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Why Do We Listen to Sermons/Bible Studies? Why Do We Preach them?

Thoughts that draw me to Jesus, and to His cross!

Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
*“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.  Matthew 7:9-12 GNT

Now if our doctrine is to be found in the Bible, we certainly should not seek it elsewhere; all Christians should make daily use of this book. No other bears the title here given by Paul—book of comfort—one that can support the soul in all tribulations, helping it not to despair, but to maintain hope.

Proclamation belongs to the primary discourse of the church. Systematic theology belongs to its secondary discourse. Primary discourse is the direct declaration of the Word of God, that is, the Word from God, and the believing response in confession, prayer, and praise. Secondary discourse, words about God, is reflection on the primary discourse.

A long time ago in my undergraduate work, I had 4 classes on preaching. The basic idea we were taught was that sermons explained and explore the Biblical passage under consideration. The recommended method was exegetical, dissecting every word (I still do that in preparation) and then explaining those points. Along with that was including the theological points those verses supported.

I enjoyed studying that way. I enjoyed writing sermons that way. Not so great at delivering them for one simple reason.

Ultimately, they were meaningless.

Meaningless because I had so focused on the words that I missed the Word. I got lost in the Greek and Hebrew to the point where Jesus was not the focus, and people didn’t hear of their need for Him, how much He longed to meet that need as He drew them to Him, and onto the cross with Him. Luther’s words about Romans 15:4. ( For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Romans 15:4 (NKJV)) He puts it there well, that these words of scripture are there to support the soul, to protect it from despair, and to give and maintain hope. The hope that is found in the cross and resurrection.

A solid knowledge about theology, whether Exegetical, Systematic or Historical, is not the end purpose of our message. If that is all that it is, then we should turn our churches into lecture halls, our Bible Studies into micro-universities. There must be more than that, if we are to offer people something that makes a difference in their lives, that gives them hope, as scripture was written to give them hope.  Something that gives them the expectation of forgiveness as they confess their sins, something solid to base their confession of faith upon, the hope that Someone is listening and responding to the prayers that we share, and a God who is worthy to be praised.

This is what our sermons and Bible studies need to do—to address people where they are in life, and draw them to Jesus, as we lift Him up for them to see.

This is what we do… we listen to hear of our Lord and His love.. and that is what is communicated in our sermons and studies. So that our people can know

Alleluia! He is risen!

And therefore, we have risen indeed!

Amen!

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 395.

Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 2.

The Art of Theology: Not Putting God in Your Box

devotional thought of the day:IMG_0882

1  Then Job answered the LORD. 2  Job I know, LORD, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you want. 3  You ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know. 4  You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions. 5  In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. 6  So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:1-6 (TEV)

272 If you are sensible and humble, you will have realised that one never stops learning… This happens in every field; even the wisest will always have something to learn, until the end of their lives; if they don’t, they cease to be wise. (1)

I am a pastor, that means to a certain point, I have been trained as a theologian.  If you look at my libraries, you will see a few thousand volumes of books.  The hardbacks I have read through, the digital ones, well – there are too many, but I source many of them each week in sermon preparation. Usually I skim maybe 20% of the 100-1500 hits I research, looking for various things to help prepare a message.  I probably choose 10-20 to copy and paste and dwell through each week.

Been doing this for a while now, actually changed denominations once, have my favorite authors ( Luther, Escriva, Oden, Ratzinger, Willimon, Melancthon, Walther, Pieper, Augustine, Fracnis De Sales, Robert Webber )  It is somewhat an eclectic list, with guys from different times, different backgrounds. Which leads me to my point. I

We can’t put God in our Box.

We have to take Him as He reveals Himself, even if we don’t necessarily like His methods, His rules, His ways.  We can’t say they are wrong simply because we don’t like them.  Nor can we say with integrity that He didn’t really mean “that”.  Yet to often we do, unaware that pride is causing us to shatter the first commandment.

Over the years, others have done fine jobs summarizing the faith.  The three creeds that are held by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches ( The Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) are good.  I am particularly fond of others, the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s Catechisms for example.  Pieper has done a masterpiece of theology, so has Thomas Oden never mind Luther and Augustine.  But I can’t remember ever page, every question and answer of these theological giants.  My expectation is neither can they!  They couldn’t in a couple thousand pages describe everything about God, they couldn’t out-Bible the Bible. They wrote great things… yet, it is still the observation of men, not equal to scripture.

That is what Job realized at the end of the book that bears his name. (as did his friends…) It is what Josemaria Escriva talks about, in a section on humility (not, incidentally, on wisdom!)

A wise man once said that, “A man’s got to know his limitations…”  Another, Socrates was considered to be the wisest man of his time.  His response to being told this was something like this, “it is only because I realize how much I don’t know.”  A good theologian talks where there is definite scriptural support – and struggles with that which contradicts his logix, because It is God’s word, God’s reasoning that trumps ours.  Even when it doesn’t seem logical, or fair.

Yesterday’s blog was about walking humbly with God, about keeping our eyes on Him, about sometimes that humility is only found in the midst of great sorrow.  Today’s is similar, our wisdom comes, not from what we know about God, but that we realize we are not omniscient, that His word trumps our logic. That there is a reason why He is God, that He is our Lord, our Savior, our Benefactor, and we are simply…. His kids.

So give up, for a day or two, putting God in your box…. let Him instead bring you into His glory….

Lord Have Mercy!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1337-1340). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

You must be a Theophilus (Loved/r of God before being a Theologian

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 2  I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (TEV)

7  The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. 8  Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ 9  and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousnessPhilippians 3:7-9 (MSG) 

“You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries—even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself— “to get acquainted!”” (1)

For the last year or so, I have been toying with the idea of going back to school, to get a doctoral degree.  I’ve thought about which degree to get, for there are a number of fields that interest me – from worship, to sociology, to counseling, to homiletics and other pragmatic areas of ministry.  Yesterday I went back to where it all started, 30 years ago this fall, as I entered a “non-denom” Bible College – in a very accidental “God-thing” type moment.

Combine with that preparing to preach this weekend – “Trinity Sunday” we call it, a day to meditate upon how God has revealed Himself to us, as three distinct, yet …..One.  One of the greatest, most complicated theological doctrines there is, and yet, still so far out of ability to comprehend. ( Read the Athanasian Creed – an incredibly beautiful explanation of God, yet each phrase, raises more questions, leaves us more in awe.  And for a theologian, albeit an amateur one, (as all pastors are – as serving others takes precedence…always… over such deep thoguhts) I love to just sit back and plumb the depths of the minds who wrote far more comprehensively than I can think.

But then I come to St. Paul – a man who was a first rate theologian in his day, prior to His conversion, who wrote the quotes above.   It doesn’t matter how much I know, I’ve got to realize I am loved, I have to understand why Paul so desired to be embraced by Christ, why everything else took a back seat to knowing, not the details.

Which is where Theophilus – the person Luke writes his gospel for comes in.  The name in Greek is Loved by God/Lover of God. But it is that relationship that matters, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have revealed that we are the beloved, that we never walk alone, that we have been cleansed and healed and are loved.   It is starting from there, realizing the miracles our being justified and sanctified are only to deliver us, the children of the Father, the ones Jesus calls His friends, the ones who are the Home of the Holy Spirit.  We must be Theophilus, before we ever become Theologians..

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would never say to not study theology, but first, come to know God, as St Josemaria says – get acquainted with Him in prayer.  Talk to Him – about everything and anything.  Listen to Him, hear Him tell you of His love, of His mercy, of His grace.  That is what matters, in a way, it is ALL that matters….. for knowledge even all the data we can generate about Trinity – without that love… is nothing….empty…worthless.

I pray for you  (and ask you to pray for me, as the apostle Paul did for the people of Ephesus…

 14  For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 365-368). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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