bits from bob....
I have an old, tattered Bible that served for almost two decades as my "preaching Bible." The wrappings of blue electrical tape and gray duct tape still hold the cover together and one, but well-worn, well-marked sections are falling out. I seldom preach from that Bible any more, but I keep it anyway. It is filled with challenging markings and questions. In the front of it is a question. I don't remember exactly when I wrote it in the front of my Bible (it was early--during my college days or as a young preacher), but I do remember the occasion. The question is a simple one: Did he preach the gospel?" This is a good question, and an important one. I have been to many churches and church services where the answer to the question was "no."
The summer after I graduated from high school, I went to Minnesota to see Darlene, a girl I had met the previous summer in Massachusetts. I attended a Lutheran service with her on Sunday morning. Soon after I met Harlan, he invited me to the Friday evening worship at the synagogue. I went. Later I went to worship with a Catholic friend. I have, through 30+ years of ministry, gone to hear well-known religious speakers make presentations in a variety of church and non-church settings. The question in the front of my old Bible inevitably comes to mind.
I have also heard thousands of sermons in my own religious heritage. In such settings, I may be tempted to take for granted that the answer to the question in my Bible is automatically "yes." I remember the night I wrote the question in my Bible. I had listened for about an hour to a preacher telling what is wrong with every one else. No overt (or covert) mention of Jesus. No "good news." God implicit at best, barely visible, unseen.
If we communicate the "good news" of Jesus effectively, we must rethink the task before us. If we are to realize our dream of taking the gospel to the world--or even to our communities-- in vibrant, living, fresh ways that free us from the rut of slowly dying churches, smaller every year, we must understand our audience and put the preaching task into perspective. We must be sure that what is preached is the gospel.
Who is listening? Who is hearing? To whom am I speaking? Consider the following three characteristics which likely exist in the lives of the people to whom we are privileged to preach.
I. They are people with a variety of needs.
Only God knows with certainty where people are spiritually. I pray that God will give me sensitivity to the real needs of people. Some in our audiences would have us meet artificial needs. To the statement, "We could use a good old sermon on baptism," one preacher asked, "When?" The response was, "Next Sunday morning." When the preacher observed that no non- Christians had been present in the assembly for weeks, the member persisted, not realizing the disconnection. Gospel preaching applies the good news of Jesus Christ to real needs. It is true that Jesus frees us from sin; it is also true that he frees us from malice, pride, wicked thinking, suspicion, and divisiveness. If Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (John 4) about her marital situation, does not the gospel speak to marriages and families (and a host of other needs) today?
II. Some are people who are looking for God.
Every audience likely has someone who is in the midst of making a major spiritual decision. What will we say? Will we tell people what God has done for them before we tell them what they must do for God? In our increasingly secular world, it is not safe to assume that those to whom we speak already fully understand what happened at Calvary--what God has done for them, the depth of his love, the depth of his hatred of sin.
III. Some are people who are about to give up on God.
Life beats hard on people. The end of the rope is never far away. Marriages fail, children stray, jobs are lost, unkind words are difficult to forget. If the gospel that saves us from sin cannot strengthen us for daily living, many will ask, "What's the use?" How will we communicate the good news to people on the edge?
I like my Bible, despite its shabby condition. When I open it, I see the question. "Did he preach the gospel?" I'm going to go write that question in the front of my new Bible! "Did you preach the gospel?"
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