Advent – a Season of All Tenses!

Peter Mead:

During Advent I will be posting some brief articles on this site. I may link to some of them, but not all. So if you’d like to see them, be sure to bookmark this site. Thanks!

Originally posted on Pleased to Dwell:

pleased-to-dwellv5During the early centuries after Christ the church developed the advent season.  It is a season to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ.  It used to be a season of fasting in some quarters, but now is probably needed more as a perspective check in the midst of consumer feasting.

Think about the tenses.  It would be easy to put advent in past tense – a season to remind our hearts of the coming of Christ.  That would be amazing.  God become flesh and dwelling amongst us, come to die in our place, to reconcile us to God, etc.  A past tense advent would be wonderful, but we have more.

Advent has future tense – it is a season to prepare our hearts to see Christ.  It is not only to celebrate his birth in Bethlehem, but to stir our hearts with the hope that one day we will see…

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Meaningless Chatter

blabla2Apologies for a quiet couple of weeks on here . . . have been enjoying our new little girl and the sleepy first weeks with a little one in the house.


Our culture seems to be an effective generator of meaningless chatter. I am not referring to relaxed conversation.  I am think more specifically of the excessive use of clichés and standard phrases that mean very little.

Listen in to folks chatting with each other and you will often hear a back and forth of relative nothingness.  One person will express an opinion. The other will counter with “we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” which stirs a swift, “you’re entitled to your opinion,” countered with a, “fair enough, free country,” or a reference to “freedom of speech,” a reference to “a bit of give and take,” and so on.  Before you know it, such free speech has moved a conversation nowhere over the course of many minutes.

Turn on the TV and listen to a footballer being interviewed and typically you can play cliché bingo with a line completed every 30 seconds.  A game of two halves, play until the whistle, a striker’s finish, he’s got a great engine, a game of cat and mouse, a bit cagey, etc.  (This list would be different in the USA, for instance, but probably similar in effect.) Every phrase is actually saying something, but it can all feel very predictable and slightly like rote behavior.  To someone not used to listening to British footballers it can seem like another language.

What about your preaching?  Do you have any stock phrases that come out too easily?  Do you preach in Christianese so that visitors don’t actually know what you are talking about?

Here are some categories of phrases that could very well be true, and yet still be classified by some as potentially meaningless chatter.  Since I am slightly sleep deprived, I won’t list the dozens of examples, but by all means feel free to list ones that come to mind in a comment!

1. Churchy language – gathering under the sound of the gospel, where two or three are gathered, the church is not the building, Sunday morning is like a mountaintop, let’s approach the throne of mercy, bring our prayers to a close, etc.

2. Preacher language – turn with me to . . . , by way of application, finally (this one is often confusing when 15 more minutes of sermon follows it!), as we all know (dangerous and pointless phrase, unless we like to alienate people), etc.

Remember, some of these phrases are profoundly true, but still might require some explanation so that they don’t sound like a pastor being interviewed on TV about the service and his message.

3. Theology language – its all about Jesus, Jesus is the answer, let go and let God, our problem is that we just don’t believe enough, its not about us, etc.

I am sure you could add to these lists.  By all means do.  And let’s prayerfully consider whether our language each Sunday actually communicates.  Maybe some of us will dare to ask some newer people in our churches to write a list from their perspective!

Fighting Gravity – part 5

Gravity2Gravity pulls, and pulls, and pulls. So does the theological gravity that we live in in this world – the Fallen World Gravity (FWG). We have pondered this pervasive force during the last days. Let’s look at one more facet of this ugly gem.

5. The pull toward pride.  Perhaps we are just circling the many facets of the same false gem.  In the Fall we usurped God’s selfless throne and put the self-absorbed ego in His place.  Naturally, then, we will tend toward pride. Again, this is not simply true for those outside of Christ. It is also true for everyone of us that is in Christ, but also still in the flesh and in this world. One day this gravity will be gone and what a burden will lift from us!  For now, it is best that we become more aware and pray for clearer eyes to see the wonder of the good news of God’s love in Christ.

We are pulled toward pride. In everything we do, maybe especially the good things we do as believers, we still suffer the pull toward pride. In the future we will look back on all this pride and wonder what we were thinking. But for now, this fallen world ‘theological gravity’ makes some nonsensical things seem perfectly normal.

I suspect I will spend the rest of this life purging my view of ‘normal’ in light of God’s Word.  There is so much that is so fallen and yet I remain unaware. Let’s pray that God would give us eyes to see where the FWG, rather than biblical perspective, is influencing our perspective in life and ministry. Let’s pray for a clearer vision of God in His world, and of our listeners in theirs, so that our preaching might better address the reality of what is before us each Sunday.

How else does the Fall influence us, even as believers, and in ways we tend to not notice?

Fighting Gravity – part 4

Gravity2We live lives pulled by gravity. Physical gravity keeps on pulling us downwards. We can be a research physicist or a playful toddler. It doesn’t matter, gravity pulls. Fallen World Gravity (FWG) keeps on pulling us too. It pulls us toward a worldview where I am at the centre, where glory is a-relational and based on how weighty we can be in competition and comparison, and where independence just makes sense.

Here’s a fourth pull that is there whether we recognize it or not:

4. The pull toward speculation. This one is less obvious to us, even if we have done some good study biblically and theologically. It is strange, but the ‘theological gravity’ of this fallen world pulls us to enjoy speculation. We seem to be naturally pulled toward speculating intellectually, or experientially, or both.

Of course, God has created us to learn and to explore, but somehow this fallen world gives us a corrupted version of that. So rather than chasing all there is to know about God in His self-revelation through the Word, we will quickly put the Bible to one side and delve into intellectual and philosophical speculation.

Or we will quickly put the Bible back on the shelf and pursue some sort of spiritual exercise that might lead us into an experience that goes beyond anything God has directly offered in His self-revelation. Somehow these pursuits are permeated by an inherent independence, and that gravity continues to pull us away from God’s good plan to a fallen and twisted theological pursuit or practice. It is strange how much this happens and, for the most part, we remain quite unaware of how strange it is.

We will preach to people who just want to accumulate knowledge so that their intellectual curiosity can be assuaged. That is a problem. We will preach to people who just want to find some spiritual exercise that might lead them to a spiritual high. That is a problem.

What is more, since FWG is so pervasive, our listeners may hear a preacher who really just wants to accumulate knowledge so that his fleshly compulsion to speculate philosophically can be satisfied. That is a problem. Or they may hear from someone who is more concerned with climbing into some sort of anointed euphoria than growing in relationship to the God who can be known in Christ. That too is a problem.

Be a learner with curiosity. Let it drive you deeper into your relationship with Christ. Let the Bible be the ground you dig, and let God’s heart in Christ be the treasure you find. Let the pulpit be a place of sharing that treasure. May our churches be communities of increasingly captured hearts enjoying knowing the God who has revealed Himself in Christ so that we can know Him!

Fighting Gravity – part 3

Gravity2Fallen World Gravity (FWG) is a silent but constant force at work in this world. It does not discriminate between believers and unbelievers. Its insidious influence is persistent and pervasive. Like known “natural laws” it works irrespective of whether we know it is there, and typically we don’t.

So we are pulled toward self-centredness, and toward a corrupted, arelational understanding of glory. Consequently our view of God is distorted, and our view of what it means to live as creatures made in God’s image.  Here’s a third feature to prayerfully ponder before we preach again:

3. FWG pulls persistently toward independence. Ever since the hiss of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, our own independence has been one of the most self-evident truths in all the world – even though it is a lie! We cannot fathom the idea that perhaps we are not individual and autonomous beings who are free to self-initiate whatever we choose.  Even when we come to know God we are still under the influence of the Lie and we tend to think we can enter into some sort of mutual arrangement with God. I am a lesser being, of course, but I still naturally try to negotiate with God as if I have some sort of independence at the core of who I am.

The Christian Gospel knows nothing of works, nothing from me. We cannot and we will not merit our salvation. This goes against everything in the world’s way of thinking.

The Christian life continues in the same vein. We are called to look to Christ, to love Him, and live in dependent response to Him. This lack of independence and autonomy continues to go against everything this world has taught to be self-evident.

Consequently, in our preaching we will be tempted to corrupt Gospel truth with worldly lies. We will be tempted to offer a two-way arrangement between God and independent beings that can choose to autonomously apply instruction. However well we present a non-independent message, our listeners will filter everything through a default lens that colours everything in hues of personal independency.

Fallen World Gravity is dangerous because we tend to ignore or deny it.  And like physical gravity it does not mind whether we believe it or not, feel it or not, understand it or not. It just keeps on pulling.

Fighting Gravity – part 2

Gravity2I am pondering the silent but pervasive impact of FWG – Fallen World Gravity.  This force is not only at work in unbelievers, but also believers. Not only do people listening to us preach live typically unaware of its impact on their perspective and life, but so do we as preachers!  Yesterday we thought about the incessant self-centred pull of this fallen world on us all. Maybe we are only aware of 5% of this pull. If so, that should cause us to pray and ponder!

Here’s another effect of FWG:

2. The pull toward a fallen version of glory.  Our fallen world makes a compelling case that glory is about the radiating gravitas of an individual.  They could be a successful sports star, or a powerful business leader, or an impressive intellectual giant, or it could be God shining out his impressive knowledge, power and position. The fallen world makes us think that glory is about an individual impressing lesser beings either in some earthly sphere, or in the heavenly sphere.

But where is love in this picture? Where is the other-centred love of the Trinity that radiates in the perfection of loving holiness, not only impressing every creature, but inviting some fallen and undeserving creatures to participate in that loving community of other-centredness?  Somehow FWG can cause us to bring a corrupted view of glory into our understanding of God and then we can miss much of the wonder of the Gospel.

At the same time we inadvertently pursue our sanctified version of chasing glory . . . and we are right back to elevating self again!

As before, this is not just the case with those outside of Christ. Our salvation does not immediately purge us of the presence or effects of fallenness. Maybe as preachers, or as listeners, we would do well to come before God in prayer and ask Him to search us and try us, highlighting where we may be pursuing a so-called sanctified version of self-centred glory-grabbing?  Does this happen in our ministry? In our self-presentation? In what we write on Facebook?

Fighting Gravity – Part 1

Gravity2One of the great challenges in preaching is that everyone tends to be unaware of a massive force of resistance against the truth of the Bible. Our listeners sit contentedly unaware that they are not neutral recipients of our preaching, but oblivious subjects to such an overwhelming force. Worse, too many of us as preachers stand to preach unaware that we are also pressed incessantly by this force.

The force working against us all is as pervasive as gravity. We cannot see it. When it is explained we don’t easily grasp its meaning. And even once we’ve been alerted to it, we quickly forget it is there working continually on us. We can all live oblivious. But we cannot live impervious. This is not natural gravity, but what I will call Fallen World Gravity (FWG).

FWG influences the way we love, the way we think, the way we function. This continues to be the case even after we come to faith in Christ. Too easily we can assume that since our sin is no longer in our column in the heavenly accounts, since there is no longer any condemnation for us who are in Christ, then the gravitational pull of the Fall no longer fully applies to us. But as believers in Jesus we are still in a world, and in a body, that feels the full force of this unseen foe. Fallen World Gravity still pulls on every listener, and every preacher. All the time.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit and fell into sin the impact was immediate and catastrophic.  They died spiritually, death entered their experience physically and the creation itself became a stage of death.  With this catastrophic change came a profound twisting of perspective.  They could not see straight when it came to understanding God or the world He had made.  It was as if a new ‘theological gravity’ came into force, a gravity that would silently pull every one of us away from seeing clearly.

The problem is really double layered. First, FWG corrupts our understanding of God and His world (including ourselves).  Second, FWG is so silent and subtle that we are generally unaware of its effect on us. This is why it is so dangerous.

Let’s begin the list and start to ponder the pulls of FWG on our listeners, and on us as preachers, too!

1. FWG results in an incessant pull toward a new centre of the cosmos. Our view of reality is now distorted. God is the centre of everything, and yet we generally live convinced that we are. As fallen creatures we walk around believing the Lie that the king on the throne is Sir Self. Is this problem fixed by bowing the knee to King Jesus? Not necessarily. Very easily FWG will pull us into a Christian version of self-service where God becomes the greatest resource for us. In other words, outwardly we can tip the hat to God’s greater kingdom but, in reality, we can continue to live for the ‘kingdom of me.’

Does this influence how we view preaching? Does it influence how our listeners will hear what we say?  There is no question about that. The question is, how aware are we of FWG as we pray, prepare, personalize and preach each message?

Warning: Over Hyped Intros

Hype2The first moments of a message make a massive difference. Just jumping into the message without any real introduction is a wasted opportunity. But there is the other extreme to beware of too: the overly hyped intro.

Yesterday I sat down to watch a DVD set that I thought might work for the small groups in our church. They won’t work.  The speaker, who I have enjoyed in the past, turned the introduction to a short series of messages into an infomercial of hype. The first ten minutes of the first message, and then the first five minutes of the second, were taken up with what felt like sales hype.

“I was speaking at a conference, but my message wasn’t working, so I turned to such and such a passage, and I didn’t know what I was going to say next, and then out came this message that I am going to share with you…” Which was followed by a bigger conference, tens of thousands, repeat of the message, lives transformed forever, etc., etc.

Maybe I am just too cynical. I know many Christians would love that and talk in eager tones about how amazing that experience was and how faithful God was, etc. But for me, this kind of “God gave me this miraculous and direct” type of introduction left an empty feeling. I also wonder how it would sound to someone on the fringes of the church.

An introduction to a message is not the place to tell your audience the global impact this one message (via this one messenger) is going to have, or even has had. By pointing listeners to other, bigger, international, church leader audiences, there is a sense in which the introduction is crossing some line we shouldn’t cross. Are these listeners now obligated to speak in exaggerated terms about the message? If the message is so powerful, wouldn’t that power hit home even without the opening sales pitch?

Don’t get me wrong, the opposite extreme can be really unhelpful. That is, “turn with me to this passage…” and no attempt at forging a connection.

The introduction is the time to connect with your listeners, to connect them with their need for the message, and connect them with the passage with an engaged sense of anticipation.

But when the intro becomes sales hype, these connections become tenuous at best. They could feel disconnected from you, the speaker, because you are such an out-of-their-league big shot. They could feel disconnected from the message because God gave it somewhere else for other folks. They could feel disconnected from the passage, because the implication of your introduction is that direct revelation is what makes this message special. And they could feel a general distance from the whole scenario if they suspect any stretching of the truth in what you say.

Even if the hype is true, just introduce the message in a way that is relevant for this group of people and let God’s Word and God’s Spirit do his work. Introduce effectively, but hype and sales pitches aren’t necessary.