The following are a few thoughts and experiences I brought back from this wonderful vacation:
1. Renewed Gratitude & Awareness of God’s Stunning Goodness
The first conference session was scheduled to start at 7:30pm on Thursday evening, so I was able to go to the beach on Thursday afternoon. On the way, I stopped at Starbucks, where a woman in line ahead of me was clearly upset that her venti cappuccino was too dry? not dry enough? I didn’t catch the specifics, but noticed her frustration as the cheerful barista also failed to remake the drink fast enough to please her. I know how it feels to pay $4 or $5 for coffee – at those prices, we want what we ordered the way we like it. But all day the Lord seemed to be impressing on me how blessed I am in so many ways, how many wonderful things He has provided, so later I couldn’t help remembering this poor lady and how unhappy she was at that moment. I do it, too: complain, focus on things that are not to my liking, and so often miss His amazing goodness in the process.
Siesta Key has a beautiful public beach south of Sarasota, but the only public parking I saw had a sign at the entrance: “LOT FULL.” Nevertheless, cars kept entering and circling – I drove around town looking for alternative parking, but didn’t find any (there’s a municipal lot a few blocks over, I just didn’t know it that day). So I updated my Facebook status via cell phone, “Gina White needs parking at Siesta Key beach!” – part joke, part prayer (a lot of my Facebook friends are Christians). I drove back to the FULL LOT and waited in a line of cars; within minutes, an older couple carrying beach chairs passed right in front of my car to get into theirs, so I was closest to the spot they were leaving. I’ve been a Christian for 29+ years and I have to admit – I used to pray for parking places, but lately I probably thought I was too “mature” for that :) What a joyful reminder that God cares for us, even in “small” things – it was the one afternoon I had several free hours to really relax, too.
Moments later, I was on the beach at Siesta Key, surrounded by white sand like powdered sugar, Gulf wavelets and breezelets lapping all around me, Alberto Rivera’s “Yearnings” on the iPod. I was stunned all over again by God’s goodness to me personally – the freedom I have to enjoy Him and His creation, His amazing provision, and peace. What if we lived every day in thankfulness?
2. Trusting God & The Bible is 100% All True
Rolland Baker spoke Thursday night, followed by his friend, Indonesian-born evangelist, Mel Tari, on Friday morning. Rolland tends to “play around” before he gets to the heart of his message, which can make people uncomfortable at times as he jokes about serving God with joy and power, contrary to what many have come to expect in North American church services. I was excited to hear Mel Tari for the first time, knowing his history with the Bakers dated back about 30 years (he was best man at Heidi & Rolland’s wedding) – I knew God had a message for me about trusting Him in a deeper way, as the Bakers flew to Indonesia on a one-way plane ticket with $30 in their pockets when they started ministering overseas with Mel. (A friend of mine, 19 year old Jodi Jacob, is currently blogging from Japan on the 2nd leg of a “faith journey,” so God has already been speaking to me about radical faith and deeper levels of trusting Him in & for everything.) I don’t believe God asks all of us to leave our jobs and travel overseas, but I do believe He is challenging us to look beyond “the American dream” and dream His dreams, and live His way.
The basic premise of Iris Ministries, the foundation of everything Heidi & Rolland have done, Rolland says (& Heidi echoes in later sessions), is that “The Book is all true.” The Bible, all of it, is 100% true and means exactly what it says. They have proven this by going to one of the poorest countries in Africa (Mozambique, when they arrived, was one of the most desperate nations in the world), with no financial backing or big name church support, sharing and living the gospel through the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. At present, they oversee about 10,000 village churches – many planted as villagers respond to God’s miraculous power in the Name of Jesus Christ – and feed approximately 10,000 children per day, with vision to reach one million.
As a student of trust in this season of my life, I was especially blessed by Rolland’s comment: “The problem with Christianity is, there is nothing to worry about.” LOL! This struck me deeply, as I’ve heard the Lord tell me, day after day, “Don’t worry...” I realize the scripture also says, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6) and “Do not worry about your life…” (Matthew 6:25), but this hit me right in my “spiritual solar plexus” – there is nothing to worry about. Rolland & Heidi & Mel tell story after story of God’s amazing faithfulness, & miracles if needed, for those who will trust God completely.
3. A Burning Heart of Holy Passion for God
Heidi spoke on Friday & Saturday evenings (as well as Sunday morning at The Harvest church), and I chuckled as I got in line at 5:40 p.m. (doors opened at 6pm for 7:30pm meetings), trying to remember the last time I saw people lining up that early for church (it was in July 2008, at the Lakeland revival).
Worship was awesome in every service - the atmosphere of this conference was a burning heart of holy passion for the Lord. Anyone who knows Heidi Baker even a little knows that this is the kind of heart she carries and inspires in others all over the world. It was fun to meet people who were hungry & thirsty for more of God – I prayed with a dance worship teacher, and a young married couple who’d been radically saved out of crack cocaine addiction a few years ago, who wanted to “see God’s face” like that again and be filled with His Spirit, not just religion. YouTube versions of 3 favorite worship songs here:
My favorite rendition of Chris Tomlin’s song “How Great Is Our God” is this one, from Jesus Culture’s CD “Everything.” I really enjoyed that this was the first song of the conference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE8DwOtKc7k
“Holding Nothing Back” (YouTube from Jesus Culture’s CD “Consumed”) was included at several worship services. (“I’m alive to live for You!”) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJsc2louPes&feature=BF&list=MLAYMcY2vx8GSddApVhJjUKbxpLp4uDZJq&index=5
“Burn” from Dave Fitzgerald’s CD “Hope of Heaven” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZo-tK0nVHw Dave’s team from Bethel Church in Redding, CA, led worship on Friday night & Sunday morning. (“Take my heart, make it burn for You!”)
(CD/downloads available at http://store.ibethel.org/)
4. Sweet Surrender, No Matter What It Costs
I wish the Sunday morning service had been recorded (all the other sessions are available on the Christian Retreat Center website*), as Heidi shared her testimony of being filled with the Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal church at age 16 – how her family responded at first to her passion for Jesus (her mother took her to psychiatrists, her father said, “my daughter is dead,” her sister promised to hate her forever), although later in life each of them asked her to pray for them and yielded their lives to God.
Heidi spoke from Luke chapter 1 about how the angel came to Mary and pronounced her “highly favored by God,” and how this must have looked to others when an unmarried teenage Jewish girl claimed to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, carrying the Son of God. Are we willing to be greatly inconvenienced, perhaps subjected to ridicule or even hatred by those we love, because of the way God asks us to carry Christ in this world?
I’m the first one out of my seat to an altar call like that – Heidi’s life message has impacted me that much by now :) Somehow, even with several hundred people at the front of the room, a place on the carpet right in front of her opened up for me like that parking spot at the beach on Thursday. Maybe it sounds silly, but my tears ended up on her Bible, and I liked that - right around Luke 1:38, which I prayed with all of my heart:
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
P.S. When my plane landed in Virginia's ice and snow, I knew for sure I wasn’t at the beach any more, but I tried to remember to be thankful for God’s goodness & how blessed I really am.
*links to ministry websites:
http://www.christianretreat.org/television *search Christian Retreat Center video archives (or email me firstname.lastname@example.org for DVD copies of Friday 2/18 & Saturday 2/19 - 7:30pm services)
http://www.irismin.org/ Heidi & Rolland Baker are founders/directors of Iris Ministries, which oversees about 10,000 village churches in Mozambique and other nations, feeding & caring for approximately 10,000 children daily (so far).
http://www.harvesttab.com/ The Harvest is the church in Sarasota that coordinated this event.