Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Additional Materials on today's chapel message, God's Story in His Own Words:

This morning it will be my privilege to share a message I put together for Easter 2014.  It is a message that consists entirely of Scripture.  The Easter message can be viewed here.

Since I'm presenting this message at a Bible College chapel, I'm hoping that some of the "preacher-boys" will be interested in doing something similar.  With that in mind I'm posting links to some resources related to the message in this bog post.

In the handout that I distributed when I shared the message at Easter you can find a list of the scripture used:  http://covingtonbiblechurch.com/images/handout.pdf

Shortly after Easter I put some of my reflections about the message in a blog post.  These include some thoughts that might help someone else who is interested in undertaking such a project:
http://howardmerrell.blogspot.com/2014/04/preach-word-no-really-preach-word.html

If you read that article you will find that part of the encouragement for doing this message came from viewing a similar message.  You can find it here:  (http://www.historyofredemption.org/, click on "watch the sermon.").

The message I will be preaching this morning is a slightly shortened version of the Easter message.  ABC posts most of their chapel messages.  Watch on this page.  It may show up there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What is the gospel? #4:

The vast amount of response to these posts (bit of self-deprecating sarcasm, there) has become so great that I can't keep up anymore.  So this will be my last post on this, at least for the foreseeable future.

On the question of whether the more traditional understanding of the gospel is correct or needs to be expanded, I land firmly on both sides of the fence.  (When I speak of "traditional," I am speaking of my tradition.  To be more clear, this definition by W. A. Criswell, taken from a list in a previous post, is a fair example of what I'm speaking of.  The message from our Lord Himself is that Christ suffered and was raised from the dead and that remission of sins should be preached in His name to all people. That is the good news. That is the message. That is the gospel!”  - W.A. Criswell, from “The Remission of Sins” in Basic Bible Sermons on the Cross, 85.))  A perusal of the list in that previous post, or a survey of the more complete list, from which I took my list will give you an idea of what I mean by an expanded meaning of the "gospel."

Over the past few days I walked with the Apostle Paul through the book of Galatians.  In doing a word search in Galatians I find 11 times that the Apostle uses the word "Gospel."  It is clear from his opening salvo, 1:6-9, that Paul is very interested in preserving the integrity of the Gospel.  N. T. Wright also recognizes that Galatians is a gospel saturated book.  His article though it is not precisely along the lines of this discussion is worth reading.

A couple of quick points that I draw from Galatians.

  • It appears that, in the sense in which he is using the word, Paul sees things in a bi-polar manner.  There is the true gospel, which he shared with the Galatians (and, I presume, with everyone else to whom he ministered) and there are all the other "heteros," "distorted," "contrary" inferior gospels, so-called.  They all suffer a basic flaw--they have no basis in reality (1:6-9, as well as the gist of the entire book).  Paul expresses amazement that they would so quickly desert the truth (1:6).  He sarcastically asks who has bewitched them (3:1).  He is perplexed (4:20).  To say the least, he regards their turn from the pure gospel that he presented as disastrous.
    We should be cautious in two directions.
    1)  We should be sure that we have an accurate, by a Biblical standard, understanding of the gospel, &
    2)  We should be wary of new definitions.
  • I take it from Acts 15, as well as the argument of Galatians, bolstered by Hebrews that the error of the Galatian heretics was adding to the gospel.
    Apparently the defining concept of the Galatian heresy was they held that those who were coming to the Lord needed to be circumcised--the par-excellence mark of Judaism--in order to be saved or to fully progress in their walk with the Lord.  Note Paul's argument in 2:3, 2:11-21 (Paul regarded this behavior he confronted as a threat to the "truth of the gospel."), 5:2-12 (It would be difficult to imagine a more graphic rejection of their position than v. 12.), & 6:12-15.
    Adding to the gospel is dangerous.
    In this regard this message, more than half a century old, by Charles Ryrie is relevant.  
  • Erring in regard to the gospel has dire consequences.  When one looks at 6:7-9 in the light of the tenor of the book & 6:12 it would seem that Paul may have had more than fleshly works in general in mind when he warned of the coming harvest.
    It doesn't take a great deal of reasoning to conclude that if one errs in regard to the foundation, the gospel, it will bring negative consequences later.
One can look in the book of Galatians for definitive statements about what constitutes the gospel.  N. T. Wright, in the article referenced above says, "4.1-7 states in one particular form the content of ‘the gospel’."  The vehemence with which Paul defends the gospel he proclaimed to the Galatians--in other places he speaks of "my gospel" (Rom. 2:16, 16:25, 2 Tim. 2:8)--would indicate that he had well-defined the gospel.  We can assume that he is consistent in his preaching.  Therefore we can look to passages like Romans 1:1-18 & 10:8-15, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 & 15:1-8, as definitive of the gospel Paul preached.  

Having said that, all of which can be construed as an argument in favor of the traditional definition of the gospel, and it is, I will now, switch to the other side--at least partly so.
I will repeat some questions I asked in my second post on this subject, and attempt to answer them based on my observations and thoughts:

  1. Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
  2. Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
  3. Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
  4. Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
  5. Does the presentation of the Gospel only include message of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, and the implications of Christ's saving work to the lives of those to whom I am talking?
I begin to answer these questions, in general, with the observation that   εὐαγγέλιόν (gospel) is a word that was in wide use at the time of Christ's earthly ministry.  To assume that every mention of  gospel is 
referring to the same message is unwarranted.   The good news the angel shared with the shepherds could be different, or at least differently nuanced, from the good news defined in 1 Corinthians 15, both of which are likely different in some respects from the "eternal gospel proclaimed, or to be proclaimed, by the angel in Revelation 14:6-7.
It seems that attempts to redefine and expand the gospel often involve something like this:
"Sure it says in certain passages that the gospel is a presentation of these basic facts, the death, burial, resurrection, and need for faith in these events, for salvation.  But Jesus presentation of the gospel included healing and good works, the goal of the gospel is not a home in heaven for people, but a people of God for the Lord of heaven, the gospel is the fulcrum on which the whole story of God's plan and work pivots.  Without the gospel there would be no church, no redeemed earth, no people of God, living to the glory of God.  If we are going to define the gospel, we must include all of that."
I'm not sure, though I am open to further input.
It seems that the disagreement over the definition of the gospel is at least in part a semantic one.

Used in the sense that the word gospel was used in the popular culture--to announce victory, or the birth or ascension of a king, the good news the angel brought to the shepherds was absolutely cosmic.  It changed everything.
The central events of the gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15, not only result in the salvation of individuals, Acts 16:31, but in the formation of the church, 1 Cor. 3:16, & Titus 2:14, but the same gospel-power that saves those who trust the Lord, will someday redeem this earth, Romans 8:18-25.
Clearly the truth that makes up the gospel, if accepted by faith, results in a changed life, 2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:10, James 2:14-26, & 1 John.

So, yes, in our attempt to maintain the simplicity of gospel some of us may have pushed the pendulum too far, but if we make the gospel too complicated for someone to be able to share with a man who is about to commit suicide, Acts 16, we have pushed it too far the other way.

I'm really done at this point, but just to stay honest, I'll briefly answer the 5 questions above.

  1. Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
    Beyond any doubt one of the great errors that has promulgated by the certain sectors of evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the idea that Jesus saves people without changing them.  Yes, the gospel not only saves people from hell, it saves them to good works.
  2. Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
  3. Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
    #3 is not an either or, though it is clear that many of us have overemphasized the individual aspect.  Christ purchased the church with His blood, Acts 19:28.  The impact of the gospel is clearly beyond the individual.
  4. Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
    As I said above the events which make up the gospel also will result in the redemption of this fallen world.  Just a personal concern:  While I'm not saying that gospel presentations like The Big Story are wrong, I wonder whether the move change from talking about sin to talking about a world out of balance has more to do with sin being uncool, and ecology being trendy, than with a clearer understanding of scripture.
  5. Does the presentation of the Gospel only include message of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, and the implications of Christ's saving work to the lives of those to whom I am talking?
    In the sense of doing evangelism, it would appear from Paul's ministry, in particular, that together with the context that defines these facts, the answer is yes.  I mean, if one understands the implications of these facts, and exercises true faith in Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again, he will be saved.
OK, your turn.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What is the gospel, #3:

Like most New Testament words that have been infused with powerful Theological meaning the word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) was a term already in use in the First Century.  I found this blog where Glen Davis has compiled a number of ancient references of the use of the word εὐαγγέλιον in non-Christian, pre-Christian ways.  The word is used in reference to military victories, the death of an enemy, or the benefits that a human ruler brings to his land.
In the Bible one finds indication that the word is, at least part of the time, used in this general good-news sense.

  • When Luke quotes the word of the angel, in Luke 2:10, "I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people."  The verb form of the word is similar to the way a herald in the employ of an earthly leader would use it.  The angelic use of the word is not all that different than the way another announcer used it in regard to a very non-divine matter: "I’ve got good news [εὐαγγέλια ] for you!” I said to them.  “News that are so good, I want to make sure that I’m the first to announce them to you.  It’s the price of sardines, folks!  It’s the best it’s ever been since the outbreak of the war!”
    The Gospel of Sardines, :)
  • Dispensationalists have recognized this general use of the term.  Whether one agrees with their recognition of different gospels--the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of Grace, and the Eternal Gospel--it is clear that they are right from a historical viewpoint that one cannot automatically assume that every use of the word εὐαγγέλιον, or one of its other forms, means what we have come to understand as "THE GOSPEL."
  • Indeed, some of the modifiers attached to "gospel" indicate that the writers a talking about a particular gospel.  (See below)
  • The Apostle Paul, as the Theologian of the New Testament draws the clearest lines.  He gives a definitive statement of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, and sometimes refers to the message he preached as "my gospel."  Pointedly he warns about "different gospels"--which lead to condemnation rather than salvation. 


    While this list is incomplete, here are some observations about how "gospel appears in the New Testament (This is simply some notes I kept for myself.  I haven't polished them.):
    Gospel, Euangellion is found over 100 times in NT.
    “Gospel of the Kingdom”
    ·        Matt. 4:23
    ·        Matt. 9:35
    ·        Matt. 24:14, “this Gospel of the Kingdom”
    ·        Luke 16:16
    “Gospel of Jesus” (or some other title referring to Christ)
    ·        Mark 1:1
    ·        Romans 1:9
    ·        Romans 15:19
    ·        1 Cor. 9:12
    ·        2 Cor. 2:12
    ·        2 Cor. 9:13
    ·        2 Cor. 10:14
    ·        Gal. 1:7
    ·        Phil. 1:27
    ·        1 Thes. 3:2
    ·        2 Thes. 1:8
     “Gospel of God”
    ·        Mark 1:14
    ·        Romans 1:1
    ·        2 Cor. 11:7
    ·        1 Thes. 2:8,9
    ·        1 Tim. 1:11
    ·        1 Peter 4:17
    “Gospel of the grace of God”
    ·        Acts 20:24
    Gospel & Great Commission, Mark 16:15
    “My Gospel”
    ·        Romans 2:16
    ·        Romans 16:25
    ·        2 Timothy 2:8
    “Different gospel”
    ·        2 Corinthians 11:4
    ·        Galatians 1:6
    On a couple of occasions we find the words, “this Gospel.”  Does that indicate more than one gospel?  Also note Rev. 14:6 “an eternal gospel.”
    Definitive statements about what constitutes the Gospel
    Look at Acts 15:7 & backtrack to what Peter actually did preach.
    Romans 1:16, salvation
    Romans 10:16 & 11:28 indicates that the Gospel is such that it excludes, as well as includes.
    1 Cor. 15:1>>
    2 Cor. 9:13, it is something that can be confessed.
    There are other, heteros, gospels: 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6-7
    Note Gal. 1-2.  Clearly from 2:14 it is clear that Gospel includes aspects of Christian life as well as Salvation experience.
    “Gospel of your salvation” Eph. 1:13
    One effect of the Gospel is the breaking down of the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Eph. 3:6
    Hope in heaven comes through the Gospel, Col. 1:5 
    Could part of the current debate be the result of trying to take a word with general meaning, and make it more specific than it is intended to be?
    Einstein is credited with saying something like, "Everything should be made as simple as possible and not one bit simpler."
    As we try to boil Christianity down to its core that is an adage that ought to be kept in mind.

    I appreciate your thoughts.

     

    Thursday, July 31, 2014

    What Is The Gospel, 2:

    I am privileged to spend time every week with a couple of other pastors, just talking.  We have no agenda.  We just let the conversation go where it will.
    This morning the conversation--though it entered through another portal--intersected with these thoughts on the nature of the Gospel.  My one word description of our nearly two hour conversation--pendulum.  
    Let me apply that concept to my musings about the Gospel:
    I grew up, spiritually, and was educated in a Fundamentalist environment.  Among other things that Fundamentalists reject is the social gospel.  "We are not called to clean up the fish pond.  We are called to catch fish."  We weren't opposed to humanitarian efforts; we just didn't get very involved in them.  The reasoning went something like this:  If I have only a limited amount of resources to invest would I rather invest those resources in helping people more be comfortable in this life, or would I rather spend them to enable people to be infinitely more comfortable for all eternity?  When put in those terms the correct answer is obvious.
    In actuality, those who were actually on the front-lines doing ministry didn't make such a black and white distinction.  They tended to minister to people.  The hearts of those who carried the gospel to places where the need is great were often broken by the depth of need that they saw.  They offered whatever help they could to meet whatever needs they saw.  Clearly, though, the overwhelming emphasis was on the John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 Gospel.  Particularly from a rhetorical viewpoint, though, Fundamentalists vocally reacted against the "social gospel"--good works largely devoid of clear Bible teaching.  They saw the pendulum as being way over here, so they shoved it the other direction.  Many would say they shoved it too far.

    Now some people are asking some questions.  The questions I hear tend to ask, "Is the gospel really as narrow as many have defined it?
    In the recent message I shared, I identified these lines of inquiry, all of which have to do with scope of the Gospel:
    • Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
    • Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
    • Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
    • Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
    • In thinking since I shared the message I would add this one as well:  Does the presentation of the Gospel only include message of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, and the implications of Christ's saving work to the lives of those to whom I am talking?
    As I think about these questions--and I think if you look herehere, and here, you can see that others are asking of these, or similar, questions--I have come to see more clearly that like most questions of balance this is complicated.

    I'll leave this here for now.
    I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.


    Monday, July 28, 2014

    What is the Gospel?

    If you don't like this post, blame my friend.  A couple of months ago we were riding in his car and we began the discussing the definition of the Gospel.  His voice is one of many that advocates for a broader definition of the Gospel than that which has traditionally been given.  As I say, "one of."  If you peruse the web you will find many advocating that the gospel is more than 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, that it produces more than our salvation from Hell, and that it is about more than individuals being born again. I've been thinking, and reading, actually thinking more than reading--I haven't read any books on the subject.  I'm open to suggestions.

    I did look at a blog that is a collection of definitions and descriptions of the gospel.  I compiled a handout from some of the entries I found there.  I figure these selections from the many entries on the blog form a good introduction to the subject.  The blog address is there.  You can dig to your heart's content.

    Definitions of the Gospel—except for the first one these definitions all come from an ongoing project by Trevin Wax: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/category/gospel/gospel-definitions/

    “The Good News . . . I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.  He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.  He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.  After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers.”  (The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6

    “Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… [This gospel is] all of Christ the right David, how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God, are glad, sing and dance for joy.”  (William Tyndale, reformer, died 1536)

    At its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, and that he has been established as Lord over all things.This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents (in Christ’s ministry) which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans, where he says what the gospel is, and then declares:“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.There you have it. The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was raised, and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.  - Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, pg. 94
    The message from our Lord Himself is that Christ suffered and was raised from the dead and that remission of sins should be preached in His name to all people. That is the good news. That is the message. That is the gospel!”  - W.A. Criswell, from “The Remission of Sins” in Basic Bible Sermons on the Cross, 85.
    What is the one, the changeless New Testament gospel? The first and the best answer would be to say that the whole Bible is God’s good news in all its astonishing relevance. Bible andgospel are almost alternative terms, for the major function of the Bible in all its length and breadth is to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God’s revelation recorded in Scripture.What is [the gospel]? God’s good news is Jesus.How did the apostles present Jesus? Their good news contained at least five elements.
    ·        The gospel events, as saving events.
    ·        The gospel witnesses, by which I mean the evidence to which they appealed for its authentication.
    ·        The gospel affirmations. (They concern not simply what he did more than nineteen centuries ago, however, but what he is today in consequence. “Jesus is Lord.”)
    ·        The gospel promises (what Christ now offers and indeed promises to those who come to him – a new life in the present through the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is also the guarantee of our future inheritance in heaven).
    ·        The gospel demands (repentance and faith – and (in public) baptism.
    What is the Good News?
    The good news is Jesus. And the good news about Jesus which we announce is that he died for our sins and was raised from death. In consequence he reigns as Lord and Savior at God’s right hand and has authority both to command repentance and faith, and to bestow forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit on all those who repent, believe and are baptized. And all this is according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is more than that. It is precisely what is meant by “proclaiming the kingdom of God.” For in fulfillment of Scripture God’s reign has broken into the life of men through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This reign or rule of God is exercised from the throne by Jesus, who bestows salvation and requires obedience. These are the blessing and the demand of the kingdom.
    John Stott - adapted from 
    Christian Mission in the Modern World
    Here’s the gospel in a phrase. Because Christ died for us, those who trust in him may know that their guilt has been pardoned once and for all. What will we have to say before the bar of God’s judgment? Only one thing. Christ died in my place. That’s the gospel.  - Alistair Begg, from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easterhttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=kingdompeople-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1433501813
    The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.”
    “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”  - Tim Keller, from 
    Christianity Today
    The Gospel is “good news.” It is good news only to the degree that the bad news can be understood first.
    The world is a messed-up place. It is not just our generation that is notices this, but every generation has had to deal with their share of problems. Today is not really any worse than it was 100 years ago or 1000 years ago.
    The good news is that God is fixing what is broken in every generation. This is called redemption. Redemption means to “buy back” or restore to a previous condition.
    God is in the process of putting his messed up creation back in order. The Gospel is the good news that that which was broken is being fixed.
    But the brokenness had its genesis in us, mankind. God is different. He is perfect and demands perfection because of his character. In other words, as the Bible puts it, God is righteous. Our brokenness is due to choices that we have made. All of us have messed things up. This is called “sin.”
    We have sinned through our selfishness, pride, hatred, and perversion of his creation. It is not the way it was supposed to be.
    God allows us to reject him and suffer the consequences, but he also offers us hope. This hope is the Good news. It is the hope that God has not abandoned us. It is the hope for redemption.
    God loves us in spite of our perversion of good. God loves us in spite of our rejection of him. … 
    Michael Patton
    “The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.
    “When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.
    “The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.  - Pope Benedict XVI, from Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47. 
    I welcome your involvement in the discussion.  I shared a lesson/sermon on the subject last night.  I plan to reproduce, on this blog, some of the thoughts contained in that message, but if you want to hear them before I put them here you can find the message at http://www.truthcasting.com/player.aspx#showSermon=100963.
    See you later.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Preach the Word--No, Really, Preach the WORD:



    Let me say upfront that this is pretty much a shoptalk piece.  I am writing with my fellow preachers in mind.

    At our Easter service 2014, I did something that I have never done before.  I presented a sermon that
    consisted entirely of scripture.  I figure it is something like seven-tenths of one percent of the whole Bible.  I did it from memory.  (imprefectly, but mostly.)
    Toward the end of last year, my son sent me a link to a video of a message delivered by Ronnie Smith.  As you'll see if you peruse the site, Smith died not long after delivering this message.  He died while sharing the Good News.  (http://www.historyofredemption.org/, click on "watch the sermon.")  The sermon Smith delivered is composed entirely of scripture.  You will hear as you get into the message, that it is much more than a dry recitation.  It is a passionate presentation of the History of Redemption.  My son, Chris, challenged me and a couple other of his preacher-buddies to do this for Easter.  I realized that memorizing that much scripture would take a lot of work--at least for me--so I thought about it for a while.  I decided that if I did this I wouldn't just take Smith's assembly of Bible passages (though there is nothing wrong with his collection, in fact I used it as a source for much of mine) but would use my own script.  Previous reading of scripture had shown me that the New Living Translation, because of its conversational tone, works well for this kind of thing, so, I decided, if did this, I would use it for the base of the presentation. (When I finished, my compilation contained NLT, NIV, NASB, and KJV.)  I, fairly early on, realized that if something like this was going to work, there was no easy way to do it.  It couldn't be read--whether from paper, or teleprompter (I don't have one, anyhow.)  It had to be memorized--and memorized to the point that as one is sharing it he wouldn't have to think about it.  The preacher needs to focus on delivery, not what the next word is.  I finally came to the conclusion that this was something I should do.  As I got into it I found myself asking,

    "Why have I not done this before?"

    Over the years I have heard of other preachers who have presented similar sermons.  I heard about one preacher who memorized the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, and delivered it.  I've not heard it, but I've heard that a friend of mine has a Christmas message that includes large quantities of the Bible he has memorized.  The closest I had ever come to doing anything like this was reading fairly large portions of scripture--the Book of James, most of 1 John, or the Sermon on the Mount.

    Early in 2014 I decided I was going to do this.  At first I thought I would divide the message into several sections and present the pieces spread over several months, as a ramp up to the Easter message, which would be all the pieces put together.  I never really decided  to not do that.  It just didn't happen.  I put the script together and started working on it.  After I had the script assembled, I read it and recorded it.  I and a couple of others listened to it.  This led to some tweaking.  It seems like memorizing is such a very personal thing, so I won't say anything about how I memorized the material.  I'll simply say it did take a lot of work.  I'd guess I invested at least one-hundred-fifty hours, spread out over two months, in memorizing the text.  I still didn't get to the word-perfect point where I wanted to be.   If you listen to the sermon, you will hear my homiletic tires hit the gravel on the shoulder of the road numerous times.

    This is really the main point of this post:  I recommend that other preachers do this.  At least once in your career, present a message that isn't just based on God's Word, but is God's Word.

    Here are some of my reasons for making this recommendation:

    • In a sense it is putting our labor where our mouth is.  We talk about the power, perspicacity, sufficiency, and absolute necessity of the Bible.  OK, preach the Word.
    • I was personally moved by this presentation, so much so that had there been a freak storm on Easter Sunday, and I never had the opportunity to present this message, I would still be glad I had done this.  The congregation heard this message once.  I "heard" it at least a hundred times, and I never grew tired or bored with it.
    • I became convinced at a deeper level of the unity, and grand sweep of scripture.  The symmetry, and the driving themes of the Book came through to me.
    • As I shared the sermon on Easter Sunday, I was struck with the power of Scripture to impact lives.  I am not opposed to preaching, in the usual sense of the word.  In fact I am a fan of the medium, but if I think that God, and God's Word, are unintelligible, unless I explain Him or it, I am simply being arrogant.  Just scripture, if the presenter gets out of the way sufficiently to allow the pathos, as well as the logos of the Bible to come through (and this is one reason the text has to be memorized to the point so one becomes comfortable with it), will impact people.  God did not give His Word only for PHDs.
    Probably by this point you already see some dangers.  Here are some I tried to guard against.
    • I absotively, posolutely did not want to crash and burn.  Some of my practice sessions produced the human equivalent of a locked up computer.  I came to a point where if you had asked me, "Howard, what is your name?"  I couldn't have answered.  Obviously, I didn't want the people who came to the Easter service at CBC to go home and say, "Wow, that was really something.  I don't think I've ever seen somebody crash that spectacularly."  So, I decided early on I wasn't going to do this without a net.  If you watch the sermon, you can see a large monitor in front of me.  A colleague--a trusted one--displayed the text of the sermon for me.  Mostly I didn't use it, but--call me a coward if you want--I was very reassured that it was there.
    • I wanted this to be about the Word of God, and the God of the Word, not this poor preacher.  I've already said that this was a lot of work, and quite unusual, so it was unavoidable that this presentation would attract some attention to itself and to me.  My constant prayer, though, was, and is, that this would be to the glory of the Word, not the presenter of the Word.  And here is one of the oddities.  It seemed to me, if that were going to take place, that I had to do this in a non-stumbling manner.  I didn't want folk to say, "We could see that he worked really hard at that, but he got through.  Bless his heart."  I tried to do well, so people wouldn't notice that I did well.  I had a couple of months to work on this inner antinomy.  I suppose you could add this to the list of benefits, above.  It is good to work hard and do something with as much excellence as one can, so as to present it as an offering to the Lord.  I figure this was something that Bezalel and Aholiab had to work through.
    • This one has more to do with preparing the script than the presentation.  I found it hard to edit out portions of scripture.  This is the Word of God.  Who am I to say that this word or this sentence, etc. should be cut.  Yet, in trying to tell God's Story in about thirty minutes I had to edit out some over seventy hours of material.  Not only did I select certain portions of scripture--effectively editing out the rest.  I chopped out words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs from those passages.  If you read through the scripture I listed in the handout it will take you considerably longer than half an hour.  In my editing I really tried not be cute and especially to not be deceptive.  Whenever possible, I looked for briefer accounts of the same event given elsewhere in the Bible.  Stephen, in his sermon in Acts, helped me out several times.  The exercise forced me to apply 2 Timothy 2:15.
    Bottom line:  At this point I'm planning to do this again.  I want to review this message--possibly tweak it some--enough so I can use it again sometime, without completely relearning it.  I'm thinking about some other similar projects.  Like my son, who got this started for me, I challenge you.  Preach the Word.  at least once in your life.

    Website for the Hisotry of Redemption:  http://www.historyofredemption.org/  (click on "watch the sermon")
    My Easter Sermon, God's Story in His Own Words: 
    http://www.truthcasting.com/player.aspx#showSermon=94101

    The handout containing the list of scripture used: http://covingtonbiblechurch.com/images/handout.pdf

    Monday, April 21, 2014

    The Morning After Easter, Some Personal Reflections:

    It is a lazy morning the day after Easter.  The start of a project awaits for later in the day.  Right now, after sleeping in this morning, I'm sitting here hoping Kathy gets up first so she can bring me another cup of coffee.  It's not so much that I'm tired.  I'm just enjoying doing nothing for a bit.
    I would not for a moment compare our Easter Sunday to anyone else's--and I hope this will in no way lead you to do so--but we had a great Easter Sunday at Covington Bible Church, where I have been privileged to invest my life.  Many factors lead to my conclusion; probably some of them so personal that they won't make sense to anyone else.  Still, I think, there are some objective (share-able) reasons I can say yesterday was great day at my church.

    • It seemed like people got it.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, after His death for our sin is at the very heart of Bible truth.  It merits some excitement.  It deserves our best effort.  It is worth celebrating.  In his marvelous text of Theology, the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul connects the power of the Resurrection, with our new life after our "dead-in-trespasses-and sin" past (here).  In his extended treatise on the Resurrection, Paul says that if the Resurrection of Christ is not a reality "we are of all men most to be pitied" (here).
      It was a great day at Covington Bible Church because from those who mowed the grass, to those who shared music, to those who invited a friend, to those who showed up even though their old bones ache, to those who set up extra chairs praying for that chair's occupant as they put it in place, my sisters and brothers in Christ said, "The tomb is empty.  Jesus is alive!  I can be saved in Him.  That is worth celebrating."
    • There was a refreshing unity of spirit.  I mentioned some of the kinds of contributions that were made to make our Easter service the highly encouraging time that it was, so I won't repeat myself.  Instead I'll tell you a brief anecdote.  One of my preacher-buddies told me last week that he had run into a member of CBC.  She is not an upfront person.  She is the kind of person about whom you might ask, "Was ___ there?"  and to answer you have to think hard.  Anyhow, my friend reported this lady's excitement about the upcoming Easter service.  Part of her excitement was the part she was playing in our big day.  She was pumped that her church was celebrating her Lord's victory over death, and she was looking forward to having a part in that celebration.  I saw and heard that in many lives.
      The fact that the chairs in the Worship-Center were mended, and the flower beds mulched was very important, but the reality that the hearts of those who spread mulch, shined floors, sewed upholstery, and a score of other projects were turned to the Lord in worship was of eternal significance.  
    • There was clear evidence of God's blessing.
      We had prayed for over a particular number to be with us Sunday.  Like the man who carried an umbrella when he met with drought-stricken farmers to pray for rain, we prepared for God to answer.  He did.  I know that some of the folk whose hands I shook were there because God had worked in their lives.  The closing of the service indicated that God was at work in hearts.  I was personally aware of God making me able.  I'm thankful that He allowed me to share His Story.  I hope this blog post is indication that He was/is at work in my heart.  Yesterday was one more part of a long-term restoration that has been going on in my life.  Thank You, Lord, and thanks to my church family.
    • We saw the Resurrection, not only as an isolated event--powerful and wonderful though it may be.  Because yesterday's message led us, literally from "In the beginning," to the final "Amen," we were able to see that the Resurrection is the key to a great cosmic struggle that really is no struggle at all.  God's plan unfolds in some very dark ways.  That darkness is at its blackest during those three hours on the cross and three days in the tomb.  The Resurrection shows there never was any question.  There has never been a time when God has lost control of His world. The victory of Christ over death shows that, and it shows me he can handle what is going on in my life.
    I have a horribly unspiritual measurement device that I sometimes use to judge how we are doing as a church (Yes, I know it's not about me.  Please note this is not my only evaluation criteria.), I ask, "Did I have fun?"  I agree with John Piper--my joy (Dare I say "fun"?) and God's glory are related.  It was great to be at Covington Bible Church yesterday.

    The way our recording system works, or doesn't work, music doesn't turn out very out very well when we record our services, so the only thing you will find here is yesterday's message.  It was a privilege to share it with my church family and their guests.  If it ministers to you, it will be further reason for me to be thankful.