Gospel

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon. The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week.  I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocatea–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners.

While in seminary, I once heard a Presbyterian pastor preach the equivalent of three sermons in 55 minutes. I remember thinking, “If he finished now it will be a great sermon.” 40 minutes went by, and I thought, “If he finished his sermon now it will be all right.” After almost an hour I turned to my wife and said, “I pity his congregation.” Mistakes happen. Preachers lose track of time and people are generally very forgiving. But when this is a frequent occurrence it becomes a detriment. Preachers may turn into apologists for the Puritan era when they preached two-hour sermons. My response to this is very simple: “You are no John Owen!”

Question #4: Will my people hear a message about a great God or a convenient God? Sermons that do not lead people to serve God more faithfully have not fulfilled their purpose. The sermon needs to urge people to live more like their Lord and God. They can contemplate God, study or learn more about God (these are important), but if they leave uncertain as to how to serve their God more faithfully, the sermon has not pierced deeply enough. God’s people need to be consecrated by the Word of the Lord, pierced by the sword of the Spirit into action. Communicating only details about God can leave parishioners with a convenient God that demands knowledge but no sacrifice.

Question #5: What can I teach that will increase my people’s knowledge of the Bible? Every preacher must know: your people will remember between 1-5% of your preaching ministry throughout their lives. There is no statistic about this, the evidence is borne by daily experience. Exegesis of a verse in Hebrews will be forgotten perhaps before the sermon is over, but hermeneutical principles will remain if they are communicated succinctly. One common interpretational phrase I have used in many of my sermons is, “The Holy Spirit does not waste his breath.” This phraseb communicates that every detail of the text matters. I want my people to know in every sermon that every word in the Bible is meaningful and put in there for a reason. Many other principles will encourage God’s people to love their Bibles and learn more about it in their own studies and meditations. They may not remember my careful exegesis, but they will remember that the text is to be cherished.

Question #6: Do people follow me from point A to point B and C? I have heard my share of disconnected sermons over the years. Sermons need to have a message that is connected throughout. Themes and illustrations need to be connected to the central message. If illustrations have no purpose in the development of a sermon or if they are only used to get a laugh, people will inevitably leave confused and uncertain of the illustration’s purpose. Preachers need to be very aware of how point A connects to point B. Paragraphs need to smoothly transition, otherwise, you are beginning a new sermon altogether, and people are left wondering what the main point is. This is why manuscript preparation can help with transitional statements. On my last sermon, I repeated this phrase several times, “The future belongs to the child.” In fact, I generally title my sermons after my main point.

Question #7: Is this sermon going to connect to particular concerns of my people? I firmly believe that sermons need to connect in some way to everyone, from the young convert to the university professor. The more you preach, the more you begin to see people in your congregation with unique needs. When a pastor says “I have no one in mind when I preach,” he is likely ineffective in his preaching. Pastors are shaped by their conversations, counseling, and context. People I pray with and meet each week come to mind when I make applications. Of course, we need to be careful not to use the pulpit to deliver a privatized homily. A sermon on divorce the week after a congregant was divorced is unwise. Preachers need to consider the need of his own flock. For instance, “Does my congregation have a tendency to pride in their intellect or status?” A preacher is always preaching locally, though he can minister broadly. New Christians need to see their pastor’s words as applicable and rich to their own unique situation and this requires a good dose of wisdom and knowledge of particular needs in the congregation. Pastoral application becomes richer when there are pastoral encounters and engagement with the people. It is important to note also that we have our failures and shortcomings, but these should not keep us from addressing them corporately.c

Question #8: Is my argument persuasive? The sermon ought to leave the listener convinced that the Bible’s claim is right and true. Arguments can be phrased differently in every sermon. Some arguments will be demonstrably more persuasive than others. The preacher’s role is to give enough context and substance, so the main point becomes attractive. Persuasion is a difficult skill and needs to be considered again and again, which is why sermons need to be revised several times before they are delivered. One common problem is pastors trying to persuade people to death. Sermons are not commentaries. A preacher does not need to make his congregation turn to several Bible passages. A sermon is not an informal Bible study. Make your point. Make it desirable and succinct and move on.

Question #9: Where is the Gospel? A Gospel-less sermon is no sermon at all. Ask yourself, “Where is the Gospel?” Will my people be saved from their sins and misery after hearing this word? Will they find hope in Messiah Jesus? Will the broken-hearted see Jesus with greater joy? Will the single mom find refuge in Jesus and his Kingdom? Preachers cannot end a sermon in the desert. The Gospel is promised land. The sermonic journey takes the parishioner from darkness to light; death to resurrection.

Question #10: Is my application too general? Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” My closing question is a question about how my applications speak to my congregation. There are a thousand ways to speak the truth, but not many ways to speak the truth in love. Application is truth in love. Love your congregation by applying specifically and carefully. It is one thing to say Trust God, it is another to say, Believe his promises in the middle of your cancer. Generalities sometimes are inescapable, but try to escape them as much as possible when applying the Word. If there is one part of the sermon that deserves great concentration, it is in the application of the Word to God’s people. Pastors should read good counseling books. Pastors should know their people well in order to apply God’s truth in love (see #7).

You may consider each question every Sunday, and after some time these questions will be a natural part of your sermon preparation each week. Not all sermons are created equal. Just delivering content is not the goal of preaching. Preaching is an art, and we can all learn to grow.

  1. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)
  2. I think first used by James B. Jordan  (back)
  3. I hope to address pastoral fears in another post  (back)

Mother’s Day and Child-Birth

“The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the servant.”

It was through the seed of a woman that Messiah came and bound evil. Our hope did not appear out of nothing. The Virgin Mary conceived our hope. In I Timothy, we have the cryptic words of St. Paul, who said, “Women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This is a re-telling of Genesis 3: Women will be saved through the new Adam birthed from a mother’s womb. However, this salvation comes through faith, love, and holiness.

Moreover, I cannot think of a richer way to express the self-giving nature of motherhood, except through this triad of faith, love, and holiness. A mother’s faith is her salvation. Her love is her armor, and her holiness is her perseverance. Salvation comes through the glory of self-giving, even in the act of childbirth. It would demand the faith and love and holiness of millions of women through history to have confidence that a Messiah would arrive on earth through one of them.

We live in a day where motherhood is despised. We take a day to honor them, but truly what meager attempt to honor those who offer so much? Being a mother is now considered by many to be an interference in world economy. The United Nations began a decade ago an assault on motherhood saying that having children is keeping women from finding their fullest potential. As the world, the flesh, and devil go so go the United Nations. We need to realize that in our day any role that has been established by God will be confronted by evil, and such is the role of motherhood in our society.

So how shall we then live on this Mother’s day?

First, we live honoring our mothers. We rise and call her blessed day after day after day. Children, if you want to live a long and fruitful life, honor your mother with your words and actions.

Secondly, we care for our aging mothers. We have seen several examples at Providence of sons and daughters caring for their aging mothers until her last breath. This selfless act is refreshing in an age where many mothers die alone in their homes or nursing homes.

Thirdly, I encourage those of you whose children are no longer at home to function in a motherly role towards our young, soon-to-be mothers and wives. If there is ever a time when young ladies need the wisdom of our mature ladies, it is now.

Fourthly, for those who grieve today because of the recent/past death of a mother or a mother/figure, we grieve with you. When the ancient Israelites grieved the loss of a loved one, they told stories; be refreshed by the memories of your mothers.

Fifthly, for those who grew up without mothers, this can be a difficult day as they watch everyone celebrating their moms.  On this day, find comfort in the love of God. He spreads his wings over you as a mother cares for her own.

Finally, let’s together honor mothers and their love of Christ and the Church, our heavenly mother. Let’s sing their praises and shout at the mountaintops. Providence Church desires to be a place where diaper changing, doing the dishes, educating, singing while cooking a meal, writing a letter of thanks, kissing and hugging children, disciplining children, equipping younger mothers are all activities that are praised and not mocked. Happy Mother’s Day: Your labors in the Lord are not in vain!

 

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 5

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 5

[5] “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

There is a tendency to view meekness as weakness.a The meek is not someone who capitulates over the face of threats. He doesn’t retreat and act as if it is all a lost cause. We need to re-orient our minds to how the Bible views these characteristics. Remember that the kingdom of God is upside down to those in the world; and in one sense, the way the people of God live is upside down in comparison to how the rest of the world lives. R.J. Rushdoony once wrote that meekness is strength that is tamed. The meek know that their strength comes from Yahweh; he trusts and places his trust in Yahweh to make the world right; he sees Jesus as the ultimate restorer of Israel and the world. The meek has been united to the kingdom of heaven and has a new Lord and Master. He is being built up in the strength and maturity of Christ, the King, but yet this strength is balanced by self-control. The meek does not use his strength to lord it over people or to belittle others inside or outside the kingdom, but he uses his strength as a means to reveal the power of God and his kingdom. Consider Moses. The Bible says he was the meekest man in all the earth (Num. 12:3). Moses was known for his strength. He led an army and shepherded a nation. And when he was accused by others he didn’t say: “Look at me; the all-powerful Moses; the rescuer of Israel, the destroyer of Egyptian forces.” No. Moses restrained his strength and humbled himself before God praying that God would vindicate him in light of his enemies. Are you beginning to see the picture?

The way God honors this controlled strength is by giving the heirs of the kingdom, the earth!

But why would God give us the earth? We are the heirs of the Abrahamic promise. In Romans 4, Paul says that the promise is that we will be the heirs of the world. This earth, this system, this land, this air, everything is given to us; to inherit and to embrace. This is our world, not the devil’s, it is our world given to us by the ruler of the world, Jesus Christ. And the way we begin to claim it and adorn it and fashion it according to the kingdom of heaven is by being meek.

Practically, this means controlling your strength. How often are we guilty of using our strength or our position of authority to deride or to put down another? How often have we used our strength or our position in life to abuse our authority? How do we as parents conquer our children and their hearts? Do we assert our authority or do we win them with the way of meekness? How we assert our authority without abusing our strength is precisely what it means to be meek. And if we are going to rule the earth as God’s army we need to begin by being meek.

Our Lord Jesus did precisely that. He could have come to earth and obliterated all those Pharisees who disagreed with Him. He could have used His angels to bring about perfect justice, but this is not the Christ we know. The Christ we know is the one who became meek for our sakes and because He inherited the earth in His death and resurrection, we too are called to follow in His steps.

[6] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The fourth beatitude, which concludes this first section, is a call for righteousness. What does it look like to pursue righteousness? It looks like keeping Yahweh’s commandments. After all, Jesus is the one who said that if you love me keep my commandments (Jn. 14:15). It is a call to righteous living. We should hunger to be more obedient to God. We should hunger to live the gospel of the kingdom. This is what distinguishes the people of the kingdom from those outside it. But not only is hungering and thirsting for righteousness a call to pursue maturity, it is also a call to hunger and thirst for the establishment of righteousness on earth. We don’t want to see the world spoiled and destroyed. We need to be as hungry and thirsty for righteousness on earth as we are hungry and thirsty for food and drink. We can’t be satisfied with what we have. In what sense have we lacked hunger and thirst for righteousness? How are you encouraging one another to hunger for righteousness? Is your living such that when others see you they develop a tremendous appetite for righteousness? These are the questions we need to ask.

As you begin to increase in hunger and thirst for righteousness you will find a deep satisfaction in the life of the kingdom. You will learn that this is the good life; the life worth living; a life of active participation in making earth more and more like heaven.

  1. Peter Leithart’s exposition of the Beatitudes are quite helpful in clearing some misunderstandings. Audio found at Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon.  (back)

Interpretive Maximalism and James B. Jordan

Last night we had the honor of attending the send-off party for the Jordan family as they move to Birmingham, AL. Jim and Brenda Jordan have been dear friends of mine and my church community for some time. During my first three years as pastor I had the privilege of working side-by-side with Jim at Providence. He was especially encouraging in that first year. Not only did he add his tremendously musical gifts to our congregation, but his Sunday School series for those three years were life-changing.

Part of what Jim Jordan brings to the table is a life-long commitment to Sola Scriptura. He is, to borrow John Frame’s language, a true biblicist. He bleeds biblical theology. The fact that he does not simply repeat old slogans and the sheer fact that he is so innovative in the field of biblical theology make him a target to many.

His book Through New Eyes offers a profoundly rich theology of symbols; a theology, which if embraced, will make Bible studies not only fascinating, but will make the student of the Bible enlivened to read the Bible again and again and to find connections that affirm the remarkable onenes of biblical revelation.

Jim Jordan goodbyeMany have attached the hermeneutic of interpretive maximalism (Hence IMax.) to James Jordan’s theology. In his 1990 article What is Interpretive Maximalism, Jordan affirms that this hermeneutic contrasts with the minimalist interpreter. David Chilton is his famous Revelation commentary was the first to apply directly the rich nature of Jim’s theology to John’s inspired account. Jordan himself had already given a clear example of that hermeneutic in his Judges commentary, which Chilton references.

In fact, in his Judges commentary he contrasts his approach to the modern evangelical one:

“We have to explain this [i.e., the business about types and prophecies] in order to distance ourselves from the interpretive minimalism’ that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years. We do not need some specific New Testament verse to `prove’ that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimensions. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not to be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God. Such a `maximalist’ approach as this puts us more in line with the kind of interpretation used by the Church Fathers.”

So, part of James Jordan’s controversial hermeneutic is an attempt to affirm the inherent beauty of the Old Testament narrative without depending on some New Testament affirmation. Further, as Jordan writes, IMax. offers a richer Old Testament narrative, since the typological images offer a fuller and more robust picture of Christ in the pages of the pre-AD 70 world.

Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology. And this was part of what led his break with some of the well-known theonomic figures. Jordan writes:

I think that those who take this kind of typology seriously are the only people doing justice to the Biblico-theological dimension of interpretation, and my criticism of the Bahnsen-Rushdoony type of “theonomy” is precisely that I don’t think they do justice to this dimension. In common with most of my teachers, I believe that the grammatico-historical “methods” of interpretation need to be complemented by Biblico-theological considerations, and that is what I have sought to do in my own work. (On “theonomy” see James B. Jordan, “Reconsidering the Mosaic Law: Some Reflections — 1988,” available from Biblical Horizons.)

In conclusion, James Jordan uses the term maximalist as a way of communicating that the Bible reader can gain more from the pages of Scripture than they can ever imagine. The Bible is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not waste his breath. His inspired data is not given simply to fill in empty space, but to provide a fuller and more beautiful portrait of the Gospel.

A Four-Year Old’s Reaction to the Abortion Industry

Originally published at Kuyperian Commentary

Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.

As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:

First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism. 

Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.

Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5). 

May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.

———

It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.

I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.

We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.

We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.

We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.

My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.

It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.

Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (sex, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They demand self-control and patience. They demand spiritual growth; they demand kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions means you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly.

Howard Hendricks,1924-2013

.The famed professor of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks, died after serving at DTS for more than 60 years. You can hear his last sermon entitled the Ultimate Final.

Among his many publications, Wikipedia lists the following:

Books

Journal Articles

  • “Reaping the Rewards of Senior Ministry.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 628, 2000. 387-396.
  • “Me, Myself, and My Tomorrows.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 627, 2000. 259-270.
  • “Rethinking Retirement.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 626, 2000. 131-140.
  • “The Other Side of the Mountain.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 625, 2000. 3-14.
  • “Lord, Change My Children’s Father.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 5 is 2, 1986. 51-52.
  • “A Shirt for Timmy : Teaching Children to Pray.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 4 is 11, 1985. 53-54.
  • “The Art of Family Living.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 3 is 9, 1984. 39-41.
  • “Preparing Young People for Christian Marriage.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 128 is , 1971. 245-262.
  • “Review of ‘Leading a Church School.'” Christianity Today vol 13 is , 1969. 31-32.

Trinity Talk Interview with Andrew Sandlin on the Life and Theology of Norman Shepherd

 

icon for podpress  Norman Shepherd: The Man and His Theology

Andrew Sandlin is the president for the Center of Cultural Leadership and editor of Obedient Faith: A Festschrift for Norman Shepherd (Mount Hermon, California: Kerygma Press, 2012).

You can find more information about the book here.

A Cross-Centered Gospel?

Andrew Sandlin offers a sober critique of this defeatist and incomplete model of gospelizing:

Jesus is incapable of commiserating with a life of defeat.  He can only lead us from defeat to victory.  Jesus knows no other way.

Too many Christians live as though Jesus is still buried in the ground.   But that Jesus is gone forever.  There is no other Jesus to love and serve.  The risen Lord is the only Lord there is.  The victorious Lord is only Lord there is.  The joyous Lord is the only Lord there is.  The powerful Lord is only Lord there is.

It is this Lord to whom we are united.

Paul’s point: there is no other Christian life possible except the life of victory and joy and power and hope and worldwide transformation (1 Cor. 15:56–58; 1 Jn. 5:4).

For this reason it may be most prudent not to say that we are “Cross-centered.”  It is better to say “Lordship-centered,” because this Lordship is the key to the resurrection, just as the resurrection is the key to the Gospel.

It is the risen Jesus whom we serve, and there is simply no other Jesus.