Preaching “Image Rejected” during week 2.
UPDATE: Image Rejected & Reclaimed are now posted.
Hi friends! It’s been 3 hectic months since my last post. It’s just been too busy to blog! To bookend the silence, this (like my last post) will be a write-up plus video! There’ll be 3 sermons (2 sermons by me & 1 by my roommate, Garrett Trent, Greek IV @ U.Va staff). Editing & uploading takes time — I’ll add the new videos as I finish & repost the blog link to Facebook/Twitter etc.
Our yearly chapter camp is an awesome time of celebration and growth for students from all over NC, SC, and VA. God is so tangibly at work there and we staff know it’s a crucial time to be present and attentive. I had the privilege of serving in the Identity Transformed (IDT) track for both weeks. IDT helps student wrestle with what God meant identity to be and how our false identities inhibit our transformation. Though it was a new track last year, we saw God work throughout the bumpy first-run to transform students deeply.
I’ve enjoyed my part in growing the track and getting a front-row seat to this amazing process. But I also love IDT because it’s good for me. My identity is often wrapped up in accomplishments. My posture is go, do, build, make. God through IDT calls me to be, rest, listen, belong. My action must be grounded in my abiding, but that’s easier said than done! God used the 2 weeks of IDT to speak to those very identity issues of mine.
I came into Week 1 worn out from a 6-week blitz of traveling, exit meetings, and a big year-end AIV event. I felt unprepared for my IDT roles (preaching 2 Gospel session sermons & leading a small group). I hadn’t put in the 10 hours per sermon, I hadn’t reread Colossians recently. I was afraid that, in my unready state, I’d hinder God’s purpose for the track. God had different plans in mind. I was especially amazed on Thursday (gospel session 3: Image Reclaimed). It was the turning point of the week – after 3 days of reflection on false vs. true identity, we were inviting students to receive the true identity God had created for them. As I invited people to let Jesus reclaim their broken identities, 7 people said yes for the first time, and 10 for the first time in a long time! I hadn’t gotten in the way, God has used me, and amazing things had happened during week 1.
Inevitably, all staff come in tired for the 2nd week. But instead of growing to trust Him more, I again felt that I was going to mess things up. I felt out of tune on Tuesday when I preached on Image Rejected. Technically, it was one of my best sermons ever (I executed transitions and points well, etc.). But I didn’t feel spiritually in-tune. When it came to reflection time, I invited students to receive help to pray repentance (to let go of false identities). Again I was afraid that my out-of-tune-ness was going to get in the way. But as the next hour unfolded, over 20 students came for prayer; over a 1/4 of the track! Clearly God had it under control.
You’d think I’d get the message by Thursday. But no. I still heard a voice in my head telling me that I was going to mess it up. And that voice got worse when “only” 12 people accepted my invitation to receive God’s true identity. Half of me was rejoicing & truly excited. But the other half said, There are fewer people this week because you weren’t good enough. You forgot your points. You weren’t spiritually prepared. You weren’t as eloquent. It kept saying that, even when staff prayed against lies of the enemy the steal & destroy our joy. I had not been good enough. If only I’d been more prepared, slept more, prayed more.
Then God used two of the students who’d said “yes” for the first time to bless me. As I was cleaning up, a young man told me that he’d grown up his whole life in church but that God had spoken through my sermons to show him things in a new true way. “Now I feel freed for God to use me now! It’s amazing!” As I was leaving, a young lady told me thanked me for the words I’d spoken; now she understood the truth about what God is offering her. “I’ve become part of the InterVarsity community which was awesome but I never understood ‘the joy of the Lord’ that everyone talked about. But now, today, I have it! These tears I’m crying are tears of joy.”
I actually don’t expect students to ever speak to me after about a sermon; nobody did that week 1 and that’s perfectly normal and fine. But God sent these two students to bless me and affirm me. And in a very gentle and gracious tone, I felt God saying that “They came to thank you because they value their transformation. I value their transformation. Don’t worry, you too can value their transformation.” Here I was, feeling uneasy about getting up there, and feeling like I’d done terribly. To God, I hadn’t gotten in the way. To God, I’d done well. God sent the students in that moment to speak against my habitual false identity as hero that threatens to steal and destroy. Moreover, I realized that God has been growing me all year in this area. Last year, when I received praise for my speaking, that voice would probably have gone something like Look at me, I’m such a good preacher. At least now there’s a little fear and trembling. Which is all to say that Lord had this too under control.
Turns out students aren’t the only ones getting transformed.
IMAGE RESTORED (by Garrett Trent) [to be posted later]