Take This Job…And Love It!
September 8, 1991 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | I Corinthians 14:1-5
Twenty-three years ago, this very day, I stepped into the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, Texas and preached the first sermon of my ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, on this particular Sunday every year since, I always do two things. I always have us sing the hymn “Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken,” the hymn with which my first worship service began, and I always preach a sermon which is more personal in nature. Today then, I wish to reflect a bit on what my years in this pulpit have meant.
You see, just about ten years ago now, I was approached by the pulpit committee of this church—five people—John Rife, Ruth Carter, Carolyn Wine, Don Brown and Ron Harrison. We then embarked upon a lengthy process which ultimately led to the call to become the Senior Minister of this church. I remember so well John Rife’s words when he was extending that call to me. There was a rather crude and crass country song back in those days called “Take This Job—And Shove It.” But John Rife put his own powerful and positive twist on the words. He said to me: “We want you to take this job—and love it!” I did…and I do. But let me try to explain why that is true….
Preaching is my life. I have said before from this pulpit that every Christian has been given by God at least one gift of the Spirit—some have more than one, but everyone has at least one. My gift is the gift of prophecy; that is, the gift of preaching. Understand, please, that that gift does not make me any better than anyone else. No gift is to be exalted above any other gift. The gift of preaching is one of many gifts of the Spirit—and that gift is mine—not mine alone, but it is mine. And it is by that particular gift of preaching that God moves into history today and impinges upon the hearts and minds of people.
Preaching, therefore, takes everything the preacher has to give, and then some. There are days when I must retreat behind closed doors and for significant blocks of time, I block out everything around me and pour myself into the attempt to plumb the depths of the unsearchable mysteries of God. Therefore, I want to thank you publicly for calling me to this great and challenging pulpit, for giving me a salary so that I do not have to worry inordinately about earthly needs, for providing me with a study in which to fashion the words which I offer to God, for surrounding me with a multi-gifted, multi-talented staff who keep our ministry here abounding, and for underwriting a television and tape ministry which carries the work of this pulpit into the lives of thousands upon thousands of people every week. And I must thank especially those who take what happens here so seriously that week after week after week they find a way to make it to one of our services regardless of weather or circumstances or convenience. So I offer you my thanks, but I also plead for your patience.
No preacher is perfect—and this preacher isn’t even close. You know that. You are smart people. You know that my humanity is as real as your own. You know that I am not adequate for the task to which I have been called. I plead with you than to be patient with me. When I wake up every Monday morning, I know that before the next Sunday comes, I have a high mountain to climb. And I may or may not come down from that mountain carrying the light of God for the darkened hearts and the darkened places of this world. But I will keep on climbing that mountain because God gave me the gift of preaching and God called me to be the kind of preacher Paul describes in I Corinthians—one who preaches edification, exhortation, and comfort to the people of this world!
I preach edification in Jesus Christ.
When you try to edify someone it means you try to build them up, to strengthen them, to equip them, to teach them, to encourage them. But you see when I preach to edify you, the problem I have is that you are not all the same. When I step into this pulpit, I am aware, for example, that some of the older ones among us turn up their hearing aids. A young mother hands a crayon and a piece of candy to her seven-year-old. A high school kid slumps down in the pew because his parents made him come. There’s a business executive with a thousand thoughts running through his mind and he’s fighting to concentrate his attention. There’s a young adult here, just seeking, just stopping in, wondering if by chance the real secret of life may be found here. There’s someone here who recently contemplated suicide. There’s a homosexual here who has deep and profound hurts. There’s an expectant mother here who even as I speak feels the movement of new life within her. There’s someone here who cheated in the last seven days. There’s a person here who regularly feeds the flesh on pornography. There’s a woman here who…well it’s not that she doesn’t love her husband anymore; it’s just that someone else took her by surprise. There’s someone here wearing a shirt that’s threadbare, and there’s someone here wearing a $2000 wristwatch. You are all different, but I come declaring the Good News that no matter who you are, no matter what your circumstances in life may be, you matter to God. And I want to encourage you and build you up and make you strong for life in this world. So I stand up here and deal out my cards. But you are all playing different hands and I don’t know precisely what cards you are holding. All I know is that the stakes are very high, because within two minutes after I begin speaking you will be deciding whether you are going to listen or not.
That’s the reason I come to you with different approaches—sometimes with many Bible verses, sometimes with just one or two; sometimes with prophetic zeal, sometimes with simple pleading; sometimes with the classics of great literature and music, sometimes with the latest popular song; sometimes with a broad vision of the Kingdom, sometimes with a simple life principle for everyday living; sometimes with humor, sometimes with tears. Not all doors open to the same keys. But when a key fits and the door opens, oh, what joy! I suppose that’s why I so love that older lady who said to me one Sunday after church: “Who do you preach to when I’m not here?” I preach edification in Jesus Christ.
And I preach exhortation for Jesus Christ.
This is where a sermon differs from a lecture. A lecture provokes you to think. A sermon provokes you to decide. A lecture deals with a subject to be explained. A sermon deals with an object to be attained. And my object in preaching is nothing less than the salvation of your souls.
I believe that lost people matter to God. That’s not just a clever cliché—it’s the driving passion of my life. It has been for 23 years. I believe there is a real heaven—a place of eternal union with God. And I believe there is a real hell—a place of eternal separation from God. And I believe that we are going to one place or the other for eternity. So if you sometimes wonder why there is
frequently an air of urgency and intensity in my preaching, it is because I believe that I must make myself available to be a channel by which the Spirit of God can reach the non-believer and the casual believer. I am determined that no one in this parish shall perish.
I identify with John Welsh, the great Scots preacher of another day. At night he would kneel by his bed and pray for his people. His wife would say: “John, come to bed. It’s too cold.” And he would reply: “Dear, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for and I do not know how it is with many of them.” I echo his words.
Sometimes there are those who suggest that I am a bit of a fanatic about all this. I came across one wag’s definition of fanatic. “A fanatic is a person who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Well, about this I can’t change my mind and I won’t change the subject.
Sometimes there are those who question my emphasis on growing in numbers. Let me remind you of what I can never forget—that each number represents a priceless human soul. So yes, we shall continue to press for numbers, for those numbers are people and those people are precious to God. I shall continue to preach Jesus Christ and to call people to surrender their lives to Him before it is too late. I will continue to exhort you to matters of ultimate and eternal destiny. I preach exhortation for Jesus Christ.
And I preach comfort through Jesus Christ.
Joseph Parker once said: “Preach to the suffering and you will never lack a congregation.” The poet put it like this: “Never morning wears to evening but some heart does break.” There is terrible and terrifying suffering amongst the people listening to my voice right now. That’s why this pulpit must always have a word of the comfort available to us through Jesus Christ.
I remember visiting a woman in the hospital. She was desperately ill. Her family did not think death was far off and they did not think that she was aware of what was going on around her. I knew better than to assume that that was true. I walked over to the bed and clasped her hand. I wondered what I was going to say. Then I remembered that several years ago in a sermon I quoted the 23rd Psalm in the broad Scots dialect used in the Highlands, and I remembered that after the sermon this woman had expressed her special gratitude because of her own Scottish upbringing. So I leaned down over on the bed and I said:
The Lord’s ma hair’d, I’ll ne’er want
He hoots me He lee doon.
Oot auld the knolls and mang the groes
Wot a bonny, burny scroon.
I felt her grip my hand and she began to move her lips mouthing the words with me.
My soul He wakens by its dwan
Oot o’er the mairlen veet.
In kilricht roads for His namesake
He erts my wandrin’ feet.
Yea, tho’ I hast a gang milong
Doon through the dead virth dale
I’ll tho’ naskae’ for He is by
His crook and kent’ ne’er fail.
My table He has hanseled weal
While foes did sit and glower
The oil ‘o grace is on my head
My bickers lip on ‘our.
Gude guidance and gude greenin’ shall
Gang wit me late or ‘ere
And I’ll sign up in the Lord’s big hoose
And bide forever mair.
You see, I could bring Christ into that moment because I’d already brought the message of comfort through Christ from this pulpit. I must say words here which will prepare you for and see you through life’s dark and shadowed times. I preach comfort through Jesus Christ.
Nearly a decade ago now, John Rife extended God’s call to me to come to this pulpit. Then he said: “We want you to take this job—and love it!” I did…and I do. And that’s true because I live Christ and I love you, and more than anything else, I want to bring you and Christ together…