September 15, 2014

You Are Not Forgotten


“Culturally, we expect people who fall down to pull themselves back up and put their hands to the plow. Sure, everyone stumbles occasionally. And we’re willing to give help in time of crisis. But when the time of crisis doesn’t seem to end, we start to wonder why we’re still helping. Why we’re not seeing progress. Why we’re not moving on.”
-Amy Simpson, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

Three years ago, my children and I were visiting a friend when a tornado hit her housing complex. Squashed into her tiny downstairs bathroom, she and I leaned over our kids, praying and listening to the rotation touch down a few units away. When the storm had passed, I left, thankful and unhurt. On my way out, I passed a fleet of arriving church vans; relief teams already mobilized and ready to help.

The church is great in a crisis. We are great with sudden heart attacks, emergency surgeries, car wrecks, funerals. We are great with flowers and meals and child care for people’s moments of chaos and desperation. This is good.

But we are not always so great with the messy, unsolvable, lengthy trials of those who are in and out and in and out and in and out of the hospital. Not always so quick to care for the chronic, the unmedicated, the aging, the terminal, the slowly declining, the undiagnosed. We get worn down by one need after another. We forget.

And yet our Lord doesn’t.

In fact, Jesus seemed to show especial kindness toward those who had suffered long.

• The woman “who had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” Luke 13:10-17
• The man “blind from birth.” John 9
• The boy who had an unclean spirit “from childhood.” Mark 8:14-29
• The woman “who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.” Matt. 9:20-22
• The demon-possessed man: “for a long time he had worn no clothes.” Luke 8:26-39
• The man “who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” John 5:2-17

What was life like for these people? Had their families, their believing neighbors, their synagogues given up on them, I wonder? Were friends still bringing them meals and visiting them and praying with them? Or had they eventually become weary of afflictions with no cure?

And so the sick came to Jesus. And Jesus did not neglect them.

Think about it. That man by the pool of Bethesda, “an invalid for thirty-eight years,” was sick before Jesus was even born. He had been unable to walk for almost a decade when little Jesus took his first toddling steps. And nearly forty years after his illness began he tells Jesus, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” If that man had friends, they had long since tired of his needs.

Is there someone in our churches who has suffered for forty years? Are we still lifting him into the pool?

In the United States, the POW MIA flag bears the motto: “You are not forgotten.” The church has its own POWs—those who are missing or imprisoned by life in a fallen world, those who spend long periods of time captive to illnesses both mental and physical. Some of them may find no rescue this side of heaven. Some of them are forgotten.

Can we be more like Jesus, my church? Can we, by his Spirit, not grow weary in doing good for those who don’t get better? Can we hold in our minds and hearts those whose needs defy the easy solutions of a meal schedule or a bunch of flowers? Can we love them long?

Can we pray for these who are our brothers and sisters? Can we pray, not once or twice, but until He calls or comes? Can we pray long?

May the body of Christ fly in her heart the flag of remembrance: You are not forgotten.

September 8, 2014

Helpers for the Odd Job

A teaching elder (AKA pastor) has a unique job that is unlike any in business or industry. Where else would a man be hired by a vote of 100 people or more? What company would require those with hiring privileges to pay the man's salary out of their own pockets? Would a legitimate human resources department allow the man to receive weekly performance reviews by people who walked in off the street? This pastoring is an odd job, indeed.

People in any congregation have potential to criticize the pastor they hired and rebel against his leadership. This scenario could be a recipe for disaster if God didn't provide human helpers for the pastor. In my tradition, those men are called ruling elders. In my case, they are on my side.

The Bible calls ruling elders to have good character (Titus 1: 5-9) and to do many of the tasks that the teaching elder does (I Peter 5: 2, 3). In the course of their duties, the ruling elders might be called upon to deal with insubordinate people. They may have to silence liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons. They are commanded to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine. (Titus 1: 9-11) This is not an easy calling, especially when it is to be conducted willingly, eagerly and without a domineering manner.

While the average woman in the pew may not be aware of what ruling elders do behind the scenes, a pastor's wife does. She is well-acquainted with the loving and tireless sacrifices that leaders make for the good of the church and for the sanity of her husband. There is no better woman to thank a ruling elder for helping her husband with the odd job than a pastor's wife.

The Bible says that God appreciates the leaders' service to Him and will reward it. These men will receive an "unfading crown of glory" for a job well-done (I Peter 5:4). There is "double honor for those who rule well." (I Timothy 5:17) These men will be partakers in the glory that is going to be revealed. (I Peter 5:1). Why not encourage an elder to keep up the good work today?



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