The human touch–it can be something sad, or it can be comforting. The last few days, it’s been both for me. Dad’s billfold is on our chest of drawers. When I simply reach out to touch it, a deep sadness comes over me–and a few more tears–so I walk away from it. But then I think about all the embraces we received from friends and family after Dad’s death–and I find it comforting. The most powerful touches came to me without any words. At the funeral home before we opened up for friends, our son-in-law Michael came up and just put his hand on my shoulder. He’s been where I was at–and it was amazing the strength that came to me. And he’s just one example.
Yesterday did not end well for us. Last night I received a phone call that one of our very good friends, Max–more like family–had just died. He and his wife Cindy ARE family. And I learned that another icon of the Center Star Community had also died. I went to school with his kids. And right now I simply want to go back there–though the wounds of my own grief are still very fresh–to give my friends the human touch–the way it was shared with me.
But there’s this thing called COVID–the demon has affected and infected all of us here at home. We are in quarantine. In addition to the sickness and death caused by COVID–for the past couple of years, it’s limited the human touch. First, there was the lockdown–and when some of the limitations were lifted–we could only pretend to shake hands. Facemasks and social distancing were–and continue to be–the norm. Honestly, I’m struggling here–drowning even–because I cannot be with our friends, the way they were with us. And then there’s Dad’s billfold.
What’s a person to do? To be touched in kindness or to touch another person in kindness is powerful. When we can’t be there–when they can’t be here–when even an inanimate object feels like we’re in a tsunami of grief–what can we do? How can we cope? I will answer my own question–know that God is touching us! We know this because the Bible tells us so–In Psalm 139, verse 5 (New Century Version) David wrote: “You are all around me—in front and in back—and have put your hand on me.
This Psalm goes on to talk about trying to get away from God’s presence, from His touch. But in every place, God is already there, waiting for us. His touch is the most comforting touch of all–and no pandemic–not even our own sinfulness–will ever prevent Him from reaching out and touching us. I leave you with this picture. It’s from back in the day before cell phones–so there was this thing called long-distance calling. It could be very expensive. But AT&T had an ad campaign to encourage subscribers to make those long-distance phone calls. The ads were something like this:
When we need it–God reaches out and touches us. Not with a phone call, but His very own presence. And Jesus invites us to reach out and touch Him the way He invited the disciples to touch Him after The Resurrection. And when this *%^#*&_)^%^$(@&#%^ pandemic is gone–reach out and literally touch someone because they will need it. Join me in praying for an end to this virus–so that we no longer need social distancing.
1 This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.3 Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. 4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.
I have said at other times that no message or series has been more difficult for me than the one I am sharing. And this new series is proving itself to me, to be the most difficult one ever. I’m calling it Why, God? Notice the use of the comma. It would be much easier for me to talk about Why God?Why God speaks about our need for God. But that pesky comma, Why, God? speaks into the season we are in today.
We are living in a season like none other before. We have this Pandemic of Covid-19 and we are seeing a lot of racial unrest. I also see that the core of this season of racial unrest is a symptom of something else that has been going on for some time now— and that is Social And Political Unrest. The fabric that is meant to hold us together in a common society is being cut and ripped apart.
I am compelled to speak into this chaos. I would rather not and tackle an easier word. But I Firmly Believe This Mess We Are In Has A Message. Unfortunately, it may not be the message that people inside and outside of church want to hear.
We are going to begin this series with an honest discussion around the question that many are asking out loud, and many more that are wondering about inside their hearts and minds but are afraid to ask. Why, God? Why Are Things Like They Are Right Now? Why This Covid-19, This Racial, Social, And Political Unrest?
I believe this is a question that needs to be asked and explored. So be prepared for some hard or difficult things I will share with you. And at the risk of losing some of you—I will honestly say upfront that I may not have a neat answer to the question—I may not even have a good answer for the question.
And let me be upfront and honest with this disclaimer: I Am Not An Expert On The Ways That God Thinks. My answers may not be your answers as to the Why Question. Know that I am not expecting you to agree with anything I say. I won’t be disappointed with anyone who disagrees with me.
My personal goal, and the goal of this Series, is that you will not be afraid to ask God questions, and that you think through your own answers—without using the standard issue replies that are dressed in a Polly Anna or The Born Loser view of life. I am convinced that oversimplified answers to the Why Question are only adding to the frustrations and fears.
Posting things on Social Media with the line “Repost if you believe in Jesus” aren’t helping. Reality Check folks: Reposting And Quoting Scriptures Isn’t Going To Help! So What Will Help? I believe raw honesty helps more than posting and quoting Scriptures.
Look, it’s not that life Could Be difficult and hard. If you can handle the truth, then here it is—The Truth Is That Many Times Life IS Difficult And Hard. None of us are exempt from the troubles and pressures of life. And if anyone tells you that you can live a happy and pain-free life as a Christian—they are lying to you and they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving you.
I have been a pastor for nearly 46 years, and in those 46 years I have read and studied the Bible extensively. In that same 46 years I have had a lot of personal experiences and I’ve been a part of other people’s experiences. I have seen joy—and I’ve seen the doubt and deep pain brought on by life as it really is—the fear and hurt that comes with those difficult experiences.
I am going to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be totally Honest with you. And sometimes coming face to face with Honesty is not very easy. And know ahead of time that my Honesty may not fit in with The Truth.
If anything, the writers of the Bible are Honest—more than Honest, they are Painfully Honest. There is page after page, story after story, which speaks Honestly—but not always be The Truth. Think about Job—not everything in there is The Truth—but everything there is Painful Honesty. In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes Honestly about His Feelings—though some of his conclusions about God are not true. But His Conclusions About The Pain And Difficulties Of Life—They Are Most DefinitelyTrue.
There’s the book of Lamentations—where Jeremiah blames God for everything that happened to Jerusalem. And there’s this passage we begin with from Habakkuk. Habakkuk, this prophet of God, Honestly believes that God isn’t listening and that He has forgotten all about him. And true to human nature, it’s easier to blame God than accept responsibilities for our choices.
That’s exactly what Adam did—he blamed God. And here’s the truth that many will disagree with me—God Didn’t Destroy Jerusalem. God didn’t point His finger at Babylon and manipulate them into doing what He wanted to be done. The blame for the destruction of Jerusalem lies squarely at the feet of those who rejected God by choosing another way. God didn’t have to punish them—they punished themselves by rejecting the ageless truth of God—and that rejection reaped them a whirlwind and a hurricane of consequences.
And all of this that’s going on all around us? I am about to say something that many may disagree with—and remember I warned you. I want you to think deeply. This is it: God Is Not Causing Any Of This To Happen. Covid-19 Is NOT God Punishing Our Nation And World.God Is Not Pointing His Finger To Manipulate People To Create This Hate And Chaos.
What I see happening here in the U.S. with the unrest, what I see happen in the U.S. and around the world with Covid-19 is The Consequences Of Generations Of People Abandoning God’s Principles For Another Way. We are reaping the same whirlwind and hurricane that Habakkuk and Jeremiah were seeing in their day.
One of the blogs I read is Walking With A Limp. Here’s what the writer, Joe Misek, had to say about his title: “The reason why I title my blog Walking With a Limp is because I believe our faith and our humanity is meant to be lived out not hiding our brokenness. In fact, the Bible even has an entire genre of literature dedicated to expressing pain, grief, anger, and brokenness: Lament.”
In a recent blog he wrote: “We don’t do Lament well in the modern American church. In fact, we often arrange our entire experience of corporate worship to be happy. Lament sounds dark and depressing; it is uncomfortable if you hear it and you are in a ‘happy place’ in your life. But the Lament is not in the entertainment business and doesn’t appeal to consumers. It is reality. It is healing.”
Joe is right—unlike Job, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk we don’t handle Lamenting very well. We either hold all our pain, doubts and questions in—or we adopt a lifestyle of being happy all the time while masking what’s really going on inside us. Many often chastise others and themselves for even thinking about that question of Why, God?
I don’t really know all the whys about why we aren’t truthful with ourselves and with God in this time. Maybe it’s because we’ve had long years of comfort here in the United States. We have forgotten or never really learned how to Lament. It seems we would rather find someone or something To Blame than to become broken over our own lives and the world.
The Ability To Lament Comes Out Of 2 Things:
The Pain Of Realizing Something Isn’t Right. It’s being broken over what’s wrong to the point that makes us restless and deeply hurting. And here is another hard truth: We Don’t Like To Hurt—we avoid pain as if it were some sin. But it’s not. Many today are trying to make their hidden pain go away by not admitting something isn’t right and then justifying themselves. In the LBGTQ community, they blame their pain on those who will not agree with their justification. Racial Unrest is the result of blaming history for their pain and the reality that some still hold on to racist views. Political Unrest is the result of blaming those who don’t see things their way. And the Social Unrest is the result of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our own choices.
Then It Takes An Honest Vulnerability To Express That Pain Of Being Broken And Living In A Broken World. I’m talking about raw emotions—like the raw emotions we see in the lives of Job, Solomon, Jeremiah and Habakkuk. I’m not talking about finding out who or what is to blame. Blaming isn’t the same thing as Lamenting.
I’m not talking about moaning and groaning, whining and complaining—God knows we are good at that. Many have taken this to an art form or made it a science. Whining and complaining, moaning and groaning are cheap substitutes that help us avoid confronting the real issues—issues that are eroding our culture, our own hearts, and are hurting others. It takes little effort and even less thoughtful reflection to moan and groan or whine and complain. It just gushes out of us without any effort.
And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: The Only Way To Find Our Way Forward And Navigate This Broken Culture Will Only Begin When We Recover The Ability To Lament.Lamenting requires a different focus for us.
This week I came to a most unusual, perhaps unorthodox view about Lamenting. Lamenting is another learned Spiritual Discipline. Spiritual Disciplines never happen automatically. They require both intentions and diligence. I can’t remember ever studying about Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline or reading a book that taught Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline.
I’m not saying I haven’t—maybe I have and it these times that are bringing it up in my spirit and heart. Quoting Scriptures and motivational phrases will not change our culture. The Key is to become broken, and then Lamenting—about ourselves and our world. Do you need an example? Good, because there is the best example ever.
It’s Jesus! In Luke 19:41-44 we see: But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.
It was too late for Jerusalem, but it’s not too late for us and the world. And because WE can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, we need the Next Step.
In Our Hearts And Minds, Replace The Idea Of Blame With The Truth That We And Our World Are Broken And Hurting.
Are you really broken over our world? Or are you frustrated? Are you angry? And are you wanting to escape by desiring the return of Jesus more than the return of people back to Jesus?
For the next few weeks, I want us to look at how we can reclaim the Art And Discipline Of Lamenting. Admit it, nothing we are doing now is making a difference. Maybe, just maybe, a good old fashioned Lament will make a difference.
Since everyone else is either saying something or writing something I thought I might as well put my two-cents worth into the fray. Due to the inability of the vast majority of Americans to stay home when they have symptoms of even the flu or even the common sense to wash their hands, the government has been forced to step in with this thing called quarantine and social distancing. Some states and municipalities have gone further than the Federal Guidelines and moved into total lock down.
Florida has even closed it’s borders to outsiders unless they have a Federal Certificate of being a necessary person. Of course native Floridians say it’s too little, too late because of the damn Yankees. In case you are wondering what that term means, I will explain. A Yankee is someone who goes down South but then goes back north. A damn Yankee is someone who goes down South and stays. A good friend of mine once said that we should round up all the damn Yankees, put them in cattle-cars and ship them back north. But in all fairness, there are a few damn Yankees who are good; few but nonetheless good. They have adapted to our Southern Culture. They have repented of and renounced their Yankee ways. If there was only a way for them to get rid of their accent you wouldn’t even know they were once a Yankee. I am digressing so I will get to the point.
Due to social distancing and quarantine, community has been broken, well except at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club Costco and the local grocer. But the fact remains that what once was known as community is now broken. Not only in the sense of towns, cities and counties, but it has become illegal to assemble as the Community of Believers. And the very nature of The Kingdom of God requires being and living in Community. And many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters are bemoaning this current reality. And now the first penny of my two-cents worth.
The Community known as church, at least in the U.S., was already broken. Long before it was known as “church” the word used to describe this gathering was “kononia”. Kononia means a shared life, fellowship, and a sense of each contributing to the welfare of others. The U.S. church has been turned inward–and though it considered itself a “community”, it wasn’t the kononia community. It had already quarantined itself from a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit and had socially distanced itself from the very ones we are designed, called and commissioned to reach. This social isolation and quarantine only revealed what already existed–Real Kononia Community was broken. My first penny. Now, for the second penny of my two-cents worth.
Community, as it HAS BEEN defined SHOULD NOT BE fixed. If the COMMUNITY that HAD BEEN was the right kind of COMMUNITY, we would not be seeing the fear, panic, hoarding and complete disregard for their fellow human beings. There! I said it! Community BEFORE COVID-19 was defective, mean, ugly and it sucked at being Community. And not just outside the church. Many congregations who cherished their buildings and traditions in those buildings more than people in their community now have neither! And the social distancing now in place has been in practice by many congregations BEFORE COVID-19–and I pray it does not continue after the all-clear is given.
Truth Time! Can you handle it? We do not need community as it has been. My deepest prayer is that out of this calamity, there will be a Resurrection of Koinonia Community–This is Community as God designed it to be in the beginning. A Community unmarred by selfish desires and behavior. A Community that longs to be defined by the Creator rather than the created. A Community that reaches out to make sure no soul is left behind. A Community that celebrates together and that mourns together. A Community that isn’t defined by buildings and habits–but IS DEFINED by the heart that is completely surrendered to God.
Community is broken. May that community never be seen again. And may the Community of the Kingdom of God rise in its place. And it will happen if each of us heeds the words of this song: