Poor Man's Preaching: Why The Richest You'll Sound is When You Sound Like Yourself

I remember the first moment I ever heard Rob Bell preach. I was seventeen and just committed to studying pastoral ministry in college, and I was enchanted by his teaching. His church was skyrocketing. He just started these video teachings that were super hip. And deep within me was a desire growing to hear more about God. It was the blissful moment when you’re the first of your friends to discover a new band.

But I showed up to bible college only to find that I wasn’t the only one listening to Rob Bell. Everyone was oozing pathos during chapel. Practice sermons were punctuated with rhetorical questions just like Bell’s. Even tough guys were caught inflecting their voice to sound just like his raspy plea. Everywhere I went I met the poor man’s Rob Bell.

If Bell himself could have observed this, there’s no way he would have denied the existence of Hell, because that’s exactly what the culture of preaching had become… a preaching hell. 

I’ve noticed since his departure from pastoral ministry, nobody is trying to reproduce Bell. Instead, this ghetto is filled today with thousands of copy-cat preachers who don’t have enough assurance in their own style and their own voice so they parrot top podcasting preachers.

So, to the Stanley-Driscoll-Judah-Chandler-Levi-Furticks out there… try preaching your message as if you were trying to copy you. You actually might connect well with yourself.

And that's what will connect well with everyone else. 

Of All People: Responsibility, Religion and Racial Reconciliation

This post is adapted from my message “Of All People” given to Bethel Hobart/Portage on July 24, 2016. Listen now.

Reflecting back on the days before we started dating, Kristin often mumbles, “I can’t believe I married Dan Jacobsen… of all people.” It’s that second bit that really gets my attention. The first part I can understand. I’m obviously a charming, handsome catch of a man. But then she qualifies it… of all people. Ouch?

In the gospels, Jesus does the same thing. Remember when Jesus is confronted by a lawyer and asked how to inherit eternal life? As Jesus responds, “What does the Law say?” it’s almost as if he’s says to the lawyer, “You, of all people, ought to know the law.” When the lawyer responds correctly, "love God, love neighbors," he asks Jesus a follow up... “But who is my neighbor?”

And to this question, Jesus tells one of the best known stories in the world. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well, probably... A Jew travels from Jerusalem to Jericho and is surprised by thugs who beat him, take his stuff and his clothes, and leave him half-dead without any help. Along the way a priest sees the man and doesn’t help out. Surely, of all people, the priest should have done something! Then comes a Levite, who probably saw the priest ignore the man and thought to himself, “If he, of all people, didn’t stop, why should I?” 

Finally, it's a Samaritan, of all people, who saw the man and had compassion for him, taking care of him. The Jews had little to do with Samaritans, so much so that when Jesus asks the lawyer the question about who was a neighbor to the man, the lawyer can’t bring himself to say the words “the Samaritan.” Instead, the lawyer generically responds, “The one who showed mercy.” 

It’s almost as if Jesus is telling the lawyer “If you want to inherit eternal life, you must love God completely and your neighbors thoroughly. This is so high a task, it seems humanly impossible.” Which is why, in the midst of this law-soaked story, Jesus infuses a message of grace and mercy. Jesus responds to law with grace. This is what he always does.

I find it so encouraging that in response to the demands of the law, Jesus tells the story of all people. What I mean is this… All of us have been dead in sin, left in a mess on the side of the road, and needed someone to see our need. It was Jesus who came to serve us, and he sacrificed himself for us, and spent his life to redeem us out of our debt to sin. Only by grace are we alive in the spirit. Christians, of all people, know this kind of grace and mercy. 

Because of this, here are three ways Jesus calls Christians to live as gospel neighbors...

At the core of this passage is the question, “What’s my responsibility in this life?” However, people who have been changed by the gospel are freed from parsing the particularities of the law and recognize the question isn’t “what’s my responsibility?” but instead they simply declare, “I’ll take responsibility.” What was it that compelled the Samaritan to take responsibility for the man? It was compassion and mercy. Of all people, he would seem to have the most reason to cross the road, except mercy and grace say “I’ll take responsibility.” 

Many people think the church is the place that does acts of mercy and grace. But when we deflect responsibility to the church as an agency to act with compassion and mercy, we’re crossing over the road and leaving people that God has positioned us to love. And this works itself out best when we aren’t limited to serve just others in our church community. Do you know the best way you can share the gospel of Jesus with your antagonistic atheistic friend? It's not through well rehearsed philosophical arguments... (This was the lawyer's tactic with Jesus and it didn't end well for him). The best way to share the gospel is to "Go, and do likewise." 

Racial Reconciliation
We can’t get around this fact: for centuries this story has been called the story of "The Good Samaritan." His race is a part of the title! Jewish pride was put in its place as the needs of a fellow Jew were met by a Samaritan. Here's the big idea: we ought not be defined and limited in our fellowship and in our mercy and compassion for one another that we only serve those who look like us or sound like us or believe like us or think like us. Gospel neighboring crosses racial roads to come together. 

Who owns the responsibility to champion racial reconciliation in the world? It can’t be the government. It can’t be the schools. Jesus says it's his followers, of all people.

Teaching Hard Topics (and why my wife is a better communicator than me)

The past few days in the Jacobsen family have been fun. Sunday evening at Harvest Naperville's HSM we finished up a series called #nowtrending, where students had the opportunity to ask any question about faith, God, or the Bible and we'd do our best to answer it. The overwhelming question students asked was this: "What does the Bible REALLY say about Same-Sex Attraction?" So that was fun.

And then on Wednesday, Kristin had the privilege of teaching high school girls about lust at Aurora Christian School, and following her message, I gave a message to the middle school students on the same topic.

The messages were good. They were deeply biblical, full of compassion, conviction, and hope. Jesus was the hero. But the response was very mixed. And so it caused me to reflect on the issues surrounding teaching hard topics in student ministry and I've been challenged by this one thought:

You can attack the dragon of culture all you want, but until you win a heart, you can't win at all.

I received this e-mail from one of our small group leaders after our discussion on Sunday night. She wrote,

This was an interesting meeting to say the least. We had half of the girls who were very vocal about being pro-homosexuality. The other half felt like it should just be accepted because it is so prevalent today. Unfortunately it did not seem like their opinions changed much after the lesson. I believe they pretty much shut down and were not receptive to hearing another point of view.

This should solidify in pastors the need to address tough topics, for sure. Culture is big, it is pervasive, and it is collective. Our students default to the societal norm if we don't put before them God's wisdom.

Yet, our aim isn't to overthrow culture, it's to win hearts.

This is what my wife has taught me so well, and is why she's naturally a better communicator than me. Watching Kristin prepare for her message to these girls was a bit like watching a friend train for a marathon - there was a lot of questioning, a lot of discipline, and a lot of anticipation. But what I love about what I saw in her is this - when she takes an issue, she wraps her heart around it so she can connect God's Word to the heart of her listeners. And it's warm, personal, true, honest, and convicting.

It's easy to get sidetracked on the logic, clarity, and urgency of the message. But when I can let God use my heart in preaching, communication results in change. This was a super timely reminder for me... "out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."