Category Archives: Preaching and Teaching

Discipleship: Jesus Calls… …We Follow

Discipleship Series Pic “When Christ calls a man, he bid him come and die,” wrote the German theologian, pastor, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his influential classic The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer understood perhaps more so than many contemporary Christians that following Jesus may call for our death — martyrdom — as a witness of Jesus. For his own commitment in following Jesus led him to lead what became known as the Confessing Church which became a movement resisting Nazi power, which ended for Bonhoeffer on the gallows at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945 at the young age of thirty-nine.

This coming Sunday, August 5th, I am starting a new and fairly short, four week, message series for the Newark Church of Christ on the subject of discipleship. While we will likely never be called to suffer any physical persecution, much less death, for following Jesus here in America (or at least anytime soon), we are nonetheless called to follow Jesus and this call is always counter-cultural. Discipleship is a life of living-sacrifice and obedience unto Jesus whom we confess as Lord. As I wrote in a Wineskins article back in 2013, Discipleship or following Jesus is about “learning to living in the way of Jesus.”

In this message series on discipleship, my aims to help the church (re)imagine the sort of kingdom vision Jesus is calling us to follow him in living, and broadly what that requires of us. In doing so, this series will cover four passages of scripture, one from each Gospel, beginning with Luke 4:14-30 followed by Mark1:14-20, Matthew 22:34-40, and John 13:1-18. Also, if you are someone who enjoys reading then here are two book recommendations that deal with the subject of discipleship.

  1. Scot McKnight, One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. A very practical book, the author explores how following Jesus and living the kingdom life relates to relevant life issues such as love, peace, and church, and even sex and vocation. This is a book that I have given to students graduating from high school or already in college because it deals with challenges and question everyone faces in adult life.
  2. Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008. Though still accessible reading, Camp offers a primer on what it means to be a Christian. The book serves as a counter vision to the easy pop-Christianity that has so easily co-opted American idealism, going back to scriptures and the cross-shaped vision Jesus calls people to follow him in living.

With Thanksgiving… An Advent Message

Sunday, November 27th, was the beginning of the New Year per the Christian Calendar. It was also the First Sunday of Advent. Below is the video of the Advent sermon I preached at the Westside Church of Christ from Psalm 100 which is called “With Thanksgiving.”

About Sunday’s Sermon

About Sunday’s sermon… Perhaps it was the very word from the preacher that you needed to hear. A convicting word, an encouraging word, a challenging word, and so on. If that is the case, then praise the Lord! You heard a word from the Lord through the preacher that God has appointed to preach his word and for that, as a preacher myself, I am glad.

But perhaps yesterday’s sermon wasn’t so good and you’re not happy. The sermon just fell flat, the preacher’s message just wasn’t that inspiring unlike those TED Talks you love, the sermon went a little too long… or was too short. Maybe it’s just the preacher who isn’t that dynamic of a speaker… if only your preacher could deliver a sermon like _______ (insert the name of your favorite preacher). I’m sorry!

I’m sorry because you missed hearing a word from the Lord and it has nothing to do with your preacher. That’s right! I think the problem is you. For whatever reason, you didn’t come open to what God might say to you through the word your preacher spoke. Lurking behind your unhappiness is a whole lot of consumerism, selfishness, and expectations that are impossible to satisfy. Here’s the problem

  • As long as you come wanting to hear a sermon like your favorite preacher always delivers, then you’ll likely miss what God wanted to say through your preacher — who clearly isn’t your favorite.
  • As long as your worried about how long it is until that closing hymn, then you’ll likely never have enough time to hear a word from the Lord since He doesn’t work on your time schedule — though you’ll likely have enough time to complain later.
  • As long as your more worried about the way your preacher delivers the sermon rather than listening to hear the word of God preached, then you’ll likely miss the word of God — all the while blaming the preacher.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Now let me as a preacher elaborate a little more.

Why I’m Writing This…

Right now I’m in a ministry transition. So other that guest preaching on a few Sunday’s, I have been the one sitting in worship and hearing the preacher preach. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to hear about ten different preachers and all of them had a different style of delivery. I could, if I wanted to, evaluate every preacher for the development of content and delivery of the sermon but I have intentionally chosen not to do so because that is what God wants. That is, God has not blessed me with the opportunity to gather in worship with other Christians, which typically includes hearing a sermon during that gathering, just so that I can critically evaluate what I like and dislike about a sermon. If I myself want to hear a word from God then I must gather in the presence of God with a listening posture, open to what God might say through the foolishness of preaching (cf. 1 Cor 1:21).

The same is true for you. If you want to hear a word from God then you must gather in the presence of God with a listening posture, open to what God might say through the foolishness of preaching. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not giving preachers a pass for being lazy and not preparing well (which is usually very evident). But just because your preacher did not hit a home-run with last Sunday’s sermon does not nullify the word of God spoken for those who have come hungry for the word of God. And I am, as a preacher, standing up for other preachers because some of the complaints I have heard about one preacher or another tell me that there’s a problem and it’s not the preacher who has the problem.

So about Sunday’s sermon… Perhaps you heard a word from the Lord and if so, as I said earlier, praise the Lord! May that word be lived out in your very life this week and beyond! And if you didn’t… perhaps next Sunday!

Our Redemptive God

This message, This Is God, was preached before the Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore on Sunday, July 12, 2015. The text I preach from is Exodus 3:1-10 which is one of my favorite passages to preach on, especially as a guest preacher. I hope this message will encourage you!

As You Come Together

Here is a video of me preaching at the Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore on Sunday, February 8th. The sermon is titled As You Come Together and is based on 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.

When Preaching Fails

One of the books I’m reading for my upcoming class is a book that my teachers, David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, wrote titled Prodigal Christianity. One of the stories they tell in the book is about watching this street preacher stand for the truth (as he understand it) with boldness as he preaches, only to be rejected by the people he is preaching at. So the authors make this very good point:

“We acknowledge the need for grounding in truth, but when we are too quick to make bold pronouncements, we compromise our ability to witness because we have not truly entered into the cultural world to be with people: to listen to, seek God with, an learn from those with to whom we are witnessing” (p. 53).

Thanks to another preacher, John Dobbs, here’s a video of some other preacher that helps illustrate their point:

Similar to Fitch and Holsclaw, my friend Fred Liggen says that leadership requires listening, learning, and loving. He’s right. They’re right. Before were can lead others some place, which is what preaching seeks to do, we must listen to them, learn from them, and love them.

Preaching Christ!

I’m a preacher, so call me biased but I believe there’s a need for preaching in the church regardless of the logistics involved. I don’t believe that preaching alone is sufficient for making disciples of Christ but I do believe preaching necessary for the purpose of forming Christ in us. The question is then what kind of preaching fosters the formation of Christ in us?

Last week I was asked to speak to some other preachers on this very question. So some of what follows is condensed version of what I said.

We’ll begin with the assumption that preaching must be based upon the scriptures and faithful to what the scriptures say. But is that all? Certainly not! Preaching must always proclaim Christ!

One of the first professors I ever had at Harding University, Dr. Dan Stockstill, used to say, “What we win them with is what we win them too.” In twelve years of ministry, I’ve seen nothing to suggest he was wrong. I remember a man who wanted me to know that his church was the only right church because they read from the King James Version only and interpreted the apocalyptic passages from Daniel and Revelation correctly. He obviously seemed won to his particular dogma or hobby-horse rather than Christ because that is what animated him, what he wanted to talk about and convert me to. We have to remember that if we are going to make disciples of Christ and expect preaching to foster the formation of Christ then our preaching must proclaim Christ!

The goal here is the proclamation of Christ so that God may call his people into the life of Christ as participants of the story Christ reveals to us which is the redemptive mission of God. There’s a lot there and it seems like a tall order to fill because it is. However, here are two criterions which I believe can help maintain preaching as the proclamation of Christ requires:

  1. Gospel-Centered. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the gospel is of “first importance” because it is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ “according to the scriptures.” That is to say, the gospel belongs to the story of which the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the climax. Gospel-centered preaching always connects the text to this larger story in light of Christ himself and the life he lives. Gospel-centered preaching is always rooted in this story so that it may point us toward our role and responsibility within this story as we become a living embodiment of all that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is. And yes, it’s an ongoing endeavor.
  2. Grace-Oriented. According to Titus 2:11-14, it is the grace of God that teaches people to say “No” to sin and live godly lives filled with hope and eager to do good works. Fear may temporarily motivate us to renounce sin and pursue righteousness but fear only works so long as fear continually employed. Further more, fear does not develop maturity where we learn to live as participants in the gospel story because it’s what we believe in and what we desire in our hearts. right themselves simply because it pleases God. Grace oriented preaching always remind us that it is God at work, who is bringing this story we are participants of to its final conclusion (telos). It is grace-oriented preaching that helps us learn to follow Jesus further into the gospel story as we trust him and obey him; obedience is always a response to the grace of God, not a condition.

It’s not always easy to preach Christ as I have described here. I’m still learning how to do it consistently but I believe such preaching is ever so needed in churches today. I’ll end by recommending one book that I believe is very helpful in helping us learn preach Christ as I have in mind here: John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.