My 7:30 Sermon
The first sermon I ever preached was 7 minutes and 30 seconds long. They have grown considerably in length since then. I know more than a few people, who now chirp about how long I preach, that would be big fans of me bringing back the 7:30 sermons. FYI: It’s not happening.
At the time of my first sermon I was 16. I had been challenged to dedicate my life to serving the Lord at youth camp. I had been wrestling with the issue for some time, so I expressed what I felt at the time to be a call to preaching. A few weeks before I had passed my driver’s test. A few weeks later I failed my preaching test.
I remember the Saturday morning I took my driver’s test. Several of my friends from school, including one of my closest friends, John Patillo, were all there the same morning. Somehow I drew first straw. Lots of my classmates avoided taking their driver’s test in Ringgold because the DOT at the courthouse made you parallel park. I know more than a few kids who went to other counties just to avoid the pressure of the parking test. I presume many of those people are still struggling with parallels. My parents worked in downtown Chattanooga and they had thoroughly schooled me on the art. Line up back bumpers, slide easily into the space. You have to parallel cars before you can parallel park! Got it. So when it came time for me to parallel park for the Ringgold DOT my buddies lined the sidewalk to watch. I nailed it on the first try. I’m not sure if its true or not, but in my mind everyone cheered. It may be a pure fabrication, but in my mind I got a standing ovation. I know John congratulated me. That’s what friends are for.
To hear a seasoned preacher preach, you may think that preaching is much easier than parallel parking. Well, its not. When you are 16 I’m not quite sure if you know what preaching actually is. I got a few pointers in the weeks leading up to sermon 1, but in my mind a sermon was nothing more than taking a Bible verse and explaining it with passion for a long time. When you are 16 about all you know is that good sermons last awhile and when they are over people respond by going to the altar to pray. The real sinners stop and say something to the preacher on the way down. Good sermons slay sinners. For sermon 1 I picked the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Needless to say, at 16 I could parallel park much better than I could preach.
If you know the story of Jericho you know there were seven priests who blew seven trumpets as they marched around the wall for seven days. On the seventh day they marched around the wall seven times. It took Joshua a week to get it done. It took me less than ten minutes, 7:30 to be exact. I only wish I still had the tape so I could verify how awful it was. But as awful as it was, I still remember it as one of my favorite sermons. The sermon stands out to me, not due to its content, but because of how the church responded. Like Joshua at Jericho, following my 7:30 sermon the church marched around me and made my insecurity crumble. I firmly believe that God called me into the ministry in answer to the prayers of my grandmother. Yet the folks at my home church, New Liberty Baptist in Ringgold, GA are the people that fanned the flame. In 7:30 there is nothing I helped them believe about Joshua, God, or Jericho. Yet at 7:31 they began to demonstrate that they believed in me. I am not exactly sure who it was, I think it was Ellen Eaker, but when the invitation was given she made her way to the altar and stopped, like a sinner, at the preacher. I was the preacher. I couldn’t believe it. After I made it seem like Joshua sprinted Jericho, somebody was actually walking down the aisle. Ellen Eaker was a true saint of God, which gave her the Holy Spirit insight and wisdom to know the power of the moment. She walked over to me humbly as if she were a sinner in need of repentance, she took me by the hand, and told me how I could pray for her. She shared her heart with me as if her eternity depended on my prayers. Then she laid hands on me and prayed for me. It was a defining moment.
I could write volumes about how important moments like that are to a young man wrestling with the call, but you can probably figure it out. The point is that in 15 years of ministry there have been numerous men and women in the church who have gotten in line behind my grandmother and fanned the flame in my life. The beauty of those people is that in their eyes, no matter how big a train wreck your 7:30 is, you never fail. They believe fervently in the Lord, and because of what they know of God, they believe in you. They know that if you will only stay faithful, you will grow and mature because God is faithful, powerful, and good. They know that given time your preaching will catch up to your parallel parking and that in the years to come you will not only save your bumper, but the Lord will use you preaching the gospel to save sinners.
Thank you Mrs. Ellen and every other saint of God who made me believe that 7:30 sermon was one of the best they had ever heard. You fanned the flame. I am still preaching and following God.