Tag Archives: homiletics

Who’s Robbing Whom? Some Thoughts on Pulpit Plagiarism

PulpitSupplyHandbookBookCoverby Doug Smith

Is it wrong to preach another pastor’s sermon?  Pulpit plagiarism can be a hot topic.  To commit plagiarism, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.”  This issue is certainly not new, but there has been a good bit of discussion in the last few years concerning possible answers to this question, some of which are quite disturbing.

Some prominent pastors, such as Rick Warren and James Merritt, openly encourage other pastors to take their sermons and preach them – even without giving proper credit.  However, others disagree. On December 7, 2006, the Albert Mohler Program featured a radio interview between Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), and Hershael York, a pastor as well as a professor of preaching at SBTS.  They are in agreement about this issue, and the title of the program reveals their perspective: “Plagiarism in the Pulpit: Stealing the Material We Preach.”  They believe a pastor should actually take the time to study and prepare messages suited for his own congregation instead of using something prepackaged and pre-processed.  Shocking, isn’t it?

For years, in addition to full-time teaching, I have preached in a supply capacity, filling in for pastors or serving churches that do not have a pastor.  Study time is a premium amidst family and work responsibilities. It could be tempting to steal others’ sermons.

However, I believe Mohler and York are exactly right about this issue.   I realize there are variations on pulpit plagiarism, ranging from preaching another’s sermon verbatim to extensively modifying it.  Regardless of the extent, when credit is not given where credit is due, people are being robbed.  And the interesting thing is that the ones who suffer the most are not the people whose material is being used, but the people who are stealing it and the people who are having it fed to them.  Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations in at least five ways.

  1. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations of spiritual nourishment they can only get from someone who lives among them and labors in the text of Scripture.

The pastor who is content to steal others’ sermons robs himself of the valuable discipline of study and its benefits for himself. He has less reason to devote hours throughout the week to the Word than he would if he were preparing the sermon himself. The plagiarizer deprives himself of a great blessing that God would freely give to him and the congregation if he would devote himself to the Word.

The congregation also gets the short end of the stick. Just as the milk from a mother’s breast contains nutrients specially and uniquely suited for her child, a pastor who studies the Word and knows his congregation will be able to feed Christ’s sheep with a diet suited to their needs better than any prepackaged sermon can. Phillips Brooks said that a true preacher is one who utters “truth through his own personality,” and this is what every congregation needs. There are particular applications of the text that may be irrelevant to a congregation if taken from a “canned” sermon, and there are particular applications they need that cannot be gained except from their own pastor’s labors in the Word. This is especially true in foreign countries where the people may have no clue as to the point of certain illustrations from American culture and have certain needs that preachers from other backgrounds might not touch upon.

2. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by discouraging consecutive exposition.

Many pastors have found that the best way to feed Christ’s sheep is through expounding the Scripture book by book. This enables the preachers to share passages with the big picture of its context in mind. When done correctly, expositional preaching lets God set the agenda and makes His Word the authority, rather than the preacher. There are variations on this method.  One can, like John MacArthur, preach dozens of sermons from one Bible book.  On the other hand, one can preach overview sermons which cover an entire book in one sermon, in addition to covering smaller units of Scripture.  Faithful expositors, no matter how large a preaching unit they use, agree with what Mark Dever has said: “An expositional sermon is one in which the point of the passage is the point of the message.” And the best way to ensure that you are preaching the point of the passage in each message is to preach consecutively through a book of the Bible.

A plagiarizing pastor may preach expositionally if he steals material from someone who preaches through books. But I would imagine the tendency for many would be to preach whatever sermon strikes them for the week or whatever the latest topical offering is from the mailing list they are on or the magazine to which they subscribe.

3. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by encouraging laziness.

A pastor is called to be diligent (2 Timothy 2:15). He is called to take time to think in order to gain understanding: “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). He must get the knowledge he needs and take time to process that knowledge through meditation and research and study. He must pray and labor. Preaching another man’s sermon requires none of this. One could certainly modify it, but the temptation to carry over as much as possible to prevent as much work as possible will be there.

4. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations of a safeguard against false teaching.

If a pastor is too lazy to study for his own sermons, he will probably be too lazy to check out the exegesis and application of another’s sermon to make sure that it is legitimate. He may begin teaching all sorts of false doctrine without even realizing that he is promoting unbiblical ideas. How can he guard the flock if he only takes for granted that he is feeding them healthy food?

5. Pulpit plagiarism robs pastors and congregations by rendering thieving preachers obsolete.

If a pastor simply preaches a sermon from another preacher, why couldn’t someone else from the congregation preach? Why not simply have the person with the most pleasant voice preach? Why not have the person majoring in drama preach a stolen sermon? Better yet, why not show a video every week of a favorite celebrity preacher?

If a pastor simply steals sermons from someone else, why go through all the trouble? Why not fire the pastor or free him up to do the other things he needs to do and let someone else preach a “canned” sermon or show a video?

In his book, Walking with the Giants, Warren Wiersbe gives a relevant warning:

Two dangers we must avoid as we read the sermonic literature of the past: imitation and plagiarism.Imitation robs me of my individuality, and plagiarism robs me of my character; both are insidious. One young preacher was so taken with the sermons in a certain book that he decided to preach them as a series. What he did not know was that one of his members owned the same book and had read it. As the member left the service one Sunday, he said to his pastor, “That was a fine sermon this morning!” Then he added with a smile, “Next week’s is good, too!” The problem, of course, lies not with the character of the printed sermon but with the character of the preacher reading it. Blackwood was rather blunt in his counsel: “If one is tempted to steal the fruits of other men’s labors, one ought to let such books severely alone. . . ”

Francis Bacon, in one of his essays, compared students to spiders, ants, and bees, and we may justly apply the illustration to preachers. Some preachers never study but, like the spider, spin everything out from within, beautiful webs that never last. Some are like ants that steal whatever they find, store it away, and use it later. But the bee sets the example for us all: he takes from many flowers, but he makes his own honey.

So, let us neither spin sermons without study, nor be thieves like the ant. Let us be like the bee. As we benefit from a multitude of sources, we must make the final product our own. We need to be, as Dr. Erwin Lutzer said, those who milk many cows but make our own butter. Let’s learn from many sources.  Let’s assimilate what we have learned and produce our own sermons. If we fail to churn our own butter and merely lift our messages from other men, we do not merely rob them (even if they say it is okay), but we rob ourselves and the people of God of a rich spiritual feast.

A version of this article was originally posted at SharperIron.

* Audio of this radio program is available at www.albertmohler.com

 

 

Book Review: Biographical Preaching by R. Larry Overstreet

R. Larry Overstreet, Biographical Preaching: Bringing Bible Characters to Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2001) [Christianbook.com   Google Books]

Reviewed by Doug Smith

One of the turning points in my life occurred when I first began sitting under expository preaching.  Another happened when I began to learn what expository preaching was, and how to do it.  It’s not that God uses only expository preaching; He certainly uses other approaches.  However, there is nothing like taking a text of Scripture and explaining its content and urging its implications on a congregation.  Furthermore, it seems to be a logical implication of texts like 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4 and even the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

There are many helpful books available on the general subject of expository preaching.  Many authors helpful break down the steps of studying a book or passage of Scripture, analyzing it, and preparing a sermon that faithfully communicates the text.

Preaching consecutive textual units (through a book or portion of a book) is probably the most frequently promoted way to preach expository messages, but it is not the only way.  Dr. Larry Overstreet, an experienced pastor and seminary professor, has written a persuasive volume advocating Biographical Preaching as another approach for the preacher.  His book is clear, concise, practical, and of a rare breed.  While not the only book on the subject, it is one of few readily available, and it treats the matter with more depth than any subsection the present author has reviewed in other books on preaching (although the brief treatment by Irvin Busenitz in MacArthur’s edited book, Preaching, previously entitled Rediscovering Expository Preaching, is worth a look.  Its appearance in The Master’s Seminary Journal is here in pdf form:  “Must Expository Preaching Always Be Book Studies? Some Alternatives”).

Summary

The meat of the book is comprised of seven chapters.  In order, they deal with the definition, philosophy, value, method, mechanics, model, and variety in biographical preaching.  In addition, there are two appendices containing example sermons.

Overstreet views good biographical preaching as a subset of expository preaching.  He defines it as “the method of preaching that expounds a Bible character, based on careful exegesis, to deduce the principles that regulated his or her life and to apply the principles to the modern listener” (13).  He distinguishes between historical biographical sermons, which emphasize “the development of the person in history,” and character biographical sermons, which focus on “the inner nature of the person” in all areas: “spiritual, mental, moral, emotional, social, and even physical” (15-17).

One key issue in biographical preaching is the nature of the narrative portions of Scripture.  Most biographical material in the Bible is drawn from the narratives of Scripture, which do not directly relate commands to readers.  The issue at hand is whether narratives are intended to be prescriptive (telling us how to live) or merely descriptive (relating what happened in the storyline of God’s activity).

After setting forth the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Bible (an act that guarantees its accuracy) and in empowering the preacher, Overstreet considers the purposeful intent set forth in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which teaches that “‘All Scripture’ is purposeful for (1) teaching, and/or (2) rebuking, and/or (3) correcting, and/or (4) training in righteousness, and (5) for an overall purpose stated in 3:17” (28).  In addition, he cites Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 to demonstrate that Christian believers can look to the Old Testament for instruction and hope (29).  He concludes:  “The biographical preacher, then, can approach the Word of God with confidence that the principles gleaned from the lives of the people included therein are pertinent and relevant to lives today” (31).

Although the author sees practical relevance in the narratives of the Bible, he does not lose sight of their theological significance.  Since the narrative portions of Scripture highlight “the working of God in and through the lives and actions of people,” the preacher must remember that “God is always the ultimate focus of a biblical narrative” (32).  Furthermore, each narrative can be viewed at three levels:  the ground level of the individual(s) in the story, the middle level of how the story figures into the bigger story of the people of God, and the top level of how the narrative functions in the overarching plan of God (33).  Proper exegesis is necessary to analyzing and applying the text appropriately and avoiding reckless spiritualizing or allegorizing (32).

Overstreet argues for the value of biographical preaching because of its popular appeal, practical nature, powerful ability to impact lives, and profitability in making the Bible come alive for people (chapter 3).  He then lays out a method for this approach:  examining the relevant texts, studying the background, analyzing the person, using imagination, and focusing the sermon (chapter 4).  He provides helpful lists of questions to ask to gather key data concerning the person’s life, character, and practical application (82-84).

Chapters five and six give further strategies and examples to promote thorough preparation, while chapter seven advocates the use of dramatic monologues in biographical preaching — assuming the perspective of the character (possibly including props and costumes).  Appendix one gives a sermon example, while appendix two shows how a monologue may be presented.

Evaluation

Overstreet lays a great homiletical foundation and reviews essential elements of sermon preparation.  His theology and view of Scripture are clearly articulated and underlie his views on preaching.  His focus on application and contemporary relevance appropriately shape his approach to biographical preaching (the sermon is not a lecture, but something to teach us about the life that pleases God).  Furthermore, I found the book convincing on the usefulness and propriety of biographical preaching.

The book is realistic and helpful for one seeking to preach a biographical sermon.  The author is honest about the hard work involved, but does not leave the preacher to guess how hard it will be.  Practical helps are given, such as the lists of questions to ask (an invaluable inclusion) and examples of sermons.  Overstreet walks the preacher through essential elements in preparing, such as outlining, transitions, titles, introductions, conclusions, and illustrations.  He leaves no doubt as to what is involved in preparing a biographical sermon.

I found the author irenic concerning other views.  He respectfully interacts with Sidney Greidanus (192, note 1; Overstreet refers to Greidanus’s Preaching magazine article, “The Necessity of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”; cf. related article, “Biographical Preaching Revisited”, a response to “Salvaging the Old Testament Biographical Sermon” by Timothy Peck, an article endorsed by Overstreet), who does not see a legitimacy to biographical preaching.  He also disagrees with Warren Wiersbe in Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (where Wiersbe suggests that monologues should only be done by those with adequate training and talent; see 199-200, note 5).

My only caveat — and at this point it is a personal one — is the advocacy of dramatic monologue for a sermon presentation (chapter 7).  I understand that my opinion may be the minority in many circles today, but – with all due respect to those who disagree – I have not yet become convinced that drama has a place in the public worship meeting of the church.  I understand that some of the concerns overlap with much preaching:  using imagination to fill in some blanks; dramatic use of the voice, etc.  I am also aware that God sometimes commanded people, especially the Old Testament prophets, to do dramatic things (in those cases, as an illustration of a spiritual truth for the nation Israel or as an analogy for something God was going to bring to pass).  However, what I continue to come back to is that drama was not unknown in the Greek culture of the ancient world.  It was perfectly accessible in the apostolic age.  Yet, nowhere in Scripture is it commanded or modeled as a strategy of communicating truth to the church.  My fears are that it could contribute to an entertainment mindset (even if that is not the intention), and, perhaps even more significantly, inadvertently undermine its content because of the nature of its medium (truth being presented by someone who is pretending to be someone else).  Perhaps I am carrying things too far here.  Intelligent hearers will know that the preacher is not really the individual he is portraying.  Nevertheless, I daresay that those who are convinced that dramatic monologue has a place in the preacher’s toolbox will find in this book some very practical helps for preparation, even if I am not convinced of its propriety.

Conclusion

I heartily recommend Biographical Preaching as a valuable resource.  It is an enjoyable and clearly written resource that persuasively shows the value and propriety of biographical preaching and gives a clear strategy to walk one through the steps of preparing such messages.  For those of us committed to preaching through books of the Bible, utilizing resources such as this to give a little more variety to our preaching may help breathe new freshness into our preaching, as we show people today what we can learn from the individual lives recorded in the Bible.

Habakkuk Overview (Outline)

Wordle: Habakkuk

TRUSTING GOD IN TROUBLESOME TIMES

Habakkuk’s Message of Hope

I. Take Your Perplexities to God (1:1-2:1)

A. with alarm over unchecked sin (1:1-4) (Our prayers suffer when we are unconcerned.)

1. in our country

2. in our church

3. in our selves

B. with amazement at God’s sovereignty (1:5-11) (Our prayers suffer when we are unimpressed with God.)

C. with awareness of God’s character (1:12-17)  (Our prayers suffer when we are not gripped by God’s character.)

D. with anticipation for God’s answer (2:1)  (Our prayers suffer when we are proud, stubborn, and impatient concerning God’s answer.)

II. Think Upon the Payday of God (2:2-20)

A. Consider the vision God reveals (2:2-3)

1. Its transmission – written and plain

2. Its trustworthiness (cf. Hebrews 10:37-38)

B. Consider the verdict God renders (2:4)

1. On those who trust in themselves

2. On those who trust in God (cf. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38)

C. Consider the vengeance God repays (2:5-20)

1. Description of the wicked (2:5)

2. Declaration against the wicked:  five woes – catalog of wrongs & corresponding retribution (2:6-20)

a. First set of woes

i. Plunder (2:6-8)

ii. Self-exaltation (2:9-11)

iii. Oppression (2:12-14)

b. But God’s glory will cover the earth (2:14)

c. Second set of woes

iv. Exploitation (2:15-17)

v. Idolatry (2:18-20)

d. But God is in His holy temple – let all be silent (2:20)

III. Triumph in the Person of God (3:1-19)

A. Plead with God in supplication (3:1-2)

1. Pray for revival

2. Pray for mercy

B. Praise God for His supremacy (3:3-15)

1. Remember His sovereignty over nature and nations

2. Remember His salvation for His people

C. Pursue God for satisfaction (3:16-19)

1. Recognize that circumstances are not guaranteed

2. Rejoice in the character of God

a. Rejoice in His salvation

b. Rejoice in His strength

Ezra 7:10 – Overview of Sermon Preparation Process

* Click here for a PDF file or click here for a Word document file of this article (4 pages).

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)


We will overview the sermon preparation process, looking at Ezra 7:10.

1. Before doing anything else, we need to read and re-read the text and…

2. pray over the text.

3. Write down some observations on the text itself. Aim for 30.

4. Read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra is the book the text is found in.  Ezra and Nehemiah were not two, but one book in the Jewish arrangement of this portion of the Bible.  This will give you a head start on the historical and literary context of Ezra 7:10.  Note any connections to the content of Ezra 7:10.

Now we are ready to look at the basic study process and sermon preparation based on this text.

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HERMENEUTICS (STUDYING THE TEXT)

This process lays the groundwork for the sermon.  Using Daniel Doriani’s method from Getting the Message (which we use as a text book in CAPS classes), we will look at hints for studying Ezra 7:10 in light of its:

C – Context – literary and historical.  What can we learn from the words, sentences, paragraphs, books, etc. around the text and is there anything from history (in or outside Scripture) that sheds light on the meaning and significance of the text?

A – Analysis – How is the passage put together?  What are some important grammatical and content markers?  Can you outline or structure the text visually to show how it functions?

P – Problems – Do you see any difficulties in understanding or communicating the text?  Has the text been misused to teach false doctrine?  Are there translation issues?  Could someone easily misunderstand this text?  Are there wrong assumptions to guard against in interpreting and applying this text?  Are there unfamiliar concepts or words?  Are people overly familiar with this text yet missing its full teaching?

T – Themes – What are the main themes addressed in the passage?  Can you relate them to other key passages in the Bible?  How does this passage specifically and (uniquely?) advance these themes in comparison to the other passages?  What are relevant cross-references?  Are there word studies that help you understand the themes of this passage (that also do justice to the interpretation of the text in context)?

O – Obligations – What does the text require people to believe, do, or avoid?  Does the application look significantly different for us versus what was required for the original audience?  What is the principle to be obeyed and how can it be obeyed today?

R – Reflections (Main Point & Redemptive Thrust) – What is the main point of this text?  How can you boil it down to a single sentence proposition that tells us the primary theme/topic (what the text is talking about) and the thrust (what the text is saying about what it is talking about) – and join the main application with the main theme?  How does the text point to our need of Christ or what Christ has done?

(CAPTOR – acronym helps you remember these phases of study for hermeneutics)

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HOMILETICS (PREACHING THE TEXT)

The task now is to take the most important insights from our study of the text and communicate them in a sermon.

  • Take the main point of the text and rephrase it for the sermon – draw the congregation in by making the application clear in the main point of the sermon (we must…/you must…).
  • Craft the homiletical outline and transitional statements, especially between your sermon points.
  • Make sure you have prepared to adequately explain the text and include appropriate illustrations.
  • Craft your introduction and sermon conclusion.  (Frontload application in introduction, bring home in conclusion.  Rule of thumb: land where you took off.)

HERMENEUTICS:  For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • CONTEXT OF EZRA 7:10 – Literary: Books of Ezra/Nehemiah, especially Ezra 7:9 & 8:22.  Historical:  Post-Babylonian captivity, return to the land, Ezra a scribe/priest.
  • ANALYSIS OF EZRA 7:10 – Ezra had prepared his heart to do three things, all related to “the law of the LORD”:  seek, do, and teach.  “For” indicates this is a reason for something else (context indicates “the good hand of God” – 7:9).

For Ezra had prepared his heart

  1. I. To seek the law of the LORD
  2. II. and to do it
  3. III. and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
  • PROBLEMS IN RELATION TO EZRA 7:10 – What is “the law of the LORD”?  “Statutes and judgments”?  The relation of “the law of the LORD” to our concept of Bible & Gospel?  What do we make of the handling of the mixed marriage situation in Ezra-Nehemiah?

  • THEMES IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1, etc.); obedience/blessing; teaching/preaching (Matt 28:18-20)

  • OBLIGATIONS IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s hand can be on leaders and all other people (8:22) if we devote ourselves to God’s Word (God’s Law… now “all Scripture” 2 Tim 3:16-17) by study, obedience, and teaching.  Devote ourselves to these things – make God’s Word priority #1; Devotion – active – does not happen by accident – not passive, but proactive!  “Bible before breakfast” – say no; schedule; alarm clock, etc.; quiet place; streamline reinforcement (audio Bible on drive, etc.).

This order is important:  to teach we need to be models of obedience, to obey we need to know what Word teaches, etc. and must have a devotion to God to do all of these!

Study – set aside time & routine; read, meditate, ask questions of Bible; learn how to use study tools properly; Obedience – do what we understand God’s Word to require, even if inconvenient or hard; Teach – share with others what God’s Word teaches (evangelism, family worship, parenting, Sunday School, preaching, etc., etc.)

  • REFLECTING ON THE MAIN POINT & REDEMPTIVE THRUST OF EZRA 7:10

Main Point – Ezra experienced the blessing of God because he was devoted to the Word of God; Redemptive Thrust – our fallen condition of ignoring or misusing the Word/fear of sharing it & Christ’s (the incarnate Word) perfect example of knowing, doing, and teaching God’s Word – God’s Word points to Him and brings us to faith.  Do these things on the basis of the Gospel — Romans 12:1-2  (this devotion to God’s Word is not moralistic but a response to the great salvation He has accomplished for us).

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HOMILETICS: For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • MAIN POINT – God’s blessing rests on those who devote themselves to His Word (study, obey, teach).  à  In order to enjoy the blessing of God on our lives, we must devote ourselves to the Word of God.
  • HOMILETICAL OUTLINE & TRANSITIONS –

To enjoy God’s blessing, we must devote ourselves to

1. Study God’s Word (DILIGENTLY SEEK OUT ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR LIVING)

TRANSITION:  “To enjoy God’s blessing, we not only need to devote ourselves to studying God’s Word, but also to obeying God’s Word.  We need to obey God’s Word to enjoy His blessing.  Notice that the text said that Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to do it,’ that is, to practice, obey, or perform what he saw in his study of God’s law….”

2. Obey God’s Word (DO WHAT IT REQUIRES)

TRANSITION:  “We need to obey God’s Word.  But devotion to God’s Word does not stop with study and obedience.  We also need to teach God’s Word.  Notice that the Bible says Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to teach.’”

3Share God’s Word (TELL OTHERS WHAT IT REQUIRES)

  • ILLUSTRATIONS – Biblical illustrations (obedience to God’s Word in Ezra-Nehemiah – handling the intermarriage situations, festivals; teaching – Neh. 8); illustrations from word studies; how you know what someone is devoted to or if someone is devoted to something (their tools/equipment; their schedule; their activities; their performance; their conversation); what/who a preacher is devoted to (who he quotes, models his ministry after, listens to etc. etc.); qualities of a good teacher; qualities of a bad teacher (illustrating by contrast)
  • INTRODUCTION – get attention, raise need, hint at application, orient to text, give context;

Text is about qualities of a person blessed by God & their devotion to His Word – about a teacher who is favored.  An introduction might talk about how you know if someone is devoted to something (see in illustrations above).  Another approach might be to talk about the opposite of Ezra – qualities of a bad teacher (we can all think of real life examples).  This illustration would also function throughout the sermon as a foil to compare what we should be against the alternative.

Introduce text, theme, context — People were coming back from Babylon, where they had landed because they refused to devote themselves to know and obey God’s Word – were now returning – how to enjoy God’s blessing?

Ezra’s example:  Ezra a leader – but this applies to all of God’s people (8:22).

Introduce proposition before transitioning to body:  If we want God’s hand of blessing, we must devote ourselves to His Word.

  • CONCLUSION – Land where you took off. For example, recap qualities of a bad teacher and qualities of a good teacher, the things we must be devoted to according to Ezra 7:10.

Growth in godliness and usefulness in ministry (as leaders or church members) are evidence that God’s blessing is upon our lives.  This blessing comes via our devotion to seek out, obey, and teach God’s Word.  Does your life give evidence of God’s blessing?  Devote yourself to these things.  You will please God.  You will enjoy God.  You will point others to God.  In other words, if you commit yourself to these, you will enjoy His blessing.

———————

After you do your Bible study and steps to prepare your sermon, finish up by completing the outline or manuscript you will take to the pulpit or use from memory.  Put the intro and conclusions in their place and flesh out the outline with the illustrations and other material you wish to include, including integrating the redemptive thrust so that your sermon is preached in the context of the Gospel.  Pray over it and preach the Word!

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Preaching Through James: Alistair Begg

Here is a brief biography of Pastor Alistair Begg from the Truth for Life website:

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio.  He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life.  The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church. He and his wife, Susan, were married in 1975 and they have three grown children.

And here is his expository series from the New Testament epistle of James (free download available after you click on link):

When Trials Come, Part 1 – James 1:1

When Trials Come, Part 2 – James 1:2

Asking God for Wisdom – James 1:5

Rich Man, Poor Man – James 1:9

The Genuine Article – James 1:12

When Tempted… – James 1:13

The Word of Truth – James 1:18

Don’t Kid Yourselves! – James 1:22

Do What It Says – James 1:22-25

Religion, Part 1 – James 1:26

Religion, Part 2 – James 1:27

Favoritism, Part 1 – James 2:1-4

Favoritism, Part 2 – James 2:1-7

Favoritism, Part 3 – James 2:8

False Faith – James 2:14

Faith: True or False? – James 2:14

Abraham and Rahab – James 2:21

A Warning to Would-Be Teachers – James 3:1

The Power and Danger of the Tongue – James 3:3

Who Is Wise? – James 3:13

The Wisdom from Heaven – James 3:13

Such “Wisdom” – James 3:14

Fights and Quarrels – James 4:1

Submitting to God, Part 1 – James 4:7

Submitting to God, Part 2 – James 4:7

Saying No to Slander – James 4:11

Only One Judge – James 4:11

Planning Properly, Part 1 – James 4:13

Planning Properly, Part 2 – James 4:13

Listen, You Rich Men – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 1 – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 2 – James 5:1

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 1 – James 5:7

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 2 – James 5:7

Telling the Truth – James 5:12

Prayer and Praise – James 5:13

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 1 – James 5:14

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 2 – James 5:15

Confession and Prayer – James 5:16

Bringing Back the Wanderers – James 5:19-20

Basic Sermon Prep Steps – Alistair Begg

Here’s Pastor Alistair Begg’s basic approach to preaching:

1. Think yourself empty.

2. Read yourself full.

3. Write yourself clear.

4. Pray yourself hot.

5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself.

You can read a more detailed explanation at the blog of “Unashamed Workman,” (a site devoted to expository preaching) by clicking here.

He also shared this in the 2005 Basics conference, along with other helpful messages by himself and other speakers (see here for free access to the audio or to order the messages).

Relevance in “Surprising” Places

I don’t know why I am surprised. Maybe it’s because we often suppose that we have to think of some clever way to introduce what we speak on and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how an ancient document has anything to do with life today…

But sometimes the answer is right under my nose. I recently preached from Ezra 7:10 at a rescue mission.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

How could this help the men who are seeking help to come out of rough situations? Is it immediately obvious? Certainly, it is good to encourage them to devote themselves to study, practice, and teach the Bible, and I did that.

But I found a great on-ramp to share that by noticing the situation not far from the verse I planned to preach.  Times like these make me so grateful for the sound counsel of reading the whole book in which the preaching text is contained.  I didn’t have to view Ezra 7:10 in isolation of the rest of the book (actually, it can be dangerous to do that sort of thing!).

I found the relevance in the historical background in Ezra 7:9, and in Ezra 8:22.

For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

[Then notice how the last phrase of verse 9 is connected with verse 10, “For,” or because of this reason] For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

and Nehemiah’s words to the king in 8:22:

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

What did I draw from this?  Ezra was part of a group coming up from the Babylonian captivity, where the nation had landed because of their refusal to hear and obey God’s Word.  Furthermore, to have the blessing of God (his good hand upon them), required a heart that diligently sought Him, seeking His Law, obeying it, and teaching it.  Ezra 8:22 shows that God’s hand could be on more people than Ezra.

As I saw these connections in God’s Word, the light bulb came on!  What a natural path of application!  As the people in Ezra’s day were seeking a new start, so are the men at this rescue mission.  As the people in Ezra’s day needed to study, do, and teach God’s Word and seek God to have his good hand upon them, so the men in this mission needed to diligently pay attention to the Bible, obey it, and be prepared to share it with others.  A right approach to God’s Word was foundational to a new start for the children of God then, and is also key to a “new start” for those who know Christ now.

Never underestimate the value of studying the context.  Sometimes you don’t need clever ideas. Often, you just need to read, pray, and think about the text surrounding your text.  You may just be surprised at what you find.

Acts 16 Sermon Summary

Three Ways God Spreads the Good News

Acts 16:6-34

People have utilized many ways of spreading news.  In the past, the Pony Express and the telegraph were means people used to share information.  Today, people use a plethora of methods to broadcast and receive news, such as television, radio, text-messages, cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet.

God can do anything He wants and could have chosen to write His good news, the Gospel, in the clouds.  He could have personally manifested Himself in a visible and audible form to every human being to communicate the message.  But God has chosen to spread His good news by other means.  In Acts 16, we see three of those means.

1. Obedience to Guidance (v. 6-13)

In Acts 16, we find Paul on his second missionary journey.  Like the writer of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, Paul was now preaching the faith he had once labored to destroy because of the change God had made in his life.  Along with Paul were Timothy, Silas, and Luke (the author, whose pronouns change to “we” and “us” in verse 10 to indicate his presence with the group).

The missionaries thought they should go to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit did not allow them.  They were directed instead to Macedonia by a vision Paul received.  They immediately obeyed the vision, believing that God had called them to preach the Gospel there.  God used obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

In what areas do you need to obey God?  If you know what you should do, then the response should be immediate obedience.  Is there someone you know you should share the Gospel with?  God may use your obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

2. Faithfulness in Clear Evangelism (v. 14-15, 30-32)

Arriving in Philippi, a strategic and historic city, Paul speaks God’s Word to a group of women gathered for prayer.  This implies that there were not enough Jewish men in the area to have a synagogue, since Paul’s usual practice was to go first to the synagogue and preach Christ.  He went to people who needed the Gospel.  God opened Lydia’s heart and she believed the word Paul spoke.  Paul also shared verbally with the Philippian jailer, telling him not only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved but later speaking the Word to the jailer and his family, likely explaining matters more fully.  God used Paul’s faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread his good news.

No one likes a garbled, confusing message.  Therefore, we ought to be clear when we share the Gospel with people.  We know from other parts of the book of Acts that Paul made the matters of the Gospel clear to others so they would know what they should believe and why.  The Gospel is more than “Jesus loves you” or “ask Jesus into your heart.”  We ought to tell people about the greatness of God and His right as our Creator to tell us what to do.  We need to explain sin as rebellion against God, and that we are all sinners who deserve to be punished forever for despising God.  We need to tell them who Christ is (the God-man, the Son of God in human flesh) and what He did in His perfect life and substitutionary death for sinners.  We must tell them of his ascension and that He will one day judge the world in righteousness.  We must not merely leave them with these facts, but must call upon them to repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for their salvation so that they may have eternal life and enjoy God forever.

Even as God opened Lydia’s heart to respond, He does the same with people today.  We are not responsible for the response to the message.  We are responsible to deliver the message faithfully.  God uses faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread His good news.

3. Praise in Suffering (v. 16-34)

Although Paul would not have adopted the motto, “Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words,” he understood that his life should reflect the saving message he proclaimed.  He wanted His walk to support, not hinder, the spread of the words of life.

A demon-possessed girl annoyed Paul by following the missionaries and announcing, day after day, that they were servants of the most high God who were proclaiming the way of salvation.  Paul cast the demon out, much to the chagrin of her masters, who owned her as a slave and had profited from her fortune-telling business.  Paul and Silas were falsely accused of instigating chaos in the city, and were then stripped and beaten.  They were cast into the inner prison of the jail, and their feet were fastened in stocks which spread the legs apart and created much cramping.

These men who had come to proclaim God’s good news were now suffering for righteousness.  How did they respond?  At midnight, they were heard praying and praising God with singing.  They gave God praise in suffering, and He used it to spread his good news.  He sent an earthquake that nearly resulted in the jailer’s suicide, which Paul prevented by informing him that no one had escaped from the jail.  Trembling, the jailer asked what he must do to be saved, and Paul shared the Gospel with him.  He and his family came to know Christ through Paul’s and Silas’ praise in suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada is another fitting example of praise in suffering.  She became a quadriplegic, losing the use of her arms and legs, as a result of a diving accident as a teenager.  Instead of remaining angry at God, she has praised Him for His goodness to her and has shared His good news with many – from her wheelchair.  I recently attended the funeral of a woman named Lisa, who reached the point of thanking God for her brain tumors because He used her suffering to help reach others with the Gospel.  It was fitting that one of the songs at Lisa’s memorial celebration was from Job 1:21, which speaks of how God gives and takes away, but His name is to be blessed, that is, praised.

Are you afraid to suffer for the Gospel?  Can you praise God in trials?  Have you considered how your reactions to suffering may bring to you greater opportunities to share the good news?  Rodney Griffin wrote a song from this passage in which he made the point that the times of suffering are the times that “God wants to hear you sing.”

Remember that James told us to count it all joy when we suffer (James 1:2-4) and Jesus said that we are blessed if we suffer for His sake and have great reward (Matthew 5:10-12).  Your best life is not now, but in the world to come.  Let’s not forget the power of God and his time-tested method of using praise in suffering to spread His good news.

Our communication methods may come and go.  E-mail and cell phones may one day be as obsolete as the Pony Express and the telegraph.  But until Christ returns, God will continue to use the methods He has utilized for the last 2,000 years to spread the Gospel:  obedience to guidance, faithfulness in clear evangelism, and praise in suffering.  As we obey, share, and worship Him, may He be pleased to use us to spread His good news.

Preached by Doug Smith, guest speaker at Fellowship Chapel, Bristol, Virginia, July 15, 2007

Click here to listen to or download the complete sermon (.mp3 audio).

Click here to download the Word document of this summary.

Click here to download a pdf file of this summary.

Preaching Through Numbers: Ligon Duncan

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III serves as Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Jackson, Mississippi.  Dr. Duncan preached through the book of Numbers from January 2007 until May of 2008.  Most of the messages are available as free mp3 audio files, and all but one have text versions, accessible via the links below.  He models in this series what he shared in a 2006 message on “Preaching from the Old Testament” (free audio here), especially his message on “The Adultery Test” from Numbers 5:11-31 (preached on Valentine’s Day!).  Another highlight is his taking God’s Word seriously enough to take the time to read the entire 89 verses of chapter 7 as he speaks from it.  For more information about Dr. Duncan and more resources from him, visit www.fpcjackson.org.

Numbers 1:1-4 01a 1/3/2007 Introduction and Outline
Numbers 1:1-46 01b 1/10/2007 Numbered
Numbers 1:47-54 02a 1/17/2007 The Levites, however, were not numbered
Numbers 2 02b 1/24/2007 Arranged
Numbers 3 03a 1/24/2007 Priests, Duties, Firstborn
Numbers 4 03b 2/07/2007 Priests, Duties, Firstborn (2)
Numbers 5:1-10 04a 2/14/2007 Defiled
Numbers 5:11-31 04b 2/21/2007 The Adultery Test
Numbers 6:1-21 05a 2/28/2007 The Nazarites
Numbers 6:22-27 05b 3/21/2007 The Total Blessing
Numbers 7 06a 4/18/2007 Offerings of the Leaders
Numbers 8 06b 4/28/2007 Lamps, Levites, and Retirement
Numbers 9:1-14 07a 5/2/2007 Passover
Numbers 9:15 -10:10 07b 5/9/2007 Cloud and Trumpets
Numbers 10:11-36 08a 5/30/2007 Leaving Sinai
Numbers 11:1-15 08b 6/6/2007 Grumbling
Numbers 11:16-30 09a 6/20/2007 Elders and Quail
Numbers 11:31-35 09b 6/27/2007 The Plague
Numbers 12:1-16 10a 7/18/2007 Murmuring in the Land
Numbers 13:1-33 10b 8/1/2007 Spies in the Land
Numbers 14:1-45 11a 8/8/2007 Rebellion and Rebuke
Numbers 15:1-41 11b 8/19/2007 The Laws of the Land
Numbers 16:1-50 12a 8/22/2007 Korah’s Rebellion
Numbers 17 12b 8/29/2007 Aaron’s Rod Blossoming
Numbers 18:1-32 13a 9/2/2007 Levites’ Duties and Priestly Responsibility
Numbers 19 13b 9/9/2007 The Red Heifer
Numbers 20 14a 9/23/2007 Just Another Day in the Wilderness
Numbers 21:1-9 14b 10/7/2007 Snakebit
Numbers 21:10-35 15a 10/21/2007 The Wars of the Lord
Numbers 22:1-21 15b 11/4/2007 Conspiracy to Curse
Numbers 22:22-40 16a 11/11/2007 Balaam’s Ass
Numbers 22:41-23:26 16b 1/2/2008 Balaam’s Prophecy
Numbers 23:27 – 24:25 17a 1/9/2008 Balaam’s Prophecy (2)
Numbers 25:1-18 17b 1/16/2008 The Zeal of Phinehas
Numbers 26:1-65 18a 1/23/2008 The New Generation
Numbers 27:1-14 18b 1/27/2008 Inheritance Laws
Numbers 27:12-23 19a 1/30/2008 Succession Plan
Numbers 28:1-31 19b 2/6/2008 The Laws of Offerings
Numbers 29:1-40 20a 2/13/2008 The Offerings of the Seventh Month
Numbers 30:1-16 20b 2/27/2008 Vows
Numbers 31 21a 3/5/2008 Vengeance on Midian
Numbers 32 21b 3/12/2008 This Side of the Jordan
Numbers 33:1-49 22a 4/6/2008 From Egypt to Jordan
Numbers 33:50-56 22b 4/23/2008 Possessing the Land
Numbers 34:1-29 23a 4/27/2008 Divvying Up Canaan
Numbers 35:1-34 23b 5/4/2008 Cities of Refuge
Numbers 36:1-13 24a 5/11/2008 No Inheritance Transferred
Final sermon in the Numbers series.