Preachers, Let's Lengthen the Cords and Strengthen the Stakes
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 11 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Teaching On Preaching)
Isaiah 54:2, "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes."
In an American Legion Convention in New York City, a strange man wandered out on the platform, looked out to the delegates and asked, "Would somebody please tell me who I am?"
I wonder if maybe independent, fundamental Baptists don't need to ask ourselves, "Who are we?" God has singly blessed us. He has commanded us to enlarge out tents, and we have dutifully obeyed. We have built the largest Sunday schools in America. We have the largest buildings and the largest budgets. We are building the largest Christian schools. We have the largest bus fleets and the largest outreach. We have large staffs. We are sought out by the press. We sit with senators and shake hands with presidents. The lights of television cameras expose our freckles. Our auditoriums have become chancels. Our "Brother" has become 'Doctor." Our light bulbs have become chandeliers. Our Sunday school buildings are now Christian family centers. The preacher is now called the senior pastor. The custodian has become the maintenance engineer. The secretary is now the administrative assistant. Our mimeograph machines are now off-set presses. Our choirs have learned to sing "The Messiah." Neon signs have replaced hand-painted ones, and "good will" is now an attitude instead of our favorite clothing store. We meet the press and greet the mayor. Yes, our tents have enlarged.
Now the fiercest winds from Hell blow to topple our tents! Spring winds have become tornadoes. Summer breezes have be- come hurricanes. Warm air has become a winter blast. Our enlarged tents are the objects of Satan's most deadly storms. The sharpest swords are thrust at us. The most delicate microscope examines us. The sharpest minds plot against us. The most poisonous pens write of us. The most incredible accusations are railed at us. We are called "hate mongers." We are called "shallow." We are called "cultists. " The truth is that winds are blowing in an effort to topple our tents. Our brethren are actually going to jail. Our churches are actually being padlocked. Many of our brethren are commuting between the church house and court house. FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS seems to be an incomplete manuscript, and "Give me liberty or give me death" is no longer just a high school declamation but a definite possibility! Prison walls seem as imminent as Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson's. Martyrdom seems more prophetical than historical. Freedom is only a slogan used by the liberal to gain liberty to enslave the fundamentalist. Detente with Russia is more popular than detente with God's people. Some are declaring us insane, and many have had to leave the mourner's bench for the judge's bench. Some have left the prayer room in order to go to the court room. Ladies and gentlemen, basic training is now over; this is war! We are off the rifle range; we are in battle!
Yet, sad to say, some of our tents have toppled. Some have been toppled by financial winds; some by winds of immorality; some by winds of compromise.
Our text reminds us that as our tents enlarge, we need to strength- en our stakes and lengthen our cords. Many a church has fallen as the tent enlarged and the wind increased. Many a preacher topples as the Sunday school grows, the offerings increase, the school is open, buildings rise, the staff is enlarged and outside invitations come, for he has a larger tent without stronger stakes and lengthened cords.
Watch it as your work grows! Watch it as you become more affluent! Watch it as you get more education! Be careful as you get busier in God's work and as you get more power and authority! It is so easy to have a larger tent without lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes!
We had better strengthen our stakes of the Word of God. A few borrowed outlines won't do when the storm wages. Fifteen minutes a day at the throne of grace won't hold back the hurricane. Warmed- over stories and a borrowed illustration will not stand the tornadic enemy We have larger tents now. The stakes must go deeper. Devotionals, tirades, lectures and book reviews are not enough! As the tent grows bigger, the stakes must be driven deeper and the cords must be longer!
We had better strengthen the stakes of our walk with God. When the tent is larger, ten minutes a day won't do it any more. Grace at the table and five minutes of reading a page from a devotional book is not enough now. Our folks need to know how to get things from God. We must teach them about walking in the Spirit. Somebody has to pray all night. Somebody has to pray down fire. The tents are bigger. We must go deeper, and our ropes must be longer!
We had better strengthen the stakes of our convictions. The power of positive thinking won't do; the wind is too strong. Possibility thinking won't make it; the storm is too great. This new fundamentalism with no invitation will not withstand the storms that are upon us now. Religious rock won't hold back tornadic winds. Sharing the platform with cultists and false teachers won't stem the hurricane.
We need to strengthen the stakes of honesty We must not spend what we cannot afford. We must not borrow on projected income. We must not over-build and extend ourselves beyond our ability to pay We must not start things we cannot afford. We must not sell bonds that we cannot redeem. When the winds of temptation come, we had better have stronger stakes and longer cords. When the winds of discouragement come, we had better drive our stakes deeper and have longer cords. When the winds of persecution howl, we had better be sure we have made the length of our cords and the depth of our stakes commensurate with the size of our tents. When the winds of materialism blow, we will wish our stakes were deeper and our cords were longer.
Oh, men of God, some warmed-over sermons won't do! A little outline borrowed from a book is not enough! We must walk with God! We must be men of God! We must walk to the pulpit before the people of God with the message from God! May God help us as preachers to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes as our tents enlarge!
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Billy Sunday (1862-1935)
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