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Friday, October 30, 2015

Engaging Both the Mind and the Heart in Preaching


“Preaching is not only explaining the text but also using it to engage the heart. I often see preachers giving so much time to the first task that they put little thought and ingenuity into the second.”  Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 102-103


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Unexpected Blessing of Expository Preaching


“Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. . . . You can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks and months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.” Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p.
36.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Necessity of Conviction in Preaching


“Lack of conviction will show up in your public teaching, blunting its impact. Instead of proclaiming, warning, and inviting, you will be sharing, musing, and conjecturing.”  Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 33.

Keller on the Necessity of Expository Preaching


“Expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community. . . . [It] is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true. This approach testifies that you believe every part of the Bible to be God’s Word, not just particular themes and not just the parts you feel comfortable agreeing with.” Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 32.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Difference Between a Sermon and a Club

“A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart.”
Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 21.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Reaching People with Preaching


“To reach people gospel preachers must challenge the culture’s story at points of confrontation and finally retell the culture’s story, as it were, revealing how its deepest aspirations for good can be fulfilled only in Christ.” Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", 20.

Friday, October 16, 2015

More on the Work of the Spirit in Preaching


“This is how to deliver not just an informative lecture but a life-changing sermon. It is not merely to talk about Christ but to show him, to ‘demonstrate’ [1 Cor. 2:4] his greatness and to reveal him as worthy of praise and adoration. If we do that, the Spirit will help us, because that is his great mission in the world.” Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 17–18.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Difference Between a Bad Sermon and a Good Sermon


I am reading Keller's insightful and challenging book on preaching and will be posting quotes. This one was encouraging and liberating. 
“While the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit. . . . We should do the work it takes to make our communication good and leave it up to God how and how often he makes it great for the listener.” Timothy Keller, "Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism", p. 11-12.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Necessity of the Spirit in Preaching


“The Gospel is preached in the ears of all—it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the Gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning, otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of man.
The power which converts souls does not even lie in the preacher’s simplicity or adaptation to his work—that is a secondary agency, but not the cause. Again, the power which converts souls does not even lie in the pathos which the speaker may employ.
Men may weep to the tragic muse in a theater as well as to prophetic strains in a chapel! Their creature passions may be impressed through the acting on the stage as well as by the utterance of God’s own servants! No, there is something more than this needed and where it is absent, all preaching is nothing!
We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit going with it, changing the will of man! O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Spirit is with the Word to give it power to convert the soul!
We are reminded of Mr. Rowland Hill, who once met a man in the street at night, not quite drunk, but almost so. The man said, ‘Mr. Hill, I am one of your converts.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I dare say you are one of mine—but if you were one of God’s, you would not be in the state in which you now are.’
Our converts are worth nothing. If they are converted by man they can be unconverted by man! If some charm or power of one preacher can bring them to Christ, some charm or power of another preacher can take them from Christ. True conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit and of the Holy Spirit alone.”  ~ Charles Spurgeon

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Purpose of every Sermon


"The chief effect of every sermon should be to unveil Christ, and the chief art of the preacher to conceal himself." John Watson in John Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 325

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ARE EVANGELICALS MORE REVISIONIST ON MARRIAGE THAN WE THINK?

From Trevin Wax.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think we’re about to see a massive capitulation of evangelicals on same-sex marriage. There are good reasons to reject the notion that evangelicals will adopt revisionist interpretations of Scripture or abandon the global, historic witness of the Church.
What concerns me is the possibility of evangelicals “holding the line” on same-sex marriage while adopting virtually every other wrongheaded aspect of our culture’s view of marriage.
Just because most of the people in your congregation reject same-sex marriage does not mean that their vision of marriage is biblical. Many of the folks sitting in church pews every week are just as revisionist in their understanding of marriage as their friends with rainbow avatars on their Facebook. That’s why I’m less concerned about our churches caving on gay marriage and more concerned about evangelicals adopting the underlying, revisionist framework that makes same-sex marriage possible.
Same-sex marriage is only the tip of the spear when it comes to the differences between the biblical vision of marriage and cultural counterfeit. If we focus only on current legal challenges regarding marriage, we may overlook just how deeply formed we are by our surrounding culture in matters related to sexuality and marriage. We may miss the fact that we, too, view our relationships in individualistic and therapeutic terms. We may think we’re “safe” or “faithful” if we adopt the “right belief” about gay marriage, when in reality, we may be just as compromised as the rest of culture. We may take pride in ”holding down the fort,” while the fort has been hollowed out from the inside.
Just how has society’s view of marriage changed? Andrew Sullivan, one of the leading voices in the gay marriage cause, lays out several ways in which marriage has shifted in recent decades. Each of these shifts affects evangelicals.

1. Marriage as Temporary 

“From being a contract for life,” Sullivan writes, “[marriage] has developed into a bond that is celebrated twice in many an American’s lifetime.”
Sullivan is right to point out how, for many, marriage has become a means to serial monogamy rather than a lifelong partnership. The expectations and responsibilities of marriage have shifted as a result, which is why people no longer invest the vow “till death do us part” with the same significance and meaning it once had. Neither do people expect their families, friends, churches, or governmental institutions to hold them accountable to such a vow.
No surprise, then, that divorce is more common, prenuptial agreements shield people from financial losses, and “wed-leases” codify the idea that marriage is something to opt in or out of – a temporary arrangement.
A century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote against those who wanted Christians to relax their standards on divorce and remarriage:
“The broad-minded are extremely bitter because a Christian who wishes to have several wives when his own promise bound him to one, is not allowed to violate his vow at the same altar at which he made it.”
Today, violations of our vows are commonplace, even in the church. We find it hard to talk to people with marital troubles because we have adopted society’s notion that sexuality and marriage are “private matters,” and not to be interfered with by anyone else, including church members or leaders. We may have gotten better at helping people pastorally through the aftermath of divorce, but we have much to do if we are to improve the conditions that would make divorce unthinkable in the first place.

2. Marriage as Emotional Commitment

Sullivan points out another way that marriage has changed:
“From being a means to bringing up children, it has become primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.” 
Here, Sullivan articulates the essence of the revisionist understanding of marriage, one that many Christians, perhaps unknowingly, would affirm, even if they would substitute “a man and a woman” for “two adults.” The revisionist vision of marriage holds that emotional commitment is the foundation for marriage. Since Obergefell, the government now gives approval and benefits to any two adults who demonstrate emotional and romantic feelings for one another and are willing to enter into this commitment.
No longer is marriage the public institution that seeks to protect the ideal situation of children being raised by their biological mother and father for the perpetuation of society. According to the revisionist definition, marriage is about finding “the one” – your “soul mate” – and living as companions for life.
Evangelicals are no less influenced by this idea than our unbelieving friends and neighbors. We, too, have adopted the myth that we are made complete only when we find that perfect person who fulfills all our desires. Unfortunately, placing this much hope in marriage crushes us with too many expectations, and it clouds our vision to the point we no longer see how the love that led us to enter the covenant of marriage is protected by that same covenant when the feeling of being “in love” has faded.

3. Marriage as Personal Expression

Sullivan goes on:
“From being an institution that buttresses certain previous bonds – family, race, religion, class – it has become, for many, a deep expression of the modern individual’s ability to transcend all of those ties in an exercise of radical autonomy.”
Here we see how the expressivist philosophy of our culture changes the way marriage is perceived:it’s about the couple, not about anyone else. We can spot traces of this view in evangelical churches, where weddings are increasingly viewed as the personal expression of the couple, not the moment for a community to witness to a lifelong vow and take responsibility for holding the couple accountable.
Andrew Walker and Eric Teetsel distinguish between “inward” and “outward” marriages:
“Inward” marriages look inwardly to a couple’s happiness. In contrast, an “outward” view of marriage looks outwardly toward the value that marriage brings to society. Now, neither of these categories requires one category being set against another—again, this isn’t an either/or. But this inward-focused, or “Happily Ever After,” view of marriage—a view that treats marriage as a sexual and solitary social unit—is a view that we’ve all passively consumed inside and outside the church.

The Task Before Us

We underestimate just how much cultural cultivation we have to do if we think success is just getting people to say “no” to same-sex marriage. We need the wider narrative of Scripture, and the bigger picture of marriage, if we are going to make sense of Christianity’s vision for family.
When we share the same undergirding ideas about marriage as the culture, the Christian’s “no” to same-sex marriage looks arbitrary and motivated by animus toward our LGBT neighbors rather than being a part of a comprehensive vision of marriage that counteracts our culture in multiple ways.
We are not called merely to reject wrong views of marriage; we are called to build a marriage culture where the glorious vision of complementarity, permanence, and life-giving union of a man and woman, for the good of their society, can flourish. Rebuilding a marriage culture must be more than lamenting the current state of the world at multiple conferences a year. It must include the strengthening of all our marriages within the body of Christ: from the truck driver, to the police officer, to the teacher, and the stay-at-home mom.
Success is not having church members say gay marriage “is wrong.” Success is when the Christian vision of marriage is so beautiful that revisionist definitions of marriage “make no sense.”

Monday, October 5, 2015

THE BATTLE THAT’S BIGGER THAN THE CULTURE WAR

From Trevin Wax over at the Gospel Coalition website.
Imagine you are tasked with writing a letter of encouragement and exhortation to Christians in distress.
Your readers occupy the margins of society; they are maligned and falsely accused. Some of them face imprisonment, and a few have been martyred. The government is cracking down on any religious expression seen as subversive, and the Christians are prime targets. Meanwhile, the rest of society approves of the reigning authorities’ coercive methods of persecution.
What would you say to Christians in the middle of a culture war?
How would you strengthen believers in that situation?
Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you… (1 Peter 2:11)

Desires Waging War

What strikes me about Peter’s exhortation to the suffering believers scattered throughout Asia Minor in the first century is that the apostle is so focused on the battle for holiness in the life of the believer.
The same dynamic shows up earlier in the letter as well. Peter encourages the Christians in their struggle through suffering – “Don’t be afraid but rejoice!” – right before telling them to be holy and to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence.” (1 Peter 1:17) In other words: fear God, not man.

The War On Your Soul

Imagine these beleaguered believers, ready to open this letter for the first time, ready to receive fortifying counsel from the apostle. If there was any war they would have been concerned about, it was the war against them and their faith, right?
Now, picture the surprise of the earliest readers when they discover that Peter’s focus isn’t on the battle being waged against them by unbelieving authorities. Peter starts with the daily struggle going on in their hearts.
Peter doesn’t say, “Watch out! The bad guys are coming! The war is on! Defend yourselves from the world!” Instead, he says, “Abstain from the desires of the flesh that are waging war on your soul.”
In other words, “I’m less concerned about what unbelievers will do to your body than I am what sin will do to your soul.”
To update that for panicked evangelicals in the 21st century: “I’m less concerned about what unbelievers may do with your church’s tax-exempt status than what compromise and complacency will do to your congregation.”

The Battle Bigger Than a Culture War

Peter’s focus flips our expectation. We should be more concerned about this war than any culture war.
That’s not to say there aren’t real issues that press upon us and demand our attention. It’s not to say that political wrangling over religious liberty, the rights of conscience, and the preservation of societal space for Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic is unimportant.
It is simply to remind us of the frightening prospect of Christians who might win a culture war and lose their souls. Our focus on human flourishing and the common good is of little value if, while we focus on morality in the world, we fail to pursue holiness in our own hearts.
The character of God’s kingdom people in a secular age must be holy. For this reason, the battle against fleshly desires is always bigger than any cultural battle.
You can lose the cultural battle and still win the war against sin. But if you win the cultural battle and lose your soul through compromise and complacency, you remain with nothing but a societal fa├žade that masks a corrosive hypocrisy.
Fighting for your rights in society is pointless if you’re not fighting for righteousness in your heart. That’s where the biggest battle is, and that’s why Peter calls us to root out sin and submit to the Savior.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Re-ignite Bible Reading That’s Become Boring

It’s not good, is it? You know, it’s bad, but you don’t know what to do. Well, here are some ideas to help you re-ignite your Bible reading. If you have any strategies that have helped you, leave them in the comments box to help others too, will you?
1. Routine. If our Bible reading is not fixed for a particular time each day, and we’re just hoping a time slot appears, we’ll end up squeezing it into too small a space. Best to pick a time and get into a habit of reading each day at that time. If you are already in a good habit of reading at the same time each day, and your reading has become boring, the worst thing you can do is give up your routine and only “read as the Spirit moves.” You’ll hardly read at all then. Pick a time, and stick at it.
2. Sleep. No, not during your reading, but before it. Many times boredom sets in because we’re shattered with exhaustion and we just don’t have the energy to read in an interactive and profitable way. Get yourself a good 7-8 hours sleep each night and you’ll find that a much brighter mind will produce much brighter reading.
3. Ban the cellphone. If you check your phone before you check your Bible, the Bible is going to lose. The Internet and Social Media is crack cocaine for the brain. The Bible requires careful cutting, chewing, and digesting. The former is quick thrills; the latter is a slow roast. Check your Bible first and it won’t feel such a let down to your brain. And put your phone away as you read; even if it’s not pinging and buzzing, the brain sees it and is expecting it, causing further distraction.
4. Read a different version. Sometimes we’ve got too familiar with the words we’ve read many, many times. Why not read a different version alongside your favorite one, to jog your mind out of its normal ruts and make you see words and sentences in a fresh light.
5. Read more slowly (or quickly). If you are reading a chapter a day, slow down to just a few verses a day to make you think and meditate more (10 tips on meditation here). Or speed up for a time, reading more chapters more quickly in order to get a better overview of a book. Just change it up a bit. If you are in a difficult part of the Old Testament, add a few verses from the New each day.
6. Read a devotional first. Sometimes our hearts need to be warmed up. I usually sing or read part of a Psalm before reading my chapters in the Old and New Testament. You could read a daily devotional or sing a spiritual song to light up that cold heart.
7. Use a study Bible. I don’t advocate this as something to use all the time, because it’s important that we learn to think for ourselves when we read the Bible and not just have others think for us. Also, people can spend more time reading the notes than the Bible itself. But, now and again, for a few weeks at a time, you could use a study Bible or brief commentary to help you get excited about the Bible again.
8. Accountability. Ask your wife, husband, friend, to ask you about your Bible reading each day. If we know someone is going to ask us what we read and what we learned from our Bibles that day, that usually sharpens our concentration and therefore increases edification.
9. Need. If we don’t need something, we don’t value it. If I don’t see my need of the Bible, I won’t value it. I’ve always noticed that my periods of dull Bible reading usually coincide with dullness of soul. When I don’t see my sin, when I think I’m doing quite well really, then I don’t see the Bible as so essential to my life and well-being. But when I’m convicted of my sin and weakness, I then see the Bible as more necessary than my daily food and drink.
10. Remember who is speaking. Our listening depends on who is talking and what he or she is talking about. Before you start, remind yourself of who is speaking – God – and what He is speaking about – your eternal salvation.
11. Pray. Confess to God that you find reading the Bible boring. Ask him to show you if it’s because you are unconverted, and you need to be born again to get the spiritual sight and tastebuds to make you savor and relish His Word. Pray that He would open your eyes to see the beauty and wisdom of His Word. If you are a Christian, confess your coldness and deadness of heart, and ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven and inspire you again. Ask Him to show you if there is any sin that is keeping back His blessing.
12. Serve. If we’re only eating and not exercising, we’ll soon lose our appetite. But if we are serving God, seeking opportunities to bless His church, or witness to others, we exercise our souls, get hungry, see our need of strengthening and guidance, and we devour God’s Word more greedily.
What other ways have you found to re-ignite your Bible reading during seasons of dryness and deadness?