Archive for January, 2009
This Sunday we’ll return to our study of the gospel of Luke. The message will focus on discerning right judgment from wrong judgment. If you get the chance, read the passage beforehand: Luke 6:36-45, especially vss. 41-42 where Jesus gives the parable of a man with a plank in his eye socket trying to “help” someone get a splinter out of their eye. What a humorous and yet sobering picture of hypocrisy. May God teach us well as we come together for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. Come prayerfully and expectantly!
At the Unashamed Workman blog, Ray Ortlund, Jr. answers ten great questions about preaching:
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching is central in the life of a church, because Jesus himself speaks savingly through the preached Word. The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 was bold enough to say, “When this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached and received by the faithful.” Romans 10:14 (ESV margin: ” . . . believe him whom they have never heard”) validates that conviction.
Another verse that means a lot to me is 1 Corinthians 14:8, “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” I have never seen a church rise in spiritual power where the preaching was unclear, indistinct, overly cautious, timid. Every church I know of that is making a gospel impact has an unmistakably clear and winsomely courageous preaching ministry.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
How does one discover gifts in any area? It just appears, as experience allows and in the fullness of God’s time. My own preaching started with complete ineptitude, graduated over time to struggle, and by now has advanced to varying degrees of effectiveness and ineffectiveness. My progress seems directly related to growing theological discovery of God’s glory in the gospel, through dissatisfaction with myself as a preacher, through the joy of seeing God use me, and through the assurance that at any time God can rend the heavens and come down in revival power.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Early in my ministry, I needed twenty-plus hours to prepare. By now, the disciplines are more streamlined. I average perhaps ten hours or so.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?
I often fall in love with every detail in my text, so that I tend toward excess at that level in my preaching. But I try to ask, “What is the precise pastoral burden of this unique passage?” Every detail, however fascinating, is there in the text to help construct that one overall message. So, after I have written my sermon draft, I go back and interrogate every sentence, “Do you really need to be here?” If not, it disappears.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
The most important aspect, in my view, is believability – the believability of the message and of the preacher himself. The first is a matter of clarity (exposition), defense (apologetics) and force (power in application). I want so to persuade the people that they are left thinking, “Well, of course. How could it be otherwise? I receive this as truth, I love this as beauty, I want this to change me.” I try to avoid everything about myself that may distract from that outcome.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a full manuscript. But I try to be in sufficient control of the flow of thought and certain key phrases that it doesn’t get in my way. I want to enjoy the sermon and the people in the moment.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
The greatest peril is forgetting what preaching is there for in the first place. It is not there as a platform for pet theories, inner-church politics, the culture wars, developing a personal following for myself or for proving how cool I can be. The preaching ministry is there for the display of Jesus Christ, according to the gospel. It is for him alone, as he wants to speak to the people, love them, help them, save them. Preaching is a sacred experience and must not be profaned by misplaced enthusiasms.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
I wish I had a good answer here. It is a constant struggle. The only chance I have for success is setting aside protected blocks of time when I am quiet and alone with God and my books. That usually means I get away from my office. There is a difference between an office and a study. Right now all I have is an office. So I have to get out of here to do serious study.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
My favorite is Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, especially the final chapter, “Demonstration of the Spirit and of the Power.” I am stirred even now just to think about it. Oh, that I might preach just one apostolic, anointed sermon before I die!
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I want to do more in this way. I did teach at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for nine years. And now, indirectly, my participation in The Gospel Coalition serves to lift up the next generation of preachers. I also desire to be encouraging to other preachers in the Acts 29 Network. And I hope that in five or six years my successor at Immanuel Church will be here, established in ministry, so that he can grow in authority as I fade away.
Tomorrow evening we have our monthly Lord’s Supper service (6:30pm). So it was quite timely today when I rediscovered an excellent article by David Michael (the Pastor for Parenting and Family Discipleship at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis) called “Why Can’t I Have a ‘Snack’ Like Everyone Else?” Thoughts on Children and the Lord’s Supper.
His answer is broken into two parts: a general response about parental discernment, and a personal response, describing how he and his wife have thought and worked through the issues.
Go to the Desiring God website to read the article. It’s very good.
This Sunday, Barry Lawrence will be back at DSC and ministering God’s Word to us. He’ll be preaching from Moses’ Psalm – Psalm 90. Take the time, before our Sunday worship, to read the passage and pray that God would by glorified to use it mightily.
For anyone who’s been at DSC for about a year or more, Barry needs no introduction. In case you’re fairly new, let me give a brief into: Barry is a long-time teaching pastor from Rochester, NY, who moved to Albuquerque a few years ago to work with Sixteen:Fifteen as a missions-coach to churches. He made DSC his church home and served as an elder for a couple of years before moving back to Rochester just a couple of months ago. He continues to work with Sixteen:Fifteen, focusing on coaching churches on the east side of the country. But since Sixteen:Fifteen’s headquarters are here in Albuquerque, Barry will be back in town from time to time.
In addition to the “staple” parts of our service (singing, prayer, Word), this Sunday we’ll also take the time to announce the appointment of a new deacon and two new elder candidates. I guess, in God’s providence it’s a week to give thanks for leaders, old and new. God is good to our church.
If you haven’t yet seen it, here is what Rick Warren prayed at yesterday’s inauguration:
Almighty God, our Father:
Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone.
It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory.
History is your story.
The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States.
We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.
Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.
Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.
Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans–united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you–forgive us.
When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone–forgive us.
When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve–forgive us.
And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes–even when we differ.
Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.
May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet.
And may we never forget that one day, all nations–and all people–will stand accountable before you.
We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.
I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life – Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus–who taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Al Mohler didn’t pray at the inauguration, but it looks like this is what he would have prayed had he been asked:
Our Father, Lord of all creation, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: We pray today with a sense of special urgency and responsibility. We come before you to pray for our new President, Barack Obama, and for all those in this new administration who now assume roles of such high responsibility.
We know that you and you alone are sovereign; that you rule over all, and that you alone are able to keep and defend us. We know that our times are in your hands, and that “the king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord” [Proverbs 21:1]. Our confidence is in you and in you alone. We come before you as a people who acknowledge our constant need for your provision, wisdom, and protection.
Father, we pray today for Barack Obama as he takes office as President of the United States. We pray that you will show the glory of your name in our times and in these days, confounding the wisdom of the wise, thwarting the plans of the arrogant, and vindicating those who do justice and practice righteousness.
Father, we pray with thanksgiving for the gift of government and the grace of civic order. Thank you for giving us rulers and for knowing our need for laws and ordered life together. Thank you for this nation and the blessings we know as its citizens. Thank you for freedoms unprecedented in human history.
We understand that these freedoms come with unprecedented opportunities. Lord, we pray with thanksgiving for the joy and celebration reflected on millions of faces who never expected to look to the President of the United States and see a person who looks like themselves. Father, thank you for preserving this nation to the moment when an African-American citizen will take the oath of office and become our President. Thank you for the hope this has given to so many, the pride emerging in hearts that had known no such hope, and the pride that comes to a people who have experienced such pain at the hands of fellow citizens, simply because of the color of their skin. Father, we rejoice in every elderly face that reflects such long-sought satisfaction and in every young face that expresses such unrestrained joy. May this become an open door for a vision of race and human dignity that reflects your glory in our differences, and not our corruption of your gift.
Father, protect this president, we pray. We pray that you will surround this president and his family, along with all our leaders, with your protection and sustenance. May he be protected from evil acts and evil intentions, and may his family be protected from all evil and harm.
We pray that the Obama family will be drawn together as they move into the White House, and that they will know great joy in their family life. We are thankful for the example Barack and Michelle Obama have set as parents. Father, protect those precious girls in every way — including the protection of their hearts as they see their father often criticized and as he is away from them on business of state. May their years in the White House bring them all even closer together.
Father, we pray for the safety and security of this nation, even as our new president settles into his role as Commander in Chief. We know that you and you alone can be our defense. We do not place our trust in horses or chariots, and we pray that you will give this president wisdom as he fulfills this vital responsibility.
Father, grant him wisdom in every dimension of his vast responsibility. Grant him wisdom to deal with a global financial crisis and with the swirling complex of vexing problems and challenges at home and abroad. May he inspire this nation to a higher vision for our common life together, to a higher standard of justice, righteousness, unity, and the tasks of citizenship.
Father, we pray that you will change this president’s heart and mind on issues of urgent concern. We are so thankful for his gifts and talents, for his intellect and power of influence. Father, bend his heart to see the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, from the moment of conception until natural death. Father, lead him to see abortion, not as a matter of misconstrued rights, but as a murderous violation of the right to life. May he come to see every aborted life as a violation of human dignity and every abortion as an abhorrent blight upon this nation’s moral witness. May he pledge himself to protect every human life at every stage of development. He has declared himself as an energetic defender of abortion rights, and we fear that his election will lead directly to the deaths of countless unborn human beings. Protect us from this unspeakable evil, we pray. Most urgently, we pray that you will bring the reign of abortion to an end, even as you are the defender of the defenseless.
Father, may this new president see that human dignity is undermined when human embryos are destroyed in the name of medical progress, and may he see marriage as an institution that is vital to the very survival of civilization. May he protect all that is right and good. Father, change his heart where it must be changed, and give him resolve where his heart is right before you.
Father, when we face hard days ahead — when we find ourselves required by conscience to oppose this president within the bounds of our roles as citizens — may we be granted your guidance to do so with a proper spirit, with a proper demeanor, and with persuasive arguments. May we learn anew how to confront without demonizing, and to oppose without abandoning hope.
Father, we are aware that our future is in your hands, and we are fully aware that you and you alone will judge the nations. Much responsibility is now invested in President Barack Obama, and much will be required. May we, as Christian citizens, also fulfill what you would require of us. Even as we pray for you to protect this president and change his heart, we also pray that your church will be protected and that you will conform our hearts to your perfect will.
Father, we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the ever-reigning once and future King, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He and he alone can save, and his kingdom is forever. Above all, may your great name be praised. Amen.
Lastly, Ligon Duncan gives some helpful thoughts about how to pray for the President:
As Americans, I suspect that none of us can fully appreciate the far-reaching significance of this event, though our nation and much of the rest of the world are electric with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States of America. To say that this is historic, is a gross understatement.
Many are rejoicing at this very visible public realization of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence at the very pinnacle of our civic life. In the ascendancy of an African-American from less-than-privileged circumstances to the leadership of the free world, we see the fruit of aspirations of the Founders: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” You don’t have to read far in the newspapers of the world to see them marveling at yet another astounding accomplishment in the great experiment that is America.
Do you realize that our republic has now enjoyed 44 peaceful transitions of power in our two-plus centuries of existence. There is no parallel for this in human history. And we need to thank God for his singular blessing in bestowing it upon us, undeserving as we are.
But I said I wanted us to think about all this Christianly (and not just as grateful or concerned Americans, much less as giddy Democrats or grumpy Republicans!). And this presents us with some challenges, doesn’t it?
As much as we may feel “this is my President and I want him to succeed,” as much as we may feel sympathetic joy with millions who watched President Obama’s inauguration with tear-filled eyes and hope-filled hearts, feeling themselves a part of the American story in a way they’ve never felt before, there lingers a question as to how to think about our leader in areas where his views and policies conflict with biblical conviction.
Many Christians find themselves profoundly conflicted because of some of the moral positions and social policies that Mr. Obama espouses. So how do you pray for your President when you disagree with him?
Thankfully, the Bible is not silent about such a question. After all it commands us to pray for all in authority (1 Timothy 2:2), no matter their party, policies or religion (or lack thereof). It is vital that we think Christianly, which is to say, biblically, about this issue (and not just as Democrats or Republicans who happen to be Christian). So, back to the question. How do we pray for Mr. Obama? Here are some ideas (and I want to thank Al Mohler and Justin Taylor for many of these thoughts and words) for praying for our new President, Barack Obama.
First, it needs to be said, that we ought to commit ourselves to pray for our new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We will do this, not only because of the biblical command to pray for our rulers, but because of the second greatest commandment “Love your neighbor” and what better way to love your neighbor, than to pray for his well-being. Those with the greatest moral and political differences with the President ought to ask God to engender in them, by His Spirit, genuine neighbor-love for Mr. Obama.
We will also pray for our new President because he (and we) face challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. We will pray that God will grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together.
We will pray that God will protect this nation even as our new President settles into his role as Commander in Chief, and that God will grant peace as he leads the nation through times of trial and international conflict and tension.
We will pray that God would change President Obama’s mind and heart on issues of crucial moral concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.
For those Christians who are more concerned than overjoyed about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance that as our President, Barack Obama will have God-given authority to govern us, and that we should view him as a servant of God (Rom. 13:1, 4) to whom we should be subject (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, again, we are to pray for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to thank God for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to respect Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).
For those Christians who are more overjoyed than concerned about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance of our ultimate allegiance: Jesus is Lord (and thus, He, not we, decides what is right and wrong), we serve God not man, and the Lord himself has promised to establish “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:18). Thus, where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God’s purposes to triumph over our President’s plans and policies.
Without doubt and whatever our particular views may be, we face hard days ahead. Realistically, we must all expect to be frustrated and disappointed. Some now may feel defeated and discouraged. While others may all-too-soon find their audacious hopes unfounded and unrealized. We must all keep ever in mind that it is God who raises up leaders and nations, and it is God who pulls them down, and who judges both nations and rulers. We must not act or think like unbelievers, or as those who do not trust God.
So, now, Christian. Let’s get to work. And pray.
Ray Ortlund, Jr., who will, Lord willing, be with us for Clarus ’09 in May, is the author of a number of great books, including When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today. Yesterday, Bob Kauflin posted some wonderful summaries and quotes of Ray’s book:
Hindering the Blessing of the Spirit
We cannot trigger a divine visitation on our churches, but it is our responsibility prayerfully to offer our Lord a church steeped in the gospel and tenderly responsive to his presence. His Spirit’s blessing should not have to work against the logic and ethos we create. (17) Does my church function with a logic or ethos that hinders the blessing of God’s Spirit? Are we dependent on technology, manipulation, creativity, or our own giftings to effect change in people? Are we steeped in the gospel and tenderly responsive to his presence? Or do we emphasize what we do and barrel through our plan, hoping some good will come from it?
Settling into Routine
We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, “This is God.” We pour it out into our lives, and we say, “This is the Christian Experience.” (41) Do our lives reflect the power, wonder, glory, love, and holiness of the living God? Do we downplay people’s expectations of knowing Jesus Christ?
God is Patient, Not Us
We must not think of God as a cosmic miser, reluctantly parceling out meager blessings. Instead, we should think of ourselves as constantly hassling him with endless, rude entreaties. He is astonishingly patient and kind. (55) How often to I assume that when God doesn’t answer my prayers, the problem is with him, not me? How often do I miss the countless ways he has already poured out his blessings?
A repentant church understands that methods are never value-free but always reveal where our trust really lies. (75) It’s “risky” to trust fully and completely in God’s promise to actively work through his appointed means – the preaching of his Word, the proclaiming of the gospel, and the fellowship of his people (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 11:26; Mt. 18:20).
The Proof that the Spirit is With Us
So what is the proof that the Spirit is being poured out on us? The voice of the church rings with prophetic clarity. The people of God are no longer passive, intimidated, unresponsive, uncertain. They are no longer preoccupied with self, convenience, comfort. They are no longer complaining, whining, griping. Instead, they become outspoken in God’s praises and gospel truth, “declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). (87) To turn us from self-exaltation to Christ-exaltation, from self-focus to Christ-focus, is a true mark of God’s presence in our midst.
Active, but Not Alive
The church is to be set a part by spirituality. Revival triggers a firm rejection of the foolish devices of carnality firing up the engine of the church and a joyous rediscovery of the awesome power of simple, biblical spirituality. The revival of a dead church occurs through spiritual awakening granted by God, not through our programs and devices. If a church is invigorated with other animating forces, it may be active but it is not alive. (120) May God protect us from having the appearance of life in our churches and ministries – activities, programs, busy-ness, full schedules – and no true life, which can only come through the gospel and the power of God’s Spirit.
What are You Expecting?
God is not limited to our past experiences, our traditions, or what we think the church’s next step should be. We must leave room for divine mystery, for surprise. God never acts our of character but he does exceed our expectations. (31) What are you expecting God to do in and through your life this year? Are you anticipating that you might be surprised?
Ray Ortlund, Jr. is the Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville and blogs at Christ is Deeper Still
Bob Kauflin is a Worship Leader guru and blogs at Worship Matters
Regardless of your politics, regardless of who got your vote, I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to give thanks to God for what it means that this country now has an African American in its highest office.
In his inaugural address today, President Obama said this:
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled.”
These are pregnant words indeed. So much more could have been said about the historical background that makes this inauguration so remarkable. We should ponder that today. We should recall, or possibly even research, some of the stories and statistics of blacks being captured, sold, trafficked, enslaved, beaten, and killed in this country. We should remember the gross evil that was in this country when a “right” to enslave a man based solely on color was defended even unto civil war (and the deaths of 620,000 therein). We should remember that Rosa Parks not giving up her seat to a white man was a cultural shockwave just over 50 years ago. We should recall that segregation wasn’t merely a cultural phenomenon then, but a political one under the Jim Crow laws: separate drinking fountains, separate waiting areas, separate schools, separate places to eat were law in most states. And this was in my father’s lifetime.
I don’t know such days except for books and movies. But however I have learned or will continue to learn of such history, I cannot allow myself to feel like it is distant history. It is not.
There’s a lot behind the tears of African Americans standing on the National Mall in Washington DC today. It’s a duty and a privilege for me to understand what’s behind them (as best as a white, 34 year old male can), and join them in giving thanks to God for these remarkable days.
So go find someone who knows American history better than you; find someone who knows what the segregation of the 1950s was like, and ask them to tell you some stories of what they saw. Go get a new book from the library or bookstore; watch Amistad or Mississippi Burning; do some surfing on the web to recall forgotten details or learn new ones about the story of race in our country.
But then don’t forget to move your reflection from this story to The story. The story of redemptive history doesn’t ultimately rise and fall on American politics and culture. He uses this or that story for His redemptive purposes, but He is unfolding a hope which is far beyond the scope or ability of any human institution or ideal. In fact, the reality of His kingdom alone can give enduring hope amidst the worst atrocities — in days of legalized slavery and in days of legalized abortion. Even when it seems to the contrary, Jesus is putting all things under His feet (1 Cor 15:27); He is reconciling all things unto Himself (Col 1:20). In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white (Gal 3:28). In the New Heaven and the New Earth the wolf and lamb will lie down together; a boy will put his hand into the den of a cobra without fear (Isa 11). What are these but pictures of unthinkable, unparalleled peace. It is the peace of a new creation and a heavenly country. Our King and His kingdom have long been inaugurated; we only await the consummation. It is coming. And when it does, we — with a multitude which no man can number, from every tribe and kindred — will weep with holy joy that the day has finally come.