Friday, June 5, 2009

Lesson Learned [5]

As I mentioned previously, Charity and I have recently come out of an intense time of learning. It is my desire to record some of these lessons learned for the sake of perhaps encouraging others. It is also my desire that I do not forget the lessons learned, even by encouraging accountability from readers to help me remember these lessons.

Lesson Five: Ministry calls for sobriety.

I solemnly 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, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.--2 Timothy 4:1-5
Can my ministry be marked by sobriety and a solemn charge? Eleven years ago, it was not.

One of the great "dark clouds" of my ministry happened while serving in Richmond, Virginia. Our Senior Pastor had just been asked to step down and our entire church was reeling from the recent events. Our elders were emotionally spent and the people were confused. And as the only other paid staff at the church, they turned the pulpit over to me. My sermon series in the midst of all of this? "Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from Baseball. Though never a competitive baseball player, I had a number of humorous stories to supply and found "moral lessons" for each. I even had the series kicked off with two people doing Who's On First? At the time, I thought the series was just what the doctor ordered; something fun and refreshing. I later came to realize it was fool-hearty and stupid. Now, I think it was probably offensive.

As I was preaching Leviticus 14, I'm looking out at people who have lost children, battled cancer, been abandoned by the spouse, faced unemployment and recently lost their spouse of 50 years (just to name a few). This doesn't include marital struggles, battles with sin and other emotional strains that I'm not aware of. The sermon was certainly sober, and it is the only appropriate response to such situations.

Our youth pastor sometimes wears a shirt that says, "Life is more than laughter." (Apparently, a regular quote from his father-in-law.) As Charity and I faced the severity of her possible diagnosis my mind eventually considered my preaching. If I had just heard my wife may have in inoperable tumor and came to church to hear Baseball Sermons, I would have left hungry (at best) and possibly angry at the pastor (in worst case). I thought the "Baseball Series" was edgy back then, but would be considered pretty tame today. In our "entertain and win them" church culture today, things have been elevated to costumes, shock language and perceived "taboo topics." Ironically, these methods are often done under the guise of reaching the lost. But why do many unsaved people visit a church? Is it not often that a person is seeking answers after a tragedy? Do they want to hear stupidity, stand-up routines and pretend that life is a joke? How about your sheep? What will really provide answers and hope for them? Is it best for them to have to put on a plastic smile, sit through your entertainment and pretend to everyone else that life is good? The Wisdom Literature suggests that we shortchange our ability to grow when we choose laughter and silliness over dealing with difficult issues in life.

I love to joke. In fact, one of my biggest problems in preaching is to not get carried away with humor. Ninety percent of the time, a comment I later regret after a sermon was a comment I made intended to incite laughter. Life can be enjoyable and the believer certainly shouldn't walk around the earth declaring, "Woe is me!" However, realizing the solemn call of ministry is to do our work with sobriety. Then we can be honest with is hard, but our God is good.

The Leviticus 14 passage was a heavy passage to deal with. By God's grace (and my lack of creativity), I knew of no other way to preach the text than with sobriety. But once we heard the potential diagnosis, my wife and I both realized that sermon was exactly what we needed to hear.


marilyn66 said...

And yet acc. to Scripture, laughter goes a long way to improve emotional and mental health and so much more. Prov. 17:22 'A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing." Why is it that often, in many churches, we sanction crying as a holy and godly response to teaching and yet frown upon laughter? In Ecclesiastes it says that there IS a time to laugh but doesn't say, 'not in church.'

Danny, I understand what you are saying and do not disagree, but don't be afraid to include humor. In fact, I DO believe that when we laugh, we are more receptive to the teaching. The devil knows this and uses this with sitcoms. What we laugh at, we soon accept. I think this is a principle we cannot let the world solely use. I think that when God created some of the animals, He must have laughed out loud! And when Jesus held the children, He probably laughed at some of their words and antics. If the sermon is a lot of levity, THAT is a problem. And though I don't approve of Joel Osteen I DO like the humorous stories he tells at the beginning of his so called messages (pep talks). I sometimes listen to the first few minutes just to hear them.

I've heard that laughter is like jogging for the insides. End of M-i-l's sermonette!

Jodi Bradshaw said...

Danny I totally have loved reading Your "Lessons Learned" (you learned a lot). :) I am thankful that you take God's Word and tell it like it is. The Bible is very clear that we are going to have times of weeping and affliction (kind of depressing sometimes to see how much of the Bible is full of suffering either because of life in a sinful world or affliction because of the gospel). I think to not take these times seriously and allow people to see how God has used them for His glory would be a big mistake. Thank you for showing how God has comforted you and the family in your affliction so that you in turn can comfort others.

Eric Smith said...

fwiw, I'm not sure any preacher is proud of their sermons from 11 years ago!