The urgency of the preaching moment

In the front pews the old ladies turn up heir hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year-old a Life Saver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice this week has considered suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high school teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee... The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this moment he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it... Everybody knows the kinds of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them.

Frederick Buechner,
Telling the Truth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977, pp.22-23. (Quoted in The Power of Speaking God’s Word by Wilbur Ellsworth, Fearn, Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.)

Sermon texts for October 2008

As we approached October, I’ve been really excited about our study in Luke and how it is progressing and developing.

As before, take these dates as tentative, since the twins may come at any point!

October 5
Luke 8:1-21 -- The work of the Word
October 12 Luke 8:22-56-- Wonder-working power
October 19 Luke 9:1-17 -- Power to the people
October 26 Luke 9:18-36 -- What it means to be the Christ

Application summary from the Lord's Supper series

As I wrapped up a brief sermon series on The Lord’s Supper yesterday, I thought it may be helpful to summarize the applications, or “answers” to the questions I posed about the sacrament (which were, “what is it?” “when is it?” and “how is it?”):
  • The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal, which means it is a family meal-- thus, it’s not primarily an individual thing, but much more of a group thing, and in a mysterious spiritual way, it is a time of true, living fellowship with God Himself, through which He nourishes our souls with grace.
  • The sacrament is something that we should be devoted to doing: devoted to doing it in the context of worship, accompanied by Word and prayer, because these are the spiritual food that God has given us for nourishment; and devoted to doing it often-- as often as we are able-- because we long to be fed and nourished all the more on the grace of God.
  • The sacrament is something for believers gathered together, not for unbelievers: if we know salvation through Christ alone, we are welcomed through the Gate to take part in this spiritual feast; but if we approach it wrongly-- in an unbelieving way, whether because we misunderstand what the sacrament is for, or because we presume on it meaning that it doesn’t have-- then we are warned of the consequences of judgement being increased on us.

Sermon Texts for September 2008

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Here are the sermon texts for the month of September, with the continuation of the series on the Lord’s Supper, and then resuming Luke.

One thing to note: as we move through the fall (even starting in September, though I certainly hope this won’t be the case then), you should take these published texts with a grain of salt. Chances are, the schedule might change last-minute if Marcie should go into labor and the twins arrive. I’m planning to have some guys in the Presbytery “on call” to pinch-hit for me should I need it.

UPDATE: I made a slight adjustment to the last text.

September 7
1 Corinthians 11:23-34 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 3: How is it?
September 14 Luke 7:1-17 -- Great power and humble faith
September 21 Luke 7:18-35 -- Following a prepared path
September 28 Luke 7:36-50 -- How great is the debt?


Sermon texts for August 2008

In August, we’ll take a little break from Luke after wrapping up the Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount). During that break we’ll work through a three-part series looking at the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

UPDATE: I’ve adjusted the schedule to reflect Bruce Farrant’s sermon from last Sunday.

Here are the texts for August:

August 3
Luke 6:37-42 -- Dealing with others’ faith
August 10 Luke 6:43-49 -- Dealing with your own faith
August 17 Guest Preacher Bruce Farrant-- Proverbs 18:14; 1 Peter 3:15
August 24 Matthew 26:26-30 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 1: What is it?
August 31 Acts 2:42-47 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 2: When is it?

Sermon texts for July 2008

Here are the texts for this month’s sermons. You’ll note that again this month, I’ll be gone for the last Sunday of the month, and a guest preacher will bring the Word for us.

UPDATE: I won’t have a guest preacher on the last Sunday after all.
UPDATE #2: I adjusted the text for this Sunday!

July 6
Luke 6:1-11 -- Sabbath Restrictions? Or Sabbath Freedom?
July 13 Luke 6:12-16 -- Appointing Twelve
July 20 Luke 6:17-26 -- Blessings & Woes
July 27 Luke 6:27-38 -- Love for others

Sermon texts for June 2008

Here are the sermon texts for the month of June. The one exception is the last Sunday; I'll be in South Carolina on that Sunday, so we will have a guest preacher.

UPDATE: I’ve changed my text for Sunday, 6/22.

June 1 Luke 5:12-16-- A Gospel for Outcasts
June 8 Luke 5:17-26-- Spiritual Healing
June 15 Luke 5:27-39-- A Call to Sinners
June 22 James 5:19-20-- Wandering souls
June 28 Guest Preacher: Justin Westmoreland

Sermon texts for May 2008

May brings two significant changes in our preaching schedule: first, we will finish the series on the cross on the first Sunday, so after that we will return to Luke and begin the discussion of Jesus' public ministry. Second, we finish out the liturgical season of Easter, which spans the 50 days following the resurrection, and have Pentecost and then the "ordinary days" that follow. (I'll blog more about these seasons soon.)

So, for the month of April, here are the

5/4/08: Romans 5:1-11 -- The cross and our suffering, the cross and our glory (last Sunday of Easter; "Ascension Sunday")
5/11/08: Luke 4:14-30 -- Setting the agenda for a new community (Pentecost)
5/18/08: Luke 4:31-44 -- Putting his words to work: Jesus and the new agenda (1
st Sunday after Pentecost)
5/25/08: Luke 5:1-11 -- Calling in the next generation of leaders: Jesus appoints his disciples (2
nd Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermon texts for April 2008

As we continue through the series on the cross, we've reached a pivotal point in the series: the first few weeks introduced the prominence of the cross, while the last several weeks have focused on the accomplishments of the cross. Now we reach "the response to the cross" or a study of what life at the foot of the cross looks like. There are five studies remaining-- just enough to complete the season of Easter. We'll cover four of those five in April:

4/6/08: Hebrews 13:11-16 -- The community of celebration
4/13/08: Romans 6:1-18 -- Understanding ourselves through the cross
ANOTHER UPDATE (!): 4/20/08: John 13:3-17 -- Self-denial and self-affirmation in response to the cross
4/27/08: Matthew 5:43-48 -- The cross enables us to love our enemies

Sermon texts for March (updated)

I have been finding such delight in this series on the cross. I hope you have been, as well.

As we approach Easter, I am all the more encouraged as I see how the sequence for these sermons, which was determined by an orderly approach to understanding a theology of the cross (not simply by what message seems appropriate for a certain date), nevertheless is so fitting for this season of our year. As you'll see below, the sequence fits perfectly with Easter meditations (FYI, Palm Sunday is the 3
rd Sunday in March this year, and Easter is the 4th Sunday).

Here are the texts for the month of March:
Hosea 11:1-11-- The price of our sin
Exodus 12:1-28-- God's substitutionary atonement
Galatians 3:21-29-- Salvation for sinners through the cross
Luke 24:13-35-- God reveals himself through the cross (UPDATED 3/17/2008)
Colossians 2:13-17-- Evil is overcome through the cross

Sermon texts for February

Starting this Sunday, I'll begin the series I mentioned last week on the Cross. This series, which will be in 14 parts and will carry us through Easter, will start off with the following messages and texts in February:

2/3: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5-- The Centrality of the Cross
2/10: Romans 3:9-26-- Why Did Christ Die?
2/17: Colossians 1:19-23-- The Accomplishment of the Cross
2/24: Genesis 3:1-24-- The Problem of Forgiveness

UPDATE: This list is a work in progress, since I'm working off of
a planned series of topics instead of going directly through a book. As I study for each sermon, the Holy Spirit is shaping the direction of this series, and a better text may emerge as fitting for future sermons. When I update the list (as I did this morning) I'll bump it up to indicate the change.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I changed the final text for this month this morning; as you see, it is truly a work in progress!

Why I am not an activist

There are a lot of great causes that I think are important. Be they social causes, political movements, efforts for promotion of ideas, many people are involved in many things that give value to our culture and world. Some of them are things that, in another life, I would be willing to step into and personally assign my name to, either in support or in opposition.

But I won't do it. Not now, and not as long as the Lord has called me to serve Him in pastoral ministry.

A Pastor is, by profession and function, something of a "face" for the church, especially his local congregation. In some cases this is taken way too far-- and in almost every case, it is something that Pastors must be diligent to keep in check. They are not the church, or even
in charge of the church, but they are the most prominent leaders in the church. And in many people's minds, they are the face that people think of when they think about the church. This is even more true outside of the church than it is inside it.

Thus, as a Pastor I
must not be an activist. Why? Because an activist puts a priority on something other than the centrality of the Gospel and the faithful teaching of Scripture.

This isn't always bad-- there are times when an issue needs to be the front-and-center concern, and the Gospel's relationship to it must be secondary in that discussion. There are issues of political or social change that the Scripture doesn't directly speak to, and those who try to make the discussion all about the Scriptural principle that indirectly relates only serve to muddy the waters.

(Let me make this disclaimer: I'm not saying that Scripture is insufficient to give guidance for godly thinking and living in all spheres of life; Scripture
IS sufficient for that. But Scripture isn't exhaustive in offering prescriptive conceptual thinking about all issues that face us today, and it is irresponsible to assert that it does.)

Some examples: while Scripture offers help in understanding the concept of just war, it doesn't directly speak to whether a particular war or military action is just. Scripture does discuss the stewardship of our world and environment, but it doesn't offer direct teaching about global warming. And although Scripture speaks to how a believer ought to behave in relation to his governmental officials, it doesn't address whether we should be in favor of states' rights over federalism.

And here's where the divide comes for me, as a Pastor: if my charge is to proclaim the truth of Scripture in season and out of season; if I am to preach, not myself, but Christ as Lord and myself as a servant; if I am to know nothing before my flock except Christ and Him crucified-- if these are what I am to be about, then I
MUST not be an activist. To take an activist position would be to turn my focus away from this charge.

If the church is charged with demonstrating the historical marks of the church-- Word, Sacrament, and discipline-- and only that, then a church must not assume a particular position on an activist cause. And I, as the Pastor and "face" of the church, must not do so either.

Scripture DOES teach a lot about how we might think about social and political issues, and over the course of my ministry (and even over the course of the next year or so) I will address these as they present themselves in Scripture. But I must stop short of waging judgment on particular political leaders, individual social causes, or specific political or social issues (and whether I agree or disagree with them).

I have opinions on them, and I'll even share
some of my observations at times. If I'm doing my job well, however, you'll walk away without certainty about what my exact political and social positions are. That is as it should be-- because I am not an activist, I am a Pastor.

Podcasts I listen to

Not long ago, Lou and I set up his iPod to download our church's sermon podcast automatically (which, by the way, is best done by following the instructions on the Media page). Around that same time, another good friend got an iPod and discovered podcasts, including NPR's excellent Speaking of Faith show. Both seemed interested in knowing other good podcasts to check out, so I wanted to offer this quick guide to some that I enjoy.

First, a quick definition: for those who don't know, a "podcast" is a specialized sort of audio file on the internet that is designed to be downloaded very easily. Sort of like an audio blog, they are set up so that your computer can be notified when there is new content (and can even download that content automatically). If you have a portable music player like an iPod, you might find that podcasts (short for "iPod broadcasts") are a great way to get new content and learn things.

I listen to a pretty wide variety of podcasts. I listen to them while I'm driving to and from the church, on my way to visit someone, on trips, and even while I work out. Here's what's on my iPod. [NOTE: most links will take you directly to the iTunes page where you can subscribe or download samples for free.]

Sermons, Bible Study, and Such
City Church of San Francisco. My friend Fred Harrell is the Senior Pastor at this fine church, and they always have good (and challenging) messages.
Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlottesville, VA. Another friend, Greg Thompson is also an emerging voice in the PCA and one of our best thinkers.
RUF Old Miss (Les Newsom). There are lots of great preachers in RUF; I think Les is one of the best.
Let My People Think (RZIM). Ravi Zacharias, a teacher and apologist, regularly offers new ways to think about familiar concepts.
The White Horse Inn. Michael Horton and friends provide thoughtful discussion about thinking biblically about issues facing the church today.
Mars Hill Audition. Designed to be an introduction to the more regular Mars Hill Audio Journal, Audition is a great sample of the good stuff Mars Hill Audio is doing.

Work-Related Stuff
Mac OS Ken. This brief weekday show gives me a great update on the latest news related to Apple Mac computers and other Apple happenings.
The Mayberry Driven Church. I appreciate the blog that accompanies this podcast frequently; they don't offer podcasts frequently, but when they do, it's very helpful and interesting.
Manager Tools. Anyone who works with people (isn't that about everyone?) should give this one a listen. Practical help and solid advice.
David Allen Podcast. David's "GTD" is a rich set of productivity principles. Occasionally David or one of his execs does an audio recording, and it shows up here. Always useful.

Other Regular Podcasts
The Splendid Table. The cook in me loves this weekly American Public Media production, which is always full of great cooking and baking information and trivia.
Car Talk. Both funny and informative, Tom and Ray have long been a favorite listen of mine; now I listen anytime I want.
The Clark Howard Show. I've never found more practical wisdom about consumer living than with Clark. He's humble, thoughtful, and helpful.

Podcasts I'm Trying Out
Speaking of Faith. Another APM production, this one looks at religion in our culture and discusses it honestly.
News from Lake Wobegon. Garrison Keillor is one of nation's great storytellers, using words in ways that most writers (including me) aspire to emulate.
Lawrence Lessig. Larry Lessig is one of the best presenters today; his podcast is a constant model of presentation goodness.
Cook's Illustrated. I'm smitten with this magazine, and now I can enjoy a video podcast from them as well.

A new series

I recently read a book on the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry by two seasoned Pastors called On Being a Pastor. There were many great lessons from this book (thanks to my friend David Dennis for the book recommendation), and one key take-away was regarding preaching a series.

They commended the practice in general-- and affirmed its value to a congregation. But they also recommended that Pastors take regular breaks from a series, offering a change of pace and direction for a time.
One danger of expository preaching-- especially when we begin-- is the tendency to be too long in one book or subject. Expository does not need to be synonymous with exhaustive and exhausting!
We've been working through the book of Luke since I began at Hickory Withe. While we started with a brief (4-week) series on the Parable of the Lost Son, we've spent every Sunday morning in Luke since October 14! By mid-November, we started with Luke 1:1 and will finish chapter 3 on Sunday. We've studied the foundations of the book, the announcements of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and the events of those births.

We're approaching a natural break in Luke-- in the middle of chapter 4, the end of Jesus' preparation for ministry concludes; starting with 4:14, Jesus begins his public ministry. Luke's account of the public ministry of Jesus continues until chapter 19, where the account of the triumphal entry begins the account of the passion of Christ. Clay Harrington will join us next week, and will preach on Luke 4:1-13-- the last text on Jesus' preparation for ministry. This will be our twelfth week of sermons in Luke, done in sequential order.

At that point, I plan to take a break from the sequential preaching of Luke's gospel, and will begin a new, 14-week series on the cross. This series will carry us through the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter, and is fitting for both. Following that series, we'll return to Luke to begin working through the public ministry of Jesus (though we'll probably take another break down the line before we finish that section of Luke!).

This series will be topical, though most or all of the sermons will still be expository sermons. Here's the plan for the series, week by week:
  1. The cross as central to Chrstianity
  2. What did Christ die for?
  3. The accomplishment of the cross
  4. How forgiveness works
  5. The price of our sin
  6. God's substitutionary atonement
  7. Salvation for sinners through the cross
  8. God revealing himself through the cross
  9. Evil is overcome through the cross
  10. The community of God as a celebration of the cross
  11. Understanding ourselves through the cross
  12. Self-denial and giving of ourselves in response to the cross
  13. The cross enables us to love our enemies
  14. The cross and our suffering, the cross and our glory

Sermon Texts, January 2008

Here is a list of the sermon texts for January, 2008:

1/6-- Luke 2:39-52
1/13-- Luke 3:1-22
1/20-- Luke 3:23-38
1/27-- Luke 4:1-13

Sermon Texts

Lou asked me if I would publish a list of my sermon texts for upcoming sermons. I think this is a great idea-- that way, as you are preparing your hearts and minds for worship in the days prior to Sunday, you might read through the text I'll be preaching on.

Here is a brief list of what I'll preach through in December:
12/2-- Luke 1:39-56
12/9-- Luke 1:57-80
12/16-- Luke 2:1-7
12/23-- Luke 2:8-20
12/23 (evening)-- Matthew 2:1-12
12/30-- Luke 2:21-40

Song from Sunday's worship

One of our members asked that I post the lyrics to the song I sang as my opening illustration in Sunday's sermon. Here they are.

Show the Way by David Wilcox

You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason we should dream
That the world could ever change, you're saying love is foolish to believe
Because there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream, and put the fear back in your life.

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify what's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage to look as if the hero came too late?
He's almost in defeat, it's looking like the evil side will win
So on the edge of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins.

It is love who makes the mortar, and it's love that set these stones
And it's love who made the stage here, although it looks like we're alone.
In this scene set in shadows like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us, but it's love that wrote the play
And in this darkness, love can show the way.

So now the stage is set, you feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life's not over yet, so we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear, we play against the reasons not to try
Playing for the tear that is burning in the happy angel's eye.