Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Sound of the Wind

An Inkling
I was so disappointed in my ordination – not in God’s call to me, or in the Spirit’s empowering to pursue that call, but in the institutional expression thereof.  My 1981 ordination service was led by three ministers and three elders from the Louisiana presbytery where I first pastored.  They were earnest in their task, but the sermon was pro forma, and the prayers were so droning and dry that I felt less equipped to pastor after the service than I had before!  Nonetheless, that service ordained me in the eyes of the church, and opened an institutional path that would facilitate ministry in years to come.
My disappointment in the service arose largely because it suffered so by contrast with a moment that had no ecclesial authority, but which overflowed with the Spirit’s presence.  The prayer group that had sustained Sarah and me spiritually through our seminary years, and had prayed with us for months as we sought a pastoral call, gathered with us in our apartment to celebrate with us and pray for us one last time before we moved to Louisiana.  It was nothing official in the eyes of the church, but the Spirit showed up in power right there in our living room as they prayed and prophesied over us. 
In the providence of God, both moments served to equip me to pastor.  But it was the informal prayer meeting that was marked by the Spirit’s power.
I was reminded of that blessed Spirit moment Monday evening, at the end of Art Thomas’ final lecture.  A son of our church and a church historian, he was here for the crowning weekend of our 75th Anniversary celebration.  Art delivered wonder-filled accounts of how the Spirit brought renewal to and through St. Giles through the years. 
We were also blessed to have Louis Skidmore with us for these lectures.  “Skid” was a key pastoral player in the Spirit’s powerful work in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  At the end of his lecture about the Spirit’s renewing work during Skid’s season here, Art reported that the Lord had directed him to ask Skid forward for prayer.  Art, Sarah Marsh, my Sarah, and I then prayed with thanksgiving for Skid’s ministry and its legacy.  Then Skid prayed for God’s renewed anointing for us, that we might minister in the Spirit’s full power, and be part of the new things God would do in and through St. Giles.
And it happened again:  the Spirit came in power, and prayer became prophetic.  There was nothing formal or official about it – just some moments of prayer at the end of a lecture.  But it was very real, Art having done what the Spirit prompted him to do. 
And I believe I just heard the wind again, blowing not just upon the pastors, but through the midst of the congregation.  Ready or not…
Here we go!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Historical Hilarity

An Inkling
It caught my eye.  So I whipped out my phone and captured this image from the Virginia Historical Society’s display on religion in the Commonwealth. 
These are the words of a 19th century VMI cadet.  In case you can’t read the picture, here are its words:  For wild hilarity commend me to a coterie of strictly reared young female Presbyterians.  An evening spent among them is like sitting upon an iceberg cracking hailstones with one’s teeth.  Having reared three young female Presbyterians, who weren’t nearly so cold, I found this especially funny.
But it is telling of our image.  Many who don’t know the Lord see Christians in general as sticks in the mud.  And Presbyterians in particular have a reputation for dour countenance that goes way back.
That’s one reason I love St. Giles.  The seriousness with which we take our faith breaks that stereotype with a joy and love that are always bubbling up. 
There are reasons for that.  And I believe we’re in for a joyful discovery of those reasons as we reflect this coming weekend on what God has done here.  Art Thomas, a church historian and son of this church, will lead us in our reflections as the grand finale of our 75th Anniversary. 
A sermon and lectures on church history?  Sounds about as much fun as sitting upon an iceberg cracking hailstones with one’s teeth.  And it would be for many topics and in many settings. 
But here’s this odd church where the seriousness with which they pursue their faith produces not grimness but joy.  Hmmm.  Interesting…  What’s that about?
Come and see!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Capital of Reconciliation

An Inkling
Time flies when you’re having fun (in the presence of the Lord with 2000 others)!  So it was Sunday evening, gathered at U-Turn for the second annual Bless Richmond worship service.  The video gives you a flavor of the singing, which was interspersed with prayers.  The music ranged from hymns to praise choruses, and the prayers ranged from liturgical to shouting.  It was a lot of fun, and the Lord was honored in the process – a winning combination!
I’ve been pondering on the evening, and here are some reflections.
Even our “contemporary” service is reserved compared to some worship patterns.  You can tell from the video Sarah captured that some of the crew was really rocking out, as was the band.  Part of understanding ourselves is seeing how we fall in array with others – be it in worship or service or study or prayer.
I was on the planning team, and we didn’t know how many to expect.  The 2000 who came are just a sliver of the Richmond whole.  But they came together for the Lord who leavens whole loaves with just a bit of yeast.  We trust that we’re just beginning to see the full leavening he’s about.
The Kingdom will be wonderfully diverse.  We get a glimpse of that in our congregation, and saw a bit more at Bless Richmond.  For example, we sat in a section filled mostly with folks from the ROC (Richmond Outreach Center).  Let’s just say we stood out among those whose standard dress is along the lines of a biker gang, with lots of spiked hair, black leather, and ink.  What a joy it was to be with them as they rocked out for Jesus!  And think about when the gathered saints will come from across the continents and centuries!
Months of planning and effort went into this event.  But those months alone could not have produced what happened.  James Anderson and Collie Burton have been tilling this ground with networking and prayer for long years, and until now they’ve seen little fruit.  But God brings fruit in his time, and I’m glad they’re getting to see the harvest begin.
And finally, I really like a phrase Ben Campbell used as he led one of the prayers, that we’re moving from being the Capital of the Confederacy to the Capital of Reconciliation.  That sounds like the Lord’s kind of city to me!  What a great place to live and serve him!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

At the Intersection of Order and Chaos

An Inkling
When I hear someone in the midst of a major life struggle describe what God is doing, I start taking notes.  That’s what I did last week at a board meeting (our partnership with three other churches for orphan care in Asia).
Jim and Liz Nelson had been preparing for over a year to go on site and lead our efforts there.  That meant winding down Jim’s business, selling off their furniture, etc.  They were just about to go when Liz was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  Suddenly their orderly pursuit of God’s calling was bowled over by surgery and chemo, and such practical considerations as “what should we do for furniture in our now empty house?”
Jim described to us some of what they’ve learned in the last three months.  I was particularly struck by his affirmation that God is much more adept at working with chaos than we are.  From chaos he called forth creation (Gen 1:2), through chaos he led a people to freedom and a promised land, and so on. 
Life is full of sound and fury, but far from Shakespeare’s words, it’s not a tale told by an idiot.  It’s a tale told by the One for whom chaos is just one more ingredient to fold into his wise and gracious plan.
We’re counting on that for Jim and Liz as we pray for them.  So, too, for our ministry partnership caring for orphans, as we try to discern what the Lord intends now for our on site leadership. 
How about for you?  I don’t suppose there is any chaos stirring in your life…  But just in case, how do you see the Lord’s hand at work?
Pray for Liz!