How to get more from a sermon

“And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead” (Acts 20:9). 

Principle number one: Stay awake.

Okay, that’s all I have to say about Eutychus.  But we can use him as a poster child for people who get very little or nothing from a sermon, agreed?

If you live a long time and go to church regularly, you will hear thousands of sermons.  It seems therefore that at least one message should be devoted to the subject of how to get the most out of them.

Let’s let this be the one.

Tagamet and Pepcid A/C, Prilosec and Omeprazole, are popular acid blockers.  Take one before eating a pizza or other spicy foods in order to avoid heartburn.  The pills shut down the flow of stomach acid.  This is all right once in a while, yet it’s not recommended regularly for the simple reason that the digestive system counts on bile (stomach acid) to help in the digestion.  A few years back, doctors put me on a seven-day regimen of pills designed to destroy the H. Pylori bacteria in my stomach.  Two of the pills were antibiotics and the other shut off the flow of acid into my digestive system.  For one solid week, in order to heal my system, I was not getting full value from my food.

Let’s talk about people who do not get full value from the sermons they hear.

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The one question we ask all the time not found in the Bible

“How are you feeling?”

That may be the most asked question in our culture today. If so, it’s also the most irrelevant one.

It’s never the first thing said. That’s always a greeting, something akin to “Good morning” or “Hey, how’s it going?”  Then, as soon as that is accomplished, out comes the “feeling” question.

Whether the questioner really wants or is expecting an answer is debatable. But we ask it all the time.

I was speaking to an important gathering in the state capital and had been invited to bring a few family members. My 90-year-old dad had traveled nearly 200 miles with my brother Ron that morning. They walked into our hotel room around 10:30.  My wife greeted my dad and hugged him.

“How are you feeling, Pop?” she asked.

Dad smiled and said, “Well, when I got up this morning I decided not to ask myself that question because I might not like the answer.”

Ah, wisdom.

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Living for God without reading your Bible? Don’t even try it!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

You cannot do this on your own.

Don’t try this by yourself.

The Christian life should come with a warning label.

“Try this without the Scriptures as your constant guide and you will fail.”

Many a well-intentioned child of God has gotten off on a detour in life by denying themselves the guidance of a daily time with an open Bible. Some have strayed into wickedness because they lost their spiritual compass. Millions have lapsed into a religion of feelings and opinions and hunches due to their ignorance of God’s Word.

–I met some women who told me they no longer worship with other Christians. One said, “God showed me that I am the church.”  Because they did not know their Bible (or had rejected what they did know), they turned their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We cannot say this too strongly: he who rejects the Lord’s people is rejecting the Lord Himself.  See Luke 10:16.

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Pecking orders and taking care of the little ones

On the farm, in the yard where we kept the chickens, you noticed something.  Some poor hen ranked at the bottom of the pecking order–a real phenomenon, by the way–and could literally be pecked to death by all the others.  Unless someone stepped in and protected her, her life was miserable and grew worse by the day.

Humans don’t play foolish games like that, do we?

Let me tell you a story.

Bill was a big awkward, homely guy.  He dressed oddly, and drew the attention of a few fellows in the shop where he worked, guys who enjoyed making fun of him.

One day someone noticed a small tear in Bill’s shirt and reached over to rip it a little more.

It became a joke that morning. Anytime anyone passed Bill, they tore the shirt just a little more.

Bill was hovering over a machine, working on it, when the ripped part of his shirt got caught in the wheels.  Inside of two seconds, he was in real trouble. Alarms sounded and someone shut off the machine just in time and trouble was averted.

The foreman had seen all this.  He walked over, pulled the switch on the power for that section and called the men around.

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No one should value integrity and honesty more than a preacher. You would think.

I knew Lawrence well and spent a lot of time with him.  He pastored some sizeable churches and was often in demand as a guest speaker.

I must have heard him give his testimony a dozen times or more.

Lawrence did not come from a Christian family.  He was around 10 years old when his family moved into that neighborhood in some east Texas town.  As the family was still unloading the truck and setting things up, a man knocked at the door.

Introducing himself as a deacon in the local Baptist church, the man told Lawrence’s mother that he taught a Sunday School class of boys. “Did I see a tow-headed boy running around here somewhere?”

“That would be Lawrence,” she said as she called for him.  “This man wants you to go to Sunday School with him.”

As the deacon extended his invitation, Lawrence listened and nodded. He would say later, “I had already learned the way to deal with church people was to agree with them.”

He had no intention of going to that or anybody else’s Sunday School class.

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Seven questions about “Once Saved, Always Saved”

“…and they shall never perish….” (John 10:28)

Can you unfry an egg? Then, after being saved–genuinely forgiven and accepted and transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into something far different from what you were, more than any hen’s egg ever dreamed possible–you cannot undo it.

Once saved, always safe.

To say otherwise, and to preach it, might be something akin to insulting the Holy Spirit.

It might be. Certainly, it’s worth giving this some serious thought.

My friend and her husband have been visiting around, trying to find the church where the Lord wants them.  She sent me a message.

“We found a great church that we really like in a lot of ways. But we found out they believe a person can lose his salvation. That troubles us.”

She asked me to remind her what Scripture says on this subject. I was glad to do so.

Question 1. What are some primary scriptures teaching the security of believers?

John 10:28-29 is as solid as one could ever ask for. For that matter, so is John 3:16. In fact, every scripture that calls our salvation “eternal” or “everlasting” is making this claim, that salvation is forever and cannot be undone. (For us to say, “Well, it’s eternal so long as I keep up my end of the bargain” is insulting to the Lord.)

But there are plenty of others which speak of the eternal and lasting nature of the salvation we have in Christ. Some of these are….

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How I got in trouble as a seminary student

Now, trouble and me are no strangers to one another.

As a student in elementary and also in high school, I sometimes earned the reproach of teachers and principals.  As a 7th grader, I was paddled by the principal for something crude a teacher thought I’d said to her.  (It was close enough to being crude for her to think I said something worse than what I’d actually said, so I took the paddling without protest.)

In the 8th grade, a substitute teacher broke a pencil over my head, she was so frustrated.

As a high schooler, I was known to pop off to any authority figure if I thought it would bring a laugh.  (Getting laughs was always big in my book and worth any risk.)

Principal Andy Davis stood before our senior class at Winston County High School. “There is entirely too much commotion going on in the hallways during the lunch period. And you seniors are the worst.  If this keeps on, we’re going to cancel lunch break altogether and march you to the cafeteria and back to the classroom.”

He went on like that for a bit, making sure we knew how angry he was and how serious we should take this.

Then he paused. “Are there any questions?”

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The self-esteem argument

“With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).

You are somebody.  But you’re not everybody.

You are someone special. But you’re not more special than anyone else.

Coming to terms with these realities is one of life’s biggest challenges.

While team-teaching a seminary class of master’s level students, the professor and I had a mild disagreement.  To explain, the “professor” is a career educator while I am only an adjunct professor. This means I teach once in a while and am not a bona fide member of the faculty. When coupled with a lifer, I usually yield to him/her regarding the nuts and bolts of classroom work. But not necessarily pertaining to the content of the class.

Here’s what happened.

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The mistake liberal churches make which God didn’t!

“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).

Well, 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.

All you have to do in order to test this is 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.

Man just needs to do right, make the right choices, and he’s in.

They overlook one fundamental fact: we can’t do right. We are constitutionally unable to rise above our sinful natures by ourselves. We need help of a radical kind.

If one misses that, he misses everything.

A long time ago, Episcopal minister and noted Christian writer Samuel M. Shoemaker quoted an editor of The Reader’s Digest along these lines.  In his book “Revive Thy Church Beginning With Me” (1948), Shoemaker quotes Stanley High, whom he calls “a roving editor” of that magazine, as he challenges the church for not challenging him.

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Pastor, do not fall in love with the sound of your own voice

The preacher who loves the sound of his own voice is usually the last to know. Usually, he will explain his situation with something like this…..

–I love to preach.

–I don’t mind standing in front of groups and speaking extemperaneously. In fact, I get a charge out of it.

–If you ever need a last minute speaker, call on me.

–I’m a natural born leader, an outgoing person who loves everyone.

–Public speaking (or preaching) is my passion.

Maybe all of these things are true. Just maybe.  But once it becomes apparent that you have a romantic relationship with the sound of your own voice, you become a problem to everyone around you.  You get on your wife’s nerves, you push your staff members to the limit of their endurance, and your children make jokes about you behind your back.

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