What if we took our cues from all the creation around us? In the epic novel, Wolf Hunt, by Ivailo Petrov we are given a description of what one character learned from his intimate relationship with all the creation around him: “He had cultivated senses and an inner sight for that life, he could see , hear, and sense the vines, trees, and grasses growing, blossoming, bearing fruit, and dying, only to be born again. Not only by day, but by night in his dreams he would witness the mystery of growth, and he knew that the mute plants were living creatures, divinely noble, the most noble creatures in this world, who grew, and came into being, and died in unrepenting silence, not complaining about the elements, not affronting anyone, not devouring their own fruit, immobile and drinking life from the depths of the earth, so as to pass it on to other living creatures.” What if we discovered the mystery of growth, a divine nobility, by producing fruit that we ourselves do not devour, but pass on to other living creatures? What would that look like? I know what it would look like.
This past Sunday Katie, Jude, Kaitlyn, and I wrapped up our “planned” deputation tour schedule at Shelbyville First Church of the Nazarene. We arrived for the first services to the greetings of Pastor Ron and Judy Dewitt, Curt Curry, Joyce Elliot, and so many others. It felt like being at a family gathering. I watched and experienced the interactions of this incredible church and just kept thinking how like a family function, this was with all the joking, jeering, encouragement, kindness, genuine concern, care, understanding, transparency, and generosity being passed around. It felt like home. A place where you know people really care about you, where people know you and support you. This goes way back for Katie and I. In fact, as I got up to speak, I could not help but think about the video that my father-in-law, Allan, insists on getting out on certain occasions to show visitors to his home. It is a video of Katie and I standing on that same platform at Shelbyville First Church of the Nazarene asking for their support for our first trip to Bulgaria. Here we were, almost ten years later, leaning on our family again.
The services were wonderful, with great music, prayers, and above all the gift of being surrounded and prayed over, blessed and sent. However, as treasured as the services were, the incredible words, conversations, and support that was shared before and after each service were just as wonderful. People like Curt and Audra Curry, who have been anchors of faith and encouragement in our lives on the East Tennessee District for as long as we can remember. Lori and Steven Ingle, who have served as Nazarene missionaries in New Zealand, and the Wade family, who I ministered with on a missions trip to Puerto Rice while serving on the ET district NYI Council, are such a gift from God to us. So many of these people have contributed to Christ’s work of shaping our lives for our calling. What a dream come true to continue to have the support of these wonderful people.
As we pulled out of the parking lot after lunch with Joyce and J.C. Elliot, I thought of that quote by Ivailo Petrov. This idea of seeing “divine nobility” in the life that produces fruit that gives life to others; producing fruit not for our own devouring. We have witnessed this divine nobility week in and week out over the past three months on deputation. We have feasted on the fruits of divine nobility in local churches. What a thing to behold the divinely noble church is!
Sunday night I pulled out my journal to reflect on our last three months of deputation. I immediately recalled a story I was told a couple of weeks ago about the Church of the Nazarene. I was watching a training video on the history of missions in the Church of the Nazarene. It noted how, at the height of the Great Depression, just when it made most sense to hoard, to protect, to close our firsts, and guard our resources, Nazarenes in the local churches of the United States gave over 1 million dollars to missions around the world. This came from the belief of God’s abundance and that we cannot be Christian unless we are missional Christians. So, the church poured out her treasures, in a time of incredible crisis, in a great act of cross-centered love! What a history! What divine nobility!
Well, I want to testify to the fact that this cross-centered foolish love, this divine nobility, this radical abundance, sacrifice, and missional identity is not just our history, it is our present! God called our family to surrender everything and accept the call to Bulgaria in the midst of a global pandemic. Being in the midst of such an economic, health, and social crisis might mean that it would make perfect sense to suspend the radical generosity, foolish cross-style love, and missional identity of our heritage and focus instead on ourselves. But it is in a crisis that the true character of a person and community come into focus. We have seen it focused. Let me tell you (because I am afraid it is not testified to enough) that the Church of the Nazarene is as radical, generous, loving, and missional as ever! We have seen her pour out all the treasures and heap generosity on her missionaries, thinking not of herself but putting first the needs of others, in the most Gospel centered ways. I am more in love with the church than ever! We have witnessed the Church in all of her divine nobility and she is something to behold!
Thanks be to God and to the faithfulness of the body of Christ. I will finish with some thoughts based in Philippians 1:3-7 that come to mind as I wrap up this testimony: “We thank our Lord every time we remember you all, we are constantly praying with joy in every one of our prayers for the gift that you are to us, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. We are confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for us to think so joyfully and lovingly about all of you, because you hold us in your heart, we can see this by the way all of you share in God’s grace and calling with us.” We are thankful.