Archives For discipleship

Time to have the funeral

December 31, 2014 — 8 Comments

2015-aheadThis is a difficult post to write because it’s about something near and dear to my heart: the local church. And it impacts far more congregations than we’d probably want to admit.

Having served on staff for many years in Christian churches and ministry organizations, there’s a pattern of dysfunction that must be addressed. I look around and see so many churches struggling to be effective in today’s environment. While the reasons are often numerous, one in particular seems to wreak havoc, especially in terms of unity and momentum.

It goes beyond worship styles and preaching styles. It has little or nothing to do with denominational ties or affiliations. And it’s not something that prayer alone can fix.

A closer look, usually including honest conversations with members and staff ministers, often reveals that the key problem is a failure to appropriately move through the stages of grief. Whether related to a specific ministry — or a specific minister — drastic change, even over a period of years, can bring feelings of shock, denial, anger, sadness and despair. However, acceptance of the new reality is extremely difficult for many people, particularly those who place great value on tradition and history.

Inherent in the much-needed acceptance stage is the important process of recalibrating life and perspectives in light of the loss, whether real or perceived. This lack of emotional recalibration is potentially paralyzing and poisonous to the health and growth of a church.

Let me explain. Continue Reading…

blood-moonIt was a very normal sort of Monday. I had taken Caroline to school and arrived at the church office early, around 8:00 a.m., as I usually do. That’s when my brother called me on my cell phone to let me know that Dad was not doing well. Somehow what we thought was a somewhat routine hospitalization shifted into what would inevitably be his final one.

When Keith’s voice cracked with emotion, I knew I needed to leave for Mississippi. Soon. Despite my earlier assumptions, this Monday would not be ‘business as usual.’

I made a few contacts to cancel some meetings and let our staff know what was going on. Then I gathered everything I needed to take with me and headed home to pack hastily for an unplanned trip. I knew I’d be hanging out at the hospital most of the time, so I threw some random casual clothing in a suitcase. But something told me I needed to take dress clothes too — just in case.

The six-hour drive from Little Rock to Jackson was filled with mixed emotions: concern, fear, anxiety, regret, hope. It was a mixed bag indeed. Mainly I filled the time with prayer and praise music, thanks to my handy iPhone playlists.

I’ll never forget this particular anniversary, and not just because it was tax day. Shortly after I stopped for lunch, my phone started going crazy with news alerts about the chaos at the Boston Marathon. Explosions. Injuries. Fatalities. Confusion. Mass hysteria. My drive from Lake Village to Jackson was filled with constant live coverage from news radio in Boston.

Though in a much different way, I remember thinking to myself that all these people were also dealing with an unplanned interruption in their day. And like me, most of them were probably feeling pretty powerless to do anything about the situation they were facing.

Life is filled with many unexpected twists and turns. Just as I’ve come to understand that real-life ministry often happens during the interruptions of life, so too does personal and spiritual growth. As much as we love the view from mountaintop experiences with God, we know in our hearts that we can’t stay there. And that’s by His divine design.

Anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows that the views are surreal, but there’s always evidence of the order of His creation. The treeline ends well before the peaks of high mountains. And the air gets very thin — too thin to support life for very long. Just as God didn’t intend for humans to set up house on the top of a physical mountain, He doesn’t intend for us to ‘camp out’ on the periodic emotional mountaintops either. Those ‘big moments’ like weddings, the birth of a child or grandchild, graduations, and such, are Kodak moments precisely because we know they are quickly fleeting.

Mountains always co-exist with valleys. In fact, they are mutually dependent on each other for their very identity. Valleys don’t provide the panoramic vistas, but they provide the practical necessities of life. That’s where we find water, food, and oxygen. From a spiritual perspective, our souls find their nourishment in the valleys — in the low points of life. It’s when we acknowledge our need for God that He steps in with just the right amount of grace, at just the time when we’ve exhausted our own energy and effort. His grace shows up in different ways — sometimes through an overwhelming sense of peace, sometimes through the quiet presence of a trusted friend, sometimes through special memories and recollections of other hard times when His grace has been more than enough.

Here I sit in the wee hours of a very chilly spring morning so that I can catch a view of the total lunar eclipse. It’s kind of funny, actually. One of the last conversations I had with Dad (during a visit home last March) was marked by his fascination and enthusiasm for the tetrad of ‘blood moons’ that he had heard San Antonio pastor John Hagee talk about many times. Dad always had a keen interest in Bible prophecy — so much so that as a child I can remember being frightened by some of the conversations I overheard. Dad was absolutely convinced that Jesus was coming back today — and I still wanted to hang out on earth for a while.

Tonight I again have some very mixed emotions. I didn’t always have the best relationship with Dad. And I’m not sure, to be quite honest, exactly how I feel right now. That’s pretty bad for a counselor, isn’t it?

I don’t know for sure if Dad really even knew I was with him those last few days of his life. But this I do know: relationships are hard, but reconciliation is worth the effort. Life is short. Life is wildly unpredictable. And I don’t understand how people make it through life without faith in Jesus Christ who will ultimately restore everything to its pre-Fall perfection. I get excited just thinking about it!

For now, I’m resigned to the reality that Dad has a front-row seat for tonight’s viewing of the much-anticipated ‘blood moon.’ And I know he wouldn’t trade seats with anyone on this ol’ planet.

Tonight, for me, God’s grace is the moon.