Years ago Bob Hope said in an interview that when preachers get together it’s a lot of laughs, but when comedians do the same, it’s all serious talk. I wondered where he gained his information. It’s true that I’ve had some hilarious times with fellow clergy, but those are outnumbered by far more serious sessions.
I recall when I, a novice, found myself in the company of some older, more experienced ministers. It was in the days when I took notes on just about everything. The subject was Paul and what he wrote in Philippians 4:9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”
Not exactly a humble statement from a man who, nevertheless, identified himself as the least of the apostles. Some of the ministers said they would avoid such a text for a sermon. Others said they’d use it, but it would take careful handling.
A few said that all preachers should be able to present not only Paul but themselves as models, while still acknowledging their own—and Paul’s—imperfections. They were all good men, and I learned something that day as I listened to their serious wrestling with Scripture.
A surprisingly similar session stands out even more in my memory. It was presided over by the late Rev. George Hylkema. He had been my pastor during my high school years. Later he served as the first chaplain of Pine Rest Christian Hospital, Grand Rapids, Mich., when I was in college in the same area.
He invited me to his home one Sunday evening. Several pastors and their spouses were present. He explained my being there as one who, having the ministry in his sights, might profit from what might rub off on me from them. It was said in jest. Rev. Hylkema had been a good friend ever since he got my ancient $5 Model-T Ford running after a catechism class.
The ministers were talking about a book, If I Had One Sermon to Preach. It contained the contributions of some leading pulpiteers. Some of the visiting pastors volunteered their own Scripture selections. One of them asked their host what his choice might be. Rev. Hylkema’s answer: “It all depends.” He explained that on a mission field or at some evangelistic meeting, he might well select John 3:16. On the other hand, if preaching to the “flock”—church members—he might well select a verse aimed at a common weakness. He could choose the words of Peter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9). His challenge to the people would be: “Act like it!”
So often we do not practice what we preach, he said—something that hurts our witness more than anything. He elaborated. He knew someone who wrote off the church because his grandfather had been cheated by a church elder. Even today I can hear his words.
How many people have we hurt by our inconsistencies? How many have used them as excuses for not yielding to God’s great invitation? Would that we all lived in such a way that others could always see Jesus in us!
I am reminded of an old story of a cobbler, a shoemaker from a small village. After a time he moved farther inland into the hills and was never seen again. Sometime thereafter some missionaries came to his former village. They told the people of someone who was an example—one “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22, KJV). They said he had been a carpenter.
The people in the village replied: “Yes, we knew him. He lived here for a while. Only he wasn’t a carpenter. “He was a cobbler.”