“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!'” –Mark 1:3
Last night as I write, at a dinner hosted by our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for alum and supporters in central Mississippi, our distinguished President, Dr. Chuck Kelley, was introduced by Dr. Ken Weathersby. Weathersby is officially “vice president for convention advancement of the SBC’s Executive Committee.” He’s distinguished, a great preacher and former professor, and someone you’d love to know.
As he finished and Chuck was rising to speak, I thought, “I want Dr. Weathersby to introduce me!!” The friend to my left said, “What a great introduction!”
The privilege of introducing is not to be taken for granted.
Anyone running for a high office, whether in politics or the denomination or his local civic club, will want to choose carefully his introducer or presenter. In our annual denominational gatherings, we’ve seen it done masterfully and have seen it bungled. I’ve seen speakers introduce a candidate for denominational office and mispronounce his name all way through. Stories abound of speakers who gave their entire introductory speech without even mentioning the name of the candidate. One of my friends even stood before 20,000 fellow Baptists and nominated himself!
John the Baptizer was the introducer for Jesus. God chose him for that very purpose. His father Zacharias’s exclamation in Luke 1:67-79 puts it this way: “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins….to shine upon those who sit in darkness…to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
John answered those who mistook him for the Messiah, “I am not worthy to unlace His sandals.” And, “He must increase; I must decrease.” The introducer must never think this is about him.
They asked Pastor Frank Pollard, “How do you want to be remembered after you’re gone?” And this preacher, named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 outstanding preachers of America, whose messages were beamed across the planet in our denomination’s Baptist Hour, said, “I don’t want to be remembered. I’m just a messenger.”
Those of my generation will think of Ed McMahon presenting Johnny Carson night after night for a full thirty years on The Tonight Show. “Here’s Johnny!” is as iconic a line in our culture as it’s possible to find. (I’m remembering that early on, as McMahon opened the show with the list of guests, he concluded by saying, ‘And me–Ed McMahon.’ That got a huge hand. So, at some point, the arrangement of his opening words was changed. Thereafter he said, “This is Ed McMahon along with Doc Severinsen and his orchestra etc etc.” The star just could not abide the announcer getting all the applause rather than himself! We smile at such silliness, but it makes a point.)
Introducing someone to someone: What a privilege; what a burden; what a responsibility.
What brought all this on is that on this Tuesday morning, I’m deep in preparation for a three session teaching two days hence on the 8th chapter of Romans. And even though I love this great chapter and have taught it numerous times over the years–I memorized it a full 25 years ago and recite it often–I’m still enthralled by it. I read it with tears and think, “No way can I begin to make people see the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ in this chapter.” I say with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high; I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6). I will, of course, go ahead and give it a try. It’s what we preachers do. But we do so “trembling at the threshold of the Word of God,” as someone once put it.
And that–I submit–is the right way to approach God’s Word.
I think of Frank McCourt, raised in poverty in Ireland, whose story is the prize-winning “Angela’s Ashes.” He praises a high school teacher who introduced him to the writings of Shakespeare. In the movie, McCourt is shown lying in the bathtub reading aloud. We hear him saying, “When I read Shakespeare, I felt that I had jewels in my mouth.”
If the writings of Shakespeare can produce such reverence–and well they ought–how much more the very words of God Himself. (And make no mistake–the words of Holy Scripture, whether penned by a prophet or an apostle or an unnamed scribe, qualify as the Word of God. That was settled long before you and I came on the scene.)
Anyone charged with introducing that Word and this Lord to others would do well to prepare himself carefully, for he is on the holiest of ground.
Paul was in Philippi preaching and ministering. Luke tells us, “a certain slave girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out saying, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!’ And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment'” (Acts 16:16-18).
You want to be selective in who introduces you.
That’s why some of us are not qualified. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners,” says Holy Scripture. “Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).
God can use any vessel, whether it’s earthenware or embossed with gold and jewels. But it must be clean. Only the pure vessel can serve Him.