|Cape May, New Jersey|
It began with an experience. An encounter. That's how it happened with me, and how my life changed forever.
Looking back, I see a chain of events preparing me for it. But it wasn't something I planned, or programmed. That's how it always happens, with God. Not only do we not program God's activity in our lives, we cannot do this. The Holy Spirit is nonprogrammable.
And unpredictable. Non-scripted. This is one indicator that it is God.
God's presence, his nearness, manifested itself to me. That's how I began. That's how Saul became Paul. He was walking on a road, when something happened.
I know a lot of pastors. These women and men, my colleagues - most began with an encounter with God's presence. I have heard their beautiful, amazing stories. I am so inspired by them. I am more inspired by their tales of encountering God than I am by their theologies.
We never get over our first love. Our first love was a purging baptism into the alternative kingdom. People like C.S. Lewis were brought in kicking and screaming. Others entered crying. I entered amazed. I stood amazed, in God's presence.
The American church will squeeze the love out of a pastor, if they allow it. I remember a pastor named Joe. He was in a class I taught at a theological seminary. On the first day of class, Joe returned from the assigned hour of praying. He was crying. He confessed, "I haven't done that in twenty years." On that day, Joe came home.
Love is an unscripted encounter that cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. Love is an experience, not a theory.
God is love. Every experience of God is a love-encounter. This is how many of us began. With a love-encounter. The Consumer-Driven Church will steal this out of a pastor, and their people.
This is not only tragic, it is not good. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (Rev. 2:4)
In the beginning I had a love-encounter. I love, because he first loved me. (1 John 4:19)
Pastors, return to this. Cultivate this. Abide in this. Lead and teach and love and preach from this.