During a health break this summer I spent time studying through Leviticus. I’ve joked for a long time that Leviticus is the quicksand for those who try to read the Bible in a year. They cruise through Genesis and Exodus only to get swallowed up by the myriad of ritual regulations from a culture, covenant, and mindset that feels incredibly alien to a 21st century New Covenant Christian in North America. Thus, it wasn’t too surprising when we shared with the church about preaching a series in Leviticus there were some good-natured snickers and head-shaking.

I admit, it’s a challenge. In order to preach Leviticus you not only must give explanation to the in’s and out’s of the Old Covenant sacrificial system but also place what’s happening within the redemptive history of God’s people. This means that in addition to the looking right at the text of Leviticus, one must also look back to Genesis and Exodus while also looking forward to how it all comes to fruition in Jesus in the New Testament. On top of all this, the preacher still has to bring to bear in his illustrations and applications the sermon’s one big idea. And, at least at CCCC, do it within 33-35 minutes.

This is where I think many preachers bail. The amount of time explaining feels too great for the sermon to bear. Consequently, many a pastor will stay away from texts, mostly non-narrative sections of the Old Testament, when it comes to preaching the Bible. They may fear the message will come across too academic, or too boring, or too complicated, or something less than what the people need.

But here’s what your congregants need: to see the glory, hope, and wonder of Jesus in all the pages of Scripture. Jesus himself said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” For what it’s worth, “the Scriptures” Jesus was referring to was the Old Testament. Indeed, the New Testament leaders preached Jesus from Old Testament texts and what did God do? He spread the church throughout the ancient world. The chorus of the first part of Acts was that the “Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved,” (Ac. 2:47, 5:14, etc.) and this at the preaching of Christ in the Old Testament. You can bet Leviticus was a part of that preaching. Did you know that Leviticus has parallels in 19 of the 27 books of the New Testament? One scholar reminds us that New Testament writers were as familiar with Leviticus as the preachers of today are with Matthew or Romans. 1

However, with all of that said, I confess I myself yesterday a little timid about preaching the purification offerings Leviticus 4:1-12. It all sounds good until you actually have to step into the pulpit, look people in the face, and preach God’s Word. I prayed something to this effect before stepping up to preach, “Lord, I believe you will use your Word. I believe Leviticus is written for us to know Jesus more. May we know him more because of the work your Spirit will do in the sermon.” Even after our third and final service I wondered how it went. I too felt like I explained a lot and questioned if I had hit the mark. Then this morning I received several notes about the message and, at the risk of coming across as self-promoting, I thought I’d share one.

Yancey, you don’t know me but I’m an occasional attendee at Clear Creek. I attended service this morning and wanted to share with you the experience I had from your sermon. In my 38+ years of life and a regular churchgoer, nothing rattled my faith like what happened today. The message clicked. I always was raised to believe in God, and in Christ’s sacrifice. I grew up going to church every weekend, regular bible study, Catholic school, started up the Young Adult Ministry at my church. But I never fully understood what I came to understand today. Today you made it click, and I wish I could put to words what that did to me.

Despite my years of going to church, hearing sermons, studying the faith, reading books, listening to others’ podcasts, something was still missing. I just never quite put together “how” Christ died for our sins. I guess I just took it on face value and but deep down I still didn’t understand it. Hearing that message today I just about fell to pieces inside, part from the relief of finally understanding what this meant, part from the sorrow of what Christ endured, and part from the joy of really understanding why I love Christ because and for the first time it made sense to me what he did and how God worked through Him to be our salvation. I always would say “I love Christ” but frankly I really didn’t quite understand why, until today. The song following your sermon was surreal after what I just heard.

And as we left church I noticed I wasn’t the only person with welled up eyes. You struck deeply with a LOT of people today. One of the servers at the door was holding a box of Kleenex that by the time I made my way past it was completely empty. There was a near-silence as people filed their way out today. As my fiancé and I got into the car there was a sort of silence between us, both still trying to process the same overwhelming realization we just had (and she of all people is a very devout faith-goer and teacher at a Christian school, but this still was head spinning for her as well).

A few hours later I had to fly out for work and just before takeoff I sent her a text and mentioned “By the way, that sermon this morning really blew me away. Hard to describe. I hope they podcast that one. I kind of feel like I came to understand more about my faith in that 30 minute sermon than in the last 38+ years of my life.” She responded, “I ABSOLUTELY agree with you on that. I was thinking that same thing when we were leaving today.”  Your message today was beyond powerful and emotional. And I wanted to share with you the impact it had. I wish I could put to words what happened spiritually with me, and likely with a lot of other people in the congregation. I noticed on our way out that my mom was wiping tears from her eyes as well. She’s 65 and been an avid Christian her entire life, but something must have clicked in her soul as well. God spoke through you today in a way I’ve not seen before. Thank you for that.

This from Leviticus, my friends! Leviticus! What do our hearers need most? To see the glory, hope, and wonder of Jesus in the pages of Scripture. All the Scripture. Maybe, just maybe, there lies a whole wealth of truth in the Old Testament through which God wants to speak to his people about his Son in order to grow them in ways you never imagined. Parts of the Bible you’ve stayed away from for various and sundry reasons, but what if, God wants to use those very reasons to display Jesus in a way he’s never done before in your pulpit ministry? I know that was true for me this Sunday with Leviticus. May we follow the lead of the church’s first leaders and our Lord himself – let’s preach Christ from the Old Testament.

Notes:

  1. quoted by Henry Nelson Bullard, The Gospel in Leviticus, Bibliotheca Sacra, BSAC 064:253 (Jan 1907), 78-79.

I recently led my preaching cohort through an insightful conference talk on preaching by my friend Justin Anderson. One of the things he mentioned was how he thinks about connecting with different listeners. He talked about four archetypes he preps for in preaching. Justin’s four were:

  1. The Mechanic – “I picture a fifty-year old dude with blisters on his hands…hard worker…’Tell me what to do.'”
  2. The Smart Skeptic – “You need to address their skepticism and do so intelligently.”
  3. The Disciple – “They bought in. They love you. They love the gospel. Give ’em some meat, something to chew on.”
  4. The Dude Who’s There for Chicks – “There’s a dude in your church who’s there for chicks, not for you. Talk to him.”

This can be incredibly helpful to think through when trying to communicate effectively. In some ways it’s akin in spirit to Paul’s attempt to become like those whom he sought to persuade for the gospel (cf., 1 Cor. 9:20). Justin got me to thinking about constructing our own local archetypes. I tried to put together somewhat a matrix for those archetypes. I believe it runs on two continuum.

The first continuum addresses education.

Let it be said, anytime one uses occupational archetypes for levels of education or critical thinking prowess they do so with great generalizations. For example, I know some mechanics who are incredibly erudite and some skeptics that are merely pseudo-intellectuals. We must remember these are archetypes. They are typical/popular ways society thinks about people or things. So, since I live in an area dominated by petro-chemical industry and NASA, our team constructed the ends of the continuum:

The Plant Worker    <——>   Rocket Scientist

Again, the sweeping generalization is of a shift worker who looks for the “how to” more than the abstract while the rocket scientist wants thought-out, articulate answers to the propositional statements they hear from the pulpit.

We also have an inordinate amount of engineers so I added them to our list. While they sit to the right of the continuum education-wise, we put them in the middle for space-sake. Why add them? Because the engineer archetype has specific distinctives about their learning process (e.g., linear thinkers) that I, as a preacher, must keep in mind if I’m to communicate well to them. This means, you may have a high concentration of a specific type of people that you cannot help but consider in the preaching event. For us, it is engineers.

The second continuum deals with interest level.

While we kept The Disciple, we replaced The Dude Who’s There for Chicks with a better archetype for our church. (I also reversed the order Justin presented.)

The Consumer     <——>    The Disciple

We chose consumer over the “Chicks” guy because it better describes our cultural setting. The consumer is the one who comes to our church because it’s the popular thing to do, or it’s good for business, or for any reason that isn’t spiritual in nature.

The final result was a matrix that looked like this:

What would your matrix look like? I believe this can be a helpful tool in making sure your message connects with your congregation. Sit down with your staff and construct your own.

My Best Books of 2015

December 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

At the end of each year I write a post about my favorite things that year, including my favorite book. However, with all the books I tend to read each year, it seems a little unfair to peg just one book. Often I’ll cheat by breaking it up into a couple different categories (e.g., ministry, fiction). This year, with the number of books I read, I thought I’d dedicate an entire post to my favorite books of 2015. Here goes…

Best Biblical Studies BookThe Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton. Walton’s previous book The Lost World of Genesis One was in my best of 2014, so I was excited to see his follow up book in 2015. I couldn’t put it down. Indeed, I read it the first evening I got it. Walton’s attempt to understand the account of human origins as recorded in Genesis 2-3 is thought-provoking to say the least. There may be many assertions readers disagree with; however, I found Walton incredibly expositional in biblical support and winsome in presentation. The fact that Dr. Walton is committed to the full inspiration of Scripture and a Wheaton professor should give those who are apprehensive at his conclusions at least some modicum of comfort with his personal devotion and intellectual integrity. This book received Christianity Today‘s ‘Award of Merit’ in their 2016 Book Awards.

Best Theology Book The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. Periodically I try to read a Christian classic for several reasons. The first deals with what C.S. Lewis once noted as “chronological snobbery.” He said a generation can develop a way of thinking whereby it considers inferior any old or ancient way to its own. Reading old books by the the Church Historical helps deliver us from the bubble of thinking our own way is the best or right way. A second reason I wanted to read this book, written from AD 397-400, is because I didn’t want to be someone who always quoted classics without at least attempting to read some of them. Augustine’s work helped me more deeply realize the passion ancient believers had for Jesus and the importance of personal holiness. It also reminded me why it’s good to read the church fathers but not replace the Scriptures with them. At the risk of displaying my own chronological snobbery, I found myself disagreeing with some of Augustine’s assertions (e.g., that baptism is salvific and literally cleanses one’s sins). This deepened my appreciation for historical theology and the witness of the Church Historical. Augustine also would’ve likely failed my homiletics and biblical exegesis classes in seminary. The latter part of his book deals with his take on Genesis where metaphor takes on a life of its own. I was also surprised how philosophical The Confessions is. Frankly, there were times I had to discipline myself to just keep reading because of the abstract nature of Augustine’s content.

Best Ministry BookThe Imperfect Pastor by Zach Eswine. I appreciated Eswine’s transparency about what he believed ministry would be in his life and what it actually became – and how the real latter was better than the imagined (or idolized) former. It enlarged my heart for the weighty things of pastoring while causing me to look in the mirror about my current ministry as pastor. Eswine is a gifted writer. There are many parts of the Eswine’s work that felt novel-esque giving a richer, more colorful sense to the pastor/reader. Ultimately, The Imperfect Pastor was a needed journey for my heart as much as my head. Maybe the best compliment I can give The Imperfect Pastor is that the more I read, the more I repented.

Best Fiction –  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. Sorry, but this is a three-way tie. I read all three on my month-long break this summer and each one was fantastic in its own way. O’Brien’s book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Gilead won it (2005), and O’Connor’s work is considered by The Guardian as one of the top 100 novels of all time. The Things They Carried is full of pathos about the Vietnam War and, more importantly, what happens to human beings who went through it. Robinson’s work deals with the legacy of an aging pastor and how he sees the world and grace within it. Wise Blood is a book I’ve written about this year: here and here. O’Connor’s sense of what divides true faith from false is so spot on that I kept wondering how she reached her conclusions in the life she lived. All three are written with their own sense of beauty and artistry. O’Brien will make you weep, Robinson will make you wonder, and O’Connor will make you wise.

Best Nonfiction –  Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. There are fewer people I’ve developed an intrigue for than David Foster Wallace (or DFW). Considered a genius, DFW is a man whose insight into the human condition has almost an eerie quality about it. This collection of essays is mesmerizing. I don’t know how one person can not only think as deeply (an accurately) as Wallace but communicate those thoughts as precisely and effectively as well. Consider the Lobster is DFW’s time of show-and-tell about his genius. This guy can make talking about the dictionary engrossing. I’m not kidding! I stole this book from a friend and didn’t give it back until I finished it a few days later.

Best Book I’m Still Trying to Digest – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Well, you’ve heard about DFW already but Infinite Jest is his gargantuan novel 1 about a teenager who is a student at a tennis academy, a drug treatment center, and a video which renders people invalid. All of this occurring in a dystopian United States. Weird? Well, I’ll put it this way, I felt like I was engaging the literary version of a Terry Gilliam film. Surreal. Strange. But also something you felt you needed to experience in order to ask better questions about life and reality. Maybe one of the reasons I like Infinite Jest is because I don’t exactly know what to do with it. I can see why people continue to re-read Wallace’s work in order to find new answers and insights.

Best Just for Fun Book Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. While it could have excised some explicit sexual language, Flynn’s work was a true page-turner. I think I put down this book twice before finishing it. Just twice. Her twists and turns were well-crafted and left me wanting to read more of her work. Slick, smart, and super. Gone Girl is an outstanding “summer” read with an ending I appreciated although some did not.

Most Overrated Just for Fun BookThe Martian by Andy Weir. Maybe I felt nonplussed by Weir’s book because I was recuperating from surgery and on painkillers but The Martian felt like many movies people push: over-hyped but underwhelming. I had the sense I was reading more screenplay than novel. But give credit where it’s due, Weir, a software engineer, originally self-published his novel and it won popular acclaim (and a book deal) on its own merit.

Notes:

  1. 1079 pages with a serious amount of lengthy, at times short-story length, footnotes