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 (5)

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.

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 1-4; tonight we consider #5 – “Be there week by week.”

I think you can discern why point #5 follows #4, as well as the points that go before that one. If preaching is what it is (God speaking His Word to us through an appointed servant, and He knows perfectly what we need), then we need to be in His appointed place of hearing – His instituted church – with our fellow hearers, to whom we are also accountable (cf. last week’s post).

And if that is so  (and it is!), then it is not enough to gather from time to time to hear God speak (one out of two sermons isn’t bad, is it?!), not enough to hear a message from the Bible when we feel like it and expect that that message is going to “strike home” perfectly and meet all our needs until the next time, whenever that is.

In chap.5 Ash goes after this faulty mentality and says in effect, “Yes, by all means hear the sermon in church, but be there week after week, not occasionally to listen sporadically.” This is how he explains why this is necessary:

The Bible is not designed to give me a series of instant fixes. It is God’s instrument to shape and mould my mind and my character into the likeness of Christ. And that takes time. I need to listen to the Bible passage being preached today, and to turn my heart to God in submission and trust today, not only because I may need that passage today, but because I may need that passage tomorrow. And tomorrow may be too late to learn it. I need to start learning it today, so that it can begin to sink in and change me. And this takes repetition, and reminder. Peter understands this when he writes, ‘I will always remind you of these things, even though you know” (2 Peter 1 v 12).

So we need, not a random series of sermon fixes, but to sit together regularly, week by week, under the systematically preached word of God. And as we are taken through the teaching of the Bible by patient exposition, gradually Christlikeness is worked into our characters, our affections, our desires, our decisions and our lives. We need to pray for this supernatural, gradual but lasting work to begin and continue in us, as we hear the word of God preached week by week (p.16).

Makes perfect sense, does it not? Think of the preaching as our necessary food, Christ being the meat and drink of our spiritual diet. And then read 1 Peter 2:1-3 and remind yourself of the hunger level we ought to have for this “milk of the Word.”

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.

Prayers of the Reformers (19)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this fourth Sunday of the new year we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

This is a prayer or hymn of Martin Luther and is taken from the section “A Calendar of Prayer.” The German title is “Es Wollt uns Gott genaedig sein,” taken from the first line.

You will find these words to be fitting for our worship today as well as for our life and labors in the week ahead.

May God unto us gracious be,
And grant to us His blessing;
Lord, show Thy face to us, through Thee
Eternal life possessing:
That all Thy work and will, O God,
To us may be revealed,
And Christ’s salvation spread abroad
To heathen lands unsealed,
And unto God convert them.

Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of every nation,
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation.
For Thou the sceptre, Lord, dost wield
Sin to Thyself subjecting;
Thy Word, Thy people’s pasture-field,
And fence their feet protecting,Them in the way preserveth.

Thy fold, O God, shall bring to Thee
The praise of holy living;
Thy Word shall richly fruitful be,
And earth shall yield thanksgiving.
Bless us, O Father! bless, O Son!
Grant, Holy Ghost, Thy blessing!
Thee earth shall honor – Thee alone,
Thy fear all souls possessing.
Now let our hearts say, Amen.

Luther, 1524

This hymn has also been set to music by J.S. Bach, which you may find here along with a different English translation. For one version available on YouTube, see below.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (2)

listen-up-ashThe last few weeks 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) and is penned 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 second ingredient“Admit God knows better than you.” As you will see, also this “ingredient” has to do with the authority of the message the faithful preacher of God’s Word brings; but more than that, it also has to do with the content of that message.

…What we really want [Ash means, by nature] is for the Bible to tell us we’re ok, what we’ve done is ok, and what we believe is ok.

But it isn’t ok. It’s not at all ok. Far from coming to the Bible as a clean sheet, I come to the Bible as a thoroughly messed-up person, unable to think straight, speak right or act as I ought. That means I must expect the Bible to call me to repentance and not reassure me that I’m ok. It will never make me comfortable or complacent in my sin.

…Faithful Bible teaching will always cause offence.

…The voice of God spoken by a faithful Bible teacher will get under my skin. It will cut to the core of my being (Hebrews 4 v 12, 13). It will challenge me to ‘get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted’ in me (James 1 v 21). And I mustn’t expect to like it. Sometimes I may even feel insulted.

Concerning which the author concludes:

To listen humbly is to be realistic about this. What is more, it is to recognise that there is more than one way to evade the challenge of the Bible. The simple way is just to say: ‘The Bible is wrong. I don’t agree with it, and that’s all there is to say.’ But the more common way in Christian circles …is to find a clever way to reinterpret the Bible so that I can persuade myself that, although I must admit it looks as if it challenges me, in fact it doesn’t. This preserves my impression of piety while safeguarding my rebellion against God….

Which brings this closing point: “…To listen humbly is to admit that the Bible is right and I am wrong, that God is God and I need to change” (pp.7-8).

Will we listen humbly to the Word preached tomorrow and let it convict us that God is right about us and we are wrong?

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.

How Do the Sacraments Function in Worship? – Rev. C. Griess

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer (just out), Rev. C. Griess (pastor of Calvary PRC in Hull, IA) returns to contributing to his series on worship for the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.”

For this volume year (93) he will be writing on the place of the sacraments in Reformed and biblical worship. His first installment introduces this important subject under the title “The Sacraments in Worship.”

What follows are a few paragraphs from this article. In them pastor Griess reminds us of the proper place and function of the sacraments in the true worship of the church of Christ.

Since the sacraments are elements of worship, they are part of the holy dialogue between God and His people. This is the divine motivation for regulating worship in such a way that the sacraments take place in church worship. In these sacraments God speaks to us, all His people, and we, hearing and understanding and appropriating His speech, respond to Him in prayer and praise. The sacraments have their own dialogue, so that there is a “dialogue within the dialogue” when the sacraments are used. In fact, this is the primary purpose of the sacraments, and we are to use them this way, aware that a holy and special conversation with Jehovah is taking place through them. This makes the sacraments, too, part of the covenantal assembly, the assembly of fellowship with God.

If you recently had a baptism in your church God spoke to the congregation beautifully. He did not just speak to the parents or to the one being baptized. He had a declaration to give to the whole of His true people gathered before Him. The main point of that baptism was not that God was there acting in that sign itself. God is not as Roman Catholics and many Lutheran and Anglicans teach, actually regenerating the one baptized by the water. The sacrament itself, that is, the water on the person, though a visible thing, is not accomplishing a divine invisible action. It is accomplishing a divine invisible speech. Even the sealing aspect of the sacrament is accomplished by what is being declared. The sacraments are speech that give witness to divine acts, but they are not the acts themselves; they are declarations.

That is why the Catechism asks and answers, “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all…” (Q&A 72). Well, then, what is it? Lord’s Day 25, A. 66 states, “The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that He may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel” (emphasis added). Declare! Speak! And then, to answer this question, How do the sacraments speak to us? Lord’s Day 26, A.69 “Christ appointed this external washing with water adding thereto this promise… (emphasis added).Christ attached a promise to this sacrament, so that it is God speaking to us. In baptism God is speaking to His church.

For information on subscribing to this Reformed periodical, visit the RFPA link above.

Consecration and Worship – Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionIn preparation for our Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) this prayer/meditation from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975) is fitting for us to consider.

It is titled “Consecration and Worship.” May it lead us to humble thoughts of ourselves and high thoughts of our glorious, blessed God.

MY GOD,

I feel it is heaven to please thee,
and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
pure as Christ is pure,
perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!

These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
and shall I break them? must I break them?
am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?

Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
that I grieve this blessed God,
who is infinite in goodness and grace!

O, if he would punish me for my sins,
it would not wound my heart so deep
to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
he continually repeats his kindness to me.

At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
but how can I dishonour this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship
this best of beings?

O that I could consecrate my soul and body
to his service,
without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
so as never more to attempt to be my own!
or have any will or affections
that are not perfectly conformed to his will
and his love!

But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
before the blessed King of heaven!

I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
But when I have done all I can to eternity
I shall not be able to offer more than
a small fraction of the homage
that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

 

The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue