Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best Quote

The best quote I have heard yet today:

“Self pity is not a fruit of the spirit.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eswine: A Guide for Testimonies



In Preaching to a Post-Everything World, Zack Eswine gives a helpful list of guidelines for testimonies.  The list is first-of-all intended for preachers in giving personal testimonies that speak to the shared needs, fears and hopes of the congregation. 

  1. God is the hero Our testimony is a proclamation of God’s excellencies. We are telling forth what HE has done for us. (emphasis cph)
  2. We show a redemptive vulnerability Our testimony is meant to leave people saying, “What a God!” rather than pitying us. Our vulnerability is mean to exalt Him.
  3. Our testimonies vary. Testimonies can refer to God’s mercy for our sin (Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-32) or to God’s provision for our circumstances (2 Cor 7:5-7; 12:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:16-18). Let the kind of testimony that you give rise from the text.
  4. Speak with sensitivity. Not everyone listening is a Christian. Clarify words that may be foreign to someone unfamiliar with the Bible. Children are listening as well. Use age-appropriate description. Remember, understatement can allow for a wide range of age-appropriate understanding.
  5. Anchor your story with the biblical passage. Only testify to something that exposes what the biblical text is saying. As a living illustration of the text, show the clay jar and exalt the treasure of God’s character and work.
  6. Turn the mirror. When testifying about our weakness and God’s provision, remember to turn the mirror. As you testify, in essence, you are letting people see your weakness. Then let them see themselves so as to turn to the same grace that you need and that is demonstrated in the exposition of the text. After sharing our weaknesses and God’s provision, we want to add words to the effect, “Now, how about you?”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Looking at a Text from Multiple Perspectives

Preaching without Notes Charles Koller in Expository Preaching Without Notes offers this suggestion AS ONE OF FOUR as ways to develop either the thesis of the sermon or the main points.  It answers the question: How do I put flesh on the bones of my outline?”

Approach the passage first from the standpoint of the reader, to note the message or lessons which are obvious.  Then approach the passage from the standpoint of each person or group of persons involved, including God and Christ and the Holy Spirit.  What does the passage reveal to each or about each?  What does each one say, or do, or think, or purpose, or learn, or discover, or experience?  (p. 55)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Limiting God?

image This morning I was troubled by a post that I read in a blog which I generally appreciate.  It is not that this particular blog was unique:  it has been a philosophy that has eaten at me for a while, but until this morning, I couldn’t put into words what it was that bugged me. Because I respect the blogger & am really only using him as a foil, I will not credit the quote:

This morning as I sat here in my study preparing for next Sunday’s sermon, it occurred to me that the choice of whether or not to preach the Bible simply comes down to this: Do I think more highly of what I have to say or of what God has already said in His Word? Put another way, whose words do I truly believe are more trustworthy, authoritative, and efficacious in the hearts of the people? Mine? Or God’s?

I believe that in many ways, the philosophy expressed here is inconsistent and distrustful of God. 

Now, I put all that I am saying below in the framework that

  1. We are attempting to have intellectual and spiritual integrity
  2. We are actually preaching a sermon and not giving a moralistic (or other) talk. What I am preaching actually legitimately derives from and references holy scripture.

But my problems with this are threefold:

  1. If this were truly my (or the writers) belief, then we should just read the Bible and sit down.  ANY words that we say about the text or in application of the text would be dangerous.  They would be adding to the text and diluting it. I would never preach at all, but simply be a scripture reader.  Not that scripture reading is bad in worship (!) but that reading and preaching are two different things.
  2. If I have studied the text(s) and have some semblance of intellectual and spiritual integrity, I need to trust that the Holy Spirit is active in the process as well. While each type of sermon structure (exegetical, expositional, topical) have their own limitations and dangers, I believe that the Holy Spirit can (and does) work through all three.   I trust that the Holy Spirit resides in me and is directing me and will guide my words as I preach (that is true even if I am preaching a strictly exegetical sermon as well!)  I believe that the Holy Spirit has given me the gift of creativity in learning how to communicate the truth of scripture. 
  3. This gets back to my previously state pet peeve that the McArthur type of exegetical preaching is just not found in scripture.  It is seldom there, if at all.  It is not that it is wrong, but the rabidity and ungraciousness of some of its proponents towards preachers who use any other style must be countered by simply directing them back to holy writ.  How did Jesus preach?  How did the apostles preach in Acts?  How did Paul preach?  There are those who point to Ezra in the Old Testament as preaching exegetically.  Perhaps, even probably.  But that kind of makes my point.  It is the exception, not the rule.

I am not trying to embark on a crusade or battle against exegetical preaching (heaven forbid!), but against the narrow and inconsistent mindset of those who declare that it is the only legitimate type of biblical preaching. 

End of diatribe.


Note on the illustration: From its petals resembling doves, the columbine has been adopted  as an emblem of the Holy Spirit.  The red columbine has been used especially for this purpose since its red spurs resemble also the tongues of flame with which the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles at Pentecost.

In paintings of the Madonna the columbine recalls that Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, of whom she is also the dwelling place or temple, according to the words of the angel: "And the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dealing With Personal Criticism

image In a discussion on transparency in the pulpit, Zach Eswine (Preaching to a Post-Everything  World) addresses personal criticism of our preaching.  I found his list helpful.

A preacher encounters four kinds of personal criticisms:

  1. You don’t do it the way my favorite preacher does it. This is a criticism of personal preaching style or handling of a passage.  There’s nothing we can do about our personality. The criticism is essentially correct; we are not like the other preacher.  This comparison stings.  When given outside the context of friendship, it shows a shallow understanding of calling and gifts.  But we can shrug our shoulders and say, “You are right. I’m not like that other person.”
  2. You could have done better. This is a criticism of clarity or competence with the text and the sermon.  Every sermon technically warrants this criticism. j There is always something we could have explained more clearly or illustrated better. This criticism hurts.  When given outside the context of friendship, it shows a shallow understanding of what preaching requires and how preachers are limited.  But we can shrug our shoulders and say, “You are right.  This passage has more to say than I can match.
  3. Your motives are wrong.  This is an accusation of character.  It puts the criticizer into the position of knowing the heart.  It puts the preacher into an indefensible position.  How does one defend when accused of preaching a particular sermon with pride? Do you try to prove your humility?  To do so only confirms the suspicions of the accuser.
  4. You shouldn’t preach at all.  This is an accusation of calling. Challenge to ones character and calling perhaps hurt the most .  No individual Christian has the authority to determine whether another person is called or not.  This authority resides with Christ alone and is demonstrated through the community of believers, not individuals.

Now the reality is the most hearers will not criticize you to your face.  Only the most brazen will.  But there are those who will.  And if you are like me, it takes a process of self-talk to know how to evaluate the criticisms that come.  Maybe there four will help you, like they helped me. 

Not Fun News But Good News

In his devotional book, “A Call to Die” David Nasser has a quote that struck me in the heart today. 

It’s not the fun news, but the good news.

That struck me both personally as well as culturally.  It is easy to point to our culture and note how the American church wants the Gospel to be “fun” news (ala Joel Osteen).  0306081002American culture and the American church as its religious representative is dying because of their desire for “fun news".

That would be the easy part.  But the hard part is the personal application.  What is good for me personally is not necessarily fun for me. In my life, I would rather focus on the “fun” news at the expense of the hard news. Jesus brought good news to the rich young ruler, but it was certainly not fun news.  He is doing the same thing in my life as well.  That’s all I can say at this point, but here is the quote in context:

Jesus didn’t come to entertain us.  Jesus’ ultimate goal incoming was to bring glory to the Father.  Yes, in that lies the good news of our salvation through his death & resurrection, and the opportunity to be worshippers of Him. However, there’s a huge difference.  It’s not the fun news, but the good news. If we expect to be entertained, we will leave him at the first request for sacrifice and obedience. The people in the crowd did.  Many of us do, too.  But hard words are just as much a part of being a disciple of Christ as all those promises we love to h ear. In fact, if you don’t hear any hard words from God, it’s a good sign that you aren’t his child at all.  Solomon wrote about it; so did the writer to the Hebrews: 

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child.” (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-6)

David Nasser, A Call to Die, p. 35)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Preaching as Straight as an Arrow

image Charles Koller in Expository Preaching Without Notes gives the following terrific word picture:

The structural specifications for a good sermon are comparable to the specifications by which [the Native American] fashioned his arrows. He realized that his very survival might depend on the excellence of his arrow. The shaft, therefore, must be absolutely straight, lest it wobble in flight; the point must be sharp enough to penetrate; the feathers must be in just the right amount to steady the arrow in flight; yet not to retard its flight or dull its thrust.  Similarly the sermon must have a clear thought running straight through the length of it, a sharp point at the end, and just enough “feathers” to cope with the atmosphere through which it must pass on its way to the target.

I am not exactly sure what the “feathers” would be,(maybe illustrative material, maybe application?) but I find the word picture extremely helpful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And You Don’t Have to Put $4 Gas in Your Books!

 image Lester Harnish in The Preacher: His Life and Work in gives an interesting rule of thumb in terms or library resources.

the minister should have a library costing at least as much as the car he drives, and should spend four hours a day, five days a week, in concentrated reading and study.


Is that excessive?  I suspect that they are good goals to work toward, but not something to condemn yourself if you cannot regularly meet these rules of thumb.

What do you think? image


(pic is of Spurgeon’s library…I don’t think it is Spurgeon’s car).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kimball: To PPT or Not to PPT? That is the Question…

One of the emphases that Dan Kimball made (see previous post) that DID spark my thinking  was in regard to learning styles.  As I said before, nothing he said was all that new, but him raising it again helped me think through why I do what I do. image

I am speaking particularly of using PowerPoint (PPT).   I have used PPT for many years.  I began using it sometime back in the mid-90’s.  And I still do pretty much every Sunday today.  I will admit that there are not a lot of differences (I don’t think) in my PowerPoint presentations today than what there were in the 90’s, except I am intentionally making shorter presentations (fewer slides).

But I had toyed with the idea of discontinuing them.  I know that many preaching purists talk degradingly about them.  And in many business blogs, there is talk about not using them at all because they are often done so poorly and are so distracting.  A while back, one of my elders commented that on a Sunday when the PPT didn’t work that he liked it so much better because he could pay better attention by just watching me as I preached.  The PPT was (in his mind) just a distraction; I wondered if all the effort put into PowerPoint presentations was really a waste of time.

But Kimball talked again about learning styles. The number of people whose primarily learning style is auditory is very small.  There are more who learn best by seeing something, or by touching something. 

While he didn’t use this quote, I think it illustrates his point:

"Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the school-aged population remembers what is heard; 40 percent recalls well visually the things that are seen or read; many must write or use their fingers in some manipulative way to help them remember basic facts; other people cannot internalize information or skills unless they use them in real-life activities such as actually writing a letter to learn the correct format." (Teaching Students to Read Through Their Individual Learning Styles, Marie Carbo, Rita Dunn, and Kenneth Dunn; Prentice-Hall, 1986, p.13.)

And that is really why I have stuck with PPT all of these years.  I have said that I want people to hear the sermon, see the sermon, touch the sermon (by having a worksheet to write on), even taste it or smell it if we can.  Because people learn in so many different ways. And so, I have been adverse to giving it up.   Obviously, PPT can’t be the ONLY visual learning activity. An object held in the hand to illustrate a point, a video clip, something like that also enhances learning.  But I still hold out that PPT is a helpful tool for impressing the point of the sermon on the hearer.

(Some wag has commented, “Just think how much more effective Jesus could have been if only he had had PowerPoint and movie clips!”)

But I would say that Jesus used what he had in front of him.  As he preached on a hillside and talked about the lilies of the field, as he sat in the temple; he spoke of the widow who put her two mites into the treasury; as he held a child, he talked about the necessity of becoming like a child to enter into the kingdom.

If someone criticizes (as they do) that by using props or video we are implying that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are not sufficient to impress the message home in the hearts of people.  But if that criticism is fairly leveled at us, it must also be leveled at Jesus. Because he used the objects around him to focus people’s attention to the message.

I guess I would hold that culturally they are similar.  Jesus took what was around him in the environment and used it to impress visually the message he was trying to drive home.  We preach (too often, unfortunately) in sterile, corporate theater-like facilities that are so unlike where our people live the rest of their lives.  We need to bring in a little bit of reality, either in the form of pictures or clips, or objects, or…yes, even PowerPoint…to help people hear and learn. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Painting Myself Into an Extemporaneous Corner

image OK.  After three weeks of extemporaneous preaching, I am beginning to adjust (or see the need to adjust) how I prepare my sermons and the structure of my sermons.  This week was a fairly normal week in how I prepared…old patterns and routines  But when I got ready to preach this morning, I realized that I had given myself an almost impossible task. It is not uncommon for me to include quite a few cross references.  I don’t always use them all, but generally there are a number of cross references in my sermons.   You interpret scripture through scripture, so while it is not necessarily “bouncing” from scripture to scripture, I recognize that is a characteristic of my preaching.

I realized I was in trouble when I went to put those sticky-note flags in my Bible at the point where the cross references were located.  I had TWENTY (count them TWENTY) cross references in this morning’s notes.  That is even a bit much for me.  But it suddenly struck me… “I won’t be able to remember when these verses are to be used.   And the panic sunk in…this outline is WAY too complicated for me to preach.  Add in all of the cross references and I have made this sermon almost impossible to preach!  It is OK if they are in your notes and you are basically preaching from you notes or manuscript.  But in extemporaneous preaching you want to totally stay away from notes…including the safety net of knowing which scriptures to use when.

As we approached time to preach, my head kept swimming: “Which of these cross references should I delete?  How can I remember which ones to delete?”  I decided just to preach and if there were ones that God naturally brought to my mind, I would use them and if he didn’t, then I wouldn’t stress about it.

There were a couple that needed to be used because they made a specific point: I Thess 2:13 illustrated the difference between παραλαμβάνω (paralambanō) and δέχομαι (dechomai) which is important to the use of δέχομαι in Acts 17:11; and Acts 17:4 contrasts the evangelistic fruit in Thessalonica as opposed to Berea.  I also knew I needed to use Lk. 19:12 and 1 Cor. 1:26 because they show the usage of εὐγενής eugené̄s [of noble birth] which is important to this text.  In the end, I just quoted the pertinent parts of those verses without giving the reference or turning to it in my Bible. 

But frankly, I left out almost all of the rest of the references.  Whether or not the sermon was better without them or not, I don’t know. But I knew if I was going to stick with extemporaneous preaching, I would not be able to use all of them.

FWIW, here is my outline:

Christians of Nobility

Acts 17:11-12

THEME: You and I are “more noble” when we set aside personal considerations in order to discern, and do, God’s will as found in the Bible.

I. The Bereans received the Word eagerly

II. The Bereans examined the Word regularly.

III. The Bereans believed the Word wholeheartedly

IV. We Would do well to imitate the Bereans faithfully.

I concluded with some of the findings of the Willow Creek Community Church REVEAL study. 


I already am thinking through how I will outline the sermon on elders for Nov. 2.  (I am out of town next Sunday and so “my” (sounds pretty possessive, doesn’t it) youth minister is going to preach). 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jesus—not the New Testament—Is the Fulfillment of the Old Testament

Glen Scrivener is a minister in the Church of England in the UK and author of the blog Christ the Truth.  I had not heard of him until Milton Stanley pointed me his way. 

But Glen makes an important point, the fact of which I knew, but the reality of it I didn’t. (How’s that for confusing!) 

Scrivener’s reminder is that…

Jesus fulfils the OT, not the NT.  There’s a difference.  It’s He that stands above both Scriptures.

There’s nothing inherent in the Greek Scriptures that the Hebrew Scriptures lack.  The point of both - Christ Himself - stands ever above both Old and New Testament.  Life does not exist in the Old Testament.  But life does not exist in the New Testament either.

Or as Glen puts it graphically (the red circle is mine):

NT not fulfillment of OT



This arises, obviously from John 5:39ff.  But often in our preaching it is too easy to slip into the glib conclusion that it is the New Testament that fulfills the Old.  Jesus would not agree.  And that is, after all, what matters.

Read the rest of his post to get the whole perspective.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Shack: A Review

image Earlier this summer I read the popular book, “The Shack.”  It certainly has generated a lot of controversy.  Periodically I issue “white papers” on various topics (“Women’s Role in the Church” and “So What About That Book…The DaVinci Code” are two fairly popular ones that come to mind). 

If you would be interested in receiving an e-copy of the Whitepaper, “So What About That Book…The Shack?”  drop me a note.  Glad to share and glad to receive your thoughts on my review.

Dan Kimball: Look for the Nuggets!


This past Tuesday I took most of my staff  to a conference center south of Salem and we spent the day listening to Dan Kimball, author of "They Like Jesus, But Not the Church."  We had read the book as a staff and they were excited to hear him in person. 

I recognize that it must be very difficult to be an author/speaker.  Some of the people to whom you are speaking have read your work and some of the people have not.  To find a balance between sharing the content of tour book without wasting the time of those who have already read it must be a very difficult balance.

I suspect that you have already picked up that I was disappointed in Kimball's presentation.  He came across as a personable man, but he is definitely a writer and not a speaker.  He simply shared the content of his book, but without the hard-hitting power that his book demonstrated.  It was kind of "They Like Jesus..." Lite.

But as my mother always taught me...look for the golden nuggets in any bad situation. 

I did find it interesting that in their church's statement of faith they include a statement of Covenant Marriage: something along the lines that marriage is a life-long covenant between a man and a woman.  It is so core to their beliefs that it stands up there with salvation by Grace and the Trinitarian personality of God.  If a person does not believe that, they cannot be a member of that church and the church will not link arms or participate in events with church communities that do not affirm that.

While is times past, that might have seemed a self-evident statement, obviously such is no longer the case.

He also spent a good deal of time laying out a theology of homosexuality. This was one of the key tenets of his book, "They Like Jesus, But Not the Church."   Non-Christians see believers as anti-gay homophobes.  How does one protect a genuine love for gay people without gutting what the Bible, particularly the New Testament teaches on homosexuality?  Kimball affirmed that some people may be “born” as homosexuals, but that fact (if it is indeed a fact) does not give a license to promiscuity or to practice gay sex.  Christian gays are called to abstinence.  One can declare that they are gay in terms of attraction and also a believer, but be an abstinent believer. 

Again, I wish this was new. This was basically the direction my seminary prof Joe Sutherlin at ESR taught up twenty years ago.  It was helpful then, but seems fairly old hat today.  Perhaps it is only old hat to me and is not to the church at large.  Anyway, I left wishing for more. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

7 Reasons Why Speakers Flop

image Mark Sanborn is the president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc. "an idea studio for leadership development and remarkable performance" based out of Highlands Ranch, CO. 

In an article featured on John Maxwell's Maximum Impact site, Sanborn lists seven reasons why speakers flop.  He is speaking re: business presentations primarily, but the same caveats apply to preaching. 

His seven are:

  1. A disregard for time
  2. Unclear purpose
  3. Inadequate preparation
  4. Failure to capture attention
  5. Pomposity
  6. Boredom
  7. False endings

Sanborn gives explanations of each of his points and then provides a checklist for thinking through your sermon/presentation:

  1. Did I stick to my allotted time?
  2. Did I develop and present purposefully?
  3. Was I thoroughly prepared?
  4. Did I capture attention at the very beginning?
  5. Did I positively influence listeners?
  6. Was I appropriately entertaining, or at least not boring?
  7. Did I end only once?

You can find the entire article here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Preaching on Political Issues

image I considered deviating from my year-long Acts series this coming Sunday. 

We in Oregon vote totally by mail.  We are the only state in the union that only has the option of vote by mail. There are no polling places except your home.  (Our neighbor to the north, Washington, comes in second with maybe 70% for ballots cast by mail, according to Newsweek.) 

The voters explanation booklets came in the mail yesterday and the ballots will start arriving next week.  As soon as you get it, you can vote & send it back  (or drop it in drop boxes located around the city).  So my church folks will start voting this week.  A majority will wait until the last few days before Nov. 2, but up to 1/3 will send in their ballots weeks early. 

I can easily live with the restrictions put on us as a 501(c)(3) organization not to endorse specific candidates, [see my previous posts on this] but I do feel the need to link our faith with our right to vote in a democratic republic like ours.

So I thought it important to speak to the issues of Christian values in voting and I liked an outline I had seen by Bob Russell, of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, on Josiah. I had torn the outline out in Aug. 07 and had set it aside for possible use.  His text was 2 Chronicles 34-36.  (esp. 34:2,31) and the story of the reforms on Josiah. 

His outline was:

  1. There is a direct correlation between the morality of a nation and its stability. "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Prov.14:34).
  2. The spirituality of a declining nation can be reclaimed.
  3. Spiritual renewal demands drastic action.
  4. If real change is to occur, the leadership most likely will come from young people.

I played with it a little, and then decided not to do so, mostly because I thought it was too bland, and the last point could, in this election, be seen as favoring Barak Obama.  And both since I am undecided as for whom I will vote, as well as any congregation's propensity for reading things into what the preacher says, I decided to stay in Acts 16--although my application will deal hugely with our reaction to the economic earthquake going on around us, not only in the US, but also around the world.

I was helped in this decision by an article in the Nov.-Dec. issue of Preaching Journal.   In it Adam Hamilton says:

"When you preach on political issues in any congregation, part of what you've got to take into account is you're standing in the place of God in the pulpit. People are coming not just to hear a lecture or your opinions, but they're coming to understand what is God's will. And when it comes to addressing the issues of politics, that calls for a great deal of humility and care in how we go about addressing those issues.

"I fear that many times we as pastors have violated the commandment not to misuse God's name or to use God's name in vain by attaching God's name to our own political persuasions or positions. So we have to be cautious about it, but at the same time, we're going through a really important time of making decisions about the future of our country and our leaders, and our faith needs to be brought to bear on those issues. I like the way someone defined the issue of politics, as, 'Who gets what, when and how.' When you think about that--the issue of who gets what, when and how--is a very moral issue. Those are questions that have to do with justice. They have to do with our world view. They have to do with our faith. And so, if we're not bringing our faith to bear in the area of politics then what are we using to decide who gets what, when and how?"

As a political junkie, I have to be very careful that my words are the words of God and not the words of Cal  (even if they are correct!). 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Biblical Preaching>Preaching to People Who Need Counseling

image Related to my previous post about making sure that we are working to overcome any obstacles to our listeners "hearing" what we are saying in our sermons:

Peter Mead has an interesting couple of posts on what the discipline of psychology teaches us about the obstacles that hearers face.  This falls (again) into the category of putting ourselves in our hearer's place.

Find the first installment entitled, "Preaching to People Who Need Counseling" here.

Find the second installment here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Are You Learning?


One of my missionary friends in Ukraine wrote this in her weekly e-mail journal:  

"Children learn out of curiosity. When adults learn, it's a sign of humility."

May it be true of all of us.

If They're Not Hearing, Am I Communicating?

William Willimon in his book, A Guide to Preaching and Leading Worship notes: 

"It takes two to preach: someone to speak and someone to hear. The aim of preaching is to enable better listening to the gospel. The test for preaching is never how eloquently we are speaking but how well people are listening. Good speakers are always good  listeners and keen observers. So, in a sense, the first way to improve our preaching is to improve our listening ...

"Don't picture yourself before an appreciative audience of accepting and passive listeners. Sit where they sit. Think less about what you are saying in the speech and more about what they are saying to themselves as they listen. Where will they be bored, angered, uninterested, confused? Assume they do not really want to be there listening to you. Reach out to them, grab them, convince them they really want to hear what you are saying."

If they're not hearing, you're not communicating. 

When I was in college (studying with Plato under Aristotle) I got into a couple of harsh grade-changing arguments with instructors. 

listenOne was over the question, "If the student hasn't learned, has the teacher taught?"  One professor, (the department head) who was incredibly opaque and "always right" insisted that such was not the case.  The teacher may teach, whether or not the student has learned.  She used as an example Jesus:

Premise 1: Jesus was the perfect teacher

Premise 2: The scribes & Pharisees didn't "get" his teaching

Conclusion: Therefore, a teacher can teach even though the teacher's students haven't learned. 

(I know it is not in perfect logic form.  I lay it out this way for illustration purposes)

I disagreed (and still do). I believed that her second premise was wrong: I hold that the scribes and Pharisees DID in fact "get" Jesus' teaching.  They knew he was claiming to be God in the flesh.  They KNEW that this would affect their standing.  Therefore, they killed him.  They killed him in part because THEY DID UNDERSTAND what Jesus was saying.

I held then (never convinced her, however) that one cannot teach unless the student learns.  That lays some of the burden on the instructor to adjust to how students learn.  I understand that in a college environment there are other constraints and it is the students, not the professors who get the grades, but that does not totally let the instructor off of the hook.  If an entire class fails a class, one may fairly question whether or not the instructor taught.

Too much preaching is along those lines.  "I will preach and it is the Holy Spirit and the listener's job to pick up what I am saying."  Not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit, we do not need to make the Spirit's work harder than necessary. 

As Willamon says:

Think less about what you are saying in the speech and more about what they are saying to themselves as they listen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Extemporaneous Preaching, Week 2

 image This past Sunday I tried for the second week to move toward more extemporaneous preaching, after finishing reading "Preaching On Your Feet" by Fred R. Lybrand.  This week went much better than the previous week. It really built my confidence...with one caveat.

Lest you think that extemporaneous preaching is just getting up and speaking without any preparation or forethought, you are sorely mistaken.  (See my earlier posts about this and Lybrand's book). 

Lybrand stresses that you prepare differently, perhaps even immerse yourself in the text as you study.  You keep your outline simple. Lists are helpful. While I don't remember him stressing it, I did find it important (at least for my sense of security) to clearly think through transitions. 

My final outline was somewhat simpler and shorter than I usually have used. (The actual length of the sermon preached was perhaps a bit shorter as well). I will HAVE to have some sort of note page prepared, even if I don't take it into the pulpit, because my Powerpoint folks need the security and connection of knowing either where I am going, or where I am in the sermon!

The piece of the puzzle that he emphasizes that I have not been able to accomplish yet is an oral run through of the sermon before preaching it in front of people. In the act of speaking the sermon (or a form of it) you embed your outline in your mind. 

So how did it go?  I think it went well.  It was a sermon on the concept of household salvation in the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his family.

My outline was:

I. The Importance of the Family (16:31)

A. Examples of the Importance of the Family to God in Scripture

B. How the Bible portrays the importance of the family

    1. The family presents a portrait of the Trinity

    2. The family presents a portrait of the Gospel

    3. The family presents a portrait of the Church

II. The Importance of Individual Decision for Christ (16:33)

III. The Importance of the Question (What must I do to be saved?) (16:30)

This led directly into the invitation.

You can find the audio here.

I cheated, somewhat.  I took the outline into the pulpit, but did not preach from the pulpit.  In fact, except for the reading of scripture, I left my Bible laying on the pulpit as well.  I took a copy of JI Packer's Knowing God into the pulpit marked to a quote I wanted to use and I took a copy of an article by Andrew Nichols ("Embedded Portraits: A Theological Vision for Families") who is pastor to families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. It is where I got the three points under "How the Bible portrays the importance of the family" and while I did not want to read from it (and did not), I wanted to hold it up, credit my source, and I put the URL for it on the screen so people could look it up and read it for themselves.

I was able first service to pretty much do the entire sermon without notes.  At one point I did walk over and check the point I was making, but that was pretty much it.  Second service I had to check 3-4 times, but other than that felt that it went just as well.  I had had to make a run between services to our daughter church Potter's Hands (5 miles away) and speak there briefly to commemorate their fourth anniversary as a congregation, and came back into the service at TCC shortly before time to preach.  The distraction and not being able to review my notes again gave me a bit of insecurity. 

Now interestingly, I did not receive one comment either on the sermon or on the change in my delivery.  That is not really how I judge the success/failure of a sermon, but it seemed noticeable to me, since my method of prep and delivery had been so very different. 

The only caveat I would state is that I hope I didn't just memorize my outline and regurgitate it.  I had a list of 10 examples of the importance of the family to God in scripture and I did memorize that list, but I tried not to just memorized the sermon, but instead tried to be open to the flow and moving of the spirit. 

Time will tell whether this method works for me, but if last week was any indication, I finished feeling more confident, more connected and having had a lot more fun!  (Is that "permitted" in preaching a sermon?)

Monday, October 6, 2008

How to Botch an Alter Call

After seeing the movie Fireproof Saturday night with Loretta, I was interested in checking out Kirk Cameron's Way of the Master site again.  I had been on there a few imagemonths back, and while his style is not for me, I found a resource that had some good ideas. 

They have adapted "Becoming an Emissary for God"by Allen Atzbi and listed "How to Botch an Alter Call" I will admit that (we call them) invitation times are not my strong suit and it is something I need to focus on.

I found some helpful suggestions in his list:

    1. Present an unbalanced message. Only let them see the heart-warming part of God’s character. Preach God’s love but leave out His holiness and justice. That way they’ll think He’ll let them into heaven no matter what.
    2. Above all else, be dignified. Don’t get heart to heart with the people. They would get something out of what you said.
    3. Preach Jesus as a life enhancer not a life rescuer. Tell them how Jesus can improve their life but don’t show them Jesus as the only One who can save them from Hell. People will think if they reject Him they’re only losing out on a spiritual high.
    4. Try to please the people instead of convert them. Tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
    5. Compromise the message to speed up the process. The Christians who have heard it a hundred times before will be pleased with that. The quicker they get out the quicker they can get to the restaurant.
    6. Give them the impression that God is so good He won’t send anyone to hell. Don’t present the whole counsel of God or they might realize He is so good that He’ll see to it that justice is served and that all unrepentant sinners will be punished in the fire that is not quenched.
    7. Speak to sinners as though they were saints. They’ll think they’re God’s children instead of the enemies of God they’ve made themselves into because of their sin. You’ll give them false assurance and mislead them.
    8. Don’t look to the Bible for the substance of your altar call. Only mimic other preachers with large congregations.
    9. Tell them Jesus is the only way to heaven but don’t explain why. They may think it’s nothing more than fear tactics and leave offended instead of enlightened.
    10. Confuse the call. This is a great way to botch up an altar call. Don’t let people know you’re asking them to commit their life to Christ. Be vague and general in what you’re saying. Neglect to mention following Christ in your evangelistic altar calls and say things like, “If you don’t feel you’re as close to God as possible raise your hand,” “If you feel lonely come to the front for prayer,” “If you want more of God this is your time,” and, “If you have struggles and need the answer come down.” Just get them to raise a hand. That way no one will be able to count the cost and you’ll even get saints to respond to salvation altar calls, making the results look more successful.
    11. Present the truth as though it isn’t. Be so funny when you share Christ that you belittle the seriousness of the matter.
    12. Preach forgiveness without repentance. That way no one will know how to be forgiven.

Find the rest (32 total) of the list here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Extemporaneous Preaching a More Healthy Practice?

In his book Extemporaneous Oratory, James Buckley imageobserves:

The extemporaneous process, in comparison with reading [a sermon], has the advantage of greater ease and power of vocalization.  The voice of the speaker is deeper, strong, and more flexible and the effort required to produce it much less.  The head being held erect, there is no constriction of the throat, the lungs are fully expanded and the respiratory muscles are free to perform their functions.  Platform reading cannot, with propriety, be called a health-promoting exercise of the vocal organs. 

I don't know that I have observed that.  What has been your observation.  Do you find extemporaneous preachers to speak more deeply, strongly and with more flexibility?  I am still processing that.  What do you think?

Laying the Foundation for Sin


This morning in my weekly Bible study time with one of my elders we were in Acts 21.  We  talked about the suggestion by James that Paul go to the temple and offer the sacrifices, go through the purification rites, etc. so that the Jewish Christians would know that he was still faithful to his Hebrew heritage.

Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. (Acts 21:24)

We talked about whether this was accommodation or expedience.  We concluded that the larger conversation was that Paul wanted to be able to speak into the culture in which he existed.  It was morally neutral whether or not he needed to offer the sacrifices, but he did so in order to gain a hearing for the gospel. 

The application for us can be that in an increasingly post-modern world, we must ask, which things are morally neutral but which we have not done before or which we might even not do in another culture.

I understand the emphasis of those who say our preaching should be solely about God.  That is a reaction to the "felt need" emphasis of the 80's & 90's.  And yet if we pay no attention to how our listeners hear or how they will receive what we are saying, we are doing the gospel injustice.

Zach Eswine (Preaching to a Post-Everything World) states

We want to learn how to "begin our message where the Bible begins--with the dignity and high calling of all human beings because they are created in the image of God." [Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It's Cultural Captivity]

We desire to learn this skill because if we as preachers always and only start with the message of sin, without placing our sin into the context of our having been created, we discard vital aspects of the beauty of redemption. In churched contexts, we may unwittingly foster a dualism that treats creation without importance, focuses only on the soul, and only then on the sinner's need for forgiveness before God. Human identity becomes attached more to sin than to God's handiwork.  Likewise in unchurched and in-between cultural contexts:

  • We may come across to nonbelievers as merely negative and judgmental
  • We may render the rest of our message incoherent.  Secular persons often have no background in biblical teaching--which means that the concept of sin makes no sense to them.  So beginning with sin instead of creation is like trying to read a book by opening it in the middle: they don't know the characters and can't make sense of the plot.
  • We will not be able to explain redemption--because its goal is  precisely to restore us to our original, created status.

The common theme between both of these is cultural sensitivity.  A sermon can be (must be) about God and not humans.  But (and this is a big but) how we get to God and how we take our listeners from where they are to God will vary highly. 

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Buechner: The Awful Risk

naked man personal illustration

In an older post (Aug. 2007), Brian Lowery talks about the danger that preachers face of minimizing the impact of the gospel in our own lives.  Or as Frederick Buechner puts it: "of ceasing to be witnesses to the presence in their own lives of a living God."

In a sermon about anger, I heard a preacher once boldly share, "Even I struggle with anger." The audience leaned forward, anticipating something altogether human. Here's how he colored in his struggle: "I wrestle with what to do when I strike my thumb with a hammer or when someone doesn't let me merge on the highway." Really? That's all you've got to offer us from your past or present—we who, in our more honest moments, would admit to having deep disdain for some of the people who populate our world, are not on speaking terms with our sister, or ran a key down the side of our ex-husband's car, somehow magically forming a few ugly words that run a handful of letters long?

Now, I can't really say I blame most preachers for such a cautious approach. Buechner says most preachers "run the awful risk…of ceasing to be witnesses to the presence in their own lives of a living God." But here's the rub: run away from that awful risk Buechner speaks of, and there are others that await you. You run the risk of your audience camping out on your confessed doubts and not your professed faith. They may see you sob and think you're unstable. Alongside that whispered-with-a-slight-sense-of-awe title of preacher, you may be referred to as a person.

The risk is not in the self-revelation, but in the reaction of the hearers to the self-disclosure.  I think that both by stories that we have heard of the experiences of other preachers as well as hurtful experiences in our own lives, we lose the bold edge of self-disclosure. 

I used to feel that I was fairly transparent.  I am not sure if I was just wrong or if I have become less transparent.  A phrase I hear way too often when I stumble in front of people is, "Well, at least we know you're not perfect."  I hate that phrase.  Not because I desire to project the image of perfection.  But because my perspective is that I have never tried to project that image at all.  I feel like I was often TOO transparent.  (Maybe still am?)

You can find Brian's post here.

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