How to Preach the End of a Series (part 4 of preaching the gospel of Ruth)

Preaching through Ruth provides a good test case for exploring how to preach the end of a series. That’s because it is so short. The space between the end of the book and the beginning of the book is small. It is relatively easy to conclude with a comparison or contrast to the beginning.

So, when you conclude a sermon series consider:

  • re-emphasizing the series theme (in Ruth: Discovering God as “the Restorer of life” conveniently found at the end in 4:15; chapter 4 provides tons of opportunities to re-explain facets of redemption, including our need to become mini-redeemers in our world)
  • showing how far we’ve come from the beginning of the series (especially important in a narrative like Ruth; we began at the end of the Judges with no king, in great need of one, and end Ruth with an announcement of King David in 4:22; plus in the middle Ruth and Boaz are two characters who do not do what is right in their own eyes)
  • teaching how the book contributes to the Canon of Scripture (in this case, what does Ruth add to the Story; this will overlap some with the first bullet point above; if you didn’t have Ruth, what would we miss?)
  • reminding congregants about what God has done in Christ (especially important if you are completing a series through a NT epistle of Paul; usually, the letters will begin with the indicative and move on to imperatives; the end of the series is a good time to remind us all of the indicatives which were the foundation of the more practical sections)
  • convey a sense of corporate accomplishment (“We’ve traveled a lot of biblical ground together during this series…”; ending a series is a bit emotional, bitter/sweet; I have found that congregations that experience such travels begin to anticipate the next journey with you)

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

Randal

P.S. If you’re preaching Ruth chapter 4, consider the following path:

  1. Two kinds of redemption (spiritual and material; a time to carefully define redemption in its various forms in the story)
  2. The redemption we’re responsible for (vv. 1-10 and how God’s laws create opportunities for us to be mini-redeemers for those in need)
  3. The blessing that came and comes through redemption (vv. 11-22; here we find the wonderful announcement of our selected theme and the trajectory created by Boaz and Ruth’s son)

When Exemplars and Christ-Centered Combine: Preaching Ruth (part 3)

I know some pit Christ-centered preaching versus exemplar preaching (“go and do likewise” in the case of good examples or “go and do otherwise” in the case of bad examples). But it’s hard to deny that Ruth contains some narratives that provide good examples for Christians to follow (think, Boaz). But Ruth also functions for the Church by placing us in a narrative trajectory that leads to our Savior, the Source of God’s favor. It’s both/and, not either/or.

Boaz was the source of favor for Ruth and Naomi. Chapter 2 opens by drawing attention to him: “a worthy man…” He’s the kind of man God creates and is there for us to emulate. The narrative does more than provide an exemplar, but not less than.

Campbell suggests, “the Ruth story is basically about extraordinary caring and concern, kindness that is above and beyond the call of duty.” In the overall message of Ruth (discovering God as “the restorer of life”), what happens to Ruth and Naomi provide a picture of how God restores life by extending kindness.

The theme of the narrative is located in Ruth’s statement about her spiritual instincts: that she would “find favor” in someone’s field (cf. 2:2, 10). Often the statement of a main character contains the seeds of the big idea for a narrative scene or series of scenes.

To make sense of the chapter, focus on the concept of “favor.” You could outline it this way:

The source of favor (vv. 1, 4-5, 8-9, 14-16, 19-20) is Boaz and the laws God put in place to care for those in need.

The need for favor (vv. 2-3, 6-7, 13, 17-18, 21-23; these two main points could switch places, even though the source of favor occurs in v. 1) is a picture of every one of us spiritual unfortunates.

The reason for receiving favor (vv. 10-12; if you like theological challenges, you’ll love the reason provided in v. 12, “The Lord repay you for what you have done…”) is the faith Ruth had in the “system” God put in place.

As I said above, Ruth’s Gospel does more than provide Boaz as an example to follow. Naomi describes him in v. 20, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” It’s a great opportunity to remind everyone how God extended favor to us in the person of His Son, to restore life.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

One Last Angle on Preaching the Samson Narrative

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In my series on Judges, The Salvation of Stubborn Hearts, I titled my final message on the Samson narrative: Samson, the Judge Who Shows Us Our Spiritual Struggles.

Webb describes Samson as “a testosterone-charged male behaving badly.” You can see that in the repetition of key phrases and also from Samson’s un-judgelike actions in these chapters.

First, look at the repetition in 14:3, 7 “right in my eyes,” a phrase that will become very important at the end of Judges. This is not good.

Second, look at the repetition of “their god…our god…their god…our god” found in the victory celebration of Israel’s enemies (cf. 16:23-24).

Then, the entire section is filled with un-judgelike actions. For a long time we see no evidence of Samson fulfilling his duties as a judge who would deliver Israel from the Philistines. Webb says, “He has wined and dined with the Philistines and tried to intermarry with them instead of ridding Israel of their rule.”

And, then, there’s all this playfulness in chapter 14 between Samson, his first wife, and the men of the city.

And what about Samson’s tryst with a “prostitute” in 16:1 or loving Delilah in 16:4.

All that tells us he forgot the fight. All that functions like a mirror so we can look at ourselves and make sure we’re not like Samson.

Thankfully, the Samson narrative also shows us our God will not allow Samson’s foolishness, stubbornness, or rebellion to thwart His plan for delivering His people (see previous post).

Samson, the Nazarite, broke his vows. Israel, of course, also a holy people, followed suit. But not our Savior, the Holy One of God (cf. Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). And, by faith in Him, we continue to experience cleansing and sanctification from our own stubbornness.

I hope these last few posts have helped you make sense of how the lengthy Samson narrative functions for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach well!

Randal

Preaching the Highly-Offensive Jephthah Narrative

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Our God revealed in Scripture could very easily be credited with this quote. If you’ve read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, then you know there is plenty of God’s Word that is offensive to our modern and post-modern sensibilities. That is especially true in the Judges 10 and 11 narrative often referred to as, Jephthah’s Tragic Vow.

You probably know the gist of the story: Jephthah vows that if the Lord gives him a military victory over the Ammonites, then he would give as a burnt offering whatever (whomever?) comes out of his front door to greet him upon his return from battle (cf. 11:30-31).

Horror of horrors, we discover in v. 34 that Jephthah’s only daughter is the one that comes out to greet him!

In the middle of expressing to her the great trouble that is happening he says, “…and I cannot take back my vow” (v. 35).

I remember screaming at Jeph’: “What do you mean you can’t take back your vow?!?! Of course you can and you should!!!!” And because he didn’t take back his vow, we receive one of the most offensive looks at the extreme cost of our salvation.

And that angle is very important if you are going to preach this narrative beyond the moralizing that goes something like: “Christians are careful about making rash vows to the Lord unless they cause tremendous heartache…”

Along with being careful whenever we make deals with God, this narrative is an opportunity for us all to express our gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice of God’s only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The parallels in the story are telling: Jephthah is a picture of…

  • our despised and rejected Savior (vv. 10:17–11:11)
  • our Savior who wins the victory for us (vv. 11:12-29)
  • the extreme cost of that victory (vv. 11:30-40 and the sacrifice of Jephthah’s only child).

It doesn’t solve all the problems of the offensive narrative, but maybe this angle will help you help your listeners give thanks for God’s costly free gift.

Preach well for the sake of His glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching the Ugly Pictures of Human Nature in Judges

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The picture of God’s people in the book of Judges is not pretty. For instance, in Judges 8:1, 4-6, and 8 there are three examples of insubordination. One commentator, Block, says “Even in victory Israel remains her own worst enemy.”

And often, even Israel’s best leaders, like Gideon, paint an ugly picture of our spiritual condition. Friction abounds in these stories and Gideon often flies of the handle, as they say (whoever “they” are?).

So, if and when you preach on Judges, be prepared to show your flock how difficult it is for God’s people to experience peace among themselves. Both leaders and laity have to work hard at being Spirit-controlled so the work of God can flourish among them.

In the case of the latter part of chapter 7 and into chapter 8 self-centeredness and rage are on display. It’s not a pretty sight. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, Gideon pulls the stunt recorded in 8:27 “And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city….And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare…”

Well, you’d think God would fiercely judge them all for this. But instead, we read of His grace in 8:28 “…And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

I don’t understand this, but I’m sure glad God is patient with us. I am so thankful He gives us victories in the midst of our spiritual ineptness.

Anyway, be prepared to get some pretty nasty-looking looks of our condition in the Judges, but also of God’s grace. And preach it all so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

How Daniel’s Mission Becomes Our Mission in the World (part 9 of preaching through Daniel)

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One of the most neglected, yet important, facets of the theology of Daniel is how his personal mission in Babylon informs the Church’s mission in the world. One value of preaching through Daniel is that your congregants who work for a living gain insights into their mission.

In Daniel 6:2 we learn Daniel’s job description: “…so that the king might suffer no loss.” That was Daniel’s job as one of the king’s “three high officials.” Verse 3 records that Daniel surpassed them all.

Imagine Daniel reasoning this way: “The king is ungodly, therefore I cannot put my heart into making sure he suffers no loss.” Lots of Christian people feel this kind of tension. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a Christian who said, “My mission for God in this world is to make sure my boss succeeds.” I’ve met tons who said, “My mission for God in this world is the share the gospel.”

Caveat: I am all for evangelism. God, however, was interested in us seeing another kind of evangelism. Let’s call it, evangelism by excellence.

In his commentary, Duguid writes, “[Daniel] had now served the empire faithfully for almost 70 years….Daniel’s life was…completely free from corruption and negligence.” What a great testimony! Imagine helping your parishioners catch a vision for surviving their exile as strangers and aliens by serving the earthly empire in which they find themselves. It’s quite a mission. When the king stated Daniel’s mission, he put it like this: “O Daniel, servant of the living God…whom you serve continually…” I thought Daniel was serving the king?

Of course, Paul wrote, “…all that will live godly…suffer persecution.” In Daniel’s case, he the whole lion’s den scenario didn’t occur because he verbally defended truth. He was about to suffer because he lived a godly life. The whole narrative is about persecution: the persecution we should expect (vv. 1-9, 14-18), the reaction we should exhibit (vv. 10-13) and the power God has to deliver us (vv. 19-28).

While we can’t promise our folks that God will always deliver us from death, we know He will ultimately deliver us through death because His Son, our Savior, didn’t fare so well as Daniel. At least not at first. The lion devoured our Savior, but God raised Him from the den! Those who trust Him embrace their mission.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

 

Preaching What’s Definitely Wrong in the Narrative (part 8 of preaching Daniel)

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Daniel 5:1-31 presents a challenge due to its size. But it only takes the first four verses to see that something’s definitely wrong. The something that’s wrong the ultimate act of idolatry. Verse 4 concludes the party scene with: “They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” It’s a slap to God’s face.

The writer of Daniel let’s us know that this is wrong by recording Daniel’s speech to the idolatrous king in verse 23: “but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven….And you have praised the gods of silver and gold….but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.”

So, in verse 23 God provides us with the problem and solution. Our sermon is a time to urge all the faith-family to “go and do otherwise.” Genuine Christians do not follow the king’s example. We keep ourselves from idolatry of all kinds, especially the American idols. We praise “the God in whose hand is [our] breath.” We honor Him and Him alone.

The famous scene of the divine handwriting on the wall and Daniel’s interpretation of that pen-on-plaster describe God’s reaction to the king’s arrogant idolatry. It also advances our application and links us to the Gospel.

First, each one of us at the judgment will be weighed in the balances. Apart from the righteousness Christ, all of us will be “found wanting” (v. 27). But the cross shows us a Savior, the only human ever to live a perfect life, found wanting because of our sins. Because God found Him wanting due to our sins, we have the assurance of facing the judgment without fear. Genuine Christians live a life that reflects the fact that we praise and honor God alone.

For anyone who wonders whether this decision is the right one, give them a good look at how Daniel fares in this chapter.

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

Randal

 

Saints Under Pressure: Preaching Through Daniel (part 6)

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One of the main themes in the book of Daniel is our allegiance to Christ being put to the test. It’s part of the overall theme of Christians remaining godly in an ungodly world.

Daniel 3:1-30 is a long narrative that preaches theology as Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, face intense pressure to commit idolatry. I outlined it this way:

1. The pressure to join in on idol worship (vv. 1-7)

2. The threat if we don’t (vv. 8-15)

3. The faith to say “No!” (vv. 16-18)

4. The deliverance our God provides (vv. 19-30)

This famous escape story is a picture of how every Christian is tested in this world. One of the key observations is in vv. 2-3 when seven kinds of professionals, plus “all the officials of the provinces” attend the official dedication of an idol. Fewell wrote, “conformity is normative, disobedience is unthinkable.”

Christians follow the trio’s example. It’s a “go and do likewise” sermon. They remain loyal to God despite the enormous threat that could cost them their lives.

That means spending some time in the sermon defining idolatry. You might also want to show how sin, at its root, is connected to idolatry. It helps to recite or show a list of typical American idols (see Keller’s, Counterfeit Gods).

And then, for those of you who want to practice a consistent Christo-centric interpretation, you’ll be quick to highlight the fourth Person in the fiery furnace that looked like “a son of the gods” (v. 25). On the cross, Jesus stayed in the fire for us so we could pass through the fire having God with us. We can’t always promise we won’t die due to persecution, but God promises to save those who worship Him alone.

(an aside) Before Sunday, check your outline to see if it contains the unity of your preaching portion. If you’re preaching a narrative this weekend, see if your main idea reflects the plot. The plot drives the theology.

Preach a good sermon for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching the Perfect Example Text: Martha and Mary

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In Luke 10:39-40 Luke tells us that “Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.” This might be the perfect example of a preaching portion that functions as both a good and bad example to follow. (You probably can think of others in Scripture that function in a similar way). It’s pretty simple. We say to our folks: “Follow Mary’s example and avoid Martha’s example.

The key, of course, is communicating what was wrong with Martha. She’s described as “distracted with much serving” in v. 40. Undistracted serving isn’t a problem. We need lots of that in the faith-family. Then, Martha crosses the line even further when, according to Ryken, she “stopped serving and started scolding” Jesus. Martha actually instructs Jesus! Can you imagine?! It’s a great time to ask our folks to monitor their attitude while they’re serving. How do they feel about others who might not be serving quite so much?

It’s easier to communicate what was right with Mary. O how we need God to develop more and more congregants who listen to the Word of God with a view toward adjusting their lives accordingly!

The Martha’s in our churches need an adjustment. Their adjustment is one way they worship during and as a result of the teaching of this narrative. I can hear my prof, the late Howard Hendricks say to the Mary’s in our churches: “May your tribe increase.” This Text is a great way to balance worshiping and serving. Because, if you’re only learning and never serving, then you’re not really learning at the feet of Jesus.

Faith in Christ creates Mary’s, not Martha’s. So, even though the narrative means something through good and bad examples, we do not dismiss our folks by saying: “Go and be like Mary, not like Martha.” Instead we spend a moment explaining how the Christ-crucified creates Mary’s posture and adjusts Martha’s posture.

Preach well for the glory of God.

Preaching the Theology of Simeon and Anna’s Example

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For several reasons, I am happy to be done with Luke’s birth narratives! Christmas preaching continues to be one of my toughest assignments. When I began our current series through Luke’s Gospel (February 2013), the plan was to skip the early narratives and save them for Advent. This morning I struggled through Luke 2:22-38, my final Christmas Text.

These verses contain five, law-abiding citizens: Joseph, Mary, Jesus (although Jesus has no choice in the matter; His parents make sure He gets off to the right start), Simeon, and Anna. There is little doubt in my mind these characters present the best Israel has to offer. They are examples for us to follow. The verses contain a mixture of righteous actions and descriptions. Simeon, for instance, is “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (cf. Luke 2:25). Anna never leaves the church, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (cf. Luke 2:37).

So, we certainly must follow their example. Otherwise we’re lumped in with those who oppose Jesus, the Sign (cf. Luke 2:34). But we also must link their character with their faith. They are those who will rise because of their faith in God’s promised Messiah. Simeon says, “…this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (cf. Luke 2:34, 35). The four characters in this section, minus Jesus, have responded to God’s revelation. Their hearts revealed love for God and a desire to serve Him. And now, with Jesus in sight and on hand, they enter a new chapter of their lives.

Apparently, Simeon, Anna, and Joseph will not have the privilege of following Jesus in life (scholars believe Joseph died early). We have the privilege of following Him and, in so doing, we’re elevated by Jesus (I.e., “rising of many…”). Jesus’ message reveals humble hearts that acknowledge His rule and accept His grace. Our lives are transformed accordingly. We grow to emulate these fine, righteous characters. This is Luke’s way of helping us be sure our faith is not only well-placed, but also well-executed.

Enjoy a blessed Christmas.