Sibling rivalry is bad enough when you have three competitive brothers and each one wants to win on the tennis court. But jealousy leaps to the head of the line of seven deadly sins when every guy in the family decides to become a preacher!
Which I’m not. But during my years as a writer at the Adventist Media Center, okay, I did occasionally get invited to speak at nearby churches. And It Is Written’s coordinator landed occasional summer gigs for me at “camp meetings” around the country. (I heard later that Royce Williams offered THEM an honorarium to take me.) But when the AMC needed a local speaker for our annual “Week of Prayer” the High Command passed me right by and chose my older brother Dan.
Now that’s fine. He’s a talented speaker, he’s my brother, I’m proud of him, he does great, I really mean all this. And commencing with his Monday morning devotional, yeah, it was really good. He had cute illustrations, lots of humor, and was giving us some slam-bang passionate stuff which he dubbed “The Larger View.”
So all that week I had friends coming up to me and gushing: “Man, David, your brother Dan . . . he’s the greatest speaker we’ve ever heard!!”
I was happy to hear it. His talks were a blessing, and I was getting some inspiration too. But as the week wore on, and the fawning continued – greatest speaker EVER!!, so handsome, so brilliant, make room on Mount Rushmore – it began to wear rather thin. Because my own apparently paltry efforts in the pulpit were being callously shoved aside. Friends who I thought liked me seemed to go out of their way to tell me how awesome my big brother was.
I watched with escalating vexation as my AMC peers with note pads slavishly wrote down every pearl that fell from Dan’s lips. I’m sorry, but a whole line of people asking Dan to autograph their Bibles . . . that’s ridiculous. Ladies on the front row were giving him the same adoring gaze Nancy Reagan used to give her husband during the State of the Union speech. “Oh, Pastor Dan!” Some almost needed smelling salts. In the elevator riding back to my office, I’d hear people exchanging his pithy quotes. “My life is changed,” one would declare. “I know. Mine too.” It was enough to make me want to vomit in a wastebasket.
Frankly, by Friday morning my soul was so invaded by a black cloud of jealousy I couldn’t see straight. Dan could have quoted John 3:16 and I would have found fault with it. He could have channeled Martin Luther and C. S. Lewis and I wouldn’t have been able to process it. Because after hearing about MY BROTHER DAN, oh the wonderful Pastor Dan, Dan the Great, fifty or sixty times, I was vibrating with toxic envy from head to toe.
MAD AT A GUY WHO WAS SHARING THE GOSPEL BETTER THAN I COULD.
I got through the Friday talk without spitting nails, and just my luck, the closing hymn was “How Great Thou Art.” (No, I just made that up.) But all the way back to my office the sickening litany continued. “Oh, Dave, your brother Dan . . .” “Incredible!” “Never in the annals of the Christian era. . .” “Word is he might soon be GC President . . .” Blah blah blah blah pukey blah.
Fortunately I had the elevator to myself, and after hitting two and the door sliding closed I went to the familiar therapy of getting down on my knees and banging my fists against the metal floor seventy or eighty times. Which didn’t help.
I was almost to my office door when my close friend Lance Liebelt spotted me. He brightened and came right over. “Hey, David. I got a compliment for YOU.”
Well, I almost kissed him. “Lay it on me. Quick! I could use a boost right about now.” I was almost trembling.
He put a hand on my shoulder. “Well, I just want to tell you . . . YOUR BROTHER DAN is the best speaker I’ve ever heard! And my dad and grandpa and great-grandpa were all conference evangelists.”
All I could do was stare at him. “And how does that work out to be a compliment for me?” I wanted to scream. But I managed a wan smile, went into my office, opened the window, measured the distance to the ground below, and decided it wasn’t sufficiently high as a jump.
The irony, of course, is this. And I can barely even write this thirty years later. But deep down, Dan and I have always wanted the exact same thing, which is found in Line Two of the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
My three brothers Dan, Richard ,and Donald all do a great job proclaiming the kingdom principles of my Savior Jesus. They really do. And I’ve gotten to the point where I’m happy about that. The more they preach, the more people come into the kingdom of grace. That’s a good thing.
These several calming decades later, I now attend an amazing church where “Pastor Randy” opens up the portals of heaven for thousands of grateful worshipers, including Lisa and me. He’s awfully good. And I praise the Lord there are humble, talented people who have this amazing spiritual gift.
So I’ve clawed my way to a slender island of maturity. Having said that, I’ll whisper one slightly vengeful secret. A few years after the infamous Oh Great Pastor Dan week, he decided to write a book. Well, hey, that’s my territory he’s invading! By then I’d been published a couple times and had even signed my name on the flyleaf of a few souvenir copies. (Mostly purchased by Mom, but I didn’t tell you that.)
So I swallowed hard and told Dan, “Man, that’s great! Proud of you! Good job.” The book came out, he gave me a comp copy, I carefully read through it, and what do you know, I found quite a few typos in it.
And boy, did I enjoy every single one of them.