I was remembering a few things from ‘back home’ that were going on. I was preparing to lead worship and a devotion at the Sonrise service and preach the Word at the 10 AM Easter service at the church (I knew I was preaching the resurrection; and that’s about all I knew). I had just visited a couple of families that had folks in critical condition at some hospitals. There are quite a few families that I know are suffering the wrath of the world’s influence in no small way…
I was a bit uneasy about Sunday morning on the way home from Ohio Teens on Saturday; knowing I had that night to practice and polish up the message (I had about 15 of my usual 35 minutes written) and worship. Then I got a phone call that one of the ladies I’d seen at the hospital on Wednesday was getting worse. My youth sponsors helped me out in a huge way by squeezing the students in my car into the other vehicles and took them back home to Marion and I took off for the hospital. About 5 minutes before I got there, as I was praying for God to give me the strength to keep moving I got another call that she had passed away.
When I got there I did what I could to comfort and reassure. The family was still in shock I think because she was expected to get better. On the way home I stopped at another hospital where a family was waiting for their loved one to pass away after taking her off of life support. It made me remember my own mom and our family being in a similar situation 4 years ago. This is the sort of thing that makes me never want to complain about trivial aspects of life ever again (I still do).
It is pretty surreal how death affects you. Death in entertainment (hmmm) keeps this vast separation between you and the victim and any real involvement. In real life when you hear about death on the news or hear about an acquaintance’s family member it creeps a little closer to home. When you personally talk to a friend on Wednesday and see their body on Saturday it really throws you for a loop. At least it does me.
Especially within the context of Easter weekend.
On this side of Heaven; death seems vicious, cold, uncaring, and so very permanent. I know my congregation will tell you I was an emotions-full-on preacher on Sunday morning. It’s because my entire sermon revolved around this one weekend in history in which Jesus died to set us free and rose from the grave to show us how to go home… and in the scope of such a mountain-top-valley-low weekend it just couldn’t have hit me harder. I thought I was going to lose it when I talked about Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 (You have not withheld your son from me). When I held up the invisible knife to illustrate and was thinking about Abraham’s facial expression when he heard the angels call his name; I felt like I was watching it happen… And also I was exhausted and people just get soppy on too little sleep! In many ways it may have been the worst sermon I ever gave; in some ways I bet it was the best. I prayed that He’d just take point and I believe He did.
I had someone tell me that they think I’m a wise person. I said thanks for the encouragement but in my heart I brushed the compliment aside. I don’t really feel very wise. Probably at best I’m just trying to pay attention. God is always moving and speaking and sometimes He’s really clear and precise; sometimes He just sits there with you as you look up at the sky.
I snapped that picture on the way home from paying a speeding ticket this morning… It really seemed like a perfect sky to go with the current hi-lo vibe I’m still rolling with today
So this weekend I was on deck for preaching with our Senior Minister out for a few days (miss you preacher, come back soon!). It usually makes me pretty nervous; but I’ve come to really enjoy preaching. My sermon was more topical than I would have liked; but I was following what I felt was God’s lead on it’s direction so…
That was confirmed for me when last week as Phil was preaching I realized my sermon was eerily connected to his! I joked about him peeking at my notes, but figured that since I’ve been planning this one for months (and he writes all of his months in advance), maybe God was up to something good here.
The worship leader that day (ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Caleb White!!) also picked out some songs that just really fit well with the message – and even though I did collaborate with him on the service; it was still really sweet how everything just matched up perfectly.
It never surprises me anymore when the service plans mysteriously just flow together – but it still amazes me!