Tag: PREACHING

The Christmas Story Never Gets Old

Has Christmas Become Boring for you?

There is a certain creativity that many pastors and leaders have in their churches. God uses our skills and abilities to cultivate new life in our congregations. The desire for normalcy can sometimes be overshadowed by new and innovative ideas. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re trying to find something “new” and “creative” about the Christmas story as you prepare to preach Sunday, I have a word of encouragement for you: just preach the Christmas Story. 

No matter how long you’ve been in ministry, you’ve probably studied it sideways, gleaning new information each time. You’ve exegeted Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:1-14, the fulfillment of prophecies in Isaiah and Micah, and probably some others. You’ve preached it from the shepherd’s perspective, Mary’s perspective, the angel’s perspective, and maybe even the donkey’s perspective. You’ve focused on characters like Zechariah and Simeon. You’ve pulled out historical context, made parallels to the wise men’s gifts, and had several different titles over the years. You have preached on different biblical topics we find in the story: worship, promises, the gifts, etc. 

You may be tempted to think outside the box: “What can I preach this year that my congregation has NEVER heard before?” But the danger in our creativity is when we feel like the Christmas story has “gotten old.” Much of your congregation has been well versed in the Christmas story from scripture, hymns, and culture during this season. So, for fear of boredom, we might think, “I’m going to do something totally new this year.”

Here is my encouragement to you, dear friend. Don’t let your fear of boredom keep you from seeing the simple miracle of Christmas that never gets old: The Messiah was born of a virgin in a lowly manger in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of age-old prophecies, making salvation possible for all people. There are several aspects of the Christmas story that give fresh beauty to God’s word in light of the gospel.

The Miracle: A virgin carried Jesus to full term and gave birth to him.

This is simply incredible! Biology always fascinated me as a student in school. When we think about the way our bodies reproduce through sexual intercourse, and the miracle of life that develops for 9 months in a protective encasing in the mother’s womb, it all starts with the meeting of sperm and egg. Miraculously, this did not happen with Mary. Jesus truly was the son of God, and Mary was a pure vessel that God miraculously and graciously used to carry the Messiah.  

The virgin birth made possible the salvation of mankind. Without the virgin birth, Jesus would not have been sinless, he would have been born into a sinful nature like the rest of the world. Without Jesus’ being sinless, he could have never died a sacrificial death on the cross. Without his sacrificial death, he couldn’t have provided salvation to all who would trust in him. The virgin birth teaches us to trust in God, because it was no human initiative that brought Jesus. It was a work of God alone.

The Fulfillment of Prophecies: God is Forever Faithful.

There are hundreds of prophecies that point to the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of these are in relation to the Christmas story. Here are just a few that were fulfilled: the manner of his birth, the location of his birth, his name, the meaning of his name, the role of Mary, the blessing he would bring to Abraham’s descendants (and the earth), his genealogy and descendants, the role of John as a companion and messenger, and even allusions to Herod and the wise magi. 

The fulfillment of these prophecies hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth show us that God’s hand was guiding and leading this entire narrative for His great glory! It also proves to us that God is reliable, He is trustworthy, and He is faithful.

The Best Thing about Jesus’ Birth: God with Us.

Here is one of the most beautiful truths we find in scripture. God did not create us and then step back to watch creation unfold and the world disperse into chaos. At first, He partook in His creation by leading us, guiding us, speaking to us in shadows and images. But when the gospels open up, we find, in my opinion, the best thing about Jesus’ birth: God came to be with us. 

He did not speak to his people from a voice from heaven, but in the voice of a human. Jesus left heaven to enter our realm and dwell among us. He grew up, walked, and lived just as we did, yet without sin. Jesus was able to sympathize with our weaknesses by living life in the likeness of human flesh. The angel told Mary that one of the names of Jesus would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” 

No other religion, no other “god,” or religious leader can say the same. The difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world is the deep love that God had for us, that He did not leave us alone to suffer, but He came and dwelt among us so that we could have a restored relationship with Him: not from any righteous works we perform, but by the one righteous act that Jesus performed.

If you are wondering what to preach, how to lead during this Christmas season, or trying to come up with something “new” and “exciting,” take a moment. Pause. Reflect on this truth: the Christmas Story NEVER gets old. Let’s not forget the wonder of this season and all that it means. 

 

EP 170 – CHRISTMAS IS RUINED (not really)

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EP 170 - CHRISTMAS IS RUINED (not really)
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Merry Christmas Bootcampers!  We know that this time of year can a huge challenge for Pastors/Planters/Replanters-and we want to encourage you, amidst all the hustle to connect with the truth behind our celebrations at Christmas time.

  • Jesus’ birth reminds us of God’s great love
  • The most simple story is also the most profound-Jesus came into the world to save sinners
  • Don’t feel the pressure to be unique-just be clear, the biblical account stands on its own

In all seriousness, we pray you have an incredible Christmas.  We’re thankful for you, Bootcamp listener.

 

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Stages in a Replant: Plowing

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 1 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT. 

Potential Change on the Horizon

There is something to be said for churches who have chosen the Replant option. For churches who are ready to change, it requires boldness and energy mixed with a soft and willing heart. 

Replanting has a high risk, but a high reward. It requires patience, stability, regularity, prolonged unity, and a leadership team that is “all in.” While there exists the possibility of conflict, frustration, and spiritual warfare, the end result of a replant can be a new, vibrant church that is focused on discipleship, mission, and community. 

There are surface changes we may do in Replant, but there are some underlying, primary things that give a structure to Replanting. In his work with NAMB, Bob has done a great job in developing the four stages of a Replant. The focus on this blog is the first stage: Plowing.

Who Will Give the Growth?

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul gives an agricultural illustration of the result of a fruitful ministry: 

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to this labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

When it comes to the work of ministry, we may do all we can to implement strategies, ideas, and plant seeds. We may have others that come along with us and help water those seeds. But at the end of the day, God is the one who causes the growth. If this is threatening rather than reassuring, you may need to pause for a moment and reflect. See if there is any pride in you. The growth of a church does not depend on your clever tactics. It depends on God. This should be a comforting thought, as we realize that God alone can bring new life.

Fellow Workers, Plowing in God’s Field

Paul still recognizes that even though this is God’s field, we are his fellow workers. We still have a part to play! But our role is primarily in preparing and creating space for God to work. In the first stage of Replanting, we find ourselves Plowing. In order for new Gospel seeds to take root—the hard ground must be plowed, broken up and turned over.

Plowing is the work of God in preparing the ground through prayer and preaching. When we pray, we are expressing our dependence on God. When God’s people pray, God moves! When we preach the Gospel with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, God works in the hearts of His people. During this first stage, we are mainly focusing our church spiritually by prayer and  faithful preaching of the word.

There are also some practical ways that we can “prepare the ground” and create space for God to move. Outside of regular prayer and preaching, what does the work of “plowing” look like in a Church Replant?

  • The Cessation of the “Well Worn”: Plowing breaks up what was in order to do what’s next. Sometimes this takes place by rethinking a favorite program, a music style, a favorite fellowship, or a message on the sign outside. In seeking to find what’s next—the congregation, Pastor and leaders must pray and plan together, relying on God to lead the way.
  • Disruptive Force: as a plow breaks into the ground it cuts, separates, lifts and turns over. Hard ground is transformed more and more into soft earth as the steel edge of the plow repetitively breaks into the ground. God’s word regularly and rightly proclaimed while empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the disruptive force that breaks into the hearts of people. The Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Spirit will serve to disrupt and dislodge the hard ground covering fertile soil.
  • Persistent Plodding: The hard places won’t be softened with one message, one prayer, or one strategic action list. Plowing is the regular, constant work of prayer and preaching. It takes faithfulness and consistency, because it takes time for hearts to be softened.
  • A Christ Centered Commitment: Jesus admonished his followers by saying that anyone who put their hand to the plow and then quit—is not worthy of his kingdom. Revitalization and Replanting Pastors know that turnarounds are never short—many experts believe it takes between 5-7 years for a once in decline or nearly dead church to come back to life.

John and the 70

The work of plowing takes selfless individuals who are passionate about the gospel. When I think of a Biblical Example of “Plowing,” I can’t help but think of John the Baptist. When John was born of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Zechariah prophesied, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sin…” (Luke 1:76-77).

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and preparing the way of the Lord, by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” (Luke 3:3). He was doing the work of plowing. Through years of silence and awaiting the promised Messiah, the ground had become hard and difficult. So much so, that many were unwilling to believe that Christ was the Messiah. But many hearts were prepared and ready to follow Jesus due to John’s work in ministry.

Lastly, the work of plowing takes a team. In Luke 10:1-3, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. He appoints 70 of his followers (or 72 depending on translation) to go into every town and village where he is about to go. Their message was to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near,” (v. 9, 11). The 70 appointed followers were sent out by Christ to plow the ground, to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Before they were sent out to all the towns and villages, he made a statement that gives life to our agricultural illustration: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

I truly believe that the work of Replanting involves a right understanding of our mission field. Do we believe that the harvest is plentiful around us? What God wants us to do in this work is to create opportunities for Him to work on people’s hearts. In doing so, we will be preparing the way of the Lord.

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 163 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. While resources on prayer and preaching are abundant, here are a few of my personal favorites: Faithful Preaching, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Preaching by the Book, Preaching for God’s Glory, Power Through Prayer, Prayer, and Prayer

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

EPISODE #98 – Sermon Prep

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EPISODE #98 - Sermon Prep
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In this episode, the guys discuss the latest news in JAX and STL as well as the importance of good sermon prep.

  • Don’t be legalistic about your style or process
  • Start with God’s Word and let that inform the whole sermon
  • Don’t try to be impressive
  • Get feedback on your preaching – keep growing
  • Listen to others
  • Make specific application

Resources

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EPISODE #70 – Preach the Word

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EPISODE #70 - Preach the Word
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In this episode Bob details his Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich experience and Jimbo and his kids went to Wendy’s to throw down on their claim that they’ve ended the Chicken Sandwich wars. Then the boys get around to addressing the six irreducible minimums once again, this time they discuss what it means to Preach the Word by examining it through the lens of PITO.

  • Personal – Preach the Word to yourself: as in Observation – Interpretation – Application.
  • Interpersonally – Preach the Word to your spouse, children with gentleness.
  • Team – Don’t use the Bible as a weapon to harm your team – but to edify your team.
  • Organizationally – Lead your church to be centered on God’s Word. Maybe sermon-based small groups. Teach your church HOW to study God’s Word.

Also, preach through books of the Bible. There are a lot of benefits to preaching expository sermons through a book of the Bible.

PITO Leadership

Wendy’s Chicken Sandwich Wars

Bob’s Yelp Reviews

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