Category Archives: Christianity

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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Overcoming Preacher’s Block – II

Block2Continuing our list of suggestions for breaking out of preacher’s block.  Yesterday we thought about Pray, Break and Talk.  Here are some more ideas:

4. Read.  Sometimes it is time for a fresh perspective.  Maybe another commentary on a key section.  Perhaps check some biblical studies books to see if the text appears in the scripture index.  Maybe try a lighter commentary for how they handle this section.  But beware, sometimes the last thing you need is more information in.  This is an option, but it may be the wrong option.  If your block is from a massive input of data and no clarity on how to let the right stuff out, then maybe steer clear of the books at this stage.

5. Write.  Sometimes I get stuck on an outline, or a certain part of a message.  Switching to writing may be helpful.  Perhaps you are struggling with the big picture of the message and need to switch to working out wording.  This may free you up to keep making progress on the message rather than staying stuck on an aspect of the message.

6. Preach.  We are a bit obsessed with “writing” our messages.  Whether it is outlines or manuscripts, we can easily lose sight of the orality of preaching.  The goal is not to write a sermon, but to preach one.  So sometimes the best thing to do is to step away from the keyboard or pen and start talking out loud.  If you were up now, what would you say?  Things that seem so clear on paper sometimes can’t come out of your mouth.  Paper is only one step better than in your head (who hasn’t had clarity in their minds that simply won’t get onto the page?  Well, spoken communication is a step beyond that.  You can feel clear on paper, but still not be able to express what you intend.  Once you hear yourself getting stuck, you know you have issues on paper.  And once you are trying to say it, sometimes you can find a quick detour that makes for an effective message! (Then go write it down.)

We’ll finish the list tomorrow.

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Overcoming Preacher’s Block

Block2Writer’s block is a famous challenge, but I suspect preacher’s block is an equally frequent occurrence.  The time ticks by and Sunday’s deadline keeps approaching.  What should you do if you feel stuck?  Here are eight suggestions.

1. Pray.  Seems obvious, but I need to make this overt.  Pray.  And pray honestly.  Stop praying nice little “Lord I commit this process to you for your blessing and glory” prayers.  Start praying really honestly.  “God, I am really struggling here!  I don’t know what the problem is and I am scared that I won’t be ready in time . . .” – or whatever is on your heart.  Sometimes praying something through out loud means that it is not only God hearing your heart, but you hearing your heart.  Maybe you’ll end up praying about some sin struggle, or about some fear, or a false motivation driving you, or whatever.  Pray as if God is able to take an honest statement or two – the Psalms and Job and Jeremiah suggest that He is.

2. Break.  Sometimes the best thing to do when stuck is to stop trying to move forwards.  Go for a walk, run an errand, read a book unrelated to the message, do some mindless sorting of the admin that has been piling up.  You could say that any break is worth it, but maybe not.  Five minutes on social media could expand to fill the next hour, watching a Youtube clip can be dangerous to your ability to focus, and beware that there is a difference between taking a break and becoming distracted in aimless, or purposeful, procrastination.  A genuine break can really help.

3. Talk.  Who turned preaching into such a solitary pursuit?  Sometimes the very best thing to do is talk to someone about your message.  Either what they say or what you say will be helpful to regenerate momentum.  It could be your spouse, a friend, another preacher, a mentor.  Sometimes talking about the message, the challenge you feel and what still needs to come together, will break open the logjam and help you start moving forwards again.

Tomorrow I will add some more suggestions . . .

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Preaching and Patience

 

Patience2Life transformation is typically a gradual process.  We tend to focus on the sudden change stories, but even there, when we dig deeper, we tend to find a process that was ongoing for a while.  We can pray for and celebrate the big breakthrough moments, but let’s not forget that God is patiently building the church at all times.

Be patient with the church – By all means preach with expectancy and pray for monumental change, but remember that God has his plans and purposes at work constantly in all the lives that make up your church.  This Sunday’s message is part of that, but God isn’t building his lifetime transformation plan around one sermon.

Be patient with key people in the church – Everyone matters, but sometimes there is one person who dominates your thoughts and prayers for a season.  It could be a so-called “well-intentioned dragon” – a sometimes constructive critic whose stings have gotten your attention.  It could be a person of political influence with their complex motive-set.  It could be an energy-draining individual who needs us to give (and forgive) more than we feel able.  Pray for wisdom, strength, and patience.  God is at work, but rash moves tend to backfire.

Be patient with yourself – Sometimes it only takes one negative comment, or a feeling of failure, and suddenly the personal weakness list can seem overwhelming.  Before we know it, we have determined, in our self-god sovereignty, that this week is the deadline for definite transformation.  Slow down.  By all means do look to God and lean into the changes he wants to bring in your life.  But don’t determine that its now or never and then exasperate yourself with an ungodly panic.  He is at work and we need to be patient with ourselves as well as others.

I am not saying we should weaken our ministry with low expectations, excuse a lack of God-stirred effort as patience or settle for the sometimes easier option of not addressing a difficult situation.  I am simply remembering that God is able to walk at 3mph, yet while we fuss and moan about the lack of transformation, he takes us incredible distances.

 

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Site News: Book & Guest Series

Pleased to Dwell v3Just a quick update to let you know that Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation is now available for pre-ordering in both the UK and USA/Canada.  This book is written for a wider audience than just preachers, but I am sure preachers will benefit.  Here is one endorsement that suggests this is the case, from Rice Tice:

“What a really useful resource! I will definitely be reaching for this book … and I’m looking for freshness and depth, as Christ’s coming at Christmas is preached once more.As I read through it, I found that ideas for carol service talks just kept leaping off its pages.”

And Alex Strauch’s endorsement includes the following:

Whether you are exploring the claims of Christianity for the first time, a new believer seeking to understand the Bible better, or a seasoned Christian wanting to reinvigorate your love for Christ, this book is a must read. It is also perfect if you are a preacher looking to present the “big picture” of the gospel or planning a Christmas preaching series.  I wholeheartedly recommend Pleased to Dwell, and I am sure that many will love the Savior more as a result of reading this!

84009864e689597740e38e26128769cdThe best price I am aware of in the UK is from 10ofthose.com – who have also bundled it with Mike Reeves new book, Christ Our Life.  The bundle brings the price down even further.  If you buy the bundle twice, or add in Mike’s little yellow prayer book, then postage is also free.  (Disclosure: any books ordered via this link will give a small percentage to our ministry support fund – the same is true for the USA links below.)

704343In the USA, ChristianBook.com are already taking pre-orders for the book – click here to go to Pleased to Dwell.  They are also selling the new Ministry Essentials Study Bible from Hendrickson.  This Study Bible contains a lot of complementary articles on aspects of Christian ministry.  I was asked to write most of the section on preaching and sermon preparation.

There is more information on Pleased to Dwell, including endorsements and purchase information, if you click here.

Guest Series – Here on BiblicalPreaching.Net I am excited to host a series of guest blogs to mark the release of Pleased to Dwell in September.  I have some great posts lined up and am looking forward to running those in a few weeks time. (The book releases in the USA in November.)

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Everybody Hides

fortress2[Originally posted on Cor Deo] Psalm 46 is always a highly valued text in times of war.  Which is probably why, for a while now, we haven’t heard too much about it.  Maybe we should?

In the past the news of an impending threat would come in the form of a breathless messenger coming from the next town.  Today we live with constant video access to every corner of the planet.  The net effect of this constant stream of information tends to be that we carry on with our own lives while getting drawn into non-news and entertainment, but with true news having little effect on us.  But every now and then the news does get our attention.

If we are looking beyond what the mainstream media chooses to highlight, there are some very disturbing things going on.  And when the news is genuinely disturbing, perhaps it is time to break out Psalm 46 again.

Overview of the Psalm – The Psalm falls nicely into three stanzas, each marked with a contemplativeSelah to give us pause for thought.  The first stanza begins with a launching idea that is then picked up in a refrain finishing the second and third stanza.  As far as Psalms go, this one is clear and simple.

It begins with the big thought that God is our refuge and strength, an always accessible help in troubling times.  Consequently, we will not fear.  Then the writer lists a set of natural disasters that would rock anyone’s world – earthquake, mountains moving, raging seas, etc.  I don’t think he is pondering natural disasters, so much as describing a hypothetical upheaval of all that seems stable.  Even if the whole created order were to return to utter chaos, we will not fear.  This must mean that the nature and character of God is more trustworthy than even the solidity of the mountains and the boundaries of the seas.  Selah.

With the first three verses laying the foundational thought, the writer then becomes overt about the threat of war.  He describes the tranquility of the city of God where He is reigning and present.  And just as our hearts calm to ponder what it will be like to finally live with God, suddenly verse 6 stirs us with the news that all around the nations are going crazy like a raging sea and slipping mountains!  The hypothetical collapse of creation stability is the experienced reality when it comes to the geo-political changes in the world.  But, immediately our perspective is checked with the realization that one word from God and the whole planet could be melted.  Therefore, we do not fear.

The refrain is beautiful: The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  The LORD is the God who makes promises and keeps them – He cares about continuing to care for us.  He is strong – He is the God of angel armies.  If you have ever watched a well-drilled group of soldiers march past, it is intimidating.  Even a relatively small number.  Now imagine an angel, the kind that could kill 185,000 human soldiers in one night.  Imagine two.  Ten.  One hundred.  Imagine a number so big you could not count it, and that is the army of heaven, and our God leads that army, and He is with us.  Therefore He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

The final stanza offers an invitation to come and look at what God has done, and implicitly, to anticipate what He will do.  He ends wars that seem overwhelmingly threatening.  He topples powerful foes that seem to strong to resist.  And finally in verse 10, God instructs the raging armies and belligerent power-hungry rulers to stop!  Stand still.  Be quiet.  Hush.  And know that He is God.  He will be exalted by all.

The perspective shift is powerful.  The raging nations and growing armies and plotting terrorists and geo-political upheavals are all very small compared to the utterance of our God.  He is the God of angel armies and He is with us.  He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

When the threat really rises, everybody hides.  The question is, where do we hide?

Hiding Option 1 – The only good option is to run into the most powerful player in current history.  If it is clear who will win in the end, why not join them?  We know the end of the story, but often it is hard to not fear when the circumstances feel so grave.  Often it is hard to not fear when God doesn’t seem to offer immediate deliverance to everyone who is suffering for being His.  What if I have to face more than discomfort for my faith?  What if my life is threatened, is He still a fortress?  Think back to three men in Iraq two and a half millennia ago.  Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn’t in the moment of this particular trial, we won’t bow to your statue.  Were they foolhardy?  Or were they gripped with the greater reality that the all-powerful God of angel armies was with them, so that even in death, they had confidence that they would be with Him?

Hiding Option 2 – The most pervasive option around us today is often known as “hiding our heads in the sand.”  It is pretending there isn’t a threat.  I recently visited Auschwitz and was sickened to think that people could somehow be oblivious to the hideous evil of that place.  If only they had had social media and smartphones, then everyone would have known.  Actually, don’t people still hide from things today?  The media seem so committed to diverting attention – whether it be spinning a story, or shifting from genocide to Hollywood, the media are experts at making the potentially best informed of all time into a number and dumber generation.  But we can’t simply blame the media.  We can do it to ourselves.  We are more than capable of hiding from reality.

There may be other reactions, but these seem to be the big two.  As the news stirs fear within me, will I distract myself with little things and pretend all is well, or will I run into my fortress – the God of angel armies, the God who has chosen to be with me?

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Who is Listening? Part 4

Ear2We have thought about the complexity and diversity of our listeners when preaching.  There are too many of us that would preach the same no matter who was before us.  We need to take seriously the need for analysis and understanding of our audiences.  Who am I preaching to?  Who is listening?

We have thought about building up believers and reaching lost souls with the gospel.  We have thought about the impact of that ministry on the unseen forces of good and evil.  But there is one more listener:

5. God Himself.  Seems obvious, but how easily I can forget.  It is easy to preach as if God is a monadic and distant being, One whom I represent and fear in equal measure.  One who will evaluate my offering and find me wanting.  But what if we think about preaching from a trinitarian perspective?

The Father always delights to talk about the Son.  I get to join that familial delight as I preach of that same Son.  The Son always thrills to obey the Father’s will.  I get to participate in that trinitarian submission and obedience as I serve alongside Christ, my brother, sacrificing self in order to please the Father.  And there is the Spirit, the active communicator, but never the focus.  I get to do ministry that is not about my efforts, but instead is fully alive because the Spirit is at work in me.

And all along, God is listening.  He delights to hear of His Son.  He enjoys seeing me serve Him with the Son whom He loves.  God listens.  And God cares.

God cares about every other listener, more than I ever could.  He cares about me, more than I could ever deserve.  He cares about this unique moment of ministry.  I’ve been planning for a couple of weeks, but God knew about this moment and the work He would do from the beginning of time.

God wants us to target our messages at the people before us, but there is an unseen realm of listening ears.  Frightening foes, powerful spiritual servants, and the wonderful God who hears, who sees, who cares, and who changes lives . . . even with us doing the preaching!

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Who is Listening? Part 3

Ear2We understand the text in order to communicate it.  We understand the listener in order to target the message.  Simple.  Until we pause to ponder how complex a normal audience actually is.

We’ve thought about edifying saints and redeeming sinners, but are there other listeners?  What about taking two together:

3. Angels & 4. Demons.  Not so sure what to do about these two, but we can’t ignore them completely.  We know angels long to look into the wonder of the gospel, and we know from experience that the forces of evil hate the proclamation of God’s character and the good news of the gospel.

But what do we do about it?  I don’t suggest it is wise to target your preaching at either God’s ministering spirits sent to serve us who will inherit salvation.  Nor do I think it is smart to start identifying and targeting particular spirits of whatever in your church congregation.

Our ministry is profoundly spiritual, but we are not called to wage rhetorical war on the enemy of our souls.  We are called to proclaim the gospel so that those blinded by the god of this age might be saved, and so that the body of Christ be built up.

Perhaps where this spiritual awareness should stir us the most is in our prayer lives.  When we preach as if it is about information clearly communicated to neutral listeners, then we are being utterly naive.

We preach in the context of a spiritual battle over souls.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing.  We need to pray for the people listening, believers and not-yet-believers, and we need to pray for our preaching ministry to make an eternal mark.

There is another listener, of course . . . tomorrow.

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Who is Listening? Part 2

Ear2Yesterday we thought about some aspects of the diversity of a so-called “Christian audience” . . . but the reality will almost always be that there are people listening who are not believers.  They also, of course, are not a monolithic bloc:

2. Not Yet Believers.  You only have to stop for a few seconds to realise that we can’t simply refer to people who are not following Jesus as if they are all the same.  Some are feeling genuinely stirred and motivated.  They may not be able to explain why, but they find themselves on a spiritual journey and may even be surprised by the interest they are taking and the new perspectives they find themselves embracing.

Others are only at church listening to you preach because they feel obligated to be there.  A family member.  A key date in the calendar.  Something means they have to be physically there.  But nobody can force them to be emotionally or mentally present.  They may well be playing the next round of golf in their head before you even begin.  Unfair challenge?  Sure.  It is still up to you, leaning fully on God’s strength and wisdom, to get them engaged and keep them engaged.

Then there are the folks with questions.  There may be one big one that is blocking everything else, and if you get to chat to them, then it may soon come your way.  Or there may be a plethora of questions, perhaps being stirred by your message as you go through it.  The only way to address those kinds of questions is to put yourself in their shoes before you preach the passage.  What would I ask if I didn’t already agree with this passage?

Some listeners grew up going to Sunday School and have some level of Bible literacy.  Most today have little to none.  How will they hear and understand what you are preaching?

Everyone will have their own paradigm for life and reality.  What might stir affirmations from some, might stir indignant antagonism from others.

Preaching is not easy.  Thinking about the listener is a multi-faceted challenge, and there are still more listeners to add in yet.

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Who is Listening?

Ear2Preaching  is a simple concept.  You prayerfully prepare and then communicate the biblical text to a contemporary audience.  God, Bible, Preacher, Listeners.  Voila.  A good preacher will be someone who is close to God, studies the text well, communicates effectively and pastorally targets the listeners.  Simple.

Unless you probe this.  For instance, there are multiple factors when it comes to being close to God.  Studying a biblical text well requires a diversity of skills for a significant variety of textual genre.  Communicating effectively involves consideration of terminology, vocal variety, body language, gesture, facial expression, proxemics, etc.  At least the idea of targeting our listeners is relatively simple.  Or is it?  When you preach, who is listening?

1. Members of God’s family.  In a church setting, hopefully a significant number of listeners will be fellow believers in Christ, co-baptised by the Holy Spirit into Christ, siblings living in the forever family of our perfect Father.  I have one sibling – same DNA, but we are so different!  I have five children – same DNA, but they are so different!  Then there’s the church – same Holy Spirit DNA, but talk about diversity!

Some believers in the church are mature saints who have travelled a long and windy path, experiencing life in all of its complexity, all the while growing closer to their Father and to the Son, by the Spirit.  They know His faithfulness in the depth of their being and their identity is profoundly saturated in His love.  But others are mature in human years, yet have never really matured in their Spiritual lives.  They remain spiritual infants and are profoundly vulnerable, yet often these folks have no awareness of how fragile their Christianity actually is.  They might be worried, or they might be bombastic and difficult to deal with, throwing their weight around and wondering why people don’t seem to respond to them as they do to others.

Some believers are in the process of maturing in a healthy relationship with Christ marked by hearing His heart through the Word and responding in the fellowship of a healthy prayer life.  Their spirituality is relational and personal and responsive.  Other believers are confused by some sort of speculative spirituality that has caused them to chase knowledge through books or conferences, others chase an experiential spirituality through reflective disciplines or different types of conferences.  Other believers are not particularly marked by any spirituality, other than learned behaviour.

Some believers exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  There is something dynamic about their lives and there is a clear sense that God is at work in them. Other believers evidence primarily the fruit of the flesh.  There is little delight in Christ to be noticed and you can’t help but wonder where they stand before God.

Tomorrow we’ll consider another category of listener . . . believers alone are complex enough though!

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