Thursday, December 14, 2006

All Shall Be Well

I am preaching on the subject of “Peace” today. At times like this I remind myself that I am not required to have mastered something or understand it fully in order to preach about it. I am a fellow traveler on this journey, and this is true, by the way, most of the time for preachers.

I am familiar with many of the pithy sayings about spiritual peace, such as “Peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of God.” They’re all accurate, for the most part, but I wonder if they don’t make it out to be easier than it is. “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.” Okay. Got it. But a subject like this deserves more than bumper sticker slogans.

One of the songs we sing about the peace of God is called “It is Well With My Soul.” The first verse goes “When peace like a river, attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ The author, Horatio G. Spafford, wrote this out of the crucible of devastating loss. He lost a fortune in the great Chicago fire of 1871 and soon after lost his only son, aged 4, to scarlet fever. In 1873 he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to England to visit the evangelistic campaigns of his close friends D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey, planning to join them in short order. On the voyage their ship collided with another vessel and sank; his four daughters were lost. His wife cabled him with the simple message: “Saved alone.” Spafford booked passage to join his bereaved wife, and was notified by the captain when they passed the spot of the ship’s sinking and his children’s deaths. Unsettled, unable to sleep, he said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.” He later wrote this famous hymn based on those words.

I recall reading of an early church leader who regularly consoled his flock (and himself) with the assurance that “All shall be well.” This is a strangely comforting thought, isn’t it? But apart from God it is just positive thinking, however comforting it may be. To say “All shall be well” is to affirm that no matter how bad things get, no matter what turmoil we face or devastation we suffer, the God who loves us, in the name of the Son who died for us, through the Spirit who intercedes for us (Romans 8:26) will care for us and see us through. Jesus puts it this way to his followers, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)."

The message Spafford’s wife cabled him can be heard at another level. “Saved alone.” When I consider the devastation Spafford suffered, and wonder if I could withstand similar losses with my faith intact, this is what I come back to: When all is said and done, I am saved, and on that alone rests my peace. Jesus (from Jeshua, “the One who saves”) has overcome the world and “this world is not my home” (another song we sing). Jesus assures me “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (John 14:27)” and on that I endeavor to build the rest of my life.

So, friends, may the God of peace be with all of you (Romans 15:33). And may you be with the God of peace.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Breaking In

Last Sunday at West Houston we took up a special contribution for the Mission Lazarus medical clinic in Honduras, which we support as one of our primary mission points. For several weeks I talked about three children in particular whom we were going to help: Rocio, a three year old girl who needs a cochlear transplant, Nancy, a 25lb four-year old who needs monthly growth hormone treatments, and Rony, a fourteen year old boy who needs surgery to enable him to live without a colostomy bag.

I told you that I had some trepidation about having a special collection the first week in December, when Americans (typically) are spending themselves into exhaustion. I told you that I even hesitated to notify Allison Brown, the Mission Lazarus liaison, that we were taking a special collection because I didn’t want her to get her hopes too high. What I didn’t tell you was that I would have been happy for us to send $10,000. I would have considered that a strong and generous effort because it’s on top of our weekly giving and our Building Up, Reaching Out giving.

Something happened on Sunday and I want to address it first with my right-brain (feeling, sensory) which, admittedly, I will need to dust off since it usually lies dormant. When I walked into the office Monday morning and saw Harriett Raindl and Marcia Brittain counting the money, I felt a twinge of excitement. There was a huge stack of checks and cash. I mean a PILE. They looked at me and they were almost giddy. I said, “What does it look like?” they said, “Money.” I am used to this friendly cheekiness in our office so I asked again. They told me a number and I said, “Whoa.” I felt a sense of awe; as if something spiritual and mystical was taking place. I felt a sense that God’s grace had poured over us in a wave. I felt, and I use this word carefully, a sense of reverence.

Now let me address this with my left-brain (analytical, cognitive) while noting that I used the word “feel” four times in the last paragraph, a personal record. I think that something special happened on Sunday, that we experienced a sense of reckless, joyful ABANDON at helping “the least of these” in the name of Jesus. Let me tell some stories.

A young boy, first or second grade, the son of a guest, went home the week I first announced the upcoming contribution, emptied his piggy bank, and told his Mom to give it to the children in Honduras.

A young man, visiting his parents on the Sunday we took the contribution, opened his wallet and gave everything in it, which in his present circumstances was a valuable sum.

One of our Life Groups decided that evening to pool their resources and help a West Houston family that has been struggling financially.

A woman at West Houston asked for information about Mission Lazarus so she could secure a matching contribution from her company. Then she increased the already generous contribution she had been planning to make by four hundred percent. I know there are other stories like these.

It is not difficult, and not uncommon, to let our Christian lives become somewhat routine and predictable. As ironic as it may sound, we can live relatively uprightly, and even “do church,” without much interaction with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, just living the “Christian principles.” But then God breaks in and pours out his Spirit and, if we are open to that and join him, we are left with a sense of awe and joy at how much BETTER that is than going it on our own.

So I want to say personally, thank you West Houston, for re-teaching me, a seasoned preacher, this lesson. We’re at about $43,000 presently. We’re going to help a lot of folks at Mission Lazarus. God is good. All the time.