My fiancée and I sat in the Sunday School class that morning. An hour later, I would be bringing my first sermon since God called me to preach. My very first one. I was excited.
And more than a little nervous.
It was December 1961, the Christmas season. Margaret Henderson and I would be married five months later and then spend 52 years together serving the Lord. We had no idea all the Lord had in store for us, of course. The one thing we knew and wanted with all our hearts was that God was leading us and would use us.
I was a senior in college and had been called into the ministry eight months earlier.
That holiday week, I had logged 72 hours selling men’s clothing in the National Shirt Shop on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. Each evening, when I dragged back to the apartment I shared with Joel Davis, devoted friend and soon to become our best man, I was too tired to study for a sermon.
“I will pay You my vows, Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble….” (Psalm 66:13-14).
My wife and I sat on the back porch talking about the disastrous happenings at the church we were serving. A committee we had asked to be formed to help me figure out some things was now meeting without my knowledge and had jumped the rails concerning their assignment. The little group that had been on my case the entire length of my tenure in that church appeared to hold the winning hand, and their shenanigans were still hidden from most of the congregation. One thing after another.
One night, as we began to read Psalm 67, the Lord suddenly directed me away from that chapter. “Psalm 66.” Now, I could not have told one from the other. But obeying the inner voice of the Spirit, I opened to Psalm 66 and began reading. Soon, we saw why. In the middle of the Psalm, David describes the very thing happening to us…
Several years ago a friend who works for one of the online preachers’ magazines and I were having a conversation about what works for pastor-blogs and what doesn’t.
Anyone reading sermoncentral.com and churchleaders.com and such has observed that these programs prefer essays which offer ‘Seven ways to do this” or “Five ways to do that.” A close second would be “How I learned to love (something we normally despise)” or “Why I came to reject (something we do all the time).” That sort of thing.
I said my goal for the next year was to write something that went viral.
I was being silly.
But it happened.
This morning as I was getting ready to face the day, I noticed something on the television. An ad for “hair club for women” was running. Photos flew by of before and after shots of women. Most had been afflicted with bare spots or thinning mane and the “after” photos showed them with gloriously full tresses.
Then I saw it. Down in the corner the small print said, “Results may vary.”
Ahh. Yes, indeed. Results may vary. The old “caveat emptor.”
The ad might as well say “these are not typical,” as advertisers are forced to do by truth-in-advertising laws.
Sadly, in our culture we’re used to such come-ons and slick sales spiels. No one expects the used car salesman to tell you why we should be cautious in buying this particular car. We’ve learned to turn a suspicious eye toward the seller of the house who cannot quit raving about all its fine points. What, we wonder, is he not saying?
Which brings up another point…
“…the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
We don’t begin to have a clue.
God is doing a zillion things He has not deigned to mention to us mortals.
It’s not our business to know, for one thing. He has reserved most of what goes on in the universe for Himself. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
All that we know about the operation of the created world is a sliver of the full story.
How can it be that before the world as we know it was formed, the Heavenly Father was already at work making plans for us to arrive and dwell with Him forever?
I do not know. Neither do you.
What unimaginable reality may we expect to find when we get to Heaven if Father has had all these eons to make it?
What does this say about pre-history, the story of what God was doing before the Big Bang of Creation.
We hang our heads in humility. We read the final verses of Romans 11 and say, “Yes, yes. This is how it is!”
Can you think of any place in Scripture where someone compliments another on his message?
I can’t think of a one.
Nowhere, to my knowledge, in the Word does anyone say “Peter preached a powerful sermon” or “Paul’s message was well received” or “The Macedonian crowd got a lot out of Titus’ sermon on the Lord’s Day.”
Now, some in the audience did pick up rocks to throw at the preacher on more than one occasion, but those were the rabble, the wicked, the hostile outsiders and not the congregation of the faithful.
I have a suggestion.
A few paragraphs from my journal of Tuesday, March 30, 1993. I had been at that church two and a half years…
At 2 pm, I had a visitor. A former church member who will go unnamed here wanted to apologize for his being so critical of me in my first year. Couldn’t identify why he was, except a certain resistance to authority.
I forgave him. The pain is that he is a minister of sorts, someone I had a lot of confidence in and did not know he was doing this. He said, “I hear from people in the last month that you have changed.” Why am I offended by that? I said, “I haven’t. I’m the same person I was then.” Which is true.
Reminds me of the pain in (my last church) when people would write and say, ” We love you now, but for your first year here, we hated your guts. You were in our pastor’s pulpit.’ (The previous pastor had stayed only 3 years and had left for another church before they were ready.) And these would be dear people whom I had valued. They got It off their chest and left me bleeding.
Anyway, I’m making a real effort to leave it with the Father and to go forward. (end of journal)
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love….'” (Jeremiah 31:3)
What part of ‘everlasting’ do we not get?
Lately, we are learning through science what unending and infinite look like. Space seems to be continuous, going on and on. The lineup of galaxies across the heavens staggers our imaginations, considering their size, makeup, and number.
The Psalmist who said, “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” had no clue just how much they say about the majesty and might of our Creator. That’s not to imply we do, only that we have far more information on the complexities and delights of the universe which the Father has wrought with His own hands than biblical writers.
“From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2)
From everlasting in the past to everlasting in the future, God is God. There never was a time when God did not exist; there will never be a time when God does not reign.
“Nevertheless, I have something against you–that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
Everyone in a loving relationship knows how ephemeral those feelings of love can be.
No one should expect the emotional highs to remain at fever level. We could not live that way for long. But may we not expect the love itself to remain strong and good and vital?
Every husband and wife deals with this. And so does God.
So, how do we awaken the dormant love that is surely there, deep within us, but has been smothered out by the daily activities of life?
Here is God’s recipe:
a) Remember what you had before.
b) Repent over losing it, and letting it slip away.
c) Repeat the things you were doing at first.
What we must not do is sit around waiting and waiting and waiting…for the emotion to return, for the inner motivation to kick in, for the want-to to be there.
Get up and start doing loving things.
“Now, in the morning, having risen a long time before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:35-38).
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late!” So said the white rabbit as he plunged into the hole.– From the Walt Disney movie “Alice in Wonderland.”
I have a hard time turning off my inner engine.
A typical situation looks like this: I’m packing the car in order to leave as soon as possible for a long drive to a preaching assignment. Do I have everything? Have I canceled the newspaper for the days I’ll be gone? Do my children know where I’ll be? Am I taking my laptop? Do I have the phone charger? My extra dress shoes? Enough shirts?
All the while, I’m keeping an eye on the clock. I know how long the drive will take and when I’m expected. The first meeting is tonight. I’d sure like to get there in time to check into the hotel and rest for an hour.
Hurry. Hurry, and hurry some more.
In the car finally and heading out of town, my inner engine is still at warp speed.