By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (February 6, 2012) – Pathos and praise intermixed at the Midwinter Conference’s Thursday night worship service when attendees were moved to acknowledge the depth of suffering that strikes all people, to praise the Almighty who can do more than one could ever think or imagine, and let him empower their ability and to love their enemies.
The service included an extended litany of lament during which the worshipers expressed questions that suffering brings and their solidarity with others who suffer.
That theme was carried through during a “word of witness” in which Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life Family Worship Center in Madison, Wisconsin, told of his own journey that included a father who abandoned him, the death of two children moments after they were born, and the premature birth of his daughter.
Gee was 11 years old when his mother and Gee fled his abusive father, whom he never saw again while growing up. The boy vowed to be a pure Christian and give himself wholeheartedly to God.
The two children who died did so in their parents’ arms, and Gee subsequently descended into a deep depression. He continued to minister to others the best he could.
That ministry included reaching out to men who had been incarcerated, including rapists and murderers. He learned of the suffering in their hearts that often was the result of not having a father in their lives. It was the same wound he had also suffered.
Gee said he simply responded differently – by trying to be the perfect Christian. The pastor also realized he had expected God to reward him for his efforts to be good.
That experience has transformed Gee, he said. It also has enabled him to seek out his father, with whom he has slowly been renewing a relationship over the last several years.
The call to follow the “enemy-loving God” was a major theme of the message delivered by Mark Labberton, the Lloyd John Ogilvie Associate Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary and director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching. Expounding on the text from the Sermon on the Mount, he exhorted his listeners to consider the area in which they are most prone to fail in loving someone.
“It is in that very place the kingdom of God calls us to do our most serious transformation,” he said. The extent to which people believe that can ever happen evidences how much they are trusting in themselves versus how much they are trusting in God to do the work.”
Labberton said that in the church, “there is an enormous pull to smallness.” As a result, Christians become mired in a “fussy legalism” that focuses on minutiae compared to the to the incomprehensibility of God’s great love.
The gospel is the “antidote” to smallness, he said. Labberton said the stories that immediately follow the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus healing a leper and a centurion’s daughter” – are “in your face” moments to people who want to be impressed by the sermon, but not live it.
“What does real holiness look like?” Labberton asked. “It looks like doing the most unholy thing that the sociology and religiosity of Israel might ever name in that moment. It was the fastest way to show you were not pure or identifying with the God of Israel. And Jesus says, ‘Let me show you what it actually looks like to love your enemy.’ He takes the most paradigmatic form of Israel’s life and redefines what holiness is.”
The music throughout the evening incorporated the themes of the need for God’s healing and power. The regular worship team was backed by a choir of ministers.