14 September 2006

My night at the preachapalooza

by Dan Phillips

Once upon a time, when I was a pastor in a very small town, the Ministerial Association decided to have a Good Friday service. They invited me to preach. Six others, and me.

I had declined to join the Association, since I was new, busy enough, and saw real no purpose in it. As I recall, it featured a Mormon clergyman, a female clergytype, a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian, and a few others. Nice enough folks, I suppose, and you could argue this way and that -- but I just saw no reason to join.

Nevertheless, they asked me to preach at a sunrise service, and I said "Sure." Again, later, they asked me to preach at this service. I said "Sure!" My philosophy of preaching is this: if someone asks you, do it. If I can preach, I do it. Anywhere, anytime. I can only recall choosing to turn down one invitation, and that was both a special case and a very hard call for me.

Their plan was actually to have a preach-a-thon. Seven clergy preaching on the seven last words of Christ from the cross. One saying per preacher.

I could not have been more delighted with my assignment: John 19:30 -- "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished,' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." Tetelestai -- I was praising God!

So comes the night of the preachapalooza, and it's all flowing along well enough. I mean there were no explosions, no bloodshed. In fact, I don't remember anything about the sermons preceding mine -- except for one.

The sermon was on this passage:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)
To whom did the assigner, in his wisdom, allot this text? To the Roman Catholic priest. (I imagine that he, in his way, was just as happy with his assignment as I was with mine.)

Now, "Father" Chester was a very nice man. We had dinner once, and enjoyed a nice talk. I had the opportunity of telling him the Gospel. It was as if he had never heard it before. In his fifties, from the Old Country, Roman Catholic priest -- yet no sign that he had a clue about the Gospel.

But on this night he spoke of something clearly very dear to his heart, something he did know well, something for which he had great enthusiasm: the adoration of Mary. From this text, Chester drew the application that Mary is mother to all of us, for Jesus entrusted us to her, and her to us. As we keep a picture of our mothers in our wallets, we should keep a picture of Mary in our wallets. And, if we have needs, we should tell them to Mary. It will work now just as it did on earth: we tell Mary what we need, Mary tells Jesus what to do, and, like a good Son, He does it.

As Chester preached, two things happened:

The audience grew very quiet.

And I re-composed my sermon.

When I came to the pulpit, I had a brand-new introduction. It went something like this:

I love to hike in the Sierra. One time recently I was on a hike, by myself. I had gone four or five miles back to a beautiful lake. Circling around to the back side of the lake, I took some pictures. Up the rocky shore, I saw a spot that looked like it would be a perfect vantage point for a great picture. So I started to make my way across the rocks to this spot -- when suddenly the bank gave away under my feet! The rocks tumbled and rolled, and so did I. In a flash, I found myself dunked in the lake.

I was fine, but what a terrible feeling it was. It's a terrible feeling to trust yourself to something, to put all your weight on it, confidently, and then find that it can't hold you. It's a terrible feeling when your support collapses from under you. It's a terrible feeling when the very ground gives way beneath you, and you fall.

To what shall we trust our souls? To whom? Who or what can bear our weight, the weight of our sin and guilt, of our immortal selves? If we trust our souls to any mere mortal, no matter how holy or saintly, no matter how godly -- they are sinners, too, and they cannot hold us. They will collapse. Joseph cannot hold us. He would collapse. Mary cannot save us. She would give way. No mere child of Adam can hold the weight of our sin and need. All would dissolve into rubble beneath us.

Only Jesus can support us. He shows us this in His cry from the Cross: It is finished!

Know well: this is no cry of despair. Jesus does not say, "I am finished." No, it is a cry of victory. The Greek tetelestai means that it has been brought to consummation, to perfect completion. The word was used of bills that had been "paid in full."

When our Lord cries thus on the Cross, He is signifying that He, He Himself, He alone in His own person, had fully paid every last farthing, every penny, of His people's debt to God. He had left nothing undone of what the Father's plan of salvation required. Alone, unaided, hanging on the cross, under the holy wrath of God for sinners, Jesus Christ made full atonement for all the sins of His people.

And now we believe Jesus, or we do not. If we look to "Jesus-and" -- to Jesus and our pastor, to Jesus and Mary, to Jesus and any other mortal or any other sect or any other practice or any other thing -- then we do not believe Jesus. We do not accept His word, "It is finished."

We must look to Jesus, to Jesus alone, for salvation. We must trust ourselves to the One who cried "It is finished!"

...and a few other thoughts. The temperature lifted a bit, and a few "Amen"s were heard.

Chester lived next door to me. A few days after the service, he waved to me. "Pray for me, the sinner!" he called out. "I do," I answered.

But as far as I know, he stayed with Rome.

Dan Phillips's signature


Carrie said...

Amen Dan!

Strangely, I feel encouraged by your message but mostly sad for those who are stuck on the “and”.

DJP said...

Oh, I don't think that's strange at all. The word of Jesus is simply endlessly replete with wonder and glory; at the risk of sounding... affected, there really is a Heaven of glory in that word.

And that sects have chained countless hearts in thralldom to its denial -- chained them to the point that they will adamantly defend their chains and dungeons to their last breath -- is nothing but sad.

Tom Chantry said...

This is perhaps the srangest aspect of the evangelical fascination with Catholicism. Time and again we are confronted with Catholic worship of Mary, a woman Jesus rebuked on more than one occasion, yet some refuse to see the contradiction between Mary-worship and the Christian faith. It is evidence that the evangelical church itself has abandoned Solus Christus; too many do not appreciate the complete nature of His saving work.

DJP said...

I can't be less balffled than you -- nor with the apparent shrugginess of other "evangelicals" towards this fascination.

It's not even the dog returning to its vomit. It's the dog turning from the freshest, choicest steak -- to vomit. Old vomit.

Okay... maybe too early in the morning? Sorry.

ScottyB said...


John H said...

Great stuff.

Gordon Cloud said...

That was an excellent message and a great opportunity. Too bad the priest did not "see the light".

Tom Chantry said...

But if churches will not preach the absolute sufficiency of Christ, what is to hold them back from Rome? I agree that the Catholic religion is miserable substitute for Biblical Christianity, but are the pseudo-evangelicals who love Rome really abandoning Biblical Christianity, or have they long since so neutered the message of the cross that they cannot see the difference? I don't think they're turning from the freshest steak. It may be choice, but it's been growing stale at the back of the fridge for decades now.

Even So... said...

DJP, I say this not to puff you up but to build you up, and to lift up the name of the One of whom you spoke...

The analogy and verbage you used following distinctly reminded me of a preacher from the 19th century that we all know and admire around this place called Pyromaniacs...

Ironic considering your thoughts given on him in the blogosphere.

If a man is a willing instrument, God brings to mind our experiences and molds them into a fashion where we can tell the truths of the gospel in a way that seems eerily similar to all the great proclaimers of the past.

God is more amazing than we will ever know in this life, but I just saw another hint of His amazing grace and power today...

Praise the name of Jesus!

4given said...

Wow, Dan. That made my eyes "drip."

(My 3 year olds term for my eyes dripping tears)

JSB said...

Those words you spoke were perfect for the moment, Dan. Query: What should be our stance on the Catholic question? Are devout Catholics in the "absolutely condemned" category, or in the "it's up to God" category?

donsands said...


My two cents. If a Catholic is trusting in Christ alone for his forgiveness of sin, then he will have eternal life.

This was such a fine post.
"Tetelestai"! "It is finished"!
I love how you expounded upon this Greek word, and this holy verse of the Holy Writ.

Steve said...

Dan: Thanks for prefacing the post with your comments about being willing to preach wherever you're invited.

For a few years I was asked periodically to preach via a video outreach for the Church of Christ. I figured as long as I'm given the opportunity to speak the truth, sure, why not? Some of my good friends thought it unwise of me to do this given Church of Christ beliefs. But I couldn't deny feeling a peace within my heart about what I was doing.

The last video was done nearly 15 years ago. Yet I still run into people (as recently as a few months ago) who were blessed by the messages.

I know this type of setup (and your setup at the preacapalooza) raises up the thorny question of whom we're "associated" with. But I believe there's a fine area of discernment here and that there's a difference between association in the sense of actively co-partnering with ecumenical types (not a good idea) and not actively co-partnering but merely participating (as you did) and standing firm for the truth.

Kim said...

That's too bad for Chester.

He's missing out big time.

candyinsierras said...

Fantastic opportunity to preach the gospel. Good job not shrinking back, by the grace and strength of God. You would probably do well on Larry King(not like some people we know).

SolaMeanie said...


I have seen plenty of these ecumenical things over the years, and so many are cowed by the event and let things like that slip by.

I can remember an older Swedish lady - a solid evangelical - at this local anti-pornography event a few years ago. An elderly Catholic priest was one of the main organizers of the crusade to shut down local adult bookstores. They got into a conversation about eternal life, and the priest said that he "hoped he would aspire to the beatific vision." My Swedish friend replied in her thick accent, "But Father *****, the Bible says "I write these things that you may KNOW you have eternal life." It was precious.

And sad, because like the priest you mention..he didn't have a clue.

JSB said...

donsands...I should have been clearer in my question. I would define "devout Catholic" as one who does not trust in Christ "alone." Otherwise, he wouldn't be, by definition, a devout Catholic.

I did subsequently find this in the Institutes:

"Still, as in ancient times, there remained among the Jews certain special privileges of a Church, so in the present day we deny not to the Papists those vestiges of a Church which the Lord has allowed to remain among them amid the dissipation. "

duchessSoF said...

You have no idea how this touched me.
I am a Calivnist struggling with a pull towards Rome and also checking out Orthodoxy.

God bless you. +

Anonymous said...

Recently I touched upon both Joy and mourning in my life as a believer in my blog; I saw it in your post as well. Joy in Christ and His accomplished work; and mourning for all those who do not hear or will not hear.

Praise to the Father. Let us pray for all those who assume chester's position.

Kaffinator said...

Dan, what an uplifting message. It is good to see evidence that the gift of preaching has not ceased, and continues to be worked out through people like you, to the glory of Christ.

4given said...

I am prayerfully compelled to share with you and your readers why this made my eyes "drip." Here goes and please bear with me... my eyes are still dripping and it's kinda hard to see.

I have multiple sclerosis. It is a very pride-stripping disease without a cure. But it does not keep me from being a homschool mom of 6 children. But I am not as active as I use to be.
I recently started on meds that I inject myself 3x a week that make me a bit sick. My best friend, my husband, felt that I needed help around the house to preserve my energy for the precious task of educating our children. I have 3 preschoolers, a kindergartener and 7th and 8th graders. (4 of them are boys) ... so he hired bonded and insured house cleaners that come twice a week.
They are these 2 Mexican ladies. One speaks broken English and the other does not speak very much English. They work so hard that by the time they are done they are sweating. My children and I are homeschooling the whole time they are here. They often witness us stting down to eat lunch, they hear my children's prayers, listen to my lessons about the Lord, hear our songs and hymns of praise... they hear my children thank God for them in their prayers and they hear my children say thank you to them for coming to our home.
THey are devote Catholics.
Today, one of them broke down crying and hugged me and asked for my prayers. I told her that I already pray for her every morning and am so blessed to have her in my home... then my phone rang.
I am not one to hesitate to share the Gospel with people. I know what a wretched sinner I am, saved by grace alone. I often feel so inadequate when I share the Gospel, but then I cannot help myself.
All that to say that I will be printing this out for them along with sharing the Gospel. Please pray for them. Please.
This is only the second time I have had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a Catholic. The first time was to an 8 year old little girl in our old neighborhood in Oklahoma. She then shared it with her dad, who initially rejected it, but then after a year became a Christian... he then shared it with his devote Catholic mother who initially rejected it and then after time became a Christian. THey have shared it with the little girls mother who has since literally gone off the deep end and has left her father and is drinking heavily. So please pray for her, also.

DJP said...

I'm pressed for time at the moment, just wanted to say:

All, thanks for your kind words.

Duchess -- thanks. You made my day. Don't be a stranger.

Lisa -- you bet I'll pray. Let us know what happens.

I mean to interact more, answer questions, later. Thanks again.

Uncynic said...

Thanks for the article. I call my computer "tetelestai," and am so glad for the perfect tense in the verse.

Rick Potter said...


A few days back while in my favorite bookstore I picked up a new book. Last night I picked it up to look it over. Not really intending to read anything, I was just going to thumb through it. But I came across an article about "Intertextuality" and since I wasn't real familiar with the concept I decided to read the article. At one point the article reads:

"Readers who attend to all these citations and their original contexts find that Jesus' cry of abandonment stands as a profound answer to the mockery......Some have suggested that the citation of the lament pslam also proclaims confidence that God will deliver those who trust in him.......The cry of dereliction is shorthand for the movement of the whole psalm from a wail of lament to a shout of victory." Source: Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible: Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Editor (pg.332)

Your words - "Know well: this is no cry of despair. Jesus does not say, "I am finished." No, it is a cry of victory." caused me to get the book out and re-read the article.

Just wanted to say thanks for all the "building-up" you do here.


4given said...

Forgive me for over-commenting. I just am convicted to add that I was actually sadly relieved that the phone rang. Though I typically love to share the Gospel, this is post-injection day and I am sicker than a dog and not "in the mood" to share God's precious Gospel. God please forgive me. And forgive me for making you all think otherwise.

GL said...

Nifty jijitsu. And a great illustration about the hike.

Jesus is All and therefore Only; He is Only, and therefore all we have and all we need. To Him be glory in our preaching, living, serving.

Kim said...


What a beautiful story!

You never know how your circumstances will be used for the glory of God.

rabbi-philosopher said...

A couple years ago I had a Johnny Mac tape about Catholicism. He said, it was absolutely blasphemous to think that Mary could be more loving than God.
I had never even thought that but his statement was absolutely correct.

donsands said...


God has mercy on whom He will.Rom 9:18
And all whom the Father draws to the Son will come to Him, and they will trust Christ, and Jesus Christ will raise them up on the last day. John 6:37-44

All who do not believe in the Son alone abide under the wrath of God. John 3:36; Gal 4:22
For there is nothing that can be done to add to the salvation that God has granted to us. Gal 2:21

The Lord opens our hearts and He brings us to faith. We cry out to Him, because He chose us before the foundation of the world. Eph. 1:4-6; 2:8

Is there a period of renewing the mind and heart after one is brought out of darkness, and into His marvelous light? Yes, for sure. And the Lord will bring all His true children to the knowledge of His truth and grace, by His grace.
This may be a rabbit path away from the original subject, so I'll put the brakes on here.

DJP said...

Okay, let's try to pick up the "spares" I've had to miss:

Even So -- I think you're saying something nice, but you lose me. A 19th century preacher whom I've disparaged? No idea who that'd be.

jsb -- it's all "up to God," of course. RCism is a chameleonic cult; on the one hand, they love to play the "seamless robe" card and try to paint Christendom as hopelessly divided; on the other, quote any RC, and they commonly say, "Oh, that's not our position."

Take Chester. He said there was no way he could be sure he'd go to Heaven. I showed him 1 John 5:13. He then said yeah, sure, okay; he was sure he'd go to Heaven. It went like that.

So let's put it Biblically. Can anyone who believes that salvation is attained by faith plus race plus works be saved? Don't know how to read Galatians 1 and answer "Yes."

The very least I'd say without qualification is the RCC is no place for anyone who loves, and believes in, Jesus.

Steve -- to me the question is, "Do they tell me what to preach, and what not to preach?" If the answer's "Yes," no deal.

Candy -- thanks; I really give all glory to God. I'd say a lot of things about myself, but "Quick on my feet" would not be among them. I praise God for His grace in guiding my thinking in reconstructing the sermon on the dais.

Even So... said...

Sorry Dan, I didn't mean disparage, but disconnected to, and so it would be ironic that you would sound like someone you didn't think you connected with...

But whoops!upon further review of the post in question, I realized it was Edwards, not Spurgeon you didn't connect with, and so it is certainly apropos for you to sound like one from whom you have drank deeply at the well.

All that being said, let's clear it up:

Your writing reminded me of Spurgeon, and I don't mean James, although I miss him...

God bless you...

Carrie said...

The very least I'd say without qualification is the RCC is no place for anyone who loves, and believes in, Jesus.

I am so glad to hear you say this because this is exactly how I feel and I have taken some heat on my own blog for it. Sometimes I get discouraged b/c other evangelicals don't seem to get it or don't want to say it.

On a positive note, I have been witnessing to a Catholic friend at work who I believe has now accepted Christ as her Savior. She wasn't even a devout/practicing Catholic, but you know what her hang up was? Mary!

And just like your story here, a lifetime in the RCC and she knew nothing about Jesus. And after growing up Catholic and having a family and many friends who still are Catholic, I can tell you that this is not unusual.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that and say that your message was very encouraging and timely for me.

Andrew said...

Living and ministering as I do in a predominately Catholic country, your post was of special interest. Our biggest struggle here is to demonstrate that Christ is the ONLY way.

DJP said...

Thanks, Even; I wasn't bristling, just puzzled. Yeah, I love Spurgeon, absolutely.

But Edwards... brr-r-r-r-r!

Lindon said...

I once worked with a guy who was raised devout Catholic but around age 30 became a Christian (and his family mourned him!). He is extremely on fire for the Word. One day a few of us were out on a photo shoot, with me driving, when a huge truck ran a red light and almost killed us all.

On impulse he yelled, Hail Mary, full of grace!

I teased him later that it is hard to take the Catholic out of the boy. He was so embarrassed at his outburst and could not figure out why he said it when he had spent the last 2 years trying to show his parents from the Bible why they should not worship Mary!

Thanks for this post. I have quite a few RC friends from work, etc. and illustrations such as these really help.

striving... said...

I feel like I should share. This is a lesson I am just learning in my walk. About 2 months ago I relized that I was putting all my faith, hope, fear, etc. on my husband. Poor guy. My Pastor and I were talking and it just kind of clicked that he is not the man to be putting it on. Now, anytime something is going on that makes me feel a little *sucked dry*, for lack of better words, I do not unload on him, but I pray, and I put every ounce of me into those prayers. He is a good man to let me put that burden on him. :)

Anonymous said...


You know when you hear a cliche phrase your whole life, then two or three times, you know exactly what it means for just a second and you experience the full weight of it?

Well, my "heart just welled within me."

Praise God for what He does in/through you.

Brent Railey said...

Great post DJP. I loved the imagery in the sermon revised introduction.

philness said...


My 2 cents: I would say that if a Catholic person within the Roman system is trusting Christ for his salvation then the Holy Spirit would have him out of that system fast. I dont believe there is such things as a saved Roman Catholic.

étrangère said...

Philness - "I dont believe there is such things as a saved Roman Catholic." Rubbish. Just as the reformers were wanting to stay in and reform, so most RCs when they put their trust entirely in Christ & his finished work on the cross for salvation want to stay in and reform. I know of a priest who when this happened stayed 'in', pastoring his flock as was his commission, but with the gospel, for around 6 months before he was forced out. I know believers who remain in, seeking reform and witness.

I imagine that in that situation I could not in good conscience stay in long, and I don't consider the RCC as a whole to be Christian but to be putting forth an anti-gospel. And I care for RC people with gospel ministration, prayers & tears. But which of us raised reformed can really imagine being in that situation? It is our role to encourage and build up such brothers & sisters in the faith (those who have come to trust in Christ & his finished work alone for salvation), provide Christian community, help them think through culturally how their faith might express itself when others will consider that they've abandoned their faith and cultural identity. It is not our role to judge them. Of course it would be entirely unloving to pretend that their RCC was a gospel community and not help them towards one, but it would also be unloving to stand from the outside declaring judgement just because they don't jump according to when we think we would jump if we were they.

Dan, praise God for giving you grace for wisdom & boldness to preach such a word and may God continue to use it in those who heard even now. I weep for such priests even as I pray against such teaching which blinds eyes to seeing the glory of God in the face of the Christ who cried Tetelestai.

Sharon said...


I disagree strongly. Why would any believer attend and support a church that teaches heresy? Not only does it severly limit one's spiritual learning, it's downright dangerous.

If you want to reach Catholics, Mormons, JWs, etc. for the gospel, then do it on an individual basis. You don't need to be a member to evangelize.