Ministry at the thin places

I’m called to the thin places, the holes, the edges.  I’m called to those moments where people are at the edges of life and don’t even know it.  They are at risk of death, due to overdose, or suicide, or both.  They’ve wandered too close to the limit.  One more step and they are gone. 

It took me a while to see this pattern.  I kept meeting people at these edges. 

I went walking in downtown Chattanooga with friends many years back at night, and saw a young man, thin, dark hair, alone at a water fountain that had been turned off for the winter.  I left my friends and walked up to this stranger and began to talk with him.  It was a month later that he admitted to me that he was going to kill himself that night.  It was the fact that I started talking to him that distracted him, that turned him away from the edge. 

I’ve had several boyfriends who drank too much, not trying to kill themselves but trying to enjoy life more, in their opinion.  I was there to keep them alive in those moments when the body starts to react badly to that abuse. 

I’ve dated two people who had attempted suicide before I met them.

My father tried to commit suicide when I was two.  My great-grandfather, his grandfather, did commit suicide.  They say that someone was “successful” at suicide, but is it really a success? 

I feel suicide and addiction and overdosing are all related.  We walk too far into territory that we don’t know, and it pulls us in with its own gravity, its own magnetism.  Before we know it, we are sucked in much further than we meant.  We didn’t know where that dark alley led to.  We didn’t know – or we thought we were strong enough to walk away.  These forces are older than us, and hungrier.  They will have what they will have and there is no arguing with them.  The only real way to survive is to never get too close. 

And that is where I come in.  I show up.  I happen to be there.  I’m called to it.  This isn’t something you can schedule.  There isn’t an app for this. 

I stand in the way, with death behind me, so they can’t see that doorway. 

This isn’t something you train for, not really. This isn’t something that people even talk about.  We don’t talk about death.  We certainly don’t talk about suicide. 

(Written 11/8/2015, updated 5/14/20)

God representative

Any person who is minister of any sort – priest, pastor, a chaplain or just a visitor from the church – needs to remember that they are a representative of Jesus to the person they are visiting. To people who are hurting and especially people who have been hurt or felt marginalized by the church, any person who represents themselves as being from a church represents Jesus himself to them – represents God to them.

This means that you have to make sure that how you act is impeccable. If you make an appointment to visit with someone don’t be late. If you are late, you are saying to them that their time and concerns don’t matter to God.

If a newcomer visits your church and leaves their name and address for you to contact them, then do it within the week – and do it personally. A form letter won’t cut it – especially if it is two weeks late. People like to think that they are noticed and special and important. Make the extra effort, because you’re not just you anymore but the person you serve.

Consider it as if you are driving a delivery vehicle for some company. On the back of the vehicle there’s a bumper sticker that says “How’s my driving? Please call” and it gives a 1-800 number and your tag number. When you represent God to people you’re not you anymore – you’re representing something much bigger than you and it’s important that you be as perfect as you can be.

Ministry in Galilee

After Jesus found out that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali.

This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah who said “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, along the sea road, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! For everyone who lives in darkness has seen a great light, and for those who live in the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”

News about him spread through the entire area. He was teaching in the synagogues there and was praised by everyone. From that time on he began to preach the good news of God saying “The time is at hand and the kingdom of God has arrived! Repent and believe in the good news!”

MT 4:12-17, MK 1:14-15, LK 4:14-15

Condensed Gospel part 4. Jesus is tempted, gathers disciples, ministry starts.

Matthew 4:1-11
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2 After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 But He answered, “It is written:
Man must not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes
from the mouth of God.”
5 Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
He will give His angels orders concerning you,
and they will support you with their hands
so that you will not strike
your foot against a stone.”
7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.”
8 Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only Him.”
11 Then the Devil left Him, and immediately angels came and began to serve Him.

Mark 1:14-20
14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”
16 As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen.
17 “Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in their boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.

John 1:43-51
43 The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Luke 4:16-30
16 He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
22 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth, yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
23 Then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. So all we’ve heard that took place in Capernaum, do here in Your hometown also.’”
24 He also said, “I assure you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. 30 But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way.

Luke 4:31-41
31 Then He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath.32 They were astonished at His teaching because His message had authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man with an unclean demonic spirit who cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Leave us alone! What do You have to do with us, Jesus—Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
35 But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet and come out of him!”
And throwing him down before them, the demon came out of him without hurting him at all.36 Amazement came over them all, and they kept saying to one another, “What is this message? For He commands the unclean spirits with authority and power, and they come out!” 37 And news about Him began to go out to every place in the vicinity.
38 After He left the synagogue, He entered Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Him about her. 39 So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and began to serve them.
40 When the sun was setting, all those who had anyone sick with various diseases brought them to Him. As He laid His hands on each one of them, He would heal them. 41 Also, demons were coming out of many, shouting and saying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew He was the Messiah.

Mark 1:35-45
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions went searching for Him.37 They found Him and said, “Everyone’s looking for You!”
38 And He said to them, “Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.” 39 So He went into all of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
40 Then a man with a serious skin disease came to Him and, on his knees, begged Him: “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.” 42 Immediately the disease left him, and he was healed. 43 Then He sternly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 telling him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go and show yourself to the priest, and offer what Moses prescribed for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Yet he went out and began to proclaim it widely and to spread the news, with the result that Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. But He was out in deserted places, and they would come to Him from everywhere.

(All translations of the Bible are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and copied from the Bible Gateway website.)