(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
It happened 39 years ago, when I was pastoring my third church, near Scranton, Pennsylvania. I preached a sermon that I called, A Portable Altar, based on the Exodus 27 description of the altar of burnt offering. It was a fairly large altar, about eight feet square and made of bronze. It was made in two pieces, the inner bronze grating had four metal rings protruding from the four corners through the bronze outer layer. Those rings were for two strong poles slipped through the rings so the whole altar could be carried by four to eight strong men! It had to be portable because the Israelites were on the move. They left Egypt and wandered for forty years in the Sinai desert – most of that trek because they had grievously sinned against God!
The main point of the sermon was that we can ‘construct’ an altar of offering at any time and anywhere! It is when we are engaged in something for God’s glory! It can be anything that is done with Him in mind – an offering to the Lord! I preached that sermon on May 1st, 1983. I’m sure of the date because I still have all my sermon notes in my four file cabinets. Here is where you might be placing your portable altar:
- We might be sharing some encouraging Bible verses with a friend….That’s an offering to God on an invisible, but portable altar!
- It’s when we bring a meal to a shut-in….That’s an offering to God on our portable altar!
- If we serve with dedication as a deacon or teaching a children’s Sunday school class….That’s an offering to God on our portable altar!
- If we pass an accident on the highway and feel led to pray for those involved….That’s an offering to God on our portable altar!
- When we feel led to give extra to a visiting missionary for his or her ministry….That’s an offering to God on our portable altar!
You get the idea!
In the middle of my sermon that day, I departed from my notes when I said, “There is a duck on the back porch of the parsonage next door!” Well, that got people’s attention! Here is the story about the duck…
The evening before, April 30th, my wife Hope and I decided to go for a walk. It was a beautiful Spring evening just before the sun went down, and we drove over to McDade Park to walk the park paths. At the entrance a young couple, who were the park caretakers, were just getting ready to close the park for the night. We asked if we could walk for a bit on the trails. They graciously said, “Go ahead, we still have about half an hour of work before we leave.” So off we went, hand-in-hand, strolling into the park!
We came to a pond where there were several ducks swimming or waddling on the grassy bank. They were of a dark color – wild ducks, I surmised. All of a sudden, a white duck (much like the one in the photo above) waddled right up to us, quacking away! It wouldn’t leave us alone! We would try to walk away, but it would waddle/run after us, still quacking!
We finally ‘escaped’ and went back to the gatehouse where the young couple were still at work. We told them of our experience with the white duck. Concerned, they said, “That duck was someone’s pet. It was dropped off here two days ago. But it won’t survive. The other ducks won’t accept it, and it will soon die.” I offered a solution. “I have a friend who has pet ducks. That friendly quacker will fit right in! Do you mind if I run back and get him?” They were happy to accept my offer! So I trotted back, picked up the willing duck, and made it to the park gate just as the caretakers said they had to leave.
But here is where the portable altar comes in! Hope stayed with the couple at the gate while I went on my ‘duck-fetching’ operation! In the ten to fifteen minutes it took me to rescue the duck, Hope had the opportunity to share Jesus Christ with this young couple…who were not Christians, but open to Hope’s witness! Her ‘portable altar’ was erected right at that McDade Park gate!
That was the point of my impromptu sermon illustration!…………….However, things can go astray!
I was talking to Glenn, one of my parishioners, a couple of days later. He told me, “What were you preaching last Sunday? I wasn’t there, but I heard something you supposedly said that just didn’t sound right!”
I asked him, “What did you hear, Glenn?”
“…that you broke into McDade Park after it was closed…..and stole a duck!” was his reply!
I was shocked! And I set the record straight in quick order! I had no idea who said this, and I really didn’t need to know. But I corrected the lie from the pulpit the next Sunday.
Now here is where the featured Scripture comes in, Ephesians 4:29-32:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one anoth- er, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
There are several other Scriptures concerning gossip in the Bible. Some of them are here reproduced (these passages are from the English Standard Bible):
- Exodus 23:1 – “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
- Leviticus 19:16 – “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
- Psalm 15:1-3 – “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor….”
- Psalm 34:13 – “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”
- Proverbs 6:16-19 – “…the Lord hates…a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
- II Corinthians 12:20 – Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “…I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish…that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”
- II Timothy 2:16 – “…avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness….”
You get the idea......
Or do you get the idea?
Make sure you have your story straight!
You can do irreparable harm!