Communicating Through Contrasts: Part 6 of What We Do to the Bible to Create Sermons

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This series of posts explores what preachers do to the Bible to create sermons. It’s my attempt to expand my own understanding of rhetorical analysis (what preachers do during the sermon to affect those that have ears to hear). If you read the initial post in this series you may recall my confession that this area is probably the weakest area of my teaching. So, I’m committed this year to getting better at helping preachers craft the guts of the sermon.

One thing preachers do is explain through the use of contrast. (You can see the overlap with the first blog post in the series: preachers explain Scripture). Take for instance, 2 Timothy 2:23 “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies…” After spending a minute making sure everyone’s clear on “have nothing to do with…”, try spending another minute or so talking about the opposite approach.

God knew that it would be very tempting for pastors to have a lot to do with these kinds of destructive conversations. God knew that our flesh would want to engage, that our sense of mission would push us to jump in. The next verses will teach us an appropriate response, but for a moment it’s important to note that we are being baited by our flesh, by our sense of mission, and by our opponent (see v. 25′s description, “correcting his opponents…”). So, it’s possible that, with good motives, we jump into the destructive debate and violate God’s will.

Before Sunday, see if segments of your preaching portion can be explored through contrasting or opposite attitudes or actions.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

One Sure Way To Communicate More Clearly

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This is the fifth post in a series that explores what we do to the Bible to create a sermon. When I listen to sermons I sometimes ask, “What’s that preacher doing at this moment? How is he preaching?”

If you listen to or read a sermon manuscript, you’ll probably see the preacher restating something. The preacher spends much time in the sermon saying the same thing with different words. Preachers will often repeat themselves too. So may this post should be retitled, Two Sure Ways To Communicate More Clearly. Those two ways would be repetition and restatement.

Repetition and restatement add clarity to any sermon when they are used at key…

  • terms
  • concepts
  • outline points
  • applications

So, for instance, while preaching on Luke 17:1-6, you might use repetition and restatement for the following:

“Temptations” (v. 1): enticements, lures

“Pay attention to yourselves” (v. 3): “Watch out for yourselves.” “Stay alert.”

“…you must forgive him” (v. 4): “…the issue is no longer an issue; you must let it go.”

Or, if point #2 in the sermon is: Handling someone else’s sin (vv. 3-6), you might want to restate the point with something like, “How are we supposed to act when someone else sins against us?”

I realize this concept of restatement is not difficult. But, before Sunday, locate the places in your sermon manuscript (you do write out your sermon, right?) where restatement can help you communicate more clearly. Then, your sermon will be as easy to understand as some destinations are to find: “You can’t miss it.”

Preach well for sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible to Create a Sermon? (part 4) Fill in the Gaps

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Each week we perform some operations on our preaching portion to create sermons. We…

  • explain various terms and concepts
  • announce the shape our worship takes (what that Scripture is intending to do to the Church)
  • show the flow of thought or logical connection between the thought blocks

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The fourth operation we perform on the Bible to create a sermon is filling in important gaps. The meaning of some preaching portions are like a puzzle that is missing one piece. Expository preachers fill in that missing piece.

In Luke 16:19-31 Luke records Jesus’ teaching on the rich man and Lazarus. In Jesus’ story, the poor man dies and is “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22a). The rich man, however, dies and lands “in Hades, being in torment…” (v. 22b-23a).

Jesus doesn’t give any explicit explanation of why each man goes to his eternal destiny. But, we have to. We have to fill in this theological gap in the preaching portion. We explain (you can see the overlap in these operations) that the poor man is not saved because he is financially destitute. Likewise, the rich man is not condemned by God because of his wealth. There were wealthy characters in the Bible that did not end up like this rich man (folks like Job).

So why is the rich man condemned and the poor man saved? The rich man didn’t love God or neighbor (cf. v. 20 and the address of the poor man: “And at his gate was laid a poor man…”). And the poor man? He must have also been poor in spirit. His humble financial situation must have been matched by a humility in his heart that recognized his need of God’s mercy. That gap must be filled in in order for this preaching portion to be understood and acted upon. Everyone must know what it is about the rich man to be avoided and what it is about the poor man to be emulated.

Before Sunday see if your preaching portion is missing a vital piece of theology and if your sermon devotes minutes to supplying that missing piece.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible to Create a Sermon (part 3)? Tracing the Flow of Thought

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My premise for this series is that we perform a series of operations on the Bible to create sermons. In its worst form, we may be committing malpractice through what Vanhoozer calls impository preaching. In its best form, we do things to the Bible to help communicate God’s truth in a way that facilitates worship during the teaching time.

So far we’ve briefly looked at (1) explaining the Text and (2) identifying and announcing the Text’s purpose. In this post we’re focusing on tracing the flow of the author’s thought. It’s a way of connecting the dots for our listeners.

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Our preaching portions look like this connect-the-dot picture. Or, we might say that the meaning of a preaching portion looks like this picture. Some of the connections are readily seen simply by reading the Text. However, some connections are not obvious.

Expository preachers consistently connect the dots for their listeners by displaying the flow of thought the author employs to make meaning. That’s an important realization: biblical authors make meaning through the way in which they logically convey their thoughts.

So, for instance, in Luke’s record of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 19:19-31), verses 19-21 describe two different souls in life. Verses 22-31, however, describe two different souls in the afterlife. Of course, Jesus tells this story because He doesn’t want any of us to end up like that rich man (the purpose of the parable).

The first hour or so in my study each Monday morning is devoted to tracing the flow of thought of the biblical author. I want to know how meaning is made. That discover puts me on the path of discovering what meaning is being made in the preaching portion.

Before Sunday, see if you have traced the flow of thought in your preaching portion. Identify the major thought blocks in the Text and then write out the logical transition between those thought blocks. Watch how meaning unfolds as you connect the dots.

Preaching well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible To Create A Sermon? (part 2)

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In this series I’m exploring what I consider to be the most neglected part of my own teaching of Homiletics, how sermons are created. In order to create sermons, we all perform a variety of operations on the Bible (unless, of course, you simply read the Text and pronounce the benediction!). I expect that even radically different kinds of sermons on the same Text use similar rhetorical devises.

Part 1 listed explanation as the bread and butter or meat and potatoes of expository preaching. I want to spend a moment talking about preaching on purpose, announcing to our congregants the shape worship takes as we respond to God’s revelation in our preaching portion.

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Sermonic purpose is similar to application, maybe the second step of application (the first step being to urge Believers to believe the Gospel or, what I call, faith-first application; you can see this explained in earlier posts). Preaching on purpose means letting everyone know how your preaching portion generally functions for the Church. As a result of hearing God’s Word, those with ears to hear will think, feel, and act in ways determined by the preaching portion.

Lately, immediately after the corporate reading of God’s Word, I’ll begin my sermon by saying something like, “This is God’s Word. The shape of our worship this morning will be putting into practice Jesus’ instructions concerning handling our own sins and also the sins of others (from Luke 17:1-6).” At that moment, everyone in the house hears how this preaching portion functions in life. Throughout the sermon and, certainly near the end, I’ll restate this purpose. Other rhetorical devices such as illustration and explanation contribute to preaching on purpose. It’s difficult to overestimate its importance for soul-watchers.

Before Sunday see how God displays His intention (what your preaching portion is intended to do to the church) and clearly write out the broad shape worship will take.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible to Create a Sermon?

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After completing a very busy spring of teaching preaching at Lancaster Bible College’s Graduate School and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program (Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible and From Study to Pulpit tracks), I came to the realization that I need to do a better job teaching how expository sermons are created. During one residency we created a slide that listed some of the things preachers do to the Bible to create sermons (elementary rhetorical analysis). Over the next several weeks, I’ll introduce some of these operations and maybe we can continue to expand the list.

First, preachers explain key terms and phrases. I’ve started with this one because explanation may take up more minutes in a sermon than anything else. It’s the bread and butter of expository preaching.  Here are some things to consider when you hit those places in your sermon development where you attempt to make Scripture clear.

  • Make sure you explain it to yourself. McGrath wrote of C. S. Lewis, “He was good at explaining complex ideas to others, because he had first explained them to himself” (C. S. Lewis: A Life, p. 166). I catch myself often knowing a word, but not really knowing it well. Can you think of some biblical terms congregants are familiar with, but probably don’t really know well?
  • Wear out your dictionary/thesaurus. Not a day goes by when I don’t rely on this tool to help me gain clarity. After I’m satisfied with Hebrew and Greek meaning, I usually go searching for synonyms that add clarity.
  • Try two explanations: one for the scholar and one for the layperson. I find this exercise helps me understand Scripture better, plus the two definitions potentially reach more listeners.
  • Reword commentator’s definitions. Even when you’re attempting the scholar’s explanation, you might still benefit from rewording what the world-class scholar provides.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

 

Preaching the Twenty-Five “one another’s” of the NT

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Even though I regularly preach through books of the Bible, I am always on the lookout for a good, topical/exposition preaching series. I recently completed a study of 25 “one another” instructions found in the New Testament. If you haven’t preached these “one another’s”, I highly recommend it to you.

Why? Because the “one another” instructions help us resist the gravitational pull of our society toward a disconnected or isolated spirituality. More and more I’m reading of professing Christians who believe in Jesus, but do not believe in being vitally connected to a local church. These “one another” instructions teach us why we need the Church and why the Church needs us. It is difficult–maybe even impossible at times–to obey the “one another” instructions without close association with a faith-family. If you plan on some pulpit time each year dealing with what it means to be a local church or with your church covenant, the “one another” study is a good option.

If you decide to preach all or some of the 25 “one another’s” (and the count may vary depending on what English translation you follow), here are a few things I learned. They affect virtually every individual instruction:

  • show the connection between “love one another” and many, if not all the other instructions. The much repeated/restated command seems to function as an umbrella under which all the other commands occur. Love is the first thing to go. If I don’t love you, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for me to pray for you.
  • spend time teaching the hurdles that must be overcome in order to put the “one another” instructions into practice. For instance, if you are preaching on “put up with one another” (my favorite, non-Christian sounding one!), what is it about the default setting of our hearts that make that difficult to do? Often, it is some form of selfishness or self-focus. Sometimes, however, the hurdle is the other person–what they’re like or how they act.
  • balance the imperative (the “one another” command) with the indicative (what God-in Christ-through the Spirit has done in us). The “one another” series tips the scales each weekend on the imperative side. It’s easy to forget that these instructions are organically linked to detailed indicative sections with which most NT epistles begin.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

Making Parishioners Wish The Word Was True

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While recently reading McGrath’s, C. S. Lewis–A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, I was intrigued by this approach to apologetics:

“For [Blaise] Pascal (1623-1662), there was little point in trying to persuade anyone of the truth of religious belief. The important thing, he argued, was to make people wish that it were true, having caught sight of the rich and satisfying vision of reality it offered” (p. 134).

When I evaluated my own preaching, I quickly realized I wasn’t doing this. I hadn’t spent hardly any time thinking of ways to make people wish the Word was true. Whether Pascal was right or not, helping our congregants catch sight of the rich and satisfying vision of reality offered in our preaching portions is an important part of exposition.

I’m currently preaching through the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 13:22-30 Jesus commands, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (v. 24) and prophesies, “And people will come…and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (v. 29). One thought-block in the sermon should be providing parishioners an explanation of the kingdom of God that makes them wish it were true. For instance, I’ll often say, “The best and brightest minds on the planet are working day and night to eliminate the damaging results of the curse.” Imagine a world minus disease and death, for instance. Even people who don’t believe the Bible (including those who believe in select portions of it), want such a world to be true.

Like Pascal, I’m arguing that helping congregants catch sight of God’s glorious new world is a vital part of expository preaching.

Does this Sunday’s preaching portion contain any slice of reality that everyone wishes were true? If so, show them how satisfying this world really is.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in the world.

Randal