Amazed and Terrified

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement 

had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark 16:8

On the day following the Sabbath which followed the crucifixion, the first day they could truly venture out, a group of the followers of Christ traveled to the gravesite.

Mary was the first one to arrive and she quickly made a U-turn traveling back to the tell the male disciples that the body of Christ was gone.  It was not at the grave, there was no real evidence of malicious foul play, the body was just…gone.

The male disciples ran to the grave and discovered Mary was correct, the body was gone.  They stood in consternation with wrinkled brows and then they left, the males went back home, they headed back to their safe place.  They didn’t say much on their way home, or even when they arrived, for they were terrified and afraid.  They didn’t talk about it at all, they were uncharacteristically silent.

Why they were afraid is a matter of speculation.  It would have been a valid human emotion to be afraid for their own safety, afterall, they were now the hunted.  Another possibility may have been an assumption that the body had been removed via a plan cooked up by the religious leadership, or government. I think, however, they left because they had seen what they came to see.  They went to the grave to verify, as Mary had said, that the body was missing, so, when they did not see the body, they went home.

They went straight home, they didn’t stop for breakfast or even for a early morning cup of coffee.  They went home afraid and amazed.  They couldn’t explain the bodiless grave. They felt the rush of excitement mixed with an equal amount of fear. They were terrified, yet there was a sudden inexplicable hint of hope.  Hope had been a scarce commodity over the previous week and here it was teasing them.

This human emotive response of the fear and hope combination has been the unofficial tagline for the leadership of Grace Fellowship recently.  We have just come through a couple of years of bad news — times when hope was in scarce supply.  We haven’t understood all which has taken place but we have hung on, sometimes hopeless and sometimes just plain concerned and terrified.

Now, we have begun to see that God was working when we thought we were just looking at a bodiless grave.  Alongside the blessing of sight and understanding, we are now seeing the way God is inviting us into his plan.  It is a blessing that usually seems overwhelming and often presents as very risky.  It is a blessing that places us in a vulnerable position.  It is a blessing that none of us want to miss.

This past April we paid off our building and property mortgage.  Before we were even able to celebrate this milestone, God led us to lease the building to a wonderful church in our community. Now there are two churches taking an amazing and yet terrifying and hugely vulnerable step. God then led us to lease a downtown meeting hall for Sunday worship gatherings as well as to rent a small office space.  On August 7, we will begin meeting in this new space where, each week, we will set up and tear down every Sunday.

There are a multitude of details which I never imagined would be a factor when we first began this phase of our journey. I have received an education about portable sound systems, worked with our children’s teachers to adjust to small and fewer spaces, discussed and decided on a logo and web page, and found myself immersed in contracts, insurance, as well as possibilities and hope.

Along the way, I have seen God’s miraculous provisions and directions.  I have witnessed my family dig in and do all they could think to do, a team of church leaders who have gone above and beyond in every way imaginable, a church who has willingly adapted to the idea of relinquishing the comforts of a building and place and, instead, walked into the amusement park and onto the roller coaster knowing that the ride is going to be incredible. I now have new people in my life who I did not know three months ago but have already proven themselves valuable beyond measure.

Back at the empty grave, following the exit of the male followers of Christ, Mary stood there.  She did not come to the grave to see a missing body — she came to see Jesus. She was not leaving until she saw him.  So, she stood there…..and stayed there.  That was her purpose, that was her mission. While Mary stood there, she met some angels who told her that Jesus was not there – a fact she had already ascertained.  She talked to the gardener, whom she did not recognize, but who soon made it clear that he knew Mary.

She saw Jesus.

Times of terror and amazement are the exact perfect times to stick around and look for Jesus.  He may be hidden in the insurmountable and overwhelming pile of details and tasks. He may even be invisible due to the sea of grief and disappointment which has us panicked paddling just to keep our head above water. It is at those times, however, that Jesus is standing right next to us wearing a gardener’s hat, ready to reveal himself, and his plan, to his followers who are ready to listen.

Amazed and Terrified yet still paying attention,

Rick

Canceling Church

trees in snow landscapeI did something yesterday that I would have scoffed at half a decade ago.  I cancelled church.  I sent out the email….

canstockphoto22576949No Worship Gathering Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 1, we will not gather for worship.  Even though I hate the idea of canceling our time together, a drive out to the church building convinced me it is the best decision.  While the main roads are sanded, the side roads, including 60th Ave. NW,  are still slick in most spots.  That combined with predictions of coming sleet confirm that the best place for all of us to be tomorrow morning is at home. Let’s all take a moment of personal worship, 10:30am tomorrow at home, and we will still be having corporate worship, only without the amazing coffee (no comments are welcome regarding my coffee)!   If you know of someone who does not regularly look at their email, give them a call and let them know to not drive out to the church tomorrow….however, do tell them to drive out next Sunday, March 8.

Be Safe,  Rick

In addition to the email, I sent out a text, posted it on the ‘closings’ feed on each local television stations, changed the outgoing phone message and finally put a sign on the church building door.  A great thing about having a small church is that it is easy to feel confident that you have contacted everyone.

For the remainder of my Saturday I lost at high stakes games of Monopoly and Risk with my kids, and called/lectured my kids that are away at college about the value of being safe when considering driving on the icy roads.

The entire day I comfortably rested in my decision to cancel church.

Four years ago I cancelled a Sunday gathering for the first time and it was anguishing.  I refused to make a call on Saturday, even though the weather made it obvious.  On Sunday morning I drove out to the church building at the edge of town to convince myself that canceling was the right decision, and then I paced the floors.  Our music team even showed up at the building before I finally decided, after hearing their harrowing driving experiences, I knew that I had to cancel our worship gathering.   Still, I worried, I worried what our church people would think, if the community would criticize, I worried that other pastors would judge, I worried it would make me look like a wimp.  Finally, my wife pointed out that the people that would still get in their cars and drive on the dangerous roads to the church building were our older folks who did not need to be on the road or sidewalks.

Still, in the years since, I have been hesitant to cancel church.  I watch the news feed to see if other churches are canceling in an attempt to justify my decision.  Still, I pace the floors and anguished over the decision.

This year was different, this year I made a quick decision, largely thanks to Ms. Barbara.

Ms. Barbara is a perfectly behaved senior adult in our church.  She endured a liver transplant and is still around over fifteen years beyond the medical community’s predictions of life expectancy.  She has diabetes, and countless other medical conditions and diagnosis.  She is known to my kids as the woman with the exploding toe; I won’t go into details except to say that the toe is not her only casualty to diabetes.  She is also the most polite and respectful person I have ever known.  She is always perfectly behaved and respectful to all.  I have a difficult time checking in on her because she always wants to know about my family when I am attempting to find out about her.  She is just that type of person.

Actually, she is perfectly behaved until she is a bit doped up in the hospital, especially days within a special hospital procedure.  She has had a lot of special procedures over the years I have been her pastor.  I love visiting Ms. Barbara within the pain medicine time period. During pain medicine time she is the person I always wish I could be.  The person that can say anything and get away with it.

On a hospital ststanwyckay years ago I told her that she was truly a ‘tough old broad’ in the example of Barbara Stanwyck.  She laughed.

On her most recent hospital stay I visited her room on Friday.  I got to her room at a moment of true chaos.  The weather was getting bad just as the meteorologists had predicted, and she had just finished her physical therapy following surgery after a very serious fall.  The nurse was on the phone with Ms. Barbara’s daughter attempting to explain the current situation while trying to get an oxygen count.  During all of this, Ms. Barbara noticed that her IV had come out and something was flowing out of her arm.  Everything was loud and busy.  However, not too busy for Ms. Barbara to yell at me as I walked into the door that I should not be out in this weather and that I need to cancel church for the coming Sunday.

“We have too many old people like me and they do not need to be out on the roads,” she yelled.

I stuck around for the chaos and as I left, after the nurse had loaded warm blankets on Ms. Barbara in an attempt to get an oxygen count, I was lectured again. Even as I was walking out the door she was still yelling that I needed to ‘cancel church.’

She was right and, as I drove away, I knew that I had to cancel our gathering on Sunday.  I had to because it was not about me, snow bridgeit was not about what others would think or how they could judge.  It was, and is, about what is best for the church, the people that are the church.  It was best that we all stayed home.

I didn’t need to pace anymore, I just had to keep my focus on what is right.

Stay Safe and Keep Focused, Rick