It wasn't until I listened to Pastor Layne speak yesterday, waiting for my turn, that I realized the ripples that have spread to me. He talked about 30 some years ago, when a new pastor, Ken Hepner, had come to McBIC. The pastor was relatively young, with hair down to his shoulders. This was radical for how conservative the church was at the time. Ken had been saved only 10 years earlier and had come from a life of drug and alcohol abuse. I leaned over to the Good Doctor and asked him how it came to be that such a person was even hired, knowing the culture of the church at the time. The Good Doctor told me that there are people in the congregation who were here at the time who are still scratching their heads at that. Only God.
I've heard many stories since we've been here about how Ken Hepner was so passionate about his relationship with Jesus and how he taught a more evangelistic Christianity that was new to this faith tradition that had traditionally been "in the world but not of it." The new pastor wanted to see his congregation meet people where they were; to reach people who didn't know Jesus. To a congregation that had been taught to follow a list of man-made rules about how they dressed, how they talked, and where they spent their time, he taught relational evangelism and unconditional love. In essence, he taught grace over works righteousness.
Pastor Layne was in college at the time and he was greatly impacted by Pastor Ken. The values and mind-set change that began during that time were obvious to us when we first visited in 2003 and after only one visit I remarked to the Good Doctor on the way home, "This church would be good for our souls." I had no idea. Because of Pastor Ken Hepner, and Pastor Layne's grace journey, my journey would be forever changed.
The very first sermon series after our move was based on The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Having a purpose, meeting people where they were, focusing on grace above legalism - these were all new to me. The ripple was spreading. I look back over the past 12+ years and see where God has taken us and the people that we have met and loved. And I am amazed.
To be honest, I came out here kicking and screaming. I had a very warped view of God. I saw Him as a Being sitting in Heaven, planning life events for me as tests. He was just waiting for me to fail so that He could swoop in and berate me embarrassing Him, for failure to follow the rules or make the right choice. Jesus wasn't a friend, a brother, He was just part of a trinity, part of a story about God in flesh. I didn't know Him, didn't meet with Him. But all of that also changed.
The move seemed to me to be just another one of those ways in which God was testing me and I felt so beaten down that I was convinced I had failed once again. Like Abraham, God had told us to go but had not told us where. The call to leave was clear; the destination was not. And as our time in one place ended but the new calling was still unclear, my response looked nothing like Abraham who simply packed his bags and left. I was packing my bags, but I wasn't happy about it. And then the call from this church and place we knew nothing about. And while that first visit told me it would be good for our souls, I still wasn't ready to accept the truth of that.
But it was. I have grown more in my journey in the past 12 years than in all of the years before. Mostly, my views of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have changed. Jesus is a friend with whom I can meet. I can trust Him. When I meet with Him in my safe place, we're always at the beach. Usually I find Him running or dancing with me - two things I would never do in front of anyone else. Sometimes we simply walk together. And this morning, as I "went up on the mountain" to process the events of yesterday, to give Him the glory and the mistakes, and to hide in Him, I was able to let Him hold me in a long embrace. This is huge. No one hugs me. I don't let people in. But this is a start.
And those ripples, they impacted me in another way. Yesterday I talked about my name change. That was actually in response to a sermon preached by Pastor Layne. I think it was in that first year after we moved here. I can't tell you the theme of the sermon or the Scripture passage. Being 100% a visual learner and having no room for auditory memory, that's pretty typical. But that morning we were given a small stone. We were instructed to take it home and to ask God to give us a new name and to reveal it to us. It was during that week, as I prayed with my small stone that I sensed God saying that my new name was Joy. No longer to look at life from a grace-less lens, from a bitter and angry and shame-filled view, but through Jesus' eyes and filled with joy for the journey.
I can only pray that my ripples make the same impact on someone else.