Several Things On My Mind

There probably isn’t a Sunday that goes by where I don’t enter the pulpit to preach without some trepidation. Think about it: it’s not that I’m scared to speak in front of a crowd of people. It’s not that I have nothing to say. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; I do have something to say and it is from God.

No, I don’t claim ecstatic revelations and secret prophetic messages. I simply know that when I open up God’s Word and preach from it, it is God who is speaking and it is His Word that is being heard.

This means I take James 3.1 very seriously: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Join that with 2 Corinthians 5.10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” and Hebrews 13.17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” and you’ll understand why I might experience a measure of “holy anxiety” when preparing to preach.

But I wonder if those who sit under preaching (not just mine, but any true proclamation of God’s Word) take their role as listeners as seriously? Do they enter into the sanctuary with any fear at all? Do they sense the gravity this situation calls for? How well do they prepare themselves before they come to listen to the preaching of God’s Word?

Tim Challies had a post a while back in which he listed three quotes from some good, ol’ Puritan preachers regarding how a person should listen to sermons. Here are the quotes:

Richard Baxter:
Remember that all these…sermons must be reviewed, and you must answer for all that you have heard, whether you heard it…with diligent attention or with carelessness; and the word which you hear shall judge you at the last day. Hear therefore as those that are going to judgment to give account of their hearing and obeying.

Thomas Watson:
You must give an account for every sermon you hear….The judge to whom we must give an account is God…how should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the word.

David Clarkson:
At the day of judgment, an account of every sermon will be required, and of every truth in each sermon….The books will be opened, all the sermons mentioned which you have heard, and a particular account required, why you imprisoned such a truth revealed, why you committed such a sin threatened, why neglected such duties enjoined….Oh what a fearful account!

I pray you’ll come well prepared on each Lord’s Day, prayed up for your pastor and prayed up for yourself.

(HT: Challies.com)


Yet I don’t wish that any believer would read this and think, “I can’t do it. I can’t listen like that. I’ll never be prepared enough. How can I go on?” I’m not Moses, coming down off Sinai with the tablets in my arms, ready to club you over the head with Law. There is no “no more… or else” here. Read this, from Of First Importance:

“What is the curse of the law [Gal. 3:13]? It is the or-else-ness of the law: ‘Do this, or else.’ Christ took the or-else-ness of the law onto himself at the cross, so that there is no more or-else for anyone in Christ, as God looks upon us now. Or-else is gone forever from your relationship with God.”

– Ray Ortlund “Christ is Deeper Still” blog post Jan. 13, 2010

Rejoice that God is gracious to let us hear His Word proclaimed. Then prepare yourself well to hear it and receive it.

(HT: Of First Importance)


I’m really hoping this is a perspicuous post for I’d be very disappointed to learn otherwise. And, just in case you’re wondering, this word is apposite to the situation*


And finally, here’s why I believe preaching to be up such great importance (not necessarily mine, of course; although I pray that our congregation finds the preaching absolutely necessary to their lives):


* I wonder who got a Word-A-Day calendar this year?

A Preacher’s Dilemma

giant clock.jpgIt doesn’t prove to be so much of a dilemma for me, but more for certain people within my congregation (and in every congregation I’ve ever been a part of): how long should I preach? There are some (not many, but they’re usually the vocal ones about this issue) who let me know if I’ve gone over. Over what? We didn’t start “publishing” an end time to our worship service until about a year ago and that’s so people don’t think we’ll just go on forever and ever. I think, if the majority of parishioners were telling me I’ve gone too long, and if they did this Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, then I’d probably take the hint and do something about it.

Here’s what John MacArthur has to say about this, in the post on Pulpit Magazine today:

Preaching and the Clock
(By John MacArthur)

Today’s post adapted from the Q&A section of Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Nelson, 1997).

How long should a sermon be?

As long as it takes to cover the passage adequately! I do not think the length of the sermon is as important as its content. At times I have preached fifty minutes and it has been ten minutes too long. Other times, I have preached an hour and twenty-five minutes and it has been just right. The important thing is to cover the main point so that people are convinced of its truth and comprehend its requirements. If you have nothing worthwhile to say, even twenty minutes will seem like an eternity to your people. If you are interesting, they will stay with you. Do not mistake persuasion for long-windedness, however. If you preach longer than you should, you will sacrifice persuasiveness.

I am convinced that biblical exposition requires at least forty minutes. Less than this just is not sufficient to probe the text deeply. If it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to give the setting, ten to fifteen minutes to draw out the principles, five to ten minutes to cross-reference them, and five to ten minutes for a conclusion, you already have about fifty minutes. Rarely does a man preaching twenty-five to thirty minutes do doctrinal exposition.

That is why developing the logical flow of a sermon is crucial. If your message is clearly outlined and you lead your people through the process of discovery, you will hold their attention. Your sermon must be going somewhere. You cannot merely give a number of assorted truths unrelated to each other. If your sermon lacks interest because it is disjointed, your people will lose interest.

If you are going to be a Bible expositor, forget the twenty- and thirty-minute sermons. You are looking at forty or fifty minutes. In any less than that, you can’t exposit the Scripture. The purpose of a sermon is not to get it over, but rather to explain the Word of God. My goal is not accomplished because I am brief. My goal is accomplished when I am clear and I have exposited the Word of God.

Won’t people get bored if you preach too long in the same book?

I think people will be bored if you are boring. It is not related to how much time you spend in a book. As long as you are saying things that capture their interest and challenge their lives, they will not care what book you are in or for how long.

I think, however, that a balance is desirable. If you are preaching through a heavily doctrinal book like Romans or Hebrews, it is good to give your people a break from that periodically. If you are preaching through one of the Gospels, such may not be necessary. When I preached through Matthew over an eight-year period, I rarely felt the need to take a break. Matthew contains such a mixture of doctrinal passages, parables, and narrative passages that it changes pace frequently on its own.

At times, too, you will need to deal with a specific topic. You may find that people in your church are being influenced by an unbiblical teaching that you must combat. Or they may be confused over a Bible passage or a theological issue. Also, you may occasionally see a need to preach about the biblical view of a significant world event. In general, though, preaching through a book will not bore people if you are an interesting preacher. This is the purest form of expository preaching.

So, until most of the congregation’s gotten up and left…

Or until I’ve fallen asleep during my own sermon…

I’ll keep on preaching the Word, trusting the Holy Spirit to do His job of working the Scriptures into people’s hearts when and where they need it. I’ll strive to hold their interest, as the passage dictates. But I’ll not start preaching sermonettes (they only produce Christianettes).

So, what do you think? Come on, let me have it.

Martha & Mary

I’ve been preaching through the Gospel according to Luke since sometime last year. With a few breaks in between for special Sundays, for short somewhat topical series flowing from the passages in Luke, I’m through chapter 10. Yesterday, I preached on the passage in 10.38-42, the famous account of Martha & Mary hosting Jesus in their home. I’d like to offer just a few reflections from that passage here:

I don’t believe the real problem with Martha is her serving. If serving versus sitting at the feet of Jesus was the true problem, Jesus would never have sent out the 12 in ch. 9 and the 72 earlier in ch. 10. No, I believe Martha’s problem was two-fold:

       1)   misplaced priorities: serving isn’t wrong, but when it takes precedence over that of sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning of Him, from Him and about Him, there are bound to be problems arising soon. Look at our modern evangelical church today: we’re far more focused on the pragmatic that we are on the doctrinal. There must be room for both, but methods have overtaken the message. The Gospel barely means anything anymore. The Bible has become a “manual”, an “instruction book”, Life’s Lesson book and very little more than that. Plus, we’re so busy. It’s easier and faster to just “do” something than it is to sit before our Lord in prayer and in reflection of His words in order to determine what we should be doing and whether we should even be doing what we’re currently doing. The first prong of Martha’s problem is, she’s placed her own serving above that of learning what Jesus wants her to do.

        2)  projection of her priorities on others, primarily because they’re hers. When Martha comes to complain to Jesus, she’s complaining against two people: a) her sister, Mary, who has been sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from Him (a remarkable occurrence, given the stature of women and the fact that no self-respecting rabbi would be caught dead teaching a woman); b) Jesus Himself. Don’t you hear Martha’s words to Jesus? “Don’t You care? Don’t You care that I’m working my fingers to the bone while she just sits there? Don’t You care that I’m really trying hard to serve You with all that I have, but it’s going unnoticed by You and by her? Don’t You care?” Martha has her own agenda. She’s not checked with Jesus to see if this is what He wants her to be doing right now. She’s just set out and gone about her ministry. And when it begins to go downhill, she has the audacity to complain to Jesus about it. Oh, how often all of us project what we want to be done upon others. And when we find that they are actively engaged in other pursuits, and probably more worthwhile pursuits (especially here, in the case of Mary), we get upset… with them and with God, Our pride shows up and we have our little pity party and hope that they’ll see the error of their ways and follow us (and we secretly hope that God will notice and say, “Well done, my faithful servant” before its ever time for Him to say those loving words).

            I’ll bring a few more thoughts later this week on how to overcome the same heart problem that Martha had (because I believe God’s grace worked in her to overcome it too).

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My Sermon Notes

Someone once asked me what I preach from during my sermons: manuscript, notes, outline? I use a form of extended outline, but I will vary from this while preaching (but not very often!). Here’s a sample of what goes into the pulpit with me (imagine a letter size sheet of paper in landscape mode folded in half; like a small booklet).

Sermon Notes January 8, 2006

“WALK IN A WORTHY MANNER”

Text: Ephesians 4.1-3
Theme:

Introduction – Are we credible?
• if people come into CEFC, observe & listen, are we credible?
• would they have reason to believe what we say based on the way we live?

Observing Christianity & what passes for the church in U.S., not sure
• Pat Robertson is at it again: Ariel Sharon, judgment of God
• a new church plant in Missouri is giving away brand new Xbox 360s and iPods when you fill out visitor cards
• imagine what the apostles could have done if they’d have had all this neat stuff to give away
• Sister Paula is a prophetess in a church in California (why does that not surprise me)
• gender-transformation from being a man into a woman
• feels like she can reach a segment of society normal Xns can’t

There’s so much more out there
• sad, embarrassing, shame on the glory of the gospel of Christ
• and world is watching, shaking its head, thinking we’re all nuts

Remedy for all this craziness?
• many parts, but chief among them is genuineness
• if we would live in such a way that people all around us would see Christ and not us, see Christ and not the world-absorbing foolishness of so many, God would be glorified
• challenge as still in beginning of this New Year:

I. WALKING, V. 1
• God, in His Word, often uses this word picture to speak to us about our way of living
• “walk the walk” is a popular way of talking about the way you live
• God gives Paul this word to use here for good reason

1. a worthy manner
• that sounds like a noble cause
• would make a good New Years resolution
• get this kind of advice from Dear Abby or Ann Landers
• just do a better job, okay?

2. a certain kind of manner
• worthy of the calling with which you’ve been called
• we’ve been called: tells us this is something we didn’t choose on our own
• tells us this is something that’s been placed upon us and within us
• this calling is described for us in the preceding three chapters
• Ephesians 1.3-6, 11-12; 2.4-6, 8-10
• the first three chapters are all about the One who called us, what the call was and why we were called
• now, God wants us to know what to do with this calling: walk
• live your life in such a way that others see it is Christ who has changed you, not just some exertion of your will in making New Years Resolutions
• and God gives us the way to walk in this worthy manner

I. HUMILITY & GENTLENESS, V. 2
• Greeks & Romans despised humility
• considered it worthy of slaves
• instead, admired the great-souled man, self-sufficient, in control

1. Paul extols humility and joins it with gentleness or meekness
• this is not weakness, as many would think
• it is strength under control; having great strength & knowing how to use it

2. Jesus said he was gentle & humble in heart, Matthew 11.29
• He showed He had power NOT to retaliate, the ability to forgive
• and yet Christ was fierce in His defense of others & the truth

3. Charles Simeon, great preacher at Kings’ College & Holy Trinity in Cambridge, England was like this
• after 40+ years of ministry, health broke down, spent 8 months recovering
• young vicar, Thomason, to fill in, preaching up to 5x on Sundays
• developed excellent preaching ability, but Simeon rejoiced
• He must increase, but I must decrease. Now I see why I have been laid aside. I bless God for it

4. take up humility & gentleness this year
• it means laying aside all your perceived rights
• it means setting aside pride & self-sufficiency
• it means asking others to help you in a particular ministry
• it means not retaliating with your tongue when someone hurts your feelings
• it means holding back that snappy answer & thinking of a gentle answer instead
• it means thinking on Christ so much that His humility & gentleness start to become your own
• that would put all of us walking in a worthy manner of the One who called us to Himself

II. PATIENCE, V. 3
• walking worthy of Christ’s calling involves loving one another in such a manner that it garners attention
• patience, shown by bearing with one another in love, does this
• J. Dwight Pentecost tells of church split so serious, each side sued
• sought to dispossess other side from church building
• civil court threw it out, but church court picked it up
• ruled in favor of one side
• losers in suit formed own church across town
• court findings of start of dispute: elder received smaller piece of ham than a child sitting next to him
• absolutely no patience or forbearance

1. patient: not short-tempered
• literally, long-tempered
• joined w/ injunction to bear w/ one another makes this a powerful trait
• to be tolerant or to forebear with another is to simply put up with other’s fault and peculiar idiosyncrasies
• what makes this possible?
• continue to call to mind Christ’s calling: Him who called you
• then, remember your own faults
• if your pride blinds you to your own faults, we’ll lay aside our forbearance just long enough to help you out!
• when you see your own faults, you’ll be more patient in helping others to grow in Christ-likeness

2. Apostle Peter knew the truth of being patience, bearing with one another in love
• proud, rough, impatient
• yet, Christ called him & it changed him
• 1 Peter 1.22
• 1 Peter 2.17
• 1 Peter 3.8
• 1 Peter 4.8

III. DILIGENTLY PRESERVING THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT, V. 3
• God is always keen on reminding us that none of these qualities begins with our sheer determination to live them out
• these aren’t external structures; they’re internal characteristics
• and God reminds us clearly of their divine origin: unity of the Spirit
• not one of us would have these qualities apart from God’s Spirit
• oh, we might work them out for a short time
• we might grunt it out from burden of duty
• but it is by God’s Holy Spirit working in us that we can see these characteristics grow

• be diligent to preserve
• it’s our natural tendency to neglect these qualities
• our sinful nature doesn’t want to
• Satan will tempt us to let them slide, knowing if we let them grow lax, the church suffers, the glory of Christ is shamed
• it would seem that every day we come across people that would bug us, put us off, anger us, create impatience with them
• it’s hard work; the word God gives Paul here suggests a strong resolution to overcome the tendency to forget
• so we need to be diligent, keeping the unity of peace that God has worked in us through Christ & His Spirit

Conclusion – Sally Fields & winning an Oscar: You like me
• sometimes think this is the goal of the church to world: You like me!
• what I read each day about the church & her efforts to be liked saddens me
• but I know it doesn’t have to be that way
• doesn’t have to be that way here at Cornerstone
• God longs for us to walk in a manner that is worthy of the high price paid by His Son
• He calls us to live a life that reflects the great grace & love He’s poured out upon us
• and this is what you & I pray to committing ourselves to: walking in a way that shines the joy that is in Jesus Christ to all around us
• this will bring glory to God our Father