Wednesday 27 October 2010

Travels with John & Fred — January 9 – 23, 2006

Listen, think about it!
In Genesis 3, some really small action took place. Adam stretched out an arm in false believing. From that false believing and "false" faith action is all that you now see as a canker spread right through every nation on earth.
Is it any wonder then, that through our "small" actions as we share the simple message of what Christianity means, (that like leaven, this time the new leaven,) great things are going to grow from this similarly tiny seed, as it engrafts in every nation on Earth. This account is from Fred Pruitt and John Bunting see Fred's blogpost . Can I make it clear I was not on this trip, this is being shared to give you another angle on how God is building.

Travels with John & Fred — January 9 – 23, 2006 — Georgia, Florida, Alabama
Abraham, Apostle Paul, Christ in you, Col 1:27, faith, Gal 2:20, Grace, law and grace, new testament, union with Christ
By Fred Pruitt

After hearty celebrations of the holidays with families and friends, Dr. John & I set off on another adventure in early January. We had driven north before, so why not south this time? So John’s shy wife Linda (people think I’m kidding because she seems anything but “shy,” but so she is) had gotten on the phone with people she knew, and many she had never met though had been in contact with, and fixed us up a schedule hitting a few stops in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

John and I are continually asking this question: why are we doing this? And now seems appropriate to delve into it again. We had had a long rest between the end of our fall trip and the beginning of January. Life is comfortable at home, and certainly neither of us are past being “needed” at home for various father and husband responsibilities. Our wives love us and I like to think pine for us just a little when we’re gone. We pine for them, too (but we’re men and we don’t talk about it).

But why get up out of this comfort zone and go ride around in a little car all over the country staying in houses with people we often don’t know? It would be answering a simple question if we had some tangible product we were selling, something you could hold in your hand, or at least a “program” you could apply. And that this tangible “product” would produce quantifiable guaranteed results. Or that we were building some structure that we could point to and measure our progress. But we “have” none of that, and offer only a Person (God in Jesus Christ) as the foundation and daily reality of life, and bring only ourselves as we are in Christ, and we trust that He lives as us.

So the first answer to why, is the first answer that came to us, causing all the other answers: it is the compulsion of the Spirit, which is a drive of love. Before we ever got in the car, there was the drive of the Spirit to get out to wherever we could to give what God had given us.

Each successive step has come from the preceding one. With each step, we know a little more, and also ask a little more. I understand more what Paul meant when he said in Philippians 3: “Not as though I have already attained.” It isn’t a “self” attainment, some higher degree of sanctity, that Paul is talking about, but rather the constant seeking of love to fill places with itself. Love does not rest because it is its nature to go out of itself, away from its own comfort, to only find release and rest in expending itself in reproduction of itself.

What John and I are learning (and sharing hopefully) through all these travels and visits, is not something special just to us and “revealed” to us because we’re out “doing God’s work,” but we are only learning and living what is happening in all of us in our regular daily lives, each and every day. The “love drive” I speak of which compels us to do what we do, is the same “love drive” in each of us, which compels us all who are in Him, to do what we do. Christ has come into us to be, first of all, foremost and foundational to everything, the Love of God in us. The true “other-love.” And this is what we find to be true every moment of every day — that He by our lives is manifesting in the world around us as love.

He’s the water, and we’re the structure people come to to draw the water from — the well. Which is the final purpose of our going, that these wells would spring up everywhere where there have been only deserts before. The wells are ourselves in Christ and He in us, each of us the starting points for innumerable rivers of living water flowing out of each of our middles, to water and bless the world.

In a nutshell, that’s all we’ve been sent out to share. And we are finding hearing ears everywhere we go.

And with that as our context John picked me up early in the morning of January 9th. We were under the gun already at 6 AM — we had to be at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant near Chattanooga, Tennessee, by lunchtime for a lunch date. We were meeting with a man John had met on a trip several years ago to Romania. Eddie Cantrell is a pastor at a local Baptist church in the area, and he and John had hit it off when they met on a mission trip and had the same “message” to give in their talks – union with Christ. Eating at Cracker Barrel satisfies the southern cookin’ hankerin’ I get every now and then, so I was agreeable to the meeting as well.

One thing I’ve learned on my trips with John Bunting — we don’t dawdle — so it was no problem getting to the lunch date on time. (We are often very very early – we were once a day early somewhere and we didn’t know it!) We phoned Eddie and he met us and we had a great chat about the good things of God and how things were going with him, while thoroughly enjoying the biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, and the various other things that go with them.

From there on to Dallas, Georgia, to visit Ray and Lee Epperson. I remember it was warm enough that we sat out on their back porch for a couple of hours. We’d been cooped up in our houses for the past couple of months in Kentucky, so it was a pleasure to sit out for a while. We had lively conversation throughout the night with Ray and Lee regarding our union with Christ.

The next night we drove from Dallas over to the Lake Lanier/Gainesville area, where our hosts, Bill and Lynn Davis, had arranged for us to stay at a lakehouse nearby. Bill and Lynn had set up a group meeting for the evening. I knew I was in the right place when we got there at dinnertime. They had brought in barbecue, and among the selections was Brunswick Stew. I’m partial to Brunswick Stew when it’s made right, and this turned out to be made just right. I hadn’t seen Brunswick Stew since I moved to Kentucky, so I knew I was back in Georgia and we were to be greatly blessed!

But aside from that, the Davis’ sponsored our first formal “meeting” on this trip. They had invited a few friends from their fellowship in. Jim played the guitar and led in song and then John and I took turns giving short talks. After that we had a good session of questions and discussion at the end.

The next morning we headed south to the Atlanta area, where we had two people to see in the afternoon, and then a get-together at a church in the evening. In our non-dawdling way, we had plenty of time to kill for our lunch appointment when we arrived in Atlanta. So I thought John should have a little tour. I had gone to middle and high school in Atlanta, as well as sowed many of my wildest oats, in the very part of Atlanta where we were going. And I thought I knew it like the back of my hand, in a 40-year-ago-memory-gap sort of way. I was surprised more than once, though, as many things were more or less where they had been all those years ago, but the ways to get to them had become all askew. Still I found my way to show John my house from high school days and many other landmarks, but John’s favorite part of the tour, no doubt, was when I had him go down all these side streets off Peachtree Street in Buckhead to an old three story brick structure that surprisingly, to me, was still standing — and then I began singing my high school alma mater. (I tell my wife at least my high school is still standing. Hers is a K-Mart now.)

We met a wonderful lady for lunch, Rosemarie Lownik. She is one of the many people who have come to us via the internet in one way or another. Like many others, what we are sharing is what she was already hearing in herself and from other sources, that she is Christ expressing Himself in her daily living, and we found another new heart friend. After lunch Rosemarie had to get back to work and we next visited an old friend of John and Linda from their high school days.

Then, as traffic was gearing up for another daily freeway-jamagananza, we set off to the other side of Atlanta to meet with Reggie Screen, pastor of a church in Lawrenceville. John had visited there in 2004 with Dan Stone. Reggie and his people had received John and Dan with openness and excitement in 2004, and the same was true for our visit. After dinner with Reggie, we met with his midweek group and he gave us the floor. As has become our habit, we nod to each other and somehow one of us begins to speak, and this time John began sharing his testimony. Afterwards I got to give along the same lines. (And during the time John was talking, he got a couple of telephone calls from his children and grandchildren wishing him happy birthday). Reggie and his people again were delightful and responsive heartily to the words John and I had shared.

The next day found us riding due south for Florida. After barely a month of winter at home, I was already prepared for some warm weather. Hoping for some, anyway. We got to Ocala in mid-afternoon and spent the night with old friends, Rock and Deb Gibboney. It was old home week for us all since we hadn’t seen each other in many years. We had a great time of sharing with Rock and Deb until mid-day the next day, when John and I pulled off toward the ocean. It turned out we had an extra day in our schedule and neither of us had seen the sea in a while and it was so close ….

So we headed on over to the Daytona area which was pretty much deserted, being January. We got a room on the beach that looked like it had been the setting for a thousand keg parties, but it had active high-speed internet, so who was complaining? And it was on the beach! We treated ourselves to a steak dinner and enjoyed the surf when we returned. There’s something about the ocean, even just a few minutes of it. It always speaks to me of the mystery of God and ourselves.

The next day on the way out we had breakfast across the street from the Daytona 500 Speedway. When we were in the parking lot of the restaurant we could hear the cars driving around inside the speedway, they were so loud. It made me think of all my friends who love NASCAR.

Our next stop was Sanford, Florida, at the church of Pastor Theory Stringer. We had been corresponding with Theory for a few months, after he and his church member George Magu (a man from Kenya) found us via the website. Pastor Theory had invited a number of other local pastors to his church for a Saturday afternoon meeting. We had an informal session in their sanctuary, with Theory and the other pastors asking to hear from us regarding living in union with Christ. Each of us gave our take and then we had a lively discussion. One portion of our session that made an indelible impression on me, was how firm Theory and others with him were on being “slaves of God.” It is a truth we easily pass over from time to time, but Theory reminded us how total our slavery is in being bondslaves of God, doing the will of our “master” from the heart, and in that is freedom. To finish the evening they took us down to the church basement for a wonderful dinner put together by some of the ladies.

The next day was Sunday and we were scheduled to meet our next contact, someone we’d never met, at a church service in Orlando. We didn’t even know what our friend looked like, just the address of the church.

Showing up more than an hour early we of course found it deserted, so a few cups of coffee later we returned to find people parking and walking into the building. John and I didn’t recognize anybody, but we went in and sat down toward the rear. Service got started a while later with lots of rousing songs and it seemed like at one time or another, almost everybody in the congregation got up and either went up and grabbed a microphone and sang, or picked up an instrument and played. We were in a good ol’ fashioned country church, the kind neither of us had been in in a good while, and there was shoutin’ and lots of movement, onstage and off! We weren’t even sure who was the pastor until a quiet unassuming man got up, staying below the platform and never “ascending” the pulpit, and with a Bible in hand began expounding on the scripture. He was Brother Harvey Turnage, a beautiful man who surprised our socks off by preaching about living and knowing God in the NOW, experiencing the goodness, mercy and perfection of God in our present moment living. He was singing our tune, and after church we joined Brother Harvey and a host of others for lunch, and left him with a copy of “Hearts of Flesh.”

Later we found out by phone from Brother Harvey that he had read in “Hearts” that we knew Norman Grubb. “Yes,” I told him, “we were privileged to have known him and been friends with him.” Then Brother Harvey told me he’d met Norman Grubb “about 40 years ago in Memphis,” and he said he’d been preaching that message ever since. Brother Harvey and I have since talked several times and he is a tremendous Spirit man. It was a privilege to have met him and his little congregation in Orlando. We hope to see him again.

Our contacts, Les & Polly Houghton, brought us together. We also met them at the service. We didn’t know them before, either, but they knew people we knew in New England. And that’s how these trips come about. Everything is as John says, “Serendipitous.” That’s a good word. It really does work like that, though. Everything falls into place as we take each successive step.

Our next stop was the Melbourne area, hosted by Mark and Jo Ann Parker. They were tremendous hosts, and had arranged four meetings for John and me, two in the mornings and two in the evenings. Most of our meetings are “one night stands,” with the occasional two-nighter. And even with a two-nighter, no one usually calls on us to share more than two sessions. But FOUR? Did we have that much to say?

As usual, the Spirit loves an empty place, and “we had nuthin” as the saying goes, so we ended up having four really tremendous sessions. It was mostly the same people so were able to have continuity. We started the first morning with the basics of our understanding of who we are from the scriptures, moving quickly into the frustration we run into in our spiritual lives. That sparked lots of interest and back and forth, and our session which began at 10:00 lasted until nearly 3:00 when people finally had to split up. In the evening session we spoke a great deal about faith and living Christ by faith. The next morning we started out with a question and answer session that again went until mid-afternoon, followed up by a night session that delved into the purpose of our sonship in God, that we might be joined in the Father’s & Son’s redemptive purposes, that life is no longer about us and our well-being, but now the life flows out of us to touch the others around us. And the first afternoon between sessions we managed to slip in having coffee with some friends who came up from another city, and then the next day had dinner with one of our new friends in the Melbourne/Palm Bay area, Phyllis Muesig. So the time ended up being filled, and filled mightily with the life of the Spirit in each and every person!

Melbourne was our southernmost point in Florida for this trip (we’ll be back), so the next morning we headed back north on I-95 to Titusville, to meet and spend the day with Patrick and Pam Bielen. We had been writing each other via email but it was our first meeting. It had been obvious to us before we met that Patrick was turned on about our life in union with Christ, but we truly had no idea of his passion for it until we spent the day with him and his wife. We started talking in their living room the moment we got there and went all day. Pam made a great chicken enchilada for lunch and we kept right on talking while enjoying the best Mexican food in Titusville bar none! Patrick works with gang kids in juvenile detention, a REALLY tough job, and while he can’t “officially” give Jesus, he has many stories where Jesus slipped Himself in anyway, to some miraculous results. He is doing great work and we believe with he and Pam to see many lives affected and brought to Jesus out of the darkness he encounters everyday. We can certainly remember Patrick and Pam in our prayers.

Next we stopped a night upstate in Alachua, just outside Gainesville, to see old friend Steve Pettit. At least old friend to John. I had only met Steve once before we had a night with him, but John had been with him many times. Steve and his wife were as gracious as they could be, giving us a day for R&R and doing a little wash.

The final major stop in our tour was in Tallahassee with Billy and Patty Hattaway. They are also old friends to many of us. We spent the first night having dinner with our hosts and talking about the things of the Spirit. The next day they gave us a tour of the area, especially the athletically oriented sites associated with Florida State University, which John enjoyed thoroughly, since he knows all the coaches and all the players. I just liked looking at the sights.

That night Billy and Patty had invited friends in, and John and I plucked our one string again. We spoke again about one of the themes that have been constant on all our trips, that we enter into our rest in God through faith, and this is our entering into the fulfillment of Ephesians 4:14-16:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

John has continually said everywhere we’ve gone: “There is a Graduation Day!” And this is what we testify. There is an entering into the “rest of God,” and it is in simple faith that we enter. “All things are possible to him that believeth.”

We concluded our evening at the Hathaway’s with another heart discussion about these things. It was obvious to us that night, and it was obvious to us everywhere else we’d been as well, that there had been great stirring of the Spirit among us all. More and more to us Jesus’ words are proved: Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. (John 4:35)

The next morning Billy and Patty saw us off with a good hearty breakfast. We had a last chance for me to stop at a tourist place to get some Florida coffee mugs to take home, and then we turned northward into Alabama. We stopped and had lunch with another friend, Bill Espy, in Dothan Alabama. After spending a couple of good hours with Bill we drove up to Birmingham to see our old friend Doug Eblen for the night. Doug has been in bad health but when we saw him he had some improvement and we were glad to see it. I have known Doug as long as I have known John and they both are precious to me beyond words. We spent a good evening with Doug who showed us some of his best and latest treasures (he likes old rare books, especially of William Law or Jacob Boehme), and he has some true rare gems, to be sure. Someone could spend a lifetime just studying his collection.

That was our last night on the road, and we were up early the next morning to drive the last few hours home. I was meeting Janis who was with our daughter in Nashville, leaving John to drive the last three hours by himself to Louisville. John and I drove through the rain from Birmingham to Nashville, only a few hours, and met up with Janis and Jessica for lunch, and then in a very anticlimactic way John and I split up at that point — he just backed his car over to mine and I got my stuff out — and I guess there our trip officially ended, in a mall parking lot in Nashville, Tennessee.

I think it was there in the parking lot, meeting my wife and daughter, with John, that I see all over again what this is all about. It really is about the people. It’s about love and friendship, truth, light, respect, and all the other things that figure in regarding “people.” “Jesus endured the cross … for the joy that was set before Him.” What was the joy? A big mansion in the sky with a Ferrari out front? More jewels in his crown than anybody else? NO!!!! WE were the joy set before him. All of US.

And now that’s what we’ve joined into when we have come into Christ and He into us. We find we cannot help ourselves from some involvement in some way that we might be the bread of life for others. That’s the “new nature” that we now are. A nature of love.

And that’s the end of our January 2006 trip.

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