Saturday, September 3, 2011

How He Loves

(April, 2010)

I have been in a far country. Alone. Disparate. Apart from God. The hows and whys will illuminate themselves in due time, in other stories that I tell. This story will be about my return.

I must tell you more parts than you will think you need to know but every bit is a brush stroke in a much bigger picture. The players, the timing, the stage are all essential elements. And so, for dramatic effect, I will begin by setting the stage.

The church service that I attend is held in our Community Life Center, essentially a gymnasium. This is the format for our service: piped-in music pre-service; congregation sings four or five worship songs led by the live band; prayer; offering, through which the band plays; and then we sing one more song before the message. Sometimes, instead, one of the band members will perform a solo. There is rarely, rarely a deviation from this format.

Here’s the story: The Bargain Box is a thrift shop and a ministry of my church. I have been volunteering there for quite a few years, believing that this is where I’m serving God by serving others. In truth, however, I’ve felt myself shift from passion to obligation here as in so many aspects of my personal, spiritual life. Thank God for the friends I’ve made through this ministry because so many weeks ago, one of those friends gave me a handful of cds. ("So many weeks ago." Fail not to consider the timing as this unfolds.) The collection slid around in my truck’s console for several days before I, without deliberation, inserted one into my cd player. It turned out to be a sermon that I enjoyed enough to listen to for at least a time-and-a-half. Then just as impulsively and just as thoughtlessly, I changed the cd. This one was full of worship music, most that I hadn’t heard before, and all of which stirred me. But there was a particular song that stirred my soul to tears.

I started listening to that song over and over again. I started having conversations with people about it. I posted the video to my facebook page. Hearing the song seemed to undo something within me, some reservation that I’d had about trying to find my way back home, perhaps.

Pause here for just a moment. It’s critical for you to understand that catharsis had begun for me. And just days after my "discovery" of this song, as my husband and I were walking into church, I was trying to air some of this out with him, explaining that I was feeling inept as any sort of witness in the world. Having felt a lack of communion with God for so long, I’d nearly forgotten how to express His love toward others. Terry did his best to encourage me but God one-upped him. As we walked into the CLC, my song was playing over the audio system. Pause again.

For the first part of the service I was awe-stricken, wondering if God had actually just spoken to me. It has seemed a very long time and I have lost a lot of confidence. So I started to daydream ... I thought, "If God’s really speaking to me, then the band will sing that song today. Maybe it will even be the offertory song. Wouldn’t that be a dream-come-true?" As you can probably guess, it was not a dream-come true. But as the service ended and I collected my thoughts, I knew two things: 1)I don’t get to decide how God speaks to me. 2)It would be foolish to deny what actually had happened as we’d walked in that day.

Today, one week later, I was a little later to church than usual so I have no idea what was played before the service started. But our worship time was cut short. We sang maybe two songs. We had the offering. And then the band exited the stage.

Two young people came out - wait! this is different - to read from scripture, Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Prodigal Son. (This is the one about the kid that gets his dad’s goods, goes away to squander everything he’s been given, and then returns to grovel. Only his dad welcomes him with open, loving arms.) And then they exited the stage.

And then ... on the big screen appeared a picture of a tree.

And I started to hear a now-familiar tune coming through the audio system.

And then, these words:

"He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight
of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware
Of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me."

You have the story and the scene. You even have the soundtrack. Now step back. Blurry the eyes as if you’re looking at one of those magic pictures. This is what I hope you’ll see: singing and dancing were heard on the day the prodigal son went home. God, Himself, sang me home today.

And now ... the rest of the story.

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