Consider Preaching a Post-_______ Mini-Series

Sometimes, when I’m done preaching through a book of the Bible, the “completed” series feels more like an episode of This Old House. Meaning there are some cracks to fill.

My approach through the years has been to preach through books of the Bible, but without being exhaustive (and hopefully not exhausting!). In other words, I keep the pace of the series moving by keeping my preaching portions each Sunday as large as the genre allows, short of feeling like I’m skimming over important material.

It’s a judgment call every preacher makes. Some very effective preachers spend years on a book that I determine to cover in a fraction of the time.

However, that means I will often follow-up a series on let’s say, Revelation, with what I call a Post-Revelation mini-series. I am counting on those post-book series to fill in the cracks.

So, while you’re preaching through a book of the Bible, record some of the areas where you’ve said to your parishioners: “I wish we could devote more time to this.” Use the post-book series to do that.

You’ll find that the post-book series will allow you more time to develop a detailed exposition of critical doctrines. You will have already dealt with the context and rudimentary understandings of the doctrine. Now you can fill in some of the cracks to create a smoother finish.

I find this approach helps me keep the original sermon series through a book moving along without sacrificing the necessary nuancing some doctrines may require.

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

Randal

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)

Let the Main Character Determine Your Sermon Idea

If you’re preaching through Ruth’s Gospel and reach chapter 3, you’re wise to let Naomi determine the subject of your sermon. She does that through the first recorded words in v. 1,

“My daughter, should I not seek rest for you…?”

Read through the chapter quickly and when you arrive at the end of the chapter you’ll hear Naomi repeat your sermon idea,

“…the man will not rest but will settle the matter…”

In any narrative it’s wise to allow key speeches of main characters have a say in our sermon themes. In the case of Ruth chapter 3, staying focused on the theme of “rest” will prevent us from focusing too much attention on the planning (vv. 2-5) and executing the plan surrounding the risky–some would even say, risqué–threshing floor scene (vv. 6-15).

The narrative means something because (1) we desperately need the kind of rest this narrative highlights. In his commentary, Webb says it’s “rest…from spiritual emptiness and alienation from God….acceptance…provision, a future, and a life worth living.” Jesus taught us about it in Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews tells us that it’s still future (4:1-11).

The bulk of the story involves (2) our search for rest. It’s an interesting combination of working and waiting. Ruth displays incredible faith in Naomi’s zany, even dangerous plan (an unmarried woman walking around in the middle of the night!).

N.B. Don’t miss the great opportunity to highlight the description of Ruth in v. 11, “…for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” It’s the same word used in Proverbs 31:10. In Ruth 3:11 it’s the reason Boaz gives for redeeming Ruth and Naomi. That reason will surely test your theological acumen!

Finally, (3) the source of our rest is still found in Boaz, the redeemer. This is repeated in vv. 2, 9, 12-13. Campbell defines him as “[the one who] takes responsibility for the unfortunate and stands as their supporter.”

And, if you’re looking for how Ruth and Boaz send us on a trajectory to Christ, like Ruth, Jesus becomes an alien/stranger on our behalf in order to bring us into true family status. Like Boaz, Christ brings us into His family so that we can enjoy the rest of God.

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

Randal

Preaching Ruth’s Christo-centric Narrative (part 2)

If you’re planning on preaching any Old or New Testament narratives these days or in the near future, my approach to Ruth may help.

For instance, (1) the entire narrative begins with a sovereign God allowing (bringing?) a famine, multiple male deaths in the family, but also good news that food was now available (vv. 1-7). It’s an example of the judgment God’s people could expect if they disobeyed Him (cf. Lev. 26:19-20).

Remember that all OT narratives meaning something within the context of the blessings and curses announced in the Covenant.

(2) Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi and her God is crucial to the story (vv. 8-18, 22). Our congregants need to hear that only the God revealed in Christ is the source of all truly good things in this life. That’s especially important in a time when an estimated two-thirds of Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life and half of all Christians believe some non-Christian religions can lead to life eternal. Of course, our parishioners are probably not trying to be Christian and Hindu, let’s say. More than likely they, like us, try to be Christian and still allow our affections to land on more sophisticated idols.

(3) Finally, we read this candid reaction of Naomi to all the “bitterness” the Lord brought into her life (vv. 19-21). So many tidbits. Naomi’s not recognizable (v. 19). She knows exactly what God has done to her (v. 20 “…the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”). A great opportunity for us to explain a theology of trouble/discipline (cf. Heb. 12:3-11), the purpose of the “bitter.”

And, if you’re wondering about how to get from Ruth 1 to the Gospel, you might think: on the cross, the Almighty dealt very bitterly with Jesus (v. 20) and the Lord testified against Jesus and brought calamity upon Him (v. 21) because of our sins.

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

Randal

Preaching Through the Gospel According to Ruth

After preaching through Judges, more than one parishioner asked if I would consider preaching through Ruth. Judges was so depressing, despite my best efforts to practice a form of Christ-centered interpretation each weekend. They needed a narrative that focused more on good news.

Even if you choose not to preach Judges/Ruth back-to-back, preaching through the gospel according to Ruth is an excellent short series. It does present its challenges.

First, select a theme for the series. Select a theme:

  • from the wording of Ruth.
  • that captures the good news of Ruth.

I’m extremely picky when it comes to selecting a theme and image that will be my first slide every Sunday. I’m usually not satisfied with my commentator friends’ choice of theme/title for the book. I greatly appreciate their work and benefit from it each week. But the choice of theme/title is very personal, pastoral.

I found my theme, of all places, on the lips of the townswomen who said to Naomi about Ruth’s son: “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age…”

You could just as easily word something from their statement in the previous verse 14, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…”

I love the way the book ends as a contrast to how it began: loss of food and even more tragic loss of life. Upon returning to Bethlehem Ruth said, “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty…” (cf. 1:21). So, the Lord really did restore her life through the birth of a special son. Cross-eyed readers will quickly see parallels to the Son born way down Ruth and Boaz’s line.

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

Randal

Preaching Through Books of the Bible This Year?

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If you haven’t already, I hope you will consider preaching through books of the Bible this year. Your congregation will thank you for it.

If you’re already making this a practice, may your tribe increase. You may find my approach something to think about when planning your new year. If you have never regularly practiced preaching through books of the Bible, you may find some of this post helpful.

First, years ago I was captivated by reading and listening to old W. A. Criswell of First Baptist, Dallas, TX explain his plan to preach through the entire Bible during his tenure. If you knew the kind of preaching the church was used to before Criswell arrived, then you know how bold a move this was. Hearing him tell the effects that this approach had on him and his congregation moved me to tears (I think he was addressing an Evangelical Theology Society meeting?). I knew I needed to practice some variation of that approach to preaching in church.

So, here’s what I did:

  • I started with a book I thought I could “handle” as a young preacher (in my case, James).
  • I tried to avoid books of the Bible that previous pastors had covered recently (even though I know congregants rarely remember a sermon from Sunday to the next Sunday!).
  • I wanted to vary the diet by making sure I switched back and forth between the testaments and also between genres (e.g., if I began in James, an epistle, then my next book would be in an OT narrative or prophecy or apocalypse).
  • Even though I did not want to cater to the culture, I still knew I did not want to take forever in any one book (I love Piper to death, but knew I didn’t want to follow his approach to spending a millennium on Romans).
  • That meant planning to break up a series in, let’s say, Isaiah in order to keep myself and my listeners from committing spiritual suicide. When I left the dear folks at The People’s Church in NB, Canada, I was preaching through the Gospel of John. I stopped in the beginning of chapter 17. When I arrived to the dear folk at Calvary Bible Church, I did a kind of John Calvin and picked up where I left off and finished the book with my new flock.
  • In the middle of long series such as Isaiah, or in between book studies, or during special events in the church calendar or special holidays, I consider straying away from a series, confess my sins and preach topical exposition.

Both my congregations have often thanked me for this approach. I wouldn’t do anything else. It certainly stretches me (I continue to work through books I haven’t covered yet) and I know it helps the faith-family see how God’s revelation fits together to tell a most wonderful Story.

Happy New Year to you. Preach books of the Bible or at least large segments of books of the Bible to get your feet wet in 2017 and all for His glory 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

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

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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).

Randal

Preaching the Two Kinds of Stubbornness in Judges

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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).

Randal

Pay Close Attention to Beginnings and Endings (part 5 in Preaching Through Books of the Bible)

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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).

Randal