Well today at The Gathering took an unplanned turn for me. On my way in I found out that my wife, Paula had been seriously injured in the process of setting up, which what she does every Sunday morning without fail. And she is incredibly great at it. One of the signs being erected was dropped on her toe and made a large gash on the top of her foot. She was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital. I learned all of this as I was arriving to get ready for the service.
I have to tell you that, for me, getting ready to teach God’s word to God’s people as an act of worship is an incredibly serious matter. I’ve learned over the years that I need quiet to pray and to enter into this moment, so I can be at the absolute best. I figure this: When you go in for surgery on a Monday morning, you want your surgeon at his best. When you go to the dentist for a root canal, you want them at their best. And when you come to a worship experience with God’s people, you want your pastor at his absolute best. And I’ve learned over the years that being alone, praying, studying and really preparing myself for that moment is what everyone who comes to The Gathering deserves.
I’ve taken, in the past, a lot of criticism for not being out and shaking hands and meeting people. But I have found that sacred moment just before speaking is to be guarded at all costs because I know that a lot hangs in the balance. I prepare as though some people will be there for the first time and maybe only time, and others may be there for the last time. There’s always a sense of urgency. So you can imagine how distracted I was when I realized that the love of my life, the greatest person in my life, the one woman who has saved me in every way a man can be saved, was at the emergency room and I did not know the full extent of her injury. Not being able to go be with her and having to stay fully focused on the moment was a great spiritual challenge.
On top of that today, I was talking about a very difficult subject, and that is: What’s so cool about being Christian? To really talk about the change that happens in the heart, to really look at the evidences beyond just rule-keeping and doing what we ought to do, to go to the heart of the matter of how God changes our heart and what the process and benefits of that are.
As I was trying to pray and gather through the first service, it was a real struggle for me. I felt as though I was a little scattered and coming in and out. I wanted to say so much and serve the great men and women who had come to The Gathering as best I could. When I got to the last benefit or evidence of the Jesus life, I talked about the hunger that changes in the life and the heart of the person who follows Christ. I talked about drying up the hunger for pornography, rather than just trying to avoid it; to dry up the hunger for anger, or rage, or selfishness, or dishonesty, rather than just trying to restrain myself. To not “ought to love my wife,” but to want to love my wife, to not ought to love God and pray, but to want to, to hunger for it more than I hunger for life.
And yet, again, God seemed to show up. In the second service I was a little more focused, but still, in the back of my mind, concerned about the one whose love has changed my life. At the end of the day at The Gathering, God showed up.
I love being around gracious people. At the end of the service I prayed with several people: one lady came up and related that her young, 24 year-old daughter now has cancer, no insurance, and has to stand in line for treatment, an older gentleman who has cancer and has been given no hope for recovery, a lady whose husband walked out on her, others who have been physically or verbally abused, people who have lost their jobs. And on the other side of the spectrum: new babies, new couples, new lives, and new careers all mixed in the day’s service.
That’s the church of Jesus Christ – the good, the bad, the up, the down, the realness of life mixed in that sacred moment where God shows up and gives the theme of grace, the theme of redemption.
What a privilege it is today to be able to be back at home now with my wife with 6 stitches in her foot, resting in our own home – safe. Injured to be sure, but yea God for His protection. It’s good to know that I know the heart of God, that I can trust His love and follow wherever He leads me. And who knew that today as we went to The Gathering that it would lead Paula to the emergency room and me to stand and speak in the absence of the most important person in my life.
Bottom line: I hope you know the kind of love that comes from a good, godly woman. And ladies, I hope you know the love of a man who honors Christ by honoring you, by loving you, by cherishing you, by making you feel respected, beautiful, lovely, sexy, and wanted.
That’s the kind of love that God smiles on.