The conference ended yesterday. For three days I preached on the simple Gospel—what salvation by grace apart from works really means, and what it doesn't mean. I felt called to address this subject, in part at least, because of the terrible sermon I heard last year. I guess what surprised me was the lack of outraged denial when the woman stated "You must work for your salvation!"
So this year I started with the plan of salvation. I laid out the fact that we're sinners, that we deserve death, that Jesus took the penalty that we deserve, and that faith in his finished work was all that was required to be saved. To be candid, I didn't see much of a response in the faces of the congregation.
The second night we went to Luke 24 and the road to Emmaus. Why must the Christ suffer and then enter into his glory? Staying in the OT, I showed how we are all sinners, how the shedding of blood was necessary to take away sins, and how the predicted resurrection showed that God was completely satisfied with Christ's sacrifice on the cross. When I finished, the local pastor stood and (presumably) gave an invitation. One shabbily dressed man came forward and knelt before the platform. Several of the local pastors prayed with him. I don't know the whole story of this man except that he wasn't a regular at the church. But I trust God touched his life through the preaching of his Word.
Last night I preached on John 3. I asked (and answered) three questions: What is the New Birth? Who needs the New Birth? How do I get the New Birth? and then another, Do you have the New Birth? In all the years I've been preaching in Africa, I've never seen a congregation more attentive. The sermon usually takes a secondary role to the worship. Let's face it, singing and dancing are more fun than sitting still and listening. But not last night! After the service ended, Bonnie, Liz, and I were mobbed by the crowd. To use Liz's phrase, we were rock stars! People pushed and shoved to maneuver into position to have their picture taken with us. It was quite an experience.
Today I'm going back to the church to continue to teach the pastors. I learned yesterday that one of the men traveled seven days on foot in order to receive the teaching being offered. That's quite humbling and fills me with a overweaning sense of responsibility.
Of course, I have to admit learning that truth brought to mind an unwelcome comparison. In my church in Michigan, there was little tolerance for preaching that extended past 30 minutes. An Elder's wife once confronted me about not giving the Gospel the previous Sunday morning. I protested that I did give a clear Gospel message at the end of the sermon. Her response? She sniffed, "Well, I stop listening after 9:30!" I don't know if it was God or the Devil or my own sinfulness that brought that to mind, but I confess the contrast was striking.