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I have been noting a tendency among preachers that is common enough to warrant a label; I have called it prefacing. Prefacing is the bad habit of announcing what one is about to do before doing it, when there is no reason for doing so (note the important italicized qualification).
Let me suggest two ways in which prefacing frequently takes place in preaching:
An example of the first is exactly what I did in the last paragraph. Reread it and you will discover what I am talking about. And to go on to illustrate the second point I could now say, “Let me give you an example of what I am talking about” (of course, as you see, I just did).
But what is wrong with prefacing? When there is no good reason to do so, it breaks the continuity of what one has been saying by calling attention away from the content to the structure by which that content is being presented.
Foolishly, some homileticians have declared that a preacher should announce all of the points in every sermon. Why? Because they said so,...
There is one entire book of the Bible that is devoted to music: the Psalms. We’ve said little about this hymnbook in these blogs.
“Spose it’s ‘bout time to do so!”
Counselors will find the Psalms invaluable in helping their counselees deal with all human emotions. They range from grief and suffering to joy and gladness. They deal with anger, and wrath to as well as grace and forgiveness. And, those items are merely a few of what’s there.
How to use the Psalms in counseling is, of course, the question. Often verses are simply yanked out of context, missing the point of the Psalm as a whole. But to know what a Psalm is all about and, therefore, its purpose, is essential to bringing the full measure of comfort, encouragement, need for repentance, direction, and the like to the counselee. I say full measure, because even smaller units of biblical material if understood correctly, can be of help. But, all too frequently, that doesn’t happen when passages are used irrespective of their context.
“Give me an example”
OK. Psalm 23. Ever hear anyone speak of going “through the valley of death” as the process of dying? Of course, it means the opposite...
I have never appreciated the fact that the word “illustration” is used to cover all storytelling in preaching. Because the word focuses on the visual alone (to illustrate is to “brighten” or “throw light on” something), it has tended to limit appeal to the other senses (hearing, smelling, tasting, touching), and that, in turn, has tended to impoverish our preaching. Perhaps it would be well if the word storytelling were to replace it altogether.
Stories, well told, are sense-oriented; they appeal to the senses. Dialog, for instance, an integral part of most good stories (see Christ’s parables), appeals especially to the sense of hearing. The prodigal son talks to himself, rehearsing what he will say to his father (here, in a modern translation, you will even find quotes within quotes!—dialog with himself!).
This is an important point, about which I have said more in a chapter of a book on preaching soon to be published by Westminster Theological Seminary. But, here, I shall zero in on two issues involved in illustration (or, better, storytelling): (1) recent vs. timeless stories and (2) contrived vs. actual.
Let it be said that there are distinct...
A rare thing happened the other day—I heard a good sermon. Let me briefly analyze it for you, noting some of the factors that made it good.
First, it was preaching; it was not a string of stories or a stodgy lecture. By that I mean, from start to finish, the sermon was directed to us. We were involved from the outset. The truth of the passage was presented as God’s message to us, not only to the members of a church long ago and far away in biblical times. God came alive to us as someone living, ruling, caring now—for us. The preacher made us concerned, and kept us concerned, about our families, our church, our community.
Next, what I heard was biblical preaching. What he preached was not an essay on some truth, not the ideas of politicians, media personalities, philosophers, theologians, or his own opinions, but what God said to us in Paul’s letter. Not only did he tell us what the preaching portion means, but he even showed us just how every point that he made comes from the passage. Because he did so, we were able to evaluate for ourselves whether the preacher’s conclusions about the text were...
I want to translate more accurately a very important passage of Scripture. It is the verse in Matthew 11:28 which reads, in the original.
Come to Me all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.
The idea is not merely to come to Christ to find rest from our futile efforts to keep the law, although rest does result when one stops striving to be saved by works and, instead, is justified by faith alone. But the idea is not that of settling down, and resting on one’s laurels. Rather, it is enjoying the refreshing peace and joy that enable one to serve Christ in the future.
Jesus goes on to say that “you will receive refreshment for your souls” (v. 29). This refreshment enables one to carry on, unburdened by an impossible weight, so as to serve Him Whose burden is light, and Whose yoke—the symbol of work and service—is easy to wear. It does not rub and injure those who wear it (v. 30).
To take another’s yoke upon one’s self meant to come under his teaching (that’s why Jesus says, “learn from Me.”). The passage is, therefore, a call, not to leisure, but to...
Last Sunday we attended a performance of “Master Mender” in Salt Lake. It is what is more commonly known as a Passion Play, depicting the life of Christ. The play was thought provoking, and by all indications there were some who responded for salvation afterwards. But it isn’t the play that has been reverberating in my mind, as much as I love to tell the story of the power of the Resurrection.
After the performance, we made our way with hundreds of others to the lobby. There, we passed by the leper who had been made whole. We passed by Jairus’ daughter…out of costume, in jeans and pigtails, no doubt looking for her parents. We passed by a centurion or two, still formidable in size, even without their Roman armor. And there, by the main doors, in the center of the lobby, was Jesus.
The man they cast as Jesus has been playing the role for a number of years, I understand. He...
“My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.” Prov. 23:26
Our second grader has been learning a Bible verse for each letter of the alphabet. Above is her verse for M. She writes it a few times a day, and recites the whole set every day, adding on the new one for the week.
I’ve been thinking about this one. For a while. It does not say, “give me your music standards” or “give me your clothing preferences”. It says “give me your heart”.
Out of our hearts (our innermost beings, what makes us tick) everything issues.
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Prov. 4:23
The word “keep” is a military term, and it means to guard. Protect it. My kids will tell you that I often admonish them to guard their hearts when it comes to friends, music, viewing, reading, and thinking habits.
What do I want from our kids? Three young people who have given me their outward standards and appear “good”? Children whom everyone praises for their conformity?
It’s a messy business, but I want...
At first, here’s a good article on doing something. Almost anything. It’s a good thought on the possibility of spending a lot of time on things that ultimately don’t matter much.
At second, here’s an article on dress codes in schools. It’s interesting, on the one hand, how many school districts have gone to uniforms in recent years to avoid these (and other) kinds of problems. It’s also interesting how a lack of specificity about expectations creates problems. While it might sound great to have a minimal dress code (or rules about anything), it can be very unwieldy and impractical at times. It’s also interesting to see the total self-focus of an honor student who says, “I’m paying attention in class. So why are you making a big deal about it?”, as if she is the only one who matters. Unless you are home-schooled as an only child, you paying attention in class is not the only thing that matters.
At third, here’s...
At first, if there are any still buying the canard that Calvinism is driven by logic and the alternatives are not, these two articles by Roger Olson on High Calvinism and a Followup to it should put that to rest. Olson is an Armininian who knows enough about theology to know what that means. Most Arminians don’t know enough to know they are Arminian, and not a few are actually Pelagian. Olson’s point is driven, not by Scripture, but by logic, namely, God can’t be something because Olson’s mind can’t comprehend how he can be that something. It’s a bad way to go about things, when the smaller determines what the bigger can be based on what fits into the smaller mind. That’s not to say Olson is a small mind. It’s to say that he is human, and the finite cannot sit in judgment on the infinite.
At second, here’s...
At first, Carl Trueman brings it strong here and here on celebrity pastors and particularly Mark Driscoll. He has done this before, even showing up at what is probably the largest gathering of celebrity pastors to defend himself. It’s worth reading. (Ironically, one of the commenters at First Things talked of having to choose between evangelicalism and Presbyterianism, so he left evangelicalism and chose the PC-USA. I think that probably says more than he intended it to. But I digress … )
At second, here’s a good article raising a very legitimate point about Roe, namely, why do mothers have the right but fathers do not? Why can mothers kill their babies because of future costs, but fathers cannot? Why are fathers prosecuted as murderers for doing the same thing that mothers do with immunity?
At third, here’s...
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new little book written by Justin Holcomb, titled Know the Heretics (Zondervan, April 2014). At the same time that book was published, a companion volume titled Know the Creeds and Councils was also released. While the volume I mentioned in the earlier post focused on famous false teachers in the history of the church, this second volume discusses a number of the most important creeds and church councils.
Creeds and church councils might sound like fairly boring topics, but for those who care about the Scriptures that should not be the case. The early councils were the places where key doctrinal issues were hammered out by the church, and creeds are simply summaries of...
Last week I read a curious piece that purported to identify the exact point at which Pilgrim was saved in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: was it at the wicket gate, at the foot of the cross, or perhaps even at some other point? I confess a measure of confusion on the matter. Like many before me, I’ve had the uneasy sense that the salvation event in Bunyan’s little tome is more a process than a point.
As uneasy as I have been with Bunyan’s allegory on this matter, I am more uneasy still with the explanation offered by Jim Orrick in his blog post. In Orrick’s understanding, Pilgrim is justified when he goes through the narrow wicket gate (i.e., he believes Christ and loses his forensic guilt), and then is relieved of his psychological guilt when he arrives at the foot of the cross and grasps the theological significance of what occurred there. Had Orrick stopped here, I might have been amenable to his theory.
Instead, Orrick goes on to support his theory with the emphatic statement that “...
The Bible states that we have an enemy that plagues everyone—death. Though we may avoid this enemy for a time, we cannot escape it. Death is certain. No one can avoid death.
And Death is cruel. At its heart, death is separation. Death separates our bodies from our souls. It separates us from this earth and all that is on the earth that we love.
For much of our life we can make ourselves forget this enemy. We busy ourselves with the various aspects of life, never considering that life will end. Perhaps your life will be long, but perhaps yours will be short, like many others before you. However, there are times in our lives when we can no longer forget our enemy, death. We come face to face with it, in all its gruesome reality.
It is as though death stands before us, taunting us: “What is the value of your life? What is your purpose? What have you gained? What do you treasure? No matter what it is, I will take it in the end. You think you are fine now, but one day I will have the victory.”
And so often death does have the victory. Often people do lose all they have lived for at death.
Why is death so cruel? In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul...
(A Guest Post by David Doran, Jr.)
Every mother, pastor, roofer, and sanitation engineer in the Western world has felt the wrath of life’s relentless assault of tasks-to-be-done. You’re probably calling them tasks-to-survive by now. Western culture is drunk on going faster and faster and doing more and more. It’s no surprise, then, to see the huge market of books, conferences, and media teaching workaholics to drink responsibly from the fire hose.
Many of these works are helpful in managing the flow—or tidal wave!—of life. I, much like author Matt Perman, had not made use of systems or strategies or lists in getting through college. When ministry and seminary hit the gas peddle, however, I had to adjust and fast. Still, after writing lists and next actions, etc., etc., I found myself stuck in the iconic “I Love Lucy” scene at the chocolate factory. Ethel and Lucy begin their post at the conveyor belt managing just fine; however, before long, the onslaught of chocolates simply becomes unstoppable. (You really need to take 2 minutes and watch for yourself. Don’t worry; this...
Within American history the names of Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, and the Rosenbergs live on in infamy. These are people who rather notoriously tried to undermine the well-being of our nation for some kind of personal profit. We look back on such individuals with a mixture of interest and disdain. How could they do such things? How could they betray our country? Yet, the Christian church has had its share of notorious traitors or heretics as well.
What a man like Benedict Arnold is to American history, men like Arius and Pelagius are to church history. One might think that such heretics should be avoided at all costs, and in a sense, they should be. At least, their teachings should be soundly rejected by all those who profess Christ. But it is difficult to reject a teaching you have never encountered. And if one does not know where some...
Wayne Grudem, “Why, When, and for What Should We Draw New Boundaries?” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity [free PDF] (ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth; Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 369 (numbering added):
Some wrong questions to ask
It is important to add that there are some questions that should not be part of our consideration in deciding which doctrinal matters to exclude with new boundaries. These are questions such as the following:
Charles L. Quarles. A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator. Explorations in Biblical Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2013. 15-page sample PDF.
The endorsements for this book are well-deserved:
C. Ben Mitchell, Ethics and Moral Reasoning: A Student’s Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition; Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 95–96:
Below is a suggested procedure for finding ethical guidance from the Bible:
Two quotes from John Piper:
1. ”How Shall People Be Saved? Part 1,” a sermon preached to Bethlehem Baptist Church on June 1, 2003 (transcript of the audio from 12:22 to 12:51; not in the manuscript):
There are a lot of women—probably some in this church—who spend a lot of time on their hair and a lot of time on their eyes and a lot of time on their lips and a lot of time on their clothes and their feet and don’t spend any time on becoming beautiful. . . . This [i.e., Rom 10:13–21] is a text about what makes a person beautiful.
2. ”Her Body, Her Self, and Her God,” Taste & See, October 28, 1997:
Expressing God, not self, is what a godly woman wants to do. Excessive preoccupation with figure and hair and complexion is a sign that self, not God, has moved...
Mark Boda prepared this rubric for grading written assignments:
Grading papers is obviously more subjective than grading multiple choice or true/false, and Boda’s criteria help make the process a little more objective.
Stanley E. Porter, ed. Those Who Can, Teach: Teaching as Christian Vocation. McMaster General Series 3. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013.
Just because a person earned a PhD doesn’t mean that they can teach well. (Many of us have painful personal anecdotes from our experiences as students!)
That’s why I’m grateful for books like this. It contains a lot of basics. Overall, it’s very valuable. I’m still relatively young and...
It has been said that “a faith that costs little will accomplish little.” Considering the trends that are rapidly taking hold in our American culture, we might well find out how much our faith is worth to us individually in the amazingly near future.
Much has been made in recent days of privately-owned Christian businesses which are being targeted by everything from boycotts to lawsuits to legislation for various positions the ownership has taken. Chick-Fil-A was in the midst of a firestorm last year for comments made by one of the primary owners and officers of this 100% private company regarding the issue of the definition of marriage. Shortly thereafter, competing “boycotts” and “buy-cotts” and even a totally failed attempt at a gay “kiss-in” were the topic of the month all over the news and internet. Private evangelical university, Lynchburg, VA’s Liberty University (full disclosure: I am an employee of Liberty University) and craft and home accessory retail chain, “Hobby Lobby” have challenged different aspects of the so...
Recently, I’ve been doing some reading regarding unhealthy and even dangerous assemblies which call themselves “churches”, but which possess characteristics that defy the healthy components of a church we see discussed throughout the Book of Acts and many of the Pauline epistles. Just for the sake of discussion, I offer a few warning signs of what I would call unhealthy churches. Perhaps after reading these you might want to debate some of my conclusions or add a few warning signs of your own.
1. Does your church leadership tightly control the flow of information within its ranks suggesting that anything that is negative or which questions something is ‘rebellious’ or ‘gossip’?
2. Does the pastor use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers or does he use the pulpit as a place to “call out” individuals who have crossed him?
3. Are all the previous pastors “unwelcome” back to where they once served and is there a rather regular cycle of pastoral resignations or...
Some have asked me if I’m supporting the upcoming movies about “Noah” and “The Son of God”. I don’t care much one way or the other if people go as long as they know that historically, Hollywood does a LOUSY job of accurately portraying Scripture on the big screen. As for me, I don’t plan on seeing either movie at a theater, if ever. The church where I serve as a pastor isn’t using the movies as some sort of evangelistic outreach as many churches are. I have been reminded of an article that I wrote about 7 years ago wherein a “rethought” my participation in the great “Passion of Christ” movie debut in which I coined the phrase, “Pimping for Hollywood”. This article and the phrase were latter cited in Warren Smith’s excellent book, “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church”. Because there are some similarities, I thought I’d post a link to that article here: