The Narrative Lectionary

For the past several years I have been preaching along with the Revised Common Lectionary. There are many beneficial reasons for this which I have enumerated in other blog posts. I’ve enjoyed the RCL and although it has its own weaknesses, it is a well respected and often used lectionary.

Beginning September 10th I’ll be preaching along with the Narrative Lectionary. I decided a long time ago that just preaching what seemed to me to be a good text for the week was not a good plan. I would end up preaching texts I enjoyed and avoiding texts that are more difficult. Preachers compose series of sermons that are topical in nature, which runs the great danger of snipping verses out of context and using them in ways they were never intended.

So what can our church members expect from the lessons through the NL?

*Expect to start at the start. Yes, it’s ingenious but we are actually going back to “In the beginning…”. The first five sermons are in the Pentateuch, Genesis and Exodus to be specific. The second lesson is a good example of why it’s good to use a lectionary. If ever there was a story to avoid, it’s the one where Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Who gets that? But it’s the text for September 17 and we shall examine it.

*Expect to spend the Fall sermons moving us through the Old Testament through most of December. Those Old Testament prophets were forward looking, seeing in the distance a Messiah. 

*Expect to begin the New Testament studies on Christmas Eve with a few sermons from Luke. Starting at the New Year we will be making our way through the gospel of John. The first half of each year is focused on one of the four gospels. It’s John for 2018.

*Expect the crescendo of John’s Gospel to come at Easter time. From there through May 20 we will be looking at texts relating to Paul’s ministry in Acts and Philippians. 

*Expect the summer to be made up of three series of sermons that are more topical sounding, but are based on Scripture. The summer series for 2018 are the Ten Commandments, I John, Ruth, and Stewardship. 

*Expect that we won’t have covered everything in the Bible, so we’re going to start in Genesis again in September 2018.

As you can see, the reason this is called the “Narrative Lectionary” is that it attempts to cover the sweeping story of God’s people from the beginning through the life of Jesus and the early church. There’s one story there, even though we often see it as a jumbled assortment of stories. Notice also that this story is woven into the important days and seasons on the church calendar … Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. In Churches of Christ we haven’t always paid attention to these… and sometimes we’ve pretended they didn’t exist. But each one of those seasons is an emphasis in the story of the Bible. 

By following links above you can know what the texts are for each week. Feel free to study ahead. Prepare some questions to cover in LifeGroup that Sunday night. And please, pray for your preacher. I can tell you I’m excited about the days ahead. 

For those who are not attending Forsythe Church of Christ each week, you can always follow our podcast  (or search for Forsythe Church of Christ at iTunes). You can also read the weekly sermon notes posted at our WEBSITE. You can subscribe at our website and those notes will arrive magically in your email inbox every Sunday morning.

Thanks for reading, JD

My Commitments in Preaching

Preaching is such an odd experience, even though I’ve been doing it weekly for over thirty years. The sermons I think are really awesome on paper can be turkeys while the sermons I think are really stinky can enjoy a great reception. I chalk it up to the fact that God is at work when His word is being preached. I have no other explanation. Sometimes people thank me for something I said and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything about it. I’ve also said some things in sermons that I did not prepare and I had no idea where they came from. I’ve heard Terry Rush stop his preaching and say something like, “Thank you Lord! Somebody write that down!”  Never try to remove the mystery from preaching.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12 (NRSV)

Even so, I’m not of the mind that preachers should just get up and start talking about whatever comes from the top of their head. Preaching is important, but not because preachers are important. Preaching deserves full attention. I know I’m not alone in this, but I thought I’d share some of my commitments when it comes to preaching. There are probably more, but these come to mind.

STUDY IS ESSENTIAL FOR GOOD PREACHING. Sermon preparation takes time. I have known of preachers who would tear a page out of a sermon outline book and head to the pulpit with it. Sermon preparation in terms of study, reading, and prayer should lead the preacher to wrestle within so that what emerges has touched the heart of the proclaimer first.

CONTENT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFORMANCE. I’m sure that both are important and there’s a place for paying attention to these aspects of preaching. I’ve heard some ‘WOW’ sermons that were devoid of much Scripture and I’ve heard some ‘boring’ sermons that were rich with life-changing truth. It seems to me we ought to do our best to present the message with energy and vigor, but there is a responsibility on the hearer to make every effort to hear a word from the Lord.

 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:1,2

 

LET THE SCRIPTURES LEAD YOUR PREACHING. Nothing is more powerful than the inspired word of God. Not great stories. Not personal testimony. Not amazing quotes. All of these can assist the message, and should. But the power is in the Word. I’ve heard of church members who counted how many Scripture references were in a sermon and felt that it wasn’t very good if there were less than fifty! I prefer to pick a passage and stick with it. I’m not opposed to using some supporting material from other passages, but if you allow a passage to lead your sermon you are much more likely to get to the meat of that passage rather than just tossing out a bunch of verses that may or may not even be related to the subject of your text. Proof texting is not evil, it’s just sloppy. What is the context of your passage? How does it fit into the larger story of Scripture? These are important anchors for sharing the word and will of God.

STRETCH YOUR PREACHING BEYOND FAVORITE PASSAGES. If all the ink is worn out on your page containing Acts 2 or John 14, then it might be time to realize there are 66 outstanding documents bound up together in your volume! One reason I have preached along with the Revised Common Lectionary over the past four years is that it pushes me to preach from passages I might otherwise pass over. You may have the self-discipline to do that on your own. As for me, I appreciate being on a journey through the Scriptures each year that recognizes the high points of the life of Jesus and the Christian calendar.

SEEK TO INCREASE YOUR STOREHOUSE. When it comes to Bible knowledge we all have a storehouse that is probably well-stocked. But that shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. Personally, when I look at my old sermons I thank God at how patient the church has been with me. Growth has to be intentional. I used to preach about some things that are no longer on my palette. It is not that I was unfaithful then … it’s just what I knew then. Now I know more. And I hope that continues into the future.

I DON’T USE SERMONS AS A WEAPON. I’m thinking about people who sit in front of me each week and listen to what I have to share with them. That is such a precious privilege. I do not use my sermons to attack people. I don’t believe God has presented this opportunity to share the Word with His people (and any others who may be present) so that I can cut them down with the Scriptures. I know the Prophets were pretty plain and also direct. Maybe there’s a time for that. But I also know the Prophets were inspired directly by God to deliver those messages. I think it is the right thing to consider that in every pew is a broken heart, a thirsty soul, a person who needs to know the love of Jesus. If there is rebuking or correcting to be done, let the Word do it. I’ve heard some angry sermons by preachers who exalted themselves and it wasn’t pretty. Trying to provoke and correct and even manipulate people with the sermon moment is, to me, an abuse of the pulpit. Issue a challenge! Point them to God who deserves our all! Show examples of those who chose well and chose poorly. But never use the pulpit for your own personal means of telling people off.

BE RESPECTFUL. Be respectful of God and His word. Be respectful of the senior citizens in your audience and be respectful of the younger crowd. Be respectful of your faith-family’s heritage. Be respectful of your elders or church leaders. Be respectful of your wife and children. Be respectful of the struggles your parishoners have gone through.  I’ve heard all of these violated over the years and it’s absolutely painful. I’ve also seen those preachers move every year or two, never able to settle down and live through the journey of life with fellow Christians. It’s never wrong to be kind.

Those are some of my commitments in preaching. I don’t always hit a home run, but I do always do my best to keep these things in mind when I preach. I think they are not necessarily ‘ten steps to preach at a big church’, but they are some thoughts that will help you love your church and be loved by your church.

 

LINK: A post from 2013 with some ruminations about preaching and some similar ideas.

Thanks for reading, JD

New Directions in Preaching

I’ll admit that this is a bit preliminary, but I wanted to ruminate a bit on preaching. Although the actual preaching event takes up very little time on my weekly calendar, the preparation for it takes up a lot of time. About four years ago I wrote some posts (linked below) that considered a decision I made to preach along with the Revised Common Lectionary. 

I don’t know what that has been like on the hearer’s side of things. I can tell you, though, that on the preacher’s side of things it has been an immense blessing. I was led through the Scriptures on four different routes over the past four years. This encouraged me to preach on passages that I might have otherwise ignored or thought of as difficult. Maybe that says something bad about me, but one of the hardest things I’ve faced is choosing which texts I should preach. The RCL removed that burden and pointed me toward preaching through the life of Jesus each year. Terms that are seldom used in churches of Christ became familiar around our place. Advent was one of those terms. We preached through theChristmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter seasons – each one drawn from the life of Jesus or events in the church calendar. This coming Sunday is Pentecost. Acts 2 is the holy grail of churches of Christ, so there’s no question that’s where we’ll be on that day. 

The resources available on these texts each week have been overwhelming. There’s so much more than I could ever read. So, I’m thankful for the RCL and the tour I’ve been on for the past four Years. In late June and July I’ll preach from the Romans texts and then follow up with four lessons from Matthew. 

And then my relationship with the RCL is going on hiatus. That doesn’t mean I’ll never visit it again and make another run through the three years of texts. There’s too much good there to abandon forever. 

But don’t worry. I’m not just going to preach whatever pops into my mind. I think that’s way too limited a resource! No, I’m still interested in making my way through the Scriptures in the calendar year. I’m still interested in the Gospels keeping their place in the center of my lessons (and life).  So what’s next? Thats for another post. 

If you needed a reminder, here are the posts about choosing to follow the RCL:

The Preacher’s Dilemma

The Preacher’s Direction

The Preacher’s Decision

The Preacher’s Debate

HERE is the address to subscribe to audio sermons.

Our church website is HERE… and each week the notes for the sermons are posted.

And while I’m at it you’re welcome to join us on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, and TWITTER.

Thanks for reading, JD.

 

Pray For Your Preacher

Preachers can be odd birds. I know, because I are one and I know a lot of them. Having spent a good bit of time listening to preachers and communicating with them, I can tell you that most preachers aren’t the blustering self-assured three-point personas you’ve gotten used to seeing in the pulpit. OK, a few of them are. But most people in the congregation never really get to see their preacher as a real person. Our current frantic lifestyles leave little time for ‘preacher visits’ and given the constant pressure of moving ahead to the next event or series, most preachers have little time for social visits any more. If your preacher is a praying man (and we hope he is), he is praying for you. I wonder how many congregants are praying for their preacher?

Many years ago a friend and church elder, Jim Ingram, told me, “John, I pray for you every single day.” I would feel confident that he prays for his current preacher every day now. I can’t recall how long ago that was, but I still remember how that made me feel and the knowledge of his prayers stuck with me. 

Over and over the Apostle Paul appealed for Christians to pray for him.

Romans 15:30 Brothers and sisters, I urge you, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggles in your prayers to God for me.

2 Corinthians 1:10b-11a We have set our hope on him that he will rescue us again, since you are helping with your prayer for us.

Colossians 4:4 Pray that I might be able to make it as clear as I ought to when I preach.

1 Thessalonians 5:25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us.

How can you pray for your preacher?

*Pray for His Studies. There are so many things expected of preachers these days that do not relate to their teaching and preaching. However, here is one primary duty that is incumbent upon preachers and that is to spend time in the Word. Vance Havner said, “It’s not our business to make the message acceptable, but to make it available. We are not to see that they like it, but that they get it.” Preachers accept the burden of attempting to translate their studies into messages that reach the daily journey of all.

*Pray for His Spiritual Life. Separate from studies for lessons, the minister must maintain a vigilant spiritual life. Like everyone else, there is a world of distraction and the urgent duties and details of life. E. M. Bounds wrote, “A prepared heart is much better than a prepared sermon. A prepared heart will make a prepared sermon.”  Just because preachers spend a lot of time studying the Bible doesn’t mean they are spending a lot of time with God. To know that there are prayer warriors standing strong with the preacher brings renewed zeal and encouragement.

*Pray for His Family. Preachers aren’t alone in this, but ministry is one career that encompasses the whole life. Often times the wives and children of ministers are neglected because the preacher makes the mistake of believing that he has a call that surpasses all earthly ties. But it’s a tragic mistake to ignore the family God has given him. In addition, minister’s wives often bear up under the duel weight of hearing the criticism of her husband and serving in the roles she is expected to fill because of the identity of her husband. Both of those are unfair consequences of being married to the minister. In some cases preachers move frequently and so the loss of friendships over time can begin to weigh heavily.

*Pray for His Spirit. Ministry can be challenging. There are the needs of each day and the weekly teachings that have to be accumulated and considered. In addition there is the weight of criticism – sometimes deserved, but often delivered in a crass manner. Some preachers get ‘anonymous letters’, given more attention than they deserve (all such should be immediately placed in the garbage can). Whatever opinions are expressed from the outside, none are more crushing than the inward reflections to which all preachers are subject. The self-comparisons to other preachers, the unanswered questions as to why members quit or move to other churches, the casual ease with which ‘church friends’ seem to no longer be interested in being friends, and the failed efforts at outreach all feed into the minister’s psyche. I doubt much of this is considered when someone blurts out some complaint about some insignificant issue. Having been in ministry for over 30 years I have seen ministers toughen up to the point that they don’t listen any longer (which isn’t good) and I’ve seen them try to please everyone (which they can’t). I’m not trying to say that preachers are so sensitive that we need to coddle them, but I do think it’s fair for us to be considerate of their spirit and do what we can to balance complaints and encouragements.

*Pray for His Success. The best thing for everyone in the church is that when plans are made and there are efforts toward outreach that we all do what we can to make it a success. If the minister is successful in balancing his life spiritually, physically, and emotionally, then his ministry among the congregation will benefit. If the plans of the minister are met with enthusiasm and support, then the congregation will benefit. The preacher’s top three desires for his work are that (1) God is glorified, (2) the congregation is encouraged and (3) the lost are saved. When we all work toward the efforts that lead to those desires, the congregation as a whole benefits.

Everyone has challenges in life and I’m not suggesting that preachers have it worse. In fact, I hesitated to write this post lest it come off as whining or calling attention to myself. But who else besides a preacher can write a post like this? I am confident that people in my church are praying for me, but I know many ministers who do not share that confidence. Some are barely hanging on. Some will not only change churches, but leave ministry altogether. I wanted to urge Christians everywhere to keep their preacher in prayer and let him know it. The Enemy will certainly do all he can to discourage him.

God is looking for broken men who have judged themselves in the light of the cross of Christ. When he wants anything done, he takes up men who have come to the end of themselves, whose confidence is not in themselves but in God.” – Henry Ironside

Questions for Contemplation

*What actions can you take to include your preacher in regular prayer?

*How could you use the Scriptures above to assist you in composing your prayers?

*If you do not particularly like your preacher or have a hard time getting along with him, how can you use prayer to bridge the gap?

*What are some ways you can communicate to your preacher that you are praying for him?

*When can you ask your preacher what he most needs you to be in prayer for him?

*When is the last time you’ve prayed for your preacher’s family?

Links:

Six Prayers for Pastors 

Pray for Your Pastor – links to nine posts all dealing with praying for your preacher.

 

Revival Prayer: Preaching

9.7.15

Preaching

“Shall I give you yet another reason why you should pray? I have preached my very heart out. I could not say any more than I have said. Will not your prayers accomplish that which my preaching fails to do? Is it not likely that the Church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? Oh dear friends!  Let us agonize in prayer.” ~C. H. Spurgeon

We can never separate prayer and preaching, else we end up with speeches about ancient texts. Preaching is a primarily spiritual event in which the mystery of the Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and the penitent one responds. This can happen during a time of preaching that the unconverted may regard as boring or inadequate … but when empowered with the prayers of the Saints preaching God’s Word sets a revival fire within our hearts.

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power… ~1 Corinthians 2:1-4

Pray for your preacher that God will enable him to preach the Word of God with power, conviction, and authority.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. ~ 2  Timothy 3:16-4:4

Pray for your preacher that he not resist the need for bold, faithful and fearless preaching of the Word of God. Plead that your preacher will powerfully preach the Word of God.

Pray that He will proclaim the fundamental truths of the faith with great clarity, conviction, and strength. Remember that some will criticize him. Pray he will not let this deter him from preaching as he should.

Pray for those who only want to be comforted in their sin and not challenged to come out from it. Pray that they would allow a word of revival to awaken them to the power of God to lead them out of complacency.

What preacher couldn’t be more courageous and empowered to know that his church is praying for him to speak as the oracles of God and say what they need to hear?

Thanks for reading, JD

Revival Prayer: Holiness

 

holiness

Revival Prayer Should Consider the Holiness of God.

Holiness is the perfection of all [God’s] other attributes. His power is holy power, His mercy is holy mercy, His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise. ~ Jerry Bridges

Pray that God would grant all believers a deeper understanding and awareness of His holiness. As we seek to understand that God is both transcendent (beyond us) and immanent (near us) we become aware of how insignificant we are and yet what with what significance He regards us.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ~ Isaiah 6:1-5

…As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;  for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” ~ 1 Peter 1:15-16

Seeking to understand the holiness of God is essential to revival. We need to understand that God is utterly holy. He does not and cannot sin. He is not tempted nor does He tempt. He always does what is right and good. Pray that all believers (including ourselves) would be gripped by the absolute holiness of God.

I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy.

Thanks for reading today. JD