A New Way to Study

Recently I learned about a new way to study a passage of Scripture. The pastor of the church I attended that week described it in his sermon. It was an approach he learned it in his homiletics (the process of writing and delivering sermons) class. After reading the section, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What is the central teaching of this passage?
  2. What is the flaw in human nature (i.e. sin) described?
  3. What is the goal of God in your life concerning this flaw?
  4. What means of overcoming the flaw does God offer?

There may be more than one answer to each question, depending upon the length of the reading. You can choose to focus on just one, or list more than one. Sometimes the answers will be obvious, other times you may have to think and pray because the answer is more subtle. What a great suggestion for journaling if you read a portion of Scripture every day! I plan to try it soon, and hopefully will post some of my results. I would be interested to hear about the experiences of others who might want to use this method.

Of course, we Lutherans know that every good sermon contains both law and gospel, so be sure to check your work against this criteria!

For more about sermons see these posts:

Sins and Sermons

What Makes a Great Sermon?

Preaching By The Book – A Book Review

What Makes a Great Sermon?

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a sermon really great, at least for me. As a Lutheran I’ve been taught that to be acceptable, any sermon needs both law and gospel — the law to convict us of our sin, and the good news of the gospel to free us from sin’s penalty. Those things are taken for granted and expected. It doesn’t matter how eloquent or interesting the preacher is — if he or she doesn’t provide those two things, it’s not a good sermon. In fact, it isn’t a sermon at all.

Of course, it helps if the preacher is interesting, and the message is delivered well. If you can’t hear the words, if points are not made clearly, the listeners won’t leave with a clear understanding of the Scripture.

Some sermons go beyond that. I love to learn new things, so I’m always happy when a sermon teaches me something I didn’t know before. That might be some historical background, or a new theological term. My husband’s sermons are famous (in a local sense) for this — he loves church history and people tell him he also “likes those big words.”

The very best sermons, however, make me realize that I must change. Not everybody like to hear this. It makes some people upset and angry. I truly don’t get it. Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be a journey? Aren’t we meant to change as we grow more like Christ? How can we mature in the faith if we’re not constantly confronting our own failures? That doesn’t mean feeling guilty and beating ourselves up (although some guilt is deserved) — it means being realistic and finding ways to take steps, even baby steps, in the right direction.

So, if you hear a sermon from the pulpit of your church that makes you uncomfortable or unsettled, that’s probably a good thing. Give thanks! Take it seriously! Try to change! It’s something we all need to do.

I wouldn’t mind hearing some comments from other readers and writers. What makes a sermon great in your opinion?

For more about sermons see:

Sins and Sermons

Letters to My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching by Jason K. Allen–Book Review

Preaching By The Book – A Book Review

Sins and Sermons

If you attend church every week, or most weeks, you hear a lot of sermons; and you may have noticed that most of them deal with sin. In fact, Lutherans believe that all sermons should contain both law and gospel — the law to convict us of our sin and the gospel to remind us that we are forgiven.

My question today, though, is how do you react to those sermons about sin? My husband says we are prone to this kind of thinking: it’s not about you, it’s not about me — those sins belong to the guy behind the tree. In other words, we like to hear the law when it applies to somebody else, but we’re loathe to listen when it touches our own lives. A book I’ve been reading, None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, presents the same idea:

“As the preacher warms to his topic about sin X, I begin compiling a mental list of all the people I know who need to hear this message and repent. I cull through lists of those who have offended me …. plotting about how I can off-handedly relate the wisdom of this sermon to them…”

What we should be thinking is: “how does this message apply to me?” Even when we see that we are guilty, we become defensive, believing that extenuating circumstances release us from full culpability. Worse yet, we may become angry — how dare the Pastor criticize us and our behavior that way! We’re sitting here in church, so we’re one of the good ones, right? When it comes to our own sin, we are blind, and not only that, we want to stay that way!

Next time you listen to a sermon about sin (which will probably be this week), realize that God (not the pastor) is speaking to you! He knows you inside and out. He knows what’s in your mind and your heart. He knows your sin, even when you want to deny it. Sanctification is growing in our dependence on God, and the first thing we need is forgiveness. Accept it, as God’s grace and grow closer to Him in gratitude.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

For more posts about sin see:

Sin and Grace

Occasions of Sin

Why to Avoid Sin

Letters to My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching by Jason K. Allen–Book Review

In this book, Dr Jason Allen, president and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missouri and an associate professor of preaching and pastoral ministry, writes in the tradition of Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. He has a passion to serve God through equipping pastors to fulfill their calling. This is the first volume in a series of three.

He begins with a section on preparing to be a preacher, including the essential indicators that a man has been called to this ministry. He follows with sensible instructions on how to prepare a sermon, and grow in maturity as a preacher. He has a strong bias in favor of expository sermons. If you’re not sure what an expository sermon is, here are some questions to help you identify one:

  • Is the text accurately interpreted with consideration given to both its immediate and broader biblical contexts?
  • Are the sermon’s main point and its subpoints derived from the text?
  • Does the sermon’s application come from the text, and is the text being brought to bear on the congregation?

As you can see, this method of preaching supports a high view of the Scriptures. To preach in an expository way is to preach the text.

Maybe you are asking yourself at this point, if I am not a pastor, why should I read this book? Well here’s my answer. It will make you a more discerning listener. Someday as the member of a congregation, you will need to call a new pastor. Part of that call process will probably involve listening to at least one sermon given by each person you are considering. Shouldn’t you, therefore, educate yourself on what to look for?

This book will also give you an idea of just how much prayer, study and work your pastor puts into every sermon he prepares. It’s an important and daunting task. Dr. Allen reminds preachers:

“…the sermon is to do more than entertain or simply fill the hour of worship. The sermon is to impart words of life—words of new life to the unbeliever and words of continual growth for the Christian. Remember as you preach, the stakes are so high because your audience, separated from Christ, is so low.”

I found this book easy to read and informative, and would recommend it to both pastors and lay people. The only issue I found as a Lutheran, was the chapter of the public invitation. Since Lutherans believe that we do not choose Christ, He chooses us, so Lutheran sermons do not include this.

VERDICT: 5 stars

If you are interested in purchasing this book, follow the link below:


Remember the Gospel

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:1-2

My husband says every good Lutheran sermon must contain both law and gospel:  law so we recognize that we are sinners and the gospel message that through Christ’s atonement we are saved.

In our daily world, it’s easy to forget both of those things.  Sin has become a bad word.  We’re told it’s not healthy to feel guilt.  We simply “made a mistake” or “used poor judgement.”  It’s easy to make excuses for our behavior that lessen our responsibility.  It’s easy to deny our faults and blame somebody else.  That goes as far back as Adam, remember?  He told God, “the woman you gave me, caused me to sin.”

But we’re made for God and without Him we feel incomplete, so no matter how hard we try, guilt creeps in.  We doubt and despair.  We try to feel good about ourselves, but the devil continually whispers to us that we’ll never be acceptable.

There’s only one cure:  go to church, confess your sins really are sins and really are yours and then hear the gospel.  My husband says that’s simple, too:  Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for me.

Did you confess your sins today?  Did you hear the gospel?  If so, you may be a Lutheran.

Only Love Lasts

If you’re a Lutheran, you know we’re in the midst of Lent. That means an extra weekly church service.  In keeping with the penitential mood of the season, our Pastor (who is also my husband) selected the book of Ecclesiastes for the sermon series.  It’s a rather gloomy book; the “preacher” or “teacher” (reputed to be King Solomon), lists the many accomplishments of his life.  He’s rich, wise, famous, successful, and has enjoyed all the pleasures available to man.  Yet none of these things have truly satisfied him.  He calls them all, “vanity” (or in some translations “meaningless”), no more than “chasing after the wind.”

Last week’s sermon got me thinking about a talk I once heard by James Dobson. He said when his father died, he did not remember how much money he made, or what he had achieved professionally.  He didn’t think about the many “things” and comforts his father had provided for the family.  He remembered the times he and his dad spent together, doing simple activities like going fishing. Those times taught him that his father cared for him and wanted to be with him. They were the kind of memories he wanted to pass down to his own children.  Love is the best legacy to leave, the only one that really lasts.

In the thirteen chapter of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul attests to this when he says, “Love never ends: as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away.” Even our spiritual accomplishments are “nothing” if we don’t do them out of love.

So, like Paul, “Make love your aim.”(1 Corinthians 14:1).

How do you plan to do that  this week?  Send us your ideas and comments.