When I was younger, my memory was great. I could remember shows, songs, books, events, and random information better than just about anyone I knew. In some ways this often does still happen. Some random facts come out of my brain at the oddest times. I also seem to remember bits of sporting news whenever I need, or want, to. In the last few years, though, my mind has slipped. While I am still fairly young, 28, stress, age (ha!), and health issues have taken their toll on my memory. One thing that I am ashamed to say, is that sermons, over my entire life, have never really stayed in my memory the way I wish they would.
I have gone to church since I was a young child. In fact, my earliest church memories are of riding to church in a booster seat and then going into the nursery, and I have very rarely missed a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. Yet, few sermons stick out greatly in my mind. In fact, only pastors themselves stick out in my. The first pastor that sticks in my mind is Charlie Westbrook.
Brother Charlie was the pastor of FBC Fairview Heights Illinois when my family moved to Belleville Illinois shortly after Christmas my third grade year of school. It was right around this time I gave my life to Christ and was baptized. It was also during our time there that my father surrendered to a call to the ministry, but that is a story for another day.
I am not certain how much time passed between our joining the church and the first sermon I remembered, but it was sometime between third and sixth grade for me. I know this because I was still sitting with my parents during the service. A few specific things do stick out about both Charlie and the church. Charlie was one of the most serious and passionate men that I have ever met. He was always very focused, intentional, and serious. His sermons were always very passionate and evangelistic. Each week the church would prepare a fancy bulletin and fill-in-the-blank sermon notes page to help the congregation follow along with Brother Charlie’s sermon.
Typically I simply attempted to either make my own origami shapes or drew pictures during the sermon. That particular week, however, I paid attention to the sermon. Sitting next to my father, I followed along with all of the notes and listened intently to Brother Charlie’s impassioned sermon. Still, it is funny, I don’t remember the entire sermon. I don’t remember if Charlie went through the entire book of Philippians or if he was even going through all of chapter 1. What sticks out was simply one part of the sermon. It is especially the sermon notes that stick out in my mind. The final note, the focus and most important point of Brother Charlie’s sermon, looked like this:
To live is ______________ and to die is _______________.
I remember filling it out and my dad giving me a nod and smile of approval as he marked it for emphasis. Brother Charlie then went on to explain just exactly what this means. I know that this was certainly not the first time I heard this verse in my life, and it probably was not the first time it was explained to me, but this is the first time I remember hearing and understanding that we must give all of ourselves for Christ.
What really sticks out to me from this is that Charlie simply and clearly stuck with the scriptures. He left me, a roughly ten or eleven year old boy previously uninterested in listening, with the scripture on my mind. Allegories, similes, metaphors, and personal stories are nice and can help explain things, but none of them have the depth or staying power, or power in general, of scripture. We must always aim to leave those we teach with scripture. If anything that I add or use takes focus away from the scripture, it is a problem. I am forever grateful to Brother Charlie Westbrook for leaving me with this memory and, most importantly, this verse.