December 11, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: A Couple of Surprising Encouragements

Lily Pads (2014)

Monday with Michael Spencer
A Couple of Surprising Encouragements

Today, I offer a couple of stories about the grace that’s all around us, that appears in small ways, and might appear more often if we prayed and took notice of where Jesus said the Kingdom appears.

I.

On Thursday, almost everyone I work with was at a waterpark about an hour away, including my family. I opted to stay home and get work done, as school is about to start and I am way behind on several projects that have to be completed soon.

While the entire staff is gone, a volunteer group from one of our supporting churches comes and does whatever needs to be done in order to keep everything safe and running in the absence of all the support staff. These are people who come a very long way just to do a servant ministry on this one day.

So I was on campus and had to go to the main office for a moment, and outside that building was one man from this group, enjoying the beauty of the day on our nearly deserted campus. I passed him going in and spoke briefly, and on my way out I did the same. He was friendly, but it was all small talk.

So as I approached my car across the street from the bench where he was sitting in the yard, he says, “I like that Internet Monk web site.”

Now, a bit of a detour. I’m not the Internet Monk around here. In fact, while I know a lot of my co-workers read the site, not all do so in a supportive way. So not only do I never mention it, I really make an effort to completely keep it under the radar as much as possible.

But it’s important to know that a good bit of what I do hear is from those few who are offended by something I say. And that has caused me endless hours of stress and confusion over whether I should stop writing or not. My choice, obviously, is to keep writing, because God has given me hundreds of thousands of readers and what happens at this site is, if my mail is accurate, overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve decided that God made me who I am: a communicator and a writer. I can be a better one in my context, but I won’t ever cease to be one.

But I just never know what someone who is a supporter of our ministry thinks, because it’s the nature of things that it’s the criticism that is brought to my attention.

So here sits this Baptist man, a middle aged deacon, and I didn’t even know he knew my name. And he wants to say to me that he, for one, likes this web site and likes what I write.

I turned around and was silent for a moment, then I said “Well, thank you very much. It’s good to hear that.”

He walked toward me and said, “I’ve had some Bible questions I wanted to ask you….” and away we went on the witch at Endor.

I needed that.

II.

My wife was at work, and the pastor of the local Baptist church came by to talk print shop business.

Being a pastor, the conversation turned to church, and he said “I know you’re going through a transition right now, and I wanted to give you something.”

Background: My wife has been an important part of our local Baptist church. Played the piano for services when asked. Played piano for choir rehearsals a lot. Sang in the choir. She’s loved and liked by the staff and people.

Knowing that they now know she’s going to the Roman Catholic Church, and knowing that I’m deeply struggling with it as a husband and a minister, it’s been difficult for her to know how people feel about her. Especially the pastor. (These are Southern Baptists, who aren’t exactly famous for ecumenical fervor.)

So she was expecting an anti-Catholic tract or some sort of Protestant apologetic book. She’s had some minor brushes with unfriendly comments already from some who attend the church.

He held out to her a crucifix. An older one from its look. A gift for her.

“My step-father was a Catholic, and this belonged to him. I thought you would appreciate it.”

And then he offered to come by and pray with us anytime, and to be pastor to our family in this unusual situation.

My list of people who have responded to all of this with any measure of simple Christian compassion had five names on it. Now I’ll be adding a sixth.

• • •

There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time.

As I’ve learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by.

Comments

  1. What a lovely thing…

    My list of people who have responded to all of this with any measure of simple Christian compassion had five names on it. Now I’ll be adding a sixth.

    Tiny, human, interactions make all the difference.

  2. Robert F says:

    Being able to interact with other people with simple human decency and empathy, and interest, goes a long way in the process that we like to piously call sanctification. Taken to its utmost, it may go all the way.

  3. This is a reminder to me of a basic life principle that hardly gets taught and mostly goes unrecognized. If we are genuine and remain true to our calling as best we can decipher it, while being willing to pay the price that always comes with that, life freely brings us into communion with what we need. The right people. The right books. The right encouragement. The right stop signs. Whatever it may be, He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Well said. God is faithful in the small things, which build to carry the big one things.

      • +1, both Chris and Ron.

        “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-30, The Message)

    • Okay, good.

      Just let’s not build this into a system, where we say those who know the technique thrive, while anyone else is out of luck until and unless they grow in knowledge/proficiency, mastery, of the technique. Grace cannot be captured, managed, or mastered by any system; and there are those (many) who cannot learn to balance on the “unforced rhythms of grace”, but only be limply carried by it.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        You’re correct. The inevitable tendency is to codify and create dogma, then perhaps market and monetize.

        • The inevitable tendency is to codify and create dogma, then perhaps market and monetize.

          The trajectory of religion from the beginning of time.

        • But what are we thinky type folks supposed to do if we can’t codify and dogmatize? Just being a kind person is BOOOORRRRIING… 😉

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Yeah, it can easily flip over to “successful happy person found their ‘calling’ and the other guy failed to do so”. When maybe the other guy got screwed over and knocked down.

        The causative correlation of effort|wisdom|endurance|virtue to results is a loose one. And not few are those who succeeded with little or any of the former.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> “Grace cannot be captured, managed, or mastered by any system…”

        Amen.

        At a “leadership” meeting a few years ago, our pastor showed a video documentary about the revival that took place at Ashbury College in 1970 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qOqitIKUNs – very good, interesting account). Within a month, our worship pastor, at a different “leadership” meeting, showed us the Muscle Shoals documentary (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2492916/ – also excellent) which talks about how this a “Podunk” music studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, became a magnet for an amazingly diverse group of music artists.

        And all I could think as I watched both of these movies and heard what our pastors were saying was, “They’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle. They’re hoping to duplicate a ‘magic’ that happens only organically. They’re trying to force the Holy Spirit to do something significant like this.”

        As you say, Robert, “grace” like that can’t be captured, managed or mastered by any system. And the more we attempt to, I believe the further we get from it. For instance, my pastor has gotten increasingly fussy (my opinion) about things, mainly because I think he’s annoyed that no one has stepped up to make “magic” happen.

        • Rick Ro,
          You may be correct about trying to duplicate something the Holy Spirit did. That is, I think, a normal reaction to something good, but isn’t the way God seems to work. I was at Asbury College in 1970. There had been an outbreak or two of revival back in 1950’s. People who were there then kept wanting God to repeat Himself. He hadn’t done so. In 1969-70 there were some major upheavals within the campus community.that left Christian friends on opposite sides. Healing was greatly needed. There were students praying together (not widely known about) for God to work. In a regularly scheduled Tuesday morning chapel service in February in Hughes Auditorium the scheduled speaker announce that instead of speaking he would invite studens to come to the pulpit to share what God was doing in their lives. As studenets shared a lie of students formed to come and speak. As others listened, people began going to the altar rail to pray. Then they would get up and get in line to tell what God had done in them.

          As time went on the sharing went on, interspersed with music, both solo/small group and lots of congregational singing. Those who shared were students, faculty, and townspeople. Print and broadcast news covered the story. One evening news host from nearby Lexington (KY) asked viewers to stop what they were doing as the news program was on and pay attention to the story. The revival spread across the street to Asbury Theological Seminary, a separate school fro Asbury College. As word went out people arrived from all over the are, student teams were sent out to share at churches and other college campuses.

          In the meantime the service in Hughes went on (with no preaching) with the cycle pf prayer, sharing, and music non-stop around- the- clock through the following Tuesday with regular gatherings through the remainder of the school year. Classes resumed (they had been suspended for a week) and life returned to not-the-same-normal.

          God has moved again through the years at Asbury, but not in a repeat of 1970. I’ve seen Him work in local churches. I learned that we must pray for Him to move, but it is not our place to prescribe just how or when He will. The Holy Spirit blows when and where and how He will.

  4. Unexpected kindness and compassion. Kinda like Jesus.

    • Christiane says:

      +1

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Yep.

      Sometimes the torrent of noisome negativity gets me really down. And along comes some “random” person who appreciates things. Or I see a message in my INBOX and think “why is that person writing me?” and it is a friendly supportive message sent unbidden.

      It isn’t my nature but I take from that to try to say those things and send those messages when something is good, or I see someone say something that requires courage to say. I know that it’s important to do so, although I can never see or know what happens to it.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Can you imagine, I mean TRULY imagine, what a surprise the adulterous woman had when Jesus moved into her world? Here’s a day that has gone from bad (sleeping with whoever), to worse (getting caught), to WORSE (about to be stoned)…

        And along comes Jesus. Unexpected kindness and compassion on the worst day (and what was on the way to being the LAST day) of her life.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          No doubt. She remembered that day her entire life.

        • Great point!
          Forgiven much loves much. She probably ended up being one of the kindest people in town.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            –> “She probably ended up being one of the kindest people in town.”

            I wonder if she even stayed there afterward!

  5. To me, this was at once both heartening and incredibly sad. Heartening because it is beautiful when followers of Jesus do the loving thing in a genuine way. That is what the kingdom looks like and it is indeed here among us.

    Sad because it was and still is (perhaps even more now) so rare. And that means the kingdom is harder and harder to find. Not just for those of us who believe, but also for those who have not yet discovered it.