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Scripture Passage: Acts 5:12-42
Sermon Title: A Disciple of the Christ
Preacher: SG

TIMING
Introductory general remarks: 11:32 – 11:35 am
Sermon: 11:37 – 12:16 [39 minutes]
Closing Prayer: 12:16 – 12:18 [total pulpit time – 46 minutes]

OUTLINE

  1. The Fear (11, 13, 17, 28, 38, 39) [21 minutes]
  2. The Freedom (19, 20) [3 minutes]
  3. The Foundation (30 – 32) [5 minutes]
  4. The Forfeit (41) [8 minutes]
  5. Conclusion [2 minutes]    *** I am not certain where/when the conclusion began

OBSERVATIONS

  • As this was a lengthy passage, perhaps it might have been advisable to split it up; personally, I would have followed this division:
    • 5:1-16
    • 5:17-42
  • I felt the sermon title was rather broad; while I understand that it is a personal matter to a large degree (as long as it retains some connection with the passage), and that our creativity must not degenerate into “cutesy” or “catchy”, I felt that that the title could have been more specific
  • While I agree that scripture is the best interpreter (or illustrator) of scripture, I felt that there were a bit too many scripture references cited and read. My concern is twofold: firstly, too much interjection of other scripture references can distract from the present passage at hand; and secondly, there is always the risk that in citing one verse from another portion of scripture, it might be lifted out of context.
  • Judging from the time spent and the number of verses listed in support of his first point, it would seem to indicate that fear was the main motif of this passage, which I don’t personally agree. In addition, though all of his points of application were good and necessary (and, arguably, present or implied in the passage), from an audience “capacity” perspective, it would be more effective to limit the number of exhortations to just 2 or 3. Less is often more.
  • During the exposition of the last point, when it seemed SG was headed towards his concluding remarks, he went on (as he admitted right afterwards) a digression. My personal opinion is that this takes away from the force of the conclusion and should be avoided.
  • In expounding 5:17-42, I would have perhaps just focused on the themes of obedience and suffering—both of which modern Christians need to hear more of and be convicted of. As an illustration, I might have highlighted some examples from church history to punctuate the contrast between our comfortable Western church and the persecuted church.

SUGGESTIONS

As always, our brother SG is to be commended for his passion for the Word as well as his constant and consistent emphasis on the gospel and the church’s mission. As well, his earnestness desire to see the Word applied to our hearts (through the Spirit) for godly living is convicting and much-needed.

My remarks above should taken in the spirit in which they are proffered, i.e., out of a desire to see my brother be an even more effective expositor of God’s Word and that the flock may be fed, encouraged and challenged by the messages. I need not add of course, that these are merely my observations and opinions (however carefully thought out and measured), and I trust they are presented with humility before God whom we both seek to serve. In no way should my observations be construed as criticism or presented with an air of superiority; sincere apologies if it comes across as this in any way.

As I am but at best a novice, perhaps we can all glean some wisdom from the “Prince of Preachers”; in his Lectures to My Students (Vol. 1), in a chapter entitled “Attention!”, Spurgeon counsels “HOW TO OBTAIN AND RETAIN THE ATTENTION OF OUR HEARERS”:

We need the earnest, candid, wakeful, continued attention of all those who are in the congregation. …

If I see anybody turning round, whispering, nodding, or looking at his watch, I judge that I am not up to the mark, and must by some means win these minds. …

There is no doubt whatever that many come into the house of God loaded heavily with the thoughts of their daily avocations. … You must have sufficient leverage in your discourse and its subject to lift them right up from the earth to which they cleave, and to elevate them a little nearer heaven. …

In order to get attention, the first golden rule is, always say something worth hearing … Congregations will not long attend to words, words, words, words, and nothing else. … Give them manna fresh from the skies; not the same thing over and over again, in the same form ad nauseam,

It is possible to heap up a vast mass of good things all in a muddle. … Put the truth before men in a logical, orderly manner, so that they can easily remember it, and they will the more readily receive it.

… as a rule do not read your sermons. … If you must read, mind that you do it to perfection.

In order to get attention, make your manner as pleasing as it can possibly be. Do not, for instance, indulge in monotones. Vary your voice continually. Vary your speed as well … Shift your accent, move your emphasis, and avoid sing-song. Vary the tone; … at other times speak as you ought to do generally — from the lips, and let your speech be conversational. Anything for a change. Human nature craves for variety … Manner is not everything. Still, if you have gathered good matter, it is a pity to convey it meanly; a king should not ride in a dust-cart; the glorious doctrines of grace should not be slovenly delivered. Right royal truths should ride in a chariot of gold. Bring forth the noblest of your milk-white steeds, and let the music sound forth melodiously from the silver trumpets, as truth rides through the streets. …

Yet further, do not repeat the same idea over and over again in other words. Let there be something fresh in each sentence. Be not for ever hammering away at the same nail: yours is a large Bible; permit the people to enjoy its length and breadth. …

In order to maintain attention, avoid being too long. … Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us … If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say. …

If you want to have the attention of your people — to have it thoroughly and always, it can only be accomplished by their being led by the Spirit of God into an elevated and devout state of mind. If your people are teachable, prayerful, active, earnest, devout, they will come up to the house of God on purpose to get a blessing. They will take their seats prayerfully, asking God to speak to them through you; they will remain on the watch for every word, and will not weary. …

Romaine used to say it was well to understand the art of preaching, but infinitely better to know the heart of preaching … The heart of preaching, the throwing of the soul into it, the earnestness which pleads as for life itself, is half the battle as to gaining attention. …

Do not say what everybody expected you would say. Keep your sentences out of ruts. … [Avoid] tame phrases, hackneyed expressions, and dreary monotones …

A very useful help in securing attention is a pause. … Know how to pause. Make a point of interjecting arousing parentheses of quietude. Speech is silver, but silence is golden when hearers are inattentive. Keep on, on, on, on, on, with commonplace matter and monotonous tone, and you are rocking the cradle, and deeper slumbers will result; give the cradle a jerk, and sleep will flee. …

Be yourself clothed with the Spirit of God … Come fresh from the closet and from communion with God, to speak to men for God with all your heart and soul … When God speaks men must listen; and though he may speak through a poor feeble man like themselves, the majesty of the truth will compel them to regard his voice. Supernatural power must be your reliance. … If you do not touch the heart you will soon weary the ear.

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Reading and Reflecting 1

Returning to God: repentance, restoration, renewal; it’s a slow and tough climb – at least for me. Hungering for His Word and communing with Him in prayer is sorely lacking I confess. I’m starting to enjoy being with fellow believers but still feel awkward trying to be in the presence of God. I’ve been “attending church” pretty regularly in the past few months, but often it’s hard for me to “get into it”.

Well, maybe it’s not surprising – after all, it’s been almost a decade. And maybe I’ve gotten too accustomed to wallowing in the mire and muck of this world’s mud.

So, what to do?

Books.

Wait! What about the Book? Am I reading the Bible? I’ve tried, but the words are too familiar. Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to be learned, much to be meditated on and live out. It’s hard to explain, but I just don’t have the same appetite for the Word as I used to. This is sad. This is bad. But that’s my current reality.

I need to be provoked and prodded out of my slumber.

In desperation, I’ve been reading feverishly, hoping to be provoked and inspired to hunger after He who transcends all earthly pleasures and pursuits. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

BibleTellsUsSo EmbracingTheOther BurningReligion GodSexSelf Way2Water

Currently, I have several books on the go (the first two are giving me a headache!):

ReimaginingTheSacred Loving2Know NonviolentCommunication ForbiddenFriendships

At some point, I am hoping to post brief reflections/reviews of each book. I find summarizing the main points helpful – hopefully it may  help others too.

I find that reading these varied books do stimulate my appetite and stir me me to want to pursue God again – but I don’t quite know how to move from the cereberal to the contemplative …

OK, back to my reading!

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Obstacles to Obedience

A brother was asking me about to what extent do we need to pursue the academic study of the Bible.  This proved not to be an easy question to answer, given my prior obsessively intellectual approach to the Word. On the other hand, I simply cannot stomach the mindless, out-of-context and mystical talisman approach to Scripture that your typical Joe Christian is guilty of.

In my case, I have found it challenging to begin reading the Bible again after a decade long abstention. My strategy thus far has been to simply read from a variety of translations so that I can hear God’s voice afresh: NET, ISV, ESV, the VOICE, and NIV 2011. Thus far, I have resisted the urge to delve into commentaries (partly because I sold off 98% of my vast library and kept only Thiselton’s NIGTC commentary on 1 Corinthians; and I am not about to fork out $$$ to rebuild my library).

In an earlier post, I mentioned 2 books I felt all Christians could benefit from; of course there are more, and I’m thinking since my brother Bob’s a mature believer, he should be able to handle these two books by the controversial OT scholar Peter Enns:

  • The Bible Tells Me So
  • Inspiration and Incarnation

Or maybe I should be more cautious and suggest he read Scot McKnight’s fine little book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible instead.

In the end, we both agreed that the key is to just live out the Word instead of erecting obstacles to obedience or letting our curiosity detract us from the clear commands we ought to obey.

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I like to think of myself as a “multidisciplinary autodidact”.  Ever since I was young, I loved to read and learn new things: when I was 7, my dad bought me a set of encyclopedias. What bliss!  I recall spending endless hours just browsing each volume in my quest for new information. Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar

Of course, such a quest now seems silly, given the vast sea of data scattered throughout the Internet.  In this regard, Madelyn Blair’s recent book Riding the Current: How to deal with the daily deluge of data, which I just finished reading a few weeks ago, offers some very useful practical advice.  I’ll have more to say about this book in a future post.

The other night I was listening to an interview with James M. Bach (son of Richard Bach, author of the bestseller,  Jonathan Livingston Seagull), who describes his unconventional “education” growing up. Nowadays, of course, there is a whole unschooling movement afoot that seems to appeal to the radical and rebel types. 😉

I thought of how this self-learning philosophy, in conjunction with so-called social learning, fits into modern corporate culture.  Well, it seems to me that job ads still ask for formal degrees, certifications and such things. Then of course, there’s this thing called “experience”.  So I’m wondering, as a professional at the past-midpoint of his career, how to transition to a new career, one that’s radically different from my IT background. It’s not good enough that I may have read avidly in that new field of interest – I have no formal training and no formal experience (unless you count my related experience volunteering on non-profit boards).

Well I’m told I should focus on “transferable skills”.  Sure, but at the end of the day, I still lack formal “domain” knowledge in the new field I’m planning to transition to.  So what’s one to do?  Invest the time and money for formal training?  At this stage of my life, I’m not sure I want to do that …

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