“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Last week I sat down with a new church planter here in San Diego.  As we discussed his vision to reach-out to those who are suffering, I was reminded of the t-shirts I made years ago when I first planted Reunion Church in Orting, WA.

My t-shirts proudly featured the simple invitation;

“We’re confused…

Come be confused with us!”

Here is what was printed on the back.

Not everyone was happy with these t-shirts.

I remember sitting down to lunch with a guy named Kevin. Kevin enjoyed coming to our church, but was bothered by the message on our invitation.  In Kevin’s opinion, the shirt presented a post-modern and watered-down Gospel message.

Given Kevin’s religious background, I could see his point and I understand why my poetic-style message was so hard for him to embrace. Kevin, like many of us, was raised to see the world in black and white—there is no gray with Jesus.

Shortly after our first lunch, Kevin left our church family because his faith would not allow him to accept the possibility that there are some questions no human being can answer.

  • Why did my child drown in the pool?
  • Why does one person get healed of cancer and another one die?
  • What is God’s purpose for my husband cheating on me?
  • What good can possibly come from getting laid off and having to declare bankruptcy?
  • Where was God when my 4 year old was being sexually abused? Why did God allow this to happen?

The purpose of our invitation was to let people know that they are not alone in their pain. Yes, we, as Christ-followers, have the Scripture which is a sure record of Jesus and his Gospel of Salvation, but evan the strongest of disciples can get confused about life.

I am confident that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but that confidence does not always translate into my experience. The hope for the world, both here and in eternity, is not in me knowing all the answers, but in my ability to point to Jesus who IS the answer .

Our Reunion Church invitation was a declaration that following Jesus does not guarantee a pain-free life, but it does promise that you and I will not be alone in the midst of pain. Instead of offering religious platitudes or a 5-step process to pain-free life, the church must offer relationship with Christ-followers.

Our invitation was a promise to to all who came that we would share in their sorrow, walk beside them in the healing process, and help them find deep-joy in knowing Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:6-9
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Our invitation followed closely the tradition of the Psalms (a tradition lost to a Western Church that relies almost exclusively on Greek rationalism) . Written from a human perspective, our invitation is an anthropomorphic recognition that even though we walk through dark valleys, there is hope and confront in YHWH!

Psalm 73:14-26

14 All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes,
so when you arise, O Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Our invitation followed closely the tradition of Jesus who taught with authority and yet with His dying breath cry out,

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Matt 27:46.”

Our invitation followed closely the tradition of the Apostle Paul; a man who knew deeply what it meant to suffer for the name of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

My hope in giving this invitation to the lost—those who are bruised and battered by life—is that they will stop looking to human leaders who pretend to have the answers.  I pray that instead of looking to Men they will join together with communities of Faith that look to Jesus alone as their source and strength.

I will leave you with the words of this historic Black Spiritual based on Jer 8:22, “There is a Balm in Gilead

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.
This poem is featured in my book, “More Than Cake” as one of the 52 team devotionals that take on issues of church, culture, and theology in a way that will engage your team in a full-orbed discussion of missional community. Get copies today for every member of your team!

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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