…no respect for the clergy!
As you may know, I often preach at Northland Church here in Orlando. It’s a marathon! There are seven services–one on Saturday night, three on Sunday morning, two on Sunday evening and one on Monday evening.
(If the first sermon–the one on Saturday night–is so bad it isn’t "fixable," I know I’m going to have a very bad weekend. On the other hand, if the first one isn’t half-bad, by the time I get to Monday night, I sound like Spurgeon. The really hard part is to remember what I have said and haven’t said to any particular congregation. I find myself wanting to stop and say, "Hey, have I told you guys this before?")
The last time at Northland was not my most pleasant time.
As I got out of my car for the first Sunday morning service, my belt broke. Other than leaving one’s zipper down, I can’t think of anything worse.
(When my students ask for spiritual advice that would be helpful just before they preach, I always say, "Say a short prayer and check your zipper.")
What does one do when one’s pants are going to fall down and one is getting ready to preach at a very big church…three times? Well, I grabbed my pants, put my broken belt under my arm, took my Bible in the other hand and headed for the church.
The formal greeter at the church reached out to shake my hand as I came through the door. "Dr. Brown," he said, "it is always…" Then he paused given that I didn’t reach out to shake his hand. I said, "Look, it isn’t that I don’t like you. I’m trying to hold my pants up here. Okay? I can’t do that and shake hands with you at the same time."
I made my way to the "green room" where it was obvious to the fifteen or so people on the worship team that I was in trouble. They thought it was funny.
No respect for the clergy.
I somehow managed to get to a men’s room and work a makeshift solution whereby the buckle stayed with the leather…just barely.
However, I had to walk very slowly to the front of the congregation and remained fairly still while I was talking. This went on for three services…the longest worship services in which I have ever been involved.
The next morning, I got a concerned email from a friend. He asked me if I was okay. He said that I seemed to be in pain and was limping. I started to write back and say, "Yes, and I’m glad you noticed how I was suffering for Jesus…’neither snow, nor sleet, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night,’ nor pain stays this preacher from performing his appointed task."
I decided that dog wasn’t going to hunt, so I told my friend the truth.
He said something about it lending new meaning to flying by the seat of one’s pants…and he laughed too.
No respect for the clergy.
I had told my wife about what happened, expecting to get some sympathy. Do you know what she did? She laughed.
On Monday I told my staff and they laughed too.
Nobody has any respect for the clergy.
Finally, I took it to the Lord. "Lord," I said. "What are you doing to me? You’re in charge of all circumstances…and that wasn’t very funny."
I think I heard Him laughing too.
No respect for the clergy there either.
But the whole episode wasn’t wasted. I did learn some lessons.
I certainly learned about the faithfulness of God. I had prepared what I would say if the belt came undone while I was preaching. I was going to have an invitation and say, "Every head bowed, every eye closed…" or say something about how fasting will cause one to lose a lot of weight and how that kind of spiritual discipline can lead to complications. But it never happened.
And they say there’s no God.
However, there was a serious lesson…actually two lessons.
First, I remembered that no Christian should ever take himself or herself too seriously. While I didn’t like it while it was happening, it was probably good for me. And after the initial blush of it all, I started laughing. Still am. I guess I’m learning that respect for the clergy is no big deal for me either.
What God said to Edom (Obadiah 4) should be heard by every preacher who begins to think too highly of himself or herself, every leader who is puffed up with self-importance and every Christian who sees himself or herself as anything other than a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread:
Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down.
("Bringing Down" is an interesting use of words as applied to the incident that started this…as would be an alternate text in Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.")
The second lesson was important too.
You are probably wondering how the sermon went. ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?")
Frankly, I’m not sure, but two people said that it was the best sermon they had ever heard me preach and a great number of people spoke to me about how that morning had been so powerful in their lives.
Do you think that maybe Paul was right and God’s power really is made perfect in weakness?
Did you hear about the woodpecker that was pecking on a tree when lightning struck it? After he had recovered from the trauma, the woodpecker went and brought all his friends to see the tree, bragging about his prowess at pecking on trees.
That morning I felt so very helpless. Frankly, I had confessed every sin I knew I had and had promised God that I would be good for the rest of my life if He kept my belt together. But I still felt helpless.
That’s bad. No, that’s good. Maybe helpless isn’t a bad place for a preacher to be. Maybe helpless isn’t a bad place for any of us to be.
It is in that place that He meets us…and it is only in that place that He uses us in a powerful way.
He asked me to tell you.
In His Grip,
P.S. Oh, yes. I learned one other spiritual lesson that morning. I learned to always keep an extra belt in the glove compartment of my car.
(C) 2006 Steve Brown | Key Life