I’ve thought about that conversation ever since.
A friend whom I know only from our internet exchanges wanted to know if in all the articles on my website, there was anything on a text he was researching.
I responded that I could not recall dealing with those verses, but suggested where he might find help. Then, I said, “Are you preaching on that text?”
I had no idea whether he was a pastor or not.
It turned out he was a layman and had been asked to bring a message that Wednesday night to his church. The Lord had laid on his heart a text, and he was trying to find out all he could on it. Good for him.
Then he said something which has lingered with me ever since: I want to give the people truths from this passage which they will remember the rest of their lives.
Wow. Big assignment he has given himself.
In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.
The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.
This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.
This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.
My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:
“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13).
Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders as opposed to giving them.
That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his earthly work was finished and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.
For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.
What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?
After the death of comic genius Robin Williams, someone was reminiscing about the time he preceded Bob Hope on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
For some reason, Bob Hope was late arriving at the studio that night. So, instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine. People were beside themselves with laughter.
The great Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.
Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”
As Bob Hope walked out onto the stage and settled into the chair, Johnny Carson said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?” Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”
Let’s talk about me. I smile. Even the great Bob Hope could not handle that.
No right-thinking person would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.
Okay, I’m not sure what is the “worst possible advice” to young preachers–there is so much to choose from! But what follows has to be among the sorriest counsel ever administered to young proclaimers of the Word…
I was looking up “preach Jesus” and came upon a website which proposes to teach people to “preach sermons and live in the power of the Holy Spirit.” I read a short way into the first article. My mind was frozen by a bullet point which read: “Throw away the concordance.”
I thought, “What?” (For those unacquainted with a concordance, it’s a staple in the preacher’s arsenal. A concordance is a book of subjects with every (or selected) scripture verses listed where you may find that word used. The back of most Bibles will have a brief concordance. And yes, these days, the internet has almost made it obsolete. I type a line from a verse into the search blank and hit “go,” and instantly, I’m told where to find the verse I was looking for. It’s a wonderful help.)
Here is the paragraph, verbatim:
The little boy was 7 years old and loved the church where his dad served as pastor. So, he was not prepared for the bully who took out his frustrations with the preacher-daddy on him.
Each week during the Sunday School assembly, this man, the director of the children’s department, would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Now, he already knew the answer since the church bulletin carried this information. But, they would identify the children with birthdays and sing to them.
The week little David was celebrating his 7th birthday he was eagerly anticipating that tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. This day, however, the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday that week. David came home in tears.
Let no man despise thy youth (or thy inexperience–Joe). (I Timothy 4:12)
As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. As a retiree and guest preacher, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….
Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)
But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”
I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run.
However, sometimes the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still will act like a novice.
But as for me and my house…. (Joshua 24:15).
As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness…. (Psalm 17:15).
While reading my way through the Psalms, I was tripped by a little comment I’d read right past the previous hundred times I’ve traveled this landscape. Right in the middle of a discussion of some theological point, the Psalmist will say, “But as for me.”
When he does that, you know you’re getting something personal. This is not theoretical, not philosophical, and not “out there” somewhere. If you are like the rest of us, you perk up at this and get ready for something you can identify with.
Case in point. In the remarkable 73rd Psalm (there’s nothing else like it in all the Bible; if you’re unfamiliar with it, we encourage you to check it out), the writer brackets his discussion with that phrase.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)
A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom. In the Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer had scaled the mountain and said to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”
The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”
Hagar says, “Lend me money.”
Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days. One day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.