Archives For expository preaching

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John the Baptizer was not your average guy. His wardrobe consisted of fur de desert rat. His diet, grasshoppers and unfiltered honey. His domicile, the desert. His message, repent. His career, ended sometime in his 30’s with jail and execution.

And yet, God said of him, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” (Matt. 11:11). For most of us, that’s probably not the first thing that would pop into our mind if we encountered a guy like him.

Among other things, something which Jesus identifies in John’s life was his unwavering commitment to God and his truth. John was no spineless man-pleaser: unlike river reeds, he stood firm in the midst of fallen, cultural winds (“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”, Matt. 11:7).

We do not have record of everything John every preached, but from that which God has given us in Scripture, we have enough to observe a few characteristics of his preaching. What are some themes you would expect to see in the greatest man’s preaching? And what can we learn from him so that our churches avoid becoming First Church of the Reeds?

Here are a few observations about the preaching of the greatest man born of women:

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we'll seeOne of the more amazing things about God’s redemptive plan for the world is that he uses human beings to further it. Even more amazing is that he uses men. And still more amazing is that he often uses young men. Truly all the applause for redemptive history rises to God.

Young men are often raised up by God to take the baton in various ways to faithfully follow previous generations. One of those ways in the privileged and sacred task of feeding Christ’s flock through biblical preaching.

However, as you read Scripture and spend time ministering to God’s people, one thing becomes clear: it is not always easy for people to readily receive the ministry of a young man. A young preacher’s hearers sometimes need help.

Why? Like a young tree, it remains to be seen if we will endure the elements. We have yet to establish the bond of trust with the congregation which often takes years. We may not have the much-needed seasoning of sanctification. Our lives lack the testing and refining brought by the sovereignty of God over time. Younger preachers often have fewer years in the necessary school of suffering. Simply because we have not lived long, we have not been as sanctified, tested, and tamed through struggle. Our doctrinal beliefs, convictions, and philosophy of ministry have been tested by little more than red ink and like-minded friends. It’s easier when we’re green to march up to the pulpit and confidently proclaim our convictions. It’s quite another thing having done so through a measure of blood, sweat, and tears. We’ve yet to personally feel the pounding resistance of the world, the flesh, and the devil against long-held biblical convictions. For those reasons, and more, there can be an understandable hesitancy towards younger pastors. And we fledgling preachers need not resent that, but humbly do our part to assist in our audience’s receptivity and help our hearers.

By “help our hearers,” I mean doing what we can, as younger and less experienced preachers, to be as useful of an instrument as possible in Christ’s hands to bring his transforming power to the congregation.

Here are a few ways that younger preachers can help their hearers:

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200408-omag-hungry-600x411It usually happens like this: a married couple or an individual shows up at church. They are struggling relationally or spiritually. At some point they say, “I have been attending so-and-so church for several years, but something does not feel right. We know that the Bible says we should be growing spiritually, and we have tried lots of things, but I go away feeling empty. And my [unbelieving] husband even recognizes it.” After many questions, it becomes clear that they have little to no understanding of God, themselves, sin, Christ, and how it all applies to their lives. Very often, it’s because their ears have been tickled. They have been pandered from the pulpit.

Pander: “to provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable” (Merriam-Webster).

I imagine that these individuals have sat under preaching similar to a kind I heard recently. The pastor approached a somewhat controversial and very important text. He opened by saying that just about any interpretation of the passage is fine, and one cannot really say that this or that view is correct. After reading some of the passage and skipping over other parts, he began to describe his personal ministry experiences which argued against the clear meaning of the text. On the basis of personal sentiment, it was described that the passage could not mean what it said. In so many words, he excused and apologized for the text like one might do for an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas party. The preaching continued around the text without the text being preached.

This is one of the many forms of pulpit-pandering. But I’ve wondered about the long-term effects of this approach to preaching the word of God. What might happen to people as they sit under this all-too-common occurrence week after week? To be sure, it will not be without consequence.

Here are a few perils that can result from pulpit-pandering:

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books

Anyone who knows me or has seen my office or home library, knows that I’m a connoisseur of commentaries. I “fell in love” with them in seminary (another story for another time) and have been collecting them ever since. Why do I think they are so valuable and helpful for preachers and students of God’s Word? First, by using great commentaries, you’re interacting with the best scholarship in the world and in most cases, with Christians who have been gifted to teach the Scriptures (Eph. 4:11).

Second, I find that reading through commentaries helps me to meditate on God’s Word (Ps. 1). They cause me to chew on each verse and even each word more slowly and to reflect on the flow of thought in the passage each time I read another commentary. This continual intake prepares my heart to preach and usually ensures that the point of the passage becomes the point of the message. Third, by interacting with commentaries, it helps me say things in new ways. It’s easy for me to use the same vocabulary or style week after week, or to repeat the same truths in the same way, which can be tedious for the listener. But reading the “personality” and style of each author expands my thinking and vocabulary and helps me to say things more creatively for the benefit of the listener (and of course, if I use a quote I always give credit). Continue Reading…

Perry Noble replied to the controversy addressed below with his own blog post. In it he apologized for what he said about the Hebrew word for “command.” The post below is not edited in light of that, but instead we encourage you to read Noble’s post.

commandmentsOver the past few weeks noise has arisen over the recent Christmas Eve service preached by pastor Perry Noble. Among other things, he performed a sweeping edit of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 during the sermon.

His justification for doing so was three-fold. God spoke to him, telling him to preach a message in which he edited each of the commandments, then he received affirmation from fellow-staff to do so, and a Jewish friend told him that there is no word in Hebrew for, “command.” The claim is made that instead of “Ten Commandments that you have to keep…they’re actually ten promises that you can receive when you say, ‘Yes,’ to Jesus.”

So, for example, the first commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20:3), is better understood as, “You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.” As a sidenote, the commandments are not promises to which we say, “Yes,” but standards by which we are shown to be condemned so that we would see and sorrow over our inability to render ourselves acceptable to holy God, repent, and embrace the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ for acceptable righteousness.

So, the errors here are significant. First, this is a remarkable edit and jumbling of Scripture (which others have sufficiently addressed). But there are some other issues which merit consideration, especially for those of us who stand behind a pulpit each week.

One issue here is the sacredness of the pulpit. By pulpit, I do not mean a physical stand which sits in a church, but the spiritual act of preaching the Bible. Biblical preaching is to be a sacred endeavor, because of the sacredness both of the office of pastor and the task of preaching. Further, the sacredness is not ourselves, but the God we represent, the God for whom we speak, and the word of God from which we preach. In that sense the pulpit carries with it a sacredness.

Consequently, here are some considerations for the sacredness of the Christian pulpit:

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preach itNow and then, it’s good to stop and bask in the kindness of God with respect to what we have been given in the Bible. It is the word of God. God has spoken. God has spoken. And it’s all here in Holy Scripture. Not one word missing. Not one word misspoken. Not one word mistaken. Incredible.

“The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times” (Ps 12:6).

“The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps 119:60).

The only thing that makes sense, then, is to preach Scripture in a way that seeks to stay surrendered to the biblical text so that the message is discernibly directed by the authorial intent of the particular passage. That is expository preaching. And because God’s word is so valuable, expository preaching imparts blessing in many ways.

 Consider a few benefits from sitting under regular expository preaching:

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There are many ways to leave a church honorably. You could die in the pulpit. You might gracefully retire so a younger man can fill your shoes. Perhaps you feel called to another ministry, and your current elders support you in that endeavor. But there are some ways no pastor wants to be ejected from his ministry.

candle burnt out1. Burn out.

Some men don’t last in the ministry because, as Maverick was warned in Top Gun, “You ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.” In their defense, most pastors who burn out are demanding more from their bodies, not out of ego, but out of zeal for the ministry.

George Whitefield, for example, was told by his doctor to take it easy and refrain from preaching to preserve his extremely precarious health. That night he was invited to preach the gospel to an audience in the house in which he was convalescing. He promptly hauled himself out of bed, and preached his guts out at full tilt to a packed house until the candle burned out. He then retired to bed and died.

Whitfield had responded to the chiding of his doctor, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” Which brings us to another way pastors lose their pulpits.

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hatfield-mccoy_pigThis is a long story, but I’ll keep it short. In 1878 Floyd Hatfield had a pig. Somehow this pig got a tiny bit of its ear bitten off or otherwise severed, or so Hatfield claimed. You see, on the other side of Tug Fork river on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, lived a family called the McCoys.

The McCoys notched their pigs’ ears, to be able to identify them if they got stolen. When Randolph McCoy saw the notched hog in a Hatfield sty, he accused Floyd Hatfield of swine theft. The matter soon escalated into a bitter lawsuit. Randolph McCoy took Floyd Hatfield to court over the issue.

The problem was complicated in that the local justice of the peace was the honorable Anderson Hatfield. He found no evidence that Floyd had stolen the pig, and based on the testimony of one Bill Staton, ruled in favor of the Hatfields,. The case was closed. Or was it?

Bill Staton was later killed–supposedly in self-defense–by two McCoy brothers. Around that time Roseanna McCoy was courting Johnson Hatfield and the McCoys arrested the young man for bootlegging. The Hatfields rescued him by force. But then Johnson Hatfield abandoned the pregnant Roseanna McCoy, and married her cousin. Later, Roseanna’s three brothers killed a Hatfield (I forget which one). The Hatfields then hunted down the McCoy brothers, tied them to pawpaw bushes and pumped them with lead. The Hatfields were arrested, but mysteriously got away with no punishment. So, the McCoys used political connections to reinstate the charges. In retaliation the Hatfields burnt down a McCoy cabin. Two McCoy children were killed that night, and eight Hatfields were arrested (one of them hanged). Well, to cut a long story short, the notorious Hatfield-McCoy blood feud raged bitterly for decades, claiming a dozen lives from both families. Eventually the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia intervened, and even the US Supreme court got involved! Like I said, it’s a long story.

I have no idea what happened to the pig.

What I do know is that when family feuds turn violent, the end is never initiated by the feuding families. The dispute must be settled by the intervention of supreme powers.

I’m about to begin preaching a series of sermons in the shortest book of the OT, namely Obadiah.

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In good churches there tends to be a LOT of preaching. Sometimes it feels a tad overwhelming. Sermons come at you rapid-fire from all directions, like a paintball ambush.

Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday cell groups, Saturday men’s meeting, and now with the advent of MP3 players a barrage of world-class preaching is a screen-touch away. It can be a bit like drinking from a fire-hose.

And how much of this biblical truth is really going in? Am I honestly expected to beware of the 15 symptoms of hypocrisy in Luke 11, as well as the 3 tools God uses to save sinners, and the 6 steps to being a good steward of my money? And if I am supposed to remember this stuff, what about next week, and the week after that?

Is a photographic memory requirement for being a faithful Christian these days?

We are not the first generation to flounder in information overflow. Continue Reading…

A pastor asked me what I was preaching in church. I said “Luke in the morning and Micah in the evening.” He was flabbergast. He admitted that if he announced any OT book, his church would empty until he was back into the NT.

I am blessed to preach at a church which offers an evening service in addition to the morning services.

I’ve tried to make it my practice to take the morning to preach expositionally through the New Testament, and the evening for the Old(er) Testament.

This gives our people a full-orbed notion of the redemption plan. It also builds biblical literacy. For example, we just completed Ecclesiastes, and are plunging into a series on the minor prophet Nahum.

There are four reasons I can think of to pay concerted attention to the OT…

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