I am a man who submits himself to the Word of God and I would live no other way. Despite a resolve to live according to God’s will, there are times when we come up against some passages of Scripture that baffle and bewilder us as they confront our personal worldview. Sometimes it is through our life experiences that we are led to raise further query in light of a particular verse. I muse on such things in the following a most remarkable encounter of undeserved favour that I found myself immersed in this weekend just gone.
As we prepare to move to Lille, it has been my privilege to preach at the Relational Mission churches in the East Kent Area (in November to Ashford & Tenterden; in December to Whitstable; in January to Broadstairs; and in February to Maidstone and still to come, Faversham on 24 February). It was this weekend just gone that I preached at The Vine church in Maidstone – a recent merger of The Beacon and Loose Baptist churches, which, from what I witnessed on Sunday, is progressing extremely well!
I arrived at the church on what was a wet, wintry day, yet warmed by my travelling company, that of my dear brother Caleb Simmons (FYI a superb illustrator & graphic designer – check it out!). We joined the pre-service prayer meeting and were impacted by the genuine sense of community and the presence of God as we gathered with several hundred people to worship. It was then my opportunity to preach from the story of Jonah and God’s missional call on his life; to then cast vision for our journey of obedience to plant a church in Lille. It is what happened when I finished, probably the most amazing demonstration of grace I have ever known (save for that of who Christ is for you & me)…I had no idea this was coming my way…
Tony Faulkner (one of the church elders) spoke to the congregation, encouraging people to come forward to shake me by the hand as a sign of their support for me, should they be so inclined. I thought this a nice touch and looked forward to one or two ambling forward to press palms as people dispersed to the teas & coffees. But no.
First of all, a man leapt forward brandishing a painting his wife had painted for us (a photo of which is featured at the top), with a message of “breakthrough”, that no matter what trials lay ahead, the grace of our God penetrates the hardest of barriers to fulfil his purposes!
Wow! This was quite a welcome surprise of a gift, and as I began to speak out my gratitude, a lady stole out from one of the rows carrying an envelope for me, which she gave me accompanied by words of hope for us. I soon began to realise that these brave forerunners were the trailblazers of a rapidly forming queue of people, armed with their gifts and their beaming faces! This encounter with such generosity started to overwhelm me as person after person, couple after couple, even child after child came forward with their card, gifts, drawings/paintings and words of affirmation. I soon ran out of tears.
Now don’t miss this: very little of this display of love was as a result of what had happened in the pulpit for the preceding 40mins. This was a pre-meditated, collective decision to give out of love for who a person is, not for what a person does. I had not earned it, I did not merit such a display of affection, yet Jesus puts it in the renewed heart of man to love his fellow man with the same love that Jesus loves us; unconditionally and extravagantly!!
I departed from Maidstone a more-than-blessed man! A box full of almost 50 hand-written cards, letters and drawings/paintings (some containing financial gifts) and other gifts as well. Georgina & I cried with joy for the rest of the afternoon and have not stopped talking about it since:
This is what it is to be on mission together as churches through genuine relationship. It demonstrates the indescribable generosity of our heavenly Father. I love you Dad!!!
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35 ESV)
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1 ESV)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)