Monday, January 27, 2014

Influence: Flowing from the inside out!

The events earlier this month surrounding the home-going of my dear mother, Rose, are bringing to mind some incredibly important spiritual leadership lessons.  One of these leadership lessons is about influence.  I've been reminded that influence as a leader comes primarily from who we are on the inside.  It doesn't come from our position or even from what we do.

I saw this powerfully in the life of my mother.  She had this amazing trust in God that stemmed from a deep personal relationship with Jesus. Her love for others and her grace as a mother and as a wife all grew out of her dependence on Jesus, her confidence in Him, and her daily reliance on His love and faithfulness. For her, the capacity to serve in ministry, the ability to go the extra mile as a friend, wife, employee, and mother, and even the ability to engage in activities which were well out of her comfort zone, all grew out of who she saw herself to be in Christ, and her dependence on Christ in every situation.  It was this inner quality that gave her the ability to leave a huge and lasting impact on so many people over the 90 years that God gave her on this planet.

In thinking about her and her life, I want to give tribute to her by sharing a little of her story, and really a bit of my own story!  What an amazing impact she had on me and on countless others for good and for God!

Rose Peterson was born on June 29, 1923 in Rockford, IL, along with her twin brother, Roy, to Swedish immigrant parents, Peter and Sigrid Challberg.  Peter and Sigrid had only been in America for a few short years, yet, relied fervently on their personal relationship with Christ and led Rose and Roy to place their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Peter worked in a furniture factory and among other things, helped to make pianos which would become a life long love for his daughter Rose.   Peter and Sigrid spoke Swedish in their home, but Rose and Roy soon picked up English at school and with their friends.  Music and a deep love for Christ and for serving Him characterized Rose's growing up years.

Rose's journey as a young adult led her to attend Bethel College in St. Paul, MN.  She had a heart for the Bible, for God, and for serving Him.  In the summer of 1944, she was serving in churches throughout the State of MN by helping to lead summer vacation Bible classes for children.  One of Rose's friends invited her to Sioux Falls, SD for a picnic on the Fourth of July weekend.  Who would have thought that one of the army servicemen temporarily stationed in Sioux Falls would have his eye on this lovely Rose and begin a pen pal relationship that would eventually lead to marriage.  Yes, Rose married Walter Peterson or Wally as he was called on May 3, 1947, after Wally completed his military service and began his own training for the ministry. A new home was set up in the married couple's dorm at Bethel in St. Paul, MN.

While Wally studied at Bethel and served as Pastor at Glenwood, MN Baptist Church and later Isanti Baptist Church, Rose and Wally's family started to grow as Dan was born in 1950 and Dave came along in 1952.   Rose served in the ministry along side of Wally and showed God's love in her home as their new family started to grow.

At the age of 30, with 2 small boys in their home, Rose moved with her husband, Wally, to Grand Rapids, MI to begin a journey of missionary work that lasted for nearly 50 years.  They worked together to plant new Christ centered churches all across the State of Michigan as they served for the Michigan Baptist General Conference.  Churches were planted and nurtured in Detroit, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, St. Joe, Beaverton, East Lansing, and in many other towns and cities.  While Wally did the preaching, Rose did the music, the children's ministry, and a lot of the office work.  Without her faithful, tireless, and joyful service, none of this ministry would ever have happened. She became a dear friend to pastor's wives and church workers, to camp directors and nurses, and to countless Christian workers in churches and homes all across the State of Michigan and beyond.  Only eternity will be able to adequately measure the impact Rose had on the lives of people all across this region.

Yet, one of Rose's greatest legacies lies in the quiet and tender ways she nurtured her children and her 11 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  In 1954, Rose gave birth to her third boy, Douglass.  In 1957, Debora Joy was born, and in 1961, Delora Lynn joined the Peterson family.  Up early every morning to get the 5 DP's off to school, playing piano for solo and ensemble contests, helping with homework, cooking, cleaning, and encouraging her tribe, were a big part of Rose's daily and weekly ministry in her home.  She served her family with joy and consistency.  She prayed for her children and served as a godly example in every way.  Her inner beauty qualities of love, compassion, grace, patience and tenderness were in full bloom in her home.  During these years with a growing family, Rose continued to serve with her husband in the ministry, in mentoring other women, and of course, in playing the piano and in singing at South Kent Baptist Church in Kentwood, MI. 

When Rose and Wally retired from their 30 years of ministry as Executive Minister for the Michigan Baptist General Conference, their ministry for Christ was simply "repositioned" to another setting.  Rose and Wally began a series of Interim Pastorate ministries in communities all across the Midwest.  These were some of their most enjoyable and gratifying days, serving people and churches as Pastor and wife.  They touched leaders and communities in Temperance, MI, in Moline, IL, in Marquette, MI, in New Castle, PA,  and in other communities.  Rose's ministry in music, in mentoring, in being a friend, and in supporting her husband were as strong and vibrant as ever.  Of course, the role of a grandmother was one she cherished as well.  Rose was 76 years old when her dear husband of 52 years went home to be with His Lord.   Family became even more important during this season.  Yet, her faith and trust in Christ never wavered.

 At the age of 81, Rose moved to Sturgis, MI to join the Thurston Woods retirement community.  She was 20 minutes away from her son Dave, and his church in Centreville, MI.  She entered a new chapter, but continued to live and bloom faithfully for Christ.  For 5 years, she enjoyed independent living in her own apartment, but when Parkinson's struck her body, she soon needed to relocate to the nursing home at Thurston Woods.  She continued to witness for Christ and had a profound impact on many of the staff at Thurston.  For the last 9 years of her life, the Lord gave her Florence Nilsson as a best friend.  The two of them would talk and sing in Swedish and laugh together.  As her voice became weaker and weaker, God continued to allow her to use the piano; her other voice, to praise the worship her Lord and Savior.  While laying in her bed on Saturday, January 4, 2014, with her sons Dan and Dave at her bedside, and with friends singing in the distance, Rose entered her heavenly home to be eternally with her Lord and Savior.
Dan, Dave, Doug, Debbie and Dee Peterson

Somehow in God's amazing plan, the fragrance and beauty of this Rose still lives on.  Yet, it all grew out of a deep and personal trust in Jesus.  She exemplified for me in a very powerful way, the fact that leadership and influence are all about who we are; it's about allowing God to shape us so that in His own way and place, He can use us for His glory.

Thanks, Mom, for living this out for me and for so many others!

Your son,


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Transform MidAtlantic Leadership Conference Recap

Grace Point - Our Host Church
“Transform MidAtlantic”, our Converge MidAtlantic Leadership Conference for 2013 is behind us, but the impact of this gathering will remain for months and years to come!  God’s Spirit moved in very clear and powerful ways at Grace Point in Newtown, PA, June 19-21 as leaders from across our MidAtlantic region gathered together for an incredible experience!

180 pastors and leaders from 55 churches came together.  The weather was beautiful!  The hospitality from Grace Point was over the top!  The worship was powerful and inspirational.  The food and
Converge Cup Golf Event
fellowship was absolutely amazing!  The learning that took place in the Breakouts and Plenary sessions was outstanding! But most importantly, God moved in our midst, and for that we are most grateful.

Seeing powerful stories of transformation was moving and very encouraging; stories of physical and spiritual healing, stories of deliverance from addictions, stories of churches growing rapidly before our very eyes, stories of lives and marriages being transformed on a professional football team.  All of these and more, spoke of God’s
Shane Claiborne "The Simple Way"
power to change lives and communities all around us!

Hearing the proclamation of God’s Word through Dr. Eric Mason as he spoke on how the Gospel is incarnated through our pain and suffering, was very moving.  Hearing Dr. Dwight Perry teach about embracing diversity and the hard work that this involves, was needed and helpful.  Hearing Shane Claiborne, in his simple and disarming style challenge us powerfully to live out the gospel in ways and places where it is countercultural and involves resistance from the status quo, was so motivating and convicting.  Hearing Dr. Tom Nebel, share the
Philadelphia Vietnamese
Christian Fellowship
vision of Converge church planting for “one more day, one more place, one more story” knowing that the deserts in our journey cannot and will not hold back the work of Christ, was so encouraging.  And hearing Pastor Scott Ridout challenge us to live out generosity in concrete ways in our personal lives and as churches, was so timely and helpful.  Yes, through these servants, God spoke and moved in our midst.

Feedback from many of the Breakout sessions was very positive! Nearly 80 leaders traveled into the urban areas of Philadelphia on Friday morning to learn about and experience ministry in very hard and very needy places.  Coz Crosscombe, Eric Mason and his team, and Shane Claiborne at the Simple Way community, all shared how
Traveling to Urban Philadelphia
transformation is happening in these places through God’s Spirit residing in His people.  On-site Breakouts were amazing as well, including Pastor Ron Crawford and Richard Cohen’s session regarding “Homosexuality: Born or Bred”.  Participants were moved to tears and filled with emotion as they were encountered with the challenge to love people in the name of Jesus, and to see again how God transforms people in powerful ways. 

Other sessions that many spoke about included: Pastor Jenkins’ session on “Making Pastoring Personal”, Dan Nold’s session on
A Master Potter
Symbol of Transformation
“Multi-site expansion”, Johnny Parker’s session on “How to Manage the Speed of Your Soul”, Dr. Doug Fagerstrom’s session on “Building Extraordinary Volunteers”, Pastor Chris McCloskey’s session on “Developing Caring Ministries in the church”, Dan and Tonya White’s session on “Missional church”, Dr. Ralph Gustafson’s session on “Reaching Millennials”, to mention but a few.

Three Pre-Conference sessions were also well attended and were very instructive!  Ivan and Susan Veldhuizen interacted with global mission leaders from some of our MidAtlantic churches, resourcing them and providing a venue for these leaders to share best practices together.  Scott Ridout taught for 6 hours on how to build a generosity culture in the local church.  And Tom Nebel offered training on how to effectively coach other leaders, helping them to
succeed and to excel in their leadership and ministries.

Other highlights of God moving in our midst and in our region included:

·        The welcoming of 6 churches into the MidAtlantic network
·        Introducing and praying for 5 new church planting couples who have been sent out this past year
·        The unanimous reaffirmation of our Converge MidAtlantic Executive Minister for an additional 4 year term
·        The public introduction of a new vision for church planting across our region, called “Shaping the Future”, and a report that $162,000 has already been committed toward our goal of $500,000 in new funds for church planting over the next three years!
·        Stories of significant spiritual transformation in Ukraine through 10 plus years of partnering with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters
·        The celebration of God’s provision for Converge MidAtlantic ministries this past year, and the adoption of combined budgets for the coming year totaling $880,000.
·        Opportunities to hear of God working through some of our partners such as Bethel University and Seminary, Cornerstone Fund, and across Converge Worldwide.

In the end, it seems as though God is challenging our leaders and churches to remain open to the work of the Spirit in our midst.  And God is challenging us to continue to find ways to be his vessels to bring about transformation in every community he calls us to serve. I love Paul’s words in II Cor. 3, where he says: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”.

Brothers in Christ
May God’s work of transformation continue in each of us in the days ahead!

Warmly in Christ,

Dan Peterson, Executive Minister
Converge MidAtlantic

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spiritual Transformation in Ukraine

My recent trip to Ukraine in mid April of this year was one of the most rewarding trips I can recall in a long long time!  No, I didn’t preach to thousands of people, nor did I have the opportunity to give away a boatload of money to needy churches or orphanages.  It was a relatively uneventful trip with only 3 of us sharing in this journey.  What made the trip rewarding, however, was the picture God gave me of the ministry fruit from our Converge MidAtlantic partnership in Ukraine over the past 10 plus years!  It was absolutely thrilling!

It started out with the special opportunity to preach on a Sunday in April at the Orghiv Church, a larger village outside of the main city of Rivne, Ukraine.  The Orghiv Church is the name of the church that our Old North Church in Canfield, OH has been sistering with for the past 10 plus years.  I saw the beautiful church facility that Old North helped to build.  I saw the young adults leading worship and children’s ministry, leaders that Old North has helped train.  The church was packed on Sunday, mostly young adults and young families.  Old North’s partnership with Pastor Nick and Olga has literally put this church on the map in its community, and it has raised up some solid young leaders for work in God’s harvest!  What a blessing to see!

Mlnyv is the name of the town and the church where Lakewood Baptist in Lakewood, NY has partnered over the past 10 plus years. Lakewood’s involvement has been primarily in leading and more recently in supporting the church’s summer adventure camps with children and youth.  Teams from Lakewood came over every year for the first 6 years, and in recent years, funds and personal encouragement continued for these summer camps.  When Pastor Dan Cook and Youth Pastor Tim Sullivan visited the Mlnyv Church this Spring, they were blown away to see the fruit from these adventure camps.  The kids who were in these camps 8, 9, 10 years ago, are now leaders in the camps that will be held this summer. Dan and Tim were literally in tears as they heard the stories of how these early adventure camps had made such on impact on these kids’ lives. The Mlynv Church is alive and well, due in some measure to the strong partnership with Lakewood Baptist.  How cool!

While I was riding in the van with Ukrainian leader, Michael Ilyuk, I asked him if he could give me his perspective on the fruit from the partnership that First Baptist Church of Glenarden has had with the Dubrovitsa Church, located in a village in northwestern Ukraine.  His eyes and heart lit up! He shared with me how this partnership has helped in the planting of other new churches in nearby villages, as the First Baptist teams have helped them touch these communities through summer evangelism and camps. Michael talked about the spiritual growth in this church, revolving around learning about other cultures and ways of worship.  When I arrived back in the U.S., I spoke with one of the leaders from First Baptist and I learned about more of the results from this partnership. I was reminded that the church facility has been totally upgraded, including construction of restroom facilities, a complete kitchen, provisions for audiovisual equipment, lighting, a baptismal pool, air conditioning, new chairs in the sanctuary, computer equipment, and interior painting!  Of course, I knew about Tania Martin who now serves full time in Ukraine as a Converge missionary, because of this sistering partnership.  Praise God for what He has and is still doing!

Later, after returning home, I also spoke with one leader from our Berean Church in Mansfield, OH which has partnered with Grace Baptist Church in the city of Brovary, Ukraine.  Again, I was blown away!  Over 15 years of partnering together has seen Grace Baptist Church grow from a congregation of 30, mostly older women, to a thriving congregation of 150 with many young families with chirdren & youth. The church facility was a one room church building in '96 and today is a 3 floor, 18 room, and 10,000 square foot sanctuary. In '96 they had one unpaid pastor and now they have 3 pastors. Children’s Adventure Camps have grown from 98 children to 400 children, ages 4-13. In '96 the church did not have any Sunday School and now they have Sunday School for all ages. The church is making meaningful  connections with many older teens, university students, and young professionals outside of the church as a result of the ESL classes that Berean has offered.  In addition to all of this, sistering in Ukraine has greatly impacted the Berean’s view of mission ministry. The church has seen interest and funding grow considerably over these years into other fields for short-term mission work. It has opened people’s eyes to the world and to their own community!  What a thrill to hear of this significant spiritual fruit!

Over the past 12 years, my wife, Sandi, and others, have spearheaded ministry and support for a number of the orphanages in western Ukraine.  We have partnered with one key church (Grace Church of Rivne) in its involvement in trying to disciple kids from some of the orphanages.  Through our Mercy Ministries fund, we have also helped support several “Christian foster homes” for orphans that are booted out of the orphanages when they are 18 years old.  Recently, we heard some of the stories of some of the kids we worked with in these early years.  Several have gone to Bible College and Seminary!  Some are now serving as Pastors in Ukrainian churches.  At least one is a missionary in another country.  What a thrill to see and hear of the fruit from our involvement with these forgotten people!

This trip to Ukraine in April was my 23rd trip to Ukraine!  At times, I have wondered if the time and energy and money were really worth it.  This trip was one of those special confirmations from God.  Yes, significant spiritual transformation is happening through our partnership and involvement in Ukraine!

Plans are in place to continue the Love Lift Ukraine ministry with a Vision Trip planned for the summer of 2013, and another trip planned for the summer of 2014.  If you are interested in exploring involvement in this ministry, contact our Converge MidAtlantic office anytime!

With gratitude,

Dan Peterson
Converge MidAtlantic

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Christmas Mosaic

I was thinking recently about the meaning of the word Mosaic; the blending together of things that are very different to make something that is very beautiful.  One of our Converge MidAtlantic churches is named Mosaic Church.  It’s a blending together of people from very different cultures and traditions, coming together under the banner of Jesus to form something beautiful for His glory!

When I think of the word Mosaic, I also think of the coming together of things that are broken, and these broken pieces being shaped and formed into something that is beautiful.  I think about broken and bruised lives that are blended together in a spiritual community to become something very beautiful for God!

Christmas, for me, is a lot like this kind of Mosaic.  It celebrates the coming together of things that are broken to form something that is amazingly beautiful.

When I think of the Apostle John’s words in chapter 1, when he says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, I think about the miracle of God becoming man. Theologians call it the Incarnation!  I think about the power of the creator of the universe entering into our broken and fallen world.  I think of the amazingly good news of a God who would care enough about our plight that He would literally become one of us. I’m reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews when he said: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

That’s what Christmas ultimately means to me.  It means God entering into my humanity.  It means God identifying with my weaknesses.  It means God coming and taking my brokenness, and through His brokenness, making something incredibly beautiful. It means my broken down story being wrapped up in His loving story of redemption and grace, and as a result He writes a new story.  That’s why I feel this amazing sense of HOPE, of JOY, of PEACE during this season.  I’m reminded again of the great STORY of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A storycomes out of the middle ages and the construction of some of the great cathedrals in western Europe. One of the cathedrals was nearly complete, only needing the beautiful stained glass windows to complete the magnificent structure.  The best artisans of the day were summoned to complete the task.  As the dedication of the edifice approached, the town’s leaders were gravely concerned that the largest and most prominent of the windows was still incomplete. The artisans reassured these worried leaders that all would be complete in time for the great dedication of the cathedral.

On the day of the dedication, the leaders of the city gathered early in the morning for one final inspection of the most prominent stained glass window.  As they looked upward, the reflection of the sun’s light shined through this most prominent window in a manner that was more glorious than they had ever seen. The hues of the color palette were magnificent beyond description.  They were literally awestruck at the beauty of this just completed stained glass window.

In awe and amazement, they inquired of the master artisan about how this window had become the glorious feature that it was?  They inquired too about why the work had been done so late in the game. How could all this be?  The reply was simple yet profound.  They shared with the town’s leaders that they had taken the broken and left over pieces from the other windows and had used them to craft this one remaining, most prominent window.

Yes, Christmas reminds me and it helps me to celebrate the powerful and loving work that God did and continues to do in taking my brokenness, my pain, my weaknesses, and through the Person of Jesus our Savior, makes something quite beautiful, for His glory and praise.

To the entire Converge MidAtlantic family, Sandi and I want to convey our deep gratitude for the privilege of serving Jesus with you.  And we want to offer you our prayers and hopes that YOUR Christmas will also be one of Joy, and Hope, and Peace because of Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Lovingly in Christ,

Dan and Sandi Peterson
Converge MidAtlantic

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Lesson about Faith!

Wednesday, October 31 was an amazing day for me!  God gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with and minister to a 15 month old church plant in urban Philadelphia named the Philadelphia Vietnamese Christian Fellowship.  What a blessing it was to meet these friends in Jesus, and to observe their faith in God!

I was treated to a gourmet Vietnamese luncheon at the home of one of the church leaders!  Pastor Kevin and his wife Cindy (the church’s pastor and wife), a couple of the church leaders, and Pastor Phan, our Vietnamese pastor from Northern Virginia, all joined in on the meal!  Not sure what all they fed me, but it was all very good!  After sharing together about their church and about Converge and what is involved in a church affiliating with Converge, they took me over to a building the church has purchased and will be remodeling in the coming weeks.  Great vision!

Then, we traveled to the house of Pastor Kevin and nail salon where his wife works, and where a basement room has been converted into a temporary worship center for the church. By 8:00 pm that evening, the room was filled with about 50 people of all ages who worshiped the Lord with incredible energy and passion!  I preached with Pastor Phan interpreting, there was a time of prayer, and the service started to wind down around 10:00 pm.  As soon as the service was over, chairs were moved, tables were set up, and another amazing Vietnamese dinner followed!  During the meal, a number of men and women shared their stories of how their lives had been totally transformed through the ministry of this new church. One shared how he had come to Jesus out of a Buddhist family background.  Another shared how Christ had delivered him from demonic oppression.  Pastor Kevin pointed out others who had experienced physical healing as a result of prayers of faith. Some of the people stayed around until 11:00 pm, just talking and sharing, and praying together. Even the children were engaged in worship of Jesus.  What a powerful time of Christian fellowship, worship, and ministry together!

I got to bed around 12:30 am, but my heart was full.  God is moving in really cool ways in groups and in cities in our region.  These folks have a vision to reach the 30,000 Vietnamese people living in metro Philadelphia.  They want to plant several new churches across the city. And, with what seems like limited resources, but with large faith, God is doing a great work.  Lord, help my faith to grow. Truly, let my faith grow!

In Jesus,

Dan Peterson
Converge MidAtlantic

Monday, October 22, 2012

Keeping my Passion for Jesus Alive!

Last week, I hit the pause button on everything I needed to “get done”, and spent a half a day in prayer, reflection, and devotional reading.  It was so hard to “shut down” and “shut out” all of the pressing distractions.  Yet, God broke through my busyness and met with me in a very special way.

One book that helped me in the process was Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child.  I re-read most of book in one setting. Wow, I needed this special reminder that I am loved by God, regardless of what I do, whether or not my performance for Him or others was satisfactory or not, and regardless of what my own thoughts or feelings may be telling me. Its hard for me to really believe that God honestly loves me as I am.

A few of the ideas and word pictures that Brennan Manning used to help me get reconnected with the Love of my Father were statements like these:

·        “In my experience, self hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit. . . . We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus”.
·        “For many years I hid from my true self through my performance in ministry.  I constructed an identity through sermons, books, and storytelling.  I rationalized that if the majority of Christians thought well of me, there was nothing wrong with me.  The more I invested in ministerial success, the more real the imposter became”. He goes on to write about living by grace, not by performance and not as a people pleaser!
·        “Define yourself radically as one Beloved by God.  God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth.  Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life”.
·        “My identity as Abba’s Child is not an abstraction or a tap dance into religiousity.  It is the core truth of my existence.  Living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness profoundly affects my perception of reality, the way I respond to people and their life situations”.
·        Manning writes about the idea “present risenness, and living in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He says, “The resurrection of Jesus must be experienced as more than just a past historical event.  In other words, the resurrection needs to be experienced as present risenness”.  He goes on to write, “ The present risenness of Jesus as life giving Spirit means that I can cope with anything.  I am not on my own”.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 1:18-19, “I pray that you may realize . . . how vast are the resources of His Spirit available to us”.

These and other powerful ideas in Manning’s classic work helped to keep my own passion for Jesus alive.  I came again to discover that the Spirit of Jesus is alive in my life.  I was reminded again, that while the enemy seeks to undermine the reality of being “Beloved by God”, that God is able to break through the enemy’s lies.  I came to realize that while all of the work and responsibilities that hang over my head are important, there is still one thing more important, and that is staying connected with the true Source of spiritual life and power.   At the end of my little half day with God, I actually broke down in tears, feeling like a needy helpless child, but a helpless child falling into the arms of a tender, loving Father.  God thank you for loving me with an everlasting love.  For the moment, I’m just resting in that love!

In Jesus love,

Dan Peterson
A fellow traveler

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preaching to myself

Recent weeks have provided me with some pretty cool preaching opportunities in churches across our movement.  What I always find is that God uses these focused times in the Word to speak to me as much as to anyone else!

On Sunday, August 12, I preached at Old North Church in Canfield.  They were in a teaching series through the Book of I Samuel, and I was given the assignment to preach on the story of Saul and the Witch of Endor from I Samuel 28.  Hey, thanks a lot, guys!  As I prayed, and studied, and talked to everybody I know who might offer some insight about what was really going on when this medium evidently brought Samuel back from the dead to speak directly to Saul, I came upon a little known epilogue to the story that really touched my heart.  At the end of this horrific encounter between Saul and Samuel, and following Samuel’s prophetic word that Saul would die in battle the next day, the witch of Endor offered to cook a meal for King Saul before he and his men departed from her home.  Saul declined, but then at the prompting of his men, he agreed to let this woman prepare a final meal for him.

As I studied, and then as I shared in the message at Old North, I came to believe that this little incident was really a veiled reference to the grace of God which is always at work in any situation. Here, in the midst of tragedy, irony, and pathos, the witch of Endor prepares a final meal for the King of Israel . . . . she blesses him, and ministers to his physical need for food.

The lesson I shared with the church is appropriately summarized in the words of one scholar (Ken Boa), as he stated: “what do you when your life story is all broken up . . .  when your story doesn’t turn out the way you planned for it to go?  The answer he writes is: “you wrap up your story in the story of God”.  Wow! What an incredible lesson for me, and I think for all of us! Rarely do our life stories turn out the way we anticipated.  Yet, in the midst of all the brokenness, God through His grace begins to write a new and better story. I needed to be reminded of this.  I found that I was actually preaching to myself that Sunday in Canfield, OH!

This past Sunday, September 2, I had the opportunity to preach at Hillcrest Baptist in Jamestown, NY.  It was Labor Day weekend.  Part of me wished I was with my wife and family.  I wasn’t looking forward to the nearly 3 hour drive from Youngstown, OH. On Monday, we had plans to drive to Michigan to spend some time with my mother in the nursing home near Sturgis, MI.

Yet, as I preached from I Thessalonians 1 on the qualities of Faith, and Love, and Hope, which made the Thessalonican church strong and powerful, I found that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me as much as He was speaking through me.  As I talked about a community of people who are known by love, who live out a servant’s heart in action with one another and within their community, God reminded me that being a servant may just involve going out of my way.  It may involve traveling to Jamestown when I’d rather be with my family.  It may involve the flexibility of serving others when it might be more convenient to only think of myself.  I might involve driving to Sturgis, MI to spend some time with my dear mother who is nearing the end of her life journey.

Yes, it seems like God was speaking through me.  People responded to this message about living by faith, and being known by love, and proclaiming a message of hope.  But, honestly, I was the one that was blessed and challenged by the Word.  It was like I was preaching to myself!

All of this reminds me of the words of one saint and scholar who told me: “preaching is not the making of a sermon and delivering it.  Rather, preaching is the making of a preacher, and delivering it”.

Thanks, God for keeping me in the center of your anvil of transformation.  I do realize that to be an agent of transformation and leading a movement of transformational churches, probably requires that I be the one who continually is being transformed by the Spirit.  Please, keep changing me, Lord.  It’s a good thing!

Poland, OH
September, 2012