"Once during a church service, a well-groomed man I will call 'Church Guy' tapped me on the should during the singing. He pointed to a man that neither of us had ever seen before - a first-time visitor.
'Do you see that man?' Church Guy asked. 'Can you believe that he would come into the house of God with those dirty jeans and that ratty T-shirt and drinking coffee like that? And when he passed me in the hallway, he reeked of nicotine. Pastor, what are you going to do about that man? He is a distraction to my worship.'
All heaven started to weep." Scott Sauls, Befriend.
Many of us have probably had many instances like this in our history of going to church. We all have sat by "that person" that no one wants to sit by. The man who is fresh off the street smelling like something other that an expensive cologne. The single mom who just can't seem to get her kids together (much less herself) with a strong stench of cigarette smoke. In ways, we have all been "Church Guy".
Last Sunday we began a new sermon series here at MDC - Lament | Hoping for Help. As a staff member, I have had the opportunity to talk with Paul Vroom about what his burdens are for the sermon series. And as we have talked, my heart has grown excited. I feel a burden for men, women, and children of MDC to hear this series. I am excited for the opportunity to have my own broken, weary, and struggling soul nourished by the Jesus' call to have the weary and heavy laden to find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28).
What's exciting about talking about other people's brokenness, struggles, and pain? Let me share with you a few things that cause me to be excited about this sermon series:
A common saying in the Paben household when talking about people and relationships is that empathy wins. Empathy is simply the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. Brene Brown has a terrific video on the power of empathy and you should watch it.
At the core of Lamentations is the ability to have and show empathy for the one who is hurting. It's the ability to sit next to someone and hear their story, understand why they are struggling, and fathom how their pain is affecting them. It's in those moments when we get to demonstrate the call to be slow to speak and quick to listen.
It's through our empathy that we identify with people's story saying things like, "it sounds like there has been a lot that has caused you pain over past few months", "it must be hard to keep going through life like this", "the loneliness that you feel sounds like it has taken a toll on you quite a bit."
We don't have to pretend to know exactly what people are going through and we don't have to pretend like we have all the answers. We were never meant to. Yet, as the author of Hebrews says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)
When you are able to empathize with someone's feelings it creates an environment in which people are willing to open up - become more vulnerable with an individual or community. I am excited to see how this series can set a foundation for us as a community of believers to become more honest, more real, more vulnerable with one another.
It's often said that the local church is the place where you should feel comfortable in your own skin. The church is the place where you should feel most comfortable being you. The church is the place where you can "take off your mask" so to speak and be real with one another. Yet, because of people like "Church Guy" and our experiences with him many people, including me, have a hard time honestly sharing with the person sitting next to us in the pew.
I pray that through Lamentations we will be able to take those next steps of being honest, real, and authentic with one another. I pray that on Sunday mornings we will grow in our ability to be vulnerable with how we are truly handling our pain, our grief, and our struggles because this is how Christ came to us.
As we grow in our ability to listen to people's pain, and we become more honest with our struggles, I am excited to see how we can discover that some of us struggle with the same things (maybe in different ways).
I am excited to potentially hear stories about people opening up about how they are struggling with their family, friends, and neighbors that do know call Jesus their Lord and Savior. As we hear these stories, some of us are able to identify with that person and say that you struggle with the same thing.
What would it then look like for a group of people to meet together, share their pain, encourage one another in the Gospel, and pray for the restoration of their loved one's souls?
_ _ _ _ _
I realize that this is an eight-week sermon series. I realize that this is a lot to dream of and hope for from the pulpit. I realize that I am part of the problem that exists in not doing these three things I listed.
However, I am excited to continue to put my faith and hope in the God of the empty tomb. I am excited for you, my brothers and sisters, to receive His call to drink from the well that never runs dry (John 4). I am excited to be merciful to others, for in doing so, we shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Here is to #hopingforhelp over the next eight weeks.
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