November 26, 2014

Surprising Encouragement

Just a couple of stories about the grace that’s all around us, that appears in small ways, and might appear more often if we prayed and took notice of where Jesus said the Kingdom appears.

I.

On Thursday, almost everyone I work with was at a waterpark about an hour away, including my family. I opted to stay home and get work done, as school is about to start and I am way behind on several projects that have to be completed soon.

While the entire staff is gone, a volunteer group from one of our supporting churches comes and does whatever needs to be done in order to keep everything safe and running in the absence of all the support staff. These are people who come a very long way just to do a servant ministry on this one day.

So I was on campus and had to go to the main office for a moment, and outside that building was one man from this group, enjoying the beauty of the day on our nearly deserted campus. I passed him going in and spoke briefly, and on my way out I did the same. He was friendly, but it was all small talk.

So as I approached my car across the street from the bench where he was sitting in the yard, he says, “I like that Internet Monk web site.”

Now, a bit of a detour. I’m not the internet monk around here. In fact, while I know a lot of my co-workers read the site, not all do so in a supportive way. So not only do I never mention it, I really make an effort to completely keep it under the radar as much as possible.

But it’s important to know that a good bit of what I do hear is from those few who are offended by something I say. And that has caused me endless hours of stress and confusion over whether I should stop writing or not. My choice, obviously, is to keep writing, because God has given me hundreds of thousands of readers and what happens at this site is, if my mail is accurate, overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve decided that God made me who I am: a communicator and a writer. I can be a better one in my context, but I won’t ever cease to be one.

But I just never know what someone who is a supporter of our ministry thinks, because it’s the nature of things that it’s the criticism that is brought to my attention.

So here sits this Baptist man, a middle aged deacon, and I didn’t even know he knew my name. And he wants to say to me that he, for one, likes this web site and likes what I write.

I turned around and was silent for a moment, then I said “Well, thank you very much. It’s good to hear that.”

He walked toward me and said, “I’ve had some Bible questions I wanted to ask you….” and away we went on the witch at Endor.

I needed that.

II.

My wife was at work, and the pastor of the local Baptist church came by to talk print shop business.

Being a pastor, the conversation turned to church, and he said “I know you’re going through a transition right now, and I wanted to give you something.”

Background: My wife has been an important part of our local Baptist church. Played the piano for services when asked. Played piano for choir rehearsals a lot. Sang in the choir. She’s loved and liked by the staff and people.

Knowing that they now know she’s going to the Roman Catholic Church, and knowing that I’m deeply struggling with it as a husband and a minister, it’s been difficult for her to know how people feel about her. Especially the pastor. (These are Southern Baptists, who aren’t exactly famous for ecumenical fervor.)

So she was expecting an anti-Catholic tract or some sort of Protestant apologetic book. She’s had some minor brushes with unfriendly comments already from some who attend the church.

He held out to her a crucifix. An older one from its look. A gift for her.

“My step-father was a Catholic, and this belonged to him. I thought you would appreciate it.”

And then he offered to come by and pray with us anytime, and to be pastor to our family in this unusual situation.

My list of people who have responded to all of this with any measure of simple Christian compassion had five names on it. Now I’ll be adding a sixth.

III.

There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time.

As I’ve learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by.

I choose to not see it because I am lobbying for that most destructive of emotions: self-pity. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day.

The problem is that I don’t expect it, don’t listen or look for it, don’t live in expectation that his gracious love will meet me throughout the day.

Lamentations 3:22-24 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Comments

  1. Really had to hear about the positive stuff. You are really appreciated here.

  2. The grace of the pastor in number II broke me into tears. I can empathize with your wife, and I know that gestures of grace and understanding are rare glimpses of glory. My husband and I have been wading in the waters between Rome and wherever protestantism is for 3 years and there have been 2 people that have been sincerely gracious to us. Somehow, even though I’ll never even know him, I feel like I could add that pastor to my list.
    Thank you, as always, for sharing. Blessings and Peace.

  3. He is our portion indeed….Amen.

  4. “Just a couple of stories about the grace that’s all around us, that appears in small ways, and might appear more often if we prayed and took notice of where Jesus said the Kingdom appears.”

    Something about this sentence reminds me of Sara Groves. Have you listened to her album “Add To The Beauty”?

  5. I like Sara’s music.

  6. Ted Smith says:

    I am Catholic (a convert) and live across the street from a young Baptist couple here in Canada – they are pastors at the local Baptist church – she is the senior pastor and he is the music pastor – they are very young (I have things in tupperware in the back of my fridge older) — but we are friendly and respectful of each others beliefs — seeing that Canada is fully into a post-Christian state (only 15% of Canadians on average attend church regularly). They introduced me to a retired Baptist missionary who spent his mission period in India – he mentioned working on a friendly basis with Catholic priests there.

    Christ is both found in the most surprising places, and missing in the most surprising places.

  7. Do you think you and Denise will take that pastor up on his offer? The grace he extended seems to me to be directly from Christ and it seems you and Denise might need that, individually, and as a married couple.

    It’s disheartening to know that only 5 (now 6 — yay number 6) people you know have responded simple compassion to you and Denise. I’m put in mind of the preface to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. He discusses how the book passed muster with Christians of different traditions. He goes on to say:

    The H.C.F. [holy catholic faith] turns out to be someting not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all. If I have not directly helped the cause of reunion, I have perhaps made it clear why we ought to be reunited. Certainly I have met with little of the fabled odium theologicum from convinced members of communions different from my own. Hostility has come more from borderline people whether withing the Church of England or without it; men not exactly obedient to any communion. This I find curiously consoling. It is at her centre where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.

    From your writing it seems clear that you seek Christ with all your heart. I am less familiar with Denise, but I would imagine her current journey is heartfelt search for Christ. And that Baptist pastor sure seems to be looking for Christ because of the love he showed Denise (and you).

    I pray you’ll find more consolation and communion, Michael. I hope you find time to take it when you do.

  8. I like “that website” too. I’m a young guy, (22) trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus, and your writing has been of immense help to me in that. I’m genuinely grateful for what you do. Your stubborn focus on Jesus (especially amidst circumstances that would distract the hell out of me) has been a reminder for me to do the same. Thank you. I can’t wait to put down some wine at Jesus’ table with you.

  9. It kills me when God reminds us, “Yes, I’m really here, and nothing about you escapes my notice.”

    And Michael, IM is so helpful to me because the older I get, the less I know. God really does love “that guy” (anyone I differ with) as much as He loves me. IM helps me come out of my shell to try to love others in Jesus’ name. You remind me that no matter what the world looks like today, the truth of Jesus that existed when He walked on dirt roads is still the truth now.

    I’m just seeking wisdom, and maybe I have some things to learn yet.

  10. Teary here at your words.
    A good kind of teary.
    Sometimes I wonder if those seemingly little bits of every day grace have more importance in the journey than the glory ones.

  11. Patrick Lynch says:

    Whenever people convert to Catholicism, it makes me wonder why I’m Catholic – what are they getting that I can’t seem to maintain? What have they sought and found that I don’t even know to look for? You’re a pretty intelligent guy – I bet you know better than I do.

    Thanks for all the writing, and good luck with your wife – who knows, maybe she’ll grow out of it? (joke)

  12. Michael and Denise, Isn’t it cool when God uses others to remind us of how much he loves us? … how especially fond of us He is? My wife was (CC), a Closet Catholic for years, and then converted several years ago. It was quite a transition for us, too. And I’m afraid I didn’t love her as well as I might have. I had a hard time with the idea that as we seek to follow God, He may lead us in different ways. Not in different directions exactly, not away from each other really, but along different paths sometimes. It can be a confusing time, and most folks don’t know how to respond. Heck, it’s been years, and I’m not sure I know how to respond. Our list is short too.

    But God responds well, and He does love to un-simplify our lives. My wife is half way through a six-month period of being unable to drive (long story). So I’ve been attending Mass with her during this time. And though there are the theological differences that I cannot reconcile, I have found this period particularly good for my soul.

    So, “Six months with the Catholics.” You know, I love Her, His Bride that is, as well as mine!

  13. Thanks for continuing to write. I needed number III. Blessings to you and your wife. I have prayed that you get your projects done and are ready to start another wonderfull school year.

  14. Granpajohn says:

    Thank You, my Lord, for the precious ministry of this man who was named the same as your arch angel. For without his encouragement, honesty and constantly seeking You, I would feel so very much alone. I often feed here in great comfort.

    Michael, I have been a fan of your both your blogs since the day I began perusing them. I am sorry I have been selfish in not being as open as I should have been. It is difficult to communicate in a blog all the study and experience you have had to go through for that session. You seem to do much better than many.
    And thank you for these encouraging words on the day I need them.
    As I read my Bible, I find that God has seldom greatly used anyone He has not greatly tried. We know two things; there is a God and we are not Him.
    Today my bride of 33 years and I have arrived at the same agonizing conclusion. We must leave the ministry we are at, for the Lord will not bless us if we would remain. I have been unemployed since April and do not know what next week brings, but it will not be with those we have labored amongst for the last three years.
    It is a different lonely path than yours, but I am so very encouraged that in the midst of your anguish, struggles and pain, your heart flowed out in this space to give others the courage to increase their faith, trust their Lord and move at His will without knowing His where.
    For Sue and I; thank you for putting Denise and Michael before us.

  15. Very real and touching words. I’ve prayed for you brother. Stay in touch. God be with you as you go.

  16. Don’t ever stop writing. God has given you a gift and ministry. Your writing makes me think and drives me to the Bible for answers. Your honesty and willingness to wrestle with tough subjects instead of avoiding them is refreshing.

    Romans 14 helps me with the diverse walks of faith of those I love. I have an uncle who after years of following Christ with what I think of as ‘the mainstream body of Christ’, seems to be sectoring off with ‘Messianic Jews’ and a sister who seems to be a part of the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ but I know full well they both love Jesus and know that Christ crucified is our only hope. We’ve debated and discussed, but we all seem firm in what we believe God has led us to. I read Romans 14 and wonder which of us are of weaker faith (of course it couldn’t be me!), because it seems to be that each of us are stronger in some areas than the other. Only by the grace of God and the atonement of Christ will we all be together in heaven. I am thankful for that grace and I need the Lord to help me extend it to others.

    As far as living what I believe goes… I’m finding it to be an ongoing process that will never end. Sometimes I have to stop and look back at how far he’s brought me instead of looking at how far I have to go.

    Thank you for doing what God has gifted and called you to do.

    Romans 14:12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

  17. anonevang says:

    Michael, please do not ever stop writing. Your blog is like water in the desert for me sometimes. Please know that you are greatly appreciated.

  18. Some encouraging words for you by Henri Nouwen

    We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life. It is sad that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace come from giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others.

    You are en encouragement to others and we would love to offer you to join with us in encouraging others. We have started a not for profit organisation here in Australia on encouragement.

    Have a blessed day!
    Julia
    http://www.theencouragementfoundation.com.au

  19. The Guy From Knoxville says:

    Hey Mike,

    I echo the ones who wrote above me – don’t stop writing here or at your other blog. Even though I’ve not written much here or email I do want you to know you’ve been an inspiration and blessing to me since my first reading of this blog about 3 years ago and quite honestly I really would miss this if it were not here anymore. There have been times with my own SBC church where I play at that I’ve really wondered, along with my wife, if we even needed to stay and stick it out – at this moment we are sticking with it – it may not last but much of what I’ve read here has helped me to sort through things along with much prayer in these situations.

    Thanks so much and keep up the writing, especially here at IM, it’s such a help, not to mention a favorite, of so many who walk this very lonely, at times, road in the evangelical wilderness. Hang in there – we’re hanging with ya!!

    Randall (The Guy From Knoxville)