Recently I wrote an article for Christanity.com about the most attractive women on the planet. The specifics are related to what they embrace, their beauty, and their smile. Here is the link to full article. I suspect that you have seen these women and can testify to their distinctive beauty!
The town I grew up in had a lot of Italian people. I would often spend the night at a friend’s house so I could go to Mass with them in the morning and then enjoy a feast at their grandmother’s after church. I can remember one such occurrence when, walking up to the sidewalk I was kicked in the nostrils by an overwhelming and powerful smell. To my untrained adolescent nose this was a strange smell. Upon further research I found out that it was, as you might expect, garlic. Garlic is the staple ingredient in Italian food. It is in everything. If you had a bowl of cereal there it would probably taste like garlic. If you visited with some other friends after dinner, they would know you had garlic. Garlic is a very outspoken, gregarious seasoning.
When I read the Letters of John, particularly the Third Letter, I find him similarly outspoken about “the truth”. This truth is the truth about all that Jesus is and has done for us. In short, the truth is the gospel. When John writes we find that the gospel is everywhere and in everything.
He is almost obsessively preoccupied with the truth. In verse 1 he loves them in truth. In verse 3 he is overjoyed because he has heard of a testimony in the truth. Again in verse 3 he hears they are walking in the truth which causes him to overflow with great joy. He says he has no greater joy than to hear these things (v.4). At the core of John’s soul is his love for the truth of God (gospel). Everything he sees, feels, pursues, loves, and prays for is shaped by the gospel. For the Apostle John, the garlic is the gospel. It is in everything. It is all over his breath. It can’t be contained. It is that outspoken, gregarious spiritual seasoning that gets into every sentence like garlic in every Italian dish.
It is a terrific reminder for us that this type of gospel scent comes by means of intentional exposure and effort. We spend time thinking about, marinating in, praying through, and speaking about the gospel. It is in the fabric of our souls before it becomes the fabric of our conversations. To push the garlic word picture perhaps to its maximum, you can’t sweat out the garlic without eating the garlic. It has got to be in you before it comes out of you.
Whatever else you say about John you have to conclude that this guy was a gospel-manaic. He left the scent behind in his writings.
I remember sitting on my couch when it hit me. It was one of those rare moments of clarity amid the dense fog of dejection. I was fretting a bit about my sermon a few hours earlier. I felt like the wife or mom who kept on cooking up the same meals, the same way each week. The balance of spiritual proteins, carbs, and vegetables were not out of whack, but the flavor was. My homiletical seasoning had become flavorless and predictable. In short: my illustrations and word pictures were becoming bland and boring.
It hit me as I sat rubbing my head like I was attempting to coerse a migraine to leave. Jesus commented that “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6.45). What was coming out of my mouth in my sermons was precisely what was filling my mind and heart throughout the week.
Think about it for a second. In sermon prep the preacher works hard to get the text into his soul. He pounds it in via reading, meditation, prayer, study, and thinking. What comes out is how the text has been received, processed, integrated, and applied personally. To put it another way, it is like the preacher drops a fishing line into his mind. Attached to it is the meat of the text. As he drags the line through the water of the mind he attracts some objects. You only pull out what is in there. If you go fishing and your hook gets caught on old boots, tires, coke bottles and weeds, it is because that is what is in the water. If your sermons consistently pull out illustrations about sports, your family, running or blowing things up it is because that is what is in there. In my case I was constantly referring to sports, my family, and (strangely) things that detonate. This works for awhile but eventually it becomes a tired old boot on the line.
So how do you spice up bland sermons? If we may apply Jesus’ logic here, then we need to fill our hearts and minds with more stuff. In particular we need to fill it with more homiletically helpful stuff.
Here are my suggestions that I have found personally helpful:
It has always interested me to watch a professional baseball team warm up on the field. As I look around I see the players in their prime doing things that young boys only can imagine. But there is someone else there if you look close enough. There are the coaches and the seasoned veterans standing nearby. Whether leaning on the batting cages or standing behind the pitcher in the bullpen these coaches are present. They are invaluable to the success of these young players. They teach and tweak. They remind and reshape. They reset fundamentals and they explain things in a nuanced, personal way. Talk to a ball player and they’ll tell you, “These guys are priceless!”
Christian men need the same type of help. Whether you are fouling the ball off your foot, doubling in the gap, or in a slump, you need a spiritual coach to come alongside of you. You (we) need someone to periodically remind us of the fundamentals and explain things in a fresh way. These relationships often come via the local church but they also come via the universal church in the form of writers. Tim Witmer has been one of those guys for me and our church. I don’t know Tim but he has had a profound impact on the shape and life of Emmaus Bible Church.
In his book Shepherd Leader Witmer lays out a biblical plan for pastoral ministry. In my view it is the first thing pastors and aspiring pastors need to read (my review here).
As a follow-up Witmer has written Shepherd Leader in the Home. This book is to help men (not exclusively elders) to be the leaders they are called to be in their homes. In our church about 20 of us have just finished reading and discussing this book together. The feedback I got from the guys was that it was tremendously practical. There was a simple application of biblical truth. Also, there was many memorable nuanced approaches to leading your family. Like the coach who tells stories Witmer opens up the curtain to let us into his world. It’s great.
The basic overlay is:
The Shepherd Knows his Family: In order to lead and love your family you need to know them. Get to work; learn who you love and lead.
The Shepherd Leads his Family: You have got to proactively (not passively) lead your wife and children.
The Shepherd Provides for his Family: Get to work, literally. We have to provide spiritually and materially.
The Shepherd Protects his Family: The leaders cherishes his wife and so he protects his marriage and his children. (This is a very practical and somewhat in your face chapter dealing with sin and temptation. Very good stuff.)
As I asked the guys this morning what they give it for a rating, the consensus was 4.5 / 5 stars. I’d have to agree.
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As Christians we have the unique privilege and responsibility of testifying to God’s love for us in the gospel. We understand what this sounds like; it is the content of the gospel–all that Jesus has done for us. But what does it look like? How does the church uniquely communicate the love of God to the world and to one another?
This is an important question that Jonathan Leeman has endeavored to answer. Jonathan is the editorial director of 9Marks and the author of 4 books that shed light on this topic. Leeman contends that it is through church membership that the world knows who represents Jesus and it is through church discipline that the church protects the name of Jesus.
Jonathan will be teaching at a Saturday conference at Emmaus on the 29th of June. The event is open to all in our city and region who would like to attend.
Cost: $5 person and $10 family.
More information here
Very helpful quote here from Mike Cosper in his new and helpful book Rhythms of Grace:
To our imaginations, it’s probably strange (at the least) or gross (at the worst) to envision anyone perpetually exalting himself. We live in a world full of bluster and bragging, where Nicki Minaj boasts “I’m the best,” LeBron James tattoos “Chosen 1” across his shoulders, and everyone from pastors to porn stars are self-celebrating on Twitter and Facebook. The idea that God would be associated with anything like that behavior is disconcerting.
But God’s own self-adoration is nothing like ours. Unlike our own self-congratulatory spirit, God’s view of himself is unmistaken and unexaggerated.
As hymn writer Fredrick Lehman said:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky. God’s glory and perfection are inexhaustible. We can’t say enough about how glorious he truly is. The greatest gift he can give us is a revelation of himself. Exalting anything else would be cruel.
Christians often start off at a significant disadvantage when we talk about a wife’s submission to her husband. Like Commodus’ fateful words to Quintos, after slashing Maximus: “Strap the armor, conceal the wounds” the Christian takes the cultural lacerations and then tries to go toe-to-toe with the common objections. This is always frustrating and often unproductive. Today biblical femininity, when acknowledged, is mocked. It is deemed repressive, antiquated, and unfulfilling.
My suggestion is to deconstruct things a little bit first before diving in too deep.
The widely popular, progressive worldview operates out of the red. There is a lack. In other words, you don’t have something and therefore you need to obtain it. The argument is that people, particularly women need to be liberated. There needs to be freedom. This is the talk of captivity. It’s bondage. The pursuit of self-discovery, progressiveness, and a redefinition of thinking is the cry for freedom, but it is not freedom. It is an acknowledgement of captivity. The striving is a striving for freedom.