Every once in a while, I am asked to fill in for a minister who is absent at his/her church and preach as a guest pastor. In the trade, we call this pulpit supply, kind of acting like a temporary fill-in for a week or more, depending on the circumstances. I don’t do this very often, but my name is somewhat known in the community and local churches know that I like to keep my skills sharp and preach from time to time.
As members of our Bible study group will tell you, I love to teach and giving the message during a church service is an awesome honor and responsibility. Usually, I travel north to Tipton and fill in for a pastor there – I have done that for years now. But recently, I was asked to speak at a church that I have never attended or visited. It happened to be a Chinese church located less than 10 minutes from our home here in Carmel.
Although I have passed the building many times throughout the years, and the current congregation has owned it since the late 1990’s, I have never stepped inside. There is a Chinese language service earlier in the morning and then at 11:00, the service is in English. When Janet and I arrived, we just couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was. Yes, we are used to friendly folks in almost every church we visit, but today was something exceptional.
The members of the church were kind, reserved, polite and very attentive to our every need. The topic I spoke on today is how our work changes throughout the seasons of our lives. The congregation was actively engaged in my message and after the service was over, a line of folks came up to introduce themselves and comment on the relevancy of my sermon.
While I am passionate about the material, I was really taken with the people we met today. I have never been to China, although I have taught a number of Chinese teams on some of the assignments I have accepted. And once, several years ago, I had the chance to teach seminary classes in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. The classes were designed to teach Chinese pastors who came from the mainland and wanted to be trained to return home and start small house churches. I was unable to accept the assignment and never heard more about it – but I was reminded of that opportunity when I stood in front of the Chinese congregation this morning.
It also occurred to me that when you are among people of God, no matter what nationality or culture they are, the Holy Spirit seems to remove barriers to communication and it is unusually comfortable. I wonder if this is what the people felt on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the crowds assembled on the day that the Acts 2 church was founded. We are told that each nation heard the message in their own native tongue and while there were no supernatural expressions of multi-lingual communications today, it was gratifying to hear the Chinese congregants worshipping God in their own language at the end of the first service.
The verse for tonight acknowledges the ability of the Holy Spirit to remove barriers to communication. We are told by Luke, the author, in Acts 2:2-4, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to reach across all kinds of barriers to share the Gospel and make disciples. My prayer is that you will experience the peace that comes when the Holy Spirit is at work, removing barriers and bringing out the best in God’s people. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…