In the church where my family attends, we’ve recently been enjoying a sermon series from the book of Daniel entitled “How to Live in Exile.” In the series, senior pastor Mike Glenn notes that we live in a culture which no longer understands or accepts a Christian worldview. In a recent daily devotional linked to the series, he wrote about Daniel 1:7: “Whenever we read Bible stories we can’t help but notice an important event that happens over and over again. People who have had a significant experience with God that transformed their life, more times than not they ended up with a name change. When Abram was called to leave his family and become the father of a great nation, his name was changed from Abram to Abraham. When Jacob wrestled with the angel and is blessed at the end of the battle, that blessing is signified in the change of his name from Jacob to Israel. When Simon confesses Christ on the mountain in Caesarea Philippi, his name is changed from Simon to Peter…
That is why it is significant that one of the first things that happens when Daniel and his friends are taken into exile in Babylon is that their names change. Each one of their original names has a significant connection to God. Daniel means “God judges. “ But when Daniel and his friends are renamed, all the references to God are lost.
It should be interesting for us as believers to pay attention to how the world would name you. To those who would see you as the end product of evolution, you are simply the next step in the process — a conglomeration of proteins and water and carbon. To Madison Avenue we are consumers, targets to be separated from our money. To politicians we are voter groups who have significant key issues or points of interest, or agendas.
That’s why it is so significant for us to remember who we are in Jesus Christ. We are, indeed, rejected by the world but chosen and precious by Jesus (I Pet. 2:4). We must understand who we are because what we do comes directly out of who we believe ourselves to be. If you believe your life is not worth anything, then you will make choices that reflect that lack of value. If you believe that you are created in the image of God and are called according to His purposes, then your behavior will reflect that basic belief.
Many of us complain about living in a world where we are called numbers. It is more than just a rude way to be addressed by corporations. It is a basic loss of our humanity. The Gospel is good news because it restores our broken relationship to God, and in doing so restores our humanity. Today as you pray, confirm within you the name that He and He alone has given you, and that you will live in the freedom of knowing who you are. Then you simply won’t respond to a world that calls you by a wrong name.”
Michael Duduit, Editor
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Putting Application in Sermons
In the June 27 edition of his Ministry Toolbox newsletter, Rick Warren suggests six guidelines for putting application into sermons:
1. Always aim for specific action
2. Model it from your own life
3. Ask penetrating questions
4. Give specific action steps
5. Give practical examples
6. Offer people hope
Speaking of that last guideline, Rick writes: People need encouragement to change. If they think something’s hopeless, then they won’t even try. For example, I once did a two-part series on getting out of debt. We had a woman share about how she’d gotten herself $100,000 into credit card debt. She explained how it took several years to pay off, but by applying biblical principles she and her husband were able to do it!
When she finished speaking – and I usually try to fit the testimony right in the middle of a message – I stood up and said, “You may have been discouraged thinking, ‘I’m never getting out of debt. But you can do this! Is there anybody here who’s got more than $100,000 on their credit card? No. You just heard a story of a woman who with the power of God’s Spirit and discipline, and using the biblical principle of putting God first, she got out of debt. You can do this!”
This builds hope in people. They say, “We can do that. We’re not nearly as bad as that.” (Click here to read the full article.)
Why Do People Switch Churches?
More than 1 in 5 adults who switch to a new church move away from traditional worship, finds recent LifeWay Research. Church Switchers often choose a new church that is different in several ways from their previous one, and most end up not attending traditional services as they did formerly. 53% attended traditional style worship; of that, only 29% switched to churches with traditional services.
The most popular worship styles among switchers are blended worship (38%) and contemporary worship (33%). 46% move to a larger church while 29% go to a smaller one and 25% find one the same size as their former church. Among those who attended a church of 100 or less, 79% switch to a larger church. Among those who attended a church of more than 500, 57% moved to a smaller church. 54% change denominations when switching. 44% consider denomination an important selection factor.
Among those who have disagreements with their previous church’s teachings or positions on issues, 71% change denominations. Only 4% left a previous church because they could no longer identify with that particular denomination. 87% base their selection on preaching and 90% have found preaching that meets their need for relevance, interest and clarity. 91% consider the preaching at their current church relevant while only 44% say this about their previous church. 91% say their current preacher holds their attention vs. only 37% who claim this about their previous preacher; 86% are challenged by the preaching at their new church to live and think biblically compared to only 39% who were previously so challenged. 97% attend worship at their current church; 84% contribute financially vs. 69% previously; and 64% volunteer compared to 51% before. Also, 60% attend a small group, Sunday school or discipleship class at their new church. Moreover, 74% become a member of their current church vs. 69% at their previous church. (Church Leaders Intelligence Report, 6-27-07)
ILLUSTRATION: God’s Will, Providence
In a recent edition of his Friday Evenings newsletter, Tom Barnard wrote: When Victor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis during World War II, he was stripped of everything of value he owned. His only possession when he arrived at Auschwitz was a manuscript of a book he had been working on for a very long time. To preserve it from confiscation, Frankl had sewn it into the lining of his coat. When he was searched, his manuscript was found and was taken from him. Later he wrote, “I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.”
Apparently in an effort to keep prisoners from accumulating anything worthwhile, the Germans routinely forced prisoners to give up their clothing and in return they were issued clothing taken from other prisoners on their way to the gas chambers. In the garment of the old clothing re-issued to Frankl was a torn piece of paper-a portion of a page from a Hebrew prayer book. On it was part of the Jewish prayer-Shema Yisrael-“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God.”
Later Frankl wrote, “How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?” From that experience Frankl concluded, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Why did God allow Frankl to be robbed of his precious manuscript? Why did God send to Frankl a prayer that been concealed by a prisoner on his way to the gas chamber? I believe God knew that what Frankl needed at that moment was prayer-not a manuscript.
Are you frustrated because an opportunity you believe God was opening to you suddenly was jerked out of your hands and replaced by something less significant and meaningful? Maybe God wants you to turn away from your personal goals and let him set the agenda for you.
ILLUSTRATION: Obedience, Listening
In a recent Turning Point Daily Devotional, David Jeremiah relates this story: During the mid-twentieth century, one of the most recognizable brand icons in America was a dog sitting in front of an old-time gramophone, head cocked, listening to the sound. That iconic image, owned by the RCA Victor record company, was taken from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud. The dog, Nipper, had been owned by Barraud’s brother who had recorded his voice on early phonograph records. After the brother died, Barraud inherited Nipper and the gramophone and records. Whenever the records with Nipper’s master’s voice were played, the dog would sit in front of the gramophone listening to his master’s voice.
That’s a beautiful image of the relationship between Jesus Christ and us. He has gone away from earth, so we can no longer hear His physical voice. But we sit in front of His Word, and kneel before Him in prayer, and listen for our Master’s voice. The Bible was given to be the voice of the Lord until He returns, and prayer is how we confirm what we believe He has spoken to our hearts. How easily can you pick out the Master’s voice from all others?
Listening for the Master’s voice is a sign of loyalty and longing — an indication that we are eager to hear and obey.
|FROM THE JULY-AUGUST ISSUE OF PREACHING . . .
In a sermon based on Deuteronomy 4, R. Albert Mohler says, “Let us remind ourselves that we cannot separate the giving of the Ten Commandments from the narrative context in which it comes. The propositional truth in the law comes in the midst of a history of a people and God’s dealing with them. It is a relational revelation, and it is a dramatic revelation. Israel is reminded not only of what they heard, but of the context in which they heard it: “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Then the Lord God spoke to you from the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but you saw no form, only a voice,” (Deut. 4:11-12). A voice!
Israel heard, as will be made clear in the Ten Commandments, in the second commandment, that this is not a God who is seen, but a God who is heard. The contrast with the idols is very clear. The idols are seen, but they do not speak. The one true and living God is not seen, but He is heard. The contrast is intentional, it is graphic, and it is clear. We speak because we have heard. The theme of these verses, especially in verses ten through thirteen, is the sheer gift of this. This is not something Israel deserved. This is sheer mercy.”
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LINK OF THE WEEK
Rather than offering a link this week, we’re asking for your help. The September-October issue of Preaching will include our annual feature on software preachers use in sermon preparation. This year we’d like to include comments, testimonials, and concerns from pastors who use Bible software. Please email and tell us what program(s) you use, what you like about it, what you don’t like about it, and any other comments you have on using software for sermon preparation. Have you come up with some great tools that help your study? Share them with us! Are there unique programs you use for storing illustrations, maintaining your library, or other pastoral concerns? Tell us about it! In turn, we’ll share your insights with thousands of Preaching readers.
We’re looking forward to hearing from lots of you. Please be sure to include your name, church and city (let us know if you’d prefer to remain anonymous), and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ILLUSTRATION: Confusion, Records
A woman meant to call a record store, but dialed the wrong number and got a private home instead. “Do you have ‘Eyes of Blue’ and ‘A Love Supreme?'” she asked.
“Well, no,” answered the puzzled homeowner. “But I have a wife and eleven children.”
“Is that a record?” she inquired, puzzled in her turn.
“I don’t think so,” replied the man, “but it’s as close as I want to get.”
“When it comes to change, there are three seasons of timing: People change when they hurt enough that they have to, when they learn enough that they want to, and when they receive enough that they are able to.” (John Maxwell)
On the preacher’s bookshelf . . .
Transforming Church (Tyndale House) by Kevin G. Ford offers practical guidance for leading a church through change in a way that transforms it for growth. He suggests five key indicators of a transforming church (#1 is “How church members relate to each other.”), as he tells the stories of five churches and how they became transforming churches. Bonus: those who buy the book will receive a passcode for a free “Transforming Church Snapshot” available online.
G. Campbell Morgan was one of the premier biblical expositors of the 20th century, and In The Shadow of Grace (Baker) is a touching portrait of the great preacher written by his grandsons, Richard, Howard and John Morgan. They explore Morgan’s life and preaching through the lens of the life crises he faced. Readers will gain a renewed appreciation for this gifted biblical teacher.
(Click on the title to learn more or order from Amazon.com)
An irate subscriber stormed into a newspaper office waving the current edition, asking to see “whoever wrote the obituary column”.
When referred to a young reporter, he stormed, “You can see I’m very much alive, and you’ve put me in the obituary column! I demand a retraction!”
Replied the reporter, “I never retract a story. But I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll put you in the birth column and give you a fresh start.”
Questions to Ponder
When an agnostic dies, does he go to the “great perhaps”?
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
Do you think Houdini ever locked his keys in his car?
Can atheists get insurance for acts of God?
If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
Isn’t it strange that the same people who laugh at fortune tellers take economists seriously?
If practice makes perfect, and nobody’s perfect, why practice?
Why is there always one in every crowd?
If all the world is a stage, where does the audience sit?
Is it possible to have deja vu and amnesia at the same time?
How do you know when it’s time to tune your bagpipes?
And finally . . .
If you’re going to do a crime, don’t leave behind a mug shot.
That’s the lesson two 17-year-old German girls learned when they robbed a 15-year-old of her shoes, money and cell phone. They left behind an old mobile phone — forgetting that the phone contained their own photos “striking smiley poses, which police published online,” according to a June 28 Reuters story.
The two turned themselves in after their pictures appeared on the evening news and their families were showered with calls from friends and neighbors who recognized them.