the wondrous cross
on which the
Prince of Glory died
My richest gain
I count but loss
and pour contempt
on all my pride
And so today I pulled into the parking lot and parked my slowly-breaking-down blue Escort in my old spot. Stepping out, I glanced around at the familiar surroundings that used to be my full-time job and ministry stomping grounds. This was a church that I had served at and left with some wounds... hurts that in some ways are still tender scars I often scratch at.
Yet I needed to come, for it was my denomination's District Conference. Once a year we get together to talk about all the successes we are corporately experiencing and award the churches/pastors who are growing things numerically. There are also voting opportunities for different resolutions that hope to make it to the General Conference one day, and perhaps then Bill can become a Law.
But that's neither here nor there.
You know what would be interesting? If at least one year at such an event we spotlighted some of our bad stuff, too. You know... "This year we ordained 15 new pastors and fired 22."
But that's neither here nor there, either.
See from his head,
his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love
flow mingled down
It's been over a year since I left my role... yet some things seem to stay as fresh as they were even back then. Perhaps even more so.
On the plus side, this means that those whom I had a healthy relationship with greeted me with a warm embrace - our Western version of a "holy kiss." There were many people who I felt genuine joy in seeing, from the tender words we quickly shared to the quick catching up we tried to accomplish. I still have many friends within this particular community, which keeps your feet walking forward with great momentum.
Did ever such love
and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose
so rich a crown
What can stop you cold, though - if you let it - is the preconceived notions you have of those whom you expect to be cold or indifferent to you. For instance, I locked eyes with someone today whom I felt tried to ignore the fact that we saw each other. After I waved, though, I got his attention again and got the "across the room head nod." I wanted to read into that... and yet I felt myself trying to move past it.
So I entered the main room (a.k.a. "the sanctuary," but I don't like calling rooms "sanctuaries" because the Holy Spirit indwells Christians so why does a room get to be holy?)
That's when I saw the wooden cross that is built into the backdrop of the stage.
O the wonderful cross,
O the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die
and find that I may truly live
O the wonderful cross,
O the wonderful cross
All who gather here
by grace draw near
and bless your name
Ironically, I was ordained in this church building several years ago. Long before I ever knew I'd be on staff, my "official" ministry as a pastor (whatever that means) started in front of that cross. I later had the blessing to preach in front of it 3-4 times to the church body.
Because really... it is a blessing to ever share God's perfect truth when you are an imperfect person.
Were the whole realm
of nature mine
That were an offering
far too small
One of my favorite parts of the whole shebang quickly came when a good friend led three songs of worship. We started with "On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand," which was a great reminder to me that my confidence and identity are in the Lord and not in my accomplishments. Then we went on to belt out "Sing To The King," which reminded me that one day Satan will be vanguished and all the junk between us and God & us and others will go away.
The third and last song hit me hardest, though. It reminded me that if Jesus could give his all on a cross then certainly I could handle a measly little awkward moment. In fact, the whole morning was a bit of self-centered purging as I simply allowed the hardship of facing my past to offer my future some refreshing and purity.
I didn't need to come today. I have no senior pastor who would have faulted me on Monday for blowing off the event, and probably could have avoided it with some sense of justification.
And yet if I hadn't I'd become a living lie to everything I believe in. In the eyes of the Lord, we are all deserving of tension with him and yet he gives us grace and a redemptive relationship. If I call myself a Christ-follower then I must follow him in doing the same to others.
Love so amazing,
Demands my soul,
my life, my all
The last song?
The Wonderful Cross.
Sometimes those whom we demand an apology from most are the ones we need to extend grace to instead. We often wonder if we are in their lives to teach them something about themselves, but often they are used by God to refine us through fire. In this case, it is our role to care for their needs without any expectation that they will return the favor. Perhaps it's as simple as offering a wave when you feel you've been snubbed... or praying for their best.
If I read the Bible correctly, that's what God redemptively does for us.
So we shouldn't be surprised that life is what it is. When you are in pain and it hasn't come to a resolution you can often point fingers at others in your past who had something to do with it. Perhaps you're right... perhaps you're wrong. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter for it ends up creating an artificial anchor that won't allow you to move forward.
Grace, on the other hand, can cut that line and move us forward...
especially when it is extended in absurd ways.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)