Wednesday, May 7, 2008


People who know me well know that I am an intense person. I was nurtured in my early Christian life by people who embraced with utmost seriousness St. Paul’s admonition to the Colossians: And whatever you do.... do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (3:17), and they added to it the fervency of the Wisdom writer: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecc. 9:10). This was especially true of preaching. Preaching was understood as holy. Preaching was a moment when eternal truth intersected with time. I once heard preaching defined as “a dying man speaking to dying people.” I’ve never forgotten that.

I was sixteen years old when I began to recognize the inner pull of calling in my life toward vocational ministry. For all its shortcomings, the little country church in which I was raised did all it could to encourage and support me. I was given an occasional opportunity to preach the evening message on Sundays. One night after I had preached one of my earliest sermons, a young woman in our congregation who had struggled with health issues all her life died. I had preached the last sermon she ever heard.

I went to a small Bible college that sought to train young preachers in the tradition of John Wesley and his emphasis not only on evangelical conversion but also holy living. Nothing was to be more important than a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ and the calling to live in the cleansing and fullness of the Holy Spirit. Everything else was secondary.

The Lord blessed me with a wife who was raised in the same environment, and she embraced a passion for Jesus with a whole heart. For almost thirty-six years, as I write this, we have sought together to live unto our Lord and serve him with total commitment. I look back and see “blindspots” that clouded my life and I remember dark struggles with inner sin that often discouraged and occasionally defeated me, but I never turned away from the deeper conviction that I wanted my life to belong — totally — to Jesus Christ.

For over thirty years, as I preached almost every week, I would remind myself that I was a dying man speaking to dying people. I came to the biblical text with that understanding and I sought to declare it with that kind of intensity. Few weeks have gone by in my life over the past several decades that I have not looked in a mirror and said to myself, “You are going to die someday.” Sometimes I will sit and look at my hands — hands that caress my wife and embrace my children and grandchildren and play the strings of my guitars — and think about them one day lying still in death and returning to dust. A few people that know this about me have thought it morbid, but it is part of my reality. And it is reality: I am a dying man speaking to dying people.

A day is coming when the most important thing — the ultimate thing that really matters — is the life we have lived (or not lived) unto Jesus Christ. All that we have acquired and done has true significance only in this juxtaposition with the eternal. I seek to live out of that reality every day. It’s one way to understand my intensity.

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