A Quick Quote About Expository Preaching

Presenting expository sermons book by book:

1. Allows God and God’s wisdom to set the agenda, not the preacher’s wisdom.

2. Prevents preachers from indulging their hobbyhorses.

3. Allows the preacher to learn along with the congregation, rather than limiting the congregation to what the preacher already knows.

4. Requires a preacher and a congregation to learn about God as God has revealed Himself, not as they want Him to be revealed.

5. Requires a preacher to preach the easy bits and the difficult bits of the Bible.

Jonathan Leeman

Reverberation, Moody Publishers, 2011, p. 118

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A Great Act of Love – Not Complaining

I wonder how many people went around the table to say what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving Thursday, and then complained about the lines at the stores on Black Friday. It seems to me that we have become far too okay with grumbling and complaining about things … ok, maybe that just means I HAVE become far too okay with grumbling and complaining. We think it’s wrong to complain, but feel justified when we have a good reason to complain – “The service was poor, they totally offended me, they should be much more professional than that, those words were so hurtful, etc.” What ever happened to grumbling being a sin? I seem to remember a certain group of people wandering in the wilderness and not too happy with the menu that was being provided for them. They grumbled … and it clearly tells us in Exodus 16:8 that their grumbling was against the LORD. In essence they were saying, “You aren’t giving us what we want, You aren’t enough for us, You don’t give good gifts … we’ll take our business somewhere else Mr. Yahweh God.” It’s called idolatry, and we still do it today … every time we grumble. I think I’ve become too comfortable with grumbling in my heart, it’s one of those “acceptable sins” that everyone can identify with so nobody really thinks is a big deal. I’m just saying – It IS a big deal. It’s unbelief, selfishness, and sin! Philippians 2:14 isn’t a suggestion or helpful piece of advice, it’s a command – “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Yikes! A grumbling heart is not a loving heart, which is not a rescued-from-death heart (1 John 3:14), which is not a Spirit-filled heart, which, yes … is not characteristic of a saved heart. I don’t think that means everyone who complains is going to hell, but I do think it means those who have been loved by God with His great love will work hard at practicing loving others … even the ones who annoy us, don’t love us back, and hurt us. If this non-complaining, agape-loving lifestyle isn’t what the child of God is about, then I think the Bible says, “even unbelievers love those who love them back, what good is that?” Anyone (and everyone) can complain and grumble, shouldn’t it be the case that those of us who have been redeemed by His great love (Ephesians 2:4) love others radically and stop our grumbling? Yes is the right answer to the question. Let’s all get ourselves out of the way this Advent season (and forever), to steadfastly love and patiently endure some minor inconveniences and mildly annoying people. After all, I’m sure I’m sometimes that minor inconvenience and mildly annoying person … so thanks for patiently loving me!

Still Learning to Love,
Pastor Mark

Dying to Self

Here’s the pesky quote I read on Sunday that has haunted and challenged me since I first received it back in high school.  Funny how reading it again 25 years later and I still have so many areas I need to DIE in …

 

“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ-that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take all in patient loving silence-that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it-that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God-that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown-that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances-that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart-that is dying to self.”

Why We Don’t Pray … And Find No Rest

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting anything (for the 2 of you who actually look at my blog, thanks mom and Jill) …

Since my last post, I have discovered the tool of the Life Journal Bible Reading Plan (thanks Wayne Corderio). It’s not some crafty trick to grow a church or bring you instant spiritual growth, which is probably why I love it. It’s just an easy plan for individuals, families, and churches to read the Bible and interact about it. I have always enjoyed my “devotional time”, but found it difficult to involve others in that, not anymore. I do devotions with my kids, wife, friends, and now my whole church family. Check it out (www.life journal.cc). This post is a reflection on a familiar verse found in today’s reading:

Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Do you get the connections the Psalmist ties together here? They aren’t separate concepts just lumped together here to make it easier for the songwriters to come up with cool praise song lyrics. We won’t find God a refuge for us unless we pour out our hearts before him. I mean how much comfort do you find in a friend that you never talk to? Or how safe do you feel with someone you don’t know and doesn’t know you? You won’t find rest in a distant God you don’t know. You will find great rest, refuge, and refreshment in a God who is near to you. He is near as you approach Him on your knees, with a humbled heart, eager to talk to Him. So go cry out to Him!

So why don’t you want to go cry out to Him? Because you don’t trust Him. Sorry, it’s harsh and direct, but true. You won’t go talk to that friend and pour your heart out who has burned you or hasn’t really demonstrated faithfulness. But God is, has, and will. He has not never, no never broken one of His promises. He is altogether true! You can trust Him. If you find no rest in Him, find no desire to pour your heart out to Him … start with talking to Him about why you don’t trust Him. Be honest, He can handle it … and ask the Spirit to give you the faith to really truly trust the Father who is greater than all. Then watch your prayer life soar, and heavenly soul-rest fill your soul.

Trusting the Father,
Mark

God is Passionately Committed to Growing His Kids

I love hearing people track with me as we study through the book of Micah and ask the hard questions and do the real heart evaluation required.  Most of the questions and evaluation seem to come around the subject of “the oncoming train.”  I’ve been using the picture of the prophets who walked people through a dark train tunnel with light visible in the distance.  Sometimes the prophets say that light is an oncoming train bringing judgment, and other times they say that is the light of God’s rescue out the other side of the tunnel.  Thus the questions:  Is God judging me?  Bringing me affliction?  Punishing me when hard times come?  Is it Satan trying to tempt me?  Just living in a fallen world?  How do I know?  All good, fair, and thoughtful questions.  Guess what? The prophets didn’t always know the answer to those questions, and that is why sometimes the Lord speaks through them of a near fulfillment of judgment and rescue, and other times a far fulfillment of judgment and rescue.  So, my answers begins with something like – “God is for you!  And He is passionately committed to growing His children.  He wants growth, obedience and faith for those who call Him Lord.  He will let nothing stand between you and intimacy with Him.  And what we don’t always understand is those things that stand in the way of that happening.”  Followed by …

Is this difficult situation just part of living in a fallen world? For sure.  Sin corrupts, disrupts, and messes with all of creation.  There is nothing that is not effected by sin, the world groans waiting for its rescue.  Economies hit the tank, cars break, disease is no respecter of persons, and people fail us.  We know for certain that this isn’t heaven and never will be, so expect stuff to not work right, go right, or make us right.  You and I will always experience the sufferings of this present world … we just need to remember that they are nothing to be compared with what awaits us.

Is Satan tempting me, trying to get me to fail? For sure.  He wants nothing more than to make you bitter, angry, and isolated.  He will use the brokenness of the world to undermine your confidence in a good God.  He wants you to give in to the flesh and mistrust God.  He wants you to make other gods to run to, and to love yourself and your ideas more than God and His plan.  I don’t have to understand everything about spiritual warfare to know that there is indeed an invisible spiritual battle that goes.  I know that we must put on the whole armor of God because we wrestle not against flesh and blood (only), but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Our job is not to claim victory over darkness (Jesus already has).  Our job is not to cast out demons (Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world).  Our job in not to pray formula prayers, or put more confidence in ourselves.  Our job is to hold Dad’s hand as tightly as we can, trust His plan for us, walk through the dark tunnel with great faith, and preach the precious promises of the Gospel to ourselves … and to obey day after day after day!

Is God punishing me, afflicting me, or trying to get me to learn something? Punishing? NO way, not if you are in Christ … the punishment for sin has already been absorbed at the cross.  Afflicting? Possibly, because good parents love their kids enough to discipline them … it proves that they are sons and daughters.  But He never means ultimate harm, has no evil intent, and never rejoices in administering the spanking.  Therefore it’s always right to evaluate your heart and seek His face over those idols in your heart that He may be trying to root out.  He’ll do what must be done to fit us for heaven, even if we call it affliction here on earth.  And make no mistake, He wastes nothing.  That means that He is always using the stuff of life to grow us.  What man means for evil, or what Satan intends for our faltering, God uses as the classroom for greater faith.

And here’s the kicker for me.  What if He wants to walk us through the dark tunnel to show us greater things on the other side?  What if He has new things in store for us that we would never chose on our own?  What if He wants to usher us into a new chapter of Gospel ministry or a new season of fruitfulness, and we miss it because we refuse to walk through the dark tunnel with Him?  I never want my “eyes of sight” to keep me from clearer “eyes of faith” and missing out on the good gifts from my loving Dad.  What gift do you have for me next Father?  I want it!

Always wanting to grow … no matter what,

Mark


Inside a Pastor’s “Bad” Sunday

It’s always great to see personal growth in my life!  Yesterday (Sunday) was a day where I saw it so clearly.  Let me start with what happened from my perspective.  Our first service at Leroy Chapel was the most distracted in teaching I’ve ever been.  Amidst the environmental maladies (temperature and sound system) my head was spinning.  I was distracted and couldn’t seem to get past it.  Add to that I was starting into the book of Micah (yeah, preaching a Minor Prophet for Advent) and struggling to get out of the blocks well in our study.  Forty minutes later I’m not sure that I said anything of value to God’s people.  I couldn’t wait to finish the service.  I’m in the middle of the benediction and the microphone screeches yet again, I just hopelessly close in prayer and do my best to exit stage left to pray my frustration away before the second service begins.  I can barely get down the stairs before a gentleman in our church, who obviously b-lined to me, stops me to tell me how much God used that message in his life this morning.  I say thanks knowing that more clearly than ever it wasn’t because of me.  I head outside to stand in the 38 degree morning alone to preach the Gospel to myself, beg God for grace, and figure out what to change in my sermon.  The second service starts in what seemed quicker than usual, and we were off and running leading another group of God’s children in worship this first Sunday of Advent.  The Spirit of God rode in to my troubled heart on the familiar promises of God and freed me from “relying on myself”.  I gloried in the cross, rested in His Fatherly care, and just did what God has called me to do.  I have no idea if the sermon was any better, but it felt like an entirely different one to me.  I saw how human and how supernatural what I get to do as a pastor is.  Reflecting on yesterday (which isn’t in “woe is me complaining”, but spiritual evaluation) I could see clear growth in my heart … and that’s always fun. How? (1) What in the past would have “messed with me” (1st service), God gave me the maturity to just move on from and worship Him out of my calling (2nd service).  (2) I felt more than ever that it wasn’t about me, but the Spirit of God who wields the Word … and the Word’s got the power!  (3) I didn’t let the lies like – “Maybe you should just go work at Home Depot” fill my mind, but rather the promises like – “grace in a time of need” flood my heart.  (4) I can easily write about it today rather than wish it never happened, and (5) I can’t wait for next Sunday.  Such good stuff to see spiritual activity take place in my soul … Thank you God.  And thanks to all of you who prayed for me as you huddled under your jackets as the sanctuary became a deep-freeze 🙂

Loving God’s Work in Me,

Pastor Mark

How Rest Keeps You Busy

I’ve had to learn how to rest … it doesn’t come naturally.  Don’t get me wrong, I can sleep in when I’m tired, but then the “guilties” sweep over me for time wasted or all the things I could have been doing.  But real Rest, now that I’ve had to learn.  Rest that isn’t about selfish indulgence, material comfort, or escape from pressure … but rest that is first of all a spiritual Gospel-rest that knows (most of the time) that I am His and He is mine.  Rest that knows my identity isn’t found as preacher, administrator, counselor, or even dad/husband, simply child of God.  It’s starting from that rest that I can now actually find emotional rest – the kind that doesn’t worry about what isn’t getting done, whether people think I’m being lazy or irresponsible, and what awaits my return.  Now that actually feels good.  Amazing thing is that in finding that spiritual and emotional rest, the physical rest comes … and actually I have now found that the physical rest is the lesser of the three.  Oh how long it’s taken me to learn and experience this!

So, I recently got some rest.  All three!  Five days away with my wife … and some of my favorite things:  lifelong friends, a beautiful location, a round of golf, some good meals out, and reading in the sun by the pool.  Now to my point – when God provides that kind of prayerful, reflective, soul-full rest … God delightfully gives me all kinds of ideas, dreams, and vision for the future.  I wrote about the next book study I will be preaching through (Micah), and about personal goals for the winter months.  I had ideas for writing projects, community development partnerships, and family adventures.  I dreamt about church planting movements in NE Ohio and N. Ethiopia, trips to Israel, and ways our church could influence school districts for the building of the family.  I was busy … and it was so restful.  If only a couple of those things come to fruition I’ll have changed the world (or at least my world).  I dare say that only a cross-saturated, Jesus-loving, over-achiever could have that kind of rest.  Thank you Father for restful rest, and thank you for productive rest.  May I find that rest in the fullness of each day when the golf, sun, and meals out are gone.

For Your Rest,

Mark