Friday, July 31, 2009
Reading and preaching from Acts this summer has given me a new sense of hope. In the past I have often found myself filled more with a kind of wishful longing when I read about the signs and wonders which took place in the early church. I have so often found myself praying, "Lord, do it again. Come, Holy Spirit." And while there has still been some of this in my heart, I have also been made aware of the way the reading of it has given me eyes to see what God is doing in the church of which I am a part. Instead of despairing at the discrepancies between now and then, I have been blessed with a spirit of hope for the church.
To be truthful, the hope has little to do with what I am doing, but more with what I am seeing taking place in the lives of people whose paths are intersecting with mine. I have run into some individuals with a real passion for sharing faith. I have encountered others who are taking great delight in reading and immersing themselves in the Word. I have experienced what seems to be a real sense of enthusiasm and expectancy in worship. There have been so many opportunities to pray with folks in need around the altar. As I look across the congregation on any given Sunday, I see new people whom the Lord is entrusting to the care of the church here and so many of them have such an eagerness to serve Him here.
So, hopeful is the word. I wonder, too, if it may not be true that these have not always been with us. I wonder if being gripped so by the Word in the book of Acts has not given me eyes to see what God has been doing and continues to do. Maybe I have been missing something. What I do know is what I am seeing now. I am seeing God doing some surprising things in the lives of some people and it has not only made me grateful, but filled with hope as well.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Some clergy folk are a little more than just sensitive about what they get called. Around here there is a tradition of using the title "Rev" in front of the first name so when I came to Richmond Hill, I became known as "Rev. Bill." In my first appointment long years ago, I was commonly called "Brother Bill." Some have simply spoken to me as "Bill" and others as "Rev. Strickland." A few who wanted me to be more than I am have referred to me as "Dr. Strickland." And, of course, there have been a few names thrown my way which I would just as soon not repeat. But, I suppose the title which has followed me most over the years has been "Preacher."
Actually, being known as a preacher of the gospel is not such a bad thing. A man could certainly do worse. I must confess I enjoy preaching so much it seems inappropriate to think of it as work. I have often said, "It is the one thing about my work I would do for no pay. It is all the other stuff I do which requires the salary." I say it not to put down as unimportant the other tasks of ministry so much as to declare how much I enjoy preaching. I enjoy the work of study and preparation. I enjoy the time spent in the Word and in books doing research. I love that moment when light falls on the text in such a way that the work of the Spirit is obvious. I enjoy the moment of preaching. I am convinced that there is nothing we do as clergy which has the potential to influence so many for Jesus. It is something too important to ever be taken lightly by one who preaches.
When God called me to preach, he surely must have been at the bottom of the barrel on that particular day. A lot of really good candidates must have been saying, "No." I am so grateful that He did not turn away when I at first said, "Not me!" I am glad the offer was still there when I finally got around to saying, "Yes!" God's call to preach has made all the difference!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
From the very beginning I have been doing 'Do-Overs." When I was in my first appointment which was a three point Charge, I would travel most every Sunday to at least two churches to preach. There was a time when I thought I should preach a different sermon each time, but practicality got my attention before I got too far into doing something so driven by my own ego. I learned back then it was not such a bad thing to have an opportunity for a "Do-Over," or maybe a mulligan as some golfers might want to call it!
With the exception of two appointments spanning six years, I have preached the same sermon at least twice most every Sunday morning. And there was a time when I came here to Richmond Hill when it was not twice, but thrice. Preaching that schedule a few months makes one really look forward to finding an Associate. As I sit here now between preaching moments, I wonder how the "Do-Over" will go today. Sometimes having preached a sermon once makes it better the second time. Sometimes it seems that all the passion gets drained from the sermon the first time and there is nothing left for the second trip to the pulpit. And, of course, sometimes it bombs out both times!
It is interesting that after all these years and all those uncountable preaching opportunities that there is still such anticipation about preaching. It is the part of my ministry about which I am most passionate. It is the part I want most of all to do well. Unlike any moment in my life, it provides a moment so filled with the potential to impact so many lives for God. It is that one thing I can never really get away from, even when the sermon is a "Do-Over."
Sunday, July 5, 2009
One day last week, I met Tim in the Sanctuary as he was kneeling at the altar. It was in the early part of the afternoon after lunch. I am not sure where Tim was heading, but his son needed him and he was on his knees. His son had a two o'clock meeting which would impact his future and Tim pulled off the road to pray. When I found him kneeling at the altar, the hour had almost come. For a brief moment I knelt with him and prayed for his son. We have been discovering lately in worship that a lot of folks need someone to pray for them and with them and here was God bringing someone in with that very need on Wednesday.
Some weeks ago I preached a sermon focusing on our need to have prayers prayed over us and for us and invited those with such a need to come forward at the end of the service for prayers. There was such a strong response that the same invitation has been given now for the last three Sundays. Each time folks have responded, coming forward to receive prayers, and to be anointed with oil. It has made for powerful ending moments of worship.
In the midst of such moments of God being at work, I often wonder why it takes us so long to coming around to what He is seeking to do. How long will this season of praying around the altar continue? I no more know the ending than the beginning. Waiting and seeing sounds like a more appropriate response to the question than figuring out the answer. The Spirit who said,"Begin" will surely say when this particular ministry is to end.
Zoar figured rather prominently in the Biblical story. Not as well known as some places mentioned in the Bible, it became a refuge for Lot when brimstone was about to fall on Sodom and Gomorrah. Actually, it was destined for destruction as well, but spared the fate of sister cities because Lot asked the Lord to deliver him to it safely. Literally translated it means "A little place." The Zoar Church, one of three churches on the Stapleton Charge, was as I remember it a little place. Though not sure, I would imagine those naming the church thought of Zoar being not a little place, but a place of refuge, hope, and salvation as it had been in the days of Lot.
I have often said that it would be a good thing if every preacher could go first to Zoar or to a church like it. I have made the comment not because it was my first appointment, but because it was a place where I learned the value and the importance of having people in the pews praying for the preacher in the pulpit. I have been in the presence of some devout folks in my days of wandering from one church to another, but never were there two like Mrs. Zeevie and Mrs. Estelle. They were more holiness than Methodists. When they prayed and they did a lot of it, heaven listened. When I stood to preach on those Sunday mornings at Zoar, I knew when I saw those two that they had invested time in praying for what I was about to do. Whatever success I have had as a preacher, I owe to those two and folks like them along the way who have chosen prayer as the tool of improvement for their preacher.
I suppose it could be said after decades of preaching that I am a more skilled and experienced preacher than I was in those days, maybe even some Sundays, a better preacher. But, I also know even more than I did then how much the praying of others makes what I seek to do for God a thing of blessing. When my preaching has been a blessing, it has surely not been so much about what I bring to the pulpit as it has been the prayers of folks like those two from Zoar and the work of the Holy Spirit.