Monday, September 29, 2014

The Three Essential Elements for Powerful Persuasive Preaching

Preaching is both a human task and a Divine event, a combination of man and God delivering the message of God. As preachers we are both blessed and burdened in our preaching.  We are blessed with the opportunity and the privilege and burdened with the responsibility and accountability, of speaking forth the oracles of God.  Those truly called to preach have been gifted so as to be the mouthpiece of God, so that when we speak for God it should be as God Himself would speak.  As such, preaching has been depicted as God speaking through the personality of men.

In this vein we must realize that there are certain keys, certain requirements, certain foundational principles required on the preacher's part so that the Spirit of God can and will attend and give unction to his message.  It is not erudition, articulation, or winsomeness, although those are certainly helpful.  It is good to be learned, it is good to be a wordsmith, and certainly an attractive personality and engaging presentation will help; but all of these can be present and, yet, the sermon can be devoid of power and spiritually impotent.

What then are the keys to powerful, persuasive preaching?  What is required of those who would stand in the pulpit and herald forth the word of God. What must we as preachers do in order for our sermons to be attended by the Holy Spirit and for us to preach in His power.  I believe there are three keys, three foundational elements, that are required of the preacher for his preaching to be spiritually powerful and effective.  In listening to and experiencing sermons I have seen these essential elements to be present in the preacher whose sermons have been marked by the attending power of the Holy Spirit; and all of the great preachers in the church have possessed and exhibited these elements in their preaching. They are:

1. A thorough conviction of the truth.
This is ground zero for all who would be powerful in the pulpit and is the primary essential element and the guiding principle for all who would have their preaching attended by the Holy Spirit. The preacher who would be powerful in the pulpit will always believe that the word of God is true, absolutely true; not just true as regards the things of salvation, not just true in the matters of faith and practice, but true in every area to which it speaks, whether it is creation, revelation, miracles, history, or prophecy. He does not look for holes in the Scriptures, but has a steadfast hold on the veracity of the Scriptures and believes that they are truth without any mixture of error. He then preaches as presenting the truth, with the conviction that what he is saying is true, and therefore his preaching will be attended by the Spirit of truth.  This gives the message authority.

2. A thorough knowledge of the truth.
Shallow knowledge begets shallow sermons, and shallow sermons are never powerful sermons. There is a saying that knowledge is power, and the powerful preacher will have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, not just in a pet area, but in the full flow of the grand narrative of the Bible. He will understand where the passage he is preaching on falls in the scope of the Bible, he will understand its context, its historical surroundings, its audience.  The preacher will have a knowledge of the subject he is preaching on, and what the Bible, as a whole, has to say about the subject. This lends weight to his sermon, this gives breadth and depth to his sermon, and thereby gives his preaching the appropriate gravitas. Alongside this the Holy Spirit of God also gives the preacher wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This makes the preacher believable.

3. A thorough explanation of the truth.
Just as thorough knowledge makes the preacher believable, thorough explanation makes the preacher understandable. What makes the sermon finally and ultimately powerful is the explanation and application of the truth. A correct and thorough explanation of the truth is a prerequisite to the Holy Spirit applying the truth to the hearts of the hearers. People cannot apply what they do not know or understand.  The truth must be presented clearly and precisely.  The meanings of words, their tenses and contexts, and what other verses say about the same subject give light to the mind in understanding the meaning of the passage. Once a passage is understood the Holy Spirit will apply it to each person's heart within the context of their own walk and experience.  This makes the sermon personal, this makes it powerful, this makes it effective.

As preachers we must preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  In order for this to take place we must be convinced that what we are preaching is true, we must know our subject, and we must be able to explain so as to bring clarity and insight into the mind of the hearer.  When this is done, the Holy Spirit will attend our sermon and give it all the spiritual power necessary to accomplish its aim.

I hope these essential elements are present in your preaching.  They are attainable for us all, from the least gifted of us to the most gifted, from the least eloquent to the most eloquent, from the least winsome to the most winsome. Possessing these foundational and essential elements in our preaching does not guarantee us large crowds or growing churches or notoriety or a place on the conference circuit, but they do guarantee us that our sermons will be spiritually powerful and effective in the sphere in which our Lord and Master has placed us.  This will lead to His approbation, "Well done, My good and faithful slave, enter into the joy of your Master."

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Root Cause of Racism

Due to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been much discussion in the blogosphere over the last several weeks over the subject of racism.  Some good, some not so good. Racism has been a particularly thorny issue since Genesis 11:6-9, when the Lord confused the languages and scattered man over the face of the whole earth.  From then on you see incidences of racism throughout the Bible.  

But when you look at the world picture from an historical perspective, it is more than racism, the color of ones skin, it actually goes much deeper to ethnicity or tribalism.  In recent history look at the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia with the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, which also included some Albanians.  Look also at the issues with the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda and the genocide there. In studying Native American history you can see the same animus among the different tribes toward one another.  So as we consider the issue of racism we must think of  it as a facet of ethnicity.  

The root cause of racism is the failure to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Interestingly,  Leviticus 19:18 gives us the first mention of loving your neighbor as yourself, and it is in the context of not taking vengeance or not bearing any grudge. Racism begins with a lack of love and therefore bears a grudge, carries a black mark in the heart, toward anyone who is a different ethnicity than you simply because they are of a different ethnicity; or, in many cases, are of a specific ethnicity. Racism is lack of love which does not believe all things, hope all things, bear all things, endure all things, and therefore assumes that someone did something to someone else simply because of ethnicity; it therefore mistrusts because someone is of a different ethnicity; it therefore leaps to conclusions; it therefore refuses to give the benefit of the doubt; it therefore refuses to hear the truth; it therefore refuses to treat others as it would be treated. 

Therefore, racism is sin. It is the sin of a heart that has been hardened toward those of other ethnicities, and is a sin that continues to harden the heart. The knife of racism cuts in all directions, and there is not one ethnic group that is immune to this sin, for sin is in the heart of all men. 

Where can we as Christians begin to deal with this issue of racism? How can we bring healing to this thorny and emotionally charged topic?  We must start by loving one another as ourselves, and for those of a different ethnicity who happen to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must love them as Christ has loved us.  We cannot hope or expect those who do not have the Spirit of Christ within to reciprocate this love, for they cannot; but the church can and should provide this witness and example.  For all things societal, the root issue is always a moral issue, and the moral issues always have a spiritual foundation.  

On this issue, the church, comprised of individual Christians, should be salt and light to the broader culture.  We should be the salt that stops the corruption of racism in its tracks, and the light of love for those of other ethnicities that shines in the midst of the darkness of racism.  Fellow brothers and sisters, let us love like this each day. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Creative Preaching?

I had several thoughts converge when I saw this ad, and none were complimentary. However, I do think this ad captures the essence of what is misdirected, ill advised, bad, and just plain wrong with what is coming out of so many pulpits across our land today. There is indeed a pressure from the masses, a II Timothy 4:3-4 type of pressure, for the pastor to be fresh, creative, original, and entertaining with his messages, or else the crowd is off to the one who will meet their demands; and what is also implied in the II Timothy passage is that there will always be pastors who are eager to give the masses what they want.

This pressure from the masses is in conflict with the charge to the preacher in II Timothy 4:1-2 to preach the word in season and out, rebuking, reproving, correcting, and instructing.  Somehow, you can't entertain and rebuke simultaneously; creativity and correction just don't go together; and instruction in godliness doesn't meet felt needs...especially the modern crowd's need to feel better about their bad self.

There is always a temptation for the pastor to play to the crowd, which involves ignoring what they need in order to give them what they want.  Advertisements like the one above certainly aid in the succumbing of the pastor to that temptation.  You will also notice that they want to help you be creative and fresh, for a price. Brothers, let's call that what it is. That is not ministry, that is merchandising.  

In II Corinthians Paul defends his preaching to the Corinthians against the charge that he was personally unimpressive, unskilled in speaking (not eloquent in the manner of the day), and he had nothing to say that was worth listening to. (It makes me wonder if Paul had the church at Corinth in mind when he penned those verses in II Timothy.)  If you read through both epistles to the Corinthians you will discover that in Paul's preaching to them, he gave them what they really needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.  He was determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, He brought them the gospel, He laid out Jesus Christ as the foundation of their faith, His message and preaching were not of eloquent persuasion but demonstrated the power of the Spirit, He preached God's wisdom instead of man's, and lived out before them what he preached to them.  He never worried or fretted about being fresh or creative, but in preaching Christ to them he gave them the full counsel of God.

Brother pastors, let us not fall prey to the siren call of the shallow silliness of the day, let us not succumb to the temptation to be fresh and original, let us not be led astray by the enticement of slick advertisements that play on our insecurities; but let us remain faithful to our charge to handle the word rightly, let us preach it faithfully, let us preach it boldly and unapologetically, and let us preach it in the power of the Spirit so that we will have no regrets when our work is tested by fire in that last day, and we will  receive our full reward.

Monday, September 15, 2014

His Goodness and Ours

Psalm 119:39b...Your ordinances are good.
Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good, teach me your statutes.

Why would the Psalmist ask the Lord to teach him His statutes?  So that he may be good and do good just like his heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48), as it is from His statutes that he learns what is truly good.

Father, this day, this week, this month, fulfill our every desire for goodness, and attend our works of faith with Your power so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in You and You in Him.  Amen. (II Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunday and the Word of God

The Word of God is meant to be a blessing
to the people of God.  So, this Sunday, sing it,
read it, preach it, and pray it.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Forgiveness for the Sake of His Name

Our sins have been forgiven for the sake of His name (I Jn 2:12). We must therefore forgive others for the sake of His name (Mt 5:43-45).

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Greatest Message

and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be
proclaimed in His name to all the nations...
Luke 24:47

The most exciting, the most glorious, the most gracious,
the most wonderful message in the world, is that God
forgives sin.  And He has provided forgiveness for sin
 for all who call out to Him, by not counting our sins  
against us (II Corinthians 5:19), but by counting
 them against Christ. 
(II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:8)

So today, right now, seek Him while He may be
found, call upon Him while He is near, for He
is gracious, ready to forgive, and will 
abundantly pardon.

And for those of us who have been abundantly
pardoned, let us abundantly rejoice!