Go Ye Therefore and Serve!

(My commence address at William Carey University. Saturday, August 10, 2019)

“He who would be great among you, let him be a servant.” “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22)

When I was a freshman in college, I learned a sad lesson about myself. It was the second week of the fall semester and the dean brought all the freshmen–several hundred of us–into the school auditorium. He announced we were going to elect class officers. No advanced notice, no campaigning. I thought, “Maybe I’ll be elected president.” I had been on campus all summer, working, and I knew almost everyone in this class. But no one nominated me. “Well, I’d take vice-president,” I said. Again, no one nominated me.

Next, the floor was open for nominations for secretary. A guy named Randy Scott nominated me. I won in a runoff. “Well, it’s something,” I said.

Better than nothing.

One month later, our class met in the same auditorium. Our newly elected class president called us to order, then looked in my direction. “We will dispense with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting.”

My heart stopped.

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You’re reading this old book and suddenly life intrudes!

I was reading The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough.  The people in mind,  these adventurous settlers who are the focus of this latest book by our favorite historian, were taking civilization into far-off…Ohio.  In 1787, this was the edge of civilization.  It was “The West.”

Some snippets are worth pointing out…

–One character in the book, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, once visited with Benjamin Franklin and left us a description of the man.  It appears he was expecting a little more than what he got….

…a short, fat, trenched old man in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree…. (pp.20-21)

But as they talked, Franklin became animated and Cutler was drawn in and captivated by the man’s charm in the same way  countless others had been before him.

So much for first appearances!

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When criticizing sermons, tread softly.

They criticized Paul’s preaching, if you can believe that.

They said, “He writes these fearsome letters, but his preaching is terrible.”

Well, okay, what they said was: His letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. (2 Corinthians 10:10)

And how did Paul feel about that?  The same way you and I do  when we learn what some are saying about our preaching.

He didn’t care for it much.

He thought it was unfair.

Pastor, if they didn’t like Paul’s preaching, it’s a lead-pipe cinch they’re going to criticize your sermonizing and mine.

It goes with the territory.

I find that comforting.  A little.

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How to listen to sermons better

A friend left this question on our website…

What advice do you give people in the pews to be better listeners? I admit I have listened to a wonderful sermon and by mid afternoon may have trouble with recall of the major points. I have found jotting some notes can help. Your thoughts? We have a gifted pastor and I want to honor him and our Lord by my listening and learning.

My first thought is to say to my friend, “This isn’t rocket science.  It all boils down to pay attention, take notes, stay focused.”  That sort of thing.

Those who listen to sermons regularly have noticed that a successful listening experience usually involves a number of factors:

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What the pastor prays just before he unloads

At the end of every radio broadcast, the inimitable J. Harold Smith would quickly pray, “Father, take this message and use it for Thy glory. Amen.”

I’m not sure what he prayed at the start of his sermons.

Sitting on the front pew throughout the first half of a worship service, what I pray goes something like this: “My Lord. Thank you for this privilege. Please anoint my lips and speak Thy word. Give me good recall for this message.  Set a guard upon my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord,  my Rock and my Redeemer.  And Father, use me to draw people to Jesus.  For Thy sake. Amen.”

I may pray all or a part of that, but that’s my constant prayer.

A friend says he heard that in the moments before Charles Haddon Spurgeon rose to preach, he could be heard whispering repeatedly, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.  I believe in the Holy Spirit.  I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

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The ultimate proof is the strangest test

By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love his brother abides in death” (I John 3:14).

You see those Christian people meeting in that little cluster there?  They’re a strange lot, aren’t they?  They have odd customs and their own language, and some can be perplexing.  Okay, I want you to love them.

You say it’s hard?  Friend, you don’t know the half of it.  But that’s what you’re going to be doing.

And when it happens, when you find yourself cherishing this oddest of people on the planet, that’s when you will know you are born again and destined for eternal life.

But not until then.

There is one way and one way only you are going to be able to love all Christian people.  You’re going to have to be born again.

You’re. Going. To. Have. To. Be. Born. Again.

Because you cannot do this in the flesh.

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