Thursday, July 30, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Is the Church Really Healthy?

Last week, I was listening to a Christian radio station when some news clips came on. One in particular caught my attention. Apparently, churches around Europe and America are no longer encouraging their attendants to shake hands as a means of greeting during gathering times. Instead, they are being encouraged to find other means of salutation that don’t involve such direct contact with one of our bodies’ most frequently touched appendages. Of course this makes sense in a world where health has become such a popular topic and personal health even more so. But something about the concept just didn’t sit right with me.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been in Africa for the past year, I thought. Maybe that’s why eliminating hand-to-hand contact in the church seems so strange to me. Maybe. But after hearing the sermon at our church this past Sunday, I decided that wasn’t it. The theme of our study was “outstretched arms.” The pastor was finishing up a series on different ways that our lives are affected when we become followers of Christ. This Sunday he focused on compassion (looking at Luke 10) and encouraged us to think about the term in a realistic way instead of as another abstract emotion that we check off our “to do” list after sending a check to the local homeless shelter. He challenged us to think about the people in our daily lives—the living, breathing, hurting, hoping people that we live our lives beside every day—and to stretch out our arms to care for others the way that Jesus did when he walked the same earth beside the same kinds of people. Not long after the sermon ended, I found myself thinking back to that news clip from the radio. And I found myself wondering: Is that what Christ wants his church to look like to the world around us? A bunch of people afraid to touch each other’s hands because we might get contaminated? Is that what a healthy church is?

I don’t think so. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. We know the general moral of the story and how it ends. But do you remember what comes at the beginning? In a nutshell, the man Jesus told the parable to was correct in reciting God’s command to love the Lord first and then love our neighbors. But the man, seeking to justify himself, wanted to know exactly who his neighbors were. Surely Jesus didn’t mean going to people in another social class or those who were unclean! (Or perhaps today: Surely Jesus doesn’t mean for me to actually touch people.) Yet to him, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of a man who put aside his own plans and fears, had compassion on a sick man he had never before met, and showed to that man the mercy of Christ. Jesus’s instruction? “…go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37). Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:8, “ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers….” In order to heal the sick, they must have had to go near them. And in order to raise the dead, they must have touched them. In order to cleanse the lepers, they had to have visited them, right? So what, in the twenty-first century when we’ve had hundreds and thousands of years to practice this teaching of Jesus, is our problem? We don’t even want to touch each other for fear of our own health. What then will be our reaction to the world around us? I fear that it won’t be a godly one if we fail to renew our minds by meditating on God’s Word and submitting to what He says is good and true—and healthy.

So am I overreacting due to a year spent outside of the Western world and less exposed to the increasing paranoia over health issues that is hovering like a cloud over the American populace? Maybe. I hope so. But just in case I’m not, I hope you’ll take seriously with me the task of stretching our arms out to the people around us in a way that reflects God’s glory and Christ’s example. And do something counter-cultural: touch somebody.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So Where Have We Been?

The past week or so has found our family touring the state of North Carolina as we vacationed and visited family. We started out at Ocean Isle where we visited Rusty's parents, enjoyed some quality beach time, and sampled our first Italian ice! The girls had a lot of fun in the sun and will undoubtedly look forward to their next opportunity to play in the tide pools and dig in the sand. After a few days on the beach, we drove up to Cary (Raleigh) to visit more family and join in the birthday celebration of our youngest niece. Time with cousins certainly rivaled riding the waves; the girls had a blast playing with each other! It was a fun reunion and we were happy for the opportunity to see everyone after a year away.

Now we're back on "the mountain" once more and back to the grind of job hunting and holding down the fort for Mom and Dad. We've had a great week so far with a church picnic, lots of deer sightings, playing with new friends at the city park, and picking up a new painting hobby at the top of the list! We're thankful for God's continued blessings poured out on us as we try to settle in to our new-albeit temporary-home! He continues to "daily bear us up"! (Ps. 68:19)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Just a thought

I knew days like today were inevitable, even as we packed our bags in Africa. I knew that we were getting ready to go through yet another "transition phase" and--at least in my life--that means times of loneliness, feeling a lack of purpose in my daily routine, wishing for my own nest to build and growing weary of living out of a suitcase (or in our case, several!). But, just because I know something's coming doesn't mean I always handle it with grace. Unfortunately, today was a classic example of that. You know, one of those days when it seems perpetually cold and dreary, no email or phone calls, the girls get whiny and seem to require constant attention, no one seems to know what to do with the day...

Anyway, this afternoon I had a few minutes to sit down and reflect for a few moments, acknowledging to God my disgruntled heart, and he met me with a few familiar verses from Colossians:

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)

It hit me quite clearly that the reason I was so unhappy was because my gaze was on myself and the things around me. How much easier I seemed to learn that lesson when we lived with less in Cameroon! Now I find myself tempted to want all kinds of things that I don't have, and--most of all--lured into thinking that this world and this life is everything. The truth of the matter is that our earthly possessions, surroundings, and even relationships will likely change time and time again in this life. But what God reminded me of through Colossians 3 today is that Christ does not change. When we fix our minds on Him, we will have the same feeling of companionship, sense of daily purpose, and joy in everyday life--because he is unchanging.

It's getting late now and I don't have the time or energy to write much, but I just wanted to share this thought with you: when we set our minds on Jesus, it doesn't matter how often (or even how drastically!) our earthly circumstances change. He is our Hope and our Surety, the Steadfast Anchor of our Souls. And he will never change.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Latest Happenings

We've been busy the past week with family visits, short road trips, and fun in the great outdoors with the girls. The girls had a GREAT time visiting with their cousins, and especially enjoyed prancing around in the water at Elk Creek Falls. Here are some pictures of the fun!