I want to teach in a Church one day. In fact, I’ve already prepared a sermon for you all to see. As one who has listened to thousands of sermons in my life I believe I’ve found the key to be able to condense the vast majority of the sermons I’ve listened to and boil it down in a short, succinct message. For this reason I wanted to show you the outline I will be using, which it seems is the standard outline for 90% of modern evangelical mainline protestant churches, then offer a brief homily. I got the idea from a Chris Rosebrough post, found here, and riffed on it a bit and used his outline.
This outline is golden. Its almost a science and I guarantee that it can be replicated over and over again. Stick with it and you are sure to draw big crowds and see “life change” happen in your church. Life change will help you and your members “do life together” which is the ultimate goal of that the Church is trying to facilitate.
But before we do that, I need to lay out my primary assumption to my audience, so they know where I, and apparently most of the other bible teachers/pastors are coming from. We work from the understanding that, to quote Rosebrough
” Every Bible story is about YOU, my beloved congregation. And, since YOU all struggle with setbacks, problems and challenges that keep YOU from achieving YOUR maximal greatness, that means that the Bible is really all about giving YOU a road map that YOU can follow to achieve YOUR dreams and God-given destiny.”
So in the spirit of transparency, here is the outline and the steps I have taken to create this sermon.
Step 1. Read a bible story. In our case, 1 Kings 18, which is the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. It’s best if you read it from the Message Bible as that will result in maximum fluidity of textual fidelity. That is to say, you have the most “outs” if any pesky congregation members try to pin you down on any troubling questions on your interpretation . Also, it is recommended that as time permits, you paraphrase the paraphrase. This lets you emphasize the points you want to emphasize in the story and leave out the points that aren’t relevant or that may contradict the point you want to make. For our purposes we will copy the entire text here from The Message Bible, but as long as the congregation more or less gets the gist of the story, as told by you, that is more than sufficient.
16 So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah.
17-19 The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, “So it’s you, old troublemaker!”
“It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. Here’s what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there.”
20 So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.
21 Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”
Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.
22-24 Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”
All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”
25 Elijah told the Baal prophets, “Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you’re the majority. Then pray to your god, but don’t light the fire.”
26 So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, “O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.
27-28 By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.
29 This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.
30-35 Then Elijah told the people, “Enough of that—it’s my turn. Gather around.” And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.
36-37 When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”
38 Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.
39 All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”
40 Elijah told them, “Grab the Baal prophets! Don’t let one get away!”
They grabbed them. Elijah had them taken down to the Brook Kishon and they massacred the lot.
Step 2. Identify the hero and the villain(s) in the story.
Villain= Prophets of Baal.
Step 3. Identify yourself with the hero (who also happens to be on a journey toward greatness and achieving his God-given destiny, just like you).
Villain= Debt, negative people in your life, a boring job, marital challenges, unfulfilled dreams, broken relationships, etc.
Step 4. Identify the key action taken by the hero to defeat the villain.
Key action- Built an altar. Covered it with water and then called down the fires of God. Also slaughtered the prophets.
Step 5. Allegorize that action by calling it a ‘principle’ and then challenge people to ‘apply this principle’ in their lives in order to defeat the problems, challenges, and setbacks in their lives so that they can achieve greatness.
Here’s how it comes together
“Today I want to tell you a story about a guy named Elijah. He was a prophet of God who lived in the Old Testament, and he’s probably most famous for defeating the prophets of Baal. The story is that there was a famine in the land, the people had forgotten about God, and there was an evil king named Ahad who brought a challenge to Elijah to end the famine. So Elijah went to Mount Carmel, and both he and the prophets each built an altar with the idea that whoever’s altar caught fire first, without getting lit, would demonstrate whose God was real.
The prophets of Baal went first, and they chanted to their gods for half the day to set fire to their altar and prove he was real until they were all sweating in the sun. When nothing happened, Elijah started taunting them and mocking them, so they tried all the harder and even cut themselves to show their sincerity. After a while Elijah got sick of this, and built his own altar, drenched it with water, then prayed to God, and “Whoosh!” the fire of God came down and burned up everything, proving that The God of Elijah was the one and only God.
You know, what we see in this story is that Elijah had a problem. He knew he was called to be a prophet, but guys like Ahab kept him down and was keeping him from reaching his highest potential. Elijah had a dream to serve God and be a Godly man, but Ahab made him question himself and caused him to doubt the vision that God gave him for his life. Elijah knew that God had a plan for his life, plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper and give him a hope and a future. However, Ahab and Jezebel were so powerful, and in that moment Elijah must have felt so helpless. In that moment Ahab issued an impossible challenge- “let’s build two altars, one for you and one for me, and we’ll see which God is real.”
Do you have an impossible dream in your life nobody says you can do, but you feel in the depths of your heart it is from God that you’re just aching to fulfill? We all have impossible things in our life. Maybe you’re in a ton of financial debt, you have fifty thousand dollars on the credit card, and you don’t know how you’ll get out of it. Maybe you have a broken relationship, and the two of you have been fighting for so long that it seems impossible you’ll ever reconcile. Maybe you’re stuck in the daily grind of a dead-end job, and you think it’s impossible to ever get promoted out of it. Well Elijah was in that same situation, and what did he do? He stepped out in faith and built an altar to God.
Sometimes you just have to put it out there and build your altar. If Elijah hadn’t built it, the fires of God wouldn’t have come down and he wouldn’t have gotten out of that impossible situation. He had to put himself out there and try something out even though he had no idea if it would work or not. And I’m sure the people of Israel were laughing at him, and were thinking he was nuts when he poured water all over it, but he had to create a place for God to bless him in the midst of this impossible situation.
What’s the shot in the dark that you need to take to go out on a limb to overcome the setbacks in your life? Maybe for some of you, you’ve been fighting with your wife for years now, and you’re only sticking together for the kids. Maybe you need to put yourself out there and send her flowers in the mail, or write her a nice note, anything to get the ball rolling. Maybe for some of you, stuck in that job, you need to write out your resume and submit it for the Managers position as an act of obedience. God wants you to bless you, but you need to build an altar of opportunity and possibility so that he can.
After that in the story we see the fire come down which represents God’s blessing. God wants to bless you financially, emotionally, and relationally, and if you build that altar he’ll be able to. God has equipped you with all that you need, He’s just waiting for the “ok from you”
Finally, the last key is that after he is blessed, Elijah kills all the prophets. That’s an important step. After you build your altar, you need to get rid of all the people and situations that oppose you. You need to get rid of the doubters, and haters, and people who are discouraging you from your impossible dream and are keeping you mired in your problems.
Because if you let those things live, they’ll just fester and grow and make you doubt what God’s helping you achieve. You need to un-friend those friends on facebook who are keeping you down. You need to stop hanging around those co-workers who are lazy and have no plans to better themselves. You need to cut up the credit card bills just like Elijah cut the throats of the prophets of Baal so that you don’t use them again.
And so I want to ask you- what’s your altar that you need to build today so that you can defeat your personal prophet of Baal?
That’s the meat of the message. I know it seems short, but I’ll punctuate it with personal life stories as well as a few funny anecdotes about my week, which will add another 30 minutes to the sermon so that it will cIock in at the 40 minute mark. I hope you all like it. If any Churches in the SBC need a guest speaker, I’ll be more than happy to fill in and preach it. Based on what I know about you guys, I should be in very high demand. Conferences here I come!