I’ve been enjoying a week or so of vacation with my family in “up north” in Harbor Springs, MI. Felt like a bit of a Scottish summer there with temps rarely above 70, cool winds, bit damp, and a chilly wind at times. Home sweet home!
Apart from getting more time with my wife and children, beating my teenage supermen at tennis, and successfully avoiding the pool, the highlights of my vacation were a powerful sermon and getting to read a number of edifying and enjoyable books. I’ll get to the books tomorrow, but today let me tell you about the sermon.
We surfed around the Internet on Saturday night looking for a church to worship in and eventually chose a small Baptist Church in Petoskey. Although it looked like it was a bit Arminian in theology, it seemed the most conservative in worship among what looked more like child-dominated stage shows on other church websites.
We received a warm welcome – although by the fifth interrogation about who we were and where exactly we were from I “took the fifth” as I suspected that we’d stumbled into an NSA convention. We really should have an optional door on our churches that has a sign saying, “If you enter this door we guarantee you a seat at the back and NO QUESTIONS!” It might be the most successful outreach strategy ever – at least for men.
Anyway, the lively worship was well within my comfort zone, and I began to look forward to the sermon. And what a treat it was!
The pastor was an ex-policeman and had the dignified bearing and posture to match. He had no seminary education, but he had what no seminary education can give – UNCTION – that mysteriously wonderful God-given passion for God’s truth and the good of souls that transforms the weakest material into preaching that glorifies God and saves sinners.
His sermon broke many “homiletical rules” and probably would have been torn apart at “Practice Preaching” but it left an abiding impression that will live much longer in my memory than many “perfect sermons” I’ve heard. Although he didn’t really expound his text, the sermon was on a biblical theme, and it had a definite structure.
What it had above all was REALITY. This was not some academic exercise. This was not delivering a manuscript. This was not someone trying to impress or please. This was a dying man preaching to dying men and women about the life-giving life-saving Christ. He really really believed this, and really really wanted us to as well.
Yes, there were verbal stumbles, logical gaps, awkward expressions, and unnecessary repetitions. But there was also sincerity, passion, urgency, and CONNECTION. Although he had notes, they did not come between him and his hearers. The paper “disappeared” and it became simply one man pleading with fellow men and women to turn from our hopelessness to hope in Jesus.
It was so refreshing, even exhilarating, to feel the power of such PERSONAL preaching. He wandered out of the pulpit and down the aisles; he named people in the congregation at times; it was an ex-policeman in hot pursuit of criminals he desperately wanted to liberate with the Gospel. It was so glorious that I almost wanted to be an unbeliever again so that I could believe for the first time again.
Yes, slightly Arminian at points, but give me a living Christ-filled sermon like this any day over our perfect fact-filled Reformed homilies that are so easy to listen to without listening.