Thursday, January 14, 2010
Pastor's Perspective - Don't Say Nuthin'
Legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel once held a position on the board of directors for a California bank. According to a story that originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Casey described his duties this way: "There ain't nuthin' to it. You go into the fancy meeting room and you just sit there and never open your yap. As long as you don't say nuthin' they don't know whether you're smart or dumb."
I’ve learned from the Bible, and from graduating Summa Cum Laude from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, that the best thing you can say sometimes in the cringing face of crisis is absolutely nothing.
As preachers, we have the priceless privilege to be listened to weekly. Sometimes while I’m in the middle of a message it hits me, “This is kinda weird! All of these people sitting in front of me are actually listening to me. (Okay, three of them are!) They come back and do it every single weekend. Wild!” As I’ve said many times, I believe one of the biggest sins we can commit as teachers is to bore folks with the God-breathed and living Word. Absolutely shameful! There is never a Sunday that goes by that I don’t think, “How cool. What a privilege to communicate the truths of the Bible. I never planned this for my life. How neat that I live in a country that this can happen regularly. Lord, thank you for the blood shed on a cross and on countless battlefields for me to do what I do.”
However, the privilege and spotlight of preaching oftentimes is accompanied by traps. Some of these traps sound something like this – “There is an expectation placed on me to provide a sound biblical commentary of everything happening right now.” Another trap – “Because I have a degree, an office in the church building, and a handful of business cards proving it, I will appear inept if I don’t comment on something with some degree of cogency.” Both are self-imposed traps based in ignorance, and a heaping helping of human pride.
The Bible provides ample evidence that being silent in certain situations is sometimes the best avenue – the godly thing to do. For four hundred years God Himself was silent, before sending an angel to Zechariah’s workplace. Jesus was silent for forty days in the desert. During His mockery of trials, Christ’s silence was deeply unsettling before His accusers; and Isaiah tells us that He would be silent led like a lamb to slaughter (53:7). When Job was afflicted in the most severe ways, we read that his three friends, “sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (2:13).
Recently as I watched a dear friend pass away, just two feet from his bedside, I cried with his family, without words. In their extreme heartache, they didn’t want or need my Bible college explanations or half-baked attempts at rationalizing their nightmare. In that moment, it would have been insensitive, anything but Christ, and frankly, downright offensive. Instead, my prayers and my presence was my “I love you” and sermon.
Therefore, you can only imagine my head-wagging disappointment at the comments by Pat Robertson, trying to explain and pin Haiti’s devastation on a sworn pact with the devil made back in the 1700’s.
Friends, the world is so tired of our insensitive and packaged clichés we so effortlessly espouse as believers. A dehydrated, malnourished father digging through the rubble in the darkness of what once was his Port-au-Prince shanty home, desperately looking for his trapped child, cares absolutely nothing about convoluted history lessons. What he needs most isn’t words, but help. Whether he knows it or not, what he wants is to see and touch the presence and love of Jesus.
Later in Job, those same three friends would show great insensitivity through their callous cross-examination of him. I think Pat Robertson stepped in one of those ‘traps’ I mentioned, and showed great insensitivity to an impoverished nation in torment, offering an explanation where none was wanted or welcomed.
As you know, one of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:23) is self-control. That God-exalting gift and attribute oftentimes comes, not through our fancy theologically-correct words and shadowed “I told you so’s”; but instead, through our prayers, our presence, and our silence.
If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.
To quote the prophet Casey, “As long as you don't say nuthin' they don't know whether you're smart or dumb."
Sometimes silence is the smartest thing.