Remembrance

Today, on the feast of St. Martin of Tours, let us remember his example. He saw so clearly and stated so plainly:

I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.

He who has ears, let him hear

Someone handed me a tract today and asked me what I thought of Jesus. I told him that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, but he didn’t hear me. He was too busy talking over me about what “interesting” times we are living in nowadays.

A few years ago my teenagers and I followed an evangelist into a German town to watch him evangelise and then have a go ourselves. He got talking to a pretty young German woman and her friends. When they got to the topic of Jesus she told him (through a translator because he was speaking in English) that she believed in Jesus. He didn’t ask what she believed about Jesus, he just went on, assuming that her beliefs were wrong. He told her she must put on Jesus like a parachute. Find that in the Bible!

I’m not an expert at evangelism but I think if you are not interested in hearing what a person is telling you they believe and meeting them where they are, then you can hardly be said to be loving your neighbour as yourself. If you are too busy trying to carry on with your marketing spiel to hear someone declare Jesus Christ their Lord and Saviour right to your face, then whatever method you are using, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a soft-spoken man, but it’s not hard to hear me when I’m standing right in front of you.

I gave him back his tract.

A Mini-Rant

Can I just get this out there and then maybe some people can tell me I’m over-reacting, or maybe I have a point? It might be worth discussing.

I had a children’s praise song stuck in my head recently (as only children’s songs can get stuck). As the lyrics were playing on a loop in my mind I began to have a big problem with what they were saying. Now, this is a fairly well known song. I’ve been in services where this was sung and I’ve probably even preached and lead services where this was sung and enjoyed by the kids, but now I have a problem with it that I didn’t notice before. Here’s the first verse of the song and the bit I have a problem with:

We want to see Jesus lifted high
A banner that flies across the land
That all men might see the truth and know
He is the way to heaven

What? “He is the way to heaven”? That’s the message you want to get out about Jesus? That He is the way to get somewhere? That He is the means to an end? What this line says is true but listen, Jesus is not the means to an end, He is the end. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord.

It’s true, Jesus is the only way to heaven, but if I want to go to heaven it’s because Jesus is there with nothing to separate us or cloud my perception of Him.

Jesus is what our faith is about, not the things he can do for us or the places he can take us, we need to teach our kids that. Don’t demote Jesus to the role of celestial ticket vendor.

Amen

I hate it when my credit card reaches it’s expiry date and I get issued a new one. (First world problem, I know, but stick with me.) I have to update my card information on the online stores I use and if I have a regular charge on my card I have to call the company and give them my new card details. Another thing I hate is answering machines. Beep! and then it’s go-time. Get your message out, but make it snappy! Don’t forget anything or you’ll have to keep calling back and leaving messages like a crazy person! Don’t waffle and take too long or you’ll run out of time and – Beep! The pressure! And all from some little machine!

One time I had to call a company to update my credit card details. I called out of office hours, so I got both of these things at once. I hung up before the answering machine beep, but I wanted to get this taken care of before leaving the flat so I prepared myself to leave a short, concise, clear message describing the situation and asking that they call me back at their convenience so it could be taken care of. I practised what I had to say, making sure I accurately described the situation. Then I called again, waited for the pre-recorded message to finish and for the beep and then I launched into my own pre-prepared message. It went something like this:

“Hi, this is John O’Donnell, I have a standing order with you but my credit card recently expired and I was issued a new one so the details you have won’t work any more. Please call me back as soon as is convenient so I can update my details. My number is 08XXXXXXXX.

Amen.”

I finished the call with a look of frozen horror on my face as I slowly and silently hung up. I said “amen”  at the end of a voicemail like some kind of weirdo! What could I do but hang up? The message was out there now on their machine, I couldn’t take it back.

Why did I say “amen” anyway? This wasn’t a prayer. Only, it almost was… it was very like the way I prayed. Thinking about that voicemail I realised that this was how I treated prayer. Instead of a conversation with my Father, I treated prayer like a message fired off to some distant place with all of the essential information necessary to get the job done so I could get on with my day.

“Dear God,

Thanks for this, this and this. Sorry about that and that. Please bless this and him and her and me.

Okay, thanks, bye.

Amen.”

Job done. On with my day.

Prayer is not voicemail. When I pray I don’t call through to some distant office where they don’t know me or my situation — I speak to my Father who made me and knows me. I’m not leaving a message to be dealt with later — I am speaking live to a God who can speak back. There is no hanging-up with God. Amen does not mean goodbye —  it’s an affirmation that shows that I have meant what I said. My Father is still there, not just on the line but with me throughout the day. God does not go away when I say “amen”.

Thankfully, when the company called me back they were very professional and didn’t mention my “amen”. I am glad though that God did mention it. I’m glad that God loved me enough to show me that this was how I was speaking to Him and call me to stop leaving messages for Someone who is right there with me and closer than I can imagine.

ETC: Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson – Chapters 4-6

Expository Preaching by Haddon W. RobinsonThis is part two of my Every Third Chapter treatment of Haddon W. Robinson’s “Expository Preaching”, or “Biblical Preaching”  as it’s called in the USA (you’ll find more stuff at that second link, including the ability to search the book). Part one is here. Chapters 4 to 6 begin the “Road from Text to Sermon” and take us from stages 4 to 8 in Robinson’s stages of sermon development. The Exegetical Idea (the “Big Idea” we’ve taken from a study of the selected Scripture) is subjected to three questions which help determine what it is that needs to be said about this text in a sermon:

  1. What does this mean?
  2. Is it true?
  3. What difference does it make?

Important questions. If we can’t explain our big idea, we shouldn’t preach it. If it’s not true, of course we shouldn’t preach it and we’ve misunderstood the text. If it makes no difference to the lives of people then our big idea is not worth preaching. Depending on the text one of these questions will be bigger than the others and will determine the form of the sermon we need to preach. One might spend more time explaining one text and more time proving the truth of another, while another may be plainly true but the modern application in the daily lives of Christians will take up most of the sermon. The next chapter is called “The Arrow and the Target” and it’s a great title — a brilliant analogy for the Homiletical Idea and the purpose of the sermon, which is what this chapter covers. The Homiletical Idea is related to the Exegetical Idea and is the fruit of probing that idea with the three questions of chapter 4. The Homiletical Idea states the Exegetical Idea in terms relevant, understandable and memorable to the audience in one clear sentence. In other words the Exegetical Idea is the short and preachy (in a good way) version of the big idea of the text. That’s the arrow, it’s what the preacher fires (again with the weaponry Mr. Robinson?). The purpose of the sermon is the target. What is the preacher aiming for? “Why are you preaching this?” is a great question to ask as I prepare a sermon. What exactly do I want to happen as a result of my preaching? Why am I telling them this? Chapter 6 covers the shapes of a sermon, i.e. the form it will take. Will the sermon be a deductive sermon or an inductive sermon, or something in-between? To be honest I have never really stopped to think of what shape my sermon should take before and I think this chapter could make a big difference to my preaching. Once the best sermon shape is determined, the outline can be developed. One immediate correction I will make to my sermon preparation is in my development of the outline. I use mind-mapping software called XMind  to develop my sermon outlines and I’ve found it extremely helpful, but I have been using little phrases or subtitles to mark the outline of my sermon. These can be kind of vague. Robinson has reminded me that “each point of the outline represents an idea and thus should be a grammatically complete sentence”I think my sermons would benefit by me clarifying each idea more before I decide to work it into the sermon outline. By spending more time developing clearer ideas in the outline I think I’d make writing the text of the sermon much easier. So far so helpful. One thing I’ve been struck with while reading this book is how great Haddon W. Robinson is at explaining his points. I can’t even provide an example because throughout the book I notice what a good communicator the author is and I’m very grateful for his contribution to the church.

ETC: Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson – Chapters 1-3

Expository Preaching by Haddon W. RobinsonThe first book to get my ETC treatment is Haddon W. Robinson’s “Expository Preaching”, or “Biblical Preaching”  as it’s called in the USA (you’ll find more stuff at that second link, including the ability to search the book).

In many ways this book had been part of my life for a number of years. Not because I’ve actually read it, though I confess it has been on my bookshelf for some time. Expository Preaching has been part of my life for so long because it’s a modern classic and as a novice preacher it seems every conference I’ve gone to and every class or work-group I’ve attended has been based in some part on this book. I have in fact been using a check-list of stages that I go through every time I prepare a sermon that I’ve found come from this book.

After an encouraging foreword from J. A. Motyer, Robinson begins in chapter one by making the case for preaching in general and expository preaching in particular. Robinson addresses the problems of an unfavourable public opinion of preachers, the noise-saturated society we live in (considerably more noisy nowadays than when the book was written), and those who favour activism instead of preaching, which brings me to this brilliant quote:

Some people with this mind-set judge that the apostles had things turned around when they decided, “It is not right that that we should forsake the Word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 ASV). In a day of activism, it is more relevant to declare instead “It is not right that we should forsake the service of tables to preach the Word of God”.

(pp. 18,19)

“In spite of all the bad-mouthing of preachers and preaching” Robinson stands in its defence because it is through the faithful preaching of the gospel that God redeems His people. This is a big responsibility for the preachers, hence the need for us to preach what God says and not what we say, to draw attention to God’s word and not our own. This is why expository preaching is so important.

Robinson defines expository preaching as

the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.

(p. 31)

I like that he gave special mention to the need for a preacher to first allow the text to do its work on herself or himself, before the message of the passage is communicated to their hearers.

Robinson’s big contribution to the field of homiletics is his concept of the Big Idea, and that’s what chapter two is about. A preacher must determine what a passage is about (subject) and what it says about that (complement). I have heard sermons criticised by saying that they are too packed with ideas. The problem is not the amount of ideas, but the fact that they don’t seem to relate to each other, there seems to be no great unifying idea – no big idea. To borrow Robinson’s terminology, sermons should be more bullet than buckshot. I feel the need to point out that when I preach I don’t like to imagine I’m using either bullets or buckshot, trying to be a peacemaker and all that, but it is a good analogy. A listener of a sermon must be able to say what the sermon they have heard is about and what it says about that.

In chapter three Robinson gets down to the nitty-gritty of sermon development, acknowledging the difficulties in describing how a sermon is to be prepared. This chapter deals with the first three stages of development:

  • Selecting the Passage
  • Studying the Passage
  • Discovering the Exegetical Idea

By the end of these stages a preacher should have determined what the Big Idea of the passage is and to do that requires hard work. As Robinson writes, “This is sweaty, difficult work, but it has to be done”.

Preachers don’t just work for an hour on Sundays… not the good ones anyway. For me, preaching is hard work with tremendous pressure, but also great joy and the great assurance that the God who called me to preach is also the God who will turn me into His preacher.

Finally, one of my favourite features of this book is how well it has been put together for students of preaching – chapters end with a recap of new concepts, terminology, suggested material and exercises, which makes learning and revision much easier. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book and the ways I expect it will help my own preaching to develop.

ETC

etcI’m just speaking for myself, but in the past when I tried to blog on every chapter of a book it was not only boring for myself to write, but boring to read as well (see my aborted attempt to blog through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline). On the other hand, waiting until I have the whole book read ends up with me passing over so many of the book’s good points in favour of a broad overall opinion. There must be some middle ground between a boring worm’s eye view and a vague bird’s eye view. I have an idea I’d like to try, which I think reaches this middle ground: ETC. Every Third Chapter I will give my thoughts on the book so far. I’ll see how this goes.

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