We’ve heard about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church along with all of their attempts at cover-up. Now we hear about the largest Protestant denomination – the Southern Baptist Church. The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News are in the process of publishing a large, three-part, article on the abuses in Southern Baptist churches over the last two or three decades. You can read more about it in this Christianity Today article. I’m tired of the cover ups, and overlooking the abuse of power by people in authority in our churches. The damage it has done to boys who are now men, and girls who are now women, is unfathomable and wholly unacceptable. Though these new findings are hard to hear, and though we will (I know) discover more abuses as time goes by, I’m gladdened that the church, be it Roman Catholic or Protestant, is having an important reckoning. It’s time we face the hard reality that very sick people do infiltrate our ministries and places of worship to prey on trusting people and we all – church people and church leaders – must be diligent to protect our people and be transparent about abuse when it happens.
Our church is working our way through the New Testament letter to the churches of ancient Galatia. Galatians does a beautiful job describing the fact that The Gospel (Good News) is not us performing our way into God’s acceptance, nor is it being forgiven by God and He just barely putting up with our presence forever. The Good News is this shattering message that God loves us in the midst of our sinfulness, and that God has concocted this crazy plan – which would wound Him deeply – to bring us back into relationship with Himself. So any person who is vulnerable enough to trust Him for forgiveness and salvation is now permanently placed into the same position of safety and love Jesus enjoys within the Trinity, and if a person rests in that new spiritual reality it transforms them inside and out.
Someone recommended to me the movie “The Heart of Man” and I would highly recommend watching it to hear the real-life powerful stories of how this Good News about a radiantly beautiful God renders beauty in very broken lives. It’s currently available on Netflix.
I recently stumbled upon this great African Proverb:
“If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.”
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to go beyond the top of so many projects and plans I’ve had. I’ve done these things in hopes that I would somehow be more to others, God, and even more to my own self. But every time I pursue these “beyond the top” projects my pride, spurred on by my insecurity, comes before my fall.
Yesterday one of my friends, and members at our church, faced a very difficult experience. During the downpours of this past weekend, the creek beds nearby overflowed and clogged a big drainage culvert. Once it plugged it sent a 2 to 2 1/2 foot high wave of water and silt right at him, almost knocking him over, then hitting his house to finally flow down the street to damage all the other houses. He put out an APB to all of his friends in our church community. It was so cool to see so many people show up to just help out, and blow away my friend’s neighbors with how much help he got from his church people. I got out there scooping up sludge and hauling it away. Everything was fine, and then while I was washing down the walls of their house I happened to turn my lower back in just such a way that a muscle spasmed out – hard. “Are you kidding me!?” I thought. I was there to help out, there to be strong for my friend, and now I had a wall-washing injury. Truly embarrassing. So while all the other real men with strong backs (which I used to think I had) continued to work, I knew I needed to bow out and take care of myself. The good news is that this morning my friend’s house in a much better situation, and my back is feeling a lot better. But that tweak in that one muscle in my back is my reminder of my weakness. So I enter today like I have to everyday, offering all of me to God which includes offering my weakness and pain to be used by God as He sees fit.
A good friend of mine just shared with me this awesome insight from the late Dallas Willard. I guess a few years back my friend’s friend, who was a pretty significant pastoral leader, was meeting one on one with Dallas Willard. He was sharing the pressures of his ministry and all the important projects he was working on. At that moment Dallas gently reached toward the guy, put his hand on his knee, and gently said: “Remember your projects are not God’s project. You are God’s project.”
Think about that today.
The great Spanish Saint Theresa of Avila once made this observation that when we place our trust in Jesus, “The pay starts in this life.” It’s true even in the really hard and sad things. This past Saturday was a really hard day for my family. Our dog Ellie Mae had lived a full life of 13 years, and now all of the muscle mass in her hind legs were gone and her hips had given out. Our dear vet simply said, “When the wheels go out on a dog, that’s pretty much the end of their life.” Suddenly as we watched her nobly try to make her way through each day, we knew we had to make the hard decision to end her suffering. I want to protect the specifics of my family’s privacy but I can share with you my own private pain of seeing their tears.
But you know what? The pay still does start in this life even when you’re going through the dark valleys. We were able to experience the dear closeness of God in the middle of the sadness. Even in the presence of tears I watched our kids go to God’s word for hope, pour out their hearts to God in prayer, and comfort each other better than I could comfort them. To top it all off we saw God answer every one of our prayers about the way we wished to honor our loved pet as her life ended. I gotta tell you it’s weird not waking up with Ellie Mae at my feet today, sitting with me in front of the fire as I read God’s word. But our sadness is filled with the comfort of God which is just a foretaste of the final comfort my kids were reading about on Saturday where it says in Revelation 21: 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This coming Friday would have been my Mom’s 84th birthday, but God called her home on Leap Day of 2012. I’ve been thinking about my Mom this morning and I realize how much I miss her. Oh I absolutely take great joy in knowing she, who was so trapped in a body that had betrayed her through Parkinson’s disease, now skips and dances in heaven. She is free, and yet I miss her. I miss those conversations where I could tell her about the entire emotional terrain of my thoughts and feelings. She would listen to anything I waned to share. I miss her laugh, her way of asking very wise questions, and I miss her playing her piano and singing to her God. I know I’ll see her again, but King Solomon rightly said in Ecclesiastes “Love is stronger than death.” I’m thankful for who Amy Lewis was, and for who she now is shining radiant in the presence of her Heavenly Father. My heart goes out to all of you, my readers, who are missing a loved one taken from you. May God turn your lament into a love song.