Saturday, December 13, 2008

Church Planting, Disability Ministry and Icy Roads!

Last night I made a discovery about church plantiing. Church planting especially with the vision to minister to individuals and families impacted by disability and icy roads have some things in common!

Winter wonderland describes Pittsburgh's look of the last several days! The huge snowflakes chasing each other to see which can get to the ground first are beautiful. The way below freezing temps keep our white world in place.

Yesterday late afternoon I drove to take supper to a friend. Her daughter - just arrived home for winter break from college - needed a ride to get a prescription filled. So she and I set off - the "back way" - for the pharmacy. We were fine getting there even though my friend commented that she couldn't believe the roads hadn't been salted. I replied that I thought cities were trying to save money by not spreading salt "recklessly" this year - that I read in the paper or heard on the radio that Chicago spent many millions just clearing their roads in one recent snowstorm. We got to the store, discovered they wouldn't process her new insurance card and started home on the same back roads.

We came to the top of the last long hill. A small deer almost darted in front of us at the same moment I realized we were driving down a skating rink road. It must have been black ice covered by a layer of snow. Fortunately we were the only car either way as we mostly slid down the hill. I knew I wasn't in control of the car. I was just trying to stay on the path. At the bottom (where the sign says opposing traffic does not stop) I had no choice but to steer carefully to the left onto her home street which is fairly flat. Fortunately there was no near on-coming traffic!

When we pulled into her drive, she said to me, "That was pretty scary!" That was the moment I processed exactly how scary it was! I guess I'm so used to living in the exciting fast lane of life that it didn't get my adrenaline flowing as much as it did hers.

My husband and I and a brave band of others are starting A Restoration Church in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It's not our first church plant experience, but it is clearly the most exciting. A Restoration Church is unique in our vision to take the Gospel to and to bring into the Kingdom intentionally and especially individuals and families impacted by disability.

Sometimes our forward progress seems well-planned, but mostly this church plant is a lot like that icy road last night. It's a really exciting ride - even dangerously exciting at times - with Someone (that would be the King of the Kingdom) else in control. We are in forward motion with rapidly beating hearts being faithful and working hard for the King to build His Kingdom further here in Pittsburgh!

The analogy may break down at some points, I'm sure, but the essence is that church planting can be a lot like my ride in my car with my young friend down the icy hill last night! We are going where many people don't dare go. We are makinig new friends and taking them along for the ride of their lives. We are taking risks and living on the edge of our comfort zones (and even stepping outside our comfort level) - all for the sake of building God's Kingdom!

Church planting and icy roads do have some things in common!

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Flipping Houses" and Restoring Hearts

"Flipping houses"? It's the practice of buying up dilapidated real estate, fixing it up and then renting or selling it for a profit.
Once (long ago) when I started a business I had no start-up capital so I made one product, sold it and bought materials to make two more, etc. until I had a warehouse full of product to ship to fill customer orders. People who "flip houses" can start with one house and plow the profits back until they have a profitable enterprise going.
I was thinking about this principle recently when I realized that "flipping hearts" for the Kingdom is much the same. One at a time "flipping hearts" requires the investment of time and love for Jesus' sake. One at a time God changes hearts and multiplies our efforts and His life-change to build His Kingdom one heart at a time.
"Flipping houses" takes stuff like bricks and morter, paint and wood and lots and lots of hard work. "Flipping hearts" is much the same! It takes a willingness to boldly love other people for Jesus just like He did when He walked this earth wearing our skin and living in our neighborhood. (John 1:14, The Message) He touched blind eyes and ears. He healed lepers. He spoke or reached out a hand to the dead. He commanded evil spirits to go away and much more.
Jesus got involved in intensely personal ways in people's lives appropriate to their need. In doing so, Jesus modeled His plan for building His Kingdom on earth. It is one heart at a time just loving people at their point of need, and He does the rest! That's God's plan for restoring hearts and lives as He builds His Kingdom one heart at a time!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Disability, Disease and Death - WHY?

This week I had an encounter with death. This week I also encountered disability and disease. My good friend's beautiful Siberian Husky died Monday night. Several good friends live with significantly serious disability. A good friend has terminal cancer. Other close friends live with blindness, neurological disabilities or diseases and the prospect of their pain increasing. Some of these friends will never be better this side of heaven.

Disability, disease and death happen. Why? Where is God? Is He asleep at the switch (or even sending a text message like the engineer in California recently was when his train collided with another train killing and seriously injuring many passengers) when this kind of pain comes?

The WHY? question is our feeble attempt to make some sense out of pain and suffering and death. More often than not, we don't know the answer to WHY? We scream "WHY?" into the darkness of death, disability and disease. Does this kind of terrible pain happen because God is just not powerful enough to stop the big stuff or because it slips past His notice?

Are disability, disease and death part of God's plan? Or are they the result of mis-laid plans or even evil intent? Are disability, disease and death horrible, tragic coincidences? Is evil spinning out of control? Is God either unwilling or incapable of stopping these big three: disability, disease and death?

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrestled with the WHY? question following the death of his son. He concluded that often there are things God just isn't powerful enough to stop - like disability, disease and death. Rabbi Kushner's conclusion is certainly not what the Bible says.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes in her devotional book Pearls of Great Price: It's one thing for God to deliberately let something awful happen for reasons we may not understand, but it would be another for God to wish He could have prevented it, but have one hand tied behind His back. Either God rules, or Satan sets your life's agenda and God is limited to only reacting. In which case, the Almighty would become the devil's clean-up boy. Although God would manage to patch things up, your suffering would be meaningless. ... No, the real tragedy is that any Christian would settle for such darkenss with the light of the Bible shining so clearly. If God didn't control evil, the result would be evil uncontrolled. Our suffering has meaning because " ... His kingdom rules over all." (Psalm 103:19) (from "The Real Tragedy," November 30th)

Nothing else makes sense! Nothing less gives comfort in the midst of disability, disease and death! Only the sure knowledge that God is God and that He is working His plan in the world and in individual hearts brings peace and comfort in the midst of struggling with disability, disease and death!

God's promise is sure: "For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) God always keeps His promises! We can count on that no matter what we encounter. We can be sure that no matter how dark the darkness disability, disease and death may bring that God is there with us in the pain and darkness. He sees and knows what is happening. He is still on His throne, and He does have BOTH hands on the switch. Nothing happens (not even disability, disease or death) outside His plan! His plan is to give hope and a future and not to harm us ever!