I graduated from Truett Seminary this past Friday night. I have been done with my coursework for seven months, but hadn’t had the opportunity to “walk” until Friday. It was a wonderful time. Lots of my family was able to attend and it was good to see several of my seminary friends and professors.
One of my preaching professors, Dr. Dennis Wiles gave the commencement sermon. Dr. Wiles is also the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Arlington, TX. It was an incredible and memorable sermon. It was formative to the extent that much of it will probably be infused into many of my future sermons and ministry.
One of the keys of Dr. Wiles sermon was his discussion of a minister’s need to assess. He claimed that good assessment is an extremely important factor in any ministry and hoped for all of us graduates that we would learn this ability of assessment quickly in our young ministries.
I took comfort from this. It is my natural inclination to assess. Those who know me best can attest to the fact that I love to analyze and assess. In all areas of my life I find myself assessing. What are the strengths? Weaknesses? Areas of growth? What is succeeding? Failing? Stagnant? Dynamic?
When things go poorly I break them down and attempt to figure out why. When things go well, I feel obligated to break things down and analyze why things went so well.
Our worship experience Sunday was one such “thing” that went very well. I believe that everyone present in that worship service was richly blessed in some way. If you weren’t able to be there, you truly missed an encounter with the Holy. God’s presence was made known in our midst and people responded to their Creator. No one “came down front” but from the pulpit you could see the response in the faces and eyes and tears of those in the congregation.
How do we assess such a Sunday? What brought about such a worship experience? Was it the singing of the children that softened and warmed so many souls? Was it Jared and Natalie singing so boldly and beautifully? Was it Will and Gay sharing in such a vulnerable and transparent way? Or Marge and Kim’s songs?
Sunday afternoon, as I reveled in the afterglow of such a worship experience at the High School Choir performance, my natural inclinations took over and I began to break the service down and assess the experience.
Here is my conclusion: Such encounters with Christ and experiences of worship are beyond assessment. There is no one or two things that can be definitely pointed out as the reason for such a wonderful experience other than the grace of God.
The children, Natalie and Jared’s duet, Marge and Kim’s solos, Gay and Will’s testimonies, the songs, the meditations of all of us, all of these were factors; but, the catalyst, was the presence and grace of God.
Sunday afternoon, as I sat in this concert, I realized that not only did the birth of Christ in the world come suddenly, not only will Christ’s return come suddenly and unexpectedly, so do our encounters with Christ come suddenly, powerfully, and unexpectedly.
Such experiences can’t be bottled up and marketed. The components of such experiences don’t add up to the sum weight of said encounter.
But, we can learn from these experiences. We can hope to always come before our God with the honesty of the children, with the boldness with which Natalie and Jared sang, with the transparency and vulnerability with which Gay and Will shared, and the passion with which Marge and Kim sang. Add to these the receptivity of the rest of us in attendance. In these ways we need always approach our God.
Encounters with Christ, such as what was shared between us all Sunday, are special. Over time they are what bind us as a family to each other and to our God. They are what give us hope for our present and for our future. They feed our souls.
As we are a week away from the celebration of the Birth of Christ, live in the reality of a faith that encounters Christ in such surprising ways. Live honestly, boldly, passionately, vulnerably, transparently, and receptively before both God and man and be filled with such unexpected and miraculous encounters with Christ.