Saturday, October 17, 2009

Question on Teachableness


Question: I have for several months been doing a personal study on teachableness.  (Another story for another post).   Probably my study will end up being a book (or almost certainly an e-book).

Let me ask you--with what resources are you familiar re: teachableness?  Particularly teachableness and leaders? 

If you have suggestions, either put them as a comment here, or drop me a note at

Thanks.  If the list is particularly helpful,I’ll share it with everyone.


P.S. In searching for a picture to accompany this post, I came across one that is too horrible not to share:  (Just the messenger…)


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are You Naturally Funny?

I don’t think that I am.  Therefore, I always keep my eyes open for appropriate ways to include humor in my preaching. (I have had some unsuccessful attempts)

I have already referred to Quick and Dirty Tips on Grammar.  But there an entire stable of Quick and Dirty web sites.  Today I saw Lisa Marshall’s post on “How to Add Humor to Your Posts.”  Now, this is not a preaching site…it is for professional speakers, but we preachers could often learn a thing or two from professional speakers!

Lisa’s post begins:image

The first time I received a speaker evaluation form that said, "I really enjoyed Lisa's quirky sense of humor, " I framed the evaluation form and put it on my desk. I still have that evaluation form and that was many years ago!

I was so proud of myself because I'm not a naturally funny person. I had been working very hard to be recognized as a humorous speaker because during my late husband's illness, I had experienced first hand just how powerful laughter could be.

And when I decided to become a professional speaker, I knew I wanted people to laugh. Of course, I didn’t want them to laugh at me; but I did want them to laugh and learn with me.

Humor Brings Us Closer Together

I'm sure you know from your own experiences that laughter brings people together. Humor helps to defuse difficult situations. It reduces stress. I've even read research that says laughter makes our internal organs work better!

So, of course, I wanted to incorporate fun and laughter into my presentations. Again, I'm not a naturally funny person, so over time, I had to learn how to be a humorous speaker. In today's episode I’ll give you some tips and techniques that worked for me so that you can add humor to your presentations too.

The first time I was funny on stage was an accident. I still very clearly remember I was giving a demonstration of body language. I was slumping my shoulders and looking depressed and then I said, "I'm very happy to be here today."

That is just the start.  Check out the entire post here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top 100 Preachers: Hippolytus

(One of the few remaining homilies of Hippolytus believed to be authentic. image

(After such a length review of Origen, I thought I’d better do something shorter for a change!!)

Many of the notable preachers of the early centuries of the church are relatively famous to us: Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, etc. 

But one prominent early preacher is not so well known: Hippolytus (170-236).  There is much about Hippolytus that is unknown.  It is presumed from his name that his parents were Greek.  The historian Eusebius mentions Hippolytus as a bishop, but does not say from where.  Jerome in his Illustrious Men also mentions Hippolytus as a bishop, but as to the place Jerome says obliquely that he was the bishop of “some place.”  (cujusdam ecclesiae).

Perhaps part of the vagueness about the location of his bishopric is that Hippolytus had strong disputes with Callistus, the bishop of Rome at the time.  Some later traditions put him as the bishop of Pontus, and others put him as a rival bishop in Rome.  Hippolytus ravaged Callistus in his writings. 

Eventually, the emperor, Maximin banished Hippolytus to the mines of Sardinia, where he soon died in 236. 

But what about his preaching?  This is not a listing of ancient Christian leaders or martyrs.  It is a listing of the Top 100 Preachers throughout the past 2000 years.  Why would Hippolytus be included on this list?  Mostly on the recommendation of Eusebius and Jerome.  Eusebius praises him as an eloquent speaker.  Jerome speaks of a sermon on “The Praise and of Our Lord Jesus Christ” that he preached in Rome in the presence of Origen, who happened to be visiting at the time. 

There is only one sermon extant that is believed to be genuine:  The Discourse on the Holy Theophany.  It is a baptismal sermon, probably on the occasion of the baptism of prominent person.  The sermon is addressed both to the baptismal candidate, as well as to the congregation.  As the name implies [theophany-“a manifestation of appearance God to a human”] the sermon centers on the baptism of Jesus and the appearance of God in the form of a dove and the voice from heaven, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

E.C. Dargan (A History of Preaching) gives this appraisal of the sermon and of Hippolytus: 

“There is considerable quotation of Scripture.  The doctrine is not elaborate.  It is sound on the Trinity, does not discuss atonement or grace, and teaches, but not baldly, the necessity of baptism to salvation.  In the conclusion the preacher exhorts his hearers to come and be baptized, but only on the basis of a sound repentance and in the exercise of faith.  In structure and style the homily is suggestive and eloquent, and secures for its author a place among the true preachers of his age.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just for the Fun of It: Every Visiting Preacher’s Nightmare

I love his recovery line!

Example of Origen’s Preaching: The First Homily

On the beginning of the Song of Songs to the place where the writer says: “Until the king recline at his table” (Song of Solomon 1:1–12)

1. As we have learned from Moses that some places are not merely holy, but “holy of holies,” and that certain days are image not sabbaths simply, but are sabbaths of sabbaths: so now we are taught further by the pen of Solomon that there are songs which are not merely songs, but “Songs of Songs.” Blessed too is he who enters holy places, but far more blest the man who enters the holy of holies! Blessed is he who observes the sabbaths, but more blest he who keeps sabbaths of sabbaths! Blessed likewise is he who understands songs and sings them — of course nobody sings except on festal days — but much more blest is he who sings the Songs of Songs! And as the man who enters holy places still needs much to make him able to enter the holy of holies, and as he who keeps the sabbath which was ordained by God for the people still requires many things before he can keep the sabbath of sabbaths: so also is it hard to find a man competent to scale the heights of the Songs of Songs, even though he has traversed all the songs in Scripture.

You must come out of Egypt and, when the land of Egypt lies behind you, you must cross the Red Sea if you are to sing the first song, saying: “Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified.” But though you have uttered this first song, you are still a long way from the Song of Songs. Pursue your spiritual journey through the wilderness, until you come to “the well which the kings dug,” so that there you may sing the second song. After that, come to the threshold of the holy land, that standing on the bank of Jordan you may sing the song of Moses, saying: “Hear, O heaven, and I will speak, and let the earth give ear to the words of my mouth!” Again, you must fight under Josue and possess the holy land as your inheritance; and a bee must prophesy for you and judge you — “Debbora,” you understand, means “bee” — in order that you may take that song also on your lips, which is found in the Book of Judges. Mount up thence to the Book of Kings, and come to the song of David, when he fled “out of the hand of all his enemies and out of the hand of Saul, and said, ‘The Lord is my stay and my strength and my refuge and my saviour.’” You must go on next to Isaias, so that with him you may say: “I will sing to the Beloved the song of my vineyard.”

And when you have been through all the songs, then set your course for greater heights, so that as a fair soul with her Spouse you may sing this Song of Songs too. I am not sure how many persons are concerned in it; but, as far as God has shown me in answer to your prayers, I seem to find four characters — the Husband and the Bride; along with the Bride, her maidens; and with the Bridegroom, a band of intimate companions. Some things are spoken by the Bride, others by the Bridegroom; sometimes too the maidens speak; so also do the Bridegroom’s friends. It is fitting indeed that at a wedding the bride should be accompanied by a bevy of maidens and the bridegroom by a company of youths. You must not look without for the meaning of these; you must look no further than those who are saved by the preaching of the Gospel. By the Bridegroom understand Christ, and by the Bride the Church “without spot or wrinkle,” of whom it is written: “that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and without blemish.” In the maidens who are with the Bride you must recognize those who, although they are faithful, do not come under the foregoing description, yet are regarded none the less as having in some sense obtained salvation — in short, they are the souls of believers. And in the men with the Bridegroom you must see the angels and those who have “come unto the perfect man.” We have thus four groups: the two individuals, the Bridegroom and the Bride; two choirs answering each other — the Bride singing with her maidens, and the Bridegroom with His companions. When you have grasped this, listen to the Song of Songs and make haste to understand it and to join with the Bride in saying what she says, so that you may hear also what she heard. And, if you are unable to join the Bride in her words, then, so that you may hear the things that are said to her, make haste at least to join the Bridegroom’s companions. And if they also are beyond you, then be with the maidens who stay in the Bride’s retinue and share her pleasures.

These are the characters in this book, which is at once a drama and a marriage-song. And it is from this book that the heathen appropriated the epithalamium, and here is the source of this type of poem; for it is obviously a marriage-song that we have in the Song of Songs. The Bride prays first and, even as she prays, forthwith is heard. She sees the Bridegroom present; she sees the maidens gathered in her train. Then the Bridegroom answers her; and, after He has spoken, while He is still suffering for her salvation, the companions reply that “until the Bridegroom recline at His table” and rise from His Passion, they are going to make the Bride some ornaments.

2. We must consider now the actual words with which the Bride first voices her prayer: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” Their meaning is: “How long is my Bridegroom going to send me kisses by Moses and kisses by the prophets? It is His own mouth that I desire now to touch; let Him come, let Him come down Himself!” So she beseeches the Bridegroom’s Father saying: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” And because she is such that the prophetic word, “While thou art yet speaking, I will say, ‘Lo, here am I!’” can be fulfilled upon her, the Bridegroom’s Father listens to the Bride and sends His Son.

She, seeing Him for whose coming she prayed, leaves off her prayer and says to Him directly: “Thy breasts are better than wine, and the odour of thy perfumes better than all spices.” Christ the Bridegroom, therefore, whom the Father has sent, comes anointed to the Bride and it is said to Him: “Thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” If the Bridegroom has touched me, I too become of a good odour, I too am anointed with perfumes; and His perfumes are so imparted to me that I can say with the apostles: “We are the good odour of Christ in every place.”

But we, although we hear these things, still stink of the sins and vices concerning which the penitent speaks through the prophet, saying: “My sores are putrefied and corrupted because of my foolishness” Sin has a putrid smell, virtue exhales sweet odours. Look up examples of them in the Book of Exodus; you will find there stacte, onyx, galbanum, and so on. Now these are to make incense; in addition, various perfumes, among them nard and stacte, are taken for the work of the perfumer. And God who made heaven and earth speaks to Moses, saying: “I have filled them with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that they may make the things that belong to the perfumer’s art”; and God teaches the perfumers. If these words are not to be spiritually understood, are they not mere tales? If they conceal no hidden mystery, are they not unworthy of God? He, therefore, who can discern the spiritual sense of Scripture or, if he cannot, yet desires so to do, must strive his utmost to live not after flesh and blood, so that he may become worthy of spiritual mysteries and — if I may speak more boldly — of spiritual desire and love, if such indeed there be. And as one sort of food is carnal and another is spiritual, and as there is one drink for the flesh and another for the spirit, so there is a love of the flesh which comes from Satan, and there is also another love, belonging to the spirit, which has its origin in God; and nobody can be possessed by the two loves. If you are a lover of the flesh, you do not acquire the love of the spirit. If you have despised all bodily things — I do not mean flesh and blood, but money and property and the very earth and heaven, for these will pass away — if you have set all these at nought and your soul is not attached to any of them, neither are you held back by any love of sinful practices, then you can acquire spiritual love.

We have put this here, because the opportunity arose to say something about spiritual love. And it is for us to follow Solomon’s injunction, and still more His who spoke through Solomon concerning wisdom, saying; “Love her, and she will keep thee safe; enfold her, and she will exalt thee; render her honour, that she may embrace thee.” For there is a certain spiritual embrace, and O that the Bridegroom’s more perfect embrace may enfold my Bride! Then I too shall be able to say what is written in this same book: “His left hand is under my head, and His right hand will embrace me.”

3. “Let Him kiss me,” therefore, “with the kisses of His mouth.” The Scriptures are wont to use the form of command, rather than that of wish. We have, for instance, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” instead of “O that it may be hallowed!” and in the passage before us we read “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth,” rather than “O that He would kiss!”

Then she sees the Bridegroom. Fragrant with sweet oils He comes; and He could not otherwise approach the Bride, nor was it fitting for the Father to send His Son to the marriage in any other wise. He has anointed Him with divers perfumes, He has made Him the Christ, who comes breathing sweet odours and hears the Bride declare: “Thy breasts are better than wine.” The Divine Word rightly has different names for the same thing, according to the context. When a victim is offered in the Law, and the Word wants to show exactly what is meant, it says: “The little breast that is set apart.” But when someone reclines with Jesus and enjoys full fellowship of thought with Him, then the expression is, not “little breast,” but “bosom.” And again, when the Bride speaks to the Bridegroom, because it is a marriage-song that is beginning, the word used is not “little breast,” as in the sacrifice, not “bosom,” as in the case of the disciple John, but “breasts” — “Thy breasts are better than wine.”

Be you of one mind with the Bridegroom, like the Bride, and you will know that thoughts of this kind do inebriate and make the spirit glad. Wherefore, as “the inebriating chalice of the Lord, how surpassing good it is!” — so are the breasts of the Bridegroom better than any wine. “For Thy breasts are better than wine” — this is how in the midst of her prayers she addresses herself to her Spouse — “and the odour of Thy perfumes is above all spices.” Not with one perfume only does He come anointed, but with all. And if He will condescend to make my soul His Bride too and come to her, how fair must she then be to draw Him down from heaven to herself, to cause Him to come down to earth, that He may visit His beloved one! With that beauty must she be adorned, with what love must she burn that He may say to her the things which He said to the perfect Bride, about “thy neck, thine eyes, thy cheeks, thy hands, thy body,” thy shoulders, thy feet! God permitting, we will think about these questions, and consider why the Bride’s members are thus differentiated and a special meed of praise accorded to each part; thus, when we have thought it out, we may try to have our own soul spoken to in the same way.

“Thy breasts,” then “are better than wine.” If you have seen the Bridegroom, you will know that what is spoken here is true: “Thy breasts are better than wine, and the odour of Thy perfumes is above all spices.” Many people have had spices: the queen of the South brought spices to Solomon, and many others possessed them; but no matter what any man had, his treasures could not be compared with the odours of Christ, of which the Bride says here: “The odour of Thy perfumes is above all spices.” I think myself that Moses had spices too, and Aaron, and each one of the prophets; but if I have once seen Christ and have perceived the sweetness of His perfumes by their smell, forthwith I give my judgement in the words: “The odour of Thy perfumes is above all spices.”

4. “Thy name is as perfume poured forth.” These words foretell a mystery: even so comes the name of Jesus to the world, and is “as perfume poured forth” when it is proclaimed. In the Gospel, moreover, a woman took an alabaster vessel containing precious ointment of pure spikenard and poured it on Jesus’ head, and (another) on His feet. Note carefully which of the two women poured the perfume on the Saviour’s head: the “sinner” poured it on His feet, and she who is not called a sinner poured it on His head. Notice, I say, and you will find that in this Gospel lesson the evangelists have written mysteries, and not just tales and stories. And so “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.” We must take what the sinner brought with reference to the feet, and what the woman who was not a sinner brought with reference to the head. Small wonder that the house was filled with fragrance, since with this fragrance all the world is filled!

The same passage speaks of Simon the leper and his house. I think the leper is the prince of this world, and that the leper is called Simon: his house it is that at Christ’s coming is filled with sweet odours, when a sinful woman repents and a holy one anoints the head of Jesus with sweet perfumes.

“Thy name is as perfume poured forth.” As perfume when it is applied scatters its fragrance far and wide, so is the name of Jesus poured forth. In every land His name is named, throughout all the world my Lord is preached; for his “name is as perfume poured forth,” We hear the name of Moses now, though formerly it was not heardbeyond the confines of Judea; for none of the Greeks makes mention of it, neither do we find anything written about him or about the others anywhere in pagan literature. But straight away, when Jesus shone upon the world, He led forth the Law and the Prophets along with Himself, and the words, “Thy name is as perfume poured forth,” were indeed fulfilled.

5. “Therefore have the virgins loved thee.” Because “the charity if God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” the mention of pouring forth, which is made here is apt. As the Bride says the words, “Thy name is as perfume poured forth,” she sees the maidens. When she made her petition to the Bridegroom’s Father, and while she was talking directly to the Spouse Himself, the maidens were not present; but a band of virgins appears even as she is praying, and, praising them, she says, “Therefore have the virgins loved Thee, and have drawn thee.” And the maidens answer: “We will run after thee in the fragrance of thy perfumes.”

How fine a touch it is that the attendants of the Bride do not as yet have the Bride’s own confidence! The Bride does not follow behind, she walks side by side with the Bridegroom; she takes His right hand, and in His right hand her own hand is held. But the handmaidens follow after Him. “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and young maidens without number. One is my dove, my perfect one, she is the only one of her mother, she that conceived her hath no other one.” “After thee,” therefore, “we will run into the fragrance of thy perfumes.”

It was entirely appropriate that these words, “we will run into the fragrance of thy perfumes,” were used of lovers; they accord with “I have finished the course,” and “they that run in the race all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize” — which prize is Christ. And these maidens who, as we know, are standing without because their love is only just beginning, are like “the friend of the Bridegroom, who standeth and heareth Him, and rejoiceth with joy because of the Bridegroom’s voice.” The maidens undergo a like experience: when the Bridegroom enters, they remain without.

But when the Bride, the fair, the perfect one who is without spot or wrinkle, has entered the Bridegroom’s chamber, the secret place of the King, she comes back to the maidens and, telling them the things that she alone has seen, she says: “The king brought me into His chamber.” She does not say: “He brought us” — using the plural — “into His chamber”; the others remain without, the Bride alone is brought into the chamber, that she may see there dark and hidden treasures and may take back word to the damsels: “The King brought me into His chamber.”

Further, when the Bride has gone into the Bridegroom’s chamber and is seeing there the riches of her Spouse, the maidens — the goodly company of those who are learning to be brides — sing together joyfully while they await her coming, saying: “We will be glad and rejoice in Thee.” They are glad because of the Bride’s perfection, for there is here no envy in respect of virtues; this love is pure, this love free from fault.

“We will be glad and rejoice in thee. We will love thy breasts.” She who is greater is already enjoying the milk of those breasts, and she says in her joy: “Thy breasts are above wine.” But these, because they are young maidens only, defer their joy and gladness; their love also they defer and say: “We will be glad and rejoice in thee. We will love” — not “we love,” but “we will love” — “Thy breasts more than wine.” Then they say to the Bridegroom, “Equity has loved thee”: they praise the Bride by calling her Equity, as denoting the sum of her characteristic virtues — “Equity has loved Thee.”

6. The Bride then makes the maidens this reply: “I am black and beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem” — we learn now that “daughters of Jerusalem” is what the maidens are — “As the tents of cedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not at me, for that I am blackened; for the sun has looked down on me.”

Beautiful indeed is the Bride, and I can find out in what manner she is so. But the question is, in what way is she black and how, if she lacks whiteness, is she fair. She has repented of her sins, beauty is the gift conversion has bestowed; that is the reason she is hymned as beautiful. She is called black, however, because she has not yet been purged of every stain of sin, she has not yet been washed unto salvation; nevertheless she does not stay dark-hued, she is becoming white. When, therefore, she arises towards greater things and begins to mount from lowly things to lofty, they say concerning her: “Who is this that cometh up, having been washed white?” And in order that the mystery may be more clearly expressed, they do not say “leaning upon her Nephew’s arm,” as we read in most version — that is to say, epistērizomeˊnē, but epistēthizomeˊnē, that is, “leaning upon His breast.” And it is significant that the expression used concerning the bride-soul and the Bridegroom-Word is “lying upon His breast,” because there is the seat of our heart. Forsaking carnal things, therefore, we must perceive those of the spirit and understand that it is much better to love after this manner than to refrain from love. She “cometh up,” then, “leaning on her Nephew’s breast” and of her, who at the Canticle’s beginning was set down as black, it is sung at the end of the marriage-song: “Who is this that cometh up, having been washed white?”

We understand, then, why the bride is black and beautiful at one and the same time. But, if you do not likewise practise penitence, take heed lest your soul be described as black and ugly, and you be hideous with a double foulness — black by reason of your past sins and ugly because you are continuing in the same vices! If you have repented, however, your soul will indeed be black because of your old sins, but your penitence will give it something of what I may call an Ethiopian beauty. And having once made mention of an Ethiopian, I want to summon a Scriptural witness about this word too. “Aaron and Mary murmur against Moses, because Moses has an Ethiopian wife.” Moses weds an Ethiopian wife, because his Law has passed over to the Ethiopian woman of our Song. Let the Aaron of the Jewish priesthood murmur, and let the Mary of their synagogue murmur too. Moses cares nothing for their murmuring; He loves his Ethiopian woman, concerning whom it is said elsewhere through the prophet: “From the ends of the rivers of Ethiopia shall they bring offerings,” and again: “Ethiopia shall get her hands in first with God.” It is well said that she shall get in first; for, as in the Gospel the woman with the issue of blood received attention before the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, so also has Ethiopia been healed while Israel is still sick. “By their offence salvation has been effected for the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous.”

“I am black and beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.” Address yourself to the daughters of Jerusalem, you member of the Church, and say: “The Bridegroom loves me more and holds me dearer than you, who are the many daughters of Jerusalem; you stand without and watch the Bride enter the chamber.” [Let no one doubt that the black one is beautiful, for all she is called black. For we exist in order that we may acknowledge God, that we may tell forth songs of a song, that we may be those who have come from the borders of Ethiopia, from the ends of the earth, to hear the wisdom of the true Solomon.] And when the Saviour’s voice is heard thundering out the words: “The queen of the South shall come to judgement and shall condemn the men of this generation, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, a greater than Solomon is here,” you must understand what is said in a mystical sense: the queen of the South, who comes from the ends of the earth, is the Church; and the men of this generation whom she condemns, are the Jews, who are given over to flesh and blood. She comes from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom, not of that Solomon about whom we read in the Old Testament, but of Him who is said in the Gospel to be greater than Solomon.

“I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, black as the tents of Cedar, beautiful as the curtains of Solomon.” The very names accord with the Bride’s comeliness. The Hebrews say that “Cedar” is the word for darkness — “I am black,” therefore, “as the tents of Cedar,” as the Ethiopians, as Ethiopian tents; and “beautiful as the curtains of Solomon,” which he prepared as adornments of the tabernacle at the time when he built the Temple with the utmost care and toil. Solomon was rich indeed, and no one surpassed him in any branch of wisdom. “I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not at me, for that I am blackened.” She apologizes for her blackness; and, being turned to better things through penitence, she tells the daughters of Jerusalem that she is black indeed, but beautiful for the reason which we gave above, and says: “Look not at me, for that I am blackened. Do not be surprised,” she says, “that I am of a forbidding hue; the Sun has looked down on me. With full radiance His bright light has shone on me, and I am darkened by His heat. I have not indeed received His light into myself as it were fitting that I should, and as the Sun’s own dignity required.”

By “their offence salvation has been effected for the Gentiles.” And again: “Through the unbelief of the Gentiles is the knowledge of Israel.” You find both of these texts in the Apostle.

7. “The sons of my mother have fought against me.” We must consider in what sense the Bride says: “The sons of my mother have fought against me,” and at what time her brothers launched this attack. You have only to look at Paul, the persecutor of the Church, to see how a son of her mother fought against her. The persecutors of the Church have repented, and her opponents have turned to their sister’s banners and have preached the faith which they formerly sought to destroy. Foreseeing this, the Bride now sings: “They have contended against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards; my vineyard I have not kept.” “I, the Church, the spotless one,” she says, “have been appointed keeper of many vineyards by my mother’s sons, who once had fought against me. Harassed by the responsibility and care involved in guarding many vineyards, I have not kept my own.”

Apply these words to Paul or any other of the saints who care for the salvation of all men, and you will see how he guards others’ vineplantations while not guarding his own; how he himself bears loss in some respects so that he may gain others; and how, though he was free as to all, he made himself the servant of all that he might gain all, being made weak to the weak, a Jew to the Jews, as subject to the Law to those who are so subject, and so forth — how, in a word, he can say: “My vineyard I have not kept.”

The Bride then beholds the Bridegroom; and He, as soon as she has seen Him, goes away. He does this frequently throughout the Song; and that is something nobody can understand who has not suffered it himself. God is my witness that I have often perceived the Bridegroom drawing near me and being most intensely present with me; then suddenly He has withdrawn and I could not find Him, though I sought to do so. I long, therefore, for Him to come again, and sometimes He does so. Then, when He has appeared and I lay hold of Him, He slips away once more; and, when He has so slipped away, my search for Him begins anew. So does He act with me repeatedly, until in truth I hold Him and go up, “leaning on my Nephew’s arm.”

8. “Tell me, Thou whom my soul has loved, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest in the midday.” I am not asking about other times, I ask not where Thou feedest in the evening, or at daybreak, or when the sun goes down. I ask about the full day-time, when the light is brightest and Thou dwellest in the splendour of Thy majesty: “Tell me, Thou whom my soul has loved, where Thou liest in the midday.”

Observe attentively where else you have read about midday. In the story of Joseph his brethren feast at noon; at noon the angels were entertained by Abraham, and there are other instances besides. You will find if you look into it, that Holy Scripture never uses any word haphazard and without a purpose. Who among us, do you think, is worthy to attain the midday, and to see where the Bridegroom feeds and where He lies at noon? “Tell me, Thou whom my soul has loved, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest in the midday.” For, unless Thou tell me, I shall begin to be a vagrant, driven to and fro; while I am looking for Thee, I shall begin to run after other people’s flocks and, because these other people make me feel ashamed, I shall begin to cover my face and my mouth. I am the beautiful Bride in sooth, and I show not my naked face to any save Thee only, whom I kissed tenderly but now. “Tell me, Thou whom my soul has loved, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest in the midday, lest I have to go veiled beside the flocks of Thy companions.” That I suffer not these things — that I may need not to go veiled nor hide my face; that, mixing with others, I run not the risk of beginning to love also them whom I know not — tell me, therefore, where I may seek and find Thee in the midday, “lest I have to go veiled beside the flocks of Thy companions.”

9. After these words the Bridegroom warns her, saying: “Either know thyself, that thou art the Bride of the King and beautiful, and made beautiful by me because I have presented to myself ‘a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle’; or understand that if thou hast not known thyself nor grasped thy dignity, thou must endure the things that follow.” What may these be?

“If Thou have not known Thyself, O fair one among women, go forth in the steps of the flocks and feed” — not the flocks of sheep, nor of lambs, but — “Thy goats.” He will set the sheep on the right hand and the goats upon the left, assuredly. “If thou have not known thyself, O fair one among women, go forth in the steps of the flocks and feed thy goats among the shepherds’ tents.” “In the steps of the flocks,” He says, “wilt thou find thyself at the last, not among the sheep, but among the goats; and when thou dwellest with them thou canst not be with me — that is, with the Good Shepherd.”

10. “To my company of horsemen among Pharao’s chariots have I likened thee. If thou wouldst understand, O Bride, how thou must know thyself, think what it is to which I have compared thee. Then, when thou hast recognized thy likeness, thou wilt see that thou art such as must not be disgraced.”

What then is the meaning of these words: “To my company of horsemen among Pharao’s chariots have I likened thee”? I myself know that the Bridegroom is likened to a horseman in the words of the prophet: “Thy riding is salvation”: so thou art compared to “my company of horsemen among Pharao’s chariots.” As different is the company of horsemen that belongs to me, who am the Lord and drown the Pharao and his generals, his riders and his horsemen in the waves — as different, I tell you, is my cavalry from Pharao’s horses as thou, the Bride, art better than all daughters, and thou, the soul belonging to the Church, art better than all souls that are not of the Church. “To my company of horsemen among Pharao’s chariots have I likened thee.”

He next describes the beauty of the Bride in terms of spiritual love: “Thy cheeks are as the turtle-dove’s.” He praises her face, and is kindled to admiration by her rosy cheeks. A woman’s beauty is considered to reside supremely in her cheeks. So let us likewise take the cheeks as revealing the beauty of the soul; by lips and tongue, however, let the intelligence be represented to us.

“Thy neck is as a necklace.” Thy neck, that is to say, even when unadorned is of itself as much an ornament as is the little necklace called hormiskos, that virgins are wont to wear.

After these things the Spouse takes His repose. “He has reposed as a lion, and as a lion’s whelp He has slept,” so that in due course He may hear: “Who shall arouse Him?” While He reposes, His companions the angels appear to the Bride and comfort her with these words: “We cannot make thee golden ornaments — we are not so rich as is thy Spouse, who gives thee a necklace of gold; we will make thee likenesses of gold, for gold we have not got. Yet this also is matter for rejoicing, if we make likenesses of gold, if we make studs of silver. “We will make Thee likenesses of gold with studs of silver;” but not for always, only until thy Spouse arises from His rest. For, when He has arisen, He Himself will make thee gold and silver, He will Himself adorn thy mind and thy understanding, and thou shalt be rich indeed, the Bride made perfect in the House of the Bridegroom, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Top 100 Preachers and Sermons: Origen


No list of prominent Christian preachers would be complete without adequate attention being given to Origen (A.D. 185-254). 

Origen was born in Alexandria of Christian parents.  When he was 16 years old a great persecution broke out and Origen’s father, Leonides, was thrown into prison.  Origen wanted to join his father in prison and into what was presumed to be the martyrdom to follow, but his mother—unwilling to see this—hid all of Origen’s clothes when he was undressed, so that he couldn’t leave the house.  Unable to leave, he wrote to his father, pleading with him to have courage and not give up his faith.  Leonides stood by his faith and was beheaded. All of his property was confiscated.

Origen began to provide for his family financially at that time by beginning to teach.Because of the persecution, Origen’s teacher, Clement of Alexandria abandoned his work as head of the catechetical school at Alexandria and Origen took it up, even though he was only 18 years old.

Origen continued to live in ascetic poverty. He used no wine. He slept on the ground. He fasted constantly — to the injury of his health. He wore no shoes. He possessed only one coat. He spent day and night in study. According to some authorities, Origen’s zeal for dedication and purity led him to self-mutilation. Whether or not he was ever actually castrated is an issue difficult to establish on the basis of existing evidence. But the story does reflect something of his image among his contemporaries as a zealous — almost fanatical — Christian.  (Fant & Pinson, A treasury of great preaching, vol. 1, p. 30)

His fame as a teacher grew and for a time he was summoned to Antioch to teach Julia Mammaea, the mother of Emperor Alexander Severus. 

After his return to Alexandria, and with the rise of a new emperor, a new persecution arose and Origen was forced to flee his home city.  He wandered until finally ending up in Caesarea in Palestine.  While the bishops in Caeasarea were delighted to have Origen teaching there, his own bishop in Alexandria was furious over it (because Origen was not ordained) and ordered Origen to return to Alexandria.  

Origen’s relationship with Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria was continually antagonistic. “Demetrius apparently was jealous of anyone whose ability threw him entirely into the background, whose opinions were beyond his understanding, and whose methods he did not approve.” (Fant & Pinson)  Demetrius called a synod to seek excommunicate Origen, but the synod refused.  Demitrius, therefore, called a second synod, who complied and excommunicated Origen, but most of the churches ignored the action.

Origen spent the next twenty years in Palestine researching, writing and teaching.  After another persecution arose, he was forced to live in hiding, but he continued his work, even clandestinely.

Eventually a persecution arose that caught Origen in it’s web.  He was arrested in Tyre, imprisoned and tortured.  He was eventually released, upon the death of Emperor Decius, but Origen was so broken that he soon died there in Tyre at the age of 69. 

Origen heavily influenced preaching during these years.  He is most famous for his incredible flights of allegorical fancy in his biblical interpretation.  He formulated that all scripture had three senses:  grammatical, moral, and spiritual (or allegorical) and the last was the most important. 

Part of this arose because of two factors:  the allegorical method was widely used in the culture at that time.  But second (and more important) Origen had no understanding of the concept of progressive revelation.  Therefore he struggled with harmonizing the laws and regulations of the Old Testament with the faith and ethic of the gospel.

Origen sought to save the whole structure of Scripture as a unity by discovering a mystical or spiritual meaning within every obscure and difficult passage. This desire for unity between the Old and New Testaments led him into many of his fantastic comparisons between Old Testament regulations and New Testament principles. (Fant & Pinson, 1:36)

But that judgment overshadows the three greatest contributions of Origen:

  1. Origen was the first preacher to establish the form of the sermon as a discourse on a specific biblical text, where that text should be explained and applied.  Up until this time every Christian saw him/herself as a preacher and sermons were often little more than personal testimonies.  Because of the repeated persecutions during this period, Origen felt it was vital that preachers preach the content of the Bible and be able to defend it intellectually.
  2. Origen was the first preacher to lay great stress upon the importance of a careful exegesis of the historical and grammatical significance of the sermon text.
  3. Related to the above, Origen contributed to the structure of the sermon.  Before this time, sermons had been (as already stated) little more than personal testimonies with random thoughts, seldom related either to one another or to scripture.  But Origen insisted that preaching must be expository:  a continuous narrative based on one particular passage of scripture.    Generally there was no single theme to the sermon: it was simply a running commentary on the passage of scripture. The only unity in the sermon could be found in whatever unity was found in the text being addressed.

Ambrosius, one of Origen’s converts, sponsored seven or more scribes who would take down Origen’s sermons in shorthand as they were being preached and then put them into publishable format.  (I suspect that something similar to that must be happening with D.A. Carson today, so prolific is his output).  Even to today, we have over 200 of Origen’s homilies recorded. 

Origen believed that it was God who called and qualified the preacher. It was, however, the preacher’s responsibility to acquire and improve the gift of prophecy. 

Origen was not a orator:  he was a teacher.  But it was not just his academic prowess that attracted students.  The historian Eusebius notes that “his warmth of nature, his enthusiasm and his sympathy won men to him.” 

Through his teaching and through his life, Origen impacted the theory and practice of Christian preaching for millennia to come. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bryan Chapell on the Future of Expository Preaching

I found this little video helpful in defining expository preaching in a simple way. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mead>>Don’t Disregard Distractions

Peter Mead has a great post on avoiding distractions in our preaching:image

Don’t ignore the power of distractions.  I’m not referring to the things that distract you, but the things you do that distract your listeners.  Don’t just shrug and say, “that’s just me.”  It’s not.  If you know about a distraction and don’t do something about it, then really you are saying, “that’s just me being too lazy or proud to address the issue.”  If you don’t know about your distracting mannerisms and habits, perhaps it’s time to ask someone who will be honest with you?  What might they point out?

Distracting Gestures – These tend to be the first thing people will mention because their power to distract is so great.  Basically any gesture you use too frequently will distract.  Especially any gesture you use rhythmically.

Distracting Gaze – It is distracting to listen to a speaker who won’t look at you, but instead seems to be looking over your head, or at some apparition only he can see on the wall over by the clock.  Eye contact matters to people, whether they know it or not.

Distracting Words or Non-Words - Hmmm, you know, like, I mean, just really, uhhhh, and what not.  Non-words, filler words, mispronounced words and repeatedly tacked on words are all distractions.  Find out what you use and graciously assassinate it.

Distracting Attire – Do most people really appreciate that loud shirt you were given on the ministry trip to wherever-land, or only the one or two ebullient people who react with joy to anything that breaks the monotony of normal life?  Equally, do the right clothes fit wrong, or the patterns create hallucinations for people watching your image projected on the screen (most of us don’t have this problem).

Your goal in communicating is to communicate.  It makes no sense to tolerate distractions.  Funnily enough, distracted listeners are, well, distracted.  Find out if you are causing distraction in any way, the don’t disregard what you discover.

Find Peter’s blog here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spurgeon Fellowship Schedule for 2009-2010


I have recently been blogging about the first of the 2009-2010 Spurgeon Fellowship lectures at Western Seminary which was given by  Art Azurdia.  This is the fourth season for the SF lectures. In case you will be in Portland on the following dates, here is the schedule for the rest of this school year.  (While the sessions are free, pre-registration is required.  The auditorium will only hold 250 people. It ALWAYS sells out).

November 3, 2009 (Tuesday)
DR. ALEX MONTOYA “Preaching And The Purpose Of The Church”

Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley and Pastor of First Fundamental Bible Church of Monterey Park, California.

We will examine the place of Biblical preaching as the primary means for advancing the grand purpose of the church, the importance of the pulpit as the driving force for the church, as well as the necessity of the pulpit being in step with the Biblical purpose of the local church.

January 12, 2010 (Tuesday)
DR. MIKE JONES “The Weapons Of Our Warfare”


Pastor of Independent Bible Church in Port Angeles, Washington.

At the end of our spiritual journey, will we be able to say with the apostle Paul, ”I have fought the good fight?” In a day given over to constant attacks on the role of the preacher and the importance of preaching the word of God faithfully, we need to know the weapons supplied by God for victory.


March 16, 2010 (Tuesday)
Session 1: DR. JOHN JOHNSON “The Need To Preach Ecclesiastes In An Age Of Folly”

Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. John is also Lead Pastor of Village Baptist Church in Beaverton, Oregon

Most congregants have a disparaging view of Ecclesiastes, while most preachers tend to avoid this book. But could Ecclesiastes be one of the most timely, significant books for our present culture? If so, how in the world do we preach it?

Session 2: DR. ROBERT SMITH “Doctrine That Dances”

Professor of Christian Preaching at Beeson Divinity School. Author of Doctrine That Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, he pastored for twenty years and has preached and taught in over forty schools in the United States and abroad.

“Ministers who dare to preach doctrinally must always remember that they not only participate in rightly dividing the word of truth before the congregation, but that they are also divided by that same word.” But what happens to the man who, while laboring at preaching, fails to experience the truth being proclaimed? What are the effects of this on the congregation? How can a preacher be touched by the Word he proclaims?

For more information or to register for The Spurgeon Fellowship, call 877-517-1800 x1855 (toll-free) or 503-517-1855 or visit  Western Seminary is located at 5511 SE Hawthorne Blvd in Portland, OR.

Download the informational brochure here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Further Thoughts on Successful vs. Faithful and Divine Healing

The last couple of days I have reported on Art Azurdia’s presentation at the Spurgeon Fellowship on the topic: Faithful or Successful: Shattering the Dichotomy.    And I absolutely appreciated Art’s emphases.  It is worth listening to, if you weren’t there. (You can find the audio here.)  It helped me put a number of things from my last pastoral ministry in context.

But I struggle with one aspect.  And perhaps I am coming at it wrongly, but it is where I am coming from. 

(Excuse me for the excurses into divine healing. I promise to bring it back to Art’s lecture)

In recent years I have been in regular contact with a pastor friend from Beaverton, Craig DeMo, who espouses the principles of image_thumbPortland faith-healer John G. Lake. (Lake—picture to the right--ministered in Portland in the 1920’s).

I do not want anything I say to come across as anything but respectful to Craig. I value him and the ministry he performs. I just can’t buy into it.  My friend has evangelistic and healing ministries both in the US as well as in Asia, particularly Pakistan. 

He teaches regularly in writing, in classes and on CD recordings on “divine healing” that I have studied & of which I have tried to make sense.  He has seven principles of divine healing, the first and last which are:

#1: We cannot judge whether or not someone is healed based on what we see, what we hear or on ANY external evidence. (p. 3)


#7: The Word always works.  Healing always comes. (p. 28)

Later, he seems to qualify this a bit when he says, “Whenever we act or move in faith for healing, healing always comes.” (p. 30) But his principle still stands: Healing always comes.

Let me break down a little bit more what I believe Lake & DeMo are saying:

#1: We cannot judge whether or not someone is healed based on what we see, what we hear or on ANY external evidence.

Divine Healing144He compares it to salvation: When someone accepts Christ, we may not immediately see any observable difference in their lives or behavior. But we have no qualms declaring that they are saved. Craig notes: “When it comes to the New Birth, we don’t judge based on what we see—but when it comes to divine healing, we change the rules.” (p. 3)

I just don’t see evidence of that in the New Testament.  When Jesus healed someone, there was an immediate, observable change in the physical condition of the person asking for healing.  The example that Craig uses as his main point of evidence is the healing of the blind man who was healed in stages in Mark 8.

Mark 8:22-26: They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

The point made, was that this man was not healed immediately. It took two steps. Therefore, Craig says, healing may not come immediately: the observable healing may come days, weeks or years later.

However, observable healing DID come when Jesus put spit in the man’s eyes & touched them. He did NOT remain blind. It was an observable difference. Now the reason why the healing was in two stages is a discussion for another article (or not) but I don’t believe this is a valid example of healing not being immediately observable. Even in this case, Jesus did not leave the person until healing was complete.

#7: The Word always works.  Healing always comes.

The only exemption that Craig allows to that is when there is unbelief, but not unbelief on the part of the one seeking healing, but unbelief on the part of the one administering healing. He uses the example of Jesus’ disciples in Matt 17:

Matthew 17:14-21 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

As much as I want to believe Craig’s teachings on divine healing, it just doesn’t add up to me. To say that healing ALWAYS comes whether or not we can observe it or not seems like a bit of word-play hocus-pocus. It comes across as not just faith, but blind faith. “In spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, I choose to believe.” And there may, sometimes, be an aspect of that in faith. But that is not a definition of faith. 

I have to say there comes a time when one MUST say, “Healing didn’t come. Whatever God’s reasons; we were not necessarily at fault, the sick person was not necessarily at fault. But God chose not to heal.”

So…back to Faithful-vs.-Successful.

Probably I am just reading too much into this based on my reaction to Craig’s teaching on Divine Healing, butimage these two principles seem to be the same as what Art is saying about preaching and ministry.

Remember where Art left off as his conclusion: “IF YOU STAY FAITHFUL TO THE GOSPEL, YOU WILL SUCCEED.”  And I surmise from both lectures that success will come, even if it is not observable.

He premised that on his previous lectures that –

1. Success does not come because of our efforts, but because of God’s work. (I buy into that).

2. God has said that he chose us to bear fruit. (I buy into that).

3. Therefore…our work will always be successful; we may just not see it.

(Perhaps the fault in the logic that I am tripping over is that Art is equating “bearing fruit” with success?

I hear both of them saying, “In spite of all of the evidence…healing/success will come.”

I understand all the talk about Paul “planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (I Cor. 3:6) And I ABSOLUTELY believe that.

But I struggle with the blanket statement that “IF YOU STAY FAITHFUL TO THE GOSPEL, YOU WILL SUCCEED.”

“All evidence to the contrary, you will succeed.”

Maybe that is just an element of faith. But I cannot differentiate clearly between what my friend Craig teaches and what I hear from Art.

It seems there may come a time when we say, “We were not successful. Whatever God’s reasons; we were not necessarily at fault, those around us were not necessarily at fault. But God (for his own reasons) chose not to make this endeavor successful.” And blindly saying, “Well, we ARE or WILL BE successful because God promised that,” seems a bit like presuming on God.

I would say of my friend Craig that he has set up human principles on healing that he must defend whether or not the evidence stacks up against it. May we also say that if we accept what Art says about ultimate success, that we may find ourselves having to do the same thing: defend principles whether or not the evidence stacks up against it?

I am not wanting to be negative and prematurely declare failure when the story is not all in. But I (wonder…not conclude…just wonder…if Art is setting up principles that may prove to be indefensible in the end.

Don’t take any of this as dissing Art’s presentation. It was excellent. And I may be splitting hairs a bit too much. l just want to understand if he is taking a scriptural truth and making a man-made principle out of it that is not actually biblical truth. 

Can you help me differentiate between the two teachers and their teaching?

If you can, put a note in the comments section. I may address this again if there is enough interest.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Faithful or Successful: Shattering the Dichotomy, Part II

  imageYesterday I gave a report on Art Azurdia’s first presentation at the Spurgeon Fellowship at Western Seminary which was held a couple of weeks back. In spite of what some of my friends thought, it was not the Surgeon Fellowship (I am not a physician) nor was it the Sturgeon Fellowship (for my Columbia River-fishing friends)

Both of Art’s presentations were EXCELLENT and dealt with the topic of Faithfulness vs. Success in the proclamation of the Gospel.  Last time we looked at the divine aspect…that ultimately God, not we, are the determiner of whatever success we have. We are called to be faithful. 

HOWEVER… at the break, I ask Art, “So what does that do to job evaluations and personal accountability.”  He smiled and said, “Just wait until the second lecture.” 

And for the most part he was correct.  He MOSTLY answered my question.

Art’s thesis during the second lecture was: (my notes follow)

Can a called man(*), faithful to the gospel, be certain of success?

John 15:12-17 (esp. v. 16)

The preacher does not select his vocation. It is selected for him. –Will Houghton

The man whom Christ makes a fisher of men is successful. --Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Prayer is one half of a man’s ministry; and it gives to the other half all its power and success –Charles Bridges

Size in and of itself is not the sign of anything good or bad.

Can a called man, faithful to the gospel, be certain of success?

John 15:12-17: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

I. Considering the Context (…as I have loved you”)…

  • That phrase appears at the beginning and the end of this passage like parenthesis “inclusio”
    • v. 12: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
    • v. 17-This is my command: Love each other.
  • Jesus: “ponder how you should love each other based on how I have loved you.”
  • Moral imperative based on a moral indicative.
  • The love of Jesus displays itself in
    • His death for them (v. 13: “to lay down his life for one’s friends.”)
    • His intimacy with them (v. 14-“you are my friends if you do what I command.”)
    • His appointment of them. (v. 15: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.)
  • Lest they get pompous because of His love, he punctures their balloon—You didn’t choose me, I chose you.”

II. Narrowing the Focus

Can a called man, faithful to the gospel, be certain of success?

John 15:16: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

Three truths:

1. Gospel ministers are sovereignly commissioned. (v. 16a-“you did not chose me, but I chose you”)

Don’t be afraid of this. (“You did not choose me [for yourself], but I chose you [for myself]”)-middle active.

  1. “Jesus found Philip” vs. “We have found him of whom Moses & the prophets spoke.” Was Philip a liar? No, he was speaking existentially.
  2. This is not the appointment of salvation, but the appointment of certain people to tasks of bearing fruit. An election FOR ministry/an election to GO.
    • Num 8-the appointment of the Levites
    • Jeremiah-before you were born, I knew you.
  3. We must not democratize the church.
    1. Jesus calls
    2. It does not mean that
    3. The plurality of elders is not the NT’s only word about church leadership. (My emphasis, not his)
    4. Gospel ministers are sovereignly commissioned.
    5. This appointment is not for indolence and ease, but for a task that is relentless, vicious & at times dangerous to their health.
    6. You have not chosen this work, but that God chose it for you.
    7. We have too many “self-sent” men: Self-centered entrepreneurialism.
    8. People in our congregations are thinking “Any boob can be a pastor”

2. Gospel ministers are commissioned to succeed (16b: “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit & that your fruit should abide?”)

  1. What is the type of fruit referred to here?
    1. The fruit is the consequence of their going. Fruit that is borne of mission.
    2. It is the disciple-making process (not to be confused with the decision-making process).
  2. In this context WE WILL BEAR FRUIT.
  3. It is a LIE to say: “God hasn’t called you to be successful; God has called you to be faithful.”
    • Some people use it to excuse complacency.
    • The occupational hazard of the ministry is a broken heart.
  4. Faithful or successful is a false dichotomy; it is Faithful AND successful
  • (Is Peter dispassionate in Acts 2:38-39?)
  • The gospel is not an invitation; it is a summons.
  • To NOT do it is not to decline; it is to deny.
  1. What brings passion in preaching?
    • Passion is the fruit of a Word saturated life.
    • I expect something to happen when I preach.
    • That doesn’t mean that I can immediately see the results of each sermon.

3. Gospel ministers are successful through Prayer. (v. 16c: Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.)

  1. Culture sets your context, but it must never set your agenda.
  2. We must distinguish between the assembling of a mob from the salvation of the multitude. (“so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”)
  3. Praying IS YOUR JOB (If it was not part of your job description given to you by the church, it was part of your job description given to you by Christ).
  4. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Luther: “a nothing does not mean a little something.”)
  5. How do we live in the tension between an evidence fruitlessness?
    • 1. Resist all attempts to measure success now.
      • You not possess the capacity to measure success accurately.
      • Your knowledge & motives are limited & stained.
    • 2. Rest your assurance of success on the promise of Jesus.
      • If you are a God-called man & are faithful to the Gospel, then fruit will be born of your ministry.
      • You may not see the fruit in your lifetime.
      • For now our assurance must rest not on what we see, but what Jesus said.



And so, in answer to my question about accountability and evaluation, it seems to me that Art’s answer would be that we are accountable for the execution of what we set out to do…but not necessarily to the immediate results.  If the supervisor/eldership/senior minister/whatever and the minister/staff person, whatever have agreed on the criteria for the execution of a plan, then the execution, not it’s immediate results are what is evaluatable. 

I am not positive that this is what he is saying.  I also have one more hesitation which I will lay out tomorrow.


(*)- The Spurgeon Fellowship premise is that only men can be called to Gospel ministry and so their language is always “men.”  Please don’t give me grief about it…I am only reporting, not advocating nor defending.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spurgeon Fellowship: “Successful or Faithful: Shattering the Dichotomy”


Last week I promised to give you a run-down on the Fall Spurgeon Fellowship meeting at Western Seminary.  Each year, the director of Spurgeon Fellowship, Art Azurdia, gives at least one of the major presentations.  Dr. Azurdia is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Director of Pastoral Mentoring at Western Seminary here  in Portland. He was the founding minister of Christ Community Church in Fairfield , California , which he subsequently pastored for 19 years. He is also the founder of The Spurgeon Fellowship at Western Seminary, a fraternity of ministers devoted to seeking the wisdom of classical pastoral theology for contemporary church ministry. Art is the author of Spirit Empowered Preaching (Christian Focus Publications) and a contributing author in two additional volumes: The Compromised Church (Crossway) and Reforming Pastoral Ministry (Crossway).

Art’s presentation last week was not so much on preaching (the primary focus of this blog), but on ministerial leadership generally.  His theme was “Successful or Faithful: Shattering the Dichotomy.”

You can find the audio here.

Here are my notes in outline form:

John 3:22-30

We aim at God’s glory when we are content to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem --Thomas Watson

No other sin has wrought such havoc among the ministers of Christ as the inordinate love of place and power.  --Charles Jefferson

A preacher must despise praise  --William Willamon


  • The dangers of pastoral jealousy:
    • “The bitch goddess of success”- William James
    • Unsanctified ambition: the lust to succeed.
    • An acid rain that can burn holes in your heart.
  • John & Jesus were baptizing in close physical proximity to one another.
    • v. 35-as a consequence of these two very similar ministries in the same geographical area, questions arose over competition.
    • Johns disciples: John’s baptism is the original; the “real deal”
      • The disciples went to John & tried to imply that Jesus was inferior to John since John’s ministry was first & Jesus had co-oped John’s methodology—baptism.
      • They didn’t even refer to Jesus by name
      • Exaggerated the extent of the receiving of the message-“everyone is going to him”
      • v. 23-“was baptizing” –implies continual action.

John’s reply tells us how to battle pastoral jealousy.

Recognize that…

1. …any expression of success is the exclusive prerogative of God. (John 3:27)

    • John 6-no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father
    • To Pontius Pilate: You would have no authority over me at all unless it was given to you by God.
    • What do you have that you did not receive?
    • “Apollos planted, I watered, etc.” Paul: sovereignty does not deny pastoral responsibility
    • Peter: “not lording it over those allotted to your charge.” God allots those who are in your church. God is the one who determines the size of your church.
    • Dissatisfaction with the sovereignty of God is not the mark of a sanctified mind.

2. …ultimate Satisfaction is found in uniting people intimately with Jesus Christ. (John 3:28-29)

  • v. 28-You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’
  • Responsibilities of bridegroom-
    • To prepare for the wedding
    • He was forever forbidden from marrying the bride
    • To escort the bride to the bridal chamber & wait outside the bridal chamber until he hears the word of the groom that the bride is indeed a virgin.
  • In America success is measured by bodies, bucks & buildings.
  • We talk about “building the church” when in fact that is exclusive role of God.

3. The exclusive preeminence of Jesus has been irresistibly predetermined. (John 3:30)

  • John bore the exclusive right to be the hinge between the old & new covenant?
  • “No-one is greater than John”
    • Greater in miraculous power? (John did no miracles)
    • Greater in revelatory insight? (John wrote no books)
    • Greater than David, Noah, Moses?
    • Greater because he is able to point to the Messiah with an immediacy like no one else.
  • John could only point to Jesus in anticipation.
  • Yet Jesus said, “the least in the KOG is greater than John the B” Why? When we declare the conquest of Jesus in his death & resurrection, we are greater than John the Baptist
  • “He MUST increase & I MUST decrease” MUST is one of John’s favorite words. The Greek word means pre-ordained.


Example of Alexander Whyte-  He was known as one who poured himself into younger ministers, even those whose abilities were greater than himself.  “All of his geese became swans.”

Again, you can find the audio here.

The second half, on pastoral responsibility tomorrow.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Good Funeral…Or Is It?

image It is kind of a funny thing. I have a post 4/5 completed on Origen: one of my top 100 preachers and sermons of all time; I have a two-part report on Art Azurdia’s presentation at the Spurgeon Fellowship of two weeks ago well underway, and yet today I find myself posting on something totally different…funerals.

One of the most spiritually rewarding things I have done in the past few years is subscribe to Christian Century.  It was always the “liberal” nemesis to Christianity Today, and so I avoided it for a long time.  But I find the Century more interesting and more spiritually challenging than CT has been in a long time. 

In the current issue the cover article is on “The Good Funeral” which might seem to be a fairly innocuous subject. But I found it very thought provoking and insightful.

For most of my pastoral career, I have pushed for a more personalized, informal and positive focus to funerals.  And those are not in and of themselves wrong. 

But Thomas Long (professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta) contrasts the “normal” service of today with the historic understanding of a funeral…and the contemporary “normal” service comes up short in a number of ways. 

Long posits that by the beginning of the third century, Tertullian could speak of a basic form of Christian funeral practice that had arisen which firmly reflected Christian theology.  It consisted of three parts:

  • Preparation
  • Processional
  • Burial

“In Preparation, the body is washed, anointed and clothed in garments representing baptism.

“In Processional, the body was carried to the grave, and sometimes the procession entered the church on the way for prayer and the reading of Scripture.

“The Burial phase took place at graveside & included the commendation of the deceased to God and the actual burial of the body  During each movement, the church prayed, chanted psalms and sang hymns of joy.  Often a Eucharist was held, either in the church or at the grave.”

But note this:

“The theme of the service was the completion of baptism, and the church accompanied a brother or sister to the place of union with God through the resurrection of Christ.  Taken as a whole, the early Christian funeral was based on the conviction that the deceased was a saint, a child of God and a sister or brother of Christ, worthy to be honored and embraced with tender affection.  The funeral itself was deemed to be the last phase of a lifelong journey toward God, and the faithful carried the deceased along the way to the place of final departure with singing and a mixture of grief and joyful hope.”

Contrast that with the normal “memorial service” of today.  The body is often cremated.  If there is an interment of the body (or of the “cremains”) it happens privately with the family…or sometimes simply is done by the funeral home or cemetery attendants.

If there is a service, it is a “memorial service.” The customary distinction between a funeral and a memorial service is that the body or “cremains” are present at the former and not the latter. It is usually held many days, or even weeks or months later (to allow a dispersed family time to get the best prices on airline tickets).

It is generally a simple, brief, highly personalized and customized service often involving several speakers remembering the life of the deceased.

The focus is on good remembrances of the life of the deceased and there is usually a display of photos or memorabilia of the person being memorialized.

The emphasis is on joy rather than sadness. But the joy is not based on a biblical concept of resurrection and hope in Christ.  It is a celebration of the past…of a life (presumably) well-lived.  Much is done to avoid the somber reality of death.

Long’s judgment is that “these newer rituals, for all of their virtues of freedom, simplicity and seeming festivity, are finally expressions of a corrupted understanding of the Christian view of death.  These newer practices are attractive mainly because they seem to offer relief from the cosmeticized, sentimental, impersonal and often costly funerals that developed in the 1950’s, which were themselves parodies of authentic Christian rituals.”

Long notes that the contemporary funeral is really not about the deceased at all.  It is about the mourners and psychologically encouraging them to move on.  (I have often pretty much stated as much at funerals). 

But it is no longer the metaphorical expressions of the journey of a saint to be with God (the body of the saint isn’t even present!) “Instead of the grand cosmic drama of the church marching to the edge of eternity with a fellow saint, singing songs of resurrection victory and sneering in the face of the final enemy, we now have a much smaller, more privatized psychodrama, albeit often couched in Christian language.  If we take the plot of the typical memorial service at face value, the dead are not migrating to God; the living are moving from sorrow to stability.”

What is your reaction to this?  At a minimum it makes me rethink what I say when I meet with a family and what I say at the meditation part of the service. (I DO insist on keeping that in the service, much to the consternation of some). 

I don’t know that I have done justice in a few paragraphs to Longs five-page article, but I would recommend it to you. Whether or not you agree that we should go back completely to the idea of the community of faith accompanying the deceased brother or sister to the last step of his/her journey towards God, it is at least worth mulling over.  Is what we have gained in the personalization of the service greater than the loss we have endured by the change?

If we as preachers are Christian LEADERS, do we have any say in what happens at a funeral/memorial service that takes place in the church building?  Or do we just cower to the ill-informed wishes of the grieving family, not wishing to buck them or “further upset” them by suggesting that their plans for grandma’s memorial service really is devoid of any Christian content other than platitudes that might be said at the funeral of Carl Sagan?

I don’t think that the Christian Century has this article up on their website yet (they usually wait until the next issue comes out before posting the articles from the last issue), but when I see that it is up, I will try to post the link here.  It is at least worth reading and mulling these issues over for oneself.   

Thoughts?  Reactions?  (As I have said so many times, “God forbid that we should actually THINK for a change!”) Post them here.

Monday, September 21, 2009>>Preaching: Such Demanding Work but Such a Calling


"I have known what it is to use up all my ammunition. Then I have, as it were, rammed myself into the great Gospel gun and I have fired myself at my hearers - - all my consciousness of sin, and all my sense of the power of the gospel. There are some people upon whom that kind of preaching tells when nothing else does, for they see that then you are communicating to them not only the gospel, but yourself also."

--Charles Spurgeon

That quote ends an article entitled “Preaching: Such Demanding Work but Such a Calling” on today.    It’s one of those you need to read when you are discouraged about your preaching.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spurgeon Fellowship


Tomorrow I will be attending the Spurgeon Fellowship at Western Seminary here in Portland.  If any of you who read this are going to be there, let me know and perhaps we can connect.  I have live-blogged the Spurgeon Fellowship before, but doubt that I do it tomorrow.  I do intend, however, to give a full report.

Top 100 Preachers and Sermons: Justin Martyr

imageWhile the first on my list of the Top 100 Christian Preachers & Sermons was anonymous, although the homily is entitled “Second Clement”, the second on my list has a name, but no extant sermons. 

Justin (ca 100-165) was born probably about the beginning of the second century, at Neapolis (the ancient Sychem) in Samaria.  We do not know his lineage, whether Greek or Roman, although he himself claimed that he was Samaritan.  It appears that Justin was financially wealthy because he had the means to study & travel. He was well educated and studied widely in philosophy which he thoroughly enjoyed.

One day he met an old man who introduced him to Christianity.  Justin was converted & found peace of mind in his faith. He later stated, “Straitway a flame was kindled in my soul... I found this philosophy alone (Christian faith) to be safe and profitable."

Justin began to share his faith, but he continued to wear the distinctive cloak of a philosopher. Dargan states that Justin “retaining his philosopher’s cloak, not so much now because it was a badge of distinction, as because it gave him the opportunity to teach, with the authority of culture, the truths of his religion.” (p. 47). 

Justin is the chief representative of the early preachers known as the Apologists.

Dargan divides the earliest preachers into three categories:

  1. Apostolic Fathers (ca. 68-160) These preachers knew, or might have been reasonably been expected to have come in direct contact with one or more of the apostles.  This time period stretches from approx date of the death of the apostles [68 or 100 depending on how you see the death of John] until the middle of the second century, perhaps 160.  This group included Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and as we have already seen, Clement of Rome.
  2. Apologists-During the period of continued persecution of the church, there arose the need to be able to vigorously and intellectually defend the Gospel and the Church. There were enough times of stability and tolerance, however for Christians to gain the needed education. Examples would be Dionysius, bishop of Corinth; Tertullian; Quadrates of Athens; Melito, bishop of Sardis; Theophilus, the sixth bishop of Antioch and of course Justin Martyr. 
  3. Ante-Nicene Theologians-(ca. 180-300) (for those who are unaware, “ante-“ means “before.” It is not the same as “anti-“ which means “against”.  And Nicene refers to the development of the Nicene creed in 325 A.D at the Council of Nicaea.  Thus those who preached & taught before the Council of Nicaea were “Ante-Nicene preachers and teachers)  It was during this period that the most severe persecutions arose. While there continued to be a need for teaching and preaching that was highly apologetic, some of the great heresies of the church sprung up in this period.  It was necessary for preacher-theologians to arise who could develop the great thoughts of Scripture into a defined system of theology and philosophy.  This period includes Origen as its primary standout. Because its make up was more complex than the times of the Apostolic Fathers or Apologists, I will outline it more when I come to discuss Origen (DEFINITELY one of my 100).

Is is recorded that Justin, while not located in any one specific congregation, travelled and preached to all who would hear him.  And he was popular enough that he awakened the jealousy of a Cynic philosopher named Crescens, who successfully worked to have Justin killed under the leadership of Marcus Aurelius for sedition around 165.  When Justin and six others refused to sacrifice to the emperor as god, the sentence was read: “Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws.” 

He didn’t, so they did. It was then that he earned the appellation of Justin (the) Martyr.

While we have no specific extant sermons from Justin, we have several writings from him which show his views, his style and his ability.  Most of his teaching/preaching deals with the Old Testament and prophesies that were fulfilled in Christ.  He was fairly loose with scripture and misunderstanding several thing about Judaism, led him to make connections that preachers and scholars today would say are inaccurate. 

His three main extant works are First and Second Apology and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. 

One of the charges against early Christians was that they were atheists.  Justin’s reply:

And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity" (The First Apology. Chapter VI).

And neither do we honour with many sacrifices and garlands of flowers such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God (for we do not consider that God has such a form as some say that they imitate to His honour), but have the names and forms of those wicked demons which have appeared. For why need we tell you who already know, into what forms the craftsmen, carving and cutting, casting and hammering, fashion the materials? And often out of vessels of dishonour, by merely changing the form, and making an image of the requisite shape, they make what they call a god; which we consider not only senseless, but to be even insulting to God, who, having ineffable glory and form, thus gets His name attached to things that are corruptible, and require constant service (The First Apology. Chapter IX).

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied (The First Apology. Chapter XIII).

To counter claims that Christians wanted to take over the government, Justin replied:

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid (The First Apology. Chapter XI).

One of the most famous excerpts is from his First Apology where he describes the early Christian worship services, still very reflective of Acts 2:42:

'On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors [give assistance to] the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.'

I will draw this to a close, but the second in my list of the greatest preachers of all time is Justin Martyr.

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