Don’t Listen to Sermons
Written by J. V. Fesko |
Saturday, June 4, 2022
You can all too easily get into a mentality of worrying about trying to top your last sermon rather than faithfully preaching the text and relying upon the Spirit to empower you and apply it to the hearts of your congregants. By no means am I advocating slothfulness in the pulpit. Work hard to prepare your sermons, but be yourself in the pulpit, and most importantly, preach the text—preach the gospel of Christ.
When students cross the threshold and enter the hallowed halls of seminary, those who enroll in the Master of Divinity program usually have one big goal in mind—they want to be preachers. This is a perfectly natural and understandable goal, one to which all MDiv students should aspire. Seminaries, therefore, invest a good amount of time in the curriculum training students how to exegete the Scriptures, prepare, and deliver a sermon. Preaching courses, for example, focus upon whether the student was faithful to the Scriptures, whether his sermon had a clear structure, whether his illustrations were appropriate and helpful, and whether his delivery was smooth. All students struggle with different elements of sermon delivery, and this is to be expected. While the ability to preach is a God-given gift, this doesn’t mean that the gift can’t be honed or improved.
One of the ways that students try to short-circuit the learning process is by listening to sermons by well-known preachers. I know of ministers who do this as well. On the one hand, listening to sermons isn’t a crime and can be a spiritually beneficial thing. On the other hand, if you’re listening to a sermon as a substitute for your own necessary exegetical spadework, or because you don’t want to meditate upon the text to develop your own material and illustrations, listening to a sermon can be a bad thing. I was once at a meeting of presbytery where a fellow colleague was delivering the opening devotional. One of my colleagues sitting next to me leaned over and whispered in a concerned tone, “I heard this very same sermon several weeks ago at a Banner of Truth conference!”
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Why the “A” Word Isn’t So DirtyBy Justin Poythress — 1 year ago
In ages past, the principle of respect for authority was tied to a position, not a person. To varying degrees, our society has revised, reversed, or erased this distinction—and not without some benefits. We now resist the externalism of traditional hierarchical societies. In that sense, we are a people seeking to look on the heart, and not simply the outward appearance (I Sam 16:7). But this has not come without a cost. We now fuse person and position completely, attempting to calculate respect accordingly.
“Honor your father and mother… that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
Few things seem more American than rebelling against authority. After all, that’s how we started as a country, right?
Leaving aside lengthy historical and philosophical discussions of 1776, it shouldn’t take us long to realize that a revolt at our nation’s inception does not make revolt per se some sort of abiding standard. There’s a time when complaining and protesting is understandable, if not desirable. Yet more often than not, our posture towards government authority (and authority in general) remains in a sort of frozen state of whiny, petulant, adolescent rebellion.
There’s a reason why the fifth commandment focuses on honoring one’s parents. The way we view authority as a whole germinates from the way we are raised to view our parents’ authority. Indeed, it takes a lot of spiritual growth in our relationship with God to move above and beyond conceiving of Him as anything more than an overgrown version of our parents.
Today, we can see our lamentable failure of respect for authority cropping up at all levels of our society. Schools, for instance, have to spend increasing time and energy stepping in to fill the gaping hole of moral formation left by the dissolution of the family. Sadly, an ongoing succession of teachers, each serving their one-year term as interim parents, is unlikely to shift the fundamental relationship between that future adult and his authority figures. That relational dynamic to authority is cast and set by parents.
There’s nothing remarkable or apocalyptic about people in our age complaining about authority, even good authority. Think about what Moses’ suggestion box would have looked like. And he freed Israel from 400 years of bondage. The roots of rebellion against authority go back (as do all sins) to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Human beings have an unshakable hubris that we know better. We’re never far from the comfortable, imaginary throne of: “If only I was in charge.” It must be acknowledged, however, that the pitch and constancy of this chorus of disrespect have reached a terrible (and frankly embarrassing) height in our time.
Where Are They Now?By Zachary Groff — 1 year ago
We should not be surprised to see more men and congregations leave the PCA for the EPC, ECO, RCA, and other American Presbyterian and/or Reformed denominations out of NAPARC. The pipeline in the direction of churches that are philosophically committed to more peaceful “bigger tent” expressions of Reformed faith and practice is certainly fuller than the pipeline leading to more theologically narrow NAPARC-affiliated denominations.
At each year’s meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Stated Clerk gives an annual report at the beginning of business. In his report, the Clerk takes an opportunity to reflect on significant developments in the life of the Church. His words stir up excitement among the brethren as the Lord continues to build His church around the world, and especially as the PCA continues to grow.
However, the Clerk’s report routinely includes lamentable news of church closures and transfers out of the PCA. As part of his first Clerk’s address before the Assembly, TE Bryan Chapell addressed news of several recent departures from the denomination. Since the 41st General Assembly in 2013, the Clerk’s printed statistical report has included details about the addition of individual ministers to the Church as well as the loss of ministers from the denomination.
Recent blog posts by TE David P. Cassidy (here and here), TE Travis Scott, TE Jon D. Payne (here and here), TE Ryan Biese (in a multi-part series found here) and others have publicly suggested (from a variety of perspectives) that perhaps now is the time for churches and ministers who are out of step with either the culture or the published doctrine of the PCA to leave the denomination. If now is indeed the time for some brothers to leave, then I suspect that we would see individual ministers and congregations doing just that.
As we review the Minutes of the 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, what information can we glean about recent losses from the denomination? As the title of this blog post suggests, we can research the Minutes for information about recent departures by asking, “where are they now?”
The various lists of congregations added, transferred, or dissolved is found on pages 134-136 of the Minutes as part of the statistical portion of the Stated Clerk’s report. Similar lists of individual ministers added to the PCA, dismissed to other denominations, or otherwise removed from office are found on pages 136-142.
After comparing the statistical reports on pages 134-136 with other information I could find online (and with a few quick phone calls to several church offices), here are my summary findings (by no means infallible) for the changes in the roster of PCA congregations through 2019 and 2020:
The After-Effects of Jesus’ Death: Matthew 27:50-53By Jacob and Amy Toman — 1 week ago
It is understandable for the authors to only briefly mention these miraculous events as they point towards, support, and otherwise affirm and magnify the singular person of which each of the gospels is about—Jesus.
One of the strangest few verses in all of the Bible, describes the circumstances around the death of Christ. Matthew, in the midst of a relatively unbroken flow of narrative on the crucifixion of Jesus, interrupts the flow to describe the after-effects of Jesus’ death.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.(NIV Matthew 27:50-53)
There is quite a lot here to unpack, but there is (maybe somewhat surprisingly) very little detail given. I’ve preached on the resurrection power of Jesus in the past, but have not preached on these few verses specifically. The power of the resurrection is often thought of in terms of spiritual power, or in terms of life-giving power. While these are all aspects of the power of the resurrection that are rightly thought of, the first effect of the death of Jesus that the gospel of Matthew brings up is the tremendous visible signs which accompanied that moment.
Below are a few terrific Christian thinkers, theologians, martyrs, and commenters on this passage. At the end I’ll add a few of my own comments.
“Verse 52. And the graves were opened. Graves, or sepulchers, were most commonly made, among the Jews, in solid rocks, or in caves of rocks. The rending of the rocks, therefore, would lay them open. The graves were opened by this earthquake, but the dead in them did not rise till after his resurrection.
And many bodies of the saints—arose. Of course, it is not known who these were, nor what became of them. It is probable that they were persons who had recently died, and they appear to have been known in Jerusalem. At least, had the ancient saints risen, they would not have been known, and would not so soon have been credited as those who had recently died.
Which slept. Which had died. The death of saints is often called sleep, Da 12:2; 1 Co 15:18; 1 Th 4:15.”
The graves were opened. This matter is not related so fully as our curiosity would wish; for the scripture was not intended to gratify that; it should seem, that same earthquake that rent the rocks, opened the graves, and many bodies of saints which slept, arose. Death to the saints is but the sleep of the body, and the grave the bed it sleeps in; they awoke by the power of the Lord Jesus, and (v. 53) came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into Jerusalem, the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now here
(1.) We may raise many enquiries concerning it, which we cannot resolve: as, [1.] Who these saints were, that did arise. Some think, the ancient patriarchs, that were in such care to be buried in the land of Canaan, perhaps in the believing foresight of the advantage of this early resurrection. Christ had lately proved the doctrine of the resurrection from the instance of the patriarchs (ch. xxii. 32), and here was a speedy confirmation of his argument. Others think, these that arose were modern saints, such as had been Christ in the flesh, but died before him; as his father Joseph, Zecharias, Simeon, John Baptist, and others, that had been known to the disciples, while they lived, and therefore were the fitter to be witnesses to them in an apparition after. What if we should suppose that they were the martyrs, who in the Old-Testament times had sealed the truths of God with their blood, that were thus dignified and distinguished? Christ particularly points at them as his forerunners, ch. xxiii. 35. And we find (Rev. xx. 4, 5), that those who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, arose before the rest of the dead. Sufferers with Christ shall first reign with him. [2.] It is uncertain whether (as some think) they arose to life, now at the death of Christ, and disposed of themselves elsewhere, but did not go into the city till after his resurrection; or whether (as others think), though their sepulchres (which the Pharisees had built and varnished, ch. xxiii. 29), and so made remarkable, were shattered now by the earthquake (so little did God regard that hypocritical respect), yet they did not revive and rise till after the resurrection; only, for brevity-sake, it is mentioned here, upon the mention of the opening of the graves, which seems more probable. [3.] Some think that they arose only to bear witness of Christ’s resurrection to those to whom they appeared, and, having finished their testimony, retired to their graves again. But it is more agreeable, both to Christ’s honour and theirs, to suppose, though we cannot prove, that they arose as Christ did, to die no more, and therefore ascended with him to glory. Surely on them who did partake of his first resurrection, a second death had no power. [4.] To whom they appeared (not to all the people it is certain, but to many), whether enemies or friends, in what manner they appeared, how often, what they said and did, and how they disappeared, are secret things which belong not to us; we must not covet to be wise above what is written. The relating of this matter so briefly, is a plain intimation to us, that we must not look that way for a confirmation of our faith; we have a more sure word of prophecy.
(2.) Yet we may learn many good lessons from it. [1.] That even those who lived and died before the death and resurrection of Christ, had saving benefit thereby, as well as those who have lived since; for he was the same yesterday that he is to-day, and will be for ever, Heb. xiii. 8. [2.] That Jesus Christ, by dying, conquered, disarmed, and disabled, death. These saints that arose, were the present trophies of the victory of Christ’s cross over the powers of death, which he thus made a show of openly. Having by death destroyed him that had the power of death, he thus led captivity captive, and gloried in these re-taken prizes, in them fulfilling that scripture, I will ransom them from the power of the grave. [3.] That, in virtue of Christ’s resurrection, the bodies of all the saints shall, in the fulness of time, rise again. This was an earnest of the general resurrection at the last day, when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And perhaps Jerusalem is therefore called here the holy city, because the saints, at the general resurrection, shall enter into the new Jerusalem; which will be indeed what the other was in name and type only, the holy city, Rev. xxi. 2. [4.] That all the saints do, by the influence of Christ’s death, and in conformity to it, rise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. They are raised up with him to a divine and spiritual life; they go into the holy city, become citizens of it, have their conversation in it, and appear to many, as persons not of this world.