Category Archives: Preaching

Fool for Christ

I worry about what is happening to this generation. It is a generation that doesn’t know books.  The ability to read and be moved by the well-written page is slowly slipping away. Today it is all about screens, smartphones, blogs, Social Media, Kindles, and iPads. Through video games, they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies, and killed hundreds. They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion.

Is there hope for this generation to continue to get excited about the church?  To be deeply moved by a sermon or a passage in the Bible.  Does this generation know what it is like to sing heartily of the blessing of God and even shed a tear when someone finds God? How will God use this generation to fill the pulpits of our churches? 

God still calls men and women to the overwhelming responsibility of standing in a church and being the mouthpiece of God. God still uses the preaching of his Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints, and engage the lost. Even now a sermon can not seem to be preached without a PowerPoint presentation providing the salient points.  Congregants simply can’t be trusted to take their own notes so there are fill in the blank’s puzzles in the bulletin. Are all these devices to keep attention symptoms of shortening attention spans and instant gratification?  Do we just forget it all and let the internet do it all.  The preachers there seem to have enough passion to hold even a gen Xer’s attention long enough to feel good about themselves.

Preachers don’t give up.  Be willing to go the extra mile.  Try preaching without props.  Get excited about your text.  This is the Word of God, not a five-minute podcast.  Risk being a fool for Christ.

So to preach the Word, anyone called to fill the holy desk must be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

How do I find intimacy with God?

Sermons just don’t do it for me anymore. For that matter the music or should I say spiritual songs, don’t do it for me either.  I have served as a preacher in five churches of various lengths and sizes.  It was overwhelming experience to which I have always accounted as both a privilege and call. To translate the difficult and make it plain and relevant is a task not to be taken lightly.  I am fully aware of the time which must be expended to reach that perfect balance between deep theology and practical understanding. It is a gift from God to both the preacher and those who submit themselves each Sunday. They come to fill their spiritual bread baskets full for the week. They depend on the preacher to fill infuse them to carry on for a little while longer.

Years have come and gone.  Hundreds of messages, prayer meeting studies, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies have been completed. I continually study, build and prepare messages.  Weekly Bible study for the men in our church requires just as much time and preparation as preaching; or maybe even more.  And if the truth be known, these studies are more preaching than a shared study. A few faithful shows up each week and seem to be challenged.  Some are even studying ahead.  One even told me that the studies has caused him to dig deeper.  

As I recollect on the nearer present, I am not quite as enthused.  I don’t get much out of the messages as presented in church.  Sure, there is evidence of study and all the video clips are well placed, but they are not doing it for me. There is nothing new.  There is nothing challenging.  I am easily distracted and the slow pace of the sermon allows my mind to wander.  I guess I would rather read a well thought out argument, than to listen to one more three point, fill in the blank sermon.

I connect to God by working. My connection to God is more focused and more intimate when I am doing for Him. I find true joy in study and passing on that knowledge, that wisdom on to others.  It is not enough to just accumulate a vast amount of facts and illustrations.  There is a true joy in helping someone else to light the fire of their own intellectual pursuits.

So, I am at a quandary.  Do I just keep on going to church to be seen by my brothers and sisters?  Does the effort equal any reward?  I can well fill my own basket.  I share from my basket and it never seems to run out.  I feel an inner satisfaction with the supply by God.  I read voraciously the great preachers; I am challenged by the great hymns of the church.  I long for a church which challenges me more and coddles me less.

Where do I find intimacy with God? It is in my books, in my study, in the crafting of words to would challenge others.  I guess that is good enough.

Preaching

It is tough to be the mouthpiece of God.  The task of preaching is nothing to be taken lightly or with little deliberation. It requires the very soul to be transformed to the expected mold of people like Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, John, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Graham. It is the most difficult thing to do. 

It is difficult to be an artist.  To paint a portrait with the skill and practice of years of experience.  To touch the canvas in such a way that the person being painted will live.  To create a picture which seems to breath and speak.  But how much more is it to take human words and paint the face of Jesus that will draw mankind to the love of the Savior?

It is difficult to master the art of music. To take the world of tone, harmony, and melodies which set the soul to tingle.  To take eight notes and express them so well that the hearer is filled with the same emotions as the singer.  But how much more is to take the world eternal and translate it into finite human speech, so that human hearts on which it spreads its parade of all history to a point the create a celestial sympathetic vibration.

It is a great thing to take a great piece of marble and expose the form of David like Michelangelo. He made that statue live and all that gaze upon it are amazed.  King David in perfect form and stature displayed for all to see the art of the sculptor’s hand.  How much more to take temporary words spoke but once and create a powerful yet meek Jesus that would please the King of Kings.

The lawyer has a very difficult job to do, but it is not the most.  It is hard to apply the complicated and sometimes illogical laws of man to specific situations to ensure justice.  How much more is the job of a preacher to take the words of the Lawgiver and apply it to all without prejudice or favoritism.  The preacher must proclaim the Just Law of God.

Oh, how about a doctor.  That is a tough job. To know the thousands of possibilities for a cure, to learn pharmaceuticals role in healing, To understand the many inter-related functions of the body.  Without skill and knowledge, the doctor is nothing.  But to preach to a mind sick in sin, to soothe a fevered brow who is filled with guilt and regret, that is something greater than all the aspirin in the world. To be able to soothe a conscience crying out in pain requires something more.

I am a preacher but I take no pride in it.  It is all God, it is “thus says the LORD.”

Words are important!

I have a facebook account in which you may well call me a lurker. I don’t post much. Once and a while I will be struck by a phrase or an idea that can’t be ignored. Today a post from a wonderful person reposted the phrase, “We need preachers who preach that hell is still hot, that heaven is still real, that sin is still wrong, that the Bible is God’s Word and that Jesus is the only way of Salvation.” What really struck me from that was the seeming lack of any of these things from the pulpit, but even more from those calling themselves Christians. All in the name of being more socially minded and more sensitive, and more politically correct, we (this includes me) have seemed to let the world dictate our speech, our behavior and belief structures.

I believe that we need good strong definitions to the words we use and hold on to. Take for instance the word sin. It does not mean it is all ok if you can get away with it. Or if there are no current prohibitions from in by civil law. For me sin is “any feeling or thought or speech or action coming from the heart which does not treasure God over, under, through, around, and within all other things.” Sin is preference over God. Sin is mainly not what you do, but what you are.

Cash Register Eternal Life

I just finished teaching a cadre of men an eighteen-week study on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. The best time to assess that study is a couple of weeks afterward.  Lesson after lesson we explored the depths of this passage.  There were times where we found true understanding of scripture and lives were changed with slight veers in individual paths.  Now I am looking back and seeing what these passages really mean to me.

It is the third verse which was the greatest point of my study.  This is eternal life; that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. This is the only scripture where Jesus gives a precise, unwavering, perfect, straightforward definition of eternal life. 

The church today seems to want to define “eternal life” as a simple phrase pointing to where you go when you die.  It is a good place. It is the place you want to go.  It is the place where there are fluffy clouds and angel wings.  The church today seems to have made a part of an either-or situation.  And with this option, a market or economic value system has been attached. What does it cost?  What effort is required to attain it?  We want to know if God takes plastic.

Eternal life can not be bought.  Not by a sinner’s prayer.  Not by a perfectly recited and overly used system of chants.  Not by a set of behavioral attitudes.  Not by demonstrating in view of all and everyone in earshot that you have faith.

Eternal life is not the reward for effort. Eternal life is knowing God.  It is in that relationship of knowing one another that makes life eternal.  Simply by saying, “I am up to accepting your sacrifice,” or “I am willing to be your treasure,” is going to make the heavenly cash register open up and a little round token with the words, “Eternal Life” be given to you.  These are just the starting point.  The initial intersection between you and God. That first step is like the wedding ceremony; it is just the start.  Marriage is more than one simple saying of your vows.  Marriage and eternal life are about the relationship that goes on and on.  It is a daily seeking of relationship.  It is knowing.  It is devotion.  It is saying your sorry more than once.  Eternal life is not doing but knowing.

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Rise and Shine

I don’t understand.  I wake up and the first thing I hear is the news on in the living room and I am blasted by the latest scandal, the latest opinion that is contrary to the ones I have. I wonder how our “Christian nation” arrived at a place where our college students don’t think and just react to the latest rhetoric pumped from a tiny screen. I am aghast that our government seems unwilling or unable to just sit down and talk with each other.  Rather they are so polarized they would rather the country fail than not get their ideological viewpoint undermined.  I sit here questioning seeming fluid self-declared gender identity sweeping our culture, thrown in the face of God-created differences.

It is not just secular tidal waves that loom on our horizon. The church is being changed by these forces.  The church is called to change the world, not the other way around. I read of what we would call mainline churches just giving up on basic Christian beliefs.  “Mary wasn’t a virgin, she was just a maiden.”  “Jesus did not raise from the dead, it is just an allegory.” It has become more of what you do than what you believe, “Live the good life.”  The church no longer talks about the blood of Jesus providing a life-changing salvation.  It is all about an entertainment of the senses in a joint expression of euphoria as a substitute for worship.

As a result, there is a cultural relativism.  There are no absolutes. “We don’t need theology, we need a social application of cultural norms,” is touted at the latest seminar or church conference. The sheep have been set free to roam where ever they think is best.”  And they have taken this relative culture and ran with it.  Running toward destruction.

We must get back to basics.  Where we hold standards high. Where the truth is the truth.  Where the Bible is the basis of life.  There must be an evangelism in our church.  We must show unity, we must love one another. There are mainline churches across this great nation that are dying because they are not connected to the True Vine.

I pray for the church to be filled.  I pray for the church to be called to prayer.  I call for the church to change our culture.  I pray that the great churches of America have a genuine revival of the Spirit of God.

And with this revival will come a change in our country.

Without Love

I may well speak fluently of Calvinism, Reformed, Wesleyan and even Seven Day Adventist within an assemblage of brethren. I can even lead them to a point of excitement and feelings of being accepted as one great body of believers.  Never-the-less, when I walk away, and I see them only as theological misfits, I am nothing more than sound and fury signifying nothing.

I even can preach and teach the great mysteries of theology and apologetics. I can make thoughtful and logical expositional and theological stands.  I can and have used illustrations of media and popular culture in making my three points of homiletics clear.  I have presented the Words of God to such a way that people broke out in song or raised hands in expressions of joy.  If I have opened Gods truth that some were moved to simply sit in awe.  Never-the-less, if I do not care enough to know God myself and those who are loved by that same God, I am nothing but a white noise.

If I create a new vision for the church for new things and buildings are built as one more big edifice to Christianity, but I lose sight of the God I serve and the people that God loves, I am nothing.

If I am well known in the congregation as being one the biggest givers, and I am always there to sponsor the next big thing at the church and always willing to go the conference or barbeque, and I do not show love for those sitting in the corner wanting the most just to be included, they don’t mean a thing.

You see, no matter what I say, or believe or even what I do, if I leave out love, I am a man without hope or worth.

Love is the thing.  Love is never exhausted, it never gets too old, it never runs out of energy.  Love and compassion are more concerned with the other guy than my own selfish desires. Love is giving a couple of dollars to the man standing at a street corner; the very dollars you were going to spend for coffee on the way to church.

Love isn’t about the next big thing that everyone else has.  It is acknowledging all that I have are gifts from Him.

The opposite of love is walking around with the nicest clothes, with head held high, with the expectation that all around you will notice and give you preferential treatment.  It is giving everyone a voice.
It is the realization that you are not that important.  It is the acceptance of equality of idea, belief, stature, hope, dreams, and life.

Love is about sitting in the back at church not wanting to be seen or giving the best piece of pie at the potluck to the person who really needs it. It is giving up your place in line when it is inconvenient. In traffic, it is giving the other guy a way to get in even though he has just cut off three other cars. And when someone does not let you in, you say to yourself, “we all have places to go.”

Love is not caring about a heavenly scorecard keeping the size and quantity of sins for everyone else but me.
Love does not reveal the secrets of other travelers going the same way, instead, love takes delight and joy in new understandings and knowledge.

Love puts up with more than anyone would expect. When things get you down, love is there to bring you back up because God is trust.  Love in you will always be looking for the best in people, best in events, best in circumstances and best in the worst.

For Love, the past is the past and we need not look back with feelings of regret and longing; Love simply keeps going to the ultimate rewards of God.

You see my friends, Love just keeps on going, it never stops, it does not grow weary, it does not slow down because of resistance or age.

All that I have written will be nothing someday.  All the lessons I have diligently prepared and presented in God’s name will be gone and forgotten.

Even the essence of my intellect and understanding will reach a limit.

I can not know it all; I try with all my strength to push one more idea or catchphrase into my limited mind.  But I still know just a little piece of the truth. Everything I have ever learned, explored, understood, known, taught, preached, prayed is and will always be incomplete.  The good news is that when the total, the complete, the absolute, the perfect arrives, my incompleteness will all be eliminated.

When I was a kid, running wild in the streets and hills, I had few responsibilities or wonder.  I spoke of little things and fretted about even smaller things.  But I have grown up and have eliminated all the little things only to be confronted by the things I cannot know.

Today we can’t see the things that are right before our eyes.  There seems to be a wispy cloud between God and me.  I want to see better, I want to find some tool to dispel the mist, but there is none to be found.

Someday the mist will part.  Someday the fog will burn through by a great light. I won’t be long before the crystal-clear day dawns and the sun will cast its warmth upon my face and I will be warmed by it.  We’ll see it all then.  We will see as clearly and keenly as God sees.  Someday the view will be so clear so perfect that we all will see as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

Until that perfect completeness comes and reveals itself through the new day, we must keep on loving. Faith in the love of God has for us, hope in the inescapable and unchanging Love of God and to simply Love without extravagant limits.  But the best of these is simple and uncomplicated; LOVE!

Shock and Awe

For thirty-three years, Jesus never tried to shock people.  Never-the-less, He was never afraid of shocking people.  As I sit back and examine the world in which I live, which includes what is called news and the prevalent excuse for entertainment, there seems to be a juvenile kind of thrill being exampled of just trying to shock people.  Every item tries to stretch the point to a point that would draw attention to itself.

Sometimes this effort to shock people simply comes from a desire to draw disinterested people to attention.  “I don’t have much breaking news, so I will just proclaim something shocking.”  At other times it is just a part of habit.  One person always must have the last word and if it is not extraordinary and shocking no one will pay any attention to me.  I think it is simply ego.

The sad thing is that this shock malady is dripping over into the church.  The title of the sermon must catch ones interest if it is to be effective.

But Jesus was not this way.  In his teaching and preaching, He did not purposely try to shock people into understanding. But when He did it was always with truth and not hyperbole.  I can imagine how a cautious adviser might have spoken to Jesus. “Now, Master, of course, your ideas are important, but please don’t say them so bluntly.”  “You can’t go around calling the religious elite a brood of vipers.”

Jesus was never deterred from His witness to God by asking, “What will people think about this?” or “How will it affect my safety or popularity.”

I believe the church is trying so hard to shock with a title they forget the awe of the message.

Just my opinion.

Preaching or Worship?

And how will they hear without a preacher?
Romans 10:14

There seems to be an open debate now being waged over the character and centrality of preaching in the church. There is a perception of two competing events: preaching and worship.  The church today seems to be moving the line between the two towards the experiential worship side. Sermons are no longer something to be excited about and yearned for by the congregant but seen as taking second place to worship.

How did this happen? Given the central place of preaching in the New Testament church, you would think there would be no debate. No other religion has made the regular and frequent assembling of groups of people, to hear religious instruction and exhortation.  The very act of proclamation or preaching is an integral part of Christian worship.

Yet, numerous influential voices within evangelicalism suggest that the age of the expository sermon is over. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations–messages which avoid preaching a biblical text and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.

The shift from expository preaching to more topical and human-centered approaches has grown into a debate over the place of Scripture in preaching, and the nature of preaching itself.

Two statements about preaching illustrate this growing divide. Richard Baxter once remarked, “I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” With vivid expression and a sense of gospel gravity, Baxter understood that preaching is literally a life or death affair. Eternity hangs in the balance as the preacher proclaims the Word.  The other is by Harry Emerson Fosdick pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, “Preaching is personal counseling on a group basis.”

The current debate over preaching is most commonly explained as an argument about the focus and shape of the sermon. Should the preacher seek to preach a biblical text through an expository sermon? Or, should the preacher direct the sermon to the “felt needs” and perceived concerns of the hearers?

Clearly, many evangelicals now favor the second approach. Urged on by devotees of “needs-based preaching,” many evangelicals have abandoned the text without recognizing that they have done so. These preachers may eventually get to the text somewhere in the course of the sermon, but the text does not set the agenda or establish the shape of the message. It becomes a conclusion in search of a text.

Shockingly, this is now the approach evident in many evangelical pulpits. The sacred desk has become an advice center and the pew has become the therapist’s couch. Psychological and practical concerns have displaced theological exegesis and the preacher directs his sermon to the congregation’s perceived needs.

This mode of preaching denigrates its place to less than the Word of God and, consequently the need of something else for the church to find God.  And this other something easily becomes more and more emphasis on experiential worship.

The current debate over preaching may well shake congregations, denominations, and the evangelical movement. But know this: The recovery and renewal of the church in this generation will come only when from pulpit to pulpit the herald preaches as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.

Comments?

Holy and the day to day

For some reason, when it comes to our relationship with God, there are a lot of Christians who have taken the position that since God extends His grace to me when I sin, I ought to keep on sinning so that I can get more of God’s grace my life. On more than one occasion I have witnessed those who claim to be disciples of Jesus intentionally choose to do something they know to be sin and comment that it’s OK because they know that God will forgive them.

There seems to be an inner desire that wants to presume, to do something based upon unknown or future consequence.  To do something without proof.  Christians frequently presumes to act, teach, and promote beyond what the Lord has written. We frequently see the following rationale offered to justify man’s action, soothe his own conscience, and silence the inner plea to submit to God’s Word:

  • God is our Heavenly Father. He loves me! Does He not want me to be happy? I know my Father wants me to have this, because it will make me happy!
  • God may have been strict in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament we are under a system of grace. Therefore, we are not in bondage to worry about keeping every law perfectly. We do not have to worry about tedious, detailed observances of any kind.
  • Do you really think God would send me to hell just for doing this?
  • Will God really condemn me for this one sin?
  • What’s so bad about doing this?
  • Who will be hurt by doing that?
  • No one will ever know about what I do.

True, God is our heavenly Father, and He dearly loves us; however, He seeks our best interest, which is not always what we want, what satisfies for the moment, or what makes us happy in this instant.

But we pull out the Big Bible and quote from Matthew 7:9-11

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

The assumption here is that we know more about what is good for us than God.  We are assuming that we have judgment, clarity, foresight, knowledge, and wisdom paramount to God!

Since what we want and what God wants for us are often two distinct paths, only presumption would ignore God’s revealed will for us in exchange for satisfying our palpitating desires.

So then how should we live?

Let’s start with the fact that while It’s simple, It’s not easy.

I have discovered that losing weight is simple, but it’s not easy. All you have to do to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than your body needs. That’s simple. You figure out how many calories your body needs each day to maintain your present weight and then you eat less than that.  But restriction of the day to day snacks, and occasional cans of soda is not so easy.

The day to day life in Jesus is simple but it is not easy.

It’s Something I Have to Do

Nobody else can do it for you and you can’t do it for anyone else.  You are the only one that can die to sin in your life. Your wife can’t do it for you.  Not your Pastor or even your neighbor. It is my decision for me.   My deciding to live a holy life, that is a life that is in the center of God’s will and obedient to God’s will.

 God can’t or won’t do it for you, in the sense that he won’t take away your free will and force you to live a holy life, He’s willing to help in the form of the Holy Spirit. With God’s help you can do it. Do you believe that? But you have to want to. And it is a partnership.

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