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.
Three important history books
Having spent two conferences with Dr John Dickson, we've been encouraged to think rightly about history. We'll post the audio and video soon, but in the meantime, here are his top three history/background books:
- The Oxford Classical Dictionary, this is expensive, shop around
- The Dictionary of NT background, bit cheaper!!
- The Encyclopedia of the historical Jesus, another pricey volume, but apparently, as they say, worth it.
There's a longer list of twenty, but this seems a good place to start. Personally, as a history lover but history dunce, I have also found the NIV Archeological Study Bible edited by Walt Kaiser to be really useful. And slightly cheaper too….
A useful funeral tip (2)
How many of us have had to endure this 'nice' little poem at funerals:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
A useful funeral tip
This week and next I'm chairing workshops at our ministers' conferences on preaching at and leading funerals.We've had some interesting tips. Here's one from Tony Cannon who ministers in leafy Surrey: often times the closest relatives are too upset to take in what you're saying so if you're the kind of preacher who uses a manuscript (and even if you're not) why not give the family a nicely presented copy of your semon in an envelope, perhaps with a hand written note or invitation to the church and a copy of the order of service if you have one. Who knows? They may read it later. And they may take it in. They will certainly appreciat that you are not just a professional but someone who's interested in them. Great idea. Nice touch, Tony.
Wisdom from the world?
Interesting to read an interview in the press at the weekend with Philip Collins. He was the (very young) speech writer used by Tony Blair who, it is said, made a large contribution to Blair's public speaking effectiveness. The Times included a cut out and keep (!) guide to "how to write a speech in six easy steps":
- Get to know your audience. 'You'd be amazed how often people forget about their audience before they speak'
- What expectations do you have? 'Failed speakers never quite know what they are trying to achieve'
- What's your topic? 'You have to know what you want to say' 'This is the most important thing you have to get right'
- Mind your language. 'Most speech writing is rewriting. Don't be precious about your words. It's the argument that matters, not the precise wording'
- Writing for an individual. He means, make yourself authentic.
- Delivering the speech. 'It's incredible how many people hear the speech for the first time as they are delivering it.'
Interesting. When I first read it, I thought to myself, there's wisdom in the world. We just need to sift it out. And sure, there's wisdom here for preachers. Some of it direct. Some of it indirect. Try it. You can apply these lessons in some way or shape to good preaching. I think there's worth in that.
As I reflected on it, of course, I realised that the reason there is 'wisdom in the world' when it comes to speech writing (and speaking) is that for many, many years the best (and only) public speakers were preachers. So by all means learn something from Philip Collins. But as you do, remember that he himself has learnt, some way down the line, from the great preachers.
When a few words of faith are not enough
Watching the FA cup final on Saturday (US readers, that's a sports game called association football that is the world's favourite game, but I understand if you've not heard ot it), I was delighted to see Fabrice Muamba in the crowd. He was also interviewed in this weekend's press. It's truly remarkable. The man should be dead. His heart stopped on the pitch for 78 minutes. Twice doctors threw in the towel on resuscitation. Yet here he is. He's forgetful. He'll never play again, I suspect. But he's alive. Like I said, I'm truly thankful.
His situation raises some interesting questions, not least the Christian veneer with which everything has been coated – headline in The Times, for example: "If God is with me, who can be against me? There is nothing to fear" Quite an amazing statement for the national press. His recovery, we read, is down to prayer. Sounds good, huh? Romans 8:28 and intercession all wrapped up together.
But the interview made me uncomfortable. Here is a man who lives with his girlfriend, with whom they have a child. He, according to the interview anyway, swears like a trooper. These are hardly the normal marks of a believer. Who am I to say? Well, quite. But isn't it interesting how quick the Christian population are to pick up on a few words of faith in order to be able to claim someone as our own?
I don't want to draw lessons about Fabrice. I am truly, truly glad he's alive and (if he has not already) I hope that he will soon come to a real and living faith in Christ. Rather, it makes me think of the local church. How quick we are to latch on to the words of someone in church and immediately claim them as a convert. I can think of several cases in my own ministry where that has proved to be patently unjustified. We are, of course, desperate for people to be saved. So a word here or a gesture there – well, of course, it gets our pulses racing. But perhaps we also need to be honest and say, a few words of 'faith' are not enough.
The problem is that we stop evangelising such people. They're 'in' aren't they! Job done. And then, something happens, time passes, and suddenly you realise they're gone and lost. Hebrews 6 is sobering here.
I sat through Mark Dever talking about the danger of unconverted members in our churches when I was in the US recently. At the time, I was thinking to myself, perhaps this is a particularly American problem. Now, I'm thinking again…. Our church life needs to move people along constantly in their walk with Christ. I hesitate to say 'journey' because it just sounds so, well, emerging. Nevertheless, a few words of faith are often not enough and we have to help people to start well, race well, and finish well – finish with real, lasting and effective faith.