Monday, October 30, 2017

I love church! & other rambling thoughts on the privilege of preaching as an introvert

I cannot imagine being anywhere else on Sunday morning other than church.


There are moments when I’m in church that I just tear up.

Frederick Buechner writes, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention, they are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

I try to stifle the tears. After all, real men don’t cry, right? When this happens, if we are singing, I have to stop as I consider where I have come from and to where, next, God is summoning me.

Often tears happen when we’re singing a particular hymn that reminds me of my mom. She loved to sing. Yesterday it was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” that nudged out a tear or two. That was one of her favorites.

But it’s more than that.

There is such an intense thrill being with other believers as we are focusing our lives on the worship of God. It’s at times like these that the word “awesome” is accurate in its truest and deepest meaning.

How can one not tear up when God is affirming His presence in your heart?

Yes, what I’m saying is that in church -- and at other times -- I can feel the presence of God. Tangibly. This is a good thing. In fact, several million people around the world would agree with me on this.

* * *

To be loved by God, acknowledged by God is crazy delicious. And mind-numbingly humbling. All at the same time.

I know, better than anyone (other than God), that I don’t deserve His attention, His grace, His mercy. And yet, every breath I take, every move I make, it’s because of Him.

One of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV): “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

All things hold together. In Him!

This couples well with Paul’s statement in Acts 17:27-28 (ESV) “...that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’"

This, too, is a good thing.

Surprisingly, even those who refuse to acknowledge God are in still His care. While these atheists or agnostics or “spiritual but not religious” often claim bliss in the midst of this ignorance, frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing.

And then there are those who wrap themselves securely in the banner of being Christian and yet eschew church completely, or, if they are a member somewhere, easily find “reasons” for not being in church on Sundays. And if they do show up, Lord help them if they are asked to serve more than rarely!

Forgive my little rant, but I don’t get any of this.

* * *

Maybe I was just spoiled as a kid. I was born into a family where being in church and serving in church was viewed as a privilege, an honor, a source of joy. And so that is in my DNA, as they say. Referring back to the Buechner quote, “this is telling you something about the secret of who” I am.

Mom and dad always held various leadership as well as behind-the-scenes roles in church. Me and my sister followed their leads. And I have zero regrets in this area.

Occasionally there is some Satan-seduced scoundrel that slithers into a church and tries to stir up discord and strife that results in hurt feelings and worse. These times are hard. Yet, inevitably, the Holy Spirit provides clarity and discernment, the scoundrel either is repentant or rebuffed. Healing comes and unity is restored. Until the next round. And there will always be another round.

Jesus made it clear that the Christian walk is no cake walk. There are weeds in the wheat fields. Goats among the sheep. It rains on the just and the unjust, and everyone has troubles to deal with. But the advantage goes to believers who get to hold God’s hand during the hard times.

I’d rather be worldly-poor holding God’s hand than wealthy and godless. I’ve turned my back on God a few times and it wasn’t a good thing. It’s those times that generated regrets.

* * *

But, as I was saying, I love church.

I love it so much that, even as an introvert who is not the most comfortable getting up in front of people, I will joyfully -- more or less -- say “Yes!” when asked to fill in for our pastor on any given Sunday and preach.

For some weird and inexplicable reason, God has subtly gifted me with the ability to preach, periodically. I know this isn’t something I could do every Sunday, and I have huge respect for the pastors who can and do. But, I can fill in now and then.

Oddly, it’s something I want to do, kind of.

Just recently I shared with a friend that, of late, I’ve found myself wondering when I’ll get to preach next, while at the same time, sort of dreading it. There is both eagerness and anxiety.

Probably at least some of the anxiety comes from such admonitions as found in 1 Peter 4:10-11 that advise, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God....”

An oracle of God? Yikes! That’s some heavy-duty responsibility.

Confronted with such a burden of obligation, I cry out with Isaiah, saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips....” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV).

So, no, I don’t step into the pulpit lightly. I understand full well how serious such an endeavor is.

* * *

This awareness helps drive my preparation. I’ll even share an early draft of a sermon with my pastor and a few trusted friends to ensure I’m on the right track.

Sermon prep surfaces a few fears. Besides worrying that I might have to go to the restroom halfway through delivering a sermon, the bigger overarching concern is that I not misspeak, mislead, somehow misinterpret a passage, or provide any level of misinformation. God forbid! Which He does.

One of the advantages I’ve discovered of doing sermon prep is that it takes me into the Word at a different angle.

Just yesterday I had the privilege of filling in for our pastor and continued the series on John that he began over a year ago (Read it here; listen to it here). We’re near the end and the passage that was next was John 21:1-14, the breakfast on the beach scene.

As I mentioned in the opening of my sermon, on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much there. What’s happening seems obvious. But is it?

Much if not all of God’s Word is like those expandable grow-monster sponge toys. They come in little capsules and when placed in water overnight, the next morning your kitchen is overtaken by a nearly life-size dinosaur or some other giant sponge beast. In fact, these things can keep growing for days!

This is what happens when diving into scripture with the intent of opening it for others. The Holy Spirit provides intense insight. Some may call this anointing or unction. Perhaps. But the application of these is entirely up to God and not something I can be presumptuous to claim for myself.

All I know is that as I examine a passage with the intent to preach it, the passage begins to look different from all the other times I’ve read it. What was unseen before glows, as it were. Well, at least eventually. It takes diligence, discipline, prayer, study, and panic before the glowing comes.

* * *

I don’t begrudge the need for some blood, sweat, and tears when digging into the Word to unearth the deeper truths. Nothing good comes easily. And the struggle forces dependence on the Holy Spirit which is as it should be.

I also don’t begrudge the sheer effort it takes for me, a God-imaging introvert, to stand up and preach. I don’t begrudge the exhaustion and recovery time needed afterward -- and every introvert knows what I mean. To echo Paul, I rejoice in this suffering because I know it’s productive and temporal. It’s good for me.

 * * *

Yesterday evening I was exhausted. And I was genuinely happy to be done with the preaching for the day. Yet, at the same time, I was happy to have had the opportunity, to have been entrusted with such a weighty task, to be considered by God and others as acceptable for such an endeavor. The tears welled a little thinking about this as I don’t really feel worthy. Others do, so I trust their judgment and work hard to live up to their trust in me.

Buechner also said once, “the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet. When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.”

From time to time, here in my little part of the world, there is a need for someone to fill in when the pastor has other obligations. For me, answering that need, saying yes, ultimately brings me deep gladness. Even as I write this, thinking about yesterday’s preaching effort, joy bubbles gently in my spirit and tears well.

Like I said, I cannot imagine being anywhere else on Sunday morning other than church. Even when it’s me -- the introvert -- who is preaching.

Do you love church? Why or why not? Do you attend church regularly? Are you a member of a church? What is one of your most fond memories of church? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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