Men's Retreat & More
Aaah, home at last. The men's retreat was Friday evening, all day Saturday, then Sunday morning. It was a rather small group this time, 27 or so. In the past we've been around sixty or seventy. So the group was smaller, and the program for the retreat was minimalist. That is, it was less about program and more about letting the Spirit lead.
I myself went into this retreat without any expectations one way or the other, but just at the very start, after our initial time of worship was over, but before Mario (our pastor) stood up to give his introductory welcome, God spoke this question to my heart: "Have you seen my bounty?"
Now, I wondered what God meant, and I asked him right then and there, and immediately he showed me the Cross, but not as if the Cross alone was the answer to my question. It was of central importance, yes, and whatever else constituted God's bounty was going to flow through that Cross, that was my sense, but my distinct impression was that God's answer to my question was simply "wait and see."
So then the retreat unfolded. I spent time with many brothers that I'd never yet gotten to know. I spent more time with Mario, in fact, than ever before. The weekend included two sessions that involved breaking up into small groups. One had to do with reading a Scripture passage (Is. 55:6-11) and then spending some time meditating on that passage, letting the words dwell in us richly, and sharing in a small group what the Lord had shown us during that time. The other had to do with meditating on the period in our lives when we first came to the Lord, and thinking of that time as a kind of path along which God had led us, and then writing down some key impressions that came to us as we thought about the stepping stones of this path. Again, we shared our thoughts and impressions afterward in a small group.
As rich as these times were, the best was Saturday evening, when we simply prayed for each other. This went on for two hours or so and seemed to be the real purpose of the whole weekend. As if all the rest had simply been preparation for just this. Oh, and God spoke a second time to me just as this evening session was beginning. This was Saturday night, and we began with a good humored "talent-show" which brought much laughter into the room, then worship, then the gathering together in small groups to pray. But right at the beginning of all this, God spoke these words to my heart: "The shadows fly way."
There is much more that can be said about this weekend. I am really joyful because God chose to use me to minister to several people. There was still more God-stuff at church the next morning, with Jonathan giving a message of edification on the subject of prophecy, and then inviting people to come forward if they sensed God speaking to their hearts. In the first service Lance was one who spoke, and he talked about marriage, and loving and serving our wives, and he used the image of a blossoming flower to describe what would happen in our wives as well as our church. In the second service, Jeff brought a very similar message about marriage, only he didn't use a flower image. But then his wife Susan followed him (neither of these people have ever spoken up like this, to my knowledge), and she said that she had an image in her mind of a bud which then blossomed in an instant, and became a beautiful flower.
So: I think God showed me His bounty this weekend, just as His question to me implied that He would. And the bounty was "through" His children, and it seemed to be an almost constant flow of refreshing.
Finally, This morning, as I meditated on the whole weekend and asked God what one thing above all else I was to learn from the experience, this is what He gave me. He said:
I have used you, and I am going to use you. Don't think I will have to wait for your heart to be pure, for your motives to be un-mixed, for your foolish self-consciousness to go away and for every hint of pride to be scourged out of you. I am going to use you despite your sin, so don't reject my grace. I showed you the Cross of Christ because it alone is sufficient to take care of your sin and release my bounty. You are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and when I look at you I see Him, my Son, and I see not your sin but His righteousness, and so I choose to treat you as if your heart is pure already. This may not make sense to you, but this is my plan, whether you understand or not. I am willing to accept you, love you, and use you right now. Do not think your sin can bind me. And yes, I do desire that you hunger and thirst for holiness. But don't think I'm waiting for you to achieve it. You see, it has already been achieved on your behalf, therefore be ready. Gird up you loins, man of God. I will do what I will do in you and through you for the sake of my Kingdom.