Category Archives: Homiletics

Bruce Fong – Inspirational Incarnational Influences on Expository Preaching

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago.  It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures.  We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus.  Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com.  As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.

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Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people.  These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth.  The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf.  This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.

When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases.  He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.

First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human.  He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place.  The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.

Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking.  His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed.  He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world.  In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.

Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”.  This was a sacrifice.  He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity.  Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His.  Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.

Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death.  He lived among the people, embraced them and served them.  Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.

The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us.  Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.

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Glen Scrivener – Incarnation: The True Turning Point

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener is an evangelist with Revival Media.  He writes about evangelism and theology at ChristTheTruth.net and his evangelistic book, 321, comes out in the autumn: three-two-one.org  Glen visits us at Cor Deo for a day during each season of the programme to talk gospel together with us and it is always a real help.  As we continue this series to mark the release of Pleased to Dwell, here is Glen on the significance of the Incarnation for the Gospel and how we communicate it to others.

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The centre of evangelicalism is the believer’s “choice for God” – that’s Diarmaid MacCullogh’s opinion, Oxford’s Professor of Church History. When he made this claim during his “History of Christianity” on the BBC, I howled in protest, throwing pillows, shoes, the cat – anything – at the TV screen. Surely the professor has it backwards. It’s God’s choice for us, right? Surely it’s Jesus – the Chosen One – coming down, not us – the mighty decision makers – choosing upwards.

But as the episode unfolded I realised that it wasn’t the Professor who had gotten it backwards – it was evangelicalism. MacCullogh was just being honest. He was describing the movement as it is – not as it ought to be. And who can deny that, on the ground, the actual centre of gravity for global evangelicalism is “our choice for God”?

Think of sermons on Luke 15 and ask where our attention lies today. If an evangelist preaches a “message of salvation”, where will the emphasis be? More often than not, we focus on the prodigal in the pigsty. The sinner must make “a choice for God.” Compare this with the theology of the early church. Where would they see salvation in Luke 15? Primarily they would speak of Christ’s opening parable. God the Son is the Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep. Through His incarnation, He takes up our humanity, through His death He takes responsibility for our sins, through His exaltation He marches us – now perfected – home to the Father.

We must learn from the incarnation that salvation is a case of “God coming down.” Therefore, where is the turning point in our relationship with God? Is it our turn to God – praying the sinner’s prayer, for instance? Surely, more profoundly, it’s God’s turn to us in Jesus. Where is the renovation of our human nature? Is it our decision to get right with God? Surely it’s Christ’s decision to hoist us on His shoulders and carry us home. If this is true, what kind of evangelists ought we to be?

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Book Giveaway – Multi-Country

Pleased to Dwell v3With Pleased to Dwell set to arrive any day here in the UK, there is now a giveaway set up on GoodReads for entrants from USA, Canada, Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and UK.  3 copies will be given away to randomly selected winners when the giveaway ends on the 14th of October . . . just in time for the US launch of the book.  Click here to enter the giveaway.

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John Hindley – Let the Wine Flow: The Incarnation in John 1-2

Mail AttachmentToday’s post, by John Hindley, launches our Incarnation Series.  John is pastor of BroadGrace Church in rural Norfolk (England) – www.broadgrace.org.uk.  John authored the really helpful Serving Without Sinking (UK Link & USA Link) and has another title coming out next year.  He is an Acts 29 Europe church planter, is married to Flick and has three little ones.  I haven’t met John yet, but hope to soon as I hear good things about the Christ he has preached to student groups in this part of the country!  Pleased to Dwell finishes in John 1, so why not start there with this post from John Hindley?

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 ‘“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.’ – John 2v10-11

From what John says, I estimate that Jesus made around 600 bottles of the finest wine as the first sign he did. The first miracle Jesus did was to save a wedding party from fizzling out. This comes after John has stressed the wonder of the incarnation. When you read John 1, the great introduction to the gospel climaxes in verse 14, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.

John is setting up his gospel to display the wonder of the eternal God, the Word, the One from the Father’s side becoming a man so that we might be drawn into the family of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By the end of John 1v18 we are left amazed and wondering what such a God-man will do. Then John shows us Jesus gathering a ramshackle bunch of disciples, creating furious mayhem in the Temple, confusing a leading theologian, sitting in the dust by a Samaritan well, healing without consideration of religious custom and feeding hungry crowds. John lifts us to the heavens in his portrayal of Jesus in chapter 1, and then shows us an incarnate Christ who is very… human.

The miracle at Cana is perhaps the most strange. This first sign seems almost flippant. The issue is not a paralysed man or grieving widow, there is no demon confronted or sinner comforted. The issue is an embarrassing lack of wine at a party. Jesus response seems almost reckless. Verse 10 tells us people had already been drinking. Jesus seems more concerned that the party goes well than he does about the risk of drunkenness. This wedding points forward to his great marriage of his Bride on the cross and the coming wedding supper when he returns, as made clear by this being  the ‘third day’ in verse 1 and  not yet ‘his hour’ in verse 4.

But more simply, this Word made flesh is a God who wants to be with us. A God who wants to draw up a stool alongside us, pour us a drink and know us, love us and draw us to himself. I have not thought enough about the incarnation, but what I see shows me a God so good, so close, so loving and so generous that I want to think more, and know him more.

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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

 

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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