Phrases like that used to make me nervous. I was raised in a moderate, mainline congregation where we expressed our faith in Jesus by how we lived, not by talking about it with others. I’m not really sure why. Somehow, along the way in the second half of the 20th century, talking about religions and politics became taboo. One of the problems with embracing diversity as it played out was that we did so by not really talking about the things that made us different. Wierd. I never was entirely comfortable with that position, but lived according to those principles anyway.
All that is changing. Several years ago I decided to reclaim the term Evangelical from those who most wanted to use it. It is a biblical word meaning good news, and too often those who used the term were often experienced as tellers of bad news. As Paul says in writing to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel (literally, ‘good news’)- it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe – to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” I am not ashamed!
I am an introvert (though many of the people who know me find this difficult to believe). Being introverted is about where one is energized, not about the ability or comfort speaking to strangers. For me, the discomfort that came with talking to people was (and sometimes still is!) about self-esteem issues. I’m worried about what they might think about me, rather than thinking about what Jesus thinks about them. Ego and selfishness are burried deep within low self-esteem. One way through that is to stop thinking so much about self and begin thinking about others and how much God loves them and wants to commune with them. And if it is true (which I believe it is) that the good news about Jesus is in fact power from God for salvation to all who will believe, receive, and live it, then we really have something wonderful to share with folks – the love of God revealed to us in Jesus. And that is something to celebrate!
So, Celebrate Jesus. Celebrate that God has come into the world in Jesus, the eternal Word of God become flesh for our salvation. We are saved not simply because Jesus died. We are saved through the life, death, and resurrection story (Trinity always shows up!) Different folks are compelled and transformed by different parts of that story at different times in their lives. That’s part of the good news itself – that the Salvation Story is broad and deep and provides multiple points of contact – this is one of the affirmations of the story in the Acts of the Apostles. Jews connect in one way, Samaritans connect in another, Gentiles in yet another, but all connect with God through Jesus.
I think several things have converged for me in the last year.
- I have been praying increasingly for the opportunity/ability to share faith with unchurched folks.
- I have been drawn into a ministry supporting New Church Planters.
- I attended NCP training as a part of that, which immersed me in a community of people dedicated to reaching others with Good News.
- I have made intentional choices to spend far more time out in the community. My theme for this is Jeremiah 29 “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, for as the city is blessed you will be blessed.”
- I have increased the amount of time I spend in prayer each week.
- I have resumed working with a spiritual director who is helping me grow in my faith and prayer life. One goal we are working on is seeing an increase of God’s power revealed in my life and ministry.
- I have begun to see people differently – more focused on recognizing others as people Jesus loves – not thinking about what I can get from them, or what the church might get from them, but what we have to offer out of what God has given to us.
What do you think God might want to do in your life? How can you become a living celebration of Christ?
If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know what I mean. Grief often feels like a cave, or a deep wood, where you think you may wonder around for ever and never see light again, never find your way out, never stretch, breath deeply, and relax again. You just feel lost. I have a friend who once got lost in a cave – he and a partner were caving, and their head lamps gave out, and then their backup flashlights gave out, and it was dark. I mean really dark. And they were pretty deep into a cave that has multiple rooms and passages. One could easily get lost and not find a way out. They did, but he describes the utter fear and helplessness of being lost in the dark with no way to call for help. Grief can feel like that sometimes.
Our mom, Ruth Grace Wagner Crawford, died on October 28th, 1997, 10 years ago this month. She died on a Tuesday, and her memorial service was on a Saturday. We hired a piper to play Amazing Grace from the hall outside the Worship Space, and one of the funeral scripture readings was from the Old Testament book of Ruth 1:16 “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” The very next day, the same text was appointed from the Lectionary, so the pastor preached from it again. We all saw it Sunday morning in the bulletin and wept. And wondered how deep the cave might be.
Mom had been sick before, and we all knew this was a possibility. But things turned so suddenly, from my vantage anyway. I was not ready (if one ever is). And I felt lost. I know that Dad did too. He spoke some and wrote some during those months of wondering and wandering, not sure where his life was headed without Ruth in it. He never had really been able to imagine life without her since she came into it nearly four decades earlier. He felt lost.
He is painfully pragmatic, so he managed to pick himself up and get on with the work of living. But even now, so many years and so much love later, he still is in touch with that loss, and part of him will always be lost in it.
I have lost friends, and have friends who have lost loved ones. I know for myself, and from watching them, how easily we get lost. It is hard to know what to say or do. What is the ‘appropriate’ course and schedule for grieving? How do you know when you or someone else is ‘stuck’? How do you get ‘unstuck’?
I think one thing we can do as a community of faith, as a church, is to be more intentional about discussing life and death. What will it mean for you to have lived a ‘good life’? To die a ‘good death’? What meaning and hope does our relationship with God through Christ bring to us? How do we talk about that in ways that are natural and comfortable? Death is unavoidable, and yet we live as though everymoment is an effort to deny and avoid the unavoidable. I’m not suggesting we become morbid or simply resign. But how do you want to be remembered? What will it look like for your friends and family to celebrate your passing from this life into the next? What do they need to know from you to make things easier on them during those days? Have you ever sat down with those closest to you and talked through funeral arrangements, eulogy and obituary? If someone were to capture the three most important moments or accomplishments of your life, what would they be? What words of faith from scripture or song best capture your understanding of God that you would want to share with those who gather to remember and celebrate your life?
Thinking about these things can help us avoid getting lost, or become a light that will guide us toward a way out when we do feel lost. Many words of faith from the Old Testament gave hope to God’s people during times of loss and exile – they were able to proclaim the goodness of God from their memory until they experienced God’s goodness again in their present circumstances. In this way, God’s word became a lamp to their feet and a light to their paths.
Scripture, Song and prayer rescued me from being lost in my own loss when Mom died. At times I wonder if people feel as lost as they appear to be. I hesitate to ask, at the risk of hurting them more – but how can you hurt anyone more than the pain they already know from loosing their dearest love? Here’s hoping that they might find joy in life once more.
Acts Chapter 7-8 – The ministry of Stephen
October 21, 2007
I’ve had them. I’ve had dreams of falling off a cliff, bridge, or tall building, or of drowning. Nearly dead before awaking. I’ve also had car accidents and seen my life flash before my eyes.
Once, Russell and I were out riding around on a Saturday, and we stopped off at a car lot. We were walking around looking at cars together when I suddenly realized that he was gone. I could neither see nor hear him. No one else was about, except those driving on the highway 100 feet away. I was terrified. He was less than three feet tall, in a sea of four and a half foot tall cars – I called out to him over and over, but he would not answer. At any moment he could slip out between the cars and get hit by a passing driver. I may have never felt so helpless or so stupid. My boy might die, and it would be completely my fault.
That is a near death experience. It is brief, and it resolved itself fine, as a sales person walked from around a corner and said, “Is this your boy? You should be more careful, he could get hurt.” Tell me something I don’t know!
A near death experience brings things into perspective. We typically hear the phrase used to describe or name an event where someone actually dies for a few brief moments, has some experience of out-of-body transcendence and bright lights and peace, only to flash back suddenly to consciousness. Such experiences often cause people to re-evaluate their lives and consider that they’ve gotten a second chance. That’s the point of a NDE – a second chance to live life differently:
I’ll work less and play more
I’ll spend more time with the family and less time watching tv.
I’ll devote myself more to nurturing my spiritual life.
And so on.
And that’s the problem with these recommitments. They are too much like New Year’s resolutions – earnestly made and quickly broken. One might think that after standing outside the gates of eternity – filled with either joy or dread, we would be a bit more committed. But we are creatures of habit and nothing will ever change that. The only question is what our habits will be.
So even NDEs come down to that simplest word – habit. Some habits bring joy, some keep us healthy, some keep us safe, others put us at risk. Others bring a special quality and depth to life and relationships – like the habit of sending notes to people on special occasions and no occasions. How little it costs in time, effort, and money, while bringing such gain to everyone involved. Since we were kids we have loved to get mail – it just helps us to feel special knowing that someone cared enough to go to the trouble to sit down with paper and pen, simply to say, “Hi. I’m thinking about you.”
I remember that campy movie from the 1970’s – The End – with Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.