Thursday, June 13, 2013

Learning Experiences 2 - Can't Preach

In the summer of 1998, I surrendered to what I was convinced then and now was God's calling upon my life to preach (2 Timothy 4:2).  I remember the day very clearly in my mind.  All I ever wanted to know was for sure that God was truly "in it" because I didn't know enough to be afraid of it.  And over the next few weeks God witnessed in my first attempts at preaching His word that He truly was "in it." And thus I began to prepare sermons by studying passages and writing down a few things about those passages that I felt like God wanted me to say.  So with much prayer, much study, much trembling, and a few notes in some form of an outline, I would enter into any pulpit or preaching appointment that God allowed.  I am glad most of those early sermons are not recorded, but I do have the old notebooks (which Erika says that it is a miracle that anything of logical thought came from such a mess of notes) which contained those early sermons.

Anyway, over 15 years, I had developed a sermon template not too unlike the one to the right (although I realize that you can't read that one).  It had a place for introduction, main thought, background, points, explanations, illustrations, etc.  It kept me on task, from running too many rabbits, quoting people properly, using the original languages well, and thinking out application beforehand.  But it was where I was comfortable.  I had preached that way for years.  I didn't read my sermons.  If you had ever seen me preach, I wasn't "tied" to my notes.  I kinda passed by them every once in a while, but they were there.

Then all this seizure stuff started.  And one of the medicines that they put me on was called Topomax.  Side effects were numerous.  1) Weight loss, not too bad right, lost 10 lbs in two weeks without even trying, eating everything I wanted! 2) Tingling feet, tolerable, it comes and goes.  3) Carbonated beverage taste, makes them taste horrible, all of them.  So I haven't had a root beer, a sprite, a cherry fanta, a ginger ale, a punch at a shower in months.  As someone with a similar condition put it the other day, "if there was a pool of root beer (they inserted diet coke) they could dive into the middle and drink it all from the bottom up.  This is not fun to endure.  4) Brain function, it gets better, but it started out bad.  I couldn't think of words that I knew, couldn't remember my own email address, and a lot of other things.

But the reason that I wrote this blog piece was that I couldn't write a sermon outline.  It just wouldn't come together in my mind.  I would read and study and think as usual, talk to people as usual, be fired up over the richness of the text and the truth contained therein, and then sit down to write some notes, and stare at the paper or screen.  So I printed out the text, and thought I would start there.  Nothing.  I was really excited about the passage, but no outline would come.  I just couldn't put it together in a logical, helpful, expository way.  So for days when I would sit down to write, and nothing came; I would think, I will try again tomorrow.  Then tomorrow, same song, second verse.  I told my assistant that she would not have an outline to put together a PowerPoint this week (because she only works through Thurs).  I don't usually work on Friday, but I went in on Friday to get a sermon finished, but nada.  Saturday morning early another shot, same result.

So on Sunday morning (because there are only so many days in a week), I went to the pulpit with what I had--this print off of the text I was using (John 13:18-30) that was scribbled all over and something I had relearned.  Seriously, it had some words circled, some words underlined or double underlined.  It had lines drawn this way and that way across the text.  It had little notes and asterisks at different places in different colored ink.  It had three little points at the bottom with just numbers. It was a mess.

And so was I.  And that was what I had relearned.  I had relearned to tremble.  I began my sermon with an apology to the congregation for what was about to be a disaster of a sermon because of Topomax.  Then I prayed with all my heart (as I had been for days) for the divine assistance that I needed.  And I realized that the dependence upon Him and the Spirit had been replaced with a comfort in my own abilities and preparation.  And once those things were taken away, or at least their manifestation through my notes, I remembered from whence my power came, and who had called me.  I learned what Paul learned in 2 Corinthians 1:9, 3:5, 4:7, 12:7-10, that trials teach us that self-sufficiency should die and God-dependency should reign.

Something was very different in my proclamation that morning.  The Holy Spirit was evidenced in His anointing.  I sensed it, the congregation sensed it, and He began to work in me and in them in a fresh way through the pulpit ministry.  I know in part because I relearned that sense of trembling that I used to feel when I first began to preach; when I began to depend on God afresh.  And for several weeks, even though I began with apologies and no notes, God spoke.  And people are still noting the anointing, as I am still trying to maintain the complete dependence that I felt when my way of preaching was taken away; even though now it is returning as the effects of the medication are not as severe.

Where is your confidence?  Do you breathe God-ignoring air, trusting in your own abilities?

Make sure you read Learning Experiences 1 and Learning Experiences 3.

Hope they minister to you!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Pastor Jason. And I keep you and several other pastors in my daily prayers. I also want you to know that I have so appreciated your preaching and teaching GIFT from the Lord over the years we were at New River. Keep your eyes of faith fixed on our Lord, and keep depending on Him for everything.