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Anticipating The Yawns And Fists (via Darryl Dash)

Darryl Dash writes the two questions that have to be answered in sermon preparation: What’s the central idea? and What are the sticking points?
The first question identifies what the Scripture is saying to the congregation.
The second anticipates how different congregations may have varied reactions to that message.
The preacher has to have a relationship with, and knowledge of, his congregation so that sermons will have breadth and depth over an extended season.
From the article:

Once we discover biblical truth, we need to analyze it from the perspective of the audience that will hear it and ask a couple of questions:

  • What will make them fall asleep?
  • What will make them object?

We’re looking for both yawns and fists. We need to understand how to make the truth compelling, and we also need to anticipate objections and to respond to them. Sometimes we discover that our big idea is a platitude that needs revisiting. Other times we need to show why the truth is important. Other times we need to answer objections or just acknowledge that it’s a hard truth to swallow.
We don’t change the truth to be palatable, but we must understand how to communicate the truth to an audience that will have a hard time hearing it.

Read the whole post here.

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On Moral Imperatives And Gospel Presentation (via Michael Kruger)

One thing that drives me crazy are sermons that contain a whole bunch of ‘do’ statements without grounding the imperatives in the ‘done’ of the Gospel.
This article from Michael Kruger on just how closely any mention of moral imperative in Christian teaching and preaching should be accompanied by Gospel presentation tweaks a few of my concerns.

I would certainly agree that any moral imperative must always be rooted in the gospel message of grace and forgiveness in Christ. But, does this mean that it must always be stated immediately in the very next sentence? Does it always mean that it must be stated expressly every time you give a moral imperative?
I would argue that the gospel is the foundation for moral imperatives, the context for moral imperatives, and the backdrop for moral imperatives. But, we must be careful about insisting that there is a magical formula for how that must be expressed in any given proclamation of Christian teaching. Indeed, I think a number of biblical examples bear this out:

1. The book of James. When one reads the book of James it is clear that it is a letter of morals. We are called to not show partiality (2:1), to help the poor among us (2:15-16), to watch our tongues (3:1-12), to stop our coveting (4:1-2), to be patient and long suffering (5:7-8), to pray faithfully (5:16), and much more. Moreover, this letter does not explicitly mention the atonement, the cross, salvation by grace alone, or any core aspects of the “gospel” message. Is James therefore moralism? Not at all. You have to take James in context of the entire New Testament and the fact that the core aspects of the gospel message are explained elsewhere. No doubt James wrote already assuming that his audience understood the basic truths of the gospel.

2. The Sermon on the Mount. Although it is obvious to anyone who reads it, it is often overlooked that Jesus’ most famous sermon is composed of almost all moral imperatives. Jesus covers an impressive list of moral topics: anger, lust, divorce, oaths, fasting, worry, and more. Indeed, Jesus even warns his listeners that God’s judgment will fall on those who righteousness does not surpass that of the Pharisees (5:20), and for those who fail to keep his word (7:21-26). And, once again, there is no express mention of atonement, the cross, justification, etc. Does this make his sermon moralism? No, once again, the sermon has to be taken in the larger context of Jesus’ teachings, and the teachings of the NT as a whole.

3. The book of Proverbs. Once again, here is an entire book that is fulfilled with moral wisdom on how one should live their life. It tells us how to act, think, feel, on a variety of critical issues. And, there is no express discussion of atonement, justification, salvation by grace, etc. Does this make Proverbs moralism? Not at all. These exhortations, once again, need to be understood within the larger context of the Bible’s teachings.

These are just three quick examples designed to make a very simple point: sometimes it is ok to take large blocks of teaching and focus on Christian morals. One should not have to stop every five minutes to give a “gospel presentation” out of fear of being accused of moralism. The key issue is whether there is a larger context around those moral teachings that adequately provide a gospel foundation for obedience.

Read the whole post here.

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Preaching As Corporate Pastoral Care (via Peter Adam)

Peter Adam continues a series of articles, this time identifying preaching as being the natural place where the Bible is corporately opened and applied to God’s people.
If God speaks to his people as a group, why attempt to individualise the focus of applications?
It’s not so much that there’s something in the text for me, as there’s something in the text for us.

It is also significant that Malachi, like most books in the Bible, was addressed to the people of God, the church of that day, and not to individuals. This means that if we read or preach Malachi and apply it to us as individuals only, we will miss an important element of the message.
“Scripture is God preaching”, and part of this sermon is the book Malachi. So we should follow what God has done, and address this book to the church of our day. Our first question should be, “What is God saying to us?” Not, “What is God saying to me?” or “What is God saying to individuals in the congregation?”
So rather than looking for individual application, we should work for corporate application. “Corporate” here does not mean big business, it means “body”, as in “the body of Christ.” We should train ourselves to look for the shared values of our churches, our shared godliness, our shared sins, our shared blind spots, our shared weaknesses, our shared strengths.
Let’s take as examples two issues from Malachi: robbing God, and speaking harsh words against God [3:6–15]. The issue is more than, “How do we as individuals rob God?” The issues are, “How are we as a church robbing God?” and, “How is our church letting individuals rob God and not challenging them?” and, “How is my robbing God setting a bad example to others in the church?”, and, “What am I doing to challenge the church as a whole to stop robbing God?”, and, “What are our church leaders doing to stop individuals and the church as a whole robbing God?”

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.

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Sermon Conclusions (via H.B. Charles)

From a post on crafting expository sermons by H.B. Charles:

The sermon conclusion should be an actual conclusion. Do not start with a bang and end with a fizzle. Do not preach until you run out of time or material. Do not plan the sermon and just “let the Spirit lead you” at the end. The conclusion of the sermon should be strategically planned and skillfully executed. The pilot’s ability to take off and climb to a cruising altitude is all for nothing if he cannot land the plane. The conclusion of the sermon safely lands the plane. The purpose of the sermon should be clear in the preacher’s mind. The elements of the sermon should be united around the main idea of the text. And there should be a sense of movement toward a logical conclusion.
The conclusion of the sermon is not the introduction. This is not a time to introduce new material. The exposition of the text should be done in the body of the sermon. Do not use the end of the sermon to stick in everything you did not get to say yet. The conclusion is the time to review where you have been, not a last chance to get in a few more sermon nuggets. All that has been preached should be brought to bear on the hearer in the conclusion as a call to action. To hear the word without doing what it says is self-deception (James 1:22). The wise man builds his house on the rock by doing what the Lord commands (Matthew 7:24-27). The conclusion should issue the sermon’s final challenge to observe all that Christ commands (Matthew 28:20).
There are two groups in the audience who need this final challenge. As pastors-teachers, we regularly preach to professing believers. The pastor who is committed to expository preaching must think about the sermon in practical terms, not just exegetically, theologically, or homiletically. What we preach on Sunday should equip our people to follow Jesus where they live on Monday.
Yet we must not assume that professing believers are true Christians (Matthew 7:21-23). There will many in our pews who walk in a false presumption of salvation. This Sunday-morning mission field should burden us to conclude by calling unbelievers – be they professing Christians or conscious unbelievers – to repent of their sins and call on the Lord for salvation. Point the congregation to the Lord Jesus Christ in the conclusion. Finish strong by calling your hearers to trust and obey Christ. “Him we preach,” declares the Apostle Paul, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

Read the whole post here.

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Vale Kenneth Bailey

When I was undertaking studies in Bible, theology and preaching the work of scholars like Kenneth Bailey were nothing short of revolutionary.
Bailey observed the structures of texts, allusions to contemporary sources, and the cultural distinctives that readers in later generations would not ordinarily perceive.
Though now dead, his works live on.
Here’s a section from Poet And Peasant dealing with a familiar passage in Luke 15:

As soon as the prodigal reaches the edge of the village and is identified, a crowd will begin to gather. He will be subject to taunt songs and many other types of verbal and perhaps even physical abuse.
The father is fully aware of how his son will be treated, if and when he returns in humiliation to the village community he has rejected. What the father does in this homecoming scene can best be understood as a series of dramatic actions calculated to protect the boy from the hostility of the village and to restore him to fellowship within the community. These actions begin with the father running down the road.
An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating. Ben Sirach confirms this attitude. He says, “A man’s manner of walking tells you what he is.” Weatherhead writes, “It is so very undignified in eastern eyes for an elderly man to run. Aristotle says, ‘Great men never run in public’.” The text says, “He had compassion.” We would suggest that this “compassion” specifically includes awareness of the gauntlet the boy will have to face as he makes his way through the village. The father then runs this gauntlet for him, assuming a humiliating posture in the process! Bruce has noted that such an action would “soon draw a crowd to the spot.”
The father makes the reconciliation public at the edge of the village. Thus his son enters the village under the protective care of the father’s acceptance. The boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, sees his father run it for him. Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and anticipates, the son witnesses an unexpected, visible demonstration of love in humiliation. The father’s acts replace speech. There are no words of acceptance and welcome. The love expressed is too profound for words. Only acts will do.

Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Eastern Eyes (Combined Edition), Eerdmans, 1983, pp179-180.

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How The Ancient Church Used Scripture To Reject Further Revelation (via Michael Kruger)

Michael Kruger examines an episode in early church history as a demonstration of how the church applied its understanding of Scripture in response to those who claimed further revelation.
An excerpt:

…the history of the church (not to mention the Scriptures themselves) demonstrates that such claims of private, direct revelation are highly problematic. Of course, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people. The Scripture is packed with examples of this. But, these were typically individuals with a unique calling (e.g., prophet or apostle), or who functioned at unique times in redemptive history (e.g., the early church in Acts).
After the first century was over, and the apostles had died, the church largely rejected the idea that any ol’ person could step forward and claim to have direct revelation from God. This reality is probably best exemplified in the early Christian debate over Montanism.

Read the rest of the post here.