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