July 28, 2011
Thursday, 9:00 a.m.
Letter #184: In Season, Out of Season
I preached this week. (Finally!) I haven’t given a message in a service or at a Bible Study since I was at Soledad, California. The entire year I was in Florence, I hoped to speak in the chapel.
Having led the yard Bible Studies in Soledad and being in charge of the music program there gave me many opportunities to prepare and give messages, and I enjoyed the challenge and responsibility to carry the Word. As Paul says in I Corinthians 9:16, “Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!”
Even though I don’t believe preaching is my specific or primary calling, but rather to prepare myself and others to preach and be prepared for all aspects of ministry support especially through business, I developed a love for sharing the Word while at Soledad. Yet not once was I asked to speak in Florence. I was on the Executive Body of five elders, of which all four others spoke quite often, and many others were given an opportunity, including a deacon—23 years old, and a Christian for two years—who spoke on three separate occasions.
I wrote a letter to the head elder, with my concern that we weren’t involving others in the speaking/preaching portion of ministry (at that point, only the other lead elders were speaking), and I thank God my suggestions were put into practice. They began encouraging others to prepare messages to give, but I was never included. Every service I attended, I brought with me two sermons I’d prepared, just in case I was asked to speak. And as I’ve told you about before, I continued doing what God had asked me to do: disciple other guys into music leadership, rather than taking all of the lead for myself.
I write about this because it is a major portion of my life: I will spend around 15 hours in church services this week. I also know that many of you are in a church of your own, and many churches—including my parents’ home church as a stellar example—get this area right, but most do not. It is not easy, this discipleship thing. Anyone who has taught someone else how to drive knows this. Handing the wheel of your organization or group or church over to someone who is less proficient, less polished, or less prepared than you is a terrifying thing.
Yet, everyone has a calling. Everyone is a member of the Body, with unique gifts and abilities. And it is everyone’s responsibility to be ready to speak the Word, and even to come prepared to share in a church service. It is therefore the leadership’s task to implement a culture of training. I do not think that Timothy simply carried Paul’s suitcase or prepared his meals while traveling with the great preacher. Paul urged those he ministered to that they should follow his example, imitating him. Without a practical put-it-into-practice outlet, how much can someone learn? You can’t become a proficient carpenter by book learning alone; you must at some point pick up a tool and use it.
So, my opportunity came. I took the sermon outline from my favorite living preacher and preached for an hour to a small group of 15 men. We’d just been allowed to use the large multi-purpose room, so the quiet surroundings were so much better than the noisy dayroom I’d anticipated.
I spoke about living the life of a servant: Ready & Willing to Count the Cost, by my brother, Michael. I passed around a picture of what looked to be me with a wife and kids. Then, a picture of my identical twin bro and me clued them in that the wife and kids aren’t mine. (That reaction never gets old for me.)
The message is one that is near and dear to me, for it talks about being prepared to serve, living a life that is pleasing to God. For most prisoners, incarceration becomes Summer Camp for Bad Boys, and fruitless days turn into fruitless nights, then weeks, months, and years. Watch TV, play dominoes, eat and sleep. As Michael points out, “Having something worth dying for gives you something worth living for.” As Christ exemplified, we should be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of what God has called us to do. The message was well-received.
A bright spot in my day: this letter was interrupted by a summons to play piano for a graduation of inmates from the GED program and vocational programs here. The salutatorian and valedictorian for GED were 65 and 49 years old!! Better late than never, and at least they’re trying to be prepared for life outside prison. I played “Pomp and Circumstance,” then prepared myself for life outside by downing three pieces of fried chicken, chips and salsa, soda, and chocolate cake. Ready. Willing.