John had SUCH a good word for us yesterday… so appropo for us personally, as a church. He always bares his heart and shares personal things, but yesterday it just seemed more personal than usual. (So yeah, uncheck “post to facebook”–done.)
One thing I appreciated was his clear explanation about not being around lately, at our church… of course, I knew he had good reason, and guessed part of what it was, but it was just good to get it “straight from the horse’s mouth”. In fact, he’d already been thinking of going to The Meeting House even before Paul left–explaining to Paul that he really felt he should go where his young people were (he has a dynamic ministry to youth). He delayed that while we transitioned from Paul to our next pastor, then when things “broke”, he just couldn’t “leave us in the lurch”.
Yesterday morning before church (every day I read what I wrote in my blog 2 years before), I was amazed to realize that it’s only been 2 years of this “breakage” going on at our church–and thinking how “sick & tired” I am of it all, as much as we’ve really been trying to move on. And then John reminded us that it was 2 years ago that he was stricken with his brain hemorrhage–right at that critical time in our church. When the main danger was past, he still had to take things extremely slowly, and of course avoid tense situations! I think he said it’s only now that he’s really getting back to himself. He said that even though they are going to The Meeting House, our church will always feel like home to him, and will always be on his heart.
So, no wonder God gave him a word for us. A word that starts with a story told at his mother’s funeral last week. About a woman who was one of the ladies who do all that work when churches put on dinners, etc., who asked to be buried with a fork. Because of all the times at those dinners when it was announced that people should keep their forks–for dessert of course. She wanted to be buried with her fork, as a reminder that “the best is yet to come”!
John really felt that God had laid that on his heart to share with us, that the best is yet to come–and not only in the hereafter. Talking about when people are in their last moments of life, and the family has to decide about continuing with life supports (which he experienced so recently with his mom), John reminded us that it’s when things get this desperate, and death seems imminent, that God truly works in miraculous and unexpected ways.
Of course, we’ve heard this before, and we keep thinking “NOW we’re really desperate”, but it seems things can always get more desperate! In fact, our family was excited about a multi-cultural congregation developing out of it all, but I must admit that recently we’ve been wondering if we’re just going to totally die out. So this word from John re-ignites the flicker of hope.
Speaking of a word from John… his text was from John 4, that well-known story where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and had the gall to ask her for a drink… and she ended up bringing her whole community to believe in Jesus. However, the story begins with two things that are part & parcel of this word from God for us, as things we must learn–things we must do if we really do want to see that “best” that is “yet to come”:
1. Refuse to compete. See in the first verses (John 4:1-4) how Jesus headed to Samaria because of the competition that others were “putting up” between Jesus & John; even though John said “He must increase, I must decrease”, Jesus did not want to increase at John’s expense. [What comes to my mind is “competition” that there might be between our church and the Chinese church sharing the building–competition for the best times and spaces? (By the way, John said he wasn’t speaking from any kind of information given him–he hasn’t been in contact with anyone, except one brief sentence with an elder.) Or, I also thought of competing with other churches, instead of just joining them…. in other words, might there come a time when we wonder why we should insist on keeping our own church when there are already lots of other churches?]
2. Know when to ask for help. Even Jesus was exhausted and had to rest by the well; thirsty and had to ask for a drink. Yes, it seems obvious that we should ask for help, but I have heard that some people seem to be trying to do everything themselves. Perhaps they feel that everyone else is already overburdened… [Yeah, the question is, ask for help from whom? Or are we just not being refueled enough–meaning quiet times/devotions–as I wondered previously?] My heart goes out to our leaders, and before this sermon I’d been thinking how exhausted they must be–both physically with all the meetings and things that need doing, and emotionally with all the things that need discussing. We’re coming to an elder-turnover time, and I keep wondering if we’ll have anyone left who is willing to lead us!
John told about a situation where he was at a meeting of leaders, and they were trying to decide what to do. What jumped out at me, was the fact that they decided to kind of forget the agenda, and just share what was really on their hearts–and out of that they realized a common thread (a burden for the young people “bleeding” out of our churches) and made decisions about how to deal with it. That’s what I call trusting God–is it not He who puts things on our hearts? As he said, sometimes things are “shaped by the immediacy of the need”.
Thankfully, I think that we are beginning to STOP looking inward (a natural inclination when things implode like they have at our church)–some of us are working at pointing people’s view towards God’s work outside ourselves, ever since we had this Perspectives course on missions.
John reminded us that this is a time when churches everywhere are in transition. His very popular Christian summer camp actually experienced a downturn last year, for the first time ever! He mentioned to Rej & I afterwards, that the trend is now to small churches–small groups, are what will be able to make a difference. He actually said that last time we saw him, as well. This is what my son has been advocating for years and years!
OK, so there are some big churches… (perhaps they are partly all the broken/dying churches coming together), but they likely have lots of small groups…