I woke up this morning to the worse morning that anyone in ministry can wake up to. Within the span of three hours, I find out two people that we had been working with died, one by suicide and another by a drug overdose. Two young lives lost senselessly, a young woman of 35 and a young man of 22 and although both died by different means, both died of the same causes. Hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. The worse part of all this is that both died in the terrible darkness of loneliness within walking distance of a church!
Lori (not her real name), grew up in a loveless broken home. They were not poverty stricken in the material sense, and she did not suffer from any form of clinical depression. She is an attractive young woman, intelligent and vivacious. She had a good job and a bright future. But it was her physical beauty that was her curse. Men did not see her as a person, they saw her as a thing to be used and her hunger for true love and acceptance led her down a garden path of men who lied and cheated. All her life, she hungered and craved for the love that she did not find at home. All her life she was seeking that "prince charming" who would save her. She looked for him everywhere ... in the bars, in clubs, even in church. Lori was not a "client" of our street ministry, she was a volunteer who joined us a little over six months ago. She smiled and laughed, always bubbly but deep inside she was filled with darkness and despair. At first, her exterior armor fooled us but as we got to know her more, she began to open up and she shared her deep sorrow and loneliness with my fiance. We tried to help her but the hurt ran deep and it kept surfacing like salt rubbed into wounds. Her reputation of being "loose" followed her and the women in her church whispered behind her back, fearful and jealous of her. Some men judged her, in fact, everyone judged her. Others simply ignored her because she was not the kind of woman that a good Christian should be seen with let alone be talking to. A few, could not take their eyes off her ... looking at her with the same eyes as the men in the bars and clubs. Oh, they were cordial enough, but she had learned to sense it and recognize it long ago. Two months ago, she started seeing a man she had met at her church only to find out that he already had a girlfriend and was engaged. It devastated her! Last night, she ran a warm bath, filled it with her favorite bubble bath, lit a scented candle, got into it and slit her wrists.
Tobi (also not his real name) never knew his father and if ever there was a mother who hated her child, his mom was it. Besides, she was more concerned for her career than she was for her son. He never seemed to be able to earn her love or appreciation for anything he did. He looked too much like his dead-beat dad who knocked her up and left her. As a little boy, he tried and tried, oh how he tried! The fact that he was different did not help. He was small in build and he spoke with a lisp and stuttered. All through school he was bullied mercilessly and could not name a single person whom he could call a friend. Then at 15 he joined a youth group at a church. Surely, things would get better but they did not. For all their talk of love and acceptance, he was left out, avoided, and marginalized. The actual bullying was not as bad, or so he thought at first, but even though they did not do and say the nasty things other kids said to him, their rejection hurt even more. In desperation he sought escape and found other marginalized kids in school who in defiance, chose to be counter-culture. He began hanging out with "head bangers" and "druggies". Slowly he began to change from the sad, lonely boy into an angry one. Eventually he left his home and began living on the streets. Tobi would come to the center when it was too cold, too wet, and when he was hungry. One day, for reasons that I will never understand, he began to talk to me and over time, I came to see the sad lonely boy who was desperately looking for love and acceptance. I saw beneath the veneer of anger and foul language and saw a young man who was desperately looking for a reason to keep on living. That was three weeks ago and I thought I had begun to make some progress, then Tobi stopped coming to the center and every attempt I made to find him, failed. This morning, while leading a Bible Study at Addiction Recovery, I learned that Tobi had died the day before of a drug overdose. They had found him in an alley behind the church where he had gone as a teenager.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, THERE IS NO TIME! Lonely, desperate people surround us. Lori(s) and Tobi(s) are among us and they may even be in our churches, in fact I KNOW they are. I have been listening to the song by Casting Crowns, that I included in this blog all morning, my heart is broken and my soul weary unto death. What is all the use of our theological ramblings, talk and desire for power? What is the use of all our exhortation to righteousness? What is the use of all our debates and complaints about the church? What are we doing? What is the use when we cannot save ones like Lori and Tobi. What is the point of all our talk of love, grace, and mercy when we cannot and do not live it? Over the last few weeks I have blogged about the need for us to be united, to put aside our differences because the battle is joined and we are woefully unprepared. We wrangle over things that divide us and forget those that unite us. What in the world does it profit us with all our concern for the end days and prophesy when we are not moved to realize that THERE IS NO TIME? Christ could return tomorrow! How do we account to Him all those whom we have neglected as we navel gaze?
Two doors down from Lori's home is a house church, her neighbors who had withdrawn into their own holy huddle, neighbours who did not even know her, neighbours who shoke their heads when they saw the flashing lights of the ambulance when they came to take her cold and lifeless body away. Did Tobi go to the church where he went as a youth to make a statement? Was he looking for help? They said he died at around 3 in the afternoon! Why were the doors locked and the building vacant at that time of day? Why do we bother calling our places of worship "sanctuaries" when we are not prepared to make them what they are called for? Least you are tempted to think that it is only that particular house church or that particular church of which I speak, think again!
Frankly, I do not care what we think of the church! WE ARE THE CHURCH! I do not care what denomination we belong to or if we belong to one at all! If we call ourselves Christ followers, we are Christian, pure and simple! Perhaps we should all read Revelations again! God sees us as the Church ... not the Church Universal or the Church Catholic! He names seven ... seven local churches ... NOT seven denominations, NOT seven loose groupings of individuals who call themselves Christians ... SEVEN CHURCHES. Revelations makes no mention of Christians who have chosen to divorce themselves from the fellowship of the church! Have you ever wondered why? Nevertheless, see how they are judged! Only one made the mark and was approved ... the Church in Philadelphia .. the Church of Brotherly Love. He has given us the Great Commandment and the Great Commission ... both commandments given to all of us who claim to love Him and follow Him. Love Him with all our strength, all our minds, all our heart, and all our soul. Love each other. Love a broken world. It is that simple! Do we for one moment think that we will be judged on how many Spiritual Gifts we have? How righteous we are? How pure? How theologically correct? How proper our worship? How acceptable our music? How much we give? How appropriate our liturgy or our governance? Or do you think we would be judged on how much we love Him and how willing we are to show that love by loving each other and the world that He told us to go into? So what if God comes tomorrow or in a thousand years, or a thousand thousand or a billion? So what if we are taken up before, during or after the tribulation? Should we not love Him, love each other and love the broken world right up to the very last blink of the eye? So what if we can read and see the signs? Would being able to read and see the sign of His return only make us more accountable?
THERE IS NO TIME!