I love to drive long distances. It relaxes me. It quickly gets me into another world away from the intensity of day to day life as a lead pastor of a wonderful but often complex church family. Not to mention my own complexities that I add to the mix! ☺
The drive to North Bay to start the first phase of my annual summer study leave was no exception. The iPod was lined up with my latest playlist with worship songs ranging from Skillet’s “Awake” to Hillsong United’s “Aftermath” to Linclon Brewester’s “Real Life” and on and on with a little Coldplay and U2 thrown in as well. There were also a few podcasts to catch up on.
What I had not remembered about this drive is that on a couple of occasions in the past, God has used this time to speak very powerfully to my heart and set the tone for what we wants to do and how he wants my study leave to unfold. Unexpectedly this drive was to be another one of those clearly divine occasions.
My heart is always opened up to the majesty and holiness of our God as I view the spectacular beauty of creation, especially Northwestern Ontario. I love driving the along the north-shore of Lake Superior. I never tire of its beauty. And when God really wants to get my attention on a drive like this he throws in some wildlife. It started with a young buck that bolted daringly across the highway in front of my truck and stood momentarily in front of a sign that read, “Night Danger: Beware of Moose.” I’m not sure what point this buck was trying to make except to proclaim that deer are on the advance. A little later down the highway I did get to see that moose, the sign warned me about. Sweet! And then a spectacular highlight was a very healthy looking wolf, which you just don’t get to see that often driving along the Trans-Canada.
Those who don’t hunt find it hard to comprehend how stirred the average hunter is at the sight of these spectacular members of God’s creation. And for me it’s a way that God grabs my attention and gets me listening to what he has to say. I was tuned in.
Scattered between my iPod playlist were three podcasts. This first two somewhat coincided with the wildlife sightings about a third of the way into the drive. I listened to a young 30 year old speaker by the name of Steve Futrick speak on the 5th Anniversary of what has quickly become a mega Church called Elevation in Charlotte North Carolina. Listening to Futrick I heard both the joy and pain that deeply accompanies mission driven pastoral leadership. His story left me encouraged and inspired about my own role in Redwood’s journey.
I then listened to Mark Batterson from National Community Church in Washington, D.C. speaking on the “Battle of Jericho” with illustrations form the journey of his own church family as they seek against human odds to buy a piece of property in downtown Washington for the next step in fulfilling their mission. I was struck by his call to look to God to work in the long-term and not always to expect instantaneous miracles.
A theme was emerging. God was starting to speak more specifically to my heart. As I enter the 20th year of my leadership of Redwood, the call is to remember the original calling of creating a welcoming church family for those who are apart from God, and a church that would have strong impact throughout the city and Thunder Bay and beyond. It was a call to remember that God works powerfully and continually over time, even decades.
Well it was almost Canada Day, so time to listen to a good Canadian speaker. The theme God seemed to be speaking was trusting Him to continue to work miraculously through Redwood for kingdom advance. So when I saw the message title “Mission Impossible,” by Bruxy Cavy from the multi-site Meeting House rooted in Oakville, I went for it. While I was enjoying Bruxy’s preaching style, the message was not what I had expected. Burxy was taking the theme, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:25, NIV) using the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19. I get that salvation is the ULTIMATE miracle, but this message just wasn’t in line with what I was “expecting” to hear.
But then it came, out of the blue, Bruxy took this familiar story gave it a twist and nailed it, leaving no doubt what God was speaking to me. Bruxy described the mission of the Meeting House, which should be the mission of all churches, as being like an easy to climb sycamore tree, where the spiritually intrigued can climb and get a better view of Jesus. That the church is to be a place where seekers can get a better view of Jesus who longs to enter into relationship with them. Yeah, so true. What a great picture of the church.
Elevation Church, National Community Church and the Meeting House all have a crystal clear focus on the priority of reaching people who are not yet Christ followers and leading them to a holistic faith that passionately expresses itself in advancing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. These churches think big, with citywide impact and influence that extends around the world. And as I listened, God reminded me that Redwood has a similar calling, with multiplied impact that is yet to be realized in Thunder Bay, with influence that will extend increasingly around the world.
It’s a good way to start the summer. It’s a clear reminder to seek God to fulfill the mission and vision He’s given to those of us in the Redwood community, “to bring the message and life of Jesus to our city and world.” I have a renewed sense that our God is strongly committed to taking Redwood to the next level in our missional journey, and that this summer is part of my preparation for the next leg of our journey together. I’m pumped!!
Oh and on a side note. Not only do I love the drive, but I gotta admit, driving a Dodge Ram makes it all the more sweet! At 11.6 litres per 100 kilometres from Thunder Bay to North Bay, I made it to within 250 kilometres of North Bay on one tank! For a half ton, that’s not bad!