Apr 17, 2015

Matthew 11:31-32: The Unpardonable Sin

Here is a table outlining various views concerning the unpardonable sin in Matthew 11:31-32.
The Unpardonable Sin: Three Questions
What is it?
Why is it unpardonable?
Can it be committed today?
Rejection of the work of the Spirit through Christ and attributing it to Beelzebub
Rejecting the work of the Spirit through Christ is equivalent to rejecting Christ
Yes by rejecting the person of Christ
Rejecting Jesus’ by attributing his Spirit-empowered exorcisms to Satan
Rejecting the work of the Spirit entails rejecting His work in the human heart
Yes by continuing in unbelief
Rejecting God the Father by rejecting His work in the Son by the Spirit

No, the unpardonable sin requires seeing Christ perform miracles through the Spirit and attributing those miracles to Satan

Apr 16, 2015

Ancient Lamps

In a recent article in Near Eastern Archaeology, Ameera Elrasheedy and Daniel Schindler have a fascinating article on ancient oil lamps that look to me to be Iron Age and Hellenistic (“Illuminating the past: Exploring the Function of Ancient Lamps,” Near Eastern Archaeology 78:1 [March 2015]: 36–42). The article not only discusses how lamps and wicks were made, but also the amount of light produced by a typical lamp. As it turns out, the ancient lamps produced the equivalent to or double the light of an eight inch modern wax candle (closed style lamps producing twice as much as open style lamps. Based on this relatively limited illumination, the authors conclude that lamps probably did not provide ideal illumination for many tasks that required detail or the discernment of colors. Rather lamps were probably used to provide light in a supportive capacity like provide ambiance, to help light large candelabras or torches, and religious purposes. All-in-all, I just found the whole discussion fascinating.

Apr 15, 2015

Creative Sermon Titles

A number of years ago, I used to receive an email “update and ezine” called The Preacher’s Study by Dave Redick. These updates often provided helpful information and addressed practical topics related to preaching. I am not sure if it is still being put out and a quick Google search was inconclusive. In any case, while going through some of my old files, I came across a good discussion on “The Art of Creatively Naming Your Sermons.” I thought I might share a bit from that article.

Redick notes that, “a good title draws attention to what is going to be said in the sermon.” Attention can be drawn in one of three ways: (1) provoking curiosity, (2) promising answers, and (3) providing explanations.”
In discussing the first way, provoking curiosity, Redick provides some examples of titles that might provoke curiosity.
  • “Running All the Red Lights” (The high cost of disregarding the commandments of God)
  • “Going to the Dogs” (2 Pet 2:22 - apostasy)
  • “Acts: The Book of Non-conversions” (A look at those in Acts who were not converted.) “Nearsighted People Can't Add” (2 Pet 1:3-10)
  • “The Little Red Devil Behind the Pearly White Gates” (The tongue)
  • “Forty Thousand Pounds of Deviled Ham Lost At Sea” (An expository sermon on the two demoniacs in Gergasa - Matt 8:28-34)
  • “One Meal You Can't Eat in the Kitchen” - (The story of Mary and Martha)
  • "The Church of the Living Dead” (An exposition of the account of the church at Sardis in Revelation)
  • “Don't Bite the Apple until You Check for Worms” (On finding a mate)
  • “Eighty Words of Terror from the Depths of Hades” (A sermon on Hell from Luke 16)

Sermon titles can also generate interest by promising answers. Such titles might include something like these listed by Redick.

  • “You Can Beat Depression”
  • “Seven Ways to Affair Proof Your Marriage”
  • “How to Win Over Worry”
  • “How to Sweeten a Sour Marriage”
  • “Nine Good Habits That Will Make Your Marriage Sing.”
  • “How to Stay Up When Your Work Has You Down.”
  • "Seven Ways to Win Your Parents Over to Your Way of Thinking.”
  • “How to Quiet a Noisy Rooster” (Conscience, based on Peter's Denial of Jesus)
  • “Three Secrets of a Great Life”
  • “Seven Habits of Highly Spiritual People”
  • “What Every Wife Would Like Her Husband to Know”
  • “What Every Husband Would Like His Wife to Know”
  • “What Every Boy Wants His Dad to Know”
  • “What Every Girl Wants Her Dad to Know”
  • “Five Steps to a Happier Life”
  • “How to Get Your Life Together and Prepare for Eternity”
  • “You Can Overcome Your Bad Habits”
  • Redick summarizes the characteristics common to these titles. That is, they begin with a “how to,” with a number (“Nine things,” “Seven Ways,” “Three Secrets”), and they are plain and simple (“sometimes the plainer they are, the better”)

Finally, Redick suggests that a good sermon title can attract attention by providing explanations. These titles often include “why” or “what” and include the sermon’s proposition. Here are some examples
  • “Why Does God Allow His People to Suffer?”
  • “We’re Under Grace So Why Bother to Overcome Sin?”
  • “What God Looks for in an Employee”
  • “What Happens Five Minutes after I Die?”

In conclusion, Redick does offer some cautions against being too cute, clever, or trite. One also needs to be careful that the title doesn’t over-promise that which the sermon under-delivers. I would also add that one should not spend an inordinate time of the title. Unless your sermons are going to be published, then there are more important elements in your message to focus on. But if you the time, then know that a captivating title is preferable to a pedestrian one.

Apr 14, 2015

Matthew 6:9: “Our Father”

Yesterday, I commented on the use of Lord's prayer. Today, I want to make a simpler but more profound point, or three. As many know, the Lord's Prayer is also called, Pater Noster (Latin) or "Our Father" based on the first words of this well-known prayer. But these words are significant not just because they are used as a title but also in what they communicate to God's people. At least four points can be noted.

The words "our Father" remind us that prayer is conversational. While there are aspects of prayer that are mysterious and sacred, at its root, prayer is talking to God. 

The word ”our” suggests that prayer is communal. Prayer is practiced when the church is gathered, that is when an “our” would be present.

The word "Father" teaches us that God is personal. Consider all the titles that the Lord could have used here (God, Master, Most Exalted, Omnipotent, etc.) but he uses the personal designation "Father."
The Title is quite significant and distinctive. God is referred to as “Father” about fourteen times in the entire Old Testament but Jesus addresses the Father more than sixty times in the Gospels.

The word "our" instructs us that the basis of the prayer is relational. Prayer is primarily for those who have a relationship with the Father through Jesus. This is not to deny that those outside the family of faith cannot pray or that God does not hear their prayers. But that the Lord's Prayer is for the Lord's people. It is for those who can rightly claim "Our Father."

Apr 13, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer: What to Pray or How to Pray?

The so called Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4 has often been used as a prayer to be recited. There is evidence from as early as the second century that Christians would recite the prayer three times a day (Did. 8.1–3). While reciting Scripture is a good thing, was this the Lord’s intention in giving the prayer? Four arguments can be given to suggest that it was not.

First, “like” or “in this manner” (Matt 6:9) seems to suggest this prayer is to be understood as model.

Second, the preceding section condemns formulaic and repetitive prayer (Matt 6:7–8).

Third, Luke 11:1 seems to suggest that the disciples wanted to be taught how to pray.

And fourth, the Lord’s prayer is absent outside of Matthew and Luke. One would think that if the prayer was to be recited habitually, that it would be found somewhere among the many prayer admonitions in the epistles.

At bottom, it seems best to understand the Lord’s prayer more as how to pray than what to pray.

Apr 12, 2015

Happy Blogaversary

I started posting on this blog on this day and at this time in 2008. This calculates to seven years, 2556 days, 61,344 hours, 3,680,640 minutes, and 220,838,400 seconds. I am thankful to the Lord that he has enabled this blog to reach this milestone.