A Sent Church

I don’t know if I can honestly say I’ve ever been more proud to be a member of the family of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, then I was this past Sunday. That is saying a lot because I’ve had many moments where I’ve been humbled and proud of FBCJC. Like any of the multitude of mission trips we take to go support our partners and to visit our “extended family” in the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Belarus and South Dakota. I’m been touched when I’ve walked into a hospital waiting room only to find an entire Sunday School class already present and ministering to their friends. I’ve been overwhelmed with the generous offering we receive each month for benevolence that allows us to help individuals and families stay in their homes or keep the electricity on. I’ve beamed when I see our church members advocate for the rights of the economical disadvantaged in our community. I’m humbled every time I see a mentor from our church pouring 45 minutes of his or her week into a child who is flourishing under the love and attention.

Breakfast and Commissioning Service

Breakfast and Commissioning Service

But this past Sunday was one of the most beautiful images of church that I’ve seen in my thirteen years on staff at FBC.

On Sunday, our church held its first “Mission JC: In the City. For the City.” For over a year, we have talked about how the church is a sent people. The people of God sent into the neighborhood and the world to seek justice and mercy and to walk humbly with our God.  The church is not a building. The church is not the facilities at the corner of Capitol and Monroe. The church is not a 45-minute program with singing, offering, prayers and a message.  The church is a SENT people – just as Jesus was SENT.  And on Sunday, we sent nearly 300 volunteers into our beloved city to serve and to share God’s love.

There were over 20 projects ranging from painting, landscaping, food giveaways, free breakfast, block party, care packages for police, fire and sheriff stations, thank you notes to nonprofits in our community who we have the honor to serve alongside, care packages to the staff of our partner elementary school, meals prepared and delivered to homebound individuals, community garden work, walking animals at the shelter, and so much more.

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If Church was like an AA Meeting

From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning:

On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting.  Although several members attend other meetings during the week, this is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well.  Some talk to each other daily on the telephone; others socialize outside the meetings.  The personal investment in one another’s sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Each meeting is marked by levity and seriousness. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship.

aa meetingThe meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle.  That night, Jack was the appointed leader.  “The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,” he began, “But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it.”

Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. “As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.”

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

“You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program.” he continued.  “Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . . ”

Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table – moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.

“The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.”

“Thank God you’re back.”

“Boy, that took a lot of guts.”

“Relapse spells relief, Phil,” said a substance abuse counselor. “Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“Hell, I never made even close to seven years.”

As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek.  “You old ragamuffin,” said Denise. “Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze.”

If only our churches and communities of faith were more like this AA meeting. Humility breaks down walls. Honesty builds bridges. Compassion nurtures love. Our Loving Father changes lives and uses our brokenness and our wounds to do it.

Why are we quick to judge and slow to extend grace when our God is completely opposite? Why do we fear being honest and transparent in churches? Don’t worry – I am asking this of myself, too.

Bloody Church

Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein.  Red Smith

Open a vein . . . quite simple?  I think not.  Painful . . . most definitely.  Messy . . . usually. In the days of early medicine when people would be under the daze of a high fever, doctors would open their veins to bleed out the “bad blood” so that the person might heal.

Do successful writers open a vein?  Do writers who resonate with people bleed out?  In doing so, do writers heal? Does the opening of the vein benefit more the writer or the reader?

It seems often that Christians don’t want to bleed.  There doesn’t seem to be much blood-letting in the Church these days.  Few people speak honestly of hurts and pains.  Even fewer people confess their failures or the temptations that they struggle to shake.  We put a lot of work into making sure no one knows we bleed.  How tacky and weak to open a vein in the Church.

But in private, oh, do we bleed.  We gush.  Having worked so hard to hide it from others, by the time night makes its appearance we can no longer hold it in.   How scary and frightening to bleed alone. To wonder if it will ever stop.  To fear that someone will see the stains or that perhaps one time in the light of day you will not be able to stop the flow. And then your secret will be out.  You bleed.

Then one Sunday you stand up timidly in your pew piercing the quiet of the sanctuary with your presence. You slowly roll up one your sleeves revealing bloody bandages covering wounds.  Without saying a word or meeting a glance, you tear the bandages off and open the vein.  You pour out to this community, this gathering of people who have no visible scars or blood stains.  When you finish, a young woman stands up in the back and rolls up her sleeve revealing the truth.  An older gentlemen stands up behind you, removes his tie and unbuttons his shirt to reveal the bandage across his heart.  One by one they stand.  They open the vein.  In that moment with all of our wounds exposed and our pain gushing from each wound, we see what church should be.

Who will stand and bleed first?  What are you bleeding over?  How can I and others pray for you?  If you are bleeding in  your life, I want to assure you that you are not alone.  Your Creator is present with you and He loves you like no other has ever loved you.  You are safe with Him.  You can show Him your wounds.  Nothing will scare Him away or disgust Him.  He will look upon your wound and will kiss it gently, like a mother kisses a child’s scraped knee.   He will embrace you and carry you until you are able to walk again.

Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.  I Peter 5:7