Monday, April 23, 2012

Ignoring Broken Toes

A few weeks ago we were introduced to a teaching in Sunday Morning Service that has been rolling around in my mind for various reasons since.  It was an in-depth look at the necessity of every member of the church. Our home church was burned out in a fire last fall. We met at a local hotel/conference center for several months while God opened door after door to bring us into our new current building. It is truly a great facility and will meet the needs of our body for many years to come. But it needs work and needs the attention of, not just the pastors ushers or Sunday school teachers, but the whole body - we each have a part to play. This was, in part, the admonition of this sermon. Our pastor poignantly drove this home by removing a shoe and sock from his left foot and putting his wedding ring on the middle toe and then pretending that his foot was rebelling and proclaiming itself just as honorable and important as the hand. The resultant ramifications were obvious as our pastor attempted to walk/hop around the room, while describing the effects of his now shifted center of gravity on his lower back.  Everything was out of alignment because one member decided it wanted to be something than what it was created for. 

We were asked to consider how useful that foot would be in this state in our day-to-day travels and walking.  Suddenly the foot became immensely important, more so than the hand as we all envisioned hobbling around for 14 or 18 hours on one leg.  Though this one member very often was covered/clad in layers of cloth or covered with shoes and not seen as the head, the ear, the eye or the hand, none of us wanted to be long without it.  The point was humorously driven home as our pastor put his sock and shoe back on.  We're all important right where we've been called and we should not look to be something we're not created to be.

But what has stayed with me is what I observe in those who serve our Father.  I think all who would listen to this type of message would enjoy the teaching and the principles laid out there-in.  I believe most all would agree and walk away with a renewed commitment to acknowledging leadership, serving in the giftings they've been called, and loving each other.  We're all one body, one church.  But I don't think we truly grasp the depth of this message.  Read with me:

"Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, 'I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,' that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, 'I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,' would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don’t need you.' The head can’t say to the feet, 'I don’t need you.' In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it." 1 Corinthians 12:14 - 27 (MSG)

We easily grasp the first part of this:  don't try to be something you are not.  Where I witness us losing out is in the last part.  When the church is growing, when programs are expanding and ministry is occurring, everything is exciting because anytime God moves it is exciting.  Even when the enemy assails, it's all part of the plan because that's what he's supposed to do in the face of expansion of the Kingdom.  When worship is great and bible studies are encouraging, people are plugging in.  When we see new faces in the back rows or on the edges of the sanctuary, we're pleased that God is pleased with us and that He is moving, He is making all of this happen.  We are all ready and willing to collectively work towards His glory and the expansion of His work through our local church families.  But this is only one side of the coin.  Are we willing to collectively suffer?

Who misses that quiet attender who is not heavily involved and who sits in those back or side seats when they are not there?  Are they part of the body?  Do you know why they could not make it to the service?  Do they have or know the love of your church family - I'm taking about serious, outpouring overwhelming love?  They are probably not as missed as a Sunday school teacher, or a worship leader, or even a deacon, are they?  Who do you think Jesus would have stopped the praise band, the choir, the whole service to go to?  What is their calling in your church family's body?  Or is the reality that we are all just a little to busy to bother with these details the crushing truth that comes home?  After all, there is a lot to do during a service, and a lot of things have to occur in a certain order to make it happen smoothly.

We can all go through the exercise of figuring out which part of the "body" we are.   Invariably we have to recognize there are many in our midst who are defined as periphery members.  They may seem of small consequence or of little effect on the direction, the programs, or the activities of the church, but their lives, their presence in the body matters immensely.  No one knows what that person is going through, and very often, our canned greetings and pat polite Sunday morning conversations don't even scratch the surface of the hurt they are living in weekly.  They are in our midst for a reason, often to seek out help, healing, and restoration, to find their place in the body, often to find their value in Christ.  Going to the front to have the pastor pray for you is great, but if no follow-up from the loving body occurs, its like the mouth speaking words but the body failing to act.  The Word above says "all the members care for each other".

And sometimes those hurting the most are not your fringe attenders but those who regularly serve.  They are the Sunday school teacher, the usher with the kind smile, the woman who is always available to clean, people with servants hearts who rarely are included in the after church lunches and "clicks" that often circulate around the more visible and honored members of the body.  These people are no less targeted by a hellishly wicked enemy than the pastor or the recovering drug addict.  Very often these "little toes" of the body are silent in their struggles, not desiring to burden others but hurting none-the-less.  Very often, these are the ones who need that phone call of encouragement, that visit, that card that says "I'm thinking of you".  They need a voice, a touch, not an email or a text.  Our technology is cold and does not permit the warmth of God's love or the knowledge that someone is in the trenches with you.

We've become proficient in ignoring the broken toes as long as the major organs and visible members are all doing well, but the body is still sick and limping as a result.  This is because we've becomed dull towards compassion.  Compassion requires motion.  In the New Testament we read that Jesus was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36, 14:14).  The greek translation for this means "to be moved to the lowest depths of the bowels, to suffer or to feel with".   When is the last time you suffered with or felt with someone else to this level who was not immediately in your inner-most circle such as described in 1 Peter 3:8?

"Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters.  Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude."  (AMP)

We must work to make sure that in our growing churches and expanding programs that we don't ignore the "least of these".  Top to bottom, the body must be one.  Not only must I know my function and giftings, but I need to be more sensitive towards how my fellow body members are doing.  To be able to do this, I must have fellowship and truly know my fellow body members and this violates our comfort zones.  "Those people are so much older/younger than us".  "He's single, we'll put him with the 'singles' group." "She has several kids, we'll have her talk to the childrens workers."  "The youth pastor should really be the one talking to the teens."  "You fit into this catagory...we'll plug you in here."  And little thought or heart-to-heart occurs outside of that niche.

We all have a part to play in the healing and ministry of the whole body.  We should all be sensitive to search out and love on those who sit near or guard the exits, even those who guard their hearts. We should be moved to action when we note something amiss.  Jesus was.  Until we shoulder this mantle, we're all hurting because we're all ignoring broken toes.

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