Monday, November 16, 2009

Affirm and Defend

In 2nd Samuel, chapter 13 we read the tragic story of David's daughter, Tamar. Tamar was a beautiful young girl with many brothers. One of her brothers, Amnon, fell in love with Tamar. The Bible says that Amnon was "frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her." A friend of his suggested that he pretend to be sick and then ask for Tamar to bring him bread and care for him. Amnon did exactly that, and when his sister was close to him and tenderly caring for him, he grabbed her and raped her. Tamar begged him to not do this "wicked" thing, but Amnon defiled his sister.

After the rape, Amnon looked at Tamar who was lying next to him and the Bible said he "hated" her. Wow! Amnon had allowed the sexual fantasy to take over his thought life to the point that his thoughts finally gave way to action. But as is so often the case, the very thing he thought he wanted, became the very thing he scorned. A guilty heart grows a hateful forest! Amnon pushed Tamar out of his bed and told his servants to bolt the door so he would never have to look at her again. Tamar had been wearing the ornamented robe worn by the virgin daughters of the king. When she left Amnon's room, she tore the robe, put ashes on her forehead, and ran weeping through the halls. Her brother, Absalom saw her and said, (vs. 20)"Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." The verse ends with these tragic words, "and Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman." And we never hear from Tamar again.

Sometimes it seems the easiest thing to do is to quietly sweep sin under the rug. We hear of abuse, or neglect, and we turn a blind eye. This happens all the time in society, and just as often in church families. We don't want to make waves, or perhaps we are hesitant to ruin the reputation of a church deacon, teacher, or pastor, so we ignore the weeping woman running through the halls. We tell the offended to "be quiet now". Of course abuse doesn't have to be in the form of sexual battery to be abuse. Gossip, lying, stealing, and manipulation are all offenses that are too often kept quiet, but the victims of these sins are still victims. Tamar's pain was never affirmed, and no one came to her defense, and so she lived the rest of her days a "desolate woman".

I know a young man who was sexually assaulted by a Sunday school leader. For a period of time the incident was ignored and swept under the rug. The young man suffered in silence. Then one day a courageous pastor affirmed the young man's pain and promised to defend him, even if it meant personal loss to the pastor. There was public scrutiny and eventually a trial. The offender went to prison, and today the young man is emotionally healthy and serving the Lord. He had someone who affirmed his pain, and came to his defense. Without the brave pastor who walked with him, that young man might today be living in desolation.

Get off the pew and defend someone today! If you see an innocent person in your congregation who has been the victim of an assault of any kind - whether it is physical or emotional - be brave enough to affirm their sadness, and then defend them if necessary. Do you know a "Tamar" - someone whose pain has been hushed in order to save the reputation of her abuser? Run to her (or him) today! Get off the pew mighty defender!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Serving God - Mom's way or no way!

When I was about 15 I met a boy I'll call Timothy. Timothy was a bit of a wild child, but I adored him. It didn't hurt that he was really cute. Timothy was the youngest child in a very conservative Christian family. His dad was a pastor and his mom was a well-respected writer and speaker. It does seem to be a true fact that preacher's kids are the most rebellious, and Timothy was definitely one those p.k.'s.

Timothy's mom seemed to take a particular liking to me. I don't know what it was, but I'm pretty sure she had it her mind that I was wife material for Timothy. I spent a lot of time with the family - lunches, picnics, nights out on the town, etc... I was only 15, but I knew I was being groomed by Timothy's mom to be her son's wife. Timothy, however, was not interested in me beyond friendship. But, that friendship was incredibly special and I am grateful that it has endured for over thirty years. He's never been far from my heart, even though years and years would pass between visits. You see for such a long time, Timothy was off, as they say, living "in the world".

Over the years I would run into Timothy's mom on occasion. Even though we attended different churches, there was always the potluck here, or the retreat there, that would give opportunity for our path's to cross. After the warm greeting I would ask, "How's Timothy". I always got the same response - "Timothy is Timothy". Mom would then spend the next few minutes filling me in on the latest mistakes being made by her prodigal son.

A few months ago Timothy called me. It had been years and years since I'd heard his voice, and my heart warmed immediately. My friend! We talked for an hour, and then agreed to meet for coffee. After bragging a bit about our children and our families, he told me about his rocky road from good Christian kid, to rebellious teen, to prodigal son, and finally to the humble and grateful man of God that he is today. I was AMAZED at the work God had done in this man's life. I cried as I heard him tell of his love for his family, and his hope for reunion with a lost daughter. Then I asked the question, "How thrilled is your mom that you are now a Christian?" His answer broke my heart. "Mom is angry I'm not a part of the same church denomination as her!"

"The Church" is a body of believers - at least that's what the Bible tells us. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but of people. The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of that body. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ’s return. If you are spending time and energy whining about a member of your family or circle of friends because they are going to the "wrong" church, then get off the pew and rejoice that we are ALL part of the same body. There are no walls! That is a super cool truth! Now, I know there are cults, and I'm not suggesting that they are part of "the church". I'm talking here about all Bible teaching, God fearing, Jesus loving bodies of believers. There are some minor doctrinal teachings that separate the denominations, but we are ONE BODY! Let's get off the pew and celebrate our unity.

To Timothy's're son is awesome, and I am so proud of him. His story of rebellion and salvation encourages me!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Promises made...Promises broken

I've written before about the church's practice of parent/child dedications. These ceremonies are the stuff of which precious moments and just plain cuteness are made. Mom and Dad (and very often other family members) carry the baby up on the church platform. The pastor holds the oft-sleeping little one in his arms, and he prays for God's blessings on the child and on the family. The entire congregation is asked to support the parents in the raising of the child with their love, support, and prayers. The church family extends their arms toward the family in a symbolic laying on of the hands.

The other day I talked with yet another mom of not one, but two prodigal children. Her youngest son has been in jail for several months, and last week, her oldest son was arrested. I am once again struck by the overwhelming sense of loneliness felt by the parents of prodigals. It is a long, lonely road from the joyful and hopeful parent/child dedication to the cold, sterile walls of the county jail. Moms, in particular, carry so much guilt and feelings of responsibility for the way their kids turn out. "O" Magazine recently published an article by Susan Klebold, the mom whose son, Dylan, was one of the young men who carried out the student massacre at Columbine High School near Denver, Colorado. Susan has spent the past 10 years searching for peace, for solace, and for answers. She has expressed her apology for what her son (along with fellow student Eric Harris) did. She has written letters to the parents who lost children on that horrible day in 1999, but her therapist advised her against sending them because they would open and tear at wounds that will never fully heal. Some of the still grieving parents were interviewed and asked if they accepted Susan Klebold's apology. One father said, "It is too little too late. She should have apologized sooner." One father, however, said the apology was welcomed. Susan, it seems to me was the best mother she could have been. Her son (like most prodigals) was very good at hiding his dark thoughts from his mom. Why are we so quick to blame her for her son's sins? God is the perfect father, and His kids are a mess!

Susan Klebold lost her son on that horrific day at Columbine High School. Her grief is just as real and crushing as that of the other mothers and fathers. The families of the innocent victims have been covered in prayer and love since the moment the frightening live footage began streaming across our television screens. The families of the killers have been judged, criticized, questioned, and suspected. She was forever changed that day. "Dylan changed everything I believed about myself, about God, about family, and about love", Susan said. What happened to that beautiful little boy between the day he was dedicated and the day he trapped his schoolmates in the high school library? Remember all the people who raised their hands and promised to pray for that sweet little baby and help guide him into adulthood? Did they forget about their commitment to God and to that family? Babies and their families are dedicated nearly every Sunday in our church. Get off the pew, church. Even after the cuteness wears off, those babies you promised to pray for and help guide are still God's babies, and He's asked us to walk alongside one another. Reach out to a prodigal today. Get off the pew, church!!