Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Advice for Listening to Preaching (Part 4)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. The Bible calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a spiritual discipline or a means of grace. Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If preaching is a means of grace, how can everyday Christians be equipped through listening to the preaching of God’s Word?

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First, be prayerful to prepare your heart to hear God’s Word. Most Christians do not pop out of bed in the morning excited to hear a sermon. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s help. We need to pray to God to give us a heart to hear what we need to hear from the upcoming sermon.

Second, learn how you learn. Some people are classified as audible learners while others are visual learners. Some are active learners while others are reflective learners. While some learn through sequential steps others are called global learners. Learning how you are wired can help you develop proactive strategies to better hear God’s Word.

Third, take notes. The sermon is primarily an audible experience. However, even if you are a visual learner take notes on what you are hearing. Pastors should develop sermon notes and ways for the congregation to fill in blanks. Related, preachers should make the main points clear. However, preachers should not make the note taking too obvious. Sequential learners need to see the flow of thought, but global learners need to figure some things out for themselves. Even if your pastor does not provide sermon notes, everyone learns best with a pen in their hand writing down key concepts as well as notable truths.

Fourth, listening to a sermon and taking notes will require someone to develop their concentration abilities. The success of apps like Tic Tock and the success of TED Talks highlight our generation’s short attention spans. Pray for God to help you concentrate. Make it a game to see how long you can focus. Remember, concentration can be developed.

Fifth, in your mind or on your sermon notes, ask the “so, what?” questions. Educators understand that one of the best ways to motivate students to learn is to quickly show the relevance and usefulness of their lesson. God is communicating through every verse in the Bible, therefore our role is to determine the relevance of the passage. When we are listening to a sermon we need to ask questions like: what do I need to believe, what do I need to turn from, how does this passage convict me, how does this verse encourage me, what does this say about my heart, what does this Scripture teach me about Jesus and his gospel grace? Keep your mind active by discovering how your pastor’s sermon can transform your thinking, emotions, and behaviors.

During the pandemic we have all been reminded of the charge from Hebrews 10:25 to not neglect the habit of meeting together. For a season we had to neglect this habit. However, one of the main reasons we meet together is to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The sermon is meant to be a communal experience. Everyday Christians are designed to come together and collectively hear the Word preached. Together we are to learn and be admonished and encouraged. Together we are to believe and repent. Together we are to remember the good news of the gospel. Brothers and sister, do not neglect the hearing of God’s Word preached. We all need it. It is a gift, a means of God’s grace. I pray your pastor sees you this Sunday with your Bible open and your pen in hand!

 

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Bible, Church, Church Planting, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching as a Means of Grace (Part 3)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see that communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible itself calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 calls us to train ourselves in order to become godlier. However, we have to be careful and not make the mistake of the Pharisees in believing the discipline is the godliness. Christians, unlike the Pharisees, understand spiritual practices are a means to an end. Further, another mistake of the Pharisees was living out their spirituality in their own strength. Moralism, being good or righteous through human strength, is contrary to the gospel. For example, in Philippians 2:12 God calls us to obey and to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” However, he goes onto say in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As a result, not only is godliness the goal of our spiritual habits, but we cannot ultimately do them out of our own strength. Therefore, it is helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as means of grace. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Biblically, we see a series of ways God’s grace conforms people into the image of Jesus. Bible reading is key to spiritual growth. Prayer is a vital means of grace. Ministry and service are also hallmarks of a healthy spiritual life that leads to godliness. However, listening to preaching is also essential. Ephesians 4:11 says that God has given the church individuals gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each of those god-gifted roles requires preaching. Paul goes onto explain the reason God has given us those ministers. He says they are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their preaching is a means of grace to help everyday Christians mature to the point of doing ministry. Like prayer or Bible reading or good works, preaching is a means of grace given to each and every Christian.

As you approach Sunday morning, I challenge you to view the hearing of a sermon by your pastor as a means of grace. God has given you that church and that pastor and that sermon and that moment to mold you into the image of Jesus and prepare you for life and ministry.

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Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching Defined (Part 2)

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preaching the word.” But, what does preaching really mean?

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Definitions of preaching abound. Sadly, due to so much unfaithful preaching, definitions have to be narrowed to Christian preaching as well as expository preaching. A technical definition for expository preaching is needed as well as a simpler more straight-forward one. First, expository preaching consists of a Christian preacher uncovering an author’s intended meaning of a section of the Bible by means of the historical, grammatical, literal (consistent with the genre of the passage) exegesis as well as enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; then structuring a sermon not only built around the central idea of the text but also the structure and thought of the text; then placing the passage within the metanarrative of redemptive history; then interpreting a universal principle which he first applies to himself; and concluding by applying the Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to his audience. Like most technical definitions, that was a mouthful! However, notice the definition includes five key components: exegesis, central idea and structure, metanarrative, universal principle, and application. Second, expository preaching is simply defined as a sermon that explains and applies the passage preached. But, why is it so important for a pastor to explain and apply the Bible?

Churches and pastors should commit to preach the Bible because of the example given to us throughout the Scriptures. Beginning in Genesis 1, we learn that God ultimately creates by speaking creation into existence. His Word (or communication) is what brings life. Another interesting example is the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. God brings his prophet to a valley filled with bones. The bones are so dead they are described as dry. Again, God’s chosen method of bringing life is the communication of his Word. The prophet is told to preach of the dry bones. As a result of his proclamation the bones come to life. In the book of Ezra we read of God’s people rebuilding the temple. We see scenes of God’s people gathering in order to hear the prophet explain and apply God’s Word. As a result, we see a familiar Old Testament phrase that the people are doing things “as it is written” (Ezra 3:2). Faithfulness to the preaching and explanation of God’s Word led to the application of rebuilding the temple.

We also see helpful examples in the New Testament where God’s Word is explained and applied. Between the testaments the synagogue system was established. Throughout the land of Israel buildings were built with the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures then explaining and applying them. Jesus provided us an example in Luke 24 where he appeared on the Road to Emmaus. He walked and talked with two who followed him but strangely do not recognize him. Jesus proceeded to explain the meaning of all the Bible to them. Then, upon hearing his explanations God enabled them to see Jesus. A great example of faithful preaching was Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He explained and applied texts like Joel 2 and Psalm 16 in order to call the crowd to repent and believe. Thousands were born again at the preaching of God’s Word. Finally, we are given an interesting account in Acts 8 that helps us further understand the importance of preaching. The Spirit led Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. The problem was the man needed to do more than just read it because he did not understand it. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”Understanding was what he lacked therefore he needed more than just reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed preaching. Philip proceeded to explain and apply the Bible to him resulting in the man’s salvation.

Again, preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. Communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching for Everyday Christians (Part 1)

It is common to wonder about the role of sermons in the lives of everyday Christians. Why do pastors spend so much time preparing a weekly sermon? Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time in meetings with teams of leaders, counseling the hurting, building relationships with visitors, or discipling young believers? Of course, those are all key aspects of pastoral ministry. However, every Christian should recognize the role of preaching in their lives. Further, they should devote themselves to listening to biblical preaching. Even though we live in an age with multimillion-dollar action movies and TED talks, the weekly sermon in an local church is key to the spiritual growth of everyday Christians. Ordinary believers need to understand the Sunday sermon is grounded in a deep theology of the Word of God. Further, listening to sermons is essential for our spiritual growth. The church also needs a revival in our understanding of preaching as an avenue of grace. Spiritual maturity is linked to our ability to soak up a faithful sermon. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the sermon in our corporate worship as a needed reminder of the gospel.

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2 Timothy 3:16 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” This phrase means God’s Word comes from inside of him. This truth is the ground for the biblical doctrine of inerrancy. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) is the origin of the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. All four documents explain the Bible is truth “without any mixture of error.” The reason his Word cannot be mixed with any untruth is that only truth is found inside God. The Bible, therefore, is truth.

2 Timothy 3:16 builds on this idea to explain that because Scripture is from inside God and thus truthful it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As truth “without any mixture of error” the Bible is useful. Specifically, the Bible is beneficial for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God provides his Word for us to learn doctrine. We need to know it theoretically in order to apply it practically. Speculation leads to application. His Word is how God chooses to reprove or convict. We perceive our sin as sin through Scripture convicting us. Therefore, the Bible corrects or makes straight what was crooked. It shows us the way we should go. As a result, it trains, educates, and disciplines us to live according to God’s way. The pathway to righteousness is through the Bible. The end result is that the Bible equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preach the word.”

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Bible, Church, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Thankful for R.C. Sproul

Yesterday an evangelical giant went to be with the Lord. Like many in my generation who have sought faithfulness to the Scriptures, yet also needed substantive answers to genuine questions, as well as longed for a passionate spirituality I found refreshing water in the teaching of R.C. Sproul.

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My first experience with Dr. Sproul was through the book “Holiness of God.” As a young man struggling with youthful sins his book was a needed weight that buckled my sinful flesh under the gravity and majesty of God’s holiness (Exodus 33:19-23). I not only heard God’s call to righteousness (Leviticus 11:44) but also saw its beauty (Isaiah 6:1). Last year our small group leaders used to classic book to apply God’s holiness to our church’s spirituality.

From that book I have spent years digging through Ligonier’s exhaustive catalogue on topics ranging from the Bible to theology to apologetics to church history and to the spiritual life. There were times when I was struggling to find answers to questions in my church, but found them in the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Many in my generation were marked by the cynicism of grunge music, but then found hope in substantive ministries like Ligonier.

Now that I am teaching every week I find my research leads me over and over again to articles and sermons founds at Ligonier.org. The content is always faithful to the text, accessible, and and insightful. The videos, sermons, articles, and lectures on that site are a lasting gift to the church.

When my soul was weak I found strength in R.C. Sproul’s teaching. When my mind was troubled I found truth in R.C. Sproul’s exposition of the Bible. When much of the teaching in our churches was shallow and running from doctrine, we found the beauty of a sovereign gracious God through the ministry of R.C. Sproul.  Today he is experiencing his reward of dwelling with God while singing with the saints, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). Well done good and faithful servant.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Sola Scriptura: Our Needed Guide

Next year marks the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Castle Church in Wittenberg. I am a Protestant rather than a Catholic for very convictional reasons, thus we celebrate this moment in our history. Our church is not hostile to Catholicism, but we chose to be Protestant due to essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The early Protestants rallied around what became known as the “5 Solas.” “Sola” is Latin for “alone” and these doctrines outline the exclusivity of 5 essential beliefs. This article is the second in a series of articles on the “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation.

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2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This passage describes the quality of Scripture as “profitable.” It also explains the purpose of Scripture: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness/godliness, in order for people to carry out the good works they were created to do. What a tool! However, this passage also explains the source of Scripture. The Bible is not ultimately from humans, but rather from God Himself. God breathed out the Bible from within the core of his being. Protestants believe that God spoke through human authors to give us the Bible. This passage has enormous implications for the Protestant view of Scripture.

 

Protestants view the Bible as inspired by the God. This means we believe the Words of Scripture are the Words of God. Further, we also believe the Scriptures are infallible. The infallibility of Scripture means that in all matters of Christian faith and practice, the Bible is wholly true and useful. We have a distinction between our Catholic friends who believe Popes and even the Catholic Church are infallible. Protestants cannot find verses in the Bible to support the Catholic claims. Further, we believe the Bible is also inerrant. If the Bible comes from a holy God, then it would be a contradiction to claim there are errors in the Bible. God is holy and righteous and thus truthful, thus His Word always tells the truth and is never in contradiction with fact. If one pushes beyond superficiality, we discover that theologians understand this doctrine to apply to the original autographs. This doctrine also leaves room for relative things like grammatical constructions. The key takeaway for Protestants is that we view the Scriptures as the Word of God. God does not lie in little things and thus we can trust Him for all things.

 

You might be thinking, “ok, thanks for the theology lesson, but what does this mean for my life?” Glad you asked! Sola Scriptura means the Bible trumps all other authorities in our life. Sola Scriptura does not claim the Bible as the only authority but the rather the ultimate authority. For example, tradition and reason are authoritative. Wisdom says we ought to listen to those who have gone before us. I should humbly learn from Aristotle and Jefferson. I should cherish the Second London Confession and ancient liturgy. Additionally reason and science are good and helpful determiners of truth. If science says that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, I shouldn’t smoke them and should seek to limit their use.

 

However, we also know tradition and reason have their shortcomings. Slavery was an institution handed down from the ancients. Racism is not a uniquely American problem. It is a historical fact that racism and slavery are human problems. Both are wicked traditions. Further, the historical record shows reasonable and even scientific arguments were developed to justify racism and slavery. Eugenics was viewed by many as an acceptable science and its arguments were used by southerners in the 1860’s, abortionists in the 1920’s, and Nazi’s in the 1930’s! Clearly humans need something outside of us to referee our developed traditions and our attempts to discover truth through science and reason. The Word is our ultimate authority and thus a truly gracious gift from God!

 

The Word is a central biblical theme. In Genesis 1 God creates all that is by speaking it into existence. We read in Ezekiel 37 that the Word of God generates life. We learn that the man after God’s heart is to delight in this Word (Psalm 119:16). Leaders guide the spiritual lives of the people by explaining and applying the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

We celebrate the biblical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura because we need an authority outside of ourselves. Sola Scriptura gives us a needed guide. Sola Scriptura is a sweet grace of God that leads to our conversion. Sola Scriptura also leads to a joyful spirituality.

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Book Review, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

BOOK REVIEW: Spirit-Led Preaching

Ok, ok, I know you might not be a “preacher” but if you are a Christian you need to know how to understand the Bible and then apply it to your life. Also, if you are growing in the Lord, you need to know how to apply the Bible to other people’s lives. Greg Heisler’s little book (only 153 pages) Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery is one of the best books I have read on how to prepare a Bible lesson. It is a worthy read for pastors, but also Elders, Deacons, Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders, and Neighborhood Group leaders.

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Redeemer Church holds a high view of the Bible. All our pastors and leaders hold to the infallibility as well as inerrancy of Scripture. We understand that the Bible is authoritative and thus strive to live a Bible grounded spirituality. These convictions and commitments lead us to embrace the philosophy of expository preaching. With our sermons and lessons we simply try to explain and apply a passage of the Bible. This is how God speaks to us…through His Word.

Heisler is a pastor and preaching professor. He holds our same convictions and commitments. He recognizes and applauds the renewal of expository preaching in the American church. His book does not pit the Bible against the Holy Spirit, rather is a call to “recover the Holy Spirit for expository preaching.” (xvi.) He explains that “the sermon is driven along by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the biblical text” (18). As we prepare a sermon or lesson, we need to do the hard work of biblical exegesis, but we also need to yield to the “illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit” (21). What is so encouraging about this little book is its well-roundedness. It provides a case for the authority of the Bible, for the role of the Holy Spirit, but also the glorious redemptive message for the Bible. Heisler argues, “Christ is the grand theme, the singular message, and the supreme subject of all the Bible” (26). He summarizes his position by stating, “The Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ by magnifying Christ’s teaching, Christ’s gospel, and Christ’s work as the grand fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.” (55)

I normally wouldn’t recommend a preaching book on this blog, but I found it so balanced, helpful, and concise. If you are a church leader, I encourage you to grab a copy.

 

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