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a raging river

Ron Phillips: The Cost of Grace

The movie A River Runs Through It is narrated by Norman, one of the main characters. He makes this statement about his father, a minister:

"My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy."

While we rightly view grace as a free gift, grace always costs someone something. read more

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8 Ways You Might Be Losing People in Your Sermons

Are you losing people when you preach? Do people check out during your sermons?

After listening to thousands of sermons and preaching quite a few myself, I have learned eight different ways that pastors lose people in their sermons.

1. Sloppy transitions. You just told a great story. It was funny and thought-provoking. But as soon as the story ended, you suddenly switched direction and started talking about something else.

Wait, what? Slow down. How did we get from that funny thing your kid did to some old guy in the Old Testament?

Where is the connection? read more

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Shouldn’t a Church Service Be Exciting?

“Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies. After that, it all goes downhill.”

I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.

“Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted. I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today. It will be comforting, but not exciting.”

I understand where the guy is coming from. read more

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Word-Wrangling: A New Rodeo Event for Preachers?

I’m not sure most of us preachers fully believe the scriptural command to avoid word fights:

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14, NASB).

After all, aren’t some words worth wrangling over?

“Wrangling about words” conjures images of cowboys at the corral trying to tame a bucking theological term that won’t hold still. read more

Greg-Atkinson

How to Plan Your Preaching More Effectively

Everywhere I go, I hear that song playing. It’s on TV, radio, at ball games, in convenient stores—all over.

It’s gotten stuck in my head. So I started thinking on the title and reflecting on past experiences and conversations.

I started thinking about how many pastors stay up late Saturday night working on their Sunday morning message, hoping to get “lucky.” Hoping they will deliver and come through with excellence. Friends, it doesn’t work like that. read more

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How to Preach With Authenticity

The kind of preaching that changes lives is from the heart to the heart, not from the head to the head. Lives are changed as we speak from our deepest pain and suffering.

Socrates was the first to explain communication in three dimensions. He talked about ethos as the speaker’s character, pathos as the speaker’s compassion, and logos as the speaker’s content. We tend to think most about the content of a sermon, but the people to whom we are speaking perceive all three, and ethos is really the most vital of all three dimensions. read more

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Do You Doubt Like Thomas?

We know Thomas best by his famous statement soon after Jesus’ resurrection:

“Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” (See John 20.)

We tend to think of Thomas’ lack of faith because of Jesus’ response a few days later when he showed Thomas his hands and side: “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

A closer look at Thomas might help us understand him better and learn from his approach. read more

How Is Your Eternity Quotient?

Have you ever had one of those long daydreaming moments while you were should be praying? I certainly have. You know the scenario: You are supposed to be talking to the Lord, and you suddenly find yourself somewhere else mentally!

One recent morning was one of those times for me, when I caught myself daydreaming about eternity. My thoughts did not simply focus on what eternity would be like or when God would call me to heaven. Instead, I mused on how current-day believers seem to focus very little on eternity. Thinking over my 27 years as a Christian, I seem to remember much more emphasis on our eternal reward than I hear today. It seems like things have shifted to the point where many believe our best life is now. read more

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3 Essential Points for Every Sermon

I enjoy speaking and preaching in our church. Honestly, though, for years it was difficult to get ahead in thought and stay focused with a simple plan for each sermon.

Yeah, I know, I took homiletics too. However, I’m a very simple guy who needs a simple but effective thought process that allows me to pray and study through a subject and stay on point all the way through.

A couple of years ago I “discovered” (only by God’s mercy on a simple-minded leader) a process I have found to be very powerful. read more

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What Items Were on Jesus’ Bucket List?

Somewhere in the councils of the Trinity, a plan was devised for the restoration of the world. Among His other assignments, these fell on the bucket list of the Son of God:

1. Be conceived and born as a human.

2. Live a sinless life.

3. Gather a dedicated following.

4. Equip them. read more

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12 Game-Changeable and Tweetable Proverbs

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare" (Prov. 15:1, NLT).

"A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash" (Prov. 15:14).

"Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success" (Prov. 15:22).

"Greed brings grief to the whole family" (Prov. 15:27). read more

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How to Preach For a Specific Response

The Bible is clear that Christians must be “doers of the Word and not hearers only,” (James 1:22) so it’s clear that our responsibility as pastors and preachers of the Word is to challenge people to do something in response to what we’ve said. In other words, the goal of preaching is life change.

How can you add more application into our message to make God’s Word more doable? Always aim for a specific response.

The greatest weakness of most preaching is that the sermon has a fuzzy focus. So many sermons are vague & abstract because the pastor isn’t really clear about why he is teaching this particular message, nor does he give the audience a specific direction to go in response. read more

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Is Anybody Out There Learning Anything?

It's Sunday afternoon, and you have just delivered a powerful, life-changing message to your congregation. However, Sister Million Questions and Brother Doesn't Understand have cornered you again. They didn't understand your message even though they had shouted amen the loudest.

Sound familiar? This scenario takes place in more churches than we might realize or care to admit. read more

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Why Jesus Comes First in Everything

Here in America, we emphasize equal rights and fairness. Nobody gets special privileges because of where or to whom they were born. Nobody gets to cut to the front of the line.

If you get to pick first today, it’s only fair that I get to pick first tomorrow. It’s a level playing field for everybody because nobody is better or more privileged than anyone else. It’s a great system.

The problem comes when we transfer this way of seeing to the Creator of the universe. We sing, “Jesus is my friend.” And He is. We celebrate that “Jesus is the servant of all.” And He is. read more

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Do You Think You Know Better Than God?

“I know better.”

It’s a simple message backed up by simple behaviors and a better knowledge of life or pursuit. In many contexts, you wouldn’t think twice about it.

A mom says it to a naïve child mesmerized by red-hot fire. Tiger Woods addresses you on how to get lift from a golf ball in a sand trap. B.B. King shows you a trick to get the guitar sound you want. Bill Gates says, “I have a new technology idea.”

The normal response in the face of greater knowledge and insight is to listen, learn and apply. Their knowledge transcends your own, and only a fool would deign to say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I got this one.” read more

Kyle Searcy: Enter Into His Rest

I am a proud grandfather of two rambunctious grandkids. Like many grandparents, my wife and I are often amused by their candid innocence.

At a young age, kids are so eager to please and to help out wherever possible. I can remember a time when my grandson decided to assist me with my laptop bag. Picture a 4-year-old attempting to lift a 40-pound bag.

Although I told him several times that it was too heavy, he insisted that he could carry it. Needless to say, although he tried with all of his might, the bag barely budged. So I walked over and grabbed the bag by the handle with my grandson yet holding on. When we reached our destination, he looked up at me and proudly said, “See, Pop-pop, I told you I could do it!”   read more

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Jack Hayford Explains What Holiness Really Is

As often as the word holy is used by Christians, you’d think that we could all agree on a uniform understanding of its meaning. We read our “Holy” Bibles. We receive “Holy” Communion. We sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” and acknowledge the “Holy” Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. We understand the word generally to mean “divine” or “of God.”

But when Christians start to discuss holiness, they discover that the implications of the word vary widely. It seems that holiness can mean anything from a name for the pope to teetotalism and not wearing makeup. read more

George-Washington

From Moses to Martin: Preachers Part Political Waters

From Moses to Martin, preachers have parted political waters and led the oppressed to the Promised Land. Either by summons to a pharaoh to “Let my people go,” parting the Red Sea with an outstretched shepherd’s rod, or accompanied by a soulful protest ballad, “We Shall Overcome” and a federal court order granting rights to march over the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge—throughout millennia, preachers have led the advance of liberty and religious freedom through troubled waters, on dry ground or over them on segregated asphalt. 

The birth of America’s freedom came no differently, as our forefathers crossed the Atlantic to escape Europe’s political and religious oppression. Has the time come for another Reformation? I believe so—an American Reformation! Where are the American clergy who will stem the tide of religious oppressions rising in our land by taking action against the political forces responsible? Maybe it’s time for a new breed of American clergy or just a restoration of the American preacher. read more

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Lee Grady: No More Spineless Christianity

People often complain about angry preachers. I don’t like them either, and I agree that if a person mixes a sermon with hateful language (or if he believes God has called him to picket other churches) he’s in the wrong profession. Yet today we’ve jumped to the opposite extreme. Now we are afraid to confront sin.

We can’t preach about materialism because we might offend rich people in the audience—as well as the poor people who buy Lotto tickets every week. We can’t preach about fornication because there are people in the church who are living together. We can’t preach about domestic violence because there are deacons who sometimes hit their wives. We can’t preach about homosexuality because our culture says it’s hateful to call that a sin. read more

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