Every pastor has had one or more Sunday worship service they would like to forget. The crowd was down, the room was hot, the music was blah, you name it. But for me the worst is when I drive off the parking lot knowing that the sermon just wasn’t great. Not even good. The content was weak, or the delivery was flat, or both. What do you do following a bad sermon?
1. Be honest about your preparation.
In my experience, content issues are directly tied to the amount of time spent in preparation. It can be tough to have a consistent block of time to do the necessary preparation because ministry needs are inconsiderate. You can’t choose whether or not your week will be free from a funeral or a hospital visit or any number of congregational emergencies. But its not just the content that suffers from lack of preparation. If you’re not confident in your content, you’re not going to be confident in the delivery of the content.
2. Face the music.
I have found that it is helpful to go back and listen to the audio or watch the video of the sermon. Taking time to evaluate the sermon gives one the opportunity to make improvements for the next week. And who knows? It may not have been as bad as you thought!
3. Resist the temptation to seek affirmation.
Every pastor knows who he or she can turn to for a needed word of affirmation, especially after a rough pulpit outing. Seeking affirmation from the fan base doesn’t solve the issue, it provides a false sense of security. Besides, deep down every preacher knows the truth about the sermon at the end of the service.
4. Get back on the bicycle.
If the sermon were an annual event, it would be tough. But you have 6 short days to have an opportunity to “make up” for it. You can’t wallow in embarrassment or disappointment. You’re on the clock!
5. Most importantly, don’t forget the role of the Holy Spirit.
My friend Gary Taylor used to say that God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. Just because you don’t feel great about a sermon doesn’t mean that God didn’t use it in a transformative way. If preaching was all up to us, we’d be standing in front of empty rooms each week. But its not about us. God’s spirit is actively involved in the sermon, and his promise to us is that his word will not return void. We have to trust that his Kingdom purposes do not hang on our sermons.
So is the virgin birth that important? Can a person believe in Jesus without acknowledging it? I believe the virgin birth is important four at least four reasons.
First, it made possible for Jesus to be truly human, yet without sin. I affirm that the Scripture teaches that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. What that means is that we have inherited Adam’s original guilt from the beginning. Its in our nature. Because of our nature, we make behavioral choices to commit acts of sin. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ stands outside of Adam’s guilt. I affirm that though Jesus was fully human, he neither possessed Adam’s guilt nor committed sin in thought, word, or action. The virgin birth provides for a sinless Christ.
Second, the virgin birth affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ. One of the earliest opponents to the virgin birth was called adoptionism. Simply stated, adoptionism proposed that Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary, and that upon his birth he was adopted by God to be his son. The only problem with that misguided theory is that is disallows the eternal pre-existence of Christ. I affirm that Jesus has always existed as the second member of the trinity, without beginning or end.
Third, the virgin birth allows for the incarnation. He would be called, “Immanuel, meaning, God with us.” Jesus came into the world fully God as though not man at all, and fully man as though not God at all. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of a man wearing a suit. Suppose the white dress shirt illustrates the divinity of Christ. Everyone can see the white shirt. But suppose the man then puts on his suit jacket, representing the humanity of Christ. Does the suit jacket render the white shirt null and void? No. Just because the man puts on the jacket doesn’t mean the white shirt has disappeared. You can still see some of it, though in a limited form. This is what Paul expressed in his Hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus emptied and condescended. Why? He came to be with us to identify with us in order to save us.
Finally, the virgin birth is important because it speaks of our spiritual need. Our salvation must come from the Lord. There was no human means possible for us to save ourselves. An intervention was necessary. On one hand we usually get warm fuzzies thinking about the Christmas story. We imagine the nativity with the baby in the manger surrounded by the adoration of those who gathered. But we need to remember that the reason Jesus came was because we were dead in our trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God. The Christmas story is at the same time humbling yet hopeful.
So yes, it matters!
Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.
I am blessed to be the father of three children. One of the things that made fatherhood special for me was being present for the birth of each one. Each birth was fascinating—even miraculous! I was there, and have a basic understanding of biology. But my awareness of science in no way diminishes the sense I felt of having witness a miracle.
The birth of Jesus is fascinating—certainly miraculous. Matthew and Luke agree. Without hesitation they affirm that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father.
Just after the resurrection, the virgin birth is the most highly contested event in the life of Christ. Since the second century, the importance of the virgin birth has been embedded in the creeds and confessions of the believing community of faith.
We first apprehend Jesus humanity from below. We see him as a teacher and miracle worker who died and rose again. But the New Testament introduces Jesus to the world from above, pointing out his uniqueness as the Son of God. His miraculous birth and miraculous resurrection serve as bookends that mark off Jesus as one of a kind.
So how did this virgin birth occur? The New Testament is silent about the biology and the physiology of the event. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin girl named Mary. The word overshadowed, however, gives us a glimpse into what took place. It’s cloud language. Take Exodus 24:15, for example. Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the law, and was overshadowed in a cloud. When the tabernacle and the more permanent Temple were dedicated, the glory of God descended on those structures in the form of a cloud. Luke 9:34 tells us that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. And finally, the Bible describes the Second Advent of Christ by saying, “Behold, he comes with the clouds.” Ultimately, there is no biological explanation for the virgin birth. It was a direct miracle of God without human explanation. God became man without ceasing to be God. When God introduced Jesus the world the first thing he asked for is belief.
Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts as to why the virgin birth is important.
Last week I took some time to investigate my family tree. My great grandfather, Frank, came to America from Baden, Germany, in 1869. After some time in St. Louis, he settled in Clark County, Missouri. He was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1890, at the age of 21. What was interesting about his story was that his citizenship papers spelled our last name “Deitrich.” Family lore explains that he was afraid he would be sent back to Germany, so he changed the spelling to “Deatrick.” He was married to his wife Mary for fifty years and together had three daughters and one son, my grandfather.
My grandfather John was a veteran of World War I. Because of his military service, he married later in life. My father was the oldest of three children and grew up without a mother because she died in child delivery when he was five years old. My grandfather died when I was four years old, and I can remember bits and pieces about him. I remember that every time I saw him he gave me a silver dollar. I also remember sitting on the front pew of his funeral with my parents.
Matthew 1:2-17 is a list of the people in Jesus’ family tree. Normally when one comes to one of those genealogies he or she will face the temptation to gloss right over them to get on to the “good stuff.” But it is not just a list of names. Jesus’ genealogy is very important for three reasons.
First, it reveals that Jesus came from the proper lineage. Matthew’s goal was to provide proof that Jesus is the rightful heir to two important promises. God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 was that he would be faithful to continue David’s royal throne forever. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was that he would bless him so that he may bless the world. These two promises came together and were fulfilled in Jesus. Though Matthew is clear to point out that Jesus is the son of God and Mary but not of Joseph, Jesus possessed the right to Messiahship.
Second, the genealogy shows that Jesus came at the perfect time. Matthew 1:17 states, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” This statement covers three important transitions in Israel’s history. David to Abraham spans the rise of the nation, from its formation to its height. David to the Babylonian exile is a description of the demise of the nation, and then from the exile to the Messiah expresses the return of the nation to God. Galatians 4:4 says that “in the fullness of time, God sent his Son…” Jesus came into the world at precisely the perfect time.
Finally, the genealogy reminds us of God’s unprejudiced purpose. Providing a genealogy is a very Jewish thing to do. But if you read the list of names you’ll notice some unique features. For example, the genealogy includes the mention of five women, four of whom are gentiles. Three of the women, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba are noted for sexual sin. And if you read the stories of each male in the list you’ll see that each of them had their personal sin issues. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, but from the very start of his gospel he wanted his audience to know that the gospel of Jesus is inclusive. Broken men and women, Jews and gentiles alike, are all welcome to find grace and forgiveness through the Messiah who had come.
This is the record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, NLT).
Imagine you are minding your own business and a complete and total stranger asked you a question. Not something you would expect, like “What time is it?” or “Could you give me directions to a particular establishment?” It’s a personal question. Very personal, in fact. Suppose you are going through your daily routine and someone was to ask you the question, “Who is Jesus?” How would you respond? What would you say? Would you know what to say? Would you respond honestly? Or would you couch your response in politically correct language so as not to offend? Would you be confident should that happen to you?
Matthew established three things about Jesus that help understand and articulate who Jesus is.
First, he is the Messiah, or the Christ. The word Messiah means “anointed one,” and speaks of both Jesus role and purpose. At the turn of the millennium, messianic expectations were at fever pitch. People were looking for the Messiah to come, one who would eradicate the rule of Rome from their land and re-establish Israel to her former glory. Jesus was Messiah, but not that kind of Messiah. As God, Jesus stepped out of the splendor of heaven and stepped into our broken world to provide salvation for us. He taught us how to live, then modeled a life of discipleship, and then died our deaths so we could live his life.
Second, he is a descendent of David David was regarded as Israel’s greatest king. The covenant God made with David was that he would maintain a line of successors going forward. And he did. Jesus is tied to David which is important. His royal lineage speaks of his reign. The demands of his rule are rightful. He is able to make the claims he made. C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. Our confession as Christians for 2,000 years has been, “Jesus is Lord.”
Finally, he is a descendent of Abraham. Abraham was the non Jewish founder of the Israelite race. The covenant that God made with Abraham was that he would be blessed in order to bless the world. (cf. Genesis 17:4; 18:18; 21:18) Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Not just to one another, but to the entire world.
These references to Messiah, David, and Abraham help us understand that Jesus came from God to rule over us so we might bless the world. So why is this important?
1. We have to be clear in our understanding of who Jesus was and is. If we’re not clear on Jesus, nothing else really matters.
2. We have to be able to articulate our understanding of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
3. We have to be prepared to live in light of our understanding of Jesus. In other words, its not enough to know it or even be able to talk about it. We have to live it practically in our every day experience of life. If I know it and articulate it but don’t live it, can we really say we believe it?
Jesus came from God to rule over us so that we might be blessed and bless the world. That’s who Jesus is.
I was first exposed to N.T. Wright as a seminary student at Southwestern Seminary about 15 years ago through a class on the atonement. I was fascinated by Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, in particular his exodus motif of interpreting the gospels.
Since then, I have discovered that Wright has a “popular” side as well, and over the past several years have come to appreciate his treatment of Jesus, the gospel, and Scripture on a non technical level. Surprised by Scripture is that sort of book.
In Surprised by Scripture, Wright deals with some contemporary theological issues. The most important offering of the book is his suggestion that Americans deal with theological conundrums in a manner unique from the rest of the world. For example, he points to the idea that it is only in America that we estrange science from faith, as in our ongoing evolution versus creationism debates. But it is not just that. Generally its our entire treatment of the Bible, everything from the necessity of a historical Adam to women in ministry to our views on eschatology.
As a reader I found that I didn’t agree with everything that Wright had to share. But as a theologian, I had to admit that I appreciate his thoughtfulness and his open handed treatment of some sensitive if not polarizing topics. He writes as if his goal is for the reader to figure it out for yourself.
I remember a seminary professor telling my hermeneutics class that when he went to seminary the saints of his home church admonished him by saying, “Don’t let seminary ruin your faith.” What he discovered he offered to us. “Seminary didn’t ruin my faith,” he said. “It put muscles on it.” Such are the writings of N.T. Wright, and in particular, Surprised by Scripture.
I would encourage you to read this book thoughtfully and with an open mind. No, you won’t agree with everything he says. Nor will you be persuaded by each argument. But you may close the book after the final page with some conviction about what you believe and why you believe it. And that experience will leave you stronger than the borrowed faith you’re clinging to.
Last year my daughter stood in line for 90 minutes to purchase an autographed copy of Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan for me for Father’s Day. There’s something about meeting the author in person to gain a little insight to the content between the covers. So what can we learn about Matthew, the author?
First, he was a tax collector who left all to follow Jesus. (Matthew 9:9) Matthew’s tax booth was probably located along one of the busy trade routes near Capernaum. It was there that Christ met him and called him to leave his business behind in order to follow him. Tax collectors were viewed as Roman sympathizers and traitors to the nation. The Romans would enlist Israelites to serve as tax collectors. Tax collectors, with the backing of the Roman army, would collect what Rome demanded, and then any amount over that they would keep as their fees. Many tax collectors were unscrupulous, demanding far in excess what was required in order to line their own pockets. Religious leaders reckoned tax collectors as among the worst sinners of the day.
Second, he got a new name (Mark 2:14). Mark and Luke both refer to him as Levi, son of Alphaeus. Somewhere along the line, as time progressed, his name was changed from Levi to Matthew, which means, “gift of Yahweh.”
Third, he threw a party for Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10-13) After his encounter with Christ, Matthew threw a party in order to introduce his friends and co-workers to Jesus. We immediately see his concern for his friends and co-workers. Because of his vocational choice, these may have been the only relationships he had in life.
Next, he became formalized as a member of Jesus’ apostolic band. (Matthew 10:1-4) Simon the Zealot was also a disciple, creating an interesting group dynamic. Zealots were violent resistance fighters who opposed Roman occupation. The word literally means, “blood letter.” Matthew, on the other hand, as a tax collector would have been viewed as a Roman sympathizer. That would have certainly made for an interesting dinner conversation! I can’t help but notice that even in the selection of his disciples, Jesus modeled reconciliation, both to God and to one another.
Finally, he took a pen on his journey with Jesus. Matthew was certainly a humble man. He didn’t self reference, like those who drop their own names or speak of themselves in third person. There is not one quotation attributed to Matthew in the New Testament. Following the ascension and upper room, Matthew goes off the grid. Legend has it that Matthew spent several years in Jerusalem, then moved south to Ethiopia (perhaps with Andrew) where he was martyred.
Learning a bit about Matthew is helpful to our understanding of how his gospel functions. But the Gospel of Matthew is not about Matthew. It’s about Jesus and the salvation he offers. Matthew’s gospel is not about the message of forgiveness that we believe so we can get our sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. His invitation is to “leave the booth” and follow Christ.
What do the following phrases have in common?
Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
He’s the salt of the earth.
She’s been burning the midnight oil.
He waited until the 11th hour.
Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
It’s the blind leading the blind.
The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
Each of these well know phrases find their origins from the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
For nearly three centuries after the resurrection, the gospel of Matthew was the most highly revered and most frequently quoted work. Its acceptance into the canon of Scripture was immediate and unanimous. Michael Green calls Matthew “the most important single document in the New Testament, providing a systematic account of the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.” It is widely held that Matthew was written to equip its original Christian Jewish readers with the teachings of Jesus so they could spread the message of God’s reign to the nations. With that being said, Matthew’s gospel has made a tremendous impact on the Church, both ancient and present.
Last weekend I introduced a new sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew. I introduced the book by introducing the author. The Gospel According to Matthew is technically an anonymous work. In fact, all four gospels are technically considered anonymous. The primary reason is that none of the books contain any internal markers that would erase plausible doubt. For example, Paul signed his letters in the opening sentence of each. The authors who penned the gospels did not self identify themselves as such. But early church fathers such as Iraneus, Origin, Eusebius, and Papias all strongly attributed the book to the disciple of Jesus and date it to between AD 50 and AD 60. So for the purpose of this series, I’m going with the testimony of secular history and will present this series of sermons and subsequent posts with the assumption that Matthew, the apostle called by Jesus, is the author. Tomorrow I’ll post more about this introduction by offering a few observations on Matthew himself.
I can’t think of anyone who has had more influence on my views of spiritual formation than the late Dallas Willard. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I recommend that you spend some time researching his work. Dr. Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of South California until his death last year. This book was published posthumously and contains the transcripts of a spiritual formation conference he did with John Ortberg. The book is filled with rich wisdom regarding discipleship and requires slow, deliberate reading. It was released with a companion DVD which may prove beneficial to those of you who are new to Willard’s works.
Here are some of the top take aways from this meaningful publication.
“(Spiritual formation) is the process of transforming the person into Christlikeness through transforming the essential parts of the person. Spiritual transformation is not about behavior modification. It is about changing the sources of behavior so the behavior will take care of itself.”
“When you find problems in the church…it is always a lack of discipleship that led to it.”
“We need to tell our young people, ‘Follow Jesus, and if you can find a better way than him, he would be the first one to tell you to take it’.”
“Often in churches, we try to get people to affirm right beliefs, the right point of view. The real test of what I actually believe is ‘Does it guide what I do?'”
“There are many people who believe in Christ, but they don’t believe Christ. Further, they don’t believe what he believed. But the progression into the kingdom is coming to believe what he believes, coming to trust it, to live on it, to act on it, to make it count. We do that by fixing our minds on him.”
“Wanting other churches to succeed is one of the most important things we can do.”
“Spiritual disciplines are not a gauge of my spiritual maturity. The disciplined person is not someone who does a lot of disciplines. The disciplined person, the disciple, is someone who is able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you do that, then don’t do it.”