“Chad, Rachel needs to talk to you,” said Shannon1, a long time Christian and faithful attender of our church. I looked and saw Rachel standing teary eyed by the wall. “Ok, just give me one minute” I responded as I hurried to greet a couple of new people at our Sunday Gathering. A few minutes later I was standing in the back of the church with Shannon and Rachel. “Rachel wants to give her life to Jesus,” smiled Shannon. “Really? That is awesome,” I replied, before making sure that Rachel understood what it meant to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and what it meant to give her life to him. She did and moments later we joyfully welcomed her into the family of God.[bra_blockquote align=”]Rachel being forgiven for sin and entering into relationship with God was exciting, but it also was a bit confusing.[/bra_blockquote]Rachel being forgiven for sin and entering into relationship with God was exciting, but it also was a bit confusing. Her decision seemed connected to the words of my sermon, but on that day, my sermon was not particularly evangelistic in nature. On most Sundays I try to make clear the Gospel story : People are sinners who cannot enter into a relationship with God, and thus, we are all in need of a savior. Jesus came to earth from heaven in order to die, taking the punishment of our sins in his own body and soul. Therefore, we who choose to accept this gift by giving our lives to him, enter into a relationship with the God of the universe and receive the promise of eternal (and awesome) life.
But, on that particular Sunday, I didn’t. So, Rachel’s decision to accept the Gospel story on that morning (which wasn’t her first at church) was a bit confounding. Why did she respond to a sermon that didn’t include the topic of giving one’s life to Jesus by deciding to give her life to Jesus? The answer to this question is that God speaks through sermons in a unique and powerful way.
Back in August I wrote a post called A Defense of the Sermon. In it, I showed that the importance of the sermon has come under attack. My first point of defense was Scriptural evidence showing both the practice of preaching in the early church and the biblical command to preach. Today I want to add this defense and Rachel’s decision to be a Christian is a good place to start.
If you go to my church, listen to my sermons, have coffee with me, or read this blog, you know that I believe God’s presence is most powerfully seen when his people assemble together in the context of a local church. This truth is consistently seen in the sermon. For whatever reason, God chooses to speak through his Word expounded to local groups of assembled believes. How do I know this is true? Firstly, because of tories such as Rachel’s.
Over the years I have noticed a phenomenon that sometimes takes place when I preach. It is something that other preachers have noticed too. Church ends and someone walks up, offering the normal, but nice to hear, “Good sermon today.” Then, sometimes, that person will continue by saying, “It really impacted me when you said _____________________________. That was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you” or something of the sorts. But, in listening to their words, something becomes clear, I never said, “____________________________” in my sermon. This is so obvious that I have even joked, “That sounds brilliant, but I’m pretty sure I that I never said it.”
In a similar way, in his book The Gift of Church, Jim Samra records a conversation with a person who thanked him for some profound words that he had spoken during a sermon. The man had written the words in his notes and been greatly impacted by them. Samra though, had not said the words – he verified this by listening to the audio recording of the sermon.
Even when the words of impact are actually stated by a preacher, we can see God’s work in sermons. In a post I wrote earlier this year called Defining Church (part 6), I offered the following:
“After church I was having lunch with an individual in our congregation and they said with a smile, ‘You stole my line!’ I kind of chuckled, having no clue what they were talking about. ‘Huh,’ I said. ‘You stole my line. You said, ‘_____ _____ _____ (I’m leaving blank the three word phrase because I have not asked permission to share the story).” At that I knew what the person was talking about. Months earlier I had a conversation with them about a very difficult thing in their life. They had told me that God had placed upon their hearts three words, ‘_____ _____ _____.’ There are two crazy thing about me saying those three words that show me God’s power was behind it. First, it is not a phrase that I would EVER use. I am not sure if I have actually used the phrase in a sentence besides when discussing this story. Second, apparently I said the phrase so deliberately and clearly that the person thought I had intentionally included it in my sermon to encourage them.” This is the power of God working through a sermon.
At this point it is important that I make something very clear. When a pastor preaches, they’re words are not the same as God’s Word. Pastors are not infallible. We make mistakes – lots of them. Just two weeks ago, telling the story of “Father Abraham” in my sermon, I messed up the order of events of his life. Even worse, there are some crooked, selfish pastors who teach false doctrine for their own gain. This is nothing new. Speaking of people who are “full of meaningless talk and deception,” Paul says in Titus 1:11, “They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul uses even stronger language. He says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” These verses, and others in Scripture, make it clear that we shouldn’t believe everything we hear just because a man is called pastor, preaches and church, and speaks with passion and big words.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]Rarely (never?) in passing conversations, even those that are spiritual, do people hear words I never uttered. This happens through sermons. God uses sermons to convict, encourage, correct, teach, and inspire people throughout churches all over the world each week; this is not a new concept. It happened the day church began and it has been happening ever since.[/bra_blockquote]But, let us not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. When a man of God preaches the Word of God (B-I-B-L-E) in the presence of God, God uses those sermons to speak directly into the lives of people – no matter if the pastor has actually said the words a person needs to hear or not. Rarely (never?) in passing conversations, even those that are spiritual, do people hear words I never uttered. This happens through sermons. God uses sermons to convict, encourage, correct, teach, and inspire people throughout churches all over the world each week; this is not a new concept. It happened the day church began and it has been happening ever since. In the next post I will turn my attention to the role of the sermon in revival throughout the history of church. Until then, I would love to read of moments when a sermon impacted you. Leave a comment below!
1. The names of this story have been changed for the sake of anonymity.