It was Thom on the vid.
Brenda took the call, and wished him a good evening.
"Brenda," Thom began, "a few of us are sitting down Wednesday to talk about outreach ideas for the spring. I was wondering if you and Jim could be there?"
Brenda popped up their calendar, and saw they were booked until 6 that night. "We're interviewing preschools for Lacy, but we could probably be there at 7:00 or 7:30. Would that be good enough?"
Thom was happy to hear they could pull it off, and quickly agreed. After a quick apology for having to click off right away, he was gone. Brenda went back to getting ready for Jim to come home. Things would be different when she went back to work, but rather than trying to transition smoothly, she was trying to make these last few weeks extra special. She could slowly shift more of the workload to Jim in these last weeks, but it was much more fun to make sure there was nothing he could find to do when he got home.
It might be a long time before the whole house was ever clean again, and there was real fried chicken on the stove when Jim walked in. They might as well enjoy their freedom while it lasted.
Come Wednesday, Jim and Brenda found themselves in a good mood. Their first choice in preschools was a little spendy, and a little sterile, but their second was right in the sweet spot. They had an eight to one student/teacher ratio there, and with the pro-birth tax rebates, they could even pay for it. The tuition would end up being two thirds of Brenda's take home income, but that was only to start. In BusinesS Intelligence, she soon be able to double her salary. She was all business, and more than intelligent.
They signed the papers that night, so Lacy could start with the new quarter in 3 weeks.
Arriving at Thom's house just a little after 7:00 (they had scarfed some burgers on the way over, so as to be on time,) they found the meeting was running a little late. That gave them a chance to give Thom and Karen the news. Joy joined herself to the conversation, so they had to tell the whole story over again, but it was always pleasure to repeat good news. Joy and George had a girl Lacy's age, and a boy a year and a half older. They didn't get to talk much, because they were over in Derek and Julia's den, but they seemed like nice people.
When Joy heard the good news, she didn't exactly look like she'd swallowed a bug, but maybe sucking something slightly sour.
Jim was the oblivious type, so he asked what was the matter.
"The matter," Joy asked, "Why, nothing's the matter at all. I'm very happy for you both."
Jim was only more confused by this answer. Jim was a mechanic. Mechanics find problems for a living; they find them because they look for them; they look for them because they notice something not performing within published specs; things are not performing within published specs because they are broken; mechanics fix broken things. So, Jim started the troubleshooting process with another question, "Where do your kids go?"
Brenda saw Joy's blush. Jim just heard the answer.
"George ... George and I, we decided to homeschool Darren and Dawn."
"That's really cool," Jim gushed. "Is that even legal?" He continued.
"Oh yeah," Joy answered. "It got a little dicey during the anti-proselytization days, but Congress didn't have enough time to make it illegal. Anyone can homeschool their own kids, and anyone with a degree can help anyone else homeschool their kids for money - legal tutoring."
Jim beamed. This was a great idea! He looked over at Brenda and didn't understand her look. She was not enthused, but she was not shooting daggers at him either. It was a funny look. She read his eyes, and shook her head just the littlest bit, and Jim knew to ask later.
Jim thanked Joy for the outstanding idea, and let the subject change to outreach to the community. It was a favorite subject of his. There were so many things that were exciting about being with the Lord, and being with brothers and sisters. Not telling everyone about Jesus just didn't make sense to Jim.
Derek walked in just as Jim was getting wound up.
Derek had a commanding presence. He was almost 300 pounds, and while not all of it was muscle, no one doubted that a lot of it was. And he was serious. Nothing, but nothing, but nothing was beneath his perfect attention. He rearranged the chairs in meeting rooms. He checked the air conditioning levels, and made sure all the white noise was off. Every month, Derek's den set the standard for whatever the church was doing.
When Derek entered, everyone knew it was time to start, and they took their seats.
The den mothers and youngest couple from each den was there. That made for a big meeting, but it promised to be a lot of fun.
The meeting began with a couple minutes of silence. Every meeting did. They took that time to focus themselves on the purpose of the meeting, and on the Lord. Jim had been taught pretty quickly that it is easy to focus too much on the visible things, and to forget the Lord Himself. For that couple minutes, everyone reminded themselves that they were here to receive and to present the Love of God from and to each other, exactly as Jesus would if He were there. They reminded themselves that they were here to touch Christ.
They were in Dave's home, so he kicked off the meeting.
"Master," Dave began, "we are here because You set us free. You gave us the free gift of Your life and blood. You have made us rich with every blessing in heavenly places. We are inheritors of more than we could imagine, though we have done nothing to deserve the first notice from Your holy eyes. Now, we long to display Your offer to our neighbors. We want to open our hearts and homes to those You would welcome into the household of faith. Show us how we should do it. Show us how to reach the lost around us. Direct us tonight, and be the real Head of this meeting. Guide each of us to speak only as Your Spirit leads, and let us find Your Wisdom and not our own as we seek to glorify You."
With the meeting started, Derek stood up.
He spoke first to the younger couples. "Each of you should probably know that you are here to talk about how to reach our respective neighborhoods. Each of us den mothers has been thinking on this subject for the last three weeks, and we have put together some ideas. Here's how this is going to work, and why you have been called here. We want to hear from you whether you think each idea would have caused you to want to get to know the people at Corner Church."
Jim knew a little bit about Corner Church's decision making. He had never been a part of an actual elders' meeting, but he knew that they were simple affairs. The issues were laid on the table as quickly as possible, even before the meeting if that was practical, and then each den mother gave his heart on the subject. Each leader tried to capture what he believed to be the Lord's leading on the subject, and then he was silent. They took turns by lottery, and nobody was allowed to "rebut" anything anyone else said. Everyone spoke exactly once, from the heart, and from the Spirit, as much as he was able. Everyone else listened - really listened.
One brother was responsible to make sure the dictaputer captured everything that everyone said. He was called the recorder. As the dictaputer was transcribing each statement from each den mother, the recorder would highlight things that really seemed poignant or Spirit-led. After everyone had spoken once, the room would be silent. In that time, everyone would silently pray and the recorder would pull together all the highlights and formulate what they called the "sense of the meeting." There was no vote. The recorder wrote down and read out his impression of the decision of the meeting, and everyone either accepted it or rejected it. If anyone rejected it, they prayed some more, and tabled it until the next meeting.
Jim did not know this idea was lifted from the Quakers, but he thought it was pretty cool. Anything was better than arguing with his brothers and sisters about every little thing.
Derek was going to run this meeting like any other elders' meeting.
"What I would like you to do," Derek continued, "is to take a survey on each idea presented. After each den mother presents his idea, George will text you a URL, and you answer by replying with a number between zero and nine. Nine means you think the idea would certainly have drawn you in, and zero means the idea might actually have driven you away. A 4 means that you would never really have thought much about it. It just wouldn't have made an impression on you. You den mothers can take the survey, too. George has connected to your devices, too."
It was the first time Jim had seen all the den mothers doing their thing. The way they presented their ideas was interesting. Some of them brought vid presentations, while others barely strung together a whole paragraph. The ideas were all over the board, too. There was door-to-door outreach, car washing, food drives, better signage, and a couple of calls for different kinds of parties to invite everyone to. Thom wanted to have a block party, and try to identify some needs of the neighbors while they were all together. Jim enjoyed voting for each of the ideas, as Brenda did too, but unfortunately he could only give Thom's idea a five.
Tim's idea was Jim's favorite so far, but Derek had come up last in the lottery. Tim wanted to rent out a room at the local coffee shop one night a week for a couple months, and invite the neighborhood in for free coffee. Each night, a group of people from the church would talk with complete strangers about football or politics or the latest movies. At some point in the evening, the church would run a little skit that presented something about the Lord. It didn't have to be too heavy, but it should be something challenging.
Jim gave that idea a eight, and Brenda gave it a seven.
Then, it was Derek's turn.
"My contribution is much simpler than anything you've heard so far," he began. "I'm almost embarassed to go through with telling you about it. Still, it's what I feel the Spirit has laid upon my heart. I don't believe we need any gimmicks, or any program. We need power. We need the power of the Spirit of Revival, the Spirit of Revelation, the Spirit of Holiness. When His power can be entrusted to us, we will turn these neighborhoods upsidedown. Until then, we will merely shame ourselves with our best human efforts.
"The real question is why we lack power. Why has the Lord not entrusted His power to us? How is it we have the Spirit of the Living God present among us, and we are invisible to our neighbors?
"We have no power, because we do not live lives of holiness before God.
"If we will humble ourselves before God, then He will lift us up. If we will cast off the trappings of the world, with its vids streaming poison into our minds, its debt economy making us slaves to every corporation, and its schools brainwashing our children from their very first year of life, the Spirit will have a clean channel through which to flow. If we repent ourselves before God, He will glorify His Name before men through us.
"The Spirit can convict our neighbors, but first we must let Him convict us. We need to throw ourselves into a time of purification and repentance. Let's go back to God, and let Him send us out when we are ready."
It was impossible to miss the passion behind Derek's proposal. For all the strength of his words, he reined in his tone and spoke with bridled emotion, but his concern leaked out anyway. Derek was worried and he was relaying the very words of God, as best he knew them.
Jim was shocked, and somehow not surprised, to realize that he was a vid watcher, owned credit account debt, and had just signed papers to surrender Lacy to government sponsored day care for nine hours a day. He glanced up, and noticed immediately that he was not the only brother in the room staring at the floor. George and a couple other brothers in Derek's den were looking around the room, but almost everyone else was lost in thought.
Jim probed his heart before the Lord. He could find no defense against the accusations ringing in his ears, and the Lord was silent in his heart. There was no whisper of exoneration to oppose Derek's measured presentation of facts.
He clicked a nine into his survey for Derek's idea.
He looked over to see Brenda giving Derek a three.
He caught her eye, and this time she was shooting daggers.