The First Sermon I Remember

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What makes a sermon memorable? Is it the oration? Is it clever hooks? Is it constant repetition? I’ve listened to thousands of sermons and delivered hundreds and I remember very few. So here is a short reflection on the first sermon I can remember.

I was young… somewhere between the age of 7 and 9. My pastor, Paul Calmes [CAL-mEEs], was preaching about Samson. He always smelled like candy. There was a great boxing match on TV that everyone was excited about and I thought Samson would make a pretty good boxer. I drew a picture of a boxer. Then I drew a picture of Samson.  They were not very good pictures. I remember my dad taking furious notes on his yellow pad. Then nudging me and motioning for me to pay attention. I showed him my picture. He smiled and nudged me again motioning for me to pay attention.

Pastor Paul was explaining that Samson was a pitiful man who was fiercely strong but horribly sinful. He explained that God uses sinful people and redeems the sinful and broken of this world for His work in the Kingdom. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. That’s what I remember. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Pastor Paul was not a great orator. He did not have particularly stirring sermons. I can’t remember a power point, drama, or gimmick ever used, though I’m sure he occasionally employed some sort of preacher’s aid. I don’t remember every sermon, but I remember the one about Samson. I remember because of that particular truth: Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Our sinfulness does not outweigh God’s goodness.

This truth was lived out in Pastor Paul. That’s why I remember the sermon. He showed us that wickedness could always be forgiven. Christ’s love changes everything. Pastor Paul and my dad used to talk about this often. We were constantly engaged with conversation on the reality that the sinfulness of man cannot outweigh the love of Christ. I remember that sermon because it was Jesus. It was Jesus played out in the words of a man who loved him. If you long for sermons to make an impact, they must be lived… not simply spoken.

When we preach, it must be with the power of Jesus lived out in our life. Your sermons have no power if they are not lived out and expressed outside the pulpit. Sermons about evangelism and outreach by a man who fails to do both mean nothing and will have no effect. However, a sermon that is supported by a life of obedience is powerful, transformative, and life changing. A sermon that is illustrated by the life and passion of the preacher can leave a lasting impact on the hearers.

My father-in-law says, “I don’t remember a single sermon I’ve heard, but I remember the passion and life of the men who taught me.” This is what will change your congregation. They must see your life and passions living out in the sermon. So here are three things I am trying to do better as a pastor.

  1. Tell my people when I fail at something. Throughout my limited time as a teacher of the Bible (roughly once a week for 19 years), I have learned that people will thrive and engage more when they see my faults. Don’t wear a cape and stop trying to be super-pastor. No one likes super-pastor. Don’t be that guy. Instead be authentic and honest.
  2. Live what I preach! If I preach on transparancy in comunity, I must be ready to be transparent. If I preach about reaching out to our neighbors, I need to reach out to my neighbors. My people will see this and begin to live it out themselves.
  3. Live with more passion than I speak. What good is it if I speak with passion but live a lifestyle void of passion? My life must be surrendered to the Gospel I preach.

In this way I will follow the example set by Paul Calmes.

 

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Honesty in the Pulpit

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This post is a part of an on-going series.  You can read the rest here: Pulpit Series

I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. The young man looked at me with an odd tilt of the head and asked a simple question that burned me to my soul… “Was that story true?” I had just spoken for an hour on a passage in James and had used a fabricated anecdote to illustrate the passage. I don’t even remember what it was now, as that was over 11 years ago, but I remember it was an emotional story that I sold well. I answered, “No, I was trying to illustrate the point.” I still remember his face. It wasn’t condemning or disappointed… it was apathetic. In that moment I had lost any hope of zeal for the Scripture in that young man. An hour of investigating Scripture was now lost. My well preformed fabrication had dislodged everything I had so carefully tried to teach. I learned my lesson that day and I’ve never forgotten it: you cannot disciple people if you lie to them. I say disciple because you can still teach them… you can still preach a good sermon… you can still be an engaging speaker… you may even be able to draw a crowd. But, you cannot walk with them in the Lord. When you lie to them, you forfeit the greatest privilege of pastoral ministry: discipleship.

To be clear, it is not problematic to tell a story to illustrate a point. It is, however, wrong and even sinful to pretend that a story is true when it is not. Ephesians 4:25 states: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” As a Christian your nature has been changed. You have been redeemed by Christ and the Holy Spirit has taken your lying self-exalting nature and replaced it with a new nature that is being conformed to the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:9-10) So when you persist in lies you prove one of two things: either you are in serious disobedience to the Lord, or you don’t know Him.

Some may say I’m being dramatic… you can certainly overcome a falsehood and sometimes those minor infractions can even be ignored. Maybe… unless you believe what the Word of God says about lying. Take these examples from Proverbs:

  1. Proverbs 10:18: The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
  2. Proverbs 12:19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
  3. Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
  4. Proverbs 21:6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
  5. Proverbs 26:28 A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

The Bible is clear, lying is deadly.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect God’s word and show that we do not trust Him to speak through it. Do you really think God needs you to make Him look better!? Do you think that lying enhances His revelation in any way? If God wanted you to share whatever falsehood you felt so valuable, He would have made it true. I have heard many preachers tell stories, espouse so called facts, and breach confidences from the pulpit. Some of them are held in high esteem, but none of them disciple people well. In their attempt to enumerate a point or to shepherd a congregant, they have inadvertently created a snare of death in their ministry. They have failed to trust that God put them in the place where they are for a reason and have decided that they must know better. Let’s be honest… this is reason enough not to lie at all. It should terrify us all the more when we lie in God’s name from His pulpit. God is terrifyingly holy… it is foolish to test His holiness.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect our hearers and loose the opportunity to connect with them. I remember a man’s daughter who heard a pastor tell a lie about her own father. The lie was convincing, it was emotive, and it was well delivered. It made the pastor and the church look great… but it killed any chance that church had of reaching and discipling that man or his family. The instant that preacher made the decision to exaggerate a story in his own favor, he made the decision to cease discipleship with that family.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect ourselves and we damage our ability to hear from the Living God. It is obvious from Scripture that God does not like lies. You’ve watched in the Old Testament as Saul lost God’s favor when he lied about the Amalekite king. You can see how David causes the downfall of Israel because he attempts to cover over sin and deceive the people. Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead because of a lie that would be rather harmless in many of our eyes. In the same way, you will lose the power of God and invite His wrath upon yourself… or at the least, you will lose His presence. Good luck trying to disciple His people without Him.

God is The God of Truth. Lying in His name or when instructing His sheep is therefore an affront to His perfect nature. Tell the truth, no matter how simple and un-impressive it may be. Don’t lie. Don’t do it. No matter how tempting it may be to embellish a story or illustrate a point. Don’t do it.