What I learned From Listening To Someone Else Preach

Due to sickness earlier in the week, my Elders strongly suggested I only preach once yesterday. That meant I had the privilege of listening to one of my colleagues preach. Like many of you, I don’t get the opportunity to listen to someone else preach live too often. I learned that:

  1. Our relationship with our listeners is an important part of preaching. My friend has great rapport with our faith-family and it showed in his preaching and our worshiping in the Word.
  2. Powerful illustrations can overpower the sermon point. He told a “killer” (literally!) story about Zwingli’s brutal treatment of Anabaptists. The next thing you say after the story is over is critical for regaining attention back to the message. That’s the time for a succinct, well-worded sentence or two of how the Text affects the listener’s relationship with God. If you don’t do that, the sheer force of the illustration can hijack the sermon.
  3. Don’t break eye-contact when you arrive at your key statements. You probably have them written down in your notes. You want to say them just right, but you also need to impress it on your listeners and that happens best while you’re looking at them.
  4. Work extra hard to maintain good energy while covering a long list of commands. In the preaching covered yesterday there were at least seven commands in a row. It is difficult, next to impossible to keep a congregation engaged as you explain each item. Carefully consider how you’ll pace yourself through the list. Think about an approach–cover each equally (say a minute and a half each?), focus on a few, or group some of them. Whatever you decide, remember how difficult it is to keep a sermon’s energy high as you move through the list.
  5. My mind wandered during the sermon. I know, right?! But it did. It’s difficult to keep our listeners with us as the minutes go by. It’s critical, then, to keep bringing them back, especially by reminding them of the big idea.

May these takeaways add to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),

Randal

P.S. For what it’s worth, that sermon was very good!

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

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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).

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

How To Balance Saint-Sanctifying, Seeker-Sensitive Preaching (Part 8)

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In this series, I’m presenting my findings from studying the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Timothy Keller. I selected those three because of their effectiveness in speaking to both saints and sinners with the same sermon. The trio seems to have had success through the grace of God in accomplishing what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 (the unmasking of the man). I gravitated towards this trio of preachers because their sermons, though seeker-sensitive, were and, in Keller’s case, are heavy on theological insights.

So far we’ve looked at the following aspects of their method:

  1. Categorizing your listeners according to their spiritual condition
  2. Searching the hearts with probing questions
  3. Motivating listeners through both love for God and fear of God
  4. Attack the sin behind the sins
  5. Speak the thoughts of sinners (both the justified and unjustified)
  6. Identify our idols

Next: Show how the Gospel works to recreate the human heart.

One reason why I do not believe the typical seeker-sensitive sermon, “Five ways to (fill in the blank),” (please forgive the stereotype) is the best way to read the Bible is because the application is disconnected from the Gospel. In other words, the sermon gives me five ways to manage my anger, but it is not connected at all to my Christianity. That can lead to the moralistic sermon you’re well aware of.

A friend of mine recently argued against always mentioning the cross. He gave two reasons: (1) The biblical writers didn’t do this. However, a careful read of both Testaments shows God giving the grace-based indicative before the grace-based imperative. You’re probably familiar with Paul’s structure of beginning his letters with the indicative (our position in Christ) and then moving to the imperative (our practice as Christians).

(2) Can’t we assume that faith is intact and that the desire and ability to do God’s will will be there? My answer is “no.” My own experience talking to myself and listening to hundreds of others  over the years tells me that we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day (cf. the writings of Jerry Bridges). My reading of Scripture understands the Bible’s purpose to urge Believers to believe in the promise of God to save through Christ in the power of the Spirit.

I find it extremely helpful to follow the example of our three model pastor/theologians and show how the Gospel transforms the human heart. So, for instance, how does the Gospel create humility? Lord willing, this Sunday I’m preaching on Galatians 5:24-26 which includes avoiding becoming conceited. How does the Gospel create humility? It’s a great way to explain how Christianity is different from self-help or other religious options; it’s a great way to accomplish faith-driven application. Check your Sunday sermon’s application and see if you can explain how faith in Christ’s sacrifice creates the particular response.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation…

Randal

 

Helping Guard Your Congregants Against the Rarely Confessed Sin of Greed

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In over 20 years of pastoral ministry, no one has ever entered my study to confess their sin of greed or covetousness. They’ve confessed other sins, but not that one. Is that true of your ministry too? If it is true of your ministry context, then preaching Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:13-21 is extremely important.

In verse 15 Jesus commands, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness…” He follows that up with a frightening parable. I realized that if I was going to be faithful to this Text, I needed to do what God was doing. God was putting the fear of God in us.

Last week I had the privilege of conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. One of the segments included observations about how Jonathan Edwards motivated his listeners to apply the Scriptures by moving back and forth between fear and love (fear of God and love for God). Jesus clearly employs a scare tactic (you might decide that term needs an adjustment) when He says in v. 20, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you…”

I doubt that many, if any, of our parishioners realize the power and presence of this sin. But I know you won’t let them remain in that condition for long. Sooner or later, you’ll preach a Text and/or topic that will provide an opportunity to guard them against this rarely confessed sin.

Preach well for the reputation of Christ in the Church and in the world.

Two Angles in which to Explore Offensive Commandments

I just recently completed preaching through Isaiah. Before beginning another through-the-Book study, I am spending several weekends on God and the Life He Gives. The short series will highlight key characteristics of God and also key aspects of living the Christian life. A proper study of the Christian life involves studying the God who grants it. At times, we struggle with God’s kind of life because we do not understand Him and His character.

Take, for instance, God’s difficult instructions to Hagar in Genesis 16:9. Why would God tell Hagar to return and submit to a woman, Sarai, who was dealing harshly with her (cf. Genesis 16:6). What kind of God would instruct a female servant to return to an abusive mistress? The answer is a God who has determined to save the powerless and afflicted. This concept applies equally to instructions in 1 Peter 2:13-14. See also 1 Peter 2:18 and 1 Peter 3:1. God is a God who saves those who depend on Him or rely on Him alone.

Another angle on this is to ask what it is about the nature of our salvation that would warrant such an instruction. In this case of Hagar submitting to Sarai, salvation, by nature, involves being delivered in the midst of a terrible environment (as opposed to being delivered out of a terrible situation). Saving faith involves dependence upon God, the opposite of taking matters into one’s own hand (in this case, taking matters into her own hands would be Hagar not returning and submitting to Sarai).

You might find yourself in conversations where someone asks, “Should so-and-so submit to that?!?” In other words, the particular circumstance seemingly cancels out the biblical instruction. Before you attempt to answer that specific scenario, try taking the person through these two angles: (1)What is it about God that He would require such actions? (2) What is it about the nature of salvation that would require such actions?

Instructions That Make Us Uncomfortable

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching on Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to make people see the awkwardness of carrying out some commands.  For instance, in order to “associate with the lowly,” you must make a judgment call on them; you must acknowledge that they are actually in that category.  The term “lowly” doesn’t reflect God’s estimate of them, but their estimate of themselves and possibly the estimate of some in the faith-family.  Anyway, don’t shy away from pointing out how uncomfortable such a command can be.  One congregant said to me afterwards, “I hope too many people don’t come up to talk to me after this teaching because it will make me feel like I’m lowly.”  Exactly.  We have to come to grips with how uncomfortable a command is for us at times, before we can know what it means and how to apply our lives to such Scripture.