What I Learned from Preaching in El Salvador About the Connection Between Faith and Obedience


Michele and I enjoyed a profitable trip to San Salvador, El Salvador to visit a church plant we are privileged to be a part of. I had the privilege of conducting preaching workshops to area pastors and preaching in the church plant and the mother church. My translator, Edwin Garcia, was incredible (unlike Michele, my Spanish is horrible!).

But what I learned about the connection between faith and obedience was interesting.

Once during the preaching workshop and once during a sermon, it became very clear that I had to be crystal clear that faith in Christ creates the desire and capacity for Christians to act in ways the Scriptures demanded.

At one point during a workshop the senior pastor asked to comment. He was fearful that his parishioners were hearing a kind of salvation-by-works message. That’s because I was explaining the need to obey Christ’s teaching. He didn’t know that I hadn’t gotten to the part where I would say:

“Obedience to this teaching doesn’t make you a Christian. You do not become a Christian by doing this, you do this because you are a Christians. Faith in Christ creates the desire and capacity to do this.”

The pastor was relieved when I finally got to this point. I don’t blame him. But as I watched the faces of participants and congregants that week, I realized how important it is to show the connection between faith and obedience.

Take a look at your preaching portion for Sunday. If there are instructions which Christians are supposed to put into practice, ask yourself if you are being clear about the connection between faith and Christ and obedience. Every time I make this clear, whether in our faith-family or elsewhere, I see the light come on.

We’re not moralists, we’re Christians. We’re not saved by works, but by a faith that works. The default setting of our hearts is such that we need this reminder over and over again.

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


The Value of Preaching Back To Back Series Through Books of the Bible


Thanks to some prompting from parishioners, I decided to preach back to back through Judges and Ruth without a break in between. Usually, I would have preached through Judges, then spend four to six weeks in a mini-series pertaining to church life or some aspect of the Christian life.

But Judges had so many depressing stories and Ruth is such a great story that I listened to their suggestions. I’m glad I did.

Ruth begins by telling us that Elimelech and Naomi are operating during the times when the judges ruled and when there was no king in Israel (cf. 1:1). What a breath of fresh air to watch people not do what was right in their own eyes. A large portion of the rhetorical effect of Ruth occurs through this context with the characters in Judges doing what was right in their eyes.

Or, you might note that Judges ends with Israel having no king and the disastrous results, while Ruth ends with the mention of Israel’s greatest king, David.

This raises some interesting theology. Evidently, having a king in Israel wasn’t necessary for Boaz to function like a godly man (like a law-abiding citizen in Bethlehem). Boaz leads the way for citizens obeying the law of God without the presence of a godly king.

Anyway, you might consider a time when your church would benefit from a lengthy back to back series through more than one book of the Bible. Look for other books that contain strong verbal links and keep on preaching away so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Deborah’s Song in Judges 5: Celebrating Our Spiritual Victories


First, the image is not about me.

Second, it fits because our world consistently celebrates victories such as being tobacco, alcohol, porn, or drug free for x amount of time.

That’s sort of what’s happening in Judges 5 and Deborah’s song. Judges is peppered with defeats. Deborah and Barak sing a song that celebrates a tremendous victory. Throughout the study of Judges I’ve had to translate their victory over their physical enemies into our spiritual victories over temptation and sin. That’s especially important if we’re going to preach this chapter in a way that functions for the church.

I think it’s easier for our faith-family to celebrate financial milestones. It’s important for us to develop a culture that can celebrate spiritual milestones too.

But, if you ever preach on Judges 5, it’s a great opportunity to highlight how God fights hard for us. In another famous OT song in Exodus 15:3 we read, “The Lord is a man of war…” Maybe not too popular in our day, but I love the fact that our God fights for His own. Judges 5:20 contains this great statement: “From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” (If you’re interested in understanding this statement, take some time to read Parry’s fascinating book, The Biblical Cosmos.)

Our cause for repeated celebration is that our God continually gives us spiritual victories over temptation and sin. This gives our people opportunities to express their thanks and joy for these “wins.” Verses 1, 3-11a, 19-22 contain this thought of God protecting His own.

Then, in vv. 2, 11b-18, 23-27 we learn the vital part that God’s people play in their own victories. God fights for us. True. We also fight for faith and obedience. We read in v. 2 “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly…” Then in v. 18 “Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death…” Passivity won’t cut it in the fight against temptation and sin.

The chapter closes with some incentive for us to be on God’s side in this fight (vv. 28-31). Deborah’s song contains a terrible scene of Sisera’s mother waiting for her son to return and wondering why he’s taking so long. Verse 31 states: “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!”

This chapter–this song–is one of the hardest to preach in Judges. The key is to be genre sensitive. Chapter 5 is a celebration of having achieved a victory. Let that drive the sermon. We could use a little more celebration in our faith-family, a little more acknowledging of how God is carrying us through this world with our faith intact.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation (Ephesians 3:21),



Preaching the Two Kinds of Stubbornness in Judges


First, let me say that preaching through Judges has been one of the toughest series I’ve attempted. It has also been very rewarding for our faith-family and for me.

As I am preaching through the book of Judges, I am noticing two kinds of stubbornness. This becomes evident when you enter the Book of Deliverers (chapters 3-16). In this section God teaches us through a series of narratives involving His people’s stubborn rebellion into idolatry and His own stubborn refusal to leave them in their rebellion.

I recommend taking the first four stories of God raising up deliverers for His people as one preaching unit (vv. 3:7–4:24). In those narratives, you can:

  1. Highlight our tendency to worship idols. You may be familiar with Keller’s explanation of idolatry: “What, if you lost it, would make life not worth living….What makes us uncontrollably angry, anxious or despondent?” Someone said that our hearts are an idol factory. I prefer to think in terms of our hearts being a worship factory. We have an insatiable desire for false gods. Consider spending time explaining the connection between the sins we consistently struggle with and an idol or idols. Often, a sermon in Judges contains a first move focused on our evil idolatry, followed by God’s anger, followed by, His grace that saves.
  2. Highlight God’s stubborn, repeated rescue attempts. Throughout the Judges, God’s grace is shown through His…
  • tremendous patience with us
  • use of raw power to defeat temptation and sin (He delivers!)
  • ability to honor weak faith (like Barak’s)
  • ability to save us in a morally messy world where there are not always good options (there’s no WWJD approaches in some of these horrible scenes!)
  • provision of spiritual rest when temptation is defeated.

And, God can does all that for Believers because He disciplined His Son and broke Satan’s power. As someone said, unlike the Judges, Jesus has the ability to rip the idols out of our hearts.

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


Interpreting biblical narrative can be like trying to figure out someone who has a dry sense of humor.

Dale Ralph Davis

interpreting OT narratives
Judges: Such A Great Salvation (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Focus, 2013), 220

Focus On Intention, Not Meaning (although they’re connected)


I’m currently nearing the end of preaching through the Judges. The series is titled, The Salvation of Stubborn Hearts. A constant battle every Monday morning is discovering the intention of these narratives. How do these narratives function for the Church? That’s the question. And it’s more important than asking what a narrative means.

I’m assuming that when you try to identify a narrative’s meaning, you’re thinking about what it meant (past tense). As soon as you ask what a text means (present tense), you inevitably enter the realm of intention.

Earlier today I read an EHS paper written by one of my LBC colleagues, Greg Hollifield (Memphis campus). He was exploring how texts signal their intention. If you ever preach through Judges or any other OT narrative, for that matter, you will find yourself constantly thinking: “I know what’s happening in the story, but I’m not sure how it functions for the Church (you might word it in terms of how it applies).”

As you know, we have to know before Sunday. Preachers live in the realm of intention. Worship during the sermon can be defined as the Believer’s response to the revelation of God. That response coincides with the text’s intention.

So in Judges 2:6–3:6 the narrator supplies his sign of intention: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord…” (v. 2:10). Everything that happens after that, the people’s idolatry and God’s angry, but gracious response, is a result of His people’s meager theology.

The narrator determines the intention of the sermon which, in turn, determines corporate worship. When it’s all said and done, we can’t suffer from meager theology and live for the glory of God. We urge ourselves to study God and put His ways into practice. That’s the only way to keep a congregation from becoming “Canaanized.”

Way before Sunday, nail down the intention of your preaching portion. That’s more important than knowing what your text means.

For His glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How Does God Speak To Us About Us From Judges?


I am currently preaching through Judges and have entered the final section (the last 5 bizarre chapters). I also just completed reading Joel Green’s, Practicing Theological Interpretation (geared more towards the scholar than practitioner, but still helpful).

I was looking for insight into how to read Scripture in a way that it functions for the Church (building faith). What follows adds to our recent discussion about whether you preach to your congregants about the Bible or about them from the Bible.

Green writes, “The question, then, is how to hear in the words of Scripture the word of God speaking in the present tense” (p. 5).

That’s not always easy in OT narrative sections like Judges 1:27–2:5. Seven times we read, “…did not drive out…” as in, “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages…” (1:27).

God speaks to us through what happen to them, in this case, what God’s people repeatedly didn’t do. The key is to figure out how the repeated failure to drive out the inhabitants addresses us.

Green states, “…if this letter is to serve as Scripture for us, then we will allow it to tell us who we are” (p. 18).

This is a helpful angle when thinking about sermon application. So, what does it look like to allow Judges to tell us who we are? In this section of Judges it looks like a “go and do otherwise” lesson. God’s people didn’t drive out the deadly sinful influences. This is who we are apart from faith and obedience.

So, we say to ourselves and our folks: there is a wrong way to deal with temptation (vv. 1:27-36), God is not happy with that way (vv. 2:1-3), and we must change our ways (vv. 2:4-5).

And, if you’re wondering about a Christo-centric angle on this text, one is found in the Lord’s statement: “I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land…” (vv. 2:1-2). God’s people broke their end of the deal; God did not. However, He did break His covenant with His Son on the cross. That’s why He never breaks His covenant with us.

So, let Judges tell us who we are and allow Christ-crucified to change us into His faithful people.

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


Talk to Them About Them from the Bible


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).


How Narratives Describe the Christian Life We Preach


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),


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)


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).