Jesus the Good Shepherd

Image result for jesus shepherdIf you had a pet kitten that strayed onto oncoming traffic, would you push your beloved kitten aside and die in its place? Probably not. Human life is more valuable than any cherished pet.

If you reared chickens for selling in the market and a rabid hound ventured into your farm, would you save the chicken but risk being bitten? Would you tell the hound, “Take me instead, let the chicken go!” Hmm…no.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. I came to the familiar reading of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus says:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11

I find that so radical. Think about it. A shepherd rears sheep, eventually kills it, and sells the meat and the wool as merchandise. I don’t think he treated them as a household pet. Even if there were extreme danger, would he really give his life for a sheep? It’s ridiculous! It’s just an animal. He still can get more sheep if he wants. But to lose his life would be disastrous.

Jesus was the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, even at the cost of his life. He was driving home a powerful point to his listeners: I love you with a radical, extreme type of love. The kind of love that will lead me to die so you can be saved. 

Jesus died for us lost, helpless sheep.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)

Jesus willingly died on the cross for our sins and to take away our sins. But he rose again from the dead and conquered death. No longer are we doomed to hell if we believe in Him.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

Will you put your trust in the Good Shepherd who loves you and has made a way for you to be with Him forever?



A Change of Clothing

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Imagine that you are drenched in a thunderstorm and just made it back home. Your’re soaking wet and your clothes are covered in mud. What’s the first thing you’ll do? Would you sit on the sofa in your wet clothes? Would you change your clothes and then head out into the rain again? Of course not. You’ll take a nice warm bath and change into a set of dry clothes.

Though it sounds nonsensical that anyone would not change out of wet clothes before lying down on their bed, that’s what we do sometimes do spiritually. We stay in our sinful states instead of changing out. God has provided a clean set of clothes for us – Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14).

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, rebukes them for continuing to live in sin. They have no reason to live as the Gentiles do. He then suggest three actions to follow in order to live a holy life.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

1. Put Off

Put off your Old Self. The Ephesians were still clothed in their sinful nature. Their old self was being corrupted by deceitful desires of the flesh. Paul advised them to remove the sinful nature as these desires were leading them to sin in anger and bitterness. It fractured the fabric of unity and love among the Christians. Is it possible to remove the old self? Yes! Because Jesus broke the power of sin over our lives, we are able to resist temptations and choose to obey God’s commands. Is there anything in your life that you need to put off? Maybe it’s alcoholism, gambling, lying, obscene language. You can put it off in Jesus’ name! Tell God you’re sorry. It will not be easy but God will provide you a way out (1 Cor 10:13).

2. Put In

After you have put off your old self and your sinful way of life, you need to put in new thoughts and attitudes. Otherwise you will be the same sinner clothed in new clothing. You’ll be a like a beggar who was dressed in royal robes but still living with a poverty mindset. After you remove your wet clothes, you have to take a bath to wash the dirty water away. This involves renewing your mind with the Word of God. That’s what repentance is – “a change of mind”. The Word of God reshapes the lens through which you understand life. Your priorities will become kingdom priorities. Your values will become kingdom values. Have you read and studied God’s word? Do you regularly practice what you have learnt? As you download God’s truth in your mind, the Spirit takes it and reconfigures your whole life system.

3. Put On

The final step is to put on the new self. What is this new self? Paul says that this new self or nature is created to be like God in righteousness and holiness. We are all created to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Though we might try to do good deeds and live a good life, our righteous acts are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Only by believing in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection will we be clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. God placed the Holy Spirit within us so that we will be changed daily into His image. This can happen only when we recognise that God clothes us in Jesus’ righteousness. When we put off the wicked deeds, and put in God’s thoughts, then we can put on the new self. Have you accepted Jesus as your righteousness? Are you putting on Jesus daily by choosing to obey His word?

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)

Image result for paul the apostle moviePaul, Apostle of Christ is an excellent introduction to the life of Paul.  He wrote roughly half of the New Testament Bible and fills up the second half of the book of Acts.

This movie begins after the book of Acts has ended and Paul is waiting for execution. He had been falsely accused by the Roman Emperor Nero of starting deadly fires in Rome.  It is a time of immense persecution and the story writers use Aquila and Priscilla as lead characters (although Acts 18 says they left Rome for Corinth long ago). They are harbouring a group of Christians in their compound and face a terrible dilemma: Stay or leave Rome. Also, the movie focuses on a Roman guard and his sick daughter. This is rather extra-biblical in my opinion and I would have preferred if they focused more on Paul’s life chronologically. There is so much material in Paul’s life that can be brought to reel-life!

Starting from Saul’s persecution to conversion, his night escapes, his punishments, his miracles – there is so much to show. However, the directors wanted to analyse Paul’s life from a different angle. That being said, the movie is beautifully shot and the acting is top-notch. It also explores several key themes of persecution, redemption and love. Sadly, it ends without mentioning the Gospel of Jesus and how one can be saved. Some movie-goers might have walked away without coming to a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, just as Paul had on the road to Damascus.

On the road to Damascus, Paul asked Jesus two questions. All of us must ask them too.

1. “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 22: 8)

After Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, he had an life-changing epiphany. The idea that he was serving God by persecuting the church was demolished in that instant. He wasn’t serving God but persecuting Him! What a revelation. Even though he was a Pharisee, he did not know the Lord. He did not know Jesus.

You can be attending church,  serving faithfully, a Bible expert but still not be saved. Have you ever encountered the risen Lord Jesus? Do you have a relationship with Jesus? If not, accept Jesus as Lord right now. He died on the cross for your sins, was buried and rose from the dead. Ask Him to save you from your sins.

2. “What shall I do Lord?” (Acts 22:10)

After Paul knew the identity of Jesus, he asked about his task, his mission, his destiny. Don’t get the order wrong! Knowing who Jesus is precedes serving Him. You cannot serve out of a vacuum. If you are still not sure what God wants you to do, wait before God for instructions. Meanwhile, stay faithful to what He has assigned you. If it’s teaching Sunday School or singing in the worship team, stay there. Stay faithful till God brings you to another season. If you’re not faithful in His task now, how can God bring you to greater things?

May you echo the words of Paul as he neared the end of his life:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

The Importance of Being with Jesus

And [Jesus] went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.

Mark 3:13-15

Disicpleship. How did Jesus do that? I want you to observe something interesting. There is a certain order to how Jesus called his disciples. And this order cannot be reversed.

1. Jesus called them to be with him

2. Jesus sent them out to preach and cast out demons

The first step in our discipleship with Jesus is not about doing, but being. Jesus called these Twelve men to be with him. Spend time with him. Observe him. Learn from him. Build a relationship with him.

After this relationship or communion with Jesus is established, then he releases them for ministry. Many have reversed this order. Many have busied themselves with doing things for Jesus. Preaching, casting out demons, healing. But they lack the most crucial thing – being with Jesus first and foremost.

Why is this being-doing order so important? Because Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Do you believe that? That whatever you accomplish is only because of Jesus? Jesus is the vine that supplies sap, nutrients and energy to us, the branches. No wonder branches lack fruit when disconnected from the vine. No wonder ministries lack lasting fruit when we are disconnected from Jesus!

Even when we disciple someone, let us focus on their being (cultivating their relationship with God), rather than doing (equipping skills). Jesus provided the perfect model for us when he spent time with His Father in prayer even though He was worn out with much ministry. Without this being with Jesus, we simply cannot achieve anything worthwhile for Jesus.

How to Prepare the Way for the Lord

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I wrote a previous post on the ministry lessons of John the Baptist. I would like to expand it by exploring what it means to prepare the way for the Lord. How can we point the way to Jesus and prepare people for Jesus’ second coming? We shall refer to Zechariah’s prophecy shortly after John’s birth.

And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:76-79

1. How to Find Salvation

To prepare the way for the Lord is this: Tell people how to find salvation. That’s our key message. That’s our first priority. We are not to tell people how to find money, a life partner or a career. We need to tell people how to find salvation. Man’s greatest need is for a Saviour. Do you believe that? We do people an injustice when we talk about everything else except the Gospel!

2. Through Forgiveness of Sins

The text explains that salvation only comes “through forgiveness of sins”. The salvation plan is simple: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead. Jesus shed his blood because without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). In Old Testament times, pure animals were killed and sacrificed to forgive sins temporarily. But by believing in Jesus, our sins will be completely forgiven. That is the message we are to tell others to prepare the way for the Lord. He will be coming a second time to judge the world. Will people be ready for it?

3. Because of God’s Mercy

Why does God provide such a wonderful gift of salvation for us? Verse 78 says it is because of “God’s tender mercies.” Do you know the difference between grace and mercy? Grace is giving us something we don’t deserve. Mercy is not giving us what we deserve. I’ll tell you what we deserve: Death! All of us are rotten sinners who are on a one-way ticket to hell. We are on death-row with no way out.

But God’s mercy extends to us. He sent Jesus, who suffered and died in our place so that we may be pardoned from death. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says soc clearly:

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

God made the way for us if we are willing to accept his free gift of salvation.

4. To Bring Light, Life and Peace

Verse 79 mentions two amazing effects of salvation: 1) God gives light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 2) God guide us to the path of peace.

God not only brings us out of darkness and death, He guides us to peace. Salvation is not just a get-out-of-hell ticket. It’s about receiving God’s peace right now. We aren’t made to scrap through life but to live victoriously in Jesus Christ. Our lives are a testimony to others that Jesus has changed us inside out supernaturally. May we not only tell others that salvation is found in Jesus, but also speak with new lives in Jesus.

Article Summary: “Sticky faith: What keeps kids connected to church?”

I found a very helpful article by Jen Bradbury about creating sticky faith in youths. As a church, there is much that we can do to help youths keep their faith through their schooling years. I pulled out key quotes for each section and added my comments at the end of each.

1. Centered On Christ

  • When it comes to fostering sticky faith, nothing is more important than “students’ view of the gospel.” Ministries that foster sticky faith, the report says, are centered on Christ.
  • We must relentlessly remind them that the Christian faith is one centered on the person of Jesus. Developing and maintaining a relationship with God requires engagement with scripture and the stories of Christ found there
  • Use mission trips to share Scriptures.
  • Cracking open a Bible and wrestling with its content must become part of a youth ministry’s DNA.
  • The fact that God wants their very lives is something that appeals greatly to a generation looking for a leader worth following and a cause worth committing their lives to.

Seth: We don’t need to come up with more exciting programs. We need the right kind of program that challenges youth with the word of God. I don’t think youths are superficial or easily distracted. That’s just because churches assume they are. I suspect when we confront them with radical discipleship, they will rise up to it.

2. Infused With Grace

  • Instilling sticky faith means creating ministries that are expressions of grace.
  • Grace needs to be our default position, the way in which we reflexively respond to students.
  • When churches are suffused with grace they also welcome teens into the larger church community, treating them as vital parts of the body of Christ.

Seth: We have to cut them some slack because we know we’ve made similar dumb things when we were their age too! When we look at Jesus, he gave people many second chances to make it right. We need to be graceful, merciful and loving. Catch them when they fall and encourage them to keep trying.

3. Intergenerational Relationships

  • Adults need to show an interest in teens—which usually requires an intentional effort to connect people across generations
  • Change the usual ratio of leaders to students. Rather than aiming to have one adult leader for every five students, it’s better to aim for connecting every teen with five adults who are willing to invest in the teen in some way, even if rather small.
  • Utilize adults in our youth ministries as leaders.
    Such adult leadership teams are at their best when they, too, are intergenerational.
  • Look for parents, empty nesters and senior citizens who are willing to spend time with teens, asking them questions and then listening to their responses and encouraging them.
  • Adults can invest in teens by learning their names, greeting them each week, asking them a question about their week and following up on the conversation in the next week.
  • Prayer buddies can also be a powerful form of intergenerational connection. Adults commit to praying for a particular student—for a specific time period or event. Prayer buddies then write one another a note, introducing themselves to one another and encouraging each other. Whenever possible, give prayer buddies an opportunity to meet and connect with one another in person, through worship, meals or celebrations.
  • One way of connecting teens with adults is through an interview or oral history project: teens develop a set of questions to pose to older people in the congregation and then conduct formal interviews.

Seth: I think this is a great point! I’ve observed that churches with youth services have problem transitioning young adults back to the main service. But I do know churches that don’t have youth services but there is still a disconnect between age groups. What is needed is a platform for intentional connection between youths and adults. I believe that when both are pushed into the mix together, it is mutually beneficial. Youths aren’t the future of the church, they are the church. Invest in them now!

4. Intergenerational Worship

  • Involving teens in worship is crucial for learning to contribute to the body of Christ.
  • It’s time to reevaluate the wisdom of holding separate worship services for youth.If teens become used to worshiping only with people their own age, they will find it hard upon graduating from high school to transition into intergenerational worship services.
  • It requires not scheduling youth group or Sunday school simultaneously with worship so that teens are free to attend intergenerational worship.
  • Help students better understand worship so that they can more fully participate in it and, in the process, encounter God. Explore the word and the sacraments, to wrestle with the words of the creeds and even to craft our own creed, to explore the meaning of the lyrics of the songs we sing and to explore what scripture says about prayer.
  • Intergenerational worship demands not just that we invite youth to attend but that we give them opportunities to use their gifts in worship as ushers, acolytes, lectors, musicians and assisting ministers, not only on token occasions like “Youth Sunday” but throughout the year.

Seth: Youths love music and what better way than to let them contribute. Not only music but in other areas too as ushers, stewards, prayer. The key is to give them chances to serve and not label specific ministries as adults-only. Young people need to be trained, given confidence and allowed to fail. If they can’t fail safely in church, where else can they fail? The world outside isn’t so forgiving.

A Parable: Doctor’s Remedy

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After a deadly virus had spread across the world, researchers scrambled to find a cure. Thousands of people were dying daily. Within months, several countries were wiped out. However, in a small town, Dr Bob found a remedy for the virus.

The remedy was obtained from a rare plant that lived in the valley near his house. He was testing compounds and discovered that the virus was eliminated at high doses. His hands shook as he held the test results. Visions of stacks of money, expensive mansions and yachts filled his mind. He had the remedy for the virus that people would pay any amount for. He shared his joyous findings with his wife.

But Dr Bob felt a tinge of guilt eating away. If he had the cure, shouldn’t he share it with scientists all over the world so that people would not die? As a doctor, he promised that people’s lives were more important than anything else. His wife also urged him to share the secret freely with others. He was in a dilemma. Should he share and possibly lose all chance of making money? Or keep the remedy as his sole invention and risk more people dying?

Dr Bob’s greed overtook him. He started a company to sell the remedy and became famous overnight. No other scientists were allowed to know the secret of his remedy. Orders for the remedy came non-stop and he quickly hired staff to produce, pack and deliver it all across the globe. People were getting cured!

But he couldn’t cope with the demand. As any good economist would point out, with increased demand and limited supply, price goes up. Up and up it went. Dr Bob even managed to IPO the company and make a killing on the stock market. He upgraded his apartment to a mansion by the lake. He scrapped his banged up Toyota and bought five luxury cars.

Life was good. But still, people were dying all across the world. As prices had skyrocketed, only the super rich could afford it. The poor were dying of the virus even though a cure was available. Strikes and protest against his company occurred regularly. But Dr Bob didn’t care. By now, his conscience was seared by a hot iron. His wife grew more distant from him.

Dr Bob’s clients suggested that he make the remedy more palatable by adding sugar syrup. But by adding sugar, he would dilute the remedy making it less effective. The virus wouldn’t be eliminated but suppressed. If the patient stopped taking the remedy, the virus would appear with a vengeance. That’s what he did. He diluted the remedy to make it sweeter. He slapped on a nice cute label on the medicine bottle as marketing experts had advised him.

Sales went through the roof. People didn’t realise that the remedy wasn’t working as well as it should. Even Dr Bob liked the taste of the new remedy. Soon, the virus adapted and mutated. A second epidemic swept over the world and all those who took the diluted remedy were severely infected and died. However, the first group of patients who took the full remedy were immune.

Dr Bob was infected by the second epidemic wave. As he lay on his bed dying, his wife stayed beside him. His massive house looked empty and cold. Bob said to his wife in ragged breaths, “I have sinned. I didn’t share the secret formula…so many have died. Also, I diluted the remedy and thought it would be safe.”

“I know,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “That’s why I gave away the remedy freely to the poor and those who couldn’t afford it all the while. I just didn’t tell you.”

Dr Bob’s eyes widened and he smiled, before breathing his last gasp.

Poem: To Risk (William Arthur Ward)

To Risk 

(William Arthur Ward)

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return,

To live is to risk dying,

To hope is to risk despair,

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

Book Summary: Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media have shaped the Messaengers (T. David Gordon, 2009)

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  • Less than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach an even mediocre sermon.
  • The problem there is not that we don’t have “great” preachers; in many circumstances we don’t even have mediocre preachers.
  • Media ecology describes how changes in dominant media alter the human and social environment.

1. Johnny Can’t Preach

  • All I really desire is the ability to answer three questions: What was the point or thrust of the sermon? Was this point adequately established in the text that was read? Were the applications legitimate applications of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversation about other possible applications?
  • Robert Lewis Dabney’s Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric offers seven objective criteria for sermon evaluations:

1. Textual Fidelity
Does the significant point of the sermon arise out of the significant point of the text? Is the thrust of the sermon merely an aside in the text? Is the text merely a pretext for the minister’s own idea?

2. Unity
Test: If ten people are asked after the sermon what the sermon was about, will at least eight of them give the same (or a similar) answer?

3. Evangelical Tone
Does the sermon press the hearer to consider the hopelessness of his condition apart from Christ, and the utter competence of Christ to rescue the penitent sinner?

4. Instructiveness
Does the sermon significantly engage the mind, or is the sermon full of commonplace clichés, slogans, and general truths? Is the mind of the attentive listener engaged or repulsed?

5. Movement
Do the earlier parts of the sermon contribute to the latter parts’ full effect? Does the address have intellectual (and consequently emotional) momentum?

6. Point
Is the effect of the sermon, on those who believe it, similar? If it encouraged one, did it tend to encourage all, and for the same reason?

7. Order
Could the hearers compare notes and reproduce the outline of the sermon? If they could not reproduce the outline, could they state how it progressed from one part to another?

  • Dabney’s seven cardinal requisites today are honored almost exclusively in their breach.
  • When something is well done, we do not complain about its length. Therefore, I suggest that it is not the case (as is so often argued) that people have a reduced attention span today, and that this is why they object to the length of the sermons. …Bad preaching is insufferably long, even if the chronological length is brief.
  • Sermon length is not measured in minutes; it is measured in minutes-beyond-interest, in the amount of time the minister continues to preach after he has lost the interest of his hearers.
  • One common trait among [contemporary churches] is their conviction that the church’s liturgical practices need to be jettisoned and replaced with something else. What they have not yet considered, however, is the possibility that such moribund (dying) churches are so not because they are doing the wrong things, but because they are doing them incompetently.
  • My challenge to the contemporaneists and emergents is this: Show me a church where the preaching is good, and yet the church is still moribund (dying). I’ve never seen such a church.
  • Almost no churches conduct an annual review of the pastoral staff. Because ministers don’t want to be told that their preaching is disorganized, hard to follow, irrelevant, and poorly reasoned; and because churches don’t want to insult their ministers or hurt their feelings.
  • The problem is the condition of the typical ministerial candidate when he arrives at seminary. The culture has profoundly changed since the 1950s. A culture formerly dominated by language (reading and writing) has become a culture dominated by images, even moving images. …As a consequence of this cultural shift, those human sensibilities (one’s capacities to know, understand, experience, or appreciate certain realities) essential to expository preaching have largely disappeared, so that a theological seminary attempting to teach a person who is not comfortable with texts or with writing organized prose.

2. Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 1: Johnny Can’t Read (Texts)

  • Ministers read for information or for amusement, but they do not read because they cherish the aesthetic pleasure taken in something that is well written. They notice only the content of what they read, but do not notice the subtler semi-miracle of language well employed.
  • Ministers read the Bible the same way they read everything else: virtually speed-reading, scanning it for its most overt content. “What is this passage about?” they ask as they read, but they don’t raise questions about how the passage is constructed.
  • Reading texts demands a very close and intentional reading.
  • Our inability to read texts is a direct result of the presence of electronic media. Reading texts (and especially verse) cultivates the sensibility of significance.

3. Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 2: Johnny Can’t Write

  • Every technological development has an opportunity cost because once we spend even part of our day using a technology we once did not use, some of the things we once did with our time we no longer do.
  • Two developments: We can hear people whom we do not see, and that we do not compose our thoughts as frequently or carefully as we once did.
  • If we become less practiced (and therefore less skilled) at reading people’s visible reactions to our speech, we will become less skilled at reading those reactions when speaking publicly.
  • As a medium, the telephone also robs us of composition skills. We lose the instinctive habit of asking: What should I say first, this or that? The consequences of this for preaching should be very obvious. Telephone conversations rarely have unity, order, or movement.
  • A once-common sensibility (close reading of texts) is now uncommon, and a once-common activity (composition) is now comparatively rare. A once common daily occurrence (face-to-face communication allowing us to “read” the unstated feelings of another) has been replaced by telephone conversation in which visual feedback is absent.

4. A Few Thoughts about Content

  • The content of Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ.
  • What could we conclude about preaching today, other than that the great transaction of the Sin-bearer’s suffering for sinners has receded in importance from our churches?
  • Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ.

A. Moralism

  • It was a way of understanding Christianity as essentially consisting of a particular moral framework, and of understanding Christ as essentially a great moral teacher.
  • Liberalism was an understanding of Christianity that wished to embrace its ethical system without its redemptive system.
  • Moralism occurs whenever the fundamental message of a sermon is “be good; do good”.

B. How-To

  • Unlike moralism, it expends less time describing what one ought to do, and more time how to go about doing it. In one sense, it is even worse than moralism, because it reduces life and religion to technique.
  • It pushes the person and work of the redeeming Christ out of the realm of the hearer’s consideration.

C. Introspection

  • The subtitle of each of their sermons could accurately be: “I Know You Think You Are a Christian, but You Are Not.”
  • Unbelievers are given nothing that might make believers of them, and many true believers are persuaded that they are not believers. So no one profits from this kind of preaching.

D. Social Gospel/So-called Culture War

  • The Christian pulpit is devoted to commenting on what’s wrong with our particular culture, and what ought to be done to improve it, either by individuals or (worse) by the coercive powers of government.
  • Culture warriors are not content with the two legitimate ways in which humans may exert influence on the behavior of others: through reasoned discourse and the power of example.
  • None of these false surrogates for real Christian proclamation nourishes the soul. They may inform or instruct about some aspects of religion, but they do not nourish faith; they do not feed faith. We need to feed on Christ! There is a place in the overall ministry of the church for instruction in moral behavior. But the pulpit is almost never the place to do this.
  • Curiously, when one considers the instructive role of the apostles in the early church, it is ironic that in many churches today, instruction has been handed over to the nonordained. Many ministers never teach regularly in the educational programs of their churches.
  • If preaching, in its authentic biblical, apostolic (and Reformational) sense, is to be recovered, it will also be necessary to recover an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository preaching, in addition to cultivating the necessary pre-ministerial sensibilities. Ministers will need to renounce their tendency to use the pulpit as a catchall, a place from which they attempt to do everything, and will need to return it to its proper place of proclaiming how (and how well) God reconciles himself to hopelessly lost sinners through the person and work of that beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
  • A return to such Christ-centered preaching, however, probably cannot occur apart from cultivating the sensibility of reading texts closely and a sensibility of the significant.

5. Teaching Johnny to Preach

  • We need to cultivate those pre-homiletical sensibilities that are necessary to preach well. How can one preach the Word of God if he can’t read the Word of God? Similarly, while many people can talk, not everyone has acquired the skill of carefully or thoughtfully composed speech.

A. Annual Review

  • Most ministers will never know how bad their preaching really is without an annual review.
  • I believe at least five or six of Robert Lewis Dabney’s cardinal requisites outlined can be tested by carefully designed survey questions.
  • One could do a more general assessment, and simply take the primary ministerial tasks (preaching, counseling, pastoral visitation, teaching, administration, etc.), put them on a form, and ask members of the congregation to rank them in order of their perception of the minister’s competence.
  • Alternatively, a sermon or two could be submitted annually to presbytery for review.

B. Cultivating the Sensibility of Reading Texts Closely

  • If he intends to go to divinity school and become a minister, he should not major in religion but in English literature.
  • One can learn to read poetry by reading books about how to read poetry.

C. Cultivating the Sensibility of Composed Communication

  • Those who are preparing for the ministry should also write handwritten letters whenever there is justification for doing so. In addition to letters, ministers should compose other material: articles for theological, religious, or denominational periodicals; editorials for magazines or newspapers; journal entries; anything.
  • The value resides in the shaping of one’s sensibilities and abilities (especially that of composition) that comes from organizing one’s thoughts into writing.
  • Most pre-ministerial candidates, and most ministers, would be well served by taking a nonreligious course on public speaking.
  • One might even consider joining Rotary International (speech masters).
  • Some ministers work on the technical aspects of their sermon preparation by developing a homiletical partner: another minister with whom they meet once or twice a month to discuss their recent sermons, and why they constructed them as they did.

D. Cultivating Pre-Homiletical Sensibilities: Johnny Can Learn to Preach

  • To preach the Word of God well, one must already have cultivated, at a minimum, three sensibilities: the sensibility of the close reading of texts, the sensibility of composed communication, and the sensibility of the significant.
  • In terms of churches, congregations should give their pastors time to study. preaching. An individual without time to read broadly and intensely, without time to reflect on life, without time to compose (even if merely in a personal journal), is not likely to be an individual who can preach.


Breaking Our Alabaster Jar

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While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Mark 14:3

It was nearing Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. He had told his disciples numerous times about his impending suffering, death and resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But they somehow didn’t get it. They still thought that Jesus was going to be King of the Jews by conquering the Roman government. They still argued about seats in the future kingdom (10:35-44) and who was the greatest (9:33-37).

But this woman got it. She understood that Jesus was going to die soon. Knowing that Jesus was going to leave them, she sacrificed her expensive alabaster jar filled with pure nard. If you have a friend who was migrating overseas, wouldn’t you give him a good treat before he leaves? She broke her jar and poured it all on Jesus’ head.

While some said it was a waste of perfume, Jesus defended her actions and called it “a beautiful thing” (14:6). Jesus explained that “she poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (14:8). She was the only one in the room that believed Jesus’ words – he was going to be killed and buried. As a result, her actions have been immortalised in the gospel for all to remember.

Jesus also sacrificed an alabaster jar: Himself.

Immediately after this passage, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room. During the meal, he broke the bread (14:22) and poured the wine (14:24). Do you notice the words used? Broke and poured. Exactly the same two words were used earlier to describe the woman who broke and poured the perfume on Jesus (14:3). Jesus’ body was broken and his blood poured out for us on the cross. His alabaster jar was himself. He suffered for you and me. The most expensive gift, more than the pure nard, was sacrificed to reconcile God and man. That’s love.

Just as some people rebuked the woman for wasting the perfume, some have said that Jesus’ death was a waste too. He had a ministry of three years, not a long time. He had so much potential to preach, teach and do miracles. Why did he not serve for 40 years and then die at 70? What a waste to die so young at 33 years old! But Jesus’ death was not a waste. It was “a beautiful thing”.

I’ve frequently met friends and church members who say, “Why are you giving up a career and joining bible school at such a young age? What a waste of your prior education!” It seems like a waste in the eyes of the world, but to Jesus, when we give our lives, it is “a beautiful thing”.

The woman broke and poured her alabaster jar for Jesus.

Jesus broke and poured his alabaster jar when he died for you and me.

Are you willing to break and pour out your alabaster jar for Jesus?