Within Walking Distance

Well the third day of Engage is behind me now. Still the same wonderful crew. Still the same joy. We did personality and behavioral assessment stuff this morning and had a most fascinating afternoon exercise. I won’t go into many details now but it involved a sort of scavenger hunt in the city of Venice that sent two teams walking several miles and engaging people in conversation in the process. It was fun, though my team didn’t arrive back at the house first. This evening a few of us went to a local eatery for some R & R while I went with a few others to see Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and famous pier. It was a cool experience. Being a Friday night, the crowds were out en masse, as were the street performers. We walked past act after act, most (if not all) were struggling solo artists trying to share their art and sell a few CDs. It was a unique vibe. A street acrobat was entertaining a sizable crowd down 3rd Street, doing one-footed backflips for a few bucks. At the end of the pier, my friend and I got to converse with a fisherman, which was fun. He was from Las Vegas and, as he said, just fishing to relax and unwind (pun intended). I guess everyone needs something they can do to unwind. We live in such a wound-up society.

Personally, I cannot emphasize how much fun I’ve had with our group, candidates AND CA staff. Community is such a marvelous thing and, despite my previous thinking, it doesn’t take me a long time to build friendships in small groups any more. I used to have more trouble opening up about myself but those times are gone. My trip to Haiti last month and this experience has confirmed this change. Also, I’m seeing that while God has called (or compelled) each of us to different places from different backgrounds (and theologies), the Holy Spirit binds ALL in the Body of Christ. I have become over time increasingly convinced that we oft deny fellowship to brothers and sisters over the tackiest, stupidest things. Why can’t a young baptist mingle with a middle aged bible churchian? Why? Anyway, there is unity in the church when we decide to have unity with each other. I may not hold to the same teaching on communion as my brother or have the same model of church government but we are still brothers. And in God’s family, brothers need to be on speaking terms. It has been strange and yet refreshing to have a couple from a charismatic background and a gentleman from a baptist background in the same group as me, a man raised in a bible church. We come from vastly different backgrounds and our testimonies are way different but the same Spirit resides in us all. And we can laugh and fellowship and raise a glass over the joy we have in the grace of Jesus Christ. Grace. Oh man. When Hud McWilliams talked about grace yesterday… it hit us all. We each have been deeply affected by the grace of God and want to plant churches that reflect His grace. Grace binds us, too.

Tonight I’m revisiting the end of Mark 10, when Jesus heals a blind man on the road out of Jericho. Over the past two months I’ve been studying the Gospel of Mark. I hope to write a commentary on the gospel one day soon. Hope. That binds us, too. In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus was exiting Jericho to make his way up the 3,000-foot ascent to Jerusalem. A blind man, not from birth, cries out from the back of the crowd when he finds out Jesus is walking by. But his cries cannot be heard or, perhaps, Jesus heard them but chooses not to immediately respond. The people around him tell him to be quiet. Jesus stops, turns towards the man and tells his disciples (or the crowd) to bring the blind man forward. Suddenly, the wishy-washy crowd changes it tone towards the poor soul. “Take courage!” they say. “He is calling for you.” I don’t know who is speaking here, whether it is the disciples or some in the crowd. If it was the crowd, what happened that they would go from shushing him to being on his side? The flow. If Jesus paid attention, it’s important. As long as Jesus didn’t act, it wasn’t important. But what we often think is unimportant to God is often the thing He cares most about. And so the Lord engaged the man in conversation, the man believed in Jesus and the Savior healed him according to his faith. The formerly blind man started following Jesus.

Grace. The crowd did not display it towards the blind man but the Lord did. In our incarnational ministry (making the truth of Christ known in the way we live our lives), we need to be aware of our ability to emit the grace of God to those who desperately need it. I believe grace is the one concept that will completely transform lives in this modern society. When people who don’t know grace experience it, they immediately take notice. Now, they may not say anything at first but it sticks in their minds. The world does not know grace. God’s children do. It is a powerful tool in our witnessing arsenal. Show it. Use it. And watch God work.

— John

P.S. — tomorrow are our personal interviews with our “assessors.” Pray for us all to be calm and honest and teachable. These are important virtues.