Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Power of Words

I once was at a conference where Bart Campolo was speaking, and in his usual provocative way, he made this outrageous statement: Sermons don’t change people, people do. Or something like that…

I mean, I got his point. He did this little exercise where he gave us 30 seconds to write down 5 sermons that changed our lives. Most people could not get past none or one. Then he asked us for 5 people who had changed our lives and everyone could think of them in a matter of seconds.

I learned more people need to hear good preaching…

OK – so point well taken… people have a huge impact. Relationships have a HUGE impact. No sane person would argue that.

But Bart was preaching a sermon when he said this stuff, and being paid to do so… and undoubtedly expecting that his little sermon would have some impact on the people he was talking to. Why else would he be up there yapping away?

The irony was delicious in my mind…

Which leads me to today’s post topic: Do words really have impact? Should the Church keep preaching?

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Is that really true?

The Bible – a book full of stories and sermons and words – says that the tongue is small but can do huge damage… or good (James 3:1-8). I think words have a lot more impact than we give them credit for.

Think about Mein Kampf. Think about the Beatles’ lyrics. Think about Karl Marx and the words he penned. Think about “I Do”. Think about the kid who spends his entire childhood hearing “you’re stupid.” Words matter.

But here’s my bigger concern: What if Christians abandon faith in the power of sermons?

There is a proclamational aspect of the Gospel that is incredibly profound. The message itself has supernatural power (Romans 1:16). I know that St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary”, and I get his point, too. Your life is the platform you speak from. If it doesn’t look like Jesus, at least a little, no one will listen to the words you say, no matter how powerful or true they may be.

But I think both Francis and Bart are missing something. At some point, I have to communicate to people that they are lost and in need of a savior… that they face the wrath of God if they persist in unbelief… that there is a God who loves them and, though He is blazingly holy and no one can stand in His presence, He is also infinitely merciful and will forgive through the sacrifice of Jesus the one who believes. They need to hear that they can be reconciled to God, that they can be healed, and that the imago Dei can be restored in them.

This all requires words. More than simply living a Christlike lifestyle can accomplish.

These brothers might even agree with that. Maybe they just weight things much heaver to the side of actions. And I’m all about action…

But we can’t minimize words.

Perhaps it’s not the single sermon that works change in us. I’m sure that happens from time to time, but more likely it’s the Word being preached and taught faithfully over time that has a profound cumulative effect. So profound that it changes both present state and eternity.


Quote of the Day

If you don’t have the Bread of Life, you’re toast!


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SST 08

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