I love history! To me it has always been like time travel. I remember discovering the section on Byzantine history in the Cleveland public library when I was 11 years old. Just looking at the covers with images of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, and the Roman cataphracts made me feel that with the opening of a cover I could journey through time and encounter the great moments of the past. I think that is why I have an insatiable appetite for history. In his book, Balkan Ghosts, Robert Kaplan describes the powerful stories and images of history as a way for the people of Bulgaria to traverse the boundaries of time, encounter the generations, and revisit who they have been, who they are, and who they might be. Standing in a smoke filled Orthodox sanctuary surrounded by the glow of candle-lit prayers, and treading on worn marble, amidst the images of Moses, Jeremiah, Solomon, John, Peter, Paul, Mary, Christ, Cyril, Methodius, Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory certainly does give an experience of the reality that our God transcends such obstacles as time and space, and transports even the lowly to the narratives that form us. I would say that history can, could, or should remind all of us of who we are, who we have been, and who we might be. When was the last time we revisited our past, not to lament, but to celebrate?
I think that has been one of the greatest aspects of this deputation journey for Katie and I. The East Tennessee District Church of the Nazarene is full of stories, images, people, places, and churches that are central to our story. We would not know how to define ourselves apart from them. Visiting, experiencing, and remembering is an encounter with each and every one of these places, people, stories and churches that reminds us of who we have been, who we are, and who we might be. It has been like traveling through time as a way of celebrating our past and being thankful for it. This week was no exception as we visited with our families at Chattanooga First Church of the Nazarene and Chapman's Chapel Church of the Nazarene.
We pulled into the parking lot of Chattanooga First at about 9:30AM Sunday morning. Pulling into the parking lot was like déjà vu as I remembered the times that I had arrived there with butterflies in my stomach, singing my solo in the car for practice, and trying to remember all the points of my biblical exposition for East Tennessee Teen Talent. As Pastor Eric greeted and introduced us, he remembered being a part of our ordination interview and recalled his part in our ministry story. After we shared our presentation with the first service, I was greeted by several precious saints who shared memories of my father’s childhood, my own childhood, and asked about the whereabouts, faith, and health of my family, our family, their family. Between the first and second services we left Kate with some incredible ladies, in an incredible nursery, and headed to the sanctuary for our second worship service. Jude joined us as we clapped and sang to some incredible worship music, led by a wonderful and talented praise team. It was time again to tell our story. As I got up I noted the time I stood before in the very spot where I was bringing a good word that morning, only on the last occasion I was 16 years old, in a flop sweat, trying not to pass out, as I sang, “I have not been called to the wisdom of this world, but to a God who’s calling out to me. And even though the world may think I’m losing touch with reality, it would be crazy to choose this world over eternity.” (Crazy by Mercy Me)
I will always treasure the encounters that follow these services. People come up to me that I have known me all my life and describe how their own part in my story and how they had seen God shaping me for something special. I will always treasure the winks and elbows as we reminisce about the gross romance that existence between the youngest Haun boy and Katie Kirby. Most of all I will treasure the commitments to pray for us, to journey with us, and to support God’s call on our lives. Perhaps, as the people of Chattanooga First labored to clean tables, vacuum carpets, prepare sound boards, wipe of chairs, and engage in all the other humble preparations for a district event they did not realize that they were helping teach two East Tennessee kids what it meant to surrender every capability, every possibility, for the glory of God. Well they were. They still are.
After a wonderful lunch with Eric, Jennifer, Noelle, Wisly, and Selah we headed toward Pelham. After a quick stop to share one of my favorite scenic overviews with Jude, we dropped Jude and Kate off with their Uncle Ryan and Aunt Nancy and headed to Chapman's Chapel.
We arrived at about 5:15PM, which gave me time to read the historic marker outside the beautiful facility nestled into the foot of Monteagle Mountain. Chapman’s Chapel was founded in 1905 as a result of the ministry of J.B. Chapman. This exterior plaque informed any visitor that they were standing on holy ground, and that the God who transcends time, for whom a century is but a moment, had established this church to stand for more than one hundred years to witness and proclaim the Gospel in East Tennessee. Ah, what stories the ground might tell! We entered the facility and found more testaments to history and commitment to identity: pictures of all former pastors, pictures of the church’s founding, a radio for World Mission Broadcast etc. I looked at the image of J.B. Chapman and leaning over I whispered to Katie, “Look at this guy, look at the fire in his eyes. He would accomplish the mission God had given or die. I hope we can repeat his performance.”
We were greeted by Lauren, the local NMI president, who had planned and organized the service. There was a welcoming banner over the entrance to the sanctuary and we immediately recognized many wonderful people that had shared our journey. It was at Chapman’s Chapel that I preached one of my first revivals while still a Junior at Trevecca Nazarene University. I remember trembling with the realization of the responsibility. As I stood behind the pulpit I was struck again, transported through time, as I encountered myself, at 21 years of age, learning what it meant to preach the Gospel.
I felt so overwhelmed, so in over my head, so out of control. I remember the certainty and complementing mystery of knowing that if God did not help me, I would certainly fail. It is only in such a position of trust and full surrender that I believe one can truly know what it means to follow Christ. As I read the words of Isaiah, I embodied the moment of history repeating itself. After I preached, we began to sing, “I can’t explain it, this sweet assurance, but I have never known this kind of friend. I want to love you more, I want to seek you first, I want to give you the honor you deserve.” (Hidden by United Pursuit) I hope we do not only equate the certainty and mystery of total surrender with youth. I hope that as I grow and as I change I love God more deeply, that I am more fully trusting and surrendering to a call which demands an absolute reliance on God’s work to succeed, and that with each passing day I am better at seeking Christ first and giving the honor my Creator deserves. May it be so for Joshua and Katie and may it be so for the wonderful, aged, and beautiful church of Chapman’s Chapel.
After service we enjoyed some incredible fellowship with the people of Chapman’s Chapel. There is no greater way to show a person that you love them than to ask good questions and listen well. The people of Chapman’s Chapel did this and I am grateful for their incredible hospitality. After dinner we picked up Jude and Kate and headed home. We collapsed into bed around 11:00PM and before we drifted off, I looked over at Katie and said, “What a life. What a journey. Who gets to live like this? It’s like living twice.” Thanks be to God for the journey, for who we have been, for who we are, and for who we might be.