Category Archives: Genre

With Me: Luke’s Easter Narrative

3CrossesbI have just written a blog that underlines one of Luke’s tools in his Gospel writing – he loves to use pairs.  Actually, he uses them for two reasons and if you are preaching from Luke this Friday or Sunday, you should be aware of this key feature in his wonderful Gospel.  To read the article, click here.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 5

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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Continuing the list of areas for special attention, so far we have had beware of self-improvement, beware of making promises out of proverbs, and preach thought units.  Last in the list:

4. Consider what it means to preach a reflective genre… reflectively. We have already seen that wisdom literature requires reflection. How might this impact our sermons in this genre? We need to give serious thought as to how we can encourage reflection in our listeners, even if it is only for the time we are standing up there preaching. Two thoughts on this; firstly avoid information overload. This is true for preaching any genre, but nowhere is it more important that in preaching wisdom.  Don’t bombard people with dozens of different thoughts or ideas; it doesn’t encourage reflection, it encourages confusion, headaches and people to stop listening altogether.

Conversely then, create space. Create space to work out illustration and application – “You cannot serve both God and money” isn’t a proverb, but it is a good example of a relatively short journey from original context to contemporary application. But wisdom like Proverbs 15:5 “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” will take some time to unpack. How does it apply for people who don’t have God-honouring parents? What about people whose parents have died or who no longer under their parents’ authority in the way they once were? Does this proverb no longer apply to them? If so, how? And what are the subtle ways we all try to squirm out of correction – wherever it comes from? Be creative, take time to explore this piece of wisdom from as many angles as you can. Finally, create space to think, respond, pray. Why not give people time to do this at some point in your sermon (and not necessarily just at the end)?

5. Identify the central issue of a book. This is crucial. In a book like Job, it is easy to forget that the central tension of the book is presented very clearly in chapter 1, Satan says to God that Job loves God not for who He is, but for what He gives Job. The accusation is that Job loves God’s stuff more than he loves God. And the tension of the rest of the book is, in many ways, an exploration of that accusation – will Job’s faith stand up to the accusation, or not? It’s important to work out everything which follows in light of this. In Ecclesiastes you have to go to the end of the book to find the central issue – (12:13–14) Keep this conclusion as your focal point as you drive those windy roads of Ecclesiastes!

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – 1. What is Wisdom?

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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We’re going to think this week about preaching wisdom literature. It’s a big subject, so let’s pitch right in and ask, how can we improve our preaching of this important genre? Firstly…

1. …Understand what wisdom is.

What exactly is biblical wisdom? Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question, is to look at a passage – not in one of the wisdom books ironically – but a very important narrative in 1 Kings 12. Solomon, the archetypal wise king, has died and his son Rehoboam is taking the throne. The people of Israel come to him and say “Your Dad laid a heavy burden on us in taxes and so on, so lighten it for us.” What is Rehoboam going to do?

He starts well – he gets counsel. First, he listens to his father Solomon’s old advisers. They tell him “Do as the people say and they will serve you totally.” Next he takes counsel from his old school buddies, and they tell him that he needs to stamp his authority on this people, make a statement, show them that he is not to messed with. “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thigh… he disciplined you with whips, I will discipline you with scorpions.” That ought to do it – that’ll show them who’s boss. So who is Rehoboam going to listen to? – And here’s the point, because for a Hebrew reader, this decision has “wisdom” and “folly” written all over it. Solomon’s counsellors are older, they are experienced in helping to run a country, they have spent a lot of time with wise King Solomon and they would have learned from his wisdom. Rehoboam’s old school pals are young, have no experience of running a kingdom, and not much experience of life, either. To the Hebrew mind, it’s a ‘no-brainer’. A wise man is going to listen to the wise old counsellors and the foolish man is going to listen to the foolish young counsellors. Which will Rehoboam do? Will he show himself to be wise or foolish? I’m sure you know, and the rest as they say, is history.

And this is invaluable to us in understanding biblical wisdom. For us Westerners especially, when we think of wisdom our minds go very quickly to intelligence. We tend to think that the cleverer, the more educated a person is, the wiser he/she will be. But that is a Western idea, not a particularly biblical one. I imagine that Rehoboam’s young counsellors had a good education, but they were still foolish by way of their youth and inexperience. Many of us live in a culture which is obsessed with the idol of youth. We are drawn to young people with new, fresh ideas. But again that is a Western idea, not an expecially biblical one. In biblical cultures, older people were held with higher regard than younger people because of their years, their experience and hence their relative wisdom. Of course there are exceptions – you will find foolish old people and wise young people in the Bible – Solomon himself, as a young king recognised his need for wisdom and asked God for it – and that’s a big theme in Proverbs for example, of enabling the young to get wisdom. So let’s understand what wisdom is – it is not intelligence, education or information. Wisdom is the knowledge of God and how to live in His world. 

And tomorrow we’ll actually look at some of the wisdom books. I promise.

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Don’t Stain Glass the Bible Folks

StainedGlassLots of Christians have a habit of “stained glassing” Bible characters.  Sometimes it seems like pretty much anyone other than Jezebel and Judas Iscariot will get a free pass and find their actions vindicated by believers.

Why does this happen?  Perhaps it is the result of Sunday School training that can sometimes turn the biblical narrative into myth-like stories with morales based primarily on character behaviour.  Perhaps it comes from too easily assuming that faith in God is a binary reality whereby any faith in an individual equates to full faithfulness, rather than recognising that God patiently works with people who are in the process of learning to trust Him rather than themselves.  Perhaps we are just nice people who assume almost everyone in the Bible is a nice person too (i.e. you have to be overtly evil to be anything other than laudable).  Perhaps it comes from forgetting that the primary character to focus on in the Bible is God, rather than the people, so that the people become models for our actions where perhaps they shouldn’t.

So where does this happen in the canon?  There are countless examples, but let me prod our thoughts with a few characters that tend to get “stain glassed.”

The Patriarchs – Abraham responds to a call from God, but when does he really trust God’s promise?  Sure, he moves with his family a long distance, but it is only after he separates from his family that God follows up with him.  Then it is another while before Abraham seems to finally trust God’s promise about his seed.  So between his initial call and his being declared righteous by faith there is the bizarre incident with giving his wife away in Egypt.  Abraham is on a journey, a faith journey.  And if we try to sanctify his decisions and affirm it all, then we may upset the wives in our congregation, and misrepresent the text.

Other OT Characters – Ruth was amazingly godly, but was Naomi acting by faith when she setup a very compromised situation?  Do we want to affirm everything about Mordecai and Esther?  Heroic and courageous?  Certainly.  But deeply faithful?  Worth pondering.  Nehemiah always gets lauded as the ultimate leader, but what legacy did he leave in respect to the hearts of the people, as well as the building project?  Was Jonah just reluctant, or was there a heart issue with him, in contrast to the character of the God he ended up somewhat representing?

Disciples – This is an interesting category.  Perhaps it is an anti-category.  That is, often I hear the disciples being treated like dunces when we treat them as if they should have fully grasped the content of all four gospels before the gospels were even written!

The Bible is full of real people with real issues and real messy mixed up faith responses, and for that we should be profoundly thankful.

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Webinar: Preaching Tones

logoNext Thursday I will be leading a webinar on “Preaching the Tone of the Bible” with a special focus on epistles.  The details are to be found here.

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Preaching Layered Story Sensitivity

WeavingJust a little post to finish off this mini-series.  So you have decided not to pluck a story and lift sometimes imaginary life lessons from it.  You have studied it in its context and started to note the layers of intricate story within story crafting that the author has done.  Maybe you’ve been nudged to recognize the meaning of the story with the help of commentaries too, of course.  But how do you preach it?  This can seem overwhelming.

1. Determine the main idea of the story.  In light of its context, what is the main thought of the story you are actually preaching?

2. Figure out how much context you need to set.  This is determined not only by the story itself, but also by your context.  Some groups of listeners are ready to handle the bigger picture more than others.

3. Decide which layering details help communicate that main idea.  There will be so much you could spot and point out, but some of it will not make sense to listeners, or will seem like exegetical trivia if you can’t give a full sweep and explanation.  But if you don’t give some “fingers on the text” observations, listeners may think you are making up your own take on the meaning of the story.

4. Be sure to tell the story.  So easy to think our task is to share exegetical insights and theological profundities and applicational nuggets.  Remember that God inspired the story to mark lives.  Let it do that.  Tell the story.

5. Make the application the theocentric application intended by the text.  It is about God and it is supposed to mark us in response to God.  Don’t drop God out for the sake of a top-tip for creative truth telling in foreign lands.

6. Don’t forget to invite people into the text.  Your preaching, with sensitivity to the flow of the book, should motivate listeners to want to read and dig for themselves.  Don’t be shy to suggest that.

So much more could be said, but let’s leave it there for now . . .

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Preaching Epistles Webinar

The traditional sermon was always built around a list of parallel points.  But what if the passage does not work that way?  How can we reflect the flow of thought in a passage in order to not only say what it says, but also seek to do what it does in our preaching?

This webinar is on Thursday the 30th of January at 6pm UK time.  Click here to register.

 

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Letter Frame – Preacher’s Treasure 7

PenInk2In this series I have looked at letter openings and closings.  Lots of treasure that is often overlooked and ignored despite being fully inspired and massively preachable!  Here are a few closing ideas to pull the series together:

1. Preach a whole book through the lens of a key element in the letter frame.  By taking an opening greeting, a doxology, or whatever, it is possible to introduce and preach the big message of an entire epistle.  This could function as a stand-alone message.

2. Introduce or conclude a series in a book using opening or closing elements.  Instead of sounding like an introductory page in a study Bible (i.e. just giving a bland author, recipients, date, occasion, map, etc.), diving into the body of an epistle and ignoring the opening or finishing a series abruptly, consider the value of an overview intro or conclusion that is a legitimate exposition of an inspired text.

3. Consider a series of doxologies, closing prayers, or whatever, with whole epistles reinforcing each message in the series.  This would be a challenge for the preacher, and might require some awareness from the listeners, but it could be highly effective.  It would help us break out of a “standard section length for every sermon” approach. Whole books have big ideas that transform lives.  Letter frames offer summaries that root those ideas in shorter texts.

What other ideas would you add?  How have you heard a letter frame preached effectively?

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Letter Frame – Preacher’s Treasure 6

PenInk2There are some stunning doxologies in the epistles.  They are a potential treasure for preachers:

1. Doxologies tend to offer a succinct overview of the content of a letter.  What the writer was pondering as he wrote or dictated tends to come out in this late point of praise.  As preachers we can tap into that to review or overview the epistle as a whole.

2. Doxologies offer the preacher an opportunity to preach a different genre within the epistle.  Just as introductory and closing materials can offer a more narrative type of content (i.e. accessing the narrative behind the letter), so the doxology allows the preacher to preach something akin to poetry.  Preaching poetry offers something different to the discourse that predominates in the epistles.

Here are some doxologies to ponder:

* Hebrews 13:20-21 . . . The preacher (remember that Hebrews is not an epistle, but rather a sermon with an epistolary postscript) points to God’s raising Jesus from the dead, and to the blood of the eternal covenant, as the one who will equip the hearers to live lives pleasing to Him.  The Jesus-focused encouragement throughout the “letter” is seen even here.

* Jude 24-25 . . . One of the more famous doxologies pointing to God’s ability to guard and protect believers in an antagonistic world.

* 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 . . . An easy one to miss, this is effectively a doxology within the body of the letter (similar to Paul’s explosions of delight at the end of Romans 8 and Romans 11:33-36).

* 2 Corinthians 13:14 . . . Is Paul offering three elements of God’s goodness within a trinitarian framework, or is he actually referring to the One who is the grace and love of the Son and Father, that is, the Holy Spirit?  Jonathan Edwards understood this doxology as being entirely about the Spirit, which would fit a letter gripped by the New Covenant ministry theme.

* 1 Corinthians 16:22-24 . . . A striking and often ignored conclusion to a letter.  Perhaps verse 22 is key to the complexities of church life in Corinth?  I have never heard anybody preach from this section, have you?

* Revelation 2-3 . . . Don’t miss the treasure in Jesus’ seven epistles to the churches of Asia Minor.  Recognizing the consistent themes within and throughout each individual letter is key to making sense of the details.  The promise to the overcomer always makes sense in light of the description of Christ and the commendation/complaint within the letter.

Seems like there is plenty of scope for a series of messages based purely on the doxologies.  After all, pondering the truth and life-changing relevance of the gospel should lead us to praise God!

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