My experience at the Organic Church Greenhouse training in Long Beach this weekend had an unexpected (and welcome) side effect -- I found myself falling in love with the gospel again.
This renewed love affair with God's Good News has been sparking up ever since I turned my attention towards establishing the Vineyard Community Mission Network. But things definitely went to a new level this past weekend as I met and heard from several people who clearly and demonstrably love the gospel and believe in its power to change lives.
As a local church pastor, I had been consumed for so long with pastoral care and church life (no regrets, mind you, but true) that a singular passion for taking the gospel to folks who need to meet Jesus on their own turf had taken a back seat in my life. But, that is beginning to change thanks to the new commitment to God's mission that is at the heart of VCMN.
The people who inspired me this weekend ranged in age from a girl 11 years old to several people in their early 30's. One young man had formerly served in full-time pastoral ministry until he made the choice a few years ago to reshape his lifestyle in order to be available to a new call. This led to him take a job in construction and to delve into the underground music scene in San Diego. Before long, he and his wife were opening their lives and their time to the new relationships they were making with people who were not believers -- sharing meals, sharing interests and -- eventually -- sharing Jesus.
One of the folks they befriended was Leonard; a young man whose knuckles were tatooed with letters spelling the words "p-u-r-e e-v-i-l". Leonard also sported tatoos of two naked women on his forearms. A sign that things were changing for Leonard was when he spontaneously began to use a Sharpee pen to paint a sort of bikini covering over the delicate parts of his naked women tatoos in deference to his new friends. Leonard eventually gave his life to Jesus and began sharing Christ with others he knew. This became the basis of a new "church" made up of new disciples who were discovering life in Christ for the first time.
The young man telling us this story was neither boastful nor sensational. Indeed, his presentation was refreshingly matter-of-fact. But there was no missing the deep love for the life-changing power of the gospel in what he shared. He was "the real deal".
The things I experienced at this training quietly affirmed that my own decisions to reshape my life and ministry hold promise if I maintain the courage to follow through. I found myself inspired to not only open my own life and time up to people who need to meet Jesus, but also to influence the people I lead to do the same -- in ways, of course, that are meaningful to them.
One of the central messages I heard this weekend continues to resound within me: our focus should be on generously sowing God's gospel seed in good soil rather than on "trying" to make plants grow. The latter, we were reminded, is something only God can do.