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.


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?


Did You Have a Merry Christmas?

I pray you all had a wonderfully blessed Christmas. The Sorensen family’s was just about all I could hope for: peaceful, quiet, nearly stress-free. The week was filled with lots of snow removal (this prohibited by parents from making the trek up from Iowa, but they’re coming this week, so that will be good) and preparations for services at Cornerstone.

It wasn’t certain whether our Christmas Eve service would happen, but the Lord held off snow and freezing (it just rained – about an inch and a half, which is the equivalent of roughly 13-14 inches of snow). I think the service was a blessing to all who attended. Christmas Day continued on with the “Hush” of Christmas: just the four of us until Rebecca and Devon (our new son-in-law) arrived late into the evening. Gifts were exchanged and it’s still fun, even though all our children are older now, to watch them open their gifts.

wordaday.jpgOne of my gifts I’ll enjoy all year long is a 365 New Words-a-Year calendar. Years ago, while ministering at Council Bluffs, Iowa, a dear friend and I received one of these. we would challenge each other during the course of most weeks. Each Sunday I would attempt to work in one of that week’s words into my sermons and it was Bill’s challenge to see if he caught which word I had used. I really wanted to work “brobdingnagian” into a sermon, but that word was just a bit too ostentatious and obvious. Well, this year, another in our church was given a similar calendar. I’ll leave this person anonymous for now, but kinesics is taken up during my sermons, hoping to determine when I have afflatus (and no, that’s not a bad thing!). I’ll probably try testing the powers of kenning and if they’re good enough offer guerdon of some sort.

So, any of the rest of you game to try? I’ll post a few words each week in the sidebar and give you opportunities to try them out, find them in my posts for the week and see what rewards I can motivate you with. May you purfle your vocabulary in delightful ways.

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.