Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!

Here is a link to the article under question, “Still Saving Eutychus,” by Marty Sweeney. Says the author: “In my circles it is assumed, to put it simplistically, that to be more faithful to God you must preach longer.” He goes on to question that assumption.

And despite my sermons of 40ish minutes, I more or less sympathize with the article.

I have heard 90 minute sermons which flew past; I have heard 15 minute ones which I thought would never end.

Now, I don’t mind a longer sermon, but I do object to:

  • Those preachers who lack basic self-discipline and try to pass that flaw off as depth.
  • Or who preach “in the spirit of the Puritans,” who, you know, gave really long messages.
  • Or who preach on and on because, if they don’t, then somehow we have caved into that handy catchall bogeyman, postmodernism.
  • Or because we don’t want the bigger boys to make fun of our unmanly “sermonettes preached by preacherettes!” (that other bogeyman, the ideology of gender)

But wait! Eutychus! I hear you say. Acts 20:7-12! Ah, yes. But when Eutychus (whose Greek name means “Lucky”) took a header from that window, it was during an extraordinarily long preaching session. A record-breaker. One that the author describes only because it was such an oddity, given under urgent circumstances.

But I insist that, if Paul taught (let’s say) for 12 hours that night, there is no way that he filled that slot with stories of guys he knew growing up in Tarsus; or some cute thing that Epaphroditus had said the other day: or a long list of “You Might be an Ephesian if…”; or 15 principles of how to become a better executive; or why gladiators (the ancient equivalent of football stars) have excellent insight into gospel truths; or page after page that he got from some bestseller; or some clever but unhelpful analysis of some Hebrew verb. Nor even a sermon that might have gone somewhere, but then went off the grid (“I HAVE A DREAM TODAY! Well, not really a dream, it’s more of a…what’s that thing, what do you call it, an ideal. But a realistic one that may or may not be able to be pulled off! Anyway, I have one of those,” etc, etc). Or a conclusion he makes 5 or 6 attempts at, before finally “sticking the landing.”

A Preacher Amber Alert – “The pastor was last seen at 10:58 Sunday. He looked lost. He wandered in, he wandered out. And now his people are getting really worried!”

We should be very conscious that every minute we speak, we are asking the People of God to invest that amount of time with us.

If I am preaching to a group of – well, let’s say, 60 people, to make the math easier – then for every minute I speak, I am consuming a man-hour of the church’s energy. For every hour I speak, I am consuming 60 man-hours. And yes, I am fully aware that God’s people misuse whopping amounts of time on junk, but that gives me no excuse for burning up the clock unnecessarily.

At the very least, God’s people should get a lived-out and prayed-through encounter with the Lord in and through his Word, a right-out-of-the-gate beginning, a solid meal, realistic and specific application, and a confident conclusion.

Related Posts:

“Mini-Sermon: Matt 22, What is the Greatest Commandment.”

“‘But the Greek REALLY says…’: Why Hebrew and Greek are not Needed in the Pulpit”

“Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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No commentary necessary

Here is a snapshot of one and the same website, once in early September, once in early October.

BEFORE

Early September 2017. It has run this prediction since 2016.

AND AFTER

Two weeks after Sept 20, 2017, the very same page, very same site.

STILL LATER – October 20, it still looks the same! “Currently offline!”

These are not Photoshopped, by the way, except to blur out the website address. Which was a very gracious act on my part.

By the way, this was not his first rapture prediction. He did the same thing in 2011, 2015, and 2016, at least – perhaps there are more!

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Visit here: Did Your Pastor/Teacher/Expert/YouTube Guru Set a Wrong Date for the Second Coming? Don’t Let Them off the Hook!

“No commentary necessary!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

Published in: on October 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Benny Hinn’s nephew rejects his “gospel” of properity

This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a while, so I will post a link to it HERE.

I am particularly tickled that he got, well, got “saved” I think is the appropriate term, by simply reading his Bible.

The so-called Prosperity Gospel, Word of Faith, Rhema Doctrine, Decreeing, whatever, is vitiating the church in my region, Central America.

Costi Hinn, a survivor of the Prosperity Gospel

Want to set a date for the rapture and maybe take home a prize? Step right up, son, three shots for a quarter!

Other Posts:

How to Calculate when Jesus will Come – without even being a prophet!;”

Let’s Put a Warning Label on False Prophets!“;

Did your pastor/teacher/expert/YouTube guru set a wrong date for the Second Coming? Don’t let them off the hook;

Another Astounding Prophecy to Toss in to the Trash Can

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“Any red-blooded man want to hit the Rapture on the nose? And maybe win a Teddy bear for the little lady!”

Autumn swings around, and with it this year’s harvest of Rapture Predictions. This year it’s September 23 (tomorrow!). And yes, I have looked over the “proofs”; given the late date, they are not worth the time it would take to overturn them.

Each Rapture Prediction typically begins with a bang and ends with a whimper. The author spends a year or two selling a ton of books and merchandise; the date comes and goes; and the “prophet” trails off in a mumble.

My advice is psychological and spiritual, and I will take a bit of liberty with Martin Luther’s dictum to “Sin boldly.”

If you plan to commit the SIN of setting dates (and I choose the verb “sin” with care), then

SIN BOLDLY.
BE DOGMATIC.
BET ALL YOUR CHIPS.
ALL IN OR ALL OUT.
WIN BIG OR LOSE BIG.

Only by sinning boldly, and in the aftermath owning up to your wickedness, will you set yourself up to repent of that sin. To put Luther in his proper context, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

But let’s not have this shilly-shallying, which blurs the issue of sin and accountability, and later allows you to slip the leash of repentance.

This time I’ll quote Shakespeare, also sort of out of context!

That you…never shall,
With arms encumber’d thus, or this headshake,
Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
As ‘Well, well, we know,’ or ‘We could, an if we would,’
Or ‘If we list to speak,’ or ‘There be, an if they might,’
Or such ambiguous giving out…this not to do…
Hamlet, Act I Scene 5

“Such ambiguous giving out”: that’s the twilight sin that leads to failed redemption. Shakespeare might say, Don’t hem and haw and say, “Well, maybe, we can’t set dates, but here is my prediction anyway, I know more than I can let on, people in high places tell me important things that I cannot share, NASA scientists are worried even though they deny it,” and so on.

Sin boldly – then, for the sake of your soul, repent just as decisively.

PS – As it turns out: David Meade, the man who predicted that the world would end on Sept 23 announced to the Washington Post on September 21st that he had changed his mind! Or had been misunderstood by the media! “The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending…A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.” Things will be different in October?! Well, you don’t need to be a prophet to figure that out! Notably absent was any trace of remorse or repentance.

“Want to set date for the rapture, and maybe take home a prize? Step right up, son, three shots for a quarter!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

Published in: on September 22, 2017 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Is the Bible the “letter” that kills us? Not at all!

2 Cor 3:6 – “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” A verse that is frequently misused and misapplied to mean that we should focus on our feelings as a source of light superior to the Bible (here’s one example). To my surprise, Calvin wrote about this almost 500 years ago – wish he had had the ability to make the error go away!

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some unique way of getting in contact with God, are to be regarded not so much under the influence of error as of madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter [alluding to 2 Cor 3:6, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”]. But I wish they would tell me what spirit it is whose inspiration raises them to such a sublime height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture as poor and childish. If they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, their confidence is exceedingly ridiculous; since they will, I presume, have to admit that the apostles and other believers in the primitive Church were not illuminated by any other Spirit.

John Calvin, Institutes I.9.1 Beveridge edition (slightly paraphrased)

In context, Paul speaks in 2 Cor 3 of the letter that kills (the Old Covenant apart from Christ) and the Spirit who gives life (the New Covenant); he is speaking of salvation, not methods for determining God’s will.

“Is the Bible the ‘letter’ that kills us? Not at all!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

The NIV and six degrees of Rupert Murdoch

We see it in panicked blog posts and garish YouTube videos, and hear it in whispers from concerned friends! That Rupert Murdoch is trying to take your Bible away from you and make you use the NIV Bible instead! That he is a friend to the Vatican and a pornographer and the guy who put shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV, and so he must be involved in some sort of Illuminati/Vatican/Jesuit/New World Order/Antichrist/Satanist conspiracy. And of course, anyone who helps in the production of Murdoch’s Bible, any pastor or seminary professor who recommends it, must be under suspicion of being neck-deep in the conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch – I won’t be defending him; frankly, I don’t have to defend him

The narrative boils down to:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in the New International Version. Therefore, it is said, should we not reject the NIV, given that Murdoch might be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word? And so, shouldn’t we just stick with the King James Version, which is tried and true?

(more…)

Bible Prophecy, ch 1 – “Bible Prophecies” that are NOT found in the Bible

This is a long essay with numerous footnotes. The reader may prefer to download it in pdf form: Shogren_Bible Prophecy #1 Bible Prophecies that are NOT in the Bible

I plan on at least two more articles in this series, in which I will describe End-Time expectations that may or may not be found in the Bible, depending on your interpretation; and End-Time expectations that are in the Bible.

I grew up in the woods. By “woods”, I don’t mean a park with some scattered trees, but a place where large patches were so choked with brush and thorns and fallen branches and boulders from the last Ice Age that it was literally impossible to pass through. My mind returns to the woods every time I fight my way through the thicket created by our modern prophets. Because of their creativity, the predictions that people claim to be in the Bible outnumber, exponentially, the predictions that actually are in the Bible. That is why, before we can begin to talk about Bible prophecy, we have to clear the ground of heavy undergrowth, the things that people have been told are in the Bible, but which we cannot seem to find on any actual page of Scripture. I write this, not because I don’t love Bible prophecy, but because I respect it too much to see it taken lightly.

The very length of this article is the unfortunate side-effect of the tonnage of “prophecy myths” that are out there. One reason for this is that End-Time predictions are big business: take a look at the books by Tim LaHaye, Jack Van Impe, Jonathan Cahn, John Hagee, and even David Jeremiah. The Left Behind series of books alone has sold over 65 million, not to mention the movies and the merchandise. Irwin Baxter has no difficulty selling his very expensive DVD’s; and there are influential sites like Rapture Ready and End Times Prophecy News and Signs of the End and The Jeremiah Project and Terry James Prophecy Line or groups such as Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Many of them employ the same opening stratagem: “I have been studying and teaching Bible prophecy for X number of years; therefore, you should trust me to know what is in the Bible!”

In fact no: the Word of God tells us what to believe, and the believer has no need of a Prophecy Gatekeeper to access its pages.

Here we will focus on those who teach with the Bible in one hand, and today’s headlines in the other.[i] There are two problems with their method: first, it assumes that Bible prophecy must be being fulfilled in today’s news, as opposed to headlines from AD 582, 1007, 1851, or 2086; two, the prophecy experts have the unhappy tendency of starting with the news headlines, and then reading them back into the Bible. The 2016 Blizzard? Yes, someone discovered that it was an End-Times event, but only after the storm.[ii] Minor stock market crash in 2016? Same thing, and from the same source, the always-ready-to speculate Charisma News. While we would take to the streets in protest if some theologian placed his or her own tradition about the Bible, we don’t blink when the high priests of prophecy do basically the same thing with today’s headlines. We won’t even delve into the secular gurus such as David Ickes or Alex Jones or the Flat Earthers, who preach an apocalyptic viewpoint with very little Bible mixed in.

If some evangelicals (and yes, some Catholics,[iii] some Orthodox,[iv] some Adventists, plus the majority of the sects) are known for this sleight of hand, then the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to get the blue ribbon. Their modus operandi is to zero in on the Anxiety of the Day, knock on your door, mention how anxious people are about it, and then show how they, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saw it all coming ahead of time! Exhibit A: this issue of Awake magazine from 1968: “Is it Later than you Think? Is time running out for this generation? What will the 1970’s bring?”

Take any headline from today’s paper, or Time magazine, or YouTube, or your newsfeed, or Facebook, and if you really, really try, I guarantee you’ll be able to find a Bible verse to show how it was predicted long ago. Syria in the news? Just look in the concordance and you will find a verse that fits.

Wow! All those 7’s, and just because Donald Trump sent a few small missiles into an empty airfield, one which the Syrians were able to quickly repair and start using again.

Another example: I just saw on CNN, “Promising Zika Vaccine Moves to Next Stage.”[v] And so let’s say I channel my Prophetic Ingenuity to put together an article like this:

“Revelation 16 says that there will be many plagues, which will kill a huge number of people. And what do we see in the news? People are coming down with Zika, and desperately trying to find a vaccine, instead of repenting from their sins.”

Now – remember that I did this “blindfolded,” without peeking, but let’s see if I can find someone doing this very thing (more…)

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Holy books, wholly understandable

I try, every year, to read the scripture of some other faith. That is, read the books themselves, not just a second-hand analysis of them

In 2016 it was the Koran, which I found well worth the read, if a little repetitious. It is about 4/5 the length of the New Testament.

In 2017 I have read the Bhaghavad Gita, which is a substantially shorter book. And I have just started the Book of Mormon, which is twice as long as the New Testament.

The two books I did as Audible recordings, of which I am a major fan, the Book of Mormon on LibriVox.

My observation here has to do with clear communication:

The Koran I read was the Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood; it is meant for non-specialists and was very understandable. Click HERE.

The Bhaghavad Gita I accessed two ways; first through then through the wonderful introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran. And much, but not all, of the 2000-page commentary by Swami Ramsukhdasji, a gift from a dear Hindu friend.

Especially in the case of the Eknath Easwaran edition (click HERE), the rendering is very clear, with technical terms carefully explained; and then before each chapter, the author sums up the previous context, then gives a summary of the new chapter. In other words, it couldn’t be easier for the non-Hindu.

Foment curiosity and independent thinking? Sure! Create confusion? No!

All to say that, in both cases, someone exerted a great deal of effort to make clear to me the basic message of the holy books of another faith. In neither book was I ever lost, although of course my understanding of them remains superficial.

The application for the Christian should be clear.

How much more should someone who is interested in communicating our true message take great pains to

  • study it seriously,
  • meditate on it deeply,
  • pray about it thoroughly,
  • rely on God’s grace to live it authentically, and
  • seek God’s direction to proclaim it truthfully and powerfully.

Also, I would add, use straightforward language instead of flowery or technical; and to employ good English – rather than Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Bohairic, or who knows what. (See my long article on this issue HERE). To give Paul’s statement a different but legitimate application: “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And out of the church, even more so.

These versions of holy books remind me of our dear late professor, I. Howard Marshall; the first sermon I heard him preach, in Kings College Chapel in Aberdeen, was on the theme of “repentance” from Romans 2: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” He was speaking to a mixed group, some of whom were not very familiar with the Bible. I paraphrase him: “Repentance is not making ourselves out to be the worst person that ever lived,” he began, and then gave us a simple short sentence on what it does mean to repent. Clear as a bell. The handful of times I went to hear John Stott preach, same thing.

That is the apostolic way, it is the way of love.

“Holy books, wholly understandable,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

How to Read Romans [Studies in Romans]

Certeza Unida and Kairos will publish my Romans commentary as part of their Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo (Contemporary Bible Commentary). More than 160 scholars participated in the project.

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What follows is adapted from the section “How to Read Romans,” in which I show its particular application for Latin America.

The epistle to the Romans meets the Christian on two levels: (1) as a treasure house of beloved gospel texts; (2) as an ancient missionary letter, written for a specific moment in Paul’s work among the nations.

Both levels are valid, since the disciple today first comes to know Romans because of its neat formulations of, for example, the deadliness of sin (3:23), the free gift of eternal life (6:23), the transformation of the new person in Christ (12:1-2). Then beyond that, we must enter into the mind of Paul and appreciate his plan for the final years of the AD 50s – a missionary journey that would take the gospel farther west from Jerusalem than it had ever gone, across several of what we know as time zones. We then see that Romans, when first delivered, was a clear call to action for the believers in the capital to receive Paul for a time, and later to sponsor his trip to evangelize Spain.

In Latin America too we are arming ourselves to take the gospel to the nations, in particular, unreached ones. We too will benefit from knowing, not just what Paul said about salvation, but why he said it to these Christians in Rome, and by extension how it is God’s summons to us to show forth the gospel.

Romans is the largest extant letter by Paul. It is also the most systematic in its structure, touching on many facets of the doctrine of salvation (soteriology) but saying little about other themes, for example, the Last Days. Paul begins with the lostness of the world, then God’s solution in the death of Christ, the power of the new life in the Spirit, and later, details about how to live the Christian life. He also introduces a long section in chapters 9-11 to answer the questions Why don’t Jews believe in their own Messiah? Will Israel come to God eventually?

The best way to enjoy this letter is to read it; one can read Romans aloud at an unhurried pace in about one hour.

“How to Read Romans [Studies in Romans],” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bible study – a work of prayer!

This is a prayer of the great church father Augustine, which he was accustomed to use after his sermons and lectures. I have updated the version found in NPNF 1,8, p. 683.

We now turn to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts we offer to him, so far as we can with the little we have, great and sincere thanks.

With all our hearts we pray for his exceeding kindness:
– that of his good pleasure he would condescend to hear our prayers,
– that by his power he would drive out the Enemy from our deeds and thoughts,
– that he would increase our faith, guide our understanding, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss,
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gary again: I don’t care how well you know the original languages, or what study method you use, or how many commentaries, and what preaching method – and I affirm them, one and all! – without prayer, there is no authentic Bible study or teaching.

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“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica