Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet

“Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 42:6, ESV)

It is a sad reality that people will sometime gather to hear the proclamation of the Word not truly to be instructed by the Lord, but instead to have their own desires confirmed. They come saying they want to obey, but in reality they have set themselves up in the place of God and instead want God to echo what their own heart wants. An when that doesn’t happen, then they reject both message and messenger.

This isn’t new. When Jeremiah was called to speak his words of prophecy, many spoke of their sincerity to obey whatever it was that the Lord said. But after his words were revealed, the ugliness of man’s heart was also revealed.

There are some churches that say they want expository preaching. They say they want to hear the Word of God explained and then applied. But then, when the Word is delivered, and particularly when their own pet sins are exposed, they reject both message and messenger.

Sometimes the teaching of Scripture is like lemon juice on a cut. Sometimes it is like a deep stab to the heart. Sometimes it is sweet as honey. May God’s people come to receive the Word from the Lord—good or bad—so that they can obey it. And may the messengers of the Lord not be afraid of what man may do to us. May we be faithful to deliver the message whether popular and well received or not, both in good or bad times.

Help for New Expositors: Choosing the Next Book From Which You Will Preach

This blogpost assumes a few things: that you preach, that you use the Bible when you preach, and that you preach through whole books of the Bible. If all of those apply to you, then perhaps this post will be helpful.
Below I have listed a few thoughtful considerations when choosing the next book from which I will preach:

  1. Which books have I already covered in my expositions? This is important because it might show you the heaviest types of books you have emphasized in your preaching thus far. Perhaps you have favored the Gospels or Pauline Epistles in your preaching. Maybe you are about to finish preaching through a large book, like Psalms or Genesis. Maybe you will notice that you have preached exclusively in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Maybe you have preached one letter out of a series (1 Corinthians, 1Peter or 1 John for instance), and have not covered the other epistles. By asking this question you will have a better grasp of any places you need to avoid and others you need to seriously consider.
  2. What are the major needs of my church right now? If you have many newer believers, the Gospels would serve them well. If you have a church that is more spiritually mature, but could use some teaching in deeper doctrine, like soteriology, perhaps Romans or Ephesians would be a good pick. Maybe your congregation has been beat up spiritually, or they have just gone through a major upheaval or split. Which books would help bring healing and peace to their souls during this time? Along with their spiritual needs, you might consider the needs of the church body in practical matters. Are you seeing many families come in who could benefit on teaching about God’s plan for the family? Is your church financially wealthy and they need to see how God would have them use their wealth and spiritual gifts for the glory of God? Many times pastors think that to answer these practical types of questions they need to go to a topical sermon series to answer these needs, but a well chosen book can help while at the same time demonstrating the way that the Bible is to be read as the Word of God and not a “fix-it manual.”
  3. Where have I as a pastor avoided preaching because of my own weaknesses? Pastor, never forget that you are not just a shepherd, but a lamb, and you need to grow as well. Sometimes we pick what we know and are most comfortable in regard to books and subjects. Do you struggle with the discipline required to stick with preaching longer books—choose a longer book and preach it! Do you drag your church through minutiae in the text? Preach an overview of a book in a few short weeks. Do you struggle with your understanding of the Old Testament practices of Israel and how they relate to the Gospel? Preach through the book of Hebrews. Do you love long books? Preach through a few short books. Preach almost exclusively from the New Testament? Preach through an Old Testament book. If you only preach on subjects and from books from which you are comfortable, then you will not grow in your knowledge of the Word, but worse, you and your church will become anemic in the areas you fail to preach.
  4. Where do I see the church needing to go in the near future?Are you needing to develop deacons and elders in your church? Prepare their hearts to understand what the biblical requirements of these offices are by teaching them from the Pastoral Epistles. Are you seeing that your church has lost its heart for evangelism? Think about why that is, and then prepare to take them through a book like Acts, or the Gospels. I think it is always a good time to point out to the Church what it is like to live in a society that is hostile toward God, his Word and his people. This will prepare them to trust in God when times are bleak and will help them endure during persecution. The books of Daniel, Acts and Revelation are great for this purpose.

While it is true that the Spirit of God will use whichever book we choose to preach from, we should be more methodical and thoughtful as we prepare for preaching through a new book. This means we should begin with prayer, think thoughtfully about questions like those I pose above, and then use wisdom, depend upon the Lord that he will bless the preaching of his Word to your Church.

Simplicity and Clarity are Not the Same as Vapidity: Dig Deep in your Preaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV) 

I don’t have any doubt that we live in a time when people clamor for mindless entertainment, where it seems that the more outlandish and stupid, the better. How else will history be able to understand pop cultural trends like the current infatuation with “poop emojis”and YouTube videos of people eating Tide laundry detergent pods

However, as a pastor, I am troubled that the mindset that some people have had is that since this empty-mindedness is not going away, that people cannot handle the preaching of the Word of God with any depth. The argument usually is that people just don’t know their Bibles today, and so we must shorten the length of our sermons and simplify our messages—with some even saying that the church will need to abandon preaching altogether and instead should just have “talks.”

What is particularly dismaying is that theological liberalism often chooses to move away from the Bible, stating that Scripture cannot be accepted as it is given because it is intellectually untenable. A person could not believe in the Bible as it is presented in its grammatical, historical and literal setting andalso believe in science!

But that isn’t what we have all too often in Bible churches. Instead, there is a movement away from the Bible because even though we Bible-believing Christians can all affirm its truthfulness, we don’t want to dig too deep—it makes our heads hurt with all that history and geography and cultural stuff. And don’t get us started on theology! We have Bible churches that are often filled with people who prefer Bible-lite sermons that tell good stories and have lots of moralizing, but woe to the pastor who would dare to go deeper!

At least that is what a lot of pastors I have spoken to seem to think…

What I have found out is something quite different. Yes, many Christians are against boring sermons, and overly-long sermons. They sleep through sermons that have no point but are simply data-dumps and half-baked sermons that meander nowhere slowly. They leave churches where the pastor seems to want to talk about only his hobby horse doctrines or wants to flaunt his ability to use Greek grammar. Yes, it’s true, people don’t want  that.

But we seem to confuse simplicity with simplemindedness. We think that because they don’t want to hear a 45-minute sermon on the history of Tiglath-Pileser that they can’t stand real Bible preaching! So, in frustration, some pastors go back to vapid sermons. Stories, jokes, cutesy alliterations, we dress up like John the Baptist or the angel Gabriel. Why? Because we have not worked hard at going deep and wide. We have not prepared our biblical meal for everyone at the table to be able to digest the truth.

We can’t forget that people are at all sorts of different levels spiritually. Every church is like this. Some are unbelievers, some are babes in Christ, some are plateaued in their walk, some are maturing and others are going through a spiritual growth spurt. Don’t get frustrated by that man who wants you to go deeper every Sunday! Put a nugget or two in the sermon for him to chew on. Don’t scoff when that young couple ask the simplest questions—they are hungry! Feed them some application alongside your explanation of the text! Don’t chuckle at the hard-headed fellow who never seem to get it. Speak at his level and give him clear illustrations to cause that light to go on for him. We preach to real people, and so our sermons need to speak to real people!

My experience has shown that committed Christians don’t want shorter, watered down sermons. They don’t want a bunch of silly stories or jokes. They want the Bible! They want theology! They want to go deeper! And those “millennials” that so many people like taking jabs at, they thrive in churches where the Word of God is preached with conviction and depth.  

Our sermons can’t be empty. But they can’t be boring either. We need to present the meat of the Word in the most pleasing way we know how. We need to break it down for the young in Christ and give those who are more mature something to continue to work out in their own personal study. By doing this, we will raise the bar of our churches—they will all grow in depth and breadth of their knowledge of the Word and their learning will, Lord willing, blossom into changed lives.