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October 27, 2017

How to Listen to a Sermon

by Robby Higginbottom

Peter's Sermon at Pentecost

...But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. That is, 9 a.m. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

"'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants Greek bondservants; twice in this verse and female servantsin those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens aboveand signs on the earth below ,blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darknessand the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

"'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'

"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

"'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:14-41 (

“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.... The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pulpit.”

With these words, Screwtape encourages his demonic understudy to tempt people to cultivate a self-centered posture toward the church. Like other passages in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, this shoe can fit so well that it makes us squirm. The same temptation to be a connoisseur and critic of a church also infiltrates our listening to sermons. Have we ever sighed when we arrive and learn that our favorite preacher is out of town? Have we made a mental or written note of things we would have done differently than the preacher? Have we ever left a worship service with little more than a judgment — “I loved it” or “I didn’t like it”? These questions reveal that the spirit of the connoisseur and the critic is alive and well in us. Sadly, we can prefer consumption and critique to conversion and conviction.

If we’re going to hear around 50 sermons a year (500 in 10 years...2,500 in 50 years), don’t we want to walk away with more than “I enjoy listening to him” or “I didn’t like that”? Preaching is not the only means of grace that the Lord uses to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Acts reminds us that preaching has always played a central role in the transformation of God’s people. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost reveals some of the pillars of biblical preaching: (1) the authority of the Word (Sola Scriptura), (2) the supremacy of Jesus Christ (Solus Christus), (3) the free offer of the grace of God (Sola Gratia), (4) the call to turn to Christ (Sola Fide), and (5) the zeal for the glory of God (Soli Deo Gloria). The 5 “Solas” of the Reformation help us distinguish between those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and those who do not. But beyond our biblical-theological convictions, the following questions may help us reflect on how well we listen to sermons.

“Am I present?” It’s hard to listen to a sermon if I’m not there. Have I made it a priority to be present when the people of God gather for worship? Once I am in the sanctuary, am I all there? Am I seeking to be still, to draw near, and, ultimately, to worship God?

“Am I prepared?” What does my preparation for a weekly worship service reveal about me? If “my soul thirsts for God” (Psalm 42:2), wouldn’t I anticipate the joy of worshiping Him before I walk through the doors? How can I redeem the night before or the morning of a worship service so that I am ready and eager to hear from God?

“Am I practical?” If I know the text of the sermon earlier in the week, do I spend time in the passage before Sunday? When I hear a sermon, can I focus on one or two practical things that I believe the Lord is calling me to address? Grace-driven application sounds like this: “Lord, after hearing this sermon, I need your grace to help me __________.”

“Am I prayerful?” Is my listening to sermons bathed in prayer...before, during and after the sermon...for myself, for the preacher and for everyone gathered to listen? The connoisseur and the critic in me suffocate in the presence of God. The pride that only looks down gives way to the humility that looks up. As the Lord teaches me to pray, He shapes my heart to receive His Word, to be “cut to the heart,” (Acts 2:37) and to “know for certain that God has made [Jesus] both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

How are we listening to sermons? By God’s grace, how do we want to grow?


About the Author

Robby Higginbottom
Assistant Pastor of College Ministry
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Robby Higginbottom was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. As early as high school, he sensed the Lord calling him to pastoral ministry. Robby is a graduate of Highland Park High School, Duke University, and Redeemer Seminary. Through the years, he has worked with high school students, college students, and young adults at PCPC. Robby currently serves as an assistant pastor. He is married to Ann, and they have two children: Will and John Harper.


October 20, 2017

The Mission of Pentecost

by Matt Fray

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians--we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine."

Acts 2:5-13 (

John Calvin, one of the leading voices of the Protestant Reformation, is perceived by some to have been a cranky, impersonal, and dull pastor. While Calvin was likely cranky (due to chronic ailments and cultural critics), he was hardly impersonal or dull. We would be hard-pressed to find a pastor more committed to the personal pastoral care of those in his congregation and community. And in the words of the great Princeton professor B.B. Warfield, John Calvin was “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” Where the Roman Catholic Church prized the institutional influence and power of the church, Calvin reclaimed the personal influence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Consider Calvin’s description of Pentecost from his commentary on Acts: “If God could openly and visibly descend from Heaven, His majesty could scarce more manifestly appear than in this miracle.” For Calvin, Pentecost is the miraculous appearance of God’s majesty. While God’s majesty had appeared previously in earthly phenomena (like Israel’s guiding pillar of cloud and fire) and in the physical incarnation of the Son, those previous appearances were all temporary and localized. But at Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit came to all believers globally for all time, including us today.

Both of my sons celebrated birthdays during the past week, and as I write this, I am across the table from some of their gifts. While they brought smiles and activity for a day or two, they now lie unused and forgotten. In fact, the suggestions for Christmas gifts have already begun! How similar are we with the gift of the Holy Spirit? Has the majesty of the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit grown dull in our hearts? Has our sense of need for the Holy Spirit’s influence and power been usurped by a sense of need for other things which seem more influential or powerful? Are we more interested in the tangible gifts of the Holy Spirit than in His mysterious, personal presence in us?

Ironically, it is the Holy Spirit alone who can revive our wonder, dependence, and gratitude! May we be a people praying for God to restore these things to us by His Spirit, and may we be a people eager to extend the gift of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ the Son to our world.

Holy Spirit, living Breath of God, breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord to renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me; give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity; Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.
- “Holy Spirit,” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend


About the Author

Matt Fray
Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Matt grew up in South Florida and first sensed a call to pastoral ministry while a high school student at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Dallas. After graduating from St. Mark’s, Covenant College, and Westminster Seminary in California, he spent four years serving as the assistant pastor of a PCA church in Savannah, GA. In 2014, he returned to serve at PCPC as the Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation.

Matt and his wife Erin have three children: Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel.


Date: 10-18-2017

ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — Nineteen Kentucky Baptists arrived in St. Thomas on Sunday afternoon to face some “extremely challenging” working conditions on the tiny Caribbean island, devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The disaster relief team of 13 males and six females, who will be serving through Oct. 29, are partnering with nine Southern Baptist churches in the Virgin Islands. The disaster relief team of 13 males and six females, who will be serving through Oct. 29, are partnering with nine Southern Baptist churches in the Virgin Islands.

The disaster relief team of 13 males and six females, who will be serving through Oct. 29, are partnering with nine Southern Baptist churches in the Virgin Islands. They will be feeding those affected by the storms and doing chainsaw and flood clean-up.

“This is an extremely challenging deployment as the team is staying at Bluewater Bible College with no electricity, running water and phone service,” said Coy Webb, director of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. “We are also battling difficulties getting resources on the island to support the team, such as a mobile kitchen and food supply containers,” he added.

Karen Smith, the “Blue Hat” (leader) of the Kentucky team, reported that the group was having difficulty communicating with the U.S. mainland. “Phone service is almost non-existent on island, and even texts are spotty,” she said.

Communications services and the power grid likely will be out for some time as the island’s infrastructure was destroyed.

Smith and two other Kentucky Baptists met with a Colonel for the National Guard, which is working to clear roads so food and supplies can reach people in need.

“Trees and poles down everywhere. Looks like a war zone,” Smith texted to Webb. The National Guard is open to allowing team to borrow a generator, but there is no diesel on the island, she said. 
“Fuel is major issue on the island,” she added.

Team members hope to lead workshops in food safety and mass food preparation and chainsaw training for volunteers from local Baptist churches there, so disaster relief work can continue after the group returns to Kentucky.

Local churches have been asked to provide meals with disaster relief support to schools when they reopen, which is expected to be sometime this week. Food is desperately needed on island as supplies are very limited and many people lack resources to purchase food at this time, Smith reported.

Team leaders are praying that food containers and a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief kitchen from Alabama Baptists will arrive soon, so they can begin feeding people. “The team is ready to provide 2,000 meals per day, but needs food and cooking equipment,” Smith said. “We cannot stress enough that the need is urgent.”

This is not the first Kentucky DR team to serve outside the continental United States or on an international deployment. Volunteers have worked in Sub-Sahara Africa, Greece and Iraq, according to Webb. But this is proving to be one of the most challenging.

“It’s an extremely fluid response, but the team is offering help, healing and hope as they remind those on the island that God cares about them and they are not forgotten,” said Webb, who is unsure at this time if additional teams from Kentucky will be sent to St. Thomas.

By Todd Deaton
The Western Recorder


God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

God's Holy Fire is a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Spirit-Warned

    [Paul and his traveling companions] looked up the local disciples [in Tyre] and stayed with them seven days. Their message to Paul, from insight given by the Spirit, was "Don't go to Jerusalem."

    Acts 21:4 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    Okay, I admit this is confusing. Paul is convicted that he must go to Jerusalem. At the same time, he knows hardship awaits him. Now this warning from the Spirit: "Don't go to Jerusalem!" I don't know any way to understand this situation other than one of two ways. One, Paul is disobeying the Spirit when he goes to Jerusalem. Two, this message is more of the Spirit alerting him that grief and hardship await him if he goes to Jerusalem than it is the Spirit instructing him not to go. Here's the bottom line: Either way, God uses this trip to Jerusalem to deliver the collection from the Gentile churches and to get Paul to Rome, where the good news of Jesus needed to be heard and where Paul was determined to go. Somewhere in the confusion we all face in trying to follow the Spirit's lead, we have to trust that God will get us where we need to be and doing what we need to do to honor him fully (Romans 8:28, 38-39). The question is whether we are willing to invest ourselves fully and trust in the Spirit leading us no matter what the short-term consequences of our commitment may be.

    Today's Prayer

    Gracious Father in heaven, I trust that you will use the Holy Spirit to lead me where I need to be to do the work you want me to do. I ask, dear Father, that my life glorifies you no matter where your leading takes me or what your leading entails. My deepest prayer, Lord, is that I never, ever, outlive my love for you and my trust in you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • Spirit Appointed

    [Paul, to the Ephesian elders at Miletus:] "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

    Acts 20:28 NIV

    Key Thought

    Paul reminds the Ephesian elders of three heavenly truths about leaders:

    1. Leaders are to watch, feed, protect and care for (or shepherd) the people of God.
    2. The Holy Spirit is involved in putting leaders into their leadership role.
    3. Those who lead must always realize that those they lead (called "the flock" and "the church of God" in today's verse) never belong to them but to God, who purchased them at such a high cost.
    These truths give leaders a powerful and sobering reminder of their call as leaders and give followers a reminder to follow. For each of us, these truths give us a reminder of just how precious the church is to God!

    Today's Prayer

    Almighty God, please be at work in our churches today through the Holy Spirit's calling those you want and we desperately need in leadership roles in your church. I ask forgiveness, dear Father, for not valuing your church more highly, and I pledge to cherish it as you do. In Jesus' name, I offer these petitions and this commitment. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.