The LIFE TRANSFORMING Lesson I Discovered While Reading a List of Names in the Bible!

Have you ever caught yourself reading through the Bible and you come to a long list of names and you think, “Do I still get credit if I skip these? There are a few passages in the scripture that can make you pause and wonder if there is really anything to be gained by reading a particular list of hard to pronounce biblical names? (Before you comment… I know all about the genealogy of Jesus and the four women mentioned there as well as characters of biblical  significance.) I’m talking about the lists in the Old Testament where someone’s name is mentioned once and never seen or heard from again! Places where we have NO history other than a name thrown in among dozens if not hundreds of other names. To be honest, I never doubted that these lists were scripture and were profitable some way, but I figured that I didn’t have the biblical chops to know exactly who Nephishesim was and why his name was in the bible. But then I messed up…

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I told a bunch of students that we would go chapter by chapter through the book of Nehemiah! I had read Nehemiah dozens of times, but I always skipped the long list of names, therefore I forgot that Nehemiah chapter seven actually contains a long list of names! (It takes up over two whole pages and four columns in my bible!) So there I was, stuck with a commitment to go through this book chapter by chapter and I came to chapter seven and I had to prepare a message for our students or eat crow and explain that I had forgotten about this chapter or worse, I would have to admit that I was in over my head. I firmly held then (and even more so now)  that ALL Scripture is, “God-Breathed and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)but this put it to the test.

I stared blankly at the text. I begged God. I looked up name meanings realizing that perhaps this was a stretch. I asked “Why?” a whole lot. When I was about to give up… He Spoke through the names!

They were there, because they mattered! I know, simple right? These people were listed because they were there! In this instance, they were there building a wall with Nehemiah. Then it hit me, the book might have Nehemiah’s name as the title, but it was just as much about the faithful who responded to his leadership. These folks weren’t only witnesses, they were participants.

I realized a two things:

  1. God cares about people.
  2. It’s incredibly good leadership take time to recognize and remember the work of the people you lead.

I still can’t pronounce half the names on that list, but I know this, seeing their name has impacted me and changed the way I lead. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to tell them that God used a list with their name on it to bless me! Until then, I write thank you notes, applaud and do my best to encourage everyone who participates in the life of our church. After all, these people belong to God! I may be the leader up front at our church, but I am not the only one serving God.

So today I am thankful for a long list of names in the bible because it helps me really see the people around me.

Beautiful Daughters and Impure Sons: Who Does the Modesty Debate Really Hurt?

In a few short months, spring will be here and then summer and arguments are going to take place across our homes. Daughters will want to wear things that father’s suggest aren’t appropriate. Youth Pastors will break out slogans like “Modest is Hottest” when going over the rules for trips involving fun in the sun. I wish the church were free from debate on the issue, but it is often the center of every summer youth trip. I can’t think of a single issue that caused more tension in the nearly 20 years I spent as a student pastor.

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I have both a daughter and a son who are perhaps too young to feel the sting of this debate but as they grow older, they will hear many things and so I write mostly for them. You see the debate often stings both our girls and our guys because it reinforces negative perceptions about what it is to be male and female. If I can, I want to wade in and address this issue not by proposing a modesty rule (please read all of the post), but by proposing that Jesus should guard the hearts of both our girls and our guys when it comes to what we wear and how we view others.

First let’s talk about why a simple clothing rule isn’t enough (notice I didn’t say necessary, please read the entire article). For starters lets just imagine that you can put the same bathing suit on two different people and it is completely possible that your heart will be tempted towards lust with one and repulsion with the other. There is a difference between a hairy overweight old man in speedo’s and cowboy boots and a male model wearing the same thing… the same is true for an attractive young girl vs an overweight grandmother wearing the same designer two piece. Neither the outfit, nor the skin it reveals, prompt lust… It is already in the heart of the one lusting! It simply doesn’t help our daughters to tell them to “cover up” because their flesh is like kryptonite to young boys.  May of them struggle with their body image as it is. For the most part, they already compare themselves to other girls, super models in magazines, and have a part of themselves that they think is ugly. I can’t think of a genuine benefit derived for our daughters by treating all girls/ body types the same.  Before you set out to stone me, read the rest of the article.

Let’s also imagine for a moment that lust isn’t a particularly male issue. I know that guys are stimulated visually, etc. but many of our girls experience lust issues that are very similar to how our boys are visually stimulated. If we are honest, it has never been a single gender issue! We do our girls a huge disservice when we imagine that only boys deal with lust and treat it like an exclusively male problem. Our girls can privately feel even more ashamed and never seek help with their temptation to lust. In this generation, more than ever, the conversation about lust is one that must take place with both our daughters and our sons.  That might be news to you, but I challenge you to research it. (I wish I had listened sooner to parents of daughters who said that this was just as much a valid issue for their daughter as their sons).

Now imagine the negative stereotype that we reinforce with both our girls and boys when we make such a big deal about how boys are so easily tempted into sinful lust. When you teach them the solution is not to flee, but for girls to wear more clothes, you treat them as if they have NO control over the situation at all. I choose to teach my son and daughter that they have NO control over what other people wear, but they CAN control where they look and they should start by seeing where there mother and I choose to look (we still go to the beach where other people don’t obey “the one-piece” rule).  I do this because I think the real issue is in their heart and it doubly damages their heart when we place the emphasis on a rule concerning what someone else wears. First they can deny any real responsibility for their own lust and second because now they get to feel superior to someone else who dresses like a “skank.”

Finally, I want to imagine that the best way to address lust in one individual is not to put more clothes on another. This simply doesn’t solve the problem, it masks it. That would be like looking at the mirror, realizing you are naked and need clothes and painting clothes on the mirror… You are still naked! All you have done is cover the law that exposes the real sin that is in your heart and in the process you put a false law on someone else.  I read a book one time by a woman who lived in the middle east and she commented about how a man stared her up and down lustily while she was wearing a burka! His lust, was his lust and it wasn’t her fault. It’s apparent that no matter what you wear some people will choose to lust (this is particularly true in a generation that has been exposed to pornography over and over again). Keep Reading.

So now lets address 3 things that are present in this debate from a biblical perspective because ultimately for the believer, God’s Word should guide our actions and reactions.

1. The bible has a lot to say about authority.  (We won’t cover everything but we will hit a few highlights. ) We are reminded by Paul in Romans 13 that all authority ultimately flows from God. This begins in the home where we are to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 5:2). So if our dad or mom asks us to wear something “less revealing,” while we live under their roof, the moral, right thing to do is to change our clothes. Doesn’t matter if you think they are wrong, or they don’t understand that it’s the style, or what other reason you might have. The real question is, will you obey the authority placed over you?

It is not different if your church has a rule about bathing suits or mixed bathing or whatever it is. If you disagree with the leadership on how they exercise that rule, have a conversation about it. Appeal through the appropriate channels by going to leadership over you, but most importantly abide by the rules and respect the authority over you. In this context you may find that there is very good reason for the rule. When I was a youth pastor, it was simple, I didn’t want the job at looking at all of our daughters and determining if their swim suit is too revealing or not. A simple clothing rule allows female leaders (who may have differing opinions) a consistent standard to coach girls through as a matter of respecting authority on youth trips. (Of course you should also have standards for guys as well, that the male leaders should oversee.) Does this prevent lust? I imagine that it doesn’t. It simply gives us a standard we can appeal to. Just like principles of public schools who don’t want the job of examining everyone’s leggings or saggy pants, sometimes it is better for the organization as a whole to have a dress code for both girls and guys. If you are going to participate in a function of that organization, you should submit yourself to their dress code.  I am very appreciative of parents, girls, and guys who acknowledge the struggle of leading a group this age.

2. Let’s talk about modesty from a biblical perspective. Most often we refer to 1 Timothy 2:9-10 when we talk about modesty in the church: “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). I think a few things are apparent in these verses. First, modesty here has nothing to do with swimsuits. Second, it’s in a list that gives us a clue to what the word modest might mean. It is included with words like self-control, gold, pearls, costly attire. Paul is addressing the “over dressing” of women in church. Modesty in this context is “don’t flaunt your wealth at church so people will look up to you.” The take away would actually be to wear less jewelry, less expensive clothes, do less with your hair, etc. so that your focus is on worshipping God, not seeking the attention of others.

While this passage doesn’t directly relate to modesty in a lust context, it does give us a good guideline to examine what we wear in light of our own hearts. When you pick out clothes or even apply make-up to say, “Hey look at me!” you place too much emphasis on your appearance. It’s good to put in a little time into your hygiene and some thought into your clothes. There are even good reasons for dressing up But when your heart’s desire is overly focused on garnering the attention of others rather than exalting God, you are looking for your esteem in the wrong direction. You will never be truly satisfied with what others think of you. Only when you are satisfied in Christ will you begin to overflow into these works that Paul talks about.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear. we should want our girls and guys to be modest in this sense. Pay less attention to “dressing to impress” and more attention to “serving God by serving others”

On a very practical side note (because my daughter & son may read this one day).  Physical beauty is fleeting (James 1:11). That is why there are make-up artists for movie stars and many have had plastic surgery. We all age! The character of a life submitted to Christ will always attract the right kind of folks and will maintain a level of beauty that surpasses anything that make-up and clothes can do. It doesn’t matter what’s in your DNA or your body type, good works will always look good on you (1 Peter 3:4).

3. Finally, let’s address lust. This seems to be where this whole debate started. Let’s understand that lust is a problem for girls and guys. If we are honest, it has been this way for a long time. We know of at least one Egyptian woman from antiquity that had the hot’s for a certain guy named Joseph (Genesis 39). Then there was also the woman from Proverbs 7.  So it’s not like the Bible doesn’t mention female lust at all. It is in there and even more grossly represented in passages that I didn’t feel comfortable listing here. Lust is not a male only sin.

So I think first, we should recognize lust as something that we may be tempted too. With that in mind we are told by Paul that believers will always have a way of escape from their temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We need not use the excuse that, this is just what guys do. Or that we can’t help ourselves. If you are a believer you have control over your body and your thoughts. We can choose to flee this temptation (1 Corinthians 10:14). In fact this is exactly what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife approached him (Genesis 39:12). Paul says to flee sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18). He reminds Timothy to “flee youthful passions and desires” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul addresses lust in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and he says that you have control over your body and that to deny this reality is to ignore God! In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus addresses lust he says that we are to fight it to the extent that we would cut out our eye or cut off our hand (notice that he doesn’t say that we should put the burden on someone else). We must flee temptation! We must control our own bodies through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us! We must commit to radical means to root this form of idolatry out of our lives! This is the counsel of scripture on dealing with individuals who are prone to lust.

I grew up in a Christian home. We talked a lot about God. My mother gave me the “Birds and the bees” talk when I was very young, perhaps too young to understand what she was eluding too (I am thankful for her attempt at what must have been a very awkward conversation). However, later when my heart was awakened to be attracted to girls I didn’t have any guidance from my father on how to guard my heart from lust, or that it was even possible. I struggled for a very long time in a cycle of lust and guilt. It was easy to judge girls as being “skanks” for what they wore and who knows, maybe they had their own heart issues, but it didn’t do my heart any good to remove the sin label from my heart and place it judgmentally on theirs. I wouldn’t find freedom until I dealt with the lust in my heart on Jesus’ terms. That is what I long for most for our sons and daughters, that they would deal honestly with their sin and temptation before our Savior.

So if I were to wade into this debate for the sake of my son and daughter, I would say, “Submit to whatever authority is over you. Examine what you wear and why you wear it so that you might reflect a godly character more than you seek personal attention. Flee temptation to lust. It may seem like you are powerless, but if you are a believer you have the Holy Spirit of God in you and He is more than enough!

Your comments and thoughts are welcome. Please keep them civil and to the point. Please also read the entire article before you comment. I didn’t cover anything exhaustively so I’m aware that the issue is bigger than a 2500 word essay.

You may also be interested in this blog post:

How do you Respond when your child tells you they have viewed pornography?

3 Things To Do When A Pastor Leaves: an Open Letter

Dear Church,

When a pastor answers the call to go to another church there can be lots of thoughts and emotions. I want to address three of those thoughts. Please know that as much as I love you, my biggest desire is still to see you complete in Christ (Philippians 1:6, Colossians 1:28). So here are three things I think you should do in light of one of your pastors answering a call to go to another church.

3 Things to Do When a Pastor Leaves

  1. Remember: God has called you to the local body, not the man (Romans 12).

You were called to be a part of the body of Christ, not to the Pastor (Romans 12). Don’t get me wrong. I love you. But your calling, just like my calling is to a local church. Sometimes when a pastor leaves, we can be tempted to think that maybe we need to leave and explore other churches too. I want to encourage you, that we all play a part in the body of Christ. I’ve been asked a lot lately from those both inside and outside our church about why I was able to stay for nearly a decade as a student pastor at not only one, but two different churches (a rarity). My answer was simple. “I love the church.” I love the church so much so that I would rather suffer than see her suffer and so I stayed during seasons when it cost me personally but was a benefit for the congregation as a whole.  The only reason I’m leaving now is to answer a crystal clear calling. I don’t think it’s healthy to move otherwise.  When you leave a church, you don’t leave a pastor (or lack of a pastor in a certain position) so much as you leave all the other people.  There will be moments where it feels easy to leave, but I want to encourage you to stay with your local church unless you are sure God is calling you somewhere else. We all need to fulfill our calling in the local body.

2. Find your place and serve (1 Corinthians 12:4-27).

To that end, I want to encourage you to find your place and serve. If ever there were a time for you to discover how you benefit the church, today is the day. It is an all hands on deck opportunity. Often when God calls a pastor to another church it is so the church can grow by having individuals step up and fill the void. You have people in your midst who will be able to exercise their gifts and calling in my absence in a way that they would be unable to do if I were present. I rejoice at this! I earnestly desire that the church grow spiritually, numerically, and in influence in the community in my absence! My feelings won’t be hurt if the church does greater things than they did when I was there. I will be first in line to boast in what God is doing in your midst!

3. Trust your next shepherd (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Finally I want to acknowledge that you will call someone to replace me and IDEALLY they will conduct ministry differently than I have while I was with you. This is a VERY GOOD thing! So if you catch yourself thinking negatively, “this isn’t how Pastor Jonathan would have done it.” I want you, for the sake of the glory of God, rebuke that thought and think about this same phrase positively. Give him the benefit of the doubt (Philippians 2:1-11),  even if he were to speak negatively of me and how I did things (Philippians 1:14-17). Consider me his biggest fan.

I hope this helps you understand my heart for the Glory of God in the midst of this transition for both of us. I love you because of Christ. Please pray for me and my family as we transition to answer God’s call in our next church.

Your Partner in the Gospel,

Pastor Jonathan

 

More Than A One Man Plan (Nehemiah 1:11)

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

When was the last time you prayed for revival? Did you place yourself in the center of the prayer? God use ME, use MY church, use MY denomination. Were you really asking for God to be revered in your town or were you asking for your own prestige? Sometimes our most holy prayers can be covered up in pride. We lasso our prayers short of heaven because we fill them with all sorts of selfish ambition. We are like James and John who approached Jesus and asked if they could be at the left and right hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). We want to be center stage… next to Jesus of course. Leadership isn’t there for the asking in the kingdom of God though; it is bestowed upon those whose chief characteristic is that of a servant.

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Nehemiah asks God not only would He hear his prayer, but the prayers of all those like him. Nehemiah recognizes that he is not alone in this task of prayer and asking God to do something great in Jerusalem again. He is part of a bigger plan. He is out for God’s glory and the restoration of his people, not his own name.

Sometimes we pray for revival and we are lazy. We ask God to move, but we want to sit back and ride the wave of success. We forget that sometimes God calls us to work. I think that is why when Nehemiah uses the term servant it’s important. He presents himself to God to take part, any part in rebuilding the wall. He is there to serve.

Think of it like this. Life is a drama. Everyone is an actor. God is the author and director. Nehemiah submits himself to God’s plan and says; place me where ever you will. Too often we try to tell God (the author and director) how his play should go. We try and take our minor rolls and pitch them to him like we should become the lead. We don’t understand that we have a place and a purpose if we would just listen to Him.

When God calls us to a task we are seldom ever alone in that task. We always have the Holy Spirit present but often He is working in the lives of other believers as well to bring about something great. Start looking around for others in your neighborhood, school, or workplace that God might also be calling to the same mission he is calling you too.

For me I began to seek to gather with our local student pastors for a time of fellowship and prayer. Overtime real friendships evolved and I saw relationships strengthened as we were all working for a common purpose on different fronts in our city.

Does God Like Our Music? (Intro)

Several years ago I heard a story about believers in Asia who met in a cave in order to be able to sing praise to God. It was illegal to assemble as the church in their country and so if they wanted to sing praise songs together in community they had to rise early and travel a great distance to this cave and sing. To be honest when I heard the story (I have every reason to believe it was true) I couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to why these believers would risk so much just to sing? What was it about singing that would draw them to that cave? The more I thought about it, the more I questioned myself, Why do I sing? What is it in the life of a believer that calls not just for prayer, or bible study, but song… And not just a solo, but the need to join a chorus of other believers in offering praise to God?

So I’m going to take a few blog posts here to chase that thought. I won’t be chasing it though my mind… I don’t have the answers. I’ll be chasing it through the scriptures. We will examine song in the scriptures and the compulsion for believers to offer God worship through song.

Worship Music

To be clear, music or singing isn’t worship. Music is an avenue of worship, but song alone does not exalt God. There are many songs that honor God and many that dishonor God. Music just like sex, food, and all the rest of God’s pleasures were designed to be good and for His glory, but can also be perverted. Sex is perverted when you look for sex for sex sake. Food is perverted when you look at food for food’s sake and music/ singing can be perverted when you look at music for music’s sake.

Music touches our emotions like nothing else can. When used legitimately there is nothing that can compare to the rise that music gives. The Bible is saturated with music! The book of Psalms is the songbook for the nation of Israel and it contains 150 songs for most any occasion. Stack on top of that all the times that people burst into song in the Scripture and you will quite soon realize that if we were to dramatize the scripture it would be a musical. People in the Bible sang! There was something in them that called for a response to the acts of God that couldn’t be expressed with normal words spoken in a normal way.  Their voices had to elevate to put words to meter and music! Moses led the entire nation of Israel in a song when  God wiped out an Egyptian army by way of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Mary sang upon visiting her cousin Elizabeth and receiving confirmation that she was carrying the messiah in her womb (Luke 1)! The angels sang to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) The Song of Solomon is a wedding song written by or for Solomon. And there is more than I have time to write here.

Music expresses our emotions and it can help change our emotions. How about all those love songs that make you want to grab someone, hold them tight, and not let go. Then there are the songs that make you want to cry. Then there are songs that put a little pep in your step (great for a workout play list). I know that a little classical music on the drive home goes a long way towards curbing my anger issues at other drivers.  When the Lord sent an evil spirit  upon Saul, it was only the harp music of David that could calm him (I Samuel 16). Music does something for us! Even those people like me who can’t carry a tune or play an instrument. The writer of James tells us to sing when we are joyful (James 5:13).

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the compulsion to sing corporately in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

7 Reasons I Ask Students to Evaluate My Messages

I meet with a group of young men and women on Friday’s to evaluate the previous weeks message and to help prepare the message for the coming week. It’s a tedious process in that it takes more time preparing an element of the message with this group than it would in isolation. But I’m convinced that this practice is good for the students on the team as well as for me.

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I’ve run into a little bit of push-back on the first element of what we do, which is evaluate the previous week. Some folks in ministry are of the mindset that sermons are not to be evaluated. I disagree, but I understand the sentiment. To be clear, I do not ask the students to judge the content of the scripture, but the content of the entire message and how effective the message was at explaining the scripture. I don’t ask them to judge the movement of the Holy Spirit, but I do ask them to judge me. I ask them things like, “Was I knowledgeable about what was being presented?” “Was the message biblical?” “What was the main point of the message?” etc. This evaluation is really helpful. Here are seven reasons why.

It demonstrates to the students what to look for in a well presented biblical message. Most of the students who gather with me are there to learn how to prepare messages. By evaluating me, through a template of questions they learn what area’s of preparation are important and where they are exhibited in the delivery of a message. These questions then become a preparation guide for when they are ready to deliver their own biblical message.

It prepares the students to be evaluated. The students that evaluate me will also be sharing biblical messages at some point and will themselves be evaluated. By having a standard evaluation process in place they are prepared to be graded on the human aspect of delivery in the same way that I expect to be graded. I can truly evaluate them without having to maneuver on a scale of positives and negatives. They will stand or fall in each category according to their presentation, not my over-sensitivity to their feelings.

It keeps me accountable. I picked or allowed the questions on the weekly evaluation based on aspects of human delivery that every speaker needs to be accountable for. Who tells the pastor that his message wasn’t biblical, or that he filled 3/4 of his time with personal stories, or that he skipped application, or that he missed the gospel? If he doesn’t train his people to expect the right things and gives them a structure and freedom to approach him it will never happen. In the last few weeks I’ve heard sermons/ podcasts where the pastor labored over “extra-biblical” points and preached from word’s not really present in the passage. Those pastors would have benefited from genuine feedback earlier in their ministry to keep them on point, as it was they seemed smooth enough in their delivery that most folks didn’t notice that what they heard was just an opinion passed off as biblical knowledge.

It helps me see how my student leaders think. On the evaluations they share tons of relevant information. I find out which illustrations were clarifying and which ones were confusing. I learned through this process that my students really benefited from hearing my personal stories of struggle and victory in Jesus as I had been applying these truths to my life. Putting a greater value on these illustrations where applicable has made me a better communicator and more approachable by the entire group. I noticed after a shift in my teaching style that students began approaching me anonymously after each message about issues in their life. My ability to pastor students through the struggles they were facing dramatically increased because they saw me as someone who had flaws, but found the solution.

It Creates Better Message Hearers. When students on my team evaluate a message they begin to re-process the message over again. They think through the entirety of the message a few days after the fact and review the specific applications, challenges, etc. By this time they have had an opportunity to react to the message. This raises the bar of expectation. If the message was clear and there was a response needed, how have they responded? This creates an accountability loop for them. They now have to think about the message longer than the original 30 minutes in which they heard it and the Holy Spirit often takes what was said on a Wednesday and replays it in their hearts on a Friday so that the effect of dwelling on the message is greater than if they had not given it a thought beyond Wednesday.

It Demonstrates That I Have Room to Improve. I think it is fair to say that I want to offer God my best. If he has called me to be a communicator then I want to be the best communicator that I can possibly be. I want people to understand His Word. So I diligently study the scriptures, I diligently study those I present to, and I diligently study the effect of God’s word on their life through my preaching. The Holy Spirit can always take the worst sermon and make something great out of it, I would also like to think that He will work on me too through His word and His people.

It Teaches Students to Work. Far too many ministers rely on the Holy Spirit to bail them out of a lack of preparation. This overly mystical view of God misses the point that He calls and equips people for the work of ministry. That ministry, especially in the case of teaching and preaching requires prayer and preparation. Again, I’m not asking students to evaluate God’s Word, or the Work of the Holy Spirit, I’m asking them to evaluate my preparation and presentation. I’m modeling part of the work of ministry.

In our model students evaluate messages I teach. We work together on messages that I will teach. We work together on messages the student will teach. The students teach messages and are evaluated by the group. They get more practical hands on training on how to present a message than I ever got in any of my seminary classes on sermon preparation.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

As I teach younger men and women how to relay biblical messages one of the key things we focus on is building a bridge between the text and context. By that I mean we hold in tension the Truth of the scripture along with a keen awareness of the people in the audience. The natural tendency is to default to one or the other. You will either be so immersed in the text that you ignore the people you are presenting to or you will be so immersed in cultural context that you will ignore the depth of biblical truth in front of you. The two must relate because at the end of the day you are hoping to impress the truth of scripture into the lives of individuals and groups in modern context. Make no mistake, the scripture is the source of Truth and the audience is in need of Truth.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

In the preparation process, after I have done some study and feel like I have the basic understanding of the text, I like to build the bridge by asking myself a simple question: “What is the problem to solve?” 

When my son was going to preschool we used to tell each other stories on the way to school. I’ll be honest, his stories stunk. Mostly because there wasn’t anything WRONG. The whole story was a happily ever after kind of deal. So I started coaching him on how to tell a story. I told him that every good story has a “problem to solve.It could be a relationship to heal, an enemy to fight, a fear to overcome, etc… but there needed to be a problem otherwise there was NO story, just information. 

I think some people sit bored in their chairs because the speaker hasn’t presented them with a problem. I know that if you are speaking out of the Bible that there will always be a problem to solve, if not immediately in the context of a story (such as getting God’s people out of bondage in Egypt), it will be in the overarching theological theme of a passage (Your sin separates you from God, you can’t overcome that on your own, you need a mediator… I can’t leave this hanging, his name is JESUS).

I know it sounds simplistic right? But it really does help me to set up how I will bridge between the text and the culture or the culture and the text. When coming from the text, “Sin” will always seem to be that problem to solve. But sin looks like a lot of different things and each text will highlight a different aspect of sin, or how it causes a separation from God, or how we are incapable of dealing with it on our own, or how people have tried to deal with sin and failed, etc. So while it may be simplistic to answer, “sin,” it is helpful to explore that element a moments and use it to build tension at the beginning of your message.

Sometimes I will begin with a personal story, “there was a time in my life that I couldn’t forgive this guy…” and let it go from there into the text, “But listen to what Jesus says about forgiveness

Sometimes I will share a more general statement like, “What do you do when everyone around you is screaming at you to do something like, ‘fight! fight! fight!’? You know that if you fight, you have given into the crowd and if you don’t, everyone is going to call you a ‘chicken’ and laugh at you.” Then I move into the text from there: “Today I want to look at a similar situation in the scripture where Jesus encountered a crowd who was pressing in and trying to trick him, instead of saying ‘fight! fight! fight!, they threw a woman out into the way and said they had caught her in the very act of…

By putting the problem to solve at the forefront of your presentation you are showing the audience right off the bat that what you have to say matters to them, it applies to their life, they are a part of this now and in the end when you call for some sort of response to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word… It will make sense to either accept or reject what you have said. There is a huge difference between sharing information and showing a man his problem and providing the solution.