Preaching

Self-Attesting Reality

Self-Attesting Reality

How we read the Bible speaks volumes about our demeanor towards culture. If we cannot think biblically about any reality or decision-making process we are making ourselves subservient to extra-biblical authorities. If we’re incapable of commencing our thinking biblically we’re just as capable of abandoning our Christian categories. It is the great compromise of our age that we hold on firmly to “God and Country” but fail to know what God requires of us who are called to think and speak as citizens of a heavenly country. We have allowed the presuppositions of pagans to guide the thinking of the pious. Our theory of knowledge is inescapably secular. We have retired our Sunday hats after church and replaced it with the hats of neutrality and unbelief.

I have found that people’s passions run deep…for the wrong causes. In fact, they have so engaged in secular pieties that they have established social structures, hierarchies, right and wrong categories, stipulations, and judgment based on systems and promises that show utter contempt for the God of the Bible. What guides your thinking of reality? What gives shape to your decision-making? The redeemed man is led by the self-attesting reality of God’s word.

How to Prepare to Listen to a Sermon?

How to Prepare to Listen to a Sermon?

Calvin once wrote: “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”Paul says in  I Thessalonians  2:13: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thes 2:13)

The Word of God preached is a necessary part of worship. It is the counsel of God to the people of God. The sermon is a time for teaching, exhorting, and bringing the Word of God to bear upon the life of the people.  This is the pastoral duty as he stands before you. The pastor preaches as one following the apostolic train.

But how do you as a parishioner respond to the preached Word? Preparation is key. People need to be trained to take advantage of this profound means of grace. The Word is a two-edged sword. It is God’s divine surgery on the Lord’s Day. It is crucial to realize as God’s servant prepares to deliver God’s word to you that your expectation is not one of a judge or critic, though at times you may have your doubts about a particular interpretation, but that is not your duty when listening to the Word preached. Your duty is to trust the Word preached to mold your very being; to humble your very spirit, and to change your very life. If you are in doubt that this is happening in the preached Word, you may need to consider whether another Church is more faithful to this sacred duty or whether–and this is likely–you have hardened your heart to the ministry of the Gospel. In other words, if everyone around you affirms that God’s word is being delivered faithfully and you are the only one who sees differently, perhaps the problem is not with the ministry of the Word, but with your heart.

But though the preached Word plays a fundamental role in the life of the Church and worship, it’s important to avoid a particular kind of error that sometimes plagues certain Reformed churches. aOur intellectual heritage is largely a “Word-oriented” heritage. In light of this, sometimes we think of the sermon as the climax of the service, so that everything before and after do not carry the same weight. We have a tendency to view preaching as the only indispensable part of the service, but we should not think in this manner. The sermon is not meant to be primarily a time for great detailed word studies or to hear the latest controversy, or to hear an exhaustive treatment of a passage. If you want a classroom atmosphere, this is not it! Worship is not an extended classroom time; worship is the word of God from heaven to you! This is the gathering of the army of God. As an army, you will begin the service hearing God’s call, and you will sing God’s word in psalms and hymns, and you will eat at Christ’s table, and you will leave with a benediction from God’s word. All these areas are as important to worship as the sermon. Each has its own level of importance. I want you to look at the sermon as a time for an extended hearing of God’s word, but the Word of God is also present from beginning to middle and from middle to end. If you have been inattentive throughout the whole service waiting simply for the preaching, then you have failed to prepare yourself for the preaching. The whole service of God is the service to God’s people. If only a portion interests you, then you have failed the task of responding properly to the Word of God.

The over-emphasis on preaching has created a type of elite Christianity where the newly converted, divorced mother of three feels inferior because of her inability to keep up with detailed Greek exegesis or lengthy treatments on cerebral subjects. These topics do have a place, but worship is not that place. Fancy terminologies may fulfill the appetite of hungry theologians, but may leave the depressed parishioner–who desperately needs hope– empty.

So, qualifications aside, the sermon, or the preached Word, is a necessary part of worship. It ought not to be the center focus of worship, but the most extended aspect of worship due to its nature. And taking that time seriously is important for those who wish to mature into a fruitful faith. Here are then some ideas for how to make that time more beneficial for you as a Christian.

First, come humbly to hear. We are not trained well in this area. Most of us are more interested in what we have to say on a particular subject. Hearing a sermon will require humility to train your ears to listen.

It will help keep your attention throughout the sermon. Parents this is especially important for little ones. Use the questions and short outline in the bulletin to interact with your children.

Second, for all the work a pastor does throughout the week in researching and putting together a manuscript, through every attempt to be precise, still sometimes he will say something that does not connect in your mind. When this happens, write it down and ask the pastor after the service. If you think it is a subject that will require more time, wait until Monday or sometime during the week. After the service, pastors are eager to greet guests or to minister to certain members, or to counsel someone. Pastors always enjoy when people interact with his sermon. Trust me!

Third, prepare yourself for the text. Read it throughout the week. Know the passage before hearing the passage explained to you. In most churches, pastors will give the congregation some idea of what text he is preaching next. If this is not a habit, ask your pastor to let you know, so you can prepare yourself and your family for the sermon. He will be appreciative of that.

Finally, I exhort you to presuppose the authority of the Word. When science speaks with authority, the Word of God is more authoritative. When there is a claim that contradicts the Scriptures, the Scriptures will never fail. The Word shall never be broken. Trust it, embrace it, and live by it and you will be blessed all your days.

  1. I refer to Reformed churches because this is the context I have been serving in the last 15 years   (back)
The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

Over at Theologia, one of the best kept secrets in the Reformed world, Duane Garner wrote a piece in 2003 where he elaborated on the place of preaching in the service. It is a well worth read. It will place preaching in its proper place and show its place in the totality of the worship service. Garner writes:

Today, the great majority of Reformed preaching is not too far from the basic Puritan model. The entire Lord’s Day gathering in many Reformed churches is driven by and centered around the sermon, which is ordinarily marked by its academic language, arcane theology and tedious delivery [12]. This present reality is a world away from Calvin’s original intent when he endeavored to place the preaching of the Word back in its proper place in worship.
Calvin wrote, “No assembly of the Church should be held without the word being preached, prayers being offered, the Lord’s supper administered and alms given” [13], indicating that the weekly meeting should be a balanced celebration of Word and Sacrament. Calvin did not intend to obliterate the mass, but simply to rid it of those things which were distractions and not helpful to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Throughout his time in Strasbourg and Geneva, he appealed to the patristic pattern of worship and sought to present Communion every single Lord’s day [14]. Such was the importance of proper liturgy to Calvin. He desired to have truly “Word-centered” worship by not simply preaching the Word, but obeying the Word in renewing covenant and eating with the Lord every week.

Read the entire article here.

Pronouncement and Process in the Pastoral Call

The pastoral task requires a prophetic and priestly vision. The prophetic dimension comes through proclamation in word. This proclamation fills the ministry of word with grace. Grace is riches in the Bible. So the pastoral proclamation is a form of gifting the body with riches. These riches serve as tools for dominion. They equip God’s people to perform their task in the world with wisdom and discernment.

But the prophetic word needs to be followed by the priestly work. Every priest knows that he cannot skip steps in his duties. Rituals and rites demand preparation and a process. A priest is aware that a pronouncement is not enough. He needs a process. This requires patience and care as he leads, cares, and shepherds his own.

The prophetic task is not an alone role. In order for any pastoral work to be successful, whether in the pulpit or in counseling, a minister needs to exercise patience as his congregants take each step. At times they may take a step back, and at times it seems that they are willing to walk towards their goal. The minister needs to re-direct their attention to the original goal.

The prophetic and priestly role bring people into their kingly status. We are all kings and queens in God’s new world, but this kingship does not come by virtue of adoption alone, but by virtue of maturation. Maturation is an exercise in faith and perseverance in truth.

Parishioners who do not grow in their faith become weak kings unable to defend themselves against the assaults that will surely bombard their kingdom. But when the prophetic pronouncement is heard and the priest steps are carefully exercised, God’s people can grow into grace and knowledge knowing that they have heeded the word of the Lord.

The Benefits of Lectionary Preaching

When I arrived at my local congregation in Pensacola we were using the Revised Common Lectionary. The RCL is a fine Lectionary and provides a wonderful tour of the Scriptures in a three year cycle. But as time went on I realized that the RCL was fond of omitting controversial texts in its cycles. Through the influence of man like Jeffrey Meyers and Jim Jordan I came to realize that there was an alternative Lectionary, namely, the Lutheran Missouri Synod Lectionary (LCMS) who not only dealt with the difficult passages, but also honored Reformation Sunday. We quickly switched to LCMS a few years ago and haven’t looked back.

N.T. Wright also noticed this trend in his own tradition when he wrote the following:

“Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.”

Anyone who has been sitting under Lectionary preaching is often more aware of the flow of the Biblical text since the sermons/homilies cover more territory in a year (on a typical year I will give my parishioners an overview of at least 10-15 books of the Bible. This has been my experience. On the other hand, Sunday School lessons can cover a more long term expository-based look into the Scriptures. Our former Sunday School teacher, James Jordan, spent over 30 Sundays on the “Exodus” themes in the Bible. Naturally, preachers are not bound to the Lectionary Lessons (especially during the Pentecost/Trinity Season). Certain times of the year may demand a more personalized sermons to address particular needs or concerns in the congregation.

As for the Lectionary, when it is not hindered by theological fears, it can serve as a remarkable immersion and re-immersion into the Scriptures every three years. It is incumbent upon pastors as they invest on these texts to provide a clear and fresh perspective on these narratives. Repetition is good. And the constant working through the broadness of the Gospel story can be a fruitful liturgical work.

Pastors too benefit greatly from it. As I navigate through the high church year (Advent-Easter) it is always encouraging to detail and consider these marvelous gospel texts that shape our faith and even our own lives.

Christ is risen!

Preaching and the Prodigal Son

I often sit at my desk on Monday morning after a tiring and refreshing Sunday, and say to myself “Here I go again!” I just finished preaching and leading a liturgical service the day before, fellowshiped in the afternoon, and on Monday morning I am ready to begin that process all over again. I hear many pastors take Mondays off, but on Mondays I am on. I am motivated to find the best resources, the best applications to feed my congregation the following Sunday.

Preaching through Luke this Lenten Season has been part of this motivation. Luke has become dear to me. His attention to details, his emphasis on the Word-authority of Jesus, and his unique description in chapter 15 make Luke unique among the Gospel writers. What is in chapter 15? Chapter 15 describes–among many other things–the lostness of the son, and the found-ness of the Father. The Father finds what He lost; the Son lost what He had, and the elder brother belittled the feast of the found one.

Preaching through this section is filled with remarkable challenges. What to emphasize? What is central to this text? Father or sons? Or both? How is Jesus connecting the lostness of Israel to this text? What is the significance of the feast imageries in the reception of the prodigal son? What does repentance look like? In what way is the Father’s profound forgiveness like our heavenly Father’s forgiveness? How is the elder brother’s reaction much like ours? How is his reaction much like the Jews of the first century? Suffice to say, these are only initial questions to pose in this ocean of beauty and grace.

Once again I am confronted with the glorious task of savoring this text as much as it is possible before I can give my parishioners a sample of it as well. May this sermon do justice to this remarkable and rich passage of Holy Scriptures.