Saturday, August 13, 2011

I wish I had the guts to sing

I'm standing in the hospital last week and suddenly, the absurdity of the disconnect between our faith and life as Christians comes into sharp focus for me.

A few weeks ago, a friend at church gave me a link to an incredible story from Haiti. After the earthquake, a group of American doctors are working there trying to save as many as they can. Into their ward, in the midst of unimaginable suffering, comes a man with a guitar. Unannounced and without asking for permission, he begins to play. And the people begin to sing. What are they singing? Jesus songs. The doctors are impressed by the spirit of people who have lost everything, singing praises to God in the face of indescribable loss.

You can hear the story by going to:

So here I am in this hospital going to visit a man of deep faith who is very sick. And it occurs to me that the most natural thing in the world would be for us to sing praises to God in the midst of his illness and suffering. But I also realize that we won't. Not only is it just, well, "unnatural" in our society, but hey, they'd probably yell at us for bothering the other patients.

The verses from James come immediately to mind: "You don't have because you don't ask God." I'm overwhelmed by the fact that as a Christian in North America in the 21st century, I lack the guts to be a little "weird" and to take a chance on God and do the thing that should be the most natural thing in the world: to sing praise to God in the midst of suffering. My singing isn't very good, admittedly. But I see this same fear at being "weird" in the eyes of the world at work elsewhere. It's no wonder then to me that we are a church where signs and wonders, healings and life transformation don't take place on a regular basis. I think of all the sick people I know right now who believe but who have asked us not to bring the elders and pray for them. And I think, wow, we could all be healed if we'd just step out in faith and trust God to do what he says he'll do in his Word. Then I see I need to pray for more courage and to be more faithful in what seems to be small things but which are actually large things. He who is faithful with small things will be faithful with large things.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Different parts of the same body

It’s been quite the summer.

I can’t recall another summer when I’ve worked so hard. We finished Art Camp a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing. Ninety kids, most from our neighborhood and not church members. VBS was amazing before that. So were the outreaches we’ve done this summer to our neighborhood and the Drake neighborhood. Everything has been great ; just busy. Finally, about 10 days ago, everything slowed down and I went on vacation.

I wasn’t at Zion this Sunday because I was “on vacation.” One of the cool things about being a preacher on vacation is that you can visit other churches and see what God is up to in other places. So, we visited another church instead. A church not too far from my house on the north side of our city. It isn’t quite yet a mega-church but it’s going to be soon.

It was a very pleasing experience. We were welcomed. They were having a community fair; a huge affair with every imaginable kid friendly appliance and food. The worship production was amazing. Spiritually, yes, I believe we worshipped the King of Kings. It was crowded. The preacher was very good. His words spoke the Word to my heart. In fact, the whole thing was so smooth, so organized, so well done, my wife turned to me as we were leaving and asked, “Do you ever think we should just quit and let other churches that are doing things well just take over?”

OK, I admit it. I’ve thought of that before myself. We always say, “There is only ONE church in this city, the church of Jesus Christ.” So why keep on doing what we’re doing. There are better preachers. There are slicker worship teams. There are churches with more resources doing more things in this city and around the world. There are churches with less baggage. Is it vanity that keeps us going? Do preachers just need jobs and so we need to have lots of churches? Is it that we just couldn’t fathom closing and merging with another congregation or two?

As I looked around the church where we were visiting, I saw signs of the grace of God. There were several mixed race couples (that’s one of my leading indicators about church health. Bi-racial couples sometimes have trouble finding a place to welcome them, but when they find a place, you know it’s a good place that welcomes everyone). There was representation from different races. There were young and old. There were people with different disabilities. While it was overwhelmingly caucasian, it did resemble the changing face of our community well.

They preached the Word and lifted up the name of Jesus. They were passionate that others should come and know the Lord.

They had just had a major event where they provided clothing for 300 needy people.

And so on. They were representing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords well.
So why not just merge with them? Doesn’t it make sense? What makes us unique?

I suppose the answer to that last question, “what makes us unique?” is the reason that in two weeks, I’ll be back to preaching and we’ll keep making mortgage payments on our building and we’ll keep meeting together to pray and worship and teach and serve.

Because the answer is, we are unique. We may not be slick or be the best. We may not have it all figured out. Our sermons may not be for everyone. But somehow, God is using us. And the uniqueness of our church is found in the stories of our people.

Stories like the man who was far from God but because he was loved by his small group who calls our church home, he came to faith in Jesus Christ.

Stories about a number of preachers who lost their churches and found a home and restoration through the ministry of our congregation.

Stories like the guy in our neighborhood converting to faith in Jesus from another religion because together, as Christians locally, we showed him the love of Christ.

Not every church can do everything well. And we shouldn’t expect them to. But each church has a unique role to play in the redemption of the world. Together, acting as a body, we accomplish far more than we think or imagine. Because each of our churches is part of the body of Christ. Some will be parts that have greater honor and more exposure and some will be less honored but no less important in the working of the body.