Ministry-Unexpected Encounter

Last Monday evening was very hot indeed for the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center’s graduation ceremonies held at the Crosby School.  In spite of the heat, I noticed eager and excited faces scattered among the group making their way into the auditorium to find a seat.  Yet, it was completely unexpected; that unlooked-for voice of God in the midst of everyday life.  Why the surprise?  I should have remembered it wasn’t in the strong wind, or the earthquake, or the fire that Elijah heard Jehovah speak…but “a still small voice”.  How like our patient God; He asked Elijah a question and listened for his reply!  “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  It would seem evident from his long answer, Elijah was not expecting God’s come back.  I was sweating as if the fire Elijah saw was right next to me!  I didn’t expect God to speak.  But there it was, ‘a still, small voice’… slowly taking center stage in my thoughts.

We were at the PALC graduation to watch our daughter, Grace, receive her HiSET certificate for finishing the high school course.  The ceremony unrolled like an old parchment and I sensed something familiar.  Seated at the front, among others, were the PALC Director, City Council President, Superintendent of Schools and Chairperson of the School Committee.  As each spoke, they mentioned this was the graduation ceremony that was ‘closest to their heart’, ‘the one they most looked forward to’.  Persevering through extreme difficulties of various kinds, this diverse group of students had obviously captured their attention and admiration.  The Director talked about the students, with all their differences, supporting each other like family, encouraging and helping each other in day to day classes.  A lovely older woman, an immigrant from Haiti, was recognized for her friendly, cheerful ways and her strong faith in God.  A young man, who looked old beyond his years was the student speaker.  While admitting he was extremely nervous, it was evident as he wrestled through his speech to a few calls of encouragement from fellow students, that his learning experience with these people had made a huge impact in his life.  A former graduate of the program added her encouragement to the group and told them “to never be ashamed of getting their GED.  It was not only themselves being affected but all the people that were part of their lives.”  Finally, the teachers and staff, who surprisingly weren’t asked to stand together to be recognized, were nevertheless, identifiable by the joy on their faces as they congratulated their students and sought out family members to meet and greet.  What was so familiar here?  Why were these officials finding such delight in sharing in the success of these people?

God’s quiet voice was clear:  you are seeing a shadowy picture of redemption and it’s hard for anyone to resist being caught up in its joy.  Each student’s story, a lost-ness of some sort; needing recovery; needing help beyond their own abilities, was changed through the intervention of another.  There was the fruit of mutual encouragement and a display of joy over each other’s success.  I wasn’t expecting this—this beautiful display of God’s common grace to sinful men – heaven spilling over into this lost world!  Redemption always elicits joy.  Didn’t Jesus say there was “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents”?  That arrow of a question, “What are you doing here?” went straight to my heart.  What are you doing here, Cheryl, in this life I have given you?  Are you persevering with joy, knowing that these daily hardships, sorrows and trials of yours are producing in you an eternal weight of glory?  “You were trapped in a darkness you could never free yourself from and I securely planted you in the kingdom of My Beloved Son.”  I know your frame, you are dust, but remember the mystery which is now revealed – Christ in you the hope of glory.!   God was speaking to me powerfully, I dare say, through the lives of my unbelieving neighbors.  I was not expecting that!

There is a wonderful promise to Israel in Jeremiah 31 which can be applied to us as God’s people (for we are being transformed into Christ’s image, from glory to glory):  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness. “Again, I will build you and you will be rebuilt…” Where is all this new construction?

Calvin commented,  “Length of time might have extinguished the faith of the people, as it is too commonly the case: for when nothing appears to us but the naked word, and when God repeats the same promises from day to day, we think it of no moment; and then when some evil has been prevailing, we think that all ways have been already closed up, so that God cannot bring a remedy; we thus measure his power by our own standard: and as he comes late to help us, because he suffers men to be long afflicted with disease or other evils, so we imagine that God will never come, when he suspends and delays his favor longer than we wish.”

The Psalmist said, “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”

Let us stir one another up to rejoice together in the Lord who has redeemed us and is at work in us!  The Lord said to Jeremiah: “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.  They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord”.  We shall come, not to a graduation, but to the wedding feast of the Lamb.  Surely, we will be astonished guests at His table!  May God grant us grace to persevere now in all we set our hands to.  As we confess our brokenness as sinners saved by grace, may the Spirit teach us to see and rejoice in the work of grace our heavenly Father is doing in each other’s lives, “knowing that we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from our futile way of life inherited from our forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…

…though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

Submitted by:  Cheryl Lanoue


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Grace Church Congregational

1055 Williams Street

Pittsfield, MA 01201