On Sunday, I completed my ministry at Lakeside Church of Chicago. Today I wrote my final article for the Lamplighter, the church’s weekly newsletter. Although it does not conform to the mission statement of my blog site, I thought it would be fitting to publish it anyway. (I suppose you can always do what you want with your own blog site.) The article follows.
This article makes number 587 (as best as I can calculate) that I have written for the Lamplighter in the 13 years and 9 months that I have served as pastor at Lakeside. Wow, how they have accumulated!
When I was first told about the newsletter and the lead article, I realized it provided a wonderful opportunity to communicate with the congregation. Then I learned that it had a much broader audience than just those who attended Lakeside every week. This increased my sense of responsibility and I have written every article with a call to privileged obligation.
I had no experience with writing when I began. Well, not really. I had an exceptional teacher in a high school English class. For one assignment, we were to write a paper about civic responsibility – or some such topic. She selected several papers and submitted them to a competition. I won $50 in that competition, although I did not make it beyond the next level.
I did enjoy writing letters in high school and college, although I gave more attention to my penmanship than to my ability to use descriptive language. Nonetheless, self-expression does have a way of honing certain composition skills.
The greatest demand for writing came in seminary. I wrote numerous papers and a thesis for my Master degree. I do not think that I was graded all that seriously for writing skills, but communicating one’s ideas clearly is embedded in any writing assignment.
During my ministries in Pontiac, Illinois and Joplin, Missouri, I was occasionally emboldened to write a letter to the editor. It seemed a great way to expose the community to God’s truth. My collection of letters could be read in 30 minutes. I even attended a one-week workshop on writing at Moody Bible Institute.
Fast forward to 1999 and suddenly I am required to write a weekly article. “Required” is probably an overstatement, since I was told I could solicit other people to write on subjects germane to our ministry. With the exception of one or two people, that was like finding volunteers to preach a sermon.
I began to receive positive feedback about my articles. At first, I thought people were just being nice. But the affirmation continued from a wide group, some who were on the out-of-town mailing list. One particular friend told me each time I saw her, “You really should start publishing your writing.” Much easier said than done!
Her persistent provocation spurred me to begin my blog site two years ago. I put my articles from the Lamplighter into the public domain via the internet. Of course, who will visit a blog site of an unknown aspiring author? I started getting twenty or thirty visitors a day to my site until one day a few months ago when the hits to my site unexplainably spiked to 191. Most of the views on that day were of an article I posted August 5, 2011, “Winsome Persuasion,” the story of a former lesbian who was lovingly and graciously contacted by a pastor and eventually surrendered her life to Jesus.
A few weeks later, I received a voice message from that woman, Rosaria Butterfield. She was googling her name and ran across my blog post. She read it and said, “I thought it was a very sensitive and accurate and appropriate handling of that situation and I was just calling to thank you.”
Her comment encouraged me beyond words. This was the greatest affirmation of my writing yet. (Did I mention that Rosaria was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University before her conversion?) We exchanged emails and she strongly encouraged me to keep writing, saying, “I do like your blog site very much. I think it’s timely and important.”
The two words that shrink and confine our lives more than any other words are “I can’t.” I could have easily opted out of writing those weekly articles, since I had not really written much before then. I was not trained to write. I had dabbled in it, but it would have been presumptuous to assume that I had any writing ability. I could have said, “I can’t” and changed the format of the newsletter to eliminate the article.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that God gives specific gifts and abilities to each of us, and we are most productive when we operate within those skills. But what if the investiture of these gifts was not final? What if God continues to distribute gifts to us as we need them to serve him effectively? Or what if we discover our gifts when we serve? This would mean many people narrow the possibilities of their lives simply because they never try.
Of course, many times “I can’t” really means “I don’t want to.” How sad to observe so many people content to watch God’s powerful work from the sidelines. This attitude deserves another article on another day.
We all need to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit and how he might direct us towards opportunities to serve in God’s kingdom, opportunities that might allow us to participate in the exciting power of God as he enables us to serve. Who knows? We might discover a new gift he has given us along the way.