Four spaces - so different - but so much the same.
I was honored to have a voice in these lives.
Years ago, as I was engulfed in youth ministry, there was one ministerial task I hoped I would never participate in - a funeral.
That all changed and my heart changed when one of our own youth kids passed away. When Diane Homm asked me to speak at her son Caleb's funeral I was speechless for days. Just sitting quietly in George and Diane's home moved my spirit.
A community outpouring and gymnasium floor full of marine brothers, his closest friend Mark on the front row next to Diane, Elijah playing over the sound system, was one of the most reverent moments I've experienced.
Another instant turned my heart forever, when one of my dearest friends, Lois Stevens, 86 years old at the time, and our source of weekly cookie blessings made a deal with me at one of our weekly sit-downs. I would return her cookie containers on a Wednesday night or if too late, a Thursday morning.
We would sit in her little one-bedroom apartment and talk about buzzer-beater basketball games she had watched and small talk. Lois loved a thriller.
Here was our bargain - whoever went first, the other would speak at the other's service. Like Jenny, who made meals every week for all our youth group kids for 20 years, this lovely lady who baked cookies for us for 17 years passed from life to life on November 14, 2018 at the age of 93.
Lois had been orphaned as a child at age 5; she was simple, tough, kind, loving, independent and authentic.She had lived through the depression, and WW II swept her new husband off to war while she became a single mother. She had seen life in raw form. She also dedicated part of her life to caring for others as a cook at Burlington schools. Because of her love for Jesus and her life experiences, she wanted to give to kids "the love of Jesus" through her cookies.
She didn’t have much, but she wouldn’t take a cent to make that happen. Trying to supply in that area was to dilute and degrade her gift. What she brought to the table was priceless! And kids loved her for it! Wednesday nights, Monday afternoons, conference events, special events… she baked. Like the widow’s mite [Mark 12:41–44] her offering was a sweet aroma to the Lord.
Lois didn’t go to funerals - she had lost too many - it was too difficult. When she was young she lost a sister in a winter blizzard, and her husband Ralph went 30 years before she did. The only funeral she was going to go to was mine or hers. It's been almost two years since we said goodbye.
Last week, I was humbled to do three services.
Leading up to one, my friend Stony Adolf made a request on behalf of his mom Nikki, to sit with her and talk about her wishes. That was three weeks before she moved from her table to the Lord’s table.
We sat in her sunroom with pictures and her life story -most of it - typed and open before us. I got to hold her warm, kind hands and talk about how much she missed Wilford, her husband, who had gone on before her. Stony and Cody (grandson) sat with us, while Christian (grandson) was engaged in online school.
Sun poured in through her windows and across the plants that soaked up that grace. Last Saturday as Jenny and I walked away from her graveside service out at Hope Congregational Church toward a meal we were invited to share with family, I was really emotional, Jenny asked what had triggered that.
I said, I have spent so many years in front of people in the spotlight sharing the message of grace, but this beautiful lady, shy and reserved, had a quiet, personal relationship with her Savior that struck me.
Her morning greeting to the sunrise was her intimate time with Father, and her devotionals, piles of them, dog-eared and marked, revealed to me her marriage to the bride groom [Revelation 19:7]. I was humbled and felt dwarfed by that private relationship.
Going into a person’s home can be uncomfortable. We live differently, and we surrender our rights as we sit in their space. Lois had told me at one point that I was the only pastor to ever visit her. We cried about her painful story, and she resisted much of the grace I told her of, believing that what she had done to survive and how she had lived had not lived up to the Lord’s expectations for her. We cried some more when I showed her the truth written in the scriptures - that there was no “performance-based grace.”
That is one of the greatest issues I face in sharing the Word of Life. Too many Christians have walked through church and training believing that it was their performance that was the deciding factor, when scripture clearly shows that it is being born into a new family that makes all the difference - from being in Adam to being in Christ [John 1:12], [Romans 8:14-17], [1 John 3:1-2 ] and there are many more verses.
On Wednesday morning, I stood graveside with our friend Janette and her family, saying goodbye to their brother Jim. Again, emotion rose up in me as Brad Paisley sang “When I get to where I’m going.” This quiet, shy, gruff-exterior of a man, who had his wounds from childhood, was surrounded by friends and community that prayed him off to glory. I walked away on that windy, warm morning praising God for His grace, the honor to share it, and His invitation to the table.
Then Saturday… I can hardly describe the fullness of this last afternoon. I was invited to speak at a memorial service celebration at The Bar, for Brent, who had exited this world too soon. I was humbled to be surrounded by so many souls that might avoid crossing the threshold of a church doorway. It was as real a setting as I could imagine - I spoke that day of Zaccheaus. Jesus was not only meeting him where he was at on the street - an individual who was an outcast and hated by society, but commanding him, “I must stay at your house, dine with you on your turf, surround myself with your friends and show you what I, Jesus, bring to the table. He brings everything we can’t. Grace upon grace - more infinitely than we can fathom.
It made me think - I’ve shared Jesus at flagpoles, at the fairground grandstands in Colorado and Kansas, in churches from Kansas to Colorado, in parks, along the streets, while a patient in hospitals, at the cancer center, in a theater, in school gymnasiums, zoom meetings, jail and yes, graveside and funerals.
We’re all invited to His table, no matter where we are standing… “where two or more are gathered together in my name”... and Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
It’s not our baggage we bring to the table - Jesus allows us to leave that at the door. He picks that up and has taken it to the cross - nailing it there - finished. Then He says, sit at the table with me; let me look at you, the real you, the hurting you, the healing you and now… the new you [2 Corinthians 5:17].
When I posted my video this week of walking, my beautiful, former student yearbook editor, Sondra wrote this:
“Jon I can see Jesus in you and your family. You all make me proud to know you!! I envy people that are so blessed. I was blessed knowing God as a small child yet struggle everyday knowing that he is all I was taught! I know in my heart each step I take is because of him but also wonder why I'm still here! I'm so touched by you as a person and how blessed you are ...your amazing!”
We feel blessed, there is no doubt about that. But, I want you, Sondra, to know the grace that we speak of in the exchanged life - apart from the performance you’ve felt. Remember in high school when I would say, "don't be absent - we're not the same when you are missing. Everyone brings something to the table."
When I spoke of the mountain in my video and the walk of those who rest in the Spirit, it was not the outward blessings that are the indicator of that walk. Quite probably, the hiker is scarred and worn out from the climb; there are no doubt moments, when she/he felt she/he could not go on and that there was no point to climbing further - the road was too hard!
That’s the point. We can’t do it. God does it - He supplies it - He validates it - He glorifies it through His Son Jesus Christ. And that’s Paul’s point in Philippians 3 as well.
Our scars and broken vessels are a testament to His immeasurable grace. [Ephesians 2:1-10]
At the theater, on Sunday mornings, even after the open invitation on Facebook and elsewhere to join us, we hear people ask openly, “Am I welcome here?” That just brings tears to my eyes and crushes my heart. YES!!! You are why we are here!
We don’t background check your past to see if you qualify. We don’t turn our heads away from those who stumble in through the door. We don’t cross-reference your past church or worship experiences. We don’t qualify to do that. Your past is between you and Jesus.
Everyone deserves a place where they can bump into Jesus - sometimes that is a church, sometimes it’s not.
Jesus makes the invitation the way He did with Zaccheaus - I’m standing with you today, and I will sit with you today. It wasn’t your pretty past that made you acceptable, it is my sacrifice, resurrection and ascension that transforms you.
Open the door and come in. Dine with Me.
Flatirons Burlington meets on Sunday mornings at 11 AM at The Midway. Coffee and Bagels at the In Christ Ministries Building at 10:30 AM, across the street from the theater gives us a chance to hang out together before the service. Kids ministry is available for ages 2 through 4th grade. See more about our outreach here [inchrist.org]
If you don't belong anywhere, you belong here.