What a week it has been. Laura and I have spent the last seven days in the beautiful state of Alaska. As I write these words, we are headed for Seattle, then on our way home. I am worn out and refreshed at the same time. My voice is worn out, I have a terrible cold, my body is tired, but my spirit has been revived in a most wonderful way. The first three days were strange because I kept waking up at 3:00 in the morning. That three-hour time difference does strange things to your sleeping habits. I understand that when I go home, my internal clock will be even more confused than it is now.
During the trip, it was my distinct privilege to speak for three separate events. First was the Statewide Leadership workshop for elders and preachers. During the workshop we were able to spend some time with Laura’s brother, Glenn Colley. It was a great blessing to be with Glenn and to hear him proclaim the Word. I am thankful for his leadership and for his powerful proclamation of God’s Truth.
We also had the privilege of hearing Bill Watkins, Jerry Houston (more on these two men in a moment) and Jim McGuiggan. Brother McGuiggan challenged our thinking and took us deep into the Word. Church leaders from around the state attended and listened to the teachings presented by the five of us who spoke.
The second event was the Alaska Statewide Lectureship. The host congregation, the Anchorage Church of Christ, did an outstanding job hosting each of the three events. Their ladies provided and served outstanding meals. It was a great blessing to get to know the preachers for this great church. Mike & Judy Shero are a great blessing to the church in Alaska. Mike & Judy are really Texans, but they are doing a tremendous work in Alaska. Mike is from the famous Shero family of great Texas preachers. Mike & Judy loaned us their truck while we were in Anchorage, and they could not have been more gracious to us!
Hundreds of Christians from throughout Alaska attended the Lectures. As a matter of fact, we were told that every (that’s right EVERY!) church of Christ in the state had members who attended the Lectures. I don’t know anywhere else in the country where that would happen. For the first time, the leaders in Alaska made the decision to bring in speakers from the “lower forty-eight.” It was a blessing for me to speak on the program with Bill Watkins, Perry Phillips (a friend from years back in Alabama), Jim McGuiggin, Eli Hooper (a wonderful young preacher from California), and Jerry Houston. The study for the Lectureship was based on Ephesians 4:1-6. The lessons were challenging, filled with the Word, and they all drew us closer to the Lord, as well as one another.
The final event was the National Deaf Leadership Conference. Again, this event was hosted by the Anchorage church and again, they did an outstanding job. Andrew Deuschle, and his wife Gabby, did the bulk of the work. Andrew and his family have been serving as the Deaf Minister for the church in Anchorage for several years. They are about to move to Lubbock where Andrew will be teaching in the Sunset School of Preaching. He is a wonderful man of God. If any of you ever need a deaf preacher I could not recommend anyone more highly than Andrew.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was the privilege to be the keynote speaker for this conference. To be reacquainted with great deaf preachers was a great blessing. It was so good to see my old friend Roy Price who served as the deaf preacher for the Roebuck Parkway church (my home church) for many years. It was wonderful to be around men like Frank Rushing, Billy Levell , & Mike Atteberry (giants among the deaf church), as well as many other great deaf preachers.
The interpreter for the conference was Michael Fehmer from Austin (we live three hours from one another and we meet in Alaska; go figure!). Michael is the finest interpreter I have ever seen. We jokingly said that I wore my voice out speaking and Michael wore his hands/fingers out signing. If you ever need an interpreter, you will not find a better man than Michael. All totaled, I spoke about fourteen times during the week in addition to numerous discussions with preachers, church leaders, Christians, etc.
The second big highlight of the trip was our time with Bill & Beverly Watkins. We spent numerous hours eating together, sightseeing together, and just enjoying visiting with each other. For several years now, Bill and I have been confused for one another on numerous occasions. It happened again many times during the last seven days. I always consider it an honor to be confused with Bill. The biggest thrill for me is when someone tells me that we preach alike! I love Bill Watkins and I love hearing him preach.
On this trip, there were a number of people who said that Laura and Bev looked like sisters! We had a great time with this wonderful couple. Bill and Bev saw a lot of moose; Laura and I saw none (accept the ones at the Wilderness Park)! You’ll have to ask Bill how many he saw, and he will probably give you a preacher’s count! I have now spent about twenty days in Alaska, and never seen a moose, a bear, an eagle (I just don’t get it)! Bill promised to send me some pictures of the five hundred moose he saw!! The four of us missed seeing several important sites by about two weeks! Maybe next time, Bill & Bev! We love you both.
The biggest highlight of the trip for me personally, and the point of this article (sorry about all the reminiscing but I needed to write it so as not to forget), was the Sunday morning worship service. Bill Watkins had just led us during the Bible class hour in one of the finest lessons I’ve ever heard on a study of the One Church!
The worship service was majestic. It lasted about two hours, and it was unlike any worship service I have been a part of in a long time. Please allow me to explain, and then I would like to make a few applications especially for preachers/church leaders. The next few statements are not meant to slight anyone or any church. They are really aimed at me. I have a confession to make. The Sunday morning worship service in Anchorage caused me to think that there are many times that my worship to the Lord on Sundays is not what it should be.
There are many reasons why this may be true. I am preoccupied by a comment that someone made to me between Bible class and worship. I am thinking about the length of my sermon. If certain brothers are leading singing, delivering the devotional thoughts at the communion table, leading the shepherd’s prayer, or leading the worship prayers, I feel the need to adjust the length of the message.
I might be thinking about an afternoon meeting or counseling session. I might be trying to remember something that someone asked me to announce or mention when I stand to preach. I might be thinking about certain church members who are present who especially need to hear this sermon. As I said, most of this is my fault.
But not last Sunday! The blended voices of hundreds of Christians from every part of the state of Alaska thrilled my heart as we worshipped God in song. The communion service caused me to weep as a young man led us in one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard.
And the sermon, ahh, the sermon. Jerry Houston preached for an hour, but I could have listened to him for several more hours. Jerry and I first met last November in West Palm Beech when we both spoke for the South Florida Lectures. Jerry and I have different skin colors, but we became fast friends. I feel like I have known him all my life. His sermon last Sunday was, “One God.” It was powerful, it was scripture saturated, it was thought provoking, and it changed my life. Jerry walked us through Scripture as we learned about the majesty of our God.
I cannot remember hearing a sermon on the One God that caused me to want to be closer to God more than this one. Thank you my dear brother. I love you and look forward to seeing you at Red River in June.
This worship service had no announcements. It was all about Christians gathering together to worship. There were several times during the service that tears came into my eyes! Because of it, I am more committed to worshipping God on Sundays the way I should. I will work harder to keep from being distracted as I worship my God.
I feel sure that there are several of you preachers and others who participate in leading worship who can understand completely what I’m talking about here. I have not been able to get it off my mind, and I have been thinking a lot during the last few days about what I can do different. Here are a few thoughts:
Yeah, I know this seems like a no-brainer, but how many times just prior to, and during, the worship service are we “going over” our lesson one more time? I have heard some preachers jokingly say (at least I hope they were joking) that they work on their sermon between songs on Sunday morning. Having our lesson fully in our mind before we arrive on Sunday morning will help keep us from being distracted.
PRAY ABOUT OUR WORSHP
We need to ask God to help us worship Him as we should. We need to come before Him with pure hearts and minds that are focused on Him. We should ask God to help us not to be distracted as we approach Him in worship.
PLAY DOWN OTHER DISTRACTIONS
This is a tough one for those of us who preach. We want to be tuned in to the needs of those who are in attendance. We want to make all the announcements that are given to us at the last minute. We want to mention those who need to be mentioned. But we need to be careful. It is possible that all of these worthy things can keep us from the main thing!
PREACH THE WORD
When our preaching is Bible-based, there is less cause to be concerned about what others think. Our preaching must be saturated in Scripture. The people who come to worship God have already heard enough commentary on the news and they’ve heard enough self-help advice through the week from Dr. Phil & Oprah! What they need is to hear a Word from God. What we need as leaders is to hear a Word from God!
PRAISE THE LORD
Allow the focus to be on God and the worship of Him. Take the focus off of others and off of yourself. I need to be more concerned with what the Lord thinks than I am what others think (Galatians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4). Like everyone present, we have come to worship God.
PRACTICE BEING MORE INTENTIONAL
If we remember that our primary purpose for gathering together each Sunday is to worship God, then we will be richly blessed. I know that we have a responsibility to edify, encourage, and build up one another, but we can become so overwhelmed that we forget our purpose. I believe it is going to take more intentionality on our part if we are going to be able to worship as we should.
My prayer is that these thoughts will be of some help. I would love to hear suggestions from other preachers and those who lead in worship. I know they would be a blessing to me as well as others who frequent this blog. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences. As for me, I am going to try my hardest to do better because of my wonderful experiences in Alaska. We will forever be thankful for our new friends and the wonderful people we met while in Alaska!
Dear God up in Heaven, thank you for the opportunity to be Your child. Thank you for allowing us to worship You. Help us, dear Lord to be more intentional in our worship to You. Help us to focus more on you than on those around us. Help us to love You more and grow in our commitment to You. In the strong Name of our Savior we pray, Amen.