Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
Updated: 2 hours 26 min ago

A Jewish Take on the Dangers of Screen Addiction

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 8:32am

It’s not just Christians who are concerned about he impact of digital technology. Non-Christians are increasingly alarmed about what our screens are doing to us and our children as well, as evidenced by a slew of books on the subject. Here are some of the best that I’ve been reading recently.

Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance

Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us

While researching this subject, I came across a Jewish video that made a profound impression on me. It’s from a group of Jewish acapella singers. The words and images are powerfully persuasive, and the surprising switch towards the end left me longing for a bygone age and wondering if we can ever recapture it again. I hope so.

Check out

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 8:15am

What I Want From the News
I suppose we can dream.

It’s gotten so I almost hate the news. I want to know what’s going on in the world, but I’ve lost confidence that there’s as much as a single organization out there communicating it in a trustworthy way. We hear lots of talk today about fake news, but I’m convinced this is less of a concern than what passes as real news. It takes little more than a brief visit to [insert your favorite, then least-favorite news outlet here], to see how the news is far more (and far less) than the news. If I could dream up the news outlet I want, it would be defined by characteristics like these.

Glory Thief
We’ve don’t just fall short of he glory of God; we steal it too.

Sunday as the pastor fenced the communion table and led us in a prayer of confession he asked forgiveness for “glory thieves.” The Lord raised a strong but gentle index finger to my heart and said, “Thou art the man.” I knew it right away. Guilty. I steal glory and rob God of his fame.

Why I Wrote Sipping Saltwater
his looks like a book worth reading.

Why did I write Sipping Saltwater? Partly, to understand my father and, more specifically, his addiction. Partly, to provide a bit of redemption to the dark tale of his life and my somewhat traumatic childhood. Partly, to provide a new angle on the topic of idolatry. Partly, to point to idolatry as the fundamental root of any addiction. Partly, to uncover a host of hidden idols and addictions in our contemporary culture. Partly, to confess that I’m the worst of addicts (1 Tim. 1:15). But the main reason I wrote Sipping Saltwater was to point to Jesus as the pathway to freedom from idolatry and addiction. He is the source of living water—the only drink that will quench our thirst both now and forever.

My Struggle to Smash the Food Idol
Looks like “Check out” has an idolatry theme today:

The abundant life we’re promised through Christ is filled with the sin-conquering power of the Holy Spirit. Even the most out-of-control eater can find the hope of being transformed and made new. Even if every meal plan, diet, or “lifestyle modification” you’ve ever attempted has failed you, Jesus won’t.

Two Indispensable Requirements for Pastoral Ministry
Kevin DeYoung: “In my experience, ministry won’t go well, and pastors won’t go far, without at least these two requirements: We must like studying the Bible. And we must like our people.”

Porn Is Not Harmless. It’s Cruel
What if on the judgment day every person you’ve ever consumed via porn was to stand beside the judgment seat? If the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba will be there as witnesses (Matt. 12:41-42), why not your porn victims?

“There’s a myth that porn is harmless. “It’s just a few consenting adults, doing what they want with their own bodies,” the thinking goes.  But this simply isn’t true. In reality, pornography is deeply involved in the exploitation of women and children, and it’s destructive to its consumers. Porn is much more than an individual decision—it’s part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system.”

Q&A: How Can I Ask My Church for Help with Mental Illness?
Amy Simpson answers the following question:

My husband has bipolar disorder, and my daughter really struggles with depression. My husband has started taking medication, but things are still rough. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it seems like it’s not working. My daughter gets so depressed, sometimes I’m afraid I’m going to lose her. And sometimes she seems like she doesn’t want to get better. Family life can be really hard, and I wish I had some help and support from my church. I’ve mentioned it to my pastor, and he says he’ll pray for me, but he doesn’t offer anything else. I think I might need to tell him some specific ways the church could help. Sometimes I feel like people are keeping their distance because they don’t know what to say or do. But I know these are good, loving people who care about me. What’s a good way to ask them for help?”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Can I really trust the Bible?: and other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks $2.99.

Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ by Kent Hughes $7.99. I love this homiletical commentary series.

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash $7.99.

How Can Husbands Protect Their Wives from Burnout

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:00am

So here’s Shona’s film debut! Needless to say, she hates it and is hiding in a corner today. I think she did really well. She just needs to master that admiring fawning look while I’m talking. You can read a transcript at Crossway’s blog. I’d love it if you would buy her book and post some reviews of it to encourage others to read it. Just as long as Refresh doesn’t get more reviews than Reset, we’ll be just fine.

The Curse of Knowledge

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:30am

The curse of knowledge can be overcome by stripping out jargon, consulting with others, taking the smallest steps of logic in the right order, and by helping people know where they are in the argument.

In The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Steven Pinker suggests that overcoming the curse of knowledge may be the single most important requirement in becoming a clear writer.

So what’s the curse of knowledge?

It’s that we find it hard to remember what it feels like not to know something that we ourselves know well. And it’s even more of a problem in public speaking, as people can’t pause to re-read a page or consult a dictionary before continuing with their listening.

How can you avoid the curse? TED Head Chris Anderson’s advice in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, is relevant to preachers too.

Strip your address of all jargon and technical terms. Some of this is unavoidable and, depending on the audience, some of it may be acceptable. But ask the question anyway so as to minimize it.

Share your draft with colleagues and practice your talk before friends who know nothing about the topic. I know preachers who do something like this every week before preaching their sermon. I don’t recommend this. However, I do think that regular sermon reviews with elders, and perhaps with people in our congregation who have no church background, can reveal whether the curse of knowledge is preventing blessing.

Make sure every sentence is connected logically to the one before it and to the one after it. The precise sequencing of sentences is vital for building understanding and maintaining connection with the audience.

A speaker has to be sure that listeners know how each sentence relates logically to the preceding one, whether the relationship is similarity, contrast, elaboration, exemplification, generalization, before-and-after, cause, effect, or violated expectation.

Anderson explains this point using the illustration of a tree. The trunk is the throughline, the main idea of the talk (the sermon proposition, if you like), that leads from the bottom to he top of the tree. The branches (similarity, contrast, illustration, etc.) are the way we rise from the bottom of the tree to the top.

We don’t jump halfway up, then come back to the bottom, before leaping three feet up the tree to near the top. No, we start at the bottom and look for the next nearest branch, then the next, then the next, and so on, until we reach the top of the tree.

Sentences should follow one another like these branches, each one leading to the next nearest one, with no huge gaps in between, no leaps of logic that leave us hanging in the air or plummeting to the ground.

In my own sermon preparation, I spend a lot of time switching sentences and paragraphs around to ensure that I’m giving people the smallest steps possible between branches.


Use the appropriate linking words to help people know where you are in your argument. You are trying to help someone detect if this is your main argument, a digression, an exception etc.

What this means is that some of the most important elements in a talk are the little phrases that give clues to the talk’s overall structure: “Although . .  .” “One recent example . .  .” “On the other hand . .  .” “Let’s build on that . .  .” “Playing devil’s advocate for a moment . .  .” “I must just tell you two stories that amplify this finding.” “As an aside . .  .” “At this point you may object that . .  .” “So, in summary . .  .”

If we go back to the tree illustration, these connecting words are the way we get on to the branches in #3 and the way we signal we are moving off one and on to another. It helps people locate where they are on the tree.

The curse of knowledge can be overcome by stripping out jargon, consulting with others, taking the smallest steps of logic in the right order, and by helping people know where they are in the argument.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

Links for Christian Parents

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:00am

Should Teens Own Smartphones?
In the light of the increasing anecdotal and scientific evidence about the damage smartphones are doing to our kids, Tony Reinke asks Youth author Jacquelle Crowe: “Is it possible for a teen to resist the powers of culture and go smartphone-free through the middle school and high school years?”

New Talking Points for the “Talk”
“The Talk” was hard enough, but it’s become even harder in the modern world. How, for example, do we respond to he topic of transgenderism? Here are “some foundational guidelines to shape your talking points for when the topic becomes relevant in your home.”

3 Challenges to Creating a Gospel Culture in Your Family
Although we all want to create a godly culure in our home, we face numerous obstacles. Michael Kelley names threee of them and how to overcome them:

1. The pressure of activities.

2. The desire to be popular.

3. The pace of the schedule.

How to Teach Kids to Understand the Bible
Three questions to help Bible-reading kids begin to trade self-centered glasses for gospel-centered glasses:

  • What does this passage teach me about God?
  • What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)?
  • What does this passage teach me about the need for and the coming of a Savior?

6 Tips for Reading the Bible with Your Kids
The aim of reading the Bible with our kids is to establish patterns and habits that will eventually result in them reading the Bible independently with profit and pleasure.

An Open Letter to Children’s Ministry Workers
Calling all Sunday school teachers in need of encouragement!

Recommended Book

God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family by Trillia Newbell.

God’s very good idea is to have lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. This stunningly illustrated journey from the garden of Eden to God’s heavenly throne room shows how despite our sinfulness, everyone can be a part of God’s very good idea through the saving work of Christ.


What is the easiest way to memorize Scripture?

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids (RHB).


An Open Letter to those Suffering with Depression

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 2:00am

The female version of Reset (RHB) is just about to be published. It’s my wife’s first book and is called Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Overwhelming Demands (RHB). In it, Shona tells about her own battles with depression and anxiety and shares many of the lessons God has graciously taught her along the way. Here’s an open letter she wrote to those suffering with depression.

My dear friend,

I’m so sorry to hear that you are suffering with serious depression. Although you feel hopeless and helpless, I want to assure you right up front that there is hope and there is help. I’ve been there myself and I’ve felt the same despair and darkness that you feel. But God, in his great mercy, brought me out of it and I trust and pray he will also bring you into the light.

Recovery took longer than I expected or wanted and I was surprised at how many different components were involved in my healing. But have hope: if you are patient and use all the different means God has provided, you will most likely be among the 95% of people who do get better.

You’ve already taken the first and most important step: you’ve admitted you have a serious problem and you’ve begun to reach out for help. That’s huge. If you checked out the symptoms of depression on WebMD, you were no doubt helped to see how many of these symptoms you have and that you’ve already had some of them for a worryingly long time.

The next step is to share this with three people: a close family member (like your spouse, if you’re married), your pastor, and your doctor. You will need family support throughout, and the earlier you involve them the better, as they will have a lot to learn in the next few months. They may not understand initially, but encourage them to support you as you talk to your pastor and doctor.

Your pastor is key as he will help you to discern whether there are any spiritual causes behind your depression. Even if there isn’t a spiritual cause (and there often isn’t) there will be spiritual consequences and you will need your pastor’s prayers and guidance throughout. I’d caution you against announcing this as a prayer need in your church. Not everyone understands depression, and some people might say some cruel and hurtful things about you and even to you. It’s better just to share this with people you can be sure will sympathize with and pray for you.

When you visit the doctor, tell him everything—don’t hold back, don’t minimize, don’t play it down. Just explain exactly how you are feeling. You may get quite emotional opening up for the first time like this, but the doctor is very used to this and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed.

You can expect your doctor to help clarify whether you have the symptoms of depression. He should also be able to do some initial examination of possible physical causes. He may order some medical tests, and he may ask you about your family history and about your life over the past 6–18 months. He’s simply trying to figure what might be some of the contributing factors to this depression. He’s also working on possible cures which, depending on the seriousness of your condition, may include medication or some counseling.

If he does prescribe medication, be patient with it and give it a few weeks to really begin to work. Ask God to bless his provision of these medications, and that he would direct them to the right places in your body. Also, don’t think that all you need to do is pop a pill. I’ve never seen anyone cured by just taking meds. They can work very well, however, if taken as part of a holistic package of care.

Regarding counseling, your pastor should be able to give you basic advice and biblical counsel, but you may also wish to consider a Christian counselor, especially one who has some expertise in CBT (cognitive behavior therapy). That will help you to retrain your mind and thinking patterns for long-term recovery. But keep your pastor involved and informed throughout.

Read the rest of this post containing six pieces of practical advice at Crossway’s blog.

Check out

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 1:00am

The Courage to Be Ordinary: Help for Average Christian Leaders | Desiring God
“But in serving as a pastor and working with fellow pastors for many years, I’ve found two characteristics essential to do ministry in a way that depends on God: courage to be ordinary and comfort with obscurity.”

Sex Is a Big Deal
Although Hollywood and the media are beginning to admit that sex is perhaps maybe just a little bit more consequential than eating candy, Gene Veith argues:

“But sex is still a bigger deal than much of our contemporary culture is willing to admit.  How can sexual restraint–which is now recognized as necessary for social life and the well-being of women and men–be cultivated when sex is still seen as recreational, separated from procreation, and unmoored to marriage and family?  How can we expect men shaped by pornography to treat women? Bringing back sexual restraint requires rebuilding the infrastructure of sexual morality.”

What Research Says About Being Bored at Work
“We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality. Instead, we should see it as a sign of emotional maturity and healthy psychological development.”

So Pastor, What’s Your Point?
Special offer on Dennis Prutow’s book about preaching. Maybe a gift for your pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month?”

Selfies at Niagara
“Given the opportunity to drink in something of the majesty of the Creator’s work, the concern of so many was to get themselves into the picture. As one friend asked, “Exactly how do they think that their face is going to make that picture better?”"

10 Social Media Commandments for Pastors
“Social media is not going away anytime soon. For a long time, many pastors and church leaders ignored social media, labeling it as a fad or a trend that would pass as quickly as it came onto the scene. This is not the case. So, what guidelines should pastors and church leaders consider as they plan their social media strategy?”

How (Other) People Change: Walking with Loved Ones Through Five Stages | Desiring God
Here are five typical stages of change, with counsel for what you can do or pray for someone at each stage.”

Welcome Everyone, Affirm No One
“The church exists not to affirm ourselves, but to adore the King who loved us and gave himself for us when there was nothing good in us to affirm. The more we affirm ourselves, the less we adore the King for his grace.”

Kindle Books

If you scroll down the Lightkeepers page, you’ll find some $2.99 Kindle deals on children’s books.

Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation by Ed Stetzer $2.99.

One Race One Blood by Charles Ware and Ken Ham $2.99.

What the Church can Learn from Weinsteingate

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 9:15am

It’s very tempting for Christians to take the moral high ground as the evils of Hollywood’s god, Harvey Weinstein, are brutally exposed and rightly denounced.

Even film-makers, actors, and actresses who have made millions of dollars portraying women as men’s sex-objects are now bravely lining up with the masses to denounce someone who…em, well…treated women as men’s sex-objects.

But before we charge up the hill to the high ground and start our moral lectures, perhaps we need to pause and learn some moral lessons ourselves. As church history makes clear, especially recent church history, we have our own Harvey Weinsteins (though not on the same scale, unless you include the Catholic church), and we haven’t covered ourselves in glory in dealing with them.

1. The most powerful Christian leaders need the most accountability. 

Unfortunately, the more powerful and successful a man becomes, usually the less accountable he becomes. He answers to no one but himself and those around him (e.g. elders, deacons, boards of directors) are often afraid to challenge him. As a result, behavior that we would not tolerate in our children is ignored, the man’s sense of impregnability increases, and he eventually views himself as untouchable.

2. A person’s gifts and usefulness should never be used to cover or balance out evil.

Just as, “But he makes great films,” and, “But he makes us lots of money,” were used for decades to excuse Weinstein’s abuse, so “But he preaches great sermons” and “But he brings in lots of people/money/publicity” can also excuse a Christian leader’s abuses. Great gifts and great success must never be used to justify inactivity in the face of great evil.

3. Evil leaders need enablers to succeed in their evil.

Everyone around Weinstein knew what was going on, and many of them, including female employees, not only turned a blind eye, but even facilitated his wickedness. It’s virtually impossible for a man to engage in multiple abuses without people around him allowing it and even enabling it. Those are are complicit in evil like this share the guilt and must share the consequences of the penalty too.  It’s not enough to say, “Well he’s gone, now let’s get the show on he road again.” No! Who else knew and did nothing? Who enabled him? Who defended him? Who attacked his accusers?

4. Multiple rumors must be investigated.

Leaders in any walk of life, including the church, are vulnerable to false accusations. That’s why the Apostle Paul said that accusations against an elder need two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). However, when the number of witnesses begins to multiply beyond that, serious investigation must take place. As with Weinstein, too often people have heard multiple accusations and had their suspicions for years, but they never acted on them. They never followed up. They never investigated further. And the result was that multiple others needlessly suffered.

5. Victims must be cared for.

When a high profile figure falls, you’ll often get people who can only feel sorry for the fallen man. Expensive schemes are put in place for his “treatment,” his counseling, and his rehab. Prayers are offered for him, sermons about forgiveness,  grace, and not judging are preached. Perhaps financial settlements are reached to ease his family through loss of income and so on. But hardly a thought or a cent is sent the victims’ ways. This is completely upside-down, inside-out, and back-to-front. They are the victims and he is the victimizer. They are the church’s priority, not him.

6. Men need women to understand sexual assault.

Men often find it difficult to understand the deep and long damage done to victims of sexual assault. What to a man seems minor and insignificant can be huge to a woman. Already I’ve seen some opinionators downplaying some of the Weinstein assaults: “He just kissed her or hugged her…He just exposed himself…he just asked for a massage…he didn’t rape her…” and so on. I’ve heard even Christian men saying things like that concerning other cases.

In these kinds of situations, male leaders in the church need the help of women if they are to begin to understand how even the slightest sexual advance without consent can cause such deep and long pains. Surely we can devise ways of retaining the biblical mandate for male officebearers while incorporating female wisdom in such critical areas?

7. One strike and you’re out.

The ink was barely dry on the first Weinsteingate headline when the fallen man was telling the cameras, “I’m going to rehab…I’m asking for a second chance.” He’s hardly hit the ground and he’s already thinking about how to make a comeback! That might make for a good story in Hollywood but it must never happen in the church. Go flip burgers, anything, but don’t even think about shepherding God’s lambs again. Yes, there can be personal forgiveness, but if you lay a finger on a woman who is not your wife, there is no way back into church leadership. If more Christian leaders knew on this front that it’s one strike and you’re out, there would be far fewer walking to the plate.

Saint Harvey

Here’s where the church must really differ from Hollywood, and that’s in the Gospel grace we still offer to monsters like Weinstein. Yes, even Harvey, if he repents of his sin and puts his faith in Christ alone for salvation, can go to heaven and live forever as a saint of God. Does that offend you? Then the Gospel offends you. Our reaction to such a possibility is an accurate gauge of how much we really understand the Gospel, and especially our own need of it.

TED Talk Exegesis

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 2:00am

Great explanation builds an idea in someone’s head by starting where our hearers are, igniting curiosity, building slowly, and by using metaphors and examples.

TED Head Chris Anderson says that “if the goal of a great talk is to build an idea inside someone’s mind, then explanation is the essential tool for achieving that goal.” The TED Talks that have gone viral have all been masterful explanations that produce new understanding. Or as Anderson puts it, “the upgrading of a worldview to better reflect reality.”

That’s partly what preaching is about too, isn’t it? It’s about building an idea inside someone’s head, explaining the biblical text in such a way that it upgrades our hearers’ worldview to better reflect reality. Preaching is more than that; but it’s at least that.

Having analyzed innumerable TED talks, Anderson has isolated five key components of great explanation:

1. Start where your hearers are. Begin with the here and now, with your hearers’ world, time, concerns, and needs.

2. Ignite curiosity. “Curiosity is what makes people ask why? and how? It’s the feeling that something doesn’t quite make sense. That there’s a knowledge gap that has to be closed.”

3. Bring in concepts one by one. Make sure you have fully explained the earlier steps of your case or else the latter parts will come crashing down and destroy everything.

4. Use metaphors. “For an explanation to be satisfying it has to take puzzling facts and build a connection from them to someone’s existing mental model of the world. Metaphors and analogies are the key tools needed to do this. They help shape the explanation until finally it snaps into place with a satisfying aha!”

5. Use examples. Little stories help lock the explanation into place.

The end result of this kind of explanation will be a richer, deeper, truer mental world. And if it’s preaching, it should also produce the same in our spiritual world.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson.

Great explanation builds an idea in someone’s head by starting where our hearers are, igniting curiosity, building slowly, and by using metaphors and examples.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

Check out

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 1:00am

Why the Department of Justice’s Religious Liberty Guidance Matters

“We are encouraged by the legal clarity provided through these 20 principles on religious liberty covering issues of great importance to millions of Americans. This legal memo reminds all federal agencies that people of faith do not have to leave their deeply held beliefs at the door when entering their job or public marketplace. This guidance also further enhances our churches’ legal standing if they are treated differently than other organizations by city ordinances when seeking building space and other government services.”

How to Resolve Most Relational Conflict
“Pride is the enemy inside us that speaks to us like a friend. Its counsel sounds so much like self-protection, preservation, and promotion that we’re often blinded to the fact that it’s destroying us and others. It rises in great indignation as a prosecuting attorney when others’ pride damages us, but it minimizes, qualifies, excuses, rationalizes, and blame-shifts our behavior when we damage others. We can be easily deceived into believing that our pride wants to save us, when really, it’s our internal Judas betraying us with a kiss.”

Ten Brief Lessons on the Ten Commandments
Many Christians tend to have an uneasy relationship with God’s law. Often, wrong perceptions interfere with a clear understanding about the Ten Commandments. To help, here are ten brief lessons regarding the Decalogue.”

9 Tips for Learning Biblical Greek from Bill Mounce
“If you really want to learn Greek, you’ll need a long-term strategy, practical methods, and the stamina to stick it out. If you’ve developed bad study habits, they’re going to be magnified as you set out to learn Greek. So let’s create some good habits and address bad ones along the way. Here are some of the things all Greek students should know:”

Blood on the Table
“I like to think of myself as a nice guy, but what I’ve learned is that I sometimes have to choose between the productive conversation and the one where everyone likes me.”

Why Packing Lunches and Helping with Homework Have Eternal Value
“Today I want to look at the relationship between fulfilling our call to the family and flourishing.”

Kindle Books

Honest Evangelism: How to talk about Jesus even when it’s tough by Rico Tice $2.99.

The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitefield, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America $0.99.


My Wife is Not a “Ball and Chain”
Tim Challies has lost the ability to type and therefore has resorted to a video version of his blog. In his first one, he calls men to think well and speak well of their wives.

Check out

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 1:00am

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia
Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. In a similar vein The Designer of the iPhone Worries That His Grandkids Will Think He’s the Guy ‘That Destroyed Society.’

Eric Schmidt: Good Sleep Enhances Your Ability to Do Almost Everything
“Studies have shown people with interrupted sleeping patterns are prone to depression, are more likely to be compulsive eaters, and complain much more than those who sleep well. Good sleep can only enhance your physical and mental ability to do almost everything. Just remember, healthy sleeping habits make an absolute difference in your overall quality of life. Most likely, you are not sleeping enough.”

Episode 5.5: A Punishing Providence
This podcast explores the most pastorally helpful section in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Eight VCs Explain How (And Why) They Assess Founders’ Emotional Intelligence
Here are a few key questions that seven other investors like Bannister typically ask to assess entrepreneurs who pitch them for funding.”

How Singleness Prepared Me for Barrenness
“The Lord did have marriage for me eventually in my mid-30s, but after two miscarriages in the first five months of our marriage, we’ve been unable to conceive again. The lessons I learned in my singleness translate to infertility in a few ways.

Lessons from Pastoring 30 Years in Zambia
Conrad Mbewe reflects on 30 years of ministry in his congregation.

Helping Churches to Better Handle Cases of Abuse
I highly recommend this to all pastors and elders for study and discussion.

Plants & Pillars
New website for Free Reformed Youth.

Kindle Books

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller $1.99.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle $1.99.

New Book

In this video, Bill Vandoodewaard, author of a new commentary on 1 & 2 Peter, of answers the question: “What are some of the things you learned in writing a commentary on 1 & 2 Peter?”

How to tell a story

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 2:00am

Tell stories which revolve around a sympathetic character, build tension, offer sufficient detail, and have a satisfying resolution.

According to TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking there are five core tools that speakers use:

  • Connection
  • Narration
  • Explanation
  • Persuasion
  • Revelation

I’ve used a few blog posts to talk about connection, and now we move on to narration, or story-telling. This chapter of the book, not surprisingly, makes its point mainly by telling stories. The examples are powerful but can’t be summarized in a blog post without destroying them. But Anderson does share the four basics of every story:

  • Base it on a character your audience can empathize with.
  • Build tension, whether through curiosity, social intrigue, or actual danger.
  • Offer the right level of detail. Too little and the story is not vivid. Too much and it gets bogged down.
  • End with a satisfying resolution, whether funny (see here), moving, or revealing.

A lot of sermon illustrations could be redeemed by following these simple steps.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

Tell stories which revolve around a sympathetic character, build tension, offer sufficient detail, and have a satisfying resolution.

Check out

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 1:00am

1 in 3 Protestant Churchgoers Personally Affected by Suicide
One-third of victims were attending church before their death, but few pastors knew of their struggle.

6 Ways to Steward Your Weekly Screen Time
Some great ideas here.

Hypocrisy on Display in Hollywood and in Politics: Responding with Anger and Humility
Ed Stetzer responds to the bi-partisan hypocrisy of Harvey Weinstein and Rep. Tim Murphy in three ways.

I Resonate—and Disagree—with This Gay Christian
This review by a Christian women who fights against same-sex-attraction will help you in thinking this issue through.

Productive on six hours of sleep? You’re deluding yourself
“Operating on short sleep — anything less than seven hours — impairs a host of brain and bodily functions, said Walker, who is also a professor of neuroscience and psychology. It increases your risk for heart attack, cancer and stroke, compromises your immune system and makes you emotionally irrational, less charismatic and more prone to lying.”

Former WNBA great Chamique Holdsclaw on shattered facades and reclaimed purpose
 don’t follow basketball, so I don’t have a clue who this is, but her story gives a valuable insight into the terrible struggles people can have with mental illness.

An Open Letter to Children’s Ministry Workers
Calling all discouraged Sunday school teachers.

6 Lessons The UK Church Needs To Learn To Reach Schemes & Council Estates
Not just UK churches. We all need this rebuke.

Kindle Books

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert $2.99.

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman $2.99.

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice by David Teems $0.99.

Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 2:00am

What can preachers learn from TED Talks?

“Quite a lot,” has been my answer so far in my series of articles on TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingBut I’ve now come to a subject where I believe the Bible draws a line—and that’s in this book’s strong advocacy of humor as an important tool in connecting with audiences. I’ve explained my reasoning on this before, but let me run over my arguments again.

Since coming to North America ten years ago, I’ve preached in a number of different churches. A few times I’ve been taken aback by laughter in response to something I’ve said in my sermon. The first time it happened, I froze on the spot. I could hardly go on. I was stunned. In Scotland, I never cracked a joke in the pulpit. It would not even cross my mind to try to make people laugh. That just was not done in most Reformed churches. Yet, now, the same words, said in the same way, create laughter!

A few years ago I heard a well-known preacher give an address on a very serious subject to a large conference. He started by speaking of his own sinful inadequacy. But as he confessed his sinfulness, laughter erupted. The speaker was startled. He tried again. Same result. He eventually said that he could not understand the reaction, abandoned his introduction, and just got started on his address.

Living as we do in a comedy-saturated culture, this should not surprise us. Evening television pumps out a steady diet of comedy programming night after night. Sit-coms dominate the ratings. The big TV names are comedians like Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien, who take the daily news and turn it into a series of jokes.

But we don’t need to go to the “world” to find a comedy culture. I’m afraid this comedy culture has influenced the church. Many preachers seem to think that they cannot begin to preach without “softening up” their hearers with a little bit of stand-up comedy. So, in many ways, we cannot blame just the hearers. Preachers mix the most solemn of subjects with silly asides, so that people do not know whether to laugh or cry. I head one famous preacher asking for prayer about a particular weakness in his life. He then said a couple of funny things about this weakness. Eventually no one knew if he was seriously asking for prayer, or just making a joke.

So this article is a plea. It is a plea for serious preaching in a comedy culture. And notice, I am talking about serious preaching, not life in general. Laughter is a gift of God and is good for us. There is “a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4). There are known health benefits of having a good laugh. It reduces stress and blood pressure. It helps the digestive system, etc. But I am speaking here about preaching, not life in general. The appropriate subjects and degrees of laughter in everyday life is another topic.

And, for the moment, let’s exclude lectures, conference addresses, and seminars from this plea. These are gray areas and deserve separate treatment. Here, I want to keep our focus on preaching the Word: the public, authoritative declaration of God’s Word to needy sinners.

Notice also that this is a plea for serious preaching. This is not an argument for dull, boring, predictable, unimaginative or lethargic preaching. Preaching should be energetic, lively, interesting, creative and joyful. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that, “a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull, he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.”

I will support my plea for serious preaching in a comedy culture with seven arguments. Then I will briefly consider four arguments that are often made in support of humor in preaching.

The Preacher’s Examples
My first argument for serious preaching in a comedy culture is the preacher’s examples. What words come to mind when you think of Old Testament preachers like Enoch, Noah, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah? “Funny?” “Light-hearted?” “Humorous?” Or, “Sober…solemn…grave?” What about the New Testament apostles? Are there any jokes in the apostolic sermons of the Acts of the Apostles? At one point Paul was accused of being mad. His reply? “But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:25).

What was Paul’s description of his ministry? “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:3-4).

And what about the Lord Jesus himself? Can you imagine the Sermon on the Mount producing the kind of uproarious laughter we find in some churches today? If we took our models of preaching from the Bible, we would have more sober pulpits.

The Preacher’s Office
Second, serious preaching is demanded by the preacher’s office. The preacher is an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), speaking to sinners in His name and in His place. Our message and manner should be such that Christ can say of us: “He that hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). When we speak in Christ’s name we are not just saying, “This is what Christ says,” we are saying, “This is what Christ is like.” And let’s take our ambassadorial models from Christ’s day not ours. Unlike today’s ambassadors, who are often men of high society, wit and repartee, the ambassador of Paul’s day was usually on a life or death mission. Upon his words hung the fate of thousands. How much more serious is our mission, upon which hangs heaven or hell. William Perkin’s wrote: “Filled with a reverent sense of the majesty of God, we will speak soberly and with moderation.  The minister must also be worthy of respect for his constancy, integrity, seriousness and truthfulness.”[1]

The Preacher’s Message
The third argument for serious preaching is the preacher’s message. There is no more serious message in the world than, “We are sinners on the way to divine judgment and eternal damnation in hell.”

Is there not good news, though? Yes, but even the divine remedy to our desperate plight demands awe and reverence. We preach Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God. And who can stand in the shadow of that God-forsaken, cursed tree and tell a joke? Even hardened soldiers changed their tune there (Matt. 27:54).

Is there not joy in believing? Yes, but it is joy in believing, not joy in jokes. It is spiritual joy, not carnal. And even when we believe, and rejoice, it is always tempered by the new perspective we have on those who are still perishing. Richard Baxter said: “Let the awful and important thoughts of souls being saved by my preaching, or left to perish and be condemned to hell by my negligence, I say, let this awful and tremendous thought dwell ever upon your spirit.”

In the light of this, in our sermons should we not join with Solomon who “said of laughter—“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” (Eccl. 2:2).

The Preacher’s Fruit
Fourth, consider the preacher’s fruit. What was the effect of New Testament sermons? The first post-resurrection sermon had this effect: “Then fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). Paul describes the impact the Word of God should have on a visitor to our church services upon hearing God’s Word: “…he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

Though we don’t see much of that today, it was certainly present in times of revival through church history.

“But if I stop making people laugh, people will stop coming to church.” Yes, some will stop. But what is more important, having more people in our churches, or doing more good? Here is wise Solomon’s answer: “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Eccl. 7:2-4).

The Preacher’s World
Fifth, there is the preacher’s world. On the one hand we are living in a world full of suffering, sorrow and pain. Is comedy appropriate when there are deeply wounded and hurting souls in our congregation? On the other hand we are living in a world full of vanity, frivolity, and superficiality. Is more comedy really what’s needed to make people think more deeply and carefully? James says the way to truly heal and help people is to aim at conviction and repentance: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:8-10). Paul also says that in the light of sin, inappropriate foolish talking and jesting should be replaced with giving of thanks (Eph. 5:3-4).

John Angell James wrote a book arguing for a more “earnest” ministry. He holds up a high standard:

It is hard to conceive how earnestness and spirituality can be maintained by those whose tables are covered, and whose leisure time is consumed, by the bewitching inspirations of the god of laughter. There is little hope of our arresting the evil except we make it our great business to raise up a ministry who shall not themselves be carried away with the torrent; who shall be grave, without being gloomy; serious, without being melancholy; and who, on the other hand, shall be cheerful without being frivolous, and whose chastened mirthfulness shall check, or at any rate reprove, the excesses of their companions. What a demand does this state of things prefer for the most intense earnestness in our Sabbath day exercises, both our prayers and our sermons! In this modern taste we have a new obstacle to our usefulness of a most formidable kind, which can be subdued only by God’s blessing upon our fidelity and zeal.[3]

It might also help us to remember suffering parts of the body of Christ. I spent some time with the church in Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. The Hungarian and Romanian churches were just emerging from decades of persecution. I don’t recall one joke in any of these sober gatherings. Though our part of Christ’s body presently enjoys times of unprecedented prosperity and comfort, let’s remember that other parts of the same body, North Korean parts, Chinese parts, and Sudanese parts are being attacked, wounded, tortured, and even “amputated.”

The Preacher’s Bible
My sixth argument against comedy in preaching is the preacher’s Bible. The Bible never uses “laughter” in the sense of comedy. Yes, there is some irony, satire, ridicule, and derision. There are also a few word-plays and puns. But, of the 33 times “laugh” and “laughter” occur in the Old Testament, they are used in a good and positive sense only four times, and then to describe joy rather than laughter. The other 29 times usually speak of scorn or unbelieving derision. They are never used to describe anything funny. In the New Testament we find “laugh” and “laughter” only five times, only one of which is in a positive sense (Luke 6:2). Three of these times, the laughter is in scorning Christ. The nearest we find to “joke, fun, funny, humor or amuse” in the Bible is “foolish talking, jesting, fool, foolishness, merry or merriment.” Only the last two of these are ever used in any good and positive sense, and that is in reference to joy and rejoicing in the blessings of the Lord.

The Preacher’s God
Seventh, and last, think about the preacher’s God. The third commandment requires that we use anything associated with God carefully and reverently. The Westminster Larger Catechism puts it like this: “The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing…”[4] And no wonder! Consider the reactions of Job, Isaiah, and Daniel when they came “face-to-face” with God (Job 42:5-6; Isa. 6:5; Dan. 10:17). And even Christ’s most intimate friend almost died when he met the glorified Christ on Patmos (Rev. 1:17).

Perhaps none of these arguments taken apart are convincing. But taken together the cumulative effect surely persuades us to more serious preaching in our comedy culture.

However, let me now briefly deal with certain arguments that have been made for using comedy in preaching.

But, I’m a funny person
The first is, “I’m a funny person. So it would be unnatural for me to be serious.” As Stuart Briscoe put it, “…if Philips Brooks’s definition of preaching is right – that preaching is truth communicated through personality – then I need to communicate through humor, because I enjoy humor.”[5] In the introduction to some of his earlier sermons Charles Spurgeon wrote:

There are also many expressions which may provoke a smile: but let it be remembered that every man has his moments when his lighter feelings indulge themselves, and the preacher must be allowed to have the same passions as his fellow-men; and since he lives in the pulpit more than anywhere else, it is but natural that his whole man should be there developed; besides, he is not quite sure about a smile being a sin, and, at any rate, he thinks it less a crime to cause a momentary laughter than a half-hour’s profound slumber.[6]

I am all for being natural in the pulpit. However, there are certain elements of our nature that we have to control when we are representing Christ. One of the repeated qualifications for an elder is to be “sober.” That means to be “self-controlled,” to be able to restrain and curb some elements of our nature, character and personality. In the light of the seven reasons for seriousness, I would suggest that the natural ability to make people laugh is something we should leave at the bottom of the pulpit steps. Would we crack jokes in the Oval Office?

But it works
Second, “But it works!” The pragmatic argument takes different forms: “It captures attention…overcomes defenses…drives truth home…matches our culture…releases stress….etc.” Here is an example:

Humor also allows the mental equivalent of a seventh-inning stretch in a sermon. People’s minds need a break now and then, and humor can supply it in a way that enhances the sermon. After momentary laughter, people are ready for more content. Or when something disturbs the sermon – such as a loud sneeze – a good-humored retort can bring attention back to the preacher.[7]

If this were a TED Talk we were discussing, I would have no problems with these arguments, because I agree with them. Humor is a powerful tool in the hands of the public speaker. But just because something works in secular speech, does not mean that we should adopt it in “sacred speech.” Paul deliberately turned his back on some of the rhetorical devices of his own day to ensure that people’s faith stood in the power of God not in the wisdom of men’s words. I agree with Brown, Linard and Northcote:

 Because rhetoricians, statesmen, politicians, salesmen, and preachers have known for centuries that humor can be, and is, a devastatingly effective speech weapon, some men have wrongly and tragically elevated humor to the first place of importance among homiletical devices. It is important that preachers refrain from playing the role of court clown and that they live the role for which they have been divinely commissioned – the role of prophet for the King of Kings.[8]

Anyway, if it was really so effective in driving God’s truth into the heart, why are there no commands or examples in the Bible. And do we really want to match our decadent culture’s dominant speech form? Is this not an area where the church should be counter-cultural. Moreover, what does comedy work? It certainly works popularity. But does it work conversions and holy lives? Is laughter the best medicine? Or should we do better to follow Solomon’s advice: “By a sad countenance the heart is made better”

But the Bible is funny
The third argument I’ve heard in favor of comedy in preaching is: “I am following biblical examples.” I’ve even heard a well-known preacher go through the Bible picking out all the “funny bits” to prove that we should use comedy in preaching. However, there is a world of difference between a preacher with a gift of stand-up comedy making the Bible funny, and the Bible actually being funny.

Some point to the prophets “making fun” of the idols (1 Ki.18:27; Isa.44:15). However this was scathing, biting, denunciatory satire. I can’t see many people laughing on Mt Carmel. Ecclesiastes is similar. It presents life’s painful ironies, vanities and absurdities, but not in a way that would provoke hilarity. God’s “laugh” of Psalm 2 is a laugh of angry derision not of amusing comedy. Did Jesus use puns and word-plays? Yes. Did they make people laugh? I somehow doubt it. Wry smile, maybe. But not “rolling in the aisles” laughter.

Walking the tightrope
Fourth, even those who use humor recognize that there are limits that should be observed. “I can draw the line in the right place,” they argue. Spurgeon, as we have seen, defended his use of humor, but he later distinguished between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and general levity, which is a vice.[9] Others have also tried to walk the tightrope, or draw the line: Illion Jones advocated discerning humor.

If humor has little or no relevance to what is being said; if, so to speak, it is dragged in by the feet merely to provoker laughter – it is an interruption, a diversion, and an impertinence.[10]

John Piper also tries to “walk the line”:

Earnestness is the demeanor that corresponds to the weight of the subject matter of preaching. The opposite of earnest is not joyful, but trivial, flippant, frivolous, chipper. It is possible to be earnest and have elements of humor, though not levity.[11]

In a more recent work, John Piper rejected any notion of humor in the pulpit contending that laughter promotes an atmosphere that hinders revival.[12]

This has been a plea to my fellow-preachers of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I also make a plea to listeners. Encourage your pastor to preach more seriously. Tell him that you don’t need the jokes; that they often spoil the effect of what he’s said. Tell him that your children tend to go home talking about his jokes rather than about Christ. Support your pastor if he is being pressurized to “lighten up a bit.”

Let me conclude with this appeal of Archibald Brown, a greatly blessed minister of the Gospel, who studied under Charles Spurgeon:

The devil has seldom done a more clever thing, than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out the gospel, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses!

…In vain will the epistles be searched to find any trace of the ‘gospel of amusement’. Their message is, “Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them… Don’t touch their filthy things…” Anything approaching amusement is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

…The need of the hour for today’s ministry is earnest spirituality joined with Biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.[13]

[1] W Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 74.

[3] John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth,1993), 198-199.

[4] Larger Catechism, 112.

[5] Stuart Briscoe, “Interesting Preaching,” in The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching, Eds. Haddon Robinson & Craig Larson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 387.

[6] Charles H. Spurgeon, Preface to The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1.

[7] Briscoe, 388.

[8] H. C. Brown, H Gordon Linard, and Jesse Northcote, Steps to the Sermon (Nashville: Broadman, 1963).

[9] Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students  (212).

[10] Ilion Jones, Principles and Practice of Preaching, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 141.

[11] John Piper, Thoughts on Earnestness in Preaching, unpublished lecture at The Bethlehem Institute, Minneapolis, 1999).

[12] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 56.

[13] Archibald Brown, The Devil’s Mission of Amusement. Internet. Accessed 04/12/10.

Check out

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:00am

Are You Using Social Media or Being Used By It?
Cal Newport: “Let me make a suggestion that the social media industrial complex fears far more: change your relationship with these services to shift from compulsive to controlled use.”

The Holiness of Small Things
God has called His people to a myriad of different roles and responsibilities, places and positions: mothers in the suburbs, teachers in the inner city, employees in the factory, daughters making dinner, singles serving the church, wives writing books, and so on. And yet despite this great diversity of labors and locations, we are all called to one common life work, and that is the work of holiness.

What If Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse?
“This is why I still pray…or try to pray…in the midst of darkness. Because eventually the gospel wins out and God breaks through. It happened with Bunyan and it happens with me.”

11 Ways Engaged Couples Should Deal with Finances Now
“Marriage gurus name the three big areas of conflict as sex, parenting, and finances. How can you prevent future fights over money? Here are 11 recommendations.”

Are You “Struggling” With Sin?
“I’ve noticed that way too often “I’m struggling with…” language seems to really mean “I don’t like the fact that I like doing this sin that I’m going to keep doing, no matter what.”"

Help for the Beat-Up Pastor
“If you are feeling beat up, take in these two views, look back and look ahead. Here you will find help and even refreshment for your weary soul.”

50 Reasons We Appreciate Our Pastors
“A couple weeks ago, we invited our readers to enter to win a free resource library for their pastors. To enter the drawing, we asked respondents to finish the following sentence: “In the last year, I have appreciated my pastor because he . . .” In total, we received nearly 900 responses detailing the many reasons people appreciate, love, and respect their spiritual leaders. We were so encouraged by what we read that we wanted to share 50 of our favorite responses below.”

7 Spurgeon Quotes for Stressed Leaders
Despite Spurgeon’s encouragements in the minisry, “he battled anxiety, depression, and significant suffering. He knew the pressures of leadership and ministry like few others. Here are seven encouragements from one tired, stressed, faithful leader to you”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton $2.99.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes $2.99.

Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones $3.99.

Redemption Accomplished & Applied by John Murray $2.99. This was the first Christian book I read and I’m still learning from it.

To Really Connect, Show Some Dirt

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 2:00am

Revealing our human weaknesses initiates deep connection with our hearers if done in the right way and with the right motives.

“David, the more you show the clay, the more they will see the treasure.”

That’s the advice a wise old pastor gave to me one day after I expressed some fear that I had spoken too much about myself in a sermon.

Pointing to 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us,” he said that when people see that the pastor is just a clay pot like them, and not some shiny trophy of perfection, they will connect with us on a deeper level, giving us a better opportunity to introduce them to gospel treasures.

Of course, he wasn’t advocating the kind of over-sharing that draws attention to ourselves at the expense of Christ, or that causes our hearers to squirm with embarrassment, but he was encouraging some measure of honest disclosure of our frail humanity.

I know of one pastor who goes in for quite a lot of self-disclosure, but it almost always reflects well on him. It’s painfully awkward for his congregation.

Another preacher friend never said anything about himself—ever. His sermons were fine on paper but they never seemed to connect with or move people. His congregation thought he was a kind of semi-angelic being who floated above ordinary life. However, when he started putting in a line or two or personal illustration in his sermons, most of them revealing his humanness, if not his weakness, his sermons began to connect in life-changing ways.

Showing personal vulnerability is the second connection strategy recommended in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking  (the first was eye-contact). But it comes with a warning against misusing it in such a way that it destroys our credibility:

Willing to be vulnerable is one of the most powerful tools a speaker can wield. But as with anything powerful, it should be handled with care….Formulaic or contrived personal sharing leaves audiences feeling manipulated and often hostile toward you and your message. Vulnerability is not oversharing. There’s a simple equation: vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability….The best way I’ve found to get clear on this is to really examine our intentions.

I remember hearing a preacher weep for a number of minutes in the course of one sermon in which he was extolling the beauty of Christ. It was powerful and deeply moving. However, I had a chance to hear him another half dozen times and discovered he wept at about the same point in every single sermon! I felt manipulated, if not deceived.

One last beacon is the preacher who, in the middle of a sermon against adultery, confessed to a serious problem with lust. The men appreciated his honesty and many felt a new connection with their pastor. But he never recovered his credibility with the women in his congregation. Some dirt is best kept for confessing to God alone.

The clay that best shows off the power of the Gospel is not so much our sins but our weaknesses and frailties.

Revealing our human weaknesses initiates deep connection with our hearers if done in the right way and with the right motives.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

Check out

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 1:00am

God Is with You in Your Panic Attack
“Panic attacks have been a source of both grief and grace. Grief, because they are terrifying and painful and disorienting and exhausting. Grace, because through them, God has humbled my proud heart and taught me to trust less in myself and more in Him. When Asaph says, “My flesh and my heart may fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” boy, do I get it.”

In the U.S., 110 Million S.T.D. Infections
This is almost beyond belief:

The incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis is increasing, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At any given time, there are an estimated 110 million sexually transmitted infections in the United States.

Given these stats, America’s STD Epidemic Should Be Much Bigger News

During the same week Hugh Hefner died, the Centers for Disease Control revealed that the number of new sexually transmitted disease cases in America had hit a record high. This unfurls a strange symmetry to the way history unfolds: a founding father of the sexual revolution dies at the same time that his legacy fully blossoms.

Bringing Our Children to the Table
Nick Batzig argues against paedo-communion and for the role of elders and parents in determining whether a child has the credible faith required to sit at the Lord’s table:

In recent years, some have suggested that the Covenant Lord wants us to bring our infants to the table, since they are members of the covenant family of God. The problem with paedocommunion is that, de facto, it changes the nature of the sacrament and lays aside the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:27-32.

Today’s Teens Are Always in the Hallway
“Whether you’re a parent of a teen, a boss of a teen, or a pastor of a teen, please be aware of the sad fact that teens today feel as though they are always performing—perhaps they’re even performing for you. Be a person in the lives of the teens you know who doesn’t require them to perform. Be a person teens can approach with their real selves.”

Obeying the Great Commission Just Shrunk Our Church
“This past Sunday our church membership dropped significantly as we had a Launch Sunday service commissioning our members in Madison County, KY as an autonomous church, to be known now as Ashland Church. Some of our best and most passionate Christ-followers are now members of Ashland Church and no longer members of our congregation. Losing them was a triumph of the Great Commission that we enthusiastically celebrated. Yes, the Great Commission is causing our church to shrink and maybe it should yours as well.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption by Matt Chandler $2.99.

James For You: Showing you how real faith looks in real life by Sam Alberry $2.99.

The Most Important Advice TED gives to Speakers

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 2:00am

The key to connecting with an audience is early and frequent eye-contact (plus a warm smile from time to time).

According to TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking there are five core tools that speakers use:

  • Connection
  • Narration
  • Explanation
  • Persuasion
  • Revelation

Regarding connection, TED Head Chris Anderson insists that the most effective way to connect is to make eye-contact right from the start. That’s because humans have developed a sophisticated ability to read other people by looking at their eyes. “We can subconsciously detect the tiniest movement of eye muscles in someone’s face and use it to judge not just how they are feeling, but whether we can trust them.” Many of these judgments are made in the first few seconds of meeting or hearing someone.

Scientists have also found that due to mirror neuron activity, we tend to copy what expressions and feelings we see in other people. When we look at each other—especially at our eyes and our mouths—our minds and emotions sync. Anderson says:

Eye contact, backed by an occasional warm smile, is an amazing technology that can transform how a talk is received. At TED, our number-one advice to speakers on the day of their talk is to make regular eye contact with members of the audience. Be warm. Be real. Be you. It opens the door to them trusting you, liking you, and beginning to share your passion.

Now, we’re not wanting to create a bunch of Joel Osteen clones. But, if there’s one area that most preachers could improve upon, it’s increasing the amount of eye-contact they make throughout their sermons, and especially in the first few minutes of introduction. Maybe the reason we’re not connecting with our hearers is because they’re only seeing our hair (or lack thereof).

The key to connecting with an audience is early and frequent eye-contact (plus a warm smile from time to time).

Check out

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 1:00am

Some articles on the Las Vegas massacre:

Hatred in Las Vegas by Kyle Borg

3 Ways to Pray for Las Vegas: It’s a Powerful (Not Political) Act for Christians by Ed Stetzer

An Act of Pure Evil: Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas by Al Mohler

May Heaven Fall on Las Vegas by Marshall Segal

Where is God in a mass shooing? by Russell Moore

In other news…

Flee from the Darkness
“Many women think that adultery happens when the passion for their husband is at war with their passion for someone else. But adultery really happens when your passion for the power and presence of God in your life is at war with the passions of lust and self-indulgence.”

Mental Illness, Prayer, and Extravagant Grace
“Here are some prayer principles I now hold onto firmly as I pray through the challenges of our loved one’s battle with mental illness. First, because mental illnesses are brain disorders, I pray as I would for any other physical sickness.

  • Because God can and does heal bodies, I always pray for healing.
  • Because that healing often comes through medical and therapeutic means, I pray for doctors, counselors, and chemists.
  • Because healing is enhanced by intentional body-care, I pray for good rest, nutrition, and exercise.
  • Because in His providence, God doesn’t always cure everyone, I pray for patience, wisdom, and enduring faith.

Prayer, I have learned, is an act of open-handed expectation.”

On Daughters and Dating: How to Intimidate Suitors
“Instead of intimidating all your daughter’s potential suitors, raise a daughter who intimidates them just fine on her own. Because you know what’s intimidating? Strength and dignity. Deep faith. Self-assuredness. Wisdom. Kindness. Humility. Industriousness. Those are the bricks that build the wall that withstands the advances of Slouchy-Pants, whether you ever show up with your Winchester locked and loaded or not. The unsuitable suitor finds nothing more terrifying than a woman who knows her worth to God and to her family.”

Tinder’s Problems Go Far Beyond Recording Your Deepest Secrets
Am I glad I’m 51 and happily married!

“Tinder has hundreds of pages of data on its users because they gave it away in the first place. The customized experience exists because the users keep coming back to tell Tinder what they want. In 2014, The New York Times reported that Tinder users were logging on an average of 11 times a day. Men were spending about 7.2 minutes per login swiping; women were swiping about 8.5 minutes each time. That’s about 90 minutes a day spent on Tinder trying to find a match. Just think about how desperate that sounds.”

New Books

Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community by Brett McCracken.

Preparing Children for Marriage: How to Teach God’s Good Design for Marriage, Sex, Purity, and Dating by Josh Mulvihill.