Archive for the ‘Sermon illustrations’ Category

The Romans 7 Struggle: Prone to Wander, but also ‘Prone to Worship, Lord, I feel it’

April 18, 2012 Comments off

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series, a few interesting illustrations regarding the Romans 7 struggle:

Salvation is of the Lord

Take Jonah as an illustration.  There he was in the belly of the great fish.  When did he get delivered?  When he had given up all hope of delivering himself.  If you’ll read the 2nd chapter of Jonah, he was in great misery.  He prayed.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He cried.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He promises, “I will look again toward Thy holy temple.”  He’s still in the belly of the great fish.  He moralizes.  He sacrifices.  He vows, but he’s in the belly of the great fish still.  At length he finally says, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Mr. Spurgeon said, “He learned that line of good theology in a strange college.”  “Salvation is of the Lord.”  And, the very next verse, he’s on dry land.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

(Speaking about Lewis Sperry Chafer at a Bible conference in Alabama in the 1940s):  in the midst of one of his messages he said, now Campbell Morgan, who has traces of Arminianism in his teaching, changed a verse of a well-known hymn that we often sing. …  Dr. Chafer said, “Campbell Morgan had traces of Arminianism.”

Now I heard that.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant but it sounded bad. [Laughter] And so I paid attention.  He said, “I know that hymn has a verse in it that reads, ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.'”  But he said, “Campbell Morgan who has traces of Arminianism changed it to ‘Prone to worship, Lord I feel it.  Prone to serve the God I love.'”  And then Dr. Chafer turned to the audience and he said, “Now how many of you think that Campbell Morgan was right?”

Well, we heard that clause, “that has traces of Arminianism,” and that sounded bad and so nobody raised their hand.  He said, “How many of you think the hymn writer was correct?  Prone to wander?”  And so we all raised our hands, and that little smile came over Dr. Chafer’s face.  He was a man before his time.   He had a mustache.  Anyway, a smile came over his face and he said, “Both were right.”  And of course, he was right, because it is true there is an aspect of each one of us as believers that is prone to wander.  And there is also an aspect of us as a result of our conversion that is prone to worship.  We are divided persons.

The Mature Christian Worldview And Its Fruit

March 1, 2012 Comments off

I’ve enjoyed reading Dan Phillips’ books (see this post).  From those books and other recent events, the following are just some observations about the Christian life and our worldview.

From The World-Tilting Gospel:  yes, studying God’s word can (and often does) lead to pride and looking down on others who haven’t studied it.  Dan admitted it happened to him; it happened to me as well.  However, NOT studying God’s word will also bring pride.  Pride can feed on anything, and even on absolutely nothing, such as the deliberately-empty “waiting on God” attitude.

From God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: a very good point about how we choose our friends and even (especially) marriage partners: we should choose our friends not only from those who are Christians, but from those who are growing and maturing Christians.  Indeed the difference is so important, and how I wish these books had been available in my early Christian days 20 years ago (and that I had read them then).  It is not enough to be satisfied with friends who are Christian, yet who in their daily lives are focused on this world’s cares instead of growing in their knowledge and understanding.

It really is true, that where our treasure is, there our heart will be as well (Matt. 6:21, Luke 12:34).  I think of specific individuals (preachers) and their attitude toward God’s word – and the fruit of such an attitude.  Take for instance the local preacher who continually shows only a low view of scripture and superficial understanding of God’s word, combined with man’s views of scripture (such as progressive creation, amillennialism, preterism).  Like with so many who refuse to believe, the mind is instead focused on pointing out how the words in the Bible really don’t mean what they say they mean, but instead “it really means this.”  What are the fruits of this type of mindset?  He is also very focused on preserving and hanging on to  this life, with casual comments about how our lives are so uncertain, how short our lives are, we never know when it will end; even remarks about how we all say we want to go to heaven, just not right now.

Certainly such a view has some truth — provided that it is balanced with the Christian worldview.  After making such comments about preserving this life, why not continue the application?  When good preachers who highly treasure God’s word and spend their time studying it rather than “reinterpreting it” point out the uncertainty of life, they don’t stop there —  but direct such comments specifically to the unsaved in the audience, imploring them to come to Christ before it’s too late.

Contrast the above attitude with that of individuals with a high view of scripture, who show great depth of understanding, who believe and love the doctrines in God’s word.  The focus is on God’s word and conforming the mind to what God says, rather than trying to conform scripture to man’s understanding.

Here I observe the following fruit from such preachers:  humor and illustrations that focus on our eternal existence.  S. Lewis Johnson would joke about how he didn’t really understand what a certain person said about the term “heavy” – because he hadn’t received any of George Foreman’s blows, and he didn’t want to do that until he had his resurrection body (when he wouldn’t particularly mind). He often talked about what we’ll do when we get to heaven, about meeting with and having conversations with characters from the Bible.  Then he would relate that to the importance of studying God’s word, and why we should even study the minor characters: so that when you meet up with Obadiah you’ll know who he is and know what to talk about him with.

Instead of speculating and reasoning from man’s view to come up with ideas not in the text (such as a preterist view that the “shaking” mentioned in Hebrews 12:26 actually happened at the cross followed by judgment in 70 A.D.), SLJ would speculate about heavenly things, wondering if the saints in heaven are aware of us and what we’re doing.

Finding the Road to Christ: A Sermon Example

June 6, 2011 Comments off

As a follow-up to my last post, The Proper Way to “Find Christ in the Text,” consider the following instance where a preacher demonstrates a sermon technique he had previously mentioned.

I noticed this in S. Lewis Johnson’s message on Micah 4:1-5.  As we’re reading along in Micah, chapter 3 ends on a very rough note:  wickedness from Israel’s rulers, and then pronouncement of judgment at the very end:  Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

Then Micah 4 starts on a very positive note, with great blessings to come upon Zion, and the Lord ruling from Jerusalem.  Herein is the “road to Christ”:  Johnson asks how it can be, that judgment comes in Micah 3 but that blessings will come upon them in the latter days?  The answer is found in the redemptive work of the cross, Christ’s crucifixion still hundreds of years future from Micah’s day.  We could also refer to it as God’s working out of the New Covenant, that third great covenant (after the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants) which provided the means for forgiveness and atonement.  The road to Christ is there, not explicitly but as the answer to that very real question of how God can forgive sinners who deserve judgment, and put guilty sinners in heaven.  The next few verses of Micah go on to describe what Christ will do at His Second Coming, when He rules from Jerusalem as the true judge — again in contrast with the wicked men who judged Israel in Micah’s day.

How much more satisfying, and true to the word of God, is this “road to Christ” than the amillennialist’s spiritualizing attempt at “finding Christ” in Micah 4.  The typical approach there is to ignore the context of Micah 3 and Micah 4, then jump into the great words in Micah 4 and simply say that it refers to the wonderful church age we live in, a picture of the gospel going forth triumphantly and bringing people into the kingdom.  Sure that’s a way to “find Christ” — but by deceitful twisting of God’s word, not dealing with the details of the text — in both Micah 3 and 4 — and the meanings of words.

The Proper Way to “Find Christ in the Text”

June 2, 2011 Comments off

While listening to one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages through the prophet Micah, I heard a sermon illustration — a story — that I’ve heard often at the local church.  Or rather, I thought I had heard that story before.  But Johnson included the full account, which makes far more sense than the shortened version, along with greater explanation.

Both versions have the first part: an account of a young preacher who preached a sermon in the presence of an older preacher.  The young man asked the older preacher what he thought of his sermon, and the old man told him it was a poor sermon; the reason was that the young man had not preached Christ in the message.  The young man replied that, well, Christ was not in the text.

Here, the shortened version, from a pastor known to allegorize and spiritualize texts to “find Christ” — including ways not at all clear from a text itself — simply adds that “you always find Christ in the text,” and that’s the first and most important thing to do.  Then follow a few sentences of praise about how wonderful Christ is, and that’s what the sermon must be about, the refrain about “nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”

But here is the full version:

The old preacher said, Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England there is a road that goes to London?

Yes, said the young man.

Aye, said the old preacher, and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business is when you go to a text to say: Now what is the road to Christ?  And then preach a sermon running along the road toward the great metropolis, Christ.  And he said, I have never yet found a text that had not a plain and direct road to Christ in it.  And if I ever should find one that had no such road, I’d make a road.  I’d run over the hedge and ditch but I would get at my master.  For a sermon is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill unless there is a savor of Christ in it.

As SLJ then further explained:

I think that’s what our Lord meant when he was speaking in Luke chapter 24 and saying to the disciples on the Emmaus road, Don’t you realize that in all of the Old Testament we have teaching concerning Christ?  And beginning at Moses and the prophets, he spoke unto them in all things of himself.  Later on in that chapter, the psalms are mentioned as well.  So that all of the Old Testament is one vast testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately it is difficult to find any text in the Bible that will not ultimately bring you to Jesus Christ.  He was right.  And if we miss that, we do miss something that is very important.

Mr. Spurgeon said that whenever he opened up a text, he always went straight across country to Jesus Christ.  That was the way he preached.  It’s proper of course to give the grammatical historical meaning of a text.  No one wants to skip that.  I surely don’t want to skip that.  But also, I want to be sure that what I am going to say about a text is ultimately going to have to do with him who makes all texts meaningful for us, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s Truths To Us In Similitudes

May 19, 2011 Comments off

A Spurgeon sermon I read recently pointed out the many ways in which God uses similitudes, or comparisons, from our everyday lives, to communicate His truths to us.  In this sermon (Everybody’s Sermon, #206) Spurgeon specifically mentioned many similitudes that can warn us of the danger of hell fire and our great need to repent, to flee from the wrath to come.  Through these I was also reminded of the point of Romans 1, that all men are without excuse since even creation itself gives us enough light to damn us.

From Spurgeon:

Now it struck me that God is preaching to us every day by similitudes. When Christ was on earth He preached in parables and, though He is now in Heaven, He is preaching in parables today! Providence is God’s sermon. The things which we see about us are God’s thoughts and God’s words to us. And if we were but wise, there is not a step that we take which we would not find to be full of mighty instruction. O you sons of men, God warns you every day by His own Word!  He speaks to you by the lips of His servants, His ministers, but besides this, He addresses you at every turn by similitudes!  He leaves no stone unturned to bring His wandering children to Himself, to make the lost sheep of the house of Israel return to the fold. In addressing myself to you this morning, I shall endeavor to show how every day and every season of the year, in every place and in every calling which you are made to exercise, God is speaking to you by similitudes.

Indeed we can find truths of God’s word in the creation around us every day, both in nature itself and in many of our areas of employment.  Among the many examples cited by Spurgeon:

  • times of the day, sunrise and sunset, night time
  • the seasons of the year and farmer’s work of seeds, gardening, the sowing and reaping the harvest
  • winter weather – blackness of sin like bleakness of nature
  • wind — the Spirit of the Lord “blows where it wishes”
  • heat — the eternal heat and fierce anger of God against wicked men
  • the mountains and hills — God endures forever, even beyond these

Then Spurgeon listed many occupations and ways in which they can send warnings and exhortations to us.  Obvious ones such as the farmer’s life come to mind, but others include:

  • baker:  dealing with ovens and bread:  “For the Day comes that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble. They shall be consumed.”
  • butcher
  • shoemaker
  • brewer
  • businesses with scales and measurements, reference to our being weighed and perhaps being found lacking (ref. Daniel 5)
  • general servant with diverse occupations
  • writer:  “know that your life is a writing!… You are writing your sins or else your holy confidence in Him who loved you.”
  • physician or chemist: the idea of writing prescriptions… “Man, you are sick. I can prescribe for you. The blood and righteousness of Christ, laid hold of by faith, and applied by the Spirit can cure your soul. I can compound a medicine for you that shall rid you of your sins and bring you to the place where the inhabitants shall no more say, ‘I am sick.’
  • jeweler — God makes up His jewels, contrasted with the common pebbles that are not included in His jewels
  • builders (construction work):  “are you building on the right foundation?”

I further considered how to relate Spurgeon’s list to modern-day occupations.  Even some such occupations did exist in his day, yet were omitted from this list, especially more abstract and/or higher-paid paper-pushing jobs.  Not surprisingly, Spurgeon did not include similitudes for bureaucrats or politicians (jobs that have always existed if more so today), or even lawyers or accountants.  Then again, perhaps the majority of his audience actually worked in more down-to-earth jobs.  (Undoubtedly 19th century England did not employ so many attorneys as 21st century America — home to 3/4 of the world’s lawyers).

Still, it would be nice to relate this to our lives today, and upon further reflection I thought of one further similitude, for the computer programmer / analyst (my secular vocation):  the programmer is designing and coding a sequence of steps to complete tasks, even to integrating different files and systems.  Herein we can see God the master-planner with His Divine Purpose, and His amazing providence including the very complex and detailed overall design, even to the programs God puts into the DNA of all plants, animals, and even into us, for God’s specific “programs” in this life. We can take the warning, too, to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” to know that we are in the Lamb’s book of life, in God’s care within His great Divine Purpose.

Hosea and Farming References in the Bible

February 22, 2011 Comments off

S. Lewis Johnson often remarked that we who grew up in the city (instead of the farm), do not as fully appreciate some of the Bible’s illustrations and agricultural references.  The Bible is replete with agricultural images that the people of Israel would understand in a way that related to their everyday life.  The relatively few non-agricultural analogies come in the New Testament, mainly from Paul:  for instance, running the race, and constructing a building.  But for the most part, Jesus referenced the Old Testament pictures of farming, vineyards and sheep/shepherds.

Some interesting farm-specific pictures come forth in Hosea’s prophecy, and now I look at Hosea 10, the topic of one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages in his Hosea series.

Verse 1 describes a “luxuriant vine.”  Israel is like that vine, one that keeps growing and growing but only for itself and not towards God.  Here SLJ described his own gardening experience with vines, and that he had recently observed this very thing with his own vines:  two vines next to each other, and one was just growing a lot, putting forth lots of vine and leaves, but very little fruit throughout it.  The vine right next to it was much smaller and had more grapes on it.

Verse 11 tells us that “Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh.”  Johnson, who also grew up in the city, had to look up this reference in the commentaries, to understand and explain that the threshing part of the animal’s work is fairly easy work as compared to other tasks.  Understanding that analogy, the implication is clear:  Israel had had it pretty easy up to this point, but soon God’s yoke of judgment would come:  no more threshing but more unpleasant work.

Verses 12 and 13 emphasize the overall crop process:  plowing, then reaping, then eating.  Again it’s something that should be obvious, but not as much so for us who get our food from the grocery store.  Verse 12 is a call for the people to “break up your fallow ground.”  Fallow ground is idle ground — land which not only brings forth lots of weeds and thorns (pretty obvious even for us who do simple gardening and lawncare), but also becomes harder, tougher, more difficult to break up with a plow.  Another application here is the fact, somewhat uncomfortable for us but nonetheless so, that the majority of believers “break up their fallow ground” in their younger days, when the ground (the soul) is not quite as hardened as in later years.  Again we recognize that yes, it is possible for older people to be saved, and many are, but the vast majority of Christians were saved before age 30.  How urgent the plea becomes:  now is “the time to seek the Lord, so that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”  I recall many Spurgeon sermons on this subject, as he urges people to not put off the day of salvation; you may think that you can repent and come later, but your heart may become more hardened by then and you lose that opportunity, to your eternal destruction.

Even in that phrase above comes another illustration from nature:  the Lord will “rain righteousness upon you,” a reference again to nature.  The rain breaks up the fallow ground to make plowing easier.  S. Lewis Johnson related this also to the account in 1 Kings 18, where the rain finally came to a land in drought for 3 years, and Ahab and the others had to hurry home before the chariot wheels would get stuck in the mud.

Verse 13 ends that section of the text, with the basic agricultural sequence:  you have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.

S. Lewis Johnson and “Calvin and Hobbes”

May 26, 2010 Comments off

On the Pyromaniacs blog, a recent post highlights a popular show (Lost) and a Christian perspective of our God that has far better planning than human writers of entertainment.  As usual, some of the bloggers in the meta have missed the point of Dan Phillips’ original blog.

In many ways I see the reference to the show “Lost” as similar to sermon illustrations that appeal to our popular culture — which brings me back to S. Lewis Johnson and the comic strip illustrations he often used in his Bible teaching.

In listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David” series, I’m enjoying (again, as with his other messages) the little time-period references he often made.  Johnson did this series in 1990, later than most of his teaching, and I can especially relate since by that time I was a young Christian; I only wish now that I had known about S. Lewis Johnson at that time, to get better instruction in those early years–but now I’m playing catch-up.

Several times in his teachings, Johnson mentions his enjoyment of the funny pages, the comic strips in the newspaper.  Often he mentioned Peanuts — but now we’re in 1990, and so it was interesting to learn that SLJ also liked and read “Calvin and Hobbes,” which had started publication in the late 1980s.  I had not heard of S. Lewis Johnson at that time, but like him I read and enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes.  Anyway, SLJ mentioned a particular strip of C&H, in reference to our fallen nature and the character of King Saul — the character like so many people, that plots and schemes, thinking he’ll get away with something and thinking he can fool God.  Then, even when things don’t work out so well, he doesn’t learn his lesson and just keeps on doing the same things over and over again.  The specific incident is the one where Calvin steals Susie’s doll, tries to offer it back for ransom, dreams about what he’s going to do with the money — and then Susie gets back at him.  But Calvin, like King Saul and so many others, will never learn the lesson.   Here is the actual message from S. Lewis Johnson.  Here is the Calvin and Hobbes strip he referenced, from late August and early September 1990.  (Note:  it’s the last comic series story on the first link, and top part of the second link.)