The following is a manuscript of the message Rev. Shane Bishop gave last Friday night at the National Gathering of United Methodist Men in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mighty Men of the United Methodist Church
Text: II Samuel 23: 8-12
A Men’s Breakfast
(Manchester, Georgia, circa 1989)
It was the winter of 1991. We were in the fellowship hall of the St. James United Methodist Church in Manchester, Georgia. It was a Saturday morning and 10 elderly men gathered with my five-year-old son and me for a men’s breakfast. We ate and the official business meeting began when the gavel pounded without prayer, devotion or fanfare. Today’s topic, “Why does no one come to our men’s breakfasts?” When Mr. Roy Gilson asked for possible explanations, my son Zec’s hand went immediately up. Roy smiled and ignored him and called on a more predictable attendee who suggested that we needed better food. There was not an argument on that one from me. Our breakfast of really greasy eggs, soggy bacon and instant grits served with orange juice clearly extracted from diseased trees somewhere in Minnesota was not great. Our treasurer suggested a different day or time and a most irregular member suggested we should only hold breakfasts in the winter as not to interfere with his golf game. I was thinking there is only one month a year in Georgia when you can’t play golf and the idea of an annual January breakfast was gaining serious traction with me, but all the while Zec’s little hand was in the air waving. Finally, Roy winked at me and called on Zec. Zec was clearly glad to have the floor, and being a recent graduate of Miss Moore’s kindergarten class, was full of ideas and confidence. In a high voice defined by his newly crafted southern accent, Zec said, “Mr. Roy, I know why nobody comes to these breakfasts or your meetings.” There was a pause. Roy said, “Why is that Zec?” Zec replied, “Because you all don’t do nothing.” Zec was beaming at his now articulated revelation. Mr. Roy frowned at me, grabbed his gavel, abruptly adjourned the meeting, got in his truck and went home. All the guys were still laughing on the way out of the church and each went out of their way to thank Zec for coming to breakfast. Many reported it to be the finest men’s meeting they had ever had at St. James. Zec was exactly right. They really didn’t “do nothing” at all.
King David was about to die as all warriors do. To his surprise, he would die an old man in peace. He had slain a giant, fought the Philistines, become a monarch, expanded his territory and withstood assaults from kings and betrayal from sons and generals. He had won, his enemies had lost. He had lived, his enemies had died and now he was old. The prophet Samuel recorded the final Psalm written by David in II Samuel 23. The Psalm ends with the godless consumed in fire. Old warriors always walk away with something burning in the final scene. There are two significant things David leaves behind. One is an altar David built to the Lord and the second are his men. David’s mightiest men are divided into the Thirty and the Three. He is the One; he leads from the inside out. These were the men who made Israel great. It was they who lived, loved, rode, fought and died with David and though they have been forgotten, their collective lives comprise his legend.
GOOGLE EARTH: Nashville to Bethlehem
There is a defining story about the Three and their love for David. It was harvest time and David was repelling the coastal Philistines near his hometown of Bethlehem. There was a well located by the gate, now behind enemy lines, which produced the sweet water that had slaked David’s thirst as a boy. One night in the cave of Adullam, soldiers were talking into the night and David mentioned how sweet the water tasted from that well. As David slept, the Three broke through enemy lines, drew water from the well and brought it to their king. David was so overwhelmed by this act of love that he could not drink the water so he poured it out as an offering to the Lord!
David was not a perfect man. Just as aggressively as Biblical historians of the past glorified David; historians of the present have vilified him. They are both fair in their mutually exclusive assessments. Yet this historically shadowy and archaeologically sparse David was the greatest king in the history of Israel. Just as his character flaws made him vulnerable, his virtues produced a group of men who offered him their very lives. With these men, David won, built, protected and passed to his son a true and free Kingdom of Heaven. Today we look at the Three and in doing so, ask ourselves what might it mean to be the mighty men of the United Methodist Church?
2 Samuel 23:8-12 (NLT)
8 These are the names of David’s mightiest warriors. The first was Jashobeam the Hacmonite, who was leader of the Three—the three mightiest warriors among David’s men. He once used his spear to kill 800 enemy warriors in a single battle.
9 Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled.
10 He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the LORD gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!
11 Next in rank was Shammah son of Agee from Harar. One time the Philistines gathered at Lehi and attacked the Israelites in a field full of lentils. The Israelite army fled,
12 but Shammah held his ground in the middle of the field and beat back the Philistines. So the LORD brought about a great victory.
V. 8 These are the names of David’s three mightiest men David had good soldiers, great soldiers; the Thirty and the Three. The Three were the best of the best! What if we became like David’s mighty men and decided to live for the greater good, dedicate our lives to a greater ideal and commit our lives to being a part of something greater than ourselves? What if we decided to become spiritual leaders and lead our families and churches by our virtues of integrity, strength, passion, gentleness and courage? What if we decided it is not ok to watch our churches die while we stand in the basement talking about baseball and frying sausage? What if the men of the United Methodist Church truly decided to become great by building the Kingdom of Heaven or die trying?
Adios and “Gratchets”
(San Pedro Sula, Honduras circa 2005)
When we decided to focus a part of the “around the world” ministry of Christ Church in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, I was excited. My dad had been a part of a mighty movement of God there and the city was in my blood. After making a couple of trips with No Greater Love Ministries, 2005 was our first official Christ Church trip. In the weeks leading up to our departure, my 72 year old Pastor of Visitation Ralph Philippe informed me that he wanted to join the expedition but I was less than enthusiastic. “Ralph you are older than six kinds of dirt and I can’t imagine one good thing that could happen.” When I asked if he knew any Spanish he smiled and replied, Adios and “Gratchets.” Perfect. I had a roommate.
About half way through our trip, our leaders split us up into a medical mission traveling to Tela on the coast and a construction crew to stay in San Pedro Sula. I opted for the medical mission and encouraged Ralph to come with me. “I am not going to do it. I know how to do carpentry and if I were on the medical mission I would be as useless as you are going to be.” We laughed and parted company. While in Tela, I received word that Ralph had fallen off the roof of the church the team was repairing. He was in a comma and had suffered serious head injuries. To make a really long story short, Rev. Ralph eventually died from the injuries he sustained on that trip. Words cannot describe the depths of pain his injury and death brought to Christ Church. Words cannot describe how much I miss him. Every now and then I will run into somebody who knew Ralph and they will inquire if he is still alive. When I respond, “No,” they always follow up, “How did he die?” I remember and reply, “He died well.
Let’s look at three men who were destined to die well.
Jashobeam, the commander, killed 800 men in one battle with a spear Jashobeam was a one man wrecking crew. I Chronicles 27:3 tells us he was the commander of 24,000 men. Jashobeam knew that if you were going to command, you had better be able to fight and if you are going to fight you better have a weapon of choice and be prepared to use it. Most men never achieve anything close to greatness because they are waiting for God to do what God expects them to do…prepare and fight. Preachers, stop waiting on your men. Men stop waiting on your pastors. Choose a weapon, learn to use it, get off the sidelines, get one the front lines, stop whining and change the world!
V. 9 Next was Eleazar who fought back to back with David against the Philistines when all others had fled Eleazar was completely loyal to his king; David would not forfeit the field and he would not abandon David. The rest of the army later returned to collect the plunder but no one ever forgot the two exhausted men who won the battle. David refused to lose and Eleazar had a loyalty that was relentless. We all say we want our churches to grow and thrive but I sometimes wonder how badly we really want it.
Sure, If You Blow
(San Pedro Sula, Honduras, circa 2005)
Before Ralph’s accident in Honduras and on the same trip, I was preaching somewhere most every night and on this stop I was the speaker for Pastor Alejendro and his fledgling Charismatic congregation of about 150. The sermon went particularly well (meaning I didn’t try to be funny and my interpreter was really good) but when I tried to hand things back to the pastor, it was clear I had not yet earned my lempira. He had a real passion to see God move in his people and wanted me to offer an invitation. I truly felt the presence of the Lord in that church so after a well translated appeal and a couple of verses from the worship team (who compensated for a lack of musical acumen with sheer volume) a group of about 20 lined across the front.
I knew exactly what to do! I approached the first guy and began to pray for him with the interpreter by my side. I had prayed for five or six folks when the pastor, tapped my shoulder and began shaking his head in frustration, “No. No. No.” I was clearly doing something wrong. He led me back to contestant number one, placed his hand on the guy’s head and began to pray in Spanish. Then he raised the volume, sort of yelled and pushed the guy backwards. Then it occurred to me, Pastor Alejendro wants these folks slain in the Spirit. I didn’t think it would be helpful at this point to tell him that slaying people in the Spirit was not my primary spiritual gift. The guy who just received the “Jesus Jab” wobbled but did not go down. I must confess that I was feeling a bit better about my lack of spiritual punch but Alejendro wasn’t about to give up. He got right in the guy’s grill and was pointing at him and screaming at the top of his lungs. I didn’t know if he was trying to cast something out or get something in but it was really loud and about three quarters disturbing. He then offered another forehead chuck. The guy bobbled a bit but stayed on his feet. Exasperated beyond any words I have to describe the situation, the pastor grabbed the guy’s ears and started pulling them while he yelled. I literally thought he was going to pull them off. It was like watching a spiritual boxing match, Alejendro kept hitting him harder and harder and the guy would not go down. Now a sweaty mess, Alejendro backed off momentarily, widened his stance, lowered his butt, took a huge breath, leaned into the guy’s face and blew in his face with all his might. The guy went down in a lump. Before moving to contestant number two, Alejendro put his hands on his knees, caught his breath, turned toward me, pursed his lips and with a self satisfied smirk pointed at the guy as if to say, “That is how it is done!” I looked at him and said, “Oh sure, if you blow.”
I don’t know if Alejendro’s church start is now a mighty congregation or a distant memory but I do know this, in 2005 they had a pastor who wasn’t about to quit until he saw God do something in the lives of his people. What would happen if we didn’t quit until either God did something in the lives of our people or we pulled their ears off?
V. 11 Next was Shammah who held his ground against an attack of the Philistines when the whole army fled Shammah refused to back down in the face of overwhelming odds and in doing so, inspired those around him to victory. He should have died that day and because he didn’t his reputation will live forever.
The United Methodist Men must become sharp weapons in the hands of a holy God, called to bring about great victories for God and for the Methodists. We must become God’s “go to” regiment in the army of the Lord. It all begins by men being men…flaws and all. Let me tell you a defining story for my life and ministry that would have never happened if one flawed man had not encountered another flawed man.
(Sumner, Illinois, circa 1994)
Harold killed people in World War II and then worked 30 years in a condom factory. These two life events shaped his personality like an irregular pair of shoes eventually deforms the feet. Harold was my neighbor. I walked by his mobile home each day on my way to and from the parsonage to the Sumner United Methodist Church. I was warned about Harold, “He is a recalcitrant, and curmudgeon old man who doesn’t like anybody but especially hates preachers.” Harold sat outside in good weather and I cheerfully greeted him every morning and evening. He raised a hand but never spoke. This was our routine and we did it every day. One day, he said, “I heard you like sweet tea.” I replied, “That is not exactly right; I like fresh brewed, southern sweet tea where the sugar is melted in while the water is hot.” He said, “I can make tea like that. Stop by sometime.” I told him I would and walked on to work. (We had been at this for three years; I didn’t want to appear easy.) A couple of weeks later I paid Harold a call and he talked about WWII. He spoke of young men who didn’t return home, described the face of a female German sniper he had shot out of a tree, described the circumstance resulting in two Purple Hearts and watching his own surgery being performed in the chandelier above him. He also spoke of how badly the church had hurt him as a young man and he cried through most of it. He then turned off the tears, said he didn’t need me or the church and I was curtly dismissed. I left a half glass of sweet tea on his table. After that our relationship returned to normal, but I thought a lot about Harold.
One night his wife Edna called me in the early morning hours in a panic, “I can’t control Harold; he is having seizures and the ambulance isn’t here. Can you come and help me?” When I arrived, Harold was in the restroom with his eyes rolled back in his head, pants hanging at his ankles and was urinating all over the place as he convulsed against the wall. I took a deep breath, waded in and helped Edna. All the while Harold was crying out to God. “God, if you will let me live, I will give my life to you.”
The ambulance arrived, strapped Harold to a board and took off for Evansville. I went home and took a really long, really hot shower, threw my clothes in the washing machine and went to bed. A couple of days later, I drove the hour and a half to Evansville and entered Harold’s room. He was in pretty bad shape but that did not keep him from literally turning away from me. We sat in silence for several minutes. When Harold saw I wasn’t going to leave, he whispered over the oxygen tank, “I meant what I said about giving my life to God; I meant that, but you won’t be seeing me in your church. I am going to watch Robert Schuler on television.” For some reason, that one really hacked me off and I got about two inches from the tube up Harold’s nose. “I have a great idea for you Harold; the next time you are having seizures, peeing all over the restroom, are about three quarter’s nuts, why don’t you have Edna give Robert Schuler a call? See if he will get out of bed and come over to your house in the middle of night, help your wife care for you and endure your unique physiological rendition of showers of blessing?” I slammed the hospital door behind me and left. It occurred to me this was possibly not a textbook example of pastoral care. There would be no case study.
Harold was released the next week and though he never said a single thing about our hospital conversation, he never missed another worship service at the Sumner United Methodist Church. He sat about midway back and to my right. Edna sat next to him beaming. Harold was alive and in church; her prayers had been answered. About a year later, I received another call from Edna. Harold was dead in his Lazy Boy and she wondered if I would stop by and sit with her until the Coroner arrived. There we sat in three chairs in the tiny living room; Edna, Harold and me. Edna began to cry, “I don’t exactly know what you said to Harold in the hospital room but it changed his life.” A bit perplexed, I asked, “Did Harold say anything at all about our conversation?” Edna replied, “Not really; he just said you were the first preacher who ever explained things to him in a way he could understand.”
Men, why don’t we stop trying to do everything perfectly and just give God something to bless? Let’s be frank, does it really surprise you that men who dream about being mighty warriors for the Lord are not interested in your invitations to become short order cooks at Pancake breakfasts? Men, find your weapon, hone your skill, follow your leader, pursue your dreams and shake it up! You couldn’t possibly do any worse than I did with Harold but we serve a God who will alter the trajectory of the spear if He can find a man willing to throw it!
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A distinguished evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois