As a guest preacher, I can clear my mind before rising to preach and start fresh. This is the high point of my week, and in most cases nothing has happened to cloud my focus or burden my spirit. I am going to give this my best.
Pastors of congregations, however, are often in an entirely different situation.
As a pastor enters the sanctuary to begin the worship service and preach the sermon which has weighed heavily on his mind and heart all week, this is not the only thing on his mind. Things happened at his home earlier this morning, in the car driving to church, and during Sunday School. Then, someone stopped by his office with a complaint or a problem, a staff member did something poorly (or wrong) in the early part of the worship service, and several musicians are absent today. A family is not sitting where they normally do, we have several new people–that’s good; sure hope they like us!–and a light bulb is out over the balcony. The pastor knows this service is the high point of the week for many and the sermon should be that for him. But this is Sunday, a full day of work for the leader of the congregation. The budget planning committee meets this afternoon at 3, the deacons at 4, a class at 5, and the preacher will be bringing another sermon at 6. Someone wants to have an after-church fellowship tonight, and he has to leave town early tomorrow to attend a convention in the state capital.
In the service, the pastor sees he picked up the wrong Bible for the sermon today–he prefers that other version of the text–he wonders where his notes are, and he’s uncertain about point three of his sermon.
“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).
“Are you getting this?”
“Am I getting through to you?”
Ask any teacher. Trying to convey a lesson to the clueless is the toughest part of their job. The students sit there and stare at you as though you are speaking Swahili. They just don’t get it.
Matthew 16 has three groups that do not get what the Lord Jesus is doing and teaching.
The Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-4). They wanted a sign. The Pharisees were the ultra-conservatives of that day and the Sadducees the ultra-liberals. The only thing they had in common was an animosity to Jesus.
These so-called religions authorities had no time or energy to consider what Jesus was doing and saying and what it meant. By asking for a sign, they were saying: “If you want us, you’ll have to overwhelm us with your miracles so we have no choice but to believe.” But without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; quoted in Romans 1:17, Colossians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38).
No one enters the Kingdom who is unwilling to come by faith in Jesus Christ.
I was grading tests turned in for a seminary course I was teaching. In his essay a student wrote, “The only thing I fear is zombies.” I wrote back, “Zombies? You fear zombies? There is no such thing. They are the figment of someone’s imagination!”
I’ve laughed about that ever since. This guy is going to be a minister of the gospel and he fears zombies.
“No fear allowed.” That should be the sign across every believer’s doorway. Anyone doing even a cursory reading of Scripture has stumbled across text after text informing God’s children–reminding them, teaching them, again and again–that we are not to fear.
God is insulted by His children fearing. It’s as though we believe the enemy and not Him.
Here are some of our favorite texts on “No Fear Allowed” that come to mind…
“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Elisha’s words to his panicky servant who had just seen the enemy encircling the city are good for us today. Don’t be afraid: We outnumber them.
Make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. –Luke 16:9
Whatever else Luke 16:9 means, it implies that by building friendships in good times, those connections will be there in the future when you will be needing them.
I didn’t start out to write this. But it will not leave my mind. So, I’m going to give it a try.
A preacher friend wondered why my schedule is so filled and his has too many blank spots. Mostly, of course, I don’t have a clue. There may be a hundred reasons I’m not aware of. Or, it could simply be the work of the Lord and nothing more complicated than “the will of God”. However, after we swapped notes back and forth, I ended up making a few suggestions to help him get more preaching opportunities: Find your niche; work up a few sermons on the primary things the Lord has taught you over the years; keep working to improve those few sermons, and preach them as often as you can; write a book on a subject that meets a need in the church; stay on your knees; keep growing.
The last thing I would have said to him or anyone else is that I’m smarter or a better preacher or more talented, or some such foolishness. I don’t believe that for a minute.
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. –2 Timothy 2:2
Pastors teach from the pulpit. Bible teachers will teach in classes. But in addition, there will be occasions–often sudden, spontaneous occasions–when a lay leader will have the opportunity to teach a biblical truth.
Leaders should always be prepared.
Here’s one way it often happens….
The church member is upset at the pastor. She calls her deacon to complain about last Sunday’s sermon. “We don’t need more sermons on (whatever the subject was).” He listens until she is empty. Then, he asks her something.
“Do you have a minute to listen to something?”
She is puzzled. “Sure. What is it?”
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. –2 Timothy 1:7
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. –2 Timothy 2:1
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. –2 Timothy 4:1-2
“They’re almost to the point of giving me my walking papers. The animosity from some of our leaders is so thick you could cut it with a butter knife. What do I do now? How do I stand in the pulpit and preach? And what should I preach?”
If you’ve never preached the gospel while sitting throughout the congregation were people who hated you, arms folded and brows furrowed, you’ve missed out on one of the great experiences of the Christian life.
If you’ve never feared for your job for nothing more than preaching the whole counsel of God, you’re in a minority, pastor.
Walking our dog this morning at dawn, the breeze was just right and the air so refreshing. I thought, “How could the feel of Heaven be any better than this?” So sweet, so satisfying.
In truth, I’ve not seen anything yet. Heaven’s blessings, of which we have just a foretaste here on Earth, are going to be indescribable.
His sweet peace is one of those foretastes.
Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives.” –John 14:27