At the ripe old age of 28, I become senior pastor of the West Side Presbyterian Church in Englewood, New Jersey. Pretty good, huh? However, the church had fallen on hard times. Not because they call me as their pastor! For lots of other reasons. Some not so good.
Years before racism rears its ugly head, barring neighbors from membership for being of a different color. Mistreated neighbors have long memories. Adding insult to injury, the Gospel of salvation, with new birth in Jesus alone, rarely is preached. Adds up to lots of trouble, inherited by their latest pastor, me!
On a wall of the secretary’s office are photos of all the pastors dating back to the church’s founding in the 1890’s. Mine is the latest hanging, so to speak! Always call those clergy photos the ‘Rogues Gallery’! Most are very severe looking. Spooky and scary.
My photo actually wins a prize! Truly. I’m filmed wearing my black Geneva pulpit gown, given to me by the youth group of the church I serve while studying at Princeton Seminary. In full bloom blossoms my burgundy-red facial beard! Eye glasses in one hand, with the other one positioned over my Bible.
Looks pretty good, if I must say so myself. Actually, the photographer wins a prize not for subject matter but for composition. The posed elements win. That figures. My luck. Phooey. Not about me at all. Not in the least. I’m merely a staged mannequin!
Now listen to Psalm 115–‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory…’ (v.1). Twice the psalmist reminds us who deserves the glory and the credit. Not me…or you. Sorry, Charlie! But who better to get all the praise than our Lord? Who?
I was too young to be a senior minister. Too inexperienced and self-centered. ‘Not to us, O Lord…’ echoes faintly in my life back then. But today’s a different time for me. Much different. Now I know who deserves all the praise and thanks. No competition. No arguments from me. None whatsoever. Why?
To be honest, it’s taken awhile to get where I am spiritually, still barely at the starting gate. I’ve been through some wringers in the interim. Crashing into some nasty potholes in life’s highway. Rocks tossed at me and some I’ve thrown back.
Can honestly say that the Lord never gave up on me (and He won’t for you, either). Rather that He allowed me to wallow in my own sinful messes, to be thumped down by other’s jealousy and meanness, always with His eyes watching over me. Never letting go. Never giving up. Never.
Still those tough times were just that, tough times. But the Lord wastes none of them. All to teach me Psalm 115:1–‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness’. I get it now. Mainly on good days. Still need to keep reminding myself–‘not to us, O Lord, not to us but to you…’ Let me repeat that.
Lord Jesus, we glorify you in every way, every day. Amen.