Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (4)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we are examining a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-3; tonight we consider #4 – “hear the sermon in church.” This may seem so obvious to us, but Ash makes another important point here, especially in light of our day of “virtual” church (concerning which he says “there is no such thing”!) and private “digital” listening to sermons via the Internet anytime we want, maybe sometimes in lieu of the Word in church on Sunday with God’s people.

“So what” you say? Listen up! as Ash reminds us why we must “hear the sermon in church.”

…The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.

…This church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under the word of God. It began when God said to Moses: ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4 v 10). This set the standard shape and pattern for the people of God, who are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon them, and us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’), to be shaped together by His word. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people.

We may even say that preaching is properly done only when the people of God in a local church gather. When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching in the past (pp.12-13).

Do you see the biblical basis for what Ash says? Do we see the pattern God set for us? But there are practical reasons why we need to hear the word together too. I like what Ash says next:

When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. Hearing while gathered is significantly better than hearing alone.

…When we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. By being with you, I make it easier for myself to respond the way I know I ought to respond. …If I pay no attention to the sermon I heard with you sitting beside me, you will know, and I would hate you to know I wasn’t listening!

When we listen together, we respond together… (pp.13-14).

Isn’t that a valid point? And a very practical one? I need you to help me listen to the Word preached properly. And you need me. And so we need to be in church together to hear the Word together.

Let that truth help us prepare for worship tomorrow. Including the determination to be there. In church. Next to you. I’m going to pray for the preacher and for God’s blessing on the Word he brings. And for you as you hear. Will you pray for me? We are in this “together.”

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashIn this first month of the year we have begun to examine a short booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Once more let’s get before us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Tonight, to help us prepare for hearing the Word of God tomorrow, let’s “listen up” as Ash instructs us in that third ingredient“Check the preacher says what the passage says.” What does he mean by this?

Unless we want to be brainwashed, we ought never to hear or watch anything without engaging our critical faculties. If that’s true for TV or a movie, how much more for sermons where the preacher claims the authority of God. We need to check that the preacher is actually using the only available authority, which is a borrowed authority  that only comes from teaching what the Bible passage teaches. So, we need to listen carefully to the passage and ask whether what the preacher says is what the passage says.

And then, after pointing out that some sermon listeners like to take notes to be better focused, while others prefer not to because they find it distracting, Ash states this:

Whatever strategy you use, always have in mind the question: where did the preacher get that from? We are not asking how well or badly the preacher preached, in terms of communication skills. We are asking whether the message of the sermon was unpacking and pressing home to us the message of the passage.

And, in conclusion on this point, he reminds us that for this too we need the Holy Spirit:

It is the work of God, by His Spirit, to open our minds so that we listen clearly, think clearly, and discern clearly whether a sermon is true to the Bible. By nature we cannot think straight. So again we need to pray for His Work in us.

PRC Archives – Sermon Conversions

Over the last few years the PRC archives has received an abundance of sermons by PRC ministers on cassette tapes. Add to that the multitude (boxes!) of reel-to-reel sermon tapes already in the archives, mostly organized and cataloged, but nothing more.

cassettes-schipper-ophoff
Special tapes and covers Rev. B. Woudenberg made and donated.

These are both magnetic types of tape, with a shelf-life of 25 years we were told. We are well beyond that. And yet, amazingly, these tapes have preserved the sermons. The problem is (among other things), these sermons are not accessible, and they ought to be. And they ought to be preserved digitally (mp3), which will also make them more accessible.

In the last year we have begun to organize the hundreds (thousands?!) of cassette tapes, cataloging them by minister, text, and sermon title, as well as occasion (if special). Kevin Rau did some initial sorting, but now Bob Drnek with help from his wife Anne has been making a master list of what we have.

cassette-conversion-equipment-2017
All the equipment we need for cassette conversion!

And now, he and I have begun to convert them to mp3. Right now, we are doing cassettes, using some old players we have (note my personal custom boombox!), an audio cable, a PC, and a a free software program called “Audacity.” We can get it set up, let them run, and go about our other business – he at home and I at Seminary.

The results are that we have better preserved these sermons and made them accessible. Where are they?, you ask. Saved in the cloud, for one thing. And gradually, I am also uploading them to the PRC website, audio sermon section. And because we are focusing on the oldest of the sermons and mostly our deceased former ministers, you will find them going mainly under the “Classic PRC Sermons” section. Check it out when you get the chance.

A recent one that was referred to by Prof. R. Dykstra in his recently completed Interim course (The History of the PRC Schism of 1953) is that by Rev. Richard Veldman (former minister at SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI) on Q&A 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism (“Infant Baptism”) – a marvelous defense of our covenant view and the place of children in that covenant of grace. Listen to it and be edified!

bobd-reel-player-jan-2017
Bob D tinkering with the reel-to-reel machine. We are glad no one recorded us “mad scientists” trying to thread our first trial tape!

We are also preparing to convert the reel-to-reel sermons. We found some old equipment downstairs at Seminary (3 reel-to-reel players/recorders), and tried them all. The newest-looking one – a nice Sony machine – worked the best, but needs to be repaired. This week I found a shop that specializes in this (Blackies’ Radio and TV), so soon we will also be able to start on these tapes. There are some gems tucked away in the archives room.

Do we want any more old cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes? Of course! We would never turn them away. There is history in these tapes! Not just preaching history, but also special programs, congregational anniversaries, lectures, etc. Bring them in! Just not all at once. 🙂 Thanks for all the donations we have received!

Lest we forget, the PRC 100th anniversary is approaching. We are looking for archive material of ALL kinds. Think about what YOU can donate for the preservation – and enhancement – of our history! Documents, pictures, tapes, etc. We will be grateful for anything you have.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (Intro)

One of the short books (really a booklet) I am reading this year is that by Christopher Ash, titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009).

listen-up-ashYes, this is indeed a book on how to listen to sermons, because in the words of the author “there are books and courses to help people preach sermons… [lots of them, I might add!] but I’ve not read anything written in the last 200 years on how to listen to sermons” (p.2).

We expect good preaching of our pastors. That is as it should be. They are so trained during all the years of their Seminary education. Preaching is the heart and core of their work, as required by the Lord Himself. The King demands the best of His heralds – clear, accurate, powerful proclamation of His message. We know the standards are high – in the minds of elders and congregations too.

But we are often soft on ourselves as hearers of the Word. What we demand strictly of our preachers, we relax for ourselves. But that is not right. If what we believe preaching to be is true, then our standard for hearing ought to be just as high as it for making good sermons.The King demands the best of those who receive His message too.

If I may put it that way, listening to sermons is simply the other half of preaching. Without good listening – that is, without diligent, faith-ful, obedient hearing of the Word of God through the preacher – the best preaching does not profit us. In fact, it does the opposite: it hardens us and renders us inexcusable before the Lord, more ripe for judgment (condemnation). Yes,that’s hard, but it’s true. The Word of God says so.

So, some help in learning how to listen to sermons (better) is in order, no matter how long we have heard them and how experienced we may be in discerning good ones from not so good ones (Yes, I am being charitable. I was once on the other end.). Ash’s little book is a place to start, so we will work our way through it this year.

His first section is headed by the words “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.” Here they are listed in order:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Ash then has a short section on how to listen to bad sermons (Bet you can’t wait to get to that part!). He ends with a page giving seven (7) “suggestions for encouraging good preaching.”

Now you have the “big picture.” In this short introduction, let’s ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Did you pray for your pastor’s sermon preparation this week and will you pray for him tomorrow as he enters the pulpit?
  2. Will you pray for yourself (and for your wife, if you are married, and for your children, if you have them) and for your (and their) listening tomorrow?

We may start tonight. Let us do so.

“They thought deeply as they read deeply.” N. Carr, The Shallows

shallowsbookcover-222x300On vacation this week, I have some extra time for reading, and one of the books I longed to get back to was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010).

Chapter four of the book is titled “The Deepening Page,” really a history of how society changed from an oral community to a literate one by the advent of writing and the codex (book). With this “intellectual technology” change came a major transformation of how people thought.

Today I give you a brief section from Carr on how this worked out (there is much more to this fascinating history – and to the main point of the author, and you are greatly encouraged to get this book and read it!):

To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object [as opposed to the oral-tradition culture in which memory played the dominant role]. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot… would call ‘the still point of the turning world.’

And then he further explains the development:

Many people had, of course, cultivated a capacity for sustained attention long before the book or even the alphabet came along. The hunter, the craftsman, the ascetic – all had to train their brains to control and concentrate their attention. What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning. The reading of a sequence of printed pages was valuable not just for knowledge readers acquired from the author’s words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply (pp.64-65).

But then, even on vacation those “quiet spaces” for “prolonged, undistracted” book reading can be easily interrupted by one’s surroundings. 🙂

reading-on-deck

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 11:08 AM  Comments (2)  

Note to Self: Love Your Wife

Sunday night in Faith PRC (my home church) Rev.C. Haak (Georgetown PRC) preached a powerful sermon from Prov.5:15-21 under the theme “Satisfied in One’s Own Marriage.” Whether you are married or not, you ought to listen to that sermon (Keep in mind that every believer is married to Jesus Christ and ought to learn over and over again how He loves and cares for His bride).

But especially if you are a husband, and especially if you are tempted to make excuses not to love your wife and begin to set your eyes, heart, and hands on a “strange woman”, listen to this sermon. And then listen to it again. And then again, from time to time. And let the Word sink into your soul and drive you to seek your satisfaction ONLY in the woman God gave you. That’s the way of wisdom, the wisdom of your Husband Jesus Christ. And that is the way of holiness and, therefore, of happiness.

Note-to-self-ThornIn that connection, the next chapter in Joe Thorn’s book is “Love Your Wife.” I post that too for your edification – and mine.

Begin by reading Eph.5:25-27 and praying about this calling.

Dear Self,

It is your calling and privilege to model Christ as husband to your wife through sacrifice and service. You are familiar enough with this passage to quote it and talk about it, but what counts is living it. Don’t you know Jesus? Haven’t you learned from him what love, sacrifice, and service look like? If so, you should be ready and eager to demonstrate this to your wife, because grace gives birth to grace. Because you know and follow Jesus, you are ready to truly love your wife.

That doesn’t mean love is easy. It isn’t This is why it must be commanded and why you must be reminded. And consider this calling. You must not only have warm affection for your wife, you must love her as Christ loves the church. This is sacrificial love – one that denies self and seeks the good of the bride.

…You should seek to be the brightest representation of Jesus she sees, as you represent Christ as Savior and servant to her. That would look like seeking her out when you get home from work, instead of seeking solace for yourself. It means affirming her calling and gifts, listening to her, speaking words of encouragement to her, and at all times working for her good. Jesus loves you this way, and in like manner you are called to love your wife.

Taken from Chap.16 “Love Your Wife” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.69-70.

 

J. Calvin on the Preaching of the Gospel: God’s “own mouth”

     Calvin has the highest regard for the preaching of the gospel by the human minister of the word. In and by the preaching, God himself speaks, thus working the salvation of his own children. In the preaching, by the ministry exercised by ‘a mortal and despised man, …God himself appears in our midst.’ God himself speaks in the preaching: ‘He deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them.’ The preacher of the doctrine of salvation is ‘his [God’s] own mouth.’

…Because the preaching is the living voice of God in Jesus Christ, ‘the church is built up solely by outward preaching.’ ‘God breathes faith into us only by the instrument of his gospel, as Paul points out… [in] Romans 10:17.’ ‘The power to save…God…displays and unfolds…in the preaching of the gospel.’ Calvin appeals to Romans 1:16. In the preaching God himself ‘comes[s] down to us, in order to be near us…[and by this earthly means] to bear us up as if in chariots to his heavenly glory.’

…..Nothing is attributed to the human preacher, however, for it is God who freely joins his Spirit with the preaching, and he alone accomplishes all the salvation worked by the preaching. The same Paul who ‘boasted’ in I Corinthians 4:15 acknowledges in I Corinthians 15:10 that all his work was ‘the grace of God which was with me.’

reformedfaith-Calvin-DJETaken from The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in Summary by David J. Engelsma (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2009), 312-13.

The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, New from Steven Lawson and Reformation Trust

Passionate-Preaching-Lloyd-Jones-Lawson-2016I am pleased to introduce you to a new title from the pen of Dr. Steve Lawson published this year by Reformation Trust – The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (hardcover, 188 pp.).

Many of us are familiar with this godly and exemplary British preacher and perhaps have listened to or read his sermons. This book will introduce you to more of the man and his “passionate preaching.”

I have a review copy from Reformation Trust and would love to give it to a reviewer who is willing to write a brief review for the Standard Bearer. If you do, you may keep the book. If that interests you, let me know.

Below is the link to the publisher’s information and a brief summary of the book. You will also find a video interview about the title with the author.

In The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the latest addition to the Long Line of Godly Men series, Dr. Steven J. Lawson introduces us to the life and ministry of a trained physician who sensed an irresistible call to preach. Surrounded by theological liberalism, Lloyd-Jones began a pulpit ministry that would exert profound influence on both sides of the Atlantic.

Source: The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, New from Steven Lawson and Reformation Trust

Published in: on March 29, 2016 at 6:27 AM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives Day – Reformed Witness Hour’s 100th Program

RWHmasthead

For our PRC history/archives focus today we feature the program for the 100th broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour, a radio ministry of First PRC (Grand Rapids, MI) supported by all of our PRCs. This program was brought in yesterday (along with the program for the 200th broadcast) by Don Faber, and we thank him for this.

This program is particularly significant and satisfying because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the RWH. It was on Oct.12, 1941 that the “Protestant Reformed Hour” was first heard live from the sanctuary of First PRC, with Rev. Herman Hoeksema (her pastor and first voice for many years) delivering the noteworthy message, “God is God.”

According to the program (which has no date), Rev. Hoeksema had been the radio speaker for four years, so this 100th broadcast must have taken place in 1945, meaning  that in its early history the RWH program was not broadcast every Sunday as it now is. The program states as much too in its note on the history on the back.

Later this year (August 2016) the RWH along with other PRC mission endeavors will be featured at a Mission Awareness Day being planned. Look for details on that to be advertised soon. And, in that connection, let me say we will be on the lookout for items on the RWH, especially programs like this, and pictures. So, start looking in those closets and drawers for RWH items!

For now, you may enjoy the program itself along with its informative content and pictures.

RWH-100th-broadcast-2

RWH-100th-broadcast-1

And by the way, yesterday Mr. Marv Lubbers brought in a photocopy of the picture from last Thursday (Hudsonville YP’s Society) with all the people identified. I will try to get those names up at some point today too. Thank you, Marv!