Preach

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:14)

God called me to do ‘my preaching’ through The Salvation Army as an officer. I was fearful of this call for so many reasons but the greatest worry for me was that I was terrified to speak in front of people.  (I was so painfully shy that as a child I would skip school on the days when oral reports were to be given.) Nevertheless, with the intent to obey Christ’s command I answered God’s call to officership.

I will never forget the first sermon I ever preached.  It was as a cadet during my field training assignment at the Times Square Corps.  It was bad enough that I had to stand at a pulpit and preach to a group of people in the chapel, but I also had to contend with the fact that it was broadcast outside.  While the message (and the meeting in general) was going on inside, there were cadets outside handing out tracts, talking to people (about the message, etc.), and inviting folks to come inside.  This assignment to preach became a powerful turning point for me.  

As I stood to read the scripture, I was so scared that I was shaking all over and could barely speak—I could even see out of the corner of my eye that the bow on my bonnet was shaking! I sat down in great fear and near panic. As the next item on the program was taking place, I began imploring God. I prayed this simple prayer: “God you have called me, and I want to be here, but I can’t do this without your help. Please, help me!”  At that moment I felt the peace of God envelop me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  No more shaking, no more fear. The band finished playing and I stood and delivered that sermon with confidence.  I even remember the opening line: “Have you ever stood in the midst of a crowd and felt completely alone?”  Now I don’t know how effective that sermon was for anyone else (or the grade I received) but it was a game changer for me.  God showed me very clearly that He had indeed called me and that He would equip me and help me to do the work and ministry involved in that calling. 

“Don’t underestimate the power of God in you, nor yet what you, by working quietly and steadily with Him, may accomplish” (Samuel Logan Brengle) I well learned the truth of that statement that evening in Times Square. I think that sometimes we overestimate our abilities and/or inabilities and forget that God will see us through each and every situation.  I recall one particular situation that was way out of my depth.  I had been an officer for about nine years and generally felt fairly competent to handle most things regarding my calling. I was in the office on a Saturday trying to catch up on some things when the phone rang. As these were the days before cell phones and caller ID…at least on our Corps Office phone…I answered because I thought it might be my husband. It wasn’t. It was someone who had randomly called the Salvation Army as they sat contemplating suicide. The first thing that hit me was pure unadulterated terror. Then with an SOS prayer to the Lord. I began to converse with the person on the other end of the line and we talked and talked and talked.  I don’t know how long I was on the phone I just know that when the call ended, I was exhausted and felt like a limp rag.

I slumped back in my chair and just let the Spirit’s comfort and assurance wash over me.  As I thought about bits and pieces of that conversation, I began to realize that the Lord had indeed been using me in spite of my weakness and inabilities. He placed in my mouth the words to say, the tone to use, helped me focus on the individual and pushed my panic aside.  

Christians are called to preach the gospel. To preach the reality of it, the possibility of it, the grace of it, the love of it and the Person of it. To tell others that God who does not simply supply us with information about how we are to live but gives us Himself so that in every circumstance we have all that is needed to see us through.

Let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Fredrick Buechner. “Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.” (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale)

Hope

My computer is in desperate need for a “clean-up” so I’ve begun going through files and deleting or archiving them off the computer.  In the course of doing this, I have come across some articles, blogs, and papers that I have written.  Some of them still seem to be relevant so I thought I would begin sharing them here. (I’ve tried all sorts of ways to use this blog and am on the verge of giving it up but thought I would give this thing another shot!)

As a Leader I believe that it is especially important to study Scripture both in a theological context as well as a contemporary context. (Scripture doesn’t change but the individual and circumstances do, so graciously the Lord provides fresh insight for current circumstance using past experiences with Him as a touchstone or benchmark.)

January 2012 I was dealing with difficult personal circumstances and pressures at work when I was given the news that my oldest sister, Judy was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The lens and filter I was using to view the material I was reading changed in the blink of an eye. My sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer was required to undergo aggressive treatment.  Having a sense of the battle and the ramifications caused me to view my reading and study through the lens of pain and fear. It is this filter that led me to Tozer and 1 Peter.  (O, Lord, you know what my need will be for tomorrow even as I live in today’s moment!)

As my sister was in hospice I the Spirit gave me Nouwen for comfort and encouragement. But it is not about my sister that I write but the hard and difficult circumstances that come to us and the authors he sent my way to help me through them.

I am presently reading Tozer (Fiery Faith) and feel as if I am visiting an old friend but yet discovering new topics of discussion and learning. Amazing how that works.

One of my favorite quotes by Tozer: “Whatever comes into your heart and mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”  I remember that the first time I read this it stopped my mind short.  When my mind turns to God, what thoughts come?  I confess that I was a bit ashamed of my thoughts.  You see, I discovered that the first things that came to mind were my needs, my wants, etc. — that my thoughts about God were through a selfish lens if you will…. Not that anything I thought was a bad thing, but my perspective was skewed.

My struggle with this came while we were in a difficult appointment. It was one in which my motives, my officership and my actions as a mother were constantly questioned and ridiculed.  So, naturally, I was constantly “crying” to God for relief.  It was all about me not about concern for the spiritual state of individuals who could behave in such hurtful and destructive ways.

God in his tender mercy–while soothing my pain–taught me to not only work through that pain but, while doing so, practice the art of Christian love — Christian love that wants and works for the best good of others no matter what they do or think about you in return. No easy task but when you begin looking at others, especially those that use and abuse you, through the eyes of Christ…..your heart begins to soften by the knowledge of just how much they are hurting themselves and that they can only hurt you if you let them. Make no mistake, others can cause you pain and disappointment, but they cannot hurt you. All they can do is drive you closer to the Lord who brings comfort, peace, courage and strength.  Annie Johnson Flint reminds us that we are covered and armored with the Love of God.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,              
      He sendeth more strength as our labors increase,
      To added afflictions He added His mercy,
      To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
      When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
      When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
      Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
 
      His love has no limits, his grace has no measure,
      His power no boundary known unto men;
      For our of his infinite riches in Jesus
      He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

A verse of scripture that God gave to me while attending SFOT:  

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

In that difficult appointment (and many since) I have had to come back to this promise.  No matter my circumstance, God will bring me through … and not only that, make me stronger — both personally and spiritually.

Let me finish this post with Tozer’s words:

“God is personally concerned about you.  God is not too high or lofty to remember that His children are in the land where illness is prevalent.  Where accidents happen every day.  Where there are loss of jobs and financial worries.  Where people are betrayed by their closest loved ones.  Where there is separation, as for instance, when the boy who has been close to us for so many years, shakes our hand with a grin that is not quite real and walks down the sidewalk and waves at the corner on his way to report to the military service.  Separations come, some never to return to us again.  God knows it and says, ‘Now, I know that’s the kind of world you live in, but I have laid hold on you forever, and I know every detail of your trouble and all your problems, and I’ll anticipate every act of the enemy and every act of every enemy I will anticipate.  I will go before you.’” (Tozer, Living as a Christian, pp. 206-207)