This morning as you read this column in Bedford County, Tennessee, I will be standing in the pulpit of New Life Fellowship at Castle Butte on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.
I have had the privilege of preaching to this congregation on numerous occasions over the years, but this time I will be standing in a new pulpit on a new platform in a new building.
A year and a half ago arsonists burned the old church building to the ground.
Pastor Henry Chase and his wife, Virginia, had labored in the ministry from that spot for years. The small white church building sat in the shadow of Castle Butte, a large volcanic outcropping of black and red rock, out in the desert of Northern Arizona.
Pastor Henry has preached the gospel message from that location as long as I have known him. Lives have been changed in that place as men and women, boys and girls have knelt at the altar to pray and say "yes" to Jesus.
The congregation of New Life Fellowship has built a new building to worship in just up the rise from the former building. And I have the privilege of preaching at Castle Butte once again.
The first time I preached on the Navajo Reservation was back in the mid-80s. I was serving as the pastor of a church in West Texas, and our friend, Linda Thompson, asked me to come and preach revival services at a small church at Black Rock in Arizona.
I was amazed when I saw the "building" that I would be preaching in. It was put together by a group of women and a few men who collected scraps of wood and metal and canvas tarps to build a sanctuary.
The floor was dirt, and the only light in the building came from a string of light bulbs that hung from the rafters that supported the make-shift roof. Those lights were powered by a gas generator that sat outside of the church.
Preaching in that sanctuary was one of the greatest experiences of my life. And I preached my heart out, and we really did have revival. I know that I sure did! I returned to Texas with a renewed zeal and a greater desire to serve the Lord.
Years ago, back in the late 70s, I had the privilege of preaching in a store front mission in Springfield, Mo. I was in Bible College back then and I helped a couple of retired preachers start this street ministry on the city square. Springfield Victory Mission occupied an old shoe store at the time.
We would gather in the "prayer room" up in the attic to pray before the services, surrounded by boxes of old discarded shoes.
We served meals to the men and women from the streets that would wander in from the alley ways and abandoned buildings that surrounded that rundown area of the city. But before we ate we had church.
We would sing and we would testify of God's goodness in our lives, and we would preach the gospel message. And we had church!
I have preached in some interesting places over the years. I've preached on city streets in Chicago and at a place called Bughouse Square. I've preached on the streets around Washington Square in downtown New York City. I've preached in jails and prisons to men and women who were hoping to hear some good news in the midst of their misery.
I love to stand in the pulpit of my two churches in Shelbyville and share the gospel message. I look forward to opening the Word of God and talking to people about the hope that I have in my heart.
But, I realize that if I am going to be able to have an impact in the pulpit, I have to be able to live right outside the pulpit too.
I want people to see Jesus in me, in the way that I live, not just in the words that I speak or the words that I write.
I am trying to be a preacher who practices what he preaches, wherever I am.
-- Doug Dezotell is the pastor of Mt. Lebanon UMC and Cannon UMC. He is a former staff writer for the Times-Gazette, and he is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend to many. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.