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.”

My Favourite Day Yet

Today was a very special day.

I began visiting the Ranfurly Homes for Children a little over 2 years ago, shortly after my arrival in Nassau. It began with a basketball game in which I was greatly outmatched by a group of emerging basketball stars and where I learned what it feels like to be dunked over (a bit frightening). I quickly discerned that I needed another venue to connect with the Ranfurly youth—realizing that my aging body wouldn’t hold up playing ball against these boys. I began to regularly take a few boys from Ranfurly to breakfast at McDonalds on Saturday mornings. Relationships were forged, and I began formally mentoring one of the boys. Over time, they began to ask more and more questions about the Kirk and about Christianity. Eventually, I am told, that many of the youth requested to the Ranfurly Administrator that they be allowed to attend services at the Kirk. Shortly thereafter, a bus was procured by Ranfurly and was used to transport most of their youth to the Kirk each Sunday.

Those who know me well, know that I resist titles. I’d rather you not call me Reverend MacPhail or Pastor MacPhail. “Just call me Bryn” has been my mantra during my 15 years in ministry. These youth, however, only refer to me as “Pastor Bryn” (pronounced “Pasta Bryn!”). I must admit, that I’ve grown to like that address. Not because I like being addressed according to what I do, but because of what I think they intend by the phrase. To many of the youth at Ranfurly Home, they see me as their pastor. This theory was confirmed when I inquired as to whether some of them were interested in taking Bible classes with me, with a view to joining the Kirk as members. The children were surveyed, and 7 signed up for the 6-week course.

When I showed up at Ranfurly to teach the first class, 17 showed up! For 6 weeks we studied together, what I termed, “the essentials of the Christian faith”. To my delight, some of the leaders from the Kirk showed up each Tuesday to audit the class and to build relationships with these children. The youth at Ranfurly enthusiastically engaged in the process. They were eager to read Scripture, ask questions, and dialogue about what it means to be a Christian living in Nassau in the 21st Century.

As the course drew to a close, it dawned on me that there might be a couple youth who have not yet been baptized. I asked them to put up their hand if they needed baptism. 11 of the 17 raised their hand.

This morning, at St. Andrew’s Kirk, 17 youth from Ranfurly professed their faith in Jesus Christ and became members of the church. 11 of the 17 were first baptized.

It is difficult to put into words how I felt. I tried not to think too much about what was happening for fear that I might be overwhelmed by emotion and not be able to proceed effectively. I could see people in my periphery wiping tears from their eyes. I think everyone in the room fully understood how huge this moment was–first, for these 17 youth, secondly, for this 202 year-old congregation, and thirdly (most importantly) for the kingdom of God. Young lives are being transformed and these baptisms and professions of faith were marking this profound change for us.

After the professions of faith, I proceeded to hand out Bibles to the youth, along with a hand written note for each of them. When the formalities were done, someone yelled (uncharacteristically!) from the congregation, “Amen!”. Moments later the congregation broke out into spontaneous applause.

I recognize that not every Sunday service is a memorable one for those that gather. Today was different. I suspect that everyone present at the Kirk today will remember what they saw, and will give thanks to God for it.

After lunch, I took a couple of visitors to Nassau on a tour of Ranfurly. When we went into the boys dormitory we immediately realized that we had awakened one of the boys from a nap. It was one of the boys who had professed his faith in Jesus earlier in the day. I was moved by what I saw–this boy awoke, not clutching his pillow, but clutching the Bible which was given to him a few hours ago.

I will forever thank God for allowing me the privilege to participate in His plan to draw young men and women to Himself. What a blessing.

Yes, today was a very special day.

800 Days In Paradise

My linkedin profile informed me this morning that it has been 103 days since I last posted on this blog. Undoubtedly, this is the longest gap between posts since launching my blog in January 2008. I don’t know how to account for this silence, and I can’t even say for certain that it won’t be another 103 days before I post again. What I can say is that after a little more than 2 years of pastoring at St. Andrew’s Kirk in The Bahamas, I have never been out “in the field” more than I have been here.

I don’t know if the Lord is turning me into a missionary or simply making me the kind of pastor I should have been all along. The best theological explanation I can offer is the one I gave during an interview with Wendell Jones on his television show. Having been prompted by The Great Commission throughout my ministry, I find myself newly challenged by the first imperative, which is the word “Go” (Matthew 28:19).

In the past, I have pastored as though I were in a fortress—focussing mainly on those who were already on the inside. Today, I find myself keenly interested in reaching those who have yet to confess Christ, and those who have yet to connect themselves with a local church community. I often find myself in the neighborhood just south of the Kirk, Bain & Grant’s Town. I find myself making weekly visits to the local orphanage, Ranfurly Homes For Children. I have even found it fruitful for me to be a part of the Nassau Street Hockey League.

The counterintuitive aspect of this new focus is that the more we focus on those outside of the Kirk, the more we seem to be growing inside the Kirk. We remain a modest sized congregation to be sure, but I marvel on how progress on the inside can be the consequence of giving careful attention to those on the outside.

I am so proud of the Kirk’s leaders who have not only supported this ministry trajectory, but have encouraged it. This emphasis in reaching the community would not have been nearly as effective if it were only me “going” out. The number of Kirk members engaging our community is increasing and, by every appearance, it is making a profound difference in the lives of, both, those serving and those being served.

I think what I am trying to say is this: After more than 800 days as pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk, I couldn’t be happier.

Many predicted that my “honeymoon” stage with this congregation would eventually come to an end—and it still may. But I’m confident that this honeymoon will transition into a relationship marked by even deeper love and concern.

I’m often asked—by those within the Kirk, and those outside the Kirk—how long do I plan on staying? Ultimately, that is up to the Lord, but my intention is to stay in Nassau a very long time.

There is much work to be done, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all that God calls us to do. But I think it is important for me to remind the people I serve that I regard it to be a massive privilege, and a source of great joy, to be their pastor and friend.

See you in 103 days (or less).