With its majestic magnolias, blooming dogwoods, and graceful azaleas dotting the landscape, my hometown is a gardener’s dream in the spring. But the beautiful view comes with its fair share of misery. Residents know that spring has arrived when a fine coating of yellow dust rests on vehicles, buildings, and sidewalks. As pine trees release their murky clouds of pollen, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and swollen sinuses soon follow. ’Tis the season for sneezing!
Near the epic conclusion of Tolkien’s Return of the King, Frodo stands on the threshold of destroying the “One Ring of Power.” All he has to do is throw it into the consuming fires of Mount Doom. But the hobbit can’t do it. He holds on to the ring, powerless to let go despite the ring’s destructive power.
Many years ago, my pastor was talking with a church youth group about “masks.” He asked the students to state what God would see under their masks, should they choose to remove them. What was under their façades? Most gave superficial answers, but one, a senior in high school, had a much more profound response. She had experienced a painful life that included a suicide attempt and had found trouble nearly everywhere she went. Quietly she said, “I think God would see brokenness, but he would also see beauty.”
“I’ve learned more about God from the tears of homeless women than any . . . systematic theology books ever taught me,” said Shane Claiborne, explaining what drew him to sharing life in community with the poor. His words take me back to the first time I attended a church service in a poverty and violence-stricken neighborhood in Chicago. During the service, several people stood up to testify of their grief and longing for their community’s healing. As we prayed and worshiped with a depth I had never experienced, I realized that I too was broken and deeply in need of this kind of community—where pain is freely shared and together we encounter the One who meets us in our brokenness.
Popular movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent explore what the world might be like on the other side of the apocalypse. These gritty movies try to imagine how those who have suffered through a cosmic catastrophe could pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.
After I finished speaking at a church one Sunday on how the cross shows that God can redeem our broken dreams and suffering, a guy came up to me wanting to talk. “I haven’t been to church in 26 years,” he said. “I’ve just been through a divorce and a business failure—I have lots of broken dreams. Just this week I said to a friend, ‘If there is a God, why doesn’t He step in to help?’ Then all week I had this feeling I should get to a church service. What you said tonight has really rocked me. It’s like I was meant to be here.”
While away from home on a lengthy work assignment, I attended a church quite different from my one back home. For instance, my adopted church observed communion (the Lord’s Supper) every time they met. Instead of the pastor or elders serving, ordinary members of the church shared responsibility for distributing the bread and wine.
The film Noah’s Arc: The Noah Snyder Documentary tells the story of Noah Snyder and his unique journey from growing up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to establishing a professional surfing career. As my son and I watched it, we were moved by both the stellar surfing and the deep truths found in the story. It was inspiring to see Noah and several of his childhood friends mature from mere thrill-seekers to young men embracing purpose, responsibility, and a relationship with God.
She said to him, “I don’t want to try to fix our marriage. It’s over.” What had started with such high hopes and evident love was now a cold, lifeless thing. My friend desired to see renewal and restoration in their relationship, but his wife made it clear that the two of them had changed and that their marriage would soon end.
A man knocked on my office door and asked me if I would officiate his marriage. I asked him to sit down so we could chat about his plans, timing, and spiritual life. “Oh, I’m not sure you understand,” he said, “I’d like you to marry me today, like in the next hour.” The story is complicated, but his fiancée was from a country in Asia and was living in the US with a short-term visa. For numerous reasons he wanted to marry right away, but he didn’t want a civil authority to perform the ceremony. He wanted a church and a pastor.
Last fall, a professional athlete fatally shot his girlfriend during a domestic dispute at home and then took his own life outside his team’s stadium. Following the tragedy, some tried to pin the murder-suicide on a lack of gun control. Others wondered if the concussion the man had suffered weeks earlier or the medication prescribed for it contributed to his actions. One of his teammates, offered perhaps the most insightful thoughts:
I’ve been inspired by the book The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. One of its most profound messages is that Christians who are serious about restoring the broken are not “offended” by their depraved lifestyles. Rather than condemn and pull away from people whose lives are messed up after years of drug abuse, sexual immorality, or greedy materialism, Lyons says we should meet people where they are. This includes reaching out and offering the hope of restoration found in Jesus.
With its uncomfortable booths and tiled floors, the restaurant reflected the chill of the winter air. Having recently made the decision to take in foster children, my family sat waiting to meet a 7-year-old girl who needed a home.She was accustomed to transient relationships and began calling my parents “Mom” and “Dad” at that first trial meeting. Filled with great optimism, we believed we could make her world different—that she might be grateful and understand the nuances of healthy family relationships. We quickly learned her sense of normal was our definition of chaos.