Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 26, 2020
“You are one of us now”
The coronavirus has changed our lives in countless ways. Sunday mornings are different. Four months ago, I preached in front of an audience, looking into the eyes of the people who had gathered for worship. Now I preach while looking into a camera with no one else in the room. It is a strange and difficult experience.
I sorely miss the contact with people. In earlier days I stood at the door at the end of worship services, shaking hands and greeting people. Most people smiled and walked on, eager to get to lunch. Some offered a kind word, such as “Liked your sermon,” or “Good message pastor.” They were being “nice” but what I longed to hear was a word from someone whose heart God had touched. Like the man who one Sunday gripped my hand with both of his and, with tears in his eyes, said “Brother Walter, the Lord met my need today.”
On another Sunday a woman blessed me by saying, “I want you to know that as our service began today, I asked the Lord to speak to me. He did, and that’s why I went forward and give my life to Jesus.” Comments like that will inspire most any preacher to get excited about the high privilege of preaching the gospel. What any preacher worth his salt wants is not being told he preached a “nice” sermon but learning that his sermon helped a few people get connected or reconnected to Jesus. Preaching at its best allows people to hear a fresh word from God.
While I have been encouraged by many people as they were leaving church, I have also been shocked and discouraged. In my preaching I have sometimes alluded to my own sins and the joy of receiving God’s forgiveness. After doing so one Sunday, a woman twice my age took my hand and said with disgust, “I find it very disappointing to learn that my pastor is a sinner!” She walked on briskly, not waiting for an answer and leaving me speechless.
That experience made me aware that there are a few people who do not understand that pastors hurt, bleed and cry – and disobey God – like the rest of the human race. Yes, pastors cry too. On rare occasions I have wept during a sermon. One Sunday I broke down and cried while sharing how much it hurt to see our little boy suffer and die with leukemia. My tears were spontaneous. I did not have “cry here” in my sermon notes.
After the worship service a man in his mid-sixties, ignoring my offer to shake hands, embraced me with a bear hug. Then, with tears in his eyes, he said, “You are one of us now; we know you hurt like we do.” I was too deeply moved to speak so I just embraced him again as tears moistened my own cheeks.
Three years later that man’s oldest son had major surgery. I was in the hospital waiting room with my friend and his wife when the doctor walked in and shared the dreaded news that their son had died on the operating table. “He had a massive heart attack during surgery and we could not save him,” the doctor said.
There, in that small consultation room, we wept together again – and reached out to God for help. I thanked God for the bonding of my heart with my friend’s heart, in years past, so that I could share the awful anguish of those sad moments. Sometimes God uses pain and tears to help us move from casual to creative relationships in which the love of God may be known and shared.
God has a way of using hard times to bless those who trust Him. Our brokenness can be the doorway to blessings. I experienced that in my own family. During his teen years one of my sons had a drinking problem. One Saturday morning a man unknown to me appeared at my door. He introduced himself by explaining that his son was a drinking buddy of one of my sons. He said, “A few hours ago, about three o’clock this morning, my son came home drunk. I got angry and decided to beat the hell out of him, but it turned out that he beat the hell out of me.”
I had noticed several bruises on his face and realized now why his face was a mess. He continued by saying, “I came to see you thinking that you being a preacher with the same problem I have that you might could help me.” Stunned, I said to the man, “Well, my friend, I don’t think I can help you, but I know someone who can help both of us, so come on in and let’s talk to the good Lord about our boys.”
Thus, began a relationship with another man who reached out to me because he felt I was “one of us.” The Lord was teaching me that being vulnerable about my flaws opens the way for people to identify with me – and more importantly with the God who hurts when His children hurt.
That time of prayer and sharing was the beginning of a good friendship. We prayed together, talked together, and grew spiritually together. I believe the Lord helped us become better fathers because we shared a common burden. And a few months later the man, together with his wife and sons, walked down the aisle of our church to give their lives to Jesus.
You will understand then why on Sunday mornings, when I am listening to a video sermon on my television screen, I long to stand at the church door again and shake hands with someone who says, “Pastor, the Lord met my need today.”
How long, O Lord, how long? + + +