this is not the end of this – we will open our eyes

By now most of you have probably heard about the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  By now most of you have probably caught up on the news, heard from the President.  By now most of you have probably read tweets, posts, status updates, etc with ranging emotions.  Times like this bring about a lot of confusion, anger, sadness and heartbreak. It also brings about a lot of debate, healthy and at times unhealthy debate on politics, rights and privileges of living in a free society.
This is not a post about that.
I’m truly saddened by this tragedy.  Saddened for the families of all involved, for children whose lives are forever altered and for whom school is no longer a safe place of learning.  For parents who have the unthinkable task of burying their children.  For children who have the unthinkable task of burying their parents.  For the loved ones of the shooter who are now mourning several members of their family and asking the questions of why.  For a community now forever changed and defined by this day.
I can’t scoff at the timing of my parables final and that while I was listening to the reports I was also reading about the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares found in Matthew 13.  I was reading how the significant question being addressed in this parable by our Lord and Savior is “How can this be the Kingdom (of God) if evil is still present?”
Or in other words: Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
Jesus addresses this question with this parable:  The Kingdom has become like a farmer who has planted good seed in his field.  But that night as the workers slept, the enemy came and planted weeds among the the wheat, then slipped away.  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.  The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ ‘an Enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.  “Should we pull out the weeds?” they asked. “No,” he replied, “you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.  Let both grow together until the harvest.  Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.”
Later his followers ask for an explanation and Jesus says that the field is the world, the farmer is the Son of Man, the good seed is the people of the kingdom and the weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.  The harvest is the end of the world and the harvesters are the angels.
At the end of the world the Son of Man will send his angels to remove all the evil from his Kingdom.
But this is not the end.  We’re still living in the Kingdom among the presence of evil.  Jesus assures us through his ministry and the presence of the Holy Spirit that the Kingdom is present in the world today ad he also assures us that evil is present in the world today, as seen by days like today.
This parable speaks nothing of retaliation or even what we should do about evil.  He only assures us that he is present and that one day there will be judgment.  The greek in the parable specifically says, “The Kingdom has become like”.  This passive verb form is Jesus’ way of assuring us that this was not what the Kingdom was meant for, it has become this way.  Our world has become this way.  Evil has come and dwells among us and for whatever reason the time for judgment hasn’t come yet.  But we are assured that it will come.
Until then we cling to the presence of our Lord and remind ourselves that this is not the end.

if you lose the words just carry the tune

I’ve been working at churches for almost 6 years now, really 8 if you include those years in college.  And there are still a few things that get me every time I experience them.  They aren’t abnormal experiences when you’re within a church body, in fact I’ve had then happen to or around me probably 100 times, but still – they blow my mind every time.  Every.  Time.
A couple of them happened to me today which once again, made me blessed to be in this place at this time.
First up – when the church body rallies around an individual or a family in prayer.  We have a family in our church who has had a bit of a rough season.  The husband has been in need of a kidney transplant and this week his wife is going to be his donor.  It’s an incredible story and as a church we have been praying them through this difficult time of waiting for answers.  The surgery is this Wednesday so this morning at church, we gathered around this family to pray.  It was such an amazing display of faithfulness of a community.  I know it’s not unexpected in a church but it’s something that our church does so well, we know how to care for our people.
Secondly, the moment when we go from people who worship side by side to people who worship together.  There’s a couple in our church who have been attending for quite some time, they recently became members and they are even in my small group.  This morning, in the midst of the usual weekly chatter after service, talking through our past weeks, our upcoming weeks, even the upcoming small group Christmas party, there was a shift in the conversation.  It was really subtle, but the shift was there.  It was like talking with old friends, we were joking in that comfortable fashion.  This couple has become a part of my community, I look forward to seeing them each week and hearing about what’s really going on in their lives.  We worship together rather than simultaneously, our friendship bringing glory to God.
Another evidence of this was in another conversation with some newer attenders.  I had mentioned that I had been praying for this woman over the week because as a member of the staff I had gotten her prayer request the past week.  Later in the conversation I had mentioned that my finals were coming up this week.  This same woman placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “Now I know what I’ll be praying for you this week.”  Her warm smile lit her whole face up and I was so blessed in that moment.
This third moment that blows my mind is the moment when someone (family or individual) goes from visitor to attendee.  Most of the time it’s a subtle shift, but today it came as a (shocked) statement from a dad.  We had the opportunity for child sponsor ship through Covenant Kids Congo and while I was manning the table, a newish family approached.  Through the conversation the daughter, a 7th grader, was telling me how she wanted to be a missionary some day and how excited she was to sponsor a child.  Her dad kind of shook his head and mentioned, “We’re going to end up going here aren’t we?” to his daughter.  I then got to hear some of their story about church, but that’s not the point.  In having this conversation with me and his daughter I could see it dawn on him that his family was becoming attached to this place.  It was a great moment to witness as he looked over at his daughter who just nodded enthusiastically.
The reason I think I still find wonder in these moments is that it is so counter-cultural.  In this western world we are fed this idea that we don’t need anyone else in our lives.  We are individuals or individual families.  We have no need for the type of community that the Church is about.  And yet, when people taste the kind of fellowship that comes from the Holy Spirit, it’s addicting.  They want to join up in a good way.
This is not to say that our church is doing it perfectly (although, I’m biased, I think we’re awesome) or to say that all churches experience these moments.  I think these moments are so often missed, so often taken for granted.  As staff members we are so quick to merely desire more congregants that we miss the process and the story of how they got there.
But we can’t miss that!  We can’t take for granted that we aren’t adding numbers to a page or an attendance rate.  We are adding active stories being lived out within our midst.  We are adding community.  We are adding hearts to beat in time with our own as we bring glory to the Almighty.

I'm getting stronger everyday

On a recent episode of a TV show that I watch occasionally there was a scene between a woman and her mentor.  The mentor was in the hospital and was imparting some final words of wisdom on her mentee.  The mentor was telling of hardship she had experienced due to an unplanned pregnancy and the heartbreak that comes with choosing to give her child up for adoption.  The story was gut wrenching, hard to handle even though I knew it was fictional.  Then the younger woman, familiar with heartbreak herself, replied to her mentor with the statement I’m sure we’ve all asked of those who have walked the hard road, “I don’t know how you found the strength.”
“Honey, we’re women.  The strength finds us.”
This statement rang so true to me.  So divinely placed in this 43 minute episode of dramatic interpretation of our world, for me to hear during this week of my life.
Men seem to be born with strength.  They seem to have it ingrained in their DNA, at least those born into our western society.  I’m sure there is an argument to be made for the fact that this is more a societal perception than an actual fact but nonetheless, they seem to carry it with their mere presence.
Women on the other hand, they seem to be more delicate in all ways.  There is this perception that women are not strong, they are frilly and weak – in need of protection.  There are songs about it, movies about it.  I would never say that women aren’t strong.  But I think that this particular kind of strength, the strength to overcome heartbreak and seek redemption in its place is God given.  In other words, the strength finds us when we need it.
We can’t conjure this kind of strength, it is sent to us by the Spirit and we are mere receivers of it.
I come from a family of strong women, on both sides.  Women who have fought soul crushing heartbreak and came out still standing.  And I guarantee that each of them would say they could not explain where the strength came from in those moments.  They know that they could never have found it on their own, they would say that God saved them when they needed saving the most.
I can recognize this because I see it in my own life too.  I see moments where I could not even see straight or walk straight.  But I see how I was lead from those moments by the hand of a God who loves stronger than any force of this world.  And that hand is the one I cling to, that strength has found me and prepared me for life in this broken world.
This strength seems so foreign, and you don’t even really notice that it found you until you’re on the other side.  And it’s a beautiful thing.  I think this could easily explain how God used so many women in the Bible do to incredible things, like birth the savior of our world or lay a baby among reeds hoping against hope that he will be saved.  God gives strength to women to do great things because they cannot do them alone.
Honey, we’re women.  The strength finds us.