I really enjoyed Zach Eswine’s book, Preaching to a Post-Everything World, here are some highlights:
On the importance of illustration…
Eswine quotes Calvin Miller and says: “Jesus himself told lots of stories, and his sermons were full of images…. When asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus in effect does not say, ‘Let me give you three Hebrew roots on the word neighbor.’ What he does say is, ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….’ In other words he follows the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ with an immediate ‘Once upon a time’ and then launches into a story” (p. 61).
“Those who are precision oriented must learn to tell the stories of the text. Those who are poetic must learn to surrender to the precision of the text” (p. 108).
On the importance of modeling how to think about reality…
“When we preach we publicly model for a community how a human being is meant by God to relate to reality” (p. 85).
This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…
- Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
- Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
- Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
- Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
- Am I preparing far enough in advance?
- Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
- Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
- Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
- Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
- Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
- Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
- Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
- Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
- Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)
In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.
I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…
“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).
Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).
“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).
“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).
What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation?
Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.
Here are two of my favorite definitions:
“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God” (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).
“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).
Why are sermons such a big deal? The Bible tells us to sing as the gathered church. The Bible also tells us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. But why are sermons essential?
Sermons are essential because they teach God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.
First, the teaching aspect of the sermon is important. Its importance is seen all over Scripture (e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). God has spoken and so helping people understand and apply the revelation from Him is life-changing. God’s people, however, are able to understand His truth. This is because all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16), Jesus has made all those in Him priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), and Scripture is clear on the things which are “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1). Qualified teachers are still vital, however, because sound (or healthy) doctrine is vital. That is, in part, why pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24) and defend the truth (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9). We also see in Scripture that right teaching leads to maturity and the body of Christ being equipped for every good work. Believers may be able to subsist on milk but teachers are able to provide needed meat (2 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13).
Second, communicating God’s truth in sermons is vital because the Bible is the authoritative word of God and it is uniquely profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is our sole authority for faith and practice. Scripture is a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29), and a surgeon (Heb. 4:12). Scripture is more essential than bread (Matt. 4:4), better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72), and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), and eternal (1 Pet. 1:25). Scripture contains the words of life (Jn. 6:68) and the words that are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), equips (2 Tim. 3:17), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), saves (1 Pet. 1:23), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9,11; Jn. 17:17), and satisfies because by it we know God (1 Pet. 2:3 cf. Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3).
1. Zach Eswine quotes Francis Schaeffer as saying, “First of all, man is separated from God; second, he is separated from himself (thus the psychological problems of life); third, he is separated from other men (thus the sociological problems of life); fourth, he is separated from nature (thus the problems of living in this world—for example, the ecological problems). All these need healing” (p. 42).
2. “Beginning with sin instead of creation is like trying to read a book by opening it in the middle: they don’t know the characters and can’t make sense of the plot” (p. 44).
3. “In Eden person were created for:
- When you think of God’s glory, what are some of the things that first come to mind?
- God deserves glory for so many reasons. What are some reasons you think of that weren’t talked about in the sermon?
- Can you relate to C.S. Lewis’ struggle? Is it hard to understand why God cares so much about His own glory? What has been helpful for you as you think about this?
- What are some of the results of idolatry in our lives?
- What is an idol? Give some examples of good things in life that can become idols.
- What idols do you currently struggle with?
- How can personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god?
- What are possible signs in an individual’s life that point to the fact that success is an idol?
Isaiah was a gifted preacher. He went around graciously telling the people of Judah to repent. We see an example of the way he called the people to repent in Isaiah 5.
Isaiah announces six woes upon the people of Judah (cf. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). Isaiah says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (v. 20). “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes” (v. 21). “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine” (v. 22).
After seeing the sixth “woe” we look for the climatic seventh woe. However, that seventh woe doesn’t come in chapter 5. Where is that seventh woe?
The seventh woe comes in the next chapter. Isaiah says, “Woe is me!” (6:5). Isaiah saw that the LORD is “holy, holy, holy” (v. 3) and so he saw his own dire need. He said, “I am lost.” When we see the LORD in His glory we see that we are all in need of grace. We must all be humbled before God.
Ultimately we see the ground is level at the foot of the cross. The problem isn’t just out there within someone else, the problem—sin—is within all of us. We all deeply need Jesus.
We must remember that we were separated from Christ, outsiders to the promises of God, and we had no hope. But now, in Christ Jesus, we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:12-18). There is nothing inherently better or good about us more than anyone else. It is Christ Jesus that gives us hope and brings us near to God.
Woe to the wretched, me included!