NOTE: this has been percolating and marinating for some time. The incident just related gives an opportunity to rant.There was a point in the late eighties when I was between churches, and we were looking for a church home. We'd heard that the pastor was preaching on the Psalms. He told me he knew no Hebrew, but I thought, "Hey — Psalms! How can you go wrong?"
I found out.
It was... not good. Gent didn't even do right by the English text. But the killer was when my dear wife nudged me and said, "Look at all the notepads." And sure enough, there were pads, and poised pens, all around.
Then Valerie said, "They're not writing anything."
And sure enough, they weren't. There was nothing to write, because he wasn't giving them anything.
It just killed me. Here it all was: a church building, a pulpit, a microphone, and a bunch of people, ready to learn something. And he was using it for nothing. All that Bible to teach, and he was teaching/preaching nothing.
Then occasionally, you'll read about preachers plagiarizing their sermons. Or you'll see places that sell sermons, or sermon ideas.
And I always think: sixty-six books in the Bible, over thirty-one thousand verses... and you can't think of anything to preach on, yourself, from your own interaction with God and the text? You've run out of things to preach? Seriously?
(Note: I am thinking particularly the full-timers, not the noble souls who have to divide their time as "tent-makers.")
See, I can't even begin to sympathize with that one. In my life, I suppose I've preached/taught many hundreds of sermons/lessons. But I am crushingly aware that I have barely even scratched the surface of what I — dim bulb that I am — could preach out of the pages of Scripture. If I were immediately installed in a pulpit this Sunday... well, if that happened, I'd be a deliriously happy man. But if it happened, and if I began preaching, and the Lord spared me another forty years, I'd still barely be skimming the face of the unfathomable depths of the Word.
My dear and dearly-missed father, who at the time was an unbeliever, used to say, "I just don't know how you get up and find something to talk about every week." And I'd say, "Oh, Dad — Scripture is so alive and powerful and rich and alive that my problem is never having something to say; my problem is always where to stop!" My wife's (too-true) joke is that every time I sit down to shorten a sermon, it gets longer.
Now, in the great drawer of the Lord's silverware, I see myself as one of the duller, scratched-up plastic blades, not one of the shiny scalpels. Yet I simply cannot imagine coming to a place where I have nothing to say from the Word when I take the pulpit. If there's a verse I haven't preached on, there's something to say. If there's a Biblical doctrine I haven't taught, there's something to say.
I think of it another way. Here are these people, who've stopped everything else that they do. They have come to where I am going to speak, they've sat down, and they're looking to me to say something. Maybe there are ten of them, maybe there are hundreds, it doesn't matter. And what shall I say?
I do not have a clue what is going on in their hearts and lives. Is that woman considering an affair? Did that man write a suicide note, and he's just come in for his farewell church visit? Is that girl's boyfriend pressuring her to "prove" that she really loves him? Are that lad's professors on the verge of dinning him into walking away from his profession? Did that woman come to church for the first time, because someone told her we believed the Bible, and she wanted to see what that was about?
Who could possibly be equal to these things? If I even began to communicate how emphatically it isn't me, I'd be in violation of Rule 2. My philosophy, my experiences, my stories, my jokes, my analogies, my turns of phrase — worthless, meaningless, powerless... and worse!
No, not a one of them needs me, in my own mortal, finite, silly, dense, fallen/redeemedness. I have nothing to give them from myself. They need God. But here's the wacky thing: God, who could have chosen angels as His sole heralds, instead stooped to save men and women through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21). The risen Christ gave men to the church, to preach and teach the Word (Ephesians 4:11-13). And, God help us all, I'm one of those men.
So here's what life is for me right now. I'm providentially situated where I do not get to preach regularly. Praise God, we attend a church where the pastor knows his God-given role, and uses the pulpit for all his considerable worth.
Yet I know that all over this city, this county, this state, this nation, churches are bursting at the seams with people crowded around a little second-rate song-n-dance show, with a man (or woman) who occupies the pulpit, and wastes it, or shames it, trivializes it, abuses it, ruins it. And the people who gather before God, needing a word from Him, are denied, starved, misdirected; filled up on spiritual junk food of the gaudiest and most cloying variety, when the unopened larder is so full of rich, nourishing meat that it is about to explode.
It just kills me. Jeremiah 20:9 definitely keeps coming to mind.
I want to say to these men, in the fear of God,
"What in God's name did you just do? That pulpit was loaned to you by the providence of God, those people were brought before you — and you squandered it! You prostituted yourself and your calling! And for what? To be popular? To be trendy? To be 'cool'? God help you! What are those people going away with? What did you give them? You thought you had something better than what God said to give to them? You actually thought you had something better than His Word? How will you stand on the last day? Will this survive the fire? Will what looks 'cool' now, look 'cool' then? God help you!"So, look here: If the pulpit has become a drudgery to you, a mere burden, and you just don't really feel like you have anything worth saying from it, I have your solution:
Give it to me.
It isn't that I'm anything. No wait, scratch that: it isn't that I'm anything good. It's that the Bible is simply bursting with so much vital, revolutionary, cryingly-needed truth; and so much of that truth is lying neglected, off in the corner, while we sleep-walk and play our games and amuse ourselves to death.
Someone has to tell it! Someone has to tell it!
It doesn't get much sobering than Paul's parting words to Timothy. Read this slowly and reflectively. Don't hurry past the opening words. Could Paul have said anything more thunderously powerful to make Timothy set down his coffee mug, lean forward, and give his full, even his trembling attention to what the great apostle has to say, as he faces his own death?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [But] you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5)