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Author Archives: Dr. Larry Dixon

About Dr. Larry Dixon

Seminary professor, teaching systematic theology and other topics. Grandfather, wicked tennis & table tennis player, loves playing chess on letsplaychess.com. Please check out the ten books I've written. "The heart cannot rejoiced in what the mind rejects as false!"

Psalms of the Salter: Some Thoughts on Really Living for the Lord: Psalm 148

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-19-56-am

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2017 in praise

 

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Ten Steps You Can Take to Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better! (Part 5)

Friends: This booklet will be done soon and I will be giving it away on this blog. You might want to download this pdf and share it with your pastor or preacher. Step One was entitled “Do the Work!” Step Two was entitled “Develop a Clear Outline!” Step Three was entitled “Expository Versus Topical Messages!”  Step Four was entitled “Begin with a Great Introduction!”  Here’s Step Five:

This may remind you of your old high school math teacher.

STEP FIVE: Illustrate. Illustrate. Illustrate!
Everyone loves a good story. You can see the heads of a congregation lift up when a preacher says, “Let me illustrate . . .” or “Perhaps you heard the story about . . .” We need truth illustrated!

But unfortunately many of us preachers seem to think that if we have a few extra minutes, we must pack in more Scripture or more doctrine into our sermon. However, rather than adding more material, ask (long before you get into the pulpit), how might I illustrate this point? If you get your study done early, you might look for useful illustrations during the week.

Here are several practices that have helped me: Collect good illustrations. Witty sayings. Great quotes. Strong (short) stories. Reader’s Digest is a gold mine of possible sermon illustrations. Start a Word file with your illustrations. Don’t panic over some complicated filing system. Just file your illustration under the first word that comes to your mind (“Anger,” “Theology,” “Second Coming,” “Babylon Bee,” etc.). I’ve been collecting illustrations for over forty years and my Word file, if it were printed out, would be about 300 pages. (Drop me an email if you want my file. I give it away).

Allow the Lord to use your personality in your preaching. And in your use of illustrations. You do not need to be a stand-up comic. But practice telling your story or delivering your appropriate joke. Make sure it fits your point.

I once taught homiletics to a group of undergraduate students. In one class session I talked about illustrations and how, if one messes up a quote or illustration, the preacher should just keep going. I remember one student in his sermon trying to use the famous Jim Elliot quote (“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”). The student botched the quote at the very beginning. He said something like, “As the missionary/martyr Jim Elliot once said, ‘He is no fool who loses what he couldn’t find to gain what he thought he had’”), and he kept going! I was roaring with laughter (inside), but was very proud of him for moving on with his message.

If all of life illustrates biblical truth — and it does — be observant of your everyday surroundings. Be careful not to be the hero of all your stories. Congregations appreciate a preacher who (occasionally) admits his own foibles.

I’ve been helped by the adage “Quantity equals quality.” What I mean is, collect all the illustrations you can — and many will prove to be useful and helpful.

I love finding gems from past preachers. For example, C.H. Spurgeon said to his students, “Men, when you speak of heaven, let your face radiate with the glories of the very presence of God. But when you speak of hell, then your everyday face will do.”

Keep a count of how many illustrations you use in your sermon. Most of us illustrate far too little! Make a note of which illustrations you use and when. Some people don’t buy into the idea that a good story is worth telling more than once.

Be careful not to exaggerate in your stories, especially if some in the congregation have some acquaintance with the incident you’re describing. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, tells about one time when he was preaching on Sunday morning. He was to preach the same sermon twice — once to those of the early service and again to those in the second service. Between services he would meet with an elder or two for feedback and any tweaking that he might consider.

In the first service, Hybels told a story about a six car accident he saw during the week and used the story to illustrate some point in his sermon. After the first service concluded, he met with one of the elders who asked him, “Bill, was the accident you described the one on Wednesday over at such and such an intersection?” “Yes,” Bill said. “Bill,” said the elder, “did you forget that there were only three cars involved in that accident? You didn’t inflate the number just for sermonic impact, did you?”

Hybels says that at such times, “I hate accountability groups!” But then he says, “I realized that I had committed a small act of cosmic treachery by exaggerating the details of that story.”

C.H. Spurgeon said, ”An apt illustration sticks in the soul like a hook in a fish’s mouth.” As we conclude this section, I’ve got to give you two of my favorite illustrations: Here’s one from Leadership Journal: “In 1981 a Minnesota radio station made an announcement about a car which had been stolen in California. The police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even placing radio ads to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that had been laced with poison to be used as rat bait. Now the police and the car owner were more interested in apprehending the thief to prevent him from eating the poison than to recover the car. So often, when we run from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we may actually be doing is eluding His rescue.”

And another favorite: Many years ago a little boy and his twin sister became lost in a small community outside Boston. After they were missing for several hours, the police were called and a search party was organized. Meanwhile, the little boy and girl both showed up when they heard the commotion as the search party got organized. They asked what was going on and were told that a little boy and girl had been lost. For the next two hours they helped search for themselves!

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2017 in preaching

 

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Psalms of the Salter: Some Thoughts on Really Living for the Lord: Psalm 147

Psalm 147

Praise the Lord.screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-6-59-48-am

How good it is to sing praises to our God,
    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp.

He covers the sky with clouds;
    he supplies the earth with rain
    and makes grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle
    and for the young ravens when they call.

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.

12 Extol the Lord, Jerusalem;
    praise your God, Zion.

13 He strengthens the bars of your gates
    and blesses your people within you.
14 He grants peace to your borders
    and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

15 He sends his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly.
16 He spreads the snow like wool
    and scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
    Who can withstand his icy blast?
18 He sends his word and melts them;
    he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

19 He has revealed his word to Jacob,
    his laws and decrees to Israel.
20 He has done this for no other nation;
    they do not know his laws.

Praise the Lord.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in doctrine of God

 

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Ten Steps to Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better! (Part 4)

Friends: My new booklet is entitled “Ten Specific Steps You Can Take To Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better!” It will be done soon and I will be giving it away on this blog. It will be a pdf or ebook that you can download and share with your pastor or preacher. Chapter one was entitled “Step One: Do the Work!” Chapter two was entitled “Step Two: Develop a Clear Outline!”  Chapter Three was entitled “Expository Versus Topical Messages!”  Here’s Chapter Four:

I hope I don’t look like this when I’m older. Wait. I’m already older.

STEP FOUR: Begin with a Great Introduction!
In his excellent book, Introducing the Sermon: The Art of Compelling Beginnings, Michael Hostetler says that in football the two minute warning is at the end of the game. For preachers, he says, it is at the beginning! We can win or lose a congregation within the first two minutes of our sermon. So we had better start out well!

Hostetler discusses four contact points that he says ought to begin each sermon. These four contact points are: the secular, the biblical, the personal, and the structural. Here’s what he means by each:

By the secular contact point, he means that we begin our sermon with something in real life, a need, an issue, a situation that cries out for the biblical truth we are wanting to present. Many preachers begin their sermon with words like “Let us turn in our Bibles to . . .” That is beginning the sermon with the answer before we’ve even raised the question! Start with where people are. What are their challenges, their dreams, their catastrophes? Begin with something “secular,” something of this world, before you jump into the biblical world.

By the biblical contact point, Hostetler is referring to the Scriptures. “The Bible has a great deal to say about this issue of worry . . .”, the preacher might say. “Let’s take a serious look at Luke 12.”

By the personal contact point, he is referring to how the truth of the Scriptures applies to my daily life. The preacher might say, “We will see in Luke 12 some truth that will help you and me conquer the waste of worry!”

By the structural contact point, one introduces the keyword which will steer the sermon from one main point to the next. The preacher might say, “We will see in Luke 12 five wastes of worry . . .”

We preachers assume that we should start with the biblical (“Let’s turn in our Bibles to . . .”), but even believers need to know why they are turning to their Bibles. You would agree (I hope) that the Bible is the most practical book in the world. But that conviction is squeezed out of a lot of believers by the maps, the cross-references, the genealogies, and the Shakespearean language in our Bibles. We preachers need to make the case for the Bible’s practicality. But we must first raise the issue for which the Bible provides the truth we need.

A solid, four-contact-point-introduction will take time and effort to compose. And I would recommend that your introduction be written out so that you don’t miss any of the four contact points. Writing out those four contact points helps you ask the right questions: What is the need I’m addressing? What does God’s Word have to say on this topic? How can I personally be helped by the truths of this text? How should I logically think about this subject?

Confession time: I don’t always use this Hostetler-type introduction in my preaching. But, if I took the time to craft a well-thought-out first few sentences, I believe my sermons would be stronger, more practical, and easier to listen to for the congregation.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2017 in preaching

 

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Psalms of the Salter: Some Thoughts on Really Living for the Lord: Psalm 146

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-7-04-13-am

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2017 in the Lord's works

 

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Ten Steps You Can Take to Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better! (Part 3)

Friends:  My new booklet is entitled “Ten Specific Steps You Can Take To Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better!” will be done soon and I will be giving it away on this blog.  It will be a pdf or ebook that you can download and share with your pastor or preacher. Chapter one was entitled “Step One: Do the Work!”  Chapter two was entitled “Step Two: Develop a Clear Outline!”  Here’s Chapter Three:

This might have been my picture when I was younger. Not sure.

STEP THREE: Expository Versus Topical Messages!
I heard about one preacher who received a compliment after his Sunday morning sermon. The elderly lady didn’t realize what she said, but what came out was, “You are one of the best suppository preachers I have ever heard!” [She obviously meant “expository”].

Expository messages are a means of working one’s way through an entire book of the Bible. They typically focus on one main text — the next section coming up in that study. Topical sermons, on the other hand, seek to give the overall Scriptures’ teaching on a particular subject from a number of passages.

Topical sermons are often quite helpful for those who are new to the faith. They give the preacher the opportunity to briefly explain the overall teaching of the Bible on a subject. One danger of topical sermons is that the preacher might only preach on the subjects that are interesting to him. He might begin riding his hobby horse. [Someone has asked, “What is the difference between riding a hobby horse and riding a real horse?” The answer? “You can get off a real horse!”]

Expositional messages, however, focus on one main text at a time. They are seeking to expose the point the passage is making. Exegesis, a fancy term which literally means “to lead out,” is the art of unfolding what is truly there in the passage. We can read into a passage what isn’t there — and that’s called “eisegesis.” If someone says to you, “Your sermon was the best example of eisegesis I’ve ever heard!”, they are not complimenting you.

I would recommend that most of your sermons ought to be of the expository kind. One advantage is that you are working your way through an entire book of the Bible. So if you are doing a sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew, and this Sunday’s message is on Matthew 19, no one can really complain that you spoke on the topic of divorce. That was your next preaching section!

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in preaching

 

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Psalms of the Salter: Some Thoughts on Really Living for the Lord: Psalm 145

Psalm 145

A psalm of praise. Of David.screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-6-56-08-am

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

9 The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2017 in character of God

 

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