I had to take a church retreat. I was reluctant to go. I had just come back from ministry gigs in Singapore. And before that I had made a trip to Penang on family matters. I was tired. And I hate the long winding drive up to Cameron Highlands where the retreat was to be held.
But I had given my word. And this was a church community that was very dear to me. And the pastor and his wife are very dear friends. And we are people who keep our word. At least we struggle to do so. So I kept my appointment.
The retreat was four days and three nights. It was the best camp experience of my life to date. And I have had my share of church retreats/camps. Here was a rare church that took community with God and community with man seriously.
There was a lot of laughter throughout the camp. It was a fun time. And why shouldn’t God’s people be characterized by laughter? I mean, if the God of the universe really is our Father? The times of worship, teaching, group time and personal conversations, however, revealed a people also serious about life and serious about God.
Many of them were top notch musicians. But when they led in worship one sensed that they were not aiming for technical perfection. They didn’t take themselves that seriously. But they took their God seriously. They were serious about their awe. And their joy and celebration.
The fellowship was inclusive. There were a number of non-Christian friends. There were folks from all sorts of places in their personal pilgrimages. And there were the children. All were welcomed. All were made to feel at home. Hey, they even accepted me.
You can’t have a programme to promote inclusiveness. But inclusiveness happens if the Waiting Father of Luke 15 is allowed to have His way (Luke 15:11-32).
One way we demonstrate inclusiveness is when everyone is given a chance to tell their stories and everyone’s story is taken seriously. And there was a lot of that happening formally and informally.
There was also a healthy inclusiveness on the matters discussed. Topics ranged from stories about grace, to biblical views on sexuality and work, to the Christian implications of the Lord of the Rings, to the inner workings of magic shows, to the best ways to kill mosquitoes and flies, to politics, too. Well you get the idea. We talked about life.
The pastor emailed me some of the feedback from the campers. More magic. So many were touched by the Lord at the retreat, many in ways that we couldn’t have predicted. Is this God or is this God? My heart overflows with joy.
But I feel physically and emotionally drained. I was sustained by the Spirit, and adrenaline, during the camp. It’s down time. Everything has a cost. But I wouldn’t have missed this retreat for the world.
The best things in life are win-win. Yes it was a significant time of ministry for me. But I also caught a fresh glimpse of what church can and should be. Somehow I feel that this is very significant for me at this juncture of my life.
The retreat confirmed my conviction that the church is first and foremost family. And grace is the DNA of healthy families. Healthy families also understand the destructive power of sin. Which is why we leave the porch light on so that prodigals can find their way home.
But when prodigals do come home we party like its 1999. Because deep down we know we are all prodigals. Even the ones who never went away. But the crazy love of God welcomes us with open arms. When we come home to Him.
Am I exhibiting post camp euphoria? Maybe. But when you have been in ministry for awhile, you tend to see only the negatives. So when something good happens you just want to celebrate.
So thanks guys. I may have been preaching about grace during the retreat. But you guys were doing grace.
I am glad I kept my appointment.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan