Friday, November 28, 2008

Good Shepherd Update in Brief

Dear Friends,

This is not technically speaking a Good Shepherd Update...I'm supposed to be taking a break from things this week...but I wanted to give everyone some idea of what next week (and this Sunday) will look like. So, here you go.

1. Next week will see the birth of a new Anglican province or church in North America. This is what we have been waiting for, praying for and building toward for the last three years. Good Shepherd, along with over 600 parishes across the country and about 200,000 people, will be a part of the new province by virtue of our membership in the Anglican Communion Network and our Bishop's Bill Atwood and Bill Murdoch who will be province bishops. What does this mean?

One thing it will mean is that we will no longer be institutionally bound to the Anglican Church of Kenya. We ought always to remain utterly grateful for the help Kenya provided and their willingness to step in to provide oversight for American congregations like ours in difficult situations. Affiliating with the Anglican Church of Kenya was akin to stepping off of a sinking ship and onto a life-boat. Now God is providing a new more sturdy ship in place of the sinking one making it possible to we can move once more from the life-boat to a permanent vessel, an American Anglican Church that will, by God's grace, grounded in the Word of God, grow and thrive and carry on the Great Commission of the Church that was, sadly, abandoned by the Episcopal Church.

The creation of a new province will also mean that one aspect of the Episcopal Church crisis that has been with us since it began in 2003, will be over. We'll finally have a church home.

I will be there in Chicago this week to witness the birth. I have to be there since I am on the new province's governing committee. I'll be back in time for the Men's bible study and breakfast on Friday.

2. All the bible studies will go on as usual this week and I'll be finding teaching substitutes for those that I will miss.

3. If you are in town this weekend, please be at church this Sunday, we'll be discussing some very important new developments both between services and a bit during the sermon time.

4. We'll wrap up our Christian Education series on division in the church this week and try to draw some conclusions. We'll also talk about some of the ideas for a new series. Here are some suggestions I've heard so far:

1. Christ and Culture
2. Other Religions
3. Creationism and Evolution
4. Politics and Religion
5. Family life

If you have others, let me know and I'll post it up. We'll either make a decision Sunday or I'll choose during the week. Let me know what you would like.

5. If you are looking for a new bible and have some spare cash, let me suggest the new English Standard Version (ESV) study bible. It was just published this year and is simply the best study bible I've ever laid hands on. Run don't walk to Arrowhead and get one.

6. This is a fantastic sermon by Alister Begg on the sixth commandment that hit me pretty hard this week. If you go backwards in his series and listen to his two sermons on the 5th Commandment (Honor your Father and Mother) you will not be disappointed either.

7. Finally, THANK YOU so much for all who showed up to the Day of Fasting and prayer. I was quite moved by the pastors who spoke and the breadth of community support we enjoy...Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Southern Baptists, other Anglicans, Episcopalians, Messianic Jews, Christian Missionary Alliance...all showed up to pray with and for us. What a wonderful day it was. I believe, also, that God has given us some clear answers which we'll discuss on Sunday.

Good News for the Week:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay,to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2nd Corinthians 4:6-18)

Great Sermon on the 6th Commandment

Here is a fantastic sermon from Alistair Begg on the sixth commandment against Murder. Take the time to listen this morning. He discusses everything from suicide and abortion to gossip and slander:
here's the link

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

South Side Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service Tonight

The Southside Ecumenical Council's Thanksgiving Service is tonight (Tuesday). Anne and I will both be speaking...but you should come anyway...heh.

Anyway, the service starts at 7:00pm at St. Andrew's Catholic Church on Conklin Avenue. Here's a Map from Mapquest

This is the address:
356 Conklin Ave
Binghamton, NY 13903

If you're heading from Vestal or Binghamton University to Good Shepherd on Conklin Avenue, just keep going past Good Shepherd for about three or four miles until you pass Savage Funeral Home on your right and you'll see St. Andrew's just after Savage...also on your right.

It will be their last service in that building. St. Andrew's Catholic is merging with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (the big church right next door to Good Shepherd on Livingston Street).

Not only is this a great Thanksgiving tradition but it's a good opportunity to take a look at St. Andrew's.

Are Children born with a knowledge of God?

Children are, according to scientists quoted below, designed with a knowledge of God.
...He says that young children have faith even when they have not been taught about it by family or at school, and argues that even those raised alone on a desert island would come to believe in God.

"The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God."

In a lecture to be given at the University of Cambridge's Faraday Institute on Tuesday, Dr Barrett will cite psychological experiments carried out on children that he says show they instinctively believe that almost everything has been designed with a specific purpose.

In one study, six and seven-year-olds who were asked why the first bird existed replied "to make nice music" and "because it makes the world look nice".

Another experiment on 12-month-old babies suggested that they were surprised by a film in which a rolling ball apparently created a neat stack of blocks from a disordered heap.

Dr Barrett said there is evidence that even by the age of four, children understand that although some objects are made by humans, the natural world is different.

He added that this means children are more likely to believe in creationism rather than evolution, despite what they may be told by parents or teachers.


Of course...St. Paul could have told them all about that 2000 years ago...
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dinesh D'Souza: When Science Points to God

from here
The question remains: what is the source of these standards of goodness that seem to be shared by religious and non-religious people alike? Finally John Lennon knew how to compose a tune but he could hardly be considered a reliable authority on fundamental questions. His “imagine there’s no heaven” sounds visionary but is, from an intellectual point of view, a complete nullity.

If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card, the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”

Too many “coincidences,” however, imply a plot. Folger’s article shows that if the numerical values of the universe, from the speed of light to the strength of gravity, were even slightly different, there would be no universe and no life. Recently scientists have discovered that most of the matter and energy in the universe is made up of so-called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. It turns out that the quantity of dark energy seems precisely calibrated to make possible not only our universe but observers like us who can comprehend that universe.

Even Steven Weinberg, the Nobel laureate in physics and an outspoken atheist, remarks that “this is fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident.” And physicist Freeman Dyson draws the appropriate conclusion from the scientific evidence to date: “The universe in some sense knew we were coming.”

Folger then admits that this line of reasoning makes a number of scientists very uncomfortable. “Physicists don’t like coincidences.” “They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea.”


Friday, November 21, 2008

Order of Service for the Day of Prayer

Day of Prayer and Fasting:

Saturday November 22, 2008

10AM to 4PM

Opening Hymn Holy, Holy, Holy p.362

Welcome: Pastor Matt Kennedy
(Church of the Good Shepherd)

10AM Meditation and Prayer: Pastor Bill Puckey
(Hawleyton Methodist)

10:30AM Meditation and Prayer: Pastor Andy Hollinger
(Conklin Avenue Baptist)

11AM Meditation and Prayer: Father Tony Seel
(Saint Andrew's Anglican)

11:30AM Meditation and Prayer: Pastor Robert Peak
(First Presbyterian Johnson City)

Hymn Seek ye First the Knigdom of God p.711

12:30 Meditation and Prayer: Father Meagher
(Saint John's Roman Catholic)

1PM Music and Silent Prayer: Curt Osgood

1:30PM Meditation and Prayer: Father Jim Jones

Hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past p.680


2:30 Music and Silent Prayer: Faith Browne

3PM Meditation and Prayer: Rabbi Ron Goldberg

3:30PM Meditation and Prayer: Reverend Ann Blair

Benedition: Pastor Matt Kennedy

Closing Hymn The Church's One Foundation p.525

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Happy Thursday:

A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Good Shepherd: In the midst of troubled times and crises the people of God often gather together to seek his protection and help through fasting and prayer.

One example among many in scripture can be found in the book of Joel. A great swarm of locusts had ravaged the crops and the people faced starvation. Here is how the prophet Joel called them to respond:

Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord. (Joel 1:14)

At Good Shepherd we face a court hearing on December 12th that could end with our eviction from our present location, the loss of our assets, and the end of a vital ministry to the poor and hungry in this neighborhood, and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ on the corner of Conklin and Livingston.

For that reason, this Saturday, November 22, from 10am to 4pm, you are invited to join in a Day of Fasting and Prayer. There will be a number of pastors including Bill Puckey, Ron Goldberg, Tony Seel, and Jim Jones present to encourage us and lead in prayer as well as some guest musicians from all around Binghamton.

God is sovereign over every institution, including the court system. We do not need to fear for our future whether God brings legal victory or not. His promises to us stand forever. But because God is sovereign we pray for his gracious protection and defense on December 12th.

It is so very important for every member of the parish to be there (fasting is optional of course). I hope and pray that you will set aside everything else to be for this event. Bring devotional books, your bible, a notebook, anything to help you spend the day in prayer. I wrote a brief prayer guide a couple of weeks ago for one of our weekly prayer meetings and, drawing from Nehemiah's prayer found in the first chapter of the book named after him, I identified five principles (below) that should guide our prayers during this time. It might help to print them out and bring them on Sunday:

1. We pray, recognizing that we are seeking God's grace and mercy, not "fairness" or "justice".

2. We pray for victory, believing that God will be glorified before the world...a victory in court against such great odds would be a clear witness to his soveriengty over all things and it would, in the eyes of many, provide vindication for the truth of scripture, God's Word, on which we have taken our stand.

3. We pray, believing that God has the power to do what we ask (see Hebrews 11:6). We believe that God has the power to effect even the mind and heart of a secular judges.

4. We pray, believing that the power of our prayer lies in God's power not our faith. Faith is not a force. We cannot will God to do something by believing it hard enough. God will act always in accordance with his own will and purpose. We pray then that we are standing and walking in that purpose.

5. We pray, trusting that even if God's answer is "no" that he gives good gifts to his children...that when he closes one door, he opens another. That he has promised to provide for us in one way or another.

Good Shepherd in the News: I was interviewed this week on Family Life Radio regarding the Day of Prayer and our situation with the lawsuit. The interview lasts about 5 minutes. You can listen to it by following this link:

If you were trying to find it by following the link I posted yesterday, use the one above instead since the station changed the URL.

3. Here is the audio for Last Sunday's sermon on the Second Greatest Commandment or...

Download "The Second Greatest Commandment" in MP3 format

Sermon this Sunday: This Sunday's sermon will be based on the Gospel text assigned for the week: Matthew 25:31-46...the Sheep and the Goats...if you have the time try to read it before hand to prepare your mind and heart.

Thanksgiving service: This coming Tuesday is the annual South Side Ecumenical Council's Thanksgiving service. The service starts at 7:00pm at St. Andrew's Catholic Church on Conklin Avenue. It's a great way to start Thanksgiving week. Here's a map. Both Anne and I will be speaking.

Men's Breakfast Cook: Tom and Brian Madigan are scheduled to cook for the Men's Breakfast and Bible Study tomorrow morning.

Bible Studies during Thanksgiving week: There will be no bible studies during Thanksgiving week (unless Chris Vail decides to have his on Tuesday morning). Enjoy your time with family.

Sunday Christian Ed: We'll start to wrap up our Christian Education series on division in the Church this Sunday, speaking about the Orthodox and some of the later developments in the ecumenical movement and drawing some conclusions. We'll also be discussing what topic we might take up in the next series. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good Shepherd in the News

Dear Good Shepherd,

Tonight (Wednesday) is our second prayer meeting to ask for God's protection, provision, and guidance for Good Shepherd. The meeting will begin at 6:30pm and end at 7:00pm. We'll also be asking God to help us on Saturday...that he will bring many to support and pray with us.

You should know that there are a lot of people already praying. I was interviewed yesterday on the Family Life Network (88.5 FM I think) which is the most popular Christian radio station in the area. The whole three to five minute interview aired around noon yesterday and I hear that they have been playing excerpts since then at various intervals. I was able to explain our situation and invite the community to come pray with us on Saturday.

The whole interview has now been posted on the FLN website as a feature story:

The Central New York Episcopal Church is suing a splinter congregation in Binghamton. The diocese is taking the Church of the Good Shepherd to court on December 12th to recoup all of its property and assets. That includes the church building. FLN's Bob Price spoke with Senior Pastor Matt Kennedy about how the church could be affected for taking a stance against the consecration of homosexual bishops.
Listen here
Download the MP3 Version here

Cookie sent me the following prayer this morning which is making the rounds on the prayer chain at St. Andrew's Vestal.

Father we come to You with our Prayers for The Church of the Good Shepherd. Their situation is very close to home for those, of us, who went through this at our former St. Andrew's. I pray that You would touch the hearts of those who wish to up root yet another congregation. Touch those who are changing the Bible . I ask this in Jesus Name.
Thank You Jesus

Remember, Tonight at 6:30pm for the prayer meeting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Second Greatest Commandment

Sermon by Matt Kennedy

Text: Matthew 22:34-40 (part 3)

Note: the first 2-3 minutes of this audio are a bit choppy because of a faulty mike...but the sound gets much better after that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Download "The Second Greatest Commandment" in MP3 format

New Anglican Province Coming December 3rd

Convention Planned to Form New Anglican Province
... the leadership of the Common Cause Partnership (CCP) scheduled a constitutional convention in the Chicago area Dec. 3 to form a new North American Anglican province. The event will be followed by “a province-by-province visitation and appeal for recognition of the separate ecclesiastical structure in North America.”

Significant details about the plan were revealed in a short AnglicanTV internet video clip containing remarks delivered by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and Bishop Bill Murdoch, a missionary bishop to the U.S. consecrated by the Anglican Church of Kenya.

The board of trustees for the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) met Nov. 7-12 at Christ Church, Vero Beach, Fla., according to information published on the parish website...During the meeting at Christ Church, some of those primates present agreed to recognize the new province if the leadership of the CCP would “set aside territorial issues and ego struggles” and sign the so-called Jerusalem Declaration drafted during the Global Anglican Future Conference in the Middle East in June...more

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Convention of the Diocese of Ft. Worth

This is live coverage of the Fort Worth Convention. The Convention will vote at some point on whether to depart from the Episcopal Church.

Courtesy Anglican TV

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Good Morning, happy Thursday, here are your Thursday notes...

1. Day of Prayer and Fasting: Do remember and please mark Saturday November 22 on your calendars. It is so important for everyone to be at church on that day first to ask God for guidance, protection, and victory in court and second because so many pastors and congregations are going to be here praying with and for us. Here is the description of the day that is on the main website:
November 22 will be a day of prayer and fasting at Church of the Good Shepherd. Several guest clergy and their congregations will be with us from 10AM to 4PM to help us seek God's will as we face our court hearing on December 12. There will be meditations, music, and prayer. You may stay for the entire service or you may come and go as you wish. You are encouraged to fast during this time, but this is not obligatory. Please come and invite others to join us in prayer at this important time in the life of our church.

So far we have about five or six pastors and congregations that have agreed to come and pray with and for us and the pastors will speak to us as well which is such a great blessing and gift on such short notice. Please plan to be here for both to show hospitality to our guests and to join our prayers with theirs.

2. Cooking Schedule: Joe Barham is Cooking for the Men's Breakfast and Bible study Friday morning at 6:30am

3. Sermon: Here is the podcast of last week's sermon entitled: "Working out your salvation". If we are justified by faith alone, why does the bible contain so many commands? What is the importance of following the Great Commandment if we've already been "saved"?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Download "Loving God part 2: Working Out Your Salvation" in MP3 format

Part one of this series can be listened too here.

4. This Sunday's sermon will complete the series with a discussion of the second greatest commandment "to love your neighbor as yourself."

5. Missionaries to the Culture: I linked this last week, but it is so good I want to point it out again. RC Sproul has been broadcasting a fantastic series of lectures explaining the philosophical assumptions that undergird contemporary western culture. If you want to know what makes your neighbor tick...if you want to understand where many of your own basic assumptions originate, this is a very very good series. You can start listening here

6. Christian Ed: Bring your bibles to Christian education this week. We'll be starting with a brief look at Romans 14 and the question of what is and what is not "adiaphora" or disputable within the church...what can we agree to disagree about and what, if anything, must we divide over...this is a bit of a detour in our series prompted by some of the discussion last week.

7. Apologetics: If you have ever taken "EFM" Education for Ministry which was a lay-level course designed to help non-seminary trained people understand the bible, you were probably told that Moses did not author the first five books of the bible, the Red Sea never parted and the Hebrews never conquered Palestine. This, of course, false, and it is one of many problems with the program. These two articles are very good and somewhat basic and easy to understand. They help you see the flawed logic and irrationality behind the sort of radical Old Testament scholarship embraced by EFM and other skeptics of scripture. This is the shortest and easiest of the two:
This is the longer and more detailed:

8. The Christmas Bake Sale and Flea Market is being held on December 6th from 10:00 to 2:00. Your help is needed! There is a job everyone!! Sign up in Parish Hall! Thank you!

9. From Micah: Youth Group will be meeting at its regularly scheduled time again this week. Senior high will be going from 6-8 on Sunday night, and Junior high will be going 6-8 on Monday night. If you need a ride, please call me and I will attempt to arrange one.

10. Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service: On Tuesday November 25th (don't have a time yet) at St. Andrew's Catholic Church (down Conklin Avenue toward Conklin...I'll send the address later) there will be an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service. This year's service will be especially important as St. Andrew's is merging with St. John's (the big church behind Good Shepherd) and this will be the last service in their building. The service will be in the evening but I do not know the time yet...please mark your calendars.

11. Good News: One last note to let you know that we had a total of 104 people in church last Sunday...which is fantastic considering that it was an average normal Sunday. Be sure to continue to come and to invite more and more people...especially those who do not know Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Did Moses Really Write the First 5 Books of the Bible?

Here is a great overview of one of the very important debates about the historical validity of the biblical record:

Most Christians have been taught in Sunday school that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. These books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are often referred to as the Pentateuch or Torah. However, outside of the more conservative seminaries and churches, it is commonly held that Moses did not write these books, that they are a compilation of works by numerous writers over an extended period of time.

Religious studies courses at most universities teach that the Pentateuch is a composite work consisting of four literary strands. The four strands have been assigned the letters J, E, D, and P; each representing a different document or source that was woven into the fabric of the Bible. This set of assumptions has gone by a number of names including the documentary theory and the Graf-Wellhausen theory. According to this view, the letter "J" stands for the Yahwist ("J" from the German Jahweh) narrative, coming from the period of the early Jewish monarchy, about 950 B.C. "E" stands for the Elohist narrative from the region of the Northern Kingdom dating from about 750 B.C. "D" is best represented by the book of Deuteronomy and is said to have originated in the Southern Kingdom about 650 B.C. or later. And finally, "P" is the priestly document that comes from the period after the fall of Israel in 587 B.C. According to the theory, the Pentateuch reached its current form around the time of Ezra or about 400 B.C.

Why is the issue of Mosaic authority an important one? Those who accept the documentary or Graf-Wellhausen theory argue that the content of these books should be seen as a mixture of credible historical events and religious poetry sparked by man's religious imagination. For example, regarding Moses and God on Mount Sinai, one author of an Old Testament survey writes that, "It would be foolish, for instance, to rationalize the burning bush, as though this vision were something that could have been seen with the objective eye of a camera."{1} Holders of this view reject the notion of supernatural revelation and regard much of the Pentateuch as folklore and Hebrew storytelling.

On the other hand, the conservative view holds to Mosaic authorship and treats the books as a literary unit. This does not mean that Moses didn't use other documents to write his books. He obviously did. But since other Old Testament authors affirm Mosaic authorship, as do numerous New Testament writers and the early church fathers, the veracity of the Bible as a whole begins to crumble if Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch.

In this article we will take a closer look at the source of the documentary theory regarding Mosaic authorship and offer a response that argues for the integrity of the Bible.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A sign of things to come?

This is an incredible story...I fear that those who maintain the biblical view of human sexuality...that all sexual behavior outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage is sin will come under increasing attack not only from radicals like those below but, increasingly, from mainstream legal and cultural institutions...scary stuff.

Michigan liberals attack Lansing congregation in the middle of Sunday worship


On Sunday morning, amidst worshiping congregants and following unifying prayers that our President-elect be granted wisdom as he prepares to lead our nation through difficult global, social and economic challenges, the Michigan left declared open war on peaceful church goers.

They did it with banners, chants, blasphemy, by storming the pulpit, by vandalizing the church facility, by potentially defiling the building with lewd, public, sex acts and by intentionally forcing physical confrontations with worshipers.

This didn't take place in some dystopian, post modern work of fiction and it didn't take place in San Francisco or Berkley. This was the scene at a Bible believing church in Lansing, Michigan.

Read on...

Here is another story on the same incident:

Gay anarchist group infiltrates, protests outside Eaton County church

by Nathan Harris (Nathan Harris/City Pulse) The "outside team" focuses its attention on traffic passing by the Mt. Hope Church in Eaton County.

A gay anarchist group infiltrated the Mt. Hope Church in Eaton County Sunday morning, disrupting a service by pulling a fire alarm, dropping leaflets and yelling at parishioners, a pastor said.

The group, Bash Back, was simultaneously picketing outside the church, beating on buckets and using a megaphone to shout “Jesus was a homo” and other slogans as confused churchgoers continued to enter the building.

Members of Bash Back issued a press release Tuesday saying that it targeted Mt. Hope, a church that claims a flock of around 5,000, because it is, "complicit in the repression of queers in Michigan and beyond."

According to the page of the Lansing chapter, the network initially sprung up with the intent of increasing homosexual visibility within the anarchist community.

The “action” began early Sunday morning at the Northstar Center on Lathrop Street in Lansing where a group of around 20 protesters gathered. Pink bandanas, signs, a rainbow-colored “Bash Back!” flag and a pink, wooden cross were distributed among about half the group — the “outside team.” The rest — “inside team” — were dressed in conservative clothes and carried Bibles and stacks of fliers, intending to blend in to the church‘s 11:30 a.m. “contemporary-laid back service.”

City Pulse was alerted to the Bash Back event through a press release and had no prior knowledge of where the “action” would take place or what it would more

These "activists" seem to have forgotten all about the "tolerance" and "inclusivity" they preach.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Diocese of Quincy Leaves the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy became the third diocese to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and join the Province of the Southern Cone in two votes held at her convention yesterday afternoon. Here are the vote tallies:

To leave the Episcopal Church:

Clergy 41 yay - 14 nay
Laity 54 yay - 12 nay

The resolution is here.

To join the Southern Cone (Argentina):

Clergy 46 yay - 4 nay
Laity 55 yay - 8 nay

Here is an article on the departure from The Living Church:

In a brief message read after the results of the second resolution was announced, Presiding Bishop Venables of the Southern Cone congratulated the members of synod and announced that he had appointed the Rev. Edward denBlaauwen, rector of Christ Church, Moline, Ill., to serve as vicar general. Quincy has been without a bishop since the Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman resigned for reasons of health on Nov. 1...more

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Good Morning and happy are your Thursday notes

1. Prayer Meeting: Thank you to everyone who showed up at the first prayer meeting last night. We had a pretty good crowd for the first time. I've written a brief reflection on corporate prayer during times of anxiety to help us pray for God's help, for victory, for guidance and protection during this time. Here's the link. There will be about 3 more of these before December 12th.

2. What's Up with the Incense?: I have also written a Question and Answer article entitled: Why does your church use incense? One of our college students asked that question last Sunday and I wrote the answer in an article, realizing that some long time Anglicans may not know the reasons either.

3. Last Sunday's Sermon: Anne's sermon from last Sunday can be found here.

4. Sermon Prep: This Sunday we'll finish my sermon series on the Great Commandment and the second Commandment and talk about love for your do we love each other as we love ourselves? What if I don't love myself in the first place? We'll talk about that and more this coming Sunday

5. Missionaries to our own Country: RC Sproul is presently teaching an excellent series on western culture...what is it that shapes the way we think and act in America? It is so important to think through the answer to that question. Before sending missionaries to a foreign land, they must learn the language and customs of the people. Often Christians can become so "Christianized" that we fail to speak the language of the culture. Similarly, we become so accustumed to our culture that we are not able to recognize when, where and how culture conflicts with Christianity. RC Sproul, in this series, helps us understand western culture and understand many of our own thought processes through the lens of biblical Christianity. Listen to the whole series here...beginning with the lecture on "Secularism"...I found this discussion of existentialism particularly helpful.

PARENTS: Don't forget: Sunday School to Visit Nursing Home this Sunday November 9th: Sunday School classes from elementary to Junior high will be visiting a Binghamton nursing home to visit, sing for, and present the residents with a gift.. So parents, please mark your calendars and plan to be at Church by 9:00am.

A Day of Fasting and Prayer: On Saturday November 22nd, Good Shepherd will host Christians from churches from all over Binghamton and the surrounding areas who will come to fast and pray with us for God's protection and provision during and after the hearing on December 12th. Several pastors will speak and you are invited to come and listen and pray for the whole day or to come when you can, but it is vital to set that day apart from other days for prayer, repentance, and fasting. The day will begin at 10:30am and end at 4:00pm. Please come and help us seek God's mercy and grace during this time.

Well Done: It was so very good to see so many children in Sunday School last Sunday...great job parents.

This Sunday's Christian education, we'll finish looking at the "Joint Declaration on Justification" and start talking more specifically and Orthodoxy, Ecumenism, and the World Council of Churches. Does "Studied Abiguity" help or hinder the process of unity?

Help: One of our college Students is in need of a Sleeper-sofa. If you have one that you are looking to give away, please let Anne or me know...773-4810, thanks.

Prayers of the People. You may have noticed (at the 10:30am service) that we are no longer reading the prayers of the people but opening that time up for real prayers from the people. We decided to make that change after thinking and praying about it for some time. The old way seemed to inhibit prayer and encourage reading or driofting off to sleep. Now, during that time in the servince, we invite you to add your prayers personally, either silently or aloud, after each prayer category is named: For the World, nation, and community; for the sick, suffering, and destitute, for the Church and her leaders; for our own needs...etc.

12. Noon Communion: Don't forget about noon communion Today in about an hour from now!

I, Matt, will be the cook for the Men's Breakfast and Bible Study tomorrow morning at 6:30am since I traded with Lee last week. We're going to need to make a new list tomorrow, so if you'd like to be on it be sure to be there.

that's all for now...stay tuned for tomorrow's Update...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tonight: Praying for God's Help

Dear Good Shepherd,

We are, as you know, facing the possibility of great loss in December. The buildings and all that we have could be taken if the judge decides against us on the 12th.

Tonight (weds) at 6:30pm, we are going to gather at the church to pray for God's help and deliverance.

We know that our God is a God of power; that all things on earth and in heaven bow before him and serve his purposes.

Followers of Jesus Christ, then, have nothing to fear.

...have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt 10:28-29)

Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father's will, Jesus tells us, and the Church, the Bride of Christ, is worth more than many sparrows. We can be assured that nothing happens to us apart from his will. God "ordains" all things that come to pass either by directly causing them or permitting them to occur through the agency of some other cause.

And we can be assured that whatever does happen, even those things that might seem "bad", are, in fact good...that they will result in some benefit for us either now or in eternity.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

At the same time, when faced with adversity or the possibility of loss, God wants his people to come to him, to seek his face, his will, his mercy and his intervention on their behalf. In fact, he sometimes wills, before the fact, only to act in accordance with and in response to the prayers of his people. James writes:

You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

Sometimes God sovereignly determines to withhold blessings or not to intervene unless or until we pray. Other times he works directly through the prayers we offer; he makes them the vehicle for his intervention in the world.

In scripture we find many models of this sort of of the more poignant and, I think, important for our present circumstances is Nehemiah's prayer. Nehemiah was a Jew serving the Persian King in Babylon during the time of the exile when a troubling report reached him from Jerusalem:

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Neh 1:1-3)

So what did he do? Did he get angry that God had allowed this to happen? Did he blame God for allowing Jerusalem to fall into ruin? Did he just sit there and hope that things would get better on their own? Did he jump right in and get to work? No.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:4-12)

Nehemiah prayed. Pay special attention to the way that he prayed. Nehemiah's prayer is not one of entitlement. Nehemiah does not demand God's assistance. He does not suggest that God must act in order to be "fair". Rather Nehemiah recognizes that God is under no obligation, that any intervention is grounded in divine mercy and grace...not justice. Nehemiah trusted in God's loving kindness toward his people and asked God to have mercy, to act on their behalf, believing that it was in God's power to do so.

Using Nehemiah's prayer as a model (and his prayer is not necessarily unique in its various elements in scripture), these five elements are essential in our prayers for Good Shepherd at this time.

1. We pray, recognizing that we are seeking God's grace and mercy, not "fairness" or "justice".

2. We pray for victory, believing that God will be glorified before the world...a victory in court against such great odds would be a clear witness to his soveriengty over all things and it would, in the eyes of many, provide vindication for the truth of scripture, God's Word, on which we have taken our stand.

3. We pray, believing that God has the power to do what we ask (see Hebrews 11:6). We believe that God has the power to effect even the mind and heart of a secular judges.

4. We pray, believing that the power of our prayer lies in God's power not our faith. Faith is not a force. We cannot will God to do something by believing it hard enough. God will act always in accordance with his own will and purpose. We pray then that we are standing and walking in that purpose.

5. We pray, trusting that even if God's answer is "no" that he gives good gifts to his children...that when he closes one door, he opens another. That he has promised to provide for us in one way or another.

I do hope as many of you as possible will be able to make it this evening. 6:30pm, in the sanctuary. The meeting will last for half an hour.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No First Light Bible Study tonight

Just a reminder...there will be no First Light Bible Study this evening...everyone will be watching election returns.

First Light will be back next week.

Anne's Sermon from this Sunday

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Download "The Beatitudes: "Wellness" according to Jesus" in MP3 format

By Anne Kennedy

All Saints-Matthew 5

Open with me to Matthew chapter 5, beginning in verse 5.

‘Seeing the crowds’, because if you look up a few verses, the crowds had been coming fast and furious, ‘seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountain and sat down.’ The Sea of Galilee is just off what was once the Great Trade Route of the middle east in the first century, the Via Maris, or way of the sea—a road visible from Capernaum and the house of Peter. So, on the one hand, you have the out of the way Sea of Galilee and its bustling, but, provincial, fishing towns and on the other hand you have a Very Strategic location. The whole known world, walking over that Road, would have heard of Jesus from people going by and could have walked over to see him, if they wanted.

Some went out of their way out of curiosity. On the information highway, its always nice to see that Latest thing, the Thing of the Moment. Jesus was the thing of his moment. Others came out of desperation. They were sick, or knew someone who was sick. The crowds grew and grew. Like an ER waiting room, or the Walk in at Flue Season, so inwardly tuned from pain and affliction, just coping with reality, they came and waited and hoped to be healed. The crowds became so great that Jesus went up onto a mountain. His disciples, fresh from being picked out of their boats and their lives, came to listen to him. The crowd filtered in to ‘listen in’ and find out what all the fuss was about.

When many people in the crowds of life think of Jesus, they vaguely like him. They profess, sometimes, to like his ‘teachings’ which we’re going to look at here. They don’t often like the people who follow him, that would be me and perhaps many of you here this morning. They might say that we are fanatical or that we have ‘corrupted the message’. Let’s look at this message, some of the ‘teachings’ of Jesus and see what we shall see.

Matthew says, in verse two, that Jesus ‘opened his mouth’. When God opened his mouth and spoke, the Word, the only begotten Pre-existent Word from before time and for ever, brought all things came into being. The Word, Jesus, has power. His words overturn the world.

Jesus opened his mouth and said, ‘Blessed’ or ‘happy’ or my own version, ‘Well’ as in, ‘it is well with my soul’. There is no good English word for what Jesus is saying. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’.

The poor in Spirit is the one who knows his or her need of God. For those of you who believe yourself able to get on without God, yours is the Kingdom of the Flesh, this world. Your reward is the pride of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and trusting yourself to get you through this life. I hope none of you find yourself there this morning. No, the Poor in Spirit, the one who knows he cannot draw breath apart from the mercy of God, who knows she cannot eat except God provide bread, who cannot be saved unless God comes to earth, the poor in Spirit is poor in pride. Pride is a meager foundation; the World of the Flesh is a glittering glass bauble that will shatter in your grasp. If you think you are rich in yourself, you are deceived.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’.

‘Mourning’ here is not just mourning over a loss. Those who mourn, in the time of Jesus, would have been anyone who was in need, material, spiritual, or in need of healing. Are you broken? Do you grieve over your own sin? Over a great loss? Over the waywardness of your children? If you look at Jesus and grieve, or mourn, or do not have enough, and then, and here is the key, do not rush in to fix it yourself, Jesus will be your comfort and your solution, your salvation.

‘Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’

Jesus is not saying, blessed are the ‘mousy’ or ‘happy is the pushover’ or ‘blessed is the quietly speaking person who never causes offense’. Meek means humble, one not constantly standing up for their rights, or out to get what’s ‘rightfully theirs’. The earth, as it stands now, belongs most generally to the rich, the powerful, the good negotiator, the person with a little penny in their pocket who can cut a good deal. But, it will not always be so. The one who meekly, humbly throws his full self onto the mercy of God in all things, this person will ultimately, remarkably, rule the earth with Christ in glory.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’.

God is righteous. He is Right about everything. He is perfectly just. He is good. If you are hungry for righteousness, for what is good and holy and true, your hunger will lead you to God. If you hunger for God and find Him, because if you seek him, you Will find him, all will be well, you will be in a good place, you will be blessed. The opposite bears out. If you are not hungry for goodness and truth and beauty, if you are caught in darkness and your soul doesn’t yearn for that which is greater than you, for God, you will not be well, you will be hungry, thirsty, tired, worn thin, unblessed, unhappy.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’

Mercy is the centerpiece of the Gospel. God didn’t have to create us. When we sinned against him, he did not have to set into motion his great Plan of Salvation, beginning with Abraham, culminating with Jesus. He did not have to become a human being. He did not have to die in our place. He did, out of Mercy. What business do we have not letting each other off the hook?
If you, having been forgiven, do not turn around and show mercy, do not make every effort to understand and make excuses for, do not go out of your way to help someone who doesn’t deserve it, why should God go on being merciful to you? Forgive and you will be forgiven. Be merciful and you will be given mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

Like righteousness, purity is a characteristic of God. Jesus was pure, perfect, holy, he was the pure unspotted lamb required for sacrifice. There wasn’t anything wrong with him. He didn’t sin. And in not sinning, he wasn’t cluttered by the ugliness of grief, brokenness, rebellion, and trouble. Purity of heart and mind comes from hungering after and seeking God. Purity makes you an uncluttered person. Imagine that your body, soul, and mind are a wide room.

You can clutter up your room with many things—sin, busyness, gossip, rebellion, attitude, anxiety. Your windows become dusty and foggy; you cannot walk from tripping over some wretched problem. Purity of heart requires that you clear out all the junk. You confess your sin, you trust God and let go the anxiety and worry, you exercise mercy and grace towards other people, you do not allow the junk of this world to clutter up your mind. Then you will be, on a very practical level, better able to see who God is and to follow him, rather than tripping everywhere, or becoming distracted by the bright glittery junk all around you.

This is one reason why Jesus encourages us to become like children in order to better enter the kingdom of heaven. Not because children do not sin, or are not in frequent open rebellion against reality, their parents and God, remind me to introduce you to my children after the service, but because they haven’t had as much time to clutter up their lives with sin and trouble. The small child is best able to see God. That is why Sunday school is So Important for the littlest of our church family. Bring them here while they can still see.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’

Peace is a necessary byproduct or side-effect of life with God. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He, through mercy, grace and power, overcame our rebellion and sin by dying for us, allowing us to make peace with him. This ultimate peace allows us to make peace with each other and with ourselves.

And finally, if you haven’t been paying attention, Here is where the World of the Flesh, which as been gradually tipping, blessing by blessing, is finally turned all the way over. Verse 10,

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad.’

I imagine that the crowd, after this remark, began to thin. Jesus goes on, from this moment, to say many more difficult things to his disciples and all the people about divorce, lust, anxiety, fasting, anger. Most of the crowd, after being healed and eating all the free food, decided that the teachings of Jesus were too hard.

Not much has changed. Just about the whole world has available to it the Teachings of Jesus. Missionaries are everywhere. The internet is abundant with good information. You can find a free Bible, if you really want one. If you are curious or broken or hungry or tired or sick, Jesus will be of interest to you.

But it’s easy to be apart of the crowd, to have your hand out for a good thing, closing it again quickly against the sacrifice of yourself, your pride. That is what, I’m sorry to say, is at the heart of these few verses we have walked through together. The cost of following Jesus, of knowing him and being known by him, is your pride, yourself. I encourage you to count the cost. If you’re willing to give up yourself, your pride, the world of the flesh, I congratulate you, you are well, you are blessed, indeed you are Rich. You have gained the everlasting Love,

Grace, Mercy, Peace, Righteousness and Purity of the Kingdom of God.

Sure, the world won’t like you any more. You might be called a fanatic, or be passed over. Some, remembered on this day, have even been killed. But mortal death is a small measly price to pay for the perfect presence of God and the everlasting community of believers from every time, every place, every language, every nation who worships around the great throne, the throne of the Lamb who died so that you might live. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Question and Answer: Why do Anglican churches use Incense?

Some college students from church backgrounds somewhat less liturgical than Anglicanism, asked about the use of incense. What is it and why do we use it?

I did't really have a chance to answer in a substantive way since the question was asked yesterday in the greeting line after the service. I managed to mention one of the characteristics of Anglicanism that sets the Anglican expression of Christianity apart from many other protestant expressions, namely that while we embrace the essential biblical truths recovered during the Reformation...

1. Sola Scriptura--the bible is the sole infallible source of revelation, the primary authority in the church by which all doctrine and discipline must be tested and measured.

2. Sola Fide--sinners are justified through the instrument of faith alone

3. Sola Christi--Christ's righteousness, sacrifice, and mediation is the sole basis or grounding for the justification that is communicated to sinner by faith alone.

4. Sola Gratia--the whole arch of salvation, from beginning to end, is due to and grounded in the free gracious gift of God and for no merit or deserving on our part.

5. Sola Deo Gloria--God's purpose in Creation, Judgment and Redemption is ultimately his own glory.

...we like to think we've not thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

We stand on the above truths together with orthodox Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and other evangelical denominations and non-denominational churches. And yet, Anglicans believe it is important to maintain those worship practices of the ancient Church that can be traced back to the very first centuries after the Ascension of Jesus Christ and that do not contradict the Biblical witness.

Why, Anglicans ask, should we surrender the riches and beauty of ancient Christian worship that conforms in every way with scripture?

God is the author of beauty. Anglican worship seeks to employ all the aspects of God's creation in reflect God's created beauty back to him. God's created beauty comes to us through sight, smell, taste, and touch. And all of these senses are employed in Anglican worship. Incense, music, bells, color, candles...all of these are used to glorify God at Good Shepherd just as they have been used for 2000 years in the Church throughout the world.

According to the witness of the Old Testament, the use of these elements of worship go back to the very establishment of the holy Tabernacle during the exodus. God gave Moses very specific instructions for the construction of his Tabernacle and these included carefully detailed instructions to produce a place of aesthetic beauty.

"The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." (Exodus 23:1-6)

Notice God's concern for beauty...the scarlet, blue and purple yarn, the fine linen, the fragrant oil for incense and anointing, the gold and precious stones...all of these elements used in accordance with God's command would fill the senses of ancient worshipers with sights and smells that would harness every fiber to the task of glorifying God.

Notice the detailed concern God took in the crafting of this piece of tabernacle furniture:
“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain."(Exodus 25:31-40)

God does not seem concerned for utilitarian functionality. He doesn't simply want a lampstand. He wants a beautiful lampstand. Why?...because God is beautiful, he created beauty and beauty brings him glory.

These are simply examples but if you take the time to read through the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle found in Exodus 25-29 (and elsewhere) you will find the divine concern for beauty shot through the whole.

If this is so--if God created beauty and is glorified by the use of the beauty he created--and since there is nothing in scripture to oppose it, shouldn't the church seek to bring beauty into her weekly sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving?

What I have said so far applies to Anglican worship in general--not incense in particular. If you are specifically wondering about the uses of incense in scripture, follow this link where you will find some of the primary scriptural references to incense. You will find in perusing these texts that incense in itself is a neutral element. When used to worship God, in keeping with his instructions to Moses, it is good and pleasing to the Lord. But it can, like anything else, be turned to idolatry.

Here are a few of my favorite texts:

And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:7-8)

For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)

"When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel." (Revelation 8:1-4)

I understand that there are many who find the use of incense foreign and strange, but I think a thorough and comprehensive study of scripture will show that it has always been used in the right and proper worship of the Lord both in the Old Testament and in the New...both on earth and, according to Revelation, in Heaven. Incense draws the senses heavenward, brings to mind the prayers of God's people ascending to his throne, and represents the unified universal Church glorifying the God of Creation and Redemption.

The question, then, is not "Why do we use incense?" but it is rather, why doesn't everyone use incense?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

On Preaching

What is the role of preaching in the church?

I ask because I believe there is a general level of confusion on the part of Christians. Is the sermon just another kind of "speech? Is it a lecture? Is it a motivational talk?

Here are some comments I've heard recently...only one of these is from a parishioner.

"Why can't we avoid controversial topics in sermons. It just turns people off?"

"I go to church to feel good, to start my week out right, but when the pastor preaches on________ I go home feeling rotten..."

"Why does he want us to open the bible during the sermon? Isn't that his job? Shouldn't he simply summarize his point get on with the service?"

All of these comments and questions reflect serious misunderstandings of the purpose and point of preaching.

Biblically speaking, a sermon is not a speech, lecture or motivational talk.

Rather it is an exposition and application of scripture. Read Paul's charge to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.(2 Tim 3:14-17)

This is not only Paul's charge to Timothy, but it represents God's charge to every preacher. The task is not to inspire or motivate or teach on the basis of witty formulations or high is not to send people home "feeling good."

Rather the task of the preacher is to open God's Word to the congregation, to bring the bible to bear on the consciences and hearts of God's people (and his own). I do not, and I don't know of a preacher who does, claim to get this right all the time. I just don't. But nevertheless, regardless of our imperfections, the primary purpose of preaching, the goal toward which every preacher worth his salt strives, is to let God's Word speak for itself...not to get in the way...because, as Paul's words above show...when bible is truly preached, God's Word is truly heard. God speaks to his people through preaching.

So when someone, myself or anyone else, stands up to preach, his message must center on the Book. And through the Book, God's Spirit works to convict, rebuke, correct, and encourage.

It is a dereliction of duty not to preach from the scriptures in such a way that the necessity of repentance and reconciliation is made clear. When God's call to all men and women to repent and surrender to Christ is hidden behind comforting words that provide false salves to the conscience and superficially alleviate the tension between biblical truth and cultural norms, souls are endangered. What a terrible thing to send a congregation home hyped up on motivational platitudes without a hint that there is a judgment to come and that apart from Christ none can stand in it.

If the bible is truly being preached in a congregation it is IMPOSSIBLE to go home feeling good all the time. It is, and should be, a regular experience to feel a sense of "conviction" and sometimes to feel rebuked...not by the preacher but by the scriptures themselves. God uses his Word to correct us and to sanctify us and that, sometimes, can be a painful process. When the sins we cling to are exposed to the light of God's Word, like Adam and Eve, our inclination is to hide, to seek shelter from God.

And yet we should not run from such things but relish them, embrace them, be filled with gratitude for them. As the author of Hebrews says, God rebukes those he loves (Hebrews 12). If he did not love us he would not care what we do...he would let our sins pile up so that we might be judged and found guilty. But because he loves us, he convicts, rebukes and corrects us here and now.

At the same time, we should not depart regularly feeling condemned. While the sermon opens the Word of God and that necessarily leads to conviction from time to time, it also brings comfort and encouragement and assurance. Not only are we forgiven sinners, but in Christ, we are beloved children of God. We are heirs to the world. We have no reason to hang our heads in shame because our Lord has taken away all shame and guilt. God not only confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, he himself provided a covering for them and, ultimately, promised to provide eternal shelter from his wrath...a promise he fulfilled in the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no hiding place, no cleft or shelter or Ark, apart from him.

There should then be a sense of eager anticipation as the bible is opened and the sermon begins...what treasures will God reveal? What comfort will he bring? What guidance or assurance will he give me this day? For every rebuke, there is also a promise of mercy and grace to all who seek it in Jesus Christ. For those of us who have come to faith in Christ, all our thoughts, words, and deeds, sinful or not, are done in the context of his compassionate love. We are his children in his house. We have the freedom to crawl up into his lap and call him "abba" or Father. His rebukes and corrections then, when applied to believers, are always tender; always given with the purpose of building up and making holy.

The preacher, then, is to use the bible for all these purposes; to teach, correct, rebuke, and encourage and if he does there is the following consequence:

"...that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

The bible, when it is applied to the congregation rightly, equips the Christian for every good work. Through biblical preaching, God's people (preacher and congregation together) learn what pleases him and how to accomplish it and they are given his power to do what he has called them to do.

The sermon is not a speech, lecture or motivational talk, done properly it is the means by which God communicates the desire of the bridegroom to the bride, Christ's will to his Church.

I confess, and I think most preachers will join me in this, that I do not do this as well as I should. I often fail. But God promises to use the weak things of this world to accomplish his purposes, to take our imperfect gifts and, by grace, convert them to his perfect use (1 Cor 1). That is the power of preaching...not the eloquence or rhetorical charm of trained speakers, but the infinitely powerful grace of God piercing hearts and minds by the double edged sword of his Word wielded imperfectly by unworthy servants.

This week, Alistair Begg, posted a couple of very good talks on this subject on his website, and I will leave you with links to these and my encouragement to listen to them.

The Pulpit: It's Power and Pitfalls Part 1

Part 2