Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some things that contribute to making a good sermon

I often reflect upon what makes a good sermon, not only because I sometimes preach but because I also hear a lot of other sermons.
I have already spoken of failures in preaching by looking at the book 'Why Johnny can't preach' but here I want to draw together a few biblical principles and some practical observations about what contributes to a good sermon.

First and foremost, apart from prayer and reading carefully the text, I would say that the preacher wants to consider the passage before him in careful detail. This means taking account of the meaning of the words in the verses, what the background of the passage is and it's grammatical context. So as the preacher does his homework on the passage, he is asking if there are some things that are not clear here, or whether there is some doctrine being addressed here, and implications arising from that and so on. But what is kept in mind and this is the major point I am making here, is that in your study of the passage and preaching of it, it is not enough merely to read out the verse and assume everybody understands what is being said there. As we read in Neh 8:8 the scribes read the verses, making it clear and gave the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
What is then required in giving their meaning is to understand the verses in their immediate context and to the original hearers. We must not just jump to some application we think arises from the passage for us today. Indeed we must teach the people of God what the passage actually means by showing what it meant to the original hearers.
As a practical consideration here, so many Commentaries fail to clearly indicate the argument being put forward in a passage, or what the point being made is and how the surrounding context reinforces that point. Many go into great detail as to the meaning of words but fail to show how it all contribute to the point being made in the passage. I am not talking about application here but the meaning of the passage. I have found that John MacArthur's "commentaries" actually are a good example of a commentary that helps you understand the words in a verse but also how it contributes to the point being made. They are not technical commentaries I suppose, as they could be better described as expository sermons dealing in depth with the passage, but they are indeed helpful.

A second but I believe related point to this endeavour is for the preacher to "rightly divide the word of truth" as Paul says in 2 tim 2:15. some translate it "correctly handle the word of truth". Most commentators point out here that it is highlighting the important role Timothy has in teaching God's Word, yet I think Gordon Fee is probably more accurate when he puts the words in their context of standing against the false teachers who are quarreling about words. Now this does not mean that the meaning of the words of Scripture aren't important. He is not saying we must have unity at all cost so don't quarrel about words. Elsewhere Paul tells us elders are to refute error, so it cannot mean that Paul is telling Timothy just to ignore what is going on. Indeed the prior verse Paul instructs Timothy to warn them about quarreling about words. Chapter 3 is a lengthy onslaught against the false teachers and Paul lays out for all how certain people in the Church have been targeted by them. As Fee points out, Timothy is to stand against their error, but his disposition is to be markedly different to that of the false teachers. This will result in, as chapter 2 tells us, that he is not ashamed, unlike the false teachers, because he correctly handles the word of truth, and that is the kind of workman you are to be.
And being such a workman is hard work!
As Homer A Kent Jr says on this passage:

"Simpson says 'it enjoins on every teacher of the Word straight forward exegesis.' There must be discernment between the various subjects taught in Scripture: salvation and service, the Jew and the church. Interpretation and application must be clearly treated. Attention must be paid to the dispensing of the word, the use of wisdom and tact.The Holy Spirit will guide God's workman, but there is latent here much need for precise and earnest labour."

Do I achieve this? Am I good at this? I do not consider myself a great preacher, but I do put in the hard work and try to follow the above principles so that I too will not be ashamed!

Perhaps you have other points your could add to those above. Why not share them with us.

God bless,

Responding to harsh criticism

I found the article by Tim Keller on how to deal with criticism, and how John Newton has helped him respond in godly ways a helpfull reminder in times like ours..
I would only add that when criticism comes your way, also ask your spouse what they think and also other close godly friends whether you have over stepped the mark or done wrong.

have a look
God bless

Friday, December 18, 2009

The importance of Context in interpreting the Scriptures

In the book "Scripture and Truth" edited by D.A Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Carson makes the wonderful comment that speaks to the importance of considering the context of a passage.
Regarding Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord'. As the heavens are higher than the earth ( now that has implications for Science doesn't it ? - gw ) so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Carson says "The context makes it evident that the categories do not concern competing logic systems or the like ( as though God operates by a different logic system than man - gw ), rather they are essentially moral. The previous verse exhorts 'Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts' Isa 55:7. Man's thoughts are to be bought into conformity with God's thoughts not by abandoning logic but by repentance."

Now there's something to mull over - perhaps we could use it when we gather together to Praise Him and Hear his Word and minister to one another.
In Christ,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Climate Warming - is it hysteria or should we be careful?

I have many questions about the whole global warming scenario. Is the hysteria a wake up call or should we be a little more aware of what stands as evidence and the part of motives of the people involved?
It seems to me that pseudo science is offered at times to induce people to accept massive political and power changes to our societies than are warranted. Al Gore's "An Incovenient Truth" seemed one of the more extreme in this tale, and it certainly requires discernment and careful analysis of the evidence along with the underlying unstated presuppositions which are most of the time left out of the discussion and presentation of the "evidence".

Irrespective of which way the evidence leads I for one believe that Christians ought to look after their environment. We are not to abuse it, rip it off, but care for it and I see this as rooted in the creation mandate of Genesis 1. See my blog on this.

However one place to consider are the people over at The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

One of their articles has the following nifty little poem which struck my fancy.

A doctor fell in a deep well
and broke his collar bone.
The moral: Doctor, mind the sick
and leave the well alone.

This famous poem arrives, though somewhat absurdly, at a good moral: Tend to the sick, not the well. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” We should examine the debate, science, and economics of global climate change in light of this principle, arriving at a responsible course of action.

Debate: “The time for argument is over,” say countless environmentalist politicians. “All the scientists agree.” But is there really a consensus in favor of anthropogenic ("man-made") catastrophic global warming theory? Not a chance! Marc Morano, of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently published the report, ”More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims.” So much for “consensus.” Besides, as Copernicus, Columbus, and others have demonstrated, “consensus” proves nothing (except, sometimes, where the money and power are).

look up the rest of the article and ponder what it is saying.

In Christ,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Culture Wars - Catherine Millet

Cultural wars – Catherine Millet
The French writer who has made her sexual promiscuity public in her books has to some degree shocked the literary and art world. It’s most likely dismissed by Christians as being exhibitionist and immoral however we do well to see what is actually going on here in her writing and more so in her life which is a lived out world view. Let’s be frank here, her writing is pornographic and in that sense detestable from our perspective of the Christian Worldview, but let’s go further and see how her worldview stacks up under an internal critique, using her own words and experiences – does it still hold together as a worthwhile system? [1] It's at this level that the cultural wars are to be fought as a Christian, no in slanging matches or in fearful ignoring of what is going on around us.

She seems to me to be the child of Kierkegaard and Sartre and Camus, those existentialists who threw out reason and objective Truth and took on subjectivity as the arbiter of right and wrong, good and bad. Truly you see in her actions and attitudes that all that matters is the experience. As with Kierkegaard, all that matters is personal experience, and no ones else’s “truth” invalidates mine because it is mine, and theirs is theirs. Yet such subjectivism and individualism must I think devolve into mysticism, where the irrational triumphs over the rational and people are alienated from each other more and more.

Observing this MacArthur says of such a system, what I call this existential worldview, that it has no integrity. “Those who espouse it cannot live with the repercussions of their own illogic.”[2]

In practice a man cannot totally reject [ rationality ], however much his system leads him to it, unless he experiences .. some form of mental breakdown”[3]

And this I believe is exactly what you see in the life of Catherine Millet. The above observations by MacArthur and Schaeffer indicate for us what we might expect as ramifications for Millet’s Worldview.

Her writing, especially as found in her ‘The sexual life of Catherine M’ has found wide readership being translated into 40 languages and selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. It depicts her proclivity for sexual encounters with whoever, where ever and whenever, even attending orgies, all the time whilst married to Jacques Henric who himself knew what was going on.
As she says in one interview:

The sensation that one was glorying in this unbelievable freedom, this transcendence. I look back on it with nothing but pleasure. It was important to me, to my identity, my ego, but it wasn’t an addiction.”[4]

No it wasn’t an addiction but a worldview where she is the ultimate authority on right and wrong, good and evil. Where she determines what is right for her. It reaches almost the status of religion where above she says the so called freedom was an experience of “transcendence”.[5]
What really rocked her world though was when she found out her husband had himself been having affairs all the way along. His unfaithfulness “knocked her sideways; she describes being unable to sleep or breathe; suffering wild fits of rage, feeling her heartbeat falter. At times she was banging her head against the wall.”

As Francis Schaeffer referred to, she is finding herself below the line of despair, which is where the existentialist with his worldview is.

It is the moment of crisis because no man is an island. They exist in community and the fundamental community is that of God and family. Where one has friendship and trust and love with the opposite sex within the plan of God, within marriage. Where is intimacy when one lives as a self-determining authority? Where is integrity when you set the standards only for yourself and others determine their own standards? What we have in Catherine Millet at this point is the clash of her worldview with reality. That she is hurt, feels cheated and ignored is not surprising for the Christian who understands that sexual encounter is far more than a physical encounter, it is the becoming of one flesh as God in His Word proclaims. Elsewhere she proudly proclaims that the sex act is like an empty pocket [6] into which people put different things, like love as in “if you love me you’ll..” or even money or as in her case “pleasure” or so she claims but her anguish expressed above and the beating of her head against the wall reveals that she is really in denial. She is as Romans’ 1 tells us suppressing the truth about God, and one of the results of this is abandonment to abnormal sex where true passion and pleasure are destroyed.

What I find interesting is what seems to be prevalent today in out society of doing what’s right in your own eyes, of being the self-legislators of “truth” does not end up satisfying people. That even whilst searching everywhere in ways like this there is still for many a deep hunger for social relationship, for community, and more so with one special person, where love and intimacy and acceptance will be found. No matter how far people rebel against God and run, they are left only in despair and loneliness and loss of intimacy which themselves point to the reality that they are the absolutes they have abandoned in their rebellion against God.

I am not recommending you read Catherine Millet’s book, indeed I wouldn’t want you to because the language is so explicit it’s demeaning. Rather I want you to see that she is like so many others who run from God and attempt to make themselves the arbiters of Truth only to end up in shallowness and a world lacking intimacy and worth and love.

I would also hope that in God’s Grace she might hear of the good news of the gospel message that alone can release people from such bondage.

your brother in Christ,

1. Some see her work as porn as the new art, but I have no interest in arguing against that view here, but rather the more important question of whether such a worldview implodes upon itself into despair.
2. John MacArthur ‘Reckless Faith’ Crossway Books 1994 pg 27.
3. Quoted in MacArthur ‘Reckless Faith’ pg 27.
4. Mind Games by Jon Henley ’Life’: The sun-Herald Magazine Dec 6th 2009 pg 21
5. Mind Games by Jon Henley ’Life’: The sun-Herald Magazine Dec 6th 2009 pg 21

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unity in the Faith -

Unity is such a buzz word and rightly so. It does and should urge us to seek a fellowship which is God's body gathered together to serve Him and each other. A place where people have community and care for one another.
But what makes the local church different from a R.S.L or a golf club where people meet together and enjoy each others company?
The local church is different because Biblical Unity is always based upon Truth. It's never mere emotionalism or desire or having a common goal.
Paul in Philippians 4 pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other, to be likeminded. Yet the likemindedness spoken of here has to do with "in the Lord". There is never an injunction in the Scriptures to "Unity at all cost", Unity requires discrimination.
Indeed in Philippians, as the great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones pointed out,

they are exhorted "to stand fast in the Lord" Just like he'd exhorted the Corinthian Church "to stand firm in the faith" 1 Cor 16:13 Similarly, Phil 1:27 "Stand firm in the one spirit". All these suggest the same thing. To stand firm in the Faith"
Here is not unity at the expense of Truth, here [ there ] is no unity with those who deny the deity of Jesus.

Martin Lloyd Jones speaks of the issue of unity in the context of the ecumenicalism of his day. One is to stand fast in the the Lord and that is to stand fast concerning the truth of the Lord.

We need to remember that when Paul speaks to Euodia and Syntyche that these are fellow Christians, those he speaks of in 4:3 whose "names are written in the book of life." They are the opposite of the dogs of Philippians 3:2 who all are to be on guard against. These two women are not false teachers riling against reach other but fellow saints whom he pleads with. As our passage tells us "they are in the Lord" yet their quarelling with each other is detrimental to fellowship and so Paul pleads with them to stop.
What we can say then from our passage is that these two were not arguing over some doctrine, some teaching of God's Word. If they had been we would have expected rightly for Paul to exhort the elders at Phillipi to correct their errors or where they lacked in teaching and urge them to be reconciled. Or if they had been two eagerly checking out what the other claimed Scripture said against Scripture, then I expect Paul would have applauded then as Acts 17 might suggest regarding the Bereans. Of course if that endeavour was being unkind and not seeking the others good then I believe he would have surely rebuked them about that, but I don't think that their problem was grounded in a dispute over Scriptures teaching, and that's why Paul pleads with them to stop and be likeminded.

What more can we learn from God's word to us about Unity here? Perhaps you might suggest something?
your brother in Christ,