Has anyone ever told you of a place you needed to see but you did not have a clue where it was located? Obviously you needed directions and inevitably those directions included certain “signs” to look for, either the ones mounted on a post or a particular place. Miss that sign and you miss where you are needing to go.
In the last few years God has been taking me on a radical journey that has completely turned my understanding of church upside down. Well, let me rephrase that: it has turned my understanding of the church right-side-up. And while I thought this journey began about 5 years ago, this morning I realized it started much sooner. Right now I am recognizing that this journey started in 1990. Who knows, maybe even further back than that.
In early 1990 a friend and fellow co-conspirator in this work of being a called out pastor, called me to let me know one of our former professors was about to retire due to the continued deterioration of his vision and that summer would be his last time to teach. Dr. David Naglee was a professor of New Testament Theology and had a profound impact on me. His insights and style of sharing those insights were amazing and opened my eyes to a new depth of understanding. I did not need to further my education in terms of Tribal demands, but I wanted to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee one more time, so I enrolled.
The drawback, or so I thought at the time, was I had to take 2 courses. The other course was called “Good and Evil: A Christian Perspective On Suffering.” Due to the short term nature of this summer semester, there were required readings and papers that had to be submitted 2 months in advance of these classes. Rabbi Naglee’s reading list was enjoyable and I loved writing those papers. But that other class, well, some of those books were heresy I tell you, absolute heresy! So I accepted the assignment as just a necessary evil in order to learn from this Rabbi. By the way, he wasn’t Jewish, it’s just a term of endearment from me to Dr. Naglee.
About 2 weeks before I left for Emory we were taking a family camping vacation at a state park. We had set up the camper and went to the grocery store for supplies. When I returned the park ranger had left an emergency message to call a church member. When I called Ronnie he informed me that one of our youth, a 15 year old cheerleader and honor role student, had just been killed in an automobile accident. It now fell upon me to find some way to offer God’s comfort in the middle of a tragedy that just didn’t make sense.
But almost immediately I remembered (actually it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me) one of those books from that “other” course, that necessary evil I had to endure in order to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee. It was Philip Yancey’s classic Disappointment With God. Actually it was the only book I thought worth reading at the time from the list. Yancey had taught me this: If it is not Good News in the hospital, if it is not Good News in the nursing home, if it is not Good News at the funeral home, then it is not Good News at all. But it is Good News because the truth of the Good News endures the hard times of life and even thrives in the tight, dark and difficult places where real life happens every day.
The Spirit flooded my heart and mind with words of hope that I otherwise would not have had IF I had not chosen to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee and endure that “necessary evil” called “Good and Evil: A Christian Perspective On Suffering.” God knew I would be facing a hurting family, a hurting church, a hurting community and a hurting school that urgently needed to know there is still Good News in the middle of tragedy. On the day of that funeral, the funeral home chapel was full, as were all their parlors, the halls and anywhere a person could squeeze in to stand. Fortunately the Fire Marshall wasn’t there because that building had exceeded it’s maximum occupancy rating.
Looking back, I now see that God’s gracious presence and plan was already setting me up for even more. Now I am looking for those signs, those moments that may not seem to be important to me or most and may even feel like a necessary evil, for I know that God is not finished with me and has much more to teach me. Right now I’m thinking about Romans 8:28 and from The Message it goes like this:
He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
It is inevitable that living in a church-centered world we will miss one of God’s road signs in this Kingdom Journey. The church-centered world and message will disappoint us because it is built around and upon human effort and human personalities. But when we live in the Kingdom-Centered Good News, God is prepared for what lies ahead and is preparing us for those moments. John Wesley calls this part of the nature of God’s grace Prevenient. Prevenient is a big theological word like mahogany. It comes from the Latin word that means “to go before”.
God is going before, ahead of you, and along your journey He has some well placed signs for you. They may not make sense to you at the time, and may even seem like a necessary evil. Just don’t miss them! People, things and events are some of the means God uses to bring us into the life that is much bigger and better than we ever imaged. Don’t give up, and don’t miss a sign, because…..
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
(Philippians 1:6 from The Message)
Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way God loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him, by becoming Great in the Kingdom of God!