Back in the late seventies and early eighties I pastored Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort worth Texas for a number of years. Among the blessings of that time was the fact that several couples were in our fellowship while they were students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were part of an early move of God in all of our lives at that time in that church that can only be described as profound for us all.
In the ensuing years they've married, raised children, had careers, been missionaries, built businesses, pastored churches, and generally ministered in the grace of God in times and circumstances that would take a myriad of adjectives to describe. Some of those adjectives would be joyful, exciting, growing, successful, unbelievable, anointed, incredible, and any other positive word you can imagine.
But those same couples, for the sake of reality and honesty, would have to and did, in fact, use other words to describe their journey in the grace of God together. Words like struggle, failure, weakness, depression, control, manipulation, and self-pity were also necessary to describe the journey of life they've experienced.
Where did this kind of sharing happen? Well, a retreat just finished at the Billy Graham Training Center called "The Cove" in Asheville North Carolina involved a number of those couples. Some of them Mary and I had not seen in the intervening thirty years. But with brutal honesty we all shared our journey of grace.
It was called a reunion retreat for obvious reasons. It was put together by a few of those couples, with others invited to come. Our purpose was so Mary and I could tell them how we are different now as opposed to those Southcliff days and why we're different. Then, generally, to fill them in on our view of God and His grace as we see and experience Him now compared to then. We did just that.
What transpired was greater than anything I could have conceived. In fact, I was a bit apprehensive honestly, as Mary and I are SO different in our understanding of grace and even the meaning of much of the text of scripture.
My views about so many things have changed not because the scriptures have changed, but because my understanding about what they said was so lacking back then.
My views back then, I'm sad to say, were so steeped in tradition and Baptist culture, if not American culture, it was incredible. This is not to say there wasn't grace and a move of God then. There was in His Providence. It is to say, however, that life is a journey of growth and grace with greater understanding.
I have subsequently under gone an extensive, even exhaustive study, for myself, [as has Mary] about so many texts and truths and have come away REALLY different in my belief system, that I now wondered if they would be able to handle that!
Would you like for me to tell you whether they were able to handle it? They were different too. They had learned about grace in a deeper fashion too. Their journey had, in fact, brought some of them to a place they wondered if Mary and I would be able to handle where they had come to in their lives. Some of them had as many misgivings as we did. So here is how we wound up as a group together.
We laughed, cried, hugged, shared, confessed, revealed, forgave, rejoiced, debated, disagreed, loved, embraced, reveled, and celebrated one another the entire four days.
Then we talked as people who honestly admitted having failed and succeeded, grown and diminished, changed and all too often remained the same, understood and misunderstood, just like all the other paradoxical Kingdom people who are on a journey and adventure of discovering the grace of God in ways never before seen.
The difference was we had found a safe place to be honest about it all. That place was with each other with all our differences and stories. The safety was because our unity was not our belief system, but our Lord and an expression of grace that we had found in Him.
I will conclude this post by simply saying it this way...we experienced Kingdom living. We experienced CHURCH. More later.