Credo, spaghetti and swords
I always find Credo magazine a stimulating read. And, for the misguided (!) amongst our readership, it doesn't wear its credo-baptist credentials on its sleeve too much. Latest issue is here. I thought Greg Gilbert had some particularly insightful things to say about preaching through Ezekiel:
Get a good handle on the structure of the book. Most Christians tend to think about Old Testament books—especially the prophets—as just a mash-up of various images and poems that aren’t really going anywhere or doing anything as a whole. It’s like a bowl of judgment spaghetti with a few Messianic meatballs thrown in here and there! But that’s a wholly inaccurate view of them. The prophetic books are more like swords than spaghetti. They have a weight, a shape, a point, and a thrust. They’re doing something, and they all have a tight—and sometimes brilliant!—structure to them. Spend the time necessary to drill that structure into your mind, and you’ll have a much better time studying and teaching them because you’ll know where you are in the “argument” or “story” of the book. Second, look for the Messiah! He’s there in every book and in every passage, sometimes even in places you don’t expect him. If you keep in mind the whole story of the Bible and how it all moves like a river toward Jesus, you won’t be so prone to get lost in moralism.
Younger Ministers 2012 -David Cook
David Cook's three sessions on preaching based on Acts were great. The last session, in particular, was gold dust and even if you skip the other two is worth downloading. The audio is online here or you can watch him through the medium of video….
Cornhill Summer School: 2-6 July 2012
Our Cornhill Summer School is filling up. This is a week of learning for anybody involved in teaching the Bible and those who want to learn how to do so. Click here for more information. It's great for students in your church or for those who do occasional preaching or teaching. The school is hosted by Christopher Ash with input from all of us here in the office. All those who come say they leave refreshed, enthused and equipped to teach the Bible to others. Who, in your church, would benefit?
Sorry seems to be the hardest word. Try a little restitution.
Have you noticed how difficult some people find it to say 'sorry'? Take Joey Barton. I know. I must. It was a thrilling end to the Premier League last Sunday – perhaps there's not been anything like it since that great day in 1989 when my team won the title against all the odds. The matches had it all – including a sending off. Joey Barton (for it is he) is a thug. I don't think, legally, I can get into trouble for that. He has, after all, served a jail sentence for assault. Yesterday his team (QPR) did better without him after he was sent off for an elbow to Tevez, a knee in the back for someone else and a head butt on Kompany. Any of those three would have earned him a red card on their own.
His initial response seemed to be indifference. He didn't, he tweeted, give a ****. All that mattered was that QPR stayed up (i.e. were not relegated). The news today is that Joey is a bit more contrite. Here's his response. See if you can see what's wrong with it:
Right, enough about yesterday. I apologise to everyone offended by it. If that's not enough for some, so be it. Life is too short.
This, remember, is an apology. It sure has the word in the sentence. But the second phrase 'everyone offended by it' is a giveaway. Joey's cross he got caught and cross that some people are offended by what he did – implication: he's not. It's no apology, yet it's the way that many people – politicians, sports stars, celebrities, say they're sorry.
It got me thinking about church life. I hope you don't have Joey Bartons in your church, but we're sinners and so we do do things that cause upset. In some ways, it doesn't matter whether we're in the right or the wrong. Our aim is not to please ourselves but serve others. And when we step over the mark, sorry is needed. In fact, delving into OT law (remember that?) we might sometimes need to go further. For the principle there is not just 'sorry' but restitution. Put things right. And then some.
If our covenant communities are going to be real communities we cannot afford to apologise like Joey. Preacher – take the lead.
Two ways to live iOS app
I've long been a fan of Two ways to live. It's short, pithy, clear and contains the essentials and heartbeat of the gospel message. Even if you don't use the outline in book form, having it in your head is, I find a great help in evangelism. Of course, it is important to know what these sorts of outlines/tracts are not. It's easy to pick holes – for example saying that TWTL should make more of the church into which we're saved. Perhaps. But that is to miss the point of what they are and what they are to achieve. Personally, I want to use it as a tool to talk to someone rather than something I give to a friend and think 'job done'. It opens the door to conversations.
So, I'm pleased to see an iOS app for iPhone and iPad. I like it. In fact, I like it a lot. I can see how using this on my phone or iPad with a friend could be really useful. It's the same material packaged for the modern age. Matthias are working at including enhanced content (video testimonies etc). That would also make it a good app for those who want to go off on their own and find out more. It's in English, Spanish and French so far, plus two languages I can't read but I'm reliably informed are Chinese and Japanese. Take a look in the iTunes store.
My only niggle is that it is not free. I understand that these things cost money to develop and that if you were to buy a TWTL booklet it would also cost you money, but I want people to come across it accidentally and read it by following through links, not just to read it when it is 'gifted'. That's a very minor complaint though. Overall? Brilliant. And it will be made even better with the enhanced content. Don't forget you can still make use of the online version by following the link above. The internet version also adds the children's version, 'Who will be king?'
Marriage petitions: both/and
We don't normally promote petitions – it would be very easy to get into all sorts of political debates about which Christians, in good conscience, hold differing views. But the question of marriage is critical. It's a creation ordinance; scarred by the Fall, for sure, but not, thank God, destroyed. And so, Christians should desire to see it upheld. Many of you will have already signed the Coalition for Marriage petition (currently standing at half a million signatories). I have. You should consider it too. Sign here. (If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it may interest you to know that a group promoting same sex marriage have set up a very similar looking website with a similar address – I won't paste the link.). The coalition for marriage is consciously non-religious: I think that's a very good thing – it's not just Christians who think highly of marriage.
But that does mean there are certain Christian arguments which also need to be heard. Another group Keep Marriage Special are fulfilling that role – sign their petition too. The two are not mutually exclusive.
To those UK readers who get frustrated about the price of ebooks
ebooks, as you may know, are subject to 20% VAT, whereas print books are not (funny how they always end up similar prices). You may be interested to know that one legal firm (Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP) is pursuing a case for removal of VAT "based on the EU principle that products which are similar from the customer’s perspective must have identical VAT treatment". Don't hold your breath. But watch this space.
Stop using illustrations
Well, some anyway.
My heart always sinks when I hear the words "I'm not sure whether to use this illustration or not….." in a sermon. Mrs R tells me that at that point she always wants to stand up and shout, "Don't do it, preacher!" Nine times out of ten I agree. So, here are two top tips for when you're not sure whether an illustration works (i.e. whether it illustrates the point you are making) or when you're not sure whether you should use it or not.
2. I said, don't.
Put it this way. If you're unsure of your illustration's effectiveness, you're unlikely to sell it to the crowd. A preacher who can't explain his explanation is a sorry sight and runs the risk of undermining his message. And if you're not sure whether it is appropriate, it almost certainly isn't – rather it sounds as though it is going to distract your listeners, or at least some of them. If you're not sure, don't use it. Think of a better illustration. I don't think preachers should be shock-jocks.
Learning from Peter the preacher
Just sat through a great session at our younger ministers conference with David Cook on preaching in Acts. Audio and video up soon, but for now, here are David's conclusions on Peter's three sermons (Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 4):
- 'cut me and I bleed the Bible' – Peter's sermons are infused with the Bible throughout. This is our task, to proclaim Christ from the Scriptures.
- engagement – we respect both the Bible and the people we are preaching to. Answer the questions that the text encourages us to ask.
- courage – too much preaching today uses phrases like 'perhaps' or 'maybe' or 'may I suggest' – these are never present in Peter's preaching
- gospel – Peter never loses sight of the gospel in his preaching
- Peter doesn't rush to imperatives. E.g. first command in Romans is Rom 6.11. Go to indicatives first. Who is God and what has he done? Imperatives derive from the indicatives.
Preaching from an iPad
I noticed last week that David Meredith preached from an iPad. I asked him for a few tips to which I'll add one or two of my own. These are, of course, not hard and fast rules. But it's useful to hear what others have found helpful. David pointed out that the glare from the screen and the lack of uplighting in his church made his face shine…. not sure that is exactly the kind of image we preachers want to present! But it made us smile.
And if you're not a techy. Sorry. I just see an increasing number of guys with tablets; I use one myself. Therefore, some wisdom on how to use them in preaching seems apposite.
- tablets lend themselves to situations where you have a lectern or a pulpit. Frankly, if you are a note holder and wanderer, they are too heavy, too slippery, too likely to fall.
- save your notes as a pdf and read them in something like dropbox. An iPad (not sure about other tablets) does not preserve Word formatting, so if you rely on notes looking a certain way, then you need a pdf
- However, this makes the file uneditable. Personally, I am still scrawling over my notes with a few minutes to go as I think of last minute things to say (or not). I use an app called goodnotes (iPad only) which allows you to annotate pdf files with a finger or pen – so I scrawl, highlight, cross out. Wonderfully, these last minute changes are then saved as part of the pdf (whilst a computer Word document rarely contains the final version of a sermon).
- Check you're charged. Duh! A tablet has plenty of charge to last a sermon. As long as it is charged, that is!
- Shut down other apps. You don't want pop ups distracting you during the sermon
- Seriously, if uplighting is a problem, you can turn down screen intensity. Worth knowing how to do this.
- Use a case that carries the weight of the iPad. I have an Apple smart cover whose back stops the iPad slipping when it's on a slope, except very steeply raked lecterns.
- Don't use your tablet for your notes and your Bible. It's difficult to keep switching between the two and, for my money, I think it's good for people to see you with a Bible in hand. There's nothing sanctified about a paper copy, I don't think, but your weaker brothers (i.e. the congregation) may not think so.
In broad terms, don't make a big thing of using a tablet. Be discreet. Don't show off. It should be serving you and the congregation, not the other way around. At the end of the day, it's just a techy way to display notes. Don't think it's more.