A Sticky Sermon by Story Seeding

There is a sense in which godliness grows.  The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that he planted the seeds of faith among them, Apollos watered those seeds, but, ultimately, God caused their faith to grow (1 Corinthians 3).

Sticky SermonThe basic concept of a sticky sermon is to plant biblical ideas in the minds of your hearers which, over time, cause them to grow in godliness.  Lately, I have been trying to develop this idea for my students in preaching class. What I’d like to do here is share and develop some of the basic tips and techniques for preaching sermons that stick in the minds of Christians.

There is a beauty to speaking with a Christian on a Thursday afternoon break and having him or her share what “Brother Bob” has been talking about on Sundays. Christians are to be salt and light in the world, so they need sermons which act as salting agents for their own minds–stimulating, seasoning, and preserving theological thoughts throughout the week so that when the opportunity arises, they are able to make biblical application to real-life situations in the workplace.

One of the techniques which can help to fuel this dynamic is what I call “Story Seeding.”  Story seeding is simple, really, but it requires a little forward thinking. Imagine you were preaching or teaching from Ruth 1, the scene in which Orpah kisses Naomi good-bye, while Ruth clings unwaveringly to her:

“Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Here is a beautiful picture of loyalty and faith. But focus on the reality of what Ruth is saying and doing. She is turning away from herSticky Sermon story seeding history, her roots, her homeland. She is leaving behind all that she has known of life in Moab, and she is walking by faith into a new reality and a new homeland, uncertain of her future, only certain of her commitment.

From this profound point, think forward to the week ahead. What major event will be taking place in the next week or two? What will people be hearing about or listening to or watching in the coming days?  The Olympics. Soon, the pageantry of the Winter Olympics will unfold on televisions across the U.S. The color of the flags, the drama of the opening ceremony, the excitement of the competition—these events will impact people in the coming weeks.

So, take your point from Ruth 1 and attach it forward to what people will be seeing in the coming weeks, and you have just practiced “Story Seeding.” Here is how it might work:

Don’t you just love the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics? Oh, I don’t mean the weird tribal dances or enigmatic references to post-Industrialism which have plagued the prior Olympic Games. No, I mean the real festival of ethnicity which takes place as nation after nation walks through the arena with athletes acting as standard-bearers for an entire people—waving the colorful flags in procession, swelling with great pride at having the opportunity to represent their homeland.

Now, focus on any one of those athletes and imagine that person as Ruth. Imagine this athlete in the midst of the procession setting down their nation’s flag and walking over to the Jamaican group and saying, “I will go where you go. I will live as you live. Your nation will be my nation. Your people will be my people.” Could you imagine the scandal? How could someone do that–just walk away from their homeland? Trade nationality? Trade identity?

This is what Ruth has done. And she didn’t do it for any negative reason—as an athlete from North Korea or an oppressive Communist regime might try to do. No, Ruth forsook her country, her history, and her homeland for a positive reason: “your God will be my God.”

Okay, okay… I don’t want to preach the whole sermon here, but you get the point. You are illustrating forward in such a way that your people will be thinking about your preaching/teaching point all week, and, when the Olympic event itself happens, your folks are very likely to have this biblical story stirred inside their heads. Your sermon has become sticky; it has stuck itself not just into their intellectual data folder. It has now entered their everyday lives at a practical level which they can easily share.

That is a sticky sermon point! Give “Story Seeding” a try and see if it doesn’t help your teaching and preaching stick.

Noisy Saints Need Ears to Hear

“He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7).

I am a football fan. And I am a Christian. Therefore, as any good Christian ought, I cheer for the Saints!  The Apostle Paul blesses the churches at Ephesus and Colosse because of their love for the saints. So, it is obviously biblical to love the saints  😉

Last week, the Saints had a very rough time in Seattle. They were barely able to escape being scoreless in Seattle. Part of the problem for the Saints was the noise. The crowd in Seattle sought to break the Guinness record for loudest fans at an outdoor stadium. To do so, they had to exceed 137 decibels. They did—mostly during the crucial seconds the Saints needed for calling plays at the line of scrimmage. Congratulations, Seattle, you broke the record, reaching 137.6 decibels—and registering as a small earthquake on the regional Richter scale.

More importantly, this event is capable of instructing us in a serious theological matter. The Seahawks fans made so much noise that the Saints had to wear specially-fitted earplugs in order to hear plays being called at the line of Scrimmage. Think about that. Earplugs (used for silencing) became necessary in order to hear. The earplugs were necessary so that the outside noise (ambient noise) would not overpower the direct-line speech from player to player. The earplugs were designed to “drown out” the 137.6-decibel flood of Seattle Seahawk sound waves. The plugs filtered the noise to allow the team to hear close, direct-line speech.

All Christians–all saints–need ear-filters such as this. Indeed, one of the primary distinctions between “saints” and “sinners” in the New Testament is that the one “has ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying, while the other cannot hear the word on account of its being choked out by the cacophony of words being shouted by the world.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, spent 14 years in prison, often in solitary confinement. His book, Tortured for Christ, tells of his response to being free. In short, he states that he was most unimpressed with how those outside of prison squandered their freedom by simply making “noise” with their speech. According to Wurmbrand, even Christians squandered their speech on the noise of talking about sports, the weather, and the amusements of entertainment. After solitary confinement, Wurmbrand discovered that very few things in life were really worth talking about at all.

He also offers another telling story about the proper filtering of noise:

In the homes of many Western Christians, hours are sometimes spent listening to worldly music. In our homes loud music can also be heard, but it is only to cover the talk about the gospel and the underground work so that Ear to hearthe neighbors may not overhear it and inform the secret police.

Wurmbrand learned the real mechanics of noise and how to use it (like specially-fitted earplugs) to make the gospel more clearly, directly heard. Preachers must learn the same lesson. Unfortunately, many preachers spend too much time seeking to sound like the world (for apologetic or evangelistic purposes) instead of intentionally filtering a focused word for the saints, who are in the world but no longer desiring to be part of it.

With all the ambient noise surrounding us on billboards, television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, and Hulu—we need Christian pastors who are capable of tuning a message to the frequency of the Scriptures and broadcasting it directly through the crowd noise to ears of those who have an ear to hear.

Preaching and Persecution Simply Explained

As noted in the first part of this article, Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12).  We have seen that the presence of Christ provokes persecution now just as it did when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem (and was eventually nailed to a cross). What we shall consider further in this article is what the presence of Christ means.

Preaching persecution Christ KingdomAt minimum, the presence of Christ means that Christ is present with His people in the fullness of His identity. He is not present as we want Him to be. He is present as the true person He is. Christ exists as the Son of God without reference to our preferences. He is who He is. He will not be someone He is not.

Returning to Matthew, we see that Christ is present in the gospel as Himself—namely, as the king of heaven and earth. In preparing their readers for studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, well-respected New Testament Scholars Davies and Allison explain it this way:

   Before Jesus utters his commands, the reader has been informed—by OT prophecy, by John the Baptist, by God, and by the devil—who he is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God . . . .  This Jesus, therefore, by virtue of his identity, must speak with authority and make sovereign demands.  The obligation to obey the commands of Mt 5-7 is grounded in Christology, in the person of Jesus.  Matthew sets up his gospel so that one may first recognize Jesus’ unique status and then heed his commandments.[1]

Jesus is King of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-20). So, when we say that Jesus is present in the church, we say that the sovereign Jesus is present with claims of kingdom authority and demands for obedience.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. No one overrules Jesus Christ. And, in fact, Jesus gives His followers the commission to make disciples of all peoples, and part of the disciple-making process is teaching people to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Such authority means that Jesus is king.

True to being a king in the God-intended sense (see Deuteronomy 17), Jesus established the righteousness of God on earth. Jesus the King still demands all men everywhere uphold the righteousness of God.  So, where Jesus is present, there is also a demand to uphold the righteousness of God. It isn’t simply a demand to obey; it is a demand to obey which is backed with authority from God.

Indeed, this startling dynamic is the thing which surprised people in Jesus’s day. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed that Jesus spoke with such authority, rather than speaking as merely “a good teacher” (Matthew 7:28-30).

The presence of Jesus is the presence of a sovereign king making sovereign demands. His is not the presence of merely a good moral teacher. When preachers preach Christ, they present before their hearers a king making sovereign demands with implications for eternity. The stakes could not be higher, and the claims could not be greater.

The point is that Christ has come as a king establishing the righteousness of God. There is no other Christ. Such a Christ is offensive to fleshly indulgence. He sounds restrictive, audacious, and even oppressive. His claims of eternal reward or damnation—all or nothing depending on relation to Him—are simply unbearable apart from faith. On occasion, the weight of the matter will so overwhelm the unbeliever that he will seek to silence the man or woman who carries the message. That is preaching and persecution simply explained.


[1]Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 64.

The Dark Side of Preaching

Few evangelicals would argue against the primacy of preaching Christ in Christian ministry. We evangelicals preach Christ. As we preach Christ, we do so with an expectation of benefit to our hearers. Through the preaching of the Word of Christ, the lost are saved. Paul tells us that this is in fact the way sinners get saved (Rom 10:14-15).

Preaching PersecutionIn addition, believers get edified, instructed, and trained in the way of righteousness when Christ is properly preached, according to the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). There are untold, eternal benefits rendered through the preaching of the Word of Christ. Little wonder, then, that evangelical preaching books focus on the positive side of preaching, the side of preaching in which hearers are enlightened and continue walking in the light.  Every good preacher practices his homiletical craft for the benefit of those who hear him.

Nevertheless, holding merely a beneficent view of Christian preaching is slightly askew from the biblical portrait of those preaching Christ. Consider the fate of biblical preachers: James was killed (Acts 12). Peter and John were beaten.  Paul was stoned and repeatedly imprisoned. John was exiled. And Christ was crucified.

Where many contemporary preaching texts read like primers on how to win friends and influence people, the Bible—the original preaching text—expects preachers to make enemies as well as friends. “If they hated me,” Jesus told his disciples, “They will hate you also” (John 15:18-25). In Acts 14:19-23, Paul is stoned and left for dead after preaching in Lystra. He and Barnabas then moved on to Derbe and other places, teaching the disciples along the way: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  Biblically speaking, the work of a preacher may be rewarding, but it is not necessarily safe. As Calvin said centuries ago, “But in every age the prophets and godly teachers have had a difficult struggle with the ungodly, who in their stubbornness can never submit to the yoke of being taught by human word and ministry.”[1]

Why is preaching such a precarious profession? Two simple reasons: the presence of Jesus and the person of Jesus.

Jesus is present in authentic, biblical preaching. Whether one ascribes to Luther’s concept of the Word or Calvin’s sacramental explanation of proclamation, the truth abides: Jesus Christ is present with his people through the preaching of His Word.  “The Word—faithfully preached—is Christ’s Word or voice, and an offering or presentation of Christ himself.”[2] This truth was clearly displayed by Christ Himself, as He taught His followers that His sheep would hear His voice, know His voice, and follow His voice (John 10). Christ also left His followers with the sure promise of His presence with them throughout the church age (Matthew 28:20). Christ will never leave nor forsake His people. He is now (as always) present with His people.

Christ’s presence now (as always) provokes persecution. Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12; Jhn 15:21).  Christ told the disciples He would send the Holy Spirit as a helper to be present with them. This Holy Spirit (while helping the disciples) would also convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. (More will be said of this righteousness in part two).

The point for now is to say the presence of Christ is every bit as divisive now as it was in the first century because (a) Christ is still present with His people, particularly through the preaching of the Word, and (b) because the world has not changed, it is still fallen, along with those unbelievers who remain under the curse of sin and death. If the unbelieving world persecuted Christ when he walked physically on the earth, they will now persecute His followers with whom He remains present until the day of His return. The presence of Christ in preaching provokes persecution.

…Part Two of this article will consider the person of Jesus in preaching.

[1] Calvin, Institutes 4.1.5

[2] See “The Real Presence of Christ in the Preaching of the Gospel: Luther and Calvin on the Nature of Preaching,” by J. Mark Beach,  http://www.midamerica.edu/resources/journal/10/beach.pdf


Two Examples of Preaching Politics

In response to a couple of posts of late, I offer below two examples of well-known preachers who have made overtly political statements. The first is Bishop E.W. Jackson who calls upon black Christians to leave the Democrat party.  It’s a short, simple, and powerful video.

The second example comes from John MacArthur. You can listen to his sermon here, at Denny Burk’s blog.

Preaching and Persecution

Below is the beginning of a research proposal I wrote, but I never submitted it. Instead, I wrote my dissertation, which was, basically, a New Testament perspective on persecution. I would like to pursue the relationship between preaching and persecution. Is that a good topic? Or, would it be helpful for more to be said on the subject?  Read this article and let me know. . .

According to the end of Matthew’s gospel, Christ left his disciples with a mandate to make disciples of all nations.  If one interprets this Great Commission passage of Matthew in light of what has gone before in that gospel (in 4:23; 9:35; and 24:4), then he may well conclude that the disciple-making process is fueled by Christian proclamation.  The proclamation of the gospel is “to be done in no minor way but to all the nations.”[1] This preaching the gospel to all nations in order to make disciples of them is, in fact, the drive of many Christian evangelistic organizations, including the International Congress for World Evangelization, a gathering of Christians from more than 150 nations.  This congress, more commonly called the Lausanne Congress, places the Great Commission passage at the beginning of its original covenant under the first heading, “The Purposes of God.”[2] The Lausanne Congress also recognizes that the task of preaching the gospel to all nations in an effort to make disciples of them is no simple task.  Not all nations are amenable to the spread of the good news.[3]

The Christian drive for proclamation to all nations contrasted with the resistance of those nations has led the Lausanne Congress to call for a more thorough study of Christian persecution.  So, for instance, Section 1.1 of the 2004 occasional paper on persecution lists issues which have been raised repeatedly since the first meeting of Lausanne in 1974, yet still remain to be dealt with more extensively.[4] The first issue mentioned in the bulleted list of the occasional paper is “the relationship between human suffering in general, suffering for Christ’s sake, and Christ’s own suffering.”[5] The Lausanne Congress has recognized the need for distinguishing what it means to suffer for Christ’s sake (that is, to suffer persecution, cf. Matthew 5:10-12) from what it means to suffer on account of oppression or other frailties of the human condition.  The Lausanne occasional paper on persecution concludes Section 4 with this call for theological research in the area of persecution: “There is clearly a need for deeper theological reflection on the issues pertaining to suffering, persecution, martyrdom, religious freedom and human rights, and an appropriate Christian response.”[6] As the gospel is proclaimed to the nations, the problem of persecution arises.

Anyone who has read the New Testament accounts of Christ and his disciples knows that their proclamation often resulted in rejection and persecution.  Certainly, then, it is possible for faithful proclamation to yield rejection and hostility.  Of course, the reality of the presence of persecution in a context of proclamation is no proof that it was the aim of the New Testament preachers to be persecuted to death as James was in Acts 12:2.[7] Nevertheless, the end result of Christian proclamation is, at times, persecution.  This fact, in the face of a proclamation impulse and a plethora of preaching instruction concerning how to preach so that others will listen, causes some important inquiries to rise to the surface.  Why does persecution follow faithful proclamation?  And, how ought the preacher make sense of this reality that preaching provokes persecution?  This research project explores these questions, seeking to clarify the notion of provocative Christian proclamation via the lens of the New Testament concept of persecution.  In an ethical sense, the exploration is to discover how one ought to preach provocatively, knowing that the result will be some form of persecution, yet, at the same time, preach the word with complete patience and teaching in accordance with 2 Tim. 4:2.  In a theological sense, the exploration seeks to discover what is particularly provocative in the content of the proclamation.  Why is it that a pastor, missionary, or evangelist might seek to live in peace with all men, yet, at the same time, provoke persecution against himself and the church through his proclamation?

This research project is an attempt to focus sharply on the relationship between Christian persecution and Christian proclamation…

[1]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 602.

[2]Lausanne Covenant, sec. 1[on-line]; accessed 3 February  2009; available from http://www.lausanne.org/lausanne-1974/lausanne-covenant.html; Internet.

[3]Patrick Johnstone, Operation World, (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Lifestyle, 2001).

[4]Patrick Sookhdeo, “The Persecuted Church” (paper prepared for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism, Pattaya, Thailand, October 2004), no. 32 [on-line]; accessed 23 February 2009; available from http://www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP32_IG3.pdf; Internet.

[5] Lausanne,  “The Lausanne Movement’s Statements on Persecution, sec. 1.1.

[6] Lausanne, “Questions and Issues for Reflection,” sec. 4.

[7]Contra Paul Middleton, Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity Library of New Testament Studies 307 (New York: T and T Clark, 2006), 23-38.

Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

The blog conversation linked above is a great one for us to follow because it addresses issues which we take for granted. If we are serious about following God’s Word, we will always be willing to check our traditions at the door of the Bible.  However, we must also be cautious about discarding tradition simply because we don’t understand its origin.  There is a good chance that many of our traditions have in fact been built upon Scripture.  The fact that we aren’t able to defend those traditions biblically may not be an indication that we are following tradition instead of the Bible. It may simply mean that we are still somewhat ignorant of the Bible and need to dig back into the Word to learn more about why we do what we do.  The conversation on this blog is a very good example of our need to keep digging, in my opinion.

Why We Use Wine

Why did our church change from grape juice to wine at our celebration of the Lord’s Supper?  And, why did we choose to change now, after I have been here more than 9 years?  These are the main two questions I have received since orchestrating a change in our Lord’s Supper observance.  So, I will answer them briefly in order.

First, we changed simply as an act of obedience.  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with His disciples, He did so with bread and wine. It was wine that He and the disciples drank when they pulled the cup to their lips.  So, wine was the beverage He prescribed in observance of the Supper.  Wine ought to be the beverage we consume.

But what is the difference between wine and grape juice?  Or, to put the question another way, isn’t grape juice simply wine without the alcohol?  The answer is no. Wine and grape juice are not the same, regardless of alcohol content.  In other words, non-alcoholic wine is not the same thing as grape juice.  We did use non-alcoholic wine in our observance, but it was not grape juice.  Indeed, the shivers and quakes from some contorted faces affirmed for me the reality asserted here that wine—even non-alcoholic wine—is not the same as grape juice.  No one ever puckered up as though they had sucked on a green persimmon after drinking grape juice, but several lips were so puckered after drinking the wine.  Some of our congregation had never tasted wine before, and they were shocked by its bitterness.  No such shock ever followed a swallow of grape juice because the 2 substances remain quite distinct.  Jesus used the one (wine) but not the other.  The Bible knows of the possibility of drinking grape juice (see Genesis 40:11), but grape juice is never called wine.  Jesus used wine.

Wine and grape juice are 2 distinct substances; this is why we needed to change from grape juice to wine.  Jesus prescribed the one to be used but not the other.  Tea and coffee are each water-based drinks.  Probably 90% of these beverages is water.  Yet, neither beverage is water, and neither beverage is the same as the other.  Obviously, coffee is far superior to tea.  The two are not the same, and neither is grape juice and wine the same.  Jesus prescribed wine, not grape juice.  I don’t think it matters that they both originate from the same fruit any more than it matters that coffee and tea are each made up primarily of water.  They are not the same.  We should use the one Jesus used.

So, the question may arise (which it did), “Why use non-alcoholic wine if Jesus used alcoholic wine?”  This, I believe is a very good question.  I did not directly answer this question for the congregation because I believe it is a worthwhile conversation for us to have.  Should we use good wine containing alcohol?  Indeed, should we use the very best wine at the Lord’s Supper, especially if we consider the forward look of the Supper to the final wedding feast (Isaiah 25:6; Revelation 19:7-9; cf. Mark 14:25; 1 Corinthians 11:26)?  Questions concerning alcoholic content and wine quality are questions of “degree” related to the “wineness” of the wine.  The question we answered yesterday was a question of kind (of substance).  There is a distinction between grape juice and wine that is substantial.  The distinction between the characteristics of the wine is not substantial.  In each case, the substance is still wine.  It is important, I think, to use wine. It is not as important to use a particular wine, although I certainly understand the case for using alcoholic wine such as Jesus used.  We chose rather to take advantage of the technology available today which can make wine from grapes and then extract most of the alcohol back out of it.  Even without the alcohol, it is still wine, as the faces in the crowd made plain.

I will answer the second question in my next blog post.  Until then, you may want to hear the sermon  concerning wine. It should be available some time today, by clicking here.

How Not to Take a Stand

GetReligion has a review of the news media’s coverage of Steve Anderson, the Arizona pastor who hopes (and prays for) Barack Obama to die.  Just to be clear, the pastor does not seek to kill the president, and he is not advocating violence against the president; rather, he is hoping God will cause the president to contract brain cancer like Ted Kennedy.  Tragically, this pastor serves a church with “Baptist” in its name.  I can say that Baptists are not historically a violent people.  Baptists have been persecuted by other Christians throughout history (Reformation, Roger Williams). 

I don’t think this pastor and his church are necessarily advocating violence, but their message is a lesson for all of us in how NOT to take a stand and serve as salt and light.  The salt here seems to far outweigh the light. And that is not good.  This obscuring of the light is evident in the way the writer lists this pastor as a conservative voice.  In this instance, I am glad that he is called a conservative voice rather than a Christian voice or a Baptist voice.  Still, it is not a good thing for those who are supposed to preach the gospel to be considered preachers of conservativism.