Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Person Narrative Preaching

This past Sunday I preached the three "Lost and Found" stories of Luke 15. A shepherd found the one sheep out of a hundred that had wandered away. A woman found her one coin out of ten that had been misplaced. And a father received back his one son who had left the family. The point of these stories is the joy that God has over sinners who repent. God's love for people is evident in these stories, especially when the context is viewed. Jesus told these stories to the Pharisees because they condemned him for spending time with undesirable people (tax collectors and sinners). Jesus told these stories in order to let the Pharisees know that these undesirable people are actually very desirable in God's eyes.

In order to communicate these stories I used a style of preaching called "First person narrative." This style is described by Haddon and Torrey Robinson in their book It's All In How You Tell It. This brief book recommends a technique that has been used by preachers for ages. The technique is simply becoming one of the characters in the story and telling the story from that perspective. For the three stories in Luke 15 I became a tax collector and came in and told the congregation what it was like for Jesus to stand up for me and tell the self-righteous Pharisees that I was valuable to God.

I began with a normal introduction. Then someone in the congregation came forward and read the text. While the verses were being read, I slipped out and got into costume (tunic and headpiece from a Christmas program shepherd's outfit- plus sandals). When the reading of the text was completed, I came in and introduced myself. Then I told the stories. I used several props for the stories. I had hidden a stuffed animal of a sheep, so when the shepherd found the sheep, I found that stuffed animal. I also used a broom and a flashlight to look for the lost coin. I found the lost coin on the floor about half way back in the sanctuary. After I told the stories, I left the sanctuary from the front (looking for Pastor Dave), removed the costume while circling around the outside of the church, and then re-entered as myself from the side. I then concluded the sermon by talking about the meaning of the stories and how they applied to our lives.

The reaction that I received from taking the position of a character in the story has been very favorable. I trust that the point was well-communicated. Though I don't see this as a normal way of delivering a sermon, I can see using this technique again in the future.

Friday, February 19, 2010

You Never Know

For the past few years I have taken on a fairly ambitious reading project. One year I read Calvin's institutes. Last year it was Grudem's Systematic Theology. This year I am reading some volumes of Spurgeon's sermons. I am also reading a biography of Spurgeon.

Spurgeon was a man who wanted to be useful to God. He was perfectly content to pastor a small church. But God had far a larger ministry in store for Charles. He ended up pastoring a "mega-church" in London for most of his adult life. But Spurgeon's ministry was not limited to his church, or even to his century (the 1800's). Many of Spurgeon's sermons were printed and published. Eventually many of these sermon's were published together as a series of over 50 large books. They are still available today, and many sermon's are available on the Internet.

My dad gave me five volumes of Spurgeon's sermons. I began reading volume 19 in December (of 2009). There are 61 sermons in 732 pages- not short pages by the way. The first owner of this particular book, Rev. George Headley, Jr., inscribed his name one the first page of the book. Rev. Headley was my dad's pastor and mentor when Dad was in college. From notes left in the book it is obvious that Pastor Headley was benefitting from Spurgeon's writings as early as 1972. Below Pastor Headley's name is the signature "Rev. Jack Peters 10-92." The marginal notes on some of the pages were obviously left by him. Curiously, he noted at the end of one message that he had read that particular sermon after PRM (Prayer Meeting?) on 10-16-91. So Dad owned and benefited from the book sometime in the early 90's. Now I am reading and quoting from this same book almost twenty years later.

I doubt that Charles Spurgeon expected that sermons he preached in the 1800's in England would continue to benefit pastors and their congregations in the 1900's and 2000's in America. By God's grace, that is exactly what happened. Three pastors and their congregations have made use of just one copy of one book. You may not feel that the things that you are doing will have much impact on anyone. But because of God's grace, you never really know how God will use your work to serve people you aren't even intending to serve. So be faithful. Continue to serve. And leave the long-term impact of your work up to God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Christian's Great Business

C. H. Spurgeon preached a sermon in 1873 titled, "The Christian's Great Business." This sermon had Psalm 51:12-13 as a text. Those verses state: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." The first point made in this sermon is that the people who tell others about God are one's who have already been forgiven by God. It is important for those of us who have received salvation from God to tell others about the great salvation that they can also receive.

It is not unusual for Christians to mention that we should tell other people about Jesus. We are great at telling each other that we need to do it. I'm afraid that I'm better at recognizing the need to share the gospel than I am at actually sharing the gospel. But Spurgeon mentioned a motivation for actually sharing the gospel that I rarely hear. Of course we are told that we should tell others because they desperately need to hear the good news. We are told to tell others about God because He said to do it and because it brings Him glory. We are told to tell others because we have received so much and should share out of obedience and gratitude to God. But Spurgeon also mentioned that we should tell other people about forgiveness through Christ because doing so will add to our own joy. We all like to be the one to share good news. The gospel is the greatest news in the world, so it is our privilege and joy to tell other people about it. And when the gospel you share is received by someone, that is going to bring you greater pleasure.

God cares about people. He cares about you enough to save you from the penalty of your sin. He also cares about you enough to offer you joy as you share the gospel. Now all you need to do is receive that joy by talking to people about Jesus or by inviting them to church where they will hear about Him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

On the last Sunday of Janauary I preached the annual "State of the Church" message at Cottrell Corners Community Church. I also provided a letter which summarized the main themes.

You can listen to the message here:

You can read the letter here:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Knowing God's Will

What am I supposed to do with my life? Who should I marry? What should I study? Where should I go to school? What job should I try to get? All of these questions are important to followers of God. And good followers of Christ desperately want to ensure that they make the right decisions when they face these, and other, decisions.

I recently read two books on the topics of God's will and/or spiritual discernment. Kevin DeYoung wrote an entertaining little book called, Just Do Something. Tim Challies wrote a less entertaining, less "little" book called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. Both books are well founded on Scripture. Both might prove helpful to people who are searching for God's plan.

Perhaps the most important take-away from both of these books is that God's will for a person's life is already contained in Scripture. Of course there is no chapter and verse that tells you what job to take. Instead, God's will that is revealed in Scripture is His moral will for your life. God is very clear that His will for believers involves things like sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). God's will for each Christian is the same in the sense that He calls us all to make decisions that are based on the teaching of Scripture. God's will for you is based on what is right and wrong. And He has clearly revealed that He desires you to choose to do right rather than to choose to sin.

While God's will is already revealed, this does not mean that choices about who to marry and where to go to school are unimportant. It does mean that we have freedom to make those choices based upon how those choices will help us to be more like Christ. One school might help you know God better. But there might be several schools that are all equal in how they will help you fulfil God's plan. In those cases, a Christian has freedom to "just do something." So, don't be paralyzed about a decision. Don't spend hours and days agonizing between which of two perfectly good options is actually God's will for your life. Instead, limit your decisions to things that will most help you be like Christ. Then make a decision and be content that God's will has been accomplished.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quote About Suffering

"sometimes God works a greater wonder when he sustains his people in trouble than he would do if he brought them out of it."

These words were spoken by C. H. Spurgeon in a sermon about Jesus calming the storm. He pointed out that Jesus allowed His followers to be in the storm, and He did not stop the storm immediately. The same thing is true in our lives as well. Our Lord doesn't always keep us out of the troubles of life, but He does help us get through those troubles.

Hit the Links

No, I'm not a golfer. Here are a couple of sites to check out that might be helpful or interesting to you. This web site takes clips of sermons and makes them into hip-hop music videos- very cool. For the techies- someone edited the launch announcement of Apple's new iPad down to the descriptive words.