My friend Barbara Smith of Tuscaloosa tells of a college lit class in which the professor sat and lectured the entire time without a word of response from the class.
There was a reason for the silence.
Early in the semester, the professor had told the class that under his teaching they would learn to love Shakespeare so much they would eat, sleep, and drink Shakespeare. Barbara says, “Some idiot in the back of the classroom called out, ‘Yeah, right,’ and that set the professor off. He yelled and screamed at that student for a while, then shouted, ‘You sir do not deserve to breathe the same air as the rest of us. Get out!'”
Barbara says, “After that public humiliation, no one dared open their mouth the rest of the semester.”
No one enjoys being publicly humiliated. And most of us will go to great lengths to make sure it never happens.
We use deodorant, never wear some of the things in our closet, take a shower each morning, brush and floss and use mouth wash, and we carry a handkerchief. In almost every case, the reason we do these things is not because we feel a sense of personal need, that we are dirty, etc. We do not want to risk giving offense to others or humiliating ourselves.
Anyone who has spent any time in front of the television has seen videos of gymnasts on balance beams and high crossbars falling in the most excruciating and embarrassing manners. To master their difficult art, these courageous athletes must throw off all caution and abandon themselves to this jump or that twist or that somersault. They know going in that before they get the precise path correct, they will fall again and again, providing film enough for a dozen television shows. That they persevere to triumph is a testament to their incredible courage and steely determination.
If the worst thing that can happen to you is to publicly humiliate yourself, then you will never want to–
–take up singing or playing any musical instrument. other than for your private enjoyment .
–become a professional dancer, a runway model, or a competitive gymnast.
–become an actor or after-dinner speaker or stand-up comedian.
–accept God’s call into the ministry.
In each of these fields and in so many others, the practitioner runs a severe risk of goofing up on a public stage. When that occurs, several things happen: the world sees, your mother dies, your critics never forget, and your fears rise up to accuse you of ignoring them and thus deserving this ridicule.
You never want to get on that horse again.
But you do.
The preacher takes all those risks and more….
Take preaching, for instance, this website’s primary focus. Each veteran preacher has his stories of public failure, embarrassing situations, verbal slip-ups, and times when he has split his britches.
Here are some of mine….
1) From the pulpit and on live television, I celebrated a young adult in our congregation who was traveling overseas for a mission project. And called her by the wrong name.
2) In a wedding, I had the bride marrying the best man. Marcia and Roger still laugh about that. I don’t.
3) In the fellowship hall just before a luncheon, I bent over to pick up a child and split my suit trousers right down the middle all the way out into the leg, forever ruining that suit. (I slipped off my suitcoat, tied the arms around my waist, and told the children, “Dr. Joe has to run home now. I’ll be back.”)
4) In a formal reception where my young wife and I were assigned to encourage people to leave by a back door rather than cause a traffic jam at the front entrance, I spotted a couple heading back toward the front. Well! I couldn’t have that happen. So, I chased them down. Just as I approached them from behind, they came to an abrupt stop and I slammed into both of them, almost knocking them down. Then I sheepishly tried to explain to them all the excitement was because they were leaving by the wrong door. Mr. and Mrs. McRae forgave me and doubtless forgot the incident, but I will never forget.
5) I hit a baptismal candidate’s head against the side of the baptistry causing a bump on his crown and a loud bang to reverberate throughout the church. Terry Timm said, “Brother Joe, I can truthfully say I will never forget my baptism.”
6) I sang at an outdoor wedding once, but without practicing in that location. The wedding was on the lower level of the patio, but the little electric organ had to stay within a couple of feet of the back sliding door on a higher level. So, at least twenty feet away from the music–and in the open air at that–I could not hear anything but my own voice. The organist and I ended that poor song far, far apart. Mary Beth did not ask me to sing at either of her subsequent weddings.
7) As the new pastor of a church, I wanted the newspaper advertisements to be impressive. All week long we worked on getting the layout just right. On Saturday’s edition, there it was, everything in place, just as we had planned, but with one exception. Underneath my picture, the ad read “Dr. I. M. Clergy, Pastor.” The newspaper lamely said their ad people often played with displays in this manner, but always corrected it in time for publication. Until this one time. They chose my most vulnerable Sunday to send an embarrassment my way.
Every preacher has his stories…
I was preaching in the state penitentiary, in the section where the hardest criminals were housed. Although I’d been forewarned that they might misbehave, I assured the chaplain I could handle the disruptions that would occur. I was wrong. Midway through my message, the men began a chorus of throat-clearing and foot-stamping that fairly well drowned out everything else. I have no memory of how long it went on or what I did. But I will never lose the feeling of complete loss of control and embarrassment.
These are nothing, to be sure, compared to the humiliations some have borne in the name of the Lord Jesus. We stand in awe of their strength and faithfulness.
Think of Him hanging on the cross, almost if not completely naked before that cruel throng. Listen to them taunt Him. Watch as they spit on Him and curse Him. And then, stand in awe as He loves them and forgives them.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame…. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
He could have called ten thousand angels. But He died alone for you and me.