4 Sermons That Changed My Life

Cedric Moss, Francis Chan, Bryn MacPhail

The past two days I have had the privilege of playing “host” to Francis Chan for a 2-day conference in Nassau, Bahamas. I had great expectations for Francis in relation to this event and, by God’s grace, he massively exceeded them.

I had difficulty falling asleep last night after hearing his message earlier in the evening. I was then wide awake at 5 am (borderline miracle), again thinking about Francis’ sermon and subsequently about the myriad of great sermons I have heard over the course of my life.

I have had the pleasure of hearing hundreds of great sermons, and am thankful for how God has used a variety of individuals over the years to influence my thinking and my living in profound ways. Last night’s message got me thinking about those rare messages that get etched in your soul and forever transform the way you live. Four such messages stand out in my mind. Conspicuously absent is a reference to the sermon which led me to receive Christ in the first place. That message didn’t come from a pulpit, or even from within a church, but at a Christian camp (Muskoka Woods) nearly 30 years ago, a few godly young men shared the Gospel with me and my life has never been the same. The 4 messages noted below have also changed my life in some very serious ways.

4. The Surpassing Value Of Christ
by John MacArthur at Muskoka Baptist Conference (early 1990s)

Preaching from Philippians 3, MacArthur had me diagnose the condition of my relationship with Christ in a way I had never done before. Until this message, I was content in delighting in my conversion—content in delighting that my status was “in Christ”. What I had not thought about yet was the destination of my faith. I had not thought about aiming my faith in any particular way. I was arrested by the apostle Paul’s example: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14). MacArthur’s summary of that pursuit: “Christ-likeness”. Everything else, every other pursuit, is “rubbish” (“dung”) by comparison. (Phil. 3:8).

3. Be Amazed At Answered Prayer
by Francis Chan at a Desiring God Conference (2011)

I don’t often listen to sermons while sitting at my desk in my home office, but God had arranged in His sovereignty that I hear this particular message by Francis Chan. This message can still be heard online and though the message is somewhat long (an hour), I commend it to anyone looking for more intimacy with God through prayer. The section of the sermon that took a particular hold on me begins at the 34:00 mark, where Chan deals with the subject of unanswered prayer and unpacks Isaiah 58. What I can highlight from that text is the idea that God doesn’t listen to our prayers if we are doing particular things that are evil—or if we are failing to do certain things which are of great necessity.

In Isaiah 58, the concern is with the care and treatment of the poor and most vulnerable. The congregation I serve in Nassau, Bahamas, borders an impoverished community with one of the highest crime rates in the country. It was as though God was using Chan’s message that day to tell me that the trajectory of my ministry had to change (see the post from Sept. 20, 2011). It’s as though God was telling me, “You’re missing the mission I have for you. Here it is. Go to it. I will be with you and this and you will experience My favor.”

2. Stop Serving Jesus (As Though He Needed You)
by John Piper at Moody Pastors Conference (late 1990s)

I was in my mid-20s and already an ordained minister when I heard this message. I had committed my life to “serving Jesus”. Christ had done so much for me, and now it was time for me to do some serious things for Him—so I thought. Skillfully connecting 3 New Testament Scriptures, Piper totally changed my perspective on how I was to function as a pastor. The first thing I needed to hear was that God doesn’t need me. That’s what the apostle Paul told a gathering in Athens, “(God) is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). That text momentarily paralyzed me. Now what?

Then came the 2nd text, from Mark 10:45, where Jesus announces to His disciples, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Piper’s translation: Let Jesus serve you. Not just when He saves you. Let Jesus serve you every day of your life.

Those 2 texts nicely set up the 3rd from 1Peter 4:11: “Whoever serves, should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Piper’s translation: Whoever does the work gets the credit/glory. Let Christ power your ministry so that Christ gets all the glory.

One of my elders at the time, told me many years later, that my approach to ministry and my preaching dramatically changed when I got home from that conference. The supremacy of Christ in all things became the aim of every initiative and every ministry step.

1. Your “Happily Ever After”
by Francis Chan at the Revive Bahamas Conference on April 5, 2014

I’m still digesting, and processing, this sermon—just 12 hours after Francis delivered it, not far from my home in Nassau, Bahamas. Since St. Andrew’s Kirk was one of the two congregations that organized this event, I had an opportunity to have close proximity to Francis Chan during his 2-day stay in Nassau. The crazy thing about what I will call “The best sermon I have ever heard” is that Francis wasn’t sure what he was going to speak on when he arrived in Nassau. He wasn’t even sure what he was going to speak on an hour before we started. He wasn’t even sure what he was going to say as he stepped forward to the podium!

I hope to eventually post the message online, but I can summarize the message using the gambling metaphor employed by Francis Chan: “I’m betting on God…And I’m all in.”

Francis showed us the various ways in which we try to establish heaven on earth, or a “happily ever after”, by investing too heavily in temporal things—i.e. having a certain kind of home, a certain kind of family life, a certain amount of wealth.

Because we are uncertain about what heaven will be like, and about how good it will be, we hold back in our investment into things of eternal significance.

As I examined myself, listening to Francis from just a few feet away, I was deeply convicted.

I’ve been hedging my bets.

I, too, am betting on God, but I haven’t pushed “all in”—not even close.

I’m trying to have the best of both worlds. But contrary to what some might say in our day, we’re not supposed to have “(Our) Best Life Now”. Our best life might come “Soon and Very Soon”, but our best life is not our earthly life. Our soul won’t be satisfied until we see Christ face to face in glory.

Intellectually, I’ve believed this for a very long time. Last night, Chan preached in such a way that my will and my desires were deeply affected. I want to push “all in”. I want St. Andrew’s Kirk to push “all in”.

We’ll need to learn how to wait for that glorious celebration. We’ll need to wait to celebrate because, right now, there is work to be done; there is a race set before us. And I’m not prepared to stop running until the very end—when I hear my Master say, “Well done.”

More Than Words

more than wordsIn my previous post, “Compelled To Talk About Jesus“, I make the case for why followers of Jesus should be motivated to promote the Gospel. Within this post I would like us to consider what the Bible says about how the Gospel should be conveyed.

Most of us, I suspect, when thinking about the promotion of the Christian Gospel, think first about verbal proclamation. Because the Gospel is inherently a message, it logically follows that one of the primary means for advancing the message will be for people to talk to other people about Jesus.

Indeed, verbal proclamation is one of the primary ways we are called to share the Gospel. One of the most compelling calls comes from 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

The Greek phrase literally means to “give an apology”—from which we get the term, “apologetics”. No, we’re not being asked to apologize for our faith in Jesus—the phrase in the original language suggests making a reasoned defense in the face of a challenge by another.

I realize that, as I say this, it is quite likely that the prospect of verbally defending your faith terrifies you.

You may be relieved to hear then that the Bible describes other ways in which we can promote the Gospel. My intention is not to diminish the importance of verbal proclamation when I point out that there is more than one way to engage in the work of evangelism.

The first “language of mission” I would like us to look at is the language of prayer.

Prayer is something, presumably, that every Christian already does. And prayer is a meaningful entry point for us into the work of mission. In fact, Jesus commands our participation in this regard. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:37, 38).

Here, Jesus instructs us to pray for more evangelists/missionaries. Pray that God would cause followers of Jesus who are not currently engaged in mission to get onside. Along a similar vein, the apostle Paul calls for us to pray for those who are already actively engaged in verbally proclaiming the Gospel.

Paul implores us, “Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible” (Col. 4:3-4).

Paul specifically asks for prayer believing that prayer is vital to, both, his delivery of the message, and to the effectiveness of the message.

The next language of mission I would like us to consider is the language of giving money.

Jesus has instructed us to go into “all the nations” to baptize and to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). For the great majority of us, however, this is simply not possible. What we might resolve to do instead, however, is to send money to support those missionaries who are able to go and to do the work of proclamation on our behalf.

This is precisely what the ancient church at Philippi did. Paul opens his letter to them by stating, “I always pray for you with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5). In what capacity did the Philippians serve as partners to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel? We learn in chapter 4 that it was through financial support. This tells me that we should not diminish the important role of cheque-writing when it comes to advancing the Gospel.

And thirdly, there is the language of good deeds.

This mission language is in the spirit of Francis of Assisi, who was reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times—if necessary, use words.” The idea here is that how we act, how we behave, bears powerful witness to Christ. Jesus says as much in His Sermon on the Mount, challenging us: “Let your light shine, so that others will see your good works and will praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

There should be no dichotomy between speaking about Jesus to others and living for Jesus—both, the “talk” and the “walk” are required. The message is what needs to be believed in, but the exemplary lifestyle of the one speaking is what legitimizes the message for the hearer.

In the words the Scottish missionary and Olympic athlete, Eric Liddell, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

Having reflected on these few texts, I hope that you are encouraged in regard to your obligation to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Your witness need not begin with verbal proclamation. There are other meaningful ways to be engaged in the work of mission.

Through your prayers, through your financial gifts, and through your good deeds, you can meaningfully engage in mission.

And yet, it must also be said that without verbal witness the work of evangelism is incomplete. At the end of the day, after all the prayers, after all the good deeds, and all the financed ministries, it is still necessary for people to tell people the message of Jesus Christ.

What I am trying to say, however, is that you need not start there. Begin with prayer. Look for opportunities to support others already engaged in the work. Build a foundation for dialogue with your kindness and loving deeds.

We need to speak the message–yes–but, let’s also remember that we need more than words.

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“The Languages Of Mission”, based on a variety of biblical texts, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

10 Books That Changed My Life

Christian Theology WorksDuring my years at Ridley College, and during my time at the University of Western Ontario (beginning as an English major), I had the opportunity to read a wide variety of excellent novels. Particularly memorable were Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Gulliver’s Travels, 1984, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Frankenstein (I had a Sci-Fi bent). As good as these books were, none of them changed me.

As I set out below the 10 Christian books which did have a profound affect upon me, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that all “Christian” books transform and all “secular” books fail to transform. I don’t subscribe to that. I love how science fiction books stretch my imagination and challenge me to think outside of the box. I have read “secular” books that have elicited powerful emotions from me. I have also read Christian books that were a complete bore, and some which were utter nonsense. But, at the end of the day, as I consider the books (outside of the Bible) which had the biggest impact on me, it was this group of 10–all of which happened to be written for the benefit of followers of Jesus.

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My good friend, Brian K. Smith, introduced me to this book, and John MacArthur, in 1991 when I was a freshman in University. Having become a Christian as a teenager, I struggled to live that out consistently. This book challenged me by sensibly laying out what Jesus requires from His followers. Having understood that Jesus was my Saviour from sin, this book cemented in my mind the necessity of Jesus also being my Lord and Master. My Christian walk has never been the same after reading this compelling book.

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Before I even knew what an Arminian was, I was one. I imagined that I was the master of my own destiny. I reckoned that the faith I had in Jesus originated with me. It was again during my University (undergrad) years when a friend’s father encouraged me to read this book. I might say that Pink’s book was the sandpaper that prepared the surface of my heart so that the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty (as revealed in the Scriptures) might stick. Pink boldly lays before the reader two alternatives: “God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His will, or be thwarted by His creatures.”

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I am certain that during my undergrad years of University I read more Christian theology / lifestyle books than I did University textbooks. Jerry Bridges’ book was one that I read a couple of times during those years. I had been lukewarm in my faith for too long. The gap between what I believed and how I behaved was too big. Bridge’s book set me on the path to pursuing holiness. To keep this from becoming a legalistic pursuit, I strongly recommend following this work with Bridge’s Transforming Grace, which I read in 1993.

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If there was ever a book that I wished I had read before graduating from seminary, it is this one. It wasn’t until I was in my second charge as a Presbyterian Pastor that I was introduced to this excellent work. Recommended to me at a conference at Alistair Begg’s church, Lectures To My Students helped me to recalibrate my personal walk with Christ in a way that it overflows into the ministry entrusted to me. Before reading this work, I fear that I had compartmentalized my private faith from my public faith. A must read for every pastor and soon-to-be pastor.

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This is another work that I picked up at the recommendation of Alistair Begg. In my mind, this is the best book ever written on preaching. Why do I include it in a list of the books that helped “change my life”? Because one of the strengths of this work is Lloyd-Jones’ understanding that preaching and the preacher can’t be separated. The one inevitably affects the other. One of my favourite quotes from the book: “The preacher’s first, and the most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon.”

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I think it was 1999 when I first heard John Piper preach at Moody Pastors Conference. I’ll never forget the main point of his message: “Stop serving Jesus…as if He needed you!” Piper was addressing then, and does so thoroughly in this book, our tendency to want to “pay God back” for the grace we receive in Jesus. Piper makes the compelling argument that we cannot live the Christian life today fuelled by yesterday’s grace. We need grace today! Furthermore, we need grace in the future in order to do that which we are called to do.

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Having come to accept the doctrines of grace, as revealed in the Scriptures and explained by the Reformers, what remained for me was to understand how God’s sovereignty affects every aspect of our everyday life in a most positive way. Hearing R.C. Sproul speak on this over a weekend of lectures at a Ligonier Conference in Toronto, and reading this work, hugely advanced my understanding of God’s sovereignty and what it means for Him to work “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). One of my favourite quotes from the book: ”The Providence of God is our fortress, our shield, and our very great reward. It is what provides courage and perseverance for His saints.”

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The turning point within my first pastoral charge (1998-2002) was hearing Piper preach at Moody, and reading this book. I feel like there is a huge difference between the Bryn MacPhail who pastored and preached before reading this book, and the Bryn MacPhail who has laboured since, guided by the compelling principle that “God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in Him.” Members of my congregation at the time even noted the change in my preaching, which had shifted to a new focus: magnifying the supremacy of Jesus in all things. The other distinguishing mark was learning to labour as a delight rather than as a duty. I imagine that this book makes a lot of Christians’ Top 10 lists.

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I read Crazy Love in 2009, in the final year of my pastoral charge in Toronto. This book challenged and changed me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Using this space for any kind of review won’t do this book justice. You’ll have to read it for yourself. Disclaimer: This book will make you squirm. I highly recommend the accompanying video curriculum (which I have done with 4 groups in the last 2 years). Chan has a endearing, sensible, manner to him which helps immensely as he lays out some intense biblical principles for us to apply. One of my favourite quotes from the book: “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

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I was 19 years old when I first read the Institutes. If that sounds young, remember that Calvin wrote the first edition of the Institutes in his mid 20s! I confess to first reading Calvin in order to understand this mysterious doctrine of election. It’s as if I went mining for one gem, but found a myriad of gems. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once described preaching as “logic on fire”–that is exactly how I would describe Calvin’s work in the Institutes. To reduce the Institutes to a treatise on election is to entirely miss the boat. Nowhere else have I found such a rich Christology, such a profound description of the majesty of God, and such a compelling description of how the church should conduct itself. For a book loaded with complex theological statements, one of my favourite quotes from the Institutes is beautifully simple: ”Whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God.”


 

Examine The Scriptures Daily

Below is the sermon audio & the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “Examine The Scriptures Daily”, based on Acts 17:10-15, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on October 10, 2010.

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We are influenced by information on a daily basis.

From the internet, from the television, from the radio, from listening to the opinions of friends and family at the lunch table—we receive and process countless messages each day from a wide variety of sources.

Needless to say, the reliability of the information we receive varies.

As we allow our minds to filter this information, by taking in what we want and dismissing what we don’t want, what we are doing is establishing our worldview—also known as our belief system.

Every person has a worldview (although admittedly some are more conscious of it than others). Every person I’ve ever met holds to a set of beliefs that governs their behaviour. And, certainly, we are entitled to believe whatever we choose.

What concerns me, however, is the origin of some of our beliefs. Since we are free to believe whatever we like, I fear that we sometimes neglect to do the hard work of determining whether the thing we are subscribing to is sensible and accurate.

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Preach Jesus

Below is the sermon audio & the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “Preach Jesus”, based on Acts 4:1-12, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on September 19, 2010.

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As we continue to wade through the Book of Acts, what will see is the steadfast courage that the members of the early Church displayed. They possessed a Spirit-given boldness which enabled them to proclaim the Gospel even in the face of fierce opposition.

Indeed, preaching Jesus was a risky business in the first century. Proclaiming Jesus as risen from the dead could get you arrested, or even executed.

This has not been our experience, has it? Preaching Jesus may be unpopular in our postmodern society, but in this part of the world it is not the least bit dangerous to profess Christ.

Nevertheless, we share the same mandate as our 1st Century brethren. Our mandate is to preach Jesus.

I would go as far as to say that the priority of every Christian should be to promote the Lord Jesus Christ with our words and with our actions.

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