Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I'm Reading - Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition

Miller, Calvin. Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006.

As the title suggests, Miller's book emphasizes the importance of storytelling in preaching. Below are some of my favourite quotes from the book.
...nobody knows better than those who preach that preaching is an art in which a studied, professional sinner tells the less studied sinners how they ought to believe, behave, and serve. Fortunately the office of “preacher” carries with it a common understanding that as long as the preacher speaks for God, he should be heard even if he is a sinner (p. 9). 
To get the job done preaching must be committed to two goals: first it should be passionate and second, fascinating (p. 12). 
Passion can never be genuine unless the preacher owns a burning need for a God-relationship. Zeal must own the herald before the herald can preach it into others (p. 16). 
Great expositors succeed precisely because they refuse to trade honest exposition for congregational popularity. They have never been intrigued by the wonder of becoming mega influences by preaching minisermons (p. 27). 
It is easy to catch the tone of two ideas here. First the word pastor is the most appropriate name for the preacher. Shepherding takes into account a whole range of compassionate skills that belong to the pastor. Shepherds guard, heal, tend, and maybe even shear, when the care of the sheep require it. But of all these activities nothing is more critical than feeding them homiletically.
A second idea inherent in the word pastor is the act of “knowing” them. Jesus makes so much of this idea in John 10. He said that his sheep knew him and he knew them. Who knows all the applications that might be made of this idea, but one thing must be said: we can only preach to them— really preach to them— if we know who they are, the burdens they carry, where they work, and the heaviness of life that has gathered about them (pp. 37-38).  
The difference between a dull lecturer and a glorious preacher is all in the application (p. 50). 
To analyze the central focus of the sermon is to ask ourselves three questions. If any of these three issues go unanswered, some vital function of preaching will not be present. These are not questions that relate properly to sermon preparation. But they are equally important issues if the sermon is to be both biblical and relevant. The questions are these:
Is the sermon about Christ?
Is the sermon about the Bible?
Is the sermon about them (the listeners) and the present moment?
The sermon must arrive at the listener’s hearing through a channel of intensity and interest. The first two of these questions will give the sermon intensity or passion. Without passion, the first two questions will arrive at the listener’s ears as a drone of no importance. The final question is the issue of relevance. Until this last question is answered, sermons inevitably degenerate to boredom because to the hearers such sermons seem to contain no information they need, nor can they apply what the preacher is saying to the “right-now” predicament of their lives (p. 62). 
Spiritual formation is not a destination to which we arrive but a hunger of heart we long to satisfy. I believe preachers have lost a great deal of credibility in the ministry because they project that they are living in a spiritually satisfied state rather than living in a wilderness of hunger for closer intimacy with Christ (p. 75). 
Without application there is no sermon. Application is what gets the Sermon off the Mount, and down in the valley where the toilers live out their days. Once people know what the Bible says, their next questions are: So what? How to? Where do I start? Sermons must take the information they dispense and tell the church what to do with it (p. 79). 
Sample Thesis Statement from Numbers 22: 21– 34
The sermon’s thesis: God expects obedience in every aspect of what he asks of us. How does the thesis relate to the text: The text is an example of how we can stray from honoring God’s commands and therefore dishonor God’s expectations. What is the sermon’s task (its application): This sermon exists to call people from a lackadaisical or disobedient lifestyle back to a walk of faith.
The theme may be contemporized in this way: In the current secularized culture, how does the believer practice godly obedience in the marketplace, classroom, or the arts? (pp. 105-106). 
The thesis tells what the sermon is about and what it set out to do. But the motif is a kind of rhetorical call that keeps the sermon on track. Motifs are best when they are simple, short, and somewhat dramatic (p. 108). 
Propositions give you the information you need to build a life on, and stories motivate you to want to build such a life (p. 134). 
So sermons are remembered only if they contain enough pictures to be stored (p. 145). 
Storytelling is a great teacher for two reasons. First, it keeps the audience listening so they can learn. Second, it is easier to remember once the sermon is over (pp. 147-148). 
Sermons should say one thing (p. 179). 
I'd gives this book a 3.5 out of 5. I thought the part about including a sermon motif --which is repeated throughout the sermon--was helpful.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What I'm Reading - Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Viking, 2015.

Preaching is not a book that gives detailed steps on how to construct a good sermon (though it does include an appendix on "Writing an Expository Message"). What the book does do is tell us what a good preaching should include (e.g., preaching Christ from all of Scripture).
Sound preaching arises out of two loves--love of the Word of God and love of people--and from them both a desire to show people God's glorious grace (p. 14).
To show how a text fits into its whole canonical context, then, is to show how it points to Christ and gospel salvation, the big idea of the whole Bible (p. 48).
It is crucial in our preaching that we do not simply tell people all the ways they must be moral and good without relating such exhortation to the gospel. Nor should we simply tell them over and over that they can be saved only be free grace without showing how salvation changes our lives (p. 51).
[Contextualization] means to resonate with yet defy the culture around you (p. 99).
Let's lay out six sound practices for preaching to and reaching a culture.
Use accessible or well-explained vocabulary.
Employ respected authorities to strengthen your theses.
Demonstrate an understanding of doubts and objections.
Affirm in order to challenge baseline cultural narratives.
Make gospel offers that push on the culture's pressure points.
Call for gospel motivation (p. 103).
Unless the truth is not only clear but also real to listeners, then people will still fail to obey it. Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound. It must capture the listeners' interest and imaginations; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts (p. 157).
If you want to preach to the heart, you need to preach from the heart (p. 166).
From the appendix on how to write an expository message:
1. Discern the goal of the text by itemizing all the things that it says and looking for the main idea that all the other ideas support.
2.Choose a main theme for the sermon that presents the central idea of the text and ministers to your specific listeners.
3. Develop an outline around the sermon theme that fits the passage, with each point raising insights from the text itself, and has movement toward a climax.
4. Flesh out each point with arguments, illustrations, examples, images, other supportive Bible texts, and, most important, practical application (p. 214).
I'd give this book a 4.5 of of 5. I usually enjoy Keller's writing, and I think in this book would benefit any preacher.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I'm Reading - Expositional Preaching

Helm, David. Expositional Preaching. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

Expositional Preaching is a small book (only 128 pages) but contains a generous portion of pratical advice for preachers. Below are a few of my favourite quotes from the book.
...contextualization in preaching is communicating the gospel message in ways that are understandable or appropriate to the listener's cultural context. In other words, contextualization is concerned with us and now. it is committed to relevance and application for today... (p. 16).
...the preacher is bound to miss the mark of biblical exposition when he allows the context he is trying to win for Christ control the Word he speaks of Christ (p. 17).
Exegesis is not enough. Done in isolation, exegesis alone can lead to preaching that is either overly intellectual or merely imperatival (p. 57).
While a healthy gospel ministry is always textually drive, it must be contextually informed (v. 87).
...the people are the point! (p. 89).
...those whom Jesus sets apart to proclaim the gospel are those who demonstrate their love for him by loving his church! (p. 90).
Preachers cannot be too simple. We need clarity (p. 98).
Two practical steps can help us with clarity:
State the Text's Theme
Articulate the Author's Aim (p. 99).
When it comes to application, the first thing to be said is that biblical expositors aim for a change of heart. We are not merely looking to apply God's truths to the minds of our listeners, as important as that work is (p. 102).
I'd give this book a 3 out of 5. It's not a top 10 book on preaching, in my opinion, but it's contains some helpful nuggets...and it's a quick read.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Life Falls Apart

Part 1 of Why?

Text: Job 1:1-22

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? … But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). 


Life can go from good to bad in an instant. A phone call, a knock on the door, or a visit to the doctor can change everything. When life falls apart, we ask, “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why?”

Job was a man whose life fell apart. He lost everything: his wealth, his family, and his health. And most of the book of Job is about Job and his friends asking, “Why?”

Loving God for Just the Benefits?

God said to Satan [1], “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8). Satan wasn’t impressed. He replied, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9). Satan believed that Job loved God because God had blessed him. So he said to God, “[Take away] all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:11). When life falls apart, how is it possible to love God?

Even when life falls apart, we can love God because we have proof that he loves us. 

An Innocent Sufferer

For Job, life was good. He was “the greatest of all the people of the east” (1:3). But there came a day when everything changed. On that awful day, Job was given one piece of devastating news after another: the Sabeans stole his oxen and donkeys (vv. 14-15); fire from heaven killed his sheep (v. 16); the Chaldeans stole his camels (v. 17); and, worst of all, a storm killed his children (vv. 18-19).

Job didn’t understand why his life had fallen apart. He wasn’t reaping what he had sowed. He was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). He was an innocent sufferer.

Why Is There Innocent Suffering?

Job believed that God is sovereign and could have prevented his suffering. In his grief, he declared, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why did Job suffer? The book of Job doesn’t give us the answer to this question. How can God expect us to love him if he doesn't give us the answer?

The Ultimate Innocent Sufferer

Years later, there lived another blameless and upright man. But his obedience to God didn’t bring him prosperity. Instead, he was betrayed, beaten, and executed. He was once described as “a man of sorrows.” [2] As he was dying, he cried out to God, “Why?” [3]

Who was this man? It was Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate Job. He is the ultimate innocent sufferer.

When our “Why?” questions go unanswered, we should remember what God said to us through the cross.

Through the cross, God says, "I love you." Let’s not forget who Jesus is. Jesus is God in human flesh. (God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) God “knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.” [4] God chose to become an innocent sufferer. And why did he choose to suffer? He chose to suffer so that one day our suffering would come to an end.

Do You Really Love God? 

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God, his strategy was to get them to doubt God’s love for them: “God doesn’t really love you?” Satan tried the same strategy on God: “Does Job really love you?” God, without wavering, answered, “Yes, he does.” What an honour it would be for God to say the same thing about us!

The cross should convince us that God loves us. If we’re not convinced that God loves us, we’ll probably turn from him when suffering comes into our lives.

[1] There’s lots of speculation about why and how this conversation between God and Satan took place, but this sermon will focus on the conversation itself.
[2] “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
[3] “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
[4] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 159.