Balance in Jesus’ Preaching & Teaching

pulpitpewI was reading some selections of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels and it struck me as to how much variety of purpose and content Jesus had in his preaching. Sometimes he encouraged. Other times his purpose was to challenge. Still other times he was out rebuking people. He also motivated, praised God, informed, corrected, and instructed. Jesus didn’t do things just one for one purpose. Jesus knew that different situations called for different approaches, different purposes and different topics and techniques. If you just do one of these the others will be lacking. If you challenge people every single week in every single way people will feel beat up. If you never challenge people their faith can become stagnant. Biblical preaching requires balance.

There was an old saying in preaching that you “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”. The idea behind that statement is that preaching and teaching need to be in tune with what is going on in the real world. I am afraid, though, that approach still lacks balance. There is a third piece, one that Jesus constantly recognized. This piece will bring even more balance to preaching. That piece is context. You have to know who it is you are preaching to. You have to know what they are going through, what questions they have and where they are trying to get to in their spiritual growth and development. Sometimes you are preaching the basics to those who don’t know. Other times there is a need to teach more meat for those who have grown beyond the basics. Balance is key. Extremes are to be avoided. Know your people and preach/teach accordingly.

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Skipping Good Friday

Easter Sunday is just around the corner. It is the time of year Christians around the world focus on Jesus’ resurrection. There is a real part inside us that would just like to skip right over Good Friday and land on Easter Sunday, kind of like watching The Passion of the Christ and using the scene forward button to skip half the movie…we just can’t take it. It would be like reading The Old Man and the Sea and taking out everything that had to do with fish. The story wouldn’t ever become a classic if it left out the tension. It would just be a story about a tired old man’s conversation with a kid that skipped right to a really tired old man talking having a second conversation with a kid.

Sometimes we would rather skip the blood and shame Jesus experienced…and that is understandable. It is just too much for us. Fortunately for God, it was enough. It is easy to feel that way about the Jesus story because the cross is not a comfortable place to hang out. I would rather see Roman soldiers running afraid of the angels than I would see them put nails in the hands of my Savior. I would rather hear a victory speech than words of seeming defeat. I would rather smile and laugh than cry. It is how we are wired…to avoid pain and seek pleasure. The cross hits one of those and the empty tomb the other and so we avoid the cross and seek out the empty tomb.

And we do get the victory…but first we get death. We get the wait. The tension. The questions of his disciples…some of whom had gone back to fishing…will he stay dead or will he rise just like he said he would? You can’t have Easter Sunday until you go through Good Friday.

On a side note, here is a great summary of the Christian imagery in the Old Man and the Sea

Principles Wrapped In Practices – Fasting

Jesus could just tell us to rely on God. Instead He taught His disciples how to fast. Jesus was the master teacher, wrapping up principles into practices. Repeating those practices solidify the principles Jesus wants us to make a part of our lives. What is more, Jesus doesn’t just tell them that they should fast and hope that they get the principles. Jesus tells them how the fasting is tied to the underlying principle,

““When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18

Why not just lecture them to be more concerned about what God thinks than about what men think? Why not preach a sermon on the value of trusting in God for what we need? Jesus could have pulled aside the twelve and explained to them how fasting will bring God & God’s will into clearer focus. He didn’t do that because there was a better way to teach it than just using words. He wrapped those principles up into practices…Instead of just telling, Jesus prescribed a practice that solidified the underlying principle he wanted them to get. It is up to us to make these things more than teachings,

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus Understood People, What Do We Learn From That?

One of the things that stands out about Jesus was just how well he understood people. First there is the obvious…the Bible says everything in creation was made through Christ (John 1:3) so it makes sense that the creator would understand his creation. What is more, Jesus became a part of the creation by taking on flesh (John 1:14) and spending time with us. That certainly helped him understand people. Third, Jesus didn’t just know regular things about people. Jesus even knew their thoughts (Mark 2:8) and knew what they would do before they even did it (John 13:21). Jesus understood people and he used that knowledge to make people feel welcome. He used that knowledge to draw people to God. I think if I had that kind of knowledge I would probably end up pushing more people away from God than drawing people to God because I probably wouldn’t have enough common sense to use that knowledge effectively.

What do we learn from that?
What do we learn from Jesus’ ability to understand the people around him? First, we aren’t going to know people’s thoughts but we can invest in people so that we really can get to know them. This is tough in ministry, especially if you minister to a large group of people. It is impossible to be best friends with 80 or even 500 to 1000 people. It just won’t work. But it is important that we learn from Jesus to be available, to be interested in others, and to invest ourselves in the lives of those we can. When we do that we also will grow to understand people better than we have before and can use that knowledge to help bring about transformation in the lives of those God has sent our way.

Matthew’s Explanation of the “Messianic Secret”

One of the big topics in the Gospel of Mark is what is known as the “Messianic Secret”. Over and over again in Mark, Jesus tells people not to tell others about who he is. This happens up until Mark 8 when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is and Peter says he is the Christ or Messiah. It seems kind of strange for Jesus to tell others not to tell people about what they have seen until half way through the book. Some believe the reason for this is because Jesus didn’t want people to misunderstand his mission and follow him for all the wrong reasons (to receive food like when he fed the 5000 in Mark 6) (Jesus 101, p 22).

I was reading in Matthew today and it looks like Matthew actually gives an explanation as to why Jesus told people not to tell. It has to do with fulfillment of prophesy from Isaiah 42:1-4. Here is what Matthew tells us in Matthew 12:13-21,

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Am I reading that right? Why haven’t I read anyone just offering Matthew’s explanation and why have so many tried so many other explanations if it is right there? Maybe this has been mentioned in commentaries dozens of times and I am just ignorant. This link seems to say the prophesy isn’t about the secret but instead points back to Jesus (in that instance) being unwilling to engage the Pharisees. I did a little more poking around and the Holman Bible Dictionary offers this as a possibility. Thoughts?

Is Bible Class Sometimes Too Formal To Learn Well?

chairThis morning we tried something different in Bible class. We split up into small groups. Each group read a story from the life of Jesus. Each story highlighted a life lesson we learn from Jesus about how to see people, treat people and how to act ourselves. Now, we have done these types of discussions in the past and we usually conclude by going around and having each group report on what they discussed. This time we tried something less formal. When the discussion time concluded we just asked people share something they love about Jesus. Think about it for a second. When you are talking with others about someone you really love, do you have to be formal to have the conversation? Each guy has his set of questions and each group goes in order? It doesn’t work that way in real life. So instead of starting with Group #1 and going through Group #5 we just had an open ended discussion on Jesus. It was a powerful discussion that made me wonder if the formalities of Bible class don’t some times just get in the way of having a real conversation about our Lord (or any other topic for that matter).

Is Bible class sometimes too formal to learn well? It depends on what you are trying to learn. If you want to learn a list of facts and streams of pure information…lecture is ideal. But is that what we really come to learn? Life isn’t taught well in lecture because life isn’t lived in lecture format. What do you think? How do we get more outside the box?

What Would Ministry Look Like if Ministers More Fully Embraced Jesus Example of Ministry

That is one among many questions on my mind over the last few weeks. Here are a few followup questions: What things do you guys do that you would stop? What things would you start? What would get more attention and what would get less attention? How would your purpose change? What would you emphasize? Last, what would keep you from doing this and why?

New Free Study Uploaded – Parables and the Kingdom of God

I just uploaded a new 13 lesson series on the parables of Jesus entitled “Parables and the Kingdom of God”

Here are the stats on free curriculum on this blog:

  • 937 total lessons
  • 2996 total pages
  • 75 lesson series
  • 20 contributors
  • 60,000+ pdf downloads!

10 Things I Love About Jesus

I have been writing lessons on the parables over the last few months. All I can say is that it has been eye opening as the truths revealed in the parables come alive. It makes me so appreciative of Jesus Christ. It reminds me of why I am here and why I do the things I do. In short, I love Jesus and I love His church. Here are 10 reasons why I love Jesus…later I will do 10 reasons I love His church.

  1. I love Jesus’ love for all people. Jesus loved people in ways that are so hard for me to fully understand or practice. Are you a tax collector, sinful woman, diseased leper, or even soldier nailing his hands or piercing his side…Jesus loves you the whole time. I have a hard time loving the guy who just cut me off in traffic. I have so much to learn here and I love Jesus for showing us the way.
  2. I love Jesus’ selflessness. He is constantly giving himself away. I think the reason he could do that when it seems to hard for me to do personally is that I need to better embrace the next one…
  3. I love Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Jesus wasn’t seeking the crowds. He was seeking the Father. Popularity didn’t matter to Jesus. All that mattered was what God thought about what he was doing and how much glory he could bring to God. He found time to foster that relationship even though he was divine himself.
  4. He wasn’t about self gratification or self promotion. Jesus was all about promoting his Father and bringing glory to God. That is all that mattered to him. Period. It is easy to get this one messed up because there obvious, material rewards that often come through self promotion that may not happen otherwise.
  5. He died for my sins. Instead of waving a magic wand to forgive sins from a comfortable throne in heaven, Jesus stepped into our world and paid the price with his own blood. That is humbling and I love him for that.
  6. I love that Jesus is truthful. That sounds obvious but sometimes the truth is not fun or exciting to tell. It is much easier to tell people what they want to hear. It is much more popular to tell people what they want you to say and to meet up with the expectations of the crowd. I would be tempted to do that…but Jesus never did. He told the truth even when it wasn’t easy.
  7. I love Jesus’ power & authority. He had the power to calm seas, cast out evil spirits, heal diseases, raise the dead and even overcome Satan, sin and death. He could do all that and yet never wielded his power in unrighteous ways or for his own advantage. Because of that we have hope beyond the grave.
  8. I love that Jesus called ordinary people to be his disciples. He didn’t go to the elite Rabbinical schools and try to snatch away their star students. He got the “every man” kind of guy and equipped them to change the world in a generation.
  9. I love how Jesus took time for the little things and for little ones. When you are on a mission to save the world in three years most people wouldn’t find time for the little things. Jesus did. Jesus loved being around little children. They weren’t a bother or a nuisance. He valued them and took time for them. Jesus even said the rest of us need to become like they are. We don’t normally pick kids to be our role-models. Jesus did because Jesus wasn’t normal.
  10. I love that Jesus was so normal and abnormal all at the same time. He did everything we do. He faced every temptation we face. But, unlike us, he lived the perfect life. He didn’t see things the way we see things. Jesus was abnormally normal and I love him for that.

What do you love about Jesus? Feel free to add your list of 10 in the comments.

Do We Recognize Redemption When It Happens Right in Front of Us?

In Luke 7 Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While they are reclining at the table a “sinful” woman comes in and anoints Jesus, first with her tears and then with some perfume she had brought with her. Luke tells us she had learned that Jesus was in the house and she knew exactly where she needed to be and what she needed to do. We know that because she came prepared with a bottle of perfume. First she wept at his feet and began putting her tears on Jesus’ feet. Then she started kissing his feet and poured perfume on them. I am sure this was quite uncomfortable for those who were there watching this unfold but what made it even more difficult for them was who the woman was who was doing all of this. She was a “sinner”. The worldly part inside us tells us that sinners and Messiah’s shouldn’t mix. But the part inside us that says things like that has it all wrong. There was no better place for her to be, in all her sin…in the messiness of her life than in the presence of Jesus Christ. What as happening was redemption right in front of their eyes but they were too blind to see it.

In order to open their eyes to the significance of what was happening before them, Jesus tells them a story about two men who had much debt. One guy owed a year and a half’s wages and the other guy a month and a half. The lender forgave them both. Jesus asks them, “Now which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is the one who owed more. It seems like Jesus is saying that this woman actually loves Jesus more than they do. Ouch. In the story, Jesus doesn’t get into why they owed all of that or all the bad decisions they had made that led up to that point. The lender doesn’t owe explanation to anyone when it comes to forgiving debt because forgiving debt rarely makes sense from a worldly perspective. From Jesus’ perspective it makes all the sense in the world because Jesus came to bring redemption to a world full of the debt  and weight of sin and death and release us into a great freedom that we find only through Christ.

What is most frightening about this story is that all of this was unfolding before Simon and company but they couldn’t see it. Jesus was trying to open their eyes so that they could understand the significance of it all. Are there things Jesus is trying to open our eyes to see accurately? There are a few questions for us that come out of all of this. The first question we must ask ourselves is this, are there times we pre-judge people? Second, are you currently holding someone’s past against them? Third, how do we make our attitude toward people we have a hard time with the same attitude Jesus would have toward them?

Let us have eyes to see things clearly like Jesus did so that we can rejoice when Jesus rejoices and mourn when he mourns. Let us never get the two confused so that we weep when Jesus rejoices or rejoice when Jesus mourns because that means we are seeing things from a worldly perspective and not as Jesus sees them.