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Tim Challies

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April 18, 2014

Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.

Praying for a Sermon

A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared 8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation. I found those 8 ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.

  1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
  2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
  3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
  4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
  5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
  6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
  7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
  8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people, and salvation to the lost.

Preparing for a Sermon

Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation and want to ensure that what I have prepared is well-structured and that it will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do and developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete, and return to shortly before I preach the sermon.

  1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
  2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
  3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
  4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
  5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
  6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
  7. Have you spoken to the children?
  8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
  9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
  10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
  11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
  12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage, or other difficult circumstances?
  13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?

If you’d like to have these lists in printed form, you can download them in PDF format. I print this document double-sided, crop it down to size, and keep one copy on my desk and one in my car.

April 18, 2014

Here are a few Kindle deals for you: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung ($0.99); From Glory to Golgotha by Donald MacLeod ($2.99); A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson ($3.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($3.99). And don’t forget yesterday’s penny deals: The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul ($0.01); Old Story New by Marty Machowski ($0.01); Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur ($0.01).

Oprah, Rob Bell, And Faux Self-Empowerment For The Self-Centered - This is quite an article, and one well worth reading.

Heaven Is For Real - Randy Alcorn has a review of the new Heaven Is For Real movie. He approaches it kindly but still offers some important critcism.

Sola Experienca - Yes to this! Erik Raymond also writes about the movie. This is so important to consider: “Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.”

An Interview with Mark Phelps - Ed Stetzer has an interview with Mark Phelps, son of Fred Phelps.

Cancer Sucks, but Christ Is Better - Here’s a sweet testimony to God’s grace through affliction.

Father, Open Our Eyes - Here’s a free track from one of my favorite worship albums.

How Americans Die - Here’s an interactive look at how Americans die. 

He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages. —Roger L’Estrange

Estrange

April 17, 2014
Missing Jesus

Now this is a sweet little book. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I began reading Missing Jesus. The names Charles and Janet Morris were not ones I recognized immediately, though I had heard of their radio program HAVEN Today and think I may have been a guest once. What I found was a book that came like a cold cup of water on a hot day.

The book begins with the premise that sometimes we all feel like we’re missing something. We have put our faith in Christ and we are following him, attempting to live in obedience to him, and yet something still seems to be missing. We’re left wanting more. There are a thousand answers to this more; in fact, most of the Christian books that pour off the printing presses claim to have the answer. But the authors of this book say the answer is remarkably simple: We’re probably missing Jesus. What we need is to be reminded that we are caught up in a great, cosmic drama and what we need is to be reoriented to see that our small story is simply part of this much greater story.

The solution to our longing is not to look within ourselves or not to pursue the easy navel-gazing solutions we may encounter on the psychiatrist’s couch. The solution is to look outside of ourselves, to the Savior.

We’re like the solar system without the sun. The sun is so massive it can hold all the planets in their orbits, but we’re not the sun. We simply don’t have the gravity to hold our lives together even when we expend a lot of effort trying. What we need is the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that we can look outside ourselves at last because God has provided everything we need in Jesus. God has sent his glorious Son into the world to be everything for us, to be the center of our lives, to draw us into fellowship with the living God. And it’s all by grace.

Unless we hear this news again and again, and unless we allow it to resound in our hearts, we soon grow cold, we lose sight of Jesus.

This book, then, offers many different views of the gospel and its countless benefits. The authors look at the gospel itself, they look at the importance of knowing the greater story that is unfolding around us, they glory in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they revel in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the communion they can have with the living God, they war against pride and all attempts to steal the glory that is due to God. And on it goes. Through a series of short chapters—11 of them—they offer a sustained look at what Christ has done and how it matters to his people. They draw often from their own lives, both their successes and failures, and they draw deeply from many great Christian writers of days gone by.

If there is something that concerns me in the book it is that it may not stand out among the myriad books around it. But behind the unobtrusive cover and inconspicuous title is a sweet book that offers profound answers to one of life’s most common experiences. If you feel like you’re missing out, or you’re convinced that you’re missing Jesus, get it and read it. You won’t be sorry.

April 17, 2014

Here are some excellent Easter-related books: The Cross in the Experience of Our Lord by R.A. Finlayson ($2.99); 14 Words From Jesus by James Boice & Philip Ryken ($2.99); The Unexpected Jesus by R.C. Sproul ($3.99); The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul ($0.01); Old Story New by Marty Machowski ($0.01); Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur ($0.01).

Jesus’ Thirst and Our Spiritual Rehydration - Wow! “In a startling way, Jesus inserted Himself into His parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In hell, the rich man cried out for mercy, pleading for Lazarus to ‘dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’. The rich man’s croaking screams for relief are denied. So long as He endured the hellish agony of God’s wrath against sin, Christ’s tongue, likewise, rattled in His mouth.”

Every Christian’s 2nd Most Important Book - Yes! Here is the book that ought to be every Christian’s second most important (after the Bible, of course).

The Shirt on Your Back - This is a fascinating interactive article from The Guardian.

The Fountainhead of Satanism - Joe Carter writes about the close connection between Anton LaVey and Ayn Rand.

Growing Up Gothard - Ted Kluck: “Recently, my friend Derek shared about what life was like growing up inside the Bill Gothard movement in the 1980s and ’90s. His account was utterly fascinating…”

Overcoming Passivity - “When portrayed as strong, men often exaggeratedly suffer from an overdose of testosterone.  Of course, the blame cannot wholly be laid on our modern culture, since male passivity also began in Eden, when Adam failed to stand up to the serpent and protect his wife from its temptations.  As inheritors of Adam’s sinful nature, we all can fall into passivity, failing to work and lead as we should.”

You never have to drag mercy out of Christ, as money from a miser. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

The False Teachers
April 16, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White and Norman Vincent Peale. Today we will look at a man who commands more followers than perhaps any other person in the world: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known also as Pope Francis.

Pope Francis

Pope FrancisJorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, the first child of Italian immigrants Mario and Regina. He graduated from college as a chemical technician and pursued that career for a short time before entering seminary at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. On March 11, 1958 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and over the next decade studied and taught in a variety of disciplines. He was ordained a priest in December 1969 and made his final profession with the Jesuits in April 1973.

In July of that year he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina and held that position for several years before resuming his work as a priest and a teacher and, later, as spiritual director and confessor to the Jesuits in Cordoba. As a priest he was loved and admired for his kindness and willingness to engage in patient dialog with his students and parishoners. However, he also walked into a political quagmire as the military sought to assert its dominance over the nation. He was accused of complicity with the military forces in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, though he has strenuously denied the charges which have not been satisfactorily proven.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and was quickly elevated to Cardinal in 2001. After Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some reports indicated that Bergoglio received the second-most votes in that papal election, though Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) was eventually elected to succeed John Paul. As a cardinal Bergoglio gained a reputation for his low-key lifestyle, his commitment to social justice, and his doctrinal conservatism, proving himself an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and public efforts to introduce free contraception. One of his friends says, “He’s as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church - everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”

When Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily resigned as pope on February 28, 2013, the papal conclave elected the 76-year-old Bergoglio as his successor. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi and his lifestyle of simplicity. He is the first Jesuit to be pope, the first pope from the Americas and the southern hemisphere, and the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years.

As pope, Francis immediately made his mark by maintaining his relatively austere lifestyle and eschewing much of the formality that has marked previous pontiffs. He chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace but instead to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse. He wears simpler vestments than his predecessors and insists that he wants the Roman Catholic Church to be a church for the poor. He immediately began planning reforms to the Vatican’s expansive bureaucracy, emphasizing efficiency and transparency.

Francis has given hope to both conservatives and to progressives within the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes by apparently contradicting himself. While insisting that the Church’s view on sexuality will not be the subject of negotiation, he has also said “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has also hinted toward a kind of universalism saying, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

In the year since he became pope, he has received wide acclaim both from within the Roman Catholic Church and from far outside it. In 2013 he was named Person of the Year by TIME magazine as well as LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate. Esquire noted his simpler dress and named him The Best Dressed Man of 2013. Fortune magazine ranked him at the top of their list of the top-50 leaders while Rolling Stone featured him on the cover of a recent issue.

April 16, 2014

Here are some items for the Christian reader: Thabiti Anyabwile’s new book Captivated is just $2.99 on Kindle; Preach by Mark Dever is $0.99. Westminster Books has a few of the excellent 9Marks books on sale. Banner of Truth has a spring sale which is highlighting one of my all-time favorite books: The Cross He Bore. Use coupon code challieschb to get 40% off that book or code springsale2014 to get 30% off the other sale titles. (The sale is North America only.)

Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building - This is a clever and insightful bit of writing. Jonathan Leeman imagines a public square without any Christianity.

5 Easter Errors - Here are 5 common errors to leave out of your Easter sermon.

Don’t Make My Funeral About Me - This is great stuff from Nancy Guthrie.

Music and Meaning - Harold Best has fascinating things to say about worship and music. In this article 9Marks asks him a few questions and he provides thought-provoking answers.

Christians Get Depressed Too - David Murray has now released 5 short films about Christians and depression.

Why Did Methuselah Live So Long? - “Anyone who’s ever played Bible trivia knows that Methuselah lived longer than anyone else. He died at the ripe old age of 969. But have you ever wondered why?” Read the article and you’ll find out.

IRS Gets Taxes, Jesus Gets My Heart - “Despite feeling a distinctly American inclination to don war paint and drop a few 1040 forms into the nearest harbor around this time of year, the vast majority of us will provide the government with the requested forms on or before the appointed date. And yet, other than avoiding the unpleasantness of penalties and prison, why should Christians pay their taxes? Or should they?”

The desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing. —Paul Tripp

Tripp

Porn-Free Family
April 15, 2014

I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

The Porn-Free Family Plan

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

Plan

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router. 
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.