Most preachers have accumulated enough sermon tapes over the years to fill a small volkswagon. Before the internet revolution, particularly, the buying and sharing of the great pulpiteers’ sermon tapes was the only way to hear the best of Southern Baptist preaching. Now, with the advent of streaming audio/video and podcasting, tapes are becoming more and more obsolete.
Last night I decided to sort through my file box of sermon tapes with the intent of discarding the ones that were of little use. But I found myself clinging to them, refusing to discard any. In that box are sermons of W.A. Criswell from the 50s and 60s, the very best of Adrian Rogers on the Lordship of Christ and Jerry Vines on the ascension, sermons by Charles Stanley on personal holiness, and sermons by Joel Gregory on depression.
I’ve got sermons of Junior Hill that make me laugh and cry, and sermons by John MacArthur that drive me deeper into Scripture. There are tapes of friends who have matured into exemplary expositors: men like Ben Durand in North Carolina and Frankie Melton in Kentucky. I have copies of my own first sermon, an abysmally dismal attempt to explain Joshua 24, and I have debates of Paige Patterson with Cecil Sherman and Clark Pinnock.
I have one tape where Patterson endorses the servant-calling of deaconesses, and another where Bailey Smith hints that Janet Reno is a lesbian. I have a brave sermon by O.S. Hawkins from Jude entitled, “A Clown in the Halls,” and another excellent challenge by Guidestone’s president on the fear of the Lord.
The most listened-to sermon in my collection is one by the late Homer Lindsey, Jr., on Acts 20:20. Dr. Lindsey wasn’t the best expositor, but something about his authenticity and integrity compels an audience with anybody who loves the Scripture. I have tons of sermons by Al Mohler, whose sermons always have a way of telling the old, old story of the gospel in ways that make me want to read and study and write with theological precision.
I have sermons preached by Miss Bertha Smith, Theresa Brown, Anne Graham Lotz, and Dorothy Patterson. There are a few sermons from some crazies, like a man that used to excoriate First Baptist Dallas as a “den of whoremongers,” and the various rantings of Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. There are sermons from the days when Jerry Falwell could get through a message without rallying the troops for some America nationalism or promoting Liberty University. There are sermons by Ken Hemphill that move the soul and by Johnny Hunt that prick the conscience. I have in my possession a veritable banquet table of the heavenly bread without which men do not live.
And then there was a sermon collection that I was given, but I had never opened.
The day of Dr. Criswell’s funeral was the date it was given to me. A pastor friend from North Carolina and I had flown into Dallas for the noon funeral, after which we traveled north to attend the mid-week services at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Arriving at the church shortly before the services began, we made our way to the book store and perused the sermon series of the church’s pastor, Jack Graham.
We had barely been there ten minutes when a blonde lady with a kind face approached us to offer her assistance. She greeted us warmly and asked about our ministries. We explained to her how we had come into town for Dr. Criswell’s funeral, but we had one more night in town and had decided to come see Prestonwood. She introduced herself to us as “Deb,” and asked us to wait for a few moments until she could return.
While we browsed the store, Deb retrieved four sermon albums of various messages preached by Jack Graham. When she returned, she gave them to us at no charge. She offered a quick expression of thanksgiving for our commitment to preach the Scripture, told us that she hoped the sermons would encourage us, and then went back to her responsibilities.
At the time, I knew who she was, but she never let on and I did not press her. She was unassuming and unpretentious, a perfect lady who took time to be a blessing to a couple of anonymous young preachers who were quite overwhelmed at the size of Prestonwood’s behemoth facilities. She put a welcoming face and a warm heart to an potentially intimidating place. Her ministry to us was that of a servant, and not what many people expect from a megachurch pastor’s wife.
So today I opened one of those tape albums given to us by Jack Graham’s wife, and listened while I drove to the sermons of Jack Graham that feed God’s flock at Prestonwood. For those wondering how a church can grow the size of Prestonwood, it is easy to understand when you hear the way that their pastor seeks to explain the Bible to them with simplicity, sincerity, empathy, and grace.
I intended to write Mrs. Graham back in 2002 to thank her for the gift, but as so often happens the busy-ness of ministry and the delay of time robbed my memory of her generosity and kindness. Last night, with sermon tapes scattered about my living room, I determined that it was time to say thank you…to a gracious Christian woman and her husband, who has had every reason to succeed in ministry with such a helpmate at his side.