This past Sunday, I did my best to give a CliffsNotes description of a topic which has had volumes written about it a variety of places: commentaries, dictionaries, seminaries, sermons, books by numerous authors--and I gave it thirty minutes! I’d hate to have an instant thumbs up or thumbs down from the congregation at the end of that message. But it appears from many comments that it was helpful, although simple.
Before I tell you more, I must tell you about a Holy Spirit moment I had right after the 9:15 a.m. service. It was so moving for me that I had difficulty getting my composure back before the next service.
I was headed to the backstage area when a young couple caught my eye--I’m so glad I noticed. My intention is usually to get off the stage quickly and head to the Venue for the next service, but this couple seemed eager to visit. I followed my heart, headed down the steps, and found myself standing in front of two young people who seemed to have something they wanted to tell me. What happened to me in the next five minutes is something I will never forget.
Back in December, our extremely generous church brought in wrapped Christmas presents to be delivered to the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. Jeremiah Braudrick, the pastor who oversees the Crossings Community Center, has a personal passion for the incarcerated men and has headed up ministry opportunities to help us engage with them. It was his idea for us to buy Christmas gifts, not for the men, but for the men to give to their kids. In other words, we helped to do their shopping for them. When their kids came to visit them at Christmas time, these dads had gifts for their children. There were some amazing stories that came from that event and there were many tears shed by the dads, the kids, and the families who were present.
So, back to the young couple: Ashlynn, the girl who had been waiting to talk, introduced herself to me. Her boyfriend, Matt, had invited her to church. Matt knew that Ashlynn’s dad was in prison. He knew there had been Christmas presents for Ashlynn from her dad, but the connection between Crossings and Joseph Harp had not yet been made.
Here’s where the Holy Spirit showed up and showed off. Ashlynn thanked me for her Christmas presents. At first I had no clue; then she told me this:
“Those gifts you bought for the prisoners at Joseph Harp to give their kids...I’m one of those kids.”
It’s hard to fight back the desire to cry while standing in front of a group of people. I was so touched by her sweet spirit and her desire to share her gratitude. Their family and Matt stood there with us, beaming.
When those gifts were bought, we had no idea who or how many kids might receive them. But someone bought some gifts and someone gave them to a man in prison. That man in prison gave them to his daughter, she showed up in the church not knowing where those gifts came from, and she stood in front of me saying thanks.
I wonder if the people handling those gifts had any idea that God was carrying out a life-changing plan. Did they realize they were part of a plan orchestrated by the Holy Spirit? Not a chance. I wonder if they knew that the kid who received those gifts would end up in church--and not just any church, but the church that provided those gifts. And I wonder: how many gift-buyers could have predicted that a recipient of those gifts, a darling 15-year-old girl, along with her boyfriend, would be meeting with a pastor this week to schedule their baptisms?
I wonder if any of us can begin to appreciate the smile on her dad’s face out of the joy of his daughter being in church, the joy of her choosing to follow Jesus, the joy of knowing she will be baptized. And also the pain he feels for not getting to be there, the pain of all he has missed, the pain related to a moment of poor judgment that eliminated his freedom.
No need to wonder. This is God’s plan.
The Holy Spirit orchestrated a moment that took place in the main auditorium at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City on Sunday, June 4, 2017, at 10:19 a.m. I didn’t deserve that moment, but I’m beyond thankful to have been a witness to this miracle that all started when someone bought a Christmas gift.