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Feb
14

The Hardest Part of Preaching

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Most preachers have a routine of sermon preparation and delivery that has become natural and even reflexive. Some preachers prefer the study and writing, while others prefer the act of delivering the sermon. In order to be effective, preachers have to find a level of proficiency in both, otherwise the sermon will either be all heat and no light, or vice versa.

For me, the hardest part of sermon preparation has been the decisions surrounding what not to say. Allow me to explain.

I believe that the Bible contains the inexhaustible truths of God. So to select a text and then attempt to plumb the depths of every insight is impossible. When a pastor prepares a sermon, he or she brings all of their prior knowledge to the table, then adds the collective wisdom of reference works, commentaries, historical contexts, original languages and multiple English translations. This collection of scholarship, added to the revelation of God’s Spirit and personal experience, can yield an overwhelming amount of information. The temptation preachers have is to try to bring the entirety of their preparation into the pulpit. Thus, the sermon sounds like a book report rather than a message from God.

Years ago I had the honor of interviewing preaching and New Testament author and professor Fred Craddock for a paper I was writing for my doctoral program. When I asked him the question, “What is the hardest part of preaching?”, he quickly replied, “determining what not to say.” That insight has perhaps helped me in my personal preaching more than any other I have learned.

If preachers are disciplined about developing a “main idea” (Haddon Robinson), everything that is prepared for delivery must pass across that bar of judgment. The main idea serves as the litmus test for what is to be included and what is to be saved for another sermon on another date. If the information does not serve the main idea, then edit it, and focus more on illustration and application. One idea presented with clarity will have more impact than ten points that are unclear and overwhelming.

Remember, the goal of preaching is transformation of lives, not transmission of information.

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Mar
13

Our Response to COVID-19

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Dear First Baptist Family and Friends,

As you know, this is the time of year when the spread of viruses represents a significant concern for many individuals and families in our community.  This year, in particular, these concerns have been increased given the rapid spread influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19 (coronavirus).
 
Out of our responsibility as Shepherds and leaders, and particularly in support of members of our community who would be most vulnerable to these conditions, our Church Staff and Executive Board are implementing the following preventative measures to do our part to ensure as safe an environment for church members as possible:

We are encouraging everyone to please stay home if you are showing any signs of illness.  Remember that you can live stream our services at our website (www.fbcdsm.org/media) or watch them at your convenience. If you cannot attend worship, you can also make contributions online (www.fbcdsm.org/ways-to-give.aspx).

During worship we are encouraging the alternative form of greeting one another by placing your hand over your heart as a sign of Christian love. In similar manner, greeters will now wave to everyone rather than shaking hands or hugging.

We are suspending communion through the month of April. We will also suspend providing donut holes before and after worship through the month of April. Coffee will continue to be provided on Sunday morning by servers.

Any food, including Wednesday night dinners, will be plated and served individually by people wearing food service gloves.

Those who have volunteered to make hospital visits will suspend their ministry. The Pastoral Staff will continue to provide pastoral care to those who are admitted to the hospital as permitted.

Frequent hand washing with soap and water is encouraged! Hand sanitizer is available in each class room as well as in the Narthex.

Please make sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow, turning away from others as much as possible. Kleenex tissues are available throughout the building.

In addition to our regular cleaning, we will be regularly cleaning and disinfecting all doorknobs, handles, and frequently used surfaces at the Church.

Parents: please remember that we always regularly wipe down all toys in the nursery.

We appreciate your willingness to work together to promote the health and well-being of our entire community.  We will continue to monitor the latest recommendations from governmental agencies and hope that these measures will soon be unnecessary. You can find the latest information at The Iowa Department of Public Health website (www.idph.iowa.gov) or the National Center for Disease Control website (www.cdc.gov).

To that end, let us be faithful and vigilant in our prayer for those nations, communities, families and individuals most affected by this outbreak, and for the medical personnel and government officials seeking to respond. Finally, let us show respect to those who are deeply concerned about these viruses and resist any temptation to invalidate their concerns or personal precautions.
 
God’s blessings to you all,      
The Church Staff and Executive Board of First Baptist Church
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Jul
17

Blog Update

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Thank you for your patience while we work on the site. I’m utilizing a web developer and a Word Press specialist to help with updates and hopefully a new design. Keep checking in for new content!

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May
27

The Wonder Years

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Graduation season is beginning to wind down, and its been bittersweet for me because my youngest graduated from college earlier this month. We sat with pride through commencement exercises and celebrated our daughter’s accomplishment. Celebrations are best served mixed with moments of reflection as we realized the conferring of degrees was a milestone achieved over a life of learning. And with that the hope and confidence that the best is yet to come.

I mused at what it might have been like if Jesus graduated in 2019. Would he have been the valedictorian? Would he have won all of the academic and athletic honors? Would he have been presented with multiple full ride scholarships to all of the best institutions of higher learning due to his perfect ACT and SAT scores? It kind of makes you wonder.

One of my favorite passages about Jesus’ life is found in Luke 2:41-52. The story is familiar enough. Jesus and his family went to the Temple when he was 12 years old. This would have been an important visit for Jesus, because at age 13 he would become a full member of the Jewish synagogue and assume all of the rights and responsibilities of circumcision. In other words, he would become a man.

While the text is about Jesus, the story includes Joseph and Mary and their interplay through the narrative. The text reveals that Jesus, like any child, required some work. (Not that it was necessarily bad work). Verse 52 said that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” In short, he grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. Joseph and Mary were there to superintend that growth and were diligent to ensure that Jesus was nurtured in the most loving way. The preceding verse says that Jesus was “obedient to them,” inferring that the parents were going to continue to provide direction and guidance for his developmental years.

But Jesus also created some worry. You remember, don’t you? They went to the Temple as a family, and after spending some time on the return trip to Nazareth they discovered Jesus wasn’t among the caravan of worshipers.

“Joseph, have you seen Jesus?” “No, I thought he was with you.” “I thought he was with you.”

After a three day search they found him in the Temple, presumably right where they left him. And in typical parental fashion, Mary chides, “How could you do this to us! We’ve been worried sick!” His simple response was that he must be “in his Father’s house.”

Which brings me to the third thing. Jesus created wonder. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s reaction when Jesus said he must be in his Father’s house! Hence the wonder. There’s no recorded response to Jesus’ statement. The only insight we have is that Mary treasured all of it in her heart. That’s not the first time Mary has treasured the mysterious sense of wonder surrounding Jesus in her heart. And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

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The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer concerns prayer for God’s protection. We are instructed to pray for the prevention of temptation and for the protection from evil.

The word temptation has a double sense. The English word temptation is usually defined as the “seduction to evil.” But the Greek word is neutral and is translated in many ways:

• test
• trial
• prove
• temptation

So when we encounter the word temptation in the New Testament, we need to view the word in its context so we can understand whether the Bible is talking about seductions to evil or trials that we encounter.

Anytime there is a trial or test in the Bible there is the possibility of passing or failing. So when God brings a test, there is the possibility that the trial can be turned into a temptation. So the implication of the request is this. “Lord, don’t lead us into a trial that will present to us a temptation such that we will not be able to resist it.”

We are to pray to be spared from trials. But if trials come, we are to further pray that we will be protected in the trial so that we can find growth through it.

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The most costly and essential thing God ever did was to provide us with the forgiveness of sin. This part of the Lord’s Prayer focuses on meeting on of the most critical needs we face. Before we get into the meat of the request, it is helpful to understand sin and the affect it was on our lives.

God is holy and has established himself as the standard of perfection by which our lives are to be measured (1 Peter 1:14-16). At the same time, sin is a reality in the life of every believer (Romans 7:14-20).

Sin creates distance in our relationship with God. Though we experience relational distance, God pursues us so that we will return to him (John 16:8-11; 1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 4:21). God pursues us through conviction by the Holy Spirit.

Our appropriate response to God’s invitation to return is to confess and forsake our sin. To confess means to “agree with” God about our sin (Proverbs 28:13). When we confess our sin, God promises to “forgive” and to “cleanse” (1 John 1:9). God deals with both the root and the fruit of each sin we confess.

Forgiveness is a financial term that means “to release a debt.” When God forgives a sin, he no longer holds the offense against us (Psalm 103:11-12).

We will never be fully effective in our prayer lives until we become willing to confess our sins to God and embrace his forgiveness. The all knowing, all seeing God is clearly aware of the sins we commit and wants us to come closer to him by confessing them and receiving his forgiveness.

While we may experience no greater feeling than the feeling that comes in knowing we have been forgiven, the request assumes that we in turn become forgiving persons. While many excellent books have been written on the topic of forgiving those who have wronged us, here are two simple thoughts for you to consider related to forgiving others.

First, forgiving others follows the example of Christ (Ephesians 4:32). He has not asked us to do something that he himself has not already done. Immersing yourself in the passion narrative of Christ will remind you that forgiving others always comes at a deep and personal sacrifice.

Second, forgiving others broadens and deepens our relationship with Christ. Forgiving others is a characteristic of God, and when we forgive we demonstrate the depth of our walk with him. It has been said that we are never more like God than when we give and forgive. (Matthew 5:23-34; Colossians 3:12-17)

What about those moments when we doubt whether or not God has forgiven us? What do with do with those feelings? We accept God’s forgiveness, like anything else, by faith. In order to be free from guilty feelings that pop up from time to time we have to take God at his Word (Psalm 32:1-2). If God has promised to forgive, he has. Period.

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This request marks the transition from praying God’s agenda into praying for our agenda. How do we pray for our physical and material needs?

Jesus taught us that it is appropriate and right for us to ask him to meet our physical and material needs. While he does not promise to meet our wants, he does commit to providing for our needs (Philippians 4:19).

He also taught that we are to view God as the source of everything we need (Genesis 1:29-31; 1 Chronicles 29:14; Matthew 7:1-11; James 1:17). Nothing in Jesus’ culture was more common than bread. The call to ask for our simple daily needs reminds us that we should not limit our prayers to big needs or catastrophic loss.

Even though God has provided for our needs, we are still commanded to ask. Asking is an expression of humility and dependence. We are to ask God to meet our material and physical needs so we can focus our desires on the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Expressing our faith and dependence on God on a daily basis provides us with two important benefits. First, we can live with a confidence that is free from worry (Matthew 6:25-33). Second, we can live with a contentment that does not seek fulfillment from material things (1 Timothy 6:3-11; Hebrews 13:5-6). God is not stingy. He does not revel in our poverty. He expects us to make our daily needs a part of our daily prayer.

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The word “kingdom” comes from the Greek word basileia, which literally means “rule” or “reign.” We can therefore understand that the Kingdom of God as the rule and reign of God within the hearts and lives of his people (Luke 17:20-21). Dallas Willard describes the Kingdom of God as the range or extent of which the will of God is done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Used 118 times in the New Testament, the Kingdom of God was the central focus of Jesus’ teaching ministry.

What are some helpful observations about prayer concerning the will of God as it relates to our lives in his Kingdom? 
The will of God is done without exception in heaven. That should be pretty evident! 
According to Romans 12:2, the will of God is “good, acceptable, and perfect.”  The will of God involves submitting my will to God and prioritizing his will above my own (Matthew 26:36-46) and is primarily discerned through Scripture and prayer (Acts 10:34- 36; 44-48).
 The will of God is confirmed through the community of faith (Acts 15:1-21) and is applied through obedience (Acts 15:22-30).
Ultimately, the goal of knowing and doing God’s will is to advance his Kingdom (Acts 15:31- 35).

So how do we pray for the Kingdom of God to come on Earth as it is in Heaven? 
We pray for the rule of God to be complete in our own lives and to be aligned with the plan and purposes of God, as opposed to asking God to approve our own plans and purposes. We pray for his rule and reign to be enacted anywhere it does not exist, and seek to cooperate with that work.
 Finally, we pray for his second advent. 


This phrase has been called “the master prayer of the Christian.” Its located in the heart of the prayer, and serves as the hinge upon which God’s agenda and our agenda swings.

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Praying to God as “Father” reminds us that we pray on the basis of our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is a love relationship, not a legal relationship. God desires an intimate relationship with us.

Prayer is one of the vehicles at God’s disposal by which he can demonstrate who he is. In John 14:13, Jesus said, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (NIV).

Jesus taught that we are to “hallow” the name of our heavenly Father. To hallow God’s name is to ascribe reverence, respect and awe to God’s name (cf. Exodus 20:7). In the Old Testament, Jews attributed such reverence to God’s name that they would not speak or write it. God’s proper name is Yahweh, which means “I AM THAT I AM.” Another important name for God is Adonai, which means, “The Lord God.” Out of reverence, the Jews took the consonants out of Yahweh and the vowels out of Adonai to form the word “Jehovah.” You can always recognize the Hebraic use of Yahweh in the Old Testament when you see the word “LORD” in capital letters.

So what does it mean to hallow God’s name? The word hallow finds its root in the Greek word hagiazo. The noun form of the word, hagios, gives us the word “holy.” Therefore, to hallow God’s name means to revere and speak his name with reverence.

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Oct
08

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father

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If prayer is something we are to do without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), then we need to make sure we are doing it properly. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, but its important to notice what he did not teach them. For example, he did not teach them the posture of prayer. Nothing is said as to whether we are to stand, sit or kneel. Neither did he teach them where to pray. He did not specify the living room, the church Sanctuary, the bedroom or the office. He simply said it should be done privately. He did not teach them when they should pray, which is a relief to some. You can pray in the morning, the afternoon or night. There is no right or wrong time to pray. Finally, he did not teach what we should wear or how to act when we pray. So most of the formalities of prayer are insignificant to Christ.

Prayer begins by calling God “father.” Father is probably one of the more common names we use when addressing God in prayer. Jesus’ example teaches that we should begin our prayer with the recognition that God is Father. In fact, when Jesus prayed he called God “Father” over seventy times. The only exception was his cry on the cross during the final moments of his crucifixion (Matthew 27:46).

There are two words for Father that are helpful to understand. The Greek word for Father is pater, where we get the word paternity. It is a word signifying one who nourishes, protects and upholds. Often it was used of the nearest ancestor, and was commonly used to describe the progenitor of the people.

The other word is abba, which is an Aramaic word denoting an unreasoning trust. In American English we would use the word “daddy.” It speaks of the love and confidence that a child would place in his dad.

When Jesus used the term Father, he was teaching the disciples that our relationship with God is an intimate familial relationship. When we pray, “our Father,” we are indicating an eagerness to come to God as a child that is beloved. All of the resources in the Father’s possession are ours to draw upon.

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