Jane started the conversation at cell group last Thursday evening. Our books for the next study had arrived; Holy Conversation by Richard Peace; but we weren't starting it that night, so Jane asked us, "Your spiritual awakening--coming to God--was it an event or a journey--a series of steps?"
Then she sank back beside me on the soft, amber leather couch, and picked someone to start. And one by one the seven of us there that night shared our stories.
We'd done this before, but it never gets old to hear how someone finds God, and every time it seems that some different part of the story is emphasized, or there is some important snippet that you never heard before.
As I recounted my own journey, a series of positive responses to God's calls over the years stretching back to childhood, I reflected on the impact of my late father-in-law's ministry in my life.
One of the things he did really well as a pastor, was teach us to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit with action--a raised hand or coming forward at an altar call.
I was just 16 when I started attending his church and I have memories of him over the years, urging his congregants not to leave without responding to God. "God is speaking to you," he would say, "Have the courage of your convictions. Don't go home and wish you had responded."
And it would feel as if he could see my rapidly beating heart and knew the struggle that was going on within.
I know that people respond to God quietly in the pew as well, but I believe that something significant happens when you step forward at an altar call.
I drove this morning first from Bond Head to Bradford, to pick up a friend, and then to Beeton to pick up another, and then on to Tottenham, to the church on the hill, that he founded in 1976.
He died in 1986, but we have worshiped there now as a family for 35 years. Since we were young and our children babies. Now Pete, our son, attends with his young family and is on the pastoral team.
This morning the worship service reminded us why we come together as church family and our pastor preached a sermon that laid out solid truth. He called the worship team back to the platform to sing the closing song, and Pete stepped up onto the platform beside them and took a microphone.
He said, "We've just heard a sermon that needs a response...now there are some of you that are thinking, 'I need to leave; I've got things I need to do..."
(I thought then that he was going to say,"If you need to leave, please feel free to go," but he didn't...)
"There's a story in the Bible about seed that gets eaten by the birds or withered before it has a chance to take root and grow," he said, and then he urged people not to leave without responding to the Holy Spirit.
I was out of my seat and kneeling at the altar before the first line of the song was sung. Around me I could sense a gathering crowd, feel people dropping to their knees beside me. We wept, we prayed, we allowed the seed to sink in deep and take root. Time stood still for a while at the altar while we did business with God and he with us.
Later that afternoon, Pete called, just to say hello. I told him the story I had told our friends at cell group a few days before, and how what he did this morning reminded me so much of his grandfather. He said that knowing that, was something he would carry with him.
The Message (MSG)
A Harvest Story
1-3 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.
3-8"What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
9"Are you listening to this? Really listening?"