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