Post-Preaching Inscape

manMirror2A while back I wrote a post about Post-Preaching Stress Disorder – the struggle many preachers face after giving of themselves in the pulpit.  You can see that post here.

Let’s ponder further on what goes on inside the preacher. Instead of a landscape, let’s consider the “inscape” of the preacher who has preached.  What might we be saying to ourselves in this time:

1. “I have failed God and let people down.” This is probably more common than most people realise.  Too often we can be filled with self-recrimination based on how we felt things went in the preaching event.  Perhaps some feedback or lack of feedback is playing on ours minds. Perhaps the enemy is whispering and trying to cause trouble for you in your vulnerable state. What would we advise anyone else to do with this sense of failure in other areas of life?  Perhaps take that to the cross and give thanks for the forgiveness that is ours in Christ?

2. “I did really well, God is probably thankful I am on His team!”  Probably less common, since our tendency is often not to feel great about preaching, but this one is not surprising considering our flesh’s gravitational pull toward pride. How easily our flesh can corrupt a good sermon into a moment for self-congratulation. It is important to hand over the successes as well as the failures, lest our relationship with God become determined (corrupted) by our performance.

3. “I received lots of praise, but I don’t let that touch me.” Here’s a more specific one. This is where we know that we shouldn’t become proud in the face of praise, so we handle it with humility . . . but there is always the danger of corrupting the humility into an impervious sense of distance from our ministry. This is the danger of disconnect, where we give a sermon, but we don’t give so much of ourselves as we used to. Be careful, God is probably not a fan of your “professional detachment” from something that means so much to Him.

4. “My ministry is done, now for some me time.” This is a very common danger. It is the post Mount Carmel danger zone that faces many of us week by week. How easily we feel we can “switch off” from walking closely with God and feel like we need independent rest.  Rest may be exactly what is needed, but not rest away from God. Beware of justifying sin-stained choices in times of vulnerable fatigue. Be sure to rest with God, and perhaps with other people too.  Lone time may be a devilish trap for the tired soul.

What do you find yourself saying inside after you preach?

4 Reasons to Handle the Bible Well

designAny Christian leader will have opportunity to communicate biblical truth to others. It may be a sermon, or it may be in conversation; it may be to a group of Christians, or it may be an evangelistic setting, but we will all communicate the Bible to others. Let’s be sure to handle the Bible well.

What do I mean by that? I mean good basic biblical interpretation. Understand meaning in its immediate context, as the author intended, following the grammar of the text, making sure we see what it actually says, recognizing something of the historical and cultural setting, etc. I mean not imposing fanciful interpretations that make you appear either extra clever, or excessively creative or even downright oblivious to the plain meaning of the text itself. I am not saying we all have to have high level degrees in biblical exegesis before we can speak to others. I am saying we can all do our best to handle the Bible well.

So why is it important to pay attention to how we handle the Bible, whether in preaching or conversation? Here are four reasons:

1. Because of God. A basic assumption that would help all of us is to trust that God is a good communicator. That means that if God chose to inspire a collection of documents, then He would do a very good job. He did. So a personal commitment to handling the Bible as well as possible is an expression of my trust in God’s ability to communicate well. He did not inspire a poor Bible that needs our cleverness, our fanciful ideas, or our creative shortcuts. When we try to improve God’s communication by our own sophistication we insult our God. When we handle the Bible carelessly we demonstrate a lack of value for our God’s communicative nature. Let’s handle the Bible well because of God.

2. Because of the unsaved. Another important point to remember is that people who do not yet know Christ will come to know Christ because of the Spirit drawing them to Him, not because of our brilliant presentations. However, they are evaluating our presentations. If we claim that the Bible was given by inspiration of God, but then proceed to read it carelessly, or elevate our own “codebreaking genius” above a text we claim was given to us by God, then we should not be surprised if some do not take the gospel seriously and view us as being duped by an unthinking religion. When the Bible plays a secondary role to our communicative sophistication (or our sloppiness), those who are trying to evaluate the claims of Christ may be led to feel that it can’t be worth much if we appear to not take God’s revelation seriously. Let’s handle the Bible well because those who don’t know Christ are watching us.

3. Because of believers. Periodically I get to go to the doctor’s office and see the medical expert in action. I might get seven minutes, and I cannot see the screen they spend so much time looking at. I don’t learn much. Periodically I take my car to the mechanic and I might stick around and watch an expert in action. I might get to spend a little time, but I typically won’t see much. I don’t learn much. But every week I sit in a church and watch a Bible expert in action. I might get half an hour, or even more. Sadly, in many cases I would not learn much that would help me handle the Bible well. When we handle the Bible before people, they are looking to our example as well as our message. How we handle the Bible will make a mark on them. Are we setting a good example of observing the passage closely, interpreting accurately, and applying appropriately? Are we demonstrating an attitude to the Bible, and an approach to handling the Bible, that we are happy for our listeners to copy all week long? Let’s handle the Bible well because those who think we know what we are doing are watching us.

4. Because of me. I want to handle the Bible well for my own sake too. I want you to handle the Bible well for your own sake. How silly we must seem when we treat the Bible as if it has limited value, but believe that our clever communication is what people need. The truth is, when we short circuit the process and offer personal proof texts and hobby horses, we steal from ourselves the riches that come from having our nose in the text and our hearts open to the God who wants to meet us there. Maybe my message to others will be limited in value for some reason, but my own time in the Bible seeking to understand it and respond to God will be invaluable for me. Let’s handle the Bible well because even if our communication were to fail, our own time with God in His Word is eternally priceless.

Prayerfully ask God to search you and try you in this area. How are you handling the Bible when you preach? What about in conversation? Attention given in this area will never be wasted effort for those that love God!

Challenge Perspective

designPreaching should involve a confrontation between God’s perspective and ours.  That is not to say that our preaching should feel confrontational as a default.  But there is always something deeper going on than we tend to think.

We think that we see our world the way it is.  We think that we see ourselves the way we are.  We think that the way we think is well motivated and accurate.  But the Bible challenges that.

Too easily we will justify ourselves and excuse ourselves, but it is not just how we see self that is an issue.  We assume that the world as we see it is the reality as it actually is.  But actually the Fall of creation into sin mars and skews everything.

When God speaks through His Word He does not simply reinforce our perspective.  We might think that we understand our place in the world, and that we know what life is all about.  And with this great insight, we tend to think that the Bible needs to offer us some tips for engaging life better so that we can be more successful in our various endeavours.  But what if God is not excited about your self-help project?  What if He is doing something altogether deeper, bigger and infinitely more wonderful?

As preachers we must not simply harvest the imperatives in a passage and serve our listeners by creating a to-do list for them.  We are called to so much more. We need to help them encounter God’s thoughts, God’s heart, God’s values, God’s greater and richer reality that is entirely right-side up in our upside-down world.

This means that as we preach, we have to be thinking bigger than just the immediate words in the text we preach. We have to be thinking bigger than the experience of our listeners in the lives they lead.  We must have a more God-given canonical, global and eternal perspective so that the reality we preach stretches and challenges and confronts the small, local, me-focused world of our listeners (and ourselves . . . hence preparation should always feel profoundly and spiritually challenging).

This is not easy, but dialogue with God and with friends in the preparation process can be key to avoiding offering small morsels to satisfy small perspectives.  How is the next text you plan to preach rocking your world and stretching your life perspective?

Dangerous Resolutions

design 4The New Year is traditionally a time for new or renewed commitments. January is the busiest month of the year for gyms and health clubs . . . and February is often the quietest!  New diets are typically added to personal fitness goals, and then perhaps there are personal productivity targets, or family scheduling ideals, etc.

In the church we can join in with another whole set of renewed commitments and resolutions – attendance goals, Bible reading goals, personal growth goals. I am sure most of us would be better off with improved Bible reading habits, prayer times, replacing internet “snack” reading with book reading, date nights with our spouses, regular together times with our children, better sleep hygiene, regular exercise, dietary self-control, etc.

But we need to be careful. There is a danger in resolutions. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating a wholesale rejection of all good goals. I believe Christian leaders should be living lives characterized by heartfelt discipline and healthy physical, personal, relational and ministry habits. But we need to be careful.  Why?

We need to beware because there is a goal that is so overwhelmingly significant, but we can become distracted from it and pay it mere lip service if we are not careful.  Hear it in the words of the super-successful and disciplined converted rabbi and rising star of Judaism, the Apostle Paul:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . (Philippians 3:7-9)

This doesn’t sound like a momentary commitment renewal for Paul.  He was genuinely gripped by Christ.  This is not a passage suggesting we add in more consistent quiet times to our busy lives and call ourselves committed followers of Christ.  This is describing an absolute dismissal of all that had been grounds for Paul’s identity before, and its replacement by an utter passion for knowing Christ, gaining Christ, being in Christ.

How easily I fall into the trap of decorating my life with Jesus.  I don’t wear Christian jewelry or Christian t-shirts so much, but perhaps I sometimes just decorate my busy life with Christian ornaments. Can that be true for someone who is “full-time” in ministry?  I believe it can. When the ministries we do, along with the personal growth we pursue, is done with our gaze distracted from the one great goal, then perhaps we are falling back into building our identity on something other than Jesus.

How easy it is to have “a righteousness of my own that comes from” . . . what I do.  I can make all sorts of effort to live a moral life, to learn and grow for the sake of ministry, to be a good steward of my life, my resources and my opportunities, but to do all of this with my eyes looking in the wrong direction.  I can be looking at myself, building my resume, or looking at the needs around me, and yet not be truly looking at Christ himself, my one great goal.

Isn’t it frightening how easily we learn to say the right things to dress up our lives and ministries so that they look consistently Christian?  Sadly our sanctified selfishness, or sanctified worldliness – building the kingdom of me – might allow us to fool ourselves, but none of it fools God.

So as we head into another year, by all means make the kind of lifestyle tweaks that will enable you to be a good steward of relationships, life and ministry.  Aim to get to bed earlier.  Be more active.  Watch less, read more.  Spend less, give more.  Speak less, listen more.  But may every one of our resolutions and habits be utterly eclipsed by one great, overwhelming goal: that in 2016 I want to know Christ better.

Let’s pray that God, by His Spirit, would convict us of every way in which our devotion to Christ is superficial, or distracted, or false.  Let’s ask God to shine a light on all that should be considered loss compared to knowing Him better this year.  And let’s ask God, by His Spirit, to incline our hearts more passionately toward knowing Christ, and loving Christ, and gaining Christ, and being in Christ – that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . . the kind of absolute radical discipleship that makes complete sense in light of who He is and what He has done!

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As you launch into 2016, Foundations is a one-hour read that will make a difference to everything else you read and do in 2016.  Click here to find out more.

2015 Blog Summary

designThis was an intriguing year for BiblicalPreaching.net – thank you for visiting the site! Let me share some highlights and stats with you.

Some of the Series – We began the year with a series of preaching resolutions that stirred some good comments, followed by another provocative series on radars preachers need to develop, and then 10 reasons why your listeners may not be satisfied with the preaching they are hearing. People always seem drawn to Biggest Mistakes series too, since we all make lots! So 10 Listener Fatigues is worth a mention too in a similar vein.

Monthly Opener – At the start of each month I have shared a longer post that has been picked up by the European Leadership Forum.  These included, Overflow Leadership: 2 Vital Ingredients, Jesus Nudges, Cracks are Serious, one that stirred lots of verbal response at a conference – 7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference (with its follow up regarding Guarding Hearts at Bible School, and also at Guarding Hearts at Church).

Book Launch – The end of the summer was given over to another guest series at the launch of Foundations – click here to find out more. Here’s the series intro, plus a couple of highlights for me?  Glen Scrivener on sin, John Hindley on being human, and Jonathan Carswell on a Passion for Books (have you heard about 10ofthose.com starting in the USA now? Please spread the word!).  Speaking of books, I also shared a chapter from Pleased to Dwell at the start of December (how can I nudge people to ponder the Incarnation during the rest of the year – all ideas welcome!)

There were quite a few other posts that seemed to stir response, such as Who Turned Preaching Into a Solo Sport? And probably the one that deserved the least attention, but somehow got quite a lot – Meaningless Chatter.

Most Popular Posts this Year?  Due to some friendly sharing from friends with big readerships, by far the most popular posts were these (can these posts get traction again on twitter? Feel free to share the links!)

10 Pointers for Young Preachers as well as 10 Pointers for Older Preachers

10 Pointers for Seminary Trained Preachers as well as 10 Pointers for “Untrained” Preachers

10 Pointers for Preaching Teams as well as for Preaching Easter, and Special Occasion Preaching, and of course, Evangelistic Preaching.  There was another on Planning a Preaching Calendar, and one on Planning a Series.

There you have it, another year of blogging. So much I didn’t mention, but thanks for reading this far!  What should I write about in 2016?  All suggestions welcome, most suggestions followed!

Star Wars, The Force of Nostalgia Awakens (and Preaching)

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens**There are no spoilers here**

The Force of Nostalgia Awakens. I jumped at the chance to go to the cinema and see the new Star Wars. I won’t spoil the storyline in this post, but I do want to ponder the key ingredient of this film’s success.  Nostalgia.

It is a very good film. Decent story. Good acting. Well made. But what is making this movie probably one of the most profitable of all time is its effective use of nostalgia. There is something profoundly satisfying about seeing familiar characters, familiar scenery, familiar scenes,  and familiar storylines.  (If you haven’t seen Star Wars yet, think about Rocky revisiting the ice rink in Rocky Balboa, the first glimpse of The Shire in The Hobbit, etc.  Nostalgia seems to be a growing currency in Hollywood!)

Now I could suggest that if the many very satisfying moments of nostalgia were removed from Star Wars, then it might not be lauded so highly, but that would be both unwise and unfair. Unwise because I would probably face a host of fans wanting to fight me to the death with their light sabers. Unfair because this Star Wars never asked to be judged minus the nostalgia.  (Unlike the previous 3 episodes that tried to build the franchise with poor stories and disappointing characters, this one has good story, good characters, etc., and deliberate use of the force of nostalgia.)

So with a good thumbs up to the movie, let’s ponder what we can learn in respect to our preaching and “nostalgia.”  In reality nostalgia is only a small part of what I am describing here – it is really the force of relational connections, our identification with characters. For the sake of simplicity, I will go with the term “nostalgia” because that was the overriding emotion generated in Star Wars.

1. Nostalgia is powerful.  There is more narrative in the Bible than any other type of literature. Even non-narrative literature is part of the big narrative of the Bible. If we can tell the stories well, then nostalgia can become part of the force in preaching. This is not automatic, however. We need to think about preaching biblical material in such a way that people are engaged emotionally and not just cerebrally. Too much preaching rehearses old truths, but does not ignite the imagination of the listeners. Most people, in most of the world, for most of history, have had far more engaged imaginations than we do today. This means we need to pay attention to how we help listeners imagine and engage with the biblical story.

2. Nostalgia is never generated by facts alone. If Star Wars simply referenced facts from episodes 4-6, then we would not be discussing the force of nostalgia in this post. There is some traction in familiar scenery, scenes, score, and plotlines, but the force really awakens when characters are enfleshed. To see Han Solo and Chewbacca walk onto the screen is where viewers find themselves deeply stirred.  Why? Because we feel like we know them – old friends who we never thought we would see again, but they’re back!  The human heart engages with other persons in a unique and powerful way. When we preach, we too easily reduce characters to fact-lists. Nicodemus was a curious and maybe sympathetic Pharisee. Zaccheus was a diminutive rogue. Zechariah was a faithful priest. And even, God is a holy deity.  All very factual, but the person is not evident when the description is too flat. People’s hearts will respond to real people, but sadly many churchgoers encounter more “real person” in a brief encounter with a waiter at a restaurant than they did at church during the preaching of a biblical narrative.

3. Nostalgia is not universally forceful. While we would do well to ponder the potential impact of “nostalgia” in our preaching, this is no magic pill.  Nostalgia alone would not make Star Wars successful. In fact, for a first time viewer who doesn’t have a host of emotional ties to scenes from over three decades ago, this Star Wars would have to engage on a completely different level. In the same way, we can’t rely on “familiarity” or assumed character development from previous exposure when we preach. Let’s learn to preach so that listeners engage with characters and experience the stories so that there is opportunity to tap into the force of nostalgia, but good preaching has to be targeted at first-time hearers too. Be sure to preach in such a way that first-time hearers will encounter the Key Character in the Bible,  be drawn to Him and become candidates for nostalgic responses in future biblical preaching!

A Passion for Books – Jonathan Carswell

10ofthoseHere is one last guest post relating to the launch of Foundations. Jonathan Carswell is a good friend who works with a great team at 10ofthose.com (this includes 10Publishing). They specialise in publishing shorter books and I’m excited to let you know that they have now launched in the USA. If you are in North America, be sure to check out their website and follow on Twitter @10ofthoseUSA – I wholeheartedly recommend them to you! I would suggest that Jonathan’s passion for books is one that every preacher should share . . .

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Being a dyslexic I think it’s funny that God has put me in a job where every day I am recommending people to be reading Christian books! Despite finding reading hard work at best and an uphill slog at worst, books that have pointed me to Jesus have been life-changing in my Christian walk. It’s for that reason that I’m so passionate that other people are reading Christ-centred books too. But with many books being long, expensive and, if we’re honest, sometimes a bit boring, how is it that we can ‘catch the bug’ for reading Christian literature?

While we mustn’t be lazy or try to cut corners I do believe that reading short, accessible books is a great way to start. They may not be the end-word on a topic but they can be a starting point, a starting point that many of us are not even getting to. I fear that sometimes the reason people are not reading is because they feel they don’t have the time or they don’t have the brain capacity to take on some of these tomes that well-meaning Christian publishers are now producing. The majority of people are not in that place. So read short books, many of which are Christian classics. You can finish them in one sitting, in around an hour. Over the course of several weeks or months, you can read across a breadth of topics, which will stand you in great stead as firm foundations for your Christian life. Peter’s books Foundations and Pleased to Dwell are excellent resources that are accessible, short but full of deep Christian truth. Or try Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – it changed my Christian life.

The other thing to consider with shorter books is their ease to give away to people who aren’t yet Christians but are willing to investigate. I’d encourage us all to have a stock of short accessible evangelistic books and tracts that we can give away. There are cost-effective ways of doing this and as the resources point people to Jesus they can totally transform a life. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each of us began passing out short, Jesus-pointing resources to those who are Christians to help them grow in their faith, and to those who aren’t Christians to begin their trust in the Lord Jesus. And as we do it, their life just might be changed!

Of Libraries and Book Stores

Books2Here’s an incomplete and flawed analogy. Feel free to offer improvements, but it may make a helpful point.

There is a difference between running a book store and running a library.

When you run a book store your customers complete a mutual exchange. You provide the books they need.  They provide the revenue you need. When it works well it is a wonderful thing, albeit only business.

When you run a library the people who come in tend to take without giving. You provide the books they need. They take those books and hopefully bring them back. It is a wonderful service for the community, but the community itself does not supply all that is needed (let’s ignore taxes at this point). When you run a library you need a source of funding behind the scenes.

Let’s put the tangible issue of revenue and funding to one side and think about a preaching ministry. When we fall into the trap of thinking it is like a book store we will find ourselves being drained and discouraged. Yes, some will be grateful and express that, some will thrive and seeing that makes it worth it, and there are many blessings involved in church ministry.

We need to think a little bit more like a library provider. That is, we give the best we have, but we know that our greatest source of support and resourcing will not come from the people walking in the door. We have the greatest source of life and energy and affirmation and encouragement, but it is behind the scenes. Better than the local government, we have relationship with God.

When our gaze shifts from God to those in the pew, our ministry tanks will drain very quickly.

Imperfect analogy on many levels, but an important point to ponder as we prepare for another year of ministry.

Let Christmas Improve Your Preaching

designI just wrote a brief devotional post stirred by the quote from Pleased to Dwell in the image. You can click here to go to that post. This quote stirs a preaching thought:

How can Christmas improve our preaching?

Think about Moses for a moment. Moses was a great prophet. Not because he was eloquent (he was not). Not because he was confident (again, he was often not). If you boil it down, Moses was a great prophet because we read of how he, time and again, met with God face-to-face. Moses could speak of the God he was representing because he knew that God. It wasn’t just a knowledge of Scriptures or theology, it was a personal repeated encounter with God himself.

Most of us have probably never had the experience Moses enjoyed. But that does not mean we should preach as purveyors of facts. We are called into God’s presence in a way that was not possible in Moses’ day. We are called to know God in a way that was not possible back then.

Christmas has changed things. The greater prophet than Moses, one who has spent far more time watching the Father and hearing his words, the ultimate prophet has come into our world. Jesus not only brings us the ultimate revelation, he has also created the ultimate access. Because we can be united to Jesus by the Spirit, we can boldly approach the heavenly throne at any time. Because we are united to Jesus by the Spirit, we can know the heart of God more clearly than ever before.

Christmas is critical to understanding the ministry we now have. We don’t speak facts only about a distant God. We speak of a God we can know personally. We speak of a God we can meet with day by day and speak with as a man speaks with his friend. And when Christmas so saturates our understanding of everything that we dwell closely with the God who wants to dwell with us, then when we preach we will be able to represent him better than ever before.