Why your good sermon was so boring

Pastor, if you are like the rest of us, you’ve had this happen….

You brought a sermon on an important scriptural passage which you knew beyond a doubt was from the Lord.  You had a great time studying and praying for this sermon, and you knew this was cutting edge stuff. So, why was the sermon itself so poorly received?  Halfway through, you could sense the congregation’s collective minds wandering.  How could this happen?

Clearly, the problem could be any of a thousand things. But let me share a strong conviction on a primary reason your excellent sermon may have been so poorly received: You failed to lay the foundation for it.

That is to say, you preached the event without setting the stage and placing the context for it before the congregation.  For instance….

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Does your church have a gospel blimp?

The Gospel Blimp went through multiple printings and was turned into a movie to be shown in churches.

The blimp idea was born when a little cluster of friends from a conservative evangelical church enjoying a barbecue in George and Ethel’s back yard began discussing their next-door neighbors. Those folks clearly were unsaved since they were drinking beer and playing cards. Someone who knew them pointed out that they attend a liberal church, but only a few times a year. As a plane went by overhead, a fellow named Herm remarked that if that aircraft had been carrying a message such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” the lost neighbors would have received a witness since they also had glanced in its direction.

One thing led to another and the idea was birthed to buy a blimp and have it trail Scripture messages across the sky for citizens to read. They formed a non-profit, got themselves chartered, organized a board with officers, and made Herm, the fellow with the idea, its executive. Soon, Herm resigned his job and went full-time with International Gospel Blimps, Inc.

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You’re a skeptic? Good.

I stepped inside a diner a few blocks from my house to pick up the sandwiches I’d just called in. The place was busy–it was Friday evening and suppertime–and I spotted two kids at a table with their mother, so took my sketch pad inside.

“Ma’am, may I draw your sons?” showing her my pen and sketchpad.

“You’re an artist?”

I said, “Cartoonist.”

“Sure. That would be fine.”

The first one, a boy about 9 or 10, looked up with a killer smile and eyes aglow, so I drew him first. It takes 90 seconds. Then, I sketched his big brother while we made small conversation. Last, I drew the mom. She was friendly and trusting and we talked about that. I get a lot of skepticism when walking up to complete strangers asking, “May I draw you?”  People worry that someone is going to try to con them into something. It’s understandable.

A few minutes later, while in the line to pay for my order, the mother came over to give a takeout order, and we continued our conversation. One of her sons goes to a local Christian school, but she does not go to church anywhere.

“I’m skeptical of religions and churches,” she said.

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The eternal difference your prayers make

“So, you were the one praying for me!  Thank you!”

In Heaven, two things will happen, I predict–

–1.  People will be coming up thanking you for praying for them.  You barely remember calling out their names to the Father, but He heard and used your prayer and they are living forever because you were faithful.  Sure makes you want to be faithful, doesn’t it?  (See Luke 18:8)

–2. People will be coming up telling you they had prayed for you. And that will answer a question that had bugged you for years:  Was it someone’s prayers that caused those wonderful things to happen in your life?  And now you know. Sure makes you want to be grateful, doesn’t it?

This was brought home to me by a testimony in Christianity Today for July/August 2014.  (I wrote about it then and still treasure it.)

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Getting past the “ain’t it awful” kind of preaching

“We preach Christ….God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Rick Warren says a lot of what pastors are feeding their people is “ain’t it awful” preaching.

I am so in agreement on that.

Once, guest preaching in a church, before I rose to speak, a member of the flock with “a gift for continuance,” as a friend put it, addressed the congregation on the latest Supreme Court ruling concerning marriage.  The lady was upset, and she had a bad combination: strong convictions and the gift of gab. She went on and on about the sad state of affairs in this country.

Ain’t it awful.

To hear her tell it, the country is going down the tubes, the Supreme Court is out of hand, our freedoms are all in peril, the end is near, and God’s people are in huge trouble.

She said that and then sat down.

I had to follow it.

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Into this world, God sent a Savior

Conspirata is a sequel to Robert Harris’ novel Imperium, which chronicles the rise of Cicero in ancient Rome.  Harris is a great novelist, and he sticks to the facts and to the actual speeches of Cicero as much as possible–which is what make this book so valuable.  You feel you know these people afterwards.

Conspirata  tells of Cicero’s consulship in which he ruled over the Roman Empire for a brief period, his work as a senator, and his brilliance as a lawyer and orator.  It’s impossible to recommend this novel too highly; I loved it.

I was struck by the conditions in Rome at this time (the story begins in 63 B.C.). Keep in mind that this was the most civilized and progressive society known to western man at the time.  We still speak of “the glory that was Rome.”  It was glorious, but only to a point and depending on the strata of society you occupied.

Into this world, Jesus Christ was born. Into this culture the gospel came.  To these people, God sent a Savior.

Read what Robert Harris said about these people and think, “Man, did they ever need a Savior!”

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The mistake liberal churches make which we must not

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

“Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

Okay, maybe the title is a misnomer. The typical liberal church–as this Southern Baptist farm boy sees it, anyhow–makes a dozen serious errors, some of them monumental.  But this one is about as big as they come.

The typical liberal church overestimates people.

They think people are better than they are.

To  test this,  visit the typical church of certain denominations and pay attention.  There will be no mention of man’s being in need of redemption, little or no reference to sin at all, and thus no need to offer the salvation of Christ which involves His death on the cross, His shed blood, and His resurrection.  All the teaching and every reference implies that we are all God’s children, each one saved, each one headed for Heaven.

Man just needs to do right, make the right choices, and he’s in.  Well, let me rephrase that.  He’s already “in.”  Everyone is “in,” according to the typical liberal theology.

Liberals overlook one fundamental fact: Man is lost. We are constitutionally unable to rise above our sinful natures by ourselves. We need help of a radical kind.

We need a Savior.

If one misses that, he misses everything.

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They had the greatest message ever, but needed one thing more. So do we.

I told a friend once that if I have gone to seed on anything in Christian theology, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m about to qualify that. As essential an element in the Christian faith as it is, the resurrection of our Lord did not end the fears, settle the nerves, conquer the phobias, or break the chains with which the early disciples were bound. It took one thing more.

To be sure, when the Lord Jesus Christ walked out of that garden tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, it settled a lot of issues. His identity was forever established. His claims were solidly substantiated. His promises had just received the guarantee of Heaven.

When Jesus arose victorious from the grave, His enemies were routed. His opponents were silenced (or should have been, had they possessed a smidgen of integrity). His executioners were shamed. A bamboozled Satan and his imps were beside themselves with rage.

The resurrection of Jesus answers our questions, excites our hopes, and escalates our anticipation. It draws us back to the Scripture, back to the Church, and back to a new reality.

No wonder the disciples’ later preaching centered on the single key ingredient of belief in Jesus’ return from the grave as an essential element of saving faith. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Settle that–that Jesus actually died on that cross, that He lay in that grave from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, then walked out whole and healthy–and so many things fall into place.

Everything, that is, except one. And we see it in the Lord’s disciples, as recorded in John 20.

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What “going viral” really means

These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).

I used to think I knew what “going viral” meant.  I’d write an article or draw a cartoon, and if it were something I felt very strongly about, I would ask the Lord that it would go viral.  Others have their own definition for what “going viral” means, but to me it meant  others would copy it, spread it on their page, where it would be seen by others who would in turn copy it, and so forth.  Like some urban legends that seem to have taken on a life of their own and get reborn in every generation, anyone writing something worthwhile would like to see it “out there” and “with legs.”

So…

To “go viral” means:  a thing is fast-moving, all-encompassing, and unstoppable.

Witness the coronavirus pandemic.  Fast-moving indeed.  All-encompassing certainly, as it slows down at no borders and spreads into every village, every culture.  There is no stopping it.  Not so far.

But it occurs to me the first pandemic, the first “thing” to go viral, was not a disease at all.  It was the news of Jesus Christ.

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The overwhelming evidence of man’s lostness

One great evidence of the lostness of mankind is that people rarely look up from their daily lives to ask, “Where is all this headed? What is out there? Where are we going?”

I sit on my deck and watch the birds swarm around my feeders.  I keep them stocked and am delighted the birds love what I provide.  But never once has a bird looked up to indicate an appreciation for my efforts.  They are so like people it’s not funny.  We take everything for granted.

In a 1965 sermon, Billy Graham tells of the time when Robert Ingersoll, well-known atheist of the 19th century, was addressing an audience in a small town in New York. The orator forcefully laid out his doubts concerning a future judgement and the reality of hell.

At the conclusion, a drunk stood up in the back of the room, and said through slurred speech, “I sure hope you’re right, Brother Bob. I’m counting on that!”

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