Day 71- The Mile I found God in a casket

“Remember that I stood before You to speak in their behalf, to turn away Your wrath from them.” Jeremiah 18:20(b)

Working for God is no easy task. It begins with small errands and missions, little pain, and lots of love. The beginning of anything it seems is easy, as we make our way into something entirely new. A new exercise routine, dedicating ourselves to morning meditation. A million New Year’s resolutions are made and not followed, why? Because the beginning, the thought, is easy, but the road is hard. Continuity, discipline and perseverance are the key to longevity, and also the key to the spiritual life.

The beginning of my walk with Christ was beautiful and mind blowing, but with my St. Paul conversion came a St. Paul story- my walk soon turned into a sprint…for my life.

The church I had been attending was the same church where my husband had represented someone who was part of the church. Normally, this may not be a bad thing, but my husband is a criminal defense attorney. Being a new Christian, the Holy Spirit was loud, and I came to church leadership to let them know who I was, about my conversion, and to pray for my husband’s conversion to Christ as well. Shortly after that, I found myself in the church office with my husband, surrounded by two associate pastors who said we weren’t welcome in their church. I asked them to point me to the biblical basis for that. Of course, they couldn’t. The victim’s family in the case had not sued them yet, and the statute of limitations had not run. Only several months into upending my entire life, and with my husband’s salvation at stake, I was out on the street looking for God- again.

It was shortly after that when one of my husband’s clients was shot and killed. A young teenager involved in gang life, the pain of his death was still a shock to my system. I decided to attend the funeral with my husband even though it was dangerous because God called me to do so, and I was looking for Him  everywhere.

Maybe he would be at a funeral

As we walked past the streams of police with large rifles, I took my seat next to my husband several rows back from the casket. It was a white casket draped in gang paraphernalia and colors.

Jacob was only 15 years old

In the front rows sat all of his friends, gang members, all young teenagers draped in the same colors. They were staring at his casket, but I knew they were not seeing. My first thought was, How will God open their eyes?

Shortly after that, a pastor appeared. Young and full of tattoos, he was pacing and anxious. He took a deep breath and stepped up to the podium. He preceded to give a sermon not about Jacob’s life, but about his death, and what could have been; and then he did something that will never leave my memory.

He started to speak straight to those boys

He called them out. Asked them if they even realized their friend was dead, gone forever. Talked to them about senseless violence and killing and about what their future looked like. He had tears in his eyes, the scene was heavy and emotional. And the crowd of people watched while this young pastor let the rest of the room disappear so he could do what God had called him to do- invite these boys to a life with Christ.

The pastor’s words were condemning, and real and loving and everything that God was, everything that those boys needed to hear. He turned a funeral into a call for repentance, and He risked His own life to do it.

That day, in the middle of nursing my own pain from having no church home, I saw something greater.  I asked the Pastor what church he was from and I told Him that this was the church I wanted to be in. By that Sunday, I had found a home.

God calls us to greater things. To speak the truth when it is hard. He calls us many times to intervene, to say things loudly, and with that to expect hatred.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. No slave is greater than his master.” John 15:18, 20

I am again in the midst of searching for a new church home, praying and asking God where that would be. This has been my Lenten ask from our Lord. Being without a home has been painful, but not being true to the person that God has called me to be is not an option for me. And maybe for now, as it was before, I will not find him in the brick and mortar of a building, but rather in the unexpected. If God can be at a gang funeral, he can be anywhere.




5 thoughts on “Day 71- The Mile I found God in a casket

  1. Jock McSporran

    Melissa – apologies, but there are points here which do not make so much sense to me.

    There is one point which I can relate to: you indicate that you are currently searching for a `new church home’ indicating that you don’t have a suitable church home now.

    I haven’t been associated to a church for approximately 18 years. In my case, it’s because the churches in the town I was in seemed so way off the mark that attending church was worse than pulling teeth and didn’t seem like the Spiritual rest that church-going was supposed to be.

    One Sunday morning, instead of going to church, I took a lovely 20 mile walk through forests and past lakes – all by itself – and it felt so-ooo nice – true spiritual rest (I was a single man back then) – and since then I haven’t looked back. I remember all the arguments, when I was having difficulties with churches – being told all the reasons I should be going – my duty towards God and even if I didn’t enjoy it, my association was of enormous benefit to other Christians – and I now regard this as pure Spiritual blackmail.

    So if the churches in your area all turn out to be rubbish, don’t allow yourself to be persuaded (blackmailed) into associating with something where you have to work very hard to see the Christianity.

    But earlier in your post:

    1) umm – what exactly did the church hierarchy not like about your being there? Had one of them done something that could get them banged up if the truth were to come out? The term `victim’ does imply that some bad things had been done (irrespective of whether a good criminal lawyer would be able to get the perpetrator off the hook) and indicates that the only issue was when the `victim’ would actually sue.

    2) how was your husband’s salvation at stake over such a debacle? From what you write it looks as if he was a conscientious criminal lawyer doing his job. I therefore can’t see how difficulties-with-the-church could affect his salvation.

    My experience is that coming to repentance and Salvation through Jesus Christ is usually despite of, rather than because of, anything connected with Church. Sure, people hear The Word through church people, but people come to faith despite of everything that contradicts it – and the contradictory and off-putting thing is usually The Church.

    I read Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans 9 recently – and he points out that at the time of Jesus, The Church (that is The Church organisation that was instituted by God – so you can’t say that it was a fake church) was the main opposition to Jesus and people coming to faith in Him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melissa Zelniker-Presser

      You make some great points.
      1. Yes it was a liability issue for them. I don’t to go any further with it than that as it is not important to the point of the post.
      2. My husband was not a Christian and so needed a place /way in. Me being a new Christian was part of that yes, but I was a baby Christian.

      Yes he was a conscientious criminal lawyer doing his job.

      I do wholeheartedly agree with you, all of my experience has been apart from the brick and mortar of the church. But being a Catholic, now, I recognize the Eucharist. This is why I go to church. To receive Christ. Not for a homily, or the scripture of the day, but to receive Jesus.

      It is all quite the conundrum, isn’t it? The place that is supposed to love you and accept you pushes you away with Pharisaical rule. I always say, what church would recognize Jesus if He came walking through its doors?

      But I press on. My eyes are focused on the center of His heart, the Eucharist. Everything else around me can fade away. I am there for HIm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jock McSporran

    Yes – I can see that – if the Eucharist is so central to you, then you have to go to church, no matter what other bilge the church may be serving up. Then `The Church’ has a hook in you which it can use for spiritual blackmail.

    While I believe that every Christian has to come to Christ for themselves, it seems that background does play a role – and my grandfather’s faith is important to me (he died in his early 80’s when I was 10). He sent my mother to the Salvation Army Sunday school when she was a girl – and the Salvation Army don’t have any bread-and-wine ceremony and they also don’t do a water baptism ceremony either.

    While I readily accept that this does not dot the i’s and cross the t’s, I see it as eminently sensible; in 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah has the bronze snake smashed, because it had become a snare and an object of idolatry – and it seems to me that there is so much hoo-haa over how-the-bread-and-wine-should-be-done and what-it-means that I strongly approve of the same approach to the bread-and-wine ceremony (i.e. remove it completely).

    The other important thing about the Salvation Army – as far as church leadership was concerned, they always had absolutely equal roles for men and women (and at the Salvation Army unit which my mother attended there was a male officer and a female officer). My mother grew up thinking that this was perfectly normal – and only discovered that people had a problem with women in church leadership roles much later in life, when she discovered that there were other forms of Christianity.

    I think that the organisation has fallen an awful lot – and the Salvation Army of the 1940’s is probably nothing like the Salvation Army of today. I’ve never been part of it myself, but I’m quite attracted to the ideal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melissa Zelniker-Presser

      That is beautifully stated. Yes our churches are imperfect places of worship and simply brick and mortar. But I love what Psalm 27:4 says,
      “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, To gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple.” This for me is the Catholic Church, with all it’s ugliness and flaws. My great desire is to be in the Lord’s house, the closest to heaven here on this earth for me which is the Catholic Church. I have traveled a long distance to get here and I will never let her go.Everything else fades away for me, she is more precious than gold. Mother church for me is everything and Her center is the Eucharist.
      I often as a human being get caught up in the ugliness of the people rather than focus on the center of Christ’s heart. I must realign why I am there- for God and Him alone. He is my Center and my rock and He is led me home on this earth until I reach heaven.


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