Dignify and Deploy 33: Buoyant, Broken
‘We have firmly hoped, we will always hope, and we are and will be happy.’ Karol Wojtyla
Bearing the weight of a billion person Church in constant flux and friction (not to mention the world’s hostility towards Her) could kill a man. Only a dead one, wholly surrendered to his Bridegroom, endures. St. John Paul II endured as pope, rather remarkably, for 27 years.
So too John Wimber endured, whose turned-on house church grew into an empire with three stakes in the globe. At its peak, John and Spirit tended to the rise of an international network of Vineyard Churches on every continent (VMI), the densest expression of that network in America (AVC--USA), and the premiere source of praise songs for all (VMG). Unlike the Roman Church, Vineyard ‘life’ was wholly new—new values and players housed in new rented halls and buildings around the world.
What’s harder? The calcifying forces of ‘old’ religion that looked upon a Polish upstart guardedly, a threat to the Western ‘Eurocracy’ (mostly Italian) of the Vatican? Or the ephemeral ‘freshness’ of a young gathering whose vitality and sweet songs may just blow away with the wind that inspired it? ‘Free Church’ is fickle, and most seeds sincerely sown fail to become saplings.
Our two Johns found Jesus in the fire and refused to burn out young. John Paul had a stronger physical bearing than Wimber and lasted longer but both manifested miraculous good cheer among the lions, like Daniel with a weary smile. Carol said this of her husband: ‘He had the attitude that God drafted him into this job and God would give him the wherewithal to do it.’
It was the people he loved and trusted who depressed John. When they failed to represent Jesus well, John took that seriously. When faithful sons became infidels, John bore its brunt. He seemed undetached from ‘family’ and how his own ‘sons’ could hurt other members of Christ. That wounded John more than anything. He could handle the wackos of Free-Church America—unhinged members wielding the Bible like an assault weapon and accusing John of all manner of heresy. They never stopped; slander was relentless. Faceless persecutors and stalkers annoyed but did not undermine John. Only family ‘threats’ got through his armor.
Wimber didn’t lose his humor. A friend of mine who pastored a healthy Vineyard Church in Northern California recounted an out-of-the-blue phone call from Wimber: ‘Please tell me something good!’ In other words, remind me why we do this crazy Vineyard thing…
John Paul lived ‘in the eye of a hurricane of activity that never ends’ (Witness to Hope…p. 398), and often never succeeded. He was relentless in his efforts to make the Church one, or at least more one; he saw little fruit. Throughout his papacy, he enjoined various strains of Orthodoxy, the earliest divides in Christendom, to reason together with him; next the Anglicans (Church of England), then the Lutherans. Doctrinal and historical experts on either side would find reason to halt dialogue, just when reconciliation (of sorts) seemed in view. He was unflagging here. Fulfilling Jesus’ prayer of unity (Jn 17) eluded him.
He took it. Broken yet buoyant, he seemed to rise again before millions of faithful ones who loved Jesus and John Paul. After a 10-day tour of sweltering Africa, 50 addresses later, one member of the entourage noted: ‘We were all giving out; only the Pope showed no fatigue…he looked just as fresh as when he left Rome.’ (Witness to Hope…p. 375)
Similarly, Carol loved John’s recounting of a Christian radio fundraiser he did toward the end of his life. He wasn’t physically well yet had agreed to teach and heal as a favor to a friend. Not many showed but John was happy. ‘O Carol, it was so wonderful! I was tired and had a hard time hearing but the Lord was there. He healed this lady…I felt bad for the hosts that not more came—but it was such a great night—the Lord touched almost everyone there. Thank You Jesus!’ (The Way it Was…p. 82)
John did it for love of Jesus and His members, as buoyant as a man filling a stadium.
“Thank You Jesus for these fathers of fortitude. Forgive us for getting discouraged by the rigid or chaotic church. Like Wimber and John Paul, teach us to obey joyfully because You are there, ever faithful, unfailing in love for Your own. Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”