Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 5 & 6

I've been laying out my own Top Ten advantages for sequential exposition. Click the links to see reasons 10 & 9 and 8 & 7.

Advantages 6 and 5 to Sequential Exposition.

6. Bible Study methods are modeled.

    Preacher—Instead of working to design, prepare and condense a sermon series or even points made about a topic, the pastor is encouraged to simply walk through the text. The pastor can model proper Bible study habits for his congregation as he walks them through the passage itself. His teaching can actually become a way where proper study is “caught.” The pastor is forced to preach genres that are more difficult and is stretched.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation begin to see that the pastor’s ability to craft a sermon is not built upon his education, his resources or some unattainable gift. The congregation begins to see that the pastor simply reads and explains the text and that this is something they can do as well! The congregation also learns how to read certain genres of Scripture.

5. Theological Bereans are formed.
    Preacher—The preacher is forced to deal with his passage within its context, knowing that what he has already taught (and what he will teach) cannot contradict with the point he is currently making. The preacher knows that he will be held accountable to text, for his people have heard everything leading up to it. Also, the preacher begins to develop others who rightly divide the Word of Truth and is able to share the teaching responsibility with them. The preacher also develops his own accountability partners.
    Congregation—The congregation is equipped to study the passage before and after it is preached. Members can show up to church prepared with a knowledge of the text, thus heightening their understanding from the sermon. Each week’s study builds into the preceding week, allowing them to study the context bit by bit, instead of having to review an isolated sermon without knowing the flow of the whole book.

My Own Op-ED--Diagnosis

Feeling Sorry for Today’s Church
I know God is the head of the church and He will build His church, but the church leaders [sic] struggle with how to apply Truth to today’s generations.

Society is so-o-o-o-o complicated—so secular, so far away from Truth.

The church of today has two big issues—the young being one. The old being the other.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

The bottom quote is obviously from Jesus (Matthew 16:18). The top three quotes are from an editorial from Ed Lewis. Now, why would a generally jovial and joyous man have such a glum perspective on the state of the Church?

I blame stats.

"Today we lose 70% of young people who grew up in the church," the editorial states. Ed is not alone when he laments these stats. Another Grace Brethren pastor states in his book: "58% of young adults who attended church at eighteen no longer attend by age twenty-nine." Just a week before reading that, another Grace Brethren pastor sent me an email, citing stats all over it which described how young people are bailing on the church.

But the numbers seem to say we are losing! Why aren't you equally bummed?

FIrst, let me say, when anyone walks out of the church and doesn't come back, that is sad. Your heart breaks for that person. Each individual case bums me out. However, from a global scale, when I consider the stats above, I just don't find myself bummed for the following reasons:
    These stats are only about "church attendance."
Phone interviews are not the way to assess conversion. Therefore, this stat is something which can be attendance. Our goal has never been just to get people in the doors, nor has it been to keep them coming. Our goal is conversions, and this stat says nothing of that nature. And really, we have no idea what kind of attendance we're talking about. Only corporate Sunday morning worship? How frequent? For how long?
    We know nothing about the churches.
This is not a Grace Brethren survey. Even if it were, we don't know how faithfully each church was preaching the Word and declaring the gospel. Quite honestly, if a person was in a bad church (one that doesn't preach the gospel clearly from the Word of God), I'd just as soon see them leave. People going to bad churches never think, "Man, I should get back in church." People who leave churches (even bad ones) are sometimes prompted to get back in church. And perhaps the second time around, they'd find a good church.
    This stat does not actually mean we are losing the generation.
Any young person who comes to know Christ after age 18 doesn't count in this stat. A college student, who had never darkened the doors of a church, yet comes to know Christ and gets plugged into a church, does not reverse this stat.
    100% retention just is not possible.
This is not merely realism, this is Biblical. The Scriptures are clear, there are tares among the wheat, and eventually, they will leave. Not to mention there are bad church experiences that drive people away for a period of time. What about a person who is moved or transfered to an area where a sound church just doesn't exist?

Each person who leaves the church should be pursued. But each reason why a person walked away from a church completely varies. If a person walks away from the church because they don't like the truth the church proclaims, we should mourn for the rebellion of the person. However, we should rejoice in the purity of the church! We pray for that person. We pray God will continue to work on the person and bring the gospel across their path. We pray that eventually His grace will overwhelm them irresistibly! Yet, the only way this can happen is if churches are strong and pure. When young people walk away from the church because the church refuses to agree with their secular philosophy professor, or because they refuse to be as inclusive as the quasi-universalist churches in town, we should rejoice for the perseverance of His church.

Hell may overpower our society, but it will never be able to stand against His church!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 7 & 8

Our sermeneutics class had to compile a top ten list for sequential exposition. You can see reasons 9 & 10 (as well as some initial comments to explain the list) by clicking here.

Advantages 8 and 7 to Sequential Exposition.

8. Hard work is necessary.

    Preacher—The preacher is not able to avoid certainly difficult texts or dance around certain topics. He will be forced to cover that which is difficult when it comes up in the text, forcing himself to depend on the Lord and spend extra time in the text. This hard work in the text can result in sanctification.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation will be forced to think in ways they never have before as they address topics they normally don’t think about. Difficult subjects are addressed before the person goes through them personally, allowing them to be better prepared. By God’s grace, members are prepared in advance for the sanctification that will come through various trials.

7. Eisegesis is limited.
    Preacher—When a preacher chooses his topic and then looks for a passage that supports that topic (ie. What’s a good passage to look at for prayer?), he can be tempted to see this topic as the main point of the passage, even if it is not. However, if the preacher comes to the text, without a predetermined agenda for the text, his odds of reading into the text are diminished.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation are attentive to the Word, not just for the topics covered, but actually to learn what the Word of God says. A person is not tempted to complacency because they feel they have a good prayer life and the text you are covering is on prayer. Members of the congregation are tempted to listen to the text, as they are not sure what the point will be from it.

My Own Op-ED

      --I do not believe Christians have to be in complete unity on every issue. While sin and ignorance are still around, we're not going to agree. I bring my own sin and ignorance, as you do too.
      --I do not even believe that members of the same Fellowship (or denomination) need to agree or be in unity on all things. There are core issues that matter, but other issues where we may disagree.
      --I do not even believe it is necessary to mask the difference. If two people have differing perspectives, it can be good and healthy for those two to discuss their difference in public, where others can gain perspective, as well.
This perspective is not shared by many. While I can be disappointed by some diversity in areas I think our Fellowship should hold in unity, I am most troubled that there seems to be a spirit of secrecy if you disagree. Either you are accused of being a pharisaical critic (a heavy charge in its own right!) or the person blows you off and refuses to discuss or explain their perspective. While we say we want to celebrate diversity and difference, in reality, the climate is set to ignore it.

Reading this editorial piece led me to one of those moments of differing opinion. I would not hold to the author's perspective (either in diagnosis or cure) and believe it could be healthy to lay it out publicly. Here are some reasons why I believe it could be fruitful to draw out these differences:
    1. Ed is secure. As Executive Directory of CE National for the last 30 years, Ed does not need to fear any critique. Possibly in interactions in the past, some pastors have shut things down because they fear unrest from their congregation and believe their position is in jeopardy. Ed does not need to worry about these things. His position is set, so hopefully there is freedom for us to disagree without him having to worry about angry congregants seeking his job!
    2. Ed is wonderful. No one dislikes Ed Lewis. If you've met him, you've seen grace, mercy, joy, humility and passion. I'm leaning on his possession of these attributes, and my pursuit of them, for this to work. If Ed chooses to respond (he clearly is not required), I believe it will be done with continued grace and humility.
    3. Ed is liked. I've known Ed for about 20 years now. Ed has always been friendly to me and even if we haven't seen each other in years, he still somehow seems to know what is going on in our lives! In previous interactions with others, I think they have feared my comments to be ad hominem. I have no such "attack" against Ed (how could you?) and hopefully then, we can just stay to the issue.
    4. CE National has influenced me. I learned a great deal of the New Testament through CE's quizzing program. I learned my love of preaching while participating as a "Teen Challenge Speaker." My wife and I really developed our friendship while participating in Operation Barnabas. My ability to attend Grace College was largely due to scholarships made possible by CE National. Even now, our own youth pastor was trained by CE's "National Institute." Again, there clearly is no axe to grind. Hopefully, readers can give me the benefit of the doubt on this issue.
    5. Ed is not papal. He claims no amount of infallibility. His position is not even one of authority over churches. He is Executive Directory of a non-profit organization. If he is an elder in his church (I don't know if he is), then he has authority over those particular sheep. However, Ed's role is very influential. I would argue that with his tenure and with his exposure, he is easily one of the most influential men in our Fellowship. If he says something, many pastors are going to assume it.
    6. Ed's article was public. You can read it from the link. I received it directly into my email. These are not issues by which Ed is pondering and working out with other men privately. These were his thoughts which were publicly presented to others. Ed holds to these views strongly enough that he was willing to broadcast them nation wide.
    7. I love Ed. Ed is one of the most positive and joyful men I've ever met. His life exudes joy. (The picture could have been taken at pretty much any random moment in Ed's life, not just for posing for a picture. Quite frankly, I kind of assume Ed even smiles like that during his sleep!) That's why the particular article caught my eye. When speaking of the the church, which Christ has said He will build, Ed does not seem to have this typical joy. That bums me out. I think the down nature of the article is due to some mistakes in thinking. I'd love to see the joy back when discussing this topic.
    8. Ed is a man. I emailed Ed this post as well as tomorrow's and Ed responded with great grace. I wouldn't have posted this series without his permission, which he granted.
    9. I love our Fellowship pastors. Ed's discouragement is not his own. It is shared by many pastors I speak to. Again, by posting this publicly, I hope it could serve as an encouragement to other pastors and help reshape their thinking.
    10. I love our Fellowship. However, I don't think it is going to survive much longer if we do not allow open dialogue. Quite frankly, how can you use the word "fellowship" when you can't even talk? I'm one of the youngest teaching pastors in the Fellowship (33 last February), yet if I disagree or ask for someone to clarify things or explain their purposes, I am met with silence, a refusal to talk or emails that respond but never actually deal with the issues. Perhaps the problem is me? (I'm being serious here.) If my tone has been wrong or my methods detrimental, I desire to try it once publicly, so others can help shape me and teach me. I'm at the end of my rope and thought maybe--just maybe--if the problem is me, and I lay it out publicly, others can help shape me before I completely give up on this concept we're calling a "Fellowship."

Lord willing, I plan to address the linked editorial with three posts:
      1. How the diagnosis is off.
      2. How the cure is insufficient.
      3. How the diagnosis and cure are really linked to the same issue.
May it be done to the praise of the glory of His grace!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 9 & 10

I've attempted to compile "Top 10 lists" from other pastors regarding the merits of sequential exposition. Clicking the DTMW4I link (Don't Take My Word 4 It), will pull up these lists. As an assignment, our sermoneutics class was asked to also make a list. The following are my results...but first, a few observations:

--While my blog is called "lectio continua" (latin for sequential exposition), you'll also notice the intent of the blog has expanded. At one time, I may have considered it a noble effort to get every pastor to practice sequential exposition. However, I have come to see a man can practice sequential exposition and still be preaching wrong, so I have not made it my ultimate cause.

--I would agree with Al Mohler that if exposition is simply reading the text and explaining it, then all preaching is to be expositional. While I can't "thunder" that all exposition should be sequential, I do hope this list helps show why I think it is the most advantageous form of exposition to a man who is regularly in the same pulpit.

Advantages 10 and 9 to Sequential Exposition.

10. Offense is placed at the Word, and not at the preacher.

    Preacher—The preacher is protected from the accusation that he was intentionally preaching right at somebody and using the pulpit to bully people.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation are released of the temptation to think a sermon was just intended as the pastor’s form of manipulating or abusing his authority. When struck with deep conviction, the congregant is more tempted to see it as offensive in the text, rather than think it was just a disagreement with the pastor.

9. Felt needs are mitigated.
    Preacher—The preacher is protected from constantly trying to figure out exactly what the church needs to hear. He does not have to respond to rumor or insinuation of problems the Body is facing. He can preach from passages without people wondering, “I wonder what happened this week to make him say that?” He is also relieved from the burden of thinking he must figure out exactly what his people need to hear.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation are encouraged not to place their personal felt needs as a primary focus of the pastor. Members are less prone to suggest topics for preaching which reflect issues they see others struggling with…thus being tempted toward self-righteousness. The congregation is not simply hearing what the pastor thinks they need, but what the Text actually addresses.

A Vision for Heart Change

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all {refer} {to} things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, {but are} of no value against fleshly indulgence.--Colossians 3:20-23

The above picture shows eye glasses issued by a zoo in the UK. Apparently, a woman was attacked when a gorilla jumped the moat and grabbed her because she had stared in his eyes and smiled (acts of aggression to primates). Rather than trying to convince people not to stare into the eyes of a gorilla, they thought these glasses were a better option.

My favorite comment which was made:

Of course, if you have your head tilted down and angled just right while rummaging in your backpack, you might find the specs are inadvertently staring at the angry gorilla by themselves - with the extra hassle that you won't be able to see him coming.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Missional Balance

I believe Jonathan Leeman (of 9 Marks Ministries has a very balanced, fair and gracious review of the movement toward "missional" vocabulary. Jonathan offers five issues of concern as well as four ways the missional dialogue can help sharpen us.

Five Issues

1) I take issue with the historical revisionism that characterizes both ecumenicals and evangelicals. It’s striking how almost every one of these authors begins by retelling the history of modernism and postmodernism (one finds the same thing in emerging church literature. Think of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian). Why do they all do this? Because, like Bill Clinton’s political advisor James Carville demonstrated so clearly in Clinton’s 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush, he who establishes the terms of the debate wins the debate. At Clinton campaign headquarters, Carville famously hung the sign, "It’s the economy, stupid." Clinton convinced the country that the election was about the economy, and not about the first Iraqi War. This helped him win the election, because Americans were feeling an economic squeeze at the time.

The crisis in our churches today, each one of these authors tells us, is about the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Really? I suppose it is if you accept the terms of modernism in the first place, which Bosch explicitly does:

it is futile to attempt nostalgically to return to a pre-Enlightenment worldview. It is not possible to "unknow" what we have learned…The ‘light’ in the Enlightenment was real light and should not simply be discarded. What is needed, rather, is to realize that the Enlightenment paradigm has served is purpose; we should now move beyond it… [17]

The problem, in my opinion, is that Bosch and others have capitulated more completely to the philosophies of this world than they realize, even as they accuse fundamentalists of doing the same. (It almost feels like a number of mainliners are looking for a way to explain their dying denominations, and can’t help but draw those rigid inerrantists into their malaise.) I should unpack all this much further, but I’ll leave it at that.

2) I take issue with the reductionism which results from this revisionism. Since the conservatives adopt the historically revisionistic storyline of the ecumenicals almost wholesale, they fall into some of the same reductionism. Both emphasize the fact that the church is a people, and not a place. That’s absolutely correct. But answering the question "Where on earth will we find the church?" requires us to fall back on the three marks of the Reformers—preaching, practicing the ordinances, and practicing discipline. As Mark Dever likes to say, three Christians who bump into each other at the grocery store do not comprise a local church.

Both emphasize the fact that the nature of the church is "missional," that is, defined by the fact that the church is "sent." True enough. But we must also define the nature of the church as the blood-bought, new covenant people of Christ. We’ve been sent because we’ve been bought. And the people of God will worship, obey, and go as they increasingly identify themselves by that amazing purchase. Don’t overlook it.

Along these same lines, the conservatives writers should take care to define "attractional" more carefully when they pit it against "missional." The church should be attractive. In fact, this new covenant, Holy Spirit indwelled community of love, holiness, and unity should be the most attractive people of all!

I know that’s not what Stetzer is getting at when he critiques the "attractional" church. He’s talking about fancy programs, not a holy people, and he’s right on. But let me state for the record that the most attractive church—one that images its Savior through faithfulness to his word—will be the most missional church. Interestingly, the ecumenical crowd does a better job of being explicit on just this point whenever they emphasize the church as a sign and a foretaste of God’s kingdom. [18]

3) I take issue with the ambiguity of terms when moving back and forth between different authors, particularly over the all-important term, the "gospel." When conservatives co-opt ecumenical themes, they need to take greater care, I believe, in defining exactly what they mean by such essential terms. After all, the content of the soil will inevitably affect the plant.

4) I take slight issue with the term "incarnational." I understand and appreciate the impulse to see that our hands and feet, eyes and tongues, do and live and put on our creed. Yet it’s important for us to recognize that, historically, the term "incarnation" has referred to the unique, once-in-history event of God becoming man. No, the term is not a biblical one, but there are good reasons to preserve the uniqueness of the term in our usage. First of all, equating what the divine Son did in becoming Jesus the God-man with what I do when I imitate Jesus downplays the ineffable wonder of that one-time event. It might even be said to make the divine Son a little smaller and me a little bigger.

More significantly, the primary purpose of the incarnation, I believe, was for the Son to offer his life as the perfect sacrificial substitute in order to assuage the wrath of God against eternally damnable transgression. Yet when I make the incarnation primarily about something else, something that I can emulate in my own life, I risk shifting the focus away from Christ’s wonderous, astounding, amazing work of wrath removal.

5) I also take a little bit of issue with the equation between ethnicity and worldviews. The Mandarin and Cantonese languages are morally neutral. Nihilism and materialism are not. Bobo-ism, hip-hop, and Valley are not. It’s one thing to remain in the Cantonese tribe. It’s another to remain in the hop-hop tribe. I’m not saying one shouldn’t. I’m saying that the equation is not so clean cut. Frankly, I haven’t thought through all the implications of these differences. I’m simply suggesting that we should think them through.

Four instructions

Four Instructions

Those issues aside, I believe advocates of the missional church instruct us in at least four very helpful ways.

1) I am especially grateful for the emphasis the ecumenicals give to the witness of the corporate body. One author writes,

In North America, what might it mean for the church to be such a city on a hill? to be salt? to be a light to the world? It means, first of all, that the inner, communal life of the church matters for mission. [19]

Amen! This author goes onto emphasize the importance of love, holiness, and unity. The content he fills into these three words might be a little different than the content an evangelical pours in, but the trajectory is a good one. Conservative writers on the missional church tend to emphasize the mission of every individual member to share the gospel. That’s excellent. But let’s emphasize the importance of our corporate witness as well. Our churches should be attractive. They should be foretastes of Christ's consummated kingdom.

2) I’m grateful to be instructed by Stetzer and others to adopt more of a missional posture. We too easily fall into complacency in our "resident" status, as Eric Simmons’ reminds us. We need to hear Newbigin’s reminder that we are a "pilgrim people."

I spent a month in a former Soviet republic two years ago, living with a missionary family. The entire month I strategized to pour myself out for the kingdom. For instance, I developed a friendship with one non-Christian man who wanted to attend an American business school and then return to his country and help it economically. He had spent a year studying for the GMATs, but could not yet afford to pay the registration fee. I forget what the fee was -- $200 maybe? On an American income, that’s nothing. On my friend’s income, it would have cost him three or four months of labor. So I happily paid the fee for him (and congratulated myself on doing so). Praise God, my friend is presently at business school in the United States, and has now been baptized as a believer by a local church. I was not the principal witness in his life, but I trust that God used me to play one small part.

Yet here’s the point, and the question you should ask me: Jonathan, have you ever randomly given $200 to a non-Christian friend in the United States as a display of friendship and Christ’s love? Sadly, the answer is no. Too much of the time, I’m just a resident, not a missionary, more interested in buying books, cds (no, I don’t have an ipod), a nice dinner, and just a little bit more automobile or house. Yet imagine how the non-Christians around us would respond if we Christians became known for regular acts of generosity? We shouldn’t do it for the world’s favor; we should do it accompanied by a verbal explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also, go read Eric Simmons’ article.

3) We do well to heed the instruction of missional church writers to exegete our culture, because studying it, ironically, helps us to distance ourselves from it. Learning about the culture should remind us that we are sojourners, and do not finally belong to any one time and place.

4) Finally, we do well to be instructed by the passion of missional writers like Ed Stetzer to be biblically faithful in planting churches and reaching the lost. I have offered the five critiques above not because I think he and others are on the wrong path, but because I think they are on the right path. They inspire me. My critiques are offered in the attempt to help the cause.

Read the whole article.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Death March

As people pass through our neighborhood for the March of Dimes walk, I wonder how many realize they are supporting planned parenthood.

The March of Dimes strongly supports the creation of an explicit option allowing states to provide primary care and family planning services to women under Medicaid without having to obtain a federal waiver.--from a website file here.

Sadly, humanistic reasoning can even ruin something as pure as desiring to see healthy babies born. A little self-autonomy creeps in and suddenly a rational way to see more healthy babies born is to eliminate the life of unwanted babies. Our sin nature is so strong that even when we desire to support life, we actually think it is reasonable to end it.

This should remind us to pray:
    Pray for the "unwanted" babies. Of course, unwanted only to the mother. Our church is filled with people who would love to care for the child. Pray that troubled mothers might give their child away rather than kill it.
    Pray for healing. There are a lot of hurting mothers who bought the humanistic lies of our society and were deceived into thinking it was a choice, rather than a life. Praise God that this is something the cross of Christ can completely cover! Pray that these mothers would not just seek peace for their conscience, but they would find forgiveness for their sin.
    Pray for the church. Pray that we might find more effective ways to connect with these mothers-in-crisis and might be able to give them the support they need to keep the baby alive.
    Pray for souls. Allow the irrational thinking of the "March of Dimes" to remind you of the pervasive and destructive effects of sin. Allow it to remind you to pray that God might enlighten hearts to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! And praise God that He has allowed you to see truth!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Matter of Trajectory

Take a look at the following (fictional) church signs (Sorry if you attend a "New Hope Baptist Church. I couldn't change that part of the sign), and ask yourself the following:

1. Is this sign appropriate, or has it crossed a line?
2. Can God use it?

Let's tackle the questions in reverse order:

2. Can God use it?

The correct answer is "yes." Not for some, not for all but the last, but for every sign. Yes, God can use such strategies to bring a person to repentance! We serve a Sovereign God who accomplishes salvation through jealous brothers, wicked pharaohs and kisses of betrayal. He can use all things for His glory and to accomplish His purposes. Could someone get saved at a youth group activity that is centered around wickedness? Provided the gospel is communicated (which will probably seem odd and out of place), we have to answer in the affirmative. For salvation is not up to our strategies or even our purity, but is up to a Sovereign God powerfully working through the proclamation of the gospel. This should remind us of two truths:

      1. The results do not justify the action.
      2. A gospel proclamation does not mean the event is suddenly pure.
It doesn't matter how many people came or how many people got saved. These are not indicators that the Lord was pleased with our activities. Jesus said that some will say, "Did we not prophesy in your name?" and yet they will be confined to hell, for they never knew Him. Certainly, the believer can also disobey the Lord and yet the Lord will allow others to be ministered to in the midst. Neither does the fact that the gospel was proclaimed "white wash" the activity/strategy. Yes, Paul was pleased that the gospel was proclaimed, even if with ill motive. However, we should not assume that also means the Lord was pleased with their ill motive. He will judge and they will stand before Him for it. I fear for many pastors who seem to ignore the fact that they will stand before God for more than just the numbers they attracted or even the number of people who got saved. They will stand before God for their faithfulness to Him, faithfulness in character and proclamation.

1. Is this sign appropriate, or has it crossed the line?

If your your screen is small enough that every sign did not appear at first, you were probably shocked to scroll down and see the last sign. Of course, that's wrong! you probably thought. You maybe even felt the same way about sign three. Actually, once you saw sign three, it may have impacted how you felt about sign two. This is the point of trajectory.

Sign four has crossed a definite line. If you don't believe so, you should resign from ministry and repent immediately. You've obviously drunk the "win them at all costs" koolaide and unless you see the error of this method, the cost may be your own soul. Any youth pastor who held this kind of event should not only be fired, but should be arrested. (I have no idea if a youth group has ever tried this, but I wouldn't be surprised. However, I do not think this is really any different than a pastor standing in front of his congregation and seeking to connect with his audience by speaking gleefully about a poster of a famous actress in a swimsuit. [Which happened in a church on Resurrection Sunday!] This pastor is also using sinful lust as a way to "win over" his audience.)

Sign three becomes problematic as well. What would be the purpose of pointing out cheerleaders in your youth group? Does this contribute to the popularity garbage of the jr/sr high caste system? Are you not trying to attract pagans to your youth group through their sinful desires? Isn't this using the girls of your church as an object? What does this say to the girls who aren't cheerleaders, or the cheerleader who thinks she's the exception because "she's really not that pretty?" And no amount of "verbal wizardry" can sanctify this situation. You can't say to yourself, Ah, but I mean beautiful in a 1 Peter 3 sort of way. These girls have beautiful character. I'm speaking of true beauty! No, when you know the reader will misunderstand your statement (or it comes to your attention that it is easily misunderstood) it is not appropriate to keep it. (Many pastors today seem to love playful use of innuendo and double meaning. When this is used to arouse sinful passion, this is wrong.) Sign three is evidence of wrong thinking (at the least) and such strategies should not be employed. (I have never seen this sign either, but I have been at a restaurant with another youth pastor [not ours!] who told a local boy he should come to his youth group because he has a lot of pretty girls. Now, why would a youth pastor, who should be seeking to preserve the purity of his girls and should be speaking against being unequally yoked, ever sick a pagan boy on his girls?)

Sign two could probably be answered either way. It's one thing if the pastor simply knows that Sally is Ryan's acquaintance and her presence may allay his fears of not knowing anyone. This could be an innocent statement from the youth pastor. However, if he is aware that Ryan has a "crush" on Sally and he is trying to manipulate that desire to get the kid to come, he is once again objectifying a member of his youth group. He also sends a double message, for it appears that he would approve of the boy having a relationship with Sally. The answer is not to be double tongued either. He should not have the option of making this boy think he should pursue a relationship with the girl, and then run over to the girl and encourage her not to pursue a relationship with the boy. In fact, if the youth pastor later becomes aware of the fact that Ryan has a greater appreciation for Sally than just acquaintances, he should abandon such a strategy to attract the young man to the youth group.

But I first started coming to a youth group because I was attracted to a girl, you may protest. That's not what I'm talking about. In fact, during a recent communion service, several men in our church shared they were motivated to pursue Christ by their attraction to a Christian woman. As they pursued the woman, they met her Savior and were won over to the Lord. This fact gets us back to question two, God can use any means to bring a person to faith. However, this does not mean it is right for a pastor to use whatever means available to do the same. Might a young man come to a youth group because of lustful passion for a girl and yet he encounters Christ? Praise be to God, it happens all the time. Should a pastor knowingly manipulate these passions to try to get the young man in the door? Never.

Sign one seems innocent enough. Teens are insecure and self-conscious already. There's nothing wrong with easing someone's fear of being alone and scared by appealing to relationships they already have. To say, Hey, we have a lot of kids from your high school in our youth group. You probably recognize a lot of them is a pretty innocent statement in it's own. However, even this statement could be said with wrong motive. Are you trying to win the kid over that other members of his cliche come to your youth group and find it cool? Are you trying to appeal to his social status and convince him that his pursuit of popularity can be enhanced by joining your group? You see, the words are not isolated in a vacuum. They are connected to a motive and that motive is connected to the speaker's heart. If the motive is not pure, neither is the statement.

And here comes the question of trajectory...

If the maker of sign four is also the maker of sign one, do you have less confidence in the innocence of sign one?

If a youth pastor employs sign four as a strategy to win people, this is not the beginning of his indiscretion. Yet often a church (and more tragically, the youth pastor, himself) will only look to the obvious error and not look toward the root. If a pastor gets to the point where he is using sex (or greed or gossip or any other sinful lust) in such a way to appeal to his audience, the root is sick, not just the fruit. So often, however, we are tempted to simply draw a line around certain behavior and slap the pastor's wrist when he crosses such behavior. The problem is, if the root desire is still the same, you haven't addressed the heart problem.

For instance, suppose a pastor is really dumb enough to issue a youth group wet t-shirt contest. Hopefully, his church (and parents!) are offended by this and sit down to speak with him. The youth pastor "repents" and issues an apology (usually just a generic "sorry" instead of a confession of sin...but I digress). He promises not to do that again. However, because no one has helped him search the heart issue, he might continue to employ the strategies in the first three signs. He may still be appealing to sinful lusts as an attraction strategy, he just may not be as blatant and explicit.

Once the shock of his error passes by, the church will probably relax and think the problem was taken care of...until it returns.

And it will return, because you haven't severed the root.

This is where trajectory can tell us a lot. And should remind us all, pastor or not, that we must deal with the underlying heart problem, not just the manifestations. When a pastor exhibits such blatantly sinful strategies, the church is not serving herself, her pastor or her community when she just confronts the actions. For the sake of his soul and his witness, she should love him enough to examine the trajectory and get to the heart.

(If you attend Grace, I praise God for your faithful work to seek my sanctification as well. Keep it up!)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day-ception

Some things to think about as the world goes ga-ga over Planet Earth...

We still live in an era when people worship the creation, rather than the Creator.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.--Romans 1:20-23
We know that the earth will not end due to environmental issues.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.--2 Peter 3:8-10
Subduing the earth does not mean keeping it in its original order
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, {I have given} every green plant for food"; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.--Genesis 1:28-31
A couple things to notice:

This is pre-fall. Sin and death do not exist at the time of this commission.

Humans and animals were allowed to use trees and plants for their benefit.

Subdue cannot mean to keep something in its original state or "keep destructive effects away from the earth" for these things weren't happening yet. Many today claim that an environmental "green" obsession is fulfillment of this original call from God. However, at this point they are distorting history. There is no need to "preserve" the planet at this time, for nothing destructive has been introduced into it.

The heavens and the earth are amazing. We should be pointing people to their beauty. Not for the sake of their beauty, but for the purpose of their beauty:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Don't love mother earth, love God the Father.

For the best message I have heard regarding this, go to Shepherds' Fellowship (you'll have to log on--but it is free), click their Resources section and select the first message from this year's Shepherds' Conference: "Creation, Theology & The End of the Universe."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Audio Recommendation

I rarely recommend anything before I have read/listened to it in its entirety. However, I have to recommend the Preaching Christ in a Post Modern World lectures by Ed Clowney and Tim Keller. (Link takes you to the podcast in itunes. I am unaware if there is another way to retrieve it.) This is simply brilliant. I have been edified. I have been educated. I have worshipped as I have listened to these lectures. And I've got many more lectures to go!!!!

Even though I do not enjoy sitting in classrooms, I think I would have enjoyed sitting in one of Clowney's classes very much.

The Question and Answer sessions are wonderful, as students often ask the very questions you are thinking. Clowney and Keller do a wonderful job of graciously and thoroughly answering the questions.

I can't recommend it enough!

Faith by Hearing also provides a link to the handouts in .pdf form.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Am I to be a Pastor/Elder?

John Piper offers the following ways to know if you are being called during a recent "Ask Pastor John":

I feel called to be a pastor. What sorts of things should I be looking for to confirm this possible calling?

That's a good question.

    1) Be looking for a strong and continually recurring desire.
In other words, this is not a flash in the pan desire after some inspiring speech that somebody gave. This keeps coming back, and coming back, and coming back—a desire that you cannot shake. It's right to aspire to the eldership, according to 1 Timothy.
    2) Be looking for some gifts that are needed in pastoral ministry.
Gifts of teaching are required, for example. And a certain kind of wisdom with people. So look for those gifts. Cultivate those gifts. Do what you can to exercise those gifts.
    3) Look for confirmation in other people.
When a man puts himself upon a church where a church is not delivering messages of confirmation, he is probably out of touch. He may not be. There are a few exceptions where a prophetic voice rises up and is hardly recognized by anybody in the church as a prophetic voice. But by and large the church confirms the gifts given to the elders and the pastors.

So what that means is that you're leading a small group, you're trying to share the word to encourage people, and people are getting help, and they're telling you so ("That was encouraging!"), and they're coming back. They want to get more. They find your presence to be life-giving rather than life-taking.

When people start to drift away from you rather than being drawn to you to hear or to talk or converse, then that might mean you should think, "Hmm. How can I minister to a congregation if they're not getting help by me?" So the third thing is confirmation.
    4) Then I would look for circumstances to confirm that sense of calling as well, opportunities that emerge.
Soak your life in prayer, immerse yourself in the word, and stir. And the aroma that comes out of the pot will blow in a direction and you follow it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Using Baseball for My Humility

I love being a sports antagonist, and quite frankly, it has worked out pretty well for me. My Pittsburgh Steelers prove to be a great alternative to any NFL team this state offers. I was the only kid I knew who was not a Michael Jordan fan, and instead to support the team that developed "Jordan rules," the Detroit Pistons (who have seen moderate success in my lifetime). Even my Duke Blue Devils (again, born out of not liking Jordan, though this affiliation may cost me the ability to ever have a conversation with CJ Mahaney) are always a competitive team.

But there is one team that seems to break this mold. Since my two favorite baseball players of all time (Nolan Ryan and Ivan Rodriguez) played for the Texas Rangers, I have found myself a fan for years. Not only does this cease to be an antagonist fan interest (Reds/Indians fans neither consider Texas a rival, though the Rangers have beaten the Indians every time I've seen them at the Jake), but they don't seem to bring the same level of success either.

Case in Point: Just 10 games into the season, Texas is clawing their way back up to two games below .500 and are already 3.5 games back.

The real humility came this last November while I was in the Dominican Republic. I was visiting Bob & Anna Nilsen (missionaries from our church, Tim and Evelyn were stateside) during the week of a baseball outreach. There were baseball players (former and future) all over the place, and me. I've never stood out as a baseball player (or any sport for that matter), but I have always been a fan. Therefore, I thought I'd speak and act as one who "knew the game."

The Lord used this to humble me greatly.

The first night of the trip, I shared a room with a total stranger who was there for the baseball clinic. He asked where I was from and then naturally assumed I must be a Reds or Indians fan. I corrected him and told him I actually follow the Texas Ranger. "The Rangers," he laughed.

"I know, I know," I replied. "I'm a glutton for punishment. At least I'm not a [another franchise that struggles to be competitive] fan." The man--who was behind a half closed door of our bathroom brushing his teeth--nearly choked. He then started to laugh harder than I thought would be normal. When I asked why, he informed me that he now works as the chaplain for the major league team I just named. STRIKE ONE!

Trying to regain some credibility by displaying my vast baseball knowledge, I quickly tried to recover. "Well, I think our future is bright. I really think getting Nolan Ryan as a GM will help." I then proceeded to explain that I thought a former GM had put our team in difficult shape to which the team will need years to recover from. "He was just a lousy GM," I concluded. Again, the guy nearly choked [he was just finishing up]. When I asked why, he explained that the GM I had just derided was a good friend of his. STRIKE TWO!

Trying to recover, I clarified, "Well, he seemed to be a good guy and he definitely could spot good hitters. He just had no eye for pitching talent." The man simply nodded and I thought I recovered well. He stepped back into our room, so I thought it was time to turn the conversation back to him. "So what got you into baseball," I asked. The man wryly smiled as he explained that years ago he was drafted [by the GM I had derided] as a pitcher [which I said he had no eye for]. STRIKE THREE!

Two days later, I stood before a group of pastors and church leaders. I began to share with them freshly reminded that I am an idiot and do not stand before them by any qualification of my own. The Lord used the week as such a tremendous blessing, and He continued to use baseball as a tool of humility for me. I had the privilege of helping with a couple of baseball clinics. While at the clinics, I watched instructors teach "basic fundamentals" of the game which I had never learned. I watched many nine and ten year old boys who could already field and throw better than me! I am so prone to thinking more highly of myself than I ought to...and baseball was just one manifestation.

I can tell you this. The Rangers could finish this season 4-158 and I will not refer to any of them as bums. I will not be deceived into thinking I have a better eye for talent than their front office staff either. I know that my beloved Rangers (no matter who is running the organization) are in better hands than mine.

Now, if I could just remember the same principles in others areas of life. If only I wasn't so proud, maybe the humility could come without the humiliation!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Worth the Viewing...

I don't know a ton about Matt Chandler, but from what I have seen, his perspective is quite refreshing and admirable. These videos are worth the watch:

Part 1 (13:23 min)
Part 2 (11:48 min)
Part 3 (15:07 min)
Part 4 (10:02 min)

It's 50:20 minutes that will edify you more than anything your television will provide.

(HT: JT)

In An Imperfect World...

Driscoll and MacArthur's differences seem to have gone public.


"Driscoll guys" are dogging on MacArthur, upset that he has gone public and is assuming motives.

"MacArthur guys" are dogging on Driscoll, upset that he hasn't directly answered questions nor responded to their pleas.

It's a shame when things get like this. Both men have powerful ministries and huge followings. But it really is the followings which have become the most unfortunate. Quite honestly, I think the public interaction could be rather healthy, as both men have made good points. However, it seems that those who follow each camp could be escalating the issue some. It kind of makes you wonder...

Would the MacArthur and Driscoll loyalists be pleased if the two sides completely reconciled?

Would Acts29 guys be pleased to see Driscoll at the Shepherds' Conference, in a suit, sharing an exegetical message without any controversy?

Would Shepherds' Fellowship guys be pleased to hear MacArthur challenging men at a Resurgence Conference, even if his message were preceded by a rap performance?

In an imperfect world, that seems impossible. But with a perfect Savior, it should be our hope!

Of note, MacArthur's final article on the issue is wonderfully crafted. He avoids any assumptions of motive and simply deals with the improprieties expressed. At the time of my posting the link, snarky comments weren't appearing yet...but unfortunately, I would bet they are coming.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hint: Who Said It?

Another quote from our "mystery speaker." Speaking of his ministry past:

And so I think it's good to get your losses out of the way in your 20's and early 30's.
Man, I hope he's right. (Of course, that means I've got about 4 more months.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Who Said It?

Take a stab at who made this quote:

My encouragement to all Christian preachers is to not get too fancy on Easter.

It is the day we want to be incredibly clear about the death of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection of Jesus for our salvation. We do not need to be clever. We need to be clear. And we need to add to that clarity a fitting and authentic excitement for the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God while calling sinners to be saved.

(If you are going to "google" (cheat), at least give some others a shot before you post it in the comments.)

"Killer Illustrations" F

As letter F, this will be my Final post, regarding illustrations.

    WARNING: Illustrations are necessary, but dangerous.
If my purpose was to convince pastors to quit using illustrations (or congregants to quit tolerating illustrations), only one post would be necessary. The truth is, if the pastor desires to unpack the text (which is his calling), he will find himself illustrating to help bring clarity. However, these illustrations can also get the preaching (and his congregation) into a bit of trouble.

The illustration can grow. It can go beyond unpacking the text, to become the root of the message (link). Every preacher has heard a story or a fact and thought, "That would preach as a great illustration!" The only problem is, it can be tempting to force fit an illustration into a sermon where it just doesn't belong (link). If too culturally driven, the illustration could actually divide a congregation or serve as a distraction from the text (links). Tragically, they can even occasionally interfere with the process of sanctification (link). Many desire to teach like Jesus but fall quite short (link).

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider illustrating Scripture with Scripture. What works better than an creative, captivating illustration? How about an inspired, powerful, effective, living and active illustration! When we appeal to other portions of Scripture, we can actually explain the text with other Biblical text. We know the Holy Spirit loves to use the Word of God, therefore, we know He loves our illustration! Furthermore, if the text involves a typology, parable or simile/metaphor, there may not be a need to illustrate but to simply unpack the illustration given.
    Consider your passion. What does this illustration do for you? Are your affections drawn more to the text, or to your illustration? If you were short on time, would you be willing to preach the text without the illustration? Or, if the illustration must be cut, would you no longer be passionate about the message?
    Consider rejecting recycling. I'm not a big fan of using other people's illustrations. The preacher is either tempted to make it sound like his own account (if the story sounds better in first person) or has a limited number of times he can credit another man's illustrations before it seems like he's simply preaching someone else's sermons!
    Consider your time. I also find that "Illustration databases" (either as books, or online forums) can swallow up a ridiculous amount of time. How much time is going into finding the "perfect illustration?" What exactly are you looking for that would make an illustration "perfect?" Is it robbing you of your time in the text?
    Consider your timing. Which came first, the text or the illustration? Did you find an illustration first, which you found compelling and then decided to preach around it? Have you been sitting on an illustration just dying to be able to use it soon?
    Consider your reputation. Could this illustration harm your witness, either by implication or association? Is there a greater context where this illustration is equated with sin? Will this illustration offend some for any other reason than unpacking that which is offensive in the text?

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your notes. Am I more often writing down cross references, or illustrations in my notes? Am I regularly writing down texts to go back and check later? Do potential cross references come to my mind, which I can check out later?
    Consider your attention. Do you become more attentive when the pastor begins to illustrate? If you found out the pastor did not have an illustration for that week, would you still want to hear the sermon?
    Consider the pastor's integrity. If you have heard the illustration before (from another source) and it did not seem your pastor properly credited that source, is there a gracious way you could confront him? Could you simply ask him if he has read/seen the illustration somewhere else? (Caution: You do not know his motive. Perhaps he did read this somewhere else but has forgotten. However, you can point it out to him so he can be more careful in the future.)
    Consider the time. Don't bring a stopwatch to church, but does the pastor spend more time expanding his sermon with illustrations than with dealing with the text. Is there a gentle, encouraging way you could direct him toward spending his time in more powerful ways?
    Consider the fit. Don't be afraid to ask your pastor, "Now, how did 'Illustration A' fit into the point you were making?" Especially if the pastor preaches multiple services (or would ever preach this sermon again somewhere else) you've at least let him know the link could be presented more clearly.
    Consider your pastor's soul. We bear one another's burdens. If your pastor uses and illustration which is offensive or sinful, have you approached him lovingly? Is your concern more for proper preaching etiquette or for the condition of his heart? Have you lovingly approached the pastor to see if something else is going on?

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" E

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [Other Warning Labels: 1, 2, 3, 4.]

    WARNING: You don't want to illustrate like Jesus.
No doubt, some will react to this series as if I oppose illustrations. I have never stated such and if one were to listen to my preaching, he would certainly notice I do not object to using illustrations. It should go without saying that they are a necessary part of unpacking the texts. However, they are not intended to be the center and core of a sermon.

But Jesus used illustrations all the time, they argue, what about the parables? They're entire messages built around illustrations!

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the Messiah. Are you really going to assume you can preach like Him? Do you have as good a command of the Scriptures? Were you given His same divine purpose? Do you have first-hand account information on the kingdom of God?
    Consider His illustrations. Are you using basic things for examples--things understood worldwide--like dirt, fish and suffering widows?
    Consider His mission. Are you trying to fulfill prophecy? Are you intending for your illustration to leave some confused? (see: Matthew 13:1-23)
For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider the Text. Is the pastor illustrating from experience, or from the Scriptures? Is his illustration elaborating on his wisdom or on God's wisdom?
    Consider your emotions. Was the illustration so emotionally stirring that you are not motivated to exercise discernment? Did you "enjoy" the illustration so much that it really don't matter to you if it makes a biblically accurate point?
    Consider your desire. Would you be pleased with the most basic of illustrations, provided it unpacks the texts? Do you desire sophistication with an illustration?

CJ: Exulting Grace

In all our preaching, we must never lose sight of the hill called Calvary, where the Son of Man was killed in our place. Regardless of the text or topic at hand, there must be some view of Calvary in every sermon. Your congregation should experience the amazing and comforting sight of the crucified Savior each and every time you preach. They should anticipate the sight of Calvary in every sermon and rejoice when it comes into view, and all the more when the cross is not immediately obvious in the text. "Where is the hill?" they should be asking. "Where is that blessed hill on which our precious Savior died?" We should exalt Christ's finished work in our sermons so as to comfort the converted and convict the unbeliever.

Spurgeon's example should inspire us: "I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the cross until He comes. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there until He does." Let us stand with the prince of preachers, gentlemen. As we preach the whole counsel of God, let us keep the cross central. By doing so, we will indeed be watching our doctrine.

From Preaching the Cross, a book compiled from the sermons at Together for the Gospel Conference 06, page 133.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."--Luke 24:5-7

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sovereign Grace, Jeremiah & the Resurrection

You will seek Me and find {Me} when you search for Me with all your heart.--Jeremiah 29:13
Often this verse has been thrown before me by proponents of "free will." God told Jeremiah to inform the Israelites that they had an option to search after Him, they argue, Shouldn't we assume the same options are there for us? Doesn't it, after all, seem that God has the ball in Israel's court. If you search for God, you will find Him.

If this is what the passage says, then we should not shy away from it. In fact, I was in a study the other day where a man was struggling with passages that speak of seeking. Can people with a reformed perspective speak of people seeking? I turned to this passage to make a point that our systems should never trump the text. Regardless of your theological persuasions, you better preach whatever the text says. This passage has been thrown in my face so many times, I planned to open my Bible to that text, read it, and simply state, "We must preach this verse whether it fits our system or not."

For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.--Jeremiah 29:11
Often I've heard this verse presented as someone claiming God owes them comfort, ease or all of their desires. The prosperity message (and close associations) so distort this passage that we can often be tempted to teach what the verse doesn't say instead of what it does. But for some reason, as if with new eyes, the passage is screaming something different at me.

Look at God's sovereignty.

Rather than haggling over whether the believer can claim material blessing, I suddenly see the real point of this verse. Only a God who controls all things--Only a God who knows the beginning from the end--Only a God who can speak and cause it to come to be--Only a God who makes plans that cannot be thwarted could makes such a claim! He will give hope and nothing can stop it!

Then my eyes glance down to the verse in between:
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.--Jeremiah 29:12
Now it comes together. Notice the threefold point here:
      I [God the Father] have plans for you.
      You will call upon me and I will listen
      You shall seek me with all of your heart.
This passage does not refute God's sovereignty, but celebrates it. There is no need to hesitate to cry out, "Seek the Lord and He will be found!" For only the one whom God has ordained will truly seek after the Lord.

If you've sought the Lord and found Him, it was not your doing. Not only did He make Himself found to you, but He placed the desire of your heart to seek. This should not cause pride but should be the most humbling truth of all. You rest--not in your choice--but in His.

This Resurrection Sunday, we should delight in the plan of God. The resurrection was not God's reaction to His Son being killed. His Atoning Sacrifice was not God's making the best of a trial gone bad. His giving His life as a ransom was not a different plan after Israel just wouldn't follow Him. Even His incarnation was not an adaptation to man's sin.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.--Ephesians 1:3-6
Only a Sovereign God could do that!

"Killer Illustrations" D

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [Other Warning Labels: 1 2 3.]

    WARNING: Some illustrations can run counter to sanctification.
The goal of the preaching should be to unpack the Word of God in such a way that sanctification results. The role of the illustration is to assist the explanation of the text. Therefore, the illustrations exists to serve the sermon with the goal of the Word sanctifying. However, many times, an illustration not only fails to adequately serve the Word, but it even runs contrary to the process of sanctification.

A pastor must exercise caution that his illustration does not call people to feed the flesh. If in the process of preaching a pastor causes members of the congregation to sin, surely he will bear this burden.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the audience. Could I give this illustration with my grandmother in the room? Could I give this illustration with my grandchildren in the room?
    Consider the REAL Audience. Am I comfortable giving this illustration in front of Jesus Christ? Would I alter details of the illustration if I could see Jesus visually sitting before me?
    Consider the larger context? If a video clip (or book, for that matter) is being used, are elements beyond the clip I am showing inappropriate? Could this exposure cause a person to be tempted to see more than they should? Am I exposing them to a greater work for which I am not comfortable?
    Consider the lost. Is sin presented as sin? Would a lost person hear this illustration and think we are just like them in every way?
    Consider your own heart. Am I presenting this illustration with a great deal of cynicism? Am I exhibiting an anger or self-righteousness which could become infectious to the listening audience?

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider the audience. Would I enjoy this illustration if my grandmother was sitting next to me? My grandson? Am I content with illustrations that are safe for all ages or do I want my pastor to pursue more "edge?"
    Consider the REAL Audience. Would my reaction to the illustration be the same if Jesus were sitting right beside me? Am I desiring illustrations that "get away with as much" as we can, or am I willing for the pastor's illustration to pursue holiness as much as possible?
    Consider the lost? If they guy behind me is lost, will he see that I grieve over my sin and respond differently than he does to my own sin?
    Consider the larger context. Do I automatically consider a form of media "safe" if a portion has been shared in church? Am I willing to do my homework and see if the entire context is beneficial or just this small portion?
    Consider your own passions. What emotions/passions/cravings are being stirred up by this illustration? Am I currently being tempted to sin?
Like rinsing a cup in the dirty dish water in the sink, the pastor may believe the Word has sanctified his congregation while his own illustration soiled them up again. We should desire at no point to indulge the flesh, no matter how great we think the illustration may be.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" C

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [Other Warning Labels: 1 2.]

    WARNING: Cultural illustrations have a short shelf life.
When considering an illustration, current events and popular media are an easy place to go. By appealing to that which is "pop culture," we increase our odds that many in the congregation will track with us. These illustrations can also present the pastor in a contemporary light and create some rapport with members of the congregation. In some ways, contemporary illustrations appear like a win-win; the pastor seems hip and the illustration gets maximum coverage.

But, there are downsides. It is possible that such cultural illustrations can alienate some within the congregation. The pastor can actually distract or confuse those who aren't as aware of the cultural issues. In fact, some could be made to feel they have erred or are stupid for not understanding the illustration. Especially in our current climate--where cultural savvy can almost be presented as an evangelistic prerequisite--to not know the latest facts of the culture can be perceived as disdain for the Great Commission.

Less tragically, the pastor will actually set himself up to appear out of synch. Except in extremely rare cases, most pastors are probably not able to devote proper time to study and ministry and also stay on top of the culture. Therefore, they can either become experts of pop culture (and neglect the Scriptures), or will focus on administration of the word (and find himself occasionally out of touch). These dated references to the culture are not a problem, unless the pastor has attempted to show himself to be contemporary. Then, as he appeals to an illustration that isn't quite current, the pastor actually can discredit the persona he is attempting to establish. Though not always the case, this sort of compromise may affect his perceived credibility with the Word. Some may think the pastor is prone to similar errors in his exegesis.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the world. Could people of other cultures and nations understand this illustration? Is this illustration only understandable by a select few people? (Anna points this out well in the comments).
    Consider recordings. If someone listens to the recording of this message in three years, will they have any clue what I am talking about? Does this sermon only make sense right now?
    Consider your intentions. Is the purpose of the illustration to enforce the point of the text, or to enhance your reputation? James Denney stated, "No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save." Can you at once prove yourself relevant while keeping the focus on Christ? I don't think you can.

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your brother. If you understood the illustration or cultural reference, be alert that there may be some who did not. Seek to encourage these people and prevent them from feeling stupid. Likewise, if you do not understand the illustration or didn't catch the cultural reference, relax. Look around the room and understand that others probably did.
    Consider your calling. You were bought with a price, you are not your own. Cultural dissonance is not a sign of spiritual depravity. Remember the Bereans. They did not go back after Paul preached to make sure his sermon conformed to the world around them. They went to the Word to make sure his sermon conformed to God's Word. We should focus likewise.
    Consider your expectations. Do you expect your pastor to be overly informed on contemporary culture? Do you believe your pastor has failed if he has not watched the shows you watch and doesn't follow the same current events stories you follow? Are you clinging to the modernist picture of the pastor with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other?
[As with previous posts, this is not stating your message cannot make reference to contemporary events. But instead, are sermon series based around movie releases, tv shows or even Y2K profitable when you consider how narrow their focus becomes.]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" B

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations. [First Warning Label found here.]

    WARNING: Object of your illustration may not be as close as first appeared.
Like falling in love with a house to quickly and losing all objectivity, a pastor can fall in love with an illustration and cloud his judgment too. An idea for an illustration can come and the pastor can get excited about the emotion it will generate, the fun it will be to share or the attention it will grab. A rush comes with a burst of creativity (I'm shocked, but love it, the two or three times a decade it happens to me.). Once the rush comes, it is incredibly difficult to assess if it really serves your sermon.

Take the article from the introductory post. The pastor decides to shoot an arrow at a target to make his point. But what was his point? Was he preaching on sin and used the target to convey the idea of "missing the mark?" No, he says the message was regarding spiritual warfare in evangelism. His purpose was to encourage people that they must shoot the arrow (the gospel) for it to become effective. However, consider the following: Wouldn't the sword of the Spirit better convey the concept of an ineffective weapon when lodged in its sheath? Isn't your feet shod with the gospel a better illustration for evangelism? Scarier yet, who is the one shooting arrows in this passage? Even without the fines from the city (and potential danger to congregants), this illustration really ceased to be a good idea.

What began as an idea from reading the text can easily morph into something that really doesn't connect with the text like you had hoped. Like playing 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon can have you partnering movies no one would usually associate, sometimes the pastor can be the only one in the room who sees his tie-in between the text and his illustration.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the text. Does it provide an illustration? Things like "a house built upon the rock," or the "Word as a double edged sword" or "clouds without rain" already give you an image/illustration. Why not just stick with that?
    Consider running it by others. Check your illustration with someone else. Can they see what it has to do with the text? How much time do you have to spend explaining why you chose the illustration.
    Consider other texts. Do other passages use your illustration in another way? Will this cause confusion as people bring those connotations into your current illustration? Realize this will distort your illustration.
    Consider your original thought. Where did the illustration begin? Has the illustration greatly evolved? Does it look anything like your original idea? Has any morphing brought you in closer fidelity to the text, or driven you farther from it?
    Consider your congregation. Can they use this illustration around the water fountain on Monday? Will they be able to use this illustration without distracting too far from the point of the text. If not, you may want to reconsider.

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your memory. If you wrote a one word description of the illustration in the column of your Bible, three years from now, would you have any clue what that means? If not, don't get too caught up in the illustration.
    Consider the text. Did you pastor explain the illustrations provided by the text? If so, spend your time commenting to him that you appreciate the Biblical illustration being unpacked for clarification. If he did not, gently ask him to unpack the Biblical illustration a little more.
    Consider your conversations. If you told someone outside of your church, "Our pastor spoke about [fill in with illustration] today," would you then be able to explain what it has to do with the text? If not, don't bring it up to other people. Just share about the text.
[I think it is necessary to point out that I am not writing these posts because I have mastered the art of illustration. To the contrary, these questions/posts are creating for me a working check list which I have never had before.]

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Killer Illustrations" A

This post (and a lot of silliness that has gone on recently) got me thinking about warning and best results labels for sermon illustrations.

    WARNING: Illustrations have been known to swallow entire sermons.
I first discovered this--but didn't see it as a problem--in the twelfth grade. Just after graduation, I had entered a "preaching competition" for our Fellowship. The sermon was [supposedly] on Philippians 3:13-14, and I used an illustration regarding a personal experience with drag racing. At our National Conference, I was given the opportunity to share the message in front of the entire conference. To this day, if I bump into someone who remembers the sermon, it is always called, "The race car sermon." I've never had someone refer to the Philippians passage, and most (if not all) can't even remember why I shared that illustration.

Like a well-fed pitbull puppy, the illustration can be contolled and led on a leash. However, if you are not careful, the illustration will not be led by your sermon but will be dominating over your sermon.

For Best Results: Consider the following when preaching:
    Consider the length of your illustration. How much time is it distracting from your exposition?
    Consider your title. Is it about your illustration or the text? How will your people remember the sermon?
    Consider your motivations. If the illustration must be cut, would you still be interested in preaching the message?
If you're not a preacher, your feedback can still play an influential role.

For Best Results: Consider the following when listening to a sermon:
    Consider your attention. What part do you look forward to the most? Do you listen anxiously for the illustrations, or for the text to be explained?
    Consider your compliments. Do you assess the pastor's sermons by entertainment value or by how they assist the text?
    Consider your summary. How would you describe the sermon to others? Would you focus more on the illustration than the text?

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Killer Illustrations"

So, recently, I read an article about a pastor's illustration for a Sunday sermon. Putting the pieces of the article together, it seems to suggest:

    A pastor decided to set up an bow/arrow and target as a sermon illustration.
    In the midst of his sermon, he calls upon a man within the congregation to stand up and fire an arrow at a target. The trajectory moved slightly across the congregation, yet moving away from them.
    As a congregant stood to fire the arrow, another person in the audience asked the pastor to reconsider. (There is debate whether his tone was belligerent or peaceful.)
    The congregant again raised the bow and arrow to which the same person in the audience asked them to reconsider.
    The protesting audience member was escorted out of the room and the pastor has said they will seek a restraining order.
    The congregant fired the arrow.
    The congregant was fined $109 for "using a missile indoors."
    The pastor was fined $109 for "aiding and abetting that ordinance violation."
The article ends with the pastor stating:
"If I knew it would cause this kind of problem, I certainly would have reconsidered."
Perhaps it would be most helpful if illustrations came with warnings and "for best results" tags...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Just Wondering...

Since I pray that God would cause me to hate my sin, I hate this post. Please see this post to see why I hate it, and why this post remains anyway.

Why is it the guys who act like they are pundits and experts
(you know, they boast of their numbers, their years in ministry and great vision) are also the guys who act like they don't know how to read a blog comment or email when you question them?

Hi Nail, Meet Hammer Head...

For the third time now, James MacDonald writes a very timely article. Consider these quotes:

Bottom line: my article was making the point that all denials of orthodox Christianity end up in a theological dumpster, not bearing fruit or winning souls to Christ. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

What was amazing about some of the comments I received was that they were not put off by the critique, but by the naming of the specific person who promulgates these deceptions. Several comments stated in the strongest of terms that it is unbiblical and unwise, even unloving, to name the names of false teachers and opponents of the biblical gospel. Is that true? Is it wrong to publicly call out those who attack the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Even when their denials are much more public? Let’s see what Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John have to say about how to deal with false teachers. Do they confront it? Do they, in many instances, actually name the people involved?

Let those who complain about naming false teachers state how Jesus and the apostles were wrong to confront those in error, personally and publicly, in their time. If they cannot do so, let them show that what we name as false teaching is, in fact, the truth. If they cannot do either, then let their mouths be stopped.

And let us all live under the authority of the Word of God, rather than embrace a sentimental, unbiblical approach for dealing with error in the church of Jesus Christ.
You can read the whole article here.