A Sentence That Could Find Its Way Into Every Sermon: Part 2 of Preaching the Connection Between Faith and Obedience

LEARNING REPETITION

I will not encourage moralism.

I will not encourage moralism.

I will not encourage moralism.

So, in order to accomplish this, I repeat the following sentence in virtually every sermon:

“When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about _____.”

Fill in the blank with whatever your preaching portion is describing or prescribing about the Christian life.

For instance, in preaching the parable in Luke 16 about the shrewd manager, I said, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about money. Faith in Christ creates a person who uses their money to make disciples.”

Jesus clearly teaches that His followers should use their money–God’s money–as shrewdly as the manager used his boss’s money. That’s why, in the parable, the master commends his manager for his shrewdness (v. 8). Then, in v. 9 we read, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

So, I say to our faith-family, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about money. Faith in Christ creates a person who uses their money to make disciples.” I may want to spend a minute or two explaining how that happens. How is it that believing in Christ-crucified changes my view of money?

I want everyone in the house to know we’re Christians and that faith in Christ creates a person who does what Jesus says to do in Luke 16:9.

I will not encourage moralism.

I will not let my congregants forget they claim to be Christian, that it’s our unique faith that creates the desire and capacity to use God’s resources for His glory and for our ultimate good.

Before next Sunday, see if your preaching portion creates the need for you to say, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you______.” You may decide to word it slightly different. Either way, preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

 

IMG_6726

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

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

oneAnother640-620x348

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)

Work-Life-Balance

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

 

Creating Saint-Sanctifying, Seeker-Sensitive Sermons: Working Towards A Balanced Approach

finding_balance_news_625x430

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. Our afternoon focused on creating saint-sanctifying, seeker-sensitive sermons: working towards a balanced approach. This post begins a short series on this important topic. Lord willing, I’ll be conducting this seminar in detail at LBC’s campus in Greenbelt, MD on the afternoon of April 3, 2014.

The topic is important because:

  • Seeker-sensitive approaches continue to be very influential and many of us feel some measure of pressure to adopt effective methods.
  • We are creatures of extremes which means some of us might be out of balance (too seeker focused or too saint focused). Or, to put it another way, maybe you have totally dismissed the seeker-senstive approach or you have bought into it whole-hog.

First, let me ask you to analyze your own approach and setting. Do your sermons and approach lean more towards being seeker-senstive or saint-sensitive? What percentage of your listeners on an average Sunday morning would declare to you that they are non-Christian (an important question as we search for balance)?

Alright, let’s look at areas of theology and ministry that are affected by this discussion.

Theology: What did Jesus mean when He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear, let him hear”? Does a certain kind of sermon create ears that can hear?

Hermeneutics: Is the standard approach to reaching seekers the best way to read the Bible? Is, for instance, the “five ways to manage your anger”-type sermon the best interpretation of Scripture selected to support such a sermon (yes, my selection of the word, “support,” is loaded).

Homiletics: Have we paid so much attention to the interest of our listeners that we have forgotten the listener’s spiritual condition and need for theology (as opposed to self-help [defined as moralistic improvement from Scripture apart from faith in Christ)?

That being said, it is not my intention in this series to debunk seeker-senstive, topical preaching. I do want to help bring some clarity to what it means to be seeker-senstive. I especially want to show from 1 Cor. 14:23-25 that we should be and can be more seeker-sensitive with an insider-directed message from God’s Word.

1 Cor. 14:24-25 gives us hope: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

So, the only way to be seeker-sensitive is not creating an outsider-directed message and delivering it on Sunday morning. We know from v. 22 that these words were “for believers.” Be assured that your sermons aimed at the saints have the potential to reach the outsiders who join us each Sunday morning. More on how that happens in future posts.

Preach well for the sake of Christ’s reputation in the Church/world.

Preaching the Perfect Example Text: Martha and Mary

Image

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 Jesus’ Gospel: The Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan

Image

Luke 10:25-37 records Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who tried to test Him. Good luck with that, right?

Back in October of 2013 I mentioned the need to explain why Jesus always seemed to preach a works-based salvation. The parable of the compassionate Samaritan (I had to call it that in light of my previous post) requires such theological effort on our part. The lawyer asks, Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Most of us would have answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Most of us wouldn’t have answered the way Jesus did: “Do [the law] and you will live” (Luke 10:28). So, when Jesus ends the session with, “You go, and do likewise,” (v. 37) He’s giving us some theological work to do.

That may require a major point or move in the sermon not contained in Luke 10. We say something like, “In order for anyone to be able to perform like the compassionate Samaritan in a way that will be accepted by a Holy God (that last part’s the key), they must first experience the compassion of God-in-Christ-through the Spirit. Whenever a person sees Christ dying for them, their hearts are warmed and they have the desire and capacity for such compassion displayed by the Samaritan.” Or something like that. The point is that that point or move is a necessary element of a sermon. Otherwise, Jesus’ teaching will sound like salvation by works.

I suggest that this point or move in the sermon should occur before you spend time helping people flesh out what it might look like in their world to display such compassion for their neighbors. Remember, the section of the sermon where you give them five ways to be a good Samaritan isn’t moralistic self-help when delivered in the context of the Gospel.

You can probably think of other angles on this too.

Preach well for the glory of God.

Preaching the Theology of Simeon and Anna’s Example

Image

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.

Dangerous Christmas Sermons!

jesus-in-the-manger

I’ve never looked forward to preaching at Christmas time. Then R. T. France made it worse: “There is a significant mismatch between what most Christmas congregations expect to hear and what Matthew and Luke were primarily interested in conveying in their opening chapters. They did not write to tell the story of how Jesus was born….do congregations today either need or want to be convinced from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jews….Is this what our Christmas congregations have come for?” (pp. 39-41 in his chapter, Preaching on the Infancy Narratives, in Preaching The New Testament).

For the past several years, I’ve started my homiletics classes with an audio clip of the introduction of an infant narrative sermon. The preacher introduces us to lessons we can learn about marriage from the interaction between Mary and Joseph as a result of Mary’s visit from Gabriel. Well, what do the infant narratives mean for the Church?

Well, certainly, at times Mary and Joseph are good examples to follow. We should emulate their faith. We should follow their devotion to God. The focus, however, seems to be on the information we receive about Jesus and His mission. Jesus is God’s promised Messiah who will do exactly what God said He would do. You know that and most of your congregants know that. Christmas sermons are a great time to urge us all to believe the descriptions about Jesus. Christmas sermons are a great time to help us all evaluate the extent to which our lives reflect faith in Jesus.

Along with misguided moralizing (e.g., lessons on marriage), Christmas sermons are also potentially dangerous because we can get so immersed in the details of the Story, we forget why Luke, for instance, included them in his Gospel. Gabriel told Mary that her Son would “be great” (Luke 1:32). Ask your parishioners if they believe that He is great. Ask them if their experience shows evidence of having such a great Savior.

What aspects of preaching at Christmas time are easy for you? What aspects are difficult?

How To Stop Preaching Moralistic Sermons: Unintended (?) Advice from N. T. Wright

Image

Chapter 7 of Wright’s book, Simply Christian, begins: “Christianity is about something that happened. Something that happened to Jesus of Nazareth. Something that happened through Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Christianity is not about a new moral teaching….This is not to deny that Jesus, and some of his first followers, gave some wonderfully bracing and intelligent moral teaching. it is merely to insist that we find teaching like that within a larger framework: the story of things that happened through which the world was changed” (p. 91).

However, as I listen to sermons, it appears that we’re teaching congregants that Christianity is primarily a new moral teaching. That is largely due to the fact that we consistently separate the instruction from the Story. I recently heard a sermon on anger that made no connection to what happened to Jesus. That’s why there was also no connection to what happened to Believers through Jesus. You’ve heard them; you’ve probably preached them–the five ways to manage anger-type sermons. According to Wright, such a sermon cuts out the crux of Christianity. I stop preaching moralistic sermons when I place the teaching of my preaching portion in history.  So, back to the sermon I heard: Because something happened to Jesus and through Jesus, Believers can be angry and not sin.

Then, would you give five ways to manage anger? Just wondering…