Still With the FAQs

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. ~ Jeremiah 23:21

Here we go again

There are no stupid questions.
– Pert Near Everybody

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
Why can’t God give preachers a message to preach?

Answer:
First, the question is not one of what God can or cannot do as in a question of God’s ability. He’s God. He not only can do but does do everything he is pleased to do. The question is rather one of what God has told us he will do.

Second, If a preacher has received a message from God, then that is a message outside the closed canon of written Scripture. He paints himself a prophet or apostle, who is adding to revelation.

 

Question:
What if a preacher says God gave him a message and all he means by that is he has had the message persistently on his mind and thinks, or hopes, that God has providentially guided him to this message for this moment?

Answer:
Then he ought to say that instead of leading people to believe he has received direct revelation from God in some form.

 

Question:
Why are there so many bad sermons?

Answer:
Because there are so many bad preachers.

 

Question:
Why is God calling so many bad preachers to preach?

Answer:
You need to go home, pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, find a nice comfortable chair in a quiet corner, and think about what you just said.

 

Question:
What is a call to preach?

Answer:
A call to preach is not an extraordinary experience. It is a God given desire and ability to preach joined with a thirst for knowledge, personal holiness, and humble heart of service attested among the congregation the man is joined to and is known by.

 

Question:
What is a bad preacher?

Answer:
How long you have? There are all sorts of bad preachers. For instance, charlatans and teachers of false doctrine are bad preachers. Hypocrites pursuing money and fame are bad preachers. These kinds of preachers are bad preachers the way wolves are bad shepherds. These are what might be called morally bad preachers and that has nothing to do with their abilities in front of a crowd, and usually those types have pretty good abilities in front of a crowd.

If we narrow this down to bad preachers relevant to bad sermons being preached, I can think of a few ways a man might be a bad preacher, but the primary reason is incompetence. A man is a bad preacher if he doesn’t know what preaching is or how to do it. A bad preacher doesn’t know the Bible, or how it works. He doesn’t know how to exegete a passage in its original contextual setting, connect it to the big picture of biblical theology, and explain and apply that passage to a congregation. He doesn’t know how to communicate clearly and have a point to the sermon.

I need to make an important distinction here. In some cases, the above incompetence is due to the fact that the man simply doesn’t have the necessary gifting to preach despite the numerous good qualities he may have. He’s a bad preacher but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be in pulpit ministry. In other cases, the incompetence is due to inexperience and ignorance. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t know what he needs to know. He probably showed some gifting early and was shoved up front before his inexperience and ignorance could be remediated. He needs training that all preachers are supposed to receive, but far too few do.

 

Question:
What should a preacher do if he lacks knowledge?

Answer:
Not try to compensate for it by yelling. He should give himself fully to praying, studying, teaching, and preaching God’s word.

 

Question:
Shouldn’t we just accept if a man says he’s called to preach and not comment on how well or how poorly he does it?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

To Preach a Book: The Eighth Sermon

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

The eighth sermon covers Ruth 3:1-5, which is the opening image and inciting action of the fourth scene. The fourth scene closes the story middle and propels us into the story end scenes.

Sermon Introduction

I opened this sermon quoting one of the most famous opening lines in English literature, which is the opening line of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. In the novel, Mrs. Bennett is the harried mother of five single daughters who frantically spends her days in trying to secure rich husbands for them in order to save their family from ruin upon the loss of their estate when Mr. Bennett dies. Some see Naomi this way in this part of Ruth, so I connected the two and hoped to show that Naomi was not a Mrs. Bennett.

I recapped the resolution of the previous scene and drew attention to the revelations that moved the story forward. I also reminded how that scene marked the first sign of upward arc change for Naomi. Though the third scene marked a positive value shift in the story, they main tension of the story is still unresolved because they haven’t yet found rest.

I introduced the fourth scene and how Naomi was awakened to the possibility of finding rest through redemption by the kinsman, Boaz. The scene comes at the midpoint of the book where the unifying theme of finding rest is stated and the theme of covenant faithfulness is highlighted. While Naomi’s actions are risky, they are presented in the narrative as actions of faith.

Verses 1-2 Naomi Recognizes Their State

At the end of the harvest season, Naomi acknowledges the blessings they had received, but also recognizes they are still without rest, that settled dwelling in peace and safety with abundant provision. It is not bleak though, because their current state also includes an opportunity because of Boaz their kinsman.

Verses 3-5 Naomi Lays Out a Plan

Naomi instructs Ruth what to do to request redemption from Boaz. The plan is odd to us because we are not familiar with the ancient customs, but we need not read into it anything untoward. Ruth has been presented and maintained as a wisdom character of the virtuous woman. Naomi’s plan and her actions do not conflict with that. When compared with Proverbs, we can note contrasts between Ruth and the strange woman.

Most likely, Ruth had maintained wearing her widow’s garments to this point, which would have marked her as unavailable. Naomi’s instructions to her seem odd on the surface, but she’s probably instructing her to put off her widow’s garments and present herself first and only to Boaz. Ruth responds faithfully and does as instructed.

Sermon Conclusion

Naomi’s actions are seen as faithful because she is responding to the recognition of God’s providence working for their relief. By the end of chapter 1, Naomi was without hope, but this passage in the middle of the book marks the return to hope for Naomi. I concluded by making practical application for our congregation about how we tend to withdraw when we lose hope, and yet faith and hope moves us out of the safety shadow.

Links

You can listen to the eighth sermon here.

Up Next

Next we will look at the ninth sermon in the series

More FAQs

Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. 
~ Ecclesiastes 9:16

The curmudgeon returns.

Every question has an answer.
– Yiddish Proverb

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
What is bold preaching?

Answer:
It certainly isn’t preaching hard on all the sins and problems of people who are not in front of you. Boldness is openly declaring exactly what the text says to the people in front of you.

 

Question:
What is a high view of Scripture?

Answer:
Viewing Scripture as inspired, inerrant, infallible, finally authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient.

 

Question:
What is a high view of Scripture in the pulpit?

Answer:
A high view of Scripture in the pulpit is seen by the way the preacher handles the text of God’s word. If he reads it, explains its original contextual meaning, and applies it to the people in front of him, he has a high view. If the preacher already has a sermon and only needs the Bible to find a “text,” he has a low view. If the preacher preaches his convictions and opinions, he has a low view. If the preacher preaches the “truth” without preaching the text, he has a low view. If the preacher preaches verses that he thinks can mean many different things depending on what “doctrine” he wants to preach, he has a low view. If the preacher approaches the Bible as though it were a code book or puzzle where nothing is ever what it is but represents something else, he has a low view. If the preacher relies on tradition, what’s always been done, he has a low view. Well, I could go on.

 

Question:
How long should a sermon be?

Answer:
As long as it takes to clearly preach the text. If a preacher isn’t actually preaching a text, any length of sermon is too long.

 

Question:
Does God give preachers messages?

Answer:
God gave men messages in various ways for around 1,500 years and then he sent his Son to complete the messages he had for man. His Son chose men to entrust with the completion of the messages and the commission of transmitting them to all who would come after them. All the messages God will give are collected in a big thick book that binds them all together in sixty-six books. This book of God’s messages is given to all preachers and comes with explicit instructions to preach the messages God has already and finally given without adding to or taking away from it.

 

Question:
What is the preacher’s job?

Answer:
To give himself fully to study and prayer in order to preach the words God has given so that the lost are commanded to repent and believe and the saved are instructed in the faith so they are equipped to do the work God said they should do and be ready to die.

 

Question:
How can you tell if a preacher is gospel centered?

Answer:
He will actually preach the gospel clearly and consistently.

 

Question:
Shouldn’t a preacher just rely on the Holy Spirit to give him words to say in the moment?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

Just the FAQs

Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:15

I know the lowercase ‘s’ is redundant and probably grammatically wrong, but the title flows much better with it. Without it, the title sounds as though this post might be something else entirely.

Curmudgeon /kərˈməjən/ /kərˈmədʒən/ A bad-tempered person, especially an old one.
‘Most self-described curmudgeons would probably go along with that, though with the addendum that their resentments and stubborn notions are, to some degree, justified by a brutish, venal world.’
(OED)

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
What sort of a man does it take to be a preacher?

Answer:
Any sort of man will do really, just so long as preaching takes all of him.

 

Question:
How does a preacher prepare a sermon?

Answer:
Sort of like a chuck wagon cook prepares chili. He hunts up all the ingredients and cuts, chops, slices, and dices them. He combines them into a large pot and stirs over a fire for a long time. A very long time.

 

Question:
How does a preacher come up with something to preach?

Answer:
He doesn’t, because if he does, he has failed before he began. God has already given preachers everything they are to preach set down in proper order and organized into sixty-six books. His probably even has an index in the front. Preach that.

 

Question:
How does a preacher come up with illustrations for sermons?

Answer:
He doesn’t. Illustrations are everywhere. He simply has to pay attention.

 

Question:
How does a preacher relate to his hearers?

Answer:
By realizing that at least some of the people, and maybe many, in front of him do not care what he has to say. Don’t waste their time, get to the point, and give them reason to care.

 

Question:
Does a preacher need a degree?

Answer:
Hardly. He not only needs a degree, but he needs all three hundred and sixty.

 

Question:
Should preachers start with a joke and use alliteration?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

Too Legit

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
~ Proverbs 20:17

No one expected a Paris-Munich fusion R&B duo to hit big in the US in the late 80s, but that’s what happened. The duet named Milli Vanilli was an overnight international sensation and broke into the US market with the same propulsion. They were topping music charts and playing large shows as their fame exploded. Their sudden success at the end of the 80s merited them a Grammy for Best New Artist at the 1990 awards show.

The sweet bread of success turned to gravel in their mouths though. Their popularity had them appearing all over US media and interviewers found their English very rough and suspicions arose over how their singing could be so good and speech so bad. They experienced technical difficulties during a live show where the vocal track got stuck and repeated the same line over and over. By the end of 1990, despite the US album jackets crediting the pair for the vocals, it came to light they were lip-syncing their songs and had never sung those songs themselves. Their Grammy was revoked and they fell just as quickly as they had risen.

People were upset about the fact they presented themselves as something they were not. The whole deception also met with legal ramifications. To put it simply, Milli Vanilli was a fraud. Of course, if they had billed themselves as what they were from the start, a lip-syncing European dance act, they probably wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same success, but they wouldn’t have been impostors.

Pulpit Syncing

No one thinks the music industry a bastion of morality and ethics, but even they have their limits. A fraud is a fraud, unless, of course, you can get away with it. Audiences have a certain expectation that the performance they paid for is a performance of the performers actually performing. When it turns out to be a fraud, they tend to get upset and feel cheated.

Lip-syncing as such is a form of plagiarism. In the real world, plagiarism gets singers, songwriters, and producers fired. Plagiarism gets reporters, journalists, and editors fired. Plagiarism gets authors and publishers fired. Plagiarism gets students and doctoral candidates fired. Plagiarism gets college and seminary professors fired. But, plagiarism gets preachers fed and maybe even promoted.

There have been a few famous cases in broader evangelicalism where plagiarizing preachers have been exposed, but they don’t usually end up fired. Even in small, conservative Baptist churches, where public visibility is near zero, preachers commit pulpit fraud by plagiarizing sermons more often than you think. Preachers lip-sync the sermons of other preachers to their congregations and the congregations are being defrauded. They’re actually being doubly cheated. They’re not hearing their pastor, whom they supply with daily bread, and they’re not hearing the preacher being plagiarized either.

There are numerous good articles on the subject of pulpit plagiarism and the wrongs of it in recent years, so I’m not going to add to that pile. Go forth and read what has been written. Rather, I want to deal with a problem on the opposite pole from plagiarism—originality.

Same Difference

Not a few pulpit Vanillis have their consciences pricked by decrying pulpit plagiarism and palliate said wounds by asserting the impossibility of originality. No one is truly original, they say, and so everybody plagiarizes. I suppose if we crowdfund the guilt it gets a bit thin by the time we get to the pulpit. This objection doesn’t argue that the charge is inaccurate, but rather asserts that everyone is guilty, and when everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. That logic is also a fraud, but let’s proceed.

Originality in the pulpit can be a problem when the preacher is so original that no one anywhere has ever seen what he sees and preaches. Such preachers have immunity from plagiarism because they are so legit original. No one has ever said what they’re saying. These preachers are like the Athenians that Paul encountered who continually pursued something new (Acts 17:21). Luke contrasts them with the Jews in Berea who thought Paul was preaching something new and so they “searched the scriptures daily,” to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). They found that while Paul was preaching things they had never heard, he wasn’t preaching anything new, in fact Paul himself defended his ministry by saying he preached “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22).

Just because you or I haven’t heard something before, that doesn’t mean it’s new. But, if it’s some imaginative extrapolation from Scripture that the Scripture nowhere teaches, it is new and should be rejected. Bible preaching is supposed to be preaching of the Bible. Therefore, it’s not original or new. It’s timeless. Anyone with the Spirit and faith should be able to see it from the Bible. That holds true for supposedly sound preachers who always seem to find new paths to old truths.

Gateway Originality

Originality is something of a gateway drug for those who pursue it. A preacher dabbles with novel notions and the finding of types and symbols no one has seen, and ere long he is a fount of original ideas. Once you become that legit original, you’re too legit to quit, though quit is exactly what you should do.

Better Than The King James

For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
~ 2 Corinthians 1:13

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky quoting his father Walter Gretzky

Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time? Is he better than The King James? Debates on that question are endless. If you look at the career numbers, the two are very close, with a slight edge to LeBron. Of course, one big difference is that James has played in almost 300 more games than Jordan did, but their per game averages are very close. A team owner would be glad to have either one on their team, but I don’t see how anyone would pick peak LeBron over peak Jordan. Allow me to opine.

Jordan’s professional record has been perfectly preserved as the only player to have two three-peat championships, along with several other still-standing records. It’s impossible to think Jordan could be improved upon. He was tried seven times in the playoffs (1985-1991) before he won his first championship on his seventh consecutive trip to the postseason. He went on to win the next two championships making three in a row before retiring for a little while and then coming back and winning three more championships in a row.

You may wonder how his old school game would translate into to today’s modern game. LeBron plays in today’s game, so there’s no reason to think Jordan wouldn’t. Players today understand Jordan. In fact, everyone playing today is trying to be Jordan. The eye test of watching both play clearly shows Jordan played with double the inspiration of James. The bottom line is that Jordan was good enough for grandpa and he’s good enough for me. I conclude Jordan is better than The King James, but I’m not mad about it.

The Shots You Take

Over the course of his professional career, Jordan missed 11,148 two-point shots, 1,197 three-point shots, and 1,445 free throws. He missed 13,790 total shots in his 15 seasons. I know we usually talk about shots made, but that’s a large number of shots missed. I’m sure he intended to make everyone of the shots he took. If I am permitted the liberty of adapting Walter Gretzky’s wisdom, You intend to make 100% of the shots you take. But, you don’t make them all.

When it comes to winning and losing a game, intentions don’t count. You either made the shot or missed the shot. No matter how much Jordan wanted in his heart to make those shots, or how often he dreamed and envisioned the ball going through the hoop, he missed 13,790 times. No matter how hard he tried to make them, nor how much he thought they would go in, he still missed half the shots he took. His career field goal percentage was 49.7%, though it was better from the foul line at 83.5%. Obviously, no one would be upset with those career numbers, nor with the career results of Michael Jordan. However, he still missed a lot of shots.

The point is that a miss is a miss, no matter the intentions to make it. This principle is objective and applies to fields beyond basketball or hockey. If a comedian tells a joke and no one gets it, or only one guy laughs, that’s a miss. He intended to be funny, but he failed to communicate the humor. He took a shot and missed. On the other hand, if he tells a joke and everybody in the room laughs except that one guy, that’s a make. A comedian gets up to do a set and each bit doesn’t get a room full of laughs, but if most of the people laughed most of the time, he made enough shots to be successful.

Nobody Shoots 100%

No one makes every shot they take. 50% may be a great career field goal percentage, but it would be a terrible pulpit percentage. Preachers are taking shots every time they preach. The preacher’s job is to explain the written word of God in its original contextual meaning and accurately apply it to the hearers today. Every time a preacher fails to preach a text, he misses. No matter how much a preacher intends to preach the Bible, if he doesn’t actually preach the Bible in an understandable way, he misses.

The gift for preaching refers primarily to the ability to communicate clearly. The pastor must “be able” to “exhort and convince” (Titus 1:9). He must “be able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:2). He “must be … apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24). That doesn’t mean that every misunderstanding is a miss on the preacher’s part. Paul defended his ministry as being honest, open, and clearly communicating the gospel of Christ, but acknowledged that the truth was hidden from some because their minds were blinded, not because he failed to communicate (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

If a preacher frequently leaves people questioning what he meant, he is missing a lot of shots. He may have intended to preach the Bible, but he missed. The preacher’s job is to communicate clearly. That’s what he’s up front to do. If a preacher leaves the pulpit failing to have explained the Bible so the people just have to take his word for it, he missed. If a preacher preaches “the truth,” but fails to preach the text or clearly show “the truth” from Scripture, he missed.

No preacher hits 100% of his shots, but that should be the goal. The preacher should aim for clarity every time he opens the Bible to preach it. If he’s not aiming for that, what is he aiming for? The alarming truth is that not every preacher is aiming for biblical clarity in the pulpit. Many are aiming for something else, and that is probably worth a separate post.

Everyone Loses

Regardless of which version of the James vs. Jordan debate you prefer, can we agree that it doesn’t matter all that much? People talk a lot about goats today, but, of course, goats refer to something else in church speak. Is Jordan better than The King James? I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, but when a preacher shoots 50% or less for his career, everyone loses.

Next Page »