Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ninety And Nine

There were ninety and nine that safely lay

In the shelter of the fold

But one was out on the hills away

Far off from the gates of gold

Away on the mountains, wild and bare

Away from the tender shepherd's care

It's probably arrogance and pride, but I always feel like the one. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. That's me. I don't know why, but I can't stay put. I think sometimes it's because I like the attention the danger brings. This story is not about the ninety nine, it's about the one. I'm starting to think there is a part of me, a part I'm growing to hate, that wanders into the mountains, not because I'm confused or lost but because I enjoy the attention. I don't like the beating, but I like the complaining. I want people to feel like I've overcome, that I'm strong. I can brave the wild, barren wilderness and return with stories of daring rescue. I get restless in the fold; I want to be the one.

But none of the ransomed ever knew

How deep were the waters crossed

Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through

Ere He found His sheep that was lost

Out in the desert He heard its cry

Sick and helpless and ready to die

I can't handle the barren lands; the desert is never the adventure it seems to be when viewed from the safety of the fold under the protection of the Sheppard. I don't think it's the desert that makes me sick and helpless. I am sick and helpless, the desert exposes me for what I am - dying. Well, I was, and not dying - dead. I was dead in sin, condemned to the desert from birth by the weight of a choice I didn't make - and all the ones I have. When you're born in the desert and then carried to green pastures and still waters it's hard to understand just how difficult the journey was. I struggle to remember and understand what it cost the Sheppard to come after me.

'Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine

Are they not enough for Thee'

But the shepherd made answer

'This of mine has wandered away from me

And though the road be rough and steep

I go to the desert to find my sheep

I wonder if Jesus discussed his plan with the host of heaven before he set out on his rescue mission. This is obviously me reading myself into the story, I don't think the Lord gets questioned in heaven the way he does here, but I can just imagine them all wandering why he needed to go so badly. How am I worth what the journey would require? I find comfort in his answer - "He his mine. They will be my people and I will be their God. For that to happen I must go to the desert".

But all through the mountains, thunder riven

And up from the rocky steep

There rose a glad cry at the gates of Heaven

'Rejoice, I have found my sheep!'

And the angels echoed around the throne

'Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own!

We had a baptism service at church Sunday; it was one of the most moving services I have ever been in. A friend's husband was baptized. I worked with her for years and heard stories and occasionally saw this guy. I didn't like him much; he wasn't there for her kids and didn't treat her right. He was on drugs and in and out of jail. It seemed he only came around when he saw the opportunity to take advantage of her love for him in a new way. I'm sure on more than one occasion I told her to forget about him - to move on - to live for herself and her children. I didn't understand why she couldn't or wouldn't just let him go. Sunday was powerful. This may sound weird, but little of its power and my joy in it had anything to do with the guy who got baptized. Sunday's power was in the reminder of what kind of God we serve. We serve a God who rescues - A God who pursues. It seems to me that if you want to die in the desert you are going to have to try really hard. This guy at church is proof that God will never stop calling. What happened in his life echoes what was done in mine. His story is my story, the words are different, but the hero is the same. It's not about the sheep. We don't rejoice for the one, we rejoice for the Lord who brings back His own.

- The Ninety and Nine is a Song by Andrew Peterson.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drive By

I don't get to go to church much these days. I think I've been about 4 times in the last seven months. I've taken church for granted. Up until I got this job in March I had been to church almost every week for 28 years, sometimes several times a week. I got to where I didn't think about it much. Kind of the way you don't think about food or shelter much until you visit a third world country - or they way you don't think about oxygen much until you go skiing at 13,000 feet - or the way you don't think about sleep much until you have a new baby. This is a time of spiritual deprivation and exhaustion. Months without feeding have led to a new kind of struggle. A struggle to stand, to go on. I stumble more now and it seems harder to get back up. I'm struggling, but I'm also seeing and learning things that I think are growing me.

I was "churched" a couple weeks ago. I think of it like kind of a drive by churching. One of those things that happens fast and changes you in an instant. I mentioned that I've been in church my whole life. It's always been a place for me to give - time, talents, resources. I've, of course, gotten more that I've given, but not in a tangible way. For me its been about community and relationships more than having physical needs met. Now I find myself short on both time and resources, I find myself, for the first time, in a place where my family has needs I'm in no position to meet. I was telling Preach and Preachess about our air conditioner breaking, It was still pretty hot outside and I knew we wouldn't be able to fix it. We had already had one night sweating it out. I know it's a small thing, but it was heartbreaking to see my daughter in the morning with her little hair matted with sweat. I should be able to give her a comfortable safe place to sleep. I really felt like I was letting her down. Anyway, Preachess said there is a HVAC guy in our church and said she would call and see if he would look at it. I felt really weird about it. The idea of having a stranger come to my house and help knowing I would probably never be able to pay him back was really unsettling. Preachess said I should let the church be the church. They called, he came that very afternoon.

He was at our house for, maybe, 15 minutes, but when he left our AC worked. I know I've taken a long time to tell a simple story about a small thing, but it was huge for me. I'm going to have a hard time explaining it, I've thought about it for weeks and I can't get it right in my head. It's the first time I can remember seeing the church from this side. I understand how it works, my love of Christ has compelled me to give, I just didn't expect to see so much more clearly from this side. There is something about a man you've never seen before coming to your house to do something for you that you can't do for yourself that moves you. It's a humbling - powerful thing. He talked about his desire to give back, to make a difference. He did, in no small way, he made a difference in our lives. Not because we're more comfortable now, I am different because I've seen first hand what it looks like when someone you don't know, that you can't do anything for, shows you compassion.