Even after all this time it always surprises me when people tell me they listen to our church services on the radio. I suppose about once or twice a month someone will tell me that they listen, or a church member will tell me of a friend or neighbor or co-worker who listens to our broadcast. Many people have told me that they listen to part of our church service on the way to or from their own church.
I was kind of intimidated all those years ago when the deacons told me that the morning worship service was broadcast live on a local radio station. This was about three days before I preached in the morning service for the first time. I did my best to forget about the radio broadcast. I wanted to focus on the church service, and just let people listen in.
I’m glad we broadcast it live, “warts and all”. I have no interest in delaying it a week or two so we can edit it and make it “slick” and polished. When I have the rare opportunity to listen to a Sunday morning church program, I’m much more interested in live broadcasts than in the ones that are “produced”. No offense to those who go to the effort to edit; I just think hearing a live church service on the radio (or watching one on television) is much more compelling. Even with mistakes, or the occasional few moments of “dead air”, or the “holy hubbub” that’s heard when we greet one another (or when listeners can hear how off-beat we are when we clap to songs!), I still think its best. We are who we are, and we do what we do. Of course we want to try to be our best and to do better, but this isn’t a sales presentation. It’s a worship service. And I’m glad that people want to listen in.
People listen to our services in their cars from as far away as Bloomington and Terre Haute. They listen in their homes, and in nursing homes. But I was surprised to learn that we also have listeners in prison.
A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from a prisoner in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, Indiana. When I read his letter, I cried. I wrote him back, and he wrote me again. Then in one week I received two more letters from two more inmates. Apparently there are several men who listen to our church broadcast there in the prison.
I don’t want to violate any rules or cause them any problems, so I’m not going to mention their names in this newsletter. If you’d like, ask me and I’ll let you read their letters. But let me quote some of the things they said about our church:
One wrote, “I listen to [your church services] on the radio every Sunday and I wanted you to know that you are a big inspiration in my life. I personally know of a few men that [your church] has helped in an amazing way by listening to you on the radio and how you have touched all of our lives. …You are in my prayers and may God bless you and all our brothers and sisters at the First Baptist Church.”
Another said he was considering suicide, and wrote this: “So it’s a Sunday and I’m at work [in the prison] listening to my radio and all the different preachers, until 10’o’clock hits and here you come on, the last one of the day. And I don’t recall how the topic came up, but during your sermon you started preaching on the youth and committing suicide. I don’t remember how you stated it, but you said that ‘God has something special planned.’ When you said that along with everything else I broke down and started crying. I felt like you were talking directly to me, and were telling me to hold on and not give up. So I didn’t!!! I now read my Bible every day, constantly…seeking God and whatever it is that He has planned for me. I’ve started passing out Scriptures daily at work that I feel will help others and keep them uplifted. …I pray this letter encourages you, and assures you that what [your church] is doing is truly saving lives and helping people. Continue the good fight.”
And a third prisoner shared this: “This letter is to thank you and your congregation for the Gospel ministry you provide in your Sunday morning radio broadcast…your constant, unapologetic focus on the Person and work of Jesus is rare and much-needed. It may interest you to know that believers in prison are quite susceptible to the bondage of performance religion. In short, they feel they must become as good as they had once been bad. This becomes their motivation and ultimately their foundation. There is no shortage of preaching and religious material to encourage this. [Your church] offers Jesus—first and last—as rest for the soul, which is what formerly bad people really need. …I do ask that you pass along my thanks to your dedicated congregation and encourage them, for us, in the good work.”
I confess that I wept as I read these letters. I almost did again as I typed out these quotes. These men have encouraged my soul, and I wanted to pass on their comments to our church in the hopes that they will do the same for you.
You see, sometimes people say things about our church that are hurtful. Sometimes it’s from people who are outside of our church. Sometimes it’s from people who have left our church.
Sometimes it’s from people within our church.
I know every church deals with stuff like this to some extent. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less, especially when the comments are unfair, or even simply untrue. And too often people will hear things like this and accept them without questioning or without finding out “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey used to say.
We’re all sinners saved by grace. You don’t have to look too hard to find faults. And it’s easy to focus on the faults and miss some of the good stuff God is doing…things that we could ruin if we just focus on the negative and tear down without building up.
But God is using our church. I think He still wants to use our church. I think our town and this area needs our church. And I think sometimes people on the outside appreciate our church more than we do. The guys inside the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility sure think so.
What do you think?
Soli Deo Gloria!