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Does Your Sermon Pass the "Geography Test"?

My family and I move to Haiti early next year to fully implement the work of our ministry Supply and Multiply. A central piece of our work in Haiti is training pastors through Legliz Ansamn (or “Churches Together”), an evangelistic association founded by our ministry partners in Haiti in preparation for our coming there.

Whenever I am in Haiti lecturing and answering questions from our pastors, I am struck by the need for Bible-centered sermons everywhere. My Haiti sermons should be identical in substance to what I preach in America. The context is different and the illustrations may change, but the message of God is identical.

Can your sermon preach anywhere? Or is your preaching so distinctly American that it could never preach anywhere else? Is the God of your sermon the same on Wall Street as He is on the dusty streets of rural Mexico? Is the God of your sermon the same on the sidewalk in L.A. as He is in the slums of Port Au Prince?

Here are the four questions of what I’ve come to call “the geography test”:

1. Are you preaching the pure Gospel or a gospel of affluence? Does your preaching have an inherent bent toward describing the blessing of God in terms of financial success? Can you get down on your knees, look a hungry child in the eyes in a back alley in Mumbai and preach your sermon as confidently as you can from a mahogany pulpit in Michigan?

2. What about sin? Sin is sin everywhere around the globe. When we preach the Gospel, we should be laying a foundation for repentance, not prosperity. The root problem the Gospel addresses is sin and separation from God, not poverty.

Poverty in all its forms is rooted in the fall of man into sin. Are you preaching candy-coated sermons about finding a little more happiness now or robustly biblical sermons about finding peace with God now and bliss eternally?

3. How do you deal with pain and suffering in your preaching? Is suffering a means of identification with Christ and growth in grace? Or do you ignore it entirely like the vast majority of people in our culture or imply that if we prayed harder it would go away? What did Paul say about suffering?

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV). What do you say about suffering?

4. Could your message have reached my friend “Grams”? Grams was a very elderly woman my family knew in Haiti. She lived on a dusty hill in a tin-roofed shack of a house. She was the poorest person I have ever known personally until she died very recently. She was also probably the most sincerely thankful to God person I have ever known. “Glwa a Jezi” (glory to Jesus) rolled off her tongue in every conversation. She knew God’s grace in her lack. She loved God and I am certain she basks in the light of heaven at this very moment. Does your message preach to people in poverty who know the freedom of knowing the God of glory amid lack in this life?

The Gospel crushes our Western desire for wealth and elevates the worth of Christ regardless of earthly circumstance. The Gospel smashes our shallow sermons about how to engage God for more comfort. The central idea of the geography test is this: Can you look at a starving person in a slum in the third world and preach your message with as much sincere boldness as you can preach that same message to folks who drove to church from the suburbs in their SUVs?

The Gospel is for everybody everywhere. Is your sermon?