Archive for the ‘Asides’ Category

A new day for Expository Thoughts

I have been working on a number of developments lately with Expository Thoughts. Be sure to mark our new page here and to read what we’ve been up to. This site will remain fully searchable but no longer active. Thanks for following us the past six years, I’m excited about this new beginning.

Blessings,

Paul Lamey

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Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I recently read Carl Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  This powerful little book offers some great  insights into various topics including preaching.  Here are a few excerpts from Professor Trueman’s book (republished by Christian Focus Publications).

The sermon: God’s Method

For those, however, standing in the line of the Reformers, humanity, even in its highest natural spiritual exercises, is in a state of utter rebellion against God, and no elaborate string of words, no compelling argument, no passionate speech will ever bring a single individual to Christ.  It is only as those words bring with them the Holy Spirit of God bearing witness to Christ that the sermon becomes adequate to its task.  Thus, we preach, we speak the words of God not because this is the marketing method most likely to appeal to the unbeliever but simply because this is God’s appointed means of coming to individuals and bringing them to faith.  Indeed, precisely because it is so weak and hopeless by the world’s standards, it brings that much more glory to God when souls are saved and lives turned round through this medium.

Of course we must use language with which the congregation is familiar; of course we must be aware that we are talking to people in the twenty-first century and not the sixteenth; and of course we must be culturally sensitive in what we say; but preach we must because this is God’s chosen means of spreading the news of the kingdom.  Preaching is not just a communication technique, and must never be considered as such; it is bringing the very words of God to bear upon the life and needs of sinners and of the congregations of God’s people.  For this reason, if for no other, the sermon must remain central in our worship…..

When preaching fails

Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that the marginalizing of the sermon is evangelical life has led not so much to a collapse in zeal for the gospel – for there are many, particularly young people, who come from churches where preaching is not central yet have an enviable zeal – but has led to a dramatic decline among the laity in knowledge of exactly what that gospel is.  Working with evangelical students, it never ceases to astound me how little some of them know.  Yes, they love Christ and trust him for forgiveness; but ask them why they have confidence that he forgives them or what the cross achieved, and one is often confronted with a reply which speaks about some nebulous experience or feeling which they have rather than a reference to the cross or to covenant promises.

The reason for this lack is almost always their church background: fellowships where great emphasis may well be placed upon a vital and vibrant Christian life but where preaching is at a discount.  The result is that their minds are empty of great Christian truths and their faith has less than fully stable foundations, being built on pious experiences rather than a well-thought-out biblical and doctrinal worldview rooted in the identity of God himself as found in his revelation.  We need to know that we can be confident that God is faithful because of what he has done throughout history, not because we ourselves had some experience at some point in time; and how are we to know this unless somebody tells us?

The preacher’s responsibility

The first thing that a preacher needs to realize, therefore, is the seriousness of the task he is undertaking:  on his shoulders rests the responsibility of giving his people solid rock on which to build their lives; and in preaching, he is moving the divine Word of God from the divinely inspired text through the words of his sermon to the hearts and minds of his people.  He is thus handling, so to speak, the Word of God, something which is both an immense privilege and an awesome responsibility.

He must therefore take care that he gets it right and that his attitude towards the task is one appropriate to its gravity.  As Richard Baxter declared, ‘I preached as a dying man to dying men.’ The pulpit was thus no place for clowning or levity or entertaining his congregation; every Sunday it was a place where, perhaps for the last time, he had an opportunity of speaking to men and women about the great things of God.  We, of course, live in age where entertainment is one of the be-all-and-end-alls of life; but Christianity is always to an extent counter-cultural, and this is one point on which we cannot afford to be anything else.

The preaching ministry is thus something which should not be entered into lightly; nor is the sermon something which either minister or congregation should approach in a light or trivial manner.  The preacher has the responsibility of both expounding God’s truth and of doing so in a manner which confronts his congregation with the awesomeness of God’s greatness and holiness and the vastness of his grace and love.

It takes, therefore, a particular kind of man with a particular calling to perform this task.

Mohler-Stott on Preaching

You can read a very helpful interview between Dr. Mohler and the late John Stott here http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/08/08/between-two-worlds-an-interview-with-john-r-w-stott/

 

 

 

 

Seeker Churches are Alive and ____

….I would not use the adjective “well” but they certainly seem to be very much alive.  I have heard some suggest today that the seeker movement is dead but I have not seen any such signs of numerical decline.  In our small city of 26k the local seeker church is planting satellite campuses all over the area and beyond (see note below). 

How should we 9 Marks, Shepherd’s Fellowship, Bible-centered churches respond to such ‘progress’?  Let’s keep on keeping on (2 Tim 2:15, 2 Tim 4:1-5).  The following two sermons are most encouraging and are highly recommended: http://vimeo.com/10941231 and http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/GTY114_A-Biblical-Response-to-the-ChurchGrowth-Movement?

 

E-note from Keith Boyer http://www.crossroadscn.com/

GIANTS … At our iGNITE event this past Sunday evening we announced the upcoming launch of three new  campuses and their campus pastors …

Vancouver, WA…Sept 18th, 2011…

Winnebago, IL…Sept 18th, 2011…

Genoa, IL…January 2011…

We also announced that Josh and Kim Mauney have transitioned and will be planting a church in Lexington, KY early next year.  Jon (and Brittany) Neal was installed as the new Campus Pastor in Morrison.

 In addition to that, as a result of the vote on the purchase of a facility for a Freeport Dream Center passing by 92%, we will be making an offer on an ideal piece of property in the ideal location for this type of ministry within the next week.

 By God’s leading and grace, we’re taking more land … land that God has promised.  Similar to the Israelites, as they went in to take possession of the promised land, there were giants to be faced and defeated.  As part of our calling to take the land, we become “giant killers” along the way.  Giant killers have a different spirit … a spirit of faith.  That’s what sets them apart.   When facing giant challenges and/or opposition, they say, “We can do this!”

 Like David, their confidence is in the Lord, not in their own skill, talent, ability or genius.  Our confidence in the Lord increases as we reflect on who God is and what He has done.  (1 SAM. 17)  This week’s challenge … make two lists.  On one, list new ‘land’ God wants you to be a part of possessing.  Second, make a list of all God has done for you in the past. After all, God’s faithfulness in the past, gives us faith for the future!  Let’s take the land, for we can surely do it!

The seminaries are too full

The modern university system is bloated, fat, and generally meaningless from the standpoint of both value and return. Nevertheless, everybody figures out a way to go these days. Louis Menand, in The New Yorker, pretty much says the same. So if enrollment numbers are indicative of success then the American university system should be a shining star but we all know that’s not the case. More are going to college than ever before but

“students are increasingly disengaged from the academic part of the college experience . . . The system appears to be drawing in large numbers of people who have no firm career goals but [the universities are] failing to help them acquire focus” says Menand.

Could it be that seminary, as it has been practiced over the last 150 years, has basically done the same? This week the SBC and the General Assembly of the PCA are having their respective national meetings. I have attended both in the past and there will be reports that their various seminaries are flourishing and growing like well-watered weeds. On a side note, I have yet to hear a seminary president say, “we’re doing terrible, stop sending your money.” Could it be that much of the growth reporting centers around a faulty view of ministerial training or worse, an unbiblical view of the church.

It would appear that the exception has become the norm. Rather than seminaries coming alongside the church it is churches that are expected to come alongside seminaries and go wherever the wind happens to be in that generation. If you don’t believe this then inquire as to which board of elders your favorite seminary is directly accountable to. On the positive side there are some schools that are making great strides to get this right. I’m encouraged by what I see with schools like Master’s, Expositor’s, Shepherd’s and ones that I’m less familiar with but admire like Cornerstone.

I think churches have a responsibility as well. Should anyone go to seminary that is not already manifesting some level of ministry gifting and ability in his local church? Churches can adopt some form of criteria to test men before sending them off. A robust apprenticeship program or internship can be a great ministry for local churches and give men time to mature and grow in ministry. On the other hand, we also need to reexamine whether sending men off is good for the church at all. I think this is a sacred cow for many but one worth slaughtering if need be. In this day and age, the seminary classroom can be localized in such a way that men can serve in their local church and still attend class through virtual means. I’m not talking about on-line degree factories but places like The Expositor’s Seminary where like-minded churches host real-time classes with back and forth interaction at the same time on numerous church campuses. On this, seminaries and churches need to think outside the box and I’m encouraged that many are doing this.

I hope visionary pastors and seminary leadership will listen to screeds like this. I for one will rarely send a man off to seminary if I’m convinced we can have the best of both worlds right here in the local church. I would love to continue this conversation so let me know what you think and what options have worked for your congregation.

Relevant preaching….

Relevant preaching must be biblical preaching or it’s not really edifying.

Pastor Jerry Wragg explains:  This kind of “extrapolating” has become the most popular technique of today’s preachers who claim to do Bible exposition. They assert principles from a passage which are then nuanced in clever “hipster-speak” so as to avoid anything “old” sounding. The net result, more often than not, is an imprecise explanation of the meaning of texts, and very little attention given to the ancient context before its present implications are preached. To be sure, all effective preaching exhorts the will of present-day hearers, bringing out the timeless spiritual implications God intends for His people. What is disturbing, however, about today’s trend is that those who most frequently do this seem largely unaware of just how illegitimate their “extrapolations” are at times, and they don’t seem able to discern what led to the interpretive errors. Hermeneutics of this sort are nothing more than looking at a passage in English, finding a familiar theme, drawing out a truth-claim related to contemporary life (usually surrounding some troubling, irritating, depressing, or rewarding part of earthly life), ignoring the cultural, geographical, language, and historical elements of the ancient context, and re-teaching the significance of the passage in the most attention-grabbing, pithy, in-your-face terminology possible.

A recent example may help:

On Paul’s preaching in Athens, one pastor asserted, “Even Paul quoted the two most popular rock stars of the day” (stated as a justification for beginning a worship service with provocative music from a secular band) – Now, Paul didn’t actually quote “rock stars,” but rather the popular poets of the day. Is it wrong to “extrapolate” that the famous poets of 1st century Athens were the equivalent of today’s popular music celebrities? Not necessarily. In fact, if public fame in the artistic arena today is similar to ancient times, no preacher is at fault for illustrating that fact as a way of bringing a more vivid understanding to the context of Scripture. But here’s the problem:

(1) Listeners sometimes miss the crucial distinction between drawing a general parallel for vividness and setting forth the historical and cultural facts of a text. It’s quite probable that without clarification, some listeners would be left with the impression that Acts 17 tells us Paul enjoyed, as a missionary, a steady diet of the secular music of his pop-culture (an unlikely notion wholly without warrant anywhere in Paul’s writings) –

(2) The more serious problem is that this particular pastor was using this “extrapolation” as a descriptive example of how Paul’s personal familiarity with secular pop-culture was used to attract unbelievers to the gospel. The pastor then used this alleged “Pauline technique” to justify playing highly controversial and morally questionable secular music at the beginning of a Sunday service where God’s people gather to worship Him.

So here we have an example of what some, at first glance, may assume is simply a helpful way of communicating the context of the Bible in clever contemporary lingo. When used, however, to justify the intrusion of morally questionable elements into the worship of God’s people it subtly undermines the proper interpretation and legitimate implications of the text being studied. I have no problem using today’s normal vocabulary to teach the truths of Scripture, and every effective preacher works hard to bring fresh, clear, and vivid articulations of all that God’s word reveals. The distinction must be made obvious, however, between using modern-day parallels of ancient things and the actual meaning and implications intended by the author and discovered by careful exegesis. The latter must always govern the former, never the other way around! Preachers today who are quick to pull contemporary rabbits out of ancient hats offer only the illusion of bible exposition. The real truth is found in the intent of the original!

Trembling at His Word,

Pastor Jerry Wragg

Update on my wife

Though this subject has nothing to do with preaching per se, then again it has everything to do with preaching and it has had a massive impact on my ministry. Almost one year ago my still very young wife/mother of four was diagnosed with colon cancer. This last year has been one I will never forget nor would I want to. In short, the Lord has been gracious and sweet to us and we have found that he is good even in the lowest seasons of life. Though I have not enjoyed seeing my wife suffer, we both know that this path has been good for us in ways that words fail to describe.

I share this because many of you have asked about her and have written us throughout the year to tell us of your prayers and concerns. You have no idea how much your letters, emails, and calls have meant to me and Julie. We met with her doctor today and were given the results of multiple tests which confirm that there is currently no presence of cancer. We rejoice in the Lord’s goodness to us and His undeserved mercies which are new every morning. Thank you for your love and your prayers.

Paul Lamey

Huntsville, AL

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