The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
We were told in teacher-preparation classes in college…
–If you are teaching your class and the superintendent of education suddenly enters the room and quietly takes a back seat to observe, go right on with what you were doing. Teach that lesson as though you know more about it than anyone on earth.
–If you do a good job, the children may not remember you in future years, but they will carry skills and knowledge that make them better people the rest of their lives. “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”
–If you are in this work for the money, find another profession. In time society may realize the true value of what you do, but don’t hold your breath.
–Your work does not begin and end with the ringing of the bell. This is a calling and it involves your entire life.
–You are one factor in a never-ending succession of people passing it on. Someone taught you. But someone taught those who taught you. Those whom you instruct today will in turn teach others. Do not be the weak link in that precious chain.
Now, apply that to the church and those called to preach….
This happens to every pastor: Some civic (as in ‘nonreligious‘) outfit calls and asks you to lead a prayer at their gathering. Sometimes it’s the city council or state senate, sometimes it’s a convention or some club’s gathering. Invariably, you are faced with the decision on what to say and what you should not say. Here is what I did.
In 1994, I was in my fourth year pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, in metro New Orleans (across the street from the New Orleans International Airport). I received a phone call one day informing me that when the American Dental Association held its annual meeting in our city a few months hence, they wanted me to offer the invocation. I was surprised and honored.
The caller said I would have three minutes for the prayer. She added, “And Pastor, please make it interdenominational.” In my journal I wrote: “Had she said to omit the name of Jesus, I would have declined the honor for the sake of principle. As it was, I felt I could do something that would satisfy everyone.”
My secretary Peggy kept referring to it as an “innovation,” instead of ‘invocation.”
The day came. It was a huge hotel in downtown New Orleans. Perhaps 700 to 1,000 people in the room.
I’m at the age now where this happens almost weekly. A little foretaste of Heaven.
In Glory, they’ll be coming up saying to you, “Do you remember that lesson you taught?” That prayer you prayed. That offering you gave. That note you wrote. That sermon you preached. That witness you shared.
“Well, that’s why I’m here. God used it in my life.”
And you will be stunned.
Makes you want to be more faithful today, doesn’t it? More generous, more prayerful, more loving.
Here are five foretastes of glory I’ve had recently…
One man’s quirks is another fellow’s norms. I get that. But from all I know and the world I’m a part of, these things I do fall outside the boundaries of normal and customary, particularly for a Baptist preacher of a certain age.
One. I read a lot of western novels. Sometimes three or more a week. I was never a cowboy, but growing up on the farm with animals–pigs, cows, a horse or a mule–you have no trouble envisioning yourself as a cowboy.
Two. I have a collection of comic books. I’m not adding to it, as the books they’re turning out these days are not my cup of tea and the old ones I can no longer afford. — The Golden Era of comics was in the late 1940s and the 1950s. That’s also the time of my childhood, so the only comics I’m interested in come from that period. I have hundreds of Disneys, and several cowboys, etc.
The state denominational paper announces the retirement of Pastor Dental Bridges with the usual numbers: During his twelve years as pastor of Center’s Big Ol’ Church, Preacher Bridges baptized 112 people, received 325 by transfer of letter, and constructed a new educational building. Everyone was happy to see him come and happy to see him go.
I read the report on one pastor whose church was on the far side of rural route fourteen. “During his ministry, a new fence was built around the cemetery.” Well, it was something.
We used to hear of reports that went like this: “During his years at Emmanuel Church, the attendance grew from 36 to 2,100.” If you dug beneath the surface, it came out that 36 was the lowest number the church had during its interim period when they were pastorless and 18 inches of snow shut down the area one weekend. And the 2,100 attendance came the Sunday the church brought in the star quarterback from the college football team after they had won the national championship and they gave away autographed jerseys and free kisses from the cheerleaders.
You think I’m kidding. (Okay, maybe I am. A little.)
“…inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4).
Although the Lord makes the pastor the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2), he is not the Lord of the church. It is not about him.
The pastor is the messenger, the Lord’s servant. He is important, but not all-important.
Preachers should constantly say to themselves, “This is not about me.” And they should act like they believe it.
Believing “this is all about me” drives some preachers to post their photos on billboards around town inviting people to their services, to spend outrageous sums of God’s money to broadcast their sermons on television–as though no one else is doing the same thing as well as they— and either to puff with pride when the church does well or sink into despair when it doesn’t. I daresay there is not a pastor in ten who truly believes that “this ministry isn’t about me.”
We will save a further discussion on that for another time. At the moment, our focus is on the other side of that coin…
The kid in me is romping and playing today.
Oaky Doaks was my favorite cartoon as a child. It’s the reason I’m a cartoonist today.
Cartoonist R. B. Fuller was an accomplished artist. His work is so perfectly executed, unlike the hastily done stuff of at least half the stuff on the comics pages these days. As a child in West Virginia in the late 1940s, I came across the daily strip “Oaky Doaks” and fell in love with it. In the strip, Oaky was a farm boy who, using some equipment from the barn, hammered himself some armor and went off riding his plow-horse Nellie to do battle with dragons, rescue damsels in distress, and confront evil everywhere. I loved everything about this strip.
When I would read the strip each day–remember, I was 8 or 9 years old at the time–my mind went into overdrive. I seriously entered that tiny world of the medieval knight with his silly sidekick King Cedric. It was delightful in every way. And, may I say, Mr. Fuller sure could draw beautiful women!
Then, when I was 11, we moved back to the Alabama farm where our newspapers did not carry that strip. I hardly noticed, I realize now, as I was involved in a hundred things. Only years later did I look back and remember my old friend Oaky and find that something inside me was treasuring him and missing him.
So, I went online.
The preacher begins his sermon with several minutes of foolishness. He sees a friend in the congregation, remembers a silly story about the two of them, and goofs off for five minutes.
Five golden minutes wasted. An opportunity he will never get back.
It’s a holiday weekend and the attendance is down. The pastor fusses at those who went to the trouble of being in their place, complaining about how people today don’t love the Lord as much as they used to.
What is he thinking, punishing those who come for the sins of those who don’t.
The guest preacher walked up to the pulpit. Every eye and a few TV cameras were on him. The congregation has been conditioned to expect the sermon from the first, without a lot of chit-chat.
(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.
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!