The Woman Nobody Knew

…CNN reported it this way on their website March 7, 2014

For years, the payments went out of the woman’s bank account.

Nobody batted an eyelid. Bills were paid. And life went on as normal in the quiet neighborhood of Pontiac, Michigan

Neighbors didn’t notice anything unusual. The woman traveled a lot, they said, and kept to herself. One of them mowed her grass to keep things looking tidy. At some point, her bank account ran dry. The bills stopped being paid.

After its warnings went unanswered, the bank holding the mortgage foreclosed on the house, a common occurrence in a region hit hard by economic woes. Still, nobody noticed what had happened inside the house. Nobody wondered out loud what had become of the owner.

Not until this week, when a worker sent by the bank to repair a hole in the roof made a grisly discovery.

The woman’s mummified body was sitting in the backseat of her car, parked in the garage. The key was halfway in the ignition.

Authorities say they believe the woman died at least six years ago. They’re still trying to figure out what happened.

“I’ve been doing this 37 years. Never seen anything like this before,” said Undersheriff Mike McCabe of Oakland County, Michigan, just outside Detroit.

The woman, who authorities aren’t identifying until they’ve informed her family, paid her bills from her bank account through auto-pay, according to McCabe.

Neighbors said they didn’t know much about the dead woman, describing her as in her 40s and of German descent.

“She really kept to herself. We never really heard anything from her,” neighbor Caitlyn Talbot told CNN affiliate WXYZ.

Talbot said she wasn’t aware of anyone having seen the woman, who traveled a lot, in about six years.

“She was probably there for a couple of days, then she’d leave for a week, then she’d come back. Then she’d leave for a month and come back,” Talbot said.

McCabe says neighbors chalked up the woman’s absences to her returning to Germany for long periods of time. Despite years without a living owner, the house was never broken into, he said.

Another neighbor, Darryl Tillery, told the Detroit Free Press that mail never piled up at the house and the lawn never grew out of order. McCabe said one of the neighbors cut the grass for years.

My Question: Is it OK to let a person “keep to herself?”

She kept to herself…but should we let someone “keep to herself?” I wondered about that when I read this. I am such a proponent of community – in neighborhoods, churches, workplaces and educational institutions. While I never force myself on people (I, too, have an introverted side), I like to get to know people where I live, work and play.

So what if a neighbor is a loner? What about the guy at work who eats lunch alone, or the professor who teaches and heads to her study? While we cannot force people to have relationships, we can move toward them in love and service. In this sad story I kept wondering:

Would I knock on the door? Would I go in? Call the cops? Would I care if a neighbor seemed to “disappear” for too long? What does “love” look like if it does not look like movement toward people? If I love people, can I ignore their apparent desire to be alone? Can I at least nudge forward by asking, seeking and knocking (literally), wondering if God might use me to break through?

The next time you see a pattern of isolation, don’t assume it is desired or even the best thing for someone. Ask, seek and knock. I wonder if she was so lonely she ended her life. We do not know the cause of death, but loneliness had to be a contributing factor.

People are dying for community…literally. Are we aware? Isn’t our lack of awareness and action a sin of the worst kind?

This story could have ended differently. If it had started differently. We can be part of the solution.

Ask…Seek…Knock. Don’t let someone be “the woman/man nobody knew.”

Leadership Essentials and Their Implications

5 Leadership Essentials and Their Implications for the Church

 

One of my students created this summary of the widely admired and broadly used (over 1 million copies in 20 years) book “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner.

The Leadership Challenge

 

I have included some comments about how these might apply in the world of the 21st century church among younger leaders. I would love your thoughts as well.

Model the Way

Leaders establish principles concerning the way constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers should be treated, and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. They set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action.

Implications:– Walk the talk; those of us who teach about leadership must first act, then teach. Younger leaders hear leadership talks and are skeptical, because they talk to their employees who almost laugh at the hypocrisy…except it is too sad to laugh. Emerging leaders do the research – they know. A great “talk” is not good enough. Like Ezra modeled…Study, Practice and then Teach (Ez. 7:10)

Inspire a Shared Vision

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Implications: “Shared” is the key word here. Not imposed. Pastors and other church leaders often assume their vision is THE vision. After all, we are the spiritual leader. The “I have the vision; you need to follow me” days are over for rising church leaders. I just spoke to one at a major giga-church in the US. They can’t wait for the older guy to step aside so a true team vision can emerge.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities to innovate and challenge existing sacred cows. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

Implications: This is a no-brainer for many young leaders. While some young leaders are stuck in theologies that allow little creativity of thought (everything was decided in the 1600’s or 1800’s or…), the more they read, the more they realize they must challenge the status quo. While some new organizations and coalitions seek to drive people backward, these young leaders are creating their own movements and associations – and they are broader, more inclusive and more biblical.

Enable Others to Act

Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

Implications: Liz Wiseman does a great job distinguishing diminishers from multipliers. Here is a short summary of her work. I think younger leaders really get this. Would love to see the over 45 crowd get this as well, but a hierarchical leadership model versus a shared leadership model gets in the way (should be “elders” plural, 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1:5 – a circle of leaders). This is where a lot my research is focused these days.

Encourage the Heart

Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

Implications: YES! The people who really “do the work of the ministry” as in Ephesians 4, the “volunteers” are our heroes. Just met with two of my heroes Sunday – a couple 91 and 89, who are in a care facility. What are they doing? The same thing they did at Willow – serving people by guiding small groups, leading communion, and organizing worship for about 20 people! Love it!

What are your thoughts? Can these 5 areas of leadership practiced better by a rising generation than mine has done?

 

 

 

 

Here I am today

Here I am. 

After a day of classes and meetings and decisions and traffic and after being misunderstood and feeling incomplete and having too many things unresolved.

Here I am.

What do I want today? Really?

Oh, there is so much I want. But too often I am tempted to want the lesser things. So I want to get focused before ending this part of my day. I am sitting here in Barnes and Noble for a quick decaf before driving the last 5 minutes home. I sit amidst the cries, “Read me, see me, hear me, buy me” … empty promises and false hopes surround me.

Yet I find myself strangely centered. A calming assurance washes over me. The music of Audrey Assad singing I Shall Not Want fills my ears, warms my heart and steadies my soul, reminding me that I need deliverance from these things and many others.

 

Admittedly, I am too easily gripped and bound by the many voices that clamor for my fleeting attention. But I am called to want not. Instead, to find rest. To hear that one, still voice deep within. Henri Nouwen calls it the Inner Voice of Love.

The Inner Voice of Love

 

So I sit and listen while the world fades into the shadows.

Audrey’s simple lyrics and haunting melody are just what I needed …

 

From the love of my own comfort

From the fear of having nothing

From a life of worldly passions

Deliver me O God

 

From the need to be understood

From the need to be accepted

From the fear of being lonely

Deliver me O God

 

From the fear of serving others

From the fear of death or trial

From the fear of humility

Deliver me O God

 

And her chorus brings it all into one calming declaration…

 

And I shall not want, I shall not want

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

 

So today it is His goodness I experience. It feeds my soul. And I am glad.

Here I am. Right where I need to be.

 

Extraordinary Groups – achieving personal transformation and great results

Extraordinary Groups

I am working with a group of young leaders in the area of high-performance teams and groups. One of the best resources I have come across for this is Extraordinary Groups by Bellman and Ryan.

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan

 

In my opinion this is one of the most comprehensive resources in this arena because:

  • it combines author experience with very practical ideas and approaches
  • has a sound working model easily adapted to your situation
  • has transferable concepts and processes for any team, for-and-non-profit
  • walks you through the model in very practical ways
  • focuses on outcomes and how to engage robust discussions for your team
  • is well written with a language and style that is engaging, accessible and not too complex

 

Geoff Bellman’s approach is based on research and experience – you can watch a 40-minute presentation here that your team would get a lot out of! Very solid work.

Kathy Ryan and Geoff are a competent people who have built teams, led high-capacity groups, worked in complex organizations, understand the non-profit sector, and are advocates for relational transformation while honoring the need for great results

I like Kathy’s bio where you find this

Through The Orion Partnership, a consulting firm based near Seattle, Washington, she has been known for her work in turning fear-based organizations into ones where collaboration and trust are the keys to high performance.

There are many organizations that could really use her help!

Here are a few of my big takeaways from their work and this book.

First, get the book. It really is solid. And work the model with your team – the exercise is worth the effort.

Second, the 8 Characteristics of a an Extraordinary Group make for a solid framework and assessment (the work and book have been so well received that they just developed a team assessment and resources for the process.

Here are the 8 Characteristics
Outstanding Results Transformation
  • Compelling Purpose
  • Shared Leadership
  • Just-enough Structure
  • Full Engagement
  • Embracing Differences
  • Unexpected Learning
  • Strengthened Relationships
  • Great Results

 

 

Take your team through a discussion and reality check on this list alone, and you will be glad you did.

And third, the Group Needs Model they use is fresh, coherent and very applicable for creating a high-performance culture with a strong emphasis on personal growth not simply team results. The model addresses 3 major aspects of a team with 2 components in each, with an overall focus on personal and organizational change:

SELF = Self Acceptance and Potential

GROUP = Team Purpose and Relational Bonds

WORLD = Current Reality and Desired Impact

How is your team doing with respect to building people who connect deeply and together achieve great results? Where are the gaps? What is your process and model for evaluating and guiding a team?

 

I plan to utilize more of this work in my work with church and leadership groups – outstanding tool!

The Ending of an Era – The Beginning of Something New

My Daughter Kinsley

Last night I watched my daughter Kinsley play her last home basketball game on the Westminster Christian School court. These seniors have been together since 4th grade and probably have a 9-year cumulative record of 140-20 or something like that – this year they finished 20-4 as they head to the playoffs.

So this is the end.

I’ve got mixed emotions about it. I love watching her play… she is joy in motion. And I love the way she does that crossover dribble that leaves the competition in the dust wondering what just flew past them as they stumble back to their feet. Brings a smile to my face. They came up 3 points short last night, but what a run!

Regardless of how far they go in the playoffs, the ending of an era has come. Soon she will move on, joining my son who headed off to college in 2008, and leaving us with an empty nest.

It is hard for some people to move on. But not these kids. While they realize some friendships may never be the same, they look forward with hope and back with joy. They are young, restless, talented, adventurous and free. The world is now their basketball court and they are calling the plays

Not so for too many adults – business people, educators, parents, athletes and church leaders. They cannot – or will not – step aside or move on. They have not learned to trade position for passion, power for influence, playing the game for coaching the players. They cling to worn out strategies, crusty habits, tired theologies, and weary game plans. It is time to enter a new season.

It is time for a new season in life for Kinsley…and for me and for Gail. I have stepped into a coaching role, shaping leaders, teaching, mentoring, creating new expressions of influence, research and exploration. And it is wonderful.

Gail has launched SACRED, and place where the soul can rest. You can see what she does at www.mylifeissacred.com. Son Ryan is heading off to graduate school. It is a time for us to create, embrace and thrive into the new.

Maybe this is the time for you as well. Whether you are 25, 55, or 75,  before you lies something that God has been preparing, and it is time for you to walk into it. It is the end of one era…and the start of something new.

You’ll see more of what I am doing, new areas of teaching and training for community life, and development strategies for leaders. It will all be part of a new website in a month or so.

Thank You Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

My family stood in his jail cell on Robben Island. We witnessed first-hand the devastation of Apartheid. We saw what racism, oppression, greed, and anger can do to a nation. In post-Apartheid South Africa we saw the church rise up to join and often lead the restoration movement toward reconciliation among black, colored and white.

Thank you Nelson Mandela, for forgiving those who recklessly and intentionally destroyed your country. Thank you for being creative and winsome and shrewd in the face of those who had been abusive, evil and offensive.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/05/world/africa/nelson-mandela-sports/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

I made four trips to South Africa, teaching, serving, learning, listening, praying and crying. It was heartbreaking and hope-building at the same time. In South Africa can sometimes smell the poverty before you ever see it. It is raw and toxic and visceral. Admittedly I had but a brief look through a tiny window into the suffering of a people we have abused, neglected and exploited for centuries.

I felt ashamed. To feel anything less is an injustice. Repentance is the only response.

Sadly, I knew I had played a role in their demise. Every American did – by our ignorance or by our compliance. We stood by and watched corporations get richer as a people got poorer and sicker and lonelier on the world stage. Meanwhile, we took their wealth, their land and their heritage.

But thank God we could not take their faith, their dignity and their hope.

Nelson Mandela was an iconic symbol of these treasures. Of course he was a complex man, sometimes despised…sometimes revered. Yes, his work as a young, angry man was often brutal and dangerous. No one – including Mandela himself –blindly condoned this. He wanted to hurt those who hurt them.

But can we understand why? Are we so self-righteous we cannot imagine ourselves making similar error? Let’s be clear; most of us have never had our homes bulldozed into oblivion, our livelihoods take from us, our land corrupted and our leaders imprisoned. Angry young men do foolish things when they cry for freedom and justice in a world that cannot and will not hear. Like a rebellious teenager his actions cried, “Help! Look! Listen!”

Yes, Nelson Mandela’s early means were wrong. People like King and Ghandi chose different paths. And eventually so did Mandela.

But I must remember how hard it was. I have never begged for my freedom. I have never watched my friends and their sons beaten to death by a racist mob. I do not have to see my daughter raped by the very police who are supposed to protect her innocence. I was not sentenced to work a patch of limestone for decades that would virtually blind my eyes and break my back. But South Africans – like WW2 Jews in Germany and “dissidents” in North Korea today –endured this kind of suffering.

And many of us just watched. I know I did.

In 1976 I was a freshman at Princeton University. There were almost daily protests against Apartheid. I mocked them. These mostly long-haired hippie types were shouting and demanding for corporations to divest from SA to create economic pressure to topple Apartheid. I thought to myself, “Go to class…do something productive…get a job you losers!”

I was an ignorant fool.  I had no idea what Apartheid was, how it crippled a culture and raped a nation.

Thank you Nelson Mandela, for becoming a changed man. Thank you for not letting your anger and suffering become a weapon to inflict injury upon your oppressors.  Thank you for “leading from the back” as described in the book “Mandel’s Way.”

Nelson Mandela

 

 

And thank you for forgiving me. It reminds me of another great leader. The greatest leader, who had an even longer walk to freedom.  He came to earth, lived for justice and truth, but was abused, misjudged, beaten, imprisoned and killed by the oppressive elites of His day. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps Mandela gave us a contemporary example of this kind of forgiveness. I need that forgiveness. Because like I naively mocked those justice-seeking protestors, I took part in the mocking and death of righteous Jesus.

So today I say, “Thank You, Jesus—for forgiving us, saving us, loving us and now walking with us.”

Where are the Mandelas of today? You generally won’t find them ranting on FOX or MSNBC. There are few in congress or business or education. Thankfully, there are more rising up in the church. Men and women – great leaders, many of them quiet yet powerful – who care about the really big questions. But they are still a minority.

We need more people who are not caught up in so many petty debates discussed today by weak people with small minds. I know, because I can easily become one of them. Why? Because sometimes, instead of being a courageous leader I am a contented follower. No, not a follower of the radical, freedom-fighting, passionate Jesus. Rather, a follower of those who believe the fight is about our “brand” or a “model” or a “tribe” or a “theological viewpoint” or a “Bible version” or a “political system” or a hundred other distractions.

How lame and trivial. I hate when I get caught up in all that banter.

Mandela reminds me – reminds us – that there are longer walks and bigger issues and greater causes. I want to be more like him. Of course, ultimately, I want to be more like Jesus of Nazareth. A man of humility, justice, self-sacrifice, truth, beauty, forgive and, of course…LOVE. Mandela, a leader today we admire and celebrate today, was a world changer but only a shadow of what Jesus fully and perfectly embodied. And so are you and I. So we fix our eyes on Jesus as we become more of the leader, and follower, we long to become.

Can you help me be more like Jesus today? We need to remind one another of what is at stake, to call out the best in each other and set our sights on things above not on the things of the earth. In our ignorance or laziness we can never again allow another group of people to imprison and mock and oppress a rising generation of “Mandelas” who will courageously and humbly stand for freedom. For real freedom – Christ-centered freedom. Transforming freedom, inside and out.

It required a long walk for Nelson Mandela to get there, but he eventually got it right. I hope to get it right someday as well – hopefully sooner, but who knows. And I desperately need Jesus of Nazareth to walk the long road with me.

After all, He understands the long walk to freedom…all the way to the cross.

The “Business” of Church can Corrupt the Church

I struggle to hold 3 aspects of the Church in tension – the Community, the Cause and the Corporation. These 3 C’s (I was first exposed to this triad in the 1990’s) each reflect some aspect of church life in the western world.

We love the Community – the people of God, the called out ones, the ekklesia, the family of God. Relationships matter and our triune God is first and foremost a relational God.  Many people think of this “community” when the word “Church” comes to mind.

Then there is the Cause – the Kingdom-building mission of God for which we give our treasure and talent, our very lives. This cause – often described by the great commission and great commandment – frames all that we do and how we express it in the world. We love the cause, we sacrifice for the cause, and many have spilled their blood for the cause (and Christ himself led the way for us).

Then there is the Corporation – the structure, resources, strategies and leadership responsibilities. Depending on church models and approaches this can include everything from policies and governance to strategic planning to fundraising. It can involve management and HR issues, office space allocation, rental costs, equipment and technology, real estate, classrooms, parking lots and playgrounds.

While the Community and the Cause can present challenging issues and concerns (some of them massive), I believe that the hardest part can be this “Corporate” aspect. And when you add money to the mix (salaries, budgets, campaigns, benevolence, stewardship, perspectives on debt, and so on) it can get downright oppressive!

Corruption can creep in to any church that misunderstands the complex nature of the “Corporate” aspect of Church. Yes, some very small, simpler group-based models where 30-40 people are the church may offer some exceptions. (Though I have seen churches this size split over what I would call the “Corporate” aspect of what they did — or did not — pay attention to, namely $$).

Mismanagement of staff and volunteers, well-meaning but ill-conceived funding strategies, wide ranges in compensation packages among staff, personal and biblical misunderstandings about debt, and hierarchical leadership models that oppress rather than empower others are some of the big problems.

Every leader must pay attention to this aspect of “Church” and must wisely enlist a team of people who can, in community and for the cause, address this with integrity, humility and authenticity. 

 

Where do you see challenges here? How can we handle this well without inadvertently damaging the community and abandoning the cause? 

Willow Creek Reboots Connection Strategy

I sat in on a meeting at Willow Creek last week while Bill Hybels was casting some vision for the church’s new connection strategy…helping people find a place of friendship based on where they sit on weekends, then inviting them to connection events and gatherings.

http://www.willowcreek.org/section-communities

It is not a new strategy; many of you have used this for decades with a twist or two in the method. And some of you will remember we taught this for years to group life to point leaders, encouraging them to “Leverage Your Auditorium” as a strategic step for connection.  But some churches are still missing an opportunity to connect people at weekend services.

While this remains an “attractional” strategy (connecting people who come to the campus versus going into the community), it is a ripe opportunity each church has to connect with people who are already sitting there.

As I listened to the talk (1 of 4 vision Bill is doing for core leader teams) I had a flashback to my arrival to Willow in 1992. We were laser-focused on making disciples as the central part of our mission at that time.  There was much fruit in those days that came from the hard work of hundreds of disciple-makers led by Mark Weinert, Don Cousins (http://www.doncousins.org) , Judson Poling (http://www.thecrucibleproject.org/leadership.html#judson) , and many others using a group-based discipleship model. It was a whole-team effort with a clear strategy to support it.

Our challenge was how to get more people into the process and make group life more accessible for those who had trouble finding a group. So we focused on the one thing you absolutely must do in disciple-making; connection.  As we wrestled with the right wording for building a church filled with group life, our team leader asked: “What is our infinitive? To grow…to disciple…to reach…to develop? What is it? How will you being your mission focus. Because it will become the central purpose of our mission in the first phase.”

What is your infinitive? What a great question!

After much discussion we made a decision. Our infinitive would be…

“TO CONNECT.”

Why? Because you cannot make committed disciples without connection. You can certainly try. Especially if you have a definition of “connection” that is less than personal and relational. Yes, there are non-relational strategies used in closed or persecuted countries, but you can bet there is not one follower in these countries who thrives by being alone. Discipleship requires People-ship. (A word from the Donahue Lectionary of Community-building!).

Our mission for the group life ministry at Willow in 1992:

To connect people relationally in groups of 4-10 people for the purpose of growing in Christlikeness, loving one another, and contributing to the work of the church, in order to glorify God and make disciples of all nations.

I did not hunt through old folders to look that up. I did not need to…I have it memorized, ingrained in my head from the beginning. TO CONNECT.

If you do not connect people, you cannot disciple people. Period.

…and he chose the 12 that they might be WITH HIM and that he might send them out to preach… (Mark 3:14)

So today…21 years later…Willow Creek is re-focused on a workable connection strategy so that people who arrive unconnected can find a relationship. Such a strategy must be about more than just filling seats at services. There must be an overall disciple-making strategy, equipped leadership, empowered people based on gifts (not just ministry slots to fill on campus), and movement beyond a come-and-see outreach focus to a missional go-and-serve/love/gather strategy off-campus.

You need a comprehensive approach, and I can help you process that change if you want to chat about that.

Remember: You cannot stop at connection…but you cannot start without connection.

To reach out to the many disconnected, pass-through people (visiting a couple weeks and out the door a few weeks later), it will provide an essential first step along the path.

What are you doing to leverage your auditorium or worship center for connection? Do people feel welcome, known, and cared for during their weekend experience at a service? 

Pain Partners: Becoming a Community out of Desperation

Breath Taken

Early this morning I received a very sad email. I sat wondering, “Where is God in all this mess. Why? Why now? Why this man? Hasn’t he suffered enough with his cancer and his many trials?”

It has been said, “All true community begins at the edge of suffering”

Before me sits a Bible, filled with stories of pain and suffering and redemption. These stories unnerve us, encourage us, and then remind us of things eternal. We become sober to the realities of life in a broken world.  Still I ask, “Where is God when it hurts?” The answer should not surprise us. It is embedded in this email.

Here it is, edited and with names changed, but you will get the idea.  This man is suffering with cancer that is rare and hard to treat. And then this email from his wife…

Good morning-

Yesterday, at about 4:45 p.m., Mike was rear ended, spun into oncoming traffic and then T-boned. He was in a small rental car that was totaled. He was taken to the hospital and into surgery just after 7. He remained conscious and calm. He was very cold – not in much pain, not scared. He kept telling me he wasn’t scared, that he was ready, that he knew he was forgiven, saved by grace, and loved by his Father. We prayed a lot. He was mostly calm, always conscious, very well aware of what had happened.

The nurses were crying and rushing and more and more doctors and machines and nurses came. He had some deep lacerations to his head; he was bleeding. He was on a backboard, coughing, having difficulty breathing, frustrated with being strapped down and held in place. His spleen needed to come out and he had many breaks and fractures. His heart rate was too fast and his blood pressure too low. They gave him several units of blood.

They took him into surgery. He was brave! Our family and close friends joined us.

Tony, Sarah, Matt, Rachael, Mike’s family, Ashton, Tammy, and Susan came and joined the wait. (His Pain Partners.) We were all able to go in, briefly, and see him last night. He was somewhat conscious and on a respirator to help with his breathing and had some staples on the back of his head. His color was good; he rested.

It is likely that his cancer treatment will be suspended while they address these issues. It’s a lot to take in. He needs a whole lot of prayer and love and hope. His long road seems mighty long right now. Blessings and love, Karen.

Here is my edited reply to my friend who forwarded “Karen’s” email to me.

Ug …this is very hard to hear at this point, Dave, but his life is being a witness to so many who are serving him right now in the hospitals – they are seeing Jesus in him and that is remarkable…Mike’s broken life, and the community that surround him, is being used in powerful ways … I know that does not feel good to you and me right now, or especially to him or Karen, but it is true. A hard but real truth.

I lost my best friend at age 15 after he suffered for 3 years and died of spinal cancer. He was a Philadelphia Phillies fan so players would come visit him, as did others who, at the time, would never go to a church or read a Bible. But he had a strong faith for just a young teen. He talked to them about Christ, his future, salvation, etc. When he died, many remembered his short life but also his great faith. We were devastated, but I know it started me on a journey toward God, and helped others to strengthen their faith. 

A young man in a class I teach has Cystic Fibrosis. He is being hospitalized (again) this weekend to treat lung infections with IV antibiotics. He is the same age as my son, and is aware of the degenerative nature of his disease. I could not imagine my son in that condition knowing his life will be a short one filled with suffering. It punches me in the gut every time I walk into the room.

But it has also driven me to prayer. And I have wept over this student, remembering that sin has broken this world and it took the death of Jesus himself to defeat its misery. So I have hope, and I am humbled, and I sit at God’s feet and find strength. But I do not do it alone. In community we share the pain.

I am at a loss for answers as to why these things happen. I can only cling to what I know to be true. And that is what Mike and my student are doing. And I think I can guarantee that their many sufferings (which I would never wish on anyone) are being transformed into something beautiful for God’s glory. So I pray and I weep. But I also hope… for a new world one day when all the “Mikes” of this world are dancing and singing. It is what I cling to in the brokenness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  - Revelation 21: 1-5 

Yes, make it new! For all of us. So that our partnership in pain will be transformed into a reunion of joy and gladness with the One who brings us home.

I recommend Phil Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?

Where is God When It Hurts?