Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Guest blog: A Tapestry of Beauty from Ashes (Part 1 of 2)

Steve Vickers, president and founder of Harvest Churches International is one of my dearest friends. One of the wisest men I know, Steve planted and pastored Christian Life Church in Montgomery, Alabama for many years before heeding the call of God to relocate to Southern California and start again. He left a successful, growing and thriving church in his middle-aged years, eschewing the comforts and predictability of what he'd already built for the relative insecurity of a new life. Steve is one of the true "Barbarian warriors." I will be posting a two-part article that he wrote that really speaks to my heart deeply. I sure hope you enjoy it.

As I look out the window, the air is filled with smoke from the fires that remain. Though a number of the fires have either been contained or have burned out, nine still continue as of the time of this writing. But only one of those really gives any cause for concern.

This has been a harrowing experience for hundreds of thousands of people here in southern California. Many have lost everything but their lives. Some have even lost that. Thousands of families returned to find only rubble where their homes once stood. What do you do when you stand on the rubble of your life? What do you do when, suddenly, without notice, your life is turned upside down and dashed on the rocks of tragedy? What do you do when you stand, looking at the broken pieces of what used to be your life? What do you do in the heart-wrenching emotion of that moment? Your body tired, your emotions drained, your mind dumbfounded—what do you do?

My heart has gone out to those who have suffered such loss. Those who make light of it or try to downplay it make it obvious that they have never been there. Loss is never easy or fun; it always costs. Yet it is a necessary and normal part of life. We all suffer loss at times. No declaration of faith will keep us from it. Loved ones die, ventures fail, relationships cease—these and other pains are a part of everyone’s story. For some reason we don’t hear of them though, especially in Christian circles. It’s as if they were somehow mysteriously erased from the story of our lives, leaving only successes, gains, victories, and great times.

Well, don’t erase them from my life. They cost me way too much. Nothing that came at such a high price to me will be erased or even relegated to a secluded corner of my life. They are a part of the very fabric of my life—a part of who I am. They have helped to define me. To erase them is to erase a part of my definition. I lived them; I walked through the valley they plowed in my life. And it is not a sign that I missed God or that He somehow forgot about me. On the contrary, like their victorious cousins, they are another facet of the testimony of God’s never ending love and unwavering faithfulness. God’s character and power are not so fragile that I must eradicate from my story anything that doesn’t speak of success and victory as defined in the narrow minds of the religious.

That’s one of the problems with American Christianity; it has too many man-made parts—parts which cannot stand up to the test of the realities of life. So a fantasy world is guardedly maintained. And if you are honest about your life, then you are expelled from "their" beautiful place. I have suffered their rejection because I was going through loss. And I am grateful for it. When they rejected me and erased me from their memories, I thought I was all alone. Then I heard a beautiful voice saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” They had left me alone with Jesus, and there in His hand was a nail print. Looking closer, I was stunned as I saw my name engraved in His hand by the nail print.