Three times in the book of Revelation these words are found (Revelation 3:12, 22:7,12). They tell this story on me whether it was true or not. You judge. When I first started preaching, physically I was very demonstrative and still enjoy visual aids in my presentations. I roam a lot when talking and in a way I am like the old famous evangelist, Billy Sunday who said, “I was born in the desert, don’t put me in a flower pot”. One of my favorite songs in the 40’s was “Don’t fence me in”.
Ann and I were married on June 25, 1948 and after a brief honeymoon (that’s the short period of time between “I do” and “You’d better”) we began our first local ministry with a small congregation in middle Florida. I wanted to make a lasting impression in that my first sermon and chose for my text the name of this essay, “Behold, I come quickly”. They said I stood back from the pulpit (for the sake of drama), and then rushed forward and peered at the audience saying softly “Behold I come quickly”. For emphasis I raised the volume and rushed forward repeating it a second time, “Behold, I come quickly. If two is good three is a charmer. I backed away slowly for a third approach. Rush toward the pulpit I tripped over a small throw rug, knocked the pulpit off the rostrum and did a kind of flip and landed in an old lady’s lap on the front pew.
The embarrassment was overwhelming, I was helping her up and dusting her off saying, “I’m so sorry sister”. She was a gritty sort and replied in a rather high pitch tone, “That’s all right sonny boy, you dun warned me three times, I should have had enough sense to move”.
Now over 60 years of preaching I have often thought, “I never wanted to just be a preacher, or a lecturer or a teacher – I just wanted to COMMUNICATE the gospel of good things to others. I never used the pulpit to “unload on people” or to “take pot-shots at anyone”. The rest of this column will be filled with little items of remembrance. Some Serious, some fun, some true and some imagined.
An elder of the congregation went to sleep during one of the services. I thought “how dare him sleep during one of my best sermons? He was on the front row and was the source of some distractions. I left the rostrum and moved to him. I held the Bible over his lap and dropped it as I said, “Wake up brother”. Some snickered, a few laughed. Later on I was informed he had terminal cancer and the medicine he took was the caused of his slumber. Now some 58 years later I feel kind of sick thinking of the hurt I caused in such a stupid act. I preached his funeral a few weeks later. I cried tears, mainly for myself. Live and learn. God help us!
In a revival meeting a man came up to me and said, “that was a sorry sermon”. I found him again in the receiving line and he reported “I hope you never come back here to preach again”. As he faced me the third time with negative remarks, I turned to one of the Elders and asked about him. “O, don’t bother about him”, the brother replied. “He’s just a bit soft in the head and he just goes around repeating what he hears other people saying”.
In a one day meeting I got excited and whammed my fist down on the pulpit. I hadn’t noticed that it was made of solid stone, My first thought was, “You fool, you broke your hand”. The feeling finally came back but the memories have stayed a lifetime.
One lady remarked, “That was a warm lesson”. I looked up the word and it means, “Not so hot”. Another brother said “that was a mellow sermon”. The third rendering of that word means, “almost rotten”, like a mellow banana. One brother prayer in the dismissal prayer, “Lord, the preacher has put many a spark in our hearts, help us to water them.” He meant no harm, it just didn’t come out right. One church member prayer, “Lord, bless the Elders of this church who have overlooked this congregation for 30 years.” “Overlook” and “Oversee” have different meanings.
They say Samuel Johnson, noted English writer, seldom took a bath. At a sit down dinner a rather over stuffed English Lady turned to him and said, “My Johnson, you smell”. With a corrective eye Johnson replied, “Madam, you smell, I stink”.
One of the most dramatic events occurred at the close of a revival in Texas when the song leader began the invitation hymn. Half way through the first verse he stopped leading and the audience slowly died vocally. He stood ashen faced and after long moment (seems like a half-hour) he looked at the full house as cried aloud, “Sam, forgive me, Sam”. An echo from the audience was heard, “I forgive you Charlie”. That was the first of four he called that night to beg the grace of forgiveness. Later I found that this trouble had been brewing for a number of months. Little did I know before hand that the lesson that night was on “The grace of forgiveness?”
The Apostle James writes, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God , that gives to all men (mankind) liberally and without reproach; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Sixty years of marriage and preaching. All I can say is like Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God” (I Corinthians 15:10). Credit – No! Grace, Yes!