There is the usual, accepted way of doing things. Then there is God’s way. And as often as not, they are not the same.
When I came to the church, I had preached here several times before anyone even asked me for a resume’. When my wife and I got one together and gave it to the deacons, I was surprised one Sunday morning to walk into the sanctuary just before the service and see three or four little old ladies intently reading a copy of it.
But I’m glad we got to know each other before you ever saw my resume’. I think it was better that way. For that matter, I’m glad my family and I got to know the church in person instead of reading a description of it. Some intangible things you just can’t put down on paper.
Someone—I honestly think it was Kermit the Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol—said, “Life is made of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” And God has a way of arranging those meetings and partings to suit His own purposes.
I went to see the movie Jesus Revolution last night. It was really good. I don’t often sit and cry during a movie, but I did this one. And I wasn’t alone. I overheard one older lady tell someone as she left, “I cried like a baby!”
Jesus Revolution tells the story of the beginning of what came to be called the “Jesus People” movement, when thousands of young hippies in the late 1960s-early 1970s became Christians. They were sometimes referred to as “Jesus Freaks”—because a hippie was a “freak,” so a hippie who believed in Jesus was a “Jesus freak”.
I was especially interested in this movie for three reasons. First, because it stars Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in The Chosen television series about Jesus and the disciples. I absolutely love The Chosen. I think it is the most excellent portrayal of a Biblical story I have ever seen. And I wondered if I could believe Jonathan Roumie in Jesus Revolution, since he is so convincing playing the part of Jesus. Well, he must be a pretty good actor, because I never once looked at him and thought, “No, that’s Jesus!” His portrayal of hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee is so good, I never thought of him as anyone else.
I grew up going to church with my family. We sat together in church, me and my brothers and our parents, and our grandparents. There was a nursery for the babies, and parents could take their little children out into the foyer at the back of the church if they needed to. But this was in the 1960s, and the idea of “children’s church” really hadn’t caught on yet. Once children got to be five or six years old, we sat in church with our families.
Of course, the kids got squirmy and bored…or at least, I did. I would look around the church auditorium and imagine what it would be like if Batman or Spider-man swung down from the rafters or the balcony. I’d look around and stare in amazement at the ladies with their beehive hairdos piled on top of their heads, or at the usher who had a really long neck and reminded me of a giraffe. I loved it when my grandma would whisper, “DAVE! YOU WANT SOME CANDY?” She could whisper in church louder than most people talk. And usually she handed me a piece of hard candy wrapped in cellophane. I would try to unwrap it quietly, but inevitably I earned a frown from my mother and a terse “Shhh!” To keep me quiet they gave me a pen or pencil and something to draw on. So I would sit in church and draw pictures.
About ten years or so ago I had a real word from the Lord. At least, I’m pretty sure I did. In fact, I’m 99.9% positive I did. I’m not charismatic or Pentecostal, and I don’t hear voices. But one night God spoke to me clearly and powerfully through His Word, the Bible. By the way, that’s how God usually speaks to us today. It isn’t that He can’t or occasionally doesn’t communicate to us in other ways. He can do what He wants. After all, He’s God! But if you think God is speaking to you through your circumstances, or a feeling or an impression, or maybe even a dream you’ve had, you’d better evaluate it carefully in light of the Bible. And if it contradicts anything the Bible says, then it isn’t God speaking to you. If the Bible says not to do something, and something is telling you to do it anyway, don’t listen. It ain’t Him.
Anyway, this was back during the hard time when my mother-in-law was dying of A.L.S. (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”). In order to help take care of her mother, my wife would drive up to her parent’s home in rural Franklin and spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday there, cooking and cleaning and helping her mother and father. It was the right thing to do. Rae Anne was obeying God and honoring her father and her mother, just as God told us in the Ten Commandments.
On October 23rd, the church gave a Pastor Appreciation Dinner for Rae Anne and me (also known as the Glorification of the Worm Ceremony). After the dinner, our Chairman of Deacons, Wally Liechty, made a presentation to me on behalf of the church. He handed me a gift bag containing an insulated coffee tumbler with Isaiah 41:10 (one of my favorite verses) printed on the side. And down in the bag there was a generous gift card for me to spend at the Open Door Christian Bookstore. It was in the amount of $250, in honor of the twenty-five years we have been together as pastor and church.
And I admit that my heart fell inside of me when I saw the gift certificate. The first thing that flashed into my mind was the six stacks of books I have sitting around my study, that I have absolutely no room for on my bookshelves. I thought, “What am I gonna do with more books?”
It still seems like only yesterday to me that I walked into the church building for the first time. But it wasn’t.
It was April 6, 1997, when Rae Anne and I first came down to First Baptist Church in Linton. I had been invited to preach in the Sunday evening service. I was just “filling the pulpit” as a guest speaker during the time when the church was searching for a new pastor.
The deacons invited me back to fill the pulpit a few more times. Then the deacons asked if I would be the interim pastor, and preach both Sunday mornings and evenings until a new pastor was called. Then they asked if I would allow them to put my name before the church as a candidate for the position of Senior Pastor.
Then on Wednesday, August 6, 1997, four months after I had first come down to preach for you, the church voted to call me as the new Senior Pastor. The vote was 140 to 7, a 95% call. I had asked God that, if He really wanted us there, the vote would be an overwhelming majority, so there wouldn’t be any doubts. There weren’t. The chairman of deacons called me and said, “Well, you’re our new pastor.”
In the classic 1942 black-and-white film Casablanca, characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman both tell a piano player named Sam to play their favorite song. The song was “As Time Goes By,” and contains the phrase, “You must remember this…”. The line is never said exactly this way in the movie, but the famous quote is: “Play it again, Sam!”
I once read an interview with Amy Grant. She had just recorded an album of hymns, and she told the interviewer, “I’ve heard lots of sermons over the years, and I don’t remember any of them. But I do remember all those wonderful old hymns we sang when I was growing up.” Well, excuse me, but that’s not a fair comparison at all. You might hear any given sermon once (assuming you stay awake all the way through it). But we’ve sung those old hymns over and over and over, until many of us have them practically memorized. A hymn is probably sung in a church twice a year at least, maybe more often than that. Let a pastor try repeating the same few sermons twice a year, and the deacons will be meeting to discuss the problem.
Besides that, you’re not supposed to remember the sermon. You’re supposed to remember the Scripture.
I used to have a buddy named Dave Hoskins. He was a Baptist pastor here in the area. We used to run into each other at Markle’s Music store, because he played guitar, too. Dave was a funny guy, outgoing and full of life. He was about ten years younger than me. I still can’t believe that he died several years ago. He was diagnosed with brain cancer, and it all went south for him really fast. Life is short, folks, and there’s no dress rehearsal.
Anyway, Dave was always telling me things to make me laugh. (I love people like that. Kinda makes up for the other ones.) One day he told me somebody called his church and asked, “Does your church sing off the wall?” He said he was initially confused, and wondered if the guy had heard some of their church members sing. Then he realized the man was asking if they used hymnals or sung the words off of a screen. Apparently, this man didn’t like “off the wall” singing.