Refreshing

Second worship service is over, it’s hot and I’m walking out to my car. When I get in, turn the key and fire up the AC, I quickly check my email, just to see if there’s anyone I need to get in touch with that afternoon. There is an email from someone I don’t know that begins, “My family and I worshiped with you this morning at your 8:15 service.” Hmm. I don’t remember meeting any guests this morning. In my mind survey the morning crowd and no one stands out.

The email continued, “How refreshing it was to hear the Gospel this morning.” I can’t think of any other sentence someone could write to me that would touch my heart in such a powerful way. The words of Paul to Christians in Corinth popped into my mind: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

There are far too many afternoons when I wonder if I preached the gospel clearly enough. Did I take my listeners to the cross? Did I get them to the empty tomb? Did I faithfully proclaim the death and resurrection of my Lord? Is that what people heard?

When someone comes out of church and says, “Thank you for preaching the gospel,” I am relieved, affirmed, encouraged and thankful. That’s my task. That’s my goal. In fact, That’s all I’ve got. I can’t convince people to trust God. I can’t move them to change their behavior. I can’t answer all their questions or objections. All I have is the gospel, filled with the power of God to inspire faith, create new hearts in us, and calm our worried souls. All I can do is tell them about Jesus.

I wasn’t especially thrilled about my sermon this morning. I think I tried too hard to say too many things. I think I could have done better. Most of the people coming out of church wanted me to have a safe trip to Israel this week or offered consolation because my father died three weeks ago. But this one little bit of feedback reminded me that God can work through someone like me to bring the best news of all to people like me who need to hear it early and often.

Sometimes, God opens a window or leaves a door ajar

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

One of the hardest things to do is wait for an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. As a pastor, I have that opportunity every Sunday morning. But the rest of the week, I have to listen for what I can best describe as door left ajar, a question or a comment that immediately shouts, “Tell them the gospel!” I love it when God simply cracks a window or creates a moment. I had that happen two times in the last month.

The first was a conversation with Brad (not his real name) who was dying, hard to understand, but still hanging on to life. i don’t know if it was a test or a genuine inquiry: “How good do you have to be to get into heaven?” O boy, when I hear that question, I have to take a breath and pull myself together to give them some very good news: you don’t have to be good. Jesus was good enough for you. His righteousness is yours. Heaven is your eternal home because of him. Sentences that fill me with joy; sentences I hope filled him, too.

Moment number two. Visiting Andy, also dying, I asked, “Are you ready?” He said, “I’m scared.” I asked, “What are you afraid of?” He said, “The darkness.”

Once again, I had to take a deep breath and pace myself. I had so much to say, but most importantly, “In [Christ] there is no darkness.” He knew that. He had been faithful for ninety-plus years. He just needed to hear it again.

Short, simple conversations filled with gospel hope. Thank you, Jesus, for being the answer to so many worries, concerns and questions!