Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Sermon That Changed My Life - By Elliot Tembo

While there are so many skeptics inside and outside the church with respect to the power of preaching, there is no doubt that all of us who are Christians today will recall a sermon that changed our lives. For some of us, that sermon brought about our salvation. Yet for others, it was the sermon that catapulted us from a life of compromise and sin to a life of total surrender and obedience to God. This week, I have commenced a series of 13 blog posts to document this reality. I have asked a few friends to share with my readers about that one sermon (among so many others) that stands out in their lives like Mount Kilimanjaro among the many African hills. I have given them only one condition—the sermon should not be one that I preached!

The first one is by Elliot Tembo, who lives in Newcastle, Australia. He is married to Agness Chisanga and together they have three daughters, two of whom are in high school while their eldest daughter is studying at the University of Newcastle. Elliot grew up mostly in Lusaka and went to a boarding secondary school in Chongwe, east of Lusaka. He studied at the University of Zambia and graduated in 1986, after which, he worked for the Zambian Copper Mines in Kitwe and Kalulushi. Elliot and his wife moved to South Africa in 1998 and to Australia three years later where he is still in the mining industry. The Tembos worship at New Lambton Baptist Church in Newcastle. Here is Elliot’s story of the sermon that changed his life…

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While at National Service, in Zambia, I met Christian friends like Raphael Banda and the late Dr Simon Mphuka who later invited me to visit Lusaka Baptist Church when we started our studies at the University in Lusaka. I was at the time young in the faith having committed my life to the Lord in my final year of secondary school. That is how I found myself at Lusaka Baptist Church that Sunday morning in October 1981.

After the first part of the worship service, a man dressed in a simple short-sleeved chitenge shirt—not quite what I expected of a reverend—walked up to the pulpit and began to preach. That was my first encounter with Pastor Joe Simfukwe. The pastor preached from the gospel of John Chapter 3:1-8, which is an account of the conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Providentially, I had visited at a time when the pastor was taking a series in the Gospel of John and was addressing the questions of "why" you must be born again and "how" you can be born again.

I clearly remember being transfixed as this man in the pulpit preached as though the message was just for me—explaining very clearly the mystery of the new birth. For the first time I had this very clear understanding of what the Lord had done in my life through the mystery and miracle of salvation. It was not just the eloquence of the preaching that captivated me, but rather, I experienced a clear sense of God speaking to my heart; there was just that connection with the word of God, which I had not experienced before.  I still remember the reference from Ezekiel:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit..." (John 3:6).

While I could not explain the exact mechanics of the new birth, this one thing I was convinced beyond doubt—the Lord had done something in my life and I was a new creation.

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

I understood why I no longer had interest in the worldly pursuits that used to pre-occupy my life, and why the friends I had in secondary school had begun to avoid and run away from me. I understood why at National Service, while other recruits relaxed in their free time or engaged in some other pursuits, I was drawn to fellowship meetings or sometimes to sneak out with friends to a quiet place to pray.

That first sermon and the follow-up ones in this series, in my view, set the foundation for my faith. The popular chorus we sang then, "Abba, Father let me be yours and yours alone..." became a part of my daily life.

I am forever grateful for the formative five years I spent at Lusaka Baptist Church under the pastoral ministry of Pastor Joe Simfukwe. The recurring theme for me for much of those years was the reality of the Lord Jesus in my life. He remains alive and very real to me whatever circumstances the world and the evil one throw at me. The Lord still remains "Abba, Father."

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