Sometimes, because I am a follower of Jesus, I walk right into strange encounters.
Maybe you do too.
And maybe they aren't so much strange as divine.
I had one of these divine encounters on Sunday.
After recently moving away, Matthew and I were visiting the church my parents go to in Knoxville.
We LOVE this church and even though we don't live there anymore, I listen to Dan's sermons through podcasts because no one preaches like he does.
Matthew pointed out that it's not even like preaching.
Every Sunday is like a personal conversation between me & Dan.
I love this church for many reasons, but mostly because they love their community.
There is a pretty large group of special needs adults that the church cares for.
My parents recently accompanied them to a Smokies baseball game and quickly made friends with a few of these men.
My dad is legally blind and doesn't drive so he hit it off with another guy who doesn't drive but figured out that my mom does and spent the whole game trying to convince her to drive them to Dollywood! I could definitely be friends with this guy!
Anyways, I digress.
So Sunday, after being gone for 3 weeks, Matthew and I showed up earlier than usual for church at Calvary.
As we walked into the sanctuary, one of these sweet special needs guys handed me the day's brochure.
I noticed he had left a scrap of paper in it and pulled it out, "Oh wait! You left your notes in this one!" I said as I handed it back to him.
"Oh no,"' he told me closing my hand around the note and holding on for a moment, "this is for you. In case you are having a bad day and need to make it better. Or in case you need to pray for a hard time in your family."
The paper was a list of verses from Isaiah.
I was silenced.
How could he possibly know there were hard things going on in my family?
How could he possibly know the last few weeks at my new job had been beyond challenging?
How could he possibly know I was holding on by a thread?
I thanked him enthusiastically and walked, stunned, to the pew where Matthew was waiting.
Here are the verses that he gave me.
The grass withers & the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever. Isaiah 40:8
We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; & the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6
In that day you will say: "I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away & you have comforted me". Isaiah 12:1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives." Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him -- the Spirit of wisdom & of understanding, the Spirit of counsel & of might, the Spirit of the knowledge & fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
My heart has been heavy lately due to conversations with friends who are making not-so-smart life choices. Mostly young people who are where I was just a few years ago. Chained to the "college life" filling up their God shaped hole with anything and everything else. I vented about this to a friend last night and have felt so convicted about my words ever since.
Have I forgotten how to love people? Have I forgotten how to be a leader or a follower of Christ? Have I started believing that my friends souls are up to ME to save?
It's been almost a year since I stopped being involved in YL and I seem to have turned into a Pharisee. I've always been bent towards perfection and earning God's love, but Jesus really changed that about me. I guess being out of direct ministry has caused me to slip back into that world. Well that and living at home where judgement readily resides.
Last night, my friend looked earnestly at me and took in everything I said because she too is carrying around the weight of loving these friends. But I think I lead her in the wrong direction (probably not for the first time, because I too am a broken human). I think I was whiny and little. I poured out my heart about my friends who are making destructive choices without ever saying "just run to Jesus. Stop trying to be better and just run into His open arms".
WE CAN'T BE BETTER. We have sin! We have a disease that is incurable apart from Christ. I can't fix you, you can't fix you, only Jesus can! Which, honestly, should lift an enormous weight off our shoulders. He did the hard part (perfect human/crucifixion/separation from God). We simply have to offer him out hearts and then...nope, no "and thens".
Something good did happen last night. Thanks to grace we walked away with one redeeming idea. We set reminders on our phones to go off at the same time each morning to remind us to take our heavy hearts to Jesus and ask him to free our friends and free ourselves.
I am running this race. I'm running it hard. But, I obviously need help
Y'all, my phone does something so awesome.
Yes, iPhones do LOTS of awesome things, but this may be my favorite thing it does.
Sometimes when I intend to type the word "live" my phone auto-corrects the word to "love" and vice versa.
If I don't catch it before hitting send, I end up with phrases like this:
Tell me where you love.
Where are you going to love next year at school?
I live you!
You love so far away!!
How long have you loved there?
I found a place to love!
And I could go on. But you get the gist, life is an opportunity to love.
No matter where you call home, you get to love people and be loved.
Jesus would agree on this point.
In fact, Jesus said that if you follow all his commandments but don't love others, then you're faith is no good.
Because that's the point of all this.
This thing called life that is.
To Christ, and apparently my iPhone, to live and to love are one in the same!
Think about the people that you love the deepest. You live them too don't do?
Your heart and soul share in their joys, sorrows, celebrations, and defeat.
You pray over them, pour into them, and give more than you have.
My phone is right.
I live the people that I love.
It's a pretty word that conjures up happy thoughts.
My mind goes to fields of flowers and sunshine, running through the openness towards a mighty mountain. Matthew is there with me all smiley and, as Usher would say, "caught up" in the beauty of love.
I think of my parents who loved me and Daniel so sacrificially.
And I think of the McMinn's who have so intertwined the words live and love that they have absolutely been welded into one powerful word.
But, most importantly, love to me is the image of Christ on the cross, bleeding and suffering for me, and of the veil in the temple splitting from top to bottom signifying that we are no longer separate from the God who created us.
To live is not to judge or condemn or gossip or slander.
To live is not to abandon or tear down or exclude or abuse.
Matthew bought me tickets to the Tour de Compadres concert in Knoxville for my birthday (which is in March) & last night it finally happened!
Matthew & I, along with a couple thousand other fans, were treated to one spectacular show.
There are few things that made last night awesome beyond words:
1. My man gave me a present that was meaningful and so intentional. He loves me and he knows me. Live music is one of my favorite things about life and even though he isn't a huge fan of crowds/isn't super familiar with these bands other than DH&tN, he knew it would make me ecstatically happy so he bought us tickets and took me! On a WEEK NIGHT! And we stayed up past 10! Which is not something we do cause we have jobs that require us to be up at 5am. We are making memories and strengthening the foundation of our relationship and that's beautiful.
2. I kept running into friends that I haven't seen for weeks, or months or even years! How cool is that?! It's so awesome that music creates community like that. It blows my mind and warms my heart to share experiences like that with others. It makes the world seem smaller and makes people seem more united. Music is such a powerful force y'all. I can't stop scrolling through the #TourdeCompares pics on Instagram!! So much joy and fun and faces of people I love!
3. Finally! I got to see Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors play live! How I've never been at YL camp while they are there astounds me. I was sad that Ellie wasn't with them on this tour stop, but it was still great. I hope they continue to grow and get to headline their own tour one day!
4. NEEDTOBREATHE is the shit. Sorry to put it that way, but damn. What a show!!! Matthew asked me what their music was like and I couldn't really nail it down except to say "It's like the Avett Bros meets KOL meets the Black Keys". Afterwards, he told me that was a pretty good description. I have always loved their music and now that I've heard them live, I love them even more. It took 30 minutes to reset the stage between Ben Rector and NEEDTOBREATHE. We were a little frustrated, but then it all made sense. They rocked it. Such energy and enthusiasm. I was shocked and thrilled. I could have stayed till the wee hours of the morning.
5. I doubt I'm the only Christian who detests most Christian music. It falls short in so many ways. Some is great, but most is cheesy or un-relatable, or just misses the mark even with the best intentions. But NEEDTOBREATHE has created an genre that people who really love music and really love Jesus have longed after for some time. Soulful lyrics that are relate-able and honest make their songs so heavy, so meaningful. They rocked the house last night, but they also led us in worship. Y'all we worshiped, all 2,000+ of us. With a rock band. I hope we worship like that in heaven for at least 1,000 years. It was breathtaking.
Last night was just a really good night for my soul. I need more encounters like that.