Three Spiritual Stories

Photo © 2005 Peter Vessenes CC 2.0 BY NC ND

Yesterday was the last Sunday that Pastor John preached at CPC. It was a very emotional occasion. He’s leaving, and not because he or his family really wanted to. That’s a different story, which I hope to tell someday. For now, I’m too close to it to see it clearly. I will say, however, a number of the pages from my Dad’s memoir seem strangely apropos.

As the new year dawns, we mourn the end of that era, at best with a tentative dip of our toe into the next.

For his last sermon, John preached from Acts 2:42 regarding the first Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Or if I might paraphrase, they pursued spiritual growth in the context of a spiritual community. And if I might then gloss down to verse 47: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Unlike many Christians, I don’t believe in numerical growth as an end in itself. Like Dad, I believe in spiritual growth. If you have healthy spiritual growth, God might give you as many new disciples as you can handle. If you lack healthy spiritual growth, you’re better off without the numbers, anyhow.

So today, I’d like to tell you a few stories of spiritual growth from my past 17 years at CPC.

Operation Christmas Child

For the past three years, each holiday season, one of the husband-and-wife teams at CPC has spearheaded an Operation Christmas Child drive. I hope that wherever they end up, whether at the future CPC or elsewhere, they’ll continue to support this annual project. I know my kids have taken part in it, and it’s a worthy charity, sending shoeboxes packed with Christmas gifts to the children of poor countries like Zimbabwe and Haiti. As Pastor John once said–and both he and his wife have actually visited Africa–“Just the items you can put in a shoebox, it’s like giving them Toys-R-Us, the whole store.”

I believe it. Around the time the recession hit in 2009, I worked on a particularly frustrating and demoralizing software contract, which ended badly. Afterward there was little work; money was tight; I couldn’t make any money writing. I fell into a deep depression. I didn’t know where the next month’s rent money was coming from, or how we were going to get groceries when food ran out.

As it happened, a friend of ours gets food from a local food pantry. They give her loads of stuff, which is how food pantries work. They basically just shove it at her, and then she gets to sort it all out later. But she can only eat certain foods, because of medical considerations, so she ends up with an amount of good food that she can’t use. In the middle of that depression, unknown to me, she gave my Beloved several shopping bags full of the extras. I had slept in–depressed people tend to do that–while Margaret went for work, leaving cans and boxes of food scattered across the kitchen floor. I woke up, bummed out of my skull, still worried about how we were going to feed the kids, and saw that sight. And I broke uncontrollably into tears.

I imagine it must feel something like that for one of those kids to open a Christmas shoebox.

The Pianist and the Singer

A man from Indonesia attended CPC some years ago, while he and his family and friends were studying at local universities. After he moved back home to Indonesia, Pastor John Lathrop and some others visited there, including a young woman with a golden singing voice, which has always touched me. Last month, he posted a Mother’s Day video (because apparently, in Indonesia, Mother’s Day is in December–seriously). The song is one that he wrote and recorded with his brother and the Young Woman with the Golden Voice.

That video reminded John of efforts like the Indonesian Book Project, through which we sent boxes of books to an Indonesian Bible school. But it reminds me of the music that I learned by working with him. It was he who got me interested in jazz, and even taught me a few tricks. And it was she, the Young Woman with the Golden Voice, who first taught us several worship songs, such as “Eagle’s Wings,” that are still among my favorites.

In the Deep

I’ve mentioned “In the Deep” before, a monthly night of worship music that some of the CPC musicians had been staging over the past few years.

You might expect me to mention “In the Deep,” because I love music. And I do. And that would be enough reason to mention it. But this event was significant enough for Dad to mention “In the Deep” in his memoir. Actually, I think I was the one who suggested it be inserted. But that mention earned “In the Deep” a whole chapter in John Lathrop’s upcoming book on Christian Unity. In this book, he notes:

As I sat in one “In the Deep” service a passage was read from Acts 4. The text that was read reported how the early church prayed together after Peter and John had been threatened by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:23–31). It occurred to me after hearing that passage of Scripture read that prayer and worship are two things that can bring the people of God together… One of the members of the worship team told me that he sees “In the Deep” as a ministry that can break down denominational walls. By this he did not mean the destroying of denominations but rather the downplaying or removal of the labels that sometimes divide Christians. When people attend “In the Deep” they take off their labels, as they gather they are not Baptists, Pentecostals, or any other denomination, they are brothers and sisters in Christ, members of one body.

I’m proud to have been a minor part of that. Not boastful, but happy and contented. I think everyone who ever participated in any way should feel the same. Because those are the sorts of things I go to church to learn how to do.