Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Alone No More


Dear Friends,

My heart breaks for those struggling through the quicksand of life and just trying to make it on their own from one day to the next. I’ve been there - done that. Most of you know my story. Born into a Episcopalian family. Acolyte at age nine. God’s call on my life as a teenager to be a priest. Walked away from church. Jesus had always been my Savior, and still was, but now He was no longer the Lord of my life. I was in charge now. I was still a “believer,” but I was living my life without God. I was living it my way.

I don’t know when the nightmares started. I never had them when I was young. They were terrifying dreams. They were regular. I dreaded them. In the nightmare, I’d be grieving over a loss, an emptiness. I don’t have the words to adequately describe the gut-wrenching emotional trauma I was experiencing in these dreams. This over-whelming feeling of loneliness was so intensely deep and pervasive that I  would wake up sobbing. My whole day would be ruined by the residual of the dream which just seemed to permeate my soul. I couldn't shake it off. The nightmares of this vividly intense loneliness were so horrendous that there were times I didn’t want to fall asleep at night because I was afraid I’d dream it again. I had them for two decades.

Then in 1994 I walked into a church and the Holy Spirit seized my soul and has never let go of me. Years later, I remembered those nightmares of that loneliness and realized I had not had one since fully giving my life over to God. In the very next moment, I heard the small, still voice of God. He said, “That was your life without Me.”

In my sleep, my soul had been crying out to connect with God. It has been said that we have a God-shaped vacuum in our heart that only God can fill. When that space where God should be is empty, we experience loneliness. And like in my own situation, many feel that emptiness but are unaware that the only One who can fill that void is waiting for them to ask Him into their life. That’s why my heart breaks for those struggling through life without God and trying to make it on their own from one day to the next. They’re doing everything they know how to do and it’s just not working. They’re discouraged, dejected and depressed. They struggle along. Alone and afraid.

Many of them grew up in a Christian family and so they check the “Christian” box under the “religion” question on the survey. But there’s a pervasive loneliness that lingers just under the surface of their days. They are experiencing life without the One who makes it complete. Some try to relieve the pain of that loneliness with alcohol, drugs and television. But the loneliness remains because only God can fill that God-shaped void.

This feeling of loneliness can become even more acute as we age. Children grow and move or are too busy. Illness, death and divorce change our family dynamics. America’s churches enthusiastically create programs and events to reach young families and too often ignore those who are older. 

In the last decade, there has been a huge population increase in Sylmar. Now, 75% of the residents are Hispanic families. In Sylmar schools, 11,544 students are Hispanic and 337 are White. 

The older population in Sylmar is mostly White. Approximately 17,000 of the residents are over the age of 55 years and the large majority of those  are the non-Hispanic Whites. Those who moved families to this rural community many decades ago and never left. This is the people group that the community leaders are concerned about. Making certain this generation has access to health care and activities appropriate for seniors is a priority.

But only the church can take care of their pervasive and unrelenting feelings of loneliness. That’s because we have the One they need. There are few churches in Sylmar which hold services in English. For example, of the six churches in the category of “Spirit-filled,” only one other small church besides ours has their service in English. We will always be a diverse church reflective of our future in Heaven (Rev 7:9) and always reach out to the marginalized and under-served. In Sylmar, that means the older English-speaking generation!

Many of the older generation, face uncertainties and fears as they feel their days coming to an end. The most commonly reported feeling they experience is loneliness. More than ever they need the grace of God, the love of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And, that’s why God brought New Hope Family Church to Sylmar.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Transitions


Dear Friends,

Transitions. Breathtaking at times. Life changing. Or sometimes invisible and barely there. On September 22nd, my least favorite season of summer transitioned into my favorite season of autumn. At first glance, you couldn't tell the difference. For the last few days of summer it was in the mid-eighties. The sun rose at 6:16 and set at 7:15. And for those first few days of autumn, it was in the mid-eighties. The sun rose at 6:16 and set at 7:15. By all outward appearances, there was no change. But on that first day of autumn, during my morning walk at 6:30, the air smelled different. There was a freshness to it. A new fragrance from something blooming in the hills.  I pass by a small tree growing in the wild on the slope and see baby pomegranates. I silently thank the birds for carrying the seeds of this Old Testament fruit and dropping them on the hill. This morning, pumpkin spice came to mind. Has it been a year since I've made pumpkin scones? And as the temperature drops, it's time for our annual visit to Oak Glen and the apple orchards. There was no outward change from one day to the next in this transition of seasons last week. What changed was my perspective. I was no longer looking at the present unrelenting heat but looking forward in anticipation to the cool days ahead in this autumn season.

The day before the transition of summer to autumn, we heard about the transition of our church from the south part of the valley to the north. A new location. New neighborhood. New community. New worship sanctuary. For some a much shorter drive. For others, longer. We can feel as if every aspect of our beloved church has been disrupted and changed. Old habits, routines, Sunday morning schedules and comfort zones have disintegrated. Our favorite parking spot is gone. Our favorite place to sit in our favorite pew is no more. Change can bring a heightened level of anxiety and a fear of the unknown.

That’s why it’s time to ask ourselves, “In the center of this chaotic change, what is the essential core of who we are as a church-as the “body of Christ”? Because the answer to that is You. Me. Us. And that means that we will be the “starter” for this new season of growth in our church and in the ministry to this new community.

If I were a condemned prisoner choosing his “last meal” it would be a loaf of fresh-baked sourdough bread and a big ‘ol chunk of butter. San Francisco gets the credit for “inventing” sourdough bread and there is something in the air around the bay area that gives their sourdough starter a flavor like no other. But sourdough bread was the first yeast type of bread recorded by historians and was used around 1500 BC in Egypt. That was the time of the Exodus, so when God's chosen people were told to bake “unleavened bread,” it was because they needed to hurry up, get out of town and not waste any time by adding the sourdough starter! (Exodus 12:39)

How it works is by taking a clump of the old dough and adding it to the new, freshly made dough. That remnant of the old sourdough becomes the beginning of a whole new batch of bread. And here's the best part. The unique taste of the starter makes each batch of bread taste the same. 

We are a unique church. We’ve added elements of the ancient/future church movement and incorporated the liturgy of the early church in the context of our Spirit-filled worship. And today, the way we worship is as unique as our Eucharistic liturgy. Our prayers. Our fellowship. Our hospitality. We are the core of New Hope Family Church. 

It is only through change that we can experience growth and transformation. And now, as we transition together to a new community, we the  faithful remnant are the “starter” that will infuse and fill this new church with our own unique “flavor.” It will be different. It will be the same.

What excited me about the approaching season of autumn was what I knew that was destined to take place. With that same heightened expectation of what God is doing in our church, I invite you to join me in looking forward to this transition and what He has destined to take place in us, with us and through us.  Amen?

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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