Last night I met with a great group of friends who worship at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Chicago. Carol and I have grown to know and love them over several months, as I have preached some Sundays during their interim without a Senior Pastor. But this meeting was different. Previously, I had asked them to pray and think about God’s promises out of their personal and collective experiences. Because I guessed many of their reflections might be confidential (and several were!) they used my personal email address.
Why did I ask for their help? Because I am going to preach a series on God’s Promises in January-March 2008, and I needed their collaboration as representatives of the wider church fellowship. I really want others to be involved in some twenty-first century story-telling of God’s promises.
Discussion was lively and insightful. (Actually, it’s always lively – you should have witnessed the game we played naming our favorite promises in order to win “gag gifts,” which were then fought over – in a Christian way of course!) Immediate enthusiasm for taking hold of God’s great promises was followed by more sober reflection. One person shared how these promises sounded good but had been heard so often (with little impact) that they didn’t seem to relate to him. But if he could really trust them they would turn his life around. Another warned how easily they can be corrupted by “name it and claim it” misuse, while someone else sensed that many feel they are not good enough for the promises to work for them. Another spoke eloquently about their religious background in which the promises were heard but didn’t work, until his own engagement with Jesus. He said: “To act on God’s promise you must respond to ‘Follow me’.” Others spoke of the personal nature of many promises – like those of overcoming temptation, touching on issues like health, relationships and money.
In addition, very importantly, several personal stories have come by email. Told with honesty, they describe how God’s promises have impacted their lives – of joys, sorrows and conflicts. Sometimes one Scripture text or perhaps several texts have held them tight over years.. One person wrote about their discovery of the need for expectation. Several wrote of God’s promises holding good in times of ill-health and trouble. Yet another raised profound questions about genuine willingness to act on the promises.
I value this group of friends for their honest spirituality as it continued last night. This is only the beginning of my sermon journey. I invite anyone else in the fellowship at Calvary to share comments on this blog. Indeed it’s open to anyone, anywhere. I shall let you know how the preaching develops. Of course there are limits to the time I can spend and I shall not be able to use everyone’s story, but I promise confidentiality. If yours is a more personal word then please use my seminary email: firstname.lastname@example.org