Shelden and Bill, two twenty-something friends stop into a local Mexican joint after church. As the burritos come out, Shelden’s eyes light up. After Bill says a quick prayer the conversation turns to the sermon.
“Bill! What a sermon! Man, Pastor Owen is such a good preacher. I just love the way he talks about the bible. He’s always telling such good stories and analogies. I just feel like I learn so much, you know? He’s so much better than my last pastor.”
“Yeah, I guess”
“What do you mean- you guess? That sermon has all the makings of a viral sermon- the stuff about the vine and the branches- I’ve never thought about it like he described it. I mean Pastor Owen is such an awesome communicator! How could you not see that?”
“I don’t know man. I guess we had a different experience of the sermon.”
“What- you don’t think it was a great sermon?”
“Not at all, man. Pastor Owen is a great communicator and you can tell he really worked on it and was on his knees beforehand praying that God would work through it.
And maybe that’s just it. I don’t think Pastor Owen’s sermons are great because he’s great- I think they’re great because HE’s great. For whatever reason, the God of the universe has decided to use this imperfect man to speak to me. While you might think of him as him telling us about the bible- I experienced that sermon as though God was talking to me.
When we talked about Jesus being the vine and the branches, I wasn’t thinking about ancient near eastern agriculture. I just felt a sense of sorrow- because it was this moment of clarity where I saw how disconnected I had become from the Lord – even with my regular participation in religious activities. I saw how far I had strayed from following this narrow path that Jesus talks about- and realized that it was up to God himself to pull me back to it and keep me on it.
And my next thought, honestly, was that it’s terrifying for me to not be in control of the most crucial thread of my life here and in eternity. But that’s how God has set it up and I realized just like the first time I trusted him- that I needed to trust him here now as I pray- no, plead- for him to ‘restore to me the joy of my salvation’
Then, I had joy as I remembered that he is trustworthy- he has sent his son so that he could forgive my wandering heart- and this also reminds us that he won’t leave us- that he will guide us and bring us back.
So, this might sound crazy but I left not thinking hardly at all about how great Pastor Owen is. All I could think about was how great GOD is. And I don’t know but my hunch is that that’s what pastor Owen wanted anyways.”
“Whoa man- that’s… kind of intense.”
“It was intense- just like the Bible says it is when God speaks to you. It makes you see things in a different light- and reconsider just about everything”
(there’s a pause as Shelden shifts his gaze towards the window)
“Why didn’t I get that? I mean I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I’ve had emotional experiences at bible camp. I’ve been excited- and obviously captivated by sermons over the years. But it was like we were listening to the sermon through different ears.”
“Honestly, man- I don’t know. You’re a smart guy- and you have definitely been around the Christian block a few times. I do know that his sheep do hear his voice-and listen. I know that the Spirit cries out from our deepest places with ‘groanings too deep for words’. I also know that those who seek will find. Maybe you need to spend a little time with God- just by yourself- and maybe do something scary- ask him.”