Tuesday, August 29, 2017

****Rescued and Restored (revised)

This beautiful pulpit was custom-made in 1980 and was the centerpiece of all the furnishings in our newly constructed auditorium for the First Baptist Church of Hemet in California.

Our pastor, then, was Jerry Wilke and his assistant pastor was Dr. Edward Rodda who had faithfully served as senior pastor for many years. The membership had grown to over 1400 but the seating capacity of the original auditorium was about 500. Even though we conducted two services each Sunday, they were always filled and very crowded.

The new, large pulpit was custom fit for the pastor, Jerry Wilke, who was a very tall man.

About one year after the completion of our new sanctuary, Pastor Wilke resigned to assist his father in another ministry, and our church called for a new Senior Pastor, Dr. Richard Christen. The pulpit needed to be altered to fit him. It was lowered several inches and the wrap-around sides were shortened.

Over the next few years, during Dr. Christen's pastorate, we conducted annual, week-long Bible conferences which were well-attended by hundreds of visitors from our community. Several great servants of God, many of whom have passed into glory, expounded the Word of God in those conferences, from this pulpit. We heard great preaching and teaching from Wendell Kempton, Spiros Zodhiates, Lehman Straus, J. Don Jennings, John MacArthur, Joseph M. Stowell, David Miller, and J. Vernon McGee.  (I’m sure there were some I have forgotten.)

Anecdotally, About McGee, Pastor Christen shared with me this concern: “I remember meeting Dr. McGee in the study and thinking, ‘He's pretty old. What have I done?’  I looked back at him as we headed for the platform, and he was shuffling along the best he could. But when he got behind that pulpit, he never missed a beat. I had him lined up to come back again but he took sick at his place in the desert, canceled, and died soon after...”

This pulpit was often moved off the platform for special events (Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, and children’s musical productions). Eventually, it was permanently moved to accommodate instruments and sound equipment for the newly organized worship team. The pulpit was stuck in a storage closet and replaced by a smaller, easy-to-move lectern.

One day about a dozen years ago, I was at the back corner of the church campus speaking with one of the maintenance men. That’s when I saw this pulpit lying on top of a junk pile.

When I asked about it at the church office, I was told that they had no use for it and that I could have it.

At the time, I was the CEO and administrator of a non-profit Christian home for the elderly. I placed that pulpit in our activity room where we held our weekly Bible studies and Sunday afternoon services. My chaplain and I preached and taught the Word of God from that pulpit for a few years until the facility was dissolved and I retired.

And once again, I rescued that pulpit and placed it in storage for about five years.

Eventually, my wife and I joined another newly organized church that had just purchased an older facility and for a couple years, we worked on some interior cleaning and updating (new paint and carpet and general, long overdue, aesthetic improvements). So, once again, I retrieved the pulpit, cleaned off the dust, made a few minor changes in the finish, and crafted a three-dimensional cross for the front.

For our auditorium, I was concerned about two things: attractions and distractions. Before the changes, distractions were everywhere. Platform furnishings and equipment were a mixed variety of styles and colors, and there were aesthetic distractions all around. I wanted the attractions to be limited and purposeful.

At last, this once discarded and forgotten pulpit was one of three important focal points on our platform.

In the instructions God gave for His tabernacle in the wilderness, there were two large articles just inside the gate. Before anyone could enter the holy place, he had to encounter those articles.

The first article was the altar; the place of sacrifice. That’s where animals were slain, and the blood was shed as substitutes for the sins of the people. The blood was shed as a reminder that the wages of sin is death.

So, the first focal point in our auditorium was the communion table which symbolizes the altar. It is right there under the cross on the pulpit where we remember and celebrate our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave His life and shed His blood for the atonement of our sins.

The second article in the outer court of the tabernacle was the laver. It was a large wash basin made from the brass mirrors of the women. Before anyone could enter the holy place, the priests would stop and look into the water to see their reflections. And then, seeing that they were unclean, they would wash themselves.

The laver was the only article that was not described by its dimensions. It is immeasurable. It was elevated off the ground and stood on a pedestal.

So, the second focal point in our auditorium was that pulpit which is symbolic of that laver. That’s where God’s Word is opened, elevated, and expounded. Like the laver, the Word of God is deep and immeasurable and, when we look into it, we are exposed and reminded that, even though the sacrifice has been made, once for all, we live in a world where we are stained, every day, by sin. We need daily cleansing by the water of the Word.

So, there it stands; that once forgotten, almost destroyed, and newly revived “Sacred Desk.” And I am happy to see that it has been used by my pastor who is careful to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and who proclaims the Gospel with skill and boldness. He stands humbly in the place where many great preachers have stood before him.   

There is one more focal point; this 5 ft. X 10 ft. graphic wall art on the back of the platform.

The text is an abbreviated version of Eph. 3:21 “To God be Glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus Forever!”

God will be glorified. And He will be glorified in Christ, but, sadly, not every assembly glorifies Him.

The church is not ours. It is not a social club. It is the Body of Christ, and its members are placed in it by God. It is His and it exists for His manifest glory. So, our wall art is there as a constant reminder that the purpose of our gathering together (in the church) is to Glorify our God.