Assemble! …For What Purpose?

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Moving to West Virginia and living high in the mountains this last year has been a great challenge for me in many ways. I’ve been grateful for my wife and my in-laws who, after a bit of a rocky start, have been a great help for me in acclimating myself.

For example, the roads up here made me seasick for the longest time. The altitude got me because I was used to a much lower elevation. I was kinda prepared for the small town/wild living environment. It’s like living in Northern Wisconsin or the UP, but with mountains instead of lakes and bigger grades on the roads. Winters are nicer though, and the altitude helps with the summer.

…BUT… there’s been something spiritual gnawing at me. Not just work worries or Covidiocy inspired anxiety. No. It’s something spiritual and deep and unrelenting.

Why did God bring me down to this place? I felt, and still feel, like something is on the verge of bursting out in this place. A good, productive, and decent thing is hiding just under the surface, but is being held in check by apathy and hopelessness that I find rather disturbing. For months, I wasn’t sure what was going on or what I was sensing. I saw needs for improvements to the area, but was told that’s the way it always was. I hate that answer now.

My father joked that maybe God sent me down here to be a community organizer of some sort. To which I told him to ‘bite his tongue’. We laughed, but as the weeks rolled on, I started worrying that he may have been speaking something much more prophetic. I started worrying if this was not God speaking something through him. I don’t want to be a community organizer. It’s associated with so many people that have done the world great harm in the name of “the greater good”.

So that happened and I kept pondering.

I also have begun going to my wife’s church, and well… that’s been a bit more of a culture shock to all parties involved. The Darling Bride has said that I’m like a big boulder dropped into a small pond. Her assessment hasn’t been wrong. These wonderful people sure haven’t been able to make out whether I’m fish or fowl at times. I keep telling them I’m not going to ever be a Baptist, let alone a bad Baptist, but I’m Christian and fiercely faithful, even if it’s anti-denominational apostolic in nature compared to theirs. (Although “recovering Lutheran” is another good description for it.)

It’s also not been that easy for me either. I get all itchy and discombobulated with the cultural/religious aspects of the church. Sunday School in my experience was for the children, not the adults. The idea of “Three to Thrive” every week leaves me squirming. And of course the mantra “You need to be in church every time the doors are open” really chaps my ass (to borrow a phrase from Mike Rowe). If you’ve read my books, there’s a lot of Brother Finn in me, just as much as Reimar. But, God has continued to pester me and bid me keep going in spite of it.

So I kept praying and struggling with God as to why here? Why this place? What am I supposed to be doing for Him!? In His inimitable fashion and timing, God waited 6 months before revealing the title question.

But first some context. (I heard your facepalms from here.)

My church is shrinking. Dying really. But it has a chance to rebound, so don’t think I’m all gloom and doom here. There is a spiritual dryness going on that is something familiar to me. It is a drifting away that killed my childhood church (which was torn down recently after standing as a centerpiece for the city of Appleton, Wisconsin’s downtown for over a century) by lack of membership. The youth leaves, and the old die off till the remainder blow away.

But they’re fighting! Fighting hard to figure out how to bring people back and bring in the youth. So many fled because of COVID and are not coming back to the church. They stay at home and watch online instead. The heads of the church are hollering we need to get people in the pews! Only then will we grow! Special singers and preachers come in, discussions are held about a new youth ministry… But really, there is no growth. “Do not forsake the assembly!” they cry. “Do not forsake the assembly!”

And that’s when I heard it. “For what purpose?” came the whispered question.

We are assembling, but why? What mighty cause was the church taking up? What projects were happening under their watch? How were they leading the community? For what purpose was this body of Christ called together to serve the Lord? I’ve come to realize that a community needs a purpose to exist. Sitting in pews and listening to sermons 3 times a week and singing badly to hymns is not a draw, it’s rote. I talked to the deacons to ask what sort of projects were going on in the community right now? We’ve hosted missions groups, but what else are we as the church body doing? The answer was “nothing”. That’s when I realized the depth of what God was pointing out to me. The church I went to had no purpose for being anymore.

I asked my wife when the last call came in announcing another member died when the last wedding was before ours? Almost a decade. So again, I had pestering me, “Assemble for what purpose?”

My church and community right now may be a valley of dry bones, but there is something wonderful and big here just below the surface waiting to burst forth like a fresh spring from the rock. All it needs is for Moses to obey and touch the rock with his staff. (No I’m not making such grandiose assumptions about myself, but the metaphor is accurate. Someone must take their staff and touch the rock.) So we’re back to that whispered question which in the weeks since has become even more strident. Militant even.

“ASSEMBLE FOR WHAT PURPOSE!?”

We must all be asking ourselves this same question as we struggle against the rising tide of Mass Formation Psychosis (COVidiocy) that is sweeping the world. We are swamped with fear porn of the pandemic, of war drums, of supply chain shortages and economic collapse. We have a world where there is serious talk as well as government action taking place regarding the unvaxxed. They are being turned into the new pariahs… lepers of the modern world in a fashion not seen since 1930’s Berlin. To be shunned, hated and removed… if not exterminated by those who have been seduced by the new germophobic global world order siren song.

We, as individuals, or even church bodies can’t fight against such things. These are the powers and principalities contending for the shape of the world. We can only live in what is done and our only weapon there is prayer. Pray for His protection, guidance and providence.

But as we pray, we must start doing something to give ourselves more purpose. A Martha to balance out our Mary. Small things to help prepare for the trials and tribulations to come. We must ask ourselves in our churches this very same question. If we are not to forsake the body, and all seems to be dry bones or dying on the vine, what can we do to reverse this? How can we regain a practical purpose? What is it in the world you and I can control? How can we use this to make our worlds, and by extension our neighbor’s world a better place?

If we are not a light unto the world how can we lead out of darkness? What happens to salt that loses its savor? The Church in general as much as my church must find purpose. Now some are probably thriving, but many are most likely struggling. Many are suffering in the pews wondering why they’re even there. Always sick, never healing.

This is the pathway back to sanity and goodness. To give purpose to assembling as the Body of Christ.

Pray. And ask God to show you what His purpose is for you. Till then, find something you know will make your life and your neighbor’s better. Assembled together, with purpose, even if it’s as simple as having a meal together or picking up garbage from your neighborhood, or planting a vegetable garden to help stave off hunger for those who may be too poor to buy food thanks to inflation or job loss. In serving each other in Christ’s name, we gain purpose and reason that house by house, block by block, can save the world from insanity.

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Cutting My Way to Healing: Surgery

When my elbow was shattered three years ago on D-Day, the wrack and ruin of the injury was a real shocker to me.  I had never broken a bone, never had surgery, never even stayed in a hospital, save for one diagnostic thing years before… nothing serious.  Now, my surgeon tells me that I have three broken bones in my right elbow that could take up to a year to recover.  That also assumes no other complications set in and I even can return to work some day let alone regain use of my arm.

The break had torn all the soft connection tissue free.  That all had to be anchored back down and repaired.  Then the bones themselves were in 10 different pieces!  The head of the Radius and Ulna were shattered essentially into three and four pieces each.  The Humerus head had snapped just above in one big chunk making it the easiest repair.  What a way to look at it, but when your surgeon has put together elbows and wrists of men wounded in battle, I’m thinking I fared pretty well.

Throughout this time, I kept praying.  “Why, God?  What is Your purpose in all this?  I cannot see you, and know that I should be afraid, but for some reason, I am not.”  that was the strange thing.  I was scared, but I had peace.  A peace I should not have had, by human standards.  By spiritual standards, I know why.  He carried me through it all for I did not do it by my own strength or denial alone.

The day of the surgery was more of a relief on many levels.  It was going to hurt and freak me out, but at least it would be over and I would be able to heal proper and get better.  They never asked me to count down for the anesthetic knocking me out, so I volunteered anyway.  I remember distinctly saying, “Wow!  I didn’t think I’d make it past 85, but I’m still awake.”  They laughed at me, good-naturedly I hoped.  I don’t remember 84.

Then was in a hospital bed feeling like I had been out drinking all night.  Not hungover, but still buzzed and hating it.  My arm did not hurt at first, but then I moved reflexively.  Well didn’t that just tilt the pinball machine!  What went from a kinda tolerable, but miserable 7 on the pain scale to a 10.  Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun was my thought.  It wasn’t till the last week of rehab did I learn how the pain scale was supposed to be calculated.

Having to pee was embarrassing too.  You finally have to go so bad and are so gorked out of your mind you just don’t care who is watching and what you piss on.  I remember the process of  getting to the can being a disgusting an humorous operation, dragging poles and machines that went ‘ping’ behind me and finally not caring what my accuracy was, and the fact I was naked in front of three female nurses.  Oh who CARES!  My bladder is calling the shots and it says “You go NOW!” like an angry sumo wrestler.  Oh the joys of bodily functions in front of strangers.

Beyond that, mother morphine played deletion roulette with much of my memory.  I do remember lunch before being picked up being surprisingly tasty.

My father picked me up and we went to see the surgeon where I was informed of what kind of a mess I was.  A plate a bunch of plastic anchors and glue holding my tendons and ligaments together, a bunch of cartilage scooped out and a metal plate with four screws, and one for good measure through my Humerus.  Just…. really.  My surgeon cautioning me that because of my size, I could EASILY tear these things loose and be forced to suffer another surgery and some real potential problems.  So for two months, I had to live, arm locked at a 90 degree angle and praying that something horrifying did not happen, like falling in the shower (Which I did, more on that later) or worse.

Living alone, there was some concern about how I was going to handle things on my own.  Hell, I was worried too.  But, God provided a way.  I was always able to find a friend, or neighbor or family to take my clumsy butt where I needed, go shopping with me or help out.  To those people, you are saints, and I praise God for you.

But, that was the first big step in what has been a multi-year recovery.