Monday, April 3, 2017

When you listen to a sermon, do you feel the weight upon the preacher’s shoulders?  Do you recognize that every sermon is designed to leave an indelible mark upon your soul and to shape you by God’s Word?  When you listen to a sermon preached, do you get the idea that the overall aim is to bring glory to God?  Are you captivated by the drama of God’s redemptive story as you see God’s plan and your connection to the story?  If not, perhaps you’ve never heard real preaching.
When J. I. Packer was a 22-year-old student in the years of 1948-1949, he heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach each Sunday evening in London. He said that he had “never heard such preaching.” According to Packer, it came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” he had known. [1]

Preaching Involves a Weighty Responsibility

When Paul charges Timothy to “preach the Word” in his final New Testament letter (2 Tim. 4:1-5), he was not talking about a casual conversational approach to the pulpit.  One glance at Jesus’ preaching, John the Baptist’s preaching, and Paul’s preaching will prove that true biblical preaching is not casual.  John Piper accurately summarizes the work of preaching by stating, “Preaching is God’s appointed means for the conversion of sinners, the awakening of the church, and the preservation of the saints. If preaching fails in its task, the consequences are infinitely terrible.” [2]  In an interview on January 31, 1892, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was asked if he was ever nervous when he preached, and Spurgeon replied:
I tremble like an aspen leaf. And often, in coming down to this pulpit, have I felt my knees knock together – not that I am afraid of any one of my hearers, but I am thinking of that account which I must render to God, whether I speak His Word faithfully or not. On this service may hang the eternal destinies of many.
Every person who enters the sanctuary of the local church and sits down to hear the sermon will spend eternity in heaven or hell.  We must never forget that preaching matters.  Preaching has an impact upon eternal souls—for good or bad.  It is the duty of the preacher to feed the flock of God.  Too many preachers miss opportunities to feed God’s flock because they waste time seeking to entertain or motivate.  Preaching cannot be casual because every preacher should recognize that every person in their congregation will be in eternity in just a short while.  There is a stewardship that comes with preaching.  Time is valuable.  Souls are eternal.  Eternity is forever.  George Whitefield once described the type of preachers that he was praying for God to raise up:
And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. . . .They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives. [3]

Worship Is Not Casual

In many circles, preaching is something that comes after the worship takes place.  Far too many Christians fail to recognize that preaching is worship.  If we consider the goal in worship and how our aim is always the glory of God, how can that pursuit be casual?  How do redeemed sinners pursue God in a mundane manner?  The reason this happens in some circles is because the type of preaching the people are hearing is not bringing them into contact with the true image of God and His glory.  A low view of God leads to a low view of worship.  The result is a posture of worship that’s ultra casual.
One look at the preaching of Ezra in Nehemiah 8, Jesus in His earthly ministry, Peter at Pentecost, or Paul in his apostolic ministry will prove that preaching is not casual.  The Jews listening to John the Baptist didn’t listen casually.  The ground thundered when such men preached.  The problem today is that the ground rarely shakes.  Preaching is not like taking another at-bat as a baseball player.  The risk as a baseball player is personal glory or the team’s glory, but in preaching it’s all about God’s glory.  This should be at the forefront of every preacher’s mind each time he approaches the pulpit.  Preaching is not casual because the glory of God is not casual.  Too many sermons make the glory of God appear to be cheap.  There seems to be no opportunity to behold the glory of God in many sermons.

God’s Drama is not Casual

How many times have you heard people claim that the Bible is boring?  In some circles, people claim that the Bible is not relevant, so they use drama presentations in order to spice things up in their worship services.  Is the drama of God’s redemptive plan boring?  While it’s possible to preach a boring sermon, we must never lose sight of the fact that God’s drama is exhilarating.  If preachers will preach the drama of the text in the way God intended, the drama team will no longer be needed in the weekly worship service.
What would your church say about the worship service next week if the additives were removed and people were expected to look earnestly into God’s Word to reflect upon His glory and witness His drama?  Would true biblical preaching be enough?  Alistair Begg has a noteworthy point that we would do well to consider as he writes:
One of the reasons for the disinterest in expository preaching is surely that so many attempts at it prove lifeless, dull, and even thoroughly boring. I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity of those who are capable of taking the powerful, life-changing text of Scripture and communicating it with all the passion of someone reading aloud from the Yellow Pages! [4]
The next time you worship with your gathered church—look for the thrill of God’s drama as the preacher unpacks the Word of God before you.  Worship God with a proper and honoring posture.  A true sense of God and His glory will not be a casual experience.

  1. Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1985), p. 170.
  2. John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 54.
  3. Jason Meyer, Preaching: A Biblical Theology, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 301.
  4. Alistair Begg, Preaching for God’s Glory, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1999), 22.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?



-- by Brett Kunkle


On Sunday, I returned home from another Berkeley Mission trip, where I intentionally exposed high school students to some of my atheist friends in the Bay Area. For the last six months, we’ve taught apologetics to these high schoolers from Upland Christian Academy. Now it was time for them to “get off the sidelines and into the game” and engage non-Christians with the truth. Of course, my atheist friends are more than happy to oblige, so they meet with our missions teams, challenge them with a short lecture, and then dive into some rigorous dialogue.

Without fail, a couple of our atheist guests will contend, “Religion is the cause of most wars.” This cultural mantra has been uttered so often and with so much force, it has come to be accepted as an undeniable declaration. Prominent atheists like Sam Harris contribute to the chorus of voices, arguing religion is “the most prolific source of violence in our history” (The End of Faith page 27). Richard Dawkins claims, “There’s no doubt that throughout history religious faith has been a major motivator for war and for destruction.”

But as we trained students for this trip, we equipped them with a simple question to expose such claims: “How did you come to that conclusion?” (also known as Columbo Question #2). We simply taught students to recognize when someone makes a claim and then to request their supporting reasons. When our atheist presenters were challenged to provide justification, they could only offer up the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9-11, or vague references to Islamic terrorism. Certainly we recognize religion’s role in these examples, but three or four references cannot support the claim that most wars are caused by religion.

Not only were students able to demonstrate the paucity of evidence for this claim, but we helped them discover that the facts of history show the opposite: religion is the cause of a very small minority of wars. Phillips and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars lays out the simple facts. They examined 5 millennia worth of wars—1,763 total—and found that only 123 (or about 7%) were “religious in nature.” If you remove the 66 wars waged in the name of Islam, it cuts the number down to a little more than 3%. 

A second scholarly source, The Encyclopedia of War edited by Gordon Martel, confirms this data, concluding that only 6% of the wars listed in its pages can be labelled religious wars. Thirdly, William Cavanaugh’s book, The Myth of Religious Violence, exposes the “wars of religion” claim. And finally, a recent report (2014) from the Institute for Economics and Peace further debunks this myth.

We didn’t stop there. We showed students it gets worse for the atheists’ claim. A strong case can be made that atheism, not religion, and certainly not Christianity, is responsible for a far greater degree of bloodshed. Indeed, R.J. Rummel’s work in Lethal Politics and Death by Government has the secular body count at more than 100 million...in the 20th century alone.

Our students were able to see that a simple examination of the facts relieves religion from blame for most of the world’s wars. In addition, we were able to help cultivate in students a healthy skepticism of atheistic claims. If the skeptic will shout such an unsubstantiated claim so loudly and with so much force, what other skeptical claims might quickly fall apart under rational scrutiny?

- See more at: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2016/02/is-religion-the-cause-of-most-wars.html#sthash.MRJgDMEH.dpuf

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Not the Fun House Mirrors


Humility is a greatly misunderstood grace or virtue. Too many Christians think of it as trying to think what you don’t think, see what you don’t see, and know what you don’t actually know. This approach to humility is closer to the eastern and mystical way of emptying yourself than it is to the biblical way of seeking to think that which Christ teaches you to think.

In short, humility is changing your mind not emptying your mind.

C.S. Lewis somewhere said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. It is a matter of what you are thinking about, not whether you are thinking.

A humble man is thinking, meditating, ruminating, all the time. The use of that word ruminating is suggestive. A ruminating animal is one that chews the cud—and there has to be something substantive there to chew.

Christian meditation is content rich. The “grass” we chew is supposed to be everlasting grass, and we meditate on it with eternity in view. This is why we meditate on the Scriptures—which are forever, and on how we may bless our brother or sister, who will live forever. We do not meditate on anything that is transient or fog-like.

When you think about yourself and your own pleasures, trying to edify yourself that way, there is an essential contradiction involved. You are trying to see your own eyeball with your own eyeball. But you were made to look into your neighbor’s eyes, not your own. And the only way it is safe to look even indirectly into your own eyes is when you are using a mirror—and it has to be the mirror of the Word.

If you use the mirrors of the flattering world, you will be combing your hair in accordance with the fun house mirrors at the carnival.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Does God ever actually say No to our Prayers?

Does God ever actually say No to our Prayers? Your immediate response to such a question is probably, “Yes, he often says No!” In which case, I encourage you to reflect on J. I. Packer’s answer.

“God’s yes is regularly a case of ‘your thinking about how I could best meet this need was right’; his no is a case of ‘not that, for this is better’ – and so is really a yes in disguise! – and his wait (which we infer from the fact that though we have asked for action, nothing yet has changed) is a case of ‘wait and see; I will deal with this need at the best time in the best way. Whether or not you will be able to discern my wisdom when I do act, that is what in fact I am going to do. Keep watching, and see what you can see” ("Praying," pgs 173-74).

“We have it on firm scriptural authority that the Father’s response to requests faithfully, humbly, hopefully, expectantly made by his own children, out of a pure heart and an honest desire for God’s glory, is never going to be a flat no. One way or another God’s response will be a positive response, though it may be ‘I am adjusting the terms of your prayer to give you something better than you asked for.’ Or it may be, ‘I know that this isn’t the moment in which answering your prayer would bring you and others most blessing, so I’m asking you to wait.’ Or it may be, ‘I am answering your prayer, but you don’t know the strategy I’m working on, and it doesn’t at the moment feel or look like an answer at all. Nonetheless, it is. Keep praying, keep trusting, and keep looking for what, down the road, I may be able in wisdom to let you see” (pg 177).

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The November 8th Election

This is my last Leading Thoughts before the November 8 election, and so I would like to talk about leading in the era that is about to dawn.

This has been an election like no other in American history. You’ve heard this many times in recent months, I’m sure. Never before have the two leading candidates for president been as disliked and as distrusted by the American people. Never before have Americans been as disillusioned or as disappointed in the nation’s institutions.

We are entering a time in which fear, uncertainty, and despair are going to reign in many an American heart. We will get through this tumultuous season, of course, but only if there are leaders who know how to navigate such times.

Those of you who read Leading Thoughts regularly already know the pillars of the leadership we need now. Here is a brief reminder.

We will have to remind people that times have been worse.
There is nothing as terrifying as believing that you live in the worst of times. This certainly isn’t true of our current era and we should remind people of this. When Thomas Jefferson was elected leading pundits predicted the apocalypse. When Lincoln was elected, the nation split in two. When Truman took office, some members of Congress had to be treated for depression. There have been worse times than now. We survived.

Difficult times are often when great advances happen.
We forget that during the Great Depression, ten thousand people became millionaires. We forget that times of hardship are often our most stunning times of creative and cultural advance. This same progress is possible now if we don’t despair and if we hold to the faith that tomorrow can be better than today.

We were born for this.
Since ninety percent of Americans believe in God, then it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that the vast majority of Americans see themselves as destined to live in the times they do. This means that when we face difficult seasons, we must have the attitude, “I was born for this.” Courage comes from this. Reliance on divine help comes from this. Strength to thrive comes from this.

Politics is not everything.
Our founding fathers wanted limited federal government since they believed that the meaningful things of life are what happens in the human heart, the human family, in communities, and in the common things of life. We are experiencing a tumultuous federal election. This is not the same thing as the earth spinning out of its orbit. We’ll get through it. There will be other elections. We’ll be more on guard as a nation for the corruptions and follies of our leaders. Good days are ahead. Hug your kids. Love your spouse. Do your job. Make your community better. Trust God.

That’s it. Lead and lead well. We need you in these gut-wrenching times.
Have a good weekend.