Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Velvet Rope

When we look back at our life experience, we will see the hand of God. For those who come out of a dysfunctional religious background, this is not always easy. The past choices and plans of our lives when within such an environment went from perceived clarity to being clouded and murky. What is the word I am looking for...confusion. A confusion not from fear in the sense that one is not scared to move but of which way to go. So we pressed on believing that our God was leading us. The ironic thing was that He was indeed doing so. There was a velvet rope we clung to as we forged ahead believing somehow we would see in the end God was surely leading us somewhere. Then it began to happen. Things started to not go as perhaps we planned them to go. Suddenly or perhaps even gradually, we were disturbed by waves and currents that seemed to be taking us away from the surety of God's shoreline and into the deep where the monsters lay. What we perhaps perceived or were convinced was God's plan was made flotsam where we aimlessly bobbed waiting for any breath of wind. It did not get any better along our passage. In the transition from what was to what would be, our pitiful little boat seemed to be one which could not stand the coming inundation and we began to fear. The storm came...and went and perhaps there were many of them but where we found ourselves was a place unknown. The place where we washed up seemed somehow hostile. It was a world we did not know and the language that we spoke seemed strange to those who first heard us. Welcome to the New World, the REAL world. The ways we had learned and perhaps mastered would do us no good where we landed. We had to learn new ways to be and to do. It was painful and there were times when we thought we would not survive it...but we did. Moreover, the hostile environment where we were marooned to live out our days somehow became a world filled with beauty. The tempest and threatening clouds we lived under for so long were replaced by clear skies and sunsets so beautiful, it made us misty and our hearts began to do something we dared not to do up to that point...lift praise to the God who made us. The One who saw us through and landed us here. We began to build not dwellings of huts but houses. We began to realize that this was where we were to be. The kingdoms and palaces of cold stone we once lived in were gone and never to return. The materials here were different and even if we wanted to, we could not 're-build' what was familiar. When we got through with the new houses, they were not in anyway the same. Open-air and sunlight speckled them and the parapets from which we once defended were now lighthouses that pierced the darkness not to warn of danger but to call home other lost ships at sea.

The velvet rope that led us through it all.

In my own story I have one. I only recently saw it. I was reading my Bible at my table on a glorious southern spring morning. I make notes as I read and I underline. I glanced at the pen I was using. It all came to me in such a powerful whisper, it was the velvet rope. The rope that lead me through such dark waters and was always there to cling to and to pull me through the maelstrom of guilt, despair and confusion. I somehow had the urge to hold on, to not let go and to pull with all my might while the quicksand of circumstance tried to suck me down into the darkness that some foretold and the dark side of myself believed. Many years ago before all what happened occurred, while I was in my early thirties and full of a direction and purpose another had given me that I had embraced as my own, the Lord gave me a 'vision' while I was in front of a restaurant in what was then my home base. Even after almost thirty years, I remember it quite clearly and can still recall each detail of it. I will share it with you. What I pictured was a dark and murky unfriendly place. I was building a church building and began to call out for people to come and help, rocks began to trundle out of the dark nooks and crannies and finished off the building and then lightning struck the top of it. That vision stayed with me until this day like so many other things God gives us that do not speak of the present but are tucked away for a future time when understanding will be given. It is something the Lord gave me I believe because it was so vivid and has stuck with me through so much. It at times has caused me to question God's purpose. Over the years I did build that church and there were those who stood by me and provided so much help in its construction...yet the 'lightning' never came. When the separation came from the group I was a part of, the church building remained in my care and it sat vacant for about two years. During that time, the velvet rope of the vision seemed like a heavy chain and yet I still thought about it from time to time although with much pain. The vision I had did not help me at that time, at least I did not think it did. It seemed I had lost my purpose and the vision was no longer one that filled me with hope but was a reminder of my own decisions and failures. I could not shake the thought I had gotten off track somewhere along the way. During that time, I was cast in deep sea and the monsters under my feet were nudging and probing to see if I was ready to be taken. To be honest until this day...today I did not understand the purpose why God gave me such a vision. It seemed a lie. It seemed like a divine practical joke...then I looked at the pen and there it was. The one who gave me the pen now uses the building and holds services there. He uses the pens as a touchstone to people who are visitors as a reminder of their visit. On the pen there is a logo or a theme for the ministry. It is the picture of a storm and in that tempest there is a lightning bolt that is cast from it and it branches to hit something. From what I can see on the pen, the lightning has no target or it is unseen. What is it that it hits is not revealed. The 'vision' for the ministry the Lord gave the person who now uses the building did not know my personal vision and still does not know about it. On the pen, there is lightning without a target. Together the visions from two men that were decades apart from different lives and seemingly incomplete missions and callings in themselves were made complete together. I realized in that incandescent moment what the lightning hits is the church building he is now in...the one I built. I have finally realized it is not by accident the vision came to me so long ago, it was authentic it was genuine and now I see it as the velvet rope that led me through the darkness to where I am today. I have concluded that what I have been through, what I have suffered, what my wife and I have borne has purpose, it has gone exactly as God whispered to me so many years ago--with God-like precision for it was the hand of God. What was once a dark and murky vision and an enigmatic thunderbolt is a lighthouse where I have seen shipwrecked lives restored; pulled from the deep waters by cords of love.

There is, there must be a velvet rope in your life.

We do not have to go far in the scriptures to find velvet ropes. Perhaps the most poignant story in scripture is the story of Joseph. Here is a young man who receives dreams of a great future and yet whose life is filled with so much pain and disappointment. Can God give such a dream? Oh yes, the dreams God gives always are. They are tested to a breaking point. They in their living out seem so ethereal and false yet Joseph held them close through tests and trials that equipped him for the future he was to realize. In the end, Joseph sat unrecognized by his kin. When he revealed himself to them, they were terrified that he would get even...but this is the statement he made:

'God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth...' Gen 45:7

Joseph finally saw the 'lightning'... God's velvet rope was what bore him through until the understanding came.

And so it will be for you...something God has shown you to get you through perhaps waters that would swallow you and not leave a trace. Friends there is most definitely a velvet rope forged in the mind and heart of a God who only asks you to believe and hold on and pull yourself forward. I am still holding mine. Not that I expect there are other places to go or people to see--that is all in the hands of God. I hold the rope to witness to the fact that there is one; there is a rope...I am holding it. I am holding it and that gives me hope that perhaps beyond the rim of my sight there are loved ones holding that same rope pulling and moving forward through the darkness to an unseen place and purpose. If I hold on and they do, One day and I hope soon, we will arrive at some place holding the rope in our hands when we finally meet in the middle. Not a place of their choosing nor mine but one that God has already planned.

I have hope, I believe and I am still holding on....I have finally seen the 'lightning'. God is there, my life is not in vain and neither is yours.