Monday, May 6, 2019

Doing Better

Sometimes it's a big thing, a life-altering tragedy, a death, a disfiguring illness, or financial ruin that breaks you down. But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is the accumulation of smaller things. The kick in the belly while you are down. The second, third, fourth blows to the already fractured skull. You are left flattened. Motionless. Unable to move on. And wondering where the hell God is. You can't see him. You can't feel him. You can't touch him. And you are all alone. Or so it seems.

Kelly Kapic, Covenant College professor and author of Embodied Hope, says this in an interview with By Faith Magazine:

One of the reasons our suffering can be so difficult is that in the West, including in the church, we have become so individualistic. We put all the weight on the isolated person, rather than also seeing that person within a larger community. 
Employing the ideas of faith, hope, and love, I try to argue that we need each other if we are to live this Christian life, and that seasons of suffering just make what is true undeniable. I want people to know that amid their difficulties, it shouldn’t surprise them to have really hard questions and doubts about God, about His seeming absence or unconcern, and about their struggles. 
During these difficult times, we must lean on other people; when we struggle to believe in God’s compassion and presence, they believe for us; when we find it almost impossible to hope in the promises of the Gospel, they gently hope for us, embodying those promises to us; and when we feel alone and afraid, they are genuine physical representatives of God’s loving presence. Alone we are in trouble, but together, we are sustained in faith, hope, and love.

I'll be totally honest here. I don't think we as a church know how to do this. Oh, we are good at fixing others. Giving advice. Teaching them. Rebuking them. We are trained in right theology and saving souls and personal piety and whatever manifestation of that we prefer. But we don't know how to come alongside the suffering. Hold them up. Stand in the gap. Plead for them and with them when they can no longer plead for themselves.

Too many of us have opened up and begged for help only to be set aside, ignored, chastised, patted on the head, or worse. Nothing is more painful than begging for support and care and being met with silence, pat answers, or reproof. As one friend said, "I've learned to be very quiet in the church is messed up..."

People, this should not be.

We in our fragile shells of humanity cannot go it alone, (no matter how much we introverts want to try). At some point we need each other. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We are told that if part of the body hurts the whole body hurts. Then why is it so damn hard to care for each other?

People don't get in the way of ministry. People are ministry. We are called to be the flesh and blood of Jesus to one another. If we can't even love each other what business do we have trying to tell people God loves them?

We can do better. We are called to do better. We had better do better. I want to do better.

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Sword Is a Dangerous Thing

People like to get up in each other's business. It's natural. We are relational beings. The problem comes when we get up in each other's business in hopes of controlling and changing each other.

Honey, that ain't your job. 

The problem gets even worse when we jump to conclusions and rush in to fix whatever it is, waving around the Word of God like a battery operated light saber, eager to be the one to save the day and save the soul.

The Bible likens the Word of God to a sword. A very, very sharp one. Sharp. Not like the knives I have in my kitchen. Sharp like the knives I see on Chopped.  In Ephesians 6 the Word of God is called to be our weapon. Even children know that weapons must be handled very, very carefully or people get hurt. Really hurt. Waving around the Word of God, often out of context and in order to further our own agenda, can cause unspeakable destruction.

In fact, using the Word of God to bolster our own position (and this has been done throughout Christian history to the detriment of mankind and to the shame of the church), in my opinion, qualifies as a violation of the 3rd commandment, to not use the name of the Lord in vain.

I've seen the misapplication of God's Word and some really circuitous and faulty Bible-speak used to endorse all sorts of ideals and control the choices of others from how you feed your baby to how you educate your children to how you dress to what you eat or drink (or don't) to how you spend your money to whether or not you have a right to leave your husband or call the police. Scripture can be worked into a pretzel to say anything anybody wants it to. This is straight out of Satan's textbook. He, after all, used the same moves on Jesus.

The reality is that we all need to be very careful about the assumptions we make about another person and what our role might be in coming alongside. We may be called to care well or to confront boldly. We may need to speak the truth in love (but never in arrogance). But we need to remember that we may not have all the facts. We may not know the whole story. And we always have to remember that it is never our job to control the other person or to get a guaranteed outcome.

If we truly trust God to work in the heart of someone we care about, we don't need to fling around his words, willy nilly, to get the kind of outcome we think is right. We can use the Word of God carefully, love deeply, and trust God with the outcome.