Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:31-35)
Dear family, I am preparing to share my story this morning at the 2012 Eufaula Kingdom Summit. Perhaps what is coming to your mind is an auditorium, numbers of people, a PA system and a keynote speaker. The truth is, this is just a big name ( a facetious one I made up) for a little gathering. We are just eight guys who have intentionally pulled off the busy freeway of life and ministry. We have downshifted into a gear where we are no longer just a blur to each other. Even though the venue is small, it feels big to me.
In light of verses 34 and 35, it’s a wonder our ministerial yardsticks are laid out in people numbers on one side and dollars on the other. (Oh yes, good evangelical ministries also have a souls saved yardstick.) However, if you are a leader, you will eventually be asked the following questions: “How many people have you got coming out?” “What does your budget look like (especially missions)?” To clarify: these are not the questions we are asking today at the Eufaula Kingdom Summit.
The simple premise of this retreat was to create a safe space for men to be themselves and hopefully feel comfortable enough to tell their stories. We didn’t come to fix each other up. We just came to identify and affirm the master builder’s handiwork in each other’s lives. Amazingly, without a single prepared message from the Bible, without a worship center or a bulletin, without any titled religious professional presiding, the Spirit has been moving—drawing us toward each other and toward the Father.
When the conventional yardsticks are left at home, people are free to relate to each other differently. I feel privileged to be a part of something that may resemble those New Testament gatherings where each person had something to contribute, where words of encouragement were given to build each other up, where the obligation of leading and teaching were shared. For the purposes of this gathering we will give each other permission to “Be yourself, tell your story because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” (That sentence is not in the Bible; it is a Jack Taylorism – the spiritual father who inspired this gathering. In fact, he would be leading this retreat had he not crashed an ATV and injured himself.)
I believe that gathering, as we have in Jesus’ name, ultimately makes a contribution to the structure God is building. As living stones, our size, our angularity, and certainly our degree of hardness vary. Yet, with sufficient differences to split eight churches, we are enjoying an edifying and civil give-and-take, which is bringing clarity as to what manner of stones we are. I believe we will depart later today with a better understanding of how we are to fit into the larger structure God is building.
The Master Builder has positioned us strategically in our relationships to the stones around us. His love will ultimately prove to be the mortar holding us together. We will not always be independent piles of dissimilar rock. A Master Architect has conceived of a structure which includes us all. By God’s astonishing grace, we will one day find ourselves polished and fitted together to people we had mislabeled. We will have been glued side-to-side to souls we may have deemed offensive. One of the great wonders of God’s kingdom will be the glorious structure He has built with us—such raw and questionable material. It is good to recall that we are the habitation of God and, for a time, will be (individually and collectively) under construction.
Our group is from different generations, backgrounds, experiences, and theologies. Upon arrival (because of our flawed yardsticks), we may have seen each other as unlikely stones. However, as we intentionally drew near, apart from our busy and more familiar contexts, we gave love a chance. We listened to each other, discovering the unique ways God has been transforming us from inert stones into living stones. All we have done is create a safe space by listening to each other describe how Father has been building. Our joint-exploration into God’s love is proving to be a powerful way of being together—something worth replicating.
The Message quotes Jesus saying, “You are going to look high and low for me.” Since 1976, I too have looked high and low for Jesus. I had followed but I hadn’t found. To clarify, what I didn’t find was the Jesus I had preferred or the one I had anticipated. He didn’t save that business I claimed would not fail (or the two I prayed would not). He didn’t automatically heal people, including me, when I asked. He didn’t prevent those church schisms. He didn’t offer any quick fixes to my relationship disasters. He didn’t quickly lead me out of my vocational box canyons. He didn’t speak to me in the prophetically acceptable ways considered to be the gold standard by my tribe. He didn’t overwhelm me by His Spirit in ways my immediate co-laborers recognized as His authentic presence. So…I quit looking for Jesus around 2010.
I am still seeking the kingdom, but In the Middle with Mystery is an account of the hope within me, which I attribute to having ceased looking high and low for Jesus. The Blue Book led me to a quiet place where I have made a habit of not looking for Him. The friends God has given me are also places I regularly quit looking for Him because I have found, in these places (and all places), Jesus is, and has always been, waiting for me. Looking for something you already have is a tragic waste of energy and a certain pathway to disillusionment.
Holy Spirit, we acknowledge Your rightful place in the center of our beings and our gatherings. We give You continual permission to fulfill Your mission through us of drawing men toward You and toward each other. May they see You preparing us and fitting us together so that all men may see and believe. Help us to make time and space for the relationships You have given us. May Your love bear fruit in us for Your kingdom. Father, please show us the off ramp. Amen.