Don’t believe everything you read…
A salutary warning about our words can be misquoted – in a positive article in Monday's Times about US evangelicals, Tim Keller was quoted as saying it was possible to believe that homosexuality was a sin but still be in favour of gay marriage. This actually was lifted straight from an article at the Huffington Post (lazy journalism, one might argue, but then the writer of the article, Tim Montgomerie, found fame as a blogger). As Keller clarifies here, he did say these words, but in response to articulating what some anabaptists held as a position. In other words, as a statement of fact as to what others believe. We shouldn't be surprised that words get twisted or even misinterpreted, I suppose. Hey ho.
Waiting on God to refresh our strength
Following on from yesterday's post, I've found this little quote from Richard Sibbes (taken from The love of Christ) to be a remarkable encouragement:
If we find not our suits answered so soon as we would, remember we have made him wait for us also. Perhaps to humble us, and after that to encourage us, he will make us wait; for we have made him wait. Let us not give over, for certainly he that desires us to open, that he may pour out his grace upon us, he will not reject us when we come to him (Matt 7.7). If he answers us not at first, yet he will at last. Let us go on and wait, seeing as there is no duty pressed more in Scritpure than this. And we see it in equity, 'He waits for us' (Isaiah 30.8). It is good reason we should wait for him. If we have not comfort presently when we desire it, let us attend upon Christ as he hath attended upon us, for when he comes, he comes with advantage. So that when we wait, we lose nothing thereby, but are gainers by it, increasing our patience (James 1.4). The longer we wait, he comes with the more abundant grace and comfort in the end, and shows himself rich, and bountiful to them that wait upon him (Isaiah 40.1).
Running on empty
Ministers are not machines. Had you noticed? We therefore need to take care of ourselves (and encourage others to take care of us). Reflecting on my own weak humanity this week I wonder whether we may be inclined to only concentrate on certain aspects of our lives and therefore find ourselves, without warning perhaps, running on empty?
- We are spiritual people and therefore we need to take care over our spiritual walk. I guess most of us are aware of this. But what steps are you taking to guard your walk with Christ and make sure this element of your life is not empty.
- We are physical people and therefore we need to take care over our bodies. We simply cannot operate as ministers if our bodies are so worn down that they won't operate. So, we need to take care over the hours we are working, the sleep we are getting, the exercise we are seeking and the downtime we are building in. We can be at the heights of our spiritual prowess, but if our bodies are groaning and creaking we won't be able to sustain ministry.
- We are emotional people and therefore we need to take care over our emotions. I've worked out recently that my emotional tank is pretty near empty. There are lots of reasons for why our emotional strength may be drained; circumstances at home, church situations, pressures of other kinds. We may be in top shape physically, spiritually but be emotionally void. We are not going to be in any shape to minister to others, a ministry which is full of emotional giving out. What are you building into your timetable to recharge emotional energy?
Take a quick check. How are the fuel tanks in your ministry?
EMA featured books #3
Look out at the EMA for one of the best books of 2013: Serving without sinking by John Hindley. Quite simply, this book did me good. It is fresh, warm, honest and richly filled with grace, informed by a gritty realism, shot through with pastoral perspectives. There is something in it for every Christian.
Two weeks with Peter Adam on our spring ministers conferences and there are, not surprisingly, lots of golden nuggets along the way. Here's a taster, reviewing Revelation and challenging what we worship. Our congregations and churches, suggested Peter, also have idols. We need to spot these and tackle them. The idols may be:
- the past
- the building
- the building project
- a certain model of ministry
- the last minister but one
Bruce Ware love in
If I may be allowed to gate-crash Adrian’s recent Bruce Ware love-in, I would strongly recommend his (that’s Bruce’s) Big Truths for Young Hearts (Crossway). I’m currently reading through it with the family, having been recommended it ages ago by someone I met at a ministers’ conference; I can’t remember who, but many thanks if it was you. It’s essentially a systematic theology, set out in 2-3 page sections, each with a couple of discussion questions and a memory verse. It take about ten minutes to read the section out. Here’s what I like about it, apart from the obvious stuff about it being great truth:
- it’s superbly well-explained in crystal clear and very simple terms, with great illustrations. it grew out of night-time devotions with his own daughters when they were young (read their preface to get a sense of what it was like growing up with an enthusiastic theologian for a Dad and be envious – or not.)
- it reads like it was written to be read out a family and so it’s fun to listen to (so the troops are telling me)
- we must teach our kids systematic theology. There are few reasons for this: it’s a fresh and exciting challenge for a child (mine is now ten) who knows all the Bible stories inside out and might be getting bored with them; their generation will likely be under even more pressure from wider society to have a robust, coherent and well thought out biblical world-view; if all we do is read the Bible with them (great and indispensable though that is!), we’re starving them of the great traditions of godly thinking that have been passed on to us
- it could be one of the very best theology books to give to a new or under-taught believer, whatever their reading ability, but especially if they’re not in the majority who are not university educated.
Here’s what my ten-year-old likes about it:
- it answers some of the tough questions he’d been asking at the end of our family Bible-time together; (I’d answered some of them for him, but every Dad needs some back-up)
- it’s giving him Bible-truth in a way he hasn’t encountered much before
- it’s just at his level (the back cover says from ages 9 up, which I reckon is about right).
Full text or notes?
What should I have in front of me when I preach? This issue came up a few times at the NWA seminars. There’s no right or wrong of course. But I think it’s important to be aware of some of the practical consequences of always opting for either notes or full-text.
When I have just notes, the danger is:
- I will waffle
- I will not express it as well out loud in the sermon as I did in my head when preparing
- my ad libs will be same-y and repetitive (what comes first into my mind when this topic comes up).
When I have a full text, the danger is:
- I won’t step aside from the lectern at key moments of application in order to address people even more directly
- People will know I’m reading, if I haven’t been shown how to preach from a full text properly
- I will deliver a piece of written communication, rather than oral communication.
On that last point, I have a particular dislike of the phrase ‘writing my sermon’ (as Cornhill students will soon be discovering). My problem is with the word ‘writing’. If what I’m doing this morning is ‘writing’ my sermon, then it could well be a piece of writing that I produce: elegant sentences each with a few sub-clauses, rather than short punchy single-clause ones; no earthy language: long Latinate words instead of short Anglo-Saxon ones; reaching for my thesaurus to express the same thing with stylistically different words, instead of hammering a memorable point home by repetition. Many faithful sermons could be made all the more effective just by being translated from writing-ese to natural speech.
For what it’s worth, I think I go stale if I preach from either a full text or notes consistently for too long, so I try to mix it up. It might be different for you. But whichever, it’s good to think of a full-text not as something I’ve written, but as my word-for-word cues for the powerful piece of spoken communication I want to deliver. And you don’t write that, you just note it down.
Today is one of those most curious of British things – a bank holiday. That means, for overseas readers, that everything is closed. Banks yes (although to be fair, they're closed lots of other times too), businesses and so on. We have two of these delightful days in May, though we do gripe that we have less statutory holidays than some places (UK total 8 per year, Colombia 18, Mexico 7….). So, what to do?
Some people shop. Some people spend some time with family. Some people attend sports events. Others simply enjoy the lie-in. Some work. This can be especially true for ministers if they have a standard rythmn of which Monday is a critical part.
Others book onto the EMA. A well known evangelical leader told me that none of his staff had booked yet "because there was plenty of room." Whilst that's true – it would be nice not to leave it too late. We look forward to receiving your booking on this bank holiday booking day.
We are more often motivated by fear than by attraction. I probably wear the kinds of clothes I do more because I don’t want to regarded as the kind of person who wears either smarter or scruffier or trendier clothes than I do, than because I particularly love the clothes you can buy at ******* (name of store removed for editorial reasons).
So too with what preachers do physically in preaching. I suspect that if you walk up and down with you radio-mike the whole time, that’s because deep down you think you’ll be too dull if you don’t. And conversely if you remain in your pulpit or behind your lectern that’s because you don’t want to be one of those preachers who gains his impact through showmanship more than through the Word.
Both these fears are fine, of course, but the chances are that most readers of this blog (the Brits, or more specifically the English, anyway) are more likely to fear being a rabble-rousing showman than an unexciting lecturer.
At this point it’s not uncommon for someone to refer Paul’s refusal to use the accepted persuasive techniques of his day, but instead to preach simply the cross of Christ. That is indeed a relief for us, that we ought not dress up our gospel proclamation in whatever faddish trappings our world happens to find engaging right now. However I don’t think we should use that fact to overlook the obvious truth that the preachers through whom God speaks have bodies. If I stand stock-still behind a lectern that I grasp in an authoritative manner am still making a powerful culture-laden statement – it’s just a different statement from the one made by the preacher who wanders waving his arms like a windmill.
At New Word Alive I heard one speaker make an excellent point from 2 Corinthians ch.1 about the need for believers not to hide their sufferings from one another, but to share them. As he did so, two or three times he made an illustrative physical movement: first of half-turning his back and clutching something to his chest and stroking it, but then of turning round to be open to us, walking a few yards and offering his hands openly in front of him. Not histrionic, not emotive for its own sake. And it made his point infinitely more effective and memorable. I think in a few months it’s that physical act I will remember, and that act will call his teaching point to my mind.
Applying the truth
Two issues here: when in the sermon to apply, and how to do it.
- First, the when. Here is a gut-reaction I have when I’m listening to sermons: I am much more often grabbed hold of and feel that God’s word has got under my skin when the preacher has dropped in application regularly as he goes, rather than saving it all up for the end. And that’s true even though I am someone who happens to have had a fair amount of training and experience in listening to long lectures (everyone gets their kicks somehow). It is very tempting to save the application till the end: “I need to explain it all before I apply it”; “I want a big, practical finish”. But not many people can hold in their heads all the biblical content that we’re giving them for all those minutes, and then have it all freshly at the front of their minds when we finally come to set out the application. When I first started preaching I was especially impressed by one preacher whose introduction was usually a piece of his application brought forward. At the outset he convinced us that we needed help in a certain area, and then he brought us to Scripture to show us that here was the medicine we needed. Of course it’s good not to be predictably formulaic, but there is some wisdom in that. I might start doing it again more often.
- Second, the how. There are a million and one things that could be said, but here’s just one. Stories count for a great deal. I was reading recently about a department store that wanted to have the reputation for the best customer service. In their staff training they constantly re-told the true story of an employee who one day ironed a shirt for a customer who was heading off to a big meeting – and the shirt had been bought in a different store. That one story communicates an awful more about how the management want the employees to relate to customers than a whole series of bullet-point principles. So we’re back to the same point as the previous post on illustration. Specific stories of this biblical truth being put into action is better than a string of general exhortations.