Saturday, May 30, 2009

Preachers: Please Sweat out the Text

I learned long ago that the process of studying and praying about and writing a sermon is different for me every week. Tonight (Saturday) I am still working through a few parts of the message for tomorrow morning - and reflected once again on a post by Erik Raymond from May 08, 2009 that was both encouraging and helpful to me at times such as this.

If you are a preacher then you know that you are never really ‘ready’ to preach. Preachers could always use more time in prayer, further meditation upon the text and to reconsider appropriate application. However, the time eventually comes when we must take that walk from our seat among God’s people to stand behind a pulpit and proclaim the everlasting word of God. It is at this point that you must be as ready to do what God has called you to do.

Why do some guys walk to the pulpit and from first word to last seems to be clicking, dripping with passion, demonstrating some brokenness, and a visible burden for their people to ‘get it’? While others are able to deliver a biblically faithful message but seem to lack that extra ‘something’ that makes a good sermon different?

I think it comes down to what one is doing in the pulpit. There is a difference between being a lecturer and a preacher. A lecturer may get all of the points correct, be elegant, engage you with humor, and even give you something to think about as you leave. The preacher, on the other hand, has been powerfully affected by the truth that he is proclaiming. He himself has spent a considerable time canvassing his own heart for agreement with the text’s proposition. Where there is a deviation from the divine will the preacher has bent his own will through prayer and meditation that he might be aligned with heaven in truth. Furthermore, the preacher is one who has worn out a path to the throne of grace petitioning for the hearts of his people to ‘get it’. The preacher is convinced of the urgency and power of the message; he really believes that what he is about to say is exactly what God wants these people to hear, therefore, it is the most important thing in the world for them to attend to at that very moment.

To put it simply: the preacher is the one who has personally bought the importance of the text, prayerfully applied it to himself and then, convinced of its importance, wants to deliver it to the congregation.

In my own preparation I think of this whole process through the image of sweat. We are all familiar with sweat, it is a fact of life. In my preparation I want to apply the passage deep into my soul, prayerfully dispatching it to the far ends of my heart. Once the text is ‘in me’ and I have seen the importance of it for myself and for the glory of God, then I am closer to being ready to preach. When I do preach what comes out? Eloquent quotes? A running commentary on the text? Funny jokes? No! Instead I am sweating out the proposition of the text, the power and greatness of God in it, personal brokenness for my own sin and those of the people, and a genuine, bible-dripping zeal for us all to get it and live it.

My encouragement to preachers is to not preach until you are ready to sweat the text out. Anyone can put in the requisite hours in the chair, do the research, craft a sermon and deliver the message. However, it takes a man called by God to wrestle with God in the text and who will not refuse to let go of the text until God promises to bless him and his people. If you are a preacher, be that guy. Spend your week marinating in the text and then on Sunday morning sweat out the glory, greatness and obedience provoking beauty of God in the passage.

Prodigal Love by C.H. Spurgeon (Doug Whitley)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Meeting God

Great God,
in public and private,
in sanctuary and home,
may my life be steeped in prayer,
filled with the spirit of grace and supplication,
each prayer perfumed with the incense of atoning blood.

Help me, defend me,
until from praying ground
I pass to the realm of unceasing praise.
Urged by my need,
invited by Thy promises,
called by Thy Spirit,
I enter Thy presence,
worshipping Thee with godly fear,
awed by Thy majesty, greatness, glory,
but encouraged by Thy love.

I am all poverty as well as all guilt,
having nothing of my own with which to repay Thee,
but I bring Jesus to Thee in the arms of faith,
pleading His righteousness to offset my iniquities,
rejoicing that He will weigh down the scales for me,
and satisfy thy justice.

I bless Thee that great sin draws out great grace,
that, although the lest sin deserves infinite punishment
because done against an infinite God,
yet there is mercy for me,
for where guilt is most terrible,
there Thy mercy in Christ is most free and deep.

Bless me by revealing to me more of His saving merits,
by causing Thy goodness to pass before me,
by speaking peace to my contrite heart;
strengthen me to give Thee no rest
until Christ shall reign supreme within me
in every thought, word, and deed,
in a faith that purifies the heart,
overcomes the world,
works by love,
fastens me to Thee,
and ever clings to the cross.

From "The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotion" edited by Arthur Bennett

Monday, May 25, 2009

I Want to be Like Jesus - Fernando Ortega

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace,

who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

(Isaiah 52:7)
This is dedicated to our daughter who is leaving to serve our Lord in Uruguay tomorrow.
We love you Jennifer - be like Jesus!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Death is not Dying - Rachel Barkey

Rachel Barkey is a 37 year old wife (to Neil) and mother to two children who lives in Vancouver and attends Westside Church (Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren). Four and a half years she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which has now become terminal. On March 4, 2009, Rachel was asked to speak to 40 women from her church - and 600 women showed up to hear her speak of the power of Christ at work in her life in the face of death. Click Here to watch a video of the event.

“Cancer does not define me. Neither does being a wife or a mother. All these things are part of who I am but they do not define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who Invented the Ironing Board? - Brian Regan

In using an ironing board the other day, I was reminded of Brian Regan, who seems to find joy in everything.

Living Game Seven

Last week in the world of professional sports, there were five “game sevens” played - three in hockey (Boston/Carolina, Washington/Pittsburgh, Detroit/Anaheim) and two in basketball (Boston/Orlando, Los Angeles/Houston). The seventh game of a playoff series in any sport is a “do or die” game – a game when everything is on the line, where everything you do matters, and you play as if there is no tomorrow.

For those of us who truly know Jesus – should we not live everyday as if it were “game seven”?

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Heal or Heel? – An Update on “The Fall of a False Prophet”

On August 15, 2008 I posted my concerns on this site regarding the legitimacy of Todd Bentley on his revival at the “Lakeland Outpouring.” While there is no denying that God is sovereign in the work of revival, we are to use wisdom and discernment before we embrace what appears to be the works of God that come from men and women whose character does not reflect the character of Christ. In the current issue of World Magazine Warren Cole Smith gives an update regarding Bentley and his ministry. Below are a few quotes from his article – to read the whole thing Click Here.

Heal or heel? by Warren Cole Smith

. . . At the height of what many called a revival, WORLD asked Bentley to talk about the healings . . . six weeks and more than a dozen requests later, the ministry eventually sent a list of 13 names. Christopher Fogle was No. 12 on the list, along with this note: "Healed through the Outpouring and is back to fishing."

That was on Aug. 8, 2008. There was just one problem. Two weeks earlier, on July 22, Christopher A. Fogle—according to his obituary in the Keokuk (Iowa) Daily Gate City, "left this life . . . after a courageous battle with cancer."

A review of the list nearly one year later reveals that Fogle is not the only person "healed" who is now dead. When I called Phyllis Mills, of Trinity, N.C., on April 22, to hear the testimony of her healing, a polite family member said, "Phyllis passed away a few days ago. In fact, we're on our way to her funeral now."

Mills, 66 at the time of her death, had lung cancer and was undergoing aggressive treatments when she was, according to the list, "healed at the revival." Mills "was taking radiation, but was sent home," according to notes on Bentley's list, with "no trace of cancer in her body." . . .

. . . The Outpouring eventually ended in scandal, with Bentley admitting to an inappropriate relationship with an employee and to alcohol abuse. . . .

. . . So do the stories prove that Todd Bentley is either a healer or a fake? Does it mean anything that less than a year after the conclusion of the Outpouring two people on a list of 13 "healings"—a list provided by the ministry itself—are dead, and most of the rest don't stand up to questions?

Michael Brown says it does matter. Brown is the author of Israel's Divine Healer (Zondervan, 1995), considered one of the definitive examinations of how healing takes place in Scripture. He personally believes in supernatural healing, but he also says a healthy skepticism about most healing stories is a sign of wisdom and discernment.

Brown said the fact that this list was presumably the best Bentley's ministry had to offer an appropriately skeptical public is a cause for concern. "If you're going to make claims of healing on a very public, even international, stage, you'd better have your documentation in place," Brown said.

"God is sovereign," Brown said. "He can and does heal. But our experiences should not shape our theology. Instead, our theology should be the lens through which we evaluate our experiences. And our theology should be based on Scripture.". . .

. . . After Bentley stopped leading the Lakeland meetings, he announced that he and his wife Shonnah had separated. At that time, the board of Fresh Fire announced that he had entered an "inappropriate relationship" with a "female member of his staff" and that he would "refrain from all public ministry" until he had received counseling.

In November, the Fresh Fire board said that Bentley was "not submitting" to the counseling and restoration process and that he was guilty of adultery. Bentley relocated to Ft. Mill, S.C., where according to statements he is undergoing a "restoration process" under the direction of controversial charismatic ministry leader Rick Joyner. On March 9, 2009, Rick Joyner announced that Todd had remarried—to the same "former employee" with whom he had had the inappropriate relationship.

Bentley has refused media inquiries, and Joyner did not return phone calls for this story. But in a statement Joyner admitted that Bentley's remarriage was "wrong and premature," but he said that Bentley's restoration process would continue.
"For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24)

Friday, May 15, 2009

What is Preaching? - John Piper

Religion vs The Gospel - Tim Keller

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted.
THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.
THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.
THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.
THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure.
THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’
THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.
THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

from TT

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Choosing the Way of Littleness

I am currently reading through The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan – and continue to be blessed by his insight regarding what it means to "rest in God." Here is a quote that spoke to my heart last night:

I used to think the spiritual life was mostly about finding and using our gifts for God’s glory – my utmost for his highest. More and more, I think it is not this, not first, not most. At root, the spiritual life consists in choosing the way of littleness. I become less that that Jesus might become greater. Its essence is No – not to ourselves, our impulses and cravings, our acts of self-promotion and self-vindication, our use of power for its own sake. It calls us to deny ourselves possessions, rights, conquests that we’re tempted to claim just because we can. It is growing, day by day, into the same attitude that Christ had, and by exactly the same means; emptying ourselves, giving ourselves. It is refusing to grasp what we think is owed us and instead embracing what we think is beneath us. (page 101)
"He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three Views on the Government and Economics

Ronald Reagan – 40th President of the United States

"Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves. . . . Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
Barack Obama – 44th President of the United States

“I want to talk about what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and what we have left to do. . . . This is the situation, the downward spiral that we confronted on the day we took office. . . We will hold accountable those who are responsible, we’ll force the necessary adjustments, we’ll provide the support to clean up those bank balance sheets . . . we are investing in innovative programs . . . we have been called to govern in extraordinary times. And that requires an extraordinary sense of responsibility – to ourselves, to the men and women how sent us here, to the many generations whose lives will be affected for good or for ill because of what we do here.”
Jesus – Son of God

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

Conviction of the Holy Spirit or Accusation of Satan?

Here is a great post from Ray Ortland.

"He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." John 16:8

". . . the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down . . . ." Revelation 12:10

How can I tell the difference between the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and the accusing attacks of Satan? Some thoughts:

1. The Holy Spirit puts his finger on a specific sin I have committed, something concrete I can own and confess, but the accusations of Satan are vague and simply demoralizing.

2. The Holy Spirit shows me Christ, the mighty Friend of sinners, but the devil wants me spiraling down into negative self-focus.

3. The Holy Spirit leads me to a threshold of new life, but the devil wants to paralyze me where I am.

4. The Holy Spirit brings peace of heart along with a new hatred of sin, so that I bow before Jesus in reconsecration, but the devil offers peace of mind with smug relief, so that I fold my arms and say, "There, that's over with."

5. The Holy Spirit helps me to be so open to God that I allow him to control the conversation, but the devil tempts me to take off the table certain questions I just don't want God to talk to me about.

We are thankful for our dear Friend, the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arcing: John Piper on How He Studies the Bible

Here is some great insight from John Piper about how to study the Bible. I posted this from Desiring God not just for those involved in our Acts 2:42 study – but for all who truly desire to know the fullness of God’s truth in His Word. Click Here for the website that also teaches you how to “arc.”

The Lord is Mightier Than the Waves of the Sea

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! (Psalm 93:4)

Be sober minded; be watchful . . .

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Gospel According to Rob Bell

Here is an excerpt from an interview in Christianity Today with emergent church leader Rob Bell. To read the whole interview Click Here.

I often put it this way: If there is a God, some sort of Divine Being, Mind, Spirit, and all of this is not just some random chance thing, and history has some sort of movement to it, and you have a connection with Whatever—that is awesome. Hard and awesome and creative and challenging and provoking.

And there is this group of people who say that whoever that being is came up among us and took on flesh and blood . . . So a church would be this odd blend of swagger—an open tomb, come on—and humility and mystery. The Resurrection accounts are jumbled and don't really line up with each other—I really relate to that. Yet something momentous has burst forth in the middle of history. You just have to have faith, and you get caught up in something. I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I'm really absolutely sure of some things that I don't quite know.
To clarify, the basic difference between the terms emerging church and emergent church are:

An emerging church is a church which embraces the mission of reaching today's postmodern culture with the traditional, conservative, evangelical view of the gospel of Jesus Christ (absolute truth, high regard for authority of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, etc) through methods (music, media, other art forms) that are more cutting edge.

An emergent church is a church which embraces the mission of reaching today's postmodern culture with a wide diversity of Christian traditions that have adopted 1) a critical view of the core doctrines of biblical Christianity (denying objective truth, promoting relativism, questioning the authority of Scripture) and 2) an uncritical embrace of the postmodern worldview (questioning the core doctrines of biblical Christianity) through the method of relational friendships with those in today’s postmodern culture.

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. . . . For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11: 3-4;13-15)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Escaping Anonymity - Tim Challies

One of the issues those of us in the pastorate have to deal with at times is receiving letters or notes that are either unsigned or signed “Anonymous.” This has now become a standard way for many to “identify” themselves in comments made in the web world of blogs. Standard practice for many of us who are pastors is to disregard unsigned or anonymous comments as a violation of the relational principle of Matthew 18 – but this becomes more difficult in the blog world, as comments are posted publicly. In discussing this recently with someone I was directed to a Table Talk message by Tim Challies. Here is an excerpt:

Admiral Lord Nelson once remarked that “every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” This was a statement about anonymity, a rare concept even just a few short generations ago. Nelson knew that once his sailors moved beyond the bounds of the British Empire, beyond society’s systems of morality and accountability, they underwent a transformation. Every man became a bachelor and sought only and always his own pleasure. Those who have read biographies of John Newton will see there a vivid portrayal of a man who was a gentleman at home but who was vulgar and abusive while away. Given only a measure of anonymity he became a whole new man.

In days past, anonymity was both rare and difficult. People tended to live in close-knit communities where every face was familiar and every action visible to the community. Travel was rare and the majority of people lived a whole lifetime in the same small geographic area. Os Guinness remarks that in the past “those who did right and those who did not do wrong often acted as they did because they knew they were seen by others. Their morality was accountability through visibility.” While anonymity is certainly not a new phenomenon, the degree of anonymity we can and often do enjoy in our society is unparalleled in history.

We need accountability. Left to our own devices, we will soon devise or succumb to all kinds of evil. As Christians we know that we need other believers to hold us accountable to the standards of Scripture. Passages such as Ecclesiastes 4:12 remind us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17) and that we are to “stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). Life is far too difficult and we are far too sinful to live in solitude. We need community. We need accountability. And God has anticipated our need by giving us the local church as the primary means of this accountability. . . .

. . . We face unique struggles in our increasingly anonymous world. We must commit to making ourselves accountable through visibility. We must commit to purity of heart and commit to only speaking or writing or reading or watching or doing what is honoring to God. And then we must ensure that there are people who know us, who will watch over us, and who will lovingly exhort and correct us when we fail in this commitment. While the British sailors went beyond Gibraltar and heaped contempt on the Empire they represented, we wish to be Christians who are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15).
Click here for the full Table Talk article