Category Archives: New Testament

Preaching Christmas

MangerJesus2Christmas is an amazing opportunity to preach to people who normally wouldn’t be coming into church.  Here are seven top suggestions for making the most of the opportunity:

1. Pray a lot – there is a spiritual battle going on and the enemy wants to keep people distracted from the truth of the gospel. In the busy world of Christmas service planning, he can also keep preachers distracted from the wonder of the gospel too!

2. Preach fact – the Christmas message is not, as most tend to think, another holiday season fairy tale and religious myth.  Luke launched his gospel with a declaration of the trustworthiness of his message, let’s take a leaf out of his book.  Look for ways to make it clear that there was an original Christmas.

3. Correct carefully – nobody likes a cavalier critique of comfortable traditions, so be careful when you point out that Jesus was not born in a cattle shed, or that Mary wasn’t timing contractions as she arrived in Bethlehem, or that the Wise Men actually arrived months later.  One of these “facts” is probably wrong, but even truth can be unhelpful if people think you are just being critical, or there is no benefit in the clarification you bring.

4. Celebrate sensitively – it is easy to hype up Christmas like a children’s TV presenter, but for many people it is a bittersweet season.  Be sure to take a moment in the message, or in a prayer, to recognize the difficulties as well as the joys.

5. Proclaim good news – yes, Christmas is a season of giving and cheer and peace.  Yes, this is a good year to mention the famous Christmas truce of 1914.  But remember that Christmas is not about stirring sentimentality and periodic pauses for peace, it is ultimately about something on the vertical plane and not just the horizontal.  Jesus came to us to bring us to God.  Don’t preach just a nice message, be sure to preach the best news!

6. Undermine assumptions – as well as communicating the gospel message in some way, remember that there is also an opportunity to undermine some common assumptions.  Making clear that there is a historical reality to the Incarnation is a good idea, and why not take the chance to clarify the nature of God’s character too?  Everyone comes into church thinking they know what God is like.  If they don’t really know Jesus, then they don’t.  Christmas is a great moment to point people not to speculations about the Majesty of God, but to bring them to the manger to meet the One who makes God known to us.

7. Worship personally – if the Christmas message has grown old for you, then you can’t preach it well.  Take some time out with your God and let Him stir your heart afresh.  Then you can preach Christmas.

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Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, Incarnation, New Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

Creative Christmas Sermon Options

Christmas Dog2Christmas services are just a few weeks away.  You might be getting excited, or dreading another Christmas and the need to generate more messages when the obvious options feel well worn.  Here are some other angles to consider:

Prophecies - there are some key Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, even Jeremiah 31:15.  Why not take an Old Testament approach to Christmas hopes this year?

People – maybe you have preached through Matthew’s opening chapters, but have you preached the four other ladies in Matthew’s genealogy . . . Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the one “who had been Uriah’s wife.”  Four ladies with question marks over their morality, rightly or wrongly, that set up the lady who has to be in the genealogy (also with a question mark hanging over her morality, wrongly in her case).  Or perhaps you might trace the Gentiles in the genealogy to show the greater scope of the Christmas hope?

Themes – why not track a theme this year that could be developed with one week in the Old Testament, one week in the Christmas narratives and one week later on in the gospels or epistles.  For example, consider the Immanuel theme from Isaiah 7:14-9:7, emphasized in Matthew 1, continued for our age in Matthew 28:20.

Less Obvious Passages – perhaps you might consider the less obvious Christmas passages, ie. those that aren’t in early Matthew or Luke.  You have the prologue to John’s Gospel, giving the other side of the story, if you like.  Or you have references like Galatians 4:4 and similarly Incarnation focused passages like Titus 2:11-14.

Christmas Titles – it would be interesting to explore the titles used in the Christmas narratives – Jesus, Saviour, Immanuel, King, etc.

Carol Theology – while some are keen to cut down the errors in the carols, there are some great truths encapsulated in the carols too.  Perhaps you could take Hark the Herald Angels Sing or another carol and trace the biblical background to a verse each week.  Different, but for some congregations this might be a blessing.  Remember that you are preaching the Bible, not the carol.

Contemporary Emphases - you could take key emphases in the world’s view of Christmas and present a positive biblical engagement with each one.  Gifts, peace, goodwill, family, etc.

November is here, Christmas is coming.  Let’s not have our pulpits filled with preachers trying to hide a creative fatigue over such a great subject.  Let’s take a new angle, dive into the Bible and preach with hearts spilling over!

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Incarnation, New Testament, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Stage 1 - Passage Selection

Identifying with Bible Characters

film3The Bible is full of stories.  Stories are very effective ways to communicate.  When a story begins, people tend to do two things – first, they identify with (or disassociate from) characters, and second, they feel the tension in the story, anticipating the resolution.  So when we preach Bible stories, let’s be sure to help listeners connect with what is going on.

1. Don’t give a history lecture, preach the story to today.  It is easier, perhaps, to dispassionately tell what happened back then.  But it is not easier to listen to that.  It is, typically, dull.  However you may choose to do it, please make it clear to your listeners how the ancient story impacts contemporary life.  That doesn’t mean you have to constantly make up-to-date references (sometimes telling a story takes time and making lots of links to today can become distracting), but do frame the sermon with relevance so people know there is value in engaging the story fully.

2. Don’t caricature the characters, encourage identification with their fallen and frail human-ness.  It is easy to pick on one solitary feature of a character in a story, but fail to give a fair representation of them.  Peter puts his foot in his mouth, but he also has the guts to get out of the boat.  Zechariah doubted the angel, but was also a faithful pray-er over many decades.  Don’t simply beat up listeners with a quick connection to the failure of a character.  Stories work slowly as the listener engages with a character all the way to the point of resolution in the story.  Simply pointing out a flaw and applying it carries all the sermonic tension of a limp rope.  Try to reflect the fullness of the character portrayal offered in the biblical narrative and its context.

3. Don’t identify without theocentrizing.  It is also possible to present the characters effectively so that listeners can identify with them, but miss the point that God is at the center of biblical narrative.  It’s not just Joseph’s kindness and personal character quality that is significant in Matthew 1, it is also very much focused on God’s revelation of His plan to both save His people from their sins and His presence with His people.  Joseph is a great example of a “fine, young man.”  But the passage presents this fine, young man responding to the revelation of God’s purposes.  Jesus, Immanuel.  That is the information that Joseph acted upon.  The amazing thing about Christmas narratives is that the theocentric truth is bundled up in a tiny human infant.  (And we get to preach the amazing truth of the Incarnation soon!)

Christmas preached as just peace and happiness and quaint idyllic scenes is a travesty – Christmas is also a set up for theocentric preaching (but don’t lose the humanness of the other characters too).

 

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Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, New Testament, Preaching, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

Beyond Christmas

nativity_scene-770x400Christmas is just for children, isn’t it? In fact, many would say it should be just for December too. No sooner is the summer over than the first hints of Christmas appear in the shops, and the moaning begins! But for Christians, the Incarnation should be stirring our hearts every day, and more so as we get older.
To read the rest of this article, click here to go to Think Theology where it is posted.

 

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Union Podcasts

avatars-000108291425-dvkbgo-t500x500So here are the five Union Podcasts that were broadcast last week.

1. Why think about the Incarnation when it isn’t Christmas?

2. How is Christ becoming man vital for our salvation?

3. What does the Incarnation mean for me every day?

4. Does emphasizing the Incarnation risk de-emphasising the cross?

5. Does understanding the Incarnation change the way we share the gospel?

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The First Ever Union Podcast

avatars-000108291425-dvkbgo-t500x500Today sees the release of the first ever Union Podcast and I am privileged to be the guest.  It is just five minutes long and I am answering the question – Why think about the Incarnation when it isn’t Christmas?  I will link to it when I am on it, but I’d recommend following the podcast as I am sure there will be plenty of great little podcasts in the months to come!  Click the picture to go to it.  This week I am in Portland, OR, so won’t be getting back into a regular routine of blogging about preaching until next week.

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Never Lose This!

never-lose-300x200Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love.  Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners!  Click here to go there.

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Incarnation Series Review

I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series.  I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation.  In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation.  And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series.  Then . . .

HindleyJohn Hindley

Let the Wine Flow! (John 1-2)

 

darrell_bockDarrell Bock

Lessons about the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

 

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener

Incarnation, The True Turning Point

 

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220Bruce Fong

Incarnation and Expository Preaching

 

OrtlundDane Ortlund

Life As It Was Meant to Be

 

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz

The Incarnation in the Old Testament

 

comontPeter Comont

Jesus Wept

 

murray__005_400x400David Murray

Rehearsal for Calvary

 

Frost webRon Frost

A Stirring Love

 

Rick McKinley

Where’d Jesus Go?

 

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Rick McKinley – Where’d Jesus Go?

Rick McKinley is the Lead Pastor at Imago Dei Community, the church he planted in 2000, in Portland, OR.  He is also co-creator of the Advent Conspiracy.  Rick and I sat next to each other in our graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell some years ago and it was great to get to know him in the midst of all the waiting involved!  He authored The Answer to our Cry (UK Link), Kingdom Called Desire (UK link) and This Beautiful Mess (UK link).  I am very thankful to Rick for this guest post for the Incarnation Series, Rick points us to the significance of the ascension and how that ties the incarnation to us:

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When it comes to the doctrine of the incarnation I think most of us leave it in the past. The Son of God took on flesh, lived the perfect human life, died on the cross then rose from the dead, went to heaven, and sent us his Spirit.  The incarnation is in the past.

But the fact is the incarnation is happening now. I am not talking about the church being the body of Christ either, though I think that is a rich picture. What I am talking about is that Jesus is still the incarnate God-man living in a glorified body in Heaven as you read this line.

This is the doctrine of the ascension, which is perhaps the least talked about and under appreciated aspect of the incarnation, but without it the rest of the incarnation doesn’t mean too much to us today.

There are two powerful present day realities that are in play today because Jesus is the ascended Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father.

The first reality is that there is a man in heaven, right now, who has conquered the grave and is the first fruits of the resurrection. His resurrection and ascension seal the promise that he will resurrect us as well and bring us to the Father.

The second reality is that Jesus is ascended into heaven and at this moment is praying for you so that he can completely save you. That’s a hope that moves past my efforts, my prayers, my power and sets my confidence on Jesus. My confidence in Jesus is for sure in his finished work on the cross, but also his present work as my resurrected, glorified intercessor before the Father for the completion of my salvation.  

When life seems on the brink, or our kids go off the rails, or the power has just about leaked out of your faith, remember this! Jesus is risen and reigning in heaven and he is passionately praying to the Father on your behalf. The beauty of the incarnation continues.

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Ron Frost – A Stirring Love

Frost webRon Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo.  He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International.  I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.  Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too).  Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ.  So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:

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Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.

“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us.  And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation.  His rising is for our good.  He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]

Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church.  The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”

Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament.  The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.

“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too.  Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us.  If God loves us thus, what must we do?  Meditate upon his love.  Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it.  Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]

Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top.   But does he have a point?  Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation?  This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love.  In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.

With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation.  God sent the Son to stir our response.  And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.

Sibbes makes the point.  We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.

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