Today in Bulgaria, March 3rd, there are usually enormous celebrations going on all over the country as they celebrate Bulgarian Liberation Day. This is the day that celebrates the great victory of a Bulgarian and Russian army over that of the Ottoman Empire. This victory led to the liberation of the Bulgarian people from over 500 years of Ottoman rule. On this day in 1878 heralds went out from San Stefano to inform the people of Bulgaria that they were free. I can imagine what it would have been like for the towns and villages all over Bulgaria as the good news arrived that they had been victorious in freeing themselves from Ottoman rule. Towns and villages celebrated, and still do celebrate each year, that they were once again a people and a nation: Bulgaria. (Below are images of Bulgarians celebrating at Shipka Pass (left), Sofia (middle), and Stara Zagora (right)) What would it have been like to be the herald of the liberation? What would it be like to know the good news that you were about to bring to your friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers of this common identity and mission?
I know what it means to be a herald. In fact, every believer should know what it means to be herald. However, for me it takes the form of a particular calling as a preacher and missionary. My sophomore year at Trevecca Nazarene University I decided that if I was going to be a herald, I had better get good at sharing good news. I called the East Tennessee District Superintendent and asked about opportunities to preach in local churches. He said he would call me anytime there was a sick pastor, some last-minute crisis, or anything else that might leave an “empty pulpit” in need of filling. Since that day almost 13 years ago I have had the joy, privilege, and responsibility to preach regularly. In fact, I have not gone more than 2 weeks without preaching since that episode during my sophomore at Trevecca.
That is, until our scheduled deputation tour ended back in October. There were many days between the end of October and the beginning of February when I felt desperately the desire to do the work of the herald. I missed preaching. I missed the joy and privilege of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. I missed terribly that experience of bringing the good news to my family, neighbors, and strangers that we all have a common identity as children of God and that we have all been set free by the love of Jesus Christ. We are free indeed! There were days when I wondered when I would be able to preach again and struggle with the experience of having a fire shut up in my bones. Now, as much as ever, we need heralds serving the Kingdom of God.
It was on a particularly difficult day, sitting under a cold window with the warm sunshine falling on me, that I came upon the passage of scripture in the Gospel of Mark that talks about the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. I realized that it was only after Jesus had gone through the wilderness that he began preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was “driven” into this time of wilderness by the Spirit. I can only imagine what it would have been like for Jesus, knowing the urgency and importance of his message and the broken people in need of it, having to spend 40 days in the wilderness. He was alone as he faced hunger, thirst, temptation, isolation, and trials of all sorts. It was during this time alone in the wilderness, in communion with the Spirit, that Jesus prepared for the task of being a herald of his own Gospel.
I have often quoted the Bulgarian sources that I am reading in my blogs to give both an insight into Bulgarian culture and to highlight the thoughts driving me these days. However, this time I want to share a quote that I read while studying the strategies for church planting being used by Mesoamerican Region of the Church of the Nazarene. In it, Ariel Fuentes Martinez, a pastor with the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, says that, “We can be messengers of the gospel only to the extent of our association with the Holy Spirit.” There I was, sitting under the windowsill, driven by the Spirit to realize that the time I spend in the wilderness, alone with the Spirit, is as important as the time I spend as a herald, because my ability to present the Gospel is only as dynamic as the depth of my relationship with the Spirit. I cannot preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ until I have journeyed with him in the wilderness.
Here we are in Lent. I am back to preaching these days. While we are staying in the United States, unable to get home to Bulgaria, I am once again a go-to guy for filling empty pulpits. Over the past month I have preached at Hilltop, Lenoir City First, and Carthage Churches of the Nazarene. It has been such a blessing. However, even as I have preached through the Transfiguration and on into the first couple of weeks of Lent, I have been reminded of the importance of the wilderness, of the need to be driven by the Spirit, of the truth of Pastor Martinez’s statement that we can be messengers only to the extent that we are associated with the one who sends us, and of the faithfulness of the God who provides a shelter and revelation for God’s people who hunger and thirst for righteousness in the wilderness places.
It is not just a special few who are called to the wondrous task of the herald. It is a task for every believer. During this season of Lent will we deepen and widen our association with the Holy Spirit? Will we be driven by the Spirit from the wilderness to the proclamation, so that we experience the joy of sharing good news with our friends, family, neighbors, and strangers? After all, there is a liberation that needs announcing!
P.S. – Don’t worry (for fellow binge readers out there) I am still reading lots of Bulgarian literature. I just finished The Time of Parting by Anton Donchev and am currently reading Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova. I would highly recommend Kassabova for anybody wanting to get a feel for Bulgaria.