Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Melody in the Air

Only voices in harmony mingled with the hustle and bustle of downtown Greenville. The horns honking, dogs barking, fire breathing (yes, there were street performers on stilts breathing fire and hulla-hooping. Fun stuff) Amid all of the distractions, a group of friends walked by. He was talking and laughing and joking with the guys, when all of a sudden he stopped in his tracks. That melody… it was so familiar. Those words had followed him since he was a child. They always managed to find him in his most desperate need.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

He pulled up a chair and leaned in intently.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

His phone kept buzzing with his friends’ curious calls about where they had lost him, but that was just it, he wasn’t lost anymore, he had just been found. He kept hanging up his phone trying to explain he was busy, and just to wait.

As the a cappella group finished singing their song, he got up to go, but his heart was pounding so violently, he could barely breathe. He walked over to the elevator, thinking to himself. There was that song that he would sing to himself when he was desperate and down. It would always lift him even on the loneliest road on the darkest night. He sighed, “When peace like a river... It is well…. With my soul….” His heart started beating faster. He knew he needed to get it out! He began to wonder if the singing group knew the song and if he sang would they sing too? He tried to shake it off. He didn’t want to turn around because he didn’t trust himself enough to not run up and start singing. He pushed the elevator button. Ready to leave. Ready to go, when all of a sudden five familiar words rang out:

When peace, like a river,

In shock, mouth hanging open, he pivoted and ran back to his seat. As he listened to the rest of the song in tears, he kept looking around excitedly to see if anyone else understood what just happened! This was the song on his heart and now they were singing it without beinging asked!

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul

A beautiful lady of WW seated beside him noticed his excitement and he shared with her that these were songs he would sing to himself in hard times. He knew when God was speaking to him and He definitely was this night, but he also knew that he didn’t live the way he knew was right. The WW servant said none of us live exactly like we are supposed to, but we must keep turning to God, just like the song says. She suggested to him to go and worship with the group, and they invited him to sing with them.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise….

... Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;…..

... O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

He just closed his eyes and worshipped with everything within him.

This is what I love about Without Walls. There we are out underneath the trees, clouds, and stars worshipping in the open air. Under an “Open Heaven”, a soul that has gotten distracted, as we all do, walks by and senses the presence of God and remembers. It is that “half-remembered song,” that "whisper on the wind” that says God loves you! Remember Him? He remembers you. This young man was able to worship for the first time in a long time. There was no judgment, no condemnation, just an opportunity to praise God that most churches with four walls could not have afforded him. He left that evening loved, lifted, and ecouraged. I love what God is doing and what He is allowing us to witness.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The WW Planting in Greer

Sitting on the front step, looking out across the street to the beautiful, well-manicured park, we were looking out over the possibilities and promises the Lord has in store.

It was over five years ago. Wow… five years. A word was sown, a promise spoken to Pastor Jonathan Wagner, and amazingly, simultaneously to Pastor Thomas Young (who was in a foreign country at the time) that there would be a day when God would plant the Wagner family in Greer to begin their ministry to the community.

And it has been a long wait. Unlike many other ministers and ministries, Pastor Jonathan had chosen long ago to submit every decision, opinion, or plan to the Lord. He wanted God to initiate this work. He had watched too many times the plans of man fail, but also seen how what God begins never ends.

Two years ago, Pastor Jonathan, felt inspired to go into one of Greer’s beautiful family parks and just begin loving on the people. He and the faithful group with him handed out popsicles, water, and the love and acceptance of God. They worshipped under the trees and tried to touch the heart of the people. This activity got the attention of many of the patrons of this small park. One family from South America who had been living and working in the U.S. for over twenty years said that, they were the first Americans to ever speak with them just because they wanted to be friendly. This little friendly group returned Sunday evening after Sunday evening to find new friends they hadn’t met yet. God brought everyone joy!

Little did Pastor Jonathan know, but God had established in him the vision of Without Walls. This is the vision of bringing worship and fellowship out of the four walls and making the presence of the Lord available to people who need Him most. We are much in debt to his listening, waiting, and obedience.

Pastor Jonathan has continued to wait on the Lord to lead him in the next step on this incredible journey.

Just a few weeks ago, Pastor Thomas and Pastor Jonathan were exploring the city of Greer in hopes of finding that next step. They were impressed by the Lord that it was time, so wanting to be obedient to that confirmation, they became proactive. When you hear from the Lord and don’t know what to do, sometimes you should get moving in that direction and that momentum will lead you to the specifics. And this is a case in point! An unbelievable opportunity presented itself for the Wagner family to be planted themselves in a beautiful home in the heart of city. This is the perfect home directly across the street from another beautiful park where the ministry of Without Walls may continue.

And the witness to the community has already begun! The last two Saturdays the WW crew has been testifying in practical ways that something different is happening in this place. When you have 25 people show up on two consecutive weekends to wash, fix, weed, move furniture and boxes, etc, your neighbors are going to take notice.

So as we sit on this beautiful front porch and ponder the amazing ways of our faithful God, we pray that God would establish this planting. Giving it deep roots to hold one steady through the storms of life, shady branches to cover the hurting and tired, and much fruit to a hungry people. Lord, multiply, manifest, magnify this humble beginning. Amen!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conversations of Without Walls, May 29th, Falls Park, Greenville, SC

If we would have tried to work it up or spent time preparing it, it would not have had that quality of uninhibited abandon. This night God called on the young people and the children to lift their voices, their hands, smiles and hearts to Him. It was a bright light that stopped passers-by. With every song this group of 20 young people sang, God brought wave after wave of the drawn and the curious. A couple with young children stopped to worship with the impromptu choir. A group walking by with ice cream in hand had one of those domino effects as the lady in front stopped to look where the sound was coming from. Then the whole group began to read the sign and listen intently.

After the group finished singing, a beautiful young woman approached us and shared how she had always enjoyed worshipping out in public. She and a group of friends would sing in the open air on their visits to the beach and big cities. She said that she loved it because it offered intimacy without pressure. She was thrilled about what was going on in Greenville and said she would be back. She seemed surprised when we invited her to join us in singing. Shyly she said, “I was… just from my seat over there.”

Earlier in the evening, two young ladies, who ages combined would not have summed up to ten years, pulled up their chairs to the front row. They enjoyed their prime seats. They ate their ice cream covered in sprinkles and gummy bears and rocked back and forth to the rhythm of lively tempos. The more they rocked, the bigger the smiles, the bigger the smiles the more sticky ice cream ringed their mouths. We had as much fun watching them as they did us!

An elderly African American couple walked by hand in hand, laughing and talking together. They stopped to speak with one of the WW ministers and he said to them, “It is so nice to see a couple that enjoys each other.” The older man remarked to this young man in wonder, “Thank you for being so friendly.”

Two beautiful silver-haired ladies share this: “A person who has had one of “those” long weeks can come into this place of rest and stay as long as they need to be refreshed and healed. It may be only a matter of minutes, but it can make a world of difference to them.”

Conversations. Sometimes they are brief. Sometimes, long, emotional, and intense or satisfying, delightful, and spiritual. Sometimes you are holding your sides afraid they will split from laughter. And yet other times you just have to hold your head in your hands without resolution. All of these exchanges must begin somewhere. That is what we are trying to accomplish in these brief moments of people’s time. We are starting a conversation that we may never finish. In fact, to be perfectly honest, it is not our conversation to begin with. This is the Lord saying, “Hi, we’ve never met, but I’m glad you’ve been drawn here.” Or “Hey, it’s me, the Lover of your soul, it’s been awhile….” For most, “I’ve heard you’ve been having a rough time, why don’t you sit down, relax and tell me about it.” If you take a second to stop and watch when the presence is strong you can almost see these conversations happening on the countenances of the faces in the crowd. This may make some nervous about Without Walls. We aren’t using this time for correction or debates, it is a time dedicated to God, to facilitate the possibility of a conversation that may never happen otherwise. It’s these divine moments that we live and breathe for. These instances of kairos, when Heaven intersects Earth, once tasted are sought after in even the smallest inspirations.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Patch of His Presence

God is opening uncommon doors. As we share, sing, and just filter throughout the crowd, we are watching as God is breaking down barriers and encouraging the heart of the people. There are awful things going on everywhere, what’s different is where the light is in the middle of the dark. A large percentage of the people that are drawn in by the worship attend church already. The ones being drawn though, are usually bruised and weary from the walk. As they enter this little patch of God’s presence located in a downtown park, they drink it in allowing God to quench a desperate thirst. We are finding people that are hurt and just need a place to heal. We are aware that not a single person may walk with us longer than this one moment, but what the Lord has us doing is bigger than us, it is of the Body of Christ.

One of our newest members of the WW team is a puppy named Knightley. People love to pet and talk to him. He has been an excellent ice breaker. Just this past week, he was able to minister to a woman who lost both of her dogs in one day. She just sat their petting him as she opened her heart and listened to the music.

“The week before I met a wonderful gentleman, who was impressed by the spiritual initiative of the WW young worship team, he had shared that week that he was going to have heart surgery on Wednesday. God helped me pray for him that he would have that peace that passes all understanding. To my amazement, he was back this Friday night just sitting on a bench. I went over to him and we started sharing again. He explained that many people had prayed for healing for him, but that one little prayer for peace meant more in the rough times of the week than all of the other prayers. He said he had always heard people praise God for helping them through their illness, but didn’t really understand it until he was right there in the middle of it. He thanked the Lord for that peace he had.”

“God has been helping me to share with people that are so different from one another. Some have a hunger for God, some not, but what is important is that we are connecting to everyone.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Without Walls Stories of Friday Night, May 15th Falls Park, Greenville, SC

This night was different from others. We were reclaiming this ground for God in the midst of a very busy downtown. The incredible thing was that there was more activity throughout the crowd than just in the music. It was absolutely beautiful. Here are just some of the testimonies.

“A man and his wife were really enjoying the worship. They have a ministry downtown to people that have fallen on hard times. They watched as the singers stopped their singing just to pray. Not because someone asked them to or made them, but just because there was a sense that prayer was needed. As they watched, the Holy Spirit fell on both him and his wife and they were overwhelmed that young people would pray without external initiation, but from an internal direction from God.” -Will

“A young man named Ryan, ring in his lip, lit up a cigarette as God helped me to look through the outward exterior to the sweetness beneath. “I know that what they are singing is Christian music. I was in a Christian Band, but I smoked and they said I couldn’t play with them any longer,” Ryan shared. “Well, Ryan,” I said, “ I believe that the Lord is looking at your heart.”

There are some you don’t think are listening, but they are. We don’t have to press or pressure ourselves onto people. We DO need to pray before we get downtown. We must get the burden to the throne beforehand, so God can move in advance. He is going to lead. We must step forward. God wants us to ask, seek, knock. Isn’t it amazing that we are there, no one else is there, we are to share, pray, worship and witness to the goodness of God. The fish are telling the other fish to come around. People have been looking for us. God is moving in surprising ways.” - David

“An elderly couple we met last summer were there. They were so excited to see what is going to happen this year. They are planning on making WW their regular Friday night activity.

As I was sharing with different people, I didn’t feel pressure. I just knew where I was supposed to go next.” –Heidi

“I used to think evangelism was pressuring myself to pressure others, but I am learning that prayer paves the way, that pressure cannot. It is good that I am not pressured either. I was able to come Friday night and rest. I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with my brother in Christ and then the Lord opened a door for us to share and pray with a young man. The Holy Spirit was working so gently.” –Ronnie

I’d like to testify on behalf of the worship team. As we were worshipping Friday night, we noticed one of the youngest audience members participating in dance. Little Ameris was there with her grandparents. She was only a year old. She was up dancing to the music. We all got in on it with her and danced for a little while. Candace initiated her into the band with the infamous percussion egg and she played right along with us. It was amazing how this little moment of play drew such a large crowd.

Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” Matthew 18:3