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What Should Christians Be Known For? Quote From “Jesus Outside The Lines” By Scott Sauls

friend-of-sinnersWhen I ask people, “What is a Christian?” they don’t usually respond with words like love, compassion, grace; usually they describe a person who’s anti-something. Jesus was not primarily known for what he was against. He was known for serving people who had needs, feeding people who were hungry, and giving water to the thirsty. If we [Christians] were known primarily for that, then we could cut through so many divisions…Christians often have a bad reputation. People think of Christians as uptight and judgmental. Odd, I thought, that [our version of Christianity] has come to convey the opposite of God’s intent, as it’s lived through us. (quote from Philip Yancey)

I think we Christians should listen humbly, thoughtfully, and carefully to people who express their misgivings about us. Somehow in our efforts to “speak the truth” we have too often forgotten about the love that God intends to undergird the truth. We have forgotten to let our speech “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] ought to answer each person.

Jesus was offensive to smug, judgmental, religious people. He was a breath of fresh air to broken, nonreligious people. Can the same things be said about his followers today? If not, what are the reasons why? Why are there still people who think that “Christian” and “anti-something” are one and the same? P. 82

Looking to do something big for God?

I was chatting on the phone this week with Marty Sweeney, Executive Director of Matthias Media Ministries, about working to develop a culture of discipleship within the local church. One of their resources for helping discipleship to flourish is called “The Course of Your Life.” During the conversation Marty asked me to look at page 126…

We are often tempted to think that the next big thing God wants us to do involves a grand plan of some sort; that if we’re going to contribute to the work of his kingdom it will mean signing up for something at the church, or putting on an impressive event that you invite lots of people to. And these things are all good.

But truthfully, the next step is a person-because that’s how it happens: one person at a time. That’s what we talked about during the intensive. The next step is for you to prayerfully consider who you could shepherd towards maturity in Christ by prayerfully speaking God’s Word to them in some way.

I do believe that many of us are missing what God wants to do in and through us because we are waiting for the next big thing to be involved with. What if the next big thing was a person that God has already brought into your life (home, church, neighborhood, workplace, school)?
 

23 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Preaching: Communicating In An Age Of Skepticism” By Tim Keller

Ministry of the Word is much more than preaching

It is dangerous, then, to fall into the unbiblical belief that the ministry of the Word is simply preaching sermons. As Adam says, that will “make preaching carry a load which it cannot bear; that is, the burden of doing all the Bible expects of every form of ministry of the Word.” No church should expect that all the life transformation that comes from the Word of God (John 17:17; cf. Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:18-20) comes strictly through preaching. I shouldn’t expect to be shaped into Christlikeness even by listening to the best sermons. I also need other Christians around me who are “handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) by encouraging me, instructing me, and counseling me. I also need the books of Christian authors whose writings build me up. Nor is it right to expect that those outside the church who need to hear and understand the gospel will be reached only through preaching. I myself found faith not through listening to preaching and speaking but through books. (Is anyone surprised by that?) We must beware of thinking the Sunday sermon can carry all the freight of any church’s ministry of the Word. P. 5

preaching tim kellerWhat does it mean to preach the word of God “in its fullness”?

At the time Paul was writing, the only Scripture to preach from was what we now call the Old Testament. Yet even when preaching from these texts Paul “knew nothing” but Jesus-who did not appear by name in any of these texts. How could this be? Paul understood that all Scripture ultimately pointed to Jesus and his salvation; that every prophet, priest and king was shedding light on the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King. To present the Bible “in its fullness” was to preach Christ as the main theme and substance of the Bible’s message. P. 15

Jesus is the resolution of every plotline

Classical rhetoric allowed the speaker inventio-the choice of topic and the division of the topic into constituent parts, along with elaborate arguments and devices to support the speakers thesis. For Paul however, there is always one topic: Jesus. Wherever we go in the Bible, Jesus is the main subject. And even the breakdown of our topic is not completely left up to us-we are to lay out the topics and points about Jesus that the biblical texts itself gives us. We must “confine ourselves” to Jesus. Yet I can speak from forty years of experience as a preacher to tell you that the story of this one individual never needs to become repetitious-it contains the whole history of the universe and of humankind alike and is the only resolution of the plotlines of every one of our lives. P. 16

Creating life-changing sermons

So this is the Christian preacher’s power. This is how to deliver not just an informative lecture but a life-changing sermon. It is not merely to talk about Christ but to show him, to “demonstrate” his greatness and to reveal him as worthy of praise and adoration. If we do that, the Spirit will help us, because that is his great mission in the world. P. 17-18

Culture’s deepest longings can only be fulfilled in Christ

To reach people gospel preachers must challenge the culture’s story at points of confrontation and finally retell the culture’s story, as it were, revealing how its deepest aspirations for good can be fulfilled only in Christ. Like Paul, we must invite and attract people through their culture’s aspirations-calling them to come to Christ, the true wisdom, and the true righteousness, the true power, the true beauty. P. 20

A good sermon is not like a club

A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37). P. 21

Biblical accuracy and Christocentricity are the same thing

Remember that biblical accuracy and Christocentricity are the same thing to Paul. You can’t properly preach any text-putting it into its rightful place in the whole Bible-unless you show how its themes find their fulfillment in the person of Christ. Likewise, you can’t really reach and restructure the affections of the heart unless you point through the biblical principles of the beauty of Jesus himself, showing clearly how the particular truth in your text can be practiced only through faith in the work of Christ. P. 22

Preaching with genuine spiritual power

According to Paul you can preach with genuine spiritual power only if you offer Christ as a living reality to be encountered and embraced by those who listen. This means to preach with awe and wonder at the greatness of what we have in Christ. It means to exhibit an uncontrived transparency, showing evidence of a heart that is being mended by the very truth you are presenting. It entails a kind of poise and authority rather than an insecure desire to please or perform. So your love, joy, peace, and wisdom must be evident as you speak. You should be something like a clear glass through which people can see a gospel-changed soul in such a way that they want it too, and so that they get a sense of God’s presence as well.

How do all these things happen? They all happen as we preach Christ. To preach the text truly and the gospel every time, to engage the culture and reach the heart, to cooperate with the Spirit’s mission in the world-we must preach Christ from all of Scripture. P. 23

6 reasons why expository preaching should be main diet of preaching

Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true. This approach testifies that you believe every part of the Bible to be God’s Word, not just particular themes and not just the parts you feel comfortable agreeing with.

…that a careful expository sermon makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself.

Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community. Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. You set out into a book or a passage intent on submitting to its authority yourself and following where it may lead.

A related reason is that expository preaching lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well. It helps preachers resist the pressure to adapt messages too much to the culture’s preferences. It brings you to subjects that you would rather not touch on and that you might not have chosen to address, since some of the Bible’s positions-on subjects like sexuality-are so unpopular right now. Expository preaching only encourages you to declare God’s will on such matters and also forces you to find ways of addressing and handling tough issues publicly.

A steady diet of expository sermons also teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles, how to think through a passage and figure it out. Exposition helps them pay more attention to the specifics of the text and helps them understand why different phrases mean what they so within the story line of the Bible. They become savvier and more sensitive readers in their own study.

As we saw, sustained expository preaching keeps you away from pet themes and gets you into a greater range of passages and subjects. Yet it should also lead you to see even more clearly the one main biblical theme…if you do this week after week (expository preaching) you will discover the main story line of the Bible-the gospel of Jesus itself. P. 32-38

What is expository preaching?

…to stick to the passage chosen and to set forth exclusively what it has to say or to suggest, so that the ideas and the principles enunciated during the course of the sermon plainly come out of the written Word of God, and have its authority for their support rather than just the opinion…of their human expositor. (quoting Alan M. Stibbs) P. 44

What needs to be in every sermon

Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and only Jesus can. P. 48

Avoiding legalism and antinomianism

It is crucial in our preaching that we do not simply tell people all the ways they must be moral and good without relating such exhortation to the gospel. Nor should we simply tell them over and over that they can be saved only by free grace without showing how salvation changes our lives. P. 51

Two ways to read the Bible

There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done? P. 60

Preach Christ from every genre of the Bible

He (Jesus) is the hope of the patriarchs. He’s the angel of the Lord. Then go to Exodus through Deuteronomy. He’s the rock of Moses. He’s the fulfiller of the law-both the ceremonial law, because he makes us clean in him, and the moral law, because he earns the blessing through his perfectly righteous life. He’s the final temple. Now go to the history of Israel after Moses. He’s the commander of the Lord’s host (Joshua 5). He’s the true king of Israel-indeed, he’s the true Israel. He fulfills everything Israel was supposed to do and be. Now look at the Psalms, the songs of David, in which Jesus is the sweet singer of Israel (Hebrews 2:12). Then go to the prophets, and there he is the promised king (Isaiah 1-39), the suffering servant (Isaiah 40-55), and the world healer (Isaiah 56-66). Go to Proverbs and find that he is the true wisdom of God. To those who are being saved, the cross is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). P. 71

David, Goliath and Jesus

If I read the story of David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then it is really about me. I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I think of the Bible as being about the Lord and his salvation, and if I read the David and Goliath text in that light, it throws many things into relief. The very point of the passage was that the Israelites could not face the giants themselves. They needed a substitute, who turned out to be not a strong person but a weak one. And God uses the deliverer’s weakness as the very means to bring about the destruction of Goliath. David triumphs through weakness and his victory is imputed to his people. In his triumph, they triumphed. How can one not recognize Jesus in this story? P. 84

Is expository preaching outdated? A response to Andy Stanley’s argument

Andy Stanley argues that biblical expository preaching worked in a time when our society agreed on the importance and truth of Scripture. That does not work now, he believes. Instead of starting with the Bible and ending with practical application-as in the traditional sermon-we should start with a current human need or contemporary question and then bring in the Bible for a response and solution.

…It isn’t true that Bible exposition developed only in an age where everyone was Christian. Hughes Old shows that expository preaching was the norm during the first five centuries of the church’s life, at a time when the society was not merely non-Christian but often virulently anti-Christian. Preachers did not begin with a contemporary problem and bring in the Bible to address it, though perhaps that would have followed the prevailing rhetorical wisdom of the time. It is therefore wrong to conclude that expository preaching belongs only in an a Christian-affirming society. P. 95-97

Quoting non-Christian people or sources in our sermons  

We can discern several things that Paul does in pursuit of persuasion. He uses vocabulary and themes that are familiar, not obscure. In his speech in Athens, for example, Paul describes God in ways that many pagans could accept (Acts 17:22-23, 24-28). He quotes authorities that his listeners respect. Of course he cites the Bible when speaking to Jews or to Gentile “God-fearers” or to converts to Judaism. But when addressing the philosophers on Mars Hill he quotes Aratus, a pagan author (Acts 17:28). Paul always chooses “elements of contact”-points of actual agreement of some of the audience’s concerns, hopes, and needs. P. 100

The gospel is the solution to every problem

The gospel is not just the means by which people get converted but also the way Christians solve their problems and grow. The typical approach to the gospel is to see it as the “ABCs” of Christian doctrine only, the minimum truth required to be saved, the admissions test, the entry point. Then it is understood what we make progress in the Christian life through the application of other (more advanced) biblical principles. If that were the case, then of course we could not do both evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time. Yet the gospel not only is the way we are saved but also is always the solution to every problem and the way to advance at every stage in the Christian life. P. 119

Change happens by feeding the imagination new beauties

Whatever captures the heart’s trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior. What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable. It is all-important, then, that preaching move the heart to stop trusting and loving other things more than God. What makes people into what they are is the order of their loves-what they love most, more, less, and least. That is more fundamental to who you are then even the beliefs to which you mentally subscribe. Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do. People, therefore, change not by merely changing their thinking, but by changing what they love most. Such a shift requires nothing less than changing your thinking, but it entails much more. So the goal of the sermon cannot be merely to make the truth clear and understandable to the mind, but must also be to make it gripping and real to the heart. Change happens not just by giving the mind new arguments but also by feeding the imagination new beauties. P. 159-160

We must always show how Christ is better, more fulfilling

If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. It means they have not understood what it means that in Christ we have all the riches and treasures. They may subscribe to this as a doctrine, but the affections of their hearts are clinging to material things, finding them more excellent and beautiful than Jesus himself. They may have a superficial intellectual grasp of Jesus’ spiritual wealth, but they do not truly grasp it. Thus in preaching we must re-present Christ in the particular way that he replaces material things in their affections. This does not simply take rational argument and doctrinal teaching-though it does indeed include those; it also requires the presentation of the beauty of Christ as the one who gave up his riches for us. P. 161-162

Challenging cultural narratives

In our individualistic Western culture people live in the illusion that their hearts are the product of their own conscious decisions, but in fact their inner desires and questions have been shaped profoundly by their time and place. They are much more what the culture has told them they are than what they have decided to be. Good contextual preaching appreciates yet challenges cultural narratives and norms and helps people see things that are invisible to them but that control them. So contextualization can be quite liberating. P. 166

Maybe you have been delivering Sunday-school lessons, not sermons

We have said that the sermons may be nothing but good lectures until we “get to Jesus,” at which point they often move from being a Sunday-school lesson to being a sermon. P. 179

What does it look like to preach from the heart?

  • You preach powerfully. You will have poise and confidence, striking a note of authority without swagger, without any indication that you enjoy authority for its own sake. You will not be insecure or nervous. You have confidence in your material and will not try to please or perform.
  • You preach wondrously. There will be unmistakable awe and wonder at the greatness of the One you point people to. It is evident to listeners that you are “tasting” your salvation even as you offer it to others.
  • You preach affectionately. You exhibit an unselfconscious transparency devoid of artifice. This doesn’t come by telling personal stories about yourself; it comes only from having had a broken heart mended by the truth of the gospel. You can’t fake that.
  • You preach authentically. One paradox of preaching from the heart is that it bypasses all of the counterfeit mannerisms and emotional affectations that preachers have learned to adopt and that listeners have come to expect. Your language and tone of voice will be simple and unaffected.
  • You preach Christ-adoringly. When you describe Jesus, you aren’t reciting facts or abstractions but enacting a vivid presentation of him. Many hearers will feel they can almost see him, so they cannot help but admire and worship him.

Feel overwhelmed? Me too. However, a key to developing these traits is not to directly try to have them. Instead, glory in your infirmities so his power may be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). P. 206

P 213 begins the Appendix which outlines a step by step process for putting together a good sermon.

What would have happened to the church if Paul had been easily offended?

Paul’s motives and reputation were frequently questioned. He was despised by many in the religious community. He had people fall asleep and die while he preached. Received a number of death threats. Constantly criticized. Then there were all the physical sufferings that Paul endured; 39 lashes, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, falsely imprisoned, attacked by angry mobs, bitten by a viper, etc…

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. -Colossians 1:24

As we read Colossians 1:24, we are hit between the eyes with a gospel two-by-four. Paul is actually rejoicing in his sufferings! We truly need to stop and recognize how unique this type of response is when it comes to dealing with trials. How did Paul do it? How can Paul actually rejoice in being offended and suffering?

apostle paul

Rembrandt’s Painting of Paul

First of all, I believe Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew they were a part of everyday Christian life. Many of us live in a culture of incredible comfort and have come to believe that life will always be easy. If life is not easy, we conclude, something must be wrong. Time to take a pill or have a drink. Or, perhaps, we just distance ourselves from others. Protect ourselves from future pain. Paul knew that hard times were a part of life and therefore his faith was not shaken when he experienced them. In fact, in Philippians Paul says that suffering is actually a gift that we receive from God. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” -Philippians 1:29

Second, Paul knew that being “in Christ” guaranteed suffering would never be far from his path. Dying on a daily basis is gonna hurt, it is part of having our life hidden in Christ. All too often we want people to say what we want to hear. Here is the truth. We simply can’t do ministry if we refuse to suffer or deal with being offended. We have to know that even the best of people will sometimes hurt us and we should be quick to forgive them (Ephesians 4:26-27). Another thing to consider, when we continually run from suffering we run from the redemptive work that God wants to do in us and through us.

Third, Paul was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the church. In the second half of Colossians 1:24 we read, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...” In an age where Christians talk about church being optional we could learn a lot from Paul’s willingness to die for the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to take a break or rest for a season. There have been plenty of times where I have needed both. But we do have to be on guard for the spiritual or emotional wound that never seems to get any better. This means that something is blocking the healing work the Spirit wants to do in our lives.

What are you doing with your anger? Bitterness? Fear? Pride? How long will you disengage from ministry because you have been offended?

How can God use the pain to help you minister to others in a new way? How can God grow you through the heartache?

Our inspiration ultimately comes from knowing that Jesus, although deeply offended by our sin, continued to pursue and love us. May we keep a soft heart as we continue to reach out to others with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Praying Like Paul

header-pray-girl

[9] And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [10] so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. [11] May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, [12] giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. [13] He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)

  • Paul begins by stating that he never ceases to pray. (v. 9)
  • This is a prayer that is focused on the good of the church. (v. 9)
  • When Paul prays for them to know God’s will it is probably different than what we first think. Douglas Moo explains, “What Paul has in mind is not some particular or special direction for one’s life (as we often use the phrase “God’s will”), but a deep and abiding understanding of the revelation of Christ and all that he means for the universe (vv.15-20) and for the Colossians (vv. 21-23).” In other words, Paul is praying that these Christians would grow in their appreciation and understanding of the gospel. (v. 9)
  • Paul is praying that once their hearts and minds are filled with the knowledge of Jesus that they would be empowered to walk in such a way in daily life that pleases God the Father. (v. 10)
  • Paul prays that the Colossians would bear fruit. He does not want them to be learning just for the sake of learning. Paul wants their knowledge of Jesus to change the way they live everyday life. (v. 10)
  • Paul prays that they would be strengthened with all power, power found in the gospel. (v.11)
  • Paul knows that life is hard which is why he prays that the they would have patience and endurance. Yet Paul does not want them to merely survive life, he wants them to be filled with joy! (v. 11)
  • Paul knows that true joy does not come from how well life is going or from our circumstances. Paul prays that they would experience joy that comes from who Christ is and what he has done:
    • Christians have been given an eternal inheritance with the saints. (v. 12)
    • Christians have been delivered from the domain of darkness. (v. 13)
    • Christians have been transferred to the Kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus. (v. 13)
    • Through the cross Christians have been purchased/redeemed from slavery and forgiven all of their sins. (v. 14)

It is a prayer that is immersed in the glorious truths of the gospel and it is focused almost exclusively for the spiritual good of the brothers and sisters that make up the church at Colossae.

Praying this prayer for my New Life family all week long.

Death By Conference

crowdsI bet lots of leaders have left Christian conferences and silently wrestled with this thought the entire way home, “I’m just not gifted enough to make this happen.”

Maybe it’s the fact that the only speakers at the conferences are leaders of churches the size of small countries. Maybe it’s all the over-hyped success stories that are shared. There are a combination of reasons why many conferences make the average, normal kind of leader feel so inadequate. I can admit that perhaps the number one reason for the post-conference blues I feel is due to my overactive sin nature.

I know I’m in a much better place these days when it comes to discerning what I should seek to emulate and what needs to be put in the trash bin on my way out of the conference. Here’s why.

The main thing a church should be focusing in on is making disciples. Jesus reminds me that large crowds have little to do with fulfilling the Great Commission.

I recognize that my value and worth comes from who I am in Christ. I always “knew” this, but now I actually feel it and live in it.

I mute or delete those who use social media to always highlight how everything is wonderful where they do ministry. I prefer to deal in reality.

Lately I have been experiencing a much greater sense of peace (thank you God). I’m a pastor. I like being a pastor. It’s who I am. I enjoy spending time with people and getting to know them personally. The pressure to be known and to make a name for myself comes from only one place, the devil.

I still plan on attending conferences. The difference now is I feel as if Toto has pulled aside the curtain and I can see more clearly the humanity behind all the lights, sounds, smoke and false images.

Is hospitality the most overlooked qualification for an elder?

I recently posted an excerpt from Tim Chester’s book  “A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table”. To make it simple, it was all about the importance of hospitality. That got me thinking. Why don’t we hear much talk about hospitality when it comes to the qualifications of elders?

It’s not that hospitality is never mentioned in Scripture.

1 Timothy 3:2, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”

Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Titus 1:8, “…but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.”

1 Peter 4:9, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard someone ask this question in regards to a person being qualified as an elder, “Does Jim open up his home to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to strangers?”

Why? Here are a few of my hunches…

  • I believe the fact that we don’t talk much about elders living lives of hospitality reveals that we honestly don’t value it very much in our churches or in our leaders. This is a rather obvious deduction to make but I think it is helpful just to be painfully honest.
  • We think of an elder as a leader who oversees what happens inside the church building. We are living under an old, unbiblical paradigm whereby ministry only happens in the church building or during a programmed event.
  • We may see our homes exclusively as a refuge from the world, not a place of ministry.
  • We think hospitality is a spiritual gift that someone else has and therefore we are off the hook.
  • Hospitality is not even on our spiritual radar because we have not seen someone model it for us.

To reach our culture with the love of Jesus Christ we are going to have to embrace the biblical mandate to live as people of hospitality.

Your thoughts? What are some other reasons you think hospitality is undervalued in our churches? What can we do to change it?

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