We collapsed in our room after the first full day, overflowing with gratitude for being a part of such a wonderful group of Christ-followers. This group can laugh at itself, and just as quickly move into praying for the sick, weeping with those in pain, and being a friend to the friendless. They will have to kick me out…and even then, I would probably show up at the gatherings.
This reminds me of a story. When I was a contractor, many, many years ago, we built an education wing onto a Methodist Church, a ways outside of the small town I was raised in. We built an amazing courtyard for fellowship that was graced with huge cedar beams, skylights, and huge planters where beautiful flowers would join the fried chicken in contributing to the sweet aroma of southern living. The educational wing was all brick. We were on a tight schedule to complete it, and I was pushing the masonry contractor to pick up the pace. In the midst of this, one brick layer was notoriously late to work, or on many days, wouldn’t even show up. The owner of the company fired him. But the next day he was back, on the scaffold, laying brick. I happened to walk up when this exchange occurred: Boss to fired brick layer – “I thought I fired you. Get down from there, and go home. You’re fired.” The brick layer kept on working. “Didn’t I tell you to leave? Get down from there and leave!” Eventually the tardy brick layer turned around, grinned sheepishly, and said, “Man, I can’t afford to be fired.” He then turned around and went back to work. I just laughed and walked off. A few days later I asked the masonry contractor what he did about the inconsistent but persistent help. He said, “What could I do? He worked the rest of the week though I fired him every day. I had to pay him!”
So it would be with me. They would have to let me back in!
On Wednesday morning we arrived at the church to Annabeth Morgan and Jeremiah Carlson leading us in worship. That girl can sing! It was wonderful. After some announcements, video clips, and such, Dianne Leman was introduced. Dianne pastors a church, along with her husband Happy (that’s right, Happy…and he has the little smirk on his face to back that name up). She began, as only a mother can, with a metaphor of “letting the kids out of the car seat.” She emphasized living in the “Radical Center” between the overlapping circles of being Theologically Thoughtful, Culturally Relevant, and Spiritually Powerful. She said, “Maybe we would see more of the ‘already’ if we ‘let the kids out of the car seat.'” Her sermon seemed to build steam with each line. Something was breaking lose! She then called her kids on to the stage (a proud mother indeed!), and each one shared about their heritage as Vineyard kids, and what they wanted to see, and experience. The rumblings of God’s presence was building beneath the waters like a rip current, about to sweep us in another direction, that if we fought it, we would surely be fighting God. Each of Hap & Dianne’s grown children helped to increase the pull of the Kingdom. As J Leman, 27-year old former Carolina Panther, grabbed the microphone, it was evident that the swell had arrived (a term we surfers use to declare what we had been waiting for). His longhair waving as he hunched over in passion declaring to this gathering of leaders, “You guys 50 and older have seen this stuff…I haven’t! Let me see the stuff!” This young prophet began tearing our hearts as only a dear son could to his fathers and mothers of the Movement to which he had been born. With teary passion he appealed to us, then with the timing of a seasoned comedian, he would just as easily say something so funny that our tears of conviction quickly turned to laughter. He was in the zone. That place where God uses you beyond, sometimes despite, your own abilities and inabilities.
I do not remember J or Dianne giving an altar call, or any call to come down for ministry. Maybe it was given, all I remember were the hundreds that flooded the front (including my wife who zipped past me like a car on the interstate). There was weeping, loud weeping; cries, a calling out to God to help us let our kids out of the car seat. Release the church! We have to admit that many of us have crawled back into one, silly as that picture seems. Unbuckle, crawl out, “the meat is in the street.”
I could get only half the way down, the front was so crowded. So, I stood in the aisle, crying out to God to help me get out of my safe, childlike seat, as well as release others. Family sickness, church hurt, maybe even some resentment had latched the straps tightly to my life. It was time to grow up. A grown man looks silly in a child seat. But it does feel safer, doesn’t it? I felt a light touch on my shoulder and a young man, maybe 25 or so, asked how he could pray for me. This kind, baby-faced, youth pastor from Mississippi, started asking God to touch my life. I wept. Probably not as profusely as I felt, but at least the dry faucet of my emotions was cracked open, and the sweet water of life trickled out. It was, I think, the highlight of the conference as far as the Spirit’s dealing with us.
The afternoon was spent on the grounds of the church with a picnic. We gathered with a few of our churches in a room to meet and greet some of our new friends from Virginia and Maryland. Our region is about to change from the Southeast, to the Mid-Atlantic. It will now be a little slither of GA, SC, NC, VA, and Maryland. Our host, Joel, was a very wonderful young pastor who just wanted us to start making connections now before the big change occurs. It was a great time together. We had the rest of the evening off.
Many of us were staying at the same hotel, so we gathered around the pool for a swim, and fellowship. Karen and I hung with dear friends Thor & Bonnie. Later we went to dinner together and enjoyed a fitting end to a wonderful day.
More to come in Version 1.3, as the conference comes to a close…