I had to cut my two-week backpacking trip short. Nature conspired against me this year with the largest wild-fire in the nation blocking my path on the Rainbow Trail. Then, after I had resupplied to go to the other side of the mountains to my favorite lakes, the mosquitoes were the size of Chihuahuas and thick as smoke. They seemed to really enjoy the insect repellent I brought. In fact, I counted 25 on the door to my tent one morning at 5:00–waiting, just waiting for me. Mocking. I left them to themselves and came home.
With a free Sunday, Lynette and I decided to attend a friend’s church in my town on Sunday. It was the early service and it was jam-packed with folks of every demographic. We even saw current and former members of our church there. The music was lively, loud and contemporary. We loved every minute of it.
My young friend, Zach Bearss, preached from Habakkuk chapter two. The essence of his sermon was that the people of Israel in general and this prophet in specific felt they were being mistreated by the world and even by God. In fact, God seemed to be saying it’s bad now and my solution is that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.
I am a huge critic of preaching. Brutal, my wife says. But I found Zach’s sermon to be compelling, provoking and convicting. I can see why folks are flocking to his church. I was so proud to call him my friend. After the service I went up on stage and, waiting for him to finish a conversation with a congregant, gave him a big man-hug and told him that I loved him.
Then we went to our church to hear another friend, Pete Kuiper, preach for me. Pete is a licensed clinical counselor and very wise man. He spoke on the power of gratitude. He promised that if today’s Christian would practice the discipline of being grateful “in” everything not “for” everything it would cure nearly all anxiety and depression Christians face in this world. I loved his talk. He was wise, funny, and practical.
It was so good to introduce him to my church. One of the great joys of my life is introducing friends to friends.
Then Sunday night I had previously scheduled a new attender to our church, a retired bi-vocational pastor named Bill Bland, to speak for me. The crowd was small, but Bill was undaunted by the size of the crowd. The small crowd didn’t hurt his feelings or intimidate him in the least. He is too wise for that. He led us on a survey through the book of Philippians in a delightful and engaging way. He was funny, warm, wise and compassionate. His vast knowledge of the Bible notwithstanding, my favorite part of Bill’s teaching was the warmth of his soul as he talked about Jesus and the ancient book that we love. It showed up for me most clearly through his large, gap-toothed smile.
He was such a delight to listen to. He fed my soul.
Here are a couple of takeaways from my time in three different services and three different speakers yesterday:
- Each honored the pulpit by taking it seriously.
Styles come and go and often are generationally-specific, but I can always tell when the person standing in front of me is serious about the sacred task of speaking for God. When I sense that, I listen carefully to the speaker.
- Each honored me by expressing compassion in their words and tone.
Ever felt “talked down to”? Ever felt condescended to? Ever heard a preacher who is angry? So, have I. In fact, I am guilty of doing those sins. Not my three preachers from yesterday. I felt cared for as they spoke to me and my wife.
- Each honored God by submitting their hearts to His sovereign control.
I could tell in each of them that they had spent some time in prayer relinquishing their wills to the will of the God of the universe. In ways unique to each of them they had said, “Not my will, but Thine be done” in this sermon. How do I know that? It shows in the humility in which they presented the Word of God. They didn’t come across arrogant, uppity, or snarky.
Humility in preaching is the background noise of the sermon. You can tell when it is not there. And, in a strange twist of how God works, you don’t notice it when it’s present. Well, you can later as you reflect on the experience and you notice arrogance was conspicuous by its absence.
Nothing is more toxic for me than an arrogant, under-prepared, and angry preacher. I am hyper sensitive to them, because that is my default mode as a pastor. Each of these men of God edified my heart because of their humility of soul, compassion for people, and submission to God.
And I am the better for feasting at three different, but satisfying meals, from three different pulpits yesterday.
The whole experience reminded me of the old prophet’s words, Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden…
That’s how I feel this Monday morning.
Would to God that the lovely people who listen to me week after week would wake up Monday and feel the same way.
Make is so, Lord. Make it so.