Jan 9, 2012
What my mom DID do was sit us down and tell us what the year's theme would be. "This year, our year is going to be The Year of Faith." I never quite understood all of that as a kid. How in the world do you know what the year is going to be before it starts? I can understand looking back and saying, "Man that year was The Year of Change!" But to say it in advance? I could understand a business or church stating their goals for the year in a theme that customers, staff, and members can hold on to. I've been a part of creating and implementing these things and they are very useful. I just didn't get it for a family. Well, until yesterday.
We were sitting in church in one of the most moving and powerful worship services I can remember. I have always found it interesting which church services end up being like that. Having served on church staff, I know the work and planning that goes into a service. And I know that there are times where the ministers are striving to create a certain atmosphere or emotion. They want to make it powerful and moving. But when God moves, it doesn't always fit our plans. I have been in youth camp services that by human logic should have been powerful and moving that just felt obviously orchestrated. I also have been in just regular services that ended up being life changing.
My favorite example of this was from my time in Tampa. The church was celebrating the senior pastor's fifth anniversary. We had put a lot of work into the service, complete with video and special music. It was all built up to the sermon, where the pastor would look back on the past five years and cast the vision for the next bold steps. Sandwiched in between was a simple song by our incredible worship pastor, Todd Stearns. I think it was during the offering time. Todd just was sitting at the piano and he sang Keith Green's classic "Lord, You're Beautiful." In the 8:00 service, everything went according to the order of worship that had been laid out. But in the 9:30 service, something happened. During Todd's song, the entire congregation felt it happen. It was like the Holy Spirit just filled the sanctuary. People started crying. No one really understood what happened or why. Todd's singing was passionate and beautiful as always - but, honestly, Todd walking through the halls and singing anything was beautiful. The Pastor took a moment and walked up on stage. He said, "Well, I guess we should just have the invitation." So they did. A dozen people got saved. Service was over. Strangest and most incredible thing I ever was a part of in my church life. During the 10:45 service, I was up running Collegiate Sunday School. We were talking about what had happened. Before noon, someone came up from the service. "It happened again." We all looked at them puzzled. "The same thing happened during Todd's song. Pastor didn't preach again. Ten people got saved." You don't forget stuff like that.
Anyway, yesterday were there at church and singing. Personally, I was especially moved by the music. It was beautiful and moving as always. But it just was ministering me more yesterday. I looked around a little and saw that my wife seemed to be similarly moved. So were our friends, the Gillises. I peeked up to the front row and noticed that Pastor Isaac was also singing in a different way. The music was more than just a bunch of people singing. It was like they were just pouring out the hearts in the words. The only way I can describe it is that it was like waves of passion crashing. The only way to control it was to sing louder and more powerful. (I guess it was a little glimpse of what Heaven will be like.) I remember hoping that there would be three songs and not just two. There were three. (YAY!) The third was "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Yeah, I know, very typical choice for a contemporary service.
Isaac came up to speak. He was starting a new series on how God moves through bad circumstances - and how He moves even when His people aren't obeying and responding right. It is largely from the Old Testament. (I love O.T. sermons.) It was good stuff. But partway through the service, I had one of those moments where I felt like God was really speaking to me. "The theme for this year is AWAKE." Huh? "It's time to wake up. You're going to wake up. Your kids are going to wake up. Heather will wake up. Defender Ministries will wake up. Your mom will wake up. You've all be sleeping. It is time to wake up. This year it all wakes up." Ok. I spent most of the rest of the sermon mulling over that and wrapping my mind around it. The rest of the service was similarly wonderful and powerful and moving. The worship time at the end was another experience of pouring out my heart. It was just great. Heather wondered if we could sneak back in to the next service. That's always a good thing to think.
On our way to lunch, I talked to Heather about what I felt from the service. And then I explained it to the kids. Here I was, the parent, trying to get my kids to think about a theme for the year. It was strange to see life's roles changing. Here is how I explained it to them.
In the winter up north (not down here, obviously), as the weather gets colder, the plants start to wither up. The trees drop their leaves. The grass and plants disappear. Animals recede into caves for the winter. It is a time for sleep. It isn't that nothing happens, it just happens slower and more internally. We don't see the trees doing anything. We don't see the bears scampering around and roaring. Things are happening, it is jut in a quieter private way. It isn't necessarily bad. It is a part of life. It is a season. Personally, I have felt that way for a couple years. Part of it was due to my status in life. I needed to be home and with the kids. I didn't teach very often. I haven't regularly taught a Bible Study or Sunday School class for almost three years now. That is the longest stretch for me since I was in high school. But that was what was needed. It isn't to say nothing happened. I would argue that that stretch saw some of the biggest growth and change in my entire life. I just wasn't out there.
The same thing kind of happened with Defender Ministries. It has been in a forced stasis for years. I couldn't travel as much. I was hours away from the other people who supported it. It wasn't something that could really thrive. The economy severely hampered our ability to promote and develop ideas. Even when support did come in, it didn't always get directed the way we thought. And it wasn't something we could really rely on - as we painfully found out at times. But I couldn't really follow through on much anyway, since I was in Tallahassee and extremely limited on time. So the ministry had to go into a kind of sleep.
I can see signs of life all around. Personally, I can feel things stirring again. I am facilitating a Bible study group at our church. I am in the process of setting up my volunteer status with our the new jail ministry of the church. There is a desire to study and read again. With Defender, we have several events set up this year already - more than at any time in the past few years. I can even see a newfound desire with my kids to learn the Bible. Josiah is memorizing verses. Both he and Natalie are excited to go to church and learn. It is a pretty fun time.
I have no idea what this next year will bring. There is no way for any of us to know that. But I feel that it is time for me to become more active, to start to reach out and serve again. And it is in completely different ways. I have never been a part of a jail ministry; that never even has been something I was drawn to. But this time, I just knew I was supposed to get involved. Most of my ministry experience has been with college students and teens. Now it seems like I am being drawn more towards adults, and men in particular. I also find myself trying to encourage ministers and other people in similar situations as mine - going through life changes, role changes, struggling with addictions, losing weight. For a while, the biggest ministry I could have was writing to people. And that is still something I find myself doing. It is amazing how rarely people tell each other what they are really feeling. We are so guarded, we don't usually say the important stuff to each other. It is like people are so used to being unappreciated and only criticized they just light up when someone takes the time just to say thanks or to express how much they mean. So there are changes going on. And it is time for me to wake up and get busy. I often joke about how much I look like a bear. Now I get to act like one. The hibernation is over. I'm awake.