Friday, November 21, 2008
It Forced a Change In How I Looked at Success
Success is no longer the size of the building, crowd, or offering total. For me success has had a huge shift toward hungering for excellence instead of “success.” All of this came about when I took a look at Paul’s approach to those he mentored.
“Timothy, you stay in Ephesus and pastor these 25,000 or so. Teach doctrine diligently and understand there are a few beasts you will have to confront but this is where real spiritual warfare will play into your advantage. Spiritual warfare comprises far more than just angels and demons, Timothy, it has much to do with your tools. Keep your belt of doctrine on. Make sure you have a breastplate of holiness secured to the belt of doctrine. Keep your shoes of peace on it is an amazing foundation to fight from. Peace in your heart is more important than chasing devils around, they will come to you and you won’t have to go find ‘em. Your shield of faith can extinguish a lot of lies and doubts that will try to consume you. Faith in your God and in His Book will help you in the long run. Put on your helmet because it is your hope, your salvation. Be savvy and bold with your Sword, which is the Word. It can get you out of some tenable and dangerous situations. Lastly, don’t forget that a praying preacher can do much harm in the hands of an awesome God.”
“Titus, while Timothy is shepherding the church in Ephesus. Boy what a dandy and a plum that she is! Everybody wants to pastor Ephesus! But anyways, Titus, I need for you to go down here to Crete. It is a hard and difficult spot in the road. They run 25 to 50 on Sundays and that is depending on the weather. They are a bunch on slow-bellies and liars and they need some things to be set straight. That is what I want you to do! Stay there and be faithful until I tell you to move or the Lord comes back, whichever comes first. See you sometime in the future, God bless you!” (Dalmatia would also be in his assignment as would Nicopolis.)
I was also arrested when it came to the fact that Paul told Timothy about how that Onesiphorus had to care for the chains of Paul. How is that for apostolic ministry? Managing a chain? You bet! I am coming to understand more and more something I heard someone say a few years ago, “If you are too big to do the little things, you are too little to do the big things!” It takes excellence to fulfill the ministry of a chain, not very successful but a whole lot of excellence!
Paul moved men around like chess pieces. What became prevalent to me as I sorted this out in moving through the Epistles was that God is more concerned with faithfulness and obedience than he is with the American trappings of success. As usual, I always feel like I have to qualify what I am saying/writing and I do so now, I am not for laziness in sort of fashion! Work diligently and faithfully and let God take care of the details. Worry with the depth of ministry and God will take care of breadth of ministry!
Far too much of modern Christianity is geared toward personal success and fulfillment. While this may be the cravings of our culture, it is not the message of Christianity. Scripture, especially the NT epistles, calls us as saints with a leaning toward service and even servant-hood. If you understand that the backdrop of church history and the role that many of those in the early Church who ended up dying for their faith, how can I reconcile that with a gospel of “self-fulfillment”? Try to tell a martyr about self-fulfillment here in this life and he will tell you that fulfillment only comes after we are released from this earthly body.
The success paradigm will lead you to many unrealistic expectations concerning ministry. However if you understand that to faithfully preach the Word year in and year out is the goal, church growth will take care of itself. I want to make sure that you as the reader understands the context in which I am stating this, personal evangelism and corporate evangelistic efforts of the church must continue. Strong preaching will allow you to speak the very mind of Jesus Christ.
Serve where you are. . . faithfully. . . diligently. . . until death or the Lord returns. . . .
Illustrations Are Not Good Foundations
I have to admit that this was a battle that I had to fight out in the trenches of my mind. One of the trends that “thought” preaching takes up is to take a nifty illustration and then create an entire sermon around it. I have to admit that I loved taking a story and then setting up the message around the illustration. I have heard some masterful sermons that totally stunned my senses because of the power of the illustration. However, what I found was that years later, I could not remember the sermon at all but could remember the story. Some would say this is beneficial but my lingering doubt about this process is that it detracts from the very power of the Scriptures we are attempting to preach.
A preacher who continually allows the illustration to outshine the Biblical message will cause a church to minimize the power of Scripture. Sermons that are heavy on illustration and light on Scripture will not encourage the church to dig into personal Bible study. I have found that the more a man attempts to open up the Scripture the more that people will suddenly begin to search out the Scriptures between Sundays.
This can lead to faulty theology because what happens is that the preacher will take Scripture and use it to fit his illustration. Sad to say but far too many illustrations turn God into a very sentimental and manageable deity that exists solely for my whims and an ends to my means. Many of the rags to riches stories that are used as illustrations may unwittingly exercise the idea that God is always there to make life “happier” and “fulfilling” when ultimately the sovereignty of God prevails in the advancement of His kingdom.
Another calamity that occurs with making the illustration the foundation is when the story overrides the message, it clearly detracts from Scripture. Subtly and even unconsciously what the speaker is saying is that the story is more important than the principle of Scripture. Whatever human effort it took to accomplish the task, God acquiesced to the man instead of the man seeking the guidance of God for His will and purpose. Honestly, we love those kinds of rags-to-riches stories of human perseverance.
It is important to put the message together first and then have a wide range of reading that will allow you to insert good illustrations without having to put the message together around the illustration. 2 Corinthians 10:3, Paul is stating that he is human but he is appealing to spiritual means as weaponry. In 10:4, there is an attempt to tear down strongholds (fortress, prison, or tomb is the Greek rendering). In 10:5, Paul speaks of destroying ideas of the modern day. Spiritual warfare is assaulting erroneous ideas and you do it with Scripture not cool illustrations.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
It has been quite some time since I have spent a blog on a book recommendation. However, with Christmas right around the corner, this might be a good time for me to recommend some for you. While I take a brief break from the expository preaching genre, let me introduce to you a man who was an expositor.
When I was in Bible college, our textbook for homiletics was written by D ML-J. The book is actually a set of lectures that he delivered to a group of aspiring preachers on different aspects of the preaching act. This was the first book by D ML-J that I read. During that time, E. E. Jolley, continued to encourage me to buy everything that D ML-J had written. All of his books were actually nothing more than his sermons that had been transcribed from tapes by his daughter. Admittedly, in my early days of preaching, D ML-J’s stuff was “heavy” for me because I was always looking for the quick fix. However, as time progressed on, I saw the value of his material greatly increase.
Several months ago, I found a couple of online interviews from his daughter and son-in-law that Mark Dever had done. I listened to them in the late spring and early summer while I was riding my bike through some of the old rural roads that I ramble down. The interviews were pretty interesting and what I did not know was that D ML-J had followed G. Campbell Morgan in the Westminster Chapel in London at the outbreak of WW-II. I have had G. Campbell Morgan’s sermon notes for many years and have found them to be also good places of inspiration. D ML-J’s daughter spoke very highly of Campbell Morgan and it was particularly intriguing to me how the transition took place. Realizing his age was limiting him, Campbell Morgan began to allow his assistant to preach exclusively on Sunday nights. This is what gave rise to D ML-J’s lengthy series through books of the Bible.
The two interviews that I listened to put me on track to a couple more featuring Iain Murray. I had read Murray’s biography of Jonathon Edwards back in the late 80’s and found it to be a good one. So when I found out the Murray had been mentored by D ML-J and that they had worked together for a conference on the Puritans, I decided to buy the two-volume set on D ML-J.
The first book, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones—The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 was very historical as it told of the childhood and young adulthood of D ML-J. D ML-J was actually a physician who left his practice to preach and pastor a church. His colleagues, some of the tops in London in their day, were devastated and did their best to talk him out of leaving a life devoted to medicine. They recognized a very gifted and able mind in D ML-J and certainly felt that it would be a loss to the medical profession for him to leave. However, this did not deter D ML-J. He turned his back on success and a potentially lucrative salary to go to a pulpit.
The bio recounts how that he met some resistance in his early pastorates because he gave much time to study and to preaching. Although he did make rounds to visit the sick and shut-in, his involvement in ministry was not a social activity but a matter of getting the Word of God into the hearts and heads of his congregants. Having read many of the writings of Ravenhill and Tozer, I must tell you that where Ravenhill and Tozer motivated me toward revival and prayer, this biography motivated me highly in the area of preaching.
The second volume is, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones—The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 is keyed into the war years and his travels throughout Europe in the 1950’s. Again, there is much encouragement toward preaching and diligent study that you will read about. What is somewhat amazing to me is that he built a church entirely on preaching. He did a Friday night “lecture” series on different aspects of Scripture and then on Sunday AM and Sunday PM, he would work through two different books of the Bible. I found much, much inspiration in this.
He did not have a staff. His secretary was his wife and she was very protective of his mornings and answered the phone in their small little home and planned out his afternoons. She bought into the concept that his preaching was the most important thing that he did and it took much preparation to be able to expound the Word as he did.
This two volume set is very lengthy. The first volume is around 325 pages and the second volume is over 800. To me the prices of the books are worth the appendices and bibliographies that accompany them. They are both heavily foot-noted which makes their value go up even more to me. Also, understand that because I am recommending them does not mean that I endorse his theology as a whole. I merely think that the aspect of this biography will be beneficial to you in understanding the most important thing a pastor does—preach.
This biography will be challenging for those times you are dragging and it will fire you higher when you are hitting on all eight!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Planned Preaching -- Part 1 -- An introduction to Expository Preaching and an example of some of my foolishness in preaching when I was a rookie.
Planned Preaching -- Part 2 -- The reasons we ought to give ourselves to the disciplines of Expository Preaching.
Planned Preaching -- Part 3 -- How to begin your initial efforts at Expository Preaching.
Planned Preaching -- Part 4 -- Some recommendations about exactly where to start as far as Biblical texts.
Planned Preaching -- Part 5 -- Some of the helpful tools that are necessary to get involved in Expository Preaching.
Planned Preaching -- Part 6 -- Some more of the helpful tools that are necessary to help in Expository Preaching.
Planned Preaching -- Part 7 -- The steps that I have used to work through a Biblical book in an expository manner.
I am going to write on some final thoughts of how that approaching Scripture in a verse-by-verse fashion caused some remarkable changes in my own thinking. My hope is that you will read these blog posts in the spirit of which I write it. Whatever provocations you may find here are not intended to be inflammatory to your spirit but rather to be insightful enough to make you think. That is all I ever ask with anything that I write. I have been very forthright and at times angry with my elaborations concerning the Emerging Church because I see the deadly danger of its influence. However, most of the ramblings you find here on the Barnabas Blog are written to encourage you toward a higher life. That is what I intend with this series of posts but they may burn a bit going down.
Once I got involved in verse-by-verse exposition and making sure that I was staying entirely within the context of Scripture, some glaring things began to happen to me. At first, I went through all of the antics of self-analysis about how my heart was wrong. But the prevailing thought that kept cropping up was the idea that I was “too smart for my own good.”
Much wrestling was done with this until I continued to let Scripture say over and over what it was going to say. I became so immersed in Scripture at the expense of some critics who said I was “Word” only and no Spirit. What I learned through that little trial was that those who violate the harmony and context of Scripture don’t have nearly as much “Spirit” as what they perceive they have. It was through this that I gravitated toward the understanding that a man was not a greater authority than what Scripture was or stood for. So through all of this process, I started holding myself to a higher level of ministry of the Word through the preparation process. In doing this some things began to prevail in my mind about preaching the Word.
Context Is Everything!
I came to understand that context of the passage is paramount. I begin to look at the way I preached and particularly how I listened to others preach through the lens of context. I became so radical about my own preaching and diligently worked to make sure I had the context correct. In fact I realized that if I was going to preach the context of the passage there were some of my own sermons I had to toss in the junk-pile. They did not hold true to Scripture! I had simply taken a Scripture reference and then leaped from a tall pulpit into the never-lands of frothdom.
These “sermons” were fantastic, brilliant, funny, exciting and “successful” messages but they were not from God because I had taken His Word and made it say something it wasn’t intended to say. I had to find a place of repentance because I had violated the last commandment in the Book. It clearly states, “don’t add anything to it or take anything away from it” (Rev. 22:19) because the man who does is in serious danger of missing Heaven. I know. . . I know. . . I can hear it now, “Stretching it a bit aren’t you, Philip?” That depends. . . . It all depends on how much you value Scripture and how much regard you hold for God. Frankly my thoughts troubled me in that I had violated the first of the Ten Commandments. I had not made God into a graven image I had just made Him something that He was not. Oh we shouted and had a big time but it was inaccurate preaching because the context was violated.
This is the danger in “thought” preaching or “thought” getting. I would hear a message and then I would get that magic “thought” and work it out without regard for the context or harmony of Scripture. For those who have been reading these blogs, I won’t you to understand that I will continue to preach topically (because it is not a mortal sin) but I will remember to give much regard to the context of the passage.
One day as I listened to someone preaching (interestingly at a conference level), I begin to have some lingering doubts about a passage that was being “preached.” Much enlightenment came to me when I understood that Matthew 18 had nothing to do with a holy huddle of two or three agreeing that God was going to rain fire down from Heaven (or the Holy Ghost, or revival, or healing, or money). This passage has everything to do with church discipline. It is literally illustrated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 when he removes an unrepentant, sinning “brother” from the Church. When one isolates Matthew 18:18-19 and lifts it out of its proper setting suddenly the sky is the limit for whatever you want God to be and do for you. Essentially what happens is the preacher has suddenly made God something He is not.
The next example I give was not so much something I heard preached but was used as a line of reasoning for ministers who had gotten into moral failure. I would be addressed in a manner like this, “Rev. A. has ‘fallen’ into sin. He is a good man and his pulpit ministry needs to be restored.” Then the line of reasoning would be “the gifts and callings of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29) they would smugly say and then continue on about restoring such an one who had had fallen (Galatians 6:1). Look deeper in the context of Romans 11 and you will find that this has nothing to do with ministry but with Israel’s final welfare in God’s plan. As for the Galatians passage, this has reference to a man being restored to a position of salvation but not leadership responsibilities. To garner the direction for ministry, the patterns of the book of Acts and the Pastoral epistles have to serve as guidance. Where Scripture apparently makes no assertions, it is my thoughts that his is a mortal mistake to make in the general and overall welfare of the Church.
These are the two prevailing examples of many that came to mind. It just does not fare well in the long run to constantly violate the principles of context. Again, please don’t get the idea that I am opposed to topical preaching because I am not and will continue to do it most likely on a regular basis. However, I am entirely opposed to preaching that is out of context of what the real intent of the Biblical writer is stating.
Personality Can Trump the Bible
Another thing that I discovered is that the personality of the preacher can trump the Bible. One day a little book came in the mail that was written by a man who had experienced much success (i.e., miracles, signs, wonders, evangelism, sacrifice, etc.). Comparatively speaking, his ministry was like a 10,000 lumen candle power to my little two double-A battery penlight. The light off of his ministry was overwhelming. In fact, there were times that I had sat and heard stories about his sacrifice and success and then in response drug my miserable, much-loathed soul to an altar and wept, snotted, and cried in much repentance about how little I had done.
But as I read the little book, I begin to pick up on some unsettling things. At the time, I had no idea what “divine flesh” was but I was familiar with Gnosticism because of some studies that I had been through in Colossians. As I read this book, it troubled me that a great personality was apparently aberrant in his theology. In my mind, it was more than just a quibbling about some personal conviction. His view was entirely changing the scope and practice of Jesus Christ, in fact his “Jesus” had not blood, merely an emanation from God. I wrestled up and down with this. I remembered the miracles et al and wondered privately and later aloud to some elder ministers about this. The great lesson in this was that a personality, no matter how seeming successful they may be cannot trump the Word of God. Miracles are not a seal of approval on false doctrine.
As time has passed, I came to the conclusion that good theology will put steel in your mind and in your backbone. The more theology you understand and know, you can say, “You’re preposterous claims have no Scriptural foundations.” Brothers, whether we realize it or not, we need this kind of mentality in our days. We need the gumption, as they say, to gently confront but deal with error in a very measured way.
I have written in the past about how that Hebrews 13:17 indicates that I will have to give a specific account for the church I am called to pastor. It will be very uncomfortable and chilling on that day for the Lord to ask me “What did you do with the Church I gave you to pastor?” if I have been negligent with doctrine. A pastor has the great responsibility to not allow his own personality or that of another “successful” minister to corrupt the flock with faulty theology. Brothers, expository preaching will open you up to a greater awareness of your responsibilities and it will increase your knowledge of the Bible exponentially.
More to come. . . thanks for reading. . .
Friday, November 07, 2008
With this next post I want to give you a few things that have been useful to me as far as the preparation process for actually putting a lengthy series together.
1. Read the Book!
First, read the Book! It is important for you to read the whole book of whatever you are working with. If you choose to begin with 1st John, you should read that epistle daily. It takes about 25 minutes to read through 1st John but as you read it repetitively there is an ability that you develop through the rote of it that helps you to cross-reference the chapters because you are familiar with Scripture.
On a side note concerning reading the Bible: You can break up the Bible into segments and read it through 30 times in about 2 ½ years. The way this works is you should take for instance 1st John and read its 5 chapters every day for 30 days. Then go to Philippians and read it entirely every day for 30 days. To alternate the shorter books with longer ones, then go to Matthew and read chapters 1-8 every day for 30 days. By breaking the NT up into segments like this, when you read it repetitively like this, you will be amazed at how much you can memorize actually through the daily process of it. As you move on through the NT, cross-referencing becomes very easily done. This is a great strength of the study method for expository preaching.
In addition to reading the book you have selected, it is very important to look into the historical background and allow that to develop a geographical picture in your mind. When I did this with Corinthians, the historical data that I gathered brought me to the idea that Corinth was apparently like Las Vegas or New Orleans with all of the flagrant sins in those places. When I did this with Ephesians, I came away with the idea that Ephesus was somewhat sophisticated but given to much idolatry. They were a society that was advanced financially because of the commercial trade routes (by sea and land) that ran through the city. While not exactly like Wall Street, you can see some similarities between the two. Interestingly, scoffers of preaching and the Bible say that neither is relevant for our day. But what could be more relevant to our society than solid instructions from the Word that will revive the heart into spiritual life?
In fact, for those who say that we have made technological advances that have outpaced the Bible, I would strongly disagree with you. Abortion is not new to our days. The Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Romans (among others) all practiced abortion. The principles of Scripture condemn this no matter if it is an ancient society or a “modern” one. This is just one example among many. The real difficulty is that very few people allow themselves to think logically with principles in our times. It is a matter of convenience and ignorance.
A lot of this kind of information can be found in OT Surveys, NT Surveys, Bible encyclopedias, and Bible dictionaries. Commentaries usually have introductions to each book and there is also valuable information that is contained there. You just have to work and stay in your seat until you dig it out. There are no shortcuts to great preaching.
You might also want to consider alternate translations to read through the book you are working with. I have found that the NASB, J. B. Phillips, James Moffatt, and sometimes The Message can be valuable to help me further focus on greater details in the book.
2. Break the Book Up into Main Ideas
Now back to the plan of actually doing it. First, read the Book. Secondly, break up the passages into main ideas. You can do this by resorting to an outline or you can pick out key words and allow this to drive your message. I have come appreciate study Bibles that break up the books into paragraphs (NASB; NIV; ESV, etc.). The paragraphs allow you to determine the subject matter and then progress from there.
The new ESV breaks up 1st John in the following manner with the use of paragraphs:
1:1-4 -- The Word of Life
1:5-10 -- Walking In the Light
2:1-6 -- Christ Our Advocate
2:7-14 -- The New Covenant
2:15-17 -- Do Not Love the World
2:18-26 -- Warning Against Antichrists
2:28-3:10 -- Children of God
3:11-24 -- Love One Another
4:1-6 -- Test the Spirits
4:7-21 -- God Is Love
5:1-5 -- Overcoming the World
5:6-12 -- Testimony Concerning the Son of God
5:13-20 -- That You May Know
This can be very helpful in helping to set up the main ideas. Now, I have a tendency to over-do things and I have with my 1st John series. I have just finished 3:3 and have 17 different messages. In fact, I managed to pull from 2:15-17 three messages. In 2:15, “The Love that God Hates,” in 2:16, “Why a Saint Cannot Love the World,” and in 2:17, “The Cardiology of Worldliness.” These three turned into a five Sunday night series back in the summer month of June. I will be honest in saying that I was literally stunned at the results. I was able to simply walk through Scripture and plead with people about how important it was for us not to love the world and to give our lives entirely to God.
Since I have those strong Pentecostal roots and feel that altar services are still important, on all five Sunday nights in June there were very lengthy times of prayer after the preaching. I am spoiled by the church that I preach in weekly because of their hunger for the Word and then their response to the Word. I have almost refused entirely to resort to Powerpoint Scriptures on the screen because I want people to bring their Bibles to church. If we have guests, I encourage those standing nearby to share their Bible. As for the altar services, they all lasted at least 45 minutes (a couple went well beyond an hour) and ¾’s of our church was involved in them.
As mentioned previously, expository preaching is not a running commentary of random thoughts on different things that come to the mind of the preacher while he is studying. When you isolate the ideas, then you begin to work with the main idea. If there are any suitable subtopics in the passage you can work with these also.
3. Take the Main Idea and Work It Out
The next step is to take the passage that you are working with and press it through the rigors of observation, meditation, and interpretation. By doing this you allow the Word to develop the message instead of having to hunt down warm fuzzy stories, video clips, and a host of other lesser substitutes. There is a famine in the land not of bread but the Words of God (Amos 8:11-12). I do not want to be a man in a pulpit who endorses the famine of the Word by preaching Guideposts sorts of sermons.
As for the application aspect, you may consider these questions.
• Are there examples to follow?
• Are there commands to obey?
• Are there errors to avoid?
• Are there sins to forsake?
• Are there promises to claim?
• Are there new thoughts about God?
• Are there principles to live by?
I will say that if you have perused some of my Ephesians notes or the 1st John notes you probably did not notice the application aspects. I purposely did not place them in the actual notes but wrote in the margins and on the preceding pages.
These three main steps have multiple different components to them that I have not included. My interest is to encourage you to simply begin. I will continue to preach topical messages but I will balance it with expository messages because this has to be the backbone of my preaching/teaching. It sheds great light on our days.
I want to encourage you on two things. First, you may begin a series and then back out because it is tedious and demanding. Don’t lose heart, it happened to me on one of the early series I started in Matthew. I started and quit in grave frustration. But a little while later, I picked up Ephesians and discovered that my stumbling steps in Matthew were useful to help me in Ephesians. Secondly, you will have to train your congregation to get used to this kind of preaching. If you have some hearty soul who has been saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost, they may accuse you of being “Baptist” with your approach. Luckily I am in a church that has this kind of teaching for 40 years and they are used to it. However, my strong response to that claim (and I have told a few preachers this before who determined to “straighten” me out) is what Paul told the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:27. “I have not shunned to declare until you all the counsel of God.” All means all. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. . . I intend on preaching every verse of it!
Lastly, I know some of you may know Brother John Harrell in Bridge City, Texas. He is a tremendous preacher whom I have grown to know and love over the past 10 years. I managed to get a tape catalog years ago of his preaching in Bridge City and I leave this example to encourage you for where you are serving. He preached lengthy series through Genesis, Luke, and Ephesians. In addition to this he also preached lengthy series through the life of David and Peter.
Now just go and preach. . . .
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The last post on expository preaching was about some tools that encouraged me to get into verse-by-verse teaching. Let me allay the concerns of some who may be reading these posts, I am not speaking of an off-the-cuff rambling from one verse to the next and making varied comments about all sorts of things that come to the preacher’s mind. I am speaking of working through a paragraph or a passage where the context is intent on enlightening us about what God has to say about things.
When one does this sort of teaching, doctrinal understanding is heightened and a God-focused ministry of the Word will prevail. It will prevail against theological liberalism, doctrinal shallowness, and things that are shades of gray will become very clearly black and white. Our gray thinking world and even some gray-thinking saints will not appreciate the firm and clear directives that the Bible speaks specifically on. Gray-thinking creates an atmosphere for “out of season” preaching as Paul encouraged Timothy to give himself to. There will be times that our preaching will be “in season” and there will be other times that it is as if we are pulling a wagon up a hill. This is “out of season” preaching that is required of the man whom God has called to preach.
Some more tools that I have found very valuable in helping me work through passages of Scripture are books that help one to understand the nuances of the Greek language. My interaction with the Greek language has been challenging, difficult, maddening, and yet very provocative and helpful. I begin in 1991 with a Greek class taught by Brother Hunt at TBC. We began with the alphabet, worked with parsing words, and rote memorization. However in all of that, there was an understanding about how to use Strong’s Greek numbers in his concordance and the Thayer’s lexicon. Grasping the ability to use that was extremely helpful and for at least a year beginning in July 1992, I would do word studies on different passages in the Bible. I first started with the Sermon on the Mount and then skipped over to Ephesians.
Word studies can be wearying and exacting but I pressed on with it and found many things that added content to preaching and teaching. I will never forget one of those “aha” moments that struck my soul when I started working with the word “temple” in the NT. I won’t spoil the inspiration for you. I would encourage you to find it on your own but it was a very powerful concept that was opened to me.
Another word that so struck me was the word “tare” in Matthew 13. There are huge implications when one looks into the thoughts of the darnel in comparison to the wheat. The comparisons and contrasts from the weeds and the wheat in reference to a true saint make for fine preaching! These are only two of the vast treasures that I mined out by doing Greek word studies.
I mention one more to help you to see the importance of it helping you. In Ephesians 6, Paul lays out the order of the armor. He mentions the breastplate of righteousness and then the belt of truth. I found out by doing word studies that the breastplate was worthless without the belt. The breastplate was made in such a fashion that it attached to the belt so that it would remain secure. If the belt was not in place the breastplate had no security. Righteousness (holiness) is very dependent on truth (doctrine). Some lament the emphasis on holiness and others decry the emphasis on doctrine. However, Paul clearly stipulated that a Roman soldier would not go into battle with one of these things missing. Doctrine and holiness secure each other! I dug this out of Thayer’s and Vincent’s word studies. Brothers, please understand that if you ever determine to dig into expository preaching in this manner it will transform the way you look at the Word.
Another helpful tool for me was a “hoss.” It is expensive and in the beginning stages very difficult to learn how to use. Knowing Greek is almost a requirement but if you don’t, this should not be something that stops you from buying it. I am speaking of Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is nine-volumes with a 10th index volume that is very helpful if you do not know Greek. It adds much to your understanding particularly in the background of certain words and what context that they were used in. Again, I have to tell you that this set of books will take some time to learn how to use them and they will not be books that you will use every time you are in preparation but they are still worth the investment.
Marvin Vincent, Vine’s, and Kenneth Weust all have books that are devoted to Greek word studies that can be very helpful. Spiros Zodhiates The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary – New Testament is also a good investment to make as it will provide insight. I would say that all of these books elevate the appreciation that a student ought to have for the Greek language (koine’).
Another helpful set of books was William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible. He spent a lot of time writing about the historical background of the text that I was working with and it was very valuable. Many times he would be able to open up a Greek word that Thayer’s and Strong’s were not as insightful about.
I am now going to list some things that will be helpful to you. I must always place in the sufficient disclaimer and say that my listing of these books does not mean that I endorse all that they have written. I expect that you will do as I do and that is read and study with a leaning toward discernment.
Thompson Chain Reference KJV
The English Standard Version Study Bible (new from Crossway)
The MacArthur Study Bible NASB
The J. B. Phillips Translation of the New Testament
James Moffatt’s Translation of the Bible
The Archaeological Study Bible NIV
This sort of book is helpful to let you see how a particular subject is followed through all the way through Scripture. My primary exposure has been with only two and therefore I cannot say anything about other books of this nature.
Louis Berkhoff -- Systematic Theology
Wayne Grudem -- Systematic Theology
I used to scoff at this sort of thing but the longer I live the more important I have come to understand the context of the passage. Books on hermeneutics can give you some good tips as to making sure that you get it right. There are numerous OT passages that have been brought into play by some who think they are for the modern day church. Hermeneutics will help you to determine what God was speaking to Israel and what applied to the Church. I might add that these books can be a task to read.
Daniel Seagraves -- You Can Understand the Bible
Bernard Ramm -- Protestant Biblical Interpretation
Single Volume Helps
These books are very good because they are often concise in their treatment of a book or passage but pack much power.
Harold Wilmington -- Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible
J. Sidlow Baxter -- Explore the Book
Life of Christ
Frederick Farrar -- The Life of Christ (2 vols.)
G. Campbell Morgan -- The Crises of the Christ; The Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord; and The Teachings of Christ
Dwight Pentecost -- The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Section on John 15 is stunning especially on the pruning process.)
I will not list a lot of these because you will find that there are some you will warm up to and others that will be a waste of your time. Something I did learn about commentaries that I wished I would have learned earlier. I found out that because a commentary is listed as a “critical” commentary does not mean it is opposed to Scripture or detracting from Scripture, it simply means that it is very detailed in explaining its points. Commentaries fall into two categories: 1) Critical and 2) Devotional. A devotional commentary would be that of Matthew Henry and others like him. A critical commentary would be The Anchor Bible Commentary.
John MacArthur -- The MacArthur New Testament Commentary
The Anchor Bible Commentary
The Pulpit Commentary -- Very old but very helpful.
Keil and Delitsch -- Commentary on the Old Testament
As you develop your habits, you will also develop your library. Again, you will find that when you start dropping your anchor into these waters, a lot of modern popular writers will lose their hold.
I know that some of you are probably thinking I am overboard with the studying that is required for this kind of preaching. I might add that up until almost 3 years ago now, I was working full-time at the hospital in a cath-lab as an RN. In addition to that I was on call, 7 days straight every other week. What I found out was that time is very valuable and a lot of it gets wasted on frivolous matters. You have to get a grip on your time and discipline yourself to being an ardent student of the Word.
There were a lot of late nights after my kids had gone to bed and my wife was reading in another part of the house that I was plowing on in a field that has given many a harvest. I watched the doctors I worked with and how disciplined they were about always reading and going to seminars to learn to perform their tasks better and it motivated me to do the same with ministry. Most of the doctors that I worked with easily spent 60-70 hours a week in the hospital or the clinic. I used that as spiritual steam to motivate me toward something excellent. When I read of Mike Shanahan (coach of the Denver Broncos) and Bill Cowher (former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers) spending 70-75 hours a week working for their teams, I let that motivate me. They are reaching for corruptible crowns. . . . I made it my intentions to reach for an incorruptible one to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . .”
God Bless and thanks for reading. . . . .
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I look at books much as a carpenter looks at his assortment of tools in his toolbox. There are some tools the carpenter will use every single day and there are others that he will use occasionally while others will be used rarely. But all in all, he still has them at his disposal.
I found initially that biography held much inspiration for me. In the early ‘90’s, I found G. Campbell Morgan’s biography by his daughter, Jill, to be very helpful for me. It described his days at Westminster Chapel and his process of studying and preaching. Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students was a very helpful book although Spurgeon was not what one would classify as an expositor in the manner of verse-by-verse preaching. Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones is a classic that was required reading for my Homiletics class at TBC. I did not realize the value of this book until probably the late ‘90’s when I pulled it down again and begin to re-read the passion that ML-J had for preaching.
In my estimation the book that had the greatest impact on me concerning this type of preaching was written by John MacArthur in collaboration with the faculty of the Master’s Seminary. It was originally published in 1992 under the title Rediscovering Expository Preaching. It has since been republished with some helpful updates under the simple title of Preaching. This book is almost like having a classroom at your fingertips. It literally will walk you through the whole process of how to put together an expository study method. You will find yourself having to grasp the understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis, word studies, in addition to helpful recommendations for outlining, introduction, and illustrations. I might add that this book is not light reading. What I mean by that is it will not be filled with much inspiration and the very brawn of your brain will be required to process through the steps that it recommends. However, if you can just grasp small concepts of what is being taught as far as the method is concerned it will help you to pay very close attention to the context of the passage and evaluate how the passage relates to the Bible as a whole.
The second book that I had to work through was in a seminary class. It was a very tedious book and it has also been reprinted with some very good additions. The book is by Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Again this book is a textbook and is not given to very much inspiration as it is to the sheer brawn required of your brains. I have increasingly found that expository preaching requires much, much, much discipline. If you are full-time in ministry, it will require a lot of your mornings to be set aside for constant and progressive study. Chappell places on you six questions that must be answered in the preparation process of the expository message.
• What does the text mean?
• How do I know what the text means?
• What concerns caused the text to be written?
• What do we share in common with: a) those whom the text was written to; b) the person who wrote the text?
• How should people now respond to the truths of the text?
• What is the most effective way I can communicate the meaning of the text?
In addition to this, Chappell also helps with outlining and gathering your illustrations to assist with the preaching. The book is filled with numerous tables and diagrams that are also very helpful. One thing you will find that initially you will scoff at (at least I did) was when he emphasized the importance of diagramming Scriptures like you had to do in 7th Grade English. However, I have found that sometimes in determining the subject and predicate in the verse sheds great light on what the biblical writer was trying to say. Bear with me on this as I can hear you groaning from here!
Another tool that immensely helped me was a book by Stephen F. Olford. One reason that I appreciated this book so much was that it was much simpler than MacArthur’s and Chappell’s works. Olford’s book Anointed Expository Preaching was like moving from trigonometry to simple addition. It was refreshing in the way that he simplified the approach from an academic style to an inspirational level. He wrote about Selection of a Text, Investigation, Organization, Finalization, and finally the delivery of the message.
It was much more inspirational in tone. In fact, I want to share with you what Olford called the five “tests” of a call. He wrote that when God calls men to preach there are generally five areas that God will show a man whether or not he is called to preach:
• Do I meet the qualifications of a preacher as set forth by the Word of God? (Acts 9:15-16, 20; 22:14-15; 26:16-18)
• Have I the witness of the Spirit in my heart that God has called me? (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 1:15-16; 2 Tim. 1:8-11)
• Has the gift of the preacher become evident in my life and service? (1 Cor. 12:7)
• Has the Church recognized and confirmed my preaching gift? (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6-7)
• Has God used my preaching gift to the salvation of souls and the edification of the saints? (1 Cor. 9:2)
Olford’s approach is very good and in my estimation should you choose to start reading any of these books, Anointed Expository Preaching might be the best one to start with because of its simplicity. Another very good thing about this book is the extensive bibliography in the back. MacArthur’s and Chappell’s are also very good at this, as are the footnotes (which can be hidden treasures).
Harold Bryson’s Expository Preaching is another good tool that I appreciated because of its inspirational level. Although it is a textbook used in many seminaries, I found it was very helpful and not overly academic. This is one of the pitfalls that can happen when one starts to embrace the expository method. One can get so caught up in the background of the text and the nuances of the Greek that the congregation drowns in the details of the message. Bryson helps with this by giving you ideas of series of passages to work through. He has recommendations for Genesis, Proverbs, the Prophets, and the Gospels. His ideas on Acts were also very helpful when he lists “great” texts from Acts, “great” personalities from Acts, and “great” events in Acts. This book will be like water priming an old fashioned hand pump for the preacher’s mind.
A newer book that I have benefited from was written by Michael Fabarez entitled Preaching that Changes Lives. The greatest advantage that I found from this book was in the process of application of the message. Expository preaching must be more than just an information dump where the preacher gets all this biblical and historical data, then backs up his “dump-truck” to the pulpit and dumps all the material on the poor man in the pew. This sort of thing can give expository preaching a bad name. This is what Fabarez really works at with the application process. So what that Esau sold his birthright and the Samson got his hair cut and ended up grinding corn, what is the spiritual principle behind all of this? What does it matter that Cornelius was a devout man who prayed and gave alms, what is the spiritual aspect of Peter finding him? These are the sorts of things that can help you with turning expository preaching into a very livable theology.
Power In the Pulpit by Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix is another book that serves as a textbook style of help. It has steps that are carefully laid out in a 1-2-3 or A-B-C type plan that will help you to develop some solidly biblical messages that are true to context. It works with exegesis, hermeneutics, to help get you on the road of homiletics which is the actual delivery aspect of preaching the sermon.
On the next post, I will give you some of the commentaries and other books that have been helpful to me. Again, I have to warn you that if you determine to go down this path and really dig into Scripture, you are going to “spoil” yourself. You will find that very few modern writers will continue to have an appeal to you. Max Lucado, bless his heart, will become a distant memory. You will also see right through the foolishness of Irwin McManus, Bryan Maclaren, and Doug Pagitt. You will instead warm up to the solid writings of the Puritans, A. W. Tozer, Kenneth Weust, and a few others. Charismania things will lose their appeal to you and over time, your God will become far less sentimental than what He perhaps has been in the past. God is more concerned with the perfection of the saints than in giving possessions to the saints.
More to come. . . .
Monday, November 03, 2008
My brother, Mark, some years ago aptly picked up on the homiletic keys that some preachers were guilty of. He told me that he had heard a lot of preaching where the man picked a text and then pitched a fit. That homiletic plan is literally called “pick and pitch.” We heard that mostly at some, uh, well I need not tell you where we heard that as the geography might blow some cover. I am quick to add that Mark or I ever heard that style of preaching from our pastor, Joe Patterson. Brother Patterson was always well prepared on Sundays and Wednesdays (mid-week) were always times that routinely we went through portions of Scripture that helped the Church.
I have received a number of e-mails concerning this series concerning expository preaching. One of those men who sent me an e-mail was J. R. Ensey, who was the president of Texas Bible College, during my days there (1989-1992). What he did not know was that I was going to use some of his advice to our Senior Homiletics class in the spring of 1992. I have asked him for his permission to use one of his e-mails to me in an effort to continue to encourage you to simply committing yourself to verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture. His e-mail follows:
Thanks for the subject of your blog. I have encouraged expository preaching for many years. It is the most "satisfying" preaching for the saints of God. They feel "full" when they leave. Rather than going to the Word for our teaching, we feel pressed to find that "nugget" that no one has heard of that will make us sound smart. More often than not, that nugget is some form of subjective typology, since we can put our own spin on the OT types and shadows. "Preach the word" should mean more than alluding to some passage in the Scripture. As you described your experience, I thought of how typical it is...we get a thought or idea and try to tie it to some verse, often taken out of context to fit our thought.
I miss expository preaching in my present capacity, except when I am home and teaching the adult class. It is not what is expected when you are out on the road, although messages that elicit as much response as any other are the verse-by-verse expositions of Genesis 1, Psalm 1 and Psalm 23. You can cover so many vital topics in those passages.
Expository preaching builds people, and people build churches. The word gets around if a preacher is feeding his people. One of the primary reasons for dissatisfaction with pastoral leadership centers around "not getting fed." As a presbyter and official over the years, I have heard that often. Hungry sheep will eat the wool off of one another's back.
Feed people a solid diet of the Word and they will be happy. Fast food and sugary desserts inhibit the maturing process, and usually causes outbreaks of pimples...a pretty good sign of adolescence.
Again, thanks for encouraging other young ministers to "preach the Word"!
Prior to receiving his e-mail, I had already resorted to my old Homiletics notes (handwritten) and the Homiletics notebook (prepared by Brother Ensey and Brother Kelsey Griffin) to find some useful helps toward expository preaching.
One of the things that I found there was the emphasis that Brother Ensey placed on us about not allowing yourself to get on “hobby-horses” and ride them into the ground. Some pastors only preach on prayer, others only on revival, others only on evangelism, others on faith, and others on encouragement. Whether a pastor is willing to admit it or not, despite the fact that he may be praying and getting a “fresh word” from God (please understand that I am not saying this disparagingly) often his preaching will tend to follow certain “cycles.” Furthermore when a church is having problems or difficulties, if we aren’t careful, great distraction can occur from the real purpose of the pulpit and we will get sidetracked and end up hopelessly chasing rabbits down trails in hopes of finding their burrows. Rabbit-trail preaching is sometimes good but when it becomes the norm, very superficial understanding of spiritual things. Furthermore rabbit-trail preaching often turns the focus of the sermon on the man who is preaching (which in my opinion is idolatry because the focus becomes man-centered instead of God-ward) because he is almost always the hero of the sermon.
From those notes, I list the advantages of expository preaching:
It places supreme emphasis on the Bible.
It makes for a broad understanding of the Scriptures as a whole.
It provides an opportunity to speak on many areas of Scripture that are often neglected.
It keeps the preacher from “harping” on one subject.
It enables the preacher to deal with specific evils and sin.
It furnishes a life-time source of preaching material.
It conforms to the biblical ideal of preaching.
So where does one start. I have covered this lightly in a previous post but now from the Homiletics notes, let me supply you with a list that can serve as a jumping off point. However, don’t let this list fool you, if you start doing expository preaching understand that it is exacting, demanding, and time-consuming. You are not going to be able to throw it together a quick stew of Scripture and make it work so to speak.
John 1:1-5; 1:6-14; 1:35-51
1 Corinthians 1:18-29
1 Corinthians 11:23-24
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 15:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 5:18-21
Ephesians 1:1-14; 1:15-23
Ephesians 6:10-20 (This was my first passage to work through.)
Philippians 2:5-11; 2:12-18
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Thessalonians 5:14-24
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
1 Timothy 1:12-17
1 Timothy 4:12-16
1 Timothy 6:1-12
2 Timothy 1:6-14
2 Timothy 2:1-7
2 Timothy 3:14-17
2 Timothy 4:5-8
Hebrews 4:12-14; 4:14-16
Hebrews 12:1-4; 12:18-24
James 1:1-7; 1:12-16
1 Peter 1:11-12
1 Peter 2:11-25
1 Peter 4:10-11
2 Peter 1:1-11
1 John 1:1-11 (Been there and done it!)
1 John 3:1-3 (Been there and done it! And everything between these two passages.)
1 John 4:7-12 (Not there yet but will be!)
1 John 5:9-13 (Likewise!!!)
In addition to this list of passages, Brother Ensey also told us that in his two pastorates (North Carolina and Texas) that he would take a long list from “A” to “Z” and would look at subjects and force himself to study through the topics and preach them. Brother Griffin in his two pastorates in Wisconsin also did something similar to this. If you choose to do this, Nave’s Topical Bible is a good starting place. While I would encourage you to do this, I also caution you to be careful that you do not fall into the process of entirely topical preaching. Force yourself to dig into the meat of Scripture and do the word studies, finding the subject of the verses, and so on.
If you are interested in the two passages I have worked through a) Ephesians 6:10-20 which I called the Believer’s Warfare or b) 1st John which I am not working into the beginning of chapter 3, I would be happy to send you the notes. Zip me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send them to you.
More to come. . . .
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
1. Begin with your interests.
The first thing about beginning in the verse-by-verse exposition, you should work with a passage that you are keenly interested in. In fact, if you have a “candy-stick” this might be a very good place to start. If you have certain interests in biblical characters, you might work through a passage in the Gospels that lists the disciples. While this would be a series that is more biographical in nature, you are still grasping the concept that discipline is required to work on to the next character.
Another possible place to begin would be Isaiah 9:6 and you can walk through it word by word. There are some vast nuggets that come from Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Technically this is going to border on being a topical study what you are looking for in this stage is the development of a habit that will allow you to dig into a book when you decide which direction to lean toward.
As a disclaimer, I must warn you that expository preaching is much more exacting and challenging than topical preaching. One reason is because if it is done properly there will be much stretching of your own biblical knowledge. As stated earlier about topical preaching the majority of the time the preacher is merely rearranging material that he has already learned years ago and never really scratching the surface of new Scriptural knowledge and truth.
2. Begin with small steps.
If you have never worked through a passage of Scripture, you should not immediately decide to work through Isaiah’s 66 chapters. Furthermore, you probably ought not to tackle Psalm 119. Interestingly enough concerning Psalm 119, Thomas Manton, the old Puritan, preached 250 sermons from these 176 verses and they are a treasure to dig into.
The first small step might be to work through the book of Jude. If you are seriously considering the work, Philippians might be a good place to begin. One the great things about preaching through smaller books, is that you will become hugely familiar with the book in a manner that you will probably be able to quote it. Most textbooks on expository preaching recommends that you read the book through in one sitting every day for 30 days before you actually begin to study it and develop a preaching plan from it. What you are doing when you begin this process is developing and very powerful sense of discipline that will help you master Scripture. Be prepared once you get into expository preaching to have some of your traditional views of theology to be radically challenged. But in the process of this you will find that your heart and soul will catch fire and you will literally find great spiritual growth taking place because of your handling of the Scripture.
Simply to let you see what I am speaking of, I mention my experience with 1st John which is the first serious effort at a long series. I have just gotten through 1 John 3:3 and have preached/taught 35 times already. In chapter 1, the idea of divine flesh was immediately destroyed by the Apostle John. In fact, he did it so convincingly that I feel this is a matter of fellowship as divine flesh really is presenting another Jesus. In chapter 2, the Emerging Church concept was taken on and exposed for the worldly hoax that it is. At the conclusion of chapter 2 and beginning of chapter 3, the false ideas of preterism were addressed when we consider the hope within us. I was simply amazed at how up-to-date that Scripture really is in its handling of today’s issues.
3. Take advantage of the massive amount of free resources on the internet.
You will find there are massive amounts of free resources on the internet for the how-to’s, starting points, and even outlines of books of the Bible that will serve as good beginning points for you to work with. Familiarize yourself with some who are literally verse-by-verse expositors and let their work help you. It is important that you be very adept and accurate in your doctrinal understanding before allowing some of these resources to influence you.
As you begin to get into the process of expository preaching there will be some authors that you will begin to appreciate their writings more than others. There is a good possibility that their writings or their outlines of messages can be found on-line. The way that they have chosen to break down certain passages of Scripture can be very helpful to placing you on the track to your own series.
More to come. . . . .
Friday, October 24, 2008
1. Paul Encouraged It.
So what about the idea of planned or expository preaching? My greatest defense of it is what Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. He informed them that he had preached the whole counsel of God. This passage literally infers to us that he had preached his entire way through the OT and had used the Epistles to do so. All of the Epistles can be cross-referenced with some great OT truth. So when Paul gave the charge in 2 Timothy 4 to “preach the Word” he knew whereof he spoke. I also might add that he was very much being led by the Spirit.
There will be times that a pastor’s preaching will be out of season. He will be bogged down by the demands of a hectic schedule or more often he will be mired in the burdens of the sheep he is trying to lead. Therefore these demands and burdens can begin to encroach in on his preaching and this can be a deadly trick of the enemy. The pulpit suddenly drops down into a very low state and becomes a soapbox for a preacher’s frustrations. The man who devotes himself to preaching through the Bible will continue to have to battle with the demands and the burdens but the texts of Scripture have already been laid out for him to yield to.
2. It defeats Biblical Illiteracy.
One of the main ways to defeat truth decay is with a strong commitment to solid biblical preaching. Having grown up on the pews of a Pentecostal church, I can remember my own pastor, Joe Patterson, working through entire books of the Bible on our mid-week service. I can recall going through Acts all the way to Revelation. I will confess that there were times that my attention lagged through those Bible studies for a number of different reasons. I am also certain that I do not have the attention of all of those who hear me preach now (although I work extremely hard at it) but I have come to understand the power of Scripture by this simple approach. There were times that I would get involved in a situation in life and suddenly a Scripture would come from the past and it would direct me very clearly about which way to go.
My contention is that biblical illiteracy is much influenced by the fact that we are not given to reading. Everything is visual. The man who handles Scripture wisely and accurately is going to inspire the Church to read their Bibles. As a man gives himself to the diligent study and presentation of the Word, the Church will both read their Bibles and also look forward to the messages that are being preached! A good expositor will be granted by God an ability to create a hunger in people for the Word.
Alexander Maclaren said, “The preacher who has steeped himself in the Bible will have a clearness of outlook which will illuminate many dark things, and a firmness of touch which will breed confidence in him among his hearers. He will have the secret of perpetual freshness, for he cannot exhaust the Bible!”
3. It Presents a Well-Balanced Approach to Scripture (or it just makes sense).
When there is a hodge-podge or shotgun approach to Scripture it leads to much scatter in the lives of the saints. Jesus instructed Peter to feed the sheep and this continues to be a mandate for us. Preaching through books of the Bible or even working through doctrine with the approach of a systematic theology approach can be very fulfilling for a pastor and for the saints. The pastor is continually stretching his own understanding of the Word because of the demands for disciplined study.
When a man only preaches topically the chances are the he will frequently only give the congregation something that he has already learned. The message is either old knowledge or simply rearranged thoughts that may appear to be new. When one consistently preaches through Scripture, the Bible can be seen as a whole and not just a part.
It really just makes sense for a pastor to desire to be an expositor. When I was in RN school, it was good that our professors dealt with things systematically. We did not show up one day and hear all the courses of treatment for congestive heart failure and then the next day tackle taking care of the pancreatic cancer patient. The congestive heart failure material was dealt with when we were immersed in the cardiovascular system. Not only was CHF covered but acute myocardial infarctions, atrial fibrillation, other malfunctions of the heart along with all the drugs and procedures that went along with the CV system. We went through pancreatic cancer when we were moving through the endocrine and gastro-intestinal systems. The systematic process catered to learning how to take care of these patients. To systematically walk through Scripture will be and do much to build the lives of the saints.
Next time I will try to give some good ideas for starting your own series of messages. As always, thanks for reading! Comments are also greatly welcomed. . . .
Thursday, October 23, 2008
On an e-mail group to which I am a member a question was recently posed by a pastor who had been serving his church for 3 years and was heading into his fourth year. He asked the question, “Can anyone suggest to me a plan for preaching that will cater to spiritual growth?” I believe the question to be a very valuable one and it was more than just a pastor looking for a nifty little sermon series that would appeal to the senses but never really settle the soul.
Good Pentecostal preaching has always been high energy and high octane. Strong doses of encouragement and conviction could come in one message. There have been other times that I have heard messages that were geared toward a single focus that worked well. True Pentecostal preaching is more than just content, it is full of passion and anointing that will generally call for an immediate response in an altar at the conclusion of the message. This is healthy and it is a necessity. Increasingly there are scattered reports among us that let us know that long altar services are becoming a thing of the past. We can ill-afford for this to happen in the Pentecostal movement. Preaching Is Worship!!!!! Preaching is Important!!!!! A response to that preaching is also crucial!!!!
However, the reality of the American culture is that ministers are contending with a largely illiterate group of listeners biblically speaking. It is a troubling fact to know that very few Americans read their Bibles on a regular basis. Even more troubling is the glaring ignorance that is commonly among those who sit on the pews of churches today and identify themselves as Christians. It is demonstrated in the very low-level of discernment among the Church today. Pastors and churches wh
o have low-levels of spiritual discernment will characteristically find a lack of biblical knowledge.
So now the pastor’s role is drastically starting to change concerning the most important thing that he does. I believe that prayer and ministry of the Word are the most important aspects of a pastor’s job description. Curiously there are all sorts of seminars on everything but preaching and prayer. Bookshelves in Christian bookstores are jam packed with many books that seem to address everything but preaching and praying. It seems to me that leadership and church growth conferences need to give way to helping ministers become better prayer-ers and preachers. It is my thought that if our praying and preaching become priorities then the Lord will add to the church daily.
Thom Rainer has written some books over the last few years about different aspects
of why churches are ineffective and/or are in decline. His most recent book Essential Church? has motivated some of my thoughts about preaching. They were particularly heightened after I read the pastor’s question on the e-mail group. Rainer identified seven sins of dying churches (pp. 16-19) and three of the faults had to do with preaching. He stated that doctrinal dilution, failure to be relevant (this is in a good way, not the convoluted view of the Emerging Church), and biblical illiteracy. After mulling over these three thoughts, it is my belief that all three of these can be terminated with a strong devotion to the Word and an increased passion for preaching the Word.
I remember in my early “rookie” days (late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s) of preaching and how I was always looking and praying (sometimes in great desperation) for that nebulous
“thought” by which a sermon would be born. I would get a “thought” and then use the text for a spring-board to say what I wanted to say and maybe get around to what God wanted to say. I had my handy-dandy little
notebook with me at all times and used it with great devotion when I went to hear other preachers. Maybe they would drop some nugget and I would be safe for another week. I have been much chastised by the Lord over that in some 10 years ago or so. While I am not completely delivered from topical preaching (yet), I have made much more concentrated effort to dig into the background of the text and then preach it out in a much more biblically and doctrinal manner. It started with a series of consecutively preaching through Ephesians 6:10-18 on the warfare of the saint. Each piece of armor was dealt with and I came away from that exercise with a much greater grasp of what it really meant to be involved in spiritual warfare.
Reaching back into the past, I give you an example of a “sermon” with much embarrassment that I preached years ago after getting a “thought” in prayer. I preached about Jael nailing Sisera’s head to the ground. I called it “Power from Common Tools.” I preached myself into a dither and those that heard it got pretty worked up about it too! We shouted, we ran, and perhaps metaphorically we bit the ceilings, and swung from the ceiling fans (so to speak). The problem was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep and had absolutely nothing to do with the text.
I preached that milk which Jael gave was the Word of God and to defeat the enemy you have to give them the Word. I then said the covering that she used to cover him was prayer and how that we had to cover everything that challenged us with prayer. I then said that the nail she used was symbolic of sacrifice and how that to kill the enemy of God we had to nail him down with personal sacrifice and cross-bearing. Lastly, I said the hammer was worship! Not just any worship but get after it worship, take the devil by storm worship, the charge hell with a little water-pistol worship. I then went into great detail about how that Jael had used common tools for an uncommon victory. The two places I preached it went up in proverbial Holy Ghost smoke. We all left encouraged and stayed that way until we got home. Then nobody could remember what had been preached we all just knew that it had been good. What a travesty to lower preaching to such a pitiful place. I was fully one of those novices that Paul told Timothy to train and look out for.
Through all of these experiences, God was beginning to gently push me in a different direction. I must confess that I still continue to preach topical messages but I try to make absolutely certain that they are biblically accurate and not given to preaching merely for an emotional response.
About two years after preaching that sermon, I happened to fortuitously begin reading about expository preaching. John MacArthur’s book Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Now simply entitled Preaching) came my way. Although somewhat technical in nature, I started wondering about the value of doing this type of preaching. As my curiosity rose, I begin to look for other books on this same idea of expository preaching and I found Harold Bryson’s book Expository Preaching and again was challenged in a greater way. Then Stephen Olford’s book appeared Anointed Expository Preaching and I was off to the races.
I have come to believe that the most solid biblical preaching comes from a verse-by-verse rendering and working through the Scriptures. It takes much discipline and it takes a lot of time but for the times we are living in there is a huge famine in the land for the Word. With the next post
, I shall endeavor to tell you some of the ways that I have preached through large portions of Scripture here in Dothan.
I have been told by some that when I blog, I write books! So in honor of that, I am going to try and shorten up these blogs into smaller cuts so that you will perhaps not have brain-lag when you finish reading. . . . More on this thought later. . . . By the way, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings. . . . it was good to meet a lot of blog readers at General Conference in Greensboro, NC.