A Seventh Vignette. How prophetic?
I will change gears with this vignette. Follow this, if you can: One of the facets of church culture that I did not list in my previous post, but one I have encountered more frequently than I can count, is that of the “church retreat” or the “weekend retreat.” The term “retreat” seems to have faded from church usage in recent years, but certainly all through the 1990’s it was a buzzword that never failed to attract enthusiasm.
This is a military term, is it not?
Now, I am no classic military guy. But my understanding is that “retreat” is something the army does when it is losing the battle. We fall back to a more defendable position, regroup, recalculate, and then recharge. And while the “church retreats” held on to a trace of that mentality, they seemed much more like a holiday break that did not fit in the big picture. Like as if the army being beaten were simply putting up a gone-on-vacation flag that the enemy was just supposed to honor, hold their positions, and wait for our side to come back and pick up where we left off after a holiday break. I mean we did not have “weekend retreats” without coffee and donuts – and depending how extravagant we could spring for, it might include room service, pool-side amenities, and possibly even a round of golf.
Let’s just say I was always a bit confused by the “church retreat.” And really, I always wondered when and where the church had ever led a church charge from which we might need to retreat! When had the church ever sent a raid on the gates of hell which Jesus said will not stand against it? Had the church ever sent out spies to report back the layout of the Promised Land we were sent to take? Weren’t we instead worried about being “relevant?”
I had never seen or heard of any of that. But we were in full retreat mode three or four times a year, it seemed. (And here I draw on a life of experience in dozens of churches from all over the western USA.)
But during the years 2004-2007, I was attending the Vandelia Church in Lubbock, Texas where I plainly saw the attack on the gates of hell. For a while, I even kept a blog on these adventures called Storming the Gates of Hell, because my Christian walk had become soooooooo exciting! The adventure of Christian living at Vandelia Church overwhelmed nearly every other church experience I had ever had, and I must say, “retreat” was the furthest thing from my mind.
One Sunday morning, I returned to the same Bible class I had led for a year previous to all this adventure. Our class was made up of the middle-class, middle-aged, stuffy, white people – some of the backbone people of the congregation. And on this particular Sunday morning, Agent D (one of the shepherds of the flock and leaders of the class (let’s call him Commander Agent D (CAD))), chose to give us all a pop-quiz. With Special Agent D (SAD) and I both present that morning, CAD read a list of 10 names from the Bible. And then asked a particularly poignant question: Can anyone tell me who these people are?
The whole class sat there smiling nervously. Every last one of us had read our Bibles numerous times. We were all deeply familiar with it through and through. I am not claiming any of us were Bible scholars, but we could have made a formidable team of Bible Trivia players – if such a thing existed. But this was a question that had the whole room stumped.
Then Commander Agent D said, “Okay… Now let me add two more names to the list: Caleb and Joshua. Now… can anyone tell me who these people are?”
Suddenly we all knew who Commander Agent D was talking about. Just by adding those two names to the question, he very powerfully opened up a story we were all familiar with already. But just when the moment was right, CAD went on to tell the class that Vandelia Church stood at the same place Israel stood in Numbers 13 and 14, and that among our group there were two men who had returned with the message: We can take this Promised Land! And CAD went on to say those men are [Special Agent D] and [Agent X].
Never mind that the people of God in the Vandelia Church have no idea today who the other ten men on the list were; never mind that Caleb and Joshua are memorable figures whose name recognition alone is powerful enough to unlock Bible lessons that touch the very heart of God’s people.
Here’s the most important aspect of this vignette:
Suddenly Vandelia Church saw herself as the Special Ops Force of Heaven arrayed against the forces of darkness, empowered by God to take the Promised Land and not cower in fear of the drug dealers, career criminals, gangs, and thugs shooting up the place or the poverty and hopelessness that greeted the children of the Vandelia Village every morning.
The pop-quiz on Commander Agent D’s lips and the question that unlocked it all was not mine. I did not see it coming. I failed the pop-quiz right along with all my comrades. I was just as stunned as any of them.
But here’s the thing: I walked out of that class that day COMPLETELY VALIDATED, if I thought I needed it, by the leadership of the church to take the battle to the very Gates of Hell! And if one thing is clear in reading Numbers 13 and 14, it is that NOW is NOT the time for “RETREAT!!!”
I call on Vandelia Church to listen to me now!
Pray. Pray for faith in the God who delivers you from Egypt. Ask him to grant you the faith, to help your unbelief. If you don’t, then you haven’t got a prayer. “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the neighborhood!” (I John 4:4).
I have recited SEVEN vignettes for you now FROM YOUR OWN STORY depicting what God does in your midst. This was not your engineering! Nor was it mine.
Neither you nor I would ever have dreamed up a knitting circle of prayer-warrior grannies that drug dealers would fear!
We have an opportunity here! We are battered and bruised, I know, but we are WINNING a battle that belongs to the LORD! Now is not the time to retreat; it is the time to ADVANCE! Quit looking at liabilities and other winds and waves, GET OUT OF THE BOAT AND DANCE! Meet your enemies for lunch, before whom God has prepared a table! (Psalm 23). Jesus already sent two men on a secret mission to prepare for the Passover feast (Mark 14:12-16), all that is missing is YOU!
You are the Body of Christ! You are empowered by the Spirit of God, not a budget! Not a political agenda or party! When Agent F got up and led your meditation last Sunday, he was inviting you to come stand where God is! Where God led him – he said. And yes. He is full of fear and trembling there! But you are the Body of Christ, not some other organization! You are not the 501c3 of God; you are the CHURCH OF CHRIST! And if you go where God led him, he will be in the company of Jesus there in the eye of the storm! And there is an apocalyptic party waiting for you there!