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Titling Your Sermon for Maximum Impact: The Case for an Integrative Use of Titles (Part 2 of 2)

April 21, 2014

By Dr. Jim Cowman (guest blogger)Why-Every-Sermon-Needs-a-Strong-Title_1643_245x169

 

This past summer, one of the former waitresses in my favorite restaurant stopped by to attend our Sunday morning service of worship.  I had invited her to attend our service of worship ten years earlier, and now, during the time when our church family turns to shake hands and greet each other, lo and behold, there she was with her grown son.  I slowly approached her.  When she saw me, I said, “Wow, what a surprise!  By the way, Linda, what prompted you to stop in? My 10-year-old invitation perchance? To which she responded gingerly, “Well, to tell you the truth, it had nothing to do with your invitation.  I didn’t even know you were the pastor here, but when I drove by church and saw the title of the sermon, I thought… that sounds like a message meant just for me!”

How atypical, yet typical!  How many people stop in to hear a sermon after reading the sermon’s title on the marquee? Not too many.  Yet, at the same time, who wouldn’t enjoy hearing a sermon that God tailor made just for them? (Something we would all agree that only the Holy Spirit can do.)  But, come to think about it, isn’t that why most people come to hear our sermons? I think most people listen to a sermon for one purpose: They want to hear a practical and personal challenge from God that is designed to encourage them to overcome their unique struggle/sin that keeps troubling them.

Sermon titles are important for many reasons, beyond arousing interest. Yet, even still, ironically, little attention is given to the topic of titling.

In his book, How to Preach More Powerful Sermons, Homer Buerlein writes, “I was dismayed to read in some books on homiletics that titling a sermon isn’t really important. One book maintained that a good title helps create interest in the subject, but no great effort should be expended in trying to come up with a catchy one.” (Buerlein, 1984, pp.22-25)

I concur with Mr. Buerlein’s comments. I believe learning how to title a sermon well is important. In fact, a memorable title is as indispensable as a handle to luggage. Thus, I re-submit the following operating premise:

In order for a sermon title to achieve maximum impact, it needs to contain the following five elements:

  • Like an individual’s name, it needs to specifically identify the purpose of the sermon.
  • Second, it needs to serve as a descriptive summary of the content.
  • Third, it should entice the audience in a variety of ways to pay closer attention to the sermon.
  • Fourth, it must be concise, and
  • Fifth, it needs to be memorable.

 

To keep reading the article, click here.

 

I’m Thankful that I Became Blind

April 14, 2014

One of my favorite hymn writers is the blind hymn writer Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915) who wrote over 8,000 hymns including “Blessed Assurance” and “To God Be the Glory.”

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Fanny Crosby

In her autobiographical book entitled Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story (1903), Crosby narrates the following account in which she expresses her thankfulness to God that, in His providence, she became blind. Crosby was not born blind. At six weeks old she had inflammation in her eyes. The physician, who tried to help her, mistakenly destroyed Crosby’s eyes. Consequently, she became blind for the rest of her life. However, she mentions in her book that if she could meet that physician, she would say, “Thank you, thank you—over and over again—for making me blind, if it was through your agency that it came about!” Why would Crosby do that? Well, in her own words here are two reasons why:

It seemed intended by the blessed Providence of God, that I should be blind all my life; and I thank Him for the dispensation. I was born with a pair of as good eyes as any baby ever owned; but when I was six weeks of age, a slight touch of inflammation came upon them: and they were put under the care of a physician.

What he did to them, or what happened in spite of him, I do not know, but it resulted in their permanent destruction, so far as seeing is concerned; and I was doomed to blindness all the rest of my earthly existence.

I have heard that this physician never ceased expressing his regret at the occurrence; and that it was one of the sorrows of his life. But if I could meet him now, I would say, “Thank you, thank you—over and over again—for making me blind, if it was through your agency that it came about!”

This sounds strangely to you, reader? But I assure you I mean it—every word of it; and if perfect earthly sight were offered me to-morrow, I would not accept it. Did you ever know of a blind person’s talking like this before?

Why would I not have that doctor’s mistake —if mistake it was—remedied? Well, there are many reasons: and I will tell you some of them.

One is, that I know, although it may have been a blunder on the physician’s part, it was no mistake of God’s. I verily believe it was His intention that I should live my days in physical darkness, so as to be better prepared to sing His praises and incite others so to do. I could not have written thousands of hymns—many of which, if you will pardon me for repeating it, are sung all over the world— if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice.

Another reason is, that, while I am deprived of many splendid sights (which, as above mentioned, might draw me away from the principal work of my life), I have also been spared the seeing of a great many unpleasant things. The merciful God has put His hand over my eyes, and shut out from me the sight of many instances of cruelty and bitter unkindness and misfortune, that I would not have been able to relieve, and must simply have suffered in seeing. I am content with what I can know of life through the four senses I possess, practically unimpaired, at eighty-three years of age. Hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling, are still felt, in their fullest degree.

 

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Prayer

April 8, 2014

If God is sovereign, why do we need to pray? If He already knows everything, why do we need to tell Him what we need? Watch this short video to find out why.

 

 

A Father’s Prayer for His Son

April 2, 2014

Jonathan Edwards had a son, Timothy Edwards (1738-1813), who left home to study at the College of New Jersey (now called Princeton University). While in Newark, New

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Jonathan Edwards

Jersey, Timothy became severely sick. To comfort his son, who at that time was only fourteen years old, Jonathan Edwards sent him a letter from Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In this letter Edwards offers a word of prayer for his son and reminds his son of his own duty to pray to God for mercy. Here is an extract from the letter:

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Stockbridge, April 1, 1753

My Dear Child,

Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the smallpox. You will either be sick with that distemper, or will be past danger of having it, from any infection taken in your voyage. But whether you are sick or well, like to die or like to live, I hope you are earnestly seeking your salvation….

Till you have savingly believed in Christ, all your desires, and pains, and prayers lay God under no obligation; and if they were ten thousand times as great as they are, you must still know, that you would be in the hands of a sovereign God, who hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. Indeed, God often hears the poor, miserable cries of sinful, vile creatures, who have no manner of true regard to him in their hearts; for he is a God of infinite mercy and he delights to show mercy for his Son’s sake; who is worthy, though you are unworthy; who came to save the sinful and the miserable some of the chief of sinners.

Therefore, there is your only hope; and in him must be your refuge, who invites you to come to him, and says, “He that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. Whatever your circumstances are, it is your duty not to despair, but to hope in infinite mercy through a Redeemer. For God makes it your duty to pray to him for mercy which would not be your duty, if it was allowable for you to despair. We are expressly commanded to call upon God in the day of trouble; and when we are afflicted, then to pray.

I earnestly desire, that God would make you wise to salvation and that he would be merciful and gracious to you in every respect, according as he knows your circumstances require. And this is the daily prayer of

Your affectionate and tender father, Jonathan Edwards.

P.S. Your mother and all the family send their love to you, as being tenderly concerned for you.[1]

 

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from  Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer (2013).

 

___________________________________

[1] “Letter to Timothy Edwards,” in Letters and Personal Writings, 578-80.

Seven Tips for a Happy Christian Marriage

March 28, 2014

Here are seven tips for a happy Christian marriage coming from Mr. Don Verduin, a member of our church, who has been married for 67 years:

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Don & Alice Verduin

 

  1. Make God the center of your life and marriage. Seek God’s will as found in the Bible, and make His Word your guide for all decisions you are required to make.

  2. Make sure that you read the Bible every day. The Bible has answers for every issue that Christian couples face. For instance, take time to study Ephesians 5 – 6: 18 where God has listed rules for a happy marriage.

  3. Church attendance is a must. As a couple, support your church with your prayers, gifts, and time. The fellowship with Christian friends can be educational and comforting. Also, be sure to tithe, and, if able, to give beyond your tithe. God requires giving and blesses those who give.

  4. If God blesses your home with children, train them according to His way. The rearing of your children is a joy, but also a responsibility. Take time to read and explain God’s will for your children. Take your children to church with you. Teach your children the songs of the church, songs they will continue to carry with them throughout life. When possible, do all in your power to provide your children with a Christian education. To do so may require your family to change its lifestyle, but in the end God will bless your family.

  5. Children will disrespect authority, especially that of their parents. In a loving way explain God’s rules and do not permit this sin to continue.

  6. Sometimes the relationship between a husband and wife can become fragile. Take the time to see what God’s Word says and seek His will through prayer. Remember, God grants forgiveness to those who repent and ask for forgiveness. A husband and wife must do the same. A forgiving spirit will strengthen the marriage bond. Do not be slow to accept an apology and to grant forgiveness.

  7. Whenever possible, a husband and wife should do things together: attend church, instruct your children in the catechism, help each other with the housework, or spend time together in the garden. Doing things together such as these will help build respect for each other, as well as leave a good example for your children.

15 Pointers for Preachers

March 6, 2014
  1. Preach doctrinally. Don’t only teach Bible doctrines such as justification and sanctification in your Sunday school. Preach these doctrines also during your worship service.  preach-the-word

  2. Preach discriminatorily. Address both believers and unbelievers in your preaching. Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation is saved. But don’t think either that no one is saved.

  3. Preach applicatorily. Apply your text to your listeners. With the use of practical illustrations, help them apply your message to their daily life. Remember a sermon without an application is like a lecture. You are preaching, not lecturing.

  4. Preach clearly. Organize your thoughts. Avoid high-sounding words. Consider the children in your congregation. If you have to employ a big word (e.g. justification), explain it using simple words.

  5. Preach evangelistically. Yes, preach against sin, but don’t stop there. Preach about salvation too. If you preach the Law without the gospel, you will make your congregation despair. Further, don’t think that the gospel is only for unbelievers. Believers need it as well for their sanctification.

  6. Preach powerfully. Preach with the unction of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul did, “[M]y speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

  7. Preach prayerfully. Pray before, during, and after you preach. Humbly acknowledge that without God’s help, you can do nothing. Realize that God alone can change the hearts of your listeners.

  8. Preach expectantly. Remember nothing is impossible with God. Expect greatly that He will do wondrous things—saving sinners and sanctifying saints. Be confident that His word will not return to Him void. He can even use your worst sermon to accomplish His wonderful plan.

  9. Preach persuasively. Show that what you proclaim is God’s word. Announce, “Thus says the LORD.” Also, don’t be afraid to declare God’s truths, even if by doing so some of your hearers might be offended. You are not to please people but God.

  10. Preach passionately. Love not only preaching but also the people to whom you preach. And if you love your congregation, you will feed them with spiritually nutritious food.

  11. Preach faithfully. Be faithful to your announced text(s). Don’t just read your text, and leave it. Use it. Expound it. Preach from it.

  12. Preach seriously. Preach in this manner because the very word that you preach is sacred. The God who has called you to preach is holy. Your message is a matter of life and death, heaven and hell. Thus jokes have no place in the pulpit. Preachers are not called to be entertainers.

  13. Preach Christ-centeredly. Learn from Paul who says, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). In the words of the Puritan preacher William Perkins (1558-1602), “preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.”

  14. Preach exemplarily. Live what you preach. Demonstrate holiness, not hypocrisy. Acknowledge with Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”

  15. Preach soli Deo gloria.  Your ultimate goal in preaching is to glorify God. Never attempt to take that glory that belongs to God alone. Sing with Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915): “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

Oh, Lord, help me to preach!

 

Five Reflections on Snow

February 21, 2014
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Taken on February 21, 2014 in front of the parsonage

Since November of last year, Michigan has been experiencing snow. In fact in the area where I live we have already reached our average season snowfall of about 70 inches. I have been in Michigan now for eight years and I can say that this year’s winter is definitely the worst one. And, winter is not yet over; more snow is predicted to come. Consequently, many feel tired of the snow. Many (including myself) cannot wait for the spring. But, before the snow melts, let me share some of my reflections on snow.

1. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live in a place where it snows. Recently, when I was in the Philippines and Australia, I met people who have never seen snow in their lifetime, and who want to witness a snowfall. Of course there are countless of other peoples around the globe who would love to see snow too. Thus, if you live in an area where it snows, thank the Lord for that privilege.

2. Having seen snow with my own eyes, Bible verses that speak of snow become more meaningful to me. For instance, now I can better understand the point that God makes in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Imagine God’s willingness to forgive those who repent of their sins.

3. Snow can serve as a reminder to me of how God has forgiven me in Christ, making me even “whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). As you look around at all the snow, think of how God has cleansed you from all your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. As the hymn writer Ro­bert Low­ry (1826-1899) remarks in his well-known hymn “Nothing but the Blood”:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

4. As a hymn lover, snow reminds me of some of the hymns that mention snow. Then as I recall these hymns, I sometimes sing them silently in my heart. Snow therefore is used by God for my spiritual growth. Right now the song that comes into my mind is this—“There Is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1865-1936):

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Think of how you can use the presence of snow for the benefit of your soul.

5. I understand we have had a lot of snow, and we can either have a murmuring, or thankful heart towards this very cold winter. Someone told a story about a certain minister who “was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, ‘Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank God on a wretched day like this.’ Much to his surprise, however, [the minister] began by praying, ‘We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.’”

Since I came to Michigan, I have had eight winters. And as I have already noted earlier, this year’s winter is the worst one. But learning from this preacher I can still thank God and say, “Lord, I thank you that Michigan winters are not always like this one.” How is our attitude towards the weather? When it is cold we complain, when it is hot we do the same. May we learn to say with Paul, “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:17).

 

 

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