A Pastor’s Question

“Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life whether you understandannunciation it or not?” That was the question posed by our Pastor this morning. It was posed in the context of what’s known as the Annunciation; where the arch angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

—Luke 1:28

Mary is “very perplexed” (NASB v.29) or even “troubled” (NKJV) by this sudden visitation from the arch angel. Gabriel goes on to encourage her to “not be afraid” then drops the bombshell statement on her:

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”

—Luke 1:31-32

Though you likely know the account of this record, May was currently a virgin. It was impossible for her to conceive except then Gabriel states that God the Holy Spirit, will cover her and she will conceive and bring forth what Matthew refers to as Emmanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) and what John the Baptist declared as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, see last week’s post for more on the Lamb of God). In other words, May is going to bring forth God incarnate.

Astoundingly, Mary’s response is:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

—Luke 1:38

mary_josephShe was young; most theologians and biblical historians place her from 14 to 16 years old. And she may have lived a simple life, but she was not ignorant of her culture or ignorant of what she was saying “yes” to. She knew that saying “yes” in her culture would mean significant ridicule up to and including community banishment. Here she was, an unmarried teenage girl and pregnant. Yes, she was betrothed to be married, but she was not married yet, so her fiancée could easily tell her to take a hike; in fact, it is likely that that is what was expected of him—to send her away in shame. And on top of it all she was proclaiming she was still a virgin and carrying the Son of God.

Simply stated, she demonstrated great courage. But not only that; she also demonstrated equally great humility and trust. She trusted God even if she didn’t fully understand His logic or His approach.

This brings us back to the Pastor’s question. Do I have the same trust? Or courage? Or humility?

This question really hit me upside the head today for this reason: pain. I was not intending to blog about this, but I got to thinking about another blogger’s question from earlier in the week. It’s from A Fractured Faith Blog and the post was Why Do You Blog? I blog because I desire to be an encouragement to others and to help make Jesus real for people. So now back to pain.

I evidently haven’t properly healed from this summer’s hernia surgery. My left side has significant muscle and nerve pain. I am now also experiencing pretty serious lower back pain as well. The back pain can at times be so intense that I lose my balance and well up in tears. Just rolling over in bed at night causes intense pain shooting through my back like a thousand hot needles burrowing into me. I pray for healing, but the pain remains relentless. I’ve tried alternative methods of treatments only to have increasing pain by the day. I will go and see my medical doctor later this week. I fear seeing her because I fear what she may find. Actually, she probably won’t find anything but will instead recommend yet another MRI (if so, it’ll be my ninth). I like to fancy myself in robust and indestructible health. I’d like to be able to workout as insanely as I used to. Maybe someday I will; or maybe the insane workouts of my past have contributed to my painful present.

But the question from my Pastor, inspired by a 14-year-old girl from over 2,000 years ago, rings loudly in my brain. Do I still trust God even though I desperately want the pain to go away? And even though I really don’t understand why I must endure this will I still pursue after the Lord?

Honestly, the overall answer is yes, I will still trust God and pursue after Him. But I admit it’s a lot harder to when my eyesight is blurred by pain and I have to be careful with every single move I make, whether making dinner or simply sitting down.

But I also know that, unlike Mary, I’m not alone because many others around me suffer from chronic pain as well. No one has gone through, or will ever go through, what Mary bravely and humbly went through. Perhaps, then, this is where my humility gets a little bit of a test in that I am challenged and humbled by a 14-year-old girl. And, frankly, I’ve never really found inspiration in Mary—that is, until today. Oh sure, like so many I admire her and am definitely grateful for her decision; but this is the first time I’ve found her to be an inspiration to keep-on keepin’ on. Who, except God, knew that it would take me over 50 years to be inspired by one of the greatest persons that ever walked the earth. Yes, we still call Mary blessed (see Luke 1:28, 42 & 45)!

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Less Honorable Vessels?

It was about 7:30 in the morning that I started fading away. The anesthesiologist said he wanted me to breath pure oxygen through the mask then after about a minute he’d put some “stuff” into my IV and I’d be fast asleep. The nurse placed the mask on my face with such force I could hardly exhale. This freaked me out a bit because I’d just slid over onto the skinny operating table while hospital staff grabbed both of my arms, stretching them out perpendicular to my body, not unlike being in a crucifix position. Even as consciousness was fading, panic started welling up in my soul.

“Help me, Jesus” was all I could say to myself as my hearing slowly closed off and blackness consumed me.

Next memory was groggily looking at the clock in the recovery room. It was about 9:40 AM. “Praise God;” I thought. “It’s over. When can I go home?”

After a short time in the recovery room I was wheeled back into the secondary recovery room where family could come and be with me. Except, of course, I was alone, because as explained last week, Janey was in the ER with a broken foot. In any case, the nurse there, a very kind younger woman, said I should be able to go home by noon; provided, of course, that I could drink water without hurling and that I could…wait for it…pee.

Well, there you go, the gauntlet was thrown down and I was bound and determined to prove that I was fully capable of conquering these requirements post haste. Where’s the water? Where’s the toilet?

The drinking went fine; I was thirsty and the water not only stayed down, but it was hugely refreshing. Now it was time to shuffle off to the bathroom across the hall. The nurse helped me crimp the back of my hospital gown so I didn’t moon anyone and, with a little dizziness and some embarrassment, I made it to the next testing ground—the toilet.

 

Munson falls

Munson Falls, south of Tillamook off of Hwy. 101

“All right,” I thought; “it’s just you and me now.” And guess what? Nothing! Not a drop, nota! The little canister I was to “void” into was as bone dry when the nurse handed it to me. This little exercise went on for hours. I would have water running, I’d be thinking about waterfalls, and about the last time I really had to go. But nothing worked.

 

The surgeon insisted I could not go home until I sufficiently proved that my bladder was working. Evidently, bladders go into deep sleep when under anesthesia and they take longer than a teen-ager in a growth spurt to wake up. Yep, I was being held hostage by, of all things, my bladder. Not my cardiovascular system or my nervous system; but my bladder.  

I don’t think about my bladder much. In fact, I typically take it for granted that it’ll always work fine. But now all the sudden my whole world was zeroed in on my bladder waking up so I could finally go home.   

As mentioned last week, this got me thinking about 1 Corinthians 12:23-24:

And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty; but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having greater honor to the part which lacks it. (NKJV)

Yes, I realize the Apostle Paul is speaking metaphorically about us, the church, being the Body of Christ. He’s teaching that we ought not to laud too highly those gifts that are seen while minimizing or even criticizing those gifts that work unseen or behind the scenes. The teacher in the pulpit is no more important to the Body of Christ than the janitor or parking attendant. All parts of a healthy body work in harmony together to properly worship God and to serve humanity. When something in the Body is out of whack, things don’t run as smoothly.

Same with the physical body. I could not leave to the comfort of my own home while my bladder was out of whack, so I had plenty of time to think. Where do I take others for granted? Or where do I minimize certain functions or roles that are different than my functions or roles? Sadly, I discovered that, yes, I did do my fair share of minimizing. I won’t reveal where but I will state that God used my bladder battle to wake me up to a larger weakness in my own character. I am confident that with this greater awareness steeped in the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit this weakness will be corrected in time.

Oh, and, thankfully, my bladder did eventually start working and my father-in-law was able to take me home at about 3:30 PM. But did I mention that the bowels also go to sleep?  

Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.