Sometimes the Lord speaks softly. Other times He speaks loudly. Sometimes His voice projects through the harshness of our world, and sometimes He calls through the gentleness of a morning rain. Recently, God revealed Himself in a way that was most unexpected. Two worlds once connected rejoined for a moment with a reminder that even the most tragic situations hold glimpses of hope for tomorrow.
Growing up in small town Mississippi packaged extreme experiences into a lifetime. Church life revolved around Sunday School, children's choir, Bible drills, VBS, worship services, and an occasional hymn sing. School life invited opportunity for high grades, awards, school plays, PE, band, and other normal, predictable routines. Broad friendships that rejected deeper engagement dotted the landscape of my adolescence and teenage years. The complexities of life circled around these two silos of my life. Church and school. Outside of these two worlds, any identity I might have had faded into imagination.
Cloudy memories of growing up often skew perspective, yet occasionally something triggers part of my brain to pull history from the portals where they have been locked away. This past weekend the Holy Spirit pulled such a trigger when my oldest son texted me a name and asked if the name rang a bell to me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Lord placed him alongside a young man leading sixth grade boys in a DiscipleNow with a tie to my past. The short story is that the other young man's mother grew up in the same small church where I grew up and then once she married she moved across the street from my grandmother. My grandmother actually kept the young boy occasionally when he was a baby.
Lately I've been reflecting on how growing up a Pharisee shaped the course of my life. Learning all of the rules forged a direction that left me longing for a relationship that could only be filled by Christ. Never forget the sovereignty of God in our lives. In the middle of a mess, King Jesus shed His blood to redeem what many labeled a hopeless heap of splintered lives.
The church I remembered a few moments ago ignited with a major split that fed the gossip circles for years to come. Several families joined together on the north side of town to form a body of Christ that became the central part of my spiritual existence. For a season, the church enjoyed a freshness that many had forgotten could exist. Over time, humanity won out, and the small church became even smaller, to the point that now the body barely exists. As the mirror reminds me of my history, the Spirit also reminds me how He is at work when we don't even realize it. In the early days of this new church a group of families connected in ways I had not previously known. One family seemed to be the common bond between the others, and many Sunday nights we would gather at their home after church. As children we were close enough in age to find suitable interactions, but we were far enough separated that outside of church we didn't spend much time together. From a distance, though, I always knew that these peers and I had something unexplainable in common. I'd like to say we all shared a love for the Lord, a heart for missions, or a zeal for the Word of God. Instead, what we shared was actually a community of love and support unparalleled by others I knew. This community produced future generations actively engaged in service and ministry to the Lord - to the third and possibly even the forth generation.
Hearing from Daniel that he had "randomly" been paired with the son of one from this former community pushed me to recognize that while growing up Pharisee had its ill effects, God's word did not fail. Those raised in Truth and Love thrive in the Kingdom of God over the long haul. In that small church we didn't have a lot of money or a lot of entertainment. Our Sunday School room was just four walls, paneling, and metal chairs. We didn't have a concert every Sunday morning before the preaching, and we didn't have a website or a blog. We just had Jesus, His word, and families that made sure we were in community with each other. Would you believe that almost all of the members of that small youth group are actively engaged in ministry in the church somewhere to this day and that our children are choosing to love the Lord as well? How in the world did that happen in the middle of a most dysfunctional place? Only one way. Not the music, not the trips, not the ritual, nor the competition. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Only His blood holds broken hearts and lives together over time and creates newness from empty vessels. I'm praying for such a community in our new adventure. A community that perhaps only learns the value when our grandchildren find themselves serving together in unexpected places.
"... not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:25