Category: Preaching (page 1 of 20)

Another Initiative Quote

Quote of the day from a wonderful hermeneutics session at the Initiative in Dallas:

“Nobody goes to church to learn what happened with the Jebusites.” ~Anna Carter Florence (quoting Harry Emerson Fosdick, I think)

Initiative Quote

Quote of the day from the Initiative, an annual gathering of preachers in Dallas:

“Competence is important, but not as important as character and integrity and relationships.” ~Jim Martin

The Initiative

Quote of the day from this evening’s opening session of the seventh annual Initiative, a Church of Christ preachers’ conference at the Highland Oaks CofC in Dallas:

“We must have more confidence in the God who called us than in the human power structures and organized religious and political systems that sometimes oppose us.” ~Jerry Taylor

Preaching: Leads to Salvation

“…the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?… Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” ~Romans 10:8-17

St. Francis is said to have said, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” Notice, he’s trying to inspire us not to use words by using words. Word are always necessary! I’ve heard people say they’d rather see a sermon than hear one. That may be true. But hearing preaching is what leads to salvation.

Preaching is not us talking about God, it’s God talking to us; it’s not telling us how to find the way to God, it’s telling us how God has come to find us; it’s not how to put ourselves in a right standing with God, it’s reminding us of the covenant God’s made with all of us that he’s sealed forever with the blood of Jesus Christ!

It’s not so much you’re a terrible sinner and you need to change; it’s more like this is awesome, so why don’t you jump in?

You are more flawed and sinful than you’d ever dare to believe and, at the same time, you are more loved and accepted by God than you’d ever dare to hope. That’s preaching! And hearing that leads to faith. It leads to salvation.

One of the most amazing things about the Creator of Heaven and Earth is his refusal to keep silent. Our God is a talker. Time and time again, when we storm off to pout like a spoiled child, when we slam the door in a huff like an angry lover, when we hide ourselves in the shadows because of our sinful shame, this verbose God comes looking for us, he comes wanting the start the conversation again, he wants to talk it out for the thousandth time. God breaks the terrible silence of our sin in the name of his steadfast love.

Adam, where are you? Let’s talk.
Elijah, what are you doing here? Let’s talk.
Paul, where are you going? Let’s talk.
Peter, come have breakfast. Let’s talk.
Allan, where have you been? Let’s talk.

Somebody gets up in front of the church every Sunday to make the same Public Service Announcement: that your worth is not wrapped up in where you came from, but in who came for you. There is no catch, there’s no limit to the goodness of God’s intentions for you. Preaching points to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fact and the proof that we are all loved and valued by God and that this world is good and this whole thing — the world and humanity — it heading toward a very good place with its Creator.

You don’t really hear that anywhere but in church.

All of us feel like slaves to our sin. All of us feel trapped by the systems and structures of this world. All of creation is groaning because of its bondage to decay. But in Jesus Christ, all these things have been eternally defeated. It’s already been accomplished.

The Gospel is not about some spiritual battle, it’s more like a prison break! The doors to eternal life, abundant life have been flung open! The gates to liberty and freedom in Christ, with God and with each other — all those doors have been opened wide and the escape route has been cleared and paved by our Lord Jesus.

You don’t really hear that anywhere but in church. Seriously, where else would you hear it?

This kind of message is illegal in some countries, it’s been outlawed in our schools, and it’s not allowed on government property. You’ve got to get dressed up and come to church to hear this stuff.

The Scriptures confirm it: Preaching the Good News has to happen if people are going to hear and be saved. Faith comes from hearing. And the kind of hearing that leads to faith can only happen when a definite salvation word from God is proclaimed. And that word, that message, is the Word of Christ: that he alone is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Act of Faith

“God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” ~1 Corinthians 1:21-25

Preaching is an act of faith because on the surface it doesn’t make sense. What’s preached is foolishness. It takes faith.

Think about it. We take ordinary everyday water and we speak God’s Word. We tell the story of how God has used the water at creation, at the Red Sea, in the womb of a virgin, at the crossing of the Jordan, in the rescue of Noah’s family — and we get baptism, a sacrament for how God saves us.

We take ordinary table bread — just a loaf of bread — and we speak God’s Word. We tell the stories about God feeding his children in the wilderness and Jesus breaking bread with sinners and feeding multitudes on the mountain and God preparing a meal to share with all the saved on that day of glory — and we get the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament for how God takes care of us.

We’ve heard the Word of God preached so much it’s easy for us to forget the power, the wonder, the holiness of that moment when the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit, opens his Bible, clears his throat, takes a deep breath, and dares to speak for God. It’s not a cat video or an epic fail or an advertisement for another new and improved, faster-acting, better-smelling, lifetime-guaranteed product you’ve just gotta have. Preaching is the Word of God, proclaimed to the people of God, as an act of faith in God. It’s a miracle.

I believe it works like the sacraments. Not exactly, but kinda. You know, during the communion meal, the bread is still a plain cracker and the grape juice is still Welch’s grape juice. Or Great Value, I really don’t know. Even after the prayers, it remains crackers and juice. But by faith, God uses the meal to convey to us the reality of our unity and acceptance and fellowship with him and each other.

In the same way, I think that human words spoken by human, sinful, fallen preachers are still human words, even after all the prayer and study and meditation. But by faith, God uses the words to communicate the realities of his eternal love and grace for us. It’s divine speech. It’s an act of faith.

Preaching is not a lecture, it’s not a book report, it’s not somebody telling you what to do, and it’s not new information — after two-thousand years of preaching, what’s new? No, it’s an exercise in faith.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” ~Isaiah 55:10-11

I’ve been preaching full time for almost thirteen years. When I first started, my sermons were not very good. My preaching was not great. Those poor people in Marble Falls and the mid-cities of northeast Tarrant County burned off years of purgatory listening to those sermons. Those folks are going to be escorted straight to heaven!

But, let me tell you, even today, the sermons are hardly ever as good as I want them to be. I’m almost always disappointed. Almost always. I take comfort in the words of Augustine. He’s one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. And he wrote this over 1,600 years ago:

“My own way of expressing myself almost always disappoints me. I am anxious for the best possible, as I feel it in me before I start bringing it into the open in plain words; and when I see that it is less impressive than I had felt it to be, I am saddened that my tongue cannot live up to my heart.”

I don’t think I’m committing homiletical homicide every week. I’m just not as good as I want to be at finding the right words and putting them in the right order to communicate the powerful things the Lord puts in my heart. It’s disappointing. But I believe with all my soul God is using every single word I say — the best ones and the ones I’d like to have back — to do exactly what he wants done.

I know what you want. You want inspiring sermons, sermons that soar, sermons that rise to the lofty heights of our God and his eternal love and his matchless grace; you want sermons that challenge and convict and compel you to action. I do, too. I really, really do. And sometimes it happens. Sometimes it works. The preaching sometimes gives you something you need to hear, it comforts you or encourages you at exactly the right moment, it opens your eyes to an everlasting truth that changes everything for you. We go to church wanting that, expecting that. And when it happens, we know it’s the Lord. That’s our God at work.

Our Father is in charge of our sermons, not our preachers. He alone inspires, he alone speaks, he alone puts his Word exactly where it needs to go, when it needs to go there, and he alone causes it to grow and bear Kingdom fruit to his eternal glory and praise.

I have no idea what’s happening in our preaching. And no control. I don’t know where the words are going, but they are going somewhere. I trust that. I know that. Our God will never allow his words to return to him empty. If I didn’t trust that God was in charge of the preaching, I wouldn’t do it. And you wouldn’t sit through it. Preaching is an act of faith for all of us.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Gift of Grace

Most preachers are neurotic. And deeply flawed. And most of the Church knows it. Of course, we preachers know it, too. And we’re capable of making fun of ourselves. I was at a preacher’s convention in Dallas last year and they were giving out door prizes and the most popular one was this T-shirt: Help! I’m preaching and I can’t shut up!” I wanted it so badly.

This series of posts is not about preachers. It’s about preaching.

I want to post this week about preaching as one of the many things that’s right with Church. Not the preachers — the preachers are one of the things that’s wrong with church. I’ll do that series someday: “What’s Wrong with Church.” Budget sermons, cold casseroles, Friends Day, and preachers.

“I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:7-11

Grace here is not about Paul’s salvation or anybody’s forgiveness. This is about Paul’s preaching. It’s a gift of God and this gift obligates Paul to use it.

You know when you give someone a gift you expect him or her to use it. If you give somebody a new shirt for Christmas, you can’t wait to see him again and you’re hoping he’s wearing that shirt. If you give someone a book, you hope she reads it and enjoys it and the next time you see each other you want to talk to her about the book. If somebody gives you something to put up in your house and it’s really awful — some ugly vase or some hideous painting — you can’t throw it away! You have to keep it! You keep it in the back of a closet somewhere and when those people come over you hold your nose and pull that thing out of the closet and hang it on the wall until they leave!

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace to Paul and Paul is obligated to exercise it. He knew he had this great gift from the Lord, but he also had a good handle on it. He calls himself less than the least of all God’s people. And he really believed it. He put no stock in his own abilities, he didn’t feel like he outranked anybody or was important in any way. It’s all a gift from God. Deep down, Paul felt like he should have been rejected by God, but he was chosen instead.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service… I was shown mercy… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” ~1 Timothy 1:12-17

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace and it obligates the preacher. God puts that inside of a preacher and he can’t shake it. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “I can’t boast when I preach the Gospel because I’m compelled to preach. I’m forced by God. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

Somebody asked Mick Jagger one time what it takes to make good rock and roll. He said, “Three chords and a fire.” I think what makes good preaching is like that. Maybe three points and a fire. Something God himself puts inside the preacher.

I don’t always preach what our people want to hear. I preach what’s burning inside my bones, the stuff I can’t shake, what I feel like God is almost forcing me to say. And I’m always terrified. I’m always scared when I’m preaching. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I know myself too well. I know myself and my sins. Who am I to stand up here in front of all these faithful men and women, these giants, and speak for God? That song right before the sermon? I’m praying the whole time. My heart’s racing, my hands get super cold, and I’m praying.

God help me. Thank you for this blessing, for this great privilege and honor, but you’ve got to help me. Holy Spirit, help me. Help me to remember everything you and I have worked on together this week. Help me say it exactly the way you want me to.

And then when Kevin starts that last verse?

It’s you and me, Jesus. Let’s get up there and see what happens. And I hope my sermon is better received than yours was.

Preaching is a gift of grace, to proclaim Christ, to explain and make plain the good news of the Gospel. And as a result of that preaching, the church participates in God’s plan. Sometimes I might say despite the preaching. And that’s the grace, right? Somehow the preaching causes what God is doing to be revealed through the church to all the powers and authorities throughout the whole universe. Preaching leads to unity and love and sacrifice and service and worship in the church and, by God’s grace, that reveals God’s power and wisdom and proves what he’s already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s grace. Only by the grace of God does preaching accomplish anything.

Peace,

Allan

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