Now, where were we?
I can’t say enough about the Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. Sitting at the feet of great preachers and great teachers of preachers is refreshing and rejuvenating and a lot of hard work. Dwight Robarts, the preacher at the Skillman Church in Dallas took us through the wonderful book of Hebrews and showed us how to remind our congregations to keep the main things as the main things. Rick Marrs from Pepperdine guided us through Genesis 12-50 and revealed to us some provocative themes and concepts found in the stories of Abraham and Joseph. Austin Grad’s own Jeff Peterson walked us through a study of Galatians and drew rich comparisons between us and the Church in Galatia. And Mark Hamilton, from ACU, presented the grace and the will of God as it’s discovered in Amos.
The study and the learning and the insights and information is overwhelming. But when I attend the Sermon Seminar, I also come away with a great sense of belonging. I’m not the only one. We’re not the only ones. There are preachers of the Word, proclaimers of the Gospel, all doing the very best we can from D.C. to California, from Florida to Michigan, and everywhere in between. We’re all motivated by the same call of our God and we’re all driven by the same will to preach salvation through Christ and to equip people to better serve God and their fellow man. We’re also frustrated by the same things and disappointed by the same things. And it’s just so great to be with each other for those four days. What a blessing.
I began my 25-minute presentation to these preachers on Things I’ve Learned After One Year Of Preaching this way:
“I’ve learned that there are people in the church who love me and people who don’t. There are people there who support me and people who don’t. There are people who want me to succeed and people who don’t.
But, enough about my elders….!”
OK. OK. It was good for a cheap laugh. In fact, everybody laughed. I got exactly the response I wanted. The truth is, I can’t imagine working with a better group of church leaders than the elders who serve at Legacy. They’re open with each other and the church family, they’re honest about their own strengths and weaknesses, they’re committed to our Lord and his people, and they carefully and prayerfully consider everything that comes to them.
I spoke about learning to expect the unexpected and used stories from my first year to illustrate it. My first baptism at Legacy wound up with my baptisee sprawled out on the wet baptistry floor with a twisted knee. My first wedding was for a couple who already had a combined 120 years of marriage between them. One of the first couples to place membership after I arrived told me a joke about exorcism during the invitation song.
But then I talked about the Baileys and the Browns.
My first sermon as the full-time preacher at Legacy was going to be perfect. It was going to be inspirational. So much energy. So much enthusiasm. So much excitement. I’d been planning it and praying about it and working to perfect it for two years. People were going to write poems and sing songs about this sermon.
And then the Baileys and the Browns suffered that tragedy on Memorial Day that no parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, or cousin should have to endure. And instead of planning the perfect sermon, I wound up at Parkland Hospital in Dallas that Thursday praying with our church’s most beloved family as they planned a funeral for one child and begged God to heal another.
And that very first Sunday at Legacy was not about me. It had nothing to do with me. The new preacher that had finally arrived was the last thing on anybody’s mind. Everybody was thinking about John and Rose and J and Laurie and all the kids who weren’t there. I was powerless. Helpless. I was an intruder.
And I didn’t expect any of that.
But, through those events, God has worked in their lives and in my life and in the life of the Legacy family to make us stronger and closer to him and to each other.
The other thing I talked about was that God uses wholly inadequate people (me) to do holy amazing things.
People I don’t know very well, people I’ve barely met, will talk to me about their innermost fears and anxieties, their sins and struggles with faith and hope. We’ll cry together. We’ll pray together. They tell me things they wouldn’t tell their dearest friends. Because I’m their preacher. I represent God and the Word of God to these people. To the church, I represent a deeper relationship with God. I’m expected to give them spiritual direction and comfort and hope straight from the Lord.
And when I’m finished with these conversations, I feel so small and insignificant. I feel like I haven’t helped at all. I haven’t said anything they couldn’t have heard from almost anyone else. I look at my own selfishness and sin and inclinations to evil. I look at all the things I don’t know and don’t understand about my God and his ways and his will. And he still uses me. And that completely blows me away.
I’m so burdened sometimes by the things I know I’m supposed to say. I’m so relieved when they come out right. So discouraged when they don’t. The calling is so demanding and so satisfying. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done and the most rewarding. It’s so right for me in that I feel capeable of study and public speaking. So wrong in that I’m so selfish and sinful and weak.
It’s so up and down. It’s so exhilerating and terrifying. All at the same time. All the time.
But the grace for me—the thing I’ve learned—is that it’s not me. It’s God in me. It’s God through me. It’s God for me. And that’s where I get my courage and my confidence.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “I expect naught from myself, everything from the work of Christ. My service has its objectivity in that expectation and by it I am freed from all anxiety about my insufficiency and failure.”
I won’t ruin the movie for you. I’ll talk about the plot and the ending of a movie from 1963 in the pulpit and get accused of ruining it for somebody. So I won’t do that here. Let’s just say that the characters in the movie are not developed at all. The dialogue is much less clever and much less comfortable than what we’ve come to expect from Spielberg and Lucas. A lot of the adventure and chase scenes were ripoffs from the previous flicks. And there weren’t any surprises.
It’s almost like they knew they could throw almost anything together with these names and characters and plot lines and make a ton of money off ticket prices, product placement, and merchandising without even trying. And they did. And they are.
But it’s still Indiana Jones. And we still eat it up at Stanglin Manor.
We got together Sunday night at Chisholm Park in Hurst with all the members of the three Small Groups that formed from our original Small Group that first started meeting in January. There were almost 50 of us. Matt & Rechelle cooked the fajitas. We sang and prayed in the big pavilion. And the kids played together all afternoon. We plan to do this probably once a quarter as our groups keep growing bigger and bigger and multiply into even more groups. May our Father continue to bless us with more people and more opportunities to grow and to serve and to share with our Christian brothers and sisters.