For four days this past week I was at the St. Meinrad’s Monastery in St. Meinrad’s, Indiana. First of all, I want to thank each of you for your prayers. I had asked you last Sunday to please remember me on Tuesday as I was going to spend a day of silence in prayer before the throne of Almighty God. I felt your prayers so strong throughout the day!

I have to admit to you that I carried with me to Indiana some baggage other than the two bags I carried on the plane. I carried false assumptions of what the four days would be like for me and the other people who were called to share in the experience. When I was asked to be a part of a team that was being assembled to address the decline of our churches I thought I knew what we would be doing – solving problems. That is the way that I have always addressed solving problems. When we have situations that need to be addressed around here we get together and come up with a plan. I am very comfortable with the “Roll-up-your-sleeves-and-go-to-work” mentality that is so prevalent today. When I arrived at St. Meinrad’s I was anticipating four days of hard work, but what I experienced was something much different, something much more powerful.

On the day we arrived we ate supper together and later had our opening worship service. After worship, the leader had two of the participants share their testimony with the rest of the group. By the time they were finished I knew that the trip was already worth my time.

Dr. Ed Wheeler was the first to share his testimony. Dr. Wheeler was born in Long Island, New York in the early 40’s. Dr. Wheeler said that he didn’t really taste the bitterness of racism until he moved to Atlanta, Georgia as a Junior High student. When Dr. Wheeler moved to Atlanta he learned the horrid lessons of racism. There were different drinking fountains for little Eddie and his family to drink from. They weren’t allowed to sit where white folks sat. The wonderful education he had received in New York suddenly changed as he was forced to go to a segregated school with inferior tools for the teachers to use in teaching their students. Ed was angry. He remained an angry young man for several years, but he had a mother and father who would not allow him to hate white people.

Ed’s father had a third grade education, sold vegetable’s out of the back of his truck, and worked construction when it was available. When Ed was in high school he took a summer job working at a factory that made telephone books when he wasn’t helping his dad sell vegetables. Ed and his buddy “Tank” were responsible for keeping paper loaded in the big machine. It was hot work, draining work, and to make things worse there was a water fountain brimming with the coldest water in Atlanta just yards from where Ed and Tank worked. The water fountain wasn’t available to Ed and his friend as it was labeled “White Only.” The water fountain for black folks was a quarter of a mile away, the water was luke warm, and the looks of the fountain were less than appealing.

One hot Atlanta day Ed and Tank decided that they just weren’t going to make that walk – they were going to drink out of the fountain of ice-cold, thirst quenching water which they had been told was off limits for them. When they got in line the white folks looked at them, but nobody said a word. As the day went on they were never reprimanded for their act of defiance. Ed and Tank thought they had really pulled it off.

At the factory, they didn’t pay much money to the workers, but if you worked there your entire life then you could get a pension. If you were ever fired, regardless of how many years you worked, you would lose your pension.

At the end of the historic day when Ed and Tank broke the color barrier, an elderly black man came over to where they were working. With his head hung low he said, “Boys, I understand what you are trying to do but you need to know that the boss has told me that if you drink out of that fountain again then I am going to get fired. I got children and I’m trying to work until I retire so that I can get my pension. If I get fired then I’m gonna lose that pension.” Ed began to weep as he told us the story. He said, “We cussed that old man on the spot.” The old man never raised his voice, he just said, “Whenever you do something to try and change things somebody is going to pay the price. It’s not always the people making the changes that have to pay the price, but somebody is going to pay the price.” Then he walked away.

Ed said that later that night he was so ashamed of himself for cussing the old man. The next morning he apologized. It was a real turning point in Ed’s life. Ed, the son of a third grade educated daddy who sold vegetables out of the back of his truck went on to graduate from high school as the Senior Class President. Ed went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He didn’t stop there, Ed earned his Master’s of Divinity from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York where he graduated magna cum laude and then he earned his Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Today, Dr. Ed Wheeler is the President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Religion and Society at Tuskegee University before coming to CTS in 1997. Dr. Wheeler has served as Dean at Morehouse School of Religion, Associate Director of the Department of Black Church Relations at Home Mission Board, Southern Baptist Church in addition to holding faculty positions at Interdenominational Theological Center, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Louisiana College.

Dr. Wheeler’s has written five books including “Going Beyond News from the Brickyard,” Living in Hell: The Dilemma of African American Survival; “An Unexpected Testimony from an Unlikely Witness,” Our Help in Ages Past: Sermons from Morehouse; Uplifting the Race: Black Ministerial Leadership in the New South, 1865-1902; and “Black and White Sundays,” Faith and Mission.

One of the other men at the Leadership Retreat is from Indianapolis and as Ed finished he said, “I want to tell you what kind of man Ed Wheeler is. When Ed was inaugurated as President of the seminary I wanted to go by and introduce myself. I made an appointment and on the day of my appointment I arrived on time. I sat outside of his office for fifteen minutes and began to get frustrated that I had to wait. The door was cracked open and so I began to listen intently to see if I could figure out what was going on. I got up to peek in the door and saw that Ed was praying with someone on the phone. He kept me waiting another thirty minutes while he prayed on the phone with someone in need. Ed Wheeler is a man of prayer.”

At this point in our time together is it any wonder that I was asking myself, “What are you doing here with these folks?” We hadn’t spent one minute brainstorming on how to turn the ship around, but we had heard the testimonies of some of God’s servants.

Later that night, Gay Reese, the leader of our group prepared us for our day of silence the next day. She said, “As American Christians our prayers are so full of words, but they need to be full of God. I want to encourage you to leave your words aside and simply seek the heart of God tomorrow. Let Him speak to your heart and teach you what He desires for you.” I was all ears. I had a sense that these folks were doctoral candidates in the school of prayer and I was still in kindergarten, but I wanted to learn.

The next day, Tuesday, I went into the day as a blank slate. I simply asked God to show me what He wanted me to learn. I had a strong sense the Lord wanted me to “pray” through the Gospel of Luke allowing Him to teach me. I didn’t read it all in one sitting. I would read and then feel compelled to be still in God’s presence and allow Him to teach me. It was a truly awesome day!

On Wednesday morning when we got back together to break the silence with a communion service we were one. We were asked to share what God had shown us and it was remarkable how we had been given the same vision for our ministry together and the ways the Lord was breaking us for His ministry and not our own.

Thursday morning as we were sharing together in worship and preparing to leave I noticed that God had given me an overwhelming love for nine other people that I hadn’t even known only four days earlier. With no late-night brainstorming sessions, no programming breakthroughs, and no strategic planning sessions God had forged a battalion of men and women broken for the work of God. I was standing in disbelief and wondering how did that happen? I know how it happened — God showed up.

The group of ten people is so diverse that it isn’t even funny. Some were much more liberal than I was. Some were men, others were women. Some were pastors, one was a Seminary President, and another the head of Evangelism for our denomination. We had different theological perspectives that could have log-jammed the entire get together if they were the heart of our time together. In our time of prayer Jesus weeded out everything that was not essential and forged a team at the foot of the cross.

At the end of our time together there was one rock solid clear understanding that all of us shared – our churches and people need to be led into the presence of Almighty God. I will never forget our last worship service together on Thursday morning when Dr. Gary Straub, the pastor of First Christian Church in Frankfurt, Kentucky read from 2 Chronicles 5. Let’s read it together.

Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of the LORD was finished. Solomon brought in the things that his father David had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God. {2} Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. {3} And all the Israelites assembled before the king at the festival that is in the seventh month. {4} And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites carried the ark. {5} So they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. {6} King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be numbered or counted. {7} Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. {8} For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. {9} The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. {10} There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel after they came out of Egypt. {11} Now when the priests came out of the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to their divisions, {12} and all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred twenty priests who were trumpeters). {13} It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, {14} so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. (2 Chr 5 NRSV)

By the time Gary finished reading there were tears streaming down his face and he looked up at us and said, “The presence of God was so strong that the priests could not stand to minister. Oh, I want the presence of God to be so strong in our worship services that we can’t stand to minister!” That was it! Gary had put into words and placed the exclamation point at the end of our retreat.

What our churches need is the presence of God. We need to be taken to the foot of the cross, to worship at the feet of our Savior, and to have Almighty God break us and fill us with His Spirit. That is not just the need of our churches it is my need and your deepest need. Lord take me to the foot of the cross and open my eyes to your glory.

My time in Indiana did something else for me – it solidified something that I have been speaking to our Elders and Deacons who gather for prayer every Sunday night. Before I left to go on vacation I asked our leaders to pray about something that God had put on my heart. Last July, while I was in Denver, Colorado the Lord called me to meet each Sunday night with our leaders for prayer. To be still and know that He is God and to allow Him to put His concerns on our hearts. It has been a rich and rewarding year for those who had come.

A couple of months ago God began to give me a desire to move that prayer meeting out of the library and into the sanctuary. To open it up to “whosoever will come.”

During the past year our leaders have been called upon to go the homes of several folks who were ill to anoint them with oil and intercede for them. Words can’t describe what we have experienced during those sweet hours of prayer. With moving the prayer meeting to Sunday nights and allowing everyone who needs prayer to come we will see our prayer ministry move to another level.

After having spent time with the Lord in Indiana I now know this is more than right – this is God at work! Beginning Sunday, September 13, at 7:00 pm we will have a Sunday nighttime of prayer for those in need. Who needs to come to the prayer time? Great question. Anyone who needs to come to the Cross of our Savior needs to be here. There will be no bulletin, no announcements, no stuff – just an opportunity to come to the cross.

At the foot of the cross of Jesus our Savior there is hope, at the cross there is healing for the mind, spirit, and body, at the cross of Jesus there is salvation, direction, mercy, peace, forgiveness, grace, and power! Whoever needs to come to the cross is invited to come and pray.

You don’t need to wait until September 13 to come to the foot of the cross of our Savior, you can come this morning and find the peace, forgiveness, and salvation that you’ve been longing for all of your life. Come to cross.

The Glory of The Lord Filled The House!
2 Chronicles 5
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