5 Tips to Preaching Narrative Passages

One of the hardest things to do is to preach through Biblical Narratives. There are several reasons why it is so difficult. First it is usually cumbersome to tell a long story concisely. Any story worth telling takes a certain rhythm and timing and with time constraints in a message you have to be careful with every minute you have in front of your audience. Secondly stories are often easy to misunderstand. Many times trying to bridge the cultural divide of previous millennia is difficult to do in a world that is Western and Post Modern.  Here are several methods I use to bring a Narrative Passage of scripture to life.

1. Let the text speak for itself.

It is tempting to gloss over the scriptures because you think that people might be bored if they have to hear you read a long section of scripture. As a result, paraphrasing and summarizing the scripture seems like an attractive option. I have found that this is a failed tactic. The scripture is usually more concise at telling the story than me trying to paraphrase it. If the text is too long, break it up and read it piece by piece and use your breaks in reading as places to teach from. Pausing to explain confusing passages in the text while teaching it is a helpful way to teach the passage as well as explaining it.

2. Put yourself in the Character’s shoes

It is easy to miss the emotional content of a passage of scripture. This may be because the passage of scripture is really familiar or because it is very different than the culture you are currently in.To avoid this, I ask myself in sermon prep, “what would it feel like to go through this situation?” I also ask the audience the same question when I teach. Seeing the situation through the characters eyes brings a visceral element to your teaching. If they can feel the emotions of the Characters in your sermon they will identify with the truth you are teaching.

3. Interpret it with Correct Hermeneutics

Teaching a narrative is very different than teaching a Pauline letter. Something to remember is that narrative passages are usually descriptive not prescriptive. That means that they usually describe God’s truth and how people interact with revelation instead of being a list of things they need to do or know. Teaching your audience about it being prescriptive or descriptive will really help them understand the scriptures better.

4. Translate the story to today.

Application of a text is the most difficult and important step of any sermon. How do you make the message relatable to where people are currently living? The best tools I have found is to ask questions and paint scenarios. Ask open ended questions about how to deal with the content. This allows space for the Holy Spirit to speak into people’s lives and convict them of sin. Painting scenarios is an art. You have to hit different situations that people may currently be experiencing. It is important to make scenarios realistic but still vague enough for people to find themselves in them. For example if I was teaching a sermon on Esther 4 (which I currently am) I would say something like, “Maybe you are someone like Esther who is struggling with being bold. You are in a place where you need to speak out but you are afraid. You dont know what to do about it. What you need to consider is that God wants to use you and the only thing keeping you from seeing God use you is that first step of courage.”

5. Tie the story to the gospel

We are to be people who point others to Jesus and what he has done for us in every aspect of our lives. It is the same thing with preaching. If we preach a good moral message with practical points but dont point people toward Jesus then we have failed. I think it is really important to bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of our lives. So I try to tie the gospel message to every sermon. It may not lead to an altar call every week but it should point people to knowing and trusting Jesus with their lives.

The best way to point people to the gospel when teaching a narrative passage is to bring passages of Jesus’ teaching or the New Testament as a lens that you use to interpret and apply the text you are teaching. Letting Jesus speak through your message is really powerful. I find that it t allows people to get to know his voice and hear his teachings as well as see the Bible as being a book that is united in its message.

I hope this is helpful. Please ask any questions in the comments.

The Reason for God Study Guide Chapter 11

I am posting a study guide for Tim Keller’s The Reason for God that I created to lead my small group through. I hope it is a blessing.

The Reason for God Chapter 11

Religion and the Gospel

Ice Breaker: What personal win have you had this month?

Interpretation Questions

  • What was your favorite part of this chapter?
  • What made you struggle in this chapter?
  • What did you learn about God in this chapter?
  • What did you learn about yourself in this chapter?

 

Study Questions:

Christianity teaches our main problem is sin. What is the solution to sin?

There is a profound and fundamental difference between the way other religions tell us to seek salvation and the way described in the gospel of Jesus.

All other major faiths have founders who are teacher that show the way of salvation. Only Jesus claimed to be the way of salvation himself.

  • Religion= Salvation through moral effort
  • Gospel= salvation through grace

Two forms of Self-Centeredness

Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde in the moment of his pride.

Sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are 2 forms of this.

  • Being very bad and breaking all the rules
  • Being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self righteous.

The best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin.

  • If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you then you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior.
  • You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.
  • This is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized version of religion.
  • You are able to avoid Jesus as savior by keeping rules in the same way as breaking them.

Ultimately religion and irreligion are spiritually identical courses to take. Both are sin.

  • Religion leads to self-righteousness, pride, comparison and bigotry
  • You never deal with the root issue of who you really are.

You need a transformation of the motives of your heart.

The Damage of Pharisaism

Who were the Pharisees?

Although Pharisees live in legal righteousness they have lives that are if anything, more driven by the despair of sin than “sinners”.

They think they are living righteous lives but at their core they know they aren’t because they are not doing enough. This leads to anxiety, insecurity and irritability.

Because they are insecure, they feel that they need to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them doctrinally or culturally.

Pharisee’s turn people off against church and God.

The Difference of Grace.

There is a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done.

  • Religion = I obey –therefore I am accepted by God
  • The Gospel  = I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey
    • What does this mean to you?

What is your motivation? Trying to prove yourself or because of who you are?

Motivation:

  • Religion= We obey the divine standards out of fear. If we don’t obey we are going to lose God’s blessing in this world and the next.  Fear of rejection.
  • The Gospel= Gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Jesus. Desire to please because you want to look like the one who gave his life for us.

If you are following religion you have the temptation to find your identity in the religion. This makes you feel superior to others but at the same time very unconfident in your own standing.

Christianity allows us to be both humble but confident. You don’t think more or less of yourself. You don’t need to notice yourself, how you are doing and how you are regarded, as much. You are secure because you have been forgiven.

Religion and the gospel differ in how they treat the “Other” – those who don’t share your beliefs. Often we define ourselves by those we are not.

A Christian is not defined by excluding anyone, but it is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who was excluded for me. His grace humbles me because I am to flawed to ever save myself through my own merit, but affirms me because I know God loves me unconditionally.

  • This means that Christian cant despise people who don’t believe like ourselves. We are not saved by our own good we cant be proud.
  • But we are not intimidated either because nothing can be taken from us. We are God’s people. God values you.

Religion and the gospel also lead to divergent ways of handling troubles and suffering.

  • Moralistic Religion = If you life an upstanding life, God owes you respect and favor.
    • But if life begins to go downhill then crisis and anger enters their world. They feel God owes them happiness, health and wealth.
    • Gospel = Makes it possible for someone to escape the spiral of bitterness, self-recrimination, and despair when life goes wrong. They know that the basic premise of religion, if you live a good life, things will go well for you is wrong. Jesus was the most moral person in the world and he lived a life full of poverty, rejection, injustice and even torture.

The Threat of Grace

When many hear of the difference between religion and the gospel they think it sounds too easy. They think, “If that is Christianity, all I have to do is get a personal relationship with God and then do anything I want.”

These words are only spoken on the outside of an experience of radical grace. No one on the inside speaks like that. Grace can be quite threatening.

  • If you do good works you can have limits to what God can ask you. If you are saved by sheer grace, there is nothing God can’t ask of you.

If you are saved by grace you no longer have rights and you are owned by Jesus.

  • From the outside this sounds like an obligation. From the inside, the motivation is all joy.
  • What happens when you fall in love? Your great commitment means you are bound to that person but it is not a burden. It is joy to be bound to that person.
  • When you get engaged you don’t say next, ok now I can do whatever I want, and date anyone I want. No you excitedly pursue a relationship with the one you love to the exclusion of any other love.

The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life.

Is this a contradiction? No, see chapters 3 and 9.

We are not in control of our lives. WE are all living for something and we are controlled by that, the true lord of our lives. If it is not God , it will endlessly oppress us. It is only grace that frees us form the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion. Grace is only a threat to the illusion that we are free, autonomous selves, living life as we choose.

The Gospel makes it possible to have such a radically different life.

It is critical to recognize this fundamental difference between the gospel and religion. Christianiy’s basic message differs at the root with the assumptions of traditional religion.

  • The founders of every other major religion came as teacher not saviors. They said: “do this and you will find the divine.”
  • Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (although he was one as well). Jesus says: “I am the divine come to you to do what you could not do for yourselves.”

The Christian message is that we are saved not by our own record, but by Christ’s record.

  • So Christianity is not a religion or an irreligion. It is something else altogether.

Prayer Time

Download Week 1:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20For%20God%20Chapter%201.doc

Download Week 2:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/The%20Reason%20for%20God%20Chapter%202.doc

Download Week 3 here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20for%20God%20%E2%80%93%20Week%203.doc

Download Week 4:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20for%20God%20Week%204.doc

Download Week 5:  http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Chapter%205%20%20Reason%20for%20God.doc

Download Week 6:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20For%20God%20Chapter%206.doc

Download Week 7

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20For%20God%20Chapter%207%20%20You%20cant%20take%20the%20Bible%20Literally.doc

Download the Intermission:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20For%20God-%20Intermission.doc

Download Week 8:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20For%20God%20Chapter%208.docx

Download Week 9:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/The%20Reason%20for%20God%20Chapter%209.docx

Download Week 10:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/Reason%20for%20God%20Chapter%2010.docx

Download Week 11:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1370227/Reason%20for%20God/The%20Reason%20for%20God%20Chapter%2011.docx

Reflections on Israel

We are finally back in Nashville. I am so glad to be back but battling the jetlag and coming down from a wonderful trip. We had a wonderful time in Israel. It was a truly memorable and special trip.

First of all our team was fantastic. I have never been a part of a more unified and uplifting team. Everyone pulled their weight and was for each other. There were no cliques or awkward mission trip romances. I can truly say that everyone was there for the right reasons. I am missing the team today. After spending 2 weeks together, sharing meals in community every day, its tough to wake up and go to work without them. I am blessed to have them in my life.

Secondly, we were able to experience some wonderful ministry on this trip. I was so impressed by the opportunities our team was able to take advantage of.  We were able to share the gospel on a daily basis while we were in Tel Aviv. The outreach we were able to do there will change the way our team sees the gospel. So often Christians in America are good at doing pre-evangelism, (talking about church, and living moral lives among non-believers) but are not good at actually sharing the gospel and their testimonies with unbelievers. I am so glad that our team got to experience the joy of sharing Jesus with others. They were fulfilling the great commission these past 2 weeks.

Lastly it was awesome to be able to see our team experience Israel from the perspective of a spiritual pilgrimage. When you are in Israel, the Bible comes to life. It is awesome to be able to experience the scriptures first hand. We were able to see what the sea of Galilee looks like. We were able to taste the Jordan River. We were able to baptize one of our own in the Sea of Galilee. We were able to smell what Jerusalem smells like. These sights, sounds and smells of the Holy Land will be with us forever.

I walked away with a deep love for Israel and its people after this trip. There are some really unique and wonderful people living there. My deep desire is for them to come to know Jesus as their personal savior. Thank you so much for journeying with us through this blog. Maybe the next time we go to Israel you can come along with us in person.

Here are some final pictures:


Our team in the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee from where the Sermon on the Mount was Preached

Peter's house in Capernaum, where the story of the Paralytic took place.

The Judean Wilderness/ Where the parable of the Good Samaritan takes place

The Jordan River in Tel Dan, Mt. Hermon

Calla getting Baptized in the Sea of Galilee

 

Rebecca’s Post in Tel Aviv

Hey y’all!

This is Rebecca, and it’s my first time blogging, so bear with me! Today was our third day of evangelizing on the streets of Tel Aviv, and God never ceases to amaze me. After our day of rest yesterday, I was feeling pretty good and ready to share the gospel today. However, the morning started out with a little opposition, which honestly made me feel slightly discouraged. Robert and I were handing out tracts together and putting them on any cars that we saw. Robert handed one to a particular man, and he trash-talked it and tore it up right in front of us. A few minutes later we were putting them on cars in a parking lot, and we handed one to the parking attendant. When he realized who we were and what we were doing, he quickly told us to take them off of every single car. That was discouraging. Because God is so good though, he definitely lifted my spirits a little while later when Aaron was giving us a last minute pep talk before sending us out for door-to-door evangelizing. Aaron reminded us that even when people reject us in the name of the Lord we will be blessed.
Robert and I were invited into two homes, where we had some pretty interesting conversations. The first man, Eyal, admitted that the only reason he invited us inside was because of how nice we seemed and the fact that we weren’t looking for a donation. He offered us apricots, and we learned that he had lived in Tel Aviv for about ten years, but he was not religious at all. He said he believed in the energies of the world and good and bad forces. Sadly, he was not interested in hearing about Jesus, but I am confident that God will use our visit with him in some way. To our surprise, the very next apartment we visited invited us in as well. It belonged to a sweet old couple, Aviva and Elie, who were probably the friendliest people I’ve ever met. We talked with them for nearly an hour about various topics, surprisingly even politics, and  we learned that they are very firm in their Jewish beliefs. We were, however, able to give them a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew. Aviva seemed very hesitant at first to take it, but she eventually did and even told me quietly that she plans to read it so she can find out more about what we believe. To say the least, I was beyond excited when she told me that! Ironically, she seemed to be more interested in what we were saying once she found out my name was Rebecca, because her mother and daughter are named Rebecca as well.
One thing that God has also laid on my heart lately is how much people actually notice your actions and attitudes. Since I’ve been in Israel, numerous people, especially in the market in Jerusalem, have commented on how happy and joyful I seem. I have realized that the words I speak to people about Jesus are certainly important, but simply the way I live my everyday life can be just as powerful of a testimony. I am so thankful for each person on this trip and for the unique talents that God has given to each of us. God has certainly strengthened all of us way beyond what we thought we were capable of and blessed us way more than we deserve. Pray that God will continue to open up the hearts of the people we come in contact with and give us the words that they need to hear.
–Rebecca

Day of Rest in Tel Aviv

Today was Shabbat. The day of rest in Israel. Although Tel Aviv is secular, sometimes surprisingly so, the city still lives its life by the Sabbath day of rest. In Israel the days don’t start at first light. Instead they start at dusk the evening before. On Sabbath days people do not work here and it is a city wide day of rest. The weird thing is that other objects also rest. Apparently machines also have to rest here in Israel. Last night when Tabitha and I were trying to leave our hotel we were told we couldn’t use the automatic sliding doors because they were resting on the Sabbath. This morning the coffee machine was also resting. Some stoplights in the city are resting. One of the elevators in our hotel was supposed to rest too while the other still worked.  Its kind of confusing as to why some machines can work and others cant but I think it is very cool that they value a season of rest. Most people I know in America never rest. Everyone works 7 days a week. There is a huge value in choosing to cease from our labors to reenergize and focus on God, family and life.

Because of the Sabbath our team also chose to rest today. We have been actively sharing the gospel the last several days in extreme heat and difficult conditions and we have become both physically and emotionally tired. So, today we enjoyed Tel Aviv. We got up late, and me for a worship service on the beach. We then went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. This evening we went up to the nearby port of Jaffa. Its the same city that Jonah found a boat to flee from the Lord. It was very quaint and beautiful.

We are looking forward to a great day tomorrow and great opportunities to share the gospel. Please pray for us that we will have eyes to see the people that God wants us to interact with. I have been so excited to see the boldness of this team. They are unified and encouraging. I have seen every single person on this team grow leaps and bounds spiritually. Please continue praying for us.

Christ is All,

Mike

Journey Up The Mount of Olives

Being in the old city of Jerusalem has been such a blessing to our team.  As we prepare for our time in Tel Aviv, I have tried to write down all the incredible things we saw in Jerusalem.  It’s pretty amazing to walk the streets because the Bible starts to come alive.  Mike and our guide Aaron will say things like, ” that is where Simon of Cyrene took the cross from Jesus and carried it for him” or ” that is the place that Abraham offered up his son Isaac as a sacrifice.”  I know that I will always read my Bible a little differently now!

Small things have really stood out to me as we have passed in and out of the gates to the old city.  We exited the Lion’s Gate yesterday heading toward the Mount of Olives and Aaron pointed out that this particular site is where Stephen was stoned for his faith.  ” At this they covered their ears and , yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”  Acts 7: 57-58.  Before I could move on with the group, I just stopped and stared at the gate.  The Bible goes on to say that after this occurred, the early church was heavily persecuted and as a result scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Christianity then began to spread across the world and as a result, you and I have heard the Gospel!!

We later hiked up the Mount of Olives and facing us was the Eastern Gate.  As you stand on the Mount of Olives, you look across the Kidron Valley to the Eastern wall of the city.  The Eastern Gate is significant for Christians, because we believe that Christ will return on the Mount of Olives and walk through the Eastern Gate.  What a great day that will be!  Mike will often say that if death separates us, he will see me at the Eastern Gate – that will be our meeting place.

After we finished our hike up the Mount of Olives, which is the steepest hill I can imagine, we came to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was a very peaceful place and the spot where Jesus prayed and wept for Jerusalem.  The view as you look across at the city toward the Temple Mount is absolutely beautiful.  Our team sat in this spot for several minutes just gazing across the valley praying for the same city that our Lord wept over so long ago.

Another interesting site nearby, was the massive grave yard that spreads across the Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley.  This is a prime burial spot because Jewish people believe that at the resurrection, those on the Mount of Olives will go up to heaven first.  The grave lots go for about 1 million dollars – wow!

I will always remember our days in Jerusalem and long for the day when there will be a new Jerusalem!  Until then, we will sing of our sweet Savior and tell about the peace he brings.  We will praise his name in the streets and tell of his saving grace!

The Apostle John in the book of Revelation says, ” I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘ Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’.  ”  Revelation 21: 2-4

 

Please continue to pray for our team as we begin to share the Gospel in Tel Aviv.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would show us the divine appointments that he has made for us and that we could be bold in our faith.  Pray for energy and hydration because it is HOT!

Much love – Tabitha

 

The Lion's Gate

 

The Eastern Gate

 

Entering The Garden of Gethsemane

 

The Garden of Gethsemane

 

Tomb site on Mount of Olives

 

View from the Mount of Olives

The Offense of the Cross in Italy

I got this article today from my father. As someone who loves Italy and the Gospel it was saddening. It was posted in Crosswalk.com but originally from Break Point Ministry. Please pray for Italy today. I was reading the book of Romans today and my heart is burdened for the church of Rome.
The Offense of the Cross in Italy
Chuck Colson
Last month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italian public schools have the right to display crucifixes.
The case has been widely viewed as a crucial one. As Roger Kiska of the Alliance Defense Fund put it, “A loss in this case would have meant, in essence, that it would be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights to have religious symbols in any institution anywhere in Europe.”
Before you start celebrating, though, you ought to know that this may be a very mixed blessing. When you take a close look at the court’s reasoning, it becomes clear that there are some disturbing implications to this ruling.
In the New York Times, Professor Stanley Fish, a liberal relativist, writes that the court based its decision largely on the idea that “the crucifix is really not a religious symbol.” Fish justifiably asks, “Who knew?”
Who, indeed?
It seems the court decided that the crucifix is now an “identity-linked,” “historical and cultural” symbol — a symbol that stands for “the liberty and freedom of every person, the declaration of the right of man, and ultimately the modern secular state.”
In other words, it stands for pretty much anything but the death of Christ for the redemption of fallen mankind.
For the Christian, that poses a real dilema: If the crucifix is to be stripped of its meaning like this, is it worth displaying in schools, or anywhere at all?
If “the offense of the cross,” as Paul put it, is gone, what’s the point?
And that’s not all. The court went on to state, “In Christianity even the faith in an omniscient god is secondary in relation to charity,” which makes the cross an inclusive symbol.
Even Stanley Fish, who’s writing from a liberal, secular perspective, is driven to wonder about all this. “What we have here,” he says, “is a union of bad argument and bad theology. As a Christian virtue, charity presupposes the God it is said by the majority [of the court] to transcend…Generous though it may be in many respects, Christianity is hard-edged at its doctrinal center and that center is what the crucifix speaks.”
Fish may not be a Christian, but I think he’s pretty much nailed it. Ironically, I think he might just understand it better than many in Italy, where the practice of the Christian faith has been steadily eroding for many years.
Christians believe that everyone is welcome at the foot of the cross — but we also believe with German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
That’s why Stanley Fish is right in saying that a crucifix can never be what the court called “an essentially passive symbol.”
On that point, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Religious symbols matter because they convey meaning, and that’s why we Christians support the right to display them. Without that meaning, without Christ’s death and resurrection, the cross doesn’t matter — and neither does our faith.
This is the liberal cause: strip all sacred symbols and words of their meaning.
The real lesson here is that before we take up the fight for the cross, we had better be sure we understand what it is we’re fighting for.
This article published on April 20, 2011.