Time to chat sports freaks, messy weeks, and Jon’s preaching critiques.
– The AFL is back
– Gambling and a church raffle
– Messy car
– Messy days
– Critiquing Sean’s sermon
There is much on the Interwebs that speaks of how best to listen to sermons, even books have been written on the topic. However, as I work my way through the book Habits of Grace by David Mathis I am struck by the simplicity and meaning in listening to a sermon.
When we think of listening often we imagine ourselves not talking, and that’s about it. But, of course, listening requires more of us than simply shutting our mouths. It requires intentionality in actually hearing what someone is saying to us. It means we need to stop and focus, it means we need to take the time to hear someone out before chiming in with our own thoughts on the conversation at hand.
In a section on listening Mathis speaks of the grace that comes when we take time to actually listen to a sermon. The preaching of the Word is God speaking to his particular people in a particular location, and so listening is an important skill in this instance. But the symbolism of this act of listening is deeper than perhaps we’ve thought of before.
While preaching can get a bad rap, it is one of the ongoing activities of the Christian faith where God speaks to us through another human. And while the rest of our week may be filled with different activities, conversations about faith even, there comes a time where the faithful gather and seek to listen together to God’s Word. There are plenty of hours in the week to do other things that pertain to our life and faith, but for 30 minutes a week Christians gather to close their mouths and listen to the preaching of the Bible. This is fascinating act, a symbolic act, by believers around the world as they seek to encounter Jesus more deeply and in a powerful way. And even then, many are restless and sleepy for those 30 minutes too.
The other aspect to this is the fact that it is Christians gathered together. There is a corporate and communal aspect to the worship of God in church each week. It is not an individualistic activity, despite people not knowing one-another too deeply at times. It is the Christian community of a particular location getting together to hear from God together. Another sign of the unity that comes through Christ. And as Mathis writes,
“But preaching is not just about Jesus; it is his way of being personally present with his church. Good preaching brings the church into an encounter with her Groom by the Holy Spirit. As Jason Meyer writes, “The ministry of the word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word. In faithful Christian preaching, we not only hear about Jesus, but we meet him.”
As Calvin once wrote about the purpose of preaching, “…to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.”
While we may find preaching tedious at times I appreciate the fact that God has set this as one of the ways he gives us grace. In all our other activities of faith, particularly on a Sunday morning, there is the giving and receiving of grace to God. Through songs, through prayers, through communion even, we are often speaking to God as well as hearing from him. Through the preaching of his word we actually take the time to be still and quiet before him, solely receiving from him.
I wonder if this affects our thinking about the sermon for this weekend?
Across the centuries the Psalms have provided inspiration, encouragement, comfort, and consolation for many Christians. The Psalms reflect the prayer and praise of ancient Israel, and speak to our head and our heart.
Perhaps due to its poetic nature, the Psalms lead us toward a devotional life with God.
We find an amazing array of emotions in front of us through the Psalms; everything from loneliness to love, from sorrow to joy, from discouragement to satisfaction, from shame to praise, from fear to peace, from insecurity to confidence.
There something about the Psalms that we resonate with as the words of the Psalms reflect the human experience back to us.
For centuries Christians have turned to the Psalms in times of satisfaction and happiness, and in times of grieving and pain. As part of our meditations and devotional life with God the Psalms often become a cornerstone of reflection. When in our quiet times, when journaling, when sharing across the table, when publicly reading scripture in a church gathering, and at times of celebration or mourning, we often turn to the Psalms.
In preparing a few messages on the Psalms over January I came across this great quote from Charles H. Spurgeon. These are words from the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, speaking of the impact of the book in his own life.
“The book of Psalms has been a royal banquet to me, and in feasting upon its contents I have seemed to eat angels’ food. It is no wonder that old writers should call it the school of patience, the soul’s soliloquies, the little Bible, the anatomy of conscience, the rose garden, the pearl island, and the like. It is the Paradise of devotion, the Holy Land of Poesy, the heart of Scripture, the map of experience, and the tongue of saints. Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly such as our hearts delight in?”
What a great description of the Psalms!
What about you, how do the Psalms help you? What kind of impact have they had on your life, devotional or otherwise?
I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.
I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.
The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.
As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.
You can read the whole thing here.
Preaching 1 John 3:19-4:6 this past Sunday meant I touched upon the doctrine of the incarnation. In referring to the early defenders of this doctrine I quoted Melito of Sardis. He died toward the end of the second century and wrote about the incarnation this way:
“Though he [the Son of God] was incorporeal, he formed for himself a body like ours. He appeared as one of the sheep, yet he remained the Shepherd. He was esteemed a servant, yet he did not renounce being a Son. He was carried about in the womb of Mary, yet he was clothed in the nature of his Father. He walked on the earth, yet he filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet he did not discard his eternal nature. He was invested with a body, but it did not limit his divinity. He was esteemed poor, yet he was not divested of his riches. He needed nourishment because he was man, yet he did not cease to nourish the entire world because he is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, yet it did not impair the likeness of his Father. He was everything by his unchangeable nature. He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time he was sitting with his Father. He was nailed on a tree, yet he was the Lord of all things.”
– Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, 367
I came across this this quote from Charles H. Spurgeon while traversing the interwebs this morning. What a great comment about writing and preaching.
“Long visits, long stories, long essays, long exhortations, and long prayers, seldom profit those who have to do with them. Life is short. Time is short.…Moments are precious. Learn to condense, abridge, and intensify…In making a statement, lop off branches; stick to the main facts in your case. If you pray, ask for what you believe you will receive, and get through; if you speak, tell your message and hold your peace; if you write, boil down two sentences into one, and three words into two. Always when practicable avoid lengthiness — learn to be short.”
– CH Spurgeon (Sword & Trowel, September 1871)
I’ve had this occur numerous times over the last couple of years. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the church service and preacher. I can’t help wondering whether it’s my expectations of what it is to go to church and worship that leaves me wanting. Nevertheless, I occasionally walk out having that sense of needing to do more in the coming seven days.
I’m a preacher myself, so I know I need to work hard on the application of my sermons. The explanation of the Bible and understanding of the passage can be worked through slowly or quickly but application needs to be there…somewhere. And it is within this application section that I need to know that the burdens I’ve been carrying for the last however long can be lifted. That my cares can be taken care of. That I can hope and know God is in control of all things.
I need to be reassured that I don’t have to do anything more this week to have God love me more.
I know God. I know God because of my faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. Through that work he has enabled me to have my sin forgiven and be in a relationship with Him.
I understand this will mean I will need to change. Following Jesus means growing as a disciple. This happens over time and with the Lord’s help.
But when I am weary from a week where I know I’ve sinned throughout, where I didn’t read my Bible as much as I’d like, where things haven’t gone right, then I come to church seeking comfort, seeking encouragement, and to be reminded that God still loves me and is taking care of me.
Of course, I may know this at a cognitive level. I may know this at an emotional level. But I need to know that this is the case again this week. Just as it was the last.
This reminder may happen through the Scripture passage, or through the words of the preacher in explaining the text, or through the application part of the sermon. Whatever way it may be it needs to occur in a way where the application doesn’t mean I walk out with more to-dos this week.
Because guess what?
When Jesus died he didn’t add a single to-do to my list. He took many, many, many to-dos away though. When Jesus died he didn’t add guilt to my burdens, he took them all and dealt with them.
So, preacher (and I speak to myself as much as any other), preach Jesus. Preach Jesus in such a way as to articulate what he’s done without adding more to my week and my to-do list. Please.
I preached my 100th sermon the other day.
I don’t consider myself a great preacher but there’s something about working at preaching that I find satisfaction in.
I have a spreadsheet which lists every sermon I’ve ever given. It tells me what number I’m up to, the date of delivery, what passage of scripture it’s from, what corny title I’ve given it, and where it was delivered. Due to my missions role there are a few double ups, having given the same sermon in different places.
Some today argue that preaching is a waste of time. That sermons aren’t worth what we think they are. That there is a better way of communicating God’s truth, perhaps in small groups or through one-on-ones or in some form of creative dialogue. These ways of delivering God’s truth are great and there’s no denying there are different ways people receive the Word and understand it. It’s all a matter of communication theory I suppose.
Yet, I still believe that Scripture not only gives us the words to communicate but also shows us the way God seeks his Word to go forth.
The proclamation of scripture is an important aspect to the teaching and receiving of His Word. From the beginning to the end of scripture God speaks and uses preaching as a means of proclamation. These sermons and words are delivered by the person God has gifted in teaching or prophesy, such as, Moses or Ezra or the Prophets or Jesus or Paul or other apostles, just to name a few.
Coming under His Word each week at a gathering of believers is important for my soul. I look forward to the opportunity to continue preaching His Word to anyone, anywhere.
Perhaps a good word for those of us who follow and podcast the great preachers in this world…
“A stated and regular attendance encourages the minister, affords a good example to the congregation; and a hearer is more likely to meet with what is directly suited to his own case, from a minister who knows him, and expects to see him, than he can be from one who is a stranger. Especially, I would not wish you to be absent for the sake of gratifying your curiosity, to hear some new preacher, who you have perhaps been told is a very extraordinary man; for in your way such occasions might possibly offer almost every week. What I have observed of many, who run about unseasonably after new preachers, has reminded me of Prov. 27:8: “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is the man that wandereth from his place.” Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive: they usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, critical, and censorious spirit; and are more intent upon disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear. If you could find a man, indeed, who had a power in himself of dispensing a blessing to your soul, you might follow him from place to place; but as the blessing is in the Lord’s hands, you will be more likely to receive it by waiting where his providence has placed you, and where he has met with you before.”
From John Newton’s On Hearing Sermons.
As I was walking out the door to go on holiday I randomly threw the biography of George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore in my bag. It is an extensive biography, a two-volume set, that sets out the life and times of the great preacher.
Having finished the first volume I find myself reflecting on his life and ministry. Biographies teach us a great deal, not only about an individuals life, but also about their value system, worldview, and passions.
In thinking about Whitefield, I found five areas of his life that struck me as being central to the way he lived.
First, he was a man passionate about Jesus and only Jesus.
From his teenage years, but more so after his conversion, Whitefield was consumed with proclaiming and showing Jesus in everything he did.
While at university in Oxford he was a member of what was known as the ‘Holy Club’, and made a conscious effort to always be upright in everything he did. As he grew in grace and a fuller understanding of the gospel he pursued a passion for God’s glory and supremacy over all things.
Second, he was a man committed to preaching.
Everywhere he went, from the age of 17 onward, he preached consistently.
In certain seasons of his life Whitefield would would preach up to 15 times, or 50-60 hours, per week! His ability and gift in preaching was beyond the average person, but this still doesn’t negate the fact that he was always wanting to share the truth of the gospel everywhere he went.
Whether he was in America or in Britain, Whitefield couldn’t help but preach and try to win souls for the Lord.
Third, he was a man who instigated change.
His preaching practices were unorthodox for his time.
He pushed the limits and received rejection for it. His actions of moving away from the church pulpit and begin preaching in the open air changed the face of his preaching ministry. When not allowed to preach in the local church, due to a decree from the local bishop or minister, he would simply began preaching outside–in the fields and parks of the city.
Fourth, he was a man who had the courage to persevere in his ministry despite ridicule and rejection.
Whitefield’s Calvinistic convictions, zeal for the Lord, and unorthodox preaching practices rubbed people up the wrong way.
Fellow ministers, clergy, and other lay people developed a great dislike for Whitefield. Hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, journals, letters, and books were written against him and his beliefs. Throughout he continued to trust the Lord and pursue his ministry for the betterment of the Kingdom.
While hurt by many of his detractors, Whitefield had the courage to stand and proclaim the gospel.
Fifth, he was a man who sought unity rather than separation.
At all times, particularly in his relationship with John Wesley, Whitefield sought to find common ground first rather than polarise people because of their belief or practice.
In the end Whitefield had to separate from some relationships, but not after he had pursued unity, support, and friendship under the gospel. He was concerned for Christian unity while pursuing his single-minded goal of preaching the gospel.
Whitefield’s biography, and some of his writings, have come at a perfect time. Dallimore portrays his life wonderfully well, exposing the godliness and character of the man.
I would highly recommend reading this book, and even dipping into Whitefield’s other writings here and there.
It will do wonders for your soul.