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…

Andy Stanley’s 7 Guidelines part 3

411J3RGXsVL._SL500_Continuing a quick jaunt through Andy Stanley’s guidelines for preaching to unchurched people, from his chapter on preaching in Deep and Wide.

Guideline 4: Give ’em permission not to believe . . . or obey.

Since the New Testament addresses believers with instruction, we are accountable to each other.  But for some reason “Christians love to judge the behavior of non-Christians.”  (This is strange considering Paul addresses the issue in 1Cor.5:12-13.  So are we surprised when the world struggles to accept the judgment of people and a standard they have never acknowledged in the first place.  Ok, I need to quote a bit more, following Col.4:5-6…

Like you, I’ve heard way too many messages addressed at nonbelievers that were full of salt seasoned with grace.  That’s part of the reason so many unchurched people are just that: unchurched.  I think we would be wise to extend Paul’s advice to our preaching.  When addressing unbelievers, it should be all grace with just a pinch of salt.

So while there are expectations of believers, non-believers should be given an out.  They are welcome guests, but they are not the target of instruction.  And when they are given an out, then they may well lean in to discover more of how things work within this family they are visiting.  In fact, they may even respond to invitation.  But if they feel like they are being judged, critiqued, attacked or commanded, then there is a good chance their response will be less than favourable.

The next one will need more than the word count I have left, so I’ll keep you hanging until tomorrow, but it should provoke some thinking!

Truth Through Personality 6

Personality Face2I have been blogging about the basic requirement that preachers should themselves evidence growing fruit of the Spirit in life and ministry.  It is a disaster when the truth of the gospel is undermined by a perceived lack of Christlike character in the preacher.

So we’ve gone through the fruit of the Spirit in pairs, but we skipped the first.  Or did we?  Perhaps the four pairs lay out what that first fruit looks like.

It shows in the joy that comes from resting in the goodness of God, and the peace of healthy ordered relationships with God and others.

It is patient in trusting God’s work in the lives of others who often need longer than we feel is necessary (just as we do too!), with a kindness that is giving for the good of those also still in process.

It has an inherent goodness that reflects the profound quality of God’s character, as well as the gentleness that is fitting for someone reflecting God’s manner of authority.

It has a faithfulness that speaks of both trusting and persisting for that which is good and right, while always retaining the appropriate self-control of a life lived in the desires of the Spirit rather than the impulses of the flesh.

We have had several interrupted nights in a row as a virus has worked through our family.  The loss of sleep does add a certain strain to daily life!  Under pressure, does the fruit of the Spirit show?  I’m sure I am not the only one who wishes it showed more.  But the solution isn’t to strain in my own effort to look good under pressure, the solution is to grow as one walking in step with the Spirit.  I hope that my preaching next week, next year, in twenty years time, will show a more Christlike personality than it does now.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Faint Not: The Discouraged Preacher 3

Yesterday we looked at some of the causes of discouragement.  But what should we do about it?  Maybe one or more of these suggestions might be the prescription for your particular situation:

1. Cry Out to God.  God was never a huge fan of our independent autonomy, in fact, that notion of functioning apart from Him came with a hiss.  Yet in our upside-down world we can so easily assume that the right response is to grit our teeth and press on, not bothering God with our struggle, but somehow proving something by our faithfulness.  Uh, no.  What we prove by such independent proaction is anything but faithfulness.  Faithfulness carries an implicit sense of trusting dependence upon, and responsiveness to, God.  We are not being faithful when we leave Him out, even if everything we do is technically right.

So while our flesh may urge us to press on alone, our hearts should cry out to God.  Be real with Him.  He is not delicate. He is not easily offended.  Look at the prayers coming from Job, Jeremiah, David, et al., as they vented heavenward in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Why do we think we shouldn’t do the same?  God is not offended by our venting frustration or expressing fear.  He probably is hurt by our stony silence, however.  Cry out to God.  Be honest.  Be real.  Tell Him you need Him.  Express utter dependence.  Express utter frustration with Him if that is the case.  When you’ve poured your heart out and all your strength is gone, lying face down before Him completely spent, then perhaps He’ll pick you up and ask if you are prepared to trust Him.  To serve Him.  To be His.  Like a fire in my bones, as Jeremiah wrote, I have to preach.

2. Cry Out to Another.  Just as our flesh likes to go it alone on the vertical dimension, so we are prone to going it alone on the horizontal.  It isn’t appropriate to blab our problems to everyone.  But it also isn’t appropriate to share our problems with no-one.  Prayerfully consider who would be a wise confidante in a time of discouragement.  Be careful not to slip into gossip or slander, but be willing to be vulnerable with someone who cares, who will pray, who might offer wise counsel, who will give courage to move forward.

Tomorrow we’ll add to the list, but feel free to add your thoughts at any time.

Making Truth Understood

So we’ve thought about making biblical truth memorable, and making it known, but what about making it understood.  Is that what preaching is?  Yes.  And no.

1. Contemporary listeners need help understanding the Bible.

There is a significant distance between today’s world and the world of the Bible.  As the preacher, you have a key role in helping to bridge that divide.  This means overcoming differences in culture, in language, in politics, in religion, in worldview, in geography, in customs, in perspectives, etc.  When you preach the Bible you need to help make sense of a very different world for the sake of those in yours.

This means we can’t just read the text and then apply it.  We have to make sense of what is going on.  This means plumbing not only the historical setting and context, but also the literary setting and context.  We have to help people make sense of not only a strangely different world, but also an unusual collection of texts.  People need to understand the canonical structure, the development of thought, the informing theology feeding into a passage, the shape of the story beyond the passage, the nature of the genre of the passage, the forms of literary design within the passage, etc.

And all this means that as preachers we have to make value judgments.  We can’t just dump all the information we know and learn into a message.  This would make it overwhelming and too long.  So we must decide what needs to be said, this time, to make sense of this passage.

2. Your listeners need more than just understanding, but not less.

Just to make matters worse, understanding is not the only goal.  It is the foundational step.  That is, without understanding, then we cannot build effective application, and we cannot expect genuine transformation.  It is no shortcut to bypass understanding and go straight to application, pressing for compliance or hoping for transformation.  Application and transformation must be built squarely on clear understanding of the text.  God is not into radically new revelation.  He has given us His Word to transform lives. He invites us to engage Him there, and as we do so, He also encounters us to change us now.  God hasn’t appointed us to simply explain the truth of His Word, nor to simply seek transformed lives by means of pointed application.  He has appointed us to put it all together – explain, apply, pursue transformation.

Review: The Good God, by Mike Reeves

Whatever else we may be or do, we present God to others.  We present God in our preaching of the Bible, and we present God as we live our lives.  A critical question, then, has to be this: which God do we present?

Mike Reeves’ new book, The Good God, from Paternoster, is exactly what the doctor ordered for the church today.  And not one of those miserable doctors that prescribes some yucky fluid in a plastic bottle.  I mean one of those doctors that suggests a break in the sun and a feast of good food to help you feel better from all that ails you.  The church today needs to bask in the sun and feast on the truth offered so gloriously and accessibly in this little book.

Mike introduces the reader to the God who is loving, giving, overflowing, relational.  With his light and accessible manner, Mike shares a profound taster of just how good God is.  Clearly Mike loves God and it shows throughout.  Some books on the Trinity can come across as a technical manual of heresies to avoid.  Others as an exercise in premeditated obfuscation.  This little book sizzles with energy, addresses the issues with clear insight rather than excessive technicality, and stirs the reader’s heart to worship, to delight, and sometimes even to laugh in sheer joy.

Mike’s biblical references scattered throughout don’t come across as a defensive attempt to prove a point, nor as a theological citation method that distracts the reader.  Rather they subconsciously stir the reader to want to get back into the Bible and see this good God afresh.  As you’d expect from a Reeves book, there are also enjoyable windows into church history as key voices from folks famous, and not so, pop up to share a thought along the way.

The book is shaped, well, um, trinitarianly.  An introductory chapter invites the reader into the pre-creation love relationship that is the Trinity.  Then the book looks at creation, redemption and the Christian life (as in, Father, Son, Spirit, although brick walls can’t be built between the roles of each in each chapter).  The book closes with a chapter that asks who among the gods is like you, O LORD?  I won’t give away the end of the book by sharing Mike’s answer, but I know if you start, you’ll want to read to the end anyway!

I will say this though, the advance of anti-theist “new atheism” gets a clear response in the final chapter.  Oh, and for one final twist, just when you feel like there’s nothing left to add, he also addresses three of the big issues that Christians sometimes throw out in opposition to an emphasis on God’s loving relationality. Superb.

This book is a must read and a must share.  As you read it you will think of others you wish would read it – from atheists to strident single-author-reading Christians. But most of all, I think you will be thankful that you read it. I am genuinely excited about how God will use this book in the years ahead!

To pre-order your copy in the UK, click here or the book image above.  Note – the book will be released in the USA later in 2012 by IVP under the title, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith.

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