Category Archives: Expositional Listening

Get Ready for Your Pastor’s Next Sermon Dud!

I appreciate anyone who can help my people prepare for the next sermon dud I preach!  You gotta know it’s coming–and sooner than anyone wants!

So, here’s help to members of FBC and the rest of the sermon listening public.  Reinke summarizes counsel from John Newton:

    Our pastor is weak and sinful, and it’s quite likely that he is already aware of this without our help.
    Our pastor carries a heavy burden for the flock, and there is nothing he wants more than to serve the souls in his church (including you).
    Our pastor benefits from our realistic expectations. We should neither puff him up as a celebrity and expect too much, nor diminish him and his gifts and expect too little.
    Our pastor needs our earnest attention and eager hearts on Sunday. How can we be surprised that we gain so little, when our hearts arrive at church so dull and easily distracted?
    Our pastor must have our prayers. We should appear at church having already prayed that God will bless the sermon and affect hearts with the gospel.

Excellent stuff.  Read the entire post for the whole story.

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Filtered Listening, 5: Conviction and Condemnation

In this series of posts, we’ve been attempting to think about how to listen to sermons to derive the most benefit and to understand the preached word as best we can.  We’ve been using a filter analogy to picture what sometimes happens with our listening.  Imagine something like an air conditioning filter lying across your ears.  The preached word is the clean air we need to breathe and enjoy in order to live well.  But our filters may have varying amounts of dirt and dust collected in them, making the word’s passage into our hearing and understanding quite difficult.

To hear and understand we need clean filters.  But a number of things may clog the filter, like our preferences, our feelings, sources that rival the Bible, or our misunderstanding of Christian freedom.  There’s one final issue I want to consider in this series of posts: what to do when we’re convicted by the word and the Spirit during a sermon.

Conviction: It Hurts So Good

Christians often talk about a sense of conviction that grows when God’s word does its work.  But what does it mean to be “convicted” of something?

Well, a range of things may be in view.  We may mean we’ve been found guilty of an offense or a sin.  The word enters our lives and exposes our wrong.  We have our eyes opened to something that previously went unnoticed.  We see and feel the guilt that we should have felt all along.  David’s famous words written …

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Filtered Listening, 4: Feeling or Thinking

Much of our sermon listening is intuitive.  We sorta “feel” our way through the sermon, registering reactions and thoughts along the way.  This sometimes means that we’re being led by our feelings as we listen.

Feelings are a gift from God.  Used properly, they are for our good and help us to commune with our wonderful God.  Fear, for example, may alert us to the danger of sin.  Or, empathy may help us to care for others in need.  When our feelings are rightly tuned to God’s word and Spirit, they are allies in the quest for godliness and joy.

But, like the rest of our nature, our feelings are also fallen.  Sin corrupts our emotions.  This means, then, that a godly monitoring of our feelings is necessary.  For not every emotional reaction is a godly reaction.  We may tend to over-react at times, and at other times to under-react.  Or, we may react with the wrong emotion given the situation.  Perhaps a situation calls for sadness, but in our sin we respond with anger.  And sometimes, we may become emotionally numb.  Our feelings may become impaired as a result of prolonged hurt, depression, or other causes.

However our emotions are responding on a Sunday morning, we may be sure of this: as listeners, we feel.  And how we feel may hurt how we listen.

Leading or Following

One critical question to ask ourselves as we listen to a sermon is: What am I feeling about what I’m hearing?

Now, I’m not asking, “What do …

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Filtered Listening, 3: Applications

In the first two posts, we thought about two filters that should cover our ears as we listen to sermons: true/false and source.  Okay, we come to the issue that in many ways triggers this series of posts on listening: sermon applications.

Preaching really consists of three simple parts: read the text, explain the meaning of the text, and apply the text.  We could elaborate on any of those parts (for example, explaining the meaning will very often include illustrating the text), but at bottom, this is all preaching really is.  Now when I say three simple parts, I don’t mean that preaching is therefore easy.  Doing these three things well requires a lot of prayerful work and practice.  I, for one, am still learning.

Reading the text and explaining the meaning of the text are the foundation and walls of preaching.  But the house isn’t finished until the roofing of application takes place.  In application, the preacher moves the text from the page to the life of his listeners.  He presses it into the heart and mind if the Spirit blesses it.  And that’s one major aim of preaching: to help the people listen to God’s word in such a way that they’re able then to live in the comfort, hope, correction, instruction, rebuke and instruction of God’s word (2 Tim. 3:16).

But for the benefits of application to be maximized, we need to listen with an application filter that protects us from two problems.

The Dirt That Clogs the Application …

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Filtered Listening, 2: Source

Yesterday we began a new series of posts on listening to the word of God as it’s preached.  With these posts, I pray the Lord would help us to listen well so that we might be sanctified in the truth and mature into Christ’s likeness.  I love the way the 9Marks slogan puts it: “We will look like Him as we listen to Him.”

If that’s so, then listening is a fundamental spiritual discipline and skill.  Our souls prosper as our ears prosper.  As we embrace Christ in His word, we find ourselves embraced by Him.  Spiritual life and communion come to us at the speed of sound.  So, we need proper listening filters to let the word through and to catch the spiritual dust and debris that so often hinders our hearing well.

Today, I want to suggest another filter for listening well.

“Where Did He Get That From?”

The preacher is to proclaim the truth, using all the tools of knowledge available to him.  A solid pastor will be well-rounded in education, experience, and interests.  He’ll be conversant with the themes of his day and a few of the thinkers contemporary and historical.

But a faithful pastor must be mastered by one book in particular: the Bible.  He is not called simply to preach.  He is called specifically to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:1-2).  His message is already determined by the Divine Author.  While he may benefit from all fields of learning, those fields serve the one source of eternal …

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Filtered Listening: True or False

It was November 15, 2006.  That was the day my friend Paul Martin, the Richard Baxter of Toronto, left a comment on a post about tipping.  His comment wasn’t about tipping, it was about something I’d written in the post:

But on the whole, the comments in the blogosphere remind me of a lot of evangelical preaching I hear (and perhaps my own, I need to go back and listen to some of my sermons). The preacher starts with a text (hopefully), offers an application, then insists on the binding authority of the application rather than the text.

Paul simply said, “What a danger! And how easily we slip into it!  You should write more about this, brother.”  For over three years now (you can see how quickly I get things done!), I’ve been thinking off and on about this passing statement and Paul’s encouragement. I’ve been thinking about preaching, slips in preaching, but also listening, and slips in listening.

In that time, I’ve even had the privilege of writing a little book that assigns first place to listening well to sermons. Others have written book length treatments of the topic.  See here for a couple.

And in that time, I’ve had tons of conversations that come back to these kinds of issues.  The thoughts also come up when I’m reading someone else’s material during my own sermon preparation.  The comments can be positive or critical, and both are helpful. The more I preach, the more convinced I …

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The Primacy of Preaching

The good folks over at Expository Thoughts offer a short post with three great quotes on preaching:

In his opening chapter The Primacy of Preaching from the book Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea For Preaching Dr. Al Mohler wrote, “Evangelical pastors commonly state that biblical preaching is the hallmark of their calling. Nevertheless, a careful observer might come to a very different conclusion. The priority of preaching is simply not evident in far too many churches.

We must affirm with Luther that the preaching of the Word is the first essential mark of the church. Luther believed so strongly in the centrality of preaching that he stated, ‘Now, wherever you hear or see this Word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do no doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica (Christian, holy people) must be there….And even were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people and, conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word.'”

Before he died the great Bible expositor James Montgomery Boice wrote, “I do not think it is too much to say that preaching really is an essential means perhaps even the most important means, of grace. If that is the case, then we should be very careful in our Christian lives to expose ourselves to the best teaching and attend the best churches available.”

2 Timothy 3:13-4:5; John 21:15-17; Col. 1:25-29; Romans 10:17; 1 …

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Hearing Is Believing

In a culture over-saturated with images and the clanging of many sounds, hearing is undervalued. Extended attention to words and sentences and paragraphs and arguments unpacking a lofty idea is a lost discipline. Gone (forever?) are the days of 2-3 hour sermons or public lectures where the ideas of the day are carefully articulated, debated, and finally evaluated by hearers hearing with discernment.

A short memory might make it easy to pass over this or that trivial detail and passing fad with no lasting consequence. But are a short attention span, dull listening, and a fleeting memory very beneficial when it comes to the truth about God and His word?

Because the weighty and sublime truths about God are not easily grasped with slothful listening, “expositional listening” becomes a critical discipline for God’s people. Piper encourages us to think about how critical listening is using Jesus’ own words here. Let us heed the word!

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