Archive for April, 2010

The Gospel in Practical Sermons

April 12, 2010 4 comments

Yesterday I began a sermon series about prayer.  More specifically, how to pray the way Jesus prayed and taught.  I get a lot of questions about prayer and I sometimes hem and haw in answering because I am not satisfied with my own life of prayer.  I took a seminary class called “Life of Prayer” and while the books we read were great, my prayer life didn’t see much movement toward Jesus during that semester.  That took a few more years and I’m still not satisfied.

I think my dissatisfaction in prayer is shared with a lot of church people.  I suspect that if I asked 10 people in church how they felt about their prayer life, they would hang their heads, kick some dirt on the ground, and say things like, “I don’t pray enough.”  I get that.  I’m the same way.

Now, the problem with preaching a series on prayer, fasting, Bible study, solitude, or any other spiritual discipline is that people will automatically begin to size themselves up and their view will often come down to one of two feelings: pride or shame.  They will either hear that they are doing “enough” or better than others and thus feel pride, or they will hear that they don’t pray long enough, effectively, or powerfully and feel shame.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same anti-gospel coin.

So, how did I keep my church and myself from missing the point when it comes to the practical lessons in prayer?

State the gospel up front.  Let them know that our salvation is from God because in order to reconcile sinful humanity to himself, Jesus the God-man died an atoning death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, was raised on the third day in an event that defeated death which gives us not only a hope for a life beyond the grave but also a transformed life here and now through the power of the Spirit.  We are not saved because of how well we pray and we are not condemned because of how poorly we think we pray.

Remind that spiritual disciplines are about grace and joy.  We don’t pray to impress God.  We don’t impress God.  God loves us so we pray to communicate with the One who loves us more than we could ever imagine.  Prayer isn’t about getting in God’s good graces.  It’s about receiving grace and joy in communicating with our loving Father.

Finish with the work of Christ.  No matter how much we beat ourselves up over our lack of spirituality, Romans 8:1 does not say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who pray for at least an hour everyday.”  It does say “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We aren’t accepted by God on the basis of our performance in spiritual disciplines nor are we rejected by them.  Our acceptance is based in Christ, not on our performance.  We need to get over it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these next few weeks shape up and pray that my folks experience the grace of God through Jesus Christ in amazing ways through gospel-oriented preaching.

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My Friend, Michael Spencer

April 7, 2010 3 comments

Read this In Memoriam first.

I’m not ready to say good bye or talk about my feelings yet about my friend who just died.  Part of it is not having words.  Part of it is I feel selfish thinking about my feelings when his wife and kids – all truly, truly, wonderful people – have just lost a husband and father.

I began writing a lot of stuff about how we met and how our friendship grew.  I’m saving that for me right now because I am selfish.  He was a good friend, an inspiration, a counselor, and a guy who really knew how to laugh at the stuff worth laughing at.  I’ll both treasure and miss that.

I read through about five years worth of E-mails last night.  I don’t delete anything from G-mail, so there’s a couple hundred between Michael and I in there.  I didn’t remember writing this, but I am glad I did write it.  He knew and that gives some peace to me.

I don’t say stuff like this enough, but I love you.  You’re the only person on the internet that I’ve ever met in real life who has taken time for me, who has counseled me in ministry, and has gifted me in amazing ways.  Honestly, you make me feel like Silas.  Or maybe I should say Barnabas because I want to be an encouragement to you in all of this as well.  As you struggle with doubt I do not want you to doubt this – you have mattered in my life for the important things and your influence on me is influencing others in my preaching and teaching.

Not only that, but I believe more fiercely in the resurrection than ever before and a lot of that confidence has come from the Lord through Michael Spencer.  I can’t wait to see him again.

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