THE AUTOPSY OF A DEAD SERMON Monday, Feb 23 2015 

Many sermons have little any affect on the listeners when it comes to decision making. As my friend Jim said “They are D.O.A, dead on arrival”. This discussion is not about truth that was last month. This is about effectiveness. Even a dead body has some truth associated with it, but it doesn’t have life.

If you get offended by this discussion you are not reading carefully. Sermons aren’t for and about the preacher. They should be about God, not the human instrument and it should be for the listener. I have no idea how many sermons I have heard in my almost 80 years. I have no idea how many I have preached over 55 years of ministry but a number of them were DOA. I looked over some of messages from those first years in the pastorate and I wondered how anyone ever listened to them. It isn’t that I was not sincere; I just wish someone would have shared the following with me. It wasn’t until my post graduate work that I had a professor who was willing to rip my disjointed thoughts into pieces. I thank God for that man.

GETTING STARTED

Sermons aren’t supposed to be entertainment and the preacher is not an entertainer. That doesn’t mean humor and illustrations are out of the question. But those are only tools and they shouldn’t be the main thing a listener remembers about the sermon. Every message ought to begin with a clear statement of where one is headed and what if any decision or action would be expected. The sermon needs to focus on that subject and lead the person to the stated action. It should close with a clear statement of the idea and clearly lead to any action the speaker intended the listener to have. This is simply the outline of the old black preacher. “I tells them what I going to tells them, then I tells them and then tells them what I told them.” At any point in the message the listener should be able to know what the idea, goal and action is.

AN APPROACH

There are many forms that a message could take. None of them are necessarily bad. Some however are better than others. Many effective preachers have done well with a verse by verse exegetical approach. It may be the best approach but doctrinal, topical or devotional messages have their place. It is not difficult to make an exegetical approach as dry as dust however. A discourse should not be a technical seminary lecture but the local church is in serious need of teaching, no matter what the makeup of the congregation is. At the same time all messages always should teach. One way to test this is to write in the margin of one’s outline the doctrines being taught by the sermon. Working through a bible book as a series is safe in that sooner or later you come to every doctrine and serious issue that needs to be shared.

As the pulpit master carefully reviews his sermons for the year there are some things he should find. Central doctrines should have been clearly dealt with. A central doctrine is not limited to the things you have to believe to go to heaven. There are subjects that open the door understanding important doctrinal areas. I often ask how long it has been since you preached or heard some speak on the Blessed Hope, the any moment return of Christ for the Church. What someone believes is really not as important as how they got there. That is the real test.

THINGS THAT KILL SERMONS

In a former article I discussed the issue of “time” as it relates to a message. One of my students asked “how long does it take for you to prepare a message”? My answer was “it takes fifty four years”. It takes time to prepare an effective message, one that will deliver the intended response. This may sound strange but it takes more time to prepare for a well ordered thirty minutes message than it does for a rambling hour. That is no recommendation for sermonettes that produce christianettes. An effective message has no time for unrelated word slurs.

There are very few preachers who have the ability to hold the attention of an audience for an hour and a half. Many times long winded sermons are there only because the speaker likes the sound of his own voice. The real issue, however, is not the length of a sermon. In a previous article I outline the problem of referring to time. At any place in the message we mention time it will distract the listener. References such as “time is my enemy”, “I don’t have enough time”, “I am almost done”, “this is my last point”, or even “finally” are fatal. They don’t believe us anyway having heard those disclaimers to many times before. If you give the listener any hint that you are almost done, you are done. They are zipping up bible covers, putting on a coat or ordering lunch, but you are done. Don’t bother to give an invitation you lost them and your sermon is incomplete. How to hold their attention is another matter for another article.

GIVING LIFE TO A MESSAGE

In diligent preparation every word should be weighed. Preachers who wing it are in for a fall. While there must be solid truth taught there is need for application. One should note that application is not part of interpretation. These can only be added once the interpretation is finished. If we begin with the application before the text we are on dangerous ground. An illustration may be used to introduce a message but even that should rise from the theme of the text that has been settled by exegesis. If the listener goes away with a desire to come listen again the message was alive. Dead messages send people away empty and cold.

VULGARITY CELEBRATED Tuesday, Feb 3 2015 

Under Old Testament law, vulgarity was forbidden and the penalty was serious.  “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7)

Under grace, the standard for such speech is even higher.  It extends to any words that have the slightest bent toward disrespect of God’s name, vulgarity, swearing, and even vain repetition.  In setting a higher standard, Jesus said that committing such an act in the heart is the same as actually doing it.  (Matthew 5:29)  The epistles overflow with commands saying that questionable speech and vulgarity do not belong in the mouths of the saints.  Paul tells us that if we rein in our thoughts, we can guard our words against those things that offend a holy God.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  (II Corinthians 10:5)

With all this in mind, can you tell me why our present world is covered with a tidal wave of vulgarity?  The offense is multiplied when humans, made in the image of God, actually defend the right to be foul mouthed!  A celebration of vulgarity.

WHO SHOULD BE SURPRISED?

A foul mouth rises from a corrupt, putrid heart.  We are surprised when a wicked heart is polite, kind, reasonable, and gentle in speech.  It does happen.  The reader has learned by now that I leave the devotional ministry, in the main, to my other friends; and they do well with it.  My task, however, is to be a truth teller; and even believers are uncomfortable with truth in plain speech.  Let’s be clear about this.  Any heart that has rejected Christ as Savior is “wicked”.  It has committed the most heinous sin that can be committed.  The murder of the unborn and sodomy are wicked acts, but rejection of the Son of God, His deity, and His virgin birth are the height of wickedness.  That is why liberalism is a wicked movement.  It is why the majority of people you know are wicked.  That is why some politicians, judges, and business men and women are wicked.  So, when they vent their wickedness through their foul mouths, it is only a confession of just how evil they are.  We are obligated to remember that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  We are commanded to remember that God hates all sin, both small and great.  While we are commanded to love all mankind, we must hate what God hates.

IMMERSED IN A WORLD OF VULGARITY

It is everywhere – news, radio, television, printed media, and our own communities.  Spirit-filled Christians are buried in verbal filth at work, school, and out in public.  No-one seems to care that God has forbidden such low-level conversation.  If we go out for a special dinner, the conversation at the next table often turns to garbage.  Try enjoying a night with the family at a special sports event -there is an onslaught of offensive language on all four sides.  How many times have you been driving somewhere and encountered vulgar warfare between drivers or pedestrians?  We live in a world where many people have the morals of a “junk-yard dog” with language to match.  If you want a real eyeful or earful, go to social media.  If you try to have a reasonable discussion, some liberal will bust in with a string of vulgarity that only demonstrates that he doesn’t have the slightest idea of what an answer should be… but he sure knows how to cuss!

You get the point: it’s a bad world out there.  Let me ask you a question: Is there anything God’s people can do when buried in such despicable situations?  There are times when it is best to be silent.  In the vulgar world, people have been known to become violent if they think you are “judging” them.  We know what Jesus did under such temptation; He quoted scripture.  Many of you do that on Facebook.  We can try a reasonable answer, but that usually doesn’t work with people who have rejected truth as a way of thinking.  We probably don’t think of praying for depraved people, but that might be the first thing that should come to our mind.  Of course, you could isolate yourself and pretend it is not really happening; but remember that “Silence isn’t always golden; sometimes it is just plain yellow!”  Of course, you could side with the perpetrator and defend him/her by attacking the person who brought up the subject of holiness and truth.

THIS IS WHAT REALLY HURTS

It is so easy to pick on the children of the devil.  In case you have forgotten, anyone who is not a child of God through faith in Christ is a child of the devil.  That is the reason why they lie, cheat, steal, and communicate with vulgarity.

Would someone please explain why there is so much vulgarity flowing from the mouths, pens, and keyboards of those who call themselves Christians?  You can see it for yourself.  Go to Facebook right now, and see how many vulgar words are being used by those you think are believers.  Sure, they think hiding vulgarity in code (OMG, etc.) is not the same thing.  Shame on anyone who tries to defend “hidden swearing”.  If I were an unbeliever, I sure would not be impressed with the fact that your foul language is just like mine.

You sure wouldn’t expect to hear this kind of language at church, right?  Then you might want to listen a bit more carefully.  Have you listened carefully to the conversations of teens?  What boggles my mind is that several “evangelical gurus” have been championing vulgar language inside their messages and teaching.  It may get some laughs, but it is not funny.  Teaching others to sin does not set well with a holy God.  Those who feel free to abuse grace hate it when their feet are held to the fire.  When they are angry about the message, they attack the messenger.  That is an old liberal trick.

APPLICATION

This seems like an impossible task.  How do we get rid of this plague?  In our own lives, we follow the commandment “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation”.

(I Peter 1:15)  Since God lives within us, the answer is that His holiness makes it possible for us to live His holiness out in our living and speech.  That means we don’t defend vulgarity in our lives or in the lives of others.  Remember – silence is approval.