On Saturday morning, April 16, McIlwain’s Session gathered for a Half-Day Retreat. Though the primary agenda of the retreat was to reevaluate and affirm or, if necessary, modify our Mission and Vision statements, the Retreat was structured around discussing Flight Path, the biography of Frank Barker. Barker, of course, was the founding pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. He served as Senior Pastor for 40 years, and was succeeded by Harry Reeder, long a friend of and, in many ways, a pastor-at-large, to McIlwain.
The truth can be horrifically ugly.
Though we turn our heads, for example, from grisly historical images of genocide and recent videos of ISIS beheadings, we cannot deny the truth that men can and do inflict incredible evil upon other human beings. The recently released videos from the Center for Medical Progress have revealed this same evil is at work among us by exposing the ugly truth that the abortion industry is just that—an industry.
Many people “play” spirituality.
Playing spirituality operates in pretty much the same way as does playing a game or engaging in a fun distraction or taking up a weekend activity: Your participation is voluntary, light-hearted, with minimal discomfort and enjoyable. It’s fun while it lasts, there is no pressure for a long-term obligation and, when it’s time to clean up for supper, get ready for bed or head back to reality after the weekend you put it down until the next time you want a little harmless, positive fun.
In the early 90s Lisa and I helped lead a Missions trip of high schoolers to London. We were serving in a working-class part of the city and staying in the rectory of an Anglican church whose pastor was Reformed and evangelical. It had been a busy week and we had seen some exciting things happen. It was exhausting, to be honest, and, alongside my initial jetlag I am sad to admit that I began to neglect my prayer time in favor of a little bit more sleep. I justified my lack of prayer time as a “special circumstance” and not a pattern. After all, what good would an exhausted chaperone be?
Few things are as satisfying as a good story. From the time we incessantly begged, “Just one more before bedtime, pleeeze!” to “I think I can get this next chapter done before I have to get some sleep”—stories have captivated us. Although different people are drawn to different types of writing, the common attraction among all is, I believe, the development of the story itself. It’s what keeps us reading. Heroes in impossible predicaments, sleuths combing through the scenes of “perfect” crimes, thawing of frozen relationships, tripping through the twists and turns of international intrigue—whatever the situation, we both love the story and want to see how it ends.
Exactly 28 years ago, sometime between 11:00 pm, October 31 and 2:00 am, November 1, I was converted. Though I understand now that what happened then was the working out of God's foreordination before creation through his wise and inscrutable hand of providence by multiple means; and though I understand I was likely regenerated some weeks or even months before (or else I would not have begun to seek as I did)--the bottom line is that during that late night and early morning I experienced the reality of conversion. It was nothing less than the conscious engagement of my mind with the reality that I was at one moment one thing and then, in the next moment, I was something else; at one moment I did not trust in the grace of God in Christ and then, in the next moment I did.