We decided to break up a 90-plus degree week with a lemonade stand. Instead of making money, the kids are excited to give it away for free--just a refreshing treat for our equally hot neighbors.
Cars drive by, someone walks a dog, a mom and some kids ride their bikes. No one is stopping. My 7-year-old thinks maybe they don't see, because who doesn't want free lemonade? Plus, they're not even looking--all eyes gaze straight ahead as they pass.
I tell her the people see. There's nothing blocking their view--no trees or fence or yard clutter. They've simply already decided they don't want it, so they choose not to look as they pass.
She asks why and as I attempt to explain it, I realize it happens all the time to homeless people. They hold their signs and people don't even want to look them in the eye, because if we look, we might feel obligated to help. We might feel a personal responsibility to do something. And the truth is, we don't want what they're offering--an opportunity to love that comes with the cost of ourselves.
She responds with an empathetic "But that's not nice." So we agree to at least make eye contact and wave or say "hi" when we see someone in need.
Maybe, loving is at least looking. Because "I didn't see him" isn't going to pull one over on Jesus when He asks us "what did you do to help?" And maybe, when we have nothing to give, seeing is enough to love.
Passersby smiling and waving and acknowledging my kids would have been a lot less disheartening than somber faces focused on the road ahead.
And I imagine our heavenly Father saying the same thing. Smiles don't feed bellies, but they sure can give hope to the lost heart. And Jesus was and is all about saving the lost.
I've experienced another type of overlooking. It happens in church. I've shared before the complacency I see filling church pews. Sure, change has to start somewhere so why not with me. It's what I'm told; it's what I believe.
There's a point when we need a little encouragement, a little support, perhaps a smile and a wave, or a little "bread" to keep on the journey. A reminder we're not in this alone.
That's what Gideon and his men needed: Bread. Literally, a little nourishment as he and his tiny troop hunted down the two kings of Midian. A God-given mission with a God-given promise of victory. They were passing through Succoth and he asked for bread for his men.
The leaders at Succoth said, "You're on a wild goose chase; why should we help you on a fool's errand?" (Judges 8:4-6, The Message)
That homeless man just wants booze, why should I help him? That desperate woman at Planned Parenthood is a baby-killer, that gay couple has an "agenda," those young people want to change the church until it's not church anymore. Why would we want part in that? We're not entering into that mess.
Face somber, eyes straight ahead on "the mission."
Just as God promised, they caught the two kings of Midian. Gideon went back to the leaders of Succoth: "Here are the men you said I'd never catch."
This wouldn't have gone any other way. Psalm 111 says that God "proved to His people that He could do what He said: hand them the nations on a platter."
Great! We're waiting Lord, hand us our victory.
Then, we see the Israelites being pursued by the Egyptians, Gideon and his men chasing down the Midianite kings without support, a shepherd boy armed with stones standing before a giant, a free-girl meeting resistance when she claims the bus seat that is hers. The list is never-ending.
What happened to the victory God promised? Why these obstacles?
Psalm 111 continues: "The good life begins in the fear of God--Do that and you'll know the blessing of God."
The good comes. God promises it and He's faithful. And it begins in our fear of Him. Standing through the fires, persevering through resistance. Realizing that He gets the glory when we don't have see-able human help--when support is withheld and nothing but God's promise of victory remains.
Will we stand strong in Him or let the real or perceived "leaders" discourage us?
I realize for people "gifted with frustration" in church, for much of my generation, and for those receiving practical eviction notices from their church, this message feels like a broken record: "'Stay in church.' I get it already!"
More than that, know where your bread ultimately comes from. It comes from the Lord. The One who calls you, gives your mission, and promises you victory. How He feeds it to you will vary. Maybe from the mouths of ravens, rained down from Heaven, or offered from a generous boy's own loaves and fish.
The question is: Will we stand strong to the end to find out?
Fear God.... know His blessing.
Experiencing God's blessing firsthand also means meeting resistance, which means a chance to choose who I'll fear--God or man.
When I choose, may I remember the One who calls me, equips me, promises victory, and provides the bread along the way.
I love how The Message shares Paul's words in Colossians 1:26-29: "Christ... That is the substance of our Message... no more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me."
It wasn't long before my kids jumped their fruitless lemonade-stand and took a break in the sprinkler. So that's always an option. Hold your cries of "blasphemy" until you hear me out.
I'll spare you the details of my own denomination's recent decisions. What I have to say to my fellow Adventists is relevant for all of us Christians.
To the people frustrated with your church's disheartening declarations: I commiserate with you. I also point you to the above. Our bread, our encouragement, our support, our call, our victory comes from God, not man.
For those giving up, or on the verge of giving up, on your church: In my own way, I get it. It's about so much more than what's on the surface. Your struggles are deeper and not trivial and I see you in that.
I appreciate our local pastors' response to listen and keep the conversation going. I have started to find a little niche of encouragement in this community, and am so grateful.
What's made me pause is the recited responses I keep reading and hearing that we all need to "respect the church's decision," and that with a worldwide church it's hard to please everyone, accommodate all cultures, and keep everyone on the same page.
That page should be Christ: No more, no less. When "the church" (any church, individually or as a denomination) starts imposing decisions that are more or less than that, then I get skeptical.
There's an author that describes Jesus' ongoing struggle against church leadership while He lived on Earth. She writes about His heart for them and how they just weren't getting it, so he "departed from Jerusalem, from the priests, the temple, the religious leaders, the people who had been instructed in the law, and turned to another class to proclaim His message, and to gather out those who should carry the gospel to all nations."
She goes on to write how the light of Christ has been rejected in every generation since. "Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the Word of God." (The Desire of Ages, p. 232)
More than any one church, I believe in the mission of Christ: No more, no less.
The mission isn't the church, the mission is Christ.
I am sorry for all the times I and the various aspects of the Christian church have not gotten that right.
If our local church isn't going to remember that, then maybe it's up to us--frustrated, overlooked, and unsupported as we are.
Change has to start somewhere--why not with me and you?
Not changing church politics. Even Jesus never made that His mission. But being the change because we are the church. Not because we identify with a certain denomination or attend a specific church building. We are the church when we make Christ's mission our mission--His light, His truth, His love, His glory.
It is reckless to insist "respect the church" is a suitable response to anyone. I don't know other's individual experiences with church, but I know there are plenty of cases of churches and leaders figuratively denying bread against God's calling. And I can't tell you to respect that.
Respect God. Do that and I fully trust He will lead you and me where we need to be to profess the plain teaching of Christ. To remain in His will for our lives--for ourselves, sure, but more for a lost world that He came to save.
Should that land you elsewhere--outside your current church or denominational titles--take the light of Christ with you. Be the church with those around you. Not at the expense of bad-mouthing the ones you leave, but with fear of God. His calling, His mission, His victory.
You're not in this alone.
Remember the One who calls you, equips you, promises victory, and provides the bread along the way.
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