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November 2013 entries

Preaching Down an Unfamiliar Road

Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C, has the unique privilege of being the pastor to one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity. He is Billy Graham's pastor. Rev. Graham watches the Sunday services of FBC on television and Pastor Wilton visits Billy Graham in North Carolina once a week. They have had many wonderful conversations about God and the things of His world. But Blly's favorite subject is preaching.

While reading about the content of one such conversation, I was delighted to read that the world's leading evangelist and I have at least one thing in common. We both believe preaching is more art than science.  Pastor Winton described Mr. Graham's illustration of preaching as "to refine that spiritual art, not in terms of of tapestry or painting, but in terms of a deep and profound sense of God's call and annointing for that moment in time."

Mr. Graham lists prayer before as a priority to preach effectively.  He believes prayer is the lifeline to the preached word and that the person who preaches is simply the instrument.  Winton said that he has heard Billy remark many times, "no Spirit, no power!" It isn't that Bible study isn't important. It is. However, a poor message delivered by a person full of God's Spirit is immensely more effective than a sermon filled with Bible knowledge delivered ny a person devoid of the Spirit's power.

I had a conversation one day over lunch with another pastor when the subject of preaching arose. We had met to talk about church administration. Out of the blue he said, "I could never preach like you. I don't have that kind of creativity or imagination." I thanked him for the compliment but corrected his statement. "You don't have to preach like me. You just have to preach the way God has intended for you to preach." I think he was selling his ability short. His issue may have been more about letting God direct his preaching instead of his member's expectations. Unlike math or engineering, preaching is molded by the Spirit of God in the preacher's life and may take him to some unfamiliar locations.  Sometimes those places are not what the church member was expecting, but often directed toward an unseen need in the life of one, or many, listeners.  This happened this past week.

I was led to preach on the life of Jonah, but not in the ordinary way. Instead of  looking to a commentary or some of my old notes, I was impressed to talk about  trials in the hand of God. I felt like the Lord wanted me to say that our waywardness can be a training ground for our life's purpose. Jonah just thought he was going to Tarshish to escape God's call on his life. In reality, he was about to encounter a trial that would speed up his spiritual maturity so that he could stand before the frightening Ninevites. If he had gone directly to Nineveh he may not have been as prepared. So, what he thought was running away from God in rebellion, was really running into God's purpose.

When the message was through I felt defeated. Why had the Spirit lead me down that road. Why not talk about the pain caused by disobedience? Why not talk about the type of Christ represented in the three days in the belly of the fish and make it more evangelical? Instead I felt myself looking for a place to land the plane at the end of a long and bumpy message. I even talked about the strangeness of the message to a deacon as he followed me to my pastor reception room. Then it happened.

A person came by to ask me if I had heard the sobs of the young man sitting in front of them. Evidently, as I described how God could use our rebeliion for good he began to openly weep. I had not. Then another person came by to say how incredible the message was. It was just what they needed to hear and that they had never heard that application from the story before. And before I knew it, the room was full of people wanting to talk. I was there almost a half hour after the service ended just talking and praying with people. If I would have graded the message I would have given it a strong D. However, the Spirit of God had led me down a path that strayed from my notes just to find myself at a place where He knew people were hurting.

What a great honor is mine. To be led by the Spirit to speak into hurting lives. Even when I think I've gone down some dead end road, I find the Spirit is leading me there because my notes would have led me to a destination God had never intended for me to go.      


Happy Birthday Son

Today is the birthday of our second and youngest son, Andy. 

His full name is John Andrew.  Andrew means valor. And just like our first son adam, Marilyn and I could not be more proud of him.

Both of our boys were welcomed into our lives, but they were also unexpected. We weren't trying to be fruitful and multiply in either case, but God had other plans. With both boys there have been challenges. Many of you already know that our first son was diagnosed with a neuro blastoma at age 18 months. This deadly form of cancer takes many innocent lives before they ever reach age 3. But God miracuously spared the life of our firstborn through divine intervention and the great people at St. Judes Hospital. 

Marilyn and I lost a baby girl early in her pregnancy shortly after Adam's diagnosis. So when we learned that she was pregnant again we were just a little overwhelmed. Adam had just turned three and wasn't out of the woods yet with his cancer treatment. So we were understandably nervous when November of 1990 rolled around. Though the delivery wasn't as smooth as I would have liked, our second child was born on november 19. Because of our history with his older brother he was checked for the same kind of cancer. Nothing. All was well, at least for the time being.

Just as Marilyn was comfortable enough to leave me at home with both boys we learned another harsh reality. My wife was not gone long when Andy reached for one of the cheese puffs I had in my hand. He simply licked some of the powder from the snack. A few moments later I realized that his lips began to swell and his skin became splotchy. In a few moments he was lethargic and had difficulty in breathing.

I took a damp cloth and wiped his face and prayed. Soon Marilyn came home and we took him to the doctor. After testing the doctor reported that he had the worst milk allergy he had ever witnessed. A glass of milk would be fatal to our son.

Andy has lived with this problem for these 23 years. He has never tasted a pizza or peanuts. He's never had milk with his cereal or cheese on his hamburger. He can have some bread but not all. We are forever reading labels and asking questions at restaurants.

Through it all, Andy has never complained. He's taken it like a man. He has become a BBQ rib expert and knows where to order the best chili. It seems the Lord knew he would be a courageous young man when he led us to name him Andrew.

Happy Birthday son!