Evangelist Steve Hill was at heaven’s doorstep after years of fighting incurable melanoma. Those closest to him were making funeral arrangements and securing a burial plot after doctors told them he had three days to live. Yet as Hill faced eternity, the man known worldwide for his fiery preaching at the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Fla., made a deathbed deal with God.
“Jesus,” he prayed, “they just told me that I’m going to die, and to die is gain. You and I are madly in love with each other, Jesus. You’ve been my best friend for decades. Now they say it’s over. If it’s over, that’s fine ... but You’re hard-pressed for evangelists, Jesus. There are very few evangelists out there that do what I do, and You know that. If You’ll let me live, I will win another million people to You, Lord.”
Just because people look at us when we stand to deliver a homily, we must not automatically think we possess knowledge, authority or anything not available to the least among us. They could be listening for God.
Just because they fill the pews to worship God and, in the process, listen to our sermons and say good things afterward, that does not mean they are there to hear us. They could be there for greater reasons.
If they laugh at our jokes and weep at our stories, we are not to think ourselves gifted communicators who have mastered our craft. It could be they are people of grace and graciousness.
While we live in a world that celebrates jumping from one relationship to the next, faithfulness has taken a backseat to self-interest. And sad to say, the church world appears to be not far behind, as Christians hop from one church, one ministry and one message to the next.
All of that is motivated by the bottom line—what’s in it for me and what’s best for me?
Like honor, faithfulness is big in God’s eyes yet certainly not valued highly in the day and age we live in.
Growing up in Assemblies of God churches, I often heard preaching in an imperative—even imperial—mode. Pastors operated with a command-and-control model of leadership that carried over into the pulpit.
They thundered forth the Word of God in a high, loud and fast tone of voice. They left no time for questions and made no space for nuance. When they finished their sermons, all they wanted was a yes or no answer from the congregation.
Early on in my pastoral career, perhaps as a reaction to imperative-mode preaching, I preached in the indicative mode. I downloaded information on members of my congregation with a professional tone of voice. My sermons were long, complex and nuanced.
David, finally settled in as king of Israel after years of being hunted by his predecessor, sits in his new cedar palace at peace with his neighbors and says, “Hey, how can I enjoy this cool new house when the ark of God is still sheltered in a tent? That doesn’t seem right. I’ll build God a house to dwell in, too, now that I’ve got some time on my hands.” (My paraphrase.)
But God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet: “Nope. Don’t do it. I have other plans for you, David. I don’t need a house to dwell in … at least, not now, and not built by you. Remember, I took you from the pasture, where you shepherded stinky sheep, and made you ruler over My chosen people. I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for Israel.”