In a meeting this week Pastor Andrew shared an interesting story. There was a preacher whose eye-sight was becoming somewhat of a problem so after a visit to the optometrist he appeared in the pulpit the next Sunday wearing spectacles. A young tyke who had also just begun to wear glasses, turned to his mum with excitement and announced: “Isn’t that great Mum? God is wearing glasses too.”
It brought back memories of one of my own experiences with a similar serious case of mistaken identity. I was away one Sunday preaching in a church without a pastor. Back in our own church there was a Mum who was unwell that morning. When her young daughter came home with Dad from church she announced to Mum, “God was not in church this morning, Mummy.” Mum told her that God was always present in church, however, her daughter continued to insist otherwise. In that same week we sent two of our children to drop something off at their home since they lived just up the road from us. The mother had ducked out for a moment to the corner shop. When she came home her daughter told her that two of God’s children had called. Mum explained that all Christians are God’s children but her daughter insisted that they came from “up the road” and gave her the item that our daughters had left with the child. The penny dropped and the Mum suddenly realised the serious case of mistaken identity. For me something fell in place when she told me the story. I had always wondered why this little girl walked past me at the door of the church with her mouth wide open in awe.
Mistaken identity? Yes! And yet…!
Over my forty years of ministry I have been very conscious that our churches have a very high view of preaching. When we expound the Scriptures we become the mouthpiece of God. Preaching with authority is opening the Bible and saying, “Thus says the Lord…!” We understand the preaching of the Word to be a “means of grace”. That means that when Scripture is faithfully explained and applied then God speaks to us from the pulpit. Doesn’t that mean that while our little ones who mistake the preacher for the Lord God are, in some sense, not far off the mark? God is present among us and His voice speaks to our heart from the pulpit.
A colleague once lamented to me that there was a man in his church who, at the door after worship, would frequently say to the preacher, “Well, that was just your opinion and I disagree.” That raises some interesting questions. I can’t blame the Lord for the times when I’ve got it wrong from the pulpit – and that happens. I’ve heard sermons of which I’ve had to say: that is not from God. Nevertheless, and I’ll say it again, when the Scriptures are faithfully explained and applied then we hear the voice of God from our pulpits. If that’s so then the ankle-biters who mistake us for God are closer to home than the man who dismisses a faithful preacher as someone who is just spouting his own opinions.
But there is a downside to this high view of preaching. It is often a heavy burden for the preacher to bear. Someone who wasn’t a Christian once drew my attention to that in a telling way. I had been invited to speak to a gathering from different churches in the area where this man lived. He was a relative but not a Christian. He was well education and was in management of a large company – dealing especially with HR (human resources). This man decided he wanted to come along and listen to me speak. Afterwards he quizzed me. “How come that for someone who has been preaching for so many decades Sunday by Sunday you still get so nervous?” I complimented him on his astute observation of my presentation – something he put down to working constantly with people in HR. Before I could respond he added, “I guess that if you believe you are speaking on behalf of God that would give you some good reason for being a little uptight.” Spot on!
We mustn’t ever confuse the preacher with the One who sent him. But we must also never lose our high view of preaching God’s Word.