Posted in colossians, discernment, false teachers, lloyd-jones, spurgeon

Don’t let anyone disqualify you from the prize!

Puffed up in visions they have seen

Colossians is a tremendous book. Of this verse in Colossians, let’s first focus on the first five words, Paul’s warning, underline mine-

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, (Colossians 2:18 ESV)

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, (Colossians 2:18, NASB)

Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” (Colossians 2:18 KJV).

The word disqualify/defraud/beguile here in context refers to an umpire. Strong’s defines it,

“to deprive” refers to discouraging (misleading) believers, diverting them from their full potential for receiving their unique glorification.

Paul uses the same metaphor with the result being the prize in Philippians 3:7-14. In the MacArthur commentary the prize is explained. Now, be assured that no one can deprive you of the ultimate prize, salvation. Of that, Jesus said “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29).

Spurgeon said in his excellent sermon on the verse titled “A Warning to Believers“,

THERE is an allusion here to the prize which was offered to the runners in the Olympic games, and at the outset it is well for us to remark how very frequently the Apostle Paul conducts us by his metaphors to the racecourse. Over and over again he is telling us so to run that we may obtain, bidding us to strive, and at other times to agonize, and speaking of wrestling and contending. Ought not this to make us feel what an intense thing the Christian life is—not a thing of sleepiness or haphazard, not a thing to be left now and then to a little superficial consideration?

Though you can’t be disqualified for the ultimate prize, an umpire can sideline you. Or, he can make calls that affect the other players in the game around you, diminishing your effectiveness. MacArthur said of the umpire metaphor,

The false teachers claimed a mystical union with God. Paul exhorts the Colossians not to allow those false teachers to keep defrauding them of their prize. It was as if the heretics assumed the role of spiritual referees and disqualified the Colossians for not abiding by their rules. ~MacArthur Commentary on Colossians & Philemon

False doctrine is not only a corruption in the church, it does damage to you individually. One way false teaching and false teachers harm you is that following them even temporarily and certainly for a long period disqualifies you for the prize. That much is clear.

What is inferred is our responsibility to our brethren who are following a false teacher. How will it be when they are judged, when told to give an account of themselves (Romans 14:12, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Service to Jesus and our works for him while in the flesh is examined, as well as conscience, words spoken, and how well we overcame the flesh, in addition to other things. We will cringe and cry when we hear Jesus say that a friend has lost some prizes because they followed a false teacher and thus were disobeying Jesus, while we knew all along and never said anything.

Christ’s soldiers are striving for the prize

And will that be counted as sin against us? A sin of omission is just as bad as a sin of omission. James 4:17 says,

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

Pursuing evil is sinful (sin of commission) and avoidance of doing good is also bad. (sin of omission) What, then, as we see a sister sliding into the influence of a false teacher and we fail to warn, even as Paul warned the Colossians? We are supposed to build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Romans 14:19). What will Jesus say to us regarding a sister we let down?

As for the rest of the verse, I listened to 4 sermons and read 4 different commentaries, just on Colossians 2:18. It’s a powerful verse and has within it portents, warnings, and explanations. It’s dense and difficult. But here is the master of logic, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who made it so clear. I enjoyed his sermon on the verse best. (Although Spurgeon’s was a close second).

In this portion of his sermon, “The Danger of Error“, Lloyd-Jones is talking about the ones who were upsetting the Colossians, the Gnostics. He said they were people who are false, and in that falsity have a striking characteristic which gives them away. It’s not the only characteristic, but it is one you’ll see often. As you read this transcribed part of the sermon, see if this doesn’t bring anyone to mind. Of course, listening to the sermon is preferred because his accent, inflections, and word emphases bring the piece to life.

[Of the cults and false religions]…don’t they always give you an impression they are much more zealous and enthusiastic than you are? Always talking about it, always advocating it, always urging you to go to their meetings. They’re tremendous in enthusiasm, and zeal, and activity. Now the scriptures teach us that it’s always a characteristic of such people. It is one of the great errors of course, that the devil always makes, he always overdoes what he’s trying to do. He produces therefore this carnal excitable zeal. The Apostle doesn’t hesitate to use the term like “delusion.” He says let no man beguile you with enticing words. Yes! It is a beguiling. It is a form of delusion. And the result of such a delusion always is that you get this…excess. This overplus, somehow always overdone.

Let’s be clear about these things. Oftentimes this very enthusiasm is the thing that that attracts innocent Christian people. “Look at their zeal, they can’t be wrong! Look at what they’re prepared to sacrifice, look at the time they give to it! They must be right’, says the innocent Christian. The NT has much to say about this. They have itching ears to start with, then they’re carried away by this false zeal.”

Here is Spurgeon on that excitable zeal the false mystics put forth to beguile you:

A notion is abroad that if you are but earnest and sincere, you will be all right. Permit me to remind you that if you travel never so earnestly to the north, you will never reach the south, and if you earnestly take prussic acid you will die, and if you earnestly cut off a limb you will be wounded. You must not only be earnest, but you must be right in it. Hence is it necessary to say, “Let no man beguile you of your reward.” “I bear them witness,” said the Apostle, “that they had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, but went about to establish their own righteousness,

Don’t let their mystical visions beguile you!

Keep thinking about who teaches falsely with zeal and enthusiasm, so much so that many others are confounded by their energy, as Lloyd-Jones says, believing that so much zeal must stem from a Godly source.

Lloyd-Jones concluded by offering some practical tests to see if someone is false, these mystical ascetics, puffed up with visions-

Here are the tests:

1. Keep Christ and your relationship to him central
2. A way to test any teaching is this: does it make you think better of Christ? Does it magnify Him? Does it exalt Him? You’ll find with these other things, my friends, that they don’t do that. You’ll be praising their teaching

Keep thinking about those false teachers who inspire impassioned defenders, saying that he or she is great, rather than how he or she pointed them to the Great One.

Keep thinking about them that go on and on about their messages from God, their visions, dreams, personal revelations delivered to them in the bathroom or a cabin in Wyoming or half-asleep in bed, and check your mind and heart to see if you don’t think they are a little bit more mystical and theologically higher up than you are because of it. Or worse, if the false teacher himself or herself thinks they are higher up than you poor saps who don’t get the regular direct deliveries … but they’ll humbly share them with you anyway.

Let’s end where we started. Don’t let anyone defraud you of the prize. The ultimate prize is Jesus, His faith, His comfort. Spurgeon said,

Let no man deprive you of the present comfort which your faith should bring to you. … Let me just for a few minutes have your attention while I speak upon this. Dear brethren, you and I, if we are believers in Christ, are this day completely pardoned. There is no sin in God’s book against us. We are wholly and completely justified. The righteousness of Jesus Christ covers us from head to foot, and we stand before God as if we had never sinned. Now let no man rob you of this reward. Do not be tempted by anything that is said to doubt the completeness of a believer in Christ. Hold this, and, as you hold it, enjoy it. Let no man beguile you of the reward of feeling that you are complete in Christ.

Lars Justinen, Robe of Righteousness
Posted in bible, don green, lloyd-jones, macarthur, phil johnson, preachers, spurgeon, steven lawson, the word

Through the Years: Faithful men and praise to Jesus for raising them up

What is it? Answer at bottom

The above is the sermon list by year of sermons available in Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon archive.

On a recent blog essay, someone posted the following question to me:

Why do you worship MacArthur so much? You quote him on your blogs more than you do the Bible.-Jeff”

I answered this way:
“Great question! However I don’t worship Dr John MacArthur. I worship Jesus. You know that. I quote MacArthur a lot for several reasons:

–He is doctrinally correct on every issue I’ve heard him speak to. This means his interpretations are aligned with the bible. This is a precious rarity in these days,
–His entire body of work is online, and easily obtainable. Therefore he is easy to quote,
–He has addressed all of the relevant cultural issues, and these also are online and available, and once again therefore easily quotable.

I also often quote GotQuestions, for the same reasons, and Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. I’d quote Phil Johnson just as often as I do MacArthur but his sermons are not transcribed as MacArthur’s are. And as a side note, he said a couple of years ago that the same lady has been his transcriber for over 40 years. What a blessing to the faith these people are! We all benefit.

I have quoted in the past Jonathan Edwards, but his language is further away from ours, being almost 300 years old. Same with Charles Spurgeon and Matthew Henry. But I still quote them on occasion as well.

If you came across a doctrinally correct, easily obtainable body of work freely given to the body of Christ from a persevering man of faith, why would you NOT want to use it as much as possible? That is what it is there for.”

My response got me thinking about how grateful I am for the good men and pastors God has raised up. I was thunderstruck by Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“. I have an excerpt of it which I carry constantly in my bible. I occasionally re-read it in its entirety to myself aloud so I can remember and value the feeling of gratitude I have that Jesus saved me from His wrath. The sermon is almost 300 years old, but God carefully preserved it for us so that we can be edified these many generations later.

I was deeply moved by Charles’ Spurgeon’s sermon on God’s Providence. His proposal that the cherubs of the wheels within wheels could be part of the machinery of God’s providence as it works out in our lives was completely amazing to me. I often re-read that sermon to gain further insights that the Spirit will have me learn.

But it was with the advent of technology that we are blessed with being able to hear these preachers as they preach. Many of the later Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons were taped and put onto more current media. John MacArthur’s first sermon at Grace Community Church in 1969 was cassette-taped and transcribed and so have all the rest ever since.

These men are good expositors. The Lord raised them up for the benefit of the church and the edification of souls. When Charles Spurgeon was actively preaching, his sermons were re-printed in the newspaper. He was endlessly quoted. His magazine Sword and Trowel enjoyed a high circulation. Thousands came to hear him in the Tabernacle and the tens of thousands read his sermons each week.

When Spurgeon died, in January 1892, London south of the Thames went into mourning. Sixty thousand people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. A funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery at Upper Norwood. One hundred thousand people stood along the way, flags flew at half-mast, shops and pubs were closed. It was a remarkable demonstration of affection and respect, even in an era when people were scrupulous in observing the rituals that accompanied death.” (source)

Yet would anyone in those more Godly times peevishly complain that a person was sourcing Spurgeon’s material too much? Worshiping him? I doubt it. “Stop reading his sermon every Monday! You do that too much!” It’s laughable.

I respect the men who came before us and the men whom God raises up today. Their commentaries, books, and sermons are for the benefit of the church members and ultimately are to glorify Him. It’s been true ever since this verse was spoken,

I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel 2:35)

God did that and continues to do that until He raised up Jesus, the final High Priest and the Priest forever, bless His holy name. After the cross, back here on earth, God still raises up men to teach and preach to us, because God’s word goes out forever and will never pass away (Matthew 24:25).
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

The apostasy is growing at an exponential rate. My job as an encourager and a discerner is to point people to credible men whose teaching is solid. We are long past the tipping point where most preaching is solid. Nowadays, most preaching is NOT solid. We have gone from being a ‘God-fearing’ nation, to a God-mocking nation.

Therefore when as Bereans you compare to the bible the links I offer you, I believe in every case you will find it matches. Therefore I am unashamed to continue to quote Dr MacArthur, and I refuse to be browbeaten into seeking other men for people to read who may not be as solid simply to cater to whims and wishes of those who are peeved for some reason.

Now, if someone wants a wider array of Godly preachers to select from, I can accommodate. I listed below my favorites, men to whom I give my respect as elders of the faith and to whom I daily and weekly listen or read. They are all expositors.

What is expositional preaching?
Expositional preaching at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. Expositional preaching involves explaining what the Bible says to a contemporary audience that is likely unfamiliar with the cultural and historical settings that the passage was written in. The word exposition simply means to “a setting forth or explanation.” So expositional preaching is the explanation of Scripture that is based upon diligent study and careful exegesis of a passage. It is the primary call of the pastor or preacher as we see in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

These first three men have been or are in service to God in a mighty, MIGHTY way, and what a ministry! I praise and thank Jesus for raising them up!

John F. MacArthur, 3,000+ sermons. He has been preaching at Grace Community Church for 45 years. (b. 1939- ). Bio. Sermon archive. I especially enjoyed his preaching series from Genesis

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, (1834-1892). 3,561 sermons. AKA The Prince of Preachers, preached at New Park Street and then Metropolitan Tabernacle for 37 years. (Bio). Sermons. My current favorite is the sermon on God’s Providence.

Lloyd-Jones

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (1899 – 1 March 1981). 1591 sermons available. He preached for 41 years at Westminster Chapel in London. (Bio). Sermon archive here. My current favorite are the Great Biblical Doctrines, especially, The Fall.

Also:

I also enjoy Dr Steven Lawson. I just listened to a wonderful sermon of his from Philippians, about daily Christian living. Sermon archive here. (Bio).

Phil Johnson is a personal favorite of mine. I’d quote him as often as I do MacArthur but his sermons haven’t been transcribed until lately. Pastor Johnson preaches at the GraceLife Pulpit of John MacArthur’s church. I enjoy the sermons from Dr. MacArthur, but I personally identify with Johnson. My current favorite sermon of his recently has been What Creation Reveals. (Bio and other Bio)

Don Green

Finally, though certainly not least, is Pastor Don Green. He preaches at Truth Community Fellowship. (Bio). My current favorite sermon of his is called “What is Sin?

I hope these links and the thousands upon thousands of wonderfully exposited sermons available to you will edify you in a great way. May the spotless name of Jesus be glorified through their ministry and by us as we receive His word into our hearts and minds from these men. 

Posted in angels, lloyd-jones

Great Biblical Doctrines: The Good Angels

Martyn Lloyd Jones preached through an incredible series called “The Great Doctrines of God.” You can listen to them here. The companion sermon to The Good Angels (The Bad Angels) is unfortunately not recorded, but Dr Lloyd-Jones transformed the sermons into a book titled Great Doctrines of the Bible, (three volumes) and the book is on Scribd, here, with the sermon The Bad Angels in it.

Listening to his sermon on the good angels yesterday gave me such encouragement. I always find that thinking of, reading about, or listening to any piece which exalts the majesty of God is in itself great encouragement. And why not? All good things come from God and thus, He is the source of encouragement.

Illustration, “Guido Reni’s Michael (in Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome, 1636)tramples Satan. A mosaic of the same painting decorates St. Michael’s Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.” (Wiki)

Lloyd-Jones’s sermon brought out so many great points, and he did it so seemingly easily. That is to say, he speaks simply and carefully but that doesn’t belie the complexity and majesty of the material. He makes it both understandable and exalting at the same time. He opened with asking a series of pointed and important questions

Let me ask a question at this point: How often have you heard either a sermon or an address on the biblical doctrine of the angels? How often have you considered this doctrine or meditated upon it? I ask those questions in order that I may ask another: Why is it that we tend to neglect certain parts of the biblical revelation? Why is it that even as evangelical people we seem to be content with the minimum of doctrine? Why are we only interested in the doctrine of salvation? It more and more seems to me that we rob ourselves of a wealth of truth because we do not isolate these doctrines and hold them up for our study and contemplation.”

I’ll summarize in very bare bones fashion what Dr Lloyd-Jones preached on:

Jesus made all the angels. There are thousands upon thousands of them. (Luke 2:13, Rev. 5:11). He made every one a unique individual. He did this before He created the world. (Colossians 1:16).

Angels never die. They were created, but won’t die. They came into existence by Jesus at a certain point, but their existence will never end. And what about those cherubim (e.g. Ps. 99:1; Ezek. 10:1–22) and seraphim (Isa. 6:2)?? They dwell in the presence of God, as we will one day. Don’t forget about the cherubim standing guard at the eastern entrance to the Garden of Eden with his flaming sword going every which way. Dr Lloyd-Jones wondered if he would be there also to welcome us when the Garden is re-opened at the resurrection. They are incredible beings.

Leonardo Da Vinci, The Annunciation” Wikipaintings.org

He said, “I think that there is profound significance in that; the flaming sword is to prevent man from entering back again into Paradise. He can never go back on his own. There is only one way back, and it is the way that has been opened by the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He spent some time developing the hierarchy of angelic orders and the distribution of work. From archangels on down, he revealed truth after truth. His take on it was fascinating, delving deep into the bible and unearthing gem after gem. He briefly mentioned the hierarchy/division of the bad angels but only touche don ti since this sermon was only about the good angels.

And that, of course, leads us in turn to the next question which is: Are there orders among the angels? Are they all identical? Are they equal in power and in authority, or have they orders and ranks? It seems quite clear that there is a division both in status and in work.

Annunciation to Zechariah.
Fragment of Russian icon “Execution of St.John Baptist”

And that brings us to the whole question of their power. The Bible is explicit about this—they are very great in power. We are told of the mighty angels, that they excel in strength‘ (Ps. 103:20). Their power is undoubtedly greater than human power; they are not only superior in dignity and in status, they are also undoubtedly superior in power.

Salvation is such an incredible, holy act, and the angels long to look into it.

Then there is something else that the angels are very busy about. I never read this next point without having a still more glorious understanding of my salvation. We are told that they spend a good deal of their time in looking into this question of our salvation. Let me give you my authority. Peter, in talking about our salvation says, ‘which things the angels desire to look into’ (1 Pet. 1:12). It is something so marvellous, and so wonderful, that these created angelic spirits, who have always spent their eternity in the presence of God, are, as it were, looking on at this thing which is most astonishing to them, and which surpasses everything else.

Then the next thing we are told about them is this—let us bear it in mind always—they not only behold the face of God, they are not only looking into salvation, but they are looking at us. …the Scripture teaches that when Christians meet together, and when they gather together in prayer, then the angels of God are present…”

If you read Revelation you realize just how much the angels participate in bringing judgment. They are instruments of God’s will and participate in it. They gave the law. They reveal God’s purposes. They bring messages from God. When not directly performing a task, they stand at attention, adoring God, worshiping Him, looking into salvation. They are busy. And one of the ways they are busy is that they minister to God’s own people.

“But again I would say that the most comforting, and the most wonderful aspect of this teaching is what we are told in the Scriptures of the way in which God uses the angels to bless and to care for His own people: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth [called forth] to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?‘ (Heb. 1:14). What, after all, is the greatest function of the angels? It is to minister to you and to me—to minister to the heirs of salvation.”

Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation Graphic Novel Source

We find that the angels protect us. They also give us guidance. They cheer us and to give us comfort and consolation. Angels fight on behalf of God. (Elisha’s servant was given a sight of this). They deliver us from situations (Peter was led from jail by an angel). They are tremendous beings. Of course, Dr. Lloyd-Jones developed each of those points He ended with this glorious, glorious testament to the level of care that God gives His children:

But there is something more which I trust will give great comfort and consolation to many people who may perhaps have been thinking with fear and dread of the end of their life in this world—afraid of the physical aspect of death. But we need not be, for we read in Luke 16:22–3…

…when we come to die they will be there to receive our spirit and to take us to Paradise. That is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Never again, Christian people, imagine that when you come to die you will be going into some awful loneliness as a disembodied spirit to an unknown world. Not at all. The angels of God will be there to receive you, and to conduct you, and to take you to be with the Lord in Paradise. What a wonderful thing!

Oh, indeed it is wonderful! God made the uncountable stars and named them all. He made the innumerable angels and named them too. The doctrine of angels is an amazing doctrine.

Angel rolled the stone from the tomb
– Alexander Ivanov

Shame on us Christian people that we neglect the doctrine of the angels, that we do not read our Scriptures thoroughly and wholly. …

…”Let us take hold of the biblical teaching. Let us not rob ourselves as we do. Let us look into this great Word and receive it as it is, and we shall find things that will amaze us, and fill us with a still greater sense of wonder as we come to know our marvellous God and His wondrous love towards us.”

Amen! Please take some time to listen to the sermon. Of course, just the few quotes here do not even come close to comparing the full impact of this terrific sermon and hearing about the doctrine of angels.

Posted in abendroth, green, johnson, listening, lloyd-jones, macarthur, preachers, sermon

How to listen to a sermon: part 1 "The mechanics of listening"

Part 2 here: “Expository Listening”

As I’m sure you do, I like to listen to sermons. I listen at my laptop, while I am doing dishes or cooking, and in church. The former means I have no visuals to accompany the listening, and the latter does.

The catch is finding a good preacher who treats the scripture with respect, doesn’t promote a false doctrine, and is clear in his preaching. That is hard to do these days! Once you find some pastors like that, phew, it is easy to settle into a routine that contains your favorite few. Mine are John MacArthur, Mike Abendroth, (and also herePhil Johnson, and Don Green.

However, I have an Old Testament prophet’s heart and I LOVE to listen to good exposition on the OT texts. The problem is, pastors who preach those texts are few and far between. Pastor Johnson has a great series on the Psalms, and Dr. MacArthur has a very few on OT texts (his series on Genesis 1 is fantastic) and Pastor Green as a tiny amount, but that’s it.

Martyn Lloyd Jones was a well-known British preacher. He lived from 1899 to 1981. He preached for a long time. Recently, his recorded sermons were combined into a trust and released to the public via the internet. There are 133 sermons on the OT. There are 55 on the great biblical doctrines. There are 1,600 sermons overall. What a treasure trove! I got so excited!

This week, I listened to two of his sermons from Jeremiah and I had a hard time sticking with it. I like Jeremiah a lot, and  was truly interested in the exposition of the text. So why was my mind balking? Lloyd-Jones is an old-fashioned fire and brimstone preacher, which I love. So why was I having a hard time? You know me, I have to analyze everything.

Lloyd-Jones’s voice is upper crust, ‘veddy British’. He rolls his rrrr’s dramatically. He has a high nasal

voice, not helped by older recording equipment from the 40s, 50s, 60s that makes him sound more tinny than likely he was in real life. The vocabulary he uses is slightly different that I’m used to, and it included British words as well as simply a different phraseology than I’ve heard before. All these surface elements of the skill of listening negatively impacted my listening experience.

I thought about it for a while and I came to the conclusion that our ears settle into a comfortable rut. Just as we enjoy living in a routine, so do our ears. People’s voices are like blankets. We become used to how our pastors sound, we know their verbal tics, and go along with their vocal rhythms. Listening is an ability. It needs to be kept in good working order, the wheels of the mind greased and stretched. I was having a hard time not because of the content of Lloyd-Jones’s sermons, which are tremendous, nor because of any spiritual conviction I was experiencing, but simply because my listening ability was being stretched.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this when a guest preacher comes to your church. It takes a while for your mind to settle down and get used to hearing a new tone of voice, an new rhythm, a new way of speaking. All this stretches your listening vocabulary and listening skills. And listening is a skill.

I used to watch foreign films a lot. I don’t like dubbing so I always went for the subtitles, which never bothered me. Foreign films of course show foreign things, contain foreign ideas, use a different approach to story telling, and even the cinematography is different because of different type cameras used in the making of the film. It has been about ten years since I’ve seen a foreign film and I watched one recently. I had a hard time settling down at first because I’d lost the skill of watching them. Same goes for black and white movies, which I’ve recently gotten back into, and the same goes for silent films. I was surprised that the 2011 American/French film “The Artist” won so many Academy Awards (five) because it was a silent film. A silent film hasn’t been made nor an old one released in a long time, and many of us have lost that skill of how to watch one.

It is the same with listening. The mechanics of listening to a sermon are just as important. Keep honing your skills in listening to a wide range of good preachers. Here is a little tutorial on how to keep the mechanics of your listening skills in good shape. In another blog entry, I’ll discuss the spiritual mechanics of biblical listening.

Literacy is reading and writing, listening and speaking. It is via literacy that we create meaning in our lives. The US Air Force has a University called The Air University, or AU. In this good series on Listening Effectively, we read,

“Listening is a complex process—an integral part of the total communication process, albeit a part often ignored. This neglect results largely from two factors.”

“First, speaking and writing (the sending parts of the communication process) are highly visible, and are more easily assessed than listening and reading (the receiving parts). And reading behavior is assessed much more frequently than listening behavior; that is, we are more often tested on what we read than on what we hear. And when we are tested on material presented in a lecture, generally the lecture has been supplemented by readings.”

“Second, many of us aren’t willing to improve our listening skills. Much of this unwillingness results from our incomplete understanding of the process—and understanding the process could help show us how to improve. To understand the listening process, we must first define it.”

The essay goes on to explain that, “The process moves through the first three steps—receiving, attending,

Group of people listening to a sermon.
Coranderrk, c.1860-c.1865
source

understanding—in sequence.” Receiving is what it means, someone transmits a body of information auditorially and your ears receive it. There are many things that can impact receiving. If you’re in a car and driving, of course that impacts you because you get distracted. The speaker is still sending, you’re not receiving. Even if you are in a pew and seated comfortably, receiving can be impacted by the preacher’s speech, any impediments, his rhythm, tone, or distracting verbal tics.

My old pastor used to punctuate every half phrase with “Amen?” as in, “Paul was about to set out in his second missionary journey, amen? And then he got in the boat, amen?” etc. Like that. Drove me nuts. I’m exaggerating a bit on how frequently he said it, but it was frequent enough that it became a distraction to me rather than a pattern of speech unique to him. Sometimes I’d just count the amens rather than listen to what he was saying. That is what I mean by verbal tics. MacArthur repeats a sentence he really wants us to get. He doesn’t do it often within a sermon, but only at the introduction of a new main idea, so it doesn’t distract me. In the former case, it was distracting, in the latter, a comforting vocal blanket to my ears.

In the Air University lecture it stated that “attending” is the second part of the process of listening. Attending is hard when you’re distracted. This impacts receiving. Like I said above, I had a hard time paying attention to the content when the distraction of the amens got in the way.

The AU lecture notes that in the second part of the listening process attending, there is such a thing as–

“Selectivity of attention. We direct attention to certain things to prevent an information overload.”

And alternately, we become distracted by things when they are competing for our attention. This is why listening is active. If there arise any barriers to listening, we must mentally work to overcome them.

“Selectivity of attention explains why you “perk up” or pay attention when something familiar to you, such as your hometown or your favorite hobby, is mentioned. In fact, you may have been listening intently to a conversation when someone in a different conversation mentions your name. Immediately, the focus of your attention shifts to the conversation in which your name was mentioned.” (source)

So in listening to a sermon, you may have a favorite topic. If any preacher mentions anything about eschatology, I am all ears. If the sermon is on marriage (I’m single) I tend to want to tune out.

Strength of attention. Attention is not only selective; it possesses energy, or strength.

Attention requires effort and desire. It is possible to get lazy in listening, that is why I’m writing about listening as a skill that needs honing and practice. We make ourselves literate when we connect the new to the known. If you are listening to a preacher for the first time, you have nothing to connect the new to the known with. In other words, I understand without having to think about it that when MacArthur repeats a sentence it means he is emphasizing a point and getting ready to launch into another verbal paragraph. This barely registers with me now but it is what I am talking about when I say that listening is an active skill. When you tune in to a new preacher you won’t know his patterns and it takes a few listens to acquire them. Stick with it.

Words are verbal symbols. Yet there can exist barriers to understanding even when we all speak the same language.

Barrier #1: The same words mean different things to different people.

I laugh when I remember this example. When I was married, my husband and I used to talk of course. All

my degrees are in literacy and my profession is teaching. I live by words. My husband was a mathematician, his profession was databases and computer software. One time we were having a talk. We were both speaking English. We were at home and undistracted. But we were not connecting verbally. Finally, I asked him, “When you speak what does it look like in your mind?” He said, “Numbers. I think in equations. How do you think?” I answered, “I think in anecdotes.”

In the AU lecture, the professor said, “I may tell my colleague that the temperature in the office is quite comfortable. My “quite comfortable,” however, is her “uncomfortable”: 75 degrees is comfortable for me; 70 degrees is comfortable for her. The same word can mean different things to different people.”

If you listen to a new preacher it takes a while to become familiar with what he means when he says such and such.

“Barrier #2: Different words sometimes mean the same thing”

It took me a while after moving from the north to the south in the US that buggy meant cart, soda meant pop, and tea meant cold and sweet. I remember asking one of my kindergarteners to get the wastebasket and he literally didn’t know what I meant. I said “the trash can” and then he brought it right over.

A new preacher you’re listening to might indeed be speaking English but may be using different words in that present a barrier to understanding. With ongoing listening you absorb his meanings into your mental listening vocabulary.

Barrier #3: Misinterpretation of the voice. The quality, intelligibility, and variety of the voice affect the listener’s understanding. Quality refers to the overall impression the voice makes on others.

There is a preacher I listen to who has a tone that tends to become petulant, even though he is not petulant in the least. I have to work hard while listening not to be distracted by it. I love Pastor Mike Abendroth’s voice on his radio program No Compromise Radio. His voice is so soothing, he speaks slowly and clearly, there are no sound effects or distractions. In fact, when I want to be soothed, I’ll listen to him. His voice is like an oasis in the loudness of life. He makes it easy to receive, attend, and understand.

Well, that was a little lesson on the mechanics of listening. In the next essay I’ll offer some information on how to partner with the preacher via maximized listening so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose. It will be geared to the theology of listening: expanding your capacity for expository listening. Meanwhile I’ll urge you all to keep the mechanics of your listening skills honed by occasionally practicing an deliberate expansion of who you listen to, and how.

Posted in jesus, lloyd-jones, rick warren

Seeker driven churches know how to draw a crowd…but is it church?

You decide which man has the better approach:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 30 years’ minister of Westminster Chapel in London, fervent opposer of liberal Christianity, sound expositor of biblical doctrine with fire and passion in his delivery:

“When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message.”

Or, Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church: Founder of Saddleback Church, currently the eighth-largest church in the US, father of the manual of how to redesign both churches and services in an effort to bring more “seekers” through their doors, using worldly allurements to attract the multitudes:

“Figure out what mood you want your service to project, and then create it. (p. 264); We start positive and end positive. (p. 271); We use humor in our services … it is not a sin to help people feel good. (p. 272); Cultivate an informal, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere. (p. 272); We made a strategic decision to stop singing hymns in our seeker services. (p. 285); We have attracted thousands more because of our music. (p. 285); Saddleback now has a complete pop/rock orchestra. (p. 290); Use more performed music than congregational singing … (p. 291) (emphasis on entertainment); The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text … (p. 295); Make your members feel special … they need to feel special. (p. 320,323)”

And this:

“The goal of The Purpose Driven Life is to help people develop a heart for the world.”

As poet Robert Frost wrote so famously, “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” … In this case, the road that Lloyd-Jones was on, the one that walks closely with Jesus, is measured and sober, one that is straight and leads to wisdom and understanding of His word.

Lloyd-Jones & Westminster Chapel

The other road leads to…well…none of the above. This is what happens “when a pastor chooses to entertain goats rather than feed Christ’s sheep.” (quote source). It leads to this:


HT Closet Calvinist via DoNotBeSurprised

John MacArthur said of the seeker driven movement of Rick Warren and his ilk, “They have figured out how to get a crowd and call it church. There’s a big difference between a crowd and a church…big difference.”

You decide which of the above is church…and which is a crowd. Then decide where you want to be when Jesus returns, with the crowd? Or with the church?