Monday, March 26, 2018

The Commandments of James 4:7-10

Our pastor preached a great message on James 4:7-10 this past Sunday. Ever since I first read through James in the original language, I have been fascinated by this paragraph. It reads as though the author picked up a gun and fired shot after shot at his readers (pardon the analogy, I mean it in a good way).

In these four simple verses, James issues ten, yes ten, commands! Here they are (from the KJV):

Verse 7:    (1) Submit   (2) Resist

Verse 8:    (3) Draw nigh  (4)  Cleanse   (5)  Purify

Verse 9:    (6) Be afflicted  (7) Mourn  (8) Weep   (9) be turned

Verse 10:  (10) Humble

As my pastor pointed out, this paragraph calls on those who are living a self-centered life to repent, and it does so by using these ten commands. They may be divided into five actions.

First, the self-centered individual must submit/subject himself to the Lord. He is the Lord, the Master, and we are his servants, his slaves. Such submission reminds us who is in charge of our life. Furthermore, after submitting to Christ, the individual must resist the devil and his temptations.  James tells us to oppose him, to take a stand against him. The self-centered believer still has the indwelling Spirit and is able to stand tall against Satan and his wiles.

Second, James calls the self-centered to draw nigh to God.  In other words, come near to Him. I see, in this command, our need to offer up our prayers to God, to meditate on His Word, to know Him better than we ever have.

Third, the self-centered individual must be cleansed. In other words, they need to seek forgiveness.  We see this clearly in the second half of verse 8. James tells us to cleanse our hands. He paints the picture of the priests washing the filth from their hands and feet prior to their ministry for God. The sin must go. We must purify our hearts referring to internal, spiritual cleaning. Seek the Lord for forgiveness. As John tells us in 1 John 1, those who confess their sin will be cleansed and forgiven.

Fourth, James issues the call for repentance in verse 9. He commands the self-centered person to be afflicted. The word carries the idea of lamentation, a sincere regret for behavior. Such affliction demands the individual recognize the error of his ways. As a result, he is to mourn or grieve internally; a sincere heart inwardly grieving for its behavior. Such internal mourning is often accompanied by outward weeping, the physical expression of such grief over sin. Daniel Doriani has said, "The desire for a pure heart leads logically to sorrow for sin."

Verse 9 concludes with the key command of repentance:  "be turned". True repentance leads to a turning, a change in life. The self-centered person who truly repents will move forward with a life lived for God rather than self.

Fifth, and finally, James commands those who have recognized their self-centeredness, who have grieved over their sin, and who have turned their focus from themselves to God to "humble themselves". God will exalt those who live for God rather than self.

So, we have a choice between two ways of living. We can live ambitious, proud, self-centered lives or a life of repentance and humility. As the Apostle Peter has written,

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Preparing a Sermon

Today, my pastor published a blog entry on the topic of preparing a sermon. He has asked others who preach to provide comments, so I have decided to respond to his request not with a comment but with my own blog entry.

You may read my pastor's blog entry here.

While I have read multiple books on preparing a sermon, I'm not a supporter of any "one way fits all" approach. Preachers are people, each having their own style, skills, and resources from which to work. You just can't cram all preaching into one, codified approach. I'm certain almost every preacher (at least, expository preacher) would agree that is the case.

Personally, as a pastor, I wanted to preach through a Biblical book. That is the best way to maintain contextual consistency. However, no matter whether I am preaching through a book or from some "random" passage, I will do my best to preach it as an exposition. In other words, if my overall point and my main points do not arrive from the text itself, then I am beating the wind with a bunch of hot air!

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, I am preaching through a Biblical book, my general approach would be something along the following lines. Be forewarned: the days listed and the events associated with those days were always DESIRED goals. Rarely was I successful in maintaining such a schedule.

Sunday evening: seek the Lord and determine the text for the next message. I tentatively map out the path through a book weeks in advance, but I always remain open to changes if I sense the Lord would have me do so. Sometimes that means connecting a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes it means focusing on a single verse, phrase, or even word. However, for the most part, my next sermon will be the ensuing paragraph of whatever book I am in.

Monday: if I have not yet translated the paragraph (sometimes on Sunday evening), then Monday is the day to get that done. I spend whatever time I have in the text trying to follow the author's train of thought. How are the words related to one another? Are there any unique words demanding special attention (if so, out come the Greek/Hebrew lexicons, thesauruses, etc.). My goal on Monday is to have all the translation work completed and to understand the main point of the paragraph.

Tuesday: using the main point, put together the wording of the proposition I want to communicate to the people in the message. The remainder of the message centers on that proposition.

Next, using the textual outline, develop two or more major points which support the proposition of the message. I, too, like alliteration if its obvious from the text. There have been times when I have stretched the alliteration and regretted doing so later. It its not there, then I try to find points which simply express support for the proposition.

Wednesday/Thursday: these are the flesh-out days. Often I add some sub-points to my main points.

Friday: now to the commentaries. I prefer to limit my review to six or seven at most. A preacher could spend weeks reviewing all the commentaries on any given passage. That is simply too overwhelming and, in my opinion, overkill. A few reliable commentators are all you need. I usually use a couple from the reformation age, a puritan author or two, and a modern author or two.  If I have time, I will also read sermons preached from the same text by notable men of God.

My primary reason for utilizing commentaries and sermons is to make certain I am not preaching something foreign to the text. In other words, these scholars of the Word help me ensure my message is theologically sound. If I think I have found something new in the text, then its probably something I have invented and should throw away as quickly as possible!

To me, the keys in using commentators (and sermons) are these: (1) use reliable, godly men who treasure the Word of God; (2) use them sparsely; (3) give credit to those you do use in your message; (4) never open a commentary or read a sermon until you have your outline ready to go.

Lastly, I add an introduction, a conclusion, and an appropriate illustration if one is needed. I don't like to use a lot of illustrations because people in the pews often remember the illustration and forget the message you were preaching!

I do not write out my messages. I do jot down some thoughts I want to make sure I communicate at certain points in the message as well as any quotations (Biblical or otherwise). But, I don't want a manuscript in front of me as I preach and I don't want to be attempting to recall from memory a written speech. My attempt is to be as extemporaneous as I can be.

Of course, the entire process is wrapped in prayer. Often, the above schedule is interrupted by the daily affairs of life and I wind up cramming a lot of my effort into Saturday. It's good to have a plan and a schedule. Unfortunately, life does not always follow your plans! To be a preacher demands flexibility!

For what it's worth, that's my general approach. Sometimes the message, in my humble opinion, is very good. At other times, it should have remained on paper and never spoken! Yet, God promises His Word always accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent. If that were not true, I might have stopped preaching years ago!