So How Do You Apply A Sermon?

What role does application play? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I wrote on problems with sermons. I do want to respond to some objections and concerns that I saw expressed online about this. So let’s begin.

First off, I hope we can all agree on something. Sermons should present God in Christ to the people. If a passage is about what Jesus did, such as calming the storm, we should emphasize that first. If we jump straight to “Jesus can calm the storms in your life” we miss the revelation of God in Christ and we miss more importantly how we can know Jesus can do that.

Our great danger today often is we seek to apply the text to us immediately. The question often pops up of “What does this text mean to you?” The first question is simply “What does this text mean?” We don’t spend enough time with the text trying to understand it and the situation it was written in.

It is a mistake to make the sermon be entirely application. Do that, and all you’re giving is advice and Jesus is secondary to that. It is also just as much a mistake to say that there is no mention of personal application. However, as one reader simply put it in a forum I’m on, you give the message of Jesus and then say “Therefore….”

Consider Romans. When do you get in to a lot of matter dealing with how one should live life? It starts largely around chapter 12. What were the first 11 chapters doing? Explaining Paul’s theology and doctrine. What about 1 Cor. 15? We have a glorious chapter on the resurrection and how death has no hold on us. Then what follows? Paul says “Now there’s an offering we need to gather for the people in Jerusalem.” There’s a reason he waited until after talking about the resurrection.

I am also not saying stories can never be used. What I am against though is pastors that seem to talk more about themselves and their experiences than they do about Jesus. This is a danger since so many of us love to talk about ourselves. There is a time and place for that. When talking about Jesus, put Him primary though. He must become greater. We must become less.

Stories can be a great way to draw people in if done right. If you can tell a story that relates to something many people have experienced, that will reach more people. I will have more luck talking to the average crowd about say, The Princess Bride, than I will about Final Fantasy IV. Now if I was at a gaming event, Final Fantasy IV could be a much better usage then.

Let’s consider a favorite misused passage. Jeremiah 29:11. No. This is not about you. Stop putting it on graduation cards and everything else. However, can this passage have a personal application? Yes. Let’s suppose I was preaching a message on this text. I might say something like this.

“Judah had been called to be the people of God. They had seen Samaria go into exile judged by God, and yet they persisted. Now Jeremiah was telling them they were next. They would go into Babylon. The people of Judah could think that was it. Their story was done. What about the covenant promises? Had God abandoned His people?

No. God tells them to work and live and have families in the city of Babylon and pray for its success. They would continue to be a people there. Their story was not done. God had not forsaken the covenant, but He was enforcing the punishment of it, but when the time was ready, the people would come back.

God assures them He has plans for them. He will give them hope and a future. He is in charge of the story still. It is not Babylon. It is God.

Friends. We don’t know the plans of God either, but we do know as Christians, His goal is to conform us to the likeness of Christ. What God does as Romans 8 tells us will work for our good if we love Him. We too can go through times in our lives when it seems like we are abandoned by God, but we must be faithful and live our lives for Christ wherever we have been placed. The story is never out of God’s control. All will be made right in the end.”

In doing this, I have presented the historical context of what has happened. I have also presented a theology. God is the God of covenants. He is also the one in charge who knows the future. We also know from the text that God does love us still and wants to conform us to the likeness of Christ. When we are in trying circumstances, we need to hold on in trust too because God is a God who keeps His covenant. If He keeps it even when the people are unfaithful, how much more will He when we strive to live in faith?

Note also that none of this was highly in-depth. I doubt it would really go over your heads if you heard it in a sermon, but odds are you don’t. You need to.

The danger is that if all we have is application without a basis, that won’t be enough to act faithfully. Lauren Winner in her book¬†Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity said that when a boy and a girl dating are on a couch together and the hormones start screaming, a few verses from Paul won’t work. You need a whole theology that tells you why you save sex for marriage.

There are a number of churches that are wanting to bless same-sex unions and say homosexual practice is fine. Why have so many Christians bought into this? A lot of them don’t have a theological backing. They don’t understand the Bible, how we got it, how to read it, or theology and ethics. These are things that we should not be teaching just the academics in our churches. We should be teaching this to everyone. Sure, some people will excel at this, but everyone needs at LEAST the basics.

Pastors. There is plenty of meat in the Scripture for your congregation. Share it with them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Who God Is

What do I think of Ben Witherington III’s book published by Lexham Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I received this book from Lexham, I was a bit skeptical. After all, Ben Witherington is an excellent New Testament scholar, but I have not heard of him being a theologian. Still. I knew that since he wrote it, it would likely be brilliant. The book looked small as well so I thought it would be a quick read and so I decided to dive in.

First off, I was right on one point. This is a quick read. I started it in the late afternoon and I finished it before I went to bed that evening. If you want a quick read on the nature of God, a primer as you will, this is the one to go to. It’s a short read, but let’s get to the other parts.

Second, my skepticism proved to be wrong. This is really a great book. It’s not a dry read from a New Testament scholar. It’s really a passionate act of worship, something I don’t think I’ve seen like that from Witherington before, but it was an excellent work. It focuses on a select few attributes of God, and not always the ones we normally go to.

Normally, if you pick up something like the Summa Theologica for example, you will get the far more metaphysical concepts of God. I was just looking it up. Aquinas wrote a lot, but in the Prima Pars I don’t see love mentioned. What Witherington covers is five concepts. Love, light, life, spirit, and unique.

This isn’t an apologetics book per se. You won’t find arguments for the existence of God or the reliability of Scripture. All of this stuff is just assumed, and that’s fine. This book is more of a devotional book for those who believe.

At times, Witherington does touch on some secondary issues. Towards the end, some issues I didn’t care for being discussed, but if that distracts you from the overall point of the book, you have greatly missed out. Witherington’s book is a refreshing step out of the ivory tower as it were to a place where theology is meant to meet real life.

Far too long, I have said that a disconnect is there. Too many apologists I think have been doing what Lewis said, been so intent on proving God exists that you would think He has nothing to do but to exist. Witherington’s work reminds us that theology is meant to touch your life. It should change how you live.

Are you worried you won’t understand it because it’s deep talk about God? Don’t be. Witherington’s book is very readable. Like I said, it’s short enough that you can read it in a day, but it will be a day well spent. You will find at least one gem in here that will get you closer to worship of our great God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is The Point Of Christianity?

Why is Christianity here? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been reading a book by an atheist called¬†Good Without God and while I think it’s fallacious, I think of the main point. Why is it that so many atheists make this kind of argument? Now I do know that we do say that God is necessary for realities such as goodness and the moral law, but at the same time, there is also much missing of the point. Some people will say “Well you can be good without being a Christian or even a theist so what’s the point in being a Christian?”

Now move forward to your average church service. What will you usually hear? You’ll hear a sermon where you read the text and then you pretty much jump straight to application. I’m not opposed to application of course. We have to apply the text to our lives. I’m opposed to an application hanging in the air. You can get the impression that the only reason for the Bible is so we could all be good people.

Along these lines, I can’t help but remember when I was in a sunday school class in college. Our teacher was leading us through the book of Joshua. We were told that Joshua was written so that we would learn to obey God. There’s no doubt Joshua wanted Israel to do that, but Joshua included a lot of historical information. How does the division of the land get the reader to say “Wow! I have to obey God!”?

The Bible contains a story. We tend to cut out most of it and have the parts relevant to us. We can remove all this stuff about Israel. That was just failed plan in the past after all. The Gospels are nice, but we really only need the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s epistles are good, but that’s only when they tell us what we need to do. We can appreciate Revelation because it just satisfies our curiosity about the end times because hey, that’s why it had to be written. Right?

What happens as a result? We go to church and then we wind up leaving being good people, which I’m not objecting to, and then think that we’ve reached the goal. God broke us of our bad sinful habits. Thanks to God, we gave up smoking or stopped abusing our wives or learned to be patient or found a hope in life and hey, that’s the point. None of those are bad things, but what if the end is actually not us. What if, shock of shocks, it’s not all about us?

We do tend to end the story with us. In this case, God becomes a means to an end. I need to lose those extra twenty pounds. God should help me. I need to learn to calm down. God should help me. I need to get a new job. God should help me. I need to overcome my addiction to alcohol. God should help me. Now, of course, God can and will help those who earnestly want help, but it doesn’t mean that’s the sole goal. Once that has happened, the story hasn’t ended. That would be like saying that once a couple goes to the altar and says “I do” to each other, then the story is completed. No. It’s only just begun.

You see, God didn’t create us to turn us into good people. He created us so we could rule over His creation on His behalf. Did He make Adam and Eve and then say “What can I do to make these two into good people?” No. They were already good. He had an original purpose for them. Rule over creation. That purpose hasn’t changed. God just has to get us in a position where we are fit to rule again.

That means that in our sermons, we need to hear about the story of the Gospel. What is going on in history when Israel acts or when Jesus speaks? What is the historical situation Paul is addressing? All of this matters greatly. None of this will detract from application. It will enhance it.

We also have to stop thinking that being a Christian is all about being a good person. Christians should be good people, but that is not the point. The point of Christianity is to make us ruling people. We are to be Kingdom people. We are to be seeking to bring this world back to God. We are going forth proclaiming a victory. That victory will bring about change in people’s lives as the kingdom of the devil is destroyed bit by bit, but that is not the end. Once you set a prisoner free, you have to give them a purpose in life.

Let’s show our church people that they have a role to play in this cosmic drama. In fact, if C.S. Lewis is correct, you will play a role. You will serve God somehow in this Kingdom. You will do it willingly or unwillingly. This applies even to people who don’t believe in Jesus as Christianity teaches. They will wind up serving God somehow. All their actions will be turned toward their service, but it will benefit them nothing.

Christianity is not all about you. It’s not all about making you a changed person. God is not a means to an end. He is the end. He is the point of all that we do. God is not here to enhance your glory. You are here to enhance His.

In Christ,
Nick Peters