Altar Call Ė Opelika-Auburn News
October 28, 2001
I meant well. I had hoped the people at our church would make new friends and gain an appreciation for our guests Sunday night, the members of a neighbor church in Opelika, the Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church. But things did not work out like I planned them.
I gave up my pulpit to the Greater Peace pastor, the Rev. Clifford Jones. Clifford has become one of my best friends in Opelika. I admire the man. He is everywhere, serving his community and Lee County on a dozen or more boards, committees, and task forces. How he finds time to prepare a sermon is a mystery to me, given the amount of time he spends in public service.
My plan was for my people to hear another preacher for a change. They listen to me all the time. Like most preachers, I try to select guest preachers who are not as good as I am. That way, my people will appreciate me more. I love it when one of my folks says, "Well, preacher, your friend was good, but he canít hold a candle to you!" For those occasions I have perfected a very humble way of bowing my head and blushing. Itís best not to say anything but just look very holy.
But my plan backfired. Ever since Clifford stopped preaching Sunday night, my folks have been saying to me, "Wow, preacher, that man can preach! It sure was good to hear a powerful sermon for a change." One man rubbed it in by saying, "I reckon our people were just hungry for some good preaching." People who havenít praised one of my sermons for years were standing in line to thank me for having Clifford preach for us.
How was I to know the man would preach no doubt the best sermon he has preached in ten years. He held the congregation in the palm of his hand. Both whites and blacks were in sync with Clifford, urging him on as his preaching became stronger and stronger. I thought if they donít quit saying "Amen" this man will preach all night. Has he forgotten that the ladies have refreshments waiting for us in the fellowship hall?
I had heard the Greater Peace Mass Choir sing before. That night they sang well but not sensational. So I figured when they sang for us, their selections would be nice and respectable.
Was I surprised! They raised the roof! They not only filled the choir loft with singers, they filled the church with powerful singing! The congregation responded with enthusiasm. While our folks seldom applaud the choir, Sunday night the people burst into applause after all three anthems. They did everything but give them a standing ovation.
One of our ladies complained because she forgot to bring her hearing aid to church with her Sunday night. But after church she laughed and said, "Praise God, I didnít need it tonight!"
On Sunday night our choir seats collect dust. Our choirs are morning choirs. And until Saturday night everybody was satisfied with that. Now people want to know why we canít have a choir that can sing like that on Sunday night, with over 300 people clapping. We had not counted on that great choir making trouble for us, but sometimes things happen that we had not planned on.
For years people have told me that I preached like a Baptist. Those days are over. Now people know what a Baptist really preaches like. So I wonít be hearing that compliment again.
My good friend Tommy Agee gave a powerful testimony about how God humbled him by bringing him down from his high horse to his knees. That happened while he was playing football for the Dallas Cowboys, after a brilliant career at Auburn University. Now Tommy is playing for Opelika by serving with the Opelika Parks and Recreation team. He is helping boys and girls with the same intensity that he used to score touchdowns.
What Tommy did not know was that God was using him and his pastor, and the Greater Peace Choir, to humble me. They made me realize that I have work to do, that if I would bring a little more fire to the pulpit, then we could have more inspiring services like we had Sunday night.
God was quietly saying to me, "Son, youíre not dead yet, but some Sundays you act like it. And if you want more powerful worship, then you had better pray down some more power for your preaching. And Iíve got power to spare Ė if you really want it."
One Trinity member told Tabitha, a gifted soloist for the Greater Peace Choir, "You really cut loose singing tonight, Tabitha!" "No," Tabitha replied, "I held back tonight. I didnít want to overwhelm everybody." I would love to hear her sing in her own church when she really cuts loose!
It may be that is what the Lord is telling me, to stop preaching nice, respectable sermons that offend nobody, and "cut loose" preaching until the power falls. One thing is certain: I will have no problem getting my people to come back to church to hear Clifford preach and his choir sing. I know now how much they like "real" preaching and singing!