I just returned from a wonderful trip to northern California. I spoke at a Police Couples Conference at Hume Lake Christian Camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about an hour-and-a-half east of Fresno. For the four days we were there, we had no cell phone signal and no email—and we survived! At the conclusion, some dear friends of ours picked us up and drove us across the state to the San Jose-Santa Cruz area where they have a home at the Mt. Hermon Christian Retreat Center. We spent three days with them, touring San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel, and Santa Cruz. We saw everything of significance there is to see in that area. We had a wonderful time of fellowship, friendship, and LOTS and LOTS of food.
But I want to discuss my experience at Hume Lake. It must be one of the most beautiful places God has created, and I found the camp staff to be very gracious hosts. But I was bothered by one thing that took place. It had nothing at all to do with Hume Lake as an organization, but rather with the couples who attended the conference.
I gave a series of messages on our speech and controlling the tongue. I gave the series at my church several years ago, and recently re-preached the first message of that series. It was very well received. Now, I must say that our church is, overall, very biblically astute. Our congregation is generally concerned about such issues in their spiritual walk, and so the response to the message was very positive.
Because I have spent many years in ministry to and among law enforcement officers, I know what problems they (as well as all of us) have controlling their tongue. So I purposely selected this series in order to challenge them to think about the importance of this issue in their spiritual life. The messages were not filled with law enforcement-related illustrations or “war stories” as they are known among police officers, because as I have said many times before, believers don’t grow spiritually on war stories; they grow on the Word of God. My experience at such conferences has often been that cops are looking for sermons that are light on sound teaching and heavy on war stories. Even Christian cops don’t often hunger for the meat of the Word, but rather for that which meets their “felt needs.” Unfortunately, my experience this time was no different.
My first message focused on how we often speak with anger, accusation, manipulation, and blame shifting in our daily lives and relationships. The illustrations were to-the-point and even received some understanding laughter from the conference attendees. But when it was over, no one even commented on the subject. It was so obvious that my wife mentioned it to me. I assured her that knowing cops as I do, I know that they are a very hard audience and don’t often express their feelings to another. But that didn’t assuage my own feelings of disappointment that no one seemed interested or affected by the message. Eventually the wife of one of the attendees came to me and said, “That was good; I hope my husband was listening.” I thought, “What about you? Were you listening? None of us is exempt from doing such things in our speech, and you’re focusing on your husband instead of yourself.”
I continued on through the weekend, speaking five times. There were 130 attendees at the conference. It was clear from their response in each session that they were listening. There was laughter at the appropriate places, and nods of agreement at others. I even saw some taking notes. And after a seminar that I taught on dealing with problems at work, one couple asked me to spend some time with them counseling them on how to deal with an irresponsible adult son. The situation they related was so horrible that my heart just broke for them. I gave them the best advice I could give and prayed with them.
But by the time the weekend was finished, there had been only a handful who came and commended me for my efforts. Those who did had some very gracious comments and I appreciated them greatly. One fellow, a police officer from California who is clearly a spiritually mature believer, came to me on the last day and told me how wonderful the messages were. He particularly liked my last one and said, “Please just keep teaching the Word without apology or compromise.” Interestingly, the lady who hoped her husband was listening thanked my wife and me for being available and participating in the various social events that took place. She said, “So many of our speakers in past years never participated in anything. They were sort of distant and untouchable. But you were right here with us. Thank you so much.”
Based on my experience that weekend, let me make a couple of suggestions for your consideration. First of all, take the time to commend those who teach you the Word of God. Look beyond what your sinful flesh would like to hear and listen to what the Holy Spirit is teaching you. I recognize that they may not be the best speakers (I certainly am not) and you may, at times, struggle to keep your mind from wandering, but if those who teach you are true and faithful to the Word, commend them. It will encourage their hearts. You don’t need to gush all over them and feed their pride, but let them know that you appreciate what God taught you through them.
Second, if you are a person who ministers in some way to others, be available, be down-to-earth, be touchable. They don’t need a spiritual leader who acts as though he is without sin and has achieved some high level of sanctification that they can never achieve. Rather, let them know that you struggle with the same things they are struggling with and that you are real, just like them. It will open doors to reach people at their point of deepest need.
And if you are ever in California, I highly recommend the Hume Lake Christian Camp as a place to visit or attend a conference.