Category Archives: Preacher’s Personal Life

Preaching Christmas

MangerJesus2Christmas is an amazing opportunity to preach to people who normally wouldn’t be coming into church.  Here are seven top suggestions for making the most of the opportunity:

1. Pray a lot – there is a spiritual battle going on and the enemy wants to keep people distracted from the truth of the gospel. In the busy world of Christmas service planning, he can also keep preachers distracted from the wonder of the gospel too!

2. Preach fact – the Christmas message is not, as most tend to think, another holiday season fairy tale and religious myth.  Luke launched his gospel with a declaration of the trustworthiness of his message, let’s take a leaf out of his book.  Look for ways to make it clear that there was an original Christmas.

3. Correct carefully – nobody likes a cavalier critique of comfortable traditions, so be careful when you point out that Jesus was not born in a cattle shed, or that Mary wasn’t timing contractions as she arrived in Bethlehem, or that the Wise Men actually arrived months later.  One of these “facts” is probably wrong, but even truth can be unhelpful if people think you are just being critical, or there is no benefit in the clarification you bring.

4. Celebrate sensitively – it is easy to hype up Christmas like a children’s TV presenter, but for many people it is a bittersweet season.  Be sure to take a moment in the message, or in a prayer, to recognize the difficulties as well as the joys.

5. Proclaim good news – yes, Christmas is a season of giving and cheer and peace.  Yes, this is a good year to mention the famous Christmas truce of 1914.  But remember that Christmas is not about stirring sentimentality and periodic pauses for peace, it is ultimately about something on the vertical plane and not just the horizontal.  Jesus came to us to bring us to God.  Don’t preach just a nice message, be sure to preach the best news!

6. Undermine assumptions – as well as communicating the gospel message in some way, remember that there is also an opportunity to undermine some common assumptions.  Making clear that there is a historical reality to the Incarnation is a good idea, and why not take the chance to clarify the nature of God’s character too?  Everyone comes into church thinking they know what God is like.  If they don’t really know Jesus, then they don’t.  Christmas is a great moment to point people not to speculations about the Majesty of God, but to bring them to the manger to meet the One who makes God known to us.

7. Worship personally – if the Christmas message has grown old for you, then you can’t preach it well.  Take some time out with your God and let Him stir your heart afresh.  Then you can preach Christmas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, Incarnation, New Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

Preaching Holiness – part 4

Holiness2This week we have been pondering the preacher and the theme of holiness.  There is so much more that could be said about each point, but hopefully we have had something to think and pray about.

15. Every sliver of unholiness will be judged and purged.  We really have no clue of how good that will be!  (That includes the unholiness of “older brother” religiosity . . . which means more of our lives will get there “as through fire” than we probably realize.  Nevertheless, what an utter relief the purging of all sin will bring to ransomed souls.)

16. When we make holiness sound like sour pickled vegetables we don’t motivate anyone to think beyond this life.  The New Creation will be wonderful in many respects, not least because of the total absence of sin and pain and tears, as well as the presence of Christ Himself.  Too many in our churches still have lingering images of sterility and fun-free hymnathons.  The Bible gives a lot of future glimpses to motivate us in the present.

17. Jesus was holy and magnetic, often our version of holiness is anything but.  The truly holy person is fully alive.  At the same time that person will be profoundly attractive and deeply offensive.  (And if the Gospels are an indicator, then such Christlikeness will be attractive to needy people, and offensive to religious people.)

18. The great threat to holiness in the church is not just the worldliness of culture, but also the pseudo-holiness of church culture.  Just as a weekend of binge behavior in a degraded society is horribly empty, so too is a relationally empty performance devoid of meaningful engagement with God and others (sometimes polite conversation can be empty too).

19. Preaching for holiness cannot be restricted to applications of conduct, nor even of conforming the mind…it must seek to engage and stir the heart.  It is not what goes in from the outside that defiles a person (i.e. religious duties and traditions), but what spews forth from the heart.  So preach in such a way as to engage the heart.  Informing the mind and pressuring the conduct will never suffice when the heart of the problem is the, uh, heart.

20. The overwhelming use of the term “Holy” in the New Testament is in reference to the Spirit of God.  Let’s be sure that our preaching is pursued with a thoroughly biblical and growing understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in respect to our sanctification.  Too much Christianity still ignores the Spirit or turns Him into some sort of battery pack (either highly visible or highly invisible).  It is by the Spirit that we are united to Christ.  True relationally rich holiness is our privilege in the Gospel!

21. If you long for greater holiness in the lives of people in your church, don’t preach for “holiness.”  Instead, pray and preach for spiritual vitality in their relationship with Christ.  If we, and they, will love God, then what we want to do will be profoundly holy.  The Gospel does a work on our wants!
So much more could be said, but let’s pray for the beauty of God’s holiness to pervade our lives, our ministry and our churches . . .

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Preaching Holiness – part 3

Holiness2This week we are chewing on matters of preaching and true godly holiness.  I won’t review where we have been already, but please do go back to the first posts if you missed them.

10. People need instructing in holiness, but never in a sermon severed from the glorious good news of the Gospel.  There are plenty of instructional sections in the New Testament epistles, for example.  Don’t go joyriding in an Imperative Harvester, but instead keep the instructions firmly planted in the rich soil of Gospel content within the context of their own Bible book.  We might take weeks to preach an epistle, but the original hearers heard them in one sitting.  So make sure you aren’t plucking instruction and losing the rich theological setting for them.

11. The preacher’s personal holiness matters beyond words.  This is more than conformity to high standards of integrity.  It also shows in your love, your joy, your peace, your patience, your kindness . . . oh wait, I see what is going on here (it’s back to the tangible reality of the Holy Spirit again!)

12. Holiness is not merely movement away from something, it is movement towards someone.  False holiness will come across as a sour reaction against everything, whereas true holiness involves movement toward God, and out of ourselves toward others.  Christlikeness involves being like Christ, who was no sour hermit.

13. We must think root and not just fruit in respect to holiness.  If we ignore the appetites deep within, then we can give the impression that holiness is something people should pretend to like (while really only obeying through gritted teeth because they would much rather be sinning).  The new inner relish given by the Spirit results in genuine hatred of sin and delight in God’s holiness.

14. The world should not be allowed to define holiness … neither contemporary culture, nor your parents’ culture.  While some let contemporary cultural values shape their own, others let the cultural values of a previous generation do the shaping. Be Bible soaked so that it shows in your life, your personality, your attitude, etc.

(Probably) the final part of the series will go live tomorrow…

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Preaching Holiness – part 2

Holiness2We are pondering God’s holiness and our preaching.  Let’s continue the list of thoughts:

5. The Gospel is not just a solution for the guilt of our un-holiness, it also includes a recipe to generate true holiness.  Often preachers offer a way to get rid of the guilt, but leave listeners feeling that the pursuit of holiness and their ongoing commitment to Christ’s cause is a burden planted firmly on their shoulders.  The Gospel isn’t simply about forgiveness of sin, it also includes the transformation of the human heart and the wonder of union with Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit).

6. The compulsion stirred in a Gospel-gripped heart is infinitely stronger than our most vehement tirade.  We will always be drawn to the notion that our pressurized guilt trip will bring about change, but only because we don’t fully understand humans or the Gospel.  Peer and preacher-pressure may manufacture diligent religious duties, but a delighted heart will give anything for the One loved.  Preach Him that others might love Him.

7. Show me a heart that truly loves Christ, and I will show you a life that is growing in holiness.  If the people in our churches could just catch a glimpse of the wonder of God’s pure love in Christ then the result would be incredible growth in holiness.  Our privilege is to seek to know Him more and offer Him more effectively.

8. True holiness momentum comes not from the pulpit, but from the stirred heart.  So preach and present the One who stirs hearts.  Our task is not primarily to instruct and constrain.  It is to present and invite.  Offer the most compelling Christ that you can and you will barely scratch the surface of the richness of the One who for all eternity has brought infinite delight to the heart of the Father in heaven.  We could always do better at preaching Christ.  Let’s stop wasting time and energy preaching performance and give ourselves to the Christian minister’s great privilege.

9. What spills from the preacher’s heart on Sunday must first thrill the preacher’s heart during the week.  If our lives are too caught up with the business of the church enterprise instead of prayer and ministering the Word, then we may give leadership speeches, but we won’t be preaching Christ out of the overflow of our own hearts.  In this sense, holiness momentum is generated via the pulpit, but the starting point is private delight in the wonder of Christ.

More tomorrow…

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Preaching Holiness

Holiness2Holiness is a huge theme in the Bible.  It should be a huge theme in our preaching.  Sadly, what is often preached about holiness seems to fall woefully short of the richness of the biblical reality.

I remember hearing one preacher say confidently that what our nation needs is to be moralized.  I suspect he didn’t understand what he was saying.  Moralizing is a danger in preaching, not because we don’t want to see society transformed, but precisely because moralizing won’t do the job.  Pressuring people to conform to certain standards won’t generate holiness in our churches or our land any more than pressuring a tone deaf choir to sing in tune will lead to sweet music.

Here are a few key thoughts to ponder on holiness and preaching:

1. People don’t make themselves holy, God’s Holy Spirit makes people holy.  It is so tempting to pressure people to conform to some standard, but we must preach out of a conviction that God changes lives.  The clue is in His title, the Holy Spirit.  This reality should influence our pre-preaching prayer, our content and our manner in the pulpit.

2. When we only present holiness as being “set apart from” something, it can sound so sour and empty.  What passes for holiness in many churches is so sour and strange that it seems a million miles from the wholeness of life and love we see in Jesus as we read the Gospels.  True holiness is not pinched, it is fully alive.  True holiness is not a barrel of vinegar, it is a feast of true and abundant life.

3. God’s holiness is not sour, it is infinitely beautiful and attractive.  When we present God as a celestial killjoy, we misrepresent the God whose abundant heart created and infinite generosity created unfettered joy and vibrant life.  God’s holiness is not the sterile hygiene of an operating theatre, it is the fullness of the rich loyal love He enjoys within the Godhead…

4. God’s holiness is not balanced against His love – it is the reality of His loving Tri-unity.  Too often we offer strange balancing acts that seem somewhat foreign to the presentation of Scripture.  God is not infinitely loving, but only 50% that way.  It is not true that He is love (but also something else, with the “but” being an adversative).  God is love.  And that love is perfectly faithful, loyal, pure, just, righteous and holy.

The list continues tomorrow…

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

The JtB Principle

ForkSignYears ago I experienced a weekend of preaching that marked my own ministry for life.  Our church had managed to book a very well known speaker for its annual retreat.  That weekend, his preaching was a disaster.  As my wife and I drove home we reflected on the weekend of ministry and I knew this was a key moment in my life and ministry.  Reflecting on how he had ended up preaching like that stirred me to choose a different path.

I am convinced we all need to settle this core issue now, whatever stage of life and ministry we are at:

The John the Baptist Principle: Jesus must become greater, I must become less.

There is a fork in the road before us all.  One pathway is signposted “Jesus” and the other one is signposted “me.”  For all his good ministry over the years, this particular preacher seemed to have been okay with promoting himself through his preaching.  It felt so uncomfortable for us who were listening.  I decided that I wanted to choose the other option.  What does that involve?

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to communicate - Our flesh and ego will be tempted to bust out our lofty learned vocabulary and heavy-duty theological terminology.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will seek to be as clear and simple as possible.  We will be more satisfied to hear that a twelve year old listened attentively, than we will be to be told our preaching was “deep” (i.e. over the head of the person seeking to give polite feedback).

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to equip – Again, our fleshly tendency toward pride will naturally want to make folks want to hear us again.  It is nice to think that people are dependent on you for their weekly dose of truth.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then that will include a desire to equip them to read the Bible for themselves, meet Jesus for themselves, feed themselves, etc.  If every sermon is primarily about presenting God through an accurate, clear, engaging and relevant presentation of that text, may every sermon have a secondary goal of motivating listeners to want to engage with God in His Word during the rest of the week.

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to introduce – Our fleshly inclination to present ourselves as the centre of the universe will nudge us toward assuming personal introductions are over as our sermon introduction begins.  That is, “I am here now, and I am preaching.”  This will typically be followed by an attempt to impress people with my knowledge, or my wisdom, or my suggestion for their betterment, etc.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will feel compelled to introduce the person of our God, typically by pointing to His Son, throughout the message.  The personal introduction is the core of the message and the person being introduced isn’t ultimately us, but Him.  And when lives aren’t transformed as we prayed they would be, then our prayer will tend to be, “Lord, please help me do a better job of introducing you . . . because I know that if they could just catch a glimpse of you, change would follow.  PS Please let me know you more before next Sunday too!”

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Never Lose This!

never-lose-300x200Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love.  Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners!  Click here to go there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, New Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

The Greatest Peril for Churches and Preachers

peril-300x300I just posted a blog over on Cor Deo that is getting some good feedback from folks.  I entitled it, “The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?” . . . it would all be equally true for preachers.  Click here to go over and take a look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

Incarnation Series Review

I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series.  I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation.  In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation.  And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series.  Then . . .

HindleyJohn Hindley

Let the Wine Flow! (John 1-2)

 

darrell_bockDarrell Bock

Lessons about the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

 

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener

Incarnation, The True Turning Point

 

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220Bruce Fong

Incarnation and Expository Preaching

 

OrtlundDane Ortlund

Life As It Was Meant to Be

 

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz

The Incarnation in the Old Testament

 

comontPeter Comont

Jesus Wept

 

murray__005_400x400David Murray

Rehearsal for Calvary

 

Frost webRon Frost

A Stirring Love

 

Rick McKinley

Where’d Jesus Go?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Incarnation, New Testament, Old Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Specific text

Rick McKinley – Where’d Jesus Go?

Rick McKinley is the Lead Pastor at Imago Dei Community, the church he planted in 2000, in Portland, OR.  He is also co-creator of the Advent Conspiracy.  Rick and I sat next to each other in our graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell some years ago and it was great to get to know him in the midst of all the waiting involved!  He authored The Answer to our Cry (UK Link), Kingdom Called Desire (UK link) and This Beautiful Mess (UK link).  I am very thankful to Rick for this guest post for the Incarnation Series, Rick points us to the significance of the ascension and how that ties the incarnation to us:

_________________________________

When it comes to the doctrine of the incarnation I think most of us leave it in the past. The Son of God took on flesh, lived the perfect human life, died on the cross then rose from the dead, went to heaven, and sent us his Spirit.  The incarnation is in the past.

But the fact is the incarnation is happening now. I am not talking about the church being the body of Christ either, though I think that is a rich picture. What I am talking about is that Jesus is still the incarnate God-man living in a glorified body in Heaven as you read this line.

This is the doctrine of the ascension, which is perhaps the least talked about and under appreciated aspect of the incarnation, but without it the rest of the incarnation doesn’t mean too much to us today.

There are two powerful present day realities that are in play today because Jesus is the ascended Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father.

The first reality is that there is a man in heaven, right now, who has conquered the grave and is the first fruits of the resurrection. His resurrection and ascension seal the promise that he will resurrect us as well and bring us to the Father.

The second reality is that Jesus is ascended into heaven and at this moment is praying for you so that he can completely save you. That’s a hope that moves past my efforts, my prayers, my power and sets my confidence on Jesus. My confidence in Jesus is for sure in his finished work on the cross, but also his present work as my resurrected, glorified intercessor before the Father for the completion of my salvation.  

When life seems on the brink, or our kids go off the rails, or the power has just about leaked out of your faith, remember this! Jesus is risen and reigning in heaven and he is passionately praying to the Father on your behalf. The beauty of the incarnation continues.

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Incarnation, New Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Religion