I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.
July 23, 2015
July 14, 2015
Something a little different today…
This is rather uncharacteristic, but today I want to highlight the preaching ministry of Rev. Charles Price, former Principal of Capenwray Bible School and for the last 15 years the pastor of The Peoples Church, Toronto. This was recorded at Landsdowne Church, a Baptist congregation in Bournemouth, England. The video was posted last month and has only had a handful of views. I’d love to be instrumental in changing that. Not every one of my readers will have the 35 minutes for this, but those who make time for this sermon on Philippians 4 will be well-rewarded.
It also seemed appropriate to include this classic Graham Kendrick song, for reasons that are apparent if you watch the whole sermon.
March 18, 2015
March 14, 2015
Don’t miss the bonus short takes at the bottom.
The Pastor in the Larger Community – This is one of a series currently running at Pomomusings: “…I thought it was some Christian youth thing, but found out it was a free community event that was requesting people to give five minute presentations about something they were passionate about. Liking microphones and sharing my passion it was a perfect fit… That night, in a community space surrounded by people I didn’t know, most of whom didn’t go to church, many of whom didn’t want anything to do with church, I gave a presentation about changing the perceptions of Christians in the public square, suggesting that we weren’t all like Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson, and that some of us were open to having conversations, not to convert people but to learn from people. That event sparked several relationships that expanded my role as pastor to a part of the community that I would never have had access to in the church.”
‘Amen’ is Now Replaced by Applause – “No congregation should be faulted for wanting to make some sort of response in a service of worship. Worship in many places needs more of that. But applause is known in virtually every other context as affirmation for performance. Thus, the question: is applause during worship our best choice to affirm what is happening? …Applause is a way of saying ‘We like that,’ or ‘You did a good job.’…One isn’t required to declare what is said or sung as the truth. One isn’t required to put the weight of one’s character behind applause. …When a prayer ends with the Amen of the congregation, we are saying ‘That is my prayer too,’ or ‘I own that as the truth.’ That seems to me more potent than applause that says, ‘I like that,’ or ‘Nice going.'”
If Jesus Addressed the U.S. Congress – “Jesus is introduced. (Standing ovation.) He stands before Congress and begins to deliver his speech. ‘Blessed are the poor…the mourners…the meek.’ ‘Love your enemies.’ ‘Turn the other cheek.’ After a few perfunctory applause early on, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of squirming senators and uncomfortable congressmen. The room would sink into a tense silence. And when Jesus concluded his speech with a prophecy of the inevitable fall of the house that would not act upon his words, what would Congress do? Nothing. They would not act. They could not act. To act on Jesus’ words would undo their system… In the end, the U.S. Congress would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate…” An excerpt from A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd.
Four Sermon Types You Don’t Want to Preach – Sample (#3) on the type of sermons which seem to best serve to reflect the pastor’s seminary education: “The sermon sounds like a lecture because it is a lecture. It titillates the intellect, but fails to minister to the affections. Its delivery even (perhaps unintentionally) suggests that only the few—those endowed by special wisdom and insight—can possibly be trusted to understand what the Bible says.”
Meditations, Devotions and Prayer Books, Oh My! – Starting with My Utmost for His Highest, Publishers Weekly looks at the devotional book genre both within and outside a Christian context and finds things trending toward shorter readings, while customers choose the books for visual appeal. Also noted: “‘Religion books in general are somewhat insulated from the digital shift,’ says Andrew Yankech, business development manager for Loyola Press. ‘But prayer books in particular tend to be print-focused because readers are more often than not seeking a respite from the pressures of the daily grind, and that includes modern technology.’ At Loyola, Yankech says, the sales ratio of print prayer books to digital ones is 10-to-one—’or higher.’ The figures at Harvest House tell a similar story. Of its top 10 nonfiction e-book categories, devotionals have the lowest percentage of sales in e-book format, with e-book versions accounting for just 6% of total sales for all devotionals.”
Why Didn’t They Just Book a Last-Minute Substitute? – “They canceled the retreat because I am a Mormon. My initial response was shock. After nearly a year of planning this retreat, they’re canceling now? For this? (And how could they not know from a two-second Google search that I am Mormon? It’s not like I’ve tried to be stealthy about my faith. I co-wrote Mormonism for Dummies, for heaven’s sake.) But any shock and anger I felt soon dissolved into pure sadness. What a thing. These people are willing to sacrifice all the effort and expense they’ve put in to planning this retreat (yes, I am still getting paid since I did all the prep work) because they’re just now noticing the Scarlet M emblazoned on my chest. The organizer told me that the church leaders had determined that I was not an ‘appropriate’ person to be a leader at a Christian event. She sounded sad about it too.”
Preparing Yourself to Minister at a Funeral – “Just when you think you have seen it all—the next funeral reveals you haven’t. Even if you have seen fights break out, arrests made, uncontrollable wailing, family members and pallbearers fainting, caskets dropped and knocked over, shouting conflicts between families and funeral directors, or funeral attire that would make most people blush, these experiences do not mean at all the next funeral will fit these experiences. Because of this, prepare to see anything. Prepare to get the craziest response to something you say. Prepare to watch families at their worst. This will allow you to think clearly and wisely when the unexpected happens.”
Lysa TerKeurst on Rejection Letters – Today she hardly needs a link here to point people to her writing, but it wasn’t always that way. “…I hung my head, got into my car, and drove to my local bookstore. I saved up all my tears until I was smack dab in the middle of thousands of other books – thousands of other writers who’d received a thumbs up to their dreams – thousands of other people with evidence that their writing mattered – and I sobbed… Sometimes callings from God unfold in a miraculous instant. But more often callings happen within a million slow moments of revelation and maturation. I needed to experience God revealing Himself and maturing me so I could properly handle the Truth I would eventually write and speak about…”
High Praise for Faith-Focused Film – On Confessions of a Prodigal Son: “I didn’t have high hopes that this would be a cinematic masterpiece, and it wasn’t. However, when the end credits rolled, the lights came up, and Spiers spoke on his concerns about the final product, I had to agree with him when he said that his fears of making a stereotypically-bad faith film weren’t realized… In fact, it was actually good, and for several of the reasons that such films usually fail. [Director Allan] Spiers’ experience as a documentary cinematographer translates well into the narrative genre by giving Confessions a simple but realistic visual setup whereas most faith films try to imitate a grand Hollywood style and fall embarrassingly short.”
- Need a daily push to get you reading the Bible? Follow the Twitter feed for Bible Munch. They just finished the entire Bible (in Daniel) and are restarting as of Wednesday (with Matthew.)
- After 50+ years advocating for the developmentally handicapped, L’Arche founder Jean Vanier wins the $1.7M Templeton Prize.
- The late Donna Douglas, better known as Elly May Clampett, went out on a spiritual high. Note the spiritual depth in this prayer.
- If you’re looking for some book recommendations on titles you might otherwise miss, check out Panorama of a Book Saint where Dr. Conrade Yap has reviewed over 750 releases.
- Classic Jesus Music song “Sunday Morning” by Evie is now available on YouTube.
- The Men’s Breakfast Group Missions Trip, a story I wish I’d written.
- This turned out to be a year old, but check out these thoughts from a 19-year old who didn’t rebel…
- …which brings us to a website that recommends Christian books for teen girls…
- …Girls who hopefully won’t go to the Life Center Church in Panama City, Florida which is running a nightclub with some risqué activities. The church’s tax-exempt status is now in question.
Finally, now we know what happened to the dinosaurs:
March 11, 2015
March 10, 2015
Take your Bibles and turn with me to…
In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.
Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.
“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”
And at that, we were done.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…
I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.
Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…
Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.
But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…
After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.
But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…
We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.
I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.
But of late the opportunities have diminished.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…
Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.
It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…
February 27, 2015
It only takes one or two conservative bloggers to write something against a particular pastor or author and quickly, and all their many acolytes jump on the bandwagon. It was such with Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker, though few of his critics had ever bothered to read his earlier works, or, as the criticism continued, his new book The Grave Robber which is nothing more than straight commentary on the miracles in John’s gospel.
I noticed over the past week that North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia has become the most recent target. I have followed Andy’s sermon series to the point where I can safely say that there is not a sermon that he has preached in the past six or seven years (or however long the streaming site northpointonline.tv has existed) that I have not heard. I believe I can offer an informed opinion based on a high degree of intimacy with where he is coming from.
While I believe he needs no defending I wish to offer what follows.
1) You cannot preach the whole compendium of Christianity in a single sermon.
Anyone who tries to isolate a particular theme in scripture from the larger picture, and then pretend that it represents the entirety of Christian doctrine would be foolish. So when Paul speaks in Philippians about adopting the attitude of humility, you could try to extrapolate from that the idea that Christianity consists merely of walking with a humble attitude as Christ did, and you would miss other themes such as his divinity, the need for repentance, the atoning work of Calvary, the second coming judgment, etc.
You can try to work everything in to your weekly sermon if you wish, but your preaching will become repetitive, and you won’t leave enough time to really grow your people in different areas. Each of the epistles and each of the minor prophets has a particular emphasis; and while it’s helpful to see the Christological features of a particular book, it’s not helpful it appears forced.
2) Veteran Christians are in emotional bondage to certain words and phrases.
It was Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey who first pointed this out to several of us. He had just preached a long sermon where he passionately referred to “the Kingship of God,” and then as people were leaving took some criticism from a woman upset that he had never mentioned the sovereignty of God. Sovereign and King are the same thing in my dictionary, but because he didn’t use the right words, she wrote him off.
In the rush to condemnation, many critics have an imaginary checklist and as preachers use certain references they award approval. (Right now “gospel” is worth five points for the initial use and three points for each additional usage; “ESV” is worth six points.)
3) Sometimes it takes a fresh analogy.
I believe the purpose of Jesus’ parables was in part to restate truths in a fresh way. In my own discussions with people about a particular issue, I’ll speak about the way I believe God intended us to live, and then borrowing a computer term, I’ll suggest we need to ask God to help us “restore default settings;” i.e. return to the original design.
I don’t believe for a minute that anyone doing this on a regular basis is departing from orthodoxy any more than translating the book of Mark into Swahili is an affront to the original Greek text.
4) The best local church preaching is contextual.
There is a clash of objectives that takes place when a local church puts their sermons online for the world to watch. For that reason I’ve heard that a handful of churches are opting out of media pages on their websites. The sermons were preached in a single location at a particular time for a unique group of people.
Andy Stanley has an interesting demographic thing going on right now at North Point. You see it reflected occasionally in the testimonies of people being baptized, but it really needs to be the subject of a whole other article than we have space for here. Suffice it to say that in the current sermon series where he is speaking about “the Temple model,” he is really addressing the problem of religion in a way that mostly avoids the R-word; and he’s doing this with a particular hearer in mind. Perhaps it’s just one person, that one person coming from a place in life where this approach resonates, and then it is being expressed to a larger audience.
5) It doesn’t get more exegetical than this.
The complaint is often that ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches have topical sermons, but as I watch Andy Stanley working his way through passages on a phrase-by-phrase basis, what I see is a very old-school style of teaching — you can easily visualize people marking their Bibles — being offered with freshness and passion. Last Sunday’s message (the fourth in the series) had six specific passages (they’re posted for reference before and after the sermon) of which at least a couple went into great detail.
But before I dismiss this, why are we still hauling out this ‘seeker sensitive’ label? That’s so 1983. Survey results at North Point among people attending five weeks or less shows a desire on the part of many to go deep and jump into service. The people who show up and brave the traffic congestion at the various North Point sites in greater Atlanta are not necessarily doing this just to fill a spectator role. (Study results at Willow Creek also confirm this.) When you castigate the church with a pejorative use of the ‘seeker sensitive’ adjective, you’re really demeaning very sincere people who hunger after more of God. The problem is not that some churches are seeker-friendly; the problem is that too many churches are seeker-hostile.
6) Listeners are encouraged to come back for more.
There is a classic story of Dwight L. Moody opting one week not to give an altar call, which proved to be the week before the Chicago Fire in which many perished. The story is told to encourage pastors to lead people to a point of decision on a weekly basis.
While the imperative of the gospel is “choose today who you will serve,” and “now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation;” odds are that an Atlanta fire will not consume the city in the week to come. The whole point of a sermon series is to build toward a conclusion.
The first Sunday of any of the North Point series is intentionally introductory. But the final Sunday often ends with the band playing the 21st Century version of Just As I Am, or some song that leads people to a point of decision and taking next steps. I don’t believe it’s fair to isolate any particular messages without looking at the whole.
7) We often misunderstand the role and power of sermon.
I’ve written before about how ideally, Evangelicals need to see sermons through a sacramental lens. Compared to Roman Catholic or Mainline Protestant churches, we place greater emphasis on the message than the ‘liturgy’ which proceeds it in Evangelical churches, and we do sometimes pray that through the teaching of the word, ‘we will leave here different than when we came in.’ So we need to preach for change.
But we also have to understand that this sometimes takes place over time. Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.
For those reading this, ask yourself: What was last Sunday’s sermon about at the gathering you attended? Some might have an answer; many might have forgotten.
8) I believe Andy Stanley crafts his sermons with the criticism anticipated.
There are times I’ve listened to a North Point sermon and it has struck me that Andy is saying something in a certain way in anticipation of criticism or misunderstanding. Obviously no one wants this. He works to make identification with conservative Evangelicalism, while speaking its truths to those who are new to the doctrinal and theological concepts.
Thankfully, the ministry that I believe God has raised up at North Point has operated in such a way that many of the complaints and accusations brought against other large churches just don’t stick; in fact their Christian Education program has been a model for churches around the world and their track record on charitable giving has been exemplary.
That people miss these obvious signals and forge ahead with criticism I believe says more about the critics than the one being targeted. The survival of many ‘watchdog’ or ‘discernment’ ministries hinges on always having fresh targets and their followers thrive on all the negative messaging.
All this to say, I encourage you to check out the series Brand New at the website brandnewseries.org .