Those of us who counsel pastors and teach future preachers sometimes caution them to “study the Bible for itself, just to receive the Word into your heart, not to prepare sermons.”
We might as well tell Sherlock Holmes to enjoy crime scenes for the beauty of the occasion and stop looking for criminals, tell Albert Pujols not to worry about actually striking at the baseball crossing the plate but to relax and take in the inspiration of the moment, or tell Joan Rivers to give up on plastic surgery.
Some things you do because this is who you are.
When a pastor reads a great insight in the Scriptural text, does anyone think for one minute that he is going to file that away in a personal-edification file, never to be shared with others in sermons?
(I actually started this article thinking I could sift all the Lord’s wonderful statements down to the Top 10. Now, I see how naive that was! I couldn’t even get through Matthew’s Gospel with ten, much less the other three gospels. Therefore, here are 10 of the best from Matthew, presented in order of their occurrence.)
“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14).
In these two brief statements, the Lord forever set the pattern for believers: we are to be different from the world and change agents in it. We are against the world in order to be for it. Without salt, putrefication sets in; without light, darkness.
You are severely needed in your part of the world, Christ-follower. But only if you are willing to be salt and light: different, consistent, influential, cooperative with others of like values and identity, and sometimes a little lonely.
“When you pray, do not keep babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
A few months ago, the pastor of a small church in the far northeast emailed me. He had read something I had written, found it helpful, and after talking about the issue, he said, “What would be involved in getting you up here to preach for a weekend?”
He was not inviting me, please notice. He was trying to see if inviting me was something he could do and make work.
I replied something to the effect that in most cases, a host pastor will want to provide air fare, put the guest up in a hotel, and pay him some type of honorarium. If the church is small, this means the pastor must lead his people to anticipate such an event and set money aside for it. If the guest drives, the government allows ministers to be reimbursed at something like 56 cents per mile or more. For a small church, I pointed out, going to such expense to bring in a preacher only for a Saturday and Sunday might be more than it could handle.
Some weeks later, he replied that he had given it much prayer and thought and agreed that he should look for someone closer to home.
“I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears….” (II Timothy 1:3-4)
You either cry or you don’t. You either value tears or you scoff at them. You either wish you could cry more or didn’t cry as much.
Few are neutral on the subject of tears.
I have a friend who could read the phone directory and the tears would flow. They are always a half-inch below the surface waiting for the simplest opportunity to spill.
I’m the opposite. Only rarely do I shed a tear, and when I do it’s more likely to be in private while praying or going over a sermon the Spirit and I are working on.
I recall the first time I wept in the pulpit.
“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience, the way my forefathers did….” (II Timothy 1:3).
A clear conscience is like a clean windshield: You notice it only when something has marred its surface and spoiled your vision. Until your conscience smites you and accuses you of sin, you are hardly aware of its existence.
A clear conscience is a wonderful thing to have. And fairly rare, too, I surmise, if by that term we refer to a blameless life that finds nothing in your past with which to accuse you of–no hypocrisy, insincerity, or double-mindedness. And, may I say, who among us has no failures on our record, no stains of iniquity, no guilt of sin?
“There is none righteous, no, not one.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “If the Lord should mark iniquity, who would stand?” (Romans 3:10,23 and Psalm 130:3) Who indeed? Not me, that’s for sure.
Question: Why does Scripture make such a big deal over a clear conscience?