Author Archives: brentprentice
As is the custom of the people of Eagle Heights, we will have our quarterly Member’s Meeting on Sunday July 29th at 9:15 am in the worship center.
Member’s Meetings are a time to:
- celebrate the word of the Lord in our midst
- communicate what is coming up so we can do ministry together
- conduct business when necessary
- answer questions from the members of Eagle Heights and pray for those who are spiritually and physically sick
It is very important that every member of Eagle Heights make every effort to be there. If you can’t be there, please ask someone what was said and done.
By the way, if you have questions for the Elders or staff, please feel free to email them to me: email@example.com We will do our best to respond. We always want to do our best to communicate with our faith family, and we sincerely want you to ask any questions or express any concern.
Here is a summary agenda for our time together at 9:15 am on the 29th of July.
(3 min) Welcome and Prayer (Pastor Brent)
- Why it is important to participate in these meetings.
- This time is to celebrate the Lord’s work among us, communicate about the life of the church, and conduct business as necessary.
(3 min) Update from Notie Lansford, Chairman of the Personnel Team
(5 min) Membership Presentations (Pastor Kevin Moore)
- Briefly explain what membership means to the people of Eagle Heights
- Briefly explain the process (Class + Interview + Congregational Affirmation)
- Introduce New Members
- Elder: “Do you commit to help us glorify God by trusting Jesus and striving to obey all that He commands?” New Members: “We do.”
- Elder: “Do you commit to strive to know and build these new members up in love for God’s glory and your joy?” Church Members: “We do.”
(4 min) Youth Ministry Report (Parker)
(4 min) Ziegler Family Seminary Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Pastor Dan)
- Matthew will explain their plans.
- Pastor Dan will come and pray for them.
(4 min) Elders Update (Pastor Kevin Zacharias)
- Trustees Update
- Constitution Revision Update
- Membership Material Update and Review
(4 min) Childers Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Tyson)
- Lauren and Andrew will explain their plans.
- Pastor Tyson will pray for them
(4 min) Children’s Ministry Update (Pastor Ryan)
- Wacky Water Night in August as outreach with mailers
- Children’s Camp
- Need Volunteers as School Starts
- Dearinger’s school supply partnership
(3 min) UPWARD Update (Pastor Brent and Jonathan Harrison)
(4 min) Preparing for August (Pastor Brent)
- Servant attitudes
- Seating and Parking
- University Ministry and Intern
(4 min) Ward Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Pastor Nathan)
- Colton and Lauren will explain their plans.
- Pastor Nathan will pray for them.
(3 min) Staff Updates: Jason Denney (Pastor Brent)
(3 min) Ministry and Missions Giving Update
Q&A with Elders if time permits, and Prayer
There is nothing good about a lazy person. Right? Wrong. Even the lazy person longs for good and satisfying realities. Desire is something, but it is not everything.
Proverbs 13:4 contends: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat (fully satisfied).”
You see, there it is. The sluggish and lazy person really wants to live the good life. They want something; apparently they want a fat or fully satisfied soul. But they get nothing because they do nothing, or at least not enough.
This passage might be applied to many areas of life. For instance, I desire to be more physically fit and have more energy, but the couch is way more comfortable and so my desire does me no good. Someone else might crave financial freedom from debt, but it is way easier to eat out all of the time instead of sticking to a budget. Another person may want to have a healthy marriage, but the miserable peace that exists is better than having to have a hard conversation about the reality and the needed adjustments that would have to take place for the relationship to improve.
As it relates to this verse, the category I most often think about is the spiritually atrophied soul. This person wants to know the blessed life of walking with Jesus by faith (Matthew 5), but instead they choose a life that does not satisfy. Many who claim to have a life-changing relationship (2 Corinthians 5:17) with the Creator of the world in Jesus Christ, seem to know so little of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) that is produced by the same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). And by the way, all of us struggle or fail at this, but there is a difference between struggling forward and believing the present situation is the inevitable reality we were destined to endure.
CS Lewis was right, so many are playing with mud pies in the slums of life and craving more, when they could be enjoying a vacation at the beach.
The answer to this problem is clearly stated in the text. If you want to be satisfied in anything (Psalms 128:1-4), and particularly in God, you must diligently seek it and work at it. You most go after what you want. You must train yourself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:8). You must abide in Christ, for without Him you can do nothing (John 15:5). You must apply all diligence to attain godliness (2 Peter 1:5-11).
To be clear, I am not talking about earning salvation. God is not opposed to effort, He is opposed to earning grace. But grace should drive us away from being sluggishly lazy (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
In light of the wisdom probability that is Proverbs 13:4, craving or desiring is a start, but if you want to live a full and satisfying life in Christ, you must get busy living with all diligence. You must pursue God and the things of God. Otherwise, your soul will be starving and weak. God wants something better for you than the life of the sluggard.
If you desire more, but don’t know the way of the satisfied soul, find someone who appears to have love, joy, peace, etc. The satisfied soul is glad to help others be satisfied in Christ because God is an overflowing, forever God who wants the best for those who love Him and know Him. Do you believe that? Then be diligent.
Life experience is really important, and it is one of the realities that makes the local church so important and practically helpful. We would do well to learn from the people who have gone before us and experienced the ups and downs that life will throw at us. A multi-generational church is a gift, if we recognize it and embrace it.
Tomorrow morning at 9:15 a.m. in the worship center, I have asked four empty-nester couples to share one parenting strategy that they successfully employed when they were parenting. But I have also asked them to share something they wished they would have done, or something they would do differently. We will then have 20-25 minutes of Q&A.
If you are a parent of any age, with children in the home of any age, I highly recommend you make the effort to join us and learn from the life experience of others in the body of Christ.
07.11.18 – Below is the video from our time together.
I continue to find that that the “fear of the Lord” is an oft misunderstood biblical concept. That’s not good because we must understand the fear of the Lord if we are to know and love God and living according to His design.
Ray Ortlund Jr. describes the fear of the Lord in Proverbs 1:7 as the threshold by which Christians are able to embrace true wisdom for living in God’s world. Ortlund writes, “The whole of the book of Proverbs can be distilled into a Proverbs 1:7 drop.” To say it another way, no one can access the wisdom of God and the good it brings without the fear of the Lord. We need a new beginning – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – and we can’t have it without the fear of the Lord.
But what is this fear of the Lord?
Ortlund writes: “It is not a cringing dread before the Lord. It is not a guilty “Oh no, here comes God. I’m in for it now.” The fear of the Lord is openness to Him, eagerness to please Him, humility to be instructed by Him (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of the Lord is willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of the Lord is surrender to His will (Genesis 22:12). The fear of the Lord is one way we love Him (Deuteronomy 6:2, 5). The fear of Christ is meekly fitting in with one another (Ephesians 5:21). The fear of the Lord is when we realize, “I am not the measure of all things. I am measured.” p. 31 – Proverbs; Wisdom That Works
CS Lewis describes the antithesis of the fear of the Lord:
In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison-you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. Mere Christianity
John Piper provides a helpful picture from The Pleasures of God:
Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the storm you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.
At first there was fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope the that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished from your heart. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.
After all, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), and not be hidden the cleft of the Rock that is Christ, who has bore our wrath on the cross.
So the fear of the Lord is not just the dread of God, as thought there was a constant worry that God might smite us. However, if we are not in Christ by repentance toward God and faith in the finished work of Christ, then we have real reason to fear the eternal wrath that awaits us. But if we are safe and secure in Christ, then the fear of the Lord is simply an attitude or disposition that comes from knowing our place in the world as created beings of the Creator. In Christ, we live in awe and reverence toward God, because He is so powerful, wonderful and magnificent to us. Without this fear, we will believe the lie that we are god and the captain of our own ship, doing what we think will bring us the most pleasure a part from God, (Genesis 3:1-6) and we will not see our need to trust and follow Christ, who is wisdom from God for us (1 Corinthians 1:30).
To fear the Lord is to humbly know your place in the universe God created, and by faith to think and act appropriately toward our only hope, Jesus Christ.
On Sunday we watched the following video as an illustration of the sermon from John 1:1-3:
WHAT IS HELPFUL ABOUT THIS SONG
There is so much to embrace and enjoy about this song. I am edified by this song because of the grand and sweeping Biblical meta-narrative it artistically and emotively proclaims. It begins with creation and prods us to attempt to ponder what it might look like for God to make everything from nothing by the sheer force of His speaking; the movement of His breath. It invites us to to imagine and remember how big God really is. He always has been, and always is, and always will be majestic and grand and mind-boggling. But then it reminds us that this cosmic God is personal and merciful and loving in that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us to live perfectly, and die for the sins of many (John 1:1-3, 14; Mark 10:45). Finally, the song models for us to respond by faith with surrender and worship.
We need more songs like this to stretch our minds to see as much of the fullness of God as we can. We need more songs that biblically provoke awe and wonder.
WHAT IS QUESTIONABLE AND CONCERNING ABOUT THIS SONG
I chose to use this video in our worship gathering with some trepidation, concerned there might be a few lines that would distract and maybe even mislead. To be clear, I don’t mean to be uncharitable and overly critical. After all, I am a teaching preacher who sometimes says things that don’t roll off the tongue the way I want them to. Having said that, there is something to be said for being as precise and clear as possible about the truth we sing, teach and preach. So I hope my critique of this song models the need for precise and biblical thinking, but with a spirit of humility.
- “With no point of reference” After the worship gathering I was sharing with one theologically astute man some of my hesitations about the song, and he pointed out one possible deficiency that I had not thought of when the song says that God created from nothing when there was “no point of reference.” The truth is that there was a point of reference, namely, the Triune God. To be fair, what I think the song was referencing was that there was no point of reference as it relates to time and space. But there is an important lesson to be learned from the observation that God was there. Just as we often ignore the creator in favor of the creation, so it is always possible to forget or underestimate God. If time and space never came into being, God would still exist as the ultimate point of reference. As a matter of divinely declared truth, He is the only reality that ultimately matters, for in Him are all things and He is in need of nothing (Acts 17:22-31).
- “Evolving in pursuit of what You said” If you go to YouTube and search “So Do I”, you might see a video titled: “So Will I (100 Billion X) mentions evolution. Should we stop singing it?” My concern is there are those who see the word “evolution” as a sort of anti-Christian word, and therefore, be distracted from the good the song delivers. To begin with, let’s look at the context of the aforementioned line. “As You speak, a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath, evolving in pursuit of what You said.” Now I don’t know what the author(s) believe about Darwinian, macro-evolution. Maybe they see no conflict between the Bible and this scientific theory. But it seems to me in the reading of their lyrics that they might be talking about micro-evolution. I say this because they mention creatures that have already been created and now have the breath of life as given by God. Then they write about those creatures evolving in pursuit of what God has said. I, like most people, believe creatures are capable of adapting to their environment as it changes. This affirms the wisdom of God. Do I believe we are advanced chimps? No. I believe God created mankind in His image, distinct from all other creatures (Genesis 1:26-28). But I do believe in micro-evolution. That is how I interpret the song, and therefore, it is not a problem for me.
- “A Hundred Billions Failures Disappear” What is wrong with this line? After all, I have most certainly failed. I am the chief of failures. Wait, that isn’t quite right, is it? Paul said, “I am the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But I have failed, along with everyone else, because I have rebelled. I have fallen short of the glory of God because I am a sinner who has willfully sinned (Romans 3:23). It is worth emphasizing that we needed the cross not because we tried for holiness and came up short, as though it were a lack of skill or effort, but because we are rebels in rebellion against a perfect and holy God. We all have shook our fists at the LORD God. I wish the language was biblically stronger about the reason that Jesus lost His life on the Hill that was created through Him.
- “Like You would again 100 billion times” My good friend, Ryan Smith, said something like, “Why is there always just one line you have to change in the songs that Hillsong writes?” It seems that way in this song too. If I were going to change one line in the whole song, it would be this one. In the final crescendo of the song it declares the passion of God for people as displayed in the gospel and then says, “If You gave your life to love them, so will I.” That’s fantastic. The love of Christ displayed on the cross for us should propel us to love others by sharing with them the good news of Jesus. Amen and Amen! But then we hear these words: “Like You would again 100 Billion Times”. I wish they would have just ended it with the previous line. Here is my beef. I can’t think of a time in the Bible that it says, or suggests, that God would send Jesus to die again if need be. First of all, the Bible is clear that the work of redemption is complete and perfect. It is finished (John 19:30). It was a once for all endeavor. There is no need be for another try. Second, there is only one Son of God. There is only one Jesus. Yes, I suppose it is a nice sentiment, but it is not like Jesus is “the one” of the Matrix, only to find out there have been six others before him. Isn’t Jesus enough? Isn’t He enough to convince us of God’s love and mercy and grace and justice? Why is there a need to try to improve on God’s incomprehensible love (Ephesians 3:18-19)? If you doubt God’s goodness toward you, there is no need to guess that He might do it again to show His deep love. Just look to the once and for all, “it is finished” work (Romans 8:32). God loved His glory and humans so much that He got it right the first and only time with His One and only Son. Enough said and done. Let’s celebrate and rejoice in what is finished, not what will never be needed.
One final thought. Music is such an important vehicle of truth. The Psalms are proof of that. But so many songs today are wrong, superficial or unclear. If our theology is strong and sound, we can listen to a lot of songs with clear and biblical thinking. More than being nit-picky, I hope I have modeled that with regard to a song that has really helped and challenged me to love Jesus and glorify God more and more. Let’s listen to and sing the song, but let’s think biblically as we do.
Few things test a marriage like money. To be clear, money isn’t the root problem, but it does expose relational deficiencies and priorities. How a couple manages money will reveal what they really treasure and love. It will ultimately reveal the affection(s) of their hearts.
Here are five questions married couples can ask to evaluate whether or not they are honoring God and each other with their money and possessions.
(These questions are mostly applicable to single people, but the impetus for writing this blog is a session I always do on money for those who seek premarital counseling.)
- Do we think biblically about God’s money? The money you possess is really God’s money. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains; the world and those who dwell in it.” (Ps. 24:1) Seeking to build your own kingdom and security by your own power instead of being rich toward God is foolish (Luke 12:13-21). If God is not first place, then something else is, and how you think about God and money will show it. If you don’t see your money in a God-centered way, then money and what it affords will become to you a god and savior.
- Do we practice joyful generosity toward God’s people? The discussion about how much is one worth having, but what is biblically clear is that God wants those who belong to Christ to be generous in giving and He wants them to be cheerful about it (2 Corinthians 6:9-12). God is concerned with both the quantity and quality of your giving. It really is quite simple; God wants us to supply the needs of the saints for their well-being and the work of ministry (2 Corinthians 9:12 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18), and so He asks all who belong to Christ to be generous. God is most glorified when we do this joyfully and not under compulsion. Our giving should be gospel-driven and motivated by God giving the greatest gift of all; His only begotten Son, Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is one of the primary ways to answer the first question: “Are we rich toward God?”
- Do money and possessions produce ongoing conflict and tension in our marriage or other relationships? If there is constantly conflict over money, then there is likely one of two reasons. First, there is no reasonable expectation by which the couple can communicate about spending. This is why a budget is so important. The budget is a visible and agreed upon expectation that both people seek to honor. With a budget, both people know what is coming in, and they both have agreed to a plan by which the money is spent and goes out. The expectation of a budget provides the opportunity for accountability and a shared cause. Second, there is a lack of communication about the shared expectation. Someone has to take the primary responsibility to track expenses and communicate the budget reality in a considerate, clear and kind way. Both people should agree who the point person will be, and then they have to be willing to communicate and agree upon how the money should be spent. When there is no reasonable expectation for expenses and little or no communication, then trust is eroded, and conflict is inevitable.
- Do we have excessive and perpetual debt? Look, with the exception of Dave Ramsey, few people are going to fault you for having a mortgage and reasonable car loan. But if debt causes you to take on more debt when the need for normal expenditures arise like car maintenance and vacations, then you have too much debt. If debt keeps you from being generous toward God and His people, then you have a debt problem. If debt is a constant source of conflict, then you might need to revisit number three. Sure, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and we have to take steps that might create debt. But the truth is this: A lot of debt, if not most, is avoidable. No debt is best, but debt that steals joy, kills relationships and destroys opportunities is nothing less than a slave (Proverbs 22:7).
- Are we trapped by materialism? Again, look at questions one, two and four to get started answering this question. From there ask: Do we have more than we can take care of in time and money? Is our greatest joy found in the stuff that we claim to own? How do we respond when it gets old, dinged, damaged or destroyed? Do we worry about our stuff more than we worry about eternal matters like the souls of people and those who have almost nothing presently? Do we own our stuff or does our stuff own us? Does our stuff cause strife with others that we love and care about? When we look back on our lives, will we have given our best energy and time to the acquisition of possessions that will not last? Are we going into debt to have stuff that we actually can’t afford? Are we able to live within a budget and have delayed gratification if there is something we really want? Will we ever have enough? When will enough be enough? If you can’t be happy without money and possessions, then you will likely never be happy with them – at least not for long.
Money is not bad. As a matter of fact, God can use it for all sorts of good in the life of our marriage and other relationships. But we have to be willing to ask some tough questions and be honest about the place of money in our lives. Get a-hold of your money, or it will have hold of you.
In the not so distant past I was thinking about all the Godly and solid pastors who are slogging away with little or no notoriety. We know about the many dead and living heroes who have thousands of Twitter followers and have prominent platforms, but what about the guy who is doing a great job with little or no fanfare? Don’t get me wrong, I thank God for the pastors and leaders who are faithfully serving and have broad influence to let us know about all the good things happening in their churches and ministries, but what about those who are serving in quiet faithfulness?
And then I had another thought: instead of those faithful and quiet pastors and leaders posting about their own ministry, what if someone else wrote about them. What if someone else sought to honor them and shared about their quiet faithfulness?
For example, I have a pastor friend who quietly and faithfully serves the Lord’s people in Allen, Oklahoma. I have known Chad Kaminski for almost twenty years. We first met at a university disciple now in Ada, Oklahoma. At the time, he was a student and I was his small group leader. I don’t remember a lot about our time together, and I don’t remember anyone else particularly, but I do remember Chad and that he was very intuitive and seemed to be a leader among his peers. Oh, and I think he challenged me a few times in front of the rest of the group. But as you will see if you keep reading, I am over it.
Fast forward to somewhere around the year 2010 when we crossed paths again, serving together on a Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) vision team. Since then Chad and I have built and maintained a friendship as fellow Oklahoma pastors. We interact regularly on social media and occasionally text and visit by phone.
I admire Chad for his faithfulness in one place. He still serves in his first pastorate and has loved the same body of Christ for almost 15 years. It appears to me that more pastors are staying in one place for longer stints, and I think that is a healthy trend, but 15 years in only one place is very impressive. He told me he has endured by being fed by mentors like Tim Keller, Mark Dever and D.A. Carson. Longevity has afforded Chad the opportunity to patiently preach and teach his people through some difficult transitions, moving them away from doctrines that are antithetical to the gospel and mission of Jesus.
During his tenure God has done a lot of work on Chad in moving him away from moralism to a more gospel-centered message and approach to ministry. When I asked him what he meant by this, he said that he now sees that the whole Bible is about Jesus and His saving work and everything in the Christian life flows from that. He said about his early preaching and teaching “I would tell my people that this passage teaches us to do this and not do that, but I would often fail to incorporate a Christ-driven understanding and motivation of the text. Everything flows from the gospel. If we tell people what to do or what not to do without telling them why they should do because of the gospel, then we are teaching them to be Pharisees who try to perform their way to a right standing with God.”
Chad told me that his favorite part of being a pastor is helping hurting people. “It is a delight to help them from the scriptures, showing them that God is for them and He is not grading their performance to see if they are good enough. I delight to apply the gospel to people’s difficulties.”
Like all of us, Chad has struggles in life and ministry. He admitted that he can be prone to make idols out of things he wants to accomplish as a leader, and he said it is hard to love people who seem to always want to keep you in check when trying to lead. He also noted that one of the biggest challenges he faces is trying to lead without “unraveling people” and not getting too frustrated so that the church can move forward to a better future while still keeping it together. Leading change and keeping people together is painstaking work.
Chad is a fantastic biblical thinker. He strategically uses Facebook to pastor his own people and others by writing posts that always start with: “A Few Thoughts On…” Some of the topics he has addressed are:
- Being Extra Tired
- Being the Main Guy
- The School Construction (in Allen)
- Paige Patterson and Battered Women
- Emotional Blackmail
- Ordinary Pastoral Struggles
I find Chad’s writing to be biblical, brave, clear and applicable.
Chad is also very witty as evidenced by a recent post about the royal wedding that many woke early to watch: “In 1776, I stopped caring about royal weddings.” Now I had not idea that Chad was that old, but I see his mind and found myself wondering what all the commotion was about since we Americans have moved onward and upward.
I have already alluded to this, but I very much admire Chad’s courage. Despite his telling me he does not like confrontation, I like that he is willing to go to bat for his convictions when he thinks an issue truly matters. Most recently he has been quite critical of Paige Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because of the way they have handled a recent controversy surrounding comments by Patterson. I believe Chad’s criticism is valid, and I admire that he has the backbone to express it in a straightforward and substantive way.
Suffice it to say, I truly admire Chad and I hope it continues to quietly and faithfully serve the Lord Jesus and His people in Allen, Oklahoma. If the Lord should give him a larger church and bigger platform, I trust he will be faithful with it and thankful for it also.
If you are reading this, perhaps God will impress it upon your heart and mind to think of someone who is serving quietly and faithfully, but gets little or no recognition in ministry circles. Maybe instead of tweeting our own successes, you and I could do a better job of honoring and building others up. In the final analysis, the only applause that will matter in the end is that of the Lord Jesus Christ, but until then, maybe each of us could do our part to spur someone else on toward love and good deeds, building them up as a part of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ.
Call me crazy, but I really enjoy mowing and trimming the lawn. I like being able to start something and see it finished to my standard of satisfaction, even if it is only for a moment.
But to enjoy the process and outcome of manicuring the lawn, I have recently been picking up a lot of rocks. You see, we had a house built this past year and the dirt work left a lot of various sized rocks all over the place. Rocks are good for many things, but they are bad for lawnmower blades and windows.
I want to mow the lawn. I like to mow and trim the lawn. I find satisfaction in doing so. But I need to pick up the rocks to do what I enjoy doing.
Such is so much of life.
If we want to do what we enjoy doing, and do it well, then we will have to do some things we need to do. And we may not always enjoy doing what we need to do, but we will do it in order to do what we enjoy.
If I don’t do what I need to do, to do what I want to do, then when mowing the lawn I might lose the enjoyment when I damage my lawnmower and surrounding windows.
So I will continue to pick up the rocks for the enjoyment of doing what I desire to do. And in doing so, perhaps I will learn to value picking up the rocks as a means to a more fulfilling end.
“Rejoice evermore! I wish that it had always been in my heart and on my tongue. Ah, I am filled with an irresistible impulse to fall on my knees in adoration, right here. If only my knees would bend like they used to.”
These are the words of Paul Giamatti in his portrayal of John Adams in the HBO miniseries, John Adams. Adams is at the end of his life, having accomplished much as a founding father and having held both the office of vice-president and president of the United States. At the age of 90 years, he has also experienced much disappointment and loss. His middle son has been consumed by alcoholism, his daughter lost to breast cancer and his beloved wife and friend has preceded him by death.
In this scene he is on a walk with his youngest son, Thomas, when he spots a flowering shrub. This causes him to remember that his mother often said to him that he did not delight enough in the mundane.
He pauses in the presence of his son, and declares with the apostle Paul: “Rejoice evermore! Rejoice evermore!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
This is a bitter-sweet and emotional moment. He longs to rejoice, but reflects that he has lost so much time in which he has forsaken it. He wants to bend his knees, but his knees won’t bend in his aged and feeble body.
Oh, that we would see the beauty of the world while we may enjoy the creator of it.
Oh, that we would bend our knees while they still may bend.
Oh, that we would rejoice on earth as we will in heaven. For even now, in Christ, have we nothing to rejoice about? In Christ, rejoice in the Lord always!
How do we make decisions about what we preach from Sunday to Sunday?
Before sharing how we decide what to preach, it might be helpful to identify who the “we” is. Most of the time I initiate a discussion with Pastor Ryan about what I have in mind, and Ryan gives feedback or offers alternatives. Occasionally, I will ask for input from an Elder or the Elders. The congregation has a role to play in this process, but I will describe their part in a moment.
There are at least eight factors that contribute to how we decide what we preach to the people of Eagle Heights:
We start with the Bible and primarily preach through it, not around it. Because we truly believe the Bible is God’s special and sufficient word to His people, the majority of the preaching we do is through books of the Bible, a section of thought at a time. Do we do some topical exposition? Yes. But the majority of our preaching is sequential exposition to honor what the Spirit has inspired.
We strive to be balanced and Christ-centered. We preach from both the Old Testament and New Testament to show that all the scriptures ultimately point to Jesus as our only hope in life and death.
We strive to be pastoral. This gets back to the role of the congregation that I mentioned earlier. When considering what we might preach through or about, we consider the need of our people. For instance, about two years ago the Elders realized that in order to obey all that Jesus commands (Matthew 28:16-20), we needed to explain carefully and thoroughly Jesus’ commands regarding church discipline in Matthew 18:15-18. You often have to first preach what you practice.
We strive to be sensitive to our calendar context. We live in small city with a major university and so there are some very clear seasons in the life of our church. In the summer when most of our university student members are gone and many families are vacationing, we try to do sermons that can stand alone. For example, we have often used the summer to preach through selected Psalms. This summer we will be preaching through various sections of thought that highlight Christology. We also try to start preaching through books of the Bible when school starts so that our university members have the opportunity to experience the full context. We are not a slave to the calendar, but we try to plan through it with the whole church in mind.
We see societal moments as teachable opportunities. Several years ago there were several undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood for selling aborted baby body parts. We took that opportunity to preach on the importance of the sanctity of life and the need to oppose those who prey on those who cannot defend themselves. This past year in Charlottesville, Virginia, racist groups rallied to espouse hate, but we used an opportunity for hate to speak about the biblical dignity given by God to all human beings regardless of ethnicity. These opportunities may come unexpectedly so they require some flexibility in our planning.
We embrace hard topics. God’s word does not shrink back from topics that may assault our cultural sensibilities. The Bible speaks to issues like sexuality, purity, divorce, government, judgment, false teachers, etc. When we see the need for it, we carefully and biblically move toward hard topics because the world needs to see that God has something to say about all of life. The world is talking and teaching about these kinds of things, the church cannot afford to run from them and hope they go away. We will plan sermons to deal with difficult passages and topics.
We are repetitive about some biblical topics. Generally speaking, we believe the doctrine of the church is under-explained by local churches, and so we try to teach about what the church is and what we should be doing. Because Satan wants to destroy God’s design for His people, we also emphasize personal relationships yearly. We also devote a month every year to mission and missions for the sake of mobilization and staying outward focused.
We try to plan several months ahead. Pastor Ryan has helped me considerably with this. It used to be that we would pick a book and we were done when we finished it, however long it took. Using biblical resources and the calendar, we try to plan in advance for the sake of scheduling preachers and helping our small groups decide about content (some small groups choose to follow the sermons). This also helps our people to know how many years they should expect to be in a book like Romans.
As you can see, there are many factors that contribute to sermon planning. If you are a member of Eagle Heights, pray for those of us who lead, that we will do what is best for our faith family. If you are a part of another local church, pray for your lead pastor and Elders as they makes decisions about what is best for the people they will give an account for. May God give us confidence that produces patience, trusting He knows what is best for us when we need it most.