We’ve Come a Long Way…Maybe

The NHL Playoffs are upon us. I know – that doesn’t really mean that much in east central Indiana. And to be honest, it didn’t really mean that much to me until the summer of 1998.

That’s the year I served as the Summer Intern at Athens Church of Christ. And my host family, the Gieseys, introduced me to the excitement of the playoffs. While I still don’t entirely “get” hockey, my ears do perk up when the playoffs come around, thanks to the influence of Jeff and his family.

The congregation has had its speed bumps along the way. But so have I. Fortunately, God can use both of us: bumps, bruises, warts, and all. That’s the amazing thing about grace, isn’t it?

As I was making last-minute adjustments to my message at 6 in the morning today, I kept thinking about my experience at Athens and how that faith family will always have a special place in my heart for many reasons, including the fact that they were the first community that ever heard me preach a real-live sermon.

Oh, I’d preached several sermons during my ministry classes at Milligan. Well…they might have been more like sermonettes. But this was different. This was in front of a real group of people with real life experience. And I was expected to preach for more than 10 minutes!

I’m pretty sure I preached for 40.

I’m sure it felt like 400.

You know what? I don’t remember a thing that I said in that message. But I do remember a gracious group of people who welcomed me with open arms after I stood up there and rambled for what probably seemed like forever. They told me they were proud of me and that they loved me as their Intern.

That was a powerful moment in my life. It changed me. Forever.

And I will always be grateful to the people of Athens Church of Christ who shaped me in ways that I didn’t expect. They probably don’t realize how much they shaped me, either. If you’re part of my faith family from the Athens, Ohio, area… I thank you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for taking me in and showing me true hospitality. Thank you for being the gracious Body of Christ to a young punk like me who like to pretend he had it all figured out. There will always be a very special place in my heart for all of you!

Although I’d like to think my preaching has improved since then, you never really know, do you? People are probably still wondering when that guy up on stage is gonna sit down and shut up. I’ve come to discover, however, that it really isn’t about me at all. And I’ve decided that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

OK – I lied earlier. I do remember one thing about my first sermon that hot Sunday night in Athens, Ohio. I said the word “fart.” And I didn’t even mean to. I started to say a word that began with “f…” (no – I don’t remember the word), then changed mid-stream and said “art.” Still not sure why I said “art.” I don’t think it was the next word in my manuscript. But I said it. And the two sounds together probably made me the first person to ever say the word “fart” from behind that pulpit.

I know my host family noticed. I wonder if anyone else did.

But that’s OK. They showed me love anyway.

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