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Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

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“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;”

– 1 Thessalonians 4:1

 

One of my friends says that he, who has been in church all his life and saved for most of it, always tries to pay attention to gospel presentations during sermons, because it is so good to be reminded of these truths, to agree with them still, that we are great sinners undeserving of our Great Savior, who is nevertheless our Redeemer, Friend, and King.

 

Many of my friends, and I am often among them in this, feel that when speaking happens at church gatherings, it is rarely that satisfying, thought-provoking, insightful teaching that we long for.  We are honestly bored, and also get this puffing feeling that others might need the simple and lowly instruction offered in these messages, but we are beyond that.  I still see this in myself even though it has been some years since I realized that not all speech in church ought to be intended to teach (1 Corinthians 14:26).

 

In the New Testament, it is shown that there are multiple speaking giftings to be used for building up the Church.  Among them is teaching.  But there is also prophecy, exhortation, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, tongues and their interpretation.  In Hebrews, when we are commanded not to forsake assembling together, this comes as part of an admonition to consider one another to stir up love and good works, and that when we gather, we are to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Paul tells Timothy to “Preach the word! …Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching,” and also to “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”  This seems to have been a model in at least some synagogues at the time as well, that after reading from Scripture, they offered a time where those present could offer exhortations to the congregation (Acts 13:15)

 

John the Baptist, the great prophet, “with many other exhortations, preached to the people.”  Judas and Silas, prophets in the book of Acts, “exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.” (Acts 15:32) Prophecy, though sometimes an otherwise unknown revelation including foretelling and rebuke, is sometimes associated with timely and relevant exhortation: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” (1 Corinthians 14:3)

 

When we read Paul’s letters, he often says that the congregations that are recipients of his letters have already been instructed, and do not need a repetition of the lesson.  But he still speaks to the topic.  Why?  I think it is likely that Paul was exhorting them.  Peter explicitly says, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding [you],” (2 Peter 1:12-13)

 

What is exhortation?  First the Greek, parakaleo, often translated, besides “exhort”, as “comfort”, “encourage”, and “beseech”.  The English dictionary defines “exhort” this way: “strongly encourage or urge someone to do something”.

 

I know for me that I need reminded.  I benefit a lot from hearing people agree that doing the right thing is worthwhile.  “[B]ut exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) So I want to receive exhortation, not being discontent because I hoped for a stimulating teaching, but rejoicing that I am in company with people who support me in good works, good words, and good attitudes.

 

Jesus exemplified this in His letters to the churches, as dictated in Revelation (chapters 2-3). Not much of it is introduction of new doctrines or ways of doing things.  He is, rather, comforting them with encouragement about what they are doing well, and pleading for them to do what they know to do.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“For example, the Bible doesn’t really talk about preaching in church.  What did it say?  When you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a prophecy, has a tongue.”  Everyone shifted uneasily in their seats.  “This passage and others tell us that it is only the men who stand up and speak in church.  Women should ask their fathers or husbands if they have questions.  I’m talking about changes.  Changes not only here on Sunday mornings, but in your life during the week.  We all know how many questions women have.  We’re going to have to make time during the week to listen to those.  And men, we may not always have the answers.  We may have to do some personal study to find them.  But you know, I believe it will build your families.  I believe God knew what He was doing when He gave that instruction.”

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Do you ever sit in church or a Christian gathering and just think the devotional or sermon isn’t really necessary? The songs said it all, or the fellowship, or the Scripture read all by itself? Last week in church I was content to meditate on the Scriptural basis and beautiful hope of We Will Dance by David Ruis. If you’ve ever studied wedding ceremonies in Bible times, you may have some concept of the joy and purity involved. Fortunately, similar ceremonies are making a comeback.

“As one of the men selected to officiate in the ceremony, I had the glorious, ringside seat to the very first romantic kiss in the life of both the groom and the bride. This is now the fourth or fifth time in my life that I have had the privilege of watching such a ‘first kiss’ as an officiating minister to a wedding ceremony. Here are my conclusions:

“First, these beautiful kisses are worth ten thousand sermons. They are an antidote to the cynicism of the age. They are instructive and inspiring. They give hope to mothers and fathers, young men and ladies, and the children we hope will also grow up in purity before the Lord. We are all better off as a community of saints when a pure woman marries a pure man. Our job as parents, elders, friends, and relatives is easier, because of this godly example.”
~
Vision Forum reporting on a wedding of their friends and associates

At an Awana conference last year one of the students did a dramatic recitation of a chapter of Daniel. Sometimes a sermon will begin with the reading of Scripture. I wish they would just keep reading. Josh Harris dedicated a large portion of time to reading from 2 Timothy in his address at the New Attitude conference, Humble Orthodoxy.

All this to say, sometimes it’s ok if there isn’t the four point, alliterative outline and the illustrations, or even biblical exegesis. In fact it can be frustrating when a relationship-building conversation is interrupted at a fellowship event by a pastor or spiritual “leader” who feels obligated to give a short (pastor speech for under an hour) devotional talk (“talk” is supposed to be the non-intimidating word for sermon). Michael Card writes about the living parables, which Jesus demonstrated – as recorded frequently in the Gospel of John. Lessons are often more impacting when they are personal, and lived out.

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(duplicate of the theme page listed at the top and side of ChurchMoot)

I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.
Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of
what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers.  We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church.  He’s the head man.  I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project.  Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers.  My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.

2) Property.  This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex.  Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes.  Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.

3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching.  Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church.  No one was scheduled to speak.  Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons.  I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God.  When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere.  At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by.  So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church.  I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church?  Is it important?  Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority?  How much should we submit?  What shall Christians do for evangelism?  Wouldn’t it be better to team up?  But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them?  Are women to be silent in the church meetings?  If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

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“If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister…” In verse 23 we see several aspects of the function of the Church.

  • The Church is made of individuals, who are continuing in the faith (by which alone we are saved).
  • In that faith individual disciples are grounded and settled.
  • The Church is not moved away from the hope of the gospel.
  • The gospel is heard.
  • The gospel, note, provides hope.
  • The gospel is heard because it is preached.
  • Paul was made a minister of the gospel.

This is the first mention, in the passage about Jesus, of His servants.  Up until Paul’s introduction mankind is only the recipient of grace.  Has anything changed?  Is Paul commending himself as offering some importance to God? “Who [Paul] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God…” No.  Paul sees even suffering in ministry as a cause for rejoicing.  He describes his calling as a dispensation, a giving from God.  He serves and suffers for the sake of the Church.  Note that Paul of the Church (from among?) was made a minister of the gospel. “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…” Whenever Paul talks about “the mystery,” he is talking about the Church, specifically the fact that grace and glory and salvation are offered to all men, not only to the Jews, and that even people who were once enemies are united in Christ, in one Body.  Saints are all believers, not only Jews, not only the miracle-workers or great teachers.

“Whom [Christ] we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.” Christ is the focus of the preaching. But who is the “we”?  Paul makes a distinction near the end of the chapter, only in verse 28, of saying “we.”  We are the saints, the Church, the body, those in whom Christ is. It is all of us, therefore, who preach. The Church needs to be warning every man and teaching every man.  Christ’s Body must be wise that we may teach in all wisdom. Our object is to present every man perfect (grown up, complete) in Christ Jesus. Then Paul switches back to a personal testimony, saying that these are his goals though he only accomplishes them because God is at work in him.  But take heart.  God’s work is mighty.

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