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As for Me

When it comes to serving God, the difference is worth the distance.

I stood in that old church in Richmond where long ago Patrick Henry fired a verbal shot that was heard around the world. It was on March 20, 1775, a day when centuries were crowded into hours. The olive branch men of the time were trying to work out a compromise of peaceful coexistence, although the term hadn't come into use, with George III. But Patrick Henry was fed up with finagling, and that Virginian saw no sense in further negotiation. He said, "I don't know what others will do, but as for me give me liberty or give me death."

The dye was cast and the Rubicon was crossed, and all bridges were burned and retreat was impossible. There wasn't any uncertainty about where Patrick Henry stood. He cleared the air and stated the issue. There weren't any third dimensions and middle ground. Such a speech is awfully out of date in this fuzzy day of wooly thinking when experts in doubletalk, in the art of almost saying somethingspecialize in a straightforward way of dodging the issue. Nobody coached Patrick Henry on how to mix black and white into indefinite gray. His yea was yea and his nay was nay. And while contemporaries were going around their elbows to get to their thumbs, Patrick Henry decided that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. His speech must have shocked the school of propriety, but he detonated a charge that blasted tyranny from our shores.

In the 24th chapter of Joshua you have this same phrase. Our minds go back to the Old Testament and Joshua the great leader of Israel. They were over in the Promised Land by now. Through many dangers, toils and snares they had already come, but he faces a vacillating, irresolute, hesitating multitude easily swayed this way and that. One day singing the praises of God and the next day dancing around the golden calf. It was an hour of decision, and he gave a resume of how God had led them to this good hour. After all that rundown of divine blessing he asked, "Make up your mind this day whom you are serving." "I don't know what you're going to do," he said, "but as for me and my house, we're going to serve the Lord."

As a young preacher I wasn't too settled on what I wanted to do and what the Lord had in mind for me. While riding a train, I encountered Dr. R. A. Torrey on his way to Charlotte, North Carolina, sitting by himself looking for all the world like a prophet out of the Old Testament. I walked over and sat down beside him, and he never wasted words. Told him who I was. I don't think that registered much either, but he looked at me and said, "What are you doing?" He ought never asked that because my report card wasn't too good right at that time. I told him, "Well, I'm interested in this a little and that a little," and tried to account for myself as best I could. He looked at me with steely eyes and said, "Young man, make up your mind on one thing and stay with it." Many times I have stood at his grave and thanked God for a man who could look me in the eye and say, "Make up your mind on one thing and stay with it."

Well, Joshua said I've made up mine. I don't know what you're going to do. If ever we have had a generation swayed by the world of flesh and the devil, it is today. If ever there was a time and fathers like Joshua need to say, "As for me and my house," whatever the neighbors on the block may do and however they may live and whatever society may do and whatever the trend may be and the style and the fashion of the in crowd, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

As servants of God, we must care about doctrine

It never was so difficult as it is now when families are going to pieces all over the land, when the law of God is disregarded and standards of decency and morality have been thrown in the wastebasket and our homes have cracked up from Maine to California. It ought to be declared a disaster area home wise. People can't get along. Can't stand each other. I heard of an old couple in the rest home and she couldn't hear very well and he wanted to cheer her up a little bit. And he said, "I'm proud of you." She said, "Heh?" He said, "I'm proud of you." She said, "I didn't get it." He said louder, "I'm proud of you." She said, "Oh, I'm getting tired of you, too." Well it oughtn't be that way.

Discipline is a forgotten word, and any man who takes a stand like Joshua will be called puritanical and Victorian and an square. I'm dumbfounded at the way parents who used to stand with Joshua have surrendered to the age and invented all kinds of excuses to rationalize their defeat and the behavior of their children. But I also know some parents and some families who are still saying, thank God, "As for us, we will serve the Lord." And they're making a go of it in spite of the devil.

Never forget. You can do anything you ought to do. Anything that God wants you to do can be done. We come out of some preachers' schools with loads of learned lumber in our heads and never know what to build out of it. Taught to doubt it as though it were the height of ignorance not to be sure of anything. You've heard of the bed of Procrustes. If a fellow was too short they stretched him till he would fit it; if he was too long they chopped him off until he would fit it. There are those today who want to stretch the Scriptures or lop it off to fit the Procrustean beds of their own interpretation, judging the book and forgetting that the book is going to judge us. It's either absolute or it's obsolete.

Dr. Philips says, "Remarkable thing about this Bible is when you start exploring it you feel like an electrician wiring an old house where the power has not been cut off." You might get a shock. We want teachers who can appeal to our curiosity, entertain not edify. We don't like dogmatic preachers. I do. When I go to church, I like to be able to have some idea of what the man is trying to say. When I get sick and go to the doctor, I want a dogmatic doctor. I don't want him to say, "Now it could be this and it could be that. I'll give you these pills. If they don't kill you, we'll try something else." I want a dogmatic doctor. When I get on that plane, I don't want that pilot to say over the loudspeaker, "We're going to try something new this afternoon."

The preacher and the Christian stands out in vivid contrast to the age in which he lives. Whatever this world or even most church members do about these things, you're supposed to be something different. Now just how different should a preacher be? And how different should a Christian be? Everybody wants to be different today, they say. And never were people more alike. We've never had so much mediocrity and monotony in all of history.

I know the way the movies like to portray the preachers, but preachers don't dress like that any more. Surely they found that out by now. Somber parson in dark attire. I never even saw them much in my early days. We never thought of calling them by their first name. I don't care for the term reverend, but at least it did indicate some respect. Now we're at the other end of the line with Madison Avenue and backslappers and talking and acting and looking like anybody else, laughing at all the silly jokes, sipping 7Up at the country club. The prophets today are dressed in snappy sackcloth. The church and the world are working overtime destroying the old image of the minister. Of course we all know that he's no holier by wearing a solid black suit all the time, nor is he necessarily unholy because he puts on colorful attire. But we're erasing all the distinctions between clergy and laity and making the preacher just one of the boys, which he isn't. As run of the mill as any John Doe in a carpool on Monday on his way to work, the devil is out to smudge all the black and white into indefinite gray. Dr. Jowitt said:

We are tempted to leave our noontide lights and our study to move among men with a dark lantern which we can manipulate to suit our company. We pay the tribute of smiles to the low business standard. We pay the tribute of laughter to the fashionable jest. We pay the tribute of easy tolerance to ambiguous pleasures. We soften everything to a comfortable acquiescence. We seek to be all things to all men. We run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. There is nothing distinctive about our character wearing gray when we mix with the businessmen of the congregation, talking gray in conversation.

A preacher's not supposed to be one of the boys. He's not one of us. He's supposed to be ahead of us a little bit. "Follow me as I follow Christ," Paul said. If he's the life of the party all week, he cannot reprove and rebuke and exhort that crowd on Sunday with any effectiveness.

Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. Yes, that one's been overworked here lately. When he came to announce the kingdom first to the house of Israel, yes, but as he drew near to the cross, he ate only with his own and appeared after that only to his own. And Acts presents a different picture. But the image of a preacher is not a pose that he strikes trying to act according to a dramatized version of himself. If he is what a preacher ought to be, the image will take care of itself. It will be said of him as the Shunammite said of Elisha, "I perceive that this is a holy man of God which passeth by us."

No, God's not out to save this civilization. He's taking out a people who ought to be I know the King James says peculiar, and that doesn't mean odd. Some of them are, but that's not what that means. We're a purchased people. I used to say civilization is going to the dogs, but I've quit that out of respect for the canine kingdom.

The other day a motel put out this sign, "Dogs are allowed and welcome. After all, no dog ever got drunk here. No dog ever set the place on fire with a cigarette. No dog ever left without paying his bill. No dog ever stole our blankets." After welcoming the dogs, they had a note for the general public. "If you can get your dog to vouch for you, we'll accept you as a guest. It's a bad day when you have to get the dog to vouch for you.

As servants of God, we must care about dynamics

We are God's people and we ought to be different. I am much concerned today about what we might call . It's very fashionable even in evangelical Christianity. We are doing things that in their incipiency are not evil. But we fail to ask "Where is this going? And where will I go if I go with it?" You have to take that into consideration. You have to take the context into consideration. That meat that was offered to idols is as good as any other meat, but Paul said, "I won't touch it." And he had good reason.

We got too many borderline fundamentalists today. Some of them know all the notes in the Scofield Bible, but they're bordering on what we used to call worldliness. Nobody ever preaches on that any more. We call it secularism now. That's the new word. Nobody knows what that means, so that lets the preacher off the hook. "Many would unite church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments. If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence and entreat them to stay out of it," so said Spurgeon. But that reproach is now smilingly dismissed as unwise. "There is hardly a carnal amusement from billiards to dancing which does not find a nesting place in Christian sanctuaries. Is it then pharisaism or pessimism to sound the note of alarm or to predict that at the present fearful rate of progress the close of this decade may see the church as completely assimilated to secularism in the 19th century as the 4th century church was assimilated to paganism?" So said A. J. Gordon, and he knew what time it was.

Nothing is more repulsive to the Lord than religious playacting and the Pharisees were experts. The most severe chapter in all the New Testament is that 23rd in Matthew, and he bore down upon them with severest condemnation. There's no sadder side of judgment day than for a phony preacher.

I get frightened to this day when I read Matthew 7:2223, "Many will show up in that day and say, 'We prophesied. We cast out demons. We've done wonderful works.' And I'll say, 'I never knew you.'" And what does he call them? Do you think that if a fellow were good enough to prophesy, cast out demons, and do wonderful works he ought to have been in pretty good shape. "Ye that work iniquity."

Paul said to Timothy, "Take heed for the doctrine." We've come to a time when some people said it doesn't matter much what you believe as long as everybody's in good humor. And then Philippians tells us about a sound message with an unsound motive. And in Galatians you read about an unsound message with some other motive. And Gresham Machen said, "Paul said very plainly there 'I prefer a sound message even though the motive may be a little shaky to an unsound message whatever the motive.'"

Of course you need both. Look out about the doctrine. Look out about the dynamics. Stir up the gift within you. I'm afraid that extremism today regarding the Holy Spirit has driven some people to where they don't know enough about the Holy Spirit. We're so scared we'll get out on a limb, we don't even get up the tree. After all, we ought to be S. Paul wrote to this same timid Timothy and said, "Look out for that spirit of fear and watch it. And let Timothy be among you without fear."

John the Baptist was a burning and a shining light. Thank God he had heat and light both. I don't know which is worse, ignorance or intelligence. I know one thing. I'd rather cool off a fanatic than try to warm up a corpse.

As servants of God, we must care about discipline

And then there's discipline. Endure hardness. Doctrine, dynamic, and discipline. When you have all three you'll be in pretty good shape because you need the doctrine that you may believe, and the dynamic that you may burn, and the discipline that you may behave. That's the standard, and the flag's way ahead of the regiment these days.

We've paid a high price in letting the world of flesh and the devil reduce us to mediocrity. The preacher holds a special place in the economy of God. The glamour set and the happiness boys will soon lose their charm. As McCheyne said, "Men return again and again to the few who have mastered the spiritual secret, whose life has been hid with Christ in God. These are of the old time religion, hung to the nails of the cross." Hid with Christ in God, he put it. That's a wonderful place to be. As Augustine and his mother started on a trip, he said, "Mother, you may not get back home." She said, "My life is in God, I cannot die away from home."

Don't let the times reduce you to the general average. You know what the average is. It's the best of the worst and the worst of the best. And there's nothing average about being a Christian nor a preacher. And if a preacher left the ministry for the biggest job on the face of the earth, even the Presidency of the United States, he'd be stepping down. It's very unpopular to be a different preacher today. Paul was that kind, but Demas couldn't make it because he loved this present world. And it may throw some light on it to know that his names means popular.

I was in Camp Carson in the mountains of east Tennessee with a preachers' conference. Oh what a spot. Every morning I climbed one of them before breakfast. The first time I tried it, something said, You'd better call a halt and settle for halfway. But something else said, Keep climbing. My legs were wobbling. My heart was thumping. And something inside said, Who do you think you are? A teenager? Have you forgotten you were born in 1901? But I made it. And when I reached the summit, I looked out over that breathtaking panorama and I said, "Well, the difference is worth the distance."

Let me say to you preacher, you Christian. Keep climbing. Some folks will only view you with contempt. The critics will say, "Get off your high horse and join the club." Tell them, "I can't do it. I want to scale that utmost height and catch a gleam of glory bright. Anything else is out of the question."

Elisha was on his way to see Elijah go to heaven in the whirlwind. That doesn't happen any day in the week. The students at Bethel Theological Seminary and Jericho Theological Seminary said, "Do you know that your master's going up?" "Yes," he said, "be quiet." Once in a while there comes along in this world some Elisha who has made up his mind to see the horses and the chariots and come back with the prophet's mantle.

Keep climbing. The high soul walks the high road and the low soul walks the low one. In between on the misty flats the rest drift to and fro. If you're going to be a different preacher, it doesn't mean getting up earlier. Like old William Law who said, "Who am I to lie folded up in a bed late of a morning when the farmers have already gone about their work and I'm so far behind with my sanctification?"

We're all far behind with our sanctification. It may mean turning off that late TV show. It may mean skipping some little church meetings of Sons and Daughters of I Will Arise. These little meetings that don't have anything to with redemption. And you may have to deny yourself Sunday afternoon football. You might live through it.

I think of Jim Elliot butchered in Ecuador who wrote like a mystic. He said, "I went to a friend's house last night to watch television and God spoke to me when I came back with this verse. 'Keep thou mine eyes from beholding vanity.'" Now there's good stuff on TV, of course. You know what I mean.

Twenty centuries ago there was a different kind of preacher by the name of Paul. And when he came to the end of the road he did not write his memoirs in a villa on the Riviera. He sat in an old Roman jail waiting to have his head chopped off. The only stocks and bonds he had were stocks for his feet and bonds around his wrists. And he said, "Bring me my old overcoat and the parchments." I guess his arthritis was bothering him in that damp dungeon, but he said, "I've been faithful to the faith, I've been faithful to the fight, and I've been faithful to the finish. And there's laid up for me a crown." It's been a hard pull, Lord, but the difference is worth the distance.

Make for yourself a motto and write or carve on it four words "But as for you." Put it on your desk or in the kitchen or by the bed where you see it first thing in the morning. And as the days come and go and you face decisions about things and about the times and about the truth, look at that motto and say to yourself, "Come what may, whatever others may do, the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but as for you, do the will of God and abide forever."

Before his death in 1986, Vance Havner was a Southern Baptist pastor and evangelist. He authored more than 30 books, including Though I Walk Through the Valley (Revell, 1974).

(c) Vance Havner

Preaching Today Issue #11


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Sermon Outline:


I. As servants of God, we must care about doctrine

II. As servants of God, we must care about dynamics

III. As servants of God, we must care about discipline