Archives For Preaching

Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.

In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them.  In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

How does he begin?

May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3

The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!

Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!

Whether you are stepping into the pulpit tomorrow or will be in the pews tomorrow, this is they type of prayer that you can pray for the sermon: “May this teaching drop as the rain…may the name of the Lord be proclaimed, may he ascribe greatness to our God!

The best part about this: God answered the prayer. Read the sermon; it drips with God-centeredness.

It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

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Lately I am learning of the indispensability of personally listening to sermons. Let me explain. Over the last several years I have preached, on average, nearly 50 Sundays per year. The times I have not preached I have been on vacation or traveling. As a result, I very rarely sit under preaching. I am making a distinction from listening to sermons and sitting under preaching. I listen to sermons all the time but rarely sit under the preached word live.

I believe that this has not helpful to me. In fact, I need to sit under live preaching.

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This sermon and this section in particular was a great blessing to me today. Is Spurgeon’s great longing and prayer beginning to be realized in our day? To some degree you would have to say “yes.”

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Over the years I have heard a lot of sermons; some have been good others, not so much. If you are a preacher then you, like me, want to get better. In this post I’ll take for granted that we understand that no sermon will get off the ground unless it is preaching the Scriptures. If you are not doing this then anything I write here will not help you. What follows here are 5 simple, practical preaching helps. As I study preaching and preachers these things are present in consistently helpful, good expositions.

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Often times I scratch my head as to why some Kindle books are so expensive. In the past I have done that with 2 of these listed below. I’m very happy to see that they are on sale for a limited time.

Center Church by Tim Keller ($5.69) Whether you agree or not with Keller (I happen to agree) pastors need to read this book to be encouraged and informed. It is that good. (Amazon Kindle)

Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton ($7.69) This is Horton’s attempt to make the on-ramp into Systematic Theology more accessible. What results is a doctrinally and devotionally rich systematic theology. I really like this and can’t wait to have my Kindle read it to me. (Amazon Kindle)

Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ($3.99) Arguably one of the 20th Century’s best preachers writing about preaching. This is the 40th anniversary re-release with contributions from contemporary preachers. This is a staple for preachers or aspiring preachers or people who just like preaching. (Amazon Kindle)

Pastors have greatly benefited from the recent technological advances. Having only been in full-time ministry for the last 8 years, I have seen a flurry of new gadgets and software that can help me to be more efficient and effective.

At the same time, there is a little recoil. New devices and software present challenges as well as opportunity. How can I employ these means without being a distraction to those I preach to? One such environment is the officiating of a wedding. I have always printed my notes out from a word document and then conducted the wedding. The trouble is: I don’t own a printer and I no longer use Microsoft Word. I put everything in Evernote and use my Desktop / iPad / iPhone. In my estimation I would be about as distracting officiating a wedding with an iPad as I would with my desktop. So I have used my iPhone in the past. The issue here would be that it would slide in my bible and become a distraction, potentially for everyone if I fumbled it.

My solution was to combine the best of both worlds: my trusty (and timelessly trendy) Moleskine Notebook with my iPhone. Think of a combination of Charles Dickens and Shawshank Redemption.

Below are some pics of the process. Trust me when I say that my craft skill rivals a 3-year-old. No one should feel like they could not do this if they wanted to.

Start with the tools (Moleskine Ruled Notebook, iPhone, box cutter, ruler, pencil, coffee).

IMG_3888

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Awhile back I heard a talk by Tim Keller on preaching. As is often the case, Keller’s thoughts multiply in my mind faster than a rabbit farm. In this instance he was talking about sermon application. I may not have the quotes or points just right, but the gist of it is here.

Sermon application will often focus on either the doctrinal, the pietistic, or the service of others (declaring and/or demonstrating the gospel by loving our neighbors).

Keller’s point was that preachers often have their own leanings to one of these three. As a result their sermon application will tend to accent a particular category. Over the long-haul this begins to lead a congregation to over pronate to one side at the exclusion of the others (not that any of these three are bad, they are just not complete).

The answer is to be aware of our blind spots and to work regularly and faithfully to apply the text. Some of the best sermons will include all three components.

I know where my leanings tend to be. I also know that I can get aggravated when other preachers may not emphasize my particular hobby-horse while riding their own. Keller’s call for thoughtful faithfulness is really a call for balance. Which is another way of saying ‘biblical’.

We all have blind spots. We have our issues. Whether we are talking about personal, social, or theological blind spots, we have them. And to say you don’t, is to, well, make my point.

The important thing for us to look for said weaknesses, identify them and replace them. This is living life as a fallen sinner it is reality.

But sometimes our blind spots are our hobby horses. And this is a problem.

I can remember arguing about abortion with a friend who is pro-choice. In the midst of the discussion (it was civil) he called me out on my flippancy concerning life in the various wars that the US is involved in. He had a point. My issue was inconsistent. I had a blind spot.
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I appreciated this post from Michael McKinley on prayer and sermon prep. Good stuff.

Most pastors develop a rhythm with their sermon preparation. You find a way that “works” for you and you pretty much stick with it. But until you have the pattern established, it can be messy. And one of the areas with which I struggled at the beginning was how prayer fit into my sermon preparation.

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All the news attention yesterday and throughout today has been on the President’s State of the Union address. This happens every year in January and it serves to be a good reminder of the President’s accountability to the other branches of government.

This occasion provides more than a civics lesson. It also helps the church think about preaching.

We have heard experts decry preaching as outdated, irrelevant, wastes of time. We cannot possibly expect people to listen, engage, and retain what they are told during a 45 minute sermon on Sunday morning. There is a better way we are told. Maybe we should have conversations or drama or finger painting or whatever.

I have it on good information that the government and in particular President Obama, is pretty good at technology. They also have spent a buck or two on surveys. Yet, they keep on shuffling out President Obama to give us a speech. And this is not a little 15 minute jokey speech, it is a full 1 hour speech.

So what can we learn?

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Everyone is prone to discouragement. No matter our vocation, we all face the temptation to feel like what we are doing does not matter. I can remember working in the military and wondering how much my work really supported the mission. I recall working in Insurance Compliance and debating in my mind as to how in the world all of these reports and analysis really did anything. These are natural and common questions.

From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).

So here you stand, knee deep in the sludge of personal and corporate sin, knowing your own weakness, and watching sheep alternating between picking each other off and falling asleep, and you ask, “Am I doing anything?”

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I cannot imagine what pastors who do not preach Christ feel like on Saturdays before preaching.  How discouraging it must be to sit and think about preaching another sermon about men’s goodness, improved lives, religious works to do, and ways to feel better.  Sermons that make this heaven and us god or savior are so depressing and uninspiring.

Instead, there is an inexhaustible treasure of riches in Jesus.  There is ample fodder there in him for an eternity of Sabbaths and all of the pulpits that have ever been erected.  In him is found all of the divine attractiveness.  Here I sit on a Saturday before a Sunday morning sermon and I thank God for the glorious character & plot of the story of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is indeed true food and true drink that does not leave you or your people wanting.

This is great. Old, but still good.

(ht: Resurgence)

Good and helpful discussion on the beauty of God’s Word and the necessity of being a faithful herald. Encouraging.

I really appreciate how in this video John Piper gives us a window into his study while at the same time cautioning us against copying him. It is tempting for preachers to see and hear a guy like Piper and then try to ‘cut and paste’ what he does for themselves. I like his advice about wearing your own armor. I also really like the detailed emphasis that he places upon meditation and talking to the text. This is great. And it shows in his preaching.

(feed readers need to click thru to the site in order to see video)

Our American culture really loves to elevate superstars. We grab what the star does, says, and believes and try to cut and paste that into our lives to generate the same result.

Pastors have their heroes too. I suppose that if we were to ask 10 evangelical pastors what pastor has been the most influential in their lives, perhaps 7-8 of them would say, “Rick Warren.” He is really unrivaled in his influence and reach today.

So when he talks or in this case tweets, people listen. I listen. I want to know what and how pastors think. In my experience  they think a lot like Rick Warren. And frankly, I think this type of thinking is both unbiblical and unhelpful.

So here is a statement. Now, granted, you can only use 140 characters in a tweet. But it looks like this one has been carefully worded and even capitalized so as to make the point. And further, it is a tight summary of the type of thinking that has filled Rick Warren’s books. (so I don’t think I’m off base in writing this post–see also here).

Here’s the quote:

A church stays small when a pastor uses an outdated preaching STYLE.God called u for today’s hearers,not 500 or 50 yrs ago. (Rick Warren, permalink)

I really think this encapsulates the thinking of many in evangelicalism today. And if he is right, then we had better be careful with our style. After all, our impact depends on it.

We are Talking about Conversion (or Gospel) Growth
First, I assume that Warren is referring to growth related to conversion and sanctification rather than just drawing a crowd for numbers’ sake. Much of what he has said over the years relates to this type of growth so I think it is a safe bet.

My issue then with this type of thinking is that it emphasizes that a spiritual result can be achieved by a tweaking of a personal style. In other words you can achieve the spiritual end (conversion & sanctification–church growth) through the employment of a particular style. And conversely you will hamper conversion and growth if you employ a particular preaching style that may have worked in the past but is now out of date.

The emphasis here in this type of philosophy of ministry is on the delivery rather than the content. It assumes that the style of preaching can bring about the intended means. It also assumes that faithful preachers from previous centuries (Whitfield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, or the Apostle Paul for that matter!) would not be able to preach effectively today (or at least that they would have to change their style to do so).

Swiss-Cheese Theology
I completely reject this type of thinking. I reject it on a theological basis. The human heart is not awoken by style but by the gospel, the Word of God. Paul knew that the Corinthians wanted style but he gave them what they did not want in order that they might get what they needed (gospel). (1 Cor. 1.18-24) God calls people from within the various camps of people clamoring for style to love Christ (1 Cor. 1.24). In summary, God uses weak people to proclaim a powerful message and provides powerful results so that he gets the glory and we boast in him.

Furthermore, are we to assume that folks like Tom Carson experienced small church ministry because of his ‘style?’ Could it have been that the Roman Catholic opposition in French Canada could have been over come if Tom had just employed a more savvy style?

What about Jeremiah? Could his following and ministry have gone better if he would have had a more current style? Same for Ezekiel.

Not to mention Jesus. Remember he was betrayed by a intimate disciple, considered to be crazy by his family, abandoned by all but one of his 12, ultimately killed by the crowds that followed him, and had only a handful of friends and family there at his death. Was it style or substance here? John 8.44

Pragmatism is Pastorally Paralyzing
Instead, pastors must understand that true gospel growth in a church is a result of God’s sovereign grace working powerfully in the hearts and lives of people. It is not fundamentally his own style that builds the church but the word of Christ proclaimed.

Not only is this type of thinking biblically wrong but it is pastorally paralyzing. How do you think the pastor in the small country church feels when he reads or hears this after he has tried gimmick after gimmick and fad after fad? Will he not turn to the next trick or tweak of style to win these people? The only thing that transcends generations, zip-codes, and cultures is the gospel. It must be proclaimed. It is what Christ uses to build his church (Matt. 16.13). This type of emphasis upon style does far more damage than good. It turns us towards self-dependence rather than Spirit-dependence and it would yield boasting in man rather than Christ (1 Cor. 1.27, 31).

True gospel growth happens when God waters the seed of his word, giving the increase. When this has happened we sing and praise him, realizing that we are weak vessels that have been used by the King (1 Cor. 3.6)

Give ‘em Good Fish and Chips

Erik Raymond —  February 18, 2010

It is a problem that all pastors doubtless face, “How can I make sure that I am feeding all of the people that God has given me?”

When I look out upon our congregation on Sunday morning I see a wide spectrum. I see faithful and mature folks who have been walking with the Lord for decades and then some who have been Christians for only a few months. I see people in their 60’s and then folks in their 20’s. In addition to that there are many little 5 year-olds staring up at me trying to understand. There are people from a completely biblically illiterate background and then there are those who have grown up in evangelical churches but never heard the gospel. Then there are many guys who are running hard theologically and wanting to be challenged and fed.

And so I push back from the table, exhale, put my hands behind my head, and wonder to myself about how to best deal with this good problem.

I was sharing this dilemma with a friend recently. He would be in the ‘running hard theologically’ category. He smiled and said, “Just make good fish and chips every week. If you make fish and chips well then we will all be happy and fed.”

His point was this, regardless of what you are used to, expecting, or really want, you always appreciate a well-made plate of fish and chips. It seems to have that unique ability to simply ‘hit the spot’ every time you have it. So, says my friend, “Give us well-made fish and chips.”

I appreciated this. If the preaching is clear, biblical and simply explained then it will be helpful and profound wherever you are spiritually. The hard work then for the preacher is to take from their own level of interaction and bring it to a place where an 8 year old would understand the big picture, the new Christian would marvel at the Christological significance, and the hungry pastoral intern would be clenching his fist with a resolve to live for this glorious Christ. This is the work of thoughtful and dependent prayer and meditation. This is the work of pastoral ministry.

This past week we had a great opportunity at Omaha Bible Church to do ministry in a community that we have been trying to reach with the gospel for a number of years.  God has graciously opened a door for us in North Omaha, a section of the city that our church building borders.  It was a great time and it seems like even more doors are opened for further community impact.  Nightly we had teams fix broken houses, serve food, conduct adult Bible studies and children’s studies.  Then on Saturday we had a picnic in the park for the neighborhood where I got the opportunity to preach the gospel.  This was a great time.

However, about 5 minutes in a guy walks up and stops about 5 feet from me.  He proceeds to take off his shoe while staring me down.  He raises it up and we are all thinking about George Bush in Iraq last year.  I just looked away and thought “whatever, I can duck” and kept going.  He then started making some noise and one of our leaders gently inquired if he was ok.

Thankfully he stuck around.  However, he was not quiet.

At several points he piped up with either questions or discuss (refute) what I was saying.  This became very helpful for me.  I was able to answer what he was saying with what the Scriptures say.  And he broke things up a bit.  The other folks were definitely following the interaction.  He became a jester of sorts.  It was good.

Then afterwards I was able to talk with the guy and some of our leaders spent some more time with him.  He was fed and he heard the word clearly.

In my view this scenario is an open air dream.  You have the opportunity to proclaim the message and then you have someone asking questions related to what you are saying and then you can answer them.  Further, the jester was being less than curtious and kind, so the crowd would (presumably) sympathize with the preacher.  It is a win-win.

I will say that things would be quite different in the gathering of the church on Sunday am.  I would not tolerate persistent questioning, refuting, or insulting when the Word of God being proclaimed in the church.  I do think there is a difference in the two settings.  In this case ushers or elders should step up and take care of the disturbances.

In this case though, it was a good thing.  And I praise God for sovereignly bringing this guy there.

I have encountered hecklers in other venues (prison, public setting, etc) and found them to be equally helpful.  If you also have encountered this, either in preaching or hearing or heckling!, I’d love to hear from you.

I really enjoy listening to John Piper talk about preaching.  He brings out the hammer of the Word that serves Christ’s glory and smashes the preacher’s pulpit mirrors that serve vain glory.

I just want to work, pray, and preach harder when I listen to stuff like this:

Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. The preacher worships-exults-over the word, trying his best to draw you into a worshipful response by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My job is not simply to see truth and show it to you. (The devil could do that for his own devious reasons.) My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a sermon and a lecture.

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The aim of this exposition is to help you eat and digest biblical truth that will

* make your spiritual bones more like steel,
* double the capacity of your spiritual lungs,
* make the eyes of your heart dazzled with the brightness of the glory of God,
* and awaken the capacity of your soul for kinds of spiritual enjoyment you didn’t even know existed.

And then the video…

(ht: Unashamed Workman)