New Covenant Ministry – Part 2

NEW2Continuing on from the previous thoughts on 2nd Corinthians 3-5:

4. New Covenant ministry should generate boldness. (2 Cor 3:12-18)  Moses had to hide what being with God did to him.  Not so with us.  What happened to Moses was temporary and fading, but what God is doing in us is permanent and increasing.  It is so easy to think in terms of this life and fall for the lie of fading glory even today, but what God does in the New Covenant does not fade.

5. We cannot make people see, that is God’s work in Christ.  (2 Cor.3:12-18)  Israel experienced a hardening and a veil that would keep them from seeing the glory, and it is only by the work of God, through Christ, that it can be taken away.  We too minister to people who may still be unable to see the wonder of Christ.  We are not to focus on the veil and wrestle with it, but to boldly offer Christ so that the veil might be taken away from their hearts.

6. Transformation comes from beholding the glory of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:12-18)  Moses would enter the tent of meeting and encounter the Lord face to face, as a man meets with his friend.  Looking at that face changed him, but this would fade.  We too are transformed only by gazing on the face of Christ by faith, only now, under the New Covenant, the glory doesn’t fade.  Instead, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another.  (And one day, when we see him clearly, we will be fully transformed!)  It is the object of our gaze that determines who we are.  It is true for your listeners, so preach Christ.  It is true for you, so gaze on Christ.

New Covenant Ministry – Part 1

NEW2I want to walk through 2nd Corinthians chapters 3-5 as Paul describes New Covenant ministry and share a few thoughts.  This won’t be a full exposition of the passage, but rather a set of thoughts provoked by looking at the text.

1. We are called to minister Christ, not to defend ourselves in ministry.  (2Cor.3:1-6)  Ministry tends to create situations where we will be critiqued.  Sometimes, believe it or not, we deserve the critique.  Sometimes we don’t.  Either way, our ministry is to preach Christ, not to proclaim ourselves or defend ourselves.  Are you in a situation where you are tempted to defend yourself?  We are not sufficient in ourselves, our sufficiency is entirely of God.

2. We are given New Covenant ministry by God, who gives His Spirit. (2.Cor.3:1-6)  It is so easy to feel insecure in ourselves and therefore to seek to prove ourselves sufficient in life.  We are not.  Our sufficiency comes only from God, who himself has given us this ministry.  More than a mere past calling, He gives of His Spirit – the “key ingredient” of New Covenant ministry and so infinitely better than the old ministry “of the letter.”  Ours is not a ministry primarily defined by instruction and external pressure, but proclamation and internal transformation of the heart.  One way is death, but the Spirit gives life.

3. We must stop celebrating a glory now faded.  (2.Cor.3:7-11)  There is no question that Moses’ ministry was glorious.  After all, he glowed!  But that ministry of death, of letters, of stones, has no glory in comparison to what has replaced it.  A candle is wonderful in the dark, but walk out into the sunlight and the new glory far exceeds the old.  So it is with the ministry of righteousness rather than condemnation, and the ministry of the Spirit rather than that which is now passed.

10 Listener Fatigues – part 3

yawningman2We have looked at textual genre fatigues, and some preacher-related fatigues, but there are still more . . .

8. Outline Fatigue. If your sermons always follow the same structure, then you may well be draining some energy from your listeners.  I know some preachers follow a prescribed pattern and claim that listeners love to spot how they make the turn to Jesus.  But since every text has its own uniqueness, let’s look for ways to reflect the diversity of the text, and add some variety to sermon structure too.  Can you introduce an inductive approach (building to the main idea), or a combination of inductive and deductive (build to the idea and then develop the applications), or perhaps preach an epistle text with a narrative shape?

9. Text-Length Fatigue.  If you are preaching through a book, it will be easy to fall into making every text roughly the same length.  Half a chapter per week through an epistle can get monotonous.  Why not mix it up and cover a larger section sometimes, and a very tight section at other times?  Why not introduce, or conclude the series with a big sweeping overview?  Perhaps a long series needs a mid-point big picture message?

10. Disconnect Fatigue.  Listeners can’t help but grow tired if the preaching goes too long in a disconnected mode.  That is, preaching historical and explanatory information without demonstrating its relevance (or even your relevance) to the contemporary situation.  The one exception is probably narrative where it can, if told well, grip people for longer than other types of text.  Nevertheless, if you make people listen too long without any hint of relevance to them, they will grow tired of the message.

What would you add to this list?

10 Listener Fatigues – part 2

yawningman2Continuing our list of potential preaching fatigue that we might be able to avoid for our listeners…

(Yesterday we thought about genre, key text and main point fatigue)

4. Preacher Fatigue.  After a while your listeners might just get tired of hearing you.  You may try to vary what you do, but you will always be you and that creates some limitations for your preaching.  Don’t be afraid to share your pulpit. Develop other preachers, invite other local pastors, give yourself a break and your listeners too.

5. Illustration Fatigue.  One way we can be predictable is in the use of illustrations.  Do you often reference certain sports, or your own family, or the Napoleonic Wars?  Beware of tiring listeners with something that doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to you.  Some preachers default to the same category of illustration.  Others default to a collection of specific illustrations.  I’m feeling drained just describing it!

6. Vulnerability Fatigue.  Some of us don’t share enough vulnerability in our preaching.  But some of us share too much and too often.  When listeners start to feel like they are the counsellors for your self-disclosure, they will grow tired of hearing about your constant struggles.  Do be vulnerable.  Don’t be constantly sharing your struggles.  Remember that the spotlight in your preaching is not on you.

7. Contagious Fatigue.  If you are preaching fatigued, then it will be infectious.  Sometimes you can’t avoid being up all night with a child or a church member in crisis.  Be careful that you don’t get into a rhythm of preaching fatigued.  If your preparations are draining you, maybe you need to revisit your preparation schedule.  Perhaps you don’t get enough sleep, or exercise, or your sugary snacks while you work on the sermon mean you preach in a weekly sugar low?  Be careful that you don’t simply preach tired.  Listeners will pick up on your lack of energy, or your extra edginess.

Tomorrow we’ll finish the list, but feel free to add any more at any time!

10 Listener Fatigues

yawningman2When listeners listen to preaching there are many different fatigues that can undermine the effectiveness of our preaching.  If we are aware of these fatigues, then maybe we can craft our preaching with sensitivity to the listeners.  Let’s jump into the list:

1. Genre Fatigue.  Each genre will tend to create a sense of same-ness in a series.  Let’s say you are preaching through an epistle for weeks and weeks.  Eventually, if we are not careful, the default patterns will prove tiring to listeners.  For instance, the description of historical background, the complex sentences in the text, the pattern of explanation and application, etc. can all become a bit too similar week after week.  Look for ways to be creative in such a series so that there is variation.  (Many of the following “fatigues” will help to see how this variation can be found.)

2. Key Text Fatigue.  Many Bible books contain a key text that will tend to be repeatedly referenced throughout the series.  For instance, any series in Colossians should probably reference 1:15-20, and maybe 3:1-4, to make sense of the subsequent sections.  This can get tiring for listeners, especially if the vocabulary of Colossians 1:15-20 is not really understood by the listeners.  Look for ways to reference the key text with variety – simple summaries, variations in wording, different styles of phraseology, but without losing recognition of what is being referenced.  Reference it without the reference.  Don’t always be overt, but let subtlety in reference to the key text be part of the series too.

3. Main Point Fatigue.  A true series of sermons through a book should be reinforcing the main point of the book, not just providing the launch texts for entirely disconnected messages.  But beware that listeners don’t get bored or annoyed by the repetition of the main point.  Keeping with Colossians, it is true that Paul could hardly do more to point us to Christ as the all sufficient one for salvation and growth, but figure out ways to preach the series so that listeners don’t start getting annoyed at hearing that we need to look to Christ in everything.

We’ll continue the list tomorrow…

Help Us Choose a Book Cover

FoundationsCoversFoundations will be released in September by Christian Focus Publications. It is a short and dynamic book based on the speeches in the book of Acts.  It is almost ready to go, but we need help deciding on the cover.  Can you help?  If you can, please click here to go to a very short survey.  You can simply select a cover and finish, or you can add some comments on either design.  Thanks so much for helping us choose the look for this book!

If you would like to be notified when Foundations is available, please sign up to follow this blog, or leave a comment on this post (I won’t let any email addresses show).

Here are a couple of the endorsements just to whet your appetite:

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“The book of Acts tells of God’s plan for us to have relationship in the context of his grace.  Foundations fills out this picture beautifully. Read and enjoy!”

Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary

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“A great little primer about the world, ourselves and – most importantly – God. This short, easy to read, helpful book will help you get to know Him better.”

Marcus Honeysett, Director of Living Leadership

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“Peter’s love of scripture, and his desire to see lives transformed bleed through the pages of this book. Explore the foundations of Christianity and engage anew the true story of a relationship between a human race whose sin is greater than we think, and a God whose grace is more amazing than we could imagine!” 

Rick McKinley, Lead Pastor of Imago Dei Community, Portland, Oregon.

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Click here to go to the simple survey.  Thank you!

Christlike versus Like Christ

Like2If the goal of sanctification is for people to become more like Christ, what is the best way for our preaching to help people get there?  Perhaps the obvious way is not the most effective way . . .

The obvious way to nudge people toward Christlikeness is to preach about Christlikeness.  You take a passage and then what do you look for?  You might look to find any instructions, derive some applicational points, determine how Christ’s character is presented, identify some kind of divine demand, etc.  Essentially, the obvious way to promote Christlikeness is to present Christlikeness and encourage Christlikeness in your listeners.  Focus on character, focus on us.  Apply, exhort, encourage.

There is a better way.

Turn the words around.  Do your listeners like Christ?  Do you?  Christ did not come to the world merely to show us a new way to live.  He came to give us life in union with Him.  The life of the Trinity is given to us in Christ.  This means that Christlikeness will not flow primarily from Christlikeness explained and demanded.  Christlikeness will come  from liking Christ, from loving Him, from knowing and worshipping Him.

Preach so as to present Christ.  Offer the person of Christ rather than a programme for self-improvement.  Invite people to know Him and to love Him.  As the Spirit draws people to Christ, they will grow to like Him and to live like Him.  As the text you are preaching presents instruction, then offer that faithfully in the context of relationship with Christ.

Christlikeness isn’t the goal of preaching for sanctification, it is the fruit.  The goal must be to stir greater love for God that results in greater love for others, and love will be stirred not by demand, but by presentation of God’s love revealed in Christ.  Inasmuch as we like Christ, we will grow to live Christ-like lives.

Tightly Woven? On Being Biblical

wovenfabric2Being biblical is like being a woven fabric.  Woven fabric can be very strong, or it can be flimsy.  Two sets of threads are woven together at right angles.  When the warp and the weft threads are both numerous and tight, then the fabric will have real strength.

Warp – imagine this to be your understanding of the Bible, book by book.  Each book is like a thread, and the more you know it the stronger the thread.  Know the structure, the flow, the situation, the purpose, the details that make it what it is.  To be biblical we need to be people who get to know Bible books.  (In fact, each Bible book turns out to be like woven fabric too, but pushing the analogy to woven fabric made up of the threads of woven fabric might become too complex for non-weavers like me!)

Weft – imagine this to be your understanding of the Bible, theme by theme.  Great themes are like a thread, and the more you know them, them the stronger the thread.  Know the themes and where they touch down in the flow of the canon.  Some touch down only periodically (think Melchizedek – Gen.14, Psa.110, Hebrews 7), while others are woven throughout almost every page (think sin and its effects, for instance).

Too many people in our churches have great gaps in the fabric of their biblical awareness.  Great blocks of books are untouched.  Thematic threads are unknown.  Sadly, too many preachers have bare patches and weak weaving in their biblical knowledge.  A collection of proof texts and favourite passages, combined with one or two key themes, will not make for biblical preaching, or even biblical living.

Three quick suggestions:

1. Be sure to be reading the whole Bible – sweep through it to get the big picture.  You will find that reading good chunks will captivate in a way that close study alone never can.  You will start to see how the books flow and how they flow together.  You will start to become familiar with themes that may have remained hidden in close study alone.

2. Be sure to study the Bible book by book – take a book and let it get to grips with you.  The building blocks, or perhaps, the warp threads of our biblical understanding has to be book by book for there to be any substance and strength to our being biblical as believers and then as preachers.  Get to know the fabric of each book: the sections as they build, the themes as they weave through.

3. Be sure to enjoy the biblical themes – start to identify and follow the themes of Scripture.  Some have done this exclusively, following threads without awareness of context.  This is a weak approach.  Others have ignored the themes and only focused on one passage at a time.  This also is weak.  We need both.  Start to enjoy the promise theme starting in Genesis 3:15 – I loved tracing the theme of both the promise and the presence of the Promiser in Pleased to Dwell.  What about holiness, or God’s heart, or themes of sonship, of marriage, of divine surprise, etc.?

Pray and ask God to show you where the fabric of your biblical awareness is threadbare.  Read and weave and enjoy.

The Discouraged Preacher

DownPreacher2Preachers get discouraged.  This post is not intended to offer any solutions, but sometimes identifying the issue or issues can be a start to addressing the challenge.  Perhaps this list can also help you pray for other preachers, or pastors in your church.

Here are some reasons preachers get discouraged:

1. Lack of fruit – Almost every preacher will receive comments of gratitude after preaching, but most will realise this politeness is not the same as genuine fruit from their preaching.  A lack of new life, or tangible growth can really get a preacher down.  A lot of time and emotional energy can be invested over the long haul with very little tangible return on investment.

2. Loneliness – Preaching can be a strangely lonely ministry.  It is easy to prepare in private and then process the post-preaching feelings in private.  It can also feel lonely to be aware of the next two items:

3. Criticism – After preaching it is a strange feeling to know that a lot of people will be enjoying “roast preacher” for their Sunday lunch.  Unless we have a big ego, most preachers don’t really want to be the subject of conversation.  We try to make Christ the subject of conversation, but we aren’t naive to the conversations that go on!  And then what if criticism is coming in from outside of our context?  That will only add to the pressure.

4. Expectation – Preachers are not a different class of Christian.  We struggle.  We don’t have it all together.  We can even say so in our preaching, and yet people still expect preachers to be “victorious” Christians.  Therefore when we are struggling with temptation, with tiredness, with family life, with financial pressures, with personal and spiritual dry times, we feel the expectation that we won’t struggle and so tend to keep the struggle hidden.  This circles us back up to number 2 again – loneliness.

5. Family Life – Preachers have real families.  Our children fight and sin.  Our marriages go through downs as well as ups.  Churches tend to place expectations on spouses and children of preachers.  Spouses of preachers tend to put expectations on themselves.  The complexity of church life can take a massive toll on families, and even when preachers try to put family first, there will still be times when we question whether the ministry we do is worth it.

6. Lack of sleep / health – A cycle of not sleeping properly will really take the energy and joy out of life.  This could be due to stress, to pastoral pressures, to family needs, to health challenges, etc.  Whatever the reason, when our tanks are empty then life will feel tough.

7. Depression – Preachers can get depressed too.  For those of us who don’t struggle with this it can be impossible to understand those that do.  But they do.  Famous preachers have struggled with extreme depression.  And preachers do burn out.  It is never a pretty sight.  And this is where we should all be aware – burnout can be avoided.

That is a starter list of seven reasons preachers get discouraged.  What would you add?

My Shepherd Today

ShepherdSil2Our church is in the midst of a season of transition.  The team of leaders who committed to starting the church are leading the church through a process of recognizing its long-term leadership as we move forward into the future.  Inevitably potential change creates opportunity for uncertainty.

Who should the pastoral leadership be?  One fact holds us steady.  The chief shepherd of the church is Christ.  And he wants to be our shepherd today.

Yet how easily we can view the work of Christ only in past and future terms.  In his days on earth we saw the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10).  In the future we know that the chief shepherd will appear (1Peter 5).  But is Jesus our shepherd today?

The shepherd’s work is to lead the sheep to food, to care for them and protect them from harm.  This forms the start of a strong list for church leadership job descriptions – we are to lead, to feed, to care and to protect.  Perhaps we should add in “to equip” and we have a good grasp of the roles of church leadership in the New Testament, most of which are shepherding roles.

Jesus is our great shepherd today.  He is in charge of building his church.  He is the one most concerned to care for the sheep, including you and I.  It is a thrilling thought that Jesus desires to feed me, lead me, care for me, protect me, and even equip me, right now!

I was speaking with a friend about a tough time of loss he experienced last year.  He looked back on that time and his realization that only Jesus could really shepherd his soul through an intense season of grief and loss.

Perhaps we too easily look elsewhere and don’t spend time leaning into his loving care of our souls.  Perhaps some of us are too busy leading others to stop and be quiet long enough to hear his tender care of our hearts.

The Lord is my shepherd, today.

There are other biblical images we could consider in the same way.  My wife is expecting a baby and that means in a few months we will have another season of interrupted nights as the little one needs the care that only a mother can give.

In Ephesians 5, addressing the subject of marriage, Paul uses a pair of descriptive words.  After telling husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial love, and with a washing in the Word kind of love, then he adds the need for a “as you care for your own bodies” kind of love.

At this point he uses two words – nourishing and cherishing.

Cherishing is a term Paul only uses twice.  It speaks of a tender, warming kind of care.  It’s a bit like the way we put on a sweater when our bodies feel cold.  We cherish our bodies.  He also uses it in 1Thessalonians 2:7 of how a mother takes care of her little child.  There is a gentleness, an inclination to hold carefully and to protect.  (And in the Old Testament, the term is used twice to translate references to mother birds warming their eggs!)

Paul also tells husbands to nourish their wives as they naturally do their own bodies.  Again, the term is used twice.  It speaks of providing for and helping the growth of the other.   Husbands need to remember not only to put food on the table, but also to provide spiritual nutrition for their marriage.  Paul uses the term in Ephesians 6:4, in reference to bringing up children.

He also uses the shorter form of the term in the same phrase in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.  It is the nursing mother who takes care of her child.  This is a vivid picture, the giving of yourself that only a mother can do for an infant.

So Paul urges husbands to nourish and cherish their wives, just as they naturally do their own bodies.  And in his other use of the pair of ideas, as mothers nurse and care for their infants.  All very poignant images for the darkness we experience in the middle of the night.

But there is one more critical link to notice here.  What is he really speaking of in Ephesians 5?  Even after making the connection throughout the passage, we are still surprised at the end to discover he is actually speaking of Christ and the church.  Husbands, love your wives just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church – what a thought!

I wonder if we more easily think back to the self-sacrificial love of Christ, which stands historically behind the launch of the church.  We look back to Calvary and rightly so.  But here Paul ties Christ’s loving of the church not to a past event, but rather to a present ongoing reality.  Maybe we don’t ponder that enough.  The present care of Christ for his own is such a glorious truth.

Not only did he give himself in self-sacrifice at the cross, but now he continues to tenderly give of himself to the church he loves so dearly, seeking to warm us and help us to grow.

Jesus is our bridegroom, nourishing and cherishing his bride, today.

It is no mistake that the Bible uses such relational imagery for the reality of our relationship with God.  We have a devoted bridegroom, a loving Father, a faithful friend, a good shepherd.  And we have them all right now.

Perhaps we need to pause for a moment in our leadership and our care for others, and thank Christ for his present care for us.  Let us ask God to tune our hearts to discern what he may be doing very quietly in our lives each and every day.

Jesus is our shepherd, and our bridegroom, today – exactly when we need him.