Hugged By A Leper

Photo shared courtesy of Jon Bennett.

This is a guest post from my friend Jon Bennett.

Being overwhelmed and shaken both emotionally and spiritually would be an understatement in describing the day I was privileged to experience. Have you ever been hugged by a leper? I thought leprosy had been eradicated. I found out differently today. Sam and I, along with Sonny and SK, drove into Nimba County, Liberia. We had some follow up at a college that we had installed a bigger water system and wanted to explore the area.

The previous trip at the same college I had met a man selling goods that had the after effects of Leprosy. Like most other family men, he was working hard to earn money to support his family. I knew there were Liberians that had been afflicted with Leprosy, but until today didn't realize there is an active colony. In his pushing forward kind of tone, Sam asks 'want to go check it out?' The decision was made to go immediately. And honestly, I was excited. Really, isn't that what we're supposed to be doing...loving the least? Can't imagine a more destitute and 'least' scenario than suffering from Leprosy in a 4th world country.
It only took about a 15 minute drive to reach the area. But, Sam always looking for great Liberian art noticed a small shop off the road selling wood carvings. It happened to be a shop owned and operated by men suffering from Leprosy.

First off, regardless of affliction or disease they were selling some of the best hand woven baskets I've seen. Add in the fact that the artisans were missing most of their fingers, the craftsmanship was astounding! As we spent time looking at their products, we had great conversations and all of us enjoyed the bartering going on. Liberians are legendary in bartering. Add in the fact Sam Wrisley may be the American-Liberian Heavyweight Champ, it was an epic battle of wits. One thing I love about Sam is he treats everyone the same...and these guys loved it! Sam has a gift of knowing people. These guys wanted to be treated normal and they got it. I'm so thankful to be part Hope 2 Liberia and to learn from Sam.

As the smoke cleared and the deals were made, we rounded up the products and loaded the car. One of the carvers came to me and graciously handed me two carvings as a gift. The sentiment was amazing. First reaction I had was to give him a hug. No thought. Just action. The surprising part...he hugged me harder than I've ever been hugged in my life! As we stood there embraced, all I kept thinking about was 'when was the last time he's been hugged?' He let me go and I looked up at his smiling face and he tells me this...'people think I'm a bad man because my hands are crippled.' Boy, are they all wrong.

Never underestimate the significance of a kind word. A smile. A wave. A hug. Share God's love any chance you get. This is a man that most have forgotten. He knew the significance of sharing love. He truly rocked my soul and because of him I'm better for it.

If you would like to join with Hope 2 Liberia in their ministry, head on over to their website.

If you would like to see a virtual tour of a mission trip to Liberia, here is one I made in 2012.

The Church: A Collection Of Misfits and Outcasts

Up until a few years ago, only the geekiest comic book lovers like myself had heard of the "Guardians of the Galaxy." I sat through the original and thought, “This is the geekiest film America has ever loved.” It went on to be the number #1 grossing movie in 2014. Even those of you who have never read a comic book are somewhat familiar with Batman, Superman, the Avengers, and Captain America. But the Guardians, well they were the ignored heroes of the comic world with only a cult, geek following…until the movie. Friday, their sequel released.

The movie tells the story of this rag tag group of beings who must band together in order to save the universe. None of them had grandiose aspirations to be saviors. As the video showed, they were mostly outlaws. The galaxy had written them off as lost, as a burden, as common criminals. But these five lost and broken misfits found each other, and they found a mission larger than themselves that required them to come together to accomplish something bigger than their selfish endeavors.

You look at the Avengers, and Iron Man, and Captain America, and they are more or less clean cut, have it all together, know what they are about. That doesn't describe many of us, does it? We may put on a good front for each other, but the reality is that we struggle, we fail, sometimes we barely hold it together.

And that's okay. I want to get this out there right now, and keep coming back to it throughout this message. If you feel like a failure, if you feel like life is always a struggle, if you feel like you have been written off by society, by family, by whatever, it's okay. Because that is not the end of your story. God has more in store for you. You have a purpose—even if you feel like a misfit.

Because the message of the gospel centers around this joyous premise—God accepts and uses outcasts. Listen to what Paul says about you, and me, and the person sitting next to you:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV)
The early church was not made up of super heroes. According to Paul, they weren't the best and the brightest. They weren't Captain Americas, Iron Man, or Wonder Woman. And that's exactly how God wanted it. If you were a somebody you became part of the Roman worship cults. You paid your membership dues, you received your status and your special perks. But most of the people couldn't afford that. Couldn't be a part of that. And that's helped the church to explode in the first century. It was a place for the outcasts of society. For the not good enoughs. For people who were willing to surrender to Jesus together, become a family despite not sharing blood, and carry each other along in this life when the need arose.  

If I was going to assemble a team whose purpose it was to change the world, I would not have chosen the disciples. The disciples were misfits too. Their choosing by Jesus goes against every leadership book you can find. They say things like, "Surround yourself with solid, capable leaders." But Jesus did the opposite. He surrounded himself with misfits, malcontents and knuckleheads. When you read the gospels, the disciples come off more as the three stooges than a story of the foundational leaders of a worldwide movement. So when Paul says "God chose the foolish and the weak, and the lowly, and the things that are not" we should perk up and have hope. "That’s me!"

I have a friend who took his church group to a big summer conference.

As a church, they teamed up with another local church and one of the kids from their youth group desperately needed a win in life. He had been going through some major issues, and my friend’s guess was that outside of the youth group kids he didn’t have a lot of friends. It would very safe to assume that in most settings he was a social outcast.

Just as an aside – that is who we are to be. A place that loves outcasts. I remember around six years ago, we had some of the very “popular” kids coming to our Wednesday kids program. We also had a “totally unpopular” kid from a very poor family coming. The “popular” kids started picking on the “unpopular” kid. I pulled the leader of the bullies aside and told him that the church needs to be a place where everyone feels welcome and loved. If there is one place in the world where someone should feel accepted, this is it. The “popular” kid left that night and never came back. And that’s okay. The church needs to be a place for the outcasts and the unpopular. And if the “popular” people aren’t okay with mingling with the less fortunate, then church should make them feel very uncomfortable.

On Tuesday night the conference hosted a talent show. There were some incredible acts. Between Taylor Swift-esque talent, humor, and poems, the talent of those kids was incredible. Then there was the boy. He signed up to be a part of the talent show and as My friend says, “If I’m honest, I thought, "Dude…don’t do that to yourself. All the eyes are on you, you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure."

This boy’s talent was the Rubik’s cube. He was a master; no one questioned that. The fact that he could complete the thing was impressive enough, but he could do it with ease. For the talent show, he wanted to do it blind folded.

My friend asked him, "How will you know how the colors line up?"

He said, “I just memorize the pattern."

My friend didn’t see how he could succeed.

He was the second act. The host messed up the Rubik’s cube, and the boy sat off stage studying it, tapping it, and staring at it.

It was his turn. He put the bag over his head, and then put his hands behind his back.

"No way!" people shouted.

It would have easily been the most impressive act of the night.

The audience watched in silence as his hands tapped and twisted.  The video camera zoomed in on his hands as he worked on it.

Time counted down, and he failed. The host even gave him extra time, yet he still failed. The group tried to comfort him with their applause, but you could see the defeat in his body language.

After the talent contest was over, My friend and him walked back to the dorm together. My friend asked him, "How are you doing?"

He said, "Not good. I feel like that was my one chance and I failed."

It was one of those moments in a kid’s life that could have been a huge confidence boost to a kid who needed it. Yet he failed.

But that’s not how the story ends. Just like the Guardians didn’t fail because of their mistakes, nor does our story end with our sins.

Now fast forward to the last night of the conference. The director was on stage at the beginning of the night and said, “I feel like we need to set something right tonight. I feel like we were close to seeing something amazing and just missed it. Is the Rubik’s cube kid here?”

He was.

“Do you have the Rubik’s cube with you?”

He did.

“Of course you do. Come on up here. We want to give you a second chance.”

The director interviewed the boy and asked him what he needed to make it happen. The boy said, "Compete silence." The director and the audience obliged. But it got really awkward. The director asked the boy if he was close; he wasn’t. It got even more awkward. So the director transitioned to offering, and the boy just sat there studying the Rubik’s cube. After offering, the director asked the boy if he needed more time. He did, so the boy went next to the drums, center stage and sat cross-legged. He tapped; he studied; he tried to memorize the Rubik’s cube. Meanwhile the show must go on, and the director interviewed the main speaker for the night while the boy sat cross-legged next to the drums behind them. Tapping. Studying.

The moment of truth arrived. The boy stood, turned around, put the blind fold over his head, and placed his hands behind his back. The video camera zoomed in on his hands holding the Rubik’s cube. On the big screen for everyone to see.

You could have heard a pin drop as they watched. 900 people completely silent. Everyone pulling for this kid. And he nailed it! In forty seconds, the boy completed the Rubik’s cube blind folded and behind his back. The audience erupted. Standing ovation. Clapping. Cheering. Whistling. High fives. His success was celebrated. He got high fives on his way back to his seat. He was given a second chance, and was redeemed.

That’s what the church is supposed to be as we work with Christ to redeem those who desperately need second chances in life. We help others out when they are down. When the world rejects you – when you feel like a misfit, if you shut out the world and listen to the Spirit in you, you will hear it say, "You are mine. I choose you. I believe in you." That's love. That's acceptance. No matter what we've done; no matter how the rest of the world regards us; we are still God's treasured children.

Though we may feel like we are the least and though the world treats us like the last, we are called to join God's mission of saving the world. We often feel like that kid walking back to the dorm – defeated and a failure. But when you join his team – the church – we carry each other through life’s hard times.

God entrusts us with the task of finishing the mission that Jesus started. God believes in us! God believes in you! God accepts and empowers you! But he doesn’t expect you to do it alone.

Paul wrote:
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
Take a second and really let that sink in. In a world of celebrities, impossible beauty standards, and constant comparison, where we are always feeling like the last kid picked for the team, God looks right at us and says—"You. I want you on my team. We can win if you play with my team."

Since all that is true—that God accepts and empowers us, then doesn't it follow that the church should be a place of acceptance and empowering of those same outcasts? Just as God says, "I love and accept you," that is what the church is supposed to be like. A place where people come and find other misfits saying, "You are welcome here. You are loved. You’re part of the team." When you fall, we will help you up. Because guess what—the church is full of misfits, outcasts, and unloved people that the world has turned their backs on.

Because of that, Church is always going to be messy. And doing church right is hard. As morals and families break down in society around us, the dysfunction in people’s lives grows worse. When we enter the church, we bring that with us. Ministering to people will be hard, messy, frustrating. So be constantly kind and gracious to each other. Always help one another out rather than tear people down. We will have to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, endure hardship, insult and betrayal, and, most importantly, continue to make church about Christ and others, not about ourselves.

And so we need to realize that people are not sinners to be converted, projects to be preached at, or demographics to be reprogrammed. We should never generalize, categorize, dismiss, or underestimate people who walk through our doors. Every person is a story, rich with history, experiences, creative potential, strengths and weaknesses, clarity and blindness. That was the mindset that the early church embraced; that changed so many lives.

The reason that the early church was so powerful was because they understood their role as God’s Emergency Room, not as some country club. The church was and is God’s refuge for messed up, sin-burdened people who are in the process of transformation. It is more than a cliché that a church is a hospital for sinners; it needs to be our reality. Jesus invades the lives of messed up folks and begins to heal and redeem them.

Since everyone who walks through those doors is in that process, that means that we bring with us the baggage of the past. The church becomes a baggage collection center. If you feel that you have it all together, then praise the Lord. Now get back in there and help those that don't. Now is not the time to sit aloof looking down on anyone. Doctors and nurses who aren't ill in the emergency room are there to help. We don't need to be like the Pharisee who looks around and prays, "God I thank you that I'm not like the tax collector. That I'm not some drunk, some addict, some messed up person." If you want to boast about your place in life, boast in what the Lord has done in you. And work to make that a reality in someone else's life. See yourself in their situation and show them a light out of the darkness instead of a cold shoulder. Start helping others out.

When a parent takes a crying child who has just broken something valuable into their arms with a loving embrace, they aren't saying that their child’s actions are justified. Their love isn’t condoning the behavior. They are saying that they love the child, despite their mistakes. Yes, there are consequences—there always are. But there is also love, and grace, and restoration.

Let me stop here and offer an apology. An apology to all who have suffered disdain, exclusion, ostracism, hurt, cruelty, a cold shoulder, or unfair judgment at the hands of the church. To those who have not felt that love and grace from the church. To those who resent the church and what it seems to stand for in America in 2017, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the church has not been the church. Has not been the beautiful bride of Christ who shows love, grace, correction, instruction, redemption and restoration. Please forgive us. Please don't give up on the church or us or God. And for those here who are part of the church with me, let’s work to make it what it was intended to be.

Don't give up because just as our personal sins and failures are not the end of our story, the church's story does not end with failure and hypocrisy. It ends with a wedding. Revelation pictures the church as a bride who is made beautiful, wearing white. Then the church partakes in a giant wedding feast where all the faithful share in the greatest party you can imagine. It's the victory party for the greatest underdog story of all time. A group of misfits, losers, outcasts, and not good enoughs are the winners. But before that happens, the mission of the church has not changed. We are still here to save the world. To add more players to our rag tag group of believers. To change the world. To aid in the saving effort to restore people to God.

In the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, there is a character named "Groot." Basically, he's a tree. He seems pretty dumb as all he ever says is, "I am Groot.” Except for one time at the end. But don't underestimate him, because he might teach us a valuable lesson about what it means to be part of God's church:

We are Groot. As the ship is going down, Groot wraps all the Guardians in his branches in order to save them. And when the raccoon asks why, he simply replies, "We are Groot." I think it was his way of saying, "We are a team. You are worth sacrificing for."

It reminds me of the verse in Galatians:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)
As a church, this is something we would love to plan or program, and we could probably do that. But I have felt for a while that programming is done in a church to make people who don’t live out the gospel feel comfortable about not living it out. Instead, we just have to live this bearing each other’s burdens out when burdens are revealed. And we can do this when we recognize that we are one – that we are groot.

And as I think about the church, we are groot in a way. Not always pretty to look at. Not always the brightest bulb. That’s the norm with outcasts. Not always what the world would consider desirable. We are a lot like the Guardians who saved the galaxy. We need to help each other when we are down to make a difference. But when we act like the church—when we put aside our holier than thou attitudes, pettiness, pride, and whatever else puffs us up and tears others down, something amazing happens—we have the power and strength to save this world. The Guardians had a mission to save the galaxy, and they came together as a bunch of misfits needing to help each other out to accomplish it. Through their weaknesses, failures, even through their dislike of one another. The mission was more important than their personal endeavors. And our mission is to be God's kingdom here on earth--all of us, together, a bunch of misfits and outcasts that God has brought together, accepted, redeemed and restored.

So If you are feeling like one of the not good enoughs—not good enough for your family, your friends, or the church,  don’t leave without hearing this—God loves you and wants on his team. There is no need to do silly things to fit in because God has already chosen you and has a spot for you on his team. And for those of us who call ourselves members of the church, who have already experienced this grace of being chosen and accepted, may we never forget the depths from which we came. May it change how we view one another and this world. May we lift each other up in our times of crisis. And may we never forget that God's church is a place where people can find healing, acceptance, and love.  Let that be us.

Toward A Real Faith - Be The Real You

I want to take you back to a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the nice summer air, hearing the ocean, at a Q&A session with the Avett Brothers, and they talked about how being real and authentic in their songs has only proven good.

I sat there a little jealous, because I felt that as a pastor, if I got more real, it may cost me my job – or at least many unpleasant conversations - rather than the adoring worship of fans who connect with the Avetts songs like it did for them. Not that I’m looking for fans, I just want changed lives all around me, including my own. But the dilemma is that being real is dangerous. And not just for me, but in your life too. Even with that said, I hope to encourage all of us to be more real. The world needs that.

I remember another moment on my trip, watching one of the opening acts on one of the nights. They sang a lot of songs about drinking a lot of whiskey. And they seemed so lonely, full of anger and sadness. And it got me thinking about most churches.

Could we even reach people like those people playing their hearts out for me? They have struggles. The lead singer said that this was the most difficult tour he has ever been on, and I don’t know what is going on. But then I imagined that church is just too inauthentic to reach them. And it’s not just these people. Our community is filled with people like this too. People who are dependent upon us living out vibrant, real faiths to actually encounter Jesus.

I think most people who have been turned off to Christianity have not been turned off because of the beauty of the Gospel and the challenges that it makes on people’s lives. Instead, they have been turned off because people are showing them a fake faith rather than a real faith.

They’ve encountered Christians who pretend like they have it all figured out rather than followers of Jesus who understand that they have faults, struggles, doubts, and yet still pursue Jesus with their whole heart.

Now, this isn’t to say that everyone will respond to the Gospel positively if we just live it out. But I can nearly guarantee that people won’t respond positively if we fakely live it out.

Because who wants something fake? Fake cheese. Fake bacon bits. Fake Twinkies. Nobody wants fake.

We are called to live out a real faith.  Not a faith that pretends bad things doesn’t happen. A real faith that is strong enough to actually carry us through bad things happening.

A genuine faith. A sincere faith. One that can withstand being tested.

The origin of our word sincere is interesting.

We see it often as the conclusion of a letter: “Sincerely.” But our word comes from “old Roman [construction workers] who used defective slabs of marble in building residences to sell at reduced rates. They would cover up the defects with a cement of which white wax was the chief ingredient. This deception was discovered when an exceptionally hot sun would melt the wax and revealed the fraud. Hence a perfect building was said to be sine cerâ, meaning “without wax”; and a friendship perfected by the trials of adversity was said to be “without wax.” The signature sine cerâ, as a symbol of general affection and [honestly], has been used ever since. (from page 13 of Sealing-Waxes, Wafers, & Other Adhesives. Cited from on February 22, 2017.)

So this idea of sincere is something being completely genuine – totally real and not pretend. And that is the way our faith is to be.

When missionary John Paton was translating the Scripture for the South Sea islanders, he was unable to find a word in their vocabulary for the concept of believing, trusting, or having faith. [They just didn’t have a word that captured the concept and could translate the word we translate as faith and belief.] He had no idea how he would convey that to them. One day while he was in his hut translating, a native came running up the stairs into Paton's study and flopped in a chair, exhausted. He said to Paton, It's so good to rest my whole weight in this chair.
John Paton had his word: Faith is resting your whole weight on God. That word went into the translation of their New Testament and helped bring that civilization of natives to Christ. (cited from on February 22, 2017.)

So for them, faith is the idea of something that we can put our whole weight on. It’s even more than that in a way. It’s the ideas that we are going to live our life based around. We all have ideas like that. And in the Christian view, this is placed in God.

So we must have a sincere faith. A real faith.

Paul explains it that these three things – a sincere faith, a good conscience, and a pure heart – are necessary for us to love the way that God made us to love (1 Timothy 1:5-7).  But in that section, he also warns us about things getting in the way.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the opposite of these things that lead to love. But Paul mentions that those who do not have a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith are focused on vain discussion.

Have you ever noticed that? Those who don’t want to be loving to others usually have some truth that they hide behind in order to not be loving. They justify living wrongly through some lie. For these people it was vain discussion focused on the law. I like the way the King James translates the phrase that we have here as vain discussion: “Vain jangling.” Jangling. A distraction. Something that keeps us from our true as Christians – love.

And we will find ourselves at times being distracted by vain jangling and miss out on the life of love that God wants us to live.

But we must always go back to God.

God forgives us. And he made us holy. The dilemma we face is this: Our reality doesn’t always line up to that. I sin and do things that show I’m still a work in progress. The perfected holiness that he gives me is not yet fully realized in my tainted flesh. The wonderful forgiveness he provides me is scorned at times by my desire to not forgive others or because I just want to wallow in self-pity.

But living out a genuine faith in his perfect reality isn’t something that we just throw our hands up in the air and give up on. We don’t claim it’s impossible and then not strive toward it. Just the opposite. We’re Christians in the vein of Paul who was called crazy at his trial (Acts 26:24). We’re going to continue to strive for the impossible despite the facts around us. We need a little more crazy in our faith. For with God, what is impossible is possible.

It’s also not something that we lie about. To have a real faith, we must recognize the flawed status of our current state and all the struggles that this brings, not just in us but in those around us. We live in a fallen world mired by sin, and the path of it being perfected has been accomplished by Jesus, but we are living in between the conception and the birth of this perfected reality. His perfection is something we have to strive for and work toward. It breaks through at times and is so glorious, but we don’t walk around pretending that we have spiritually arrived and are the perfected example of holiness in the here and now. But we know that will be our future reality and, at times, is our present reality, so we strive toward that reality rather than wallow in the fallen one we often find ourselves in.

And I may have just lost you in a bunch of theology. But the gist is this. You are flawed yet holy. You are still sinful yet forgiven. And you are called to live in that holy and forgiven reality while understanding that you are still not perfect.

This little beauty came across my Facebook feed. One thing that seems to happen a lot as a pastor is that people start being fake around me. And I hate it. As a person who admires vulgar authenticity way more than fake piety, who values real relationships, this is the dilemma of this job. While we were on vacation, I didn’t want to tell people we met my job out of fear that that my job would be a conversation stopper. I did though. What a dilemma. In order for people to be real with me I have to be fake with them, and if I am real with them, they often start being fake with me. I just choose to be real. And the same dilemma is there for you at times as a Christian.

Being real isn’t easy. But it is something we must work on.

Rich Mullins said this about church:

I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they're perfect. If you've got it all together, you don't need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning

Every time you go to church, you're confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don't have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability, you need some help.

And if you feel that you have to fake it around me because I’m a pastor or that you have to be fake when you come to church, you are hurting yourself and our church.

The fake person that you are pretending to be cannot grow spiritually. It’s a façade. Fakeness can’t grow. But once you take off that mask, you can start growing. Another you is waiting for you to discard the fake you. Once you go to God and others as your real, flawed self, you can change. You can grow.

So we must always remember that church needs to be a place where you can doubt and not be judged. A place where you can question and not be condemned. A place where you can ask why and not be ostracized. And the reason that doesn’t happen like it should is sometimes the fault of the person who wants to be fake. Other times, it is the fault of the church that has been too judgmental in the past. So we must all change.

For it is only in dealing with our real doubts and questions, that our faith can be real and not fake. And it is in dealing with our own doubts and questions that we will then be able to have a sincere faith. And then we will also be sympathetic and loving toward others when they struggle.

Because let’s be honest, the world makes it easy to doubt at times.

When I hear a terrible story like this one that floated around the Internet the other week. Man put nails along a running path in a park. Horrible. And why didn’t God stop it?

And that is just an easy one actually. We can talk about a kid being molested and then going on to kill themselves. Or a kid starving to death. Our world has a lot of heartbreaking stories. And if we are honest with ourselves, we wonder why God allows that.

I had an acquaintance post this on Facebook this week:

I have long thought of suicide. Like, you know, since I was 10, when I first learned it was possible to just stop the pain by killing oneself. What has stopped me is the uncertainty.
Not the uncertainty of the afterlife - I don’t believe in Santa, or the Boogey Man, or God - not really. I don’t believe in a loving god, because I love my children, more than anything else in the world. I would never allow my kids to befall an illness or hurt I could prevent - and if there was a Christian God who loved us, he would protect us the way we would protect our children. So, if there is a god, he is a cruel and uncaring god. Or, so I cipher.

And I don’t have an easy answer. I’ve sat with kids whose dad has died from pneumonia unexpectedly. I’ve sat with parents whose daughter died from texting and driving. I’ve been with families after loved ones have struggled for years with cancer and experienced the sudden death of a loved one from a heart attack. I’ve delivered a eulogy for someone who gave up on life and committed suicide. And those are the most dire cases. Struggling to financially make ends meet. Rebellious children. Parents losing their minds. On and on, the common struggles of life go.

And there are no easy answers. I just come back to Jesus’ reaction after the death of Lazarus. In the shortest verse of the Bible, it just says, “Jesus wept.”

And that is a real faith. One that joins in on the sorrows of others and doesn’t just echo the empty platitudes that God needed them more or it must have been God’s will – two of my least favorite bad theology lines uttered when someone dies.

Real faith.

No easy answers to tough questions.

No throwing out that we will avoid suffering.

The struggle is real.

As Eugene Peterson said on Twitter the other day:
There are no experts in the company of Jesus. We are all beginners. – Eugene Peterson on Twitter, February 20, 2017

Real faith is the only thing that can unlock real community and a real relationship with Jesus. And that is what we are called to experience. Jesus established the church for a reason. And it is through the church that Jesus becomes real in our world. Jesus didn't have a time machine. We are his time machine. That's why we do church. Our work has more power when we do it together. That's why we have church. God’s spirit dwells in us together.

Maybe we need to just change the way that we look at our own flaws. Instead of them being shame and mistakes, which they honestly may be, they are also part of what makes us who we are. Maybe we need to view our pain and our sorrow sort of the way the Japanese practice kintsugi.

It's the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

It is the embracing of the flawed or imperfect. We may just discard things when they are flawed, but Japanese culture values marks of wear by the use of an object over time. This can be seen both as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken, and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage. (from on February 22, 2017)

As we age, we inevitably will develop breaks and flaws. Some from our own sin. Some from the sin of others. Heartbreaks of life happen. Disappointments happen. But God still loves you no matter what.

Your brokenness makes you uniquely you. Despite the flaws being things that we may wish had never happened or are marks we received from being completely outside of God's will, they are what makes us who we are. God is a lot like the Japanese mindset that values an object that is broken and fixed. He loves us despite us being broken. And He fixes us. His grace can be the shining lacquer resin that fixes our flaws.

And a real community loves each other no matter what – flaws and all.

So you can be real here. We will love the real you. Be the real you.

The Day After

The Day After.

Yesterday was Easter. Jesus rose. Victory was felt. God’s presence was felt and He was prompting change.

And then today comes. Today. The day after. A place where all the problems still seem the same. The darkness that was on Friday – the darkness that Sunday blasted away – that darkness wants to creep back in. Yesterday seems so far away.

It’s Monday and Sunday is a memory.

And we wish it wasn't so. We want to be experiencing God now. We don’t want God to just be a memory but to be our current reality. He’s the Kingdom bringer, and we want to see his kingdom come into our daily lives. We want relationships restored. We want love shared. We want illnesses healed. We want the broken mended. We want lives changed. We want to live in victory. We want what He wants. We want to experience Him breaking through.

Or at least that is what we said yesterday.

But the brokenness of our reality seems overwhelming. Issues seems unfixable. That mountain seems immovable. That darkness, impenetrable. And so we have the potential today to give up or to push in toward God.

The place of God is the place where we need to be. So we spend time in prayer pursuing Him. We spend time reading the Bible to encounter Him. Little things that are much more like eating meals to our soul. Without them we starve.

We keep our eyes open throughout the day to find ways to love Him by loving others. And we focus on being part of the community of believers he has called us to be to provide an example of what God’s plan for life together here on earth looks like.

It’s Monday and Sunday was only the beginning.