Don’t hit the fast forward button on me just yet.
You might be tempted to skip ahead, thinking that the reason it was defining to get kicked out of Eastland was that it led to us landing at Little Rock. And of course that is true enough–but the transition into “the land” (spiritually and geographically) is a separate miracle with its own space. I need you to know that the actual experience of getting kicked out of Eastland along with the rest of the tenants when ownership fell into financial crisis was a defining moment in and of itself.
I was with my friend and protege Justin Lane, happy as a lark at a theology conference at Wheaton with N.T. Wright, when I got the call from Tracey. The papers had just been served, and we would have to be out in 2 months. Just like that, the end of an era was upon us. What would we do? I cut the conference short, catching an early flight back to Charlotte from Chicago on Sunday to come and preach on what was supposed to be a rare Sunday off. And what kind of word, precisely, do you deliver? Especially when so much energy and effort had been spent into carving out our place in the community at Eastland for the last year–all with the eyes of the city watching every move.
I’ll tell you what I did: I preached my head off. I preached with the confidence of a man who has seen God slay the lion and bear, now facing a mere giant. It wasn’t my own strength or power–it was the unmistakable presence of the Holy Spirit resting on me. There was no act that day as I pronounced the faithfulness of God with even greater fervor than usual–I trusted Him from my very bones. And so did Renovatus Church. No fretting, no pouting, but trusting. And as it turned out, the kicking out was as full of grace as the entering in had been. When the cameras showed up, we testified to the faithfulness of God. When we didn’t know where we would go next, we hosted a meeting between the displaced merchants of Eastland and city leaders, trying to serve them as they tried to figure out their next move. We never had any greater opportunity to bear witness to our city than we did when the doors were shutting on the 35-year old landmark.
It built our faith. It built our confidence in God. It caused us to let go of our reputation altogether, and understand that we aren’t calling any of the shots in His kingdom. It made us lean and mean, agile and tough in our calling.
When I came back to Charlotte and announced the news that Sunday, that’s when the whirlwind started. It was Renovatus that broke the news to the Observer and thus to the city first. It was on our terms and in our way (see I’ve watched a lot of West Wing…good training in how to manage a potential PR crisis!). From there, we watched God do some of His best work through an abrupt ending. And soon enough, we would see Him bring about a new beginning.