Talk to Them About Them from the Bible

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I recently had the privilege of hearing 12 student sermons for the final grade in two sections of Advanced Homiletics at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School.

Haddon Robinson once said that he heard so many bad sermons it’s a wonder he was still a Christian. Yikes!

One preaching deficiency I see each year and experience myself many weekends if I’m preaching any other genre other than NT epistles is getting caught in lecture mode. Preaching through Judges has been especially challenging in this respect.

Lecture mode is when I am talking to congregants about the Bible. I am not talking to them about them; I’m talking to them about the Bible. I’m giving them all kinds of good information about the particular preaching portion. But I’m not talking to them.

A huge part of expository preaching is relaying God’s message to the Church. Theological exegesis involves discovering how God’s Word in a particular preaching portion functions for the Church. So, preaching is not primarily me talking to my parishioners about the Bible. It’s about me talking to them about them from the Bible. God’s Word is addressing us.

I’m currently reading Green’s, Practicing Theological Interpretation.

Using the epistle of James as an example, Green asks, “Who is the ‘you’ to whom James addresses his letter? Are we willing to be that ‘you’?” (p. 15).

Are you willing to address your congregants the way that your preaching portion is addressing them? If you are, that means minute-by-minute you will be talking to them about them from the Bible.

Before Sunday, look at your notes. Do you read yourself talking to them about the Bible or about them from the Bible? Are you preaching or lecturing?

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

How Narratives Describe the Christian Life We Preach

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One of the ways to practice theological interpretation–to show how Scripture functions for the Church–is to look for ways in which narratives describe the Christian life.

For instance, in Judges 1:1 the Christian life is described in terms of God’s people fighting against their enemies. The book of Judges opens with, “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?'”

Now, the difficult, critical part is for us to determine how this description works. In other words, how does God’s people fighting against the Canaanites describe the Christian life?

Part of the answer is found in the reason God gave His people for engaging in this battle. Earlier in the narrative, God made it clear that His people needed to rid the land of these enemies because of the danger of idolatry. God’s people could not withstand the temptation to worship the idols of the inhabitants of the land. Idolatry would threaten to ruin the nation of Israel as they continue to break the first of the Ten Commandments.

So, we might say that fighting against the Canaanites functions as an analogy of our fight against assimilating to the culture, especially to the worship of our culture. We don’t fight against resident pagans; we fight hard to keep our distance from the worship of their gods all the while we work hard in the Spirit to close the gap to love them and share Christ.

Let Judges frame the way you preach about the Christian life. You’ll find yourself talking about the “Canaanization” of the church (I believe that’s Dale Davis’ term) and remaining relevant throughout your series through Judges.

Preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),

Randal

P.S. If you’re thinking about a Christ-centered approach to the opening plot of Judges, consider that Moses, Joshua (mentioned in v. 1), and every judge in Judges all point to our need for a Champion to fight a battle we cannot win.

Pay Close Attention to Beginnings and Endings (part 5 in Preaching Through Books of the Bible)

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In the first post in this series on preaching through books of the Bible, I talked about the importance of selecting a theme for the series. For my current Judges series I chose: The Salvation of Stubborn Hearts. Wenham writes, “By trying to establish the main thrust of the book, we hope we have established parameters within which individual stories should be interpreted.” (Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah, p. 43).

So, each of the narratives describing the individual exploits of the judges are interpreted within the framework of Judge’s theme (providing I’ve identified it accurately!).

Does the book provide any clues? As I’ve mentioned before in posts concerning preaching through Daniel, it’s important to note how books begin and end.

In Judges 1:1-2 we read, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” Then, near the end of the book in 20:18 we read, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” Same question, but notice a very difficult foe at the end. And same answer both times: Judah (anyone with Christological antennas should pick up on this!).

So, in a story about God’s salvation of stubborn hearts, this will involve God raising up deliverers who will keep God’s people from being enslaved to the idols and inhabitants of the land.

Of course, everything gets worse as the story develops. Instead of fighting the enemies, God’s people end up fighting themselves. Unity gives way to civil war that threatens to destroy God’s work.

Anyway, if you ever decide to preach through an Old or New Testament narrative, pay close attention to how the book begins and ends. Often those segments provide clues to a books intention and meaning.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Evaluate Your Critical First Hour Of Study Each Monday Morning

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Last week I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. I am also currently teaching some keen students at LBC/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. My interaction confirmed that one Bible study exercise is critical: tracing the argument or flow of thought of the author.

I explained that this is how I spend my first hour of study every Monday morning. Before I try to figure out what a preaching portion means, I want to know how it means what it means. In other words, I spend the first hour show how the author makes meaning through the argument or flow of thought. I begin by asking the Lord, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” (Psalms 119:18) and then I dive into the text’s structure. I consider this to be the foundation for exposition.

This involves dividing the preaching portion into its smaller thought blocks, summarizing the meaning of the blocks, and writing out the logical transitions that the author uses to move from one block to the next.

(By the way, if you try this with Luke 15, you will discover that it would be impossible to end the sermon focusing on the younger brother and those prodigals which are usually encouraged to “come home.”)

It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of this first hour for understanding how meaning is made.

Below I’ve included an example of my mornings first hour.

Calvary Bible Church

May 8, 2016 AM

Judges 10:1-16

This is God’s Word.

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10 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. Post-Abimelech judge #1 is Tola. In matter of fact fashion God records, “…there arose to save Israel…” It is a subtle reminder of our plight as Christians in this world.

3 After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. PA judge #2 is Jair. We learn some nice facts about him (“…30…30…30…”).

6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. In v. 6 we learn how many false gods there are to worship! Each region had their own deity. Each deity had the ability to lure God’s people away from God. As a whole God’s people took their affections away from God and they stopped serving Him.

 7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. In vv. 7-9 we read of the repeated experience of God’s people. Throughout the book of Judges we’ve seen this happen: God’s people commit idolatry, in anger God sells them into the hands of fierce enemies who oppress them, and “Israel was severely distressed.” It teaches us the devastating effect of worshiping false gods.

10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” We’ve also seen God’s people yell out to their real God to save them again and again. Like before, they make a clean confession: “We have sinned against you…” Let’s make sure we understand this confession. Why do they say they have sinned against the Lord? Where does this understanding come from? Look back at the OT…

But this time our God seems to have lost His patience! Look at vv. 11-14. He sounds very irritated with them! “Did I not save you from….I saved you….I will save you no more. God and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Wow! We have sayings like: “You made your bed, now go lie in it.” If God sticks to His guns, then His people are doomed. The false gods have enslaved them; they cannot save them.

Has the Lord’s patience run out?!

 15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. In v. 15 God’s people repeat their confession: “We have sinned…” Then they add, “do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” God’s people would rather face the judgment of God than face more oppression from their enemies.

Then, in v. 16 there is an act of genuine repentance: “So they put away the foreign gods…and served the Lord…” Repentance is a critical part of the Christian life…

Then, we learn that the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” A moment ago I mentioned that it seemed the Lord was becoming impatient with His people. Now we learn that the Lord has had enough of His people suffering at the hand of their enemies. This impatience, however, strikes the Lord after genuine repentance has taken place. If the Lord acts on His impatience over Israel’s misery, that can mean only good things for Israel!

Gospel:

Response:

This helps me see how the author presents theology for the Church. Since theology is conveyed through this narrative, I do not want to break the narrative flow in creating this sermon. Consider making this action in the first hour of study your foundation for Sunday’s exposition.

Preach well.

Randal

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If you’re afternoon is free, there are still 5 seats available for tomorrow afternoon’s preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, PA campus). The title is: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes! We’ll discuss this topic while working through the infamous narrative of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11.

Date: April 26, 2016
Time: 01:00-04:00 p.m.
Event: Spring Preaching Workshop
Topic: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes!
Sponsor: Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School
Venue: Charles Frey Academic Center
Public: Public

Why the Storyline Must Be Followed (part 4 of preaching through books of the Bible)

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This past week I enjoyed the privilege of spending time with masters level students at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. Because I’m teaching an Advanced Homiletics class, we spend a lot of time in Old Testament narratives (as opposed to NT epistles).

One of the things I wanted them to think about was that because the Bible is literature, theology is conveyed in narratives through the storyline. So, take a detour from the storyline and you run the risk of losing the theology God conveys through the narrative.

Why would a preacher stray from the storyline in an effort to preach a narrative? One reason is because many of us continue to develop a sermon on the basis of what jumps out at us in the story. I call that the Jack-in-the-box method. The problem is we tend to interpret and apply what jumped out at us without linking it to the rising action of the narrative.

Another reason I’ve seen over the years is the tendency to identify timeless principles from the narrative and preach them in isolation from the rising action. The principles function on their own and the preacher gives the impression that the principles are conveying the theology, not the storyline.

So, before Sunday, if you are preaching an Old or New Testament narrative, see if you are allowing the storyline to carry the theology of the preaching portion. See if the rising action is the source of your sermon’s subject matter.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preach the Plot (part 3 of preaching through books of the Bible)

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If you ever try preaching through a long, Old Testament book of the Bible, I hope this series of posts will help. So far we’ve discussed

(1) selecting a theme to carry continuity throughout the sermon series;

(2) being prepared to go easy on the details so you can cover large portions of material.

In this post I want to remind you of how important the storyline is in a book like Judges (my current series). If you decide to preach through an  OT book that’s mostly narrative, it’s important to identify how the plot develops early on in the book. Because of the way stories work, the plot development most likely begins early in the book and is completed near the end of the book. All preaching portions in the middle somehow connect to this storyline.

For instance, the book of Judges opens with a command to go to war. Theological interpretation–how Judges functions for the Church–hinges on understanding our current battle to prevent the “Canaanization” of the Church (we could say, the Americanization of the Church: Christians adopting the thinking and practices of our culture).

God’s people have the stubborn tendency to worship idols. Someone has said that our hearts are an idol factory. I tend to think of our hearts as a worship factory–we will worship something.

However, seven times in chapter 1 we read, “…did not drive out…” Even though we learn that Israel “grew strong…” Davis described them as “a people clearly successful though certainly disobedient. Pragmatic success and spiritual failure.”

The sermon series will relate to this action of God’s people making sure they remain separate from the world (in a true, biblical sense of separation). Story after story show God’s people failing and God graciously intervening to keep them from becoming destroyed. He remains faithful to His covenant for the sake of His reputation.

So, be prepared to communicate the theology that runs through the storyline of your narrative for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. Before Sunday, if you are planning on preaching a narrative text, check to be sure you have traced the storyline.

P.P.S. The image above is a slide that shows how the big idea is found in narratives. If you want more detail on finding the big ideas in narratives and other genres, check out my book, Preaching With Accuracy.

Anticipate Larger Preaching Portions (Preaching Through Books, Part 2)

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One of the first things I encountered preaching through books of the Bible was considering the option of selecting larger preaching portions. I was much more comfortable with preaching small sections of NT epistles. But, when I decided to preaching equally from both Testaments, it became apparent that larger-than-I-was-used-to portions were needed.

If you’re wondering why many OT narratives and some NT narratives call for larger preaching portions, consider:

  • theology is being conveyed through a storyline, rather than through phrases in tightly packed NT paragraphs
  • many narratives can be restating the same theology

Here’s an example from the book of Judges, a series I began a couple of weeks ago. Judges 3:7 begins the Book of Deliverers, what most of us think of when we think of Judges. I chose to cover the first four judges (five if you count Deborah and Barak separately) in one sermon. That meant covering Judges 3:7-4:24 in a 45-50 minute sermon!

There are three broad themes in these deliverance narratives: (1) our evil (2) God’s anger (3) God’s grace that raises up a deliverer.

Hardly any details are given about the first and third judges, Othniel and Shamgar. The stories of Ehud and Deborah/Barak contain tons of interesting details (the devious plan that led to Eglon’s assassination and Sisera being killed by a savage woman, Jael). However, most of those details do not contain theology. They do contain storytelling value and preachers have to decide how much time to devote to them.

I chose to highlight some things like God’s plan to use an unexpected deliverer that was left-handed and from the little tribe of Benjamin. Also, it was shocking that an enemy was dispatched by a woman, not Barak. Or, you might point out the incredibly power of God displayed in Shamgar’s military exploits (killing 600 Philistines with a cattle prod).

Anyway, consider the need to take larger preaching portions than you may be comfortable with for the sake of God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

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A couple of weeks ago I began the frightening task of preaching through Judges. In 6:22 Gideon realizes he has seen the angel of the Lord: “Alas….I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” Dale Ralph Davis comments:

“There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”

Judges (Beanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2000), 97

How to Preach Through Books of the Bible: Selecting a Theme

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One of the most difficult and rewarding facets of pastoral ministry is preaching through books of the Bible. I’m praying Christ returns before I have to preach through Ezekiel!

In this series of posts I want to share some of the things I’ve learned from 25 years of preaching through books of the Old and New Testament.

The first thing I do is select a theme for the series. Here are some I discovered:

  • Unfaithful People/Faithful God
  • So Great Salvation
  • God in Chaos
  • Broken Heroes

From Judges 2:19 I selected the theme: The Salvation Of Stubborn Hearts. I wanted to capture God’s gracious deliverance and our stubborn tendency to forget Him and worship idols.

The theme you select is important because it is heard and developed in every sermon.

One of the hurdles of preaching through books of the Bible is locating and communicating the relevance of each preaching portion in the book. The theme can be extremely helpful in showing this relevance.

If your theme is accurate–meaning it is found in the book and is a major, not minor, concept–then it becomes the foundation for the relevance of each individual sermon. So all the time it takes reading the book, figuring out how it functions for the church is well worth it. And selecting the theme for the series usually takes up a majority of my study time as I prepare for the first sermon.

I wish there was a foolproof method for locating such a theme. I have discovered that theme-worthy concepts are often found at the beginning or ending of a book. That’s a great place to begin looking. It paid off for me in Judges as I said above. I’m sure a theme could be developed from the famous, final words describing God’s people: everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.

So, if you plan to preach through a book of the Bible soon, spend some time selecting a theme for the series so our Lord receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal