Category Archives: For reflection

Larry Shapiro and John Lennox in conversation “Is there truth beyond science?”

What do you think?

An interesting discussion between atheist philosophy professor Larry Shapiro and Christian mathematician John Lennox at a Veritas Forum event at University of Wisconsin.


More on preaching

Who in the church leadership and how does the decision get made about how much emphasis (in terms of tangible percentage of minutes) to place of the ministry of the word in communal Sunday gatherings?

Perhaps, some of those decisions are decided within the denomination?

Within some denominations there could be strong traditions about the role of preaching. Or perhaps, in the history of a particular congregation, there are certain expectations regarding preaching.

How does one select the content for a Sunday message?

Some teaching pastors like to plan ahead and will opt for a short/medium/long term commitment to preach through a particular book in the Bible. A series through the books of 1 & 2 Corinthians would pencil in many months of the preaching schedule.

What are the “pros” and “cons” of this approach?

In some churches, the pastor will preach topical series. For example, eight weeks on family life or six weeks on the meaning of prayer or four weeks on how to serve in church.

Some of the more liturgical churches will follow the lectionary.  The Revised Common Lectionary has a cycle of selected readings from both OT and NT set over a three-year period. Supporters of this approach say that this allows the congregation to be exposed to a good percentage of the Scriptures over time. Additionally, this approach avoids the “problem” of the pastor selecting from a narrow set of favorite passages to preach from.

In some cases, the pastor prays for a message and preaches to the need of the moment. Thus, it could be a text exposition or a topic exploration for the Sunday sermon. As such the text or topic will be different and unrelated from week to week.

What are the “pros” and “cons” about that approach?

In one sense Paul and the apostles wrote their letters to deal with a problem (a real need) in the churches they wrote to. They were guided by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to write.

On the other hand, the “preach to the need” approach could result in a narrower preaching repertoire because of the strengths, interests, and experience of the pastor. A marriage and family type of pastor may lean toward sermons emphasizing relationships and less on doctrinal message. A pastor with a stronger Greek/Hebrew language orientation may gravitate to topics and passages where the peculiarities of those languages are highlighted. Or if the pastoral team all graduated from a particular seminary, they may tend to preach on subjects that seminary tends to emphasize. Thus, whatever background a pastor has, will the preaching wind up leaning toward their interests, training, and personality to the neglect of other matters. How does one resist that understandable inclination?

All of this to say, if you are a preaching pastor and you happen on this blog post, how do you approach your preaching? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the approach you take?

May God bless the feet and words of those who tend the sheep and feed the lambs of God’s churches across the world!


How does your pastor(s) approach preaching?

How many minutes of the Sunday gathering is committed to the proclamation and exposition of the Bible?

How often is the preaching “topical” drawing upon multiple Bible passages to support the various points of the sermon?

How often is the preaching “exposition” of a specific Bible passage?

One pastor I spoke with viewed preaching as “contextual and thus pneumatological.”

What I think he meant is that preachers have to be sensitive to the community they serve and thus must rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make those “practical” decisions about what preaching looks like for their specific flock.

What principles guide you or your pastoral team in regards to the ministry of the Word?

Prof. Ben Witherington and The Historical Jesus

In a wide ranging talk, Prof. Ben Witherington discusses the portrait of Jesus that the Bible paints. He does so with an eye toward our Christian faith but also in light of the methods of historical inquiry. Thus, he spends part of the time dismantling the confusion about Jesus caused by the best selling novel The DaVinci Code.

Nashville Statement

You may have seen the Nashville Statement on the news.

Not surprisingly, outside of the Christian faith community, it was not received well but even within there has been some debate.

If you are interested in hearing some varied perspectives, here are a few podcasts you may want to check out.

Here is a Mere Fidelity podcast specifically about the Nashville Statement where the group (four theologians) discussed their reactions to it and how they decided to sign or not sign onto the statement.

Dr. Preston Sprinkle described his reactions and feelings to the Nashville Statement in his podcast, Theology in the Raw.

Though not specifically about the Nashville Statement, here is a lecture by Dr. Alastair Roberts that addresses some of the issues in a broader discussion about Genesis 1-3.

All the presenters in the three above referenced podcasts are supporters of the traditional Biblical definition of marriage. However, they have differing opinions on the usefulness of the Nashville Statement.

Simon, the Zealot

Image source:

In the New Testament, there are four places where the disciples were named in list form: Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13.

In this ongoing series on the 12 Disciples, we have looked at Matthew, the tax-collector and James, son of Alphaeus and when we last left off, we mentioned that one other disciple besides James, son of Alphaeus appeared only in the four lists.

Simon, the Zealot; and that is all we know about him!

In First Century Judaism, there were four notable sects: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. In the Gospels, Jesus has dialogs and disagreements with the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were the keepers and defenders of the Law while the Sadducees’ center of power was the running of the Temple. The Essenes were the separatists and it is thought that some inhabited the Qumran community near where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found leading to the theory that the scrolls were collected and prepared by the Essenes. Lastly, the Zealots were the rebels who wanted to oppose Rome militarily. This group is probably best known for the Siege of Masada.

There are two possibilities for the “zealot” designation of Simon. One, of course, was that he was part of the Zealot sect. The other possibility was that he was a zealous individual.

John MacArthur offered some interesting lessons one might draw from the story of Simon the Zealot.

Whether Simon was a Zealot in the sense of being part of the sect or zealous in a sense of zeal for God and the Law, he was without doubt a passionate individual and he was won over by Jesus! Quoting from MacArthur’s sermon transcript:

Now a man like Simon to attach himself to them must have been a man with a tremendous passion, a tremendous capacity for zeal. And you can imagine that he must have been a fireball when it got to the work of the Lord. He found a better leader and a greater cause.

Another consideration MacArthur brought up was what kind of tension might have been within Simon and for that matter within the group towards the former Roman collaborator, Matthew, the tax-collector. Another excerpt:

Simon believed and was transformed, Judas did not, and so no one names anything Judas. Simon became Christ’s man. Think of how wonderful it must have been for him to get along with Matthew who collected taxes for the Roman government. I wonder if he ever had just little anxieties about Matthew.

The 12 Disciples were an interesting collection of diverse individuals. Yet, they had in common being called by Jesus and loved by Jesus and sent by him to start the daisy chain of communicating the Good News of the Gospel to all the world down the ages.

We started this series with Matthew, a social outcast as a tax-collector who became part of the fabric of the new community in Jesus. Though, we only have his name in the lists and the one episode of his calling by Jesus, his recollections became Scripture in the Gospel according to Matthew. James, son of Alphaeus, possibly Matthew’s brother and Simon, the Zealot who may have had nothing but contempt for tax collectors and anyone connected with one, yet, in Christ, they were united!

Next up, the disciple whose voice is heard in one question in the four Gospels.

James, son of Alphaeus

Image source:

In Mark 2:14, a tax-collector named Levi was described as the son of Alphaeus. This event is very similar to the calling of Matthew found in Matthew 9:9-13 such that we believe Matthew and Levi are the same people.

As for as James, son of Alphaeus (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15, Acts 1:13), the only data we have on him are these four verses!

Was he the brother of Matthew?


What else might we say about him?

If we apply our process of observation-interpretation-application, what do we come up with for James, son of Alphaeus?

We should understand that following Jesus is not likely to make us famous. Ultimately, our lives are not for the praise of humankind; rather, our lives are ultimately to be lived for an audience of ONE and if we are indeed good and faithful in following our Lord, we will be welcomed into His joy when we meet Him!

This series on the 12 disciples will continue bit by bit in the coming weeks. To see previous posts on this, go to the 12 Disciples tag.

In case if you wonder if anyone has ever preached about James, son of Alphaeus, Pastor John MacArthur offered these thoughts in a sermon about this little known disciple.

The deaths of the various apostles have varying degrees of historical documentation. Not surprisingly, the stores of the lesser-known apostles have less certainty in terms of documentation. Excerpt from link: Few, if any of the traditions can be proved, but for some, the circumstantial evidence appears quite strong.

In the next post, we will look at the other disciple who only appears in the lists.