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Things to remember from Timothy Keller’s book Center Church

1. “Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sin… But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude—new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration” (Timothy Keller, Center Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], p. 67).
 
2. “It is quite easy to assume that if we understand the gospel accurately and preach it faithfully, our ministry will necessarily be shaped by it—but this is not true. Many churches subscribe to gospel doctrines but do not have a ministry that is shaped by, centered on, and empowered through the gospel. Its implications have not yet worked their way into the fabric of how the church actually does ministry” (Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 28).

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What is Expository Preaching?

What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation? 

Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.[1]

Here are two of my favorite definitions: 

“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God”   (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).

“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).

Thus, pastors have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2).

The duty of the congregation is to attentively and prayerfully listen to and seek to apply the word taught with reverence and humility realizing that the pastor is seeking their welfare (Heb. 13:17) yet always being discerning to ensure that what is said is in accord with the word of God (Acts 17:11). 

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[1] Cf. Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, 55.

8 Quotes from *Simple Church* by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger

1. “To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. And must move people toward maturity. They must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it” (Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church, 26).
 
2. “A simple church is a congregation designed around a straightforward strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth” (p. 60).
 
3. “Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process” (p. 74).
 

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5 Reflections on Zack Eswine’s book, The Imperfect Pastor

Here are a few things I really appreciated from Eswine’s book:

1.    Eswine points out that “We’ve grown reactive, consuming of others, and hasty, and all of this for God. This means that we are likely to mentor others into these qualities as well” (149). Sadly, I see this propensity in my own life. My thinking sometimes goes, go, go, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Eswine reminds me of the importance of embodied presence. Even when it seems less efficient. 

2.    I can be envious of other places and other people. When I read this from Eswine it convicted me: “Please forgive me. I have prayers to say for persons you’ve never heard of. I’d best get on with this good work of the day. You’d best get on with yours too” (145). How true! I’m abrogating my responsibilities when I’m envious of someone else’s responsibilities. I shouldn’t envy other people for the places they serve. And I shouldn’t envy others for the gifts they have either. I found this helpful to reflect on too: “Anything another minister does well becomes an occasion, not for our gratitude to God for the sake of the other minister and the cause of the gospel in our generation, but a reason for us to wring our hands and pressure ourselves because now we too must equal or better what that other minster can do” (145). This should not be so. I should rejoice at the gifts and abilities of others.

3.    Eswine reminded me of the broken nature of all people, spiritual leaders included (Cf. 100-101). Noah had courage and faith as well as a lapse of drunkenness. Abraham is remembered and honored for his faith but he sometimes acted in selfish fear. Moses led courageously but he also murdered, shrank back in fear, and his bursts of anger cost him dearly. We sing songs that David pinned but we also read of the chaos he wrote. Jonah preached and many turned in repentance to God but Jonah raised his fists at grace. James and John were close to Jesus (and they wanted to be at His left and right hand), so close that Jesus gave them a nickname—“sons of thunder.” Paul teaches us and tells us of transforming grace, grace he himself experienced as an accomplice to the first Christian martyrdom. Peter boldly exalts Christ but he also repeatedly and cowardly denied him. We too are like the heroes of the faith. We are struggling saints and sinners.

4.    I think this quote gets at one of the most helpful things in the book: “We cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try” (99). It is vital that I remember that “sickness, death, poverty, and the sin that bores into and infests the human being will not be removed on the basis of human effort, no matter how strong, godly, or wise the effort is” (97). I must humbly recall “There is nothing we can do in ministry that does not require God to act, if true fruit is to be produced (John 15:5). Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power” (97). These truths are humbling but they are true. They are also comforting. I don’t have to be the Lord, I can’t. I’m not. I need to repent of even trying. And I need to rely on and pray to God for help.

5.    I grew up in a small poor town. And I left as soon as I saved up enough money to do so. I was nineteen. Yet, as Eswine says,“The Holy One of God has a hometown” (76). The Holy One of God inhabited a locality on earth. He limited Himself to a specific place at a specific time. And in many ways, His hometown was a small poor town. It’s wild and powerful to think about Jesus walking those streets and working as a carpenter. And He did so for thirty years. “Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees?” (77) I need to learn from Jesus. I need to be satisfied and faithful no matter the season. I need to remember that the poor small town that I grew up in is not insignificant. I also need to trust my Father’s will for my life, whatever that looks like.

18 Quotes from Dave Harvey’s book Rescuing Ambition

1. “Our search for approval is over. In Christ, we already have all the approval we need” (Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).

2. “My search for approval is over. In Christ I already have all the approval I need.

Because Christ’s righteousness has been transferred to me, all the time and energy I once squandered trying to be liked or praised or to achieve something to validate my existence can now be re-directed toward doing things for God’s glory. I no longer live for approval; I live from approval” (Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).

3. “God loves good ambition. It brings him glory as he works through our desires to fulfill his purpose. God doesn’t need us, but amazingly he uses us. But to position us for fruitfulness, he’s continually working in our lives, turning our desires toward his ends and developing our ambitions and accordance with his will” (p. 74-75).

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20 Quotes from Soong-Chan Rah’s book The Next Evangelicalism

1. “Diametrically opposed to the characteristics of mobility, and a spiritual numbness and apathy arising from mobility, are the characteristics of the body of Christ. Instead of upward mobility, there is the doctrine of the incarnation. Instead of a seeking of comfort through geographic and technological mobility, there is Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die on the cross. Mobility may be a high value in our contemporary culture, but the value of the kingdom of God and the example of Jesus Christ is the incarnation. The doctrine of the incarnation stands in opposition to our obsession with mobility” (Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism, 151)

2. “The American church needs to face the inevitable and prepare for the next stage of her history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic American Christianity in the immediate future” (p.The Next Evangelicalism, 12).

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20 Quotes from Gary Thomas’ Book The Sacred Search

I found Gary Thomas’ book The Sacred Search helpful. He deals with some very relevant issues. I think every person in a dating relationship should read it and I think every single person should read it. Here are some quotes from the book to get you interested: 

1. “I want to make a promise to you: if you will seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and let that agenda drive your decision regarding whom you choose to marry and refuse to compromise on that, you will set yourself up for a much more fulfilling, spiritually enriching, and overall more satisfying marriage. The degree to which you compromise on this verse is the degree to which you put your future satisfaction in jeopardy and open wide the door to great frustration and even regret” (Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search, 22).

2. “Guys… are more inclined to experience romantic love with women they are attracted to physically, yet physical appearance is the thing most likely to change in a person’s life. Marriage isn’t about being young together; it’s about growing old together—and bodies change as we get older. If you don’t marry with that in mind, you’re going to make a major mistake—perhaps the biggest mistake of your life” (Thomas, The Sacred Search, 25). “What launches sexual chemistry won’t sustain sexual chemistry” (p. 47).

3. “The way God made our brains, infatuation resembles an hourglass. The moment you become smitten by someone—the second you find yourself deeply “in love”—is the moment that hourglass gets turned over. There is enough sand in that hourglass, on average, to last you about twelve to eighteen months” (p. 29)

4. “I don’t want to diminish the mystery and poetry of a truly delicious romantic attachment and “soul connection,” but in reality you’re living through a fairly predictable and observable neurochemical reaction. And here’s something you need to know: the state of infatuation actually impedes your ability to objectively discern your partner’s faults and weaknesses. Dr. Thomas Lewis put it this way: “Love may not be literally blind, but it does seem to be literally incapable of reason and the levels of appropriate negativity necessary for realism” (pp. 32-33).

5. “Sin, by definition, is overturning God’s created order. In God’s created order, there should be no sex outside of marriage, and lots of fulfilling, generous sex during marriage. Why do you think a person will disobey God in the first instance, but obey Him in the second? Doesn’t it make sense that if you shut out God to do what you want to do in one season, you’ll keep doing it in the next season?” (p. 48)

6. “This might shock you, but your best chance at sexual satisfaction in marriage is not to focus on appearance alone, but rather to find a woman of virtue” (p. 49).

7. “Time serves intentionally cultivated intimate affection, even as it kills infatuation” (p. 51).

8. “The language of the Bible doesn’t suggest there is one right choice for marriage. Rather, all the teaching passages seem to suggest that there are wise and unwise choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner” (p. 61).

9. “Some Christians find themselves in a dating dead end. There’s no one suitable where they work or at their church. For their own reasons, they refuse to look at any online dating sites. Instead of putting themselves in social environments where they might find someone, they start to feel bitter and angry and blame God for not bringing the right one along” (pp. 79-80). Later on he asks, “Are you putting yourself in places where you can find or be found? Do you hang out in places where the kind of person you want to marry hangs out?” (p. 80). So, “Instead of simply ‘waiting for God to bring the right one,’ go out and find a godly mate” (p. 81).

10. “A spiritual sole mate is someone who is passionately committed to getting married for the glory of God first and foremost” (p. 94).

11. “If you marry for money, health, or looks, keep in mind that none of these are certain to remain. Character is the surest thing. Even if the two of you manage to avoid a medical maelstrom, the vast majority of you will have to navigate something else that will test you to your core: having children. Does the person you’re planning on marrying have what it takes in this regard? Are they strong enough not just to be your spouse, but to be your children’s mom or dad?” (p. 119).

12. “Intimacy is built through sharing, listening, understanding, and talking through issues. If someone doesn’t like to talk, refuses to talk, or resents your desire to talk, intimacy building is going to hit a stone wall” (p. 141).

13. “The general rule is this: however much your boyfriend talks to you while dating, cut that down by at least 25 percent after marriage. If you’re not good with that, you’re looking at the wrong guy. I’m not saying it should be that way, only that it almost always is. Talk to married women; ask them if this isn’t true. Make your choice accordingly” (pp. 141-42).

14. “The person you marry is the person you’re going to be married to” (p. 160).

15. “When we live for ourselves, we become boring. Most of us are simply not interesting enough on our own to captivate someone else for five or six decades” (p. 174).

16. “When we sin sexually we are literally launching a neurochemical war against our mental reasoning” (p. 187).

17. “Sex is a powerful tool. In a healthy marriage, used appropriately, it can be nothing short of glorious. As people who believe God is the Creator of our bodies and our sexuality, we should be eager to embrace His good handiwork. But know this: the more powerful the tool, the more training and caution you need when learning to use it” (p.  201).
 
18. “If you’ve caught the vision for a marriage that seeks first the kingdom of God, you need to be on the lookout for personality traits that will undermine such a focus” (p. 203).
 

19. “Guys, if you marry a woman who is motivated by reverence for God over affection for you, she’ll learn to be kind to you and affectionate toward you even when she doesn’t feel like it and when you’re acting like a jerk. The same thing that feeds her chastity—love and respect for God—will feed sexual enthusiasm within marriage. The same thing that feeds promiscuity before marriage—selfishness and fear—will kill sexual desire after marriage” (pp. 210-11).

20. “Sex can indeed be amazing. It’s also a skill that can be learned, and that’s what marriage allows, so if the two of you aren’t “compatible” on your wedding night, you have a lifetime to get there.
   Two people who genuinely care for each other and who are growing in the virtues of kindness and generosity will figure out, sooner rather than later, how to please and keep on pleasing each other” (p. 187).
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