Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, told about a fire at a theater that tragically killed a large number of people in the audience. Backstage, some of cast members smelled smoke and soon discovered flames shooting out of a backroom of the theater. One of the actors quickly ran out on to the stage in the midst of a very dramatic scene and frantically yelled, “Fire!” Waving his arms he repeatedly shouted, “Please, you all need to leave now.” Other members of the cast who were on stage realized this was certainly not part of the script. Heeding their friend’s warning they quickly moved behind the curtain, left the stage, and headed for the exit.
The folks in the audience, however, simply sat in their seats. They assumed that the “fire warning” was part of the play. In fact, as the actor kept giving his warning, the people in the audience began to applaud. Some even gave him a standing ovation. The man seemed to be delivering his lines with great passion and intensity. As he dashed off the stage, the applause continued until one of the curtains on the stage burst into flames. All of the sudden the crowd realized that the warning was not part of the script but part of reality. The people surged toward the theater exits, but for many it was too late. The high death toll that day from the smoke, flames, and trampling crowd could have been avoided if the audience would have recognized the truth of warning given to them and acted upon it.
Friends, as a pastor, I preach a sermon almost every Sunday morning, lead two or three bible studies each week, and frequently write a column for the newspaper. Though I have seldom received actual applause for what I say or write, I receive many compliments. People often tell me things like “I really enjoyed your sermon today,” or “That was a very interesting column you had in the paper,” or “I really like what you had to say on the radio this morning.” Now, I certainly appreciate hearing these compliments. They are lot more fun to get than criticism. Yet sometimes I find statements like this a little frustrating. Why? Because my goal is not to preach sermons or write articles which people find enjoyable or interesting. Rather, my goal, through whatever medium I happen to use, is to communicate truth which people will believe and act upon.
Recently, I gave a sermon on the importance of finding spiritual nourishment from God’s word, the Bible. A number of folks expressed appreciation for that message, and I was grateful for those comments. Yet my real desire is that God will use what I have said to motivate people to spend more time reading and studying their Bibles. If that doesn’t happen, the sermon really did not accomplish its purpose. In many sermons, I warn people of the danger of going through the motions of religion but not having a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Though it is nice when folks say they like what I said, what really matters is whether people examine their own souls to make sure their faith in Christ is genuine. If they don’t do that, my words may have no more value than those of that actor, who’s warning of a fire was thought to be only part of the script.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church