Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crazy Little Place Called Church (He Makes All Things New)

Two years ago, the city of Nashville, Tennessee experienced a catastropohic flood that devastated much of the city's structures and forever changed the landscape of the country music capital. As the rain fell and the rivers crested, homes were reduced to rubble and lives were drastically deformed. In the immediate aftermath, my husband and I went there to do a very small part in helping our "neighbors" to heal. We helped with clean up and rebuilding efforts, and most importantly cared for the spirits of those who were victimized, reminding them that God hadn't forgotten them.

When we visit Nashville today, we see very little (visible) evidence of that destruction that seemed at the time to be unrecoverable. Though the emotional scars undoubtedly remain, the physical healing and restoration is glaring. Houses have been rebuilt; businesses that were once underwater have now reopened; yards that were reduced to fields of mud and toxic sludge now have flowers blooming. Lives have been restored, and hearts have been healed. The old has been made new. There is now something where there once was nothing.

God is in the business of redemption. He is the master of making something from nothing. He spoke the universe into existence. He gave life to a body formed from dust. Restoration is His specialty. Jesus himself said, "Behold, I make all things new." Not some things - ALL things. It was hard to imagine it while standing in the middle of that devistating flood, knee deep in heartache and loss; but God would, in the wake of that disaster, make new the old, bring life from death, and bring beauty from ashes. And He did it in more ways than one.

Not only did He restore that great city and the lives that dwell there, but He used that experience to birth a vision deep with my and my husband's hearts. It was there that we felt the call of God to be part of a new work that would personify this vision for ministry that could be and needed to be accomplished in our own city. We began praying about being involved in planting a new local church - from scratch - and living out our desires that we believe God placed within us. Desires for a corporate body that didn't settle, didn't do things the same traditional ways everyone else did them (with just a different name and a different sign out front), and that wasn't satisfied with comfort, complacency, and status quo. Nine short months later, we (with the help and hard work of a few others who also had dreams) opened the doors to that new work. That flood had ignited a spark within us that quickly became a blazing fire that wouldn't be quenched.

Today, as I sat in church, I couldn't help but be amazed by the reality that what didn't even exist two years ago was now a living, thriving ministry in which I have seen lives radically changed. It's a work that fans the flames of my faith, because the fruit I've gotten to witness has not been a result of anything we could have ever done. I realize that as hard as we've worked and as much as we've given, we are simply along for the ride, and the Holy Spirit of God has been the force behind all of it. What I've been privileged to see and experience is so beyond me, my comprehension, and my abilities. God has done amazing work, and he's given us a front row seat. And oh, how I am enjoying the view! I often wonder why God would have me to be part of his plans and wonders, but He has made it abundantly clear that while He doesn't need me to help Him accomplish anything, He has given me the privilege of watching it up close. I'll never fully know why, but I'm grateful that He allows His creation - anyone who wants to be a part of it - to join in. It's humbling.

This morning, I walked into the dimly lit theater where we gather to worship and I was immediately overwhelmed. There was a team of musicians singing and playing their hearts out - not because of the hundred or so people in the "audiance", but because they had an audiance of One, and they were clearly focused on Him. There was an entire group of people down in front (between the stage and the first row of seats) just dancing with joy. They were singing and dancing with arms lifted high towards heaven, not caring who was watching, but spinning and jumping as the music loudly filled the auditorium. I know the sotries of some of those peoples' lives, and I know why they were dancing. It's the joy that comes with freedom. A few others were at their seats kneeling on the floor shedding tears, and a husband and wife were kneeling and praying together close by. Their hearts were in a different place than those who were dancing, but I loved that they were each connecting to the same God in the same place, just with diferent expressions. I just stood there singing, overtaken with gratitude, quietly thanking Jesus for his faithfulness in my life.

After the musical worship time but before the teaching time, our pastor asked if anyone had a testimony of God's faithfulness they wanted to share with the family. Several people shared briefly some of the work God was doing in their lives, but I was watching "Happy", who could barely stay in his seat. When Jay (our pastor) called on him, Happy jumped out of his seat and ran onto the stage to grab the microphone. His smile was piercing. I know Happy's story too, and tears came to my eyes as I watched his excitement. He talked about how he used to be homeless, and how he spent his days hiking and wandering from place to place, sleeping in tents. He talked about how someone from our church (during a street outreach) approached him as he mingled with people at the "Occupy" demonstrations and struck up a conversation. That person listened to his story and shared a little of their own story, and the next Sunday he showed up at church. Happy was very knowledgable about the Bible, but he had no plans to become part of a local church. But when he showed up - dirty and dishevled - and found a strange combination of unconditional love, diverse people, and an academic presentation of the Bible that challenged him, he knew he'd be back. As he struggled with depression and even suicidal desires, he continued to be drawn back to the place where he was making friends, learning more about Jesus, and finding an identity (and it helped that our pastor and a few others literally canvased the city and searched for him in fear that he would take his own life). Happy enthusiastically told the poeple at church this morning how God began to transform his life. He talked about redemption and the blood of Jesus that was shed at the cross to purchase his restoration. He talked about how he became our church "barista" and loves making coffee for people while getting to know them. He told the church that, through this transformation, he now has an apartment downtown and real furniture, and (this is the best part) how he now takes in other people off the streets and ministers to them! Every week people in the church bring him carloads full of donations of food, clothes, shoes, and suppplies - NOT for Happy, but for those he takes in and ministers to. As he was sharing about this new "ministry" that began in his new home, another man in the crowd chimed in and shouted, "Happy just gave me these new shoes this morning!"

I then glanced over at another man in our fellowship - we'll call him "Joe". Joe has been living a transgender life and has been in and out of jail. He has been coming to our church every week for several months now, never missing a week. On many occassions he wore a dress to church, and I'm sure he expected to either be kicked out or at least shunned by the people. Neither of those things happened and he continued to come, hearing the gospel presented every time. He later told us he was baffled by the love and acceptance of the people, and even though we preach an exclusive gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, he's drawn to our message. He's curious about our Jesus. He admittedly is still "on the fence" about this Jesus stuff, but he's open and wants to learn more. We laugh with him as we tell him we've "calimed his life" and are waiting for him to finally submit to the saving power of Christ. Today he wore jeans to church, and he told the entire body of people that he's never known anyone to love him the way our body has.

A few rows away from him sat a couple who were separated and on the brink of divorce not too long ago - he having an anger problem, and she having an extramarital relatinship. They are now happily back together, have renewed their vows, and come to worship every week with their beautiful children. And there are countless other stories that are similar. I simply don't have room to write all of the redemption that I see in those seats every week. From the guy who plays bass on the stage, to the guy with the felony record... to my very own household.

As I sat there a took this all in, my heart began to overflow. When this ministry was just a dream for me, I never imagined what it would feel like to watch lives change right before my eyes and witness such drastic transformations that could only be the work of a mighty God. I am no stranger to the life-changing power of God - I spent 15 years in a church in Florida where I got to witness it daily. But I wasn't a part of that work from the ground up, so somehow it's different this time. It's just sureal to me that two years ago none of this existed. These people who are now family didn't even know each other. People who were wandering the streets are now home. People who were deep in sin use are now free. People who were lost are now found. It's crazy to think about. But it's the redemptive power of God at work right in front of my eyes. It's the fuel that powers my faith every time I see it. It's the encouragement I need to get through the demands of ministry and the toll it takes on my family. It's the reminder that the God I've given my life to serve is real and working in my midst. And that there is more than just the here and now, and more than what we can see on the surface at play. There is a kingdom beyond this earth, and I get to see it, touch it, taste it, and take part in it every day. That will never stop amazing me. It's why I can't wait to get up every morning and jump into God's word. It's why I can't wait to lead our upcoming women's retreat where the topic is redemption and where some of these stories will be shared. It's why I can't wait to get to church every Sunday. It's why I love Jesus. It's why I want everyone else to know Him too.

God is in the business of redemption. He makes all things new. He brings life from death, something from nothing. I've seen it. I've experienced it. And it blows my mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment