Bangor, Northern Ireland, May 19, 1968, I preached my first sermon. Can’t say it was all that great. I was nervous, but somehow I made it through, receiving some generous accolades from the few encouraging Christians that were there.
I cannot speak for other preachers just starting out, but looking back I can say I was not ready for the ‘calling’ to preach. I had wanted to preach like dad, but time and life experience told me, I should have gone a different route, and gone to a College instead of a Preacher’s School, which I was about to leave Ireland for.
Dad suggested the topic of the “Summon Bonum” from I Corinthians 13. Well I didn’t know what that meant much less preach to others about it. It was just a small house church, with a few people attending, but still I wanted to do good. I practiced in my bedroom, going over and over the short (but eternal) lesson. As I sit here looking at the old New Testament that I used then, brings back the memories of a young man, with a life of adventure ahead, ready to preach to all who would listen.
After 27 years of preaching experience, and life experience, with all it’s joys and disappointments, successes and failures, laughter and tears, I can say, life has given me a better understanding of this subject and how critical it is to life.
What is ‘The Summon Bonnum’ (the most important thing)? With this question I began then, and now. Of course the answer is love. No it is not the Hollywood version, nor is it the twisted and warped love of the world in general. The love Paul speaks of is from the Greek word, agape, which is the highest form of love.There are four Greek words for love. ‘Eros’ which gives us the word ‘erotic’ which stands for physical passionate love. ‘Phileo’ gives us the idea of the ‘love’ good friends have for each other. ‘Storge’ is the word which describes the ‘love’ which family has for each other. Strange how the ancient Greeks have so many words to cover our loosely and over used word, ‘love’. These words over-lap in beautiful harmony and enhance the relationship of a man and woman who are married.
‘Agape’ is the word which describes the highest form of love. Which is not based on emotions and feelings which change with moods. Agape love is ‘stable’ and foundational… It is more than friendship, (John 21:15-18). ‘Falling in and out’ of it is not an option because it is particularly Christian, being from the Spirit (Romans 5:5). Feelings change, moods rise and fall, troubles come and go, this love “never fails”(I Corinthians 13:8). Paul describes what agape does and doesn’t do in I Corinthians 13.
This love like the ‘energizer bunny’ just keeps on going and going. It is the love of John 3:16, as well as the love of Matthew 27:35-50; I John 3:16. This love is what enables a home to withstand all the storms of life. Particularly like God, (I John 4:8), this love is far from the Hollywood version, and is truly the “Summon Bonum” the greatest thing.
An old story you may have heard is really true, although the epitaph seems to change a bit with the re-telling. One tombstone reads: “STOP MY FRIEND, AS YOU PASS BY. AS YOU ARE NOW, SO ONCE WAS I. AS I AM NOW, YOU SOON WILL BE, SO COME ON FRIEND AND FOLLOW ME.” Etched at the bottom is the hand written line of a thoughtful reader: “TO FOLLOW YOU I’M NOT CONTENT, UNTIL I KNOW, WHICH WAY YOU WENT.”
There are few things in life that are certain, but one is for sure, we will all leave this world. Some will leave all too early, some all too late, but few will say, for the “next adventure I just can’t wait.” The writer of Hebrews says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9:27. As unpleasant as it is to talk about for most, it is something that must be planned for. This life is where plans are made. When dad was in the hospital, and had already gone through 2 heart attacks, I asked him, How he was so calm about all of this?” He just said, “I prepared for this, son.” This is why he longed to ‘move on’ to his “next adventure”. This is the way he saw life and they way he viewed death. He asked me to read his favorite chapter, Romans 8. He sang his favorite songs, “Bless Be The Tie That binds”, “At The Cross”. His life was all about Jesus, he viewed his passing, the same way.
Preparing to go on a trip, or make a move to another location takes time. Usually we plan for these things weeks, months ahead. Yet when it comes to leaving this world, we do precious little. Perhaps it is time to change this. The writer of Hebrews continues in the next verse and says, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” This is great news, that you and I do not have to pay the price for sin, because He already has.
What will people say about you when you die? Well, whatever they say, it won’t make any difference will it, accept to those who are alive. The words of comfort, the talk of a loving Savior, and His great grace, and heaven… all will sound good. I the preparation was not made it won’t change “where you went”. The time is now, to get out the Bible, and read for yourself what God says. We have prepared a Bible study on this website I hope you will enjoy to learn more about preparing for the life to come. The study is entitled “Redeemed”. If you need more help to study the Bible, just send me an email.
The epitaph on mom and dad’s grave marker is simple, “SAVED BY GRACE”. No matter the sin, Jesus paid the price for it, and God loves you tremendously, and just wants all to be saved. While you are alive, today, you will determine which way you will go when this life is over.