The Unwanted Visitor : Grief and the Holidays

The Unwanted Visitor-

I asked Laine the other day, “Laine, do you like that we have so many visitors at our house all the time?” Without hesitation she said, “Well yes, duh, we are starting a church in a gym, we need visitors.” I just smiled and nodded at my 5 year old daughter going on 30. I may not be much of a church planter, but she is for sure.

The holidays lend themselves to all kinds of visitors and the older I get the more I realize most of these visitors are welcome, but some are not. Some visitors bring us joy and happiness and others barge in with the goal of seeing us wrecked. We don't have neutral feelings about these visitors, we don’t want them near our homes, our children, or our friends. They are truly unwanted visitors. I'm convinced that the older we get the more unwanted visitors we receive around the holidays. 

No, I’m not talking about your crazy aunt, or your weird neighbor that owns 150 cats, or even that cousin that just got out of prison. The unwanted visitor I’m referring to doesn’t have a body, yet we feel his darkened presence in our midst. He doesn’t have a heart, yet we feel as if he wants nothing less than to take ours from our chest. He doesn’t have a brain, but he floods ours with painful memories of the past, and present. He doesn’t have a voice, but he screams loudly at us wanting to watch us curl into despair. He is not human, but he does a great job reminding us that we are. The unwanted guest that so often comes to our homes during the holidays is grief. 

 The first time I remember this unwanted grief showing up at my house was fall of 2007. My dad was “old” but he had always been such an active individual. As I watched him “slow down” that year I remember thinking “He is not going to be here forever...” The next year, after a short battle with cancer, he moved on from this world. The following Christmas of 2008, the unwanted visitor “grief” showed up. He didn’t stop then. For the last 9 years he has continually shown up around the holidays to barge into my house to remind me he is still around. I have a strong suspicion you know this visitor too. Maybe your unwanted visitor has come for different reasons, but nevertheless he still comes, and his favorite time of the year is Christmas. 

The Needed Visitor- 

We do our best to keep this visitor out, we really do. We tell him he is not wanted in a variety of ways. We focus on all the other visitors hoping he will leave. Or we stand up to him and tell him he has no power over us. But down deep, we know that he does, we know that we are no match for him. So we work around him. We put lights on our house, we decorate Christmas cookies, and consume too much chocolate. All the while he stands there, watching our every move. Yet, even as he glares intently into our souls, we feel as if there could be hope for us. Could it be true?

I recently have been re-reading the Book of Exodus. It’s the second book in the Bible, written by  Moses. Chapter 2 really struck me. The book opens with God’s people in away from their home land and slaves, under the control of a foreign king. The situation is dire to say the least. And then we hear words that turn around their situation in verses 24-25. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” Exodus 2:24-25

“God saw the people... and God knew.” The struggles and pain of his people was plain to him. He saw it, and yet, he didn’t leave them to figure it out, but he acted. He didn’t act shooting from the hip, but in step with his plan all along. He knew it was time to act on their behalf. He acted by sending Moses to them. Through Moses, The Needed Visitor, He displayed his power and might, and liberated them from their distress. 

When the unwanted visitor comes into our home, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want someone to come in and throw him out? Someone to stand up for us? Of course we do. We try to throw him out ourselves and for a time this works, but it also seems he is back before he even fully leaves. And it feels like he is never going to leave, and maybe only take vacations once in awhile.

The Hopeful Visitor- 

Whether your are a religious person or not, we all deal with grief around the holidays. Whether it be from the loss of a loved one, or a current finical crisis, or even a present sickness that has taken us or a loved one. And all of us fail at fully removing this unwanted visitor from our presence. From the Christian perspective, grief is a reminder that something is not right in the world, yet someone has come to make things as they ought to be. 

It’s a curious thing to me that Christmas brings this unwanted visitor more than other times of the year. Christmas is the story of how God saw the problems in our world, seeing all our distress, and knowing something had to be done once and for all. God comes to set things as they ought to be. He doesn’t send a representative, he sends himself. In Christ Jesus, God makes himself flesh and comes among his people to bring healing. 

Yet, in a dramatic turn of events, the visitor the world longed for became an unwelcomed visitor. The one who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and loved the orphan was cast outside of the city to die. He submitted to this willingly because he knew that this was the way to bring hope to his people. 

Jesus is making this world the world it should be. And the more than we cling to him, and trust him, the less we desire to believe the lies of the unwanted visitor. Grief is always telling us how great our lives would be if this person was still here, or if our health was better, or our finances were greater. But Jesus’ message is much greater. Jesus' message is, “I know your hurt, I have felt your pain, and I have made away for all those things to be undone, and until they are I will be with you. I have loved you since before these things have happened and I will continue to love you after them.”  

The holidays are full of cheer, laugher, and love. Yet at the same time for most of us they are also filled with incredible amounts of grief and sadness. However, Christ has provided a way to have hope in the midst of that sadness. I will aways miss my dad, and the unwanted visitor of grief will continue to come and oppresses me. Yet in Christ you and I have the hope that one day, all the things will be as they ought to be. Grief will be wiped from existence completely, never to visit anyone anymore. 

-Nathan

Why a new Church in Katy? 3 Reasons...

I remember having two things on my mind as I walked into my gym (BONA fitness) that hot summer morning. 1) I was going to PR my deadlift, even if that meant I couldn’t walk for a few days after, and 2) I wanted to hear from my non-Christian friends why they had a hard time giving church a try. A couple hours later I left the gym without PR’ing my dead lift, but gaining a real understanding of why people in Katy had given up on the idea of church. 

At first I heard the usual answers, “I’m busy on Sundays” or “I just don’t believe in that stuff.” Yet, the more questions I asked, the more people began to share the real issue. What I found is that a majority of people in Katy feel as if the church is inaccessible. Now we can argue all day long whether this is true or not, but the reality is there is a large percentage of people in Katy that perceive this to be true. And if perception is reality (as it often is) this is a problem, because if there is any institution that should be known for its accessibility it’s the church. 

I remember driving home from the gym (lower back throbbing) thinking “I’ve got to show my unchurched friends their perception of the church is not entirely accurate.” But there was a problem, it’s one thing to have a conversation at a gym, and another to agree to go to the very place you feel most uncomfortable. In this case that place was a church. Then God gave me the craziest idea of my life, “What if instead of inviting them to a church, church was brought to them.” As I pulled into my driveway I saw my wife Alisa carrying our daughter Laine to get the mail. I hobbled out of the car, grabbed my gym bag, and with my mind racing I remember telling her, “I have an idea.” 

Over the past 5 years I have discovered three concrete reasons for why new churches in Katy are needed: 

1) There are not enough churches: 

Statistically speaking there will never be enough churches in Katy to account for the massive amounts of growth we experience on a yearly basis. Part of the reason the Church in Katy struggles with being known as accessible is because there are not enough churches to correct this false narrative. 

Katy is home to a ton of fantastic churches. Churches that are proclaiming the Gospel, and meeting the needs of many people in the city. This was very evident during the aftermath of Harvey. One could argue the Church collective in Katy is one of the primary reasons our city was put back together as quickly as it was, both physically and emotionally. It was truly amazing to see. 

However the reality remains, as great as our churches are doing in Katy, there are still people to reach and needs to meet. Therefore we need more churches, and all kinds of churches, reaching all kinds of people. 

 

2) Jesus is accessible: 

I love talking with and hanging out with non-Christians. I really mean that. I love hearing their stories, and asking spiritual questions with their permission. I think the reason for this is because, for so much of my life I have felt to be a Christian is to, 1) have everything figured out, 2) and whatever doubts you may have, you stuff those away and take a giant leap of faith. But most of my unchurched friends do not have this paradigm. In their minds there is always room for doubt, there is always room for questions and by default there is always room for dialogue. 

Some of the most enriching conversations I have had in the past 5 years have been with non-Christians. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian minister, I whole heartedly disagree with most of my non-Christian friend's conclusions and convictions, but I treasure our conversations, because I treasure them as fellow human beings made in the image of God.

What I am finding is that most people that reject Christianity, and the Church, do so based on an interpretation of, or experience in, Christianity that does not accurately reflect real, orthodox, historical Christianity. For many non Christians, the Church is about some power play to oppress others. But this just isn’t true. 

The Church is built and stands on the teaching and model of Jesus. Jesus said loving God and loving our neighbors is the greatest commandment, the highest good. Jesus is the one who dies on behalf of his people for their crimes to grant them forgiveness for their sins. He dies for his enemies, praying for the forgiveness of the very ones who were killing him. The story of Christianity is this; God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, to pay a debt we all owe, yet could never pay. It’s not a power play, it’s a play of sacrifice and love. Jesus never oppresses people, but rather allows himself to be opposed by others, that he might pay our debt and set us free to live a life free from the bondage of sin and death. God made himself accessible to his people in Jesus and the Church is the means God uses to ensure all people he is still accessible. 

 

3) Churches enhance cities:

The message of the Church is not "Believe in Jesus when you die you will go to heaven." The message of the Church is "Believe in Jesus and join what he is doing in the world today." This is why he teaches his disciples to pray, “Our father who is in heaven, Holy be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”   Wherever a church exists, that part of the city should be better for it, because the church is to reflect the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where the Church is present crime and divorce rates should be lower. Marriages, school districts, and community establishments should thrive. There ought to be a sense of loving neighbors and general concern for the wellbeing of others, even at the inconvenience of ourselves. Who doesn’t want to be a part of a city like that? Who doesn’t want to raise their families in a city like that? Therefore, we need more churches. 

 

 

Since the New Testament, churches have been planting new churches. The reason is not because the new Church knows better than the existing one, but because God is making himself accessible to all types of people, which requires all types of Churches. I am proud to say I am a product of the excellent churches in Katy, Texas. The heart of this new church, Haven, is not to replace the need for those churches, but to join in the mission these churches are already on, to a particular people that God is calling us to serve. 

I truly believe that people are looking to connect to Christ, one another, the city and the world. And while politics, philosophy, and social justice are all great things they alone can’t provide the transformation our hearts are looking for but if Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and if he accomplished what he said he did, then he can. The more churches we have, the more accessible he becomes for all people. In the end, the Gospel changes everything. But this is just one Pastor’s opinion.