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April 1973 · Vol. 2 No. 2 · pp. 56–59 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr


  1. The wish to be relevant may make us defensive. I remember a sermon at a non-M.B. baptism in which the brother sought to convince us that his particular form of baptism was the right one.

    The service for the ordination of deacons in one church gave the preacher his opportunity. He invited our family to sing on that occasion and then preached interminably on the structure of the true church, saying that the true New Testament church can be detected by its structure, since the New Testament is very clear on that point.

    We are not ourselves redeemed from this error merely by chuckling at those who are worse. We, for example, tend to see baptism and reception of new members into our congregation as a splendid opportunity in our day for expounding on the need for officially joining the local church (even though the baptismal candidates are already doing that; no need to prod now, surely.) Weddings are excellent opportunities for spouting statistics on divorce and our own views on it. Pentecost offers us a chance to give our view on the charismatic movement.

    Is not preaching at these events designed to build up believers in the faith? Why then do we aid them in becoming defensive about a few specifics which they have come to believe?

  2. To speak pastorally to a specific group in the congregation helps others to listen and interpret the truth in relation to themselves. At weddings, for example, I speak to the couple. The message is intended specifically for them. Yet it is amazing how many persons come later and say “That was for us, too.”

    The response would be quite different if we should preach a judgment sermon to specific persons. If the congregation should become aware of the target of our sermonic sword thrusts, the message would not reach them. They would disassociate themselves from the target. Perhaps this disassociation would take the form of identifying with the preacher and secretly cheering him on. Or they would disassociate themselves from the preacher and become angry with him for singling out particular people for his target. Or else they might recline in smugness and self-commendation, but they would scarcely hear the sermon as a message for themselves.

    At a baptism we are well advised to speak to a specific group. If we will not preach about why they should join our particular church (or some other defensive sermon), but will preach good news, we will help others to listen as well.

    I was told that a young adolescent girl had sat in rapt attention throughout the sermon even though there was distraction caused by a {57} group of junior-high boys behind her. (That, by the way, is the bane of the balcony, especially when 10 to 12 year olds—or older—are permitted to use it as a place to gather in gab groups during the worship hour.)

    A middle-aged mother said to me that she would never forget Psalm 103. Parents of the baptismal candidates seem to have listened both for themselves and their children.

  3. The sermon deals with very basic things of our faith. Hopefully it will strengthen the baptismal candidates in their resolve to live the new life in Christ. At the same time it is designed to help all other believers to rejoice in Christ and reaffirm their commitment to him and his way.

    You will notice that the sermon is very much homiletical. It takes every part of the text seriously, and seeks to follow the thought process of the author.


Introduction—The decision you’ve made about God in Jesus Christ is the wisest decision you could have made. You’ll never regret it; therefore, stay with it!

Text—Psalm 103.

  1. Let’s bless God together for who he is (v. 1)
    1. Bless
      1. Definition—to fall on one’s knees; to do obeisance; to acknowledge that God is God.
      2. Exhortation—“Bless his holy name.”
    2. What is his name?
      1. Old Testament designations—gracious, just, righteous, longsuffering, etc.
      2. In Jesus his name is wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace (Isa. 9).
      3. In Jesus his name is love (1 John)
    3. That name is holy—there is none like it.
      1. Search among men—there is none like it.
      2. Search among the gods of the nations—there is none like it.
      3. Search among the modern religions of the world—there is none like it.
    4. Therefore, bless!
      1. Bless him for what he is!
      2. All that is within me, bless!
  2. Let’s bless him together for what he does in Jesus Christ (vs. 2-5).
    Note: What he does are benefits—they are good for us. Even so we are prone to forget when things go well.
    1. He forgives.
      1. Past sins can’t hold us back.
      2. Others may remember, but God doesn’t keep bringing them up.
      3. We need not keep bringing them to mind—they are gone. (A disciplining memory may be wholesome, but such memory only accentuates the grace of God.)
      4. What a wonder! (There is a difference between knowing about forgiveness or experiencing it deeply.){58}
    2. He heals.
      1. Sin’s power to destroy us is broken. Since our deepest needs are now being met, we need not seek to meet our needs in destructive ways like overworking, or overeating, or any other form of addiction.
      2. The gospel brings wholeness. The wholeness of the soul and its integration around Jesus Christ are reflected in the wholeness of the body. Peace replaces anxiety, goodwill replaces resentment, love replaces isolation, and the body responds with health.
    3. He redeems from the Pit.
      1. We have eternal life—Christ’s life.
      2. Jesus has won the victory over death; therefore, we are no longer in bondage to the fear of death.
    4. He crowns us with lovingkindness.
      1. In Jesus God has become a Father. Therefore, we no longer fear him as a judge (Romans 8:1).
      2. The relationship with God is an abiding one; we belong to him; we are his.
    5. He satisfies us.
      1. Our deep needs are met in Jesus Christ. (Not all of our wants are met, of course.)
      2. God keeps doing what is good for us, even into old age, even through it (Romans 8:28).
    6. He renews us.
      1. God understands our ups and downs. (Often a good sleep helps.)
      2. When exhaustion, discouragement, depression, and weariness are more than sleep can take care of, God renews us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus God comes right down to where we are and picks us up.
    Summary note: All of these are ongoing benefits.
  3. With a God like that, we can face life—all of it. (vs. 6-18).
    1. We can face the hardships that come to us through the sins of others (vs. 6-7).
      1. We can endure mistreatment because of our faith and our discipleship. A clash of values at school, on the job, in the family, in the church; God will work it out and prove his disciple right in the end.
      2. We can endure the mockery which comes because of our ill-fortune. When people ask, “where is your God now?” then God will show us his way as he did to Moses when Israel murmured against him. In time he will show the mockers his power as well.
    2. We can face the hardships that come to us because of our own sin (vs. 8-10).
      1. God is gracious, merciful.
        Of course, he doesn’t ignore our sin.
      2. He is slow to anger when we do sin.
        After all, he loves us.
        But if we persist in sinning, he’ll get to us. {59}
      3. Yet his anger is only for a moment.
        When we respond, his face changes.
      4. Even when the disciplining act of God is most painful, we can be assured that he is merciful.
        He does not deal with us according to our sin.
        His action is discipline, not vengeance.
    3. We can face the hardships which come to us through perplexing situations (vs. 11-14). A 19-year-old girl is in General Hospital because of an accident. She says that sometimes she doubts that there is a God. As evidence she points to all the troubles in the world. Probably she is talking about the perplexity of her own situation. Why should she have been hurt, and all the others so unscathed.
      1. We know that love is at the steering-wheel even when we’re driving in a fog.
        Above the fog is blue sky and sunshine.
        God reigns supreme above my perplexity.
      2. I need not interpret my perplexing problems as God’s judgment for my sin.
        After all, my sins are gone; they are forgiven.
      3. The God in whose hands we are is a pitying God.
        He is a tender Father who loves his children.
      4. Our God knows our limitations.
        Physical, mental, as well as spiritual.
        He will not allow a hardship that is more than we can handle.
    4. We can face even death (vs. 15-18).
      1. We must accept our mortality.
        Death is a part of life; it is inescapable, inevitable, implacable.
      2. But God’s love outdistances death.
        God’s love endures beyond death.
      3. Even here on earth our faith lives on.
        Our children are blessed by God because of us.
        Our faith is transmitted and the benefits which we received from God are continued toward our children.
  4. Therefore, we conclude:
    1. That God is God (v. 19)
      This is his world, and my life is his as well.
    2. All of his creation blesses and praises him. (vs. 20-22a)
      Both the visible and invisible.
      They all acknowledge him to be who he is.
    3. And we will bless him too! (v. 22b)

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