In a Row of Graves

Check out this picture …

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Eran and I took our daughters last weekend to visit all of the headstones of those in our family who have passed away. This row of markers is the row of my grandfather’s family. The headstone, in the bottom left corner, is my grandfather’s. Trace the row to the top right corner, and you’ll see the headstones of his brothers and sisters, and his parents.

This is their family. Once upon a time, my grandfather was a kid, in a house full of kids. His parents were in the middle of parenting. There was once a lot of noise in their house; memories were being made, and exhaustion was being fought. But the kids grew up. They left their house, fought a war, had a family, and had their own grandchildren. And now, he and his family are together again, next to each other in their graves.

The time we have with our children is precious. And it’s fleeting. Don’t waste a minute with them. Don’t emphasize petty things like sports and movies. Emphasize, instead, God’s love and grace and mercy, and how God wants to use them to heal a broken world.

Read the gospels together.

Pray together.

Speak to them of how God is testing you, and how he is blessing you.

Remind them that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are just illusions of community.

Teach them how God wants his church to be a kingdom — the kingdom — on earth, and not an organization with great things to do, and with fantastic personalities to hear.

All of this has been especially heightened for me, though, in my two experiences in the past month serving the families of children with cancer. To say that I was humbled, and overwhelmed, at the serious tests these families endure is a vast understatement. These parents truly know the value of family, and they embrace it to its fullest experience, every day — in ways I cannot.

So again, I say, the time we have with our children is precious.

Because one day, regardless of our health and wealth right now, each of our families will only be known by the words etched in the stones at our graves.

Fringe Benefits (Day Nineteen)

Welcome to day nineteen in the ninety days of reading through the New Testament. Today’s reading is from Luke 7 through Luke 9.

And again, Jesus’ acceptance of those on the fringes of society takes center stage.

Luke, in trying to construct an incredible factual account of Jesus, and continuing this story in his companion book, constantly insists upon placing the story of Jesus at the intersection of non-Jewish people, and those on the fringe of society.

  • He heals the child of a centurion (not a Jew), and resurrects the son of a widow (a woman, in a male-dominated world), both in Luke 7. And, again, both stories concern children.
  • Jesus is anointed by a “sinful woman” in Luke 7 (again, a woman in a male-dominated world).
  • Jesus performs an exorcism in Luke 8, of a man no longer allowed into the city because of his demon-possession (he was ostracized from the Jewish community).
  • In Luke 8, he again resurrects a young girl (a girl, in a male-dominated Jewish world).
  • Jesus also heals a woman in Luke 8, simply when she touched his clothing (again, a woman in a man’s world).
  • In Luke 9 Jesus heals a young boy (a child, in a man’s world).

In the New Testament book of Acts, Luke spends much time defending Paul’s ministry to the very same people. Paul traveled into the Roman world, to bring the message of freedom to Gentiles. Luke is, after all, making sure we all understand this, and he does so by placing Jesus in the lives of the outcasts in his first volume, so the second volume of his works will make more sense.

There is a change in story in today’s reading though. Luke sets the stage for Jesus’ passion with a statement in Luke 9:51 that Jesus “resolutely” sets out for Jerusalem.

But before everything in this story becomes focused on the climax of human history, Luke records one final statement about Jesus’ very public and controversial life. Here it is:

Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Luke 9:48)

Luke ends Jesus’ time with the outcasts with this very powerful idea.

Matthew may use this very same story in Matthew 18 to highlight a simple faith, but Luke uses it to highlight Jesus’ acceptance, and protection, for the weakest.

This good news of freedom will be available to the most vulnerable in society.

And while these interactions show us the depth of Jesus’ compassion, we also see the flattening of his expanding kingdom.

Everyone is welcomed.

We should see Jesus defending and empowering those who have lost everything, and who had no more to lose.

It’s a stark contrast to our idea of community, though. We build community based upon similarities. Church attendance is held together by those with similar interests. We’ve assumed that the community of our gatherings is God’s extreme intention.

But our non-involvement, and our silent non-acceptance of those on the fringes of our own society, speak greatly to our own depravity. We’ve built ivory castles, and asked people to come to us.

We’ve built strange structures of silent leadership in these gatherings. We protect our stately buildings. We hold high the public presentations of worship and teaching. But we teach truth, and become content at what we present, by saying that those who do not join us have turned a cold shoulder to God.

Jesus, though, in a startling way, never spent much time teaching these people he healed, and his acceptance of these outcasts was never based upon how much they learned first.

There were no bible studies. No worship leading. No bible classes. No board meetings. And no baptisms.

They were healed. They were accepted. They were loved. And they worshiped.

Settling

“We’re just going to find our daughter.”

And those were the words that stalled a church yesterday morning.  Words that shocked the system and stretched the muscle of your heart.  And the church braced for the coming storm.

The circumstances, at the time, seemed very grave.  One of our college students was missing, and out of contact with her parents and her friends, last seen at a concert this weekend.

When the news began to move through the hallways of our church building, people stopped and stared at each other with puzzled looks.  What could only be the appropriate response was the direction our leadership took.  The entire planned service was changed in an instant, and the morning would be spent in deep prayer.  Such a simple thing, but such a necessary response.

I was the first to offer a prayer, followed in time by all of our leaders.  And from the first prayer to the last, the tone changed to much more serious pleas.  My prayer was that our concerns and tears would prove unnecessary.  The last prayer offered was praise for her ultimate victory of heaven if she happened to not have survived the night.  All of our minds willingly followed that route, and wondered what life would be like if such a tragedy would occur.

Before I prayed, though, in the moments our minister announced to the church the circumstances, I felt a settling — something warm and controlled rested over the pews and the people, and it was something I have never experienced in a church before.  I am uncertain of it, even now, so much so that as I write, I wonder if I was the only one that felt something that seemed so powerful. 

But it was very forceful, a sure sign that at once, the entire church, and all in the assembly, would engage in something that may change the fabric of our church family.  Everyone believed the same thing, everyone felt the same emotions at the same time.  And everyone accepted a morning of convicted prayer with genuineness.

Churches resonate with differing opinions.  And they resonate with differing emotions and agendas.  Small groups, in any church, invariably visit the topics and themes of controversy and change, and do so at regular intervals.  But never, in my fifteen years of ministry, have I ever experienced something quite like what happened yesterday.  All agendas and complaints and emotions were cast aside, more than put aside, and five hundred people, children and students and grandparents and parents, believed, at once, that the true, defining moment of a church is not found in controversy and differing opinions, but in need and tragedy. 

Yesterday morning proved that a true church is the model of a family at its best.  The response taken would be taken again tomorrow, and again the next day, for anyone in such dire need.  I am blessed to know that where I worship, and where I work, is indeed such a very special place.  
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Our college student was found, missing only due to a minor misunderstanding, and all of our fears were put to rest.  But had it ended in a different way, I know that this group of people, connected by common beliefs and uncommon circumstances, would continue such a response.  I have no doubt we would.