My webmaster shared with me last week, that my blogs need to be shorter, 7-8 minutes max! Brevity is not my suit, especially when a sixth book seems in the making.
Hope you will allocate the time necessary for this transitional post, one that moves this blogger toward recovery and reveals a lot of lessons learned!
This series has seemed a bit of a downer over the last few posts, covering some rough desert territory. THEN Sunday morning, BAM!! We had such a Word from the Lord by way of Pastor Alan Wright (see attached link below if desired, something I seldom do).
Actually for me, that Word began weeks ago during a quite somber conversation with God on June 19th.
I was in the middle of my morning devotions, when I began to reflect on my journey of late, even as far back as 2014, when my mayoral role had ended.
Until that time, it was not unusual for me to speak often at various churches, civic groups, etc., not just on behalf of the Village which I served, but sharing my personal journey as a Christ-follower.
My question of the Lord that morning was about the "why" behind this long period of disengagement. Even after five years at our new church, only the third transition in our fifty years of marriage, we were hardly connected beyond an occasional scheduled time in the prayer room after service. That was more my wife's initiative than my own, though I always find it to be a special blessing for me and a time for getting to know others in the church.
I have long managed a sense of helplessness as I watch a spiritual foreclosure unfolding across the land, a Word spoken to me quite prophetically in 2008, though our current church seems quite healthy. That sense of deep concern for the Body of Christ at large has never left me, though interestingly enough, my vocation has changed dramatically.
Reading voraciously the works of those deep in the trenches hasn't helped either. For instance, "When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith." The Atlantic, The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart, by Peter Wehner.
It seems so many well meaning congregations are now simply rotating attendees as their churches struggle and in some cases close their doors.
Older congregations with surplus means by way of long held endowments have even tightened down on their reserves, becoming even more siloed from the communities to which they were called to serve.
I know I said, IT GETS BETTER and it did, for in that very morning, one of my darkest, my phone dinged.
I noticed a text message: "John, could you speak at our church on Sunday, June 25th, as I have an anniversary Word for "X" Church, and our elders want you!"
Caught off guard by the timing given my inquiry of God, I responded somewhat sarcastically to this dear brother in who's church I had not spoken since 2013: "Honored to accept, as a crotchety, old hard to love heretic."
His brotherly reply given he knows me well: "You will glorify God regardless of what you think you are to say. Folks here are hungry for the deep things of God that empower us to reflect Jesus in the madhouse of our times."
The sermon went well that Sunday, with even a followup breakfast requested by a first time visitor. Also, just this past week, I would be asked to speak at an upcoming Men's Breakfast by way of their lead elder.
Maybe I am not that far off base, as my topic was precariously framed around a growing sense that the "Word of God" is more progressive than just some static ancient text, and thus relevant to our culture, moreso than it appears to oitsiders when we try to defend its literal origin, although simultaneously we seem open to numerous interpretations of its original language. That now seems somewhat ludicrous to me, though that is how I was raised, the tradition reinforced for decades.
Then of all things, that next Monday I was contacted by a gentleman from a nearby state, representing a local fraternity brother of his who's young son-in-law had suffered an aneurysm. Until the previous week, the young man had been a runner and in great shape. He was now in a comma and on life support. He was also the father of a four-year-old daughter, his wife also eight months pregnant!
It seems that I had been recommended to this total stranger, as a person potentially beneficial to the family in their distress. Until this day, I do not know how or from whom he recieved the recommendation. So, I dusted off my old hospital chaplain's pass and for weeks invested in praying for and cheering on this young man's miraculous recovery. He is now home!
Then another gentleman contacted me, one whom I had come to know through the prayer room at church. He is facing a serious marital crisis...no, I won't go there...God is simply crafting an amazing story and I can't wait to watch it unfold.
Why all this excitement? I now know that God heard my early morning prayer on June 19th, and I now find myself back in ministry in a way I felt never again possible.
I was becoming concerned that De-churching might be ahead for me as it has been for 40 Million others. "More people have left the church in the last twenty-five years than all the new people who became Christians from the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and Billy Graham crusades combined. Adding to the alarm is the fact that this phenomenon has rapidly increased since the mid-1990s." The Great De-churching, 2023.
This battle was beginning to feel a little uphill until just yesterday morning, when I was reminded of a prophetic word given to me a couple Sundays ago, which I shared with the pastor, an amazing man of grace now thirty years at our church.
The Word was about his long desired breakhrough with regards to the practice of the gifts of the Spirit within today's church, specifically our own.
His message yesterday from Romans 12 regarding the gifts of the Spirit was so clearly recieved with a followup prayer time of "laying on of hands." You really need to take the time to listen to the link below, (see "Latest Message" 4:12) before I share with you what brought my wife and I to this church and what a gift it has been to us.
I'll save that for tomorrow.