Read the Signs

Sunday, June 29, 2014  ::  

As someone who has been involved in some sort of ministry for almost twenty years, my heart and mind can swim for days in stories of real people's lives I've been privileged to hear. People who know me well tease me about having a "tell me everything" sign on my forehead. It's a gift and a curse. I continue to ask God to teach and enable me to love people well. It is impossible to love if you aren't willing to listen.

Second Mile has been in existence for almost ten years. Not to sound cliche, but it's hard to believe. Time flies. Just to emphasize the major life transition ten years can hold, when we moved to Tucson my kids were eight, four, and two years old. 
Then. Such sweet little cuties!
And now. They are still cuties, but not so little.
During those ten years, the flow of people coming in and out of our church has had its peaks and pits. When you see people who left their former church because of tremendous pain come back to reconcile and grow in a group of like-minded potential friends, my heart swells with thanksgiving that God provides more restitution chances than we deserve or can imagine. However, when people you love must move away because of passions, jobs, or adventure, your heart hurts because of the void they leave in your life and community. 

There have been a few times in the life of our church that someone has left Second Mile out of hurt or anger at us. I've definitely learned that not everyone can/will be happy with you all the time. Community is like a big mason jar full of grapes that has been shaken for about an hour, a big hot juicy mess of bruised individuals that bleed all over each other. In other ministry settings, I watched church staff people do back flips and hula hoop tricks trying to get people to stick around. We aren't in the back flip/hula hoop show biz, so when people find that they desire to leave we seek to have a good discussion, make every effort for peace, and hope for healing, restoration, and growth for them and for us. 

However, over the last few months there have been a couple of people not interested in engaging further in Second Mile for a reason that has burned my prophet heart right up. In searching for depth, they did not feel as if they could find it in the stories of the people of our church. 

On any given Sunday you can come and see people laughing, being goofy, crying with a friend, talking about their week, worshiping with arms straight up in the air, worshiping while sitting quietly with eyes open and heart bowed down. But did you know that you can not tell what a single person has been through or is going through by showing up at our gathering or even having coffee with a person a couple of times? To know a person, at the very least, it takes chitchat that builds in trust, time, patience, true interest in who they are, and vulnerability to share who you are.  

Jeff Foxworthy has a comedy sketch called Here's Your Sign. In it he makes fun of people who ask obvious questions or do dumb things and implies that life would be easier if people wore a stupid sign. Sad, but funny. 

I read an article several months ago that twisted the concept. What if we all wore signs that gave a small glimpse into our history or current situation? My assumption is we would be so much more gentle with people. When I'm talking with someone at the store that fusses at me, I try to not snap back because maybe their invisible sign says they deal with chronic pain. Or maybe the person who just won't return my phone call has a sign with the words, "My child has been up all night for the past week and I'm exhausted." Tragically, the signs so many people could be wearing would make someone like me groan and weep and pray because people's lives contain situations of unspeakable difficulty and pain.

But, here's the thing about all this sign talk. We don't get to know! We have no right to say, "Um, excuse me. You seem a little off today. Could you give me a hint to what you may be carrying today so that I can respond to you correctly?" Ridiculous, right? But can we as humans just assume that life is hard and people have been through crazy junk that would make our brows sweat and our stomachs turn if we truly knew what was or is on the plates of those we encounter?

So, to those of you who do not want to engage with our community or another community because people's stories aren't broken enough for you...
There will be no back flips from me for you to stick around today. I'm actually sorry for you. You are missing out on story after story after story of redemption among the lives of people that God cherishes. He does not measure what we've been through. He's actually looking for broken and contrite hearts (not lives) that desire to prove love for him through obedience. So maybe I don't have a story that the world would critique as movie worthy, but I know that I have been redeemed and my heart is to run after him, and that, my friend, pleases Him, so if it doesn't please you, take it up with Jesus.

To those of you whose signs would express emotional, physical, and/or spiritual pain...
Jesus knows you and loves you! When He walked the earth He encountered a woman at the well and He knew her story. He revealed to her that she could worship Him in freedom! The disciples that were with Him didn't get it. They couldn't read the sign. People will fail. Don't allow it to cultivate bitterness in your heart, but instead, let it turn your heart more and more and more towards Jesus.

To the people who call themselves followers of Jesus, but are unable or inept at reading signs...
Read the gospels every single day to study how the Man you claim to follow loves people. There are so many different kinds of people in the world. People who are happy, sad, funny, hurting, angry, cheer for a different team, dress opposite of what you would choose, vote differently than you (For the love! Can Christians please stop being so politically hateful?!), speak different languages, say terrible things to you at the store, flip you off on the highway, tell your kid they suck at sports, bosses who lead poorly, professors who grade unfairly, and on and on and on. Jesus loves them all so much, whether you are willing to or not. When we refuse to bestow dignity on people around us we are denying that they are made in the very image of the God we serve and love! If you don't believe me, take Him at His word. Here are some links for you. Matthew 5:43-48, John 13:34-35, Proverbs 31:8-9 (one of my favorites), Mark 12:30-31  LOVE! There is no excuse not to. Anything less is disobedience.

To those who seek to love well and pay attention to the lives of those whose paths you cross everyday and to those who want to live this way...
Keep up the good work. I know it pleases Jesus. You are living out the gospel. Ask Him to fill you up when kindness isn't returned to you by people you encounter. Ask Him to continue to give you insight in how to love like He loves.

Friends, if we can't point people to Jesus by how we treat them, speak to them, see that there is more to them than meets the eye, then we can't point people to Jesus at all. Pray for wisdom and read the signs.

How do you pay attention to people around you and respond with love despite how they respond to you? Do you judge a book by its cover or do you seek to know the story? What can you do to love the people you encounter today in a way that honors Jesus? Who is difficult for you to love? What is one step you can take to remedy your lack of love for them? 

2 important comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Alisa said...

Ooh I really like this post. I like hearing Prophet Angel :)

There is a certain nationality of people here that are reeeaalllly hard to like. They do just about everything the opposite of what I would do. I try to think about their culture, and what their country is like, and that creates a little bit of empathy in me. But it's still not that much. Sometimes I pray for them... Joshua Project makes an app that tells me to pray for a people group every day. It's a neat app, and ironically, nearly every day there is a people group from this country :P

christy.anne said...

Thank you for your post, Angel! But Whaaaa? The stories I've been hearing for the last seven years in Second Mile bring tears to my eyes! Stories that astound me, inspire me, change the way I think about things...But maybe, as you've alluded to in your post, the key word in that sentence is seven years. I empathize with the intimacy addict because I have been that person, but I heartily agree that those deep, moving, community mess interactions cannot be forced, moved, or drawn out of people. It reminds me of the Bonhoeffer quote: if we love community, we will unwittingly destroy it. But if we love people - the long, hard, patient road of love - we will create it. I hope this comment doesn't sound defensive, because I don't want to insult the people who feel this way about our community. But I sincerely hope they stick around long enough to really listen, serve, and know the people they have felt disconnected from. My prayers for them!

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