Indifference to Jesus

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

[the following is a paraphrase of the introduction to my sermon on Sunday from Acts 2:37-41]

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In our text this morning we encounter thousands of people who are no longer indifferent to Jesus. They heard the news of the cross and they were deeply moved by it.

This, of course, is not the case with the world at large. The world hears of Jesus — his perfect life, sacrificial death, resurrection from the dead, exaltation to glory, and second coming to judge the living and the dead — and basically says, “What? Did you say something?” The world is deaf to the news of Jesus Christ.

While this reaction to Jesus outside the church is understandable (given our doctrine of sin), what are we to make of this posture toward Christ in the church? Indifference to Jesus inside the church should alarm us.

When people in Scripture come to see Jesus for who he truly is, are they indifferent to him? No. These people leave everything to follow him; speak boldly about him; endure all manner of suffering for him; in a word, they worship him. Allegiance, not indifference, is the posture of one who comes to know Jesus as both Lord and Savior.

This is what the apostle Paul says happens to those who are a new creation in Christ (that is, a Christian). Consider 2 Corinthians 5:16, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” Paul is saying in effect, “Our eyes have seen the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are no longer indifferent to Jesus. He’s our everything because we see him for who he is, namely, the Son of God!”

What about you? Are you indifferent to Jesus this morning? Are you regarding him merely “according to the flesh”? If so, I’m so glad you’re here because this sermon is designed to destroy indifference and replace it with allegiance. In other words, as we consider Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 a third time, and his claim that Jesus is both Lord and Christ, I’m praying you would leave here this morning no longer indifferent to Jesus, but embracing him as your everything.

[Image: StuckInCustoms]

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Jordan Peterson and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

[the following is the conclusion from my sermon on Sunday from Acts 2:25-36]

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With all that is going on in the world today at large and in your life in particular you may be tempted to grow weary and lose heart. This was the case for one Jordan Peterson fan who attended his recent book tour event in Indianapolis, Indiana. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and University of Toronto professor, and the author of the national and international bestseller 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. His book tour has sold out venues across America. An intellectual and self-help guru, Peterson is offering his own brand of hope and finding a huge market.

At Peterson’s book tour events he lectures for about an hour and then moves to a time of Q&A. The questions are sent via Twitter so he opens his laptop to mine the best ones for the audience. According to a person at the event, Peterson answered some “light” questions before coming to one where he paused and said, “This is a serious one.” It read, “I plan on taking my life very soon. Why shouldn’t I?”

Peterson’s answer gave helpful advice like “wait, there’s no rush”; “talk to someone close”; “check yourself into a hospital”; “try antidepressants”; “think through the impact this would have on others”; and, finally, a plea of “please, take care of yourself, man” (this plea, apparently, done in person by Peterson to the actual questioner).

This is where Peter’s sermon comes in with the very hope of heaven. We have the ultimate antidote to the chaos of a fallen world: Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and exalted. God has given us his Spirit who comforts and empowers us in the knowledge of the truth of Jesus. Why does this matter for your Sunday afternoon and forever? Because through faith in Jesus Christ the promises of God are yours, including Romans 8:31-34:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Pentecost is the glorious declaration to the world that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Therefore, I do not say to you this morning, “Please, take care of yourself, man.” I say, “Look to Jesus, for he will take perfect care of you forever.”

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Living in the Light of the Resurrection

sheep

I’m excited for the new sermon series in the book of Acts we’ve begun at Cedar Creek. Yesterday I had the opportunity to introduce the book. My goal was to ask and answer the question, “What is true of a life lived in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?”

While my observations were certainly not exhaustive, here are the six things I drew out of the book of Acts as distinguishing marks of the church this side of the empty tomb:

  1. To live in the light of the resurrection is to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. To live in the light of the resurrection is to live as witnesses.
  3. To live in the light of the resurrection is to live to please God and not man.
  4. To live in the light of the resurrection is to take sin seriously.
  5. To live in the light of the resurrection is to suffer for the sake of Christ.
  6. To live in the light of the resurrection is to live in joy-filled, God-centered community.

The sermon moved intentionally to number six given the importance of community to the other five. We hear a lot about “community” today. But too often it seems like “community” can mean just about anything as long as we’re doing it together. Luke, however, has a specific understanding of community when it comes to the people of God. Consider Acts 2:42-47,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The people of God together devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching; the people of God together devoted themselves to the fellowship; the people of God together broke bread and prayed.

I am struck by the manner with which all of this was happening: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (vv. 46-47).

Our fellowship should be marked by “glad and generous hearts” as we praise God from whom all blessings flow. Why? Because we were lost, but now are found; we were dead, but are alive again; we were children of wrath, but now are children of grace; we were without God and without hope in the world, but now are heirs of God! We’ve been redeemed from the pit of sorrow and shame; freed from the shackles of sin and Satan; forgiven of our sins past, present, and future; transferred from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of light; given a hope and a future where there is fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore!

With all of our differences, these are the priceless treasures we have in common in Christ. Therefore, we devote ourselves to the fellowship—an assembly of pilgrims, exiles, and sojourners joyfully moving along the King’s way. Indeed, God would not have us travel alone and begrudgingly to heaven, but in the glorious community of the redeemed.

[Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff]

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The Scenery of God’s Grace

Tekapo

The only thing keeping my feet moving was the scenery. As I ran through the city of Richmond, Virginia what I lacked in energy I made up for in curiosity. What scenic treasures awaited me along my route?

I stumbled upon the historic “Canal Walk”—a partial restoration of Richmond’s historic canal system begun in 1785 and completed in 1840. Various monuments along the way tell the story. It is billed as “George Washington’s vision come to life.” Before the railroad made the canals basically obsolete in the 1880s (at which time they stretched 197 miles as far as Lynchburg), the waterways teemed with hundreds of boats carrying various goods such as tobacco and wheat along with many passengers.

Once there I remembered a gentleman talking about Belle Island and a 1.5 mile trail that loops through the 54 acre park that once housed a Civil War prison camp for Union soldiers. My pace picked up as I became excited about the destination. Along the nearly two mile journey I was pleasantly distracted by The American Civil War Center, the James River with its roaring rapids and the massive Robert E. Lee Bridge straddling the shores.

I was reminded how much easier runs are when you’re excited about the scenery. The legs don’t hurt as much, breathing isn’t as difficult, and the pace actually quickens. More than just “getting the miles in,” you feel exhilaration in the exercise.

As I exited the pedestrian bridge onto Belle Island my thoughts moved to how the Christian life is like a run. It requires endurance, perseverance, diligent effort. And just as the scenery on a run helps one endure, the “scenery” of God’s grace helps weary saints persevere in their faith.

Do I see it? Is it new everyday? Does it excite me? Move me? Leave me in awe?

I was challenged to behold the beauty of Jesus’ blood shed for me; the awesome power of His resurrection that conquered death; His unwavering advocacy on my behalf before the Father; the treasure of His perfect righteousness imputed to me. In a word, the cross and all it accomplished and represents for those who trust in Him. This, at least in part, is the glorious “scenery” of God’s grace that helps fuel our run of faith.

I want to run in such a way as to win the prize—to hear my Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). To get to that finish line, I pray that God grants me eyes to see the wonders of His grace in Christ Jesus—scenery worthy of our eternal gaze.

[Photo Credit: StuckinCustoms]

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The Menaces of God’s Word

Godly_Mans_Picture_WatsonTo be ready to preach on Sunday requires resting your head on holy things throughout the week. And on Saturday evening it is especially important to have some reading of a devotional nature. Tonight I went to Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture. I was particularly moved by chapter four, “Showing the Characteristics of a Godly Man.”

In this chapter Watson details 34 specific characteristics that mark a godly man. In characteristic number 9, “A Godly Man is a Lover of the Word,” Watson writes of the “menaces” of God’s Word:

A godly man loves the menaces of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat. God would not have us perish; he therefore mercifully threatens us, so that he may scare us from sin. God’s threats are like the buoy, which shows the rocks in the sea and threatens death to such as come near. The threat is a curbing bit to check us, so that we may not run in full career to hell. There is mercy in every threat (61).

A godly man does not come up to the threatenings of the Word and say something like, “God sure seems harsh; he really should lighten up.” No, the godly man says, “Thank you, God, for loving me so much that you sound the alarm of sin and its tragic consequences. Incline my will to forsake evil and pursue holiness.” Indeed, the godly man loves the menaces of the Word.

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A Preacher’s Decalogue

As a seminary professor, I am deeply grateful for how the new year has opened with seasoned pastors and teachers offering their wisdom for young (and not-so-young) preachers. For example, in “Advice to a Young Preacher” Peter Adam outlines fourteen indispensable principles for preachers, none more important than the first:

Learn to love the Bible. We love God, so we love His words. We know the mind of God from the mouth of God and we live by every word that comes from His mouth. Preacher, learn to love all of the Bible. Learn to meditate on it day and night. Fill your mind and heart and life with God’s truth. If God’s words are not in your mind, heart, and life, they will not be on your lips. Learn the self-discipline to avoid reading your ideas into the Bible. Whenever you read the Bible, don’t think, “I know what this means, so I don’t need to read it carefully.” There is always more to find, more to uncover.

Indeed, no man should preach who doesn’t love the Bible. Love for God and His words is the essential first ingredient in the making of a preacher.

Ferguson_Pastors_WTS_imageAlongside Peter Adam we have Sinclair Ferguson. In chapter 39 of his new book Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be, Ferguson offers his “Ten Commandments” for preachers. As Ferguson explains, these principles were born out of the question, “What ten commandments, what rules of preaching-life, do I wish someone had written for me to provide direction, shape, and ground gaining momentum in ministry along the way?”

Ferguson’s answer is worth reading and embracing given his over five decades of faithful pulpit ministry. He’s learned much through study and practice. This is wisdom from above.*

  1. Know your Bible better
    Ferguson writes: “As an observer as well as a practitioner of preaching, I am troubled and perplexed by hearing men with wonderful equipment, humanly speaking (ability to speak, charismatic personality, and so on), who seem to be incapable of simply preaching the Scriptures. Somehow God’s word has not first invaded and gripped them.”
  2. Be a man of prayer
    Ferguson writes: “I mean this with respect to preaching — not only in the sense that I should pray before I begin my preparation, but in the sense that my preparation is itself a communion in prayer with God in and through his word.”
  3. Don’t lose sight of Christ
    Ferguson writes: “Know and therefore preach ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). That is a text far easier to preach as the first sermon in a ministry than it is to preach as the final sermon . . . . Paradoxically, not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified-centered preaching. Too often preaching on the Gospels takes what I whimsically think of as the ‘Find-Waldo-Approach’. The underlying question in the sermon is ‘Where are you to be found in this story?’ (Are you Martha or Mary, James or John, Peter, the grateful leper . . .?) The question ‘Where, who, and what is Jesus in this story?’ tends to be marginalized.”
  4. Be deeply trinitarian
    Ferguson writes: “. . . my concern here arises from a sense that Bible-believing preachers (as well as others) continue to think of the Trinity as the most speculative and therefore the least practical of all doctrines. After all, what can you ‘do’ as a result of hearing preaching that emphasizes God as Trinity? Well, at least inwardly if not outwardly, fall down in prostrate worship that the God whose being is so ineffable, so incomprehensible to my mental math, seeks fellowship with us!”
  5. Use your imagination
    Ferguson writes: “Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, and feel its power — and to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, and grips the mind, will, and affections, so that they not only understand the word preached but also feel its truth and power.”
  6. Speak much of sin and grace
    Ferguson writes: “Preaching on sin must unmask the presence of sin, and undeceive about the nature of sin, as well as underline the danger of sin. This is not the same thing as hammering a congregation against the back wall of the ‘sanctuary’ with a tirade! That requires little more than high levels of emotion. A genuine, ultimately saving, unmasking and undeceiving of the human heart is more demanding exegetically and spiritually. For what is in view here is the skilled work of a surgeon–opening a wound, exposing the cause of the patient’s sickness, cutting away the destructive malignancies, all in order to heal and restore to life.”
  7. Use ‘the plain style’
    Ferguson writes: “There are many ways this principle applies. Do not make eloquence the thing for which you are best known as a preacher; make sure you get the point of the passage you are preaching, and then you make it clear and express its power. True evangelical eloquence will take care of itself. Despite Charles Hodge’s reservations, Archibald Alexander was in general right in urging his students to pay attention to the power of biblical ideas and then the words used in preaching will take care of themselves.”
  8. Find your own voice
    Ferguson writes: “We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the ‘preaching suit’ they have borrowed doesn’t not actually fit them or their gifts. Instead of becoming the outstanding expository preacher, or redemptive-historical, or God-centered, or whatever our hero may be, we may tie ourselves in knots and endanger our own unique giftedness by trying to use someone else’s paradigm, style, or personality as a mould into which to squeeze ourselves. We become less than our true selves in Christ.”
  9. Learn how to transition
    Ferguson writes: “Many of us are weary of the pandemic of ‘how-to-ness’ we find in much contemporary preaching. It is often little better than psychology (however helpful) with a little Christian polish; it is largely imperative without indicative, and in the last analysis becomes self- and success-oriented rather than sin- and grace-oriented. But there is a Reformed and, more importantly, biblical, emphasis on teaching how to transition from the old ways to the new way, from patterns of sin to patterns of holiness. It is not enough to stress the necessity, nor even the possibility, of this. We must teach people how this happens.”
  10. Love your people
    Ferguson writes: “This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study; it means that my preaching will have characteristics about it, difficult to define but nevertheless sensed by my hearers, that reflect the apostolic principle: ‘What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as ur servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Cor. 4:5); ‘We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us’ (1 Thess. 2:8).”

*While the list is exhaustive the quotes from Ferguson are merely excerpts from the explanations he gives for each principle. 
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Technology and Preaching

The Street of Colors-X4

I recently had a student tell me that he preached in a church in Tennessee that had him speaking from a platform that turned into the equivalent of an IMAX experience for the congregation. The technology allowed him to “take” his listeners to places like outer space and the holy land of Israel with moving, high-definition digital images, changing weather patterns, and movie-theater quality sound.

As he was selling me on this experience and the value of it for all churches, I kept thinking to myself, “In all this noise, how could they hear a word he said?” But being distracted from my student’s words is not the biggest risk of using technology in preaching. The greater danger is missing God himself.

My theology of preaching understands the preaching exercise as nothing less than a monologue from heaven. In other words, the expositor (peaching as monologue from God requires exposition of biblical texts) is a messenger for God as he heralds the truth of any particular biblical passage. This, of course, is how the apostle Paul understands preaching when he describes preachers as “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). According to this text, God is actually appealing to the world through a human herald. Breathtaking.

What does all of this have to do with technology use in preaching? Everything.

Let me explain this with the help of Jean Twenge from an article she wrote for The Atlantic posted yesterday. In “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Twenge chronicles the thinking of a 13-year-old girl regarding her smartphone use and that of her peers. At one point the girl (under the pseudonym “Athena”) admits her frustration over friends who do not listen to her when she’s trying to talk with them about something important to her:

In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone. Athena told me that when she does spend time with her friends in person, they are often looking at their device instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” I asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”

Once, she told me, she was hanging out with a friend who was texting her boyfriend. “I was trying to talk to her about my family, and what was going on, and she was like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, whatever.’ So I took her phone out of her hands and I threw it at my wall.”

Most everyone today, I imagine, can relate to Athena’s experience. Many of us have felt the urge to grab someone’s phone and move it aside in an effort to make way for real, uninterrupted conversation.

Now, here’s the simple (and profound) point I want to make from this regarding preaching: if it really is God speaking through the preacher (which it is) then God forbid we miss one word he’s saying. And technology use (whether screens up on the stage or in a listener’s hand via smartphone or tablet) dramatically increases the risk of this happening. As an expositor I am delivering a message from the King. Therefore, when I’m preaching I want all eyes on me, not wandering into some starry abyss of high def images born along by a Hans Zimmer-like score. (Can you imagine coming into the presence of the King of glory and while he’s talking you look down at your smartphone to read a text? Do not expect him to take it lightly when you look up and say, “Wait, what was that? I missed what you said because I had to reply to a text real quick.” This would not end well for you.)

O preacher! Preach as if God really has spoken in the inspired Scriptures (all 66 books of the Bible), and with the conviction that he still speaks through what he has spoken! And as you listen to sermons by faithful expositors, do everything in your power to give the preacher your undivided attention. For in his words you’ll hear something infinitely greater than any text or tweet or chat — you’ll hear God himself.

[Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff]

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