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"I went in search of Jesus... Again"

I feel odd.

Like a strange mix of anti-social / introvert / hopeful christian / and a man who's seen too much to not listen to the voice of God when He speaks.

I don't like crowds.

I don't even like people.

There... I got that off my chest. Phew!

So now you understand when I say that God is doing a work in me, teaching me to love others... I'm not joking.

If I was at the Red Sea when He opened the way for the Hebrews to escape Pharaoh I might have said, "You guys stay here on the beach... I'm leaving by God's highway through the sea... alone." OR "You guys go ahead, I'll catch up... NOT!"

Do you know what that's like? To not want to be around anyone and yet at the same time... Jesus won't let me move into the mountains and live as a recluse.

Woe is me. Welcome to my life... I need Jesus more than you do.

Well here's the 30 second testimony:

Christian goes to a large social function that he cannot avoid.

Christian decides to believe that Jesus is there at said function.

Christian not surprised to find out that, yes, Jesus was there.

Christian wonders when he will ever learn that God is good... everywhere and every time.

The end.

If you want to stick around for five minutes or so, I will color in some of the story.

First, I am not anti-denominational or anti-organized religion. I see things differently than others do. God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is one, inseparable. I try really hard not to preach or build my life's work for Him by tearing down other people, especially those of the household of faith.

Second, I have a deep appreciation for history and to be exact, how the Holy Spirit shows it to me.

Every year the Assemblies of God, of which I am a part, holds a network conference for all the credential holders (families and guests) in New York. Sometimes I can make it. Sometimes I can't. This year, however, I had planned far enough ahead that my wife, Heather, and I were able to attend.

I know. I know. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke... Introvert walk into a large social function he cannot avoid. I shudder.

Like I said in the short version, I decided to make the most of it and believe that Jesus was going to be there.

Was He? You be the judge.

On a side note: I think my struggle comes from a simple concept that comes from watching trees. Lol... the bigger a tree gets, the more rough and solid certain parts have to become or the tree will simply wilt over. Only certain parts can stay soft, green, and tender.

Church movements, denominations, and fellowships are like that.

At the first they are all green and tender with certain identifiable marks of the move of the Spirit, to try to organize it, is to kill it. With time, as it grows, green tender must eventually give way to brown, hard, bark of structure, administration, policies, procedures, programs, order... the list goes on.

I'm not a fan of too much order. Christians must be free to play their part in God's plan.

But I understand, it is as God wills it. I may be part of a movement in the church that lasts 150 years, then lays down to become the fertilizer for the next great move of God. Or maybe this move ushers in the Second Coming of Christ?

Either way, I'm ok with playing my part. And I respect the others who do their part as well. Whether it's part of a massive denomination or a tiny stand alone fellowship.

All I ask is... "Lord, just please put me on the tree where the green is. Where the fruit is. Where the wind can rock me to sleep, or stir holy terror in my spirit if need be. Where I can feel the rain and the sun on my face.

I don't want to be the bark. The boring old wood that everything stands upon. To me that is a pharisee-like, wilderness death."

There's just one problem for this christian... there's people in the great tree of the move of God. Everywhere you look... people can't be avoided.

If I am to thrive... I need to learn how to love them.

I can do that without Jesus.

I need Jesus to walk me through it.

Where is He? He is with me. I know.

I need to see Him touching other people, and enter into their joy.

Without this sharing, this fellowship... I don't know love.

So back to the story.

We arrive in Poughkeepsie, NY on Tuesday in time for the evening worship service to kick things off.

My guess is there are about 300-400 people in this sanctuary (No, I didn't count, that's rude, and I'm looking for Jesus remember?)

Heather and I find a seat near the center of the room where we can hear everything well. We slip into the last row of chairs and begin to worship.

Jesus is here... #1. The first two songs they played for us to praise Jesus together with, we knew by heart. Not only that, but we had just played them last Sunday in our own church.

Maybe you can understand? How even in a room full of christians you can still feel awkward and out of place, like you don't belong. Then the Holy Spirit says, 'You belong. They love the same songs you do.'

We are one. Jesus, and them, and us.

(I put the picture of our dog, Ollie in because that little dog has taught me much about worship. But that's another story.)

Jesus is here... #2. As the music continued, I feel a tap on my arm. I look and here is a young couple with an infant. The young father asks if the two seats next to us are taken and if they may use them.

We smile and squeeze a little closer to make room. Their little baby is smiling at me. The music stops and we sit. Much thought, prayer and planning has gone into this conference. I can tell. For a meeting of that size to not be a complete free for all, there must be order... I surrender it. Tonight they begin calling on missionaries to foreign countries to stand.

I respect missionaries.

"...missionaries to the Arab World..." I heard the person with microphone say. The young couple take their baby and stand in the aisle with others who are also being recognized. It is a moment set aside to bless them. We all stand and put our hands upon those who are closest to us. As one body we pray for these who are so brave.

I hear the young father praying for the people of Morocco. Of course... I laugh to myself. Only God does stuff like this.

What's so funny?

Heather and I have had many foreign exchange students over the years. Currently, Alae (AKA... Al), from... you guessed it... Morocco... is staying with us. Later, in conversation we learn that in January they hope to be starting their three year stay in Tangier.

Guess who lives in Tangier? Yep... Al.

So Jesus, in a room full of several hundred people, moves a missionary couple going to the same place as our exchange student is from, down to the city, to come and worship beside us in what I'm guessing is a 500+ seat sanctuary. Coincidence? I think not.

(I didn't have permission to use their photo, so I obscured it.)

Jesus is here #3. There was an altar call that night if I remember. For pastors who feel alone, depressed, burned out, just needing... you know who... Jesus.

I always feel alone, that's no biggie, I'm comfortable there. I'm not depressed or burned out, but I came here looking for Jesus and I know He is here.

Bill Johnson once said he would go forward for any altar call, for just another moment to be closer to the Lord. I took that to heart. If the altar is open, I go.

Standing there with my wife with other saints who have pressed forward to the front, we worship. We are caught up in the Presence of Jesus. Pastor friends put their hands on us and pray... we receive it.

Several around us begin singing a wordless melody that is not from this world. It was indescribable. It is not repeatable. Heaven was there. One pastor, shocked, participated and led out in the song. He is not musical, by his own admission, yet he sang in the Spirit none-the-less, and became part of this beautiful, priceless moment in the Presence of the Lord.

I didn't dare move. I did what I always try to do... wait at Jesus' feet. We stayed there until everyone else had left the altar. I didn't care what other's did. Jesus was there.

The next day we got to catch up with saints we hadn't seen in a while. Some were hurting and in need of prayer... we prayed. Some were boldly stepping out into new territory in the christian journey... we prayed. Some just needed a hand with a baby so they could get their food... so I held a baby. (With seven adult kids and 8 grand babies, we are kind of experts. LOL)

It's what we do isn't it? I don't want to be the guy who says,"I'll pray for you." And then forgets. Let's do it now.

I don't want to be the son who says, "I will do it Father!" And then doesn't.

Jesus is here #5. At the service on the second night, the pastor had random loaves of bread around the sanctuary during his message. Then he called for them to be brought forward in faith. We went. Dropping the loaf into the hands of Jesus, asking Him to do the miracles we've been praying for, we turned and headed back to our seats.

Before I could sit, my text alert went off. It was a message from a christian I've known for several years. In my heart, I have prayed to the Lord, and pleaded with this believer to break out of their comfort zone as soon as God gives them someone to disciple. I had yet to see any fruit from that tree.

That message told me that this christian had finally seen the Lord break through into his life in that area. I can't tell you how happy it made me. And the timing? Right after taking a walk of faith in front of hundreds of christians... well, Jesus knows how to make an entrance. That's for sure.

Jesus is here #6. On the outside, at the conference, it's more bark. More structure. More plans. Did you know that God is in both the planned and the unplanned? (Humanly speaking.)

The last day was a ceremony. Lots of clapping and standing and sitting, but Jesus was there.

It wasn't empty, void of meaning and purpose like worldly ceremonies. It was full of God.

We remembered those who in 2023 went home to be with the Lord.

We grieved the loss as one body.

We called up front all those who received their credentials this year. A friend of ours, his name was called, but he wasn't able to come, being bi-vocational. I suddenly realized that last year, this assembly called our names and we weren't there to come forward. I texted our friend and let him know they just called him forward. I took an audio recording of the prayer that was prayed for him and the others and sent it to him. I just felt that he shouldn't miss out on that. He thanked me.

We celebrated those who progressed in their process to make, level 3, ordained minister.

I know, more bark, more wood. But Jesus is in the bark too.

It doesn't look the same.

It doesn't feel the same as the green tender leaf or the plump ripe fruit, out there on the streets, in the trenches, just you and Jesus saving people in the darkness of the world.

It is different, but He glories in the different, He created it.

He is God in it all.

Jesus is here #FINAL. There is more I could have written but I think this last bit is best. After the second evening service we all went to TGI Friday's for late dinner. I think every one of us was looking for Jesus in that restaurant. Then a man approaches our table and begins to pour out his life story. Just some random dude...

...wait... 'whatsoever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me'... or something close to that.

Jesus attracted this man to us.

My wife, a people person, perks up. The Spirit comes upon her and she begins to pray for the man. She jumps right in, both feet.

We bow our heads over our supper and join.

There are tears. Some unseen burden is lifted in the Spirit. Freedom comes.

This is what is means to follow Christ, whether in the green and tender or the brown and rough, whether in the dark or light, whether in crowds or in private, in the planned and the unplanned, for the introvert and the extrovert... if you are His child, Jesus will only touch the world through you.

This is the end of my story today friend.

Maybe you struggle with the same things I do.

Maybe you struggle with different things.

Just know that if you look for Jesus everywhere you go... He won't hide from you.

He loves people too much for that.

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