This Sunday we will complete the seven-week sermon series “Heart Issues are Hard Issues.” For me it has been a time of personally experiencing “the greater the challenge the greater the growth potential”. I found the challenge pressing on me from three primary directions.
First came the challenge of taking a text and someone else’s sermon and making it into something I could preach while being certain that I truly believed and identified with what I was preaching. And my, what a blessing this has become. I found that I had fallen into some bad habits in sermon preparation. Now my prayer is that the corrected behavior and growth will continue after this series is completed.
They always say that the preacher must first preach the sermon to himself before he can preach it to anyone else. As the focus of the sermons progressed from simply acknowledging that racism is an big issue in our society to the people of God in Christ Jesus both hearing and acting upon our call to live in the arena of addressing social injustices, I was forced to ask myself, “What am I doing – beyond the pulpit – in this regard?” When the answer came back as “very little”, I started looking for specific ways to do more. The next step will be to personally act upon them.
And then came the third challenge – to actually preach the sermons in such a way that people will hear the message and have their attitudes and lives changed to be more Christ-like. In this regard I have spent much more time in prayer before and after preaching than has been my recent practice. And, through it all, I have tried to live in God’s promise that “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater so shall (God’s) word be that goes out from his mouth; it shall not return to him empty, but it shall accomplish that which he purposes, and shall succeed in the thing for which he sent it.” (Isaiah 55.10-11)
By the way, in case you have missed any of these or wish to listen to them again, you can find the first six in the series at https://www.stl-eastpointe.org/sermons/. You have to wait until this coming Sunday for number seven – an interesting number. Seven is the number that takes us back to creation – the number of God @ Work – as I pray he has been during this entire series.
As John in his vision sees the elect in heaven he sees “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7.9-10) The prophet Isaiah when confronted with fact that people “from all tribes and peoples and languages” needed to hear and experience the fullness of God’s love said, “Here am I. Send me.” (Isaiah 55.8) The ultimate pattern for us all is set by our Redeemer himself who “went throughout all Galilee teaching … and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4.23)
I, personally, count racism among the “diseases and afflictions” in our society today. Thus my prayer is that this same Jesus will continue to work on my heart as he has upon so many others – forgiving me for my ignorance, impatience, and ineptness while also moving me to proactively care for “people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” by continually addressing racism and other social injustices with the Good News of Jesus. And, of course, my prayer is that he is doing the same in all who read Thursday’s Thirst and have heard this sermon series. Heart Issues are Hard Issues for one simple reason – the hardness of our hearts! “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. … Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn to you.” (Psalm 51.10-13) Or, as Vince Gill prayed years ago, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”