Preach the Book of Job in One Sermon?!?

I hope Jesus returns before I have to preach through a few books of the Bible. One of them is Job. But nearing the end of our summer series, Worshiping the Creator Rather Than the Creature, I selected Job 38–42:6 as one of our Texts.

In the course of preparing to preach that section of Job, I quickly realized I had to help everyone know the context. That forced me to preach the theology of the entire book of Job in one sermon.

Here’s my approach:

Title: The Next Time You Ask, “Why?”

  1. The test every Christian must pass (Job 1:9-11, 22; 2:4-5, 10b). Satan wanted to show God that Job’s integrity was a sham. God knew better.
  2. The question that shows the test is a real test (Job 3:20-26; 40:1-2, 8). This is where Job begins to question, “Why?” He says some awful things about his life, like wishing he didn’t ever live!
  3. How our Creator “answer” our question (Job 38:1–39:30; 40:6-7, 9–41:34). God never answers Job’s questions. Instead, God bombards Job with over 50 questions of His own. As Job is forced to answer God’s questions…
  4. The genuine worship that results (Job 40:3-5; 42:1-6). Job no longer demands an answer, but takes his rightful place as a worshiper of God.

I chose not to include a thought block covering Job’s friends’ attempts to “help” him, but you may want to do that. They say some good things, but God indicts them in the end and vindicates Job.

And if you want to preach Christ from Job, one way to do that is to move from Job’s “Why?” to Jesus’ “Why?” on the cross, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?!?” True worship begins by acknowledging our need for the Savior God provided for us. By faith, Christ’s righteousness creates the same kind of character exemplified by Job in the opening verses of the book and sends us on a journey where our faith is tested to produce maturity (cf. James 1).

This example provides some help for tackling other similar assignments. For instance, notice that I deal with the beginning and ending of the book of Job. Many books reveal their intention at the beginning and the end. Then, you’re able to make better sense of the middle portions.

I hope you’ll have an opportunity some time to preach a whole book in one sermon. When you do, God will receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. Last week I referred to Mark Dever’s, The Message of the Old Testament. It’s an excellent resource when you plan to preach an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. Dever’s book is a collection of his attempts to do the same for the Old Testament.

Four Categories That Help Us Evaluate Our Preaching

If you are a dentist you might be interested in the product advertised above. If you are a preacher, the four quadrants I list below are a great way for you to evaluate and potentially elevate your preaching.

Quadrant #1 Am I Biblical?

Most preachers answer, yes, but it’s important to note the difference between preaching from the Bible without preaching the Bible. Biblical preaching occurs when the intention of our sermon matches the intention of the Scripture being preached. Notice I said, intention, not meaning. The two are connected. However, matching intention assures that we are using the Bible in the way God designed it to be used. For instance, if you preach the Parable of the Prodigal and focus on the prodigal son, your intention does not match God’s for Luke 15.

Quadrant #2 Am I Relevant?

Exposition sometimes deserves the bad rap it receives. During student sermons I will sometimes start my stopwatch and mark the time when the preacher strikes relevance (when I hear them speak to me about me from the Bible). In a 15 minute sermon, there have been times when I have stopped the clock at 8 or 9 minutes! Up to that point, I was listening to fairly good exegesis. Just no relevance.

Quadrant #3 Am I Clear?

Have you ever been in a conversation, said something, saw the reaction and said, “I didn’t say that right”? Sermon clarity involves, among other things, choosing the right words to say. While I’m writing my sermon throughout the week, I’m working hard to create clear sentences, sentence fragments (due to conversational style), and clear paragraphs. Besides my Bible, my Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder is the book I consult the most each week. It’s a combination dictionary/thesaurus.

Quadrant #4 Am I Organized?

My wife, Michele, listened to a sermon preached by one of my pastoral colleagues. One thing that stood out to her was how well the sermon flowed. That’s the sign of a well-organized sermon. That kind of organization allows congregants to follow along without getting lost in all the details and without losing sight of the intention.

So, before Sunday, evaluate your sermon:

  • Is it biblical?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it clear?
  • Is it well-organized?

And, as always, preach so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. I was introduced to a similar critique back in the good ole days at DTS in the mid-80’s.

Four Ways To Exegete Your Text: Following Jonathan Edwards’ Practices

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A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Douglas A. Sweeney’s, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford).

One of the take aways from this book for those of us who preach or teach the Bible is the four different ways Edwards regularly approached studying the Bible. The four ways are Canonical, Christological, Redemptive-Historical, and Pedagogical exegesis. Think of them as supplements you take to boost your daily nutrient intake. Do you take any or any combination of them each week during sermon preparation?

These four approaches supplement what we normally think of as exegesis: historical-grammatical-literary. Edwards helps us remember why we need to move beyond the realms of word, historical, and literary studies. Here’s what we gain and how our congregation profits from the results of the following four exegetical practices:

Canonical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion fits with other Scriptures. Look for times when other Scripture provide vital additional information for the interpretation of your preaching portion.  Your congregants will appreciate seeing how God’s revelation works together to create meaning.I don’t recommend the common practice of showing listeners other Scripture that say the same thing as your preaching portion.

Christological Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion functions for the Church because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and dispatching His Spirit on those who believe. Your listeners will appreciate learning how all Scripture points to the grace of God in Christ. This will keep all sanctification efforts faith-based and help avoid the dreaded moralistic, self-help sermon application. And remember that when you remind the saints about the Gospel, any non-Christians in attendance get to hear the Good News too.

Redemptive-Historical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion is part of the meta-narrative flowing throughout Scripture. Your parishioners will profit from the times when you locate your passage in the Story of Redemption (creation, un-creation, recreation, new creation). They will begin to appreciate that salvation is something much larger than the personal, saved-to-go-to-heaven variety.
Pedagogical Exegesis: showing how Scripture guides faith and the Christian life; here we gain precepts for living life as a Christian. One of the great quotes from the book came from this section. It reminded me of my primary responsibility as a soul-watcher. Sweeney writes of Edwards:
“At the end of the day, however, he was a clergyman and teacher paid to unpack the text in a pedagogical way, with the formation of disciples at the forefront of his mind.” (p. 188)

Before Sunday I hope you will supplement your normal exegesis with one or more of these four approaches, all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Introducing My Second Most Important Resource

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Since I just completed the blog series on preaching through Judges, I thought it was time for a lighter kind of post. Let’s face it. Preaching through Judges is tough sledding.

So, this week let me take a moment to encourage you to spend some time in sermon prep using some kind of thesaurus. Yes, it’s shallow, untheological advice.

My Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder gets used hard every week. Next to Logos Bible Software, the Wordfinder is the resource I use the most.

And, I should tell you that I use it all week-long, not just at the end of the week. You might think that the end of the week is the time for refining my sermon manuscript. My approach is slightly different.

The end of the week is the time when I am refining my thinking about the details of the sermon and the way in which I am communicating them. But all week-long–beginning Monday morning–I am continually working on my wording.

That’s where something like the RD Wordfinder comes into play. Even after doing my own word studies in Hebrew and Greek and after scanning my favorite commentators, there are times when I still don’t have a clear understanding of a concept. When that happens I turn to my RDW. Inevitably, the still-fuzzy concept clears up when I survey synonym options.

The selected synonym becomes an important part of that sermon segment. It helps me communicate the theology of the passage more clearly.

So, while some kind of thesaurus will help you massage your manuscript, it will also help you master the material in the early stages of sermon preparation.

Before Sunday, see if your thesaurus can help you gain clarity about your passage’s main theological concept.

Preach well this new year so God continues to receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Preaching the Theology in Judges’ Civil War

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In these posts I am trying to provide strategies for preaching difficult narratives found in the book of Judges. What makes them difficult, you might ask? Well, they’re long Old Testament Narratives. But, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know you can trust the genre. That could be your New Year’s resolution:

In 2017 I will trust the genre.

Trusting the genre in Judges 20:1–21:25 means identifying the major rise in the story’s action. The tribes of Israel send men through all the tribe of Benjamin saying: “…give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel” (v. 13a).

You may recall that the worthless fellows performed Sodom-like sins in the previous chapter.

When Benjamin refuses, the civil war begins. The narrative takes it time to describe how the civil war unfolded and how the “good guys” suffered multiple defeats before the victory.

Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in all the detail. The theology is conveyed by the narrative structure, but not in all the detail. Allow the broad strokes of the narrative to preach to the church:

There is a tragic, but necessary kind of unity as God’s people combine to discipline their brothers (20:1, 8, 11).

There is also a tragic, but necessary kind of discipline (20:12-13, 18, 23, 26-28, 35). When God’s people decide to remain in sin, God instructs His non-sinning-at-the-moment people to act on His behalf. You can make canonical connections to God’s judgment on sinners (such as Matt. 11:20-24 or Romans 1:24, 26, 28) and also to God’s judgment on professing Christians who refuse to stop sinning (such as in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matt. 18).

A welcomed, yet messy expression of compassion occurs in 21:1-23a. The judgment on their brothers did not create ongoing animosity.

Finally, there is hope for future spiritual success in 21:23b-25 when rebuilding takes place and things almost seem to be normal again. The emphasis on “inheritance” points to future spiritual success that we enjoy in Christ.

This section is one of the best places to teach the church about the holiness of God and the need for discipline.

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

Randal

P.S. If you are interested in how Judges is put together, you might like to know that the book is ending where it began. It begins and ends with Israel asking God, “Who will go up” to fight against____? The problem is the first question addresses going up against God’s enemies. By the end of the book the question addresses going up against their own people! An entire tribe has morphed into the morality of the culture.

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

 

Is Your Preaching Getting Better?

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A while ago the following sentence caught my eye. It’s from Pandora’s bio on the singing group, Hot Chocolate:

“An interracial English funk and soul group, Hot Chocolate scored a pair of huge hits in the 70’s but were otherwise more enthusiastic than skilled.”

Ouch!

This immediately made me think of what someone could say about me or any other preaching pastor.

I recognize that skill levels vary with individuals. It’s that way with athletes. There is LeBron James and there are other basketball players (older blog readers insert Michael Jordan). And it’s that way with preachers. I’m no Tony Evans or Tim Keller.

This week I begin teaching Advanced Homiletics to a class at LBC’s northern Virginia campus. I’m also in the middle of working with a Baltimore pastor in an independent study in Communicating Biblical Truth. So, I’m thinking a lot these days about how to teach hermeneutical and homiletical skills. As always, it forces me to think about how I’m doing. How skillful am I at…

  • fighting the good fight of faith? At fighting temptation? At displaying the fruit of the Spirit?
  • interpreting how Scripture functions for the Church? At theological exegesis? At understanding the human heart?
  • communicating God’s Word in church? At speaking, pace, movement, energy, urgency? At relating to the learners?

Take a look at those three broad categories. What does it take to become more skillful in these areas. It takes intentional, intense prayer. It takes purposeful reading. It takes consistent pastoral interaction (loving and listening).

God help us preach better so that He gets glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. Preach a good sermon, will ya?!

 

How to Sweeten Your Sermons with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 4 alliteration)

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C.R.E.A.M. stands for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor. From a human perspective, they represent five ways preachers create words and phrases that are pleasing to the ears of those that have ears to hear. You’re working hard with the Spirit to understand your preaching portion. You’re also working hard with the Spirit to best communicate that meaning. Lord willing, your words will work and worship will occur.

When done subtly, alliteration can help you communicate God’s Word effectively. Alliteration is using the same letter repeatedly. Most preachers are familiar with alliteration as an outlining tool. It can also be used in a sermon manuscript to help listeners hear God’s Word and respond.

So, before Sunday, look at the sermon manuscript you’re building. See if there are strategic places where alliteration could help communication take place. Check your sermon title. How about your main idea? What about in the application?

Classmates have used alliteration effectively. David Deters preached Mark 4:35-41 and talked about Jesus, “the nobody from Nazareth.” Or, in his sermon, Ken Carozza described someone having been “numbed with novocain.”

If you’re so inclined to work with C.R.E.A.M., a thesaurus will help you immensely. It’s especially helpful when creating phrases that use alliteration.

If you read part 1 of this series, then you heard me talk about how paying attention to style (word-choice) was not a strong suit of mine. I have to work at it, but I’m still average at best.

It is my desire to effectively communicate in the power of the Spirit. I am vexed at times not knowing for sure whether working with words crosses the line into human-wisdom territory. That might be a great assignment for my next class (Does working with words violate Paul’s model not preaching with human wisdom? Defend your answer.). Not you, though, because you’ve got a sermon to prepare (*smile*).

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

Randal

How to Sweeten Your Sermon with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 2 Rhyme)

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One of the ways I work with words during sermon development is by implementing C.R.E.A.M. The letters stand for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor.

These five approaches can be applied to the sermon in two ways.

First, you can sprinkle phrases built from these approaches in strategic places throughout a sermon. Work with the key words in your sermon.

Second, you can create a quotable quote surrounding your major theme. If you have that one point that you want to state and restate, that’s a good place to apply C.R.E.A.M.

In both cases and places, listeners’ ears will pick up on these well-crafted phrases and statements.

Last week we began with “C” for contrast. This week it’s the “R” for rhyme.

Before Sunday, see if there are any strategic words with which you can rhyme.

Just this week I responded to an email with: “Christians often experience bouts of doubts.” I could have said it differently, but I felt bouts of doubts sounded better than periods of doubts.

In Romans 8 Paul lists the entities that are groaning as they wait for final redemption. So, in a sermon I went with a synonym to create “a choir of sighers.”

I just watched a creative YouTube ad for Bertolini Sanctuary Seating entitled: Pastor Piper in Great Preaching…Gone Bad. The ad ended with: “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

While I don’t spend a lot of time on this kind of packaging, I do try to be aware of how the Spirit of God might use my words to help those who have ears to hear hear even better.

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

Randal

Add Another Facet of Saving Faith

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Throughout the Gospels and, also other Old and New Testament narrative sections, look for phrases that add to your congregants’ understanding of saving faith. These phrases provide an opportunity to explore what saving faith is and what it does. Like a cut diamond, saving faith and genuine Christianity contain many facets.

For instance, in Luke 20:27-40 Sadducees approach Jesus to ask Him about what life is like “in the resurrection” (a concept they don’t believe in). In the middle of Jesus’ answer, He states, “but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead…” (v. 35).

That phrase is one way to describe a genuine Believer or follower of Christ. This is what genuine saving faith creates: a person who is “considered worthy to attain to that age…” Saving faith takes people “of this age” (v. 34) and transforms them into those “considered worthy to attain to that age…”

It is tempting to spend the majority of sermon time on Jesus’ cryptic description of life in the resurrection. It demands much attention because any exposition has to come to grips with the revelation Jesus provides in vv. 35-36. Jesus corrects the Sadducees’ understanding. He wants them to know that “the dead are raised” (v. 37) and that God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living…” (v. 38).

Leave room, though, to answer the question Jesus doesn’t answer: How does a person become “considered worthy to attain to…the resurrection from the dead…”? That question inevitably delves into what saving faith is and does.

Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion contains any phrases that explain a facet of genuine faith and Christianity. Over time, the cumulative effect of this kind of exegesis will help limit the number of surprises at the Judgment.

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

Randal