Category Archives: Christianity

Introduction to Incarnation Guest Series – The Incarnation In September?

Pleased to Dwell v3This month I will be offering a first on this site – a series of guest blogs from a variety of great contributors.  This month marks the UK release of my new book, Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus).  So I decided to ask some friends to offer a brief post on one aspect of the Incarnation of Christ.  I am thankful to each one that is writing in this series and hope that it will help stir our thinking about the importance of this vital subject.

This week we will have guest posts from either side of the Atlantic, with John Hindley and Darrell Bock looking at one Gospel each.

For more information on Pleased to Dwell, please take a look at TrinityTheology.net.  It is possible to pre-order in North America and to order in the UK.  I also have links to several vendors (all of which will give a percentage to our ministry support fund).  Enough about the book, let’s ponder the Incarnation together!

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What does the Incarnation have to do with preaching when we are not in December?  Everything.  Unless, of course, we are talking about some kind of preaching that is neither biblical nor Christian.  Biblical preaching preaches God, and we can only know God in the person of Christ.

Every Sunday of the year people need to hear from preachers who are captivated by Christ.  As Mike Reeves puts it in his new book, Christ Our Life:

“No wonder the gospels record so many who were amazed and astonished by him, as if they were witnesses to a volcano: his presence was an apocalypse, a cataclysm, an earth-shaking upheaval of all things.  God with us!” (22)

The Incarnation is not the whole story of the Christian faith, but it is critical to the whole good news that we get to preach each week in our churches.   According to Robert Letham:

“The incarnation is the indispensable basis for union with Christ.  Since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spirit. In itself, the incarnation of the Son of God does not unite us to him, for by itself it does not accomplish salvation. . . . Christ’s union with us in the incarnation is the foundation for our union with him, both now and in the eternal future.” (Union With Christ, 40-41)

So whatever passage we may be preaching,  may our listeners always listen to a heart gripped by the good news of the God who has stepped into our world!  We need to keep our hearts pointed toward Christ, and we need to point our listeners outside of themselves too.

It is too easy to reinforce the fallen tendency to fix our gaze navel-ward . . . top tips, great suggestions, keys to successful effort-based religion.  But the Gospel is a call to each one of us to lift our eyes from the death of self-absorption, and to look to the One who fully reveals the Father’s heart to us:

“We get spiritually bored.  But Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for eternity.  Our boredom is simple blindness.  If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.  In every situation, for eternity.” (Christ Our Life, 9)

Isn’t that a great thought?  The Father has always been totally and completely satisfied in Christ.  But somehow we find Jesus boring?  Either there is something wrong with Christ, or with the Father, or maybe the problem is with me.  Would it not be a great way to start the week: with our hearts crying out to God, that by His Spirit He would give us a greater glimpse of His Son this week?  With that kind of week behind us, bring on the opportunity to preach again next Sunday!

Let’s be sure to keep our internal orientation appropriately pointed outside of ourselves.  We will only ever find life, and love, and joy, and peace, and satisfaction, and rest, and meaning, when we look to Christ, who is our life.  We might easily affirm that life is only to be found in God, since He created us.  But that can still feel distant.  Praise God that because of the Incarnation, we look outside of ourselves, but not into some speculative realm of darkness.  God is not distant.  We look toward the God who became one of us, to dwell with us, because he so wanted to reach us and draw us into a wonderful union with Him forever.

The Father shared the Son, and the Son came and shared his relationship with His Father.  What more could we ask?

So as we think about Christ, it is not “that Christ is a model;” — he may be that, but more importantly, “first and foremost he is the Saviour of the helpless.  And his salvation is not about God, from a distance, lobbing down some sort of help, some ‘grace'; here, God graciously gives us himself and his own life.  God is the blessing of the gospel.  God with us.”  (Christ Our Life, 38)

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10 Thoughts on Reading – II

Reading2Continuing this quick list of ten thoughts on reading . . . since many of us know we should read more and we want to read more:

6. Read selectively.  Too many people are in a stalemate with book buying.  They won’t buy a wonderful book recommended by people they trust for them at this exact moment in life . . . why?  Because they have some half-finished books.  Don’t despise the meal cooked for you now because there are leftovers in the fridge that you aren’t enjoying.  It makes no sense to be held captive by false guilt over not finishing a book (if it wasn’t good enough to keep you engaged, let it go to your shelf!)

7. Buy chapters.  Just to reinforce number 6, think of buying chapters rather than whole books.  If you found chapters 2 and 3 were stunning, but you’ve gotten bogged down in chapters 4 and 5, don’t stress about finishing chapters 6-10.  You bought 2 and 3.  That’s great, they were worth it.  Now move on, don’t stop reading!  An unfinished book is no shame.

8. Discriminate between recommendations.  When certain people tell me a book is good, I will almost certainly buy it.  When other people tell me a book is good, I will smile politely and thank them, but tend not to click “buy.”

9. Read with variety.  So you’ve read everything from that one author, that’s fine.  But have you read anything weightier, or technical, or historical, or from a different tradition, or something by someone not in your camp?  Have you read a light paperback on your primary ministry area?  What about a heavier textbook on it?  How about something non-Christian?  And fiction?  Mix it up.

10. Give books away.  Don’t just celebrate a great book, buy more copies and give them to people who you know will appreciate them.  Let your growing love of good books be a ministry, rather than merely a personal development strategy.

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10 Thoughts on Reading

 

Reading2There are a lot of people in churches who believe they should be reading more than they are.  They know that there is a unique enrichment available from good literature, but struggle to take advantage.  Here are 10 quick suggestions that may be helpful:

1. Small blocks of time add up.  If you read for twenty minutes per day, then you will start to move through quite a few books a year, even if you are a typical slow reader.    If you aim for two hours a day, then you will probably not make through the week!

2. Location! Location! Location!  If you try to read at a busy desk with emails and twitter pinging, then you won’t really read.  Get that twenty minutes, or whatever, in a place where you can focus.

3. Redeem the time.  Be ready to grab more minutes when you are in a waiting room, standing in a line, eating your lunch alone, or wherever.  Lots of time can be lost wishing you had a book with you (my kindle app on my phone is for this purpose only).

4. Beware frittered time.  Cumulatively it is probably scary how much time is wasted on social media and half reading half decent stuff online.  I maintain that even reading good stuff online is not as nourishing as reading the same authors in a book.

5. Read appropriately.  Some books are designed to be skimmed.  Others require some effort.  Preview a chapter, look at the headings and conclusion.  Use a highlighter in heavier books.  Enjoy skimming light stuff and boring down deep into quality material (and learn to spot the difference!)

We’ll finish the list tomorrow…

 

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – III

Questions2Let’s conclude the list of questions to ponder about effective delivery:

14. Are your word choices appropriate for subject and audience?  Is there an appropriate combination of dignity and authenticity?  Do you sound like an academic?  Do you sound like a stereotypical preacher (whichever stereotype comes to mind)?  Are your words understandable, condescending, flippant, crass, attention-seeking, natural, coherent?

15. Do you actually make sense when you speak?  Are your sentences fully there?  Do you rely too much on people to get what you mean, or can you consistently say what you mean?  Do you lose volume or change pace at the end of your sentences?  Do you garble words, or skip them entirely?  Do you rely on awkward filler terms like, well, you know, so, umm, like those?

16. Is what you wear appropriate for your listeners or distracting?  Do you fit with the culture of your church?  What message does your attire give off?  Are listeners thinking about your excessive formality, your unkempt appearance, your distracting clothing choices?

17. Do you have any idiosyncratic quirks that should be eliminated?  It could be in your voice, vocabulary, expression, gesture or movement, but if people have heard you a couple of times, could they name something distracting about your delivery?

18. Is the combination of everything we’ve seen already coming across as genuine?  Do listeners meet the same you when they talk to you afterwards?  Does your spouse or child recognize the person preaching in the pulpit?

19. How goes your prayer about delivery?  Do you pray out of love for self and your reputation?  Do you pray with a heartfelt concern for your listeners?  Do you pray for your fame, or God’s?  Do you pray about delivery at all?

20. What is your strategy for developing as a public speaker?  Do you seek feedback from helpful people?  Do you give them permission to be honest about delivery issues with you?  How often do you listen to yourself preach?  When do you plan to get videotaped and see yourself?  Do you have one or two things that you are consciously working on and praying about at the moment?

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – II

Questions2Continuing our list of 88 questions, grouped into 20 . . . all to nudge us to evaluate our delivery as we preach:

6. What do your feet do while you preach?  Do you pace?  Do you rock forward and back?  Is your natural stance, well, natural?

7. And what about your hands, do they fit with your communication?  Do gestures fit naturally or look forced?  Does time go from left to right or right to left?  Which way do you point when you talk about creation, or Christ’s return?  Do your hands do anything weird, repeatedly?

8. Does your facial expression reflect your heart? (And does your heart reflect Christ’s?)  Do you look angry most of the time?  Do you vary from whatever the default expression is?

9. Do you pause at appropriate moments for sufficient length?  Are your pauses ruined by verbal filler?  Do your pauses give people space to breathe, or do you generate nervousness by your apparent anxiety?

10. Is your pace appropriately varied and is the average about right?  Do you go so fast that people can’t keep up, get breathless, or switch off?  Do you slow down through transitions so that listeners can tell the message has shifted into a new phase?  Do you generally go so slow people get frustrated listening and waiting for you to say something?

11. Does your volume make listening easy?  Can your listeners hear you without effort on their part?  Are you too quiet so that people get tired concentrating?  Are you too loud so listeners feel defensive or annoyed by the power of your presentation?

12. Is the pitch of your voice easy to listen to, and do you vary it?  Would anyone describe you as shrill?  Does your voice sound natural and genuine?  Do you sound robotically stuck, whatever the pitch?

13. Does your posture generate comfort, tension or nervousness?   Do you come across as nervous and twitchy so that listeners feel the same?  Is your posture stiff and awkward so they aren’t sure how to take what you say?  Is your posture aggressive or over-confident so that they feel intimidated in some form?  Would you be ok with a picture of your standard posture being shown around?

And tomorrow we will finish the list!

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference

Questions2How many good messages have been wasted by poor delivery?  You’ve probably heard the old statistical misquote that content equates to only 7% of communication.  There are so many flaws in applying that study to preaching, but don’t make the big mistake of thinking that content is somehow only 7% of the equation.  Yes, body language and tone will overwhelm and negate content, but the visual and vocal will never fix or replace the verbal.  Content matters massively.  While a lack of content can’t be fixed by delivery, good content can be lost in delivery.

Here is a quick checklist for self-evaluation.  There are 88 questions grouped into just 20.  Remember, your self-evaluation is probably unrealistic.  You probably think you are doing better than you are.  You think pauses are longer than they feel, tone is more varied than it sounds, smiles are more noticeable than they are.  Nonetheless, evaluation is worth it.  Evaluate your own delivery and look for an area or two to prayerfully focus on and improve.  Also ask a listener or two to look at this list for you – they may be polite, but any hint they give is worth following up on!

1. What does your tone and manner do for the listeners?  Do they feel secure, loved, protected, safe?  Do they get nervous, agitated, upset, or got at?  Your tone and your manner make a big difference to the listeners, so do you think about these elements of your preaching?

2. Does your delivery flow, or does it feel like you get stuck?  Why?  Can you maintain momentum through the whole message in a natural way?  If you get stuck, can you handle that without generating nerves in others?  Do you know when you typically get stuck?  Does explaining the text trip you up more, or is it thinking applicationally?

3. How is your eye contact?  Are you looking at notes, over peoples’ heads, at one section of the room only?  Is it fleeting, forced, intense?  Can you look at people without closing your eyes or other awkward habits?  Do you over-stare and create awkward intimacy for some or a sense of aggression to others?  Which part of the room feel ignored as you preach?

4. Speaking of notes, do they really work for you?  Do you know how much you look at them?  When you look at them, do you lose momentum?  Do they enable you to preach unnecessarily complex messages?  Does your preaching feel canned rather than authentic?

5. Does your preaching furniture create unnecessary distance and function as a barrier between you and your listeners?  Could you come out from behind that thing?  Could you communicate better by being on the same level as the listeners?

We will continue the list tomorrow . . .

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Sunday Feedback – III

Feedback2Here is the end of the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you receive right after preaching.  Remember what we saw in part 1.  The most valuable affirmation will combine elements of time, thoughtfulness and transformation.  When you get those, treasure them.  Make a note.  Keep a file.

When you get Sunday affirmation, be thankful, but don’t get carried away.  One of these ten reasons could be the main reason for it:

8. The “trigger words” mechanism.  People like to hear what they value.  Let’s say you preach a very poor message – biblically weak, unclear in organisation, unengaging in presentation, irrelevant to those present – but you use an illustration that mentions someone’s pet issue, what will they say?  “Preacher, that was a poor sermon, but I loved that your illustration mentioned my pet issue?”  Typically not.  Once those lights flash in their evaluation grid, you have become a hero!  The feedback will be skewed.

9. The “Satanic test” reality.  You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statement from Spurgeon (I think), who was affirmed very favourably after preaching and responded with, “Madam, the enemy has already told me that!”  Nice anecdote, but it could be true in our situation too.  The enemy is not a fan of being obvious because it doesn’t tend to work so well.  Better to build up a preacher so their focus shifts from dependence on Christ . . . so we need to beware on a spiritual level what post-sermon feedback does to our hearts.

10. The “exit gauntlet” logistics issue.  If you are at a church where the preacher stands at the back and shakes everyone’s hand, then you have a couple of issues to face, actually, three.  One, most people will feel obligated to mutter some pleasantry to get past you.  Two, some people who actually want to talk to you won’t be able to because others are lining up to leave.  Three, because people don’t want to hold you up, they may feel obligated to step out into a rainy car park and thus end the time of valuable fellowship in the church.  Standing at the door may not be the best idea!

And there are probably some more . . . what would you add?

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Sunday Feedback – II

Feedback2Continuing the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you get right after preaching . . .

4. The “church culture” mechanism.  Different churches have different cultures.  Some will automatically affirm and honour the preacher in a laudatory manner.  Other churches will engage the preacher about life and family with barely a mention of the message.  Try to discern a local church pattern before getting excited or devastated by what you hear.

5. The “surrogate leader” reality.  Sometimes a person will gravitate toward a preacher because they yearn for the spiritual leadership and sensitivity they perceive in that preacher.  Perhaps their own husband is very weak, or perhaps their Dad is absent . . . it could be a middle-aged wife or a teenage boy, but sometimes the praise and feedback is more about what they don’t have in their life than about what you brought in your sermon.

6. The “single preacher” reality.  I’ve been married for fifteen years, so I feel out of touch on this one, but . . . if people respond to perceived spirituality when they know you are married, and if there is a lack of spiritual, godly, single men in the church (which there is), then I suspect preaching as a single man will get some feedback from the odd one or two that is more fishing than genuine feedback.  Just saying.

7. The “life appreciation” reality.  This is more likely in your own church than in one you visit.  It is where a church member really values who you are as a person – you love their family, show interest in their teenage son, buried their grandmother, or whatever.  They appreciate you.  Your preaching may be dire, but they want to love you and so affirm your sermon because that is easier than explaining what your presence and love means to them.

We’ll finish the list next time.

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Sunday Feedback

 

Feedback2Feedback is not created equal.  Wise preachers learn to tell the difference.  I suspect more than a few ministries are launched and sustained on the empty energy of post-sermon politeness.  On the other hand, genuine and helpful feedback can strengthen your ministry for years.

Typically my approach is to say thank you for any feedback, then prayerfully evaluate what I am supposed to make of it.  Usually I find that meaningful feedback and compliments will come with a combination of factors – (A) Time – a week or a year later usually means more than five minutes later, (B) Thought – when people are really thinking about what was said, it will typically show, (C) Transformation – the best encouragements are not mere words, but supported by reality.  If all three are missing, then we may be dealing with empty feedback that has the nourishment value of a boiled sweet.

Here are ten reasons why I think it wise not to get too excited by feedback right after you preach.

1. The “competition” reality.  Sometimes people will heap on the praise because they have no real point of comparison.  Don’t assume they are thinking about your favourite preachers when someone tells you that haven’t heard any better.  It may simply be the case that they have a very limited experience of other preachers (sadly true in some churches you might visit), or perhaps…

2. The “memory” reality.  Perhaps positive feedback is skewed by a very limited memory.  What they just heard is the only sermon in their short-term memory, and so it stands out.  Don’t test a “best I’ve heard in months” comment with a “can you tell me the main idea and take home gems from last week’s message?” Chances are, your message may be equally misty come next Sunday!

3. The “polite override” mechanism.  Some people in churches have a politeness override mechanism that makes them say things to be polite that they don’t really mean.  It happens at dinner tables when a dish has been obliterated, but to be polite, they will maintain it is “really good!”  Call it dishonest, or call it polite, but remember it may happen after you preach.

We’ll continue the list next time!

 

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Overcoming Preacher’s Block – III

Block2We are coming to the end of a list of suggestions for overcoming preacher’s block . . . how about:

7. Sleep.  Sometimes when you are stuck, you can be tempted to work late and miss sleep.  Don’t.  Get good sleep and then work productively tomorrow.  We are designed to need sleep.  It can be a real step of faith to leave an issue like this with God and curl up in His arms for the night.  Sadly, too many preachers seem to think God is impressed by sugar and caffeine fueled fatigue that results in a vicious cycle of tiredness and inability to concentrate.  We don’t get medals for staying up late and preaching poorly as a result.  Don’t turn the chance to preach into an opportunity to play a mini-martyr.

8. Confess.  Sometimes preacher’s block is really the fruit of indiscipline, inappropriate distraction, laziness, or some other sin.  I don’t want to come up with a pseudo-solution to avoid facing that.  If you have sinned and become aware of it, then deal with it.  Confess it to God, come back to the cross, repent and lean into His care for you again.  This isn’t some sort of mystical purging ritual.  It is healthy relationship.  You need to walk through the preparation and preaching with God close, so if you don’t feel close due to sin, then get it sorted.  Any short-cut or detour that tries to hide distance in this sense will be an unwise path to take.

What would you add to the list?  What do you do when you get stuck?

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