Posts Tagged ‘preaching’

Reading the Word Effectively

This was originally published as a guest post on the preaching blog propreacher
Reading the Word

Photo credit: George Redgrave cc

One of the most important parts of the sermon is what happens before you preach: reading the text to the congregation. If you don’t do this, than you are robbing your congregation.  And by all means do not close your Bible after you finish reading. In doing so you subtly or not so subtly communicate that what comes after the reading is all about you and your message. Again, you are robbing your congregation.

So, how can we read God’s Word before the sermon effectively?

Here are some ways to do so:

1. Read with Authority:

Do you have something to say or not? The authority to proclaim God’s Word does not reside in the frail vessel, but in the Spirit who illumines hearts and opens eyes. If you do not believe in what you are reading, please exit stage left.

When you are confident in the Word and it’s transformative power, your congregation will experience real change.  God promises that His Word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11-12).  Therefore, read with authority.

2. Read with Eye Contact:

Obviously, you lose eye contact when you read, but your goal should be to maintain some eye contact with your readers.  Hopefully, they have heads down following along, but you still should strive for connection.  In doing so, you help bridge the gap between pulpit and pew.

The way to accomplish this is twofold.  First, know thy text.  Hopefully by the time you are stepping into the pulpit you have spent ample time with your passage.

Secondly, “scoop the text”.  That is, read a little bit ahead and place in your mind.  You can do this with whole sentences and phrases.  Maintaining eye contact will assure the congregation that you are engaged with them.

3. Read with Intonation & Variation:

One of the cardinal sins of preaching is to bore your congregation. It can be deadly – ask Eutychus.  If you read the Word of God like you read the phone book, then you are doing it all wrong.

Different genres of Scripture require variation in speech. The Gospels read differently than Psalms, which read differently than Hosea. Even the same passage can do with some variation. For instance in Psalm 34, David opens with a call to worship that sores to the heavens and invites the listener to join in. But later, when you might lower your voice and speak more softly, David reminds us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and afflicted.

Sometimes God speaks with power and other times He whispers tenderly.  Let your reading reflect this awesome reality.

4. Read with Confidence:

Let’s be honest, there are some difficult passages full of strange names and places.  Even with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, those passages can be intimidating.

I have heard a couple of unique approaches. You can read a few names and then skip to the end of your passage. Or you can just use initials to identify the people or places.

I would rather have you practice. The best way to do this is to listen to someone read the passage ahead of time. Max McClean is a wonderful reader of the Word. Also some websites have audio versions, like the online ESV Bible.  This will give you confidence when reading the Scriptures.

Remember, reading your passage is an important part of preaching.  When you read with authority, while maintaining eye contact, reading with intonation, and with confidence you invite your congregation into a sacred dance with the Lord of  the Word.  Don’t neglect this vital starting point of preaching.

Preaching the Whole Counsel

This post was originally written and published as a guest post on the Preaching blog propreacher

When I was 16 years old and still a babe in Christ, I once remarked that I didn’t need to read the Old Testament. I didn’t think you could find Christ in the Old Testament. How wrong I was!

I can blame my ignorance, in part, on not being raised in the Church and never hearing the Bible stories. I couldn’t distinguish Noah from Jonah. I was a functional Marcionite, long before I knew Marcion’s name.

Bible and shadow of Cross

Photo Credit: damianeva cc

A little history lesson: Marcion was an early church father, who served as the Bishop of Sinope and lived in the late first century until the middle second century.  He would be condemned by the other early Church Fathers. Why? He viewed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as competing deities. There was no grace to be found in the Old Testament.  He called the OT God by the name demiurge, a mere tribal deity of the Hebrews. This led to his rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Unfortunately, our pews are full of many functional Marcionites. They just don’t see any use for the Old Testament. They don’t see Jesus.

We must lay the blame for that at the feet of pastors who consistently avoid preaching the Old Testament. I get it. It’s hard and there are many passages that create difficulties. How do we handle the annihilation of the Caananites, for example. But Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus gave us the big picture. He told us all of the Scriptures speak and lead to Him.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:45-48, ESV

Keep in mind that the New Testament had not been written yet!

So, we have our marching orders. We cannot ignore the Old Testament. How then do we find balance in our preaching, so that we preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Commit to preaching both Testaments.

I do this by alternating my preaching series between the two. I learned this from the pastor I worked under out of seminary and I am grateful for that leading. I preach expository series, but this can work with topical series too. Just make sure you draw on the full teaching of Scripture.

Even with special series, I try to alternate my preaching. So, at Advent I will preach the promise of the Coming of Christ one year and then the Reality the next. In so doing, I point my congregation to the full teaching of Scripture. I am committed to drilling Marcionism from their hearts.

Additionally, books by Biblical Theologians, like Graham Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus may help the preacher connect the redemptive story of Christ together.

Preacher, commit to preaching the whole counsel!

Cancer & Preaching to Myself

Almost three years ago, in the Spring of 2010, I wrote a letter to a dear friend who had been diagnosed with cancer.  I wrote the letter because we had moved away and yet I still very much felt like her pastor – even if from a distance.  Today, I am realizing that so much of my need each day is to preach what I have preached to others to myself.  To remember the richness of God’s grace, the depth of His love, and the promise of His presence.  To think deeply about God’s sovereignty and His glory, even in the midst of suffering.  I want to do this while and as I have opportunity.  Here is the majority of what I wrote and my attempt to own some of the ways I have encouraged others – I know I have a long ways to go:

Here is what I would tell you if I were your pastor, and at times like this I wish I were!:

  First, I would tell you I love you and am so thankful the Lord has placed you and your family in our lives.  What a tremendous blessing y’all have been to us since we first came to Hampton Roads and still to this day.  While this past year has been good in many ways, one thing that has consistently been hard is that the Lord placed in Meridianville/Huntsville, rather than in your community. [Four years in, I could now write how thankful and blessed we are to be here in North Alabama and would’t want to change that one bit]  We are making new friends, but it’s nothing yet like the joy of our friendship with your family.  And you personally, have been an encouragement to me, particularly in my ministry these years too.  That has been invaluable to me and a certain fulfillment of the Lord’s command to encourage one another.  And I can only begin to imagine the love that your family has for you as you have been a loving, faithful, and compassionate wife and mother.  I am sure they have shared their love for anew in these recent days.  Regardless, of how we might describe the depth of such love, love of friends or family, it pails in comparison to the love of God.  That is the first thing I would tell you and remind you – God loves you far more than we can imagine on this side of glory, but not in a way that is only incomprehensible.  God’s love is demonstrable for we need only look to the Cross of Christ.  God’s love is not fickle, feeble, nor does it wane.  God’s love is not measured by our assessment of our circumstances, whether good or bad.  God’s love is not quantified or qualified in relation to how we feel, what we can see, or what we might hope.  And so, my prayer for you during these days is that “Christ may dwell in your heart through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (with thanks to Paul!). 

            Secondly, I would encourage you to find the balance between radical honesty about your frailty, struggles, doubts, and uncertainties, while at the same time being radically honest about your faith and trust in God.  I have always loved the “holy buts” of 2 Corinthians 4.  Paul acknowledges that we are jars of clay, symbolizing our frailty.  But – and it’s a big one, Paul also directs us to the power of God that was first displayed at creation and now in our recreation through Jesus Christ.  In the Christian, these are always joined together (Or should be) – an understanding of what we are, but always in relation to the work of Jesus.  So, even as you struggle today or tomorrow or next week in a variety of ways, don’t shrink back from being honest with yourself, your family, your brothers and sisters in Christ, or those who don’t know Christ.  Speak your doubts, your fears, your anxieties.  And then, as they are spoken, be prepared to hear God’s response of love and compassion for you.  It might come from His Word, by His Spirit, through a loved one, a brother/sister in Christ, or God may even use someone where you might least expect to hear God’s truth. 

            Thirdly, I would tell you that God’s care about you as a complete person.  So then, this isn’t just about what is happening to you or in you physically.  This also about your faith, your heart, your emotions, and your spirit – God doesn’t just redeem a portion of us, but all of us.  So, in that sense this presents an opportunity to prayerfully consider all of the ways that the Lord will grow you.  I am so glad someone directed you to “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” – I read a couple of years ago and am thankful for John Piper’s ministry.  I probably can’t say what he says as well, but the thrust of what Piper says is what I would say to you, perhaps more personally, if not as eloquently.  Here is an opportunity the Lord has given you to grow, not in spite of your cancer, but because of it.  Not a one of us would ask the Lord to grow us that way, but now that you are there, might as well take advantage of it.   This knowledge informs my prayers for you.  Yes, I pray for your physical well-being, but I also pray (and maybe more so) for your spiritual well-being.  

            Fourthly, I would tell you that this isn’t just about you.  That could sound harsh, but I think you would know the way in which I would say that to you.  Just as the Lord is doing something in you as a whole person, He is also at work outside of you.  I heard someone once say that God’s never just doing one thing, He’s doing a million things at one time or something like that.  In that sense, even as you may pray for yourself, pray also for how the Lord will glorify himself in a multitude of ways through this.  How might he use this to grow your church?  How might he use this to bring reconciliation with family members?  How might he use this to draw your whole family into an even deeper walk?  How might he use this to draw someone to himself? How might he use this in ways that we may not see today or tomorrow, or on this side of heaven?  Yeah, that’s would I say, it’s not just about you, but the Lord will use you for His glory.

            I probably would have more to say, but I know that talking too much is an occupational hazard.  So, if I were your pastor, I would also wait, watch, and pray, to see what else the Lord would lead me to say.  I would listen, knowing that I can learn/hear/be reminded of as much from you about the Gospel, the love of Christ, and our growth as Christians, as you might learn/hear/be reminded of from me.  Forgive any grammatical errors, since I would prefer to saying these things to you, rather than writing them.  My prayers attend this note. 

grace & peace…Adam

Notes from the Sermon…(10/11)

Text:  Colossians 3:5-11

Title:  A Radical Walk

Theme:  New life in Christ leads to a radical walk in this world.

For Paul, doctrine demands duty; creed determines conduct; facts demand acts.”  – R. Kent Hughes

But now things are different.  You’ve moved on.  You don’t live at that address any longer, so why keep pretending you do?  – Derek Tidball

Lists of vices are of frequent occurrence in ancient literature…The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian treatment of these vices is that apart from Christ and the fullness of grace imparted by his Spirit there is no power in all the universe to overcome them.  Christ, he alone, supplies that power.” – William Hendriksen

I also used a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip as an illustration, which can be viewed here


Texts & Topics for October (oops)

Well, here it is and two Sunday’s are already in the books.  Here are the texts & topics for the rest of October:

October 18th:
AM:  Associate Pastor Hammond preaching from Genesis 37:1-11,  44:30-34, 49:8-12
PM:  Associate Pastor Hammond teaching from Genesis 38

October 25th:
AM:  Colossians 3:12-14
PM:  Praying the Psalms: Psalm 145

Notes from the Sermon (10-4-09)

Sermon Text:  Colossians 3:1-4

Sermon Title:  New Life in a Dead World

Sermon Theme:  How do we live new life in a dead world?

I did not use any quotations in the sermon yesterday.  I did refer to a cartoon (How to Over-Spiritualize Everything) that can be seen here.

Notes from the Sermon…(9/27)

Text: Colossians 2:16-23

Theme: The Gospel free us, but man-centered religion enslaves us.

Quotations:

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” Tim Keller (not sure of the source, might be The Prodigal God)

The idea that spirituality can be quantified provides an unfortunate basis for pride and judgmentalism.  The flesh finds doing truly spiritual things difficult, as ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41).  But the flesh has no trouble with religious rules and regulations.  There is an authentic lure to legalism.” R. Kent Hughes in Colossians and Philemon (Preaching the Word Series)

“God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.” – Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 19

Bad theology leads to bad practice” Peter O’Brien, Colossians-Philemon (WBC)

I also used the following Scriptures at the end of each main point:  Romans 8:1-4 , Colossians 1:12-13, Romans 6:6-8

Notes from the Sermon…(9/20)

I am going to start posting some of the quotations that I use in my sermons…these are from yesterday’s sermon:

Text:  Colossians 2:13-15

Theme:  Our freedom flows from the Cross of Christ (We are freed from death, debt, and dominion)

Quotations:

Be sure you see this most wonderful and astonishing of all truths: God took the record of all your sins that made you a debtor to wrath . . ., and instead of holding them up in front of your face and using them as the warrant to send you to hell, God put them in the palm of his Son’s hand and drove a spike through them into the cross. It is a bold and graphic statement: He canceled the record of our debt . . . nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:14).”  John Piper – This Momentary Marriage

We normally think that power is needed to defeat an enemy, but God uses weakness.  We generally think that dignity is associated with majesty, but God glories in the shame of Calvary.  We are accustomed to think that success must be safeguarded, but in Christ God embraces defeat.  We mostly believe that pain is to be eschewed, but in the cross God willingly accepts it.  But in weakness, shame, pain, and apparent defeat of the cross there is real victory.” Derek Tidball – The Reality Is Christ

If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved…Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations….(Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?). Milton Vincent – A Gospel Primer for Christians

And here is one from Charles Spurgeon I did not use:

His cross was his triumph…. What more do you want? Your enemy is vanquished, your sins blotted out, your death changed to life, your necessities all supplied. Will you not stay at home with Christ?…Canst thou have a better lover than thy Lord, a dearer husband than the heavenly Bridegroom? Oh, love the Lord, ye his saints; cling to him, and make much of him; let him be all in all to you!”

Winslow Quotation

Here is a quotation from Octavius Winslow‘s book Our God that I used in the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon on our completeness in Christ (Colossians 2:11-12).  I actually quoted the second paragraph, but the first provides some context.  You can read all of Winslow’s works at Grace Gems, buy a hardcopy from Reformation Heritage Books, or maybe you’ll find one at a used bookstore like me.

All the religions of men- and their name is “legion”- are based upon the principle of human merit- all are founded upon some fancied good and power in the creature, the effect of which is totally to set aside the Atonement of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. In fact, the doctrine of creature merit is the fatal element of man’s religion, the moral poison of his soul, the remedy for which is only found in a believing reception and heart-felt experience of the free grace salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And yet how much even the Lord’s people have yet to learn of this great truth! How dim their views, how faint their realization, how little their enjoyment of it! How much forgetfulness of the truth that Christ died, not for saints, but for sinners; that He receives, not the worthy, but the unworthy; that He came to heal, not the whole, but the sick; to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance! Always looking for some good thing in themselves, instead of looking only to Christ for that worthiness which never can be found out of Him; ever dealing with their sins, in the place of sin’s Great Sacrifice, substituting sanctification for justification; thus making a saving merit of their holiness, putting faith in the place of Christ, the Object of faith, and so making a Savior of their religious experience, it is no marvel that they realize so faintly their completeness in Christ, and the peace and joy, the hope and holiness springing therefrom. For this reason, “many are weak and sickly among them,” and many travel in doubt, and fear, and tears to the brink of the river of death, though, blessed be God, none ever go doubting, and fearing, and weeping over it; for, at the last, grace triumphs, and the weakest faith gets the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

September Texts & Topics for North Hills

Here are the text and topics for our worship services in September at North Hills Church.

Series for Morning Worship:  Book of Colossians
Series for Evening Worship:  The Lord’s Prayer

September 6th
AM:  Colossians 2:6-10
PM:  “As We Forgive”

September 13th
AM:  Colossians 2:11-12
PM:  “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

September 20th
AM:  Colossians 2:13-15
PM:  “Deliver Us from Evil”

September 27th
AM: Colossians 2:16-23
PM:  “For Yours Is…”

More Used Books…

I can stop anytime I want.  But last Friday, I found a few more books to add to my library at two used bookstores:

Like most library systems, the Huntsville-Madison County Library has a Friends of the Library bookstore.  Here is what I found there:

  • Promise and Deliverance, Vol 4 (Christ and the Nations). by S. G. De Graaf:  I was most excited to find this hardback volume of an out of print set that shows the Christ-centeredness of all of Scripture (Redemptive-Historical) , with selected passages from Scripture.  We were encouraged to use this set in seminary.  Now I just need to find the other three volumes – which I can do for a price. ($1)
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer:  published in 1979 and 1983, this book deals with human life issues (abortion, infanticide, & euthanasia) and what it means for our society.  (25 cents)
  • A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John Broadus (revised by Dargan in 1898):  This is a 1926 hardback edition of a classic work on homiletics. (75 cents)

Then at The Booklegger, my new favorite used bookstore in town, I bought a couple of other books.

  • Reaching Out:  The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen:  I have been blessed by a couple of Nouwen’s other books that have helped me to think about pastoral ministry and spirituality.  ($3)
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell:  I have greatly enjoyed Gladwell’s previous two books and was delighted to find a used copy. ($4.50)

Now, if I can just find some quiet time to read…

The Perfect Pastor…

I used this as an illustration this past Sunday as part of my sermon on Gospel-Centered Ministry from Colossians 1:24-29.   One of the things that I said, is that we often evaluate ministry (whether pastoral or otherwise) on the wrong set of benchmarks.   I do not remember where I found this, but it is not original to me.

After hundreds of fruitless years, a model minister has been found to suit everyone. It is guaranteed that he will please all the people in any church.

He preaches only 20 minutes, but thoroughly expounds the Word.

He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.

He works from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. doing every type work from preaching in the pulpit to janitor work.

He makes $100 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books regularly, has a nice family, drives a nice car, and gives $50 a week to the church.

He stands ready to give to any good cause, also.

His family is completely model in deportment, dress and attitude.

He is 26 years old and has been preaching for 30 years.

He is tall, short, thin, heavy set, handsome, has one brown eye and one blue eye, hair parted in the middle, left side dark and straight, right side blond and wavy.

He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spend all his time with the older people.

He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.

He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of the office.

May & June Books (2009)

I failed to do a post for May, so here are the books that I completed reading in May & June of 2009:

May Books

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon:   Gordon is a professor at Grove City College and he wrote this book while he was undergoing treatment for cancer.  As a result, he indicates that his tone may come off as direct as blunt, but he hopes no less heartfelt.  In reading this book, I found that both were true.  It is clear that Gordon loves the preaching of God’s Word and laments its current state within the church (“ordinarily poor”).  In reading this book and Gordon’s lament, I reacted on a couple of levels:  personally and professionally.  On the personal side, I was a little offended and wanted to defend my preaching and that of others I know.  Professionally, I know that Gordon is largely right and that my own preaching suffers from some of what is described in this book.  I am glad I read this book and has made me think seriously about my communication and how our current culture hinders that.  My one concern with this book is that I feel Gordon may have very specific and limited view of what might constitute good or great preaching (e.g. preaching that would be right at home in the 19th century, but might be foreign in the 21st).  That said, so much of what Gordon says is right on and I believe he proves his point with regard to the state of preaching (and of communication in general) today.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield:  This book is something of a literary mystery and was an excellent. The books centers around a famous author and her book-shop worker turned biographer.  The mystery lies in the author’s true past and the events, people, and forces that shaped her life.  One of my more recent favorite quotations comes from this book:  “to see is to read.”  Those were the words of the biographer in describing her love and need for reading.

July Books

Interred with their Bones by Jennifer Carrell:  Another literary styled mystery (and in this case, a thriller complete with murder and mayhem).  The mystery of this book centers around the identity of Shakespeare and a lost play.  Apparently, there is some debate about who Shakespeare was and the true identity of the author of the works we know as Shakespeare’s.  This book builds off of that premise.  It wasn’t as much of a page-turner as it suppose to be, at least for me.  Slow in spots and the entire premise seemed a little far-fetched.  Maybe, due to my slow pace, I had too much time to think about the plot.  Good, but not great read.