There was a sermon my father would use anytime he was taking a church’s pulpit for the first time; I’d heard it so many times I could have preached it with ease without picking up my Bible. Like myself, he had found his namesake in the Bible and took it as his calling. He would have them open their bibles to the story of David finding the army of God’s people were scattered behind any cover they could find. So many groups gathered behind boulders and blaming each other, no unity, no actual army to speak of other than uniforms. Their leader was nowhere to be seen. David would go from one group to another asking what was going on, getting the same answer. “Don’t draw attention to yourself. He’s out there, you know, waiting for a challenger. Back and forth he goes seeking someone to kill.” David would ask why they weren’t over with their fellow soldiers “Oh that’s the oneness camp, or the trinity group, we don’t agree with them on everything, so we found this shelter here.” Each group had similar stories, even Saul was terrified and hid. We all knew what the cause was; Goliath and his challenge: “Give me a man among you willing to fight me! If he can best me than we’ll all serve you, but if I best him you’ll all serve us! I defy the Army of Israel!” David’s blood began to boil. “Who is this uncircumcised philistine! Who does he think he is to defy the Armies of the living God? Why has no one of you answered this? I will stand against him rather than him go unchallenged.” David was not greeted by cheers. He was not applauded. His own elder brother shot him down. “I know the naughtiness of your heart! You’ve left the herds alone on the hills with our elderly father to be taken. You simply wanted to see the excitement of battle. How dare you when we have been out here longer and know how to handle these things.”
My father would pause here. He’d shuffle his notes and look around allowing the people to remain caught up in the story he’d drawn from scripture with a slight artistic license.We all knew the stories, but my father was masterful at making the characters of the Bible come to life. Whether it was Bible stories at bed time while I was growing up or the sermons that became embedded in my subconscious, my father had that simple yet powerful way of breaking a story apart so everyone listening could put themselves in it. He thought if he could make it real, on his level and theirs, that anyone could understand it. Everyone was paying attention when he would speak the next words. The next words out of David’s lips was not an alter call or a offering request. He gave his history, his testimony. He told him how God lit his candle. His personal experience with the one would defeat anyone no matter how big they are.
“Now, folks, I’ve been to a lot of churches. I’ve sat down and heard the reasons this church doesn’t talk to that church. Why those people don’t associate with those other people. All I can tell you is that the enemy is not sitting on the pew here next to you or in a pew of another church. The devil isn’t concerned which group you’re with as long as you stay behind that rock or bush. As long as you don’t know who your champion is, you’re no threat to him. I’m not coming in here with something you haven’t heard before, not some strange doctrine. I want to tell you one simple thing. I’m here as someone without the credentials some of these great ministers have. But I want to tell you why I can stand here with confidence. I have a personal testimony of how Jesus Christ has defeated the devil in my life at every instance where it seemed like I had no hope. I am a witness to the power of God moving among his people where as few as two or three are gathered. I am here tonight to encourage you to find that for yourself. Until you know when and where your candle got lit; the devil will be there to scatter you behind the rocks of man’s creeds and doctrines.” With one sermon my father could unite a church that had been struggling; people would focus on getting themselves to that experience and away from petty differences.
“Son, everything you need to make it to heaven is right here. From Genesis to Revelation, God has given you this as a road map. The people in this book were real, and they’re stories are there to show us just the tip of what God can do for us, if we’ll only yield to his Holy Spirit. Always study to show yourself approved.” I had owned a Precious Moments Bible from my grandmother, a Gideon Bible from Sunday School, etc. The real lessons began when my father handed me one of the first Bible’s to have my full name on it.
Dad was my entire concept of the the Heavenly Father. God was right there ready to teach and instruct, just as my father was. God could be stern but he was always fair, giving you understanding when you asked for it. My prayer life and such reflected that: polite and elegant when in public or heard by others, but very raw and one on one when I was alone, anger and all. Dad never shied from my anger. In the vein of serious issues, I was allowed to vent and scream and question and demand answers in those private moments. He was as straight with me as he knew how, and it got me through so much.
My father was a true guide for me as I grew in my faith, as an evangelizing pastor and my teacher in all things. Every correction, stern reprimand, they all had a connection to God’s Word, which heavily influenced our relationship. Many times this meant he blended the line of those two jobs and I lived with a preacher more than a dad. He always let me to ask why and figure out how things worked for myself. I constantly asked too many questions and never took “It just is” for an answer; my faith was no different. I rebuilt and fixed everything I could touch, and religion, being intangible as it is, was taken apart in questions. He always knew the scripture I was looking for or the reference I was trying to find. He knew all the stories from cover to cover and all the connections to every other scripture. Hours in the car on the way to preach at churches all over the eastern coast to just west of the Mississippi. I was his assistant, the only one allowed in his study during the hours of prayer and preparation, the one in charge of making sure things were just right for him. I saw his agony in prayer trying to find the message God wanted for his people, and how to say it without all the human in way.I was trying to see where he was going, where the inspiration was coming from, what it was saying, who needed that sermon. I was watching how God’s Word could be the changing force in people’s lives if you could preach it from the heart.