God’s Divine Appointment
I went to Shepherds’ Conference on Thursday two weeks ago at Grace Community Church to meet up with my friend Alex Hong and Renato Del Mundo from the Philippines for catching up and building each other up. As I left the bookstore to go home, I saw a friend from college, Pete Bargas, who is now director of campus ministries at The Master’s College (TMC). I had to get to my car because in 5 minutes it would be eligible for a parking ticket so there was no time to chat. For whatever reason, as he walked by me, I felt compelled to stick my arm out and push his shoulder as we walked past each other. He looked at me and I said hi. He looked at me and said, “Can you speak at chapel the Monday after next week?” I felt a nervousness in me that wanted to say no because I wanted more time. Maybe next year I could speak at chapel I thought. So without fully thinking it through, I said yes. Maybe it was because I had to get to my car quick. I thought as I walked away, wow, I’m going to be speaking to the students at my college! I didn’t expect that to come out of a lunch meeting with friends.
I was really nervous on Sunday night and this morning. It was ridiculous. I haven’t been that nervous to preach since I preached at TMC in 2002 as the ASB chaplain. I think some nervousness came from not being sure if I was going to preach within the 40 minute time frame and not being sure what I said would be helpful to students who probably already knew the sermon’s content. That was really a lack of confidence in the sufficiency and power of Scripture and the gospel to help others. That’s sinful. But I think the main reason for my nervousness came from another sin: Pride.
On the inside, to some degree, I felt drawn to impress the students and the staff guys who invited me to preach. I hate that I felt that, but I did. I also felt the desire to be remembered by the students for preaching a message with great impact rather than the glory of Christ’s mercy and the message itself being remembered. I also wanted to get invited back to speak at chapel again in the future. All of these are self-exalting reasons and they belittle the majesty and holiness of God. So I found myself confessing sin to God, still feeling nervous, and then repenting again and pleading with God for grace to be selfless. I asked God to honor his name as holy (hallowed) and for him to increase while I decrease. I prayed for the students to benefit and be built up in the gospel by the Spirit’s power. But the nervousness wouldn’t go away.
Prayer from friends
I wasn’t the only one who was praying. My faithful and loving wife prayed for me. So did some of CrossView Church. So did some of the brothers who are engaging USC with a gospel initiative with me. The most encouraging prayer of all was from the Lord without a doubt. I got to TMC early and was about to text a friend to pray for me. Just then, another brother who went to TMC with me called. He asked me how I was doing as I prepared to preach. He shared to me his devotions from Deuteronomy, applied it to me, and then we prayed together. I thought I needed to text someone to pray for me. God knew I needed someone to pray and exhort me that very moment. He was right. I was encouraged. I praise God for knowing our weaknesses and giving us enough encouragement we need to keep knowing him and making him known.
Trusting God’s words to me from the Psalms and from the message I was to preach
I read Psalms this morning in the library and trusted God to help me. I clung to Psalm 46.10 and God’s statement that he will be exalted and I need to stop my fighting and know that [he] is God (CSB, “Be still” is the ESV translation). The other verse was from Psalm 54 that stated that the Lord is my helper and he will sustain my life. So I trusted God from those specific words for me and the students. I also noticed that what I was preaching this morning was what God wanted me to apply in this trial of nervousness before I preached. My self-reliance was exposed and I found myself trusting my preparation, my giftedness, my experience of preaching this message in a different form to my church yesterday, and my prayers to God rather than trusting God himself. And the main point of my message from Mark 7.1-30 today was: “Don’t trust religious activity, trust Jesus.” So I clung to the words God spoke to me from Psalms and went straight to Jesus. The nervousness did not go away until I actually went up and started preaching, which didn’t let me enjoy God in singing with his people as much as I’ve been accustomed to in that context, but God used that too.
God’s grace in preaching and after chapel
God helped me when I was preaching and I could feel it. I could sense it. He was being my refuge and I found rest and comfort in the passage I was preaching and hiding behind that passage. I found confidence in letting the passage, truth, and glory of Jesus Christ, speak for itself. I sensed that most of the students were following along and letting the story shape them, and for that I’m grateful. God was answering prayers! God encouraged me immediately after with some brothers from TMC staff and students in peculiar ways. I wanted to preach a narrative because TMC’s strength is the letters and doctrinal propositions and principles (which I’m 100% for!). I wanted to preach a story, retell a story, and let the glory of Jesus Christ shine through the story told and meditated on. The first encouragement that came to me was that my principles were too fast to keep up with (a good critique) but the narrative was communicated and we were able to see ourselves in light of the narrative. Praise Jesus Christ who answers prayer for his glory and our good! That was exactly what I prayed and desired for TMC. I just pray that the students felt that too and not just the staff person. But God doesn’t want me to know that but rather trust him and let him glorify himself with whatever was said. I’ll update this post with the chapel audio when I know it’s posted on the school website.
Time with the men
I had a good time after talking to one of the students and then hanging out with the three USC missionaries who are working with me to bless that campus with the gospel. We ate for free, reviewed the chapel, and reviewed the sermon. They gave good critiques that will affect the next time I preach it. Some critiques were (1) that my numbering of points was unclear and confusing, (2) my points were not ran through without recap and reinforcing transitions, (3) I rushed the end and didn’t manage my time well, and most of all, (4) I didn’t connect to the cross as much as I planned to. It was in the notes! I ran out of time up there, but I trust God to fix a thousand things I did wrong or unhelpful and work it together for the good of his saints at TMC.
My TMC Hoodie!
I love TMC and always griped they never had the initial sweaters (hoodie) that other colleges had. I hated that because I love my alma mater and wanted to represent TMC for all the good things God did in me while there. I’d love to rep TMC all the time with the hoodie, second only to CFBC, the church that shaped me more than any other group of people (I was a member there for 15 years, attended there for 19 years, and served as a pastor there for 5 years). I have two CFBC hoodies and rep the church all the time. I’ve been wanting to make a TMC one for a while, but never got around to it. When I saw it in the bookstore, I had to get it! The 10% discount for alumni was a bonus. I like and dislike the words in the initials. I like that it’s unique. But I’m not sure I would have put it in there if I had a choice. Anyway, here’s a pic of the hoodie!