To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

Those Great Preachers Far Far Away

There’s masses of them available at the click of a finger. They are great preachers. They handle the Word in a faithful and engaging way. The exegesis is first class, the expository development spot on, the hermeneutical skills well-developed and the Word comes effectively to your soul. So you think if only we had preaching like that in our church; I would love it, my church experience would be transformed and all would be well. In fact more than well!

And yet there is one key thing missing here. Those great preachers far far away are just that; they are far far away. And you don’t know their lives.

I was led to ponder upon this having heard a little bit of the personal situation of a preacher I would have admired and benefitted from who is far far away. What was revealed opened up a few question marks for me about the character of the man.

So I want to muse upon three specific issues here.

The first is that of character. It is not exceptional gifts that are the necessary equipping for the pastoral office it is the character of the man. In 1 Timothy 3:2-7 these are given as an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

These are observable and testable matters of character. God is looking for the character of the man, who He calls to the preaching and pastoral office, to be above reproach. By our magnifying the gifts of someone we may well be getting a perspective out of line with the one God wants us to have.

The second thing is that the vital ministry of a man should be among those who know his life and character. It is his character that gives substance to his ministry. So the man called to the preaching ministry should have a life which is open to the view of the people he ministers to. Local and near is the call for true ministry. You may not have the most gifted man (or men) bringing the Word to you regularly in your church. However, if they are men who with an opaqueness display godliness then that is such a key attribute in giving gravitas to their ministry.

The third thing to be aware of is the tendency to be lauding preachers who are far far away whilst downplaying the ministry of the preacher(s) in your own church. To have those magnificent preacher men who you can dip into and pick and choose from may seem very fulfilling to your soul. But is it? Surely it is the faithful man near at hand that we should be lauding. He knows you, he loves you; he lives His life before you. So let’s be finished with all our comparisons to the big men with their big ministries. And let us cherish those who faithfully serve us without a great fanfare, but are sold-out for the welfare of our souls. So go encourage those involved in the preaching ministry in your church today.

The Pandemic

On March 11th the World Health Organisation declared that the COVID-19 outbreak was a pandemic. Now, no doubt, according to the assessment of certain criteria the coronavirus can be seen to be a pandemic. And yet I am reluctant to use the term.

My reluctance comes from the emotive nature of the term. It speaks of a universal calamity. The use of it all contributes to the fear that has been cultivated over the last few months.

I say cultivated because that does appear to be something of what has happened. As I heard someone say recently “the media has dome a good job in making everyone fearful.” And here is a thoughtful piece about the BBC News and their being complicit in this.

Interestingly, today there was this piece here on the BBC website. This epitomizes the approach of using a headline to engage people through shocking them. But when you read the article it is far more nuanced. Interestingly, I spoke to someone today who, it appeared to me, had got some knowledge of this report. They were left, though, with the impression of the problems to come and not of the uncertainties about whether or not the problems will actually come to pass. This is how a negative process of scaring people affects the psyche of the nation.

Personally I prefer just refer to it as an outbreak. It is a blander term which does not provoke such emotional responses.

It just seems to me that we need to be careful with the way we present things. Words do have power. Words create emotions and alter thinking. Therein is their power to be used for good. However, they can also be used for ill.

As a declarer of God’s Word and elder over a church I want people to be influenced according to Gods’ Words. I want them to hear God’s Word from Him. But I also want them to feel God’s feelings after Him. I want them to process reality through God’s Word and not through the media’s word.

The mental and emotional toll of coronavirus will not be fully known for a long time. But I do feel that a lot of people have been scarred unnecessarily. We in the church need to be careful not to contribute to that.

The Preacher As Chef.

When we come to the preaching event a critical aspect of what the preacher should be longing for is that the people are fed. This feeding of the people comes through the Word of God being brought to them. Peter when he was commissioned by the Lord was told to Feed my sheep (John 21:17c).

This therefore conjures up the analogy of a preacher being a chef. So what do we think of when we think of how a preacher is analogous to a chef:

  • You need the right ingredients. You will never produce any meals that are nourishing and enjoyable without having the right ingredients. Every true preacher will be getting his ingredients from the Word of God.
  • You need to mix the appropriate ingredients. To put tomato sauce on ice cream may tickle someone’s fancy, but generally people will be revolted. To show joy when you are preaching about judgement is revolting.
  • The right food for the right occasion. Providing a fish and chip supper at a posh dinner is likely not to be well received. Similarly a message on obeying the authorities at a funeral is not best chosen.
  • The right order of courses. Offering people jelly and ice cream as a starter is not well thought through. So in preaching we have to be thoughtful about the best introduction, main course and conclusion to our message.
  • The surrounding circumstances are important. You may produce the best meal, but dirty cutlery and a smelly restaurant will put people off. We need to be careful about our manner and dress so that we do not hinder people from consuming the Word.
  • Everything needs to be cooked properly. The Word needs to have been cooked in our hearts so we can bring it appropriately to the people. It should not be too raw or overcooked.
  • The right atmosphere. There is often something “je ne said quois” about having a great meal. It is prayer that creates the “je ne sais quois” of preaching. If there is no prayer then there is likely to be something missing.
  • Don’t fill people up with the starter. The starter is meant to be leading people into enjoying the meal. If you fill them with stodge in the starter you will put them off the rest. And so an over stodgy start to the sermon is likely to put people off.
  • Spices and condiments need to be used well. And so with preaching, illustrations need to be used well so as to enhance the message. A dish which is overloaded with pepper will be spoiled.
  • The meal should be memorable. We need to work at this in preaching so that the benefit of the meal lasts.
  • Don’t poison your guests. The worst thing a chef can do is to give food poisoning to his customers. And so for us similarly we should avoid this. Dependence on bringing the Word will mitigate against this.
  • Digestible. The food should be presented so as to make sure that it is digestible. If the Word cannot be digested then it will not benefit the people.
  • Digestion. If the meal is rushed then people are likely to get indigestion. We need to make sure that we do not rush too quickly. This particularly applies with allowing people’s emotions to catch up with the logical presentation of the message.
  • Time between courses. This leads on to the thought of giving people time between courses to digest what has been said to them.
  • Leaving stuff out. If you are cooking a meal you might to start to think about all the wonderful things you could put in your meal, but to actually produce a good meal you need to put in only the necessary ingredients. And so it is with preaching we must put in all that is necessary.
  • Hoping for good reviews. A chef no doubt is pleased when people on TripAdvisor give high-rated reviews of his cuisine. For us preachers we do not look for the reviews of this day we look for the review of the ultimate day. Oh to hear from our Lord “well done good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21a). And if that is heard then all will have been worth it.

Oh that we might see people being well fed and strengthened in the Word.

The True Servant

John the Baptist was a great servant of the Lord. I want to ponder upon some aspects of his service as they are conveyed in Luke 3:15-20.

He got people thinking (see v15). An anodyne ministry which provokes no-one to wonder and question and ponder is a deficient ministry. In Luke 3:15 we see the people questioning. John the Baptist got people’s minds going.

He pointed people to Christ (see v16). John knew that he was the forerunner to introduce Christ Jesus. He speaks of the majestic superiority of Christ. He thought of himself in terms of the lowliest servant, and that was too high a thought. Tying of laces was only for the most menial of servants at that time.

Judgement (see v17). John preached that was a time of judgement coming. He preached of a time when all must face their maker. He spoke in terms of the either / or of judgement. You are either blown away in unquenchable fire or rescued into the barn. Oh the magnitude of these issues. John was bold in preaching them.

He preached the gospel (seev18). We do not readily think of John the Baptist as a gospel preacher. We read through in v18 that he is preaching the good news.

He was courageous (see vv19-20), John was not afraid to confront the king and confront him about his sin. He did this even though it led him to be imprisoned.

What a faithful man. What a faithful ministry. How about you? How about me? Are we faithful servants who minister like John the Baptist?

Preaching And Love Languages

The concept of The Languages of Love was popularised in Gary Chapman’s book. He categorised five of such namely:

  • words of affirmation,
  • acts of service,
  • spending quality time,
  • giving gifts,
  • physical touch.

Broadly, I would feel that they have a certain legitimacy.

What I want to ponder upon here is the issue of how an awareness of these love languages can enhance our preaching.

The tendency is to view life through our love language. So if you are a works of service person you conceive of everyone else in the world as being a works of service person. And if you are a works of service preacher you will preach works of service very big as you seek to apply the Word of God to people.

The first thing we need to be aware of then as preachers is that everyone is not like us.  To work the Word into people’s lives as if everyone is a clone of me, in terms of their satisfactions and desires is to fail in our preaching.

In mentioning this I am not negating the necessity to preach the Word as it stands. That is our primary responsibility, but that Word must be applied to the people in front of me. And very likely all five love languages will be represented in front of me.

 

Ah The Sadness: A Pastor Dies

Here is an article reporting the passing of Darrin Patrick. It cuts me up to read it. I would have known of him from a distance; being aware of him and possibly listening to an interview with him at sometime.

The article refers to a friend of Patrick’s by the name of Robbie Gallaty and records as follows:

Gallaty said pastors are great at helping other people but often don’t know what to do when they struggle. They try to keep up appearances, he said, and try to handle their struggles on their own.

This raises general issues appertaining to the caring for the carers principle. How easy it is to forget those who are expending all their energies to secure the welfare of another person. They are so easily overlooked because the focus is on the sufferer they are caring for. And all the while the carer can be slipping into burnout, trauma and despair. We must be alive to this and make sure that the welfare of the carer is secured. Accordingly, we must ask them how they are and make sure they are provided for with necessary support. And when I say to ask how they are, I do not just mean the superficial enquiry of social interaction, I mean the lovingly probing question of one who cares. There is a big difference!

It also raises the specific issue of caring for those in pastoral ministry. Gallaty’s observation should make us stop and ponder upon how we care for the ones whose unique ministry is to care for others under their pastoral care.

From the point of view of everyone who knows someone in pastoral ministry be alert to their welfare. Don’t take them for granted and assume that they are doing well because it looks like they are doing well. Behind the facade of someone who is being strong for others may well be someone who is breaking down inside.

For those in pastoral ministry you must know yourself. You must know what recreates you so that you are mentally, emotionally and above all spiritually, fresh, alive and prospering. For many this will mean that they need someone to turn to who can be their mentor, counsellor and support. Simply having someone you can talk things through with or dump your load on can be a vital life-support arrangement. This may be your wife or it may be someone else. Perhaps you have two or three who provide this. I would say it would be very rare to find a pastor who does not need someone.

The super-spiritual counter-claim to all this is that “the Lord is enough”. They quote Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. And of course that is true and is a reality we must work out. But very often the Lord uses others to be the means of bringing the strengthening to our souls. This is fellowship.

I remember reading sometime ago of a pastor who in his suicide note recorded that he had found himself with nowhere to go. He felt that if he revealed his struggles he would lose his job. So he put on a front and took his own life. How sad.

So churches remember that your pastor is a man of like passions as you. They have a calling, but they are not super-human. So ask the lovingly probing questions that I mentioned above as regards to their welfare.

Finally, I record five ways that have been a blessing to me:

  • a good wife who has supported me and listened to me and above all prayed for me.
  • a church where there is openness to share weaknesses.
  • a godly pastoral friend who I meet with from time to time. We set up this relationship with me having no obligation to ask him about his welfare.
  • the ministry of John Benton at the Pastor’s Academy (see here) for details, has been most helpful.
  • writing about my experiences gives an outlet so that things are not bottled up.
  • asking friends and those who I know care and will pray, for prayer at certain times.

Whatever Happened To Unction?

I am talking here about that special empowering that comes upon someone as they preach the Word of the Lord. It seem that it is something that has gone completely off our radar in terms of our understanding of homiletics.

We should be very glad to know that there are so many nowadays in the UK, who are faithfully preaching the Word of God. There is a diligence in the examination of the text and conveying its meaning to the congregation. There is a desire to make the message understandable to the people. Illustrations are effectively used; application is worked on and is very often most helpful and challenging.

However, I am left wondering if there is a missing ingredient and that is “unction”. This is the special sense of the Spirit of The Lord coming upon the preacher and the Word. Preaching is to bring, not just an unveiling of the Word, but of God Himself.

The fact that this does not generally appear to be happening is most concerning, but more concerning is the lack of expectation of it happening. The experience of the Thessalonians does not seem to accord with our experience. We read of them: because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5). Where is the power, the Holy Spirit and the full conviction among us today? But, more concerning where is the expectation of these phenomena?

There is so much that has happened in evangelical circles over the last fifty years to mean that there is accuracy, clarity and application in preaching, but there has been little focus on this issue.

So when I hear preaching the first three issues are there, but I am left wondering about the unction. Now, it may well be that the problem is with my lack of spirituality. As a result of that I don’t discern that the Spirit is working. I accept that could be the case. But I am still left wondering. I was attending a church last month and listened to a fine message which had accuracy, illustration and application, but I was set to think about this whole issue of unction; there seemed to be a lack.

I want to make clear that I do not believe that unction is necessarily revealed through loud, demonstrative performance in preaching. It can be, but not necessarily. It is that special sense of God as the Holy Spirit comes upon the preacher and the Word preached

So can I ask for some consideration of this issue. But more than consideration can we start to yearn for this anointing on the preaching. In the end we cannot strategize for this, but we can passionately cry out to the Lord for this. So as I write I am challenged to cry to the Lord for my planned preaching of the Word tomorrow that there might be a sense of God as the Word is preached. Can I challenge you, whether you be preacher or congregant to be praying to that end as well.

 

If I Had Time……

The scenario goes like this: the preacher has a limited amount of time to present his material and so he says things like:

  • We only have a short time,
  • If we had more time we could go into these issues some more
  • There is a lot more that could be developed here if we had time.
  • This passage requires a lot more time for the understanding to be fully explored.
  • My time is nearly up

The list could go on with other statements of a similar ilk. And you are left thinking that in mentioning about having limited time you have, you are actually using up your valuable time in the mentioning of it.

So why not just get on with your message use every bit of time that you have to helpfully convey the message of the passage and edify the people.

Give Them A Guilt-Trip

It is something that I have often heard in preaching and it goes something like this: “I don’t want to make you feel guilty….” The background to the statement is that the preacher is preaching to the end that they want the people to respond to the love of Christ and not because they feel guilty about some trait or behaviour.

However, if you start looking in the Old testament you will soon be finding that the prophets, in particular, are wanting to send the nation on a guilt trip. By way of example if you read through Hosea 4-14 you will find that the material is presented within the frame of an indictment against the nation of Israel for their turning form the Lord and His ways. So we read The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. (Hos. 12:2)

And read Micah 6:2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel.

And again in the writings of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5-15 there is a listing of charges by the Lord against His people.

This all leads me to ponder upon the issue of the appropriateness of preaching so that the people of God are knowing and feeling their guilt. I ask, if the Lord was doing such through His servants of old why should we not be doing the same today? So go, fellow preacher, to preach to make the people of God know their guilt.

However, this determination to preach to the end of producing guilt should never be without the colourings of grace.

If we preach guilt as simply failing to meet the standards of righteousness required by God, then we preach a message that engenders lives of drudgery among the people. Such people are ever seeking to reach the standards of a divine being who is a detached king whose regulations we must adhere to as His submissive subjects. And there is not much pleasure and joy in that!

However, there is a grander biblical motif in which to preach guilt and that is of the divine marriage. Most beautifully this is expressed in how the people of God are the bride of Christ. Let’s dwell upon that. In marriage if one of the spouses fails to give due honour and attention to the other then they are guilty of relationship crimes. The one they are called to devotedly share life with is spurned for selfish purposes. For such a person we want them to feel their guilt.

And so it is when we preach the Word. We want the people of God to know that any breaking of their devotion to their beloved bridegroom in heaven is turning against the One who has devotedly loved them and committed Himself with eternal, self-sacrificial, blood shedding love. We want to make the people feel their guilt over this outrage.

When we are  aware of our guilt as His adulterous children we repent and return to our Lord. All the while through our estrangement the marriage bond stands and so our cuckolded husband does not sue for divorce,  but rather He stands ready to welcome us back into the enchantment of the harmony of sharing life with Him. This we once again enjoy through the blessings that flow from repentance.

We need to preach this kind of guilt because it is appropriate in the context of Saviour’s determination for us to be blessed in enjoying the goodness of being with Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preaching Heaven And Hell

We should never preach heaven and hell without preaching God and sin. Heaven is only heaven because God is there. Hell is so very terribly hell because it is the eternal experience of the consequences of our sin.

To preach heaven on its own is to be like a spiritual travel agent. A travel agent describes a place so as people are persuaded into buying a ticket to get there. It is all based upon emotionally persuading people that this is the best deal available and they need to go for it. That is what the preacher who just preaches heaven does. They present heaven as the ultimate holiday destination and a must to be enjoyed. This approach is never engaged in in scripture.

To preach hell without saying it as a place of judgement for sin is to be a scare-mongerer. We present the ghastliness of hell, and truly it is ghastly beyond what words can convey, purely as a means of frightening people. What we should do is present the ghastliness of sin before a holy God.

We may have very good motives in adopting the approaches just mentioned, after all we want people to be heaven bound and not hell bound. If these are not our motivations then there is no love in us and, in a sense, there is no humanity in us. However, good motives are not enough. Such approaches depend upon our rhetorical skills to entice to heaven or deter from hell.

Inherent in these approach is the tendency to depart from the scriptural portrayal of heaven and hell and engage in speculation in order to gain an effect. So we conjure up vile images for hell and virtuous images for heaven to achieve our ends.

The corrective is always to be rooted in scripture for our approach to these matters. So we preach God as wholly beautiful in all His trinitarian, Father, Son and Holy Spirit magnificence. The consequence of such preaching is the awareness that heaven is only heaven because God is there.

Similarly hell is presented as the just vengeance of God against sin. Hell is an understandable place when we realise how vile an offence and sin is against a beautiful all loving holy Lord God.

We must be careful that our emotions in preaching flow out of a heart in tune with scripture. So our passions for being in glory with the Lord flow as we appreciate our God and our passions of alarm and concern flow when we present the vileness of sin. Yes we should be emotional in preaching, passions should flow. But they flow not because we are great thespians, but because God, through the Word of God, has got a hold of us.

Anyone who has attended drama school can whip up a fervour as regards to heaven and hell. But, only the Spirit anointed preacher can bring people to appreciate God and his ways. And through that, by the Holy Spirit, to see life transformation.

 

 

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