I had to do a mock 15 minute sermon for a class as part of my Masters program. You can view it at http://vimeo.com/12176211.
Craig A. Loscalzo’s aim behind Apologetic Preaching is to equip communicators to “intentionally proclaim and offer the gospel message from [their] pulpit to those whose empty lives cry out for a God-sized answer.” Declaring the truth of Jesus Christ’s message should always lead to sharing the transformation through his message. The Apostle Peter writes, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” The mission should be to communicate to the unchurched in a way that seekers might believe and confess in Jesus while simultaneously training, strengthening, and confirming the commitment of those who are already disciples. The author goes on to propose, “Apologetic preaching equips Christians, intellectually and spiritually, to intelligently present and defend the Christian faith. It gives people the means to address questions of theodicy, sin, salvation in Christ, which when misunderstood become obstacles to faith.
The following is a list of thoughts from the book that were especially insightful:
• Communicators of the gospel are faced with the difficult challenge of being a part of the information age. People are exposed to an overwhelming amount of data without ever having the opportunity or ability to discern any of it. They mistakenly “believe if [they] can just get more info, [they’ll] be better people. Yet it’s hard to find time to put into practice any new insights [they’ve] gathered because [they’re] always planning which conference to attend next.” Preachers need to present the Messiah as the sole and sufficient Way, Truth, and Life.
• Loscalzo suggests, “To postmodern minds, truth is an internalized construct rather than an external reality.” Speakers should respond to the listener in the same way that Christ spoke to his audience – with humility and respect. Quarrels and disputes over what is right are to violate the gospel that one is called to reflect.
• Apologetic preaching ought to be Christ-centered. The author suggests, “This divine-human Jesus – the divine entering into human history – remains the center of the good news, its beginning and end.” An intentional study of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as well as a concentrated Christology will disprove the “false notion that Christianity is narrow-minded and oppressive.”
• The emerging generations are generally cynical and skeptical. They no longer believe that the world is getting better with every passing scientific breakthrough. The church has to respond with help and hope. They must continue to “look beyond what is to what can be.” Graham Johnston concludes, “It’s the steady influence of biblical teaching over time that can restore any person to a place of godly faith, hope, and love. As [the] world rises from the slumber of secular humanism and sleep of scientific rationalism, [one ought to] long to speak the words of life in Christ to a generation in search of a spiritual home.”
• The author describes this generation’s doubt as “tied closely to the skepticism of [the] age – almost [becoming] doubt for doubt’s sake, a kind of end in and of itself.” One must respond “by intentionally looking for places of connection between the gospel and the postmodern world – being careful not to demonize postmodernism – [in so doing, one] will move [their] listeners by identifying with their life experiences.”
Upon reading this book, one’s own preaching practices are greatly impacted for the future. Joseph M. Stowell III states, “Preachers and sermons can be funny, entertaining, enthralling, intriguing, intellectually stimulating, controversial, full of impressive theological and doctrinal footpaths, and authoritative. But if ultimately the outcome does not result in a changed life because of an encounter with truth, then it has not been what God intended preaching to be.” Loscalzo agrees when he states, “If pastoral preaching’s goal is to comfort the afflicted, then certainly the goal of apologetic preaching becomes to afflict the comfortable.
Johnston, Graham. Preaching to a Postmodern World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Loscalzo, Craig A. Apologetic Preaching. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000.
Willhite, Keith and Scott M. Gibson eds. The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.
I had the opportunity to facilitate a session at today’s youth pastor training at the Northwest Ministry Network campus. The following is a short summary of what we discussed on the topic of dealing with disappointment. Much of my research came from a combination of H. Norman Wright’s “Real Solutions for Overcoming Discouragement, Rejection, and the Blues” as well as research shared with me by Les Welk (our Network Superintendent) and Don Detrick (our Network Secretary/Treasurer – http://www.dondetrick.blogspot.com/).
What was one of the most discouraging moments in all of my life? Why?
Have you ever been in one of those situations where everything was going just the way it ought all the way up to the moment where everything turned on a dime and went in the opposite direction? Have you ever been left wondering what God was in fact doing and been left asking yourself where you might have gone wrong? I am reminded of the words of King David. He proclaimed, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” (Psalm 25:16-18, ESV).
How would we typically define and describe discouragement? Why?
The word “discouragement” literally means to ‘lose our heart.’ I am speaking of those times we are tempted to give up and give in. The times we think all hope is lost. Have you ever been there? I have poured myself into this relationship for over five years and this is what I get in return? I have worked so hard and I still cannot make ends meet? Everyone I train just ends up falling short in the end. The doctors say that there is no cure. You discover that the one person you trust has been betraying you the entire time. How could they? What were they thinking? No one shows up anyway. Do they even care? Is what I am doing make any difference whatsoever? Everyone expects me to be someone I am not and someone that I can never be.
Discouragement is not the absence of adequacy but the absence of courage (Neal A. Maxwell)
What unrealistic expectations do we set for ourselves or others? How often do we think that success is a requirement for acceptance. The pursuit of perfection is a thief. Perfection offers rewards but steals our joy and satisfaction in the process. Perfectionists become procrastinators. We wait until everything aligns – and nothing ever does. We settle on thriving on comparison and competition. We either look down on ourselves or someone else – rather than continue to grow. We must redefine success – Mark Batters says that success is doing what we can with what we have where we are at.
How do we usually respond to unwelcome adversity? How have we overcome it? We all deal with persecution and hardship for the mission. At least we should. The Apostle Paul made a list of all he survived. He wrote, “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? overcome (2 Corinthians 11:25-29, ESV). And yet, he found himself back in the songs of yesterday – reciting the Psalms as a statement of faith in the midst of hardship. In the very same letter, Paul proclaimed, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, ESV). We would be wise to consistently evaluate our attitude – the way we act, think, feel, and speak. In the midst of discouragement, it is important to find things outside of that which weigh us down. Talk to others (or stop talking to others), exercise, or pick up a new hobby.
Sometimes one of the greatest steps we can take in the face of suffering is to just plain stick it to the man by keeping on keeping on – by taking a few risks regardless of how dark and dreary things seem to be. What risks will you choose to take? What steps of faith? Using the illustration of passing on the highway. I would rather choose to take a risk rather than be forced into taking one. I don’t want to ever settle for for sameness or stagnation. It is time that we as leaders find hope in Christ. Real hope. My pastor said something quite profound recently. He said he was done listing all of the reasons “Why we can’t do something” and would rather focus on asking, “Why can’t we?”
PREPARING PEOPLE TO SUFFER
The following is a synopsis of John Piper’s article titled “Preparing People to Suffer: What Expectations Do Our Sermons Create?” found in Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson’s The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource fro Today’s Communicators. Piper claims that preachers ought to develop in the listener an understanding of God’s plans and purposes that sustains them in the midst of trials and turmoil while actually becoming a catalyst in bringing them closer to him. The Western worldview is so focused “on comfort, ease, and security. Avoid all choices that might bring discomfort, trouble, difficulty, pain, and suffering . . . [a] natural desire for immediate gratification and fleeting pleasures, and the combined power to undermine the superior satisfaction of the soul to the glory of God through suffering is huge.” Communicators of the gospel ought to aim to reveal the reality of pain and persecution in the lives of Christ followers so that they might grasp “the wisdom, power, and goodness of God behind it, ordaining; above it, governing; beneath it, sustaining; and before it, preparing.” The author suggests that if sermons do not lead the listener to be content in God through anguish, believers will thus shrink back “in an escapist world of ease, and the completion of the Great Commission, with its demand for martyrdom, will fail.”
Upon reading this article, one’s own preaching practices are greatly impacted for the future. There will come a day, sooner or later, when each person will have to come to terms with the realization that they are immortal beings, their time on earth is coming to a rapid close, and that pain is an unavoidable piece to that puzzle. The Psalter proclaims, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Preaching can no longer stand by and allow congregations to settle for searching after personal gratification in relationships, career, hobbies, possessions, promiscuity, finances, gluttony, positions of authority, or acceptance by one’s peers. Communicators have to avoid the temptation to teach on worldly success and personal significance but rather call people to eternal sacrifice and righteous surrender. As surely as such things come they can also go. When that day comes, those who happen to be immature in their faith “will be embittered, angry, and depressed. And the worth, beauty, goodness, power, and wisdom of God – that is, the glory of God – will vanish in the cloud of murmuring, complaining, and cursing.”
Robinson, Haddon and Craig Brian Larson, eds. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.
LIFE IN LEVITICUS
The following is a synopsis of Rob Bell’s article titled “Life In Leviticus” found in Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson’s The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching. He shares insights that came out of his decision to launch “a church to reach the unchurched and disillusioned people of Grand Rapids, Michigan. For the first year, [he] preached through Leviticus – verse by verse.” His purpose was that the congregation thrive due to God’s sovereignty rather than human ingenuity while simultaneously hoping that the listeners would find divine inspiration and interaction in the First Covenant that would ultimately transform their long held misconceptions of Jesus Christ. Bell made sure that “every message in [the] series ended with Jesus. Every picture is about Jesus. Every detail of every sacrifice ultimately reflects some detail of Jesus’ life.” The series forced the congregation to see how this often overlooked book fit into the larger Scriptural story, how the temple rituals and routines are actually signs that point to Jesus’ sacrifice at Calgary, and how each person plays a role in that divine narrative. Bell comments, “For the first time, many in our congregation begin to realize, this story is my story. These people are my people. This God is my God.” In response, several unplanned small groups arose all throughout the church. The sermons were just the beginning – the launching point for the journey. Authentic life-change occurred when people studied the Scriptures for themselves in order to wrestle with Leviticus’ purpose.
Upon reading this book, one’s own preaching practices are greatly impacted for the future. Bell attributes the series’ success to the idea that his “generation thinks and converses visually. Film is the dominant language of our culture. [People] relate with images and pictures and metaphors. Leviticus is perfect for [them].” He also points to the idea that people are searching for corporate identity – a place to truly belong. They no longer are drawn to messages that make faith solely a private matter. People understand that their sins have consequences – and much of those repercussions bleed into society and can only be solved within the context of a redeemed community. Above all else, the congregation designated twelve months to hear a God who unapologetically demands and unequivocally provides a way for his people to be purposeful and pleasing in their worship. Leviticus reads, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”
Robinson, Haddon and Craig Brian Larson, eds. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.