Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Unexpected Results

Today's Throwback Thursday takes me back almost exactly 15 years, to 1999 and a crazy time in my life. I was struggling with my work at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee, having been working with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named for a couple of months. I was adrift and searching for a new job. Months earlier I had agreed to a speaking engagement that now seemed a bit daunting. Having been away from the Society of Friends and North Carolina for 5 years, I was asked to return to NC to speak at Young Friends Yearly Meeting, a statewide gathering of middle and high school aged Quakers. Going home is always a little scary, but I would be riding back into town like a returning hero. What could go wrong? It turned out to be an amazing weekend- but in ways that were totally unexpected!

I planned to take a group of students from FUMC-K with me to Guilford College for the 5-day event, but God had other plans. The weekend before we were to leave on a Wednesday, my leg was bitten by a Brown Recluse spider, and it turned purple and blew up like zeppelin. I was able to make the trip, but unable to drive, so I went by plane and had to leave the youth at home. My spirits were dampened yet again, as I had hoped to share this event with these people who had been so important in my life. In truth, I should not have gone either. My leg was a mess, my head was a mess, and just walking was difficult. But there was a place to catch...

The first few days are just a blur in my memory. I remember getting to play guitar with Martha Ratledge Farlow for the adult Yearly Meeting session honoring Quaker Lake. I remember speaking and leading music for the Young Friends, and feeling terribly uninspired about my performance. Nothing felt right or seemed right, and it felt like I was disappointing those who were counting on me. On the final night of the event, I had been asked to speak at a gathering of Friends at a meetinghouse in western NC. All of the youth and adults from the Yearly Meeting sessions had been bused in, plus there were numerous other adults joining us as well. It would be a chance to say important things, to inspire a gathering of people that I cared about very deeply. I had prayed and struggled over what to say to this gathering for weeks in advance, and now it was show time.

Quakers are a remarkable group, full of tremendous spiritual depth and historical significance. They are also a fiercely independent group, and it is often difficult to get two Quakers to agree on anything. Tradition is not only an important part of who Friends are, it is often the battlefield on which heated discussions take place. I had decided to try and nudge this group towards the 21st century. I spoke of being Roaring Lambs, of allowing our lives to speak to others in the name of Jesus at work, on the ballfields and in our communities. I spoke of being willing to take risks and to quit being a denomination that insisted of protecting the past when it might be limiting the future. I told the story of the confident Polish generals in World War II who sent their strongest battalions to the border to face down the invading Germans, fully expecting that they would win the day. The Polish soldiers- on horseback- met their enemy head on. The Germans- in tanks- rolled past them and conquered Poland. I wanted these friends to realize that regardless of history and tradition, Quakers could not ride into the new millenia on horses while the world ploughed ahead with tanks. The message of Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever. How we communicate and deliver that message has to evolve, morph and change so that it reaches the ears of those who need to hear it. Many Friends, young and old, stood in the open worship that followed to speak to the truth of what I had said, and the worship was quite deep and emotional that night. God was present, and the Holy Spirit was speaking to us all.

In the hours, weeks and months that followed I was told over and over again how God had used me that night. The audio tapes of my message became popular items, and old friends I had not seen in years contacted me to let me know how much they appreciated the things that message. So much of my time that week was spent trying to figure out why God would allow that spider to bite me. There was much wasted time feeling sorry for myself that things were not going as planned. But in the end, God used the one thing I turned completely over to Him to His glory and helped me understand why I had been called back to NC in the first place. We should never forget this basic truth- God is good all the time...

So the event that almost didn't happen became one of the signature events of my entire ministry. Who knew? Besides God, I mean...

Because of Jesus,

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