Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Do you really want my opinion?

I'm afraid that one of the things we most need, most of us don't want.

We need objectivity.

In other words, we need friends who are willing to help us look at what's going on in our lives from a different angle - from a biblical angle. When we're in a situation, we're looking at it from our perspective, we have an interpretation, an explanation. But since we're in the situation, it's easy for our perspective, interpretation, explanation to be warped. We need people in our lives who can help us look more clearly, more biblically at the way we are thinking about what is going on in our lives.

But too often we don't really want that.

One way to prove that, who we go to when we want counsel. If we do go to other people for counsel, we go to our yes men; people for help or counsel who we know won't disagree with us...or at least not very much. When people do begin to offer a different perspective, we find ways of shutting them down.

Another way to prove that, who we don't go to when we want counsel. I'm convinced that one of the greatest blessings many people are missing out on in the church, are their elders. Elders are a gift from God to the church - one reason why - they can offer much needed biblical objectivity. Not perfect objectivity - they are just ordinary, sinful men. But still, that said, they are men that you have recognized as being godly, they are men that you have recognized as being gifted to teach, they are men who you have committed yourself to submitting to - why not at least go to them and ask for help when you are thinking about making a major decision? I'm not talking about where to buy milk; I'm talking big decisions - like moving, getting a new job, problems in your relationship with your wife...you get the picture.

I don't think I need to tell you that not doing so is pretty foolish.

If you don't go and ask because you don't respect your elders, why be in that church in the first place? I can pretty much guarantee you aren't really learning very much on Sunday mornings if you don't respect your elders enough to ask for their help.

And if you do respect them, why wouldn't you go?

Could it be that though you need objectivity, you don't really, truly want it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thank You Dr. Mohler

I'm so glad to see a theologian writing about this...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I want to see me...

I'm at the gym and it hits me.

I've been coming here for five years, seeing many of the same people, and we all still pretty much look the same. There's such a thing as maintaining, I know. But some of us need a little bit more.

How is that?

I mean five years!

I'm not as concerned about my physical condition as I am my spiritual. I definitely don't want to be coming to church Sunday after Sunday and just maintaining. I want to be moving forward.

One thing that keeps us from moving forward physically is a failure to see ourselves for who really are.

And I think the same thing can be true spiritually; we sometimes suffer from a kind of spiritual blindness; maybe not so much blindness as just having our eyes closed.

There are reasons we're able to do that and stay content spiritually.

For starters, we have a warped sense of where we are at spiritually.

Another problem, theological "knowledge."

Now I've got to be careful here. By theological knowledge I don't mean theological knowledge, I mean theological "knowledge." True theological knowledge is the key to spiritual growth, but what I've found is that it is very easy to substitute theological "knowledge" for theological knowledge. Easy to think you know God just because you know the right words about God. Easy to think that because we can say words like sovereignty that the way we are looking at the world corresponds with that belief. Easy to think that we are mature believers because we know big words when in reality we haven't really applied those truths to our lives. Easy to think that we don't need to listen to others because we've heard it all before. Easy to think that just because we have a certain amount of knowledge that we are automatically right.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Are Your Eyes Closed?

It might be somewhat funny to watch someone to standing in front of a mirror with his eyes closed, trying to get ready for work. It would be pretty sad if he thought he was actually being effective. It would be tragic if he stood there for forty, forty five minutes and really believed he was accomplishing something.

Yet that's what many of us do week after week with the mirror of God's Word. In the next few blogs, off and on, I want to think about some of the things that keep us from really seeing ourselves in God's Word.

1.) We have a warped sense of who we are.

You want proof of that, just watch American Idol.

How does that happen? Somebody who thinks they can sing when they so can't! I'm afraid that spiritually, some of us are a whole lot more out of tune without realizing it.

We so want to think well of ourselves that we'll latch onto the smallest compliment someone pays us and then exaggerate it into something it's not. I remember as a kid it took me a long time to figure out I wasn't that good a basketball player, because someone paid me some kind of compliment way back when just to be nice.

While there are some people who are great at hearing the negatives and tuning out the positives, there are other people who are great at hearing the positives and tuning out the negatives.

I know I've said this before, but running I'm always shocked at how slow the people who pass me are going. I feel like I'm going so fast - how can someone be running that slow and still pass me? My perspective is warped just like ours is often when we come to listen to God's Word. Somebody can be speaking directly to us, completely about us, and we don't even realize it because we have such a wrong perspective of where we really are at.

I'm not sure I have the greatest solution to this, except one, for us to fall on our knees as we come to God's Word. God help us! Two, for us to develop relationships with people who will tell us the truth and ask for it straight up. And three, why not just assume the passage is speaking about you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Killing with "Kindness"

"Nothing pleases man more than the sort of alluring talk that tickles the pride that itches in his very marrow.

Therefore, in nearly every age, when anyone publicly extolled human nature in most favorable terms, he was listened to with applause. But however great such commendation of human excellence is that teaches man to be satisfied with himself, it does nothing but delight in its own sweetness; indeed, it so decieves as to drive those who assent to it into utter ruin.

For what do we accomplish when, relying upon every vain assurance, we consider, plan, try and undertake what we think is fitting; then - while in our very first efforts we are actually forsaken by and destitute of sane understanding as well as true virtue - we nonetheless rashly press on until we hurtle to destruction. Yet for those confident they can do anything by their own power, things cannot happen otherwise. Whoever, then, heeds such teachers as hold us back with thought only of our good traits will not advance in self-knowledge, but will be plunged into the worst ignorance."

John Calvin, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion I, p.243

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Faith: An Inward Embrace

How would you define the word trust?

It's not just believing something. You can believe something and at the same time not trust in it. I'm not sure I have a good technical definition for trust yet, but a word that helps me picture what it means I think, would be the word rest.

Jesus on the boat in the storm, sleeping. Waking up. Asking the disciples. "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"

It's not just knowing the strength of God, the promises of God. It's resting in them.

Quoting Calvin, "Here, indeed, is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them. Hence, at last is born that confidence which Paul elsewhere calls peace...It is an assurance that renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God's judgment."

Faith. Inwardly embracing God's promises. Trust. Rest.

It helps me so much in my Christian life that my chief responsibility is to rest in what God has promised me in His Word, to rest in the salvation He has provided through Jesus Christ. To remember that what God wants me to do is to trust in the fact that He is going to do me good on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ.

I start to see why sin is such a big deal. Greed, proof that I'm not resting, trusting in God's care for me. Lust, not trusting that God's plan for my sexual desires is for my best. Complaining, not believing God's working things out for my good. All these sins, they are not just actions, external, things I'm doing wrong; they are all indicators of problems in a relationship, a lack of resting, trusting, believing my God.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Grace to the Common

I'm listening to the Chronicles of Narnia with my daughter every morning on the way to school.

We're right at the beginning, The Magician's Nephew.

It's actually been a pretty worshipful experience so far, but today I found myself getting a little frustrated. If you know the story, you know towards the end there's a cabbie and a horse that somehow get taken into Narnia.


Aslan chooses the cabbie to be the first king of Narnia and he chooses the horse to go on a special mission for Him, making the horse the first of the winged horses of Narnia. (There's a sentence I've never written before.)

What frustrated me was their voices.

The cabbie and the horse sounded so normal, so ordinary, so common. Here Aslan is choosing the cabbie and the horse to perform these noble, great, awesome tasks and the cabbie and the horse don't sound all that noble, great or awesome at all. They just sound common.

It didn't feel right.

And then I think I got it. It was right. It was a beautiful, moving picture of what God has done and is doing with us, with me. The ordinariness of the horse and the cabbie make the goodness of Aslan appeare all the greater, and my ordinariness does the same with God's grace.

Praise be to the God who chooses the foolish of the world to shame the wise, the weak of the world to shame the strong, the low and despised, the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are so that no human being might boast in the presence of the Lord.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Augustine Felt It Too...

"When anyone realizes that in himself he is nothing and from himself he has no help, the weapons within him are broken, the wars are over. But all the weapons of impiety must be shattered, broken, and burned; you must remain unarmed, you must have no help in yourself. The weaker you are in your self, the more readily the Lord will receive you."

Calvin Felt It

I'm glad Calvin said it.

I've been thinking a little bit lately about myself, (like that's unusual...for any of us) and feeling a vague sense of discouragement. I mean you know somewhat what God wants you to be and you know pretty well what you want to be and then you look at yourself and it can be pretty discouraging. I'm not talking so much about discouragement over out and out sins as much as just a lack. The not doing can be a whole lot easier to be good at than the doing.

I want to be so much more, such a better leader, such a better preacher, such a better person. I wish I had more gifts and was more interesting and more helpful and I think I wish all those things at least partially and really more than partially for God's glory. And you know what, if it's not all for God's glory, add that to the list then, I wish it was.

Reading Calvin this afternoon provided some much needed encouragement.

I quote,

"Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and - what is more - depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in the world would not gladly remain as he is - what man does not remain as he is - so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery."

I love that quote.

For one thing, Calvin felt it. I mean, sometimes we like at gifted individuals like Calvin and think they must be satisfied with their own giftedness, their impact, their usefulness. But even Calvin looked at himself and was left wanting. That helps me. It reminds me that if I'm ever trying to find ultimate satisfaction and joy and my sense of identity in my own works and merits, I'm trying to do something which ultimately is nothing but a dead end.

For another, Calvin reminds me where to turn. When I become discouraged about my own weakness, I don't have to just stay there, I can turn and find joy and encouragement and hope in God Himself and what He has given me in Jesus Christ. My weakness helps me better understand His power. My own lack of worthiness makes His grace and mercy and love for me stand out all the more.

It's o.k. if I'm not the hero.

I'm not supposed to be. And you know what, neither are you!

It is Good to Know God part one...

There's nothing better than being humble.

It's absolutely essential for living the Christian life. You can't go to God without it. You can't love God without it. You can't serve God without it. You can't love others without it. You can't communicate properly without it. You can't resolve conflict biblically without it. You can't deal with the sin of others properly without it. You can't resist sin without it.

And there's nothing worse than being proud.

The proud person is an abomination to God, hurtful to others, and a danger to himself. Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to be proud; to think too much of ourselves and too little of God.

There's no character quality more beneficial than humility and there's no sin more dangerous than pride and there's nothing that promotes humility more and destroys pride more effectively than the knowledge of God.

Edward Griffin explains, "A discovery of His [God's] awful dignity and excellent holiness reveals the evil of sinning against him and lays the penitent soul speechless at his feet. When we can perceive God to be so holy and glorious that a bare neglect to love him would deserve eternal woe, and that no conceivable punishment is great enough for the wretch that dares rebel against him, when with spiritual discernment we contemplate God turning the angels out of heaven for sin, turning Adam out of Eden, turning a beautiful world into a prison house of groans, a shambles of blood, turning many into hell, and more than all, thrusting his sword through the heart of His own son, then we discover in a light unknown before, what sin deserves and what we are, and lifting a pleading eye to Jesus, we lay ourselves down in the dust to wonder at the patience and mercy of God." (The Life and Sermons of Edward Griffin, vol.1, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1987, p.280)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Same Sins?

I don't want to be too elementary, but hey,I am teaching at a high school in the mornings and this morning, someone brought up a what I consider a pretty good question.

In God's eyes are their levels to sin?

Those weren't her exact words of course. Her words were more like, everybody thinks sexual sin is so awful and all that, but these others sins are really bad too. Aren't they kind of the same?

Like, isn't going out and committing sexual sin just as bad in God's eyes as cheating on a test?

Now we all know, if we're asking a question like this in order to justify our sin, we are missing the point. That's kind of like saying I want a little bit of leprosy just not a lot. The smallest sin is worth an eternity in hell, so they all are definitely, very, very bad. Plus, we all know if we're asking this question in order to look down on others, we're missing the point. Read the gospels and you find out Jesus had a whole lot to say about that.

But still, it might be worth a moment's thought. This is a common idea - at least among Christian high school students - that all sins are the same in God's eyes. After all, "Jesus says lust is like adultery and anger is like murder so all sin must be the same."

Now I'm not saying I have the final answer, but I do wonder if this isn't just a case of thinking a little too simplistically about Scripture.

For one thing, there is such a thing as the unpardonable sin. In other words, in a different passage Jesus makes it clear there was a sin that was worse than every other sin - a sin so serious that God said He wouldn't forgive it. We can't say then that every sin is the exact same.

For another thing, the writer of Hebrews talks about the condemnation of those who profess to know Christ and then rejecting Him being worse than the condemnation of others. If one person's condemnation is worse than another's that seems to indicate the level of seriousness is different.

On top of all that, isn't there something of a progression in Romans 1; where it seems certain sins are almost punishments in themselves of other sins - like things are getting worse and worse because the sins are getting more and more serious?

And what's more, what about God's justice? God is perfectly just and we certainly at least on a human level wouldn't view a judge very just if he viewed every crime the exact same way.

Now we definitely get a little screwed up on which sins are most serious. For example, it seems viewing the gospels that proud people are looking up the moral ladder at prostitutes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Our Business

We live in a world that is full of serious problems.

I don't know about you, but for me, sometimes it can become overwhelming. You turn on your television and you are constantly hearing about wars, protests in foreign countries, hate, anger, resentment, bitterness. And your heart breaks.

But then besides all the trouble in the world, you've got trouble that hits closer to home, trouble in families, marriages, and other relationships. With so much tension, with so many problems, we as a church, and as individuals are tempted to be drawn all sorts of different ways. There are many different good activities we could get involved in. But obviously, we've only got one life and we've only got so much time, and so as caring people it's important we ask what's the most important thing that we as a church can do? What is it that the world, our families, our friends, and even ourselves need most?

Looking at Paul's ministry and Paul's priorities help us answer that question.

Paul sums up his ministry in three words, "We proclaim Him..."

The word 'proclaim' means to announce or to deliver. It became almost a technical term for missionary preaching. Paul's not talking about something he has done once or twice, but instead something he does continuously. This is what the ministry is all about - we're continually proclaiming Him.

Just a quick look at Paul's life proves that statement true.

Paul was persecuting the church, God saved him on the Damascus road, he met with Ananias, waited around for several days with the church at Damascus, then Acts 9:20, "immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying 'He is the Son of God.'

In Acts 13:38 he's on his first missionary journey and he sums up what he's been doing by saying that what he's been doing is proclaiming that through Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins.

He's brought before the leaders of Athens in Acts 17:23 to be questioned about his faith. He courageously stands before them and says, "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown God.' What therefore you worship in ignorance this I proclaim to you."

In Ephesians 3:8 he explains that though he didn't deserve it, God gave him the incredible blessing of being able to proclaim the riches of Christ.

He reminds the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2 that while he and Silas and Timothy were in their church, night and day they proclaimed the gospel to them.

I don't want to be too obvious here, but as you look at Paul's life and you consider this statement in Colossians, it becomes clear that the primary task Paul devoted himself to, was delivering a message.

I think that's very significant.

Because there were many other things Paul could have devoted himself to. In Paul's day, just as in ours, there were lots of problems. And Paul certainly could have devoted his life to feeding the poor, clothing the homeless. Or perhaps he could have devoted his life to overthrowing Nero, and dealing with the corrupt government.

But he didn't.

Don't misunderstand. Paul was concerned about the poor. In fact, a major part of his ministry was collecting money for poor believers in Jerusalem. But the fact is, as you look at Paul's life you realize that he clearly understood his main responsibility was to proclaim a particular message. If he had failed to do that, he would have completely failed. Preaching the message God had given him was his top priority.

The same should be true for us as a church.

The most important responsibility we have as a church is to faithfully proclaim the message God has delivered to us in His Word.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Too Much Information..

I hate to admit it...I mean, really there is such a thing as too much information, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway...I sometimes watch decorating shows.

But I don't really enjoy it and it's only because my wife makes me.

Enough excuses?


There's show called Moving Up. One person buys another persons house and then redecorates it. After a while the old owner comes back through and gives his opinion on the job they did. Then the new owner watches the old owner share what he thinks.

And you know what's amazing to me?

Almost every time, and I mean almost every time...they actually care. And when I say care, I'm talking the new owners really care. They really care what the old owner thinks about their decorating job.

Now, they don't know the old owner. They probably will never spend time with the old owner. I doubt they are going to ever see the old owner again.

But still...they really want the old owners to think they did a good job.

It's funny and it's sad because that's so me and that's so us. Maybe not with decorating...honestly, I can't imagine caring too much about that...but with other people's approval in general. I guess it's not too big a deal if you want other people to think you did a good job decorating your house, but what can easily happen is that we become so concerned about what the other person thinks about us that it controls us.

If you've been there, you know as well as I do, it's tiring.

That's one of the beautiful things about the gospel. It frees me up from being enslaved to the approval of others...because you know what the gospel tells me? One thing it tells me is that on my own, I'll never be good enough. There I've said it. I'll never be good enough, smart enough, interesting enough, beautiful enough, popular enough, important enough to earn God's favor. And yet, a second thing the gospel tells me is that it doesn't matter because that's not how God saves people anyway. It's all about mercy and grace. I can enjoy the full, eternal, approval of God and I don't have to earn it. I couldn't even if I tried. I just have to trust and rely on what Jesus did to earn it for me.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Meditations on the Sinfulness of Sin

John Owen once said that as men rise in their notions about the seriousness of sin so they rise in their understanding of the grace of Jesus. To that end, magnifying the grace of Jesus, I offer the following thoughts on the seriousness of sin.

Sin must be awful because:

It is an offence against God. "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned..." Ps.51:4

God doesn't want us to sin. "My little children I am writing these things to you that you may not sin." 1 John 2:1

Sin makes God angry. "Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry and you perish in the way for His wrath may be soon kindled." Ps. 2:12

Sin made God sorry that He made man. "And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart." Genesis 6:6

God punishes sin in an extreme way therefore sin must be extremely awful. "But the present heavens and earth are being reserved by His Word for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." 2 Peter 3:7

God killed His Son because of our sin. "But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Him as a guilt offering." Is. 53:10

God's Son suffered because of our sin. "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come ot the aid of those who are tempted." Hebrews 2:17,18

Godly men hate sin. "Beloved I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." 1 Peter 2:11

Godly men mourn over sin. "My eyes shred streams of water, because they do not keep Thy law." Ps. 119:136

Godly men would rather suffer than sin. "By faith Moses...choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of GOd, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin." Hebrews 11:24,25

Sin is contrary to the nature of God. "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy in all that you do." 1 Peter 1:15

Sin is contrary to the works of God. "The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8

Sin is contrary to the people of God. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things you please." Galatians 5:17

Sin carries awful consequences. It is bad for your body, bad for your soul, bad for your conscience, bad for your joy, bad for your well-being, bad for your marriage, bad for your families, bad for your future and bad for your mind.

(Many of these thoughts and ideas came from Ralph Venning's book The Plague of Plagues . Why don't you try to think of some more."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A One way Two Way Conversation

From what I understand, Martyn Lloyd Jones didn't really like having his sermons taped.

I never really understood why.

I'm still not sure that I would put it as strongly as he would, in fact I know I wouldn't because I love listening to sermons on tape. One of my favorite things to do is to listen to sermons on tape. But even though I definitely don't think we should throw out all our tapes, I think I am beginning to get the point he was trying to make.

This is all just talk which means it is worth basically nothing, but it seems to me that there is supposed to be something unique in the preaching event itself. By unique, I mean different than a lecture you could give anywhere - rather a kind of one way two way conversation. One way where the preacher is doing the talking, two way in that he is somehow interacting with his congregation, the congregation that he is preaching to at that moment in a way that can't fully be captured by simply listening to a tape.

Now obviously, I'm just thinking out loud here, this is not something I'm going to die for, but in the past, I've always had these long, detailed notes - actually a written manuscript - and you know, I could have preached that message anywhere, anytime, to anyone.

I'm still going to stick with long, detailed notes - actually a written manuscript, but I do wonder if part of what makes preaching more exciting is when there is an actual interplay between the congregation and the preacher. The preacher brings something to the table and so does the congregation. An interplay to the point, where it would be difficult to preach the same exact message again.

I wonder if sometimes as preachers we create passive audiences by forgetting that, or maybe not desiring that or seeking after that.

Don't Lose the Message

"I haven't heard of many churches today requiring circumcision as the initial step for committing to Christ. So how do we lose the message today? Maybe if I ask the question in a less religious way, it will help: What makes you feel good about yourself? Think about it for a second. What genuinely makes you feel good about yourself? A productive day at work? Your children's growth and success? Your husband's care and affection? The admiration of your colleagues? Your parent's approval? Consistent quiet times? The ability to articulate your theology well? If you find the answer to what makes you feel good about yourself, you will be close to finding what causes you to confuse the gospel...
The gospel message, our news is this: We are saved only by faith in Jesus Christ, who died for us and took our punishment upon himself. Only when we believe and trust in Christ will he apply to our hearts the perfect righteousness and forgiveness he won for us. The point is never what you do. The point is what God has done. The point is for him to get the glory. We do not fight our way into heaven by faithful religious observance. It is God who, in his great love in Christ, reached down low to find you."
Mark Dever, The Message of the New Testament, p.223

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The world in which we live...

I'm at the mall, shopping.

Actually not really shopping, I'm with my wife and she's shopping. Most of the time, I'm sitting, waiting. Anyway, I wander into Borders and start browsing.

I pick up a book by Po Branson.

Po Branson, seems like a nice guy. He wrote a best-selling book recently on finding your career, following your dreams or something like that.

Now he's out with a book on the family.

He asks, I think it is in the first chapter, an interesting question. Can we say one kind of family is better than another?

Here's what I think is amazing. We're living in a world where it almost instinctively in the gut seems wrong to say yes. I mean, here I am, a pastor. I know there's a kind of family that is better than another kind of family and yet, I'm so influenced by my culture that I read that sentence and I'm like, wow, he's really stepping out on a limb.

A limb?

Come on. A family that doesn't abuse it's children is better than a family that does. That's obvious and it's o.k. to say that.

But I digress.

Po admits there is a kind of family that is better than others. And he goes on to give illustrations, like the one I just gave or, two a family that educates is better than a family that doesn't, or three a family that feeds its children is better than a family that doesn't.

All right, but check it out, here's his fourth. (And it may not have been exactly the fourth one he mentions, but give me a break...)

A family that embraces religious diversity is better than a family that doesn't.

I'm going to offer my definition of what he means by embracing religious diversity. I may be exaggerating, after all I don't know Po, and I was in Borders for just a minute, but still, I doubt it.

I don't think he's talking about merely giving your children the opportunity to think things through, or being loving to them and graciously calling on them to turn from error to truth. I don't think he's talking about allowing your children to express their doubts and helping them learn to think things through on their own.

I think bottom line, what he means is that a family that doesn't plead with its children that there is only one way to God, pray for it's children to repent and put their faith in Christ, call on its children to follow Jesus is better than a family that does.

And what strikes me is that here is a guy who seems like a nice, you know, ordinary unbeliever, and in his mind, he equates abusing your children with actually believing the truth enough to not embrace the fact that your child is turning from the truth to an error which will in the end, ruin him.

Monday, January 02, 2006

How to Be An Ineffective Preacher part four

6. Settle for Irrelevant Relevance

I've found most people are very interested in hearing about themselves. I know I often am. If you want to preach a message that 'connects' all you have to do is make the people you are talking to the center of the text.

There are some obvious ways preachers do this, you know, throwing out the text and just addressing felt needs. There are other ways we can do this though, not so obvious. I remember when we started preaching through the gospel of Mark at Grace, at first it was a little bit difficult. I think one of the reasons it was difficult was because what the gospel of Mark does is shift the focus from us to Christ. He's completely preoccupied with Jesus. We are not the hero of the story Jesus is. In the epistles at least you've got a few, "You've got to do this" messages. But in the gospels, every story starts and ends with him. And that can be tough preaching,(great preaching because there's nothing better for a person who loves Jesus to think and talk about him, tough preaching only if you want people to think your messages are great) because the sad fact is many of us would rather spend a lot of time looking in the mirror then we would looking at someone else...even if that someone else is Jesus.

We sometimes excuse ourselves for focusing so much on ourselves, saying we want to be relevant. I've got to hit the people where they live. Yes, of course. But focusing on Jesus, understanding the gospel and the implications, calling on people to get their eyes off of themselves and onto Jesus is like the most relevant kind of preaching there is.

I'm kind of rambling here (it's a Monday morning after all) but I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes as we prepare we are trying so hard to preach a message that really hits home and is practical and relevant, that we focus so much on the people we are speaking to that we in attempting to become relevant actually become irrelevant. People say we are being relevant because our messages are 'practical' but people think Dr. Phil is relevant as well. That doesn't mean his message is honoring God and really helping people in an eternal way in the long run.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be specific and we shouldn't be talking about how a text applies to contemporary listeners and all that, what I am saying is that even as we talk about practical matters and issues of life, and we've got to - check out 2 Timothy 3:14-17, this is one of the purposes of Scripture - but even as we do, and especially as we do, we have to remember who is the hero of the story, who is ultimately the focus of all of Scripture. It's as we connect Jesus and the gospel to real life, as we help people get their eyes off of themselves and to him, that we, no matter what people say - become really relevant.

I hope that makes sense, if it doesn't, I think I've linked to this before, but I've been challenged by the comments Tim Keller makes on just this to think more carefully about the way I preach practical, relevant messages.