E-pistle July 17

Sometimes Limping, Sometimes Skipping; God is Always Good
I am writing this edition of the E-pistle from Montreat, North Carolina, where I have been since Sunday evening.  Three former seminary colleagues and I have formed a seminar group sponsored and funded by the Foundation for Reformed Theology.  For five days we have lived together in a summer house in the hardwood forest and among the rhododendron on the grounds of the PCUSA conference center.  Our study has centered on the writings of one of our professors, the late John Leith. Leith was a great champion of the Reformed Tradition and his vision for the foundation was that it might provide theological resources to equip pastors for the task of preaching, teaching and pastoral care.  Through his writing – we have focused on four of his books – Dr. Leith has been a good companion and teacher for the week.
As we have wrestled with and discussed some of the great themes of the Reformed Tradition, we have also caught up with the stories of one another’s lives in this sixteenth summer since graduation from Union Theological Seminary. My colleagues are all younger than I – they being the more traditional 20-something students and I being a mid-career student during our years at Union.  So they have stories of courtship and marriage, the birth of children and the early years of pastoral ministry.  My stories are of children growing up and going to college and the transition from non-ordained to ordained ministry.  We all tell stories of life among God’s people gathered in congregations large and small.  I have my stories to add to the mix, and as I tell them about LPC, it is only with a sense of God’s grace and generosity in my call to serve our congregation.
But it is not the shop-talk stories of life in ministry that has made the week significant at a level deeper than just our academic study.  What has struck me over and over again as we catch up with each other is the sense that God’s sovereignty and providential care are so much more than theological doctrines. They are reality.  The stories of the past sixteen years are not just stories of joyous celebrations and important milestones passed.  They are, among the four of us, very ordinary in every way, stories of loss and confusion, doubt and hurt.  Each of us has been touched – battered – in some way by the reality of life in a faller and broken world.  There has been and still is pain.
Here at LPC, we have been using John Calvin’s image of limping along the path to describe the way of the Christian, and it is apt. But we might also dare use the image of skipping along the path, as well. There is joy in the midst of the pain. God is always good.  No matter what comes our way, no matter how wounded we are, God is always good. With the Apostle we affirm that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
We will gather to worship twice on Saturday and then again on the Lord’s Day.  We will gather to affirm our confidence that we belong body and soul, in life and in death, not to ourselves, but to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.  We will gather to celebrate a God who still calls men and women into a life of covenant commitment.  We will gather to hear the Word of God proclaimed and to offer our praise.  God is always good.