Hollyhocks, Outhouses and VBS

Summer is here! Three weeks ago we had another wonderful graduation at RTS Charlotte, and now summer school has started. General Assemblies and Synods are underway, and vacations are planned. I am thinking about all of these things, and I am thinking about Vacation Bible School. A few years ago I wrote about the power of the Gospel through VBS that I want to share with you here.

As I went out to get the newspaper, I already had the weight of the world pressing down on me. I was walking, I was breathing, I was thinking, but because of my preoccupation with rescuing the earth from eternal destruction and other similar issues, I was not really living. Or really praying, for that matter. Then came one brilliant moment, when God disclosed Himself to me.

It happened as I bent down to get the paper. As I stretched and grunted to pick up the paper on the curb of my driveway, my eye caught sight of a single hollyhock that I had planted by our mailbox. The hollyhock had bloomed. I had previously noticed one or two yellow flowers com-ing out, but I had somehow missed the full, glorious blooming that had occurred. There were now yellows and reds and pinks and whites all arranged by God on huge “fig-like” leaves, sitting prettily on a couple of tall, skinny, green stalks. Now if you know anything about hollyhocks, you know they are one of those perennials that are advertised in garden magazines as, “Old Timey Plants Just Like Grandmother’s” or something like that. And it is true. Hollyhocks have a cherished place in the English cottage garden. As our forefathers and mothers came to America, they brought the seeds of those beautiful, spiked, multi-colored staple of the flowerbed with them. It truly is “an old timey” beauty. I have noticed that there are more of them in Midwestern gardens than Southern ones. The hollyhock is one of those flowers that can evoke memories of childhood at grandma’s house, or Sunday afternoon strolls through a park, or for me Vacation Bible School (VBS).

They remind me of VBS because there were hollyhocks growing near the outhouse of New Bethlehem Baptist Church, way out in the country near where I grew up. (If you have not had the joy of using an outhouse, particularly an outhouse at a country church with VBS going on, I would love to talk with you about it sometime.) I remember that going to the outhouse was a real pleasure. Yes, that’s right it was a real pleasure.

First of all, as a child, I was amazed by a plant that was taller than I was. Hollyhocks can grow to be eight feet tall in the right conditions. Second, they were pretty and reminded me of Miss Dot, our teacher who was, I thought, going to be my wife one day. I was seven years old and she was married to a banker, but somehow none of that mattered. Third, bees love hollyhocks and there was an element of danger in going to the outhouse. It made VBS even more adventuresome.

But put it all together, and for that one moment, as I bent down to get the paper and was mesmer-ized by the hollyhock in full bloom, I remembered the experience of the Holy Spirit moving on my heart at Vacation Bible School. I remember how I got to carry the American flag in the daily processional before we said the Pledge of Allegiance and then the Christian Pledge of Allegiance before the Christian flag. I remember cold Kool-Aid on hot, humid days. I remember the crunchy sweetness and floury smoothness of those cookies that came like a million to a pack for 99 cents. I remember waiting for a ride home after it was over at noontime.

But before I left each day I would slip inside and stand in the pulpit at New Bethlehem Baptist Church and imagine being the preacher. I remember how I felt God was there in that place and that He probably wanted me to do something with His presence. I didn’t quite know what He wanted at that time, but I remember His tug at my little heart.

I am thankful for hollyhocks. The Lord uses them to remind me that something very important is happening at churches this week and in the weeks to come. VBS will reach in to our children and reach out to children living right down the street from us. Many staff and 100s of volunteers are hard at work now preparing for that time next week. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will be presented. I am praying for covenant children, who have been reared in the Gospel, to be strengthened and challenged to follow the Lord. I am praying that children who don’t understand God’s love in Jesus Christ will understand for the first time and receive Him. And I am praying for the Lord, who often does His wonderful sovereign work of preparing young, tender hearts for future ministry, to do that in churches all over America.

Will you join me in praying for the summer ministry to children through VBS? Pray for Christ to touch the hearts of children with His grace and love. For behind the cookies and the singing and the crafts there is the image of Christ welcoming children and saying, “Let the little ones come unto Me.”

And if you drop by your church in the next few weeks of summer, maybe you will see some little child hanging around the sanctuary, maybe “trying out” the pulpit. Just let him alone and pray. God may be up to something with that young and tender heart.

We don’t have hollyhocks growing at my church; we don’t have an outhouse anywhere nearby. But I think God will still be with the children anyway. Because I think God loves VBS. And I know that  Jesus loves little children.

 

 

Please visit The Call with Mike Milton for more entries and resources for ministry.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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