Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Preach the Word

The command in Second Timothy, chapter four, is straightforward and simple—or so it seems. Many a preacher gladly heard and obeyed the call of God, but in our youthful passion we often miss the other phrases surrounding this exhortation. Phrases like "be prepared in season and out of season," "keep your head in all situations," "endure hardship." Many of us imagine the art of preaching is bound up in style, meter, technique and voice quality. The truly spiritual among us know that preaching is bound in the text; proper excavation and presentation are the stock tools of the biblical preacher. So we take great pains to do the less than glamorous work of preaching in our study.

Preaching is far more incarnational than I imagined. Methodist bishop William Alfred Quayle said, "Preaching is not the art of making a sermon...it is the art of making a preacher." I have at times thought I could skillfully avoid preaching my life and my struggles—especially the humiliating ones. I now realize I cannot. No matter what text you deliver to your hearers, you can’t divorce your life from it. It may be comforting to think that my skill as a communicator could override my own struggles and hardships, but they just cannot.

We are all practitioners of what we preach. We either preach what we practice or we don't—but either way it comes through loud and clear. Haddon Robinson defines expository preaching as "the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers."* While we work with the text like a potter shapes clay, God's Holy Spirit kneads us, working truth into our being. We either reveal to our hearers the reality of the text in our own lives or we reveal that we’re out of step with the text in our own lives. Both may be unconscious communication, but both preach loudly.

Some of us would love to think that a sermon can be presented as emotionless instruction, as if we were dishing boiled okra onto the hearer’s plate. You must realize that the incarnation of God's Word in you, lived out in your own suffering and hardship, seasons the message and makes the word palatable and even delicious to the hearer. It is an act of sacrifice for the man of God to be transparent and to bleed openly before his hearers. He is vulnerable and in great danger in front of others. The tragedy is that many of us preachers traffic in truths we have never lived out and frankly don’t care to experience. We can even develop an unintentional smugness that says to our hearers, "if you are like me, you won’t suffer what others suffer." No man I know would intentionally do this, but more comes through your sermon than you realize.

When my wife of twenty-five years died, I was amazed how many people in my church struggled spiritually with why God would allow me, their blessed pastor, to suffer like this. My concern is that maybe I’ve given them the idea that as God's man I’m shielded from hardship and suffering. I do know this—often I preach out of a sense of fear. Sometimes I'm not even aware of this fear but it drives my message passionately. I end up communicating an unintentional message. I have to stand on a pedestal to be seen and heard but the reality of Tammy’s death reminded many that no one is immune to suffering—not the man standing nor the one sitting.

My heart has been aching this week for the wife and daughters of Dr. Fred Winter, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois. I cannot imagine the horror of the congregation that watched as a deranged gunman shot first his Bible and then Fred to death. I didn’t know Fred, but do I know that last Sunday he stepped into that pulpit to do what he has faithfully done for over twenty years—preach the word. In the act of answering God's call and fulfilling his mission, he lost his life. What is the Message? It’s not safe to preach anymore. But then again, it never has been. Fred's message and life are one. We live in a fallen and sin-sick world that needs the words in Fred's Bible applied to people. Fred was a faithful man of God who preached the Word.

Today Fred is preaching his greatest sermon ever. His life, now in full reflection of those who loved him and knew him and his faithfulness to "preach the word," is speaking not only to the people of Maryville, Illinois, but to a nation. This is incarnational preaching at its best.

Ed Litton


rodney said...

I understand the shooter's gun jammed after the fourth round was fired. Here's to shoddy gun maintenance. If he had been a "details guy," there may have been more victims.
Have a good week, Pastor Ed.

JGWmom said...

So well said, Pastor Ed. My husband is a pastor - a preacher. In fact just this same past Sunday I watched and listened to him bear his soul as he used an illustration not from his long ago past or of some other detached personality, but of himself failing to be the EVANGELIST that God would have desired him to be on a roadside as a stranger helped him change a tire on none-the-less the church van. God in His GREAT MERCY uses our faults, our failures and our great sufferings -even and especially the ones which seem so meaningless to "Preach" sermons that sometimes touch people in ways that no spoken word ever could. I am sure the people of FBC Maryville will remember some of the sermons preached to them by their shepherd, but I just imagine that they will remember more the ones they witnessed being lived out before them by him and by his family in these days of heartache and pain...as I know yours have witnessed in your life as well. Your faith is inspirational and I greatly appreciate your transparent "pen"! May God continue to bless you and use you for His glory!

Scott said...

Pastor Ed - I have not read your blog before today, but I will be reading it more often now. As a fellow pastor of over sixteen years, your words ring loud and truthful regarding what preaching is really about. Through my experiences I have learned that the preaching to and the shepherding of our congregations are not two seperate things. They are bound together in a powerful way that brings growth to both the congregation and pastor. What an awesome and humbling privilage we have been given - even if in the excersise of accomplishing it, our very life is demanded. Thanks for your personal transperancy.

pokey392 said...

Amen.....Preach the Word...in season and out of the season.....really quite simple commands from Paul and the Scripture. That was all of Paul's focus....as it should be for all Pastor's and the Church.

Unfortunately, expository preaching is often left behind in the modern Christian Church. Leaders often find themselves falling into the thinking that "Preaching the Word" is not enough. This is sadly more and more often believed from the Pulpit.

Remember Paul's simple commands to young Timothy......Preach the Word....

It is ALL sufficient.........and will continue to do ALL of the work that is needed to save, transform, and sanctify.......

Be continuously faithful in "rightfully divided The Word"

Anonymous said...

We have a mutual friend, which brought me to your blog.

Four little words...contained in one short phrase...touched my heart just now: 'Do the next thing.' Then I found the following:

"...but I believe God graces us with moments of insight. I believe He occasionally allows us to stand so close to the edge that we see His glory..."

My heart is healing as I write, and renewed clarity is mine. I'm honored that I was chosen to read your words, which I know are His words and, indeed, His message to me.

I learned long ago that one of the reasons for the 'dark nights of this life' is so that, when we meet others in similar pain, we'll have words of hope to offer.

I am grateful.

Blessings to you and yours. LW