03 May 2007


by Dan Phillips

[NOTE: sometimes my best friends are those who save me from myself. Rileysowner was that kind of friend today, quickly catching a way I'd misread the article my target refers to. It forced me to retool this article, the start of which was affected by my misreading — and I'm very grateful for his catch. Thanks, R!]

At first, this is kind of funny: Smokers are Driving Up the Cost of Bibles (thanks to Daniel Foster of Logos for pointing me to this).

No, this isn't a report from the Smoking Nazi's, as Rush Limbaugh calls them. (At least he did ten years ago, so he probably is today. Man needs new material. But I digress.)

This is a report that Chinese are taking the same thin paper on which Bibles are printed, and using it to roll cigarettes. That, in turn, is driving up the cost of printing Bibles on the same presses. Also, the blog to which I point talks about prisoners using actual pages of the Bible to roll cigarettes.

My first and briefest thought is how much pressure is put on to translate and print up Bibles for the unreached heathen — and this is what at least some of them do with the paper used for those Bibles! (Though that's not nearly as bad as prisoners actually using Bible paper for cigarettes.)

My second thought is of a real-live "Bible smoker." This man did far more than merely use the same paper to roll and ignite cigarettes.

I think that the following is, at the same time, one of the funniest, and yet one of the most bitterly telling scenes in the Bible. God had given words to Jeremiah, which the prophet then dictated to Baruch, who wrote them on a scroll (Jeremiah 36:1-4). Jeremiah directed Baruch to read off the words at the temple gate, which he did (vv. 5-10). The officials heard, and were moved to tell King Jehoiakim about it (vv. 11-20). Here is what happened:
Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot (Jeremiah 36:21-23)
Of course, what Jehoiakim did was horrid, but at the same time, isn't it... what's the word? It's almost delicious in its artless, naked contempt. It's almost refreshing to see.

Does that sound awful?

I would imagine it most sounds awful to non-preachers. Believe me, I mean no condescension. I just mean that you perhaps have never had the experience of being impelled or compelled to preach something that you know is God's blistering-hot, molten truth — only to see pious nodding and saintly smiles, and to hear reverent platitudes afterwards, from the very ones who should either lie low in the dust and ashes of repentance, or rise up in raging fury.

You preachers at least, every one of you who preaches the whole counsel of God: you know exactly what I am talking about. This man, that woman, shakes your hand and says "Nice sermon" — and you want to jump out of your skin. "'Nice'?!" you want to cry. "How can you think that was a 'nice sermon'?"

Then you go home, collapse into a chair, stare off into space, and ask God, "What did I do wrong? Did I blunt Your edges? Did I dull Your point? Did the fear of man snare me?"

When you're through raking yourself over the coals, you think, "Yow! — what these people are doing to their standing before God!" They certainly can't have the excuse that they never heard, never had an opportunity. The pan-Biblical principle is: greater privilege = greater responsibility (cf. Amos 3:2). The Word will judge them (Luke 10:16; John 12:48).

And so, think now of Jehoiakim, and his very different response. He did not say, "Nice sermon." After he did what he did, everyone with a lick of sense, watching him, knew what he was. Perhaps he even knew what he was.

I fear more for the pious pretenders, who can hear the Word, who can have arrow after arrow strike the ten-ring dead center — and then smile and say, "Nice sermon."

Would I rather see them out there, ripping pages out of their Bibles and crumpling them up?


Because whatever their hands aren't doing, their hearts are doing.

Rip, rip, rip.


Dan Phillips's signature


donsands said...

It's almost like some in the Church become spiritual zombies right after a heart stirring sermon.

The Word is a sharp double-edged razor sharp sword, that cuts deep. It will do something to the soul, it has to.

I guess for the one who preached the truth in love, and who wielded the sword of the Spirit, this surely can be discouraging, but if the Lord was pleased, which He will be, then "the preacher" can surely take comfort in that.

"Nice post". And it really was, in a stirring the heart kind of nice.

Peculiar Pete said...

We've lost the meaning of going to church and hearing a message. It isn't for enjoyment. It's for hearing God's Word proclaimed to you, and you repenting of some sin. All for the glory of God!

The "Don't You Dare Say Amen" movement surely is alive and well in the church.

Anonymous said...

Wow Dan, you are on fire today. Dare I say...smokin?

I have heard this same thing from my senior pastor. You spend all week wrestling with the text, praying for insight into what your flock needs to hear from God, and pouring yourself out in preparation and delivery, for the purpose of communicating truth from Him that will penetrate and drive His people to Him in repentance, worship, whatever response He calls for. Only to have a few platonic remarks about "thanks for the nice message" or "I really enjoyed that."

I've also had the same experience in teaching Bible classes. For example, I have put much time and energy and prayer into developing a study of the epistle of James, and love to teach this challenging, in your face, grow up and live like a Christian book. And it never fails that I will get comments from students such as, "I really enjoy your class." Enjoy? You're not supposed to enjoy it! It's the sharp two-edged sword of God's word that should be cutting your heart like it does mine! Are you listening at all?

OK, rant over. Nice post. Really.

Even So... said...

Thank you for this Dan...

Reminds me of Ezekiel 33:30-33

One of the ways this really "gets to you" is when you are an expositor, and you are going through a particular book week after week. You come to a passage, and in your preparation you realize that the applications you make are going to cause a stir, it will seem like you are singling out and preaching directly to someone's personal situation, in the harshest, call-you-out sort of terms. You pray and pray that God would let the light of Christ shine and that you would not grow bitter or cynical, and use this as an occasion to add your two cents in to help "straighten them out". You pray and prepare with an extra diligence and caution, knowing that this coulkd be a life changing event, for both of you, for all of you whom hear.

The day comes, and you even preface your sermon with the prayer that God would give them as Jesus said, he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

You stick completely to your notes as you have basically transcripted most of it already, so as to not set sail into the soil of your own imagination. Some of the crowd seem to be repenting right there in their seats. The person in question seems to be looked at by others (right or wrong). People know what is going on and what God is saying.

When the message is over and the service done, the "person whom you just knew was going to be affected, or should have been affected" comes to you and says that the sermon was great, was needed, and really should serve as a wake up call to some people.

You want to shout, "You're the man!"

In a sense, right or wrong, I have done that, more than once. I just ask the simple question, "Great, now how about you, how did the sermon effect you?"

Dan, this is why I also try every once in a while to preach sermons about this very point, from the passage you mentioned, the Ezekiel passage I mentioned at the start of this comment (sorry for the length), and especially 2 Samuel 12, aptly titled "Thou Art The Man".

Some think they have gone beyond where the preacher is and so he has nothing to say to them. But they have the wrong idea alogether. Even if they are grater in theologcal acumen, and even in personal piety, the man in the pulpit is bringing God's Word to bear, and they are not beyond that.

Indeed, even if they are beyond the man in the pulpit, they are not beyond the pulpit itself. They have not heard it all before, and even if they had, it would be apparent that they haven't listened.

Balaam was a far superior creature to the donkey, but that donkey taught him something that day, well it tried anyway. Perhaps that is what some modern day Balaam's see their preacher as, a stubborn donkey who just won't clear the way for them...

candy said...

Watching House again Dan?

In all seriousness though. I remember years ago reading Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and thinking that it was so harsh. When I reread it as a Reformed Christian, I found it infused by grace, even though the message was strong enough to send folks to the floor in tears and repentence in Edwards congregation, and me as well in my easy chair.

I'll bet folks didn't leave that day saying "Nice sermon Edwards".
Too bad they later ran him out of the church.

It is sorrowful that we are sometimes desensitized to the Word.

Joe said...

Dan your posts are awesome. I also enjoy your other blog Biblical Christianity. This is the first blog I read and BC is the second. I always go away challenged!! Cent, Phil and you stretch my thinking everyday. Keep posting, God is working out here through you guys.

DJP said...

Even So—Yep, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

And that is one of the amazing aspects of verse by verse preaching. When I was a pastor, I knew some folk would be thinking I was singling out a topic. But, hey — verse 17 comes after verse 16, and we did verse 17 last week, so....

Truth be told, sometimes I didn't want to preach it for that very reason!

But... verse 17 comes after verse 16, and we did verse 17 last week. So....

James Scott Bell said...

Ridiculous. If you want people to be in church, you not only have to know what verses to skip, but how to find ways to translate others so they'll come back.

Do you really care about people, Dan? Then you want them in church. Haven't you been watching TV lately?

I heard a great TV sermon recently from a guy preaches to what looks like 100,000 people (every one of whom can see their reflection in his teeth), and it was a sermon on "Liking Yourself." And he said this (this is true, BTW):

"Remember Ephesians 6:14, and every day put on the breastplate of God's approval."

Now THAT's biblical preaching, son.

Unknown said...

Interesting how God sent His servants on what appears to be a mission of futility, prefacing the whole thing with:

"It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin."

Yet He knew they wouldn't.

I'm not a preacher but at this point I'm thinking...the messenger just had to do the messenger's job and let the cards fall how they would. God knew Pharaoh wouldn't repent, either, but kept making Moses go back. Who can understand His purposes...or even judge when one is being effective in ministering the word or not?

Some layman's thoughts...

Anyway, thanks for elevating the discussion from the peculiar to the meaningful!

Stefan Ewing said...

Heh, you had me racking my brain thinking if I'd ever sanctimoniously said to someone that that was a good sermon, without considering how it applied to me.... I haven't been a Christian long enough for that to happen—I'm still hanging on every word from the pulpit—but this reminds me to guard growing deaf to God's Word in the future.

From the sounds of it, expository preaching is seriously denigrated these days. I've already become a fan of it because of the effect I've seen the Holy Spirit have through it have on the life of our church—and on me; I'm heartened to see that you guys (or at least Dan) embrace it, too. I guess it's not a coincidence that our pastor is apparently a fan of Spurgeon, Edwards, et alia as well.

So...um, er...nice article today!

Stefan Ewing said...

jsb, did he also not mention sin because "it doesn't make people feel good"?

danny2 said...

another benefit of the expository approach...(and the most dear element to me)

it makes it harder to avoid the passages that sting the preacher (not just the congregation) as he prepares each week.

"I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for the schoolmaster all the days of their life."--Calvin

i get frustrated with the "nice sermon" congregant, but i strive to avoid becoming the "wow, that was a nice sermon" pastor.

DJP said...

Good points, Danny.

At a recent Reformed conference, a speaker warned against "preaching to the amen's."

(Of course, someone said, "Amen.")

Unknown said...

This is great. LOL! Last night a teacher from a local bible college came and was continuing his lessons titled "How Great Our Salvation". He actually taught election correctly, (last week he taught Eph 2 correctly) which made the hair on the back of my neck rise and I almost tinkled my shorts with excitement and joy (doesn't happen much in my church!). After the lesson I went up to the teacher and said "That was NICE!" LOL! It was! Two weeks in a row I heard sound doctrines of grace. My wife who is a little grace challenged said "How come I have never heard anyone teach this before? The Bible says it plainly.” I think my wife’s eyes were finally opened (YES, God does exist!). Maybe I picked a bad way to express myself to the teacher, but it was NICE!

Thanks Dan

~Mark said...

To this post; AMEN.

I sometimes wonder if I have just said something quite the opposite of what I thought I was saying, or blogging for that matter.

When I read the Word, and when I read the explanations of the Word by solid, proficient teachers, I either want to stand and cheer or rip my clothes and weep.

When I look at a person next to me, hearing the same words but only smiling politely and then leaving, it frustrates me.

When I spend hours putting together a post (not that I'm a Dan Phillips or anything ;) ) directly upon a Scriptural topic and no one says a word, I wonder if I am wasting my time or if no one's listening.

It's DEEPLY frustrating when I've written something absolutely wrenching and someone says merely, "yeah, me too."

Stefan Ewing said...

After reading Candyinsierra's comment, I looked up Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which I had never read, much less heard of.

Wow! That's just—wow!

"And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners...many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God."

Peculiar Pete said...

"Wow" isn't the word for it! That message was (next to those preached by Christ) arguably the greatest in all of history. People were falling to their faces, holding onto pillars, running out screaming, and so forth. That man had the power of God!

Yeah, I enjoy reading it every once in awhile. It really makes me feel happy and warm inside. Just like when I listen to my friend Joel Osteen!


davedryer said...

With tons of affirmation given to pastors in the comments thus far, let me also say that pastors (I am one) can also be guilty themselves in this regard. One more than one occasion, I've sat through a sermon all the time saying to myself, "I could have done that much better." Or, picking apart a phrase or two, spent the time thinking, "I wonder what his theological position is." Obviously, a prayed over, well-prepared sermon went whistling over my head.
We also can encourage another type of "amen" other than the ones during the sermon. We can encourage the "nice sermon" response after the sermon by responding poorly to those who might question a point, an illustration, or even an exposition. Every once in awhile I'm approached by a "Jehoiakim", matches already lit, with my sermon notes in his gaze, and have efficiently doused his flame and sent him away with tail between his legs. My friends congratulate me on how I "handled it." And then they say "nice sermon."
Sometimes the door swings both ways.

Stefan Ewing said...

Peculiar Pete: Oh yeah, I hear you. I often suffer from verbal dia-you-know-what, but I was just at a loss for words. Fire and brimstone never sounded so good!

Doug E. said...

Soo True. Thanks for the post!


Stefan Ewing said...

Heh. Just by "coincidence" (there are no coincidences in the plans of the Lord), I have heard that Jonathan Edwards is one of my pastor's favourite preachers--and of course, he's an expositor to boot. No wonder I repented after hearing one of his sermons!

ezekiel said...

Real humble post there, Davedryer. Pound that sheep.....

Morris Brooks said...

Don Sands

Yes the Word is razor sharp and double edged, but it strikes on a heart of stone unless the Lord takes it out and replaces it with a heart of flesh.

There are always the nice sermon group, but it is the ones who don't say anything that are usually affected. We can't see the heart and can't see the Spirit at work in the heart. I think that is why we are instructed to PREACH the WORD, in season and out, reproving, rebuking, exhorting with GREAT PATIENCE and instruction. Many times the people I thought I was preaching to didn't get it, it was the people next to them or behind them.

Glenn said...


As one who sits in the pews and nods his head...

Let me tell you, I've heard some sermons that have pierced me to the core.

The nodding of the head and smiling is because I am thankful for what is being said, no matter how rotten it makes me feel about myself.

The "Nice Sermon" is because it is the only words I can get in before the pastor moves on to the next person.

So, before we get to cynical about people in the congregation, consider that "Nice Sermon" may mean...Ouch! it hurt, but I needed to hear it. Good Job!


donsands said...


Good point.

There are those that may seem like Christians, but their hearts are yet to be opened by the Lord to His truth.

Unknown said...

The comments (about/from pastors/congregants) were good, and the post was "nice" < duckin' an' runnin' >.

I had a pastor who once said, "If you can't say 'Amen!', then say 'Ah, me!"

One thing I think we all need to remember is the work of the Holy Spirit. It's His job "to convict." How often do you tell one person the gospel repeatedly, then suddenly the Holy Spirit "goes to work", and it all "comes together" for that person. "OH! NOW I get it!"

(Yeah, I don't have the theological lingo, but I _think_ the concepts are straight! (c: )

Stefan Ewing said...

Amen to what Rich wrote. While the Holy Spirit gives you pastors the words to preach, he may well be working invisibly in your congregants--nurturing seeds that will bear fruit in the fullness of time.

Daryl said...

Ezekiel said...

"Real humble post there, Davedryer. Pound that sheep..... "

Did you read his post? Geez, the guy opens up about how tempting it can be to cut people down to size and how he often sets himself up for a "Nice" comment and you slash his tires? Get a grip.

For my part Dave, thank you for your post. I follow you.

Excellent post Dan & Dave.

brentjthomas said...

I am not a pastor. Many sermons I've heard in the past leave me thinking, "Wow, that was incredibly tepid!" I left a church last year that was tepid in every way, and am tempted (only tempted) to burn the bland newsletters with the bland pastor's notes which we still receive from that church. I am now gladly and gratefully attending a church with a pastor who is not tepid. Last Sunday he was preaching from James chapter 3, about wisdom from above. A person seated near the front of the congregation answered a ringing cel-phone. The pastor,correctly, sharply responded by pointing his finger at the attendee, and sternly stating,"That must stop right now!"
A bit later the Pastor did this again when the offender once again answered the phone. Then the behavior ceased, thankfully. The Pastor was correctly stern like a father, but did not for even a second appear shaken, embittered, or vengeful, and lived up to the description, at that moment anyway, of one who is wise and understanding. I would have behaved differently, and am glad to see such behavior in a Pastor.

DJP said...

As a pastor without a pulpit, stories of tepid preachers just kill me. "Dude, if you're not on fire about what you have the privilege (and burden) of preaching, please, step aside."