Walking Through the Valley

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It is very easy to be cynical about the church. I have often been guilty of this myself. This is especially true when we think about the church only as the institution and program we see on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, this is likely a common view for many Americans. So, we get into long and sometimes ridiculous discussions about what the Sunday morning meeting should look like. Don’t get me wrong, we should think, talk, and plan about that, but it shouldn’t consume us.

This morning I gathered in a hospital waiting room with a group of guys that I have the deepest respect for who shepherd our church. I was honored to come alongside them and lay hands on a sweet lady whose husband is lying in a hospital bed after suffering a massive stroke and pray with her. The gentleman lying in that bed is a hero of the faith. He is a legend in our church and has had an impact across the world. They have lived a long life together as husband and wife and now she is walking through the valley the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 23. It is a journey through a valley that some of us have not yet even experienced and some of us know all too well.

I love Psalm 23. It is likely one of the most well known passages in all of Scripture. I particularly like the part about how we have no fear when walking through that valley because the rod and staff of the Shepherd comfort us. I don’t think the comfort comes from an intellectual knowledge of the Shepherd. To me, the comfort is fully realized in the flesh through the Body of Christ, his church. I want so bad to do something for this precious lady walking through this dark valley, but the thing is, there is nothing I can do. Not because there isn’t anything to be done, but because she is surrounded by a group of people who are already showing her in the flesh the comfort of the Shepherd. Now that the time has come for her to journey through this dark valley, she isn’t walking alone. The church of Jesus Christ is walking with her, comforting her.

You can be cynical about church and have endless conversations about Sunday morning. You can think the church to be a waste, not worth your time and effort. I know this though; I am going to think twice about cynicism in the church. Because when the time comes, I want them walking through some of the darkest seasons of my life with me. I can’t do this journey alone. No one can. The church is so much more than a Sunday program. The church is the comfort of the Shepherd’s rod and staff being fleshed out in our lives.

And as a complete side note, I absolutely love my church. I saw today the giant footsteps that our current elders have to fill from some great men who have gone before them. I couldn’t be more proud of how well they are doing just that. We may not always look perfect on our Sunday mornings or in our programs. We will make mistakes. However, there isn’t another group of believers I would rather be on this journey with right now. I thank God for his church worldwide. Not the institution, but the people.

5 Lessons from the Homeless

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Last Sunday my wife, some friends, and I had the opportunity to help with the Help-Portrait Greenville.  Wow!  What an incredible experience!  If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s where a couple of photographers come together to take portraits for homeless people.  I had no idea the response and the impact it would have on me.  We did this at the Triune Mercy Center, which is a church that exists to serve the homeless people of downtown Greenville SC.  I want to share 5 things I believe we can learn from the homeless.

1. Don’t take anything for granted – We met a man who had a 3 week old baby in his arms.  He said this was the first and only picture of his baby.  Based on his situation, it may be the only one he’ll have for a long time.  Since having our first child a year ago, we have over 4,000 pictures of him on iPhoto!

2. A better understanding of redemption – This same man with his 3 week old baby told me that God replaced the drug addiction in his life with this child.  I said, “it’s a much better trade off”.  He responds, “but salvation is the best part!”.  For some reason we let our pride tell us that we were never as bad as certain people were.  Ephesians tells us we were all dead in our sin.  Dead.  Not sick, wounded, or in critical condition.  This man had a clear picture and understanding of what Christ had done for him.

3. What’s really important – We met another couple who was engaged and the woman was pregnant……and they lived under a bridge!  My wife and I discussed, debated, and even argued over things like what color to paint the babies room, what kind of stroller we would have, and as my friend Cole said, “which booger bulb we would use.”  Here is a couple that is not even certain if their child can be fed, sheltered from the elements, or have clothes on it’s back.  Wow, what a wake up call!

4. No one is beyond redemption – My wife and I met a gentleman who calls himself Ray Ray (see photo).  Ray Ray had just finished serving 13 years in the state penitentiary.  He had spent his life on the streets, using drugs, and making poor decisions.  In fact, he almost died 3 times including once when his throat was cut.  Now, he says his life has changed and he has left drugs only by the grace of God.  Ray Ray is now determined to stay clean, follow Christ, and get back on his feet.  As Paul tells us in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  We are never beyond God’s grace and redemption.

5. Why the church exists – On our way out of Triune Mercy Center, my wife noticed that there were various tracts in a box by the door.  This was a familiar scene as we have been members at and visited churches with a tract rack.  However, these tracts were for cocaine and heroine addiction, dealing with suffering, and other real life problems.  The tracts we were used to seeing were argumentative tracts about the doctrine we believed in.  It hit us both in that moment how the church exists to glorify God and serve the community.  However, most churches we know feel their reason for existence is to police doctrine.  It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes; “the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints”.

What a blessing this event and ministry was to us!  It was more clear than ever to me why God has such a heart for the poor and outcasted.  May we all learn to have that same heart.

Sarah, Ryan, & Ray Ray at the Help Portrait-Greenville