Since my doctoral studies were in the field of preaching, I have read scores of books on the subject. Books on preaching sermons and how to preach sermons fall into two general categories. There are technical works written by professors that get into the nuts and bolts of the how to craft and deliver sermons. Then there are the practical volumes, written by pastors, that discuss how to approach preaching week in and week out.
Timothy Keller has published an encouraging perspective on pastoral preaching that focuses on how to go about preaching in a day that is skeptical about the gospel. He doesn’t delve into how to preach sermons, per se, but rather focuses on how pastors can approach preaching with confidence in an age of question.
Softening the message of the text is clearly not an option for Keller. He encourages preachers to have bold confidence in the text yet creatively communicate the written word with clarity and simplicity. The timeless message need not change. However, times have changed, and the wise preacher will learn how to convey spiritual truth in ways that are both understandable and compelling. Understanding the message of the text is important. Equally important is the need to understand our current culture.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who routinely preaches and teaches in a constant setting.
The church I serve is now nearly a year into a vision process that we began with Auxano. One of the key elements we learned is the importance of developing a cohesive strategy that describes how we intentionally plan to make disciples. A key passages that informed our thinking on strategy is the familiar description of the behavior of the early church following Pentecost.
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity– all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NLT).
Here are five simple observations I shared in worship yesterday.
1. The behavior of the church was an outflow of the Spirit.
The second chapter of Acts opens with the Spirit’s advent on the Day of Pentecost. While one cannot deny the miraculous signs and wonders performed by the apostles, it is my conviction that the core impact of the Spirit’s arrival was the life change that occurred in the masses. If you want a good description of what a Spirit filled life looks like, don’t focus on the margins. Focus on the core behavior of worship, prayer, fellowship, teaching, sharing, ministry and evangelism.
2. The behavior of the church was consistent.
Notice the inclusive language: everyone, every day and all. The Spirit’s impact was so profound that all the people participated in the disciple making process every day.
3. The behavior of the church was simple.
Aren’t you amazed that the early church created such a movement without a building, a budget, or seminary trained staff? What they did was simple enough that anyone could do it; and they did it sincerely enough that it became influential.
4. The text describes the behavior of the church, not the behaviors.
I contend that these first and second generation disciples didn’t divide themselves up into silos or specializations. I believe that each person practiced each element. To pick and choose among the items listed in the text would be akin to baking a cake using only the ingredients that you like. In order for a cake to be a cake you have to include everything. Similarly, in order for a disciple to be mature, each discipline must be practiced.
5. God produced the results.
The final verse summarizes one of the most important chapters in the New Testament pertaining to the church. The Lord added daily. We can plan, program and strategize, but God has to produce the results. When the people committed themselves to disciple making practices, God responded and blessed the early church.
The National Review has weighed in with a good article on reaching Millennials. You can find the article HERE. According to the author, we should perhaps spend less time thinking about how to attract millennials and more time developing processes that help them grow spiritually.
Barna Research Group has released a new study on the relationship between women and Church in America. To view the report, click HERE.
What if we exchanged the practice of judging others for the practice of helping? Our Christian community is not bound by legal relationships, but by relationships of love. How can we be helpful to one another? Galatians 6:1 offers a crash course in helping our brother or sister with the speck in his or her eye.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NIV).
Step 1: Get the facts straight. (…”if someone is caught in a sin”…)
Step 2: Make sure your own house is in order. (…”you who live by the Spirit…”)
Step 3: Be clear about your motivation. (…”should restore”…)
Step 4: Be clear about your tone. (…”gently”…)
Step 5: Maintain humility. (“But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”)
The thing that stands out to me most about Paul’s crash course is his emphasis on restoration. We are not spiritual vigilantes, righting every wrong that is unattended in someone’s life. The goal is not punishment, the goal is restoration. Until your goal is restoring someone, you’re not ready to remove the speck.
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4, NLT)
Jesus moved from condemning the act of judging others to the hypocrisy of trying to fix other’s problems to the neglect of one’s own problems. Jesus used hyperbole to make his point regarding the foolishness of fixing one’s gaze on something minor is someone else’s life while failing to note the significant error in their own life.
His words speak to the fact that judges have the tendency to maximize the faults of others while minimizing their own. Too often we are tempted to condemn the weaknesses in others that we are not willing to face in ourselves. We self promote when we put someone down simply to elevate ourselves.
The truth is that the best way to help others is from a position of health, where you have first dealt with yourself. John R.W. Stott once wrote that condemnation IS the splinter in our own lives. We would all do well by taking time to look within before we look around.
Tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on Jesus’ conclusion to this very difficult theme.
Jesus never anticipated that we, living in community, would be perfect. Which begs the question, “How do we deal with each other’s fallenness?” The seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ harshest words:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV).
Jesus words here are plain spoken. Literally, they read, “Do not make a practice or habit of judging others.” Before we get into what that means, let’s be clear on what He does not mean. Jesus is not, as Tolstoy suggested, recommending that we eliminate the legal system and abolish formal government justice systems. Neither is he suggesting that we live our lives turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the world around us. His command is not a prohibition against having discernment or discretion (cf. Matthews 7:15-20; 10:11-15; 16:6-12; and 18:17-18).
Jesus’ condemnation is addressed to those who evaluate the motives and character of others, casting a verdict based on your own evaluation of him or her. Judgmental people evaluate others (note the word “measure”) to see if they meet a particular benchmark. These self appointed persons assume responsibility to fix others, and even seem to enjoy the human failings of others.
There are three things that God has not delegated to his children: condemnation, vengeance, and judgment. So if you’re not on the jury, perhaps its time to stop trying to reach a verdict. We are not permitted to judge, not because we fail but because we are fallen. We are disqualified to serve in the role of judge.
Matthew 7:2 has always been one of the hardest words of Jesus for me to hear. He clearly stated that the way we measure others is the way God will measure us. I don’t know about you, but when I stand before God someday I’m going to be seeking mercy and grace, like anyone would. The thought that Jesus would judge me as harshly as I judge others is frightening.
So if you are prone to the practice of judging others, stop it. Just quit. Its not worth it, and its not your responsibility.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV)
Worry is the anxiety we feel that is fostered by uncertainty regarding the future. Jesus spoke to this in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount, giving six reasons why we are not to worry.
1. Do not worry because you are valuable to God.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV)
2. Worry does not change anything.
“Can any one of your by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NIV)
3. God regularly demonstrates his faithfulness.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30, NIV)
4. Worry betrays our claims of faith and trust in God.
“So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things.” (Matthew 6:31-32, NIV)
5. God already knows your needs.
“…and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:32b, NIV)
6. Our priority is to focus on the Kingdom of God and trust God’s promise to care for us.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)
How can you really tell if someone is good at what they do? I mean that’s a pretty subjective value, isn’t it? What is good to me may be average to one or excellent to another. Over time I have come to a very simple conclusion to help me decide if someone is good at what they do.
My conclusion? I think I can do what he or she does. There is something about those who are good at what they do that make it look effortless. The good ones always make whatever they do look easy, and the exceptional ones motivate you to actually try it.
Some time ago I was reflecting on the ironic nature of the day “Good Friday.” When I think about it, nothing was good about Good Friday. Good Friday was a day devoted to betrayal, denial, false accusations, beatings, condemnation and death.
I understand theologically that God used all of those things for our good. We are beneficiaries to all that Christ suffered in his passion. But for Jesus it was not so good.
2,000 years later we still live in a world filled with Good Friday experiences. Not a lot has changed, really. We still witness and perhaps have even experienced betrayal, denial, false accusation, physical and emotional abuse, and condemnation. Death is still among us. Everyday we are surrounded by people plagued by the very things Jesus came to overcome.
Yet we, the people of faith, are not governed by Good Friday. We are people of the resurrection. We are Sunday people in a Friday world. May our lives reflect the victory that Christ gained through the cross and resurrection, and may our lives shine forth like a beacon, pointing the way to hope.