Welcome
This is post 2 of 2 in the series “CALVIN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY PREACHING LECTURES"
  1. Reflections on the Preacher’s Call – Take This Job and Love it!
  2. Reflections on the Preacher’s Craft – 1400 Sermons Later

Reflections on the Preacher’s Craft: 1400 Sermons Later

Calvin Theological Seminary Lecture

I dare not embark upon these next moments without reaching out to the Lord. Will you please pray with me? Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

On September the 8th, 1968, I stepped for the first time to the pulpit of my first church to preach my first sermon there. It was the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, Texas. Since that September day in 1968, I’ve preached more than 1400 sermons. I certainly hope that, through the course of those more than 1400 sermons, some things have changed. I hope I’ve grown deeper in my faith. I hope I have more clearly refined and defined my one spiritual gift. I hope I’m a better preacher now than I was then. And yet, 1400 sermons later, there is one thing that remains unchanged. I stepped into that pulpit for the first time, carrying in my heart a single verse: 2 Corinthians 4:5. 1400 sermons later, I still, every time I step into the pulpit, carry with me that same verse: 2 Corinthians 4:5. “We preach, not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”

With that verse as our watchword, I would like to spend some time sharing with you reflections on the preacher’s craft. The best way for me to do that, maybe even the only way for me to do that is to try to tell you as best I can how I preach and how I prepare to preach. I preach authoritatively. My own authority?—Good heavens, no. The authority of the Scriptures.— Absolutely.

Let me share with you my definition of preaching: preaching is God’s act of transporting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the there and then to the here and now for the purpose of transforming your life and my life and the life of the world around us. Preaching is God’s act. Preaching is not what is the apparent human reality, that is, a person who sits down, prepares a sermon, stands up and delivers it. That does not begin to capture the true spiritual dynamic of it all. There is a spiritual dimension to preaching that far surpasses that human reality, for preaching is God’s act—not the preacher’s act, God’s act.

Preaching is not the delivery of the essay on the preacher’s philosophy of life, though, inevitably, one’s life view will bleed through the lines of the sermon. Preaching is not a theological lecture, though all good preaching will have sound and significant theology in it. Preaching is not a teaching of Christian morality, although all good preaching will call for adherence to the moral standards of our Christ. Preaching is not the stringing together of Bible verses or Bible stories, though, obviously, all good preaching is going to be firmly, solidly rooted and grounded in Scripture. Preaching is all of those things, but preaching is more than all of those things, more than any of those things.

Preaching is God’s act of transporting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the there and then to the here and now for the purpose of transforming human lives and human societies. Therefore, I believe we can say that, what God did for humankind through Christ on Calvary by some mysterious power of the Holy Spirit, God reenacts, repeats every time the message is delivered by one who seeks to be a clear, open, honest, pure channel of the power of that same Spirit. That means that those who listen to the sermon might just as well be standing at the foot of the cross; for they, as the sermon unfolds, shall have to confront all over again for the very first time the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Preaching is God’s act, not some preacher’s act. It is God’s act of transporting the life, death,and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the there and then to the here and now for the purpose of transforming your life, my life, and the world around us. That truth was carved into my consciousness by my professor of preaching in seminary, carved there so indelibly that I’ve never been able to forget it. I remember that, when those of us would-be preachers in his class were assigned the task of preaching a sermon as a class exercise, he would stand in the back of the room, leaning against the wall with his arms folded and his ice-blue eyes frozen on the one preaching. And when at last the sermon was finished, almost without exception, suddenly, he would erupt, and, with a ringing cry from the back of the room, he would scream, “Where is your Gospel? Where is your Gospel?” Well, needless to say, that shattered our composure and intimidated our spirit. But, let me tell you, that was only the short-term result. The long-term result was that no one of us who ever sat at his feet is now able to stand on our feet to preach without remembering that, every time, every single time, we are to deliver, in some way, in some word, the true message of the Gospel. I never write a sermon, to this day, without carefully rehearsing each line, looking to the answer to his question: where is your Gospel?

And therefore, when the preacher preaches, the preacher is preaching not some preacher’s word, but God’s word. And the people must know that you are confronting them not with the pet thoughts, ideas and beliefs of your own heart and soul, but you are confronting them with nothing less than the reality of God come to Earth to save us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, one must preach authoritatively on the authority of none other than Almighty God. I preach authoritatively. I preach purposefully.

Here, for whatever it’s worth, is a note or two about how I prepare to preach. The method that I use was, I confess, borne out of my own fear and my own frustration. Early in my ministry, when I used to preach to those blessed, long-suffering saints at the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, Texas who put up with me and loved me in spite of the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, I would find myself on Sunday afternoon confronted with the question, “Now that I have poured everything that I know into the sermon this morning, what in the name of God am I going to preach next week?” The constant pressure of preaching week by week began to tyrannize my schedule and terrorize my soul. I soon realized that, unless something changed, I was going to bomb out or burn out.

A number of years ago, Dr. Edgar Gammon of the Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina stepped into his pulpit one Sunday morning and, without so much as a word of warning, resigned his position, turned from the pulpit, walked out, and never returned. In the ensuing press coverage, a reporter asked Dr. Gammon what had led him to that step. Wearily, he replied, “The relentless return of the Sabbath.”

“The relentless return of the Sabbath.” It was under the pressure of that relentless return that I came to the method for preparing to preach, which I now use even to this very day. Let me describe it for you. It begins in July of each year. I work in one-year blocks of time. Understand, please, that, in the year prior to July, I keep a file marked Sermon Ideas, and, all through the year, I am constantly dropping into that file notes, clippings, reflections on conversations or visits with people in my congregation, letters that I receive from people in my congregation or elsewhere, the basic elements that I have derived from my own personal devotional study of the Scriptures each day, my confrontation with whatever are the great issues of life for people in my church as best I can discern them, for the community in which we live, for the world around us. All of that, I have been feeding into that file for a year.

In July, I take two weeks, and I sit down and begin to work my way through that mass of material. Please remember what I said to you this morning. I’m not suggesting this is the only way to preach, but it is the way I preach. Understand what I mean when I say it. I do not preach through a book. I preach to a congregation, and so I try to filter through that mass of material to discern topics or themes or needs or issues which I believe profitably could be engaged from the pulpit. Then, under the general rubric of the Christian year, together with special emphases which are obviously going to be a part of my congregation’s life in this succeeding year, I begin to develop what I choose to call a sermon nugget for each Sunday for the rest of the year.

Now, let me add a parenthesis at this point. I always develop more sermon nuggets than I’m going to need. Why? Well, because, sometimes, a sermon that looks really good in July, by the time you get down to preaching it in April, has long since ceased to be a good idea. And so I always have to have some in reserve. Furthermore, please understand that sermon schedule is not rigid. There are always crises which occur either nationally, internationally or in the life of the congregation, or in my own life which force me then to alter the preaching schedule. But the fact of the matter is I do have in July a sermon nugget for each sermon for the rest of the year.

Now, at that point, I do three things—three very important things. The first is I do the basic research and study on the Biblical passage. The second thing I do is to try to put down a very rough outline of what that sermon ought to be about. The third thing I do is to develop a title, and, preferably for me, it needs to be a catchy title. I then develop a folder for each one of those sermons. Each folder is labeled with the title. You see, that’s the reason I need a catchy title: because the title becomes the mental hook for me so that I can remember what that sermon is all about. The catchy title is not for the congregation. It’s for me. And what happens is that, in having prepared that folder for every sermon to succeed during that year, with the title and with the title in my mind, I know what that sermon, in general, is all about, and it is amazing how many times in my regular reading, even my pleasure reading, I come across things that will feed one of those sermons to be preached during the course of the year. It’s absolutely astonishing. I also put the sermon schedule out to the congregation and ask them to do the study of the Scriptural passage and to send me any reflections or thoughts or jokes or stories that they have that might be a part of that particular sermon.

So let me show you how this works. I’ll give you just one example. I was working on a sermon entitled “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace”—N-O God, N-O Peace; K-N-O-W God, K-N-O-W Peace. The sermon was dealing with the subject of King Saul, who had a wealth of personal talent and abundant success, and yet, turned out to be unable to handle all of that success. And he wound up throwing himself on his sword, a hopeless, hapless, helpless suicide. Now, that sermon folder was prepared. I knew the title. I remembered what the subject matter was. Not too long thereafter, I was reading Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated carried the story of a young woman named Sarah Devens, who was the greatest female athlete Dartmouth College ever had, and yet, the tremendous success she enjoyed put a pressure upon her which she could not bear. And consequently, at age 21, just before beginning her senior year at Dartmouth, she took her own life. Not too long thereafter, I picked up The New York Times Magazine. In there was the story of Robert O’Donnell. Robert O’Donnell was a fireman out in West Texas who, back in 1987, was the person who rescued baby Jessica McClure when the child had fallen down into a deep well in Midland, Texas. Well, Robert O’Donnell was declared to be a hero, and the flush of success that came to him then was quite extraordinary, and he enjoyed every minute of it. However, as you read the story, as the years began to unfold, gradually, that success ceased being a blessing and became a burden, and, finally, Robert O’Donnell drove out onto a lonely West Texas road and shot himself. Those two stories were clipped and dropped into the file for that sermon that would be upcoming during the year, and they then were folded into the basic message of that sermon.

Now, as the year unfolds, I work on three sermons at a time, always—always three. In the beginning of the week, I pull out the file which I have been feeding. I pull out the file for the sermon to be preached three Sundays hence. I work my way through the material that’s there, look to see that the idea is still valid, plumb for weak spots, try to determine if more research is going to be necessary, and, if so, try to schedule that, and then return it all to the file. In the middle of the week, I pull out the file for the sermon to be preached two Sundays hence. I have worked it the week before, so I take what’s there, having done whatever else I needed to do to get ready for that. I take that, and I do a rough draft. It is always way too long, frightfully disorganized, many times makes no sense whatever, but at least I get everything down on paper so that I know what’s there. Then I put it back in the file. The end of the week, I pull the file for the sermon to be preached this coming Sunday. I take the rough draft, rework it, edit it, polish it and then write it through once again, the final version. Having written it through to that extent, I now have the sermon pretty clearly in my mind, at least the basic outline and flow of the sermon.

Now, I am blessed to have Trisha because there is an intervening step at the end of the week. I take that sermon—by the way, Trisha is an ex-English teacher. Let me just suggest to you that that is a great blessing. I read the sermon through to Trisha. She corrects my grammar. But more than that, she’s the sounding board. If there’s something in that sermon that is not clear to her, chances are it’s not going to be clear to anybody else. So I need to know that so that I can rework that as the week draws to a close. A good hunk of Saturday and then very early on Sunday morning is spent in what I call the process of internalization. It is not memorization. It is not a rote exercise. I do not memorize the sermon. Instead, I internalize the sermon. What I mean by that is that I become a part of the material, and it becomes a part of me. I become so familiar with what’s there that it is, in essence, a part of my warp and woof as a human being. And as a result of that, when I then stand up in the pulpit to preach, I simply have to open my heart and open my mind and let the sermon flow.

Well, following that method gave me what I hoped and prayed it might: blessed relief from the relentless return of the Sabbath. But there was another benefit, not expected but just as welcome. Having a preaching plan with a purpose that was disseminated to the church allowed us to draw all of the efforts of the congregation into a coherent, coordinated whole in the dynamic of preaching. Again, maybe just an example will suffice.

Several years ago, I was intending to preach a sermon series under the title, “Families Under Fire—Issues that Divide and Faith that Unites”. I was going to be dealing with some of the tough issues our people and people around them were facing: abuse, infidelity, divorce, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, bigotry and so forth. Now, having that publicized to the congregation accomplished several things. One, the Christian education ministry began to develop some midweek Wednesday night classes built around the subjects of the sermons. Some short-term Sunday school classes were developed in the same way. The music ministry of the church developed worship services to surround those sermons, including appropriate music. And as a matter of fact, very frequently during that unfolding series, they wound up developing original hymns to be sung, which spoke to the specific subject matter. I asked the congregation to write to me, to share with me their thoughts and their experiences on these issues. I got letters back from the congregation numbering more than 200.

The evangelism ministry of the church used that series as a trigger for a special community outreach. We had a counseling center at the church in Orlando, and the counseling center provided Christian therapists at the end of each worship hour, there to provide counseling to individuals who were impacted by the issue we were dealing with. And during those weeks, 52 persons came forth to seek hope, health and healing through that ministry. You see, what happened was that the whole ministry of the church became folded into the dynamic of preaching. That could never have happened unless there had been a plan and a purpose to the preaching ministry.

So I preach purposefully. And I preach practically. See, I believe that you and I are called to find creative ways to make the old news of the Gospel into new news and good news for people and a world choking to death on bad news. Now, let me just share with you some pieces of the strategy that I use to try to accomplish that goal. I want to share with you just six little hints.
First, dig deep in the Scriptures. It is impossible to exhaust the riches contained in this book. You can never become so familiar with any story or aspect of Scripture that you cease discovering something new when you look at it again. Look at the Scriptures deeply and earnestly, and never stop. Since the point of my call to the ministry, I have never missed a day without diving into the study of the Word of God. But let me give you some examples.

For example, Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son. We all know that like the back of our hands. And yet, when you dig deeply, one of the things that intrigues me is that the prodigal son, in the far country, he decides that he’s had it feeding the pigs and everything else. He’s ready to come home. So what does he do? Jesus tells us that he sat down, and he wrote a wonderful speech to deliver to his father. He got that speech all rehearsed, got it all in his head, and then he heads home. What happens when he encounters his father at home? He starts into his speech. He says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” and his father interrupts him, stops him, won’t even let him give his speech. Take that incident and begin to think about some things that God will not let us say, and see where your mind and your study of the Scriptures takes you.

Matthew 8—Wonderful story there in Matthew 8 about the storm that the disciples encountered on the sea—the time when Jesus calmed the storm. But when you dig deeply into that story, you discover that the word used for storm there is not the word that is used elsewhere in the New Testament for storm. It’s a different word there. It’s the word “seismos.” That word is, you recognize, our English word, “seismic.” That word implies earthquake. This is not just an afternoon thunderstorm. This is an earthquake at sea. When you study what happens when there’s an earthquake at sea, the result is a “tsunami.” That’s what those disciples would’ve encountered. If you want to get a visual picture so that you can describe it, check out the movie, “The Perfect Storm”. That’s what they were confronting—a tiny boat and a massive wall of water. That’s “seismos.” That adds a whole new dimension to the power of Jesus to say, “Peace. Be still.”

John 11—You know the story of Lazarus. I love the fact—in chapter 10, it says that it was winter, and the religious leaders in Jerusalem were really mad. It was the winter of their discontent. They were after Jesus. And Jesus had been hiding, keeping His Messiahship veiled. But suddenly, they confront Him. And what does He do? He flat out says, “I and the Father are one. You want to know who I am? I’ll tell you.” They got mad. They tried to stone Him. I love when it says, “And Jesus managed to escape from their grasp.” Ooh, you can do wonders with that. So then He goes down to the region around Jericho, and He waits there. He knows it’s time to demonstrate once and for all who He is. The death of His friend Lazarus gives Him the opportunity. He then returns, raises Lazarus, and the point is made. He is not just saying who He is. He is demonstrating it. But it is still not right, in terms of timing. It’s absolutely amazing.

You remember how Jesus says, “No one takes my life from me. No. I lay it down of my own accord.” He was in charge of the timing, and you see it at the tail end of John 11 because it says there—let me see if I can find that for you. It says there, “Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead, He withdrew to a region near the desert to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with his disciples.” Ephraim. Why in the world would John put Ephraim in there? You dig deeper. You discover Ephraim was a little village where they provided sanctuary for those who were fleeing the authorities. If you go to Ephraim today—the ruins of it—every building in Ephraim is connected by underground tunnels. There is a whole city of tunnels underneath Ephraim. Jesus went to Ephraim on purpose so that He would be beyond the reach of the authorities until He was ready. And only when He was ready did He emerge. And you see it so clearly. That’s what I mean by “dig deep into Scripture”.

Second, look and listen to life around you. I would encourage you to record your impressions of conversations you have with your people. I would encourage you—I tried to share that with you a bit this morning. When you make a hospital visit, when you leave—I remember how you used to have to do verbatims in Seminary. I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to write a description of what occurred. I tried to describe for you Francis Kirkpatrick on the hospital bed. Or there was the time I visited Ruth Ross, who was this dynamic Christian woman who was suffering with cancer of the throat, the lips and the tongue. She was in terrible pain, but her spirit could not be conquered. And later on, after reflecting on that visit, I wrote down and then used in a sermon something like, “When you walked into Miss Ruth’s room, you had to check your depression at the door.”

Trisha and I met at—and look at people and try to write descriptions of people. Trisha and I met a marvelous man, a leper, at the Suncheon Wilson Leprosy Center in Korea. His name was Kim Lee Shin. And afterward, I tried to write a description of him. I subsequently used that in a sermon. He had no fingers, no toes, no ears, no eyes, no nose, no lips, no facial features, nothing left except a smile—Dear God—Nothing left except a smile. Look at life, listen to life and record your impressions and descriptions.

Learn from the competition—that’s number three. Jesus said that we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Wise as serpents I think means we’re to be learning from the world around us. We’re to be harmless and not to use it for our own purposes. But we are to learn. Watch commercials, watch movies, read novels. Learn how characters develop, how plotlines unfold, how suspense is used, how you move from beginning to end with little twists and turns along the way, but you wind up at the end. Learn how to deliver the things that you share in a dramatic fashion so that it can be remembered, can be heard. Engage people. I literally engage people in many of my sermons. If we’re dealing with a particular Bible verse, I have them say it out loud, the whole works, all together, several times so that they’ll never forget it. Just a few weeks ago, I had a sermon. The three points were: you can’t share what you don’t know; you can’t win people you don’t love; you can’t give what you don’t have. Each point, I asked them to say it out loud with me several times so that they got it. I didn’t want them ever to forget what those points were. Engage your people in the exercise. Learn how communication takes place and what it can be and accomplish when we do it for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Use your imagination. Try to imagine, for example, what it would have been like for Zebedee. You remember Zebedee? He was a fisherman. He’s building a family business. He’s got his sons ready to take over. And suddenly, they take off, and they leave the old man with the boats and the nets—no future. Now, put yourselves in the shoes of Zebedee and think what that might mean. Or imagine what it would be like when we get heaven. Revelations seven—an incredible picture of heaven. I remember I was preaching one time at Fort Benning, and I was delivered there on a military airplane that was filled with soldiers who were returning from the war. When we landed at Fort Benning, I looked out the window. And I have to tell you, it looked to me like on the tarmac as far as you could see were people, the families of these soldiers. So I stayed in my seat and watched through the window as each one of them went down the ramp to disappear into that sea of humanity with hugs and cheers and tears and laughter and even songs. And I thought to myself, “That’s what heaven’s going to be like when we get there.” Use your imagination.

Simon of Cyrene—Luke 23. Let me just read you what it says there. Luke 23. “As they led Jesus away, they see Simon of Cyrene, who was on his way from the country. They put the cross on him and”—this is what I want you to hear—”made him carry it behind Jesus.” He would’ve walked through Calvary behind Jesus—Jesus, who just before that had been beaten, scourged with a cat of 39 tails, the lash, bone, pieces of metal, shards of glass. The beating would’ve stripped and shredded the flesh and even the muscles right down to the bone. His back would’ve been so horrific to look at, it would have been too much even for CSI. And Simon of Cyrene watched that back all the way to the cross. We look at the front of Jesus on the cross, and we are moved. But think of what he saw, and what it cost Christ to carry the sin of the world to the cross. We know later on—we know from Paul’s letters that his wife and sons, Alexander and Rufus became very much a part of the early Christian church. I think it happened because he saw the back of Jesus.

Number five—build a lively vocabulary. Build a simple vocabulary, but a lively one. Let me give you the best contrast that I know, C.S. Lewis. I want you to do this as an exercise. Read C.S. Lewis’s Treatise on Temptation, and then read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, and see the difference. Build a lively but simple vocabulary. And remember please, you’re going to be preaching to children. I never forget that. I use language that is very simple. I’m very careful to see that the flow of every sermon has intentional signposts along the way that even a small child can pick up and follow. And at every sermon, without fail, there is at least one story or illustration or point that even the smallest child there can hear and remember. You are preaching to the future disciples of the Kingdom. Preach to them and for them.

And then try new angles. Take, for example, contrasting passages like—Paul says, 1 Corinthians 13, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” Jesus says in Matthew 18, “Unless you become like children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Draw the contrast, and let the Spirit take you where the Spirit will. Or think about the fact that the last 24 hours of Jesus’s life were framed by two words: remember me. In the upper room, Jesus says to the disciples, “Remember me. Every time you eat this bread, drink this cup, remember me.” On the cross, the thief on the adjacent cross says, “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom in power.” The last 24 hours of His life, in essence, say it all about the relationship that exists between Christ and His people. And it’s all framed by two words: remember me.

Back in July, I had the privilege of preaching at the memorial service for Dr. Bill Bright, the founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ. I was his pastor for 10 years. We were very close. And, as I prepared to preach that sermon, I decided to try a new angle on the rich, young ruler. You see, I had wondered all along—what would’ve happened if the rich, young ruler hadn’t turned away? He was this young man who had everything in the world. What would’ve happened if he hadn’t turned and walked away? And it occurred to me that Bill Bright was the perfect example of that: a young man who had it all—dashingly handsome, rich beyond measure, while still in his late 20s—encountered Jesus Christ and, instead of turning away, surrendered everything he had, became what he called—and lived a slave of Jesus Christ. And look at what God did with his life over the next 50 years. Try new angles on the stories that you know and love so well. Ah, that’s probably enough of that for now, but maybe enough to make a point that I preach practically.

And then I preach passionately. Back when our son, John David, was in kindergarten, his teacher asked him, “What does your daddy do?” And John David, with that marvelous innocence that Jesus so celebrated in children, John David said, “He stands up in church on Sunday and screams and shouts.” I have to confess to you that, at least in my case, there’s probably truth to his words. But let me quickly say, screaming and shouting do not matter. What does matter is passion.

Passion. You must be passionate about the Word of God. When you study the one great master preacher, Jesus, you discover passion—strong, unequivocal, unreserved passion woven in, around, over and through every single word.

Passion. We must be passionate in delivering the good news of the gospel. I want to ask you something. When we are in charge of the most exciting, the most engaging, the most energizing message the world has ever heard, how in the world could you ever treat that as just another day at the office? You want to torque up your passion? Then remember: lost people matter to the Lord. Jesus captured His whole job description in a single line: “I come to seek and to save the lost”. Lost people matter to the Lord.

I believe that there is a real heaven, a place of eternal union with God. I believe that there is a real hell, a place of eternal separation from God. Union, separation. And I believe that we are bound for one or the other. And so, you see, if there is an air of urgency and intensity and passion to my preaching, it is simply because I am trying, through the power of the Holy Spirit to reach the nonbeliever, the casual believer, and even the solid believer with the fire of the power of the Holy Spirit of God, for Jesus Christ—this one who could take clear water and turn it into White Zinfandel; this Jesus, who could take a summer squall and turn it into a shimmering sunset; this Jesus, who could take a stinking, decaying corpse and turn it into a living, breathing man—this Jesus can take a person who is hell bent and turn that person into one who is heaven bound. I want to say it to you as simply as I know how. I am determined that no one in my parish shall perish. I preach passionately. That’s why it is so important for the preacher’s life, his personal life, her personal life, to be surrendered—abjectly surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God. Because, you see, the preacher’s personal life must show through discernment like a lamp flows through a shuttered window. When a preacher’s life is touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit, that preacher can then touch the hearts of hearers with God’s holy light.

Dr. Kyung-Chik Han, until his death just recently, was one of the most admired, respected Christians in all of the nation of Korea. Dr. Han was the founder of the great Youngnak Presbyterian Church in Seoul, far and away, now the largest Presbyterian church in the world. He actually began his ministry in North Korea in Pyongyang. When the Communists took over, he paid a terrible price for his faith. Finally, secretly, managed to escape from North Korea. He then established that church in Seoul, and it has become an extraordinary church indeed. Dr. Han, for all the rest of his life, was held in more respected reverence by the people of Korea.

Several years ago, I preached in his church. Trisha and I were together. After the five services there, each one attended by 10,000 people, he invited us to have lunch with him. The great man, now in his 80s, was living alone. His wife had died some years before. He lived in a very modest little house, right adjacent to the church. He suggested that we walk several blocks to a restaurant to have Sunday dinner. That bright, chilly Sunday afternoon, the streets of Seoul, as usual, were jammed with people. As we walked along the sidewalks, when people would look up and see it was Dr. Han, they would immediately, quietly step aside, fall in total silence. And as he passed, they would simply reach out and touch the edge of his coat. It was an extraordinary thing to see. And yet, Dr. Han, chatting amiably with the two of us, seemed to be completely unaware of what was happening. The people of Seoul, struck silent by the sacrificial life of Kyung-Chik Han, reminded me that the quality of one’s preaching will inevitably be shaped by the quality of one’s life. The old saw cuts right to the truth. He preaches well who lives well.

I call you—surrender your life completely, totally, unreservedly to the Holy Spirit of God, for it is that Spirit who will enable you to live well and then to preach well. That’s why I preach passionately.

1400 sermons later, some things have changed. One thing hasn’t changed. The first sermon I ever preached, the sermon I’m going to preach this coming Sunday and every sermon I’ve preached in between has the same message. We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as the Lord. I do not ask people to like me or to like my style or to like my sermon. I do ask everyone simply to love my Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria. God alone in glory. Amen and amen.

Share This