Monday, April 27, 2009

You Never Know

I value Jesus' disciples and potential disciples of all ages. From the very young, who, as potential disciples, need to see the love and acceptance of Christ as shown through the Church, to pre-teens who have made or may make a commitment to follow Christ, no matter what they may face in the future, to young men and women who have fought the good fight and lost a few battles, but still love Jesus with a passion, to people in mid-life crisis who are trying to figure out whether they really value Jesus and his Kingdom more than anything in this world, to the elderly who are trying to figure out how to serve Jesus in new ways, and every one in between.

A while back I had the privilege of worshiping with some of our teens from BCC in the passionate and energetic way that just seems to come natural to some of them (In all honesty, I'm just as passionate and energetic, when it comes to worship). This was fueled, of course, by the passionate and energetic worship that just seems to come natural to Steve Fee --worship leader at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA. Fee, as the band is known, is pretty hot in the Christian worship world right now, and is one of the latest contributors to the consortium of Christian worship hit-makers, known as the 268 Generation or Passion Worship Band. And, perhaps, more importantly, my kids love to rock out to his music in worship.

At one of the more solemn moments of the service that night, Steve talked about his experiences with the church as a young boy. I was surprised to find out that he grew up in Lakeland, FL (a few minutes from my home town of Lake Wales), and was raised in "the faith" at a small church where 20-30 worshipers gathered to sing the "old standards" each Sunday morning. I don't think he said anything about the make up of the congregation, but if it was anything like my experience growing up in a small church in central FL, I'm guessing that the majority of those worshipers were near retirement age. This was an awesome reminder that God uses little churches all across the globe to raise up servants who can minister to the world in the name of Christ. There was probably no more perfect congregation for Steve to grow up in--a place that God used to developed the faith, the undying loyalty to Christ, the sense of holiness in worship, the desire to challenge and encourage Jesus' followers, the humility, the sense that this God who we worship is worth everything we could give, not to mention the ability to sing praise to God in a way that's pleasing to the ear, that exuded from Steve that night.

I was also raised in "the faith" at a small (not 20-30 small, but small) church in central Florida, where white haired ladies nodded vigorously in agreement with the preacher and bald headed men led us in prayer with reverent, yet familiar tones. I love those men and women, who trained me to be a thoughtful, faithful, humble, joyful, mission-minded, servant-hearted, disciple of Jesus. There was probably no more perfect congregation for me to grow up in. Or, at least, that's how it seems.

I have many memories from that church that have impacted me in positive ways. But, lately, the most prevalent has been Mrs. Stanley and her flavored caramel rolls. I feel kind of bad about the fact that my brother, Drew, and I used to refer to her as the candy lady, but she never seemed to mind. Every Sunday after the service, as the saints hung around to extend hand shakes and make lunch plans, we would ask our mom for permission to go see the candy lady. We would make our way to Mrs. Stanley, give her a hug, oblige her with small talk, and hold out our hands, into which she would deposit one, sometimes two, Brach's Creme Filled Royals--raspberry and orange were my favorite, by far. Sometimes I believe that Mrs. Stanley's kindness may have done more to influence me to devote my life to Christ than all the Christian teen conferences, Christian youth events, and Christian summer camps combined. I am probably in ministry today because of people like her and my grandma Tompkins, and Mrs. Green, and Mr. & Mrs. Whitaker, and Mrs. Akers, and Olan Furnish, and Sadie Davis, and so many other people who's names are escaping me, but who's smiles and kindness I remember clearly. I probably became a minister/preacher/pastor because, secretly, I was hoping that the old ladies of the churches where I've served would have purses filled with Brach's Creme Filled Royals--if they do, they've hidden them well. Despite the fact that they've kept the candy to themselves, I can forgive them. I can forgive them when, out of the corner of my eye, I see them hugging my children, making small talk with them, handing them their take home papers, squatting down and inviting them to take hold of the prize in their hand.

So here's to the the small churches across the world, trying to figure out their place in the kingdom. These faithful followers of Jesus who meet regularly to study the Word of God, to extend smiles, handshakes, and hugs, to worship their God and savior, to make lunch plans, to collect funds in support of others who carry the Gospel across the world and in their own back yard, to encourage one another to view life with an eternal perspective, to remind one another that Jesus died to take away our sins, and to make announcements about the annual church picnic at the park; all the while, unwittingly, training up young men and women who will impact the world for Christ in ways that they could have never imagined. Those young men and women will use methods that would surely shock and worry their predecessors; they will violate some treasured traditions. But we are indebted to those faithful, loving saints who nurtured us in "the faith" in ways that we may never even know.

If you take anything away from this random meditation, I hope that it is the following advice: bring candy to church. Hand out that candy to Jesus' disciples and potential disciples of all ages. Do so with a smile, small talk, and a hug. You may never know what kind of impact you have on their lives. They may never know it either. Whether you attend a church 0f 20-30 or 17,000-17,010, God can use you to shape the character of his leaders for the next generation. You may be giving a Brach's Creme Filled Royal to the next Steve Fee; you never know!


Dan and Tammy said...

That was beautiful and insightful and I pray our children will be loved by "candy ladies" or "gum ladies"(that's what we called our lady at church...she passed out gum and quarters!). I pray that Elias, Jonah, Anna, & Elizabeth will be impacted by others in the church who love them and encourage them and who b/c of their compassion will allow our kids to see Jesus!
I love you Dan. Thanks for painting that beautiful picture.

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