Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A short talk on Philippians 2:5

Verse 5 from Paul's letter to the Philippians reads: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus". The ESV translates it better: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."  In other words "have (what) is yours". How can you have what is already yours?

When my son was younger and he’d go out to town for a drink with his friends sometimes he would come home let’s say a little the worse for wear and be sick or spend the next day recovering in bed with a hangover. When he did I would say to him “you know your trouble don’t you, you don’t have the brains you were born with." Now unless he had had a lobotomy that statement does not make much sense! Of course he had the brains he was born with. But what I meant was that he had the brains but didn't use them.

In other words he'd left his brains at the door of the nightclub and stopped thinking about the consequences of what happens when you have too much to drink. He had the intelligence to know what was sensible but he didn't use it.

Paul is saying something along the same lines to the Philippians. As Christians - those who are as Jesus said “born from above” (John 3:3) or who are what Paul likes to describe as "in Christ Jesus" - they already
therefore had his mind. What they needed to do now was to live it out.

So as Jesus is humble so they ought to be humble. As Jesus had the attitude of a servant so they should be willing to serve. As Jesus was obedient to God so they ought to obey God. If they are indeed “in Christ” —if they are Christians - then the presence of Christ IN THEM means that they already have his mind, they just needed to live out of it.

The Philippians seem to have forgotten that and so Paul is reminding them to live according to the life and character of Jesus which they already have within them by virtue of their Christian faith.

And we too as Christians now, are called to live out the life of Jesus which has been given to us and is ours in Christ. When we do then the world will sit up and take notice and see that being part of God's church really does change people for the good. And if it changes people, then it will change the world.

So let’s take to heart what Paul is saying: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Become more like the Christ within. Amen

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Learning from Billy Graham

I am always looking to improve my preaching and over the years have tried to learn from the best. One of my heroes is Billy Graham who, whatever your churchmanship, is undoubtedly one of the most effective communicators of the Gospel. What can learn from him? Here are some helpful pointers:

Flatten The Structure
Graham uses a modified form of Monroe's motivational sequence (see earlier post). He establishes rapport (identification), provides evidence that something is wrong (sin), announces there is hope (Jesus), assures that you can know Him, warns you to accept the consequences of your choice, then invites you to respond now. In classical rhetoric, this is logos.

Simplify The Message
Graham first believed he needed to cover the Bible in every message. Later, in response to his request for advice from Dr. Marcus Sloan (former Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Australia), he realized he could choose a single text, include the cross and resurrection, and call people to faith and repentance.
Though not an expositor, Graham focuses on the kerygma of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. "There is a built-in power to the cross and the resurrection. It has its own communicative power. The Holy Spirit takes this simple message of the cross with its redemptive love and grace and infuses it into lives with authority and power."
Graham's preaching is directed to common people. His vocabulary is non-technical. His sentences are simple—and run-on at times. His model is Jesus, who used parables. "That is the only way I know how to do it. We must learn to take the profoundest things of the gospel and proclaim them in simplicity. ... We must communicate so people will understand. So preach it with simplicity. …People want simplicity, and I am sure that was one of the secrets of our Lord because the common people heard Him gladly; He spoke their language."

Trust The Infallible Scriptures
Graham often quotes John 3:16. Behind him in stadiums is displayed "John 10:10" or "John 14:6." He seldom seeks to argue logic. He believes "the natural man cannot receive the gospel on his own devices because there is a veil over his mind and heart. This veil can only be penetrated by the Holy Spirit, not my argument or my logic."

However, Graham struggled early with the authority of the Bible. He settled his doubts one night on a tree stump in the mountains and decided to accept it by faith as God's Word. Drawing on Romans 10:17, he trusted God to honour the faithful proclamation of His Word. His sermons are filled with "the Bible says …"
"First of all, I would say communicate the gospel with authority. Preach it with conviction and assurance, knowing that faith cometh by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ. … When you quote God's Word, He will use it. He never will allow it to return void. … When I quote Scripture, I know I am quoting the Word of God. It is God's authoritative message to us. It is an infallible book. Let's never depart from that."

Include Fresh Illustrations
Graham often uses recent, personal experiences, but without making himself the centre or the hero figure. When using non-personal material, he is conscientious to give general attribution of the sources of quotes, statistics and published material. He avoids death-bed stories because he believes "it hurts the reputation and effectiveness of the evangelist, especially in America."

Speak To The Heart
Graham speaks with unending compassion. His motivation not only is obedience to God's call, but also love for people. It is demonstrated in deeds (often behind the scenes), as well as the emotion of the sermon. In classical rhetoric, this is pathos.

When discussing 1 Corinthians 2:2 Graham says, "When I stand before an audience—I don't care whether it is in England or in Kenya or Ecuador or wherever it may be—there are certain things I assume are in the audience already. To every group—whether it is at a university or on a street corner, whether it is in Korea or whether it is in a tribal situation in Zaire or in New York City or here in the Netherlands—I know certain psychological and spiritual factors exist. …These include:
1. Life's needs are not totally met by social improvement and material affluence;
2. There is an essential emptiness in every life without Christ, and only God can fill it;
3. There is a cosmic loneliness in people;
4. People have a universal sense of guilt;
5. There is a universal fear of death."

Offer An Early Appeal
Graham begins his appeal to respond very early in his messages. He does not wait until the conclusion. He often tells the listeners during the introduction what he is going to ask them to do.

Apply The Gospel Ethic
Bigotry. Economic disparity. Violence. Environmental abuse. Social injustice. Devaluing human life. Mass destruction. Graham addresses these social issues and more. "We also communicate the gospel by compassionate social concern. This is implied in the love we show others. I believe there is a social involvement incumbent and commanded in the Scriptures. Look at our Lord—we have a responsibility to the oppressed, the sick, and the poor … but the church goes into the world with an extra dimension in its social concern. We go in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. …This is not just humanitarianism. It is compassion and love. We give because God gave."

Live With Consistent Integrity
"All of these assumptions [of effective preaching] can be realized if we preach Christ, backed by a holy life and filled with the Holy Spirit. … Our world today is looking primarily for men and women of integrity, communicators who back up their ministries with their lives. Your preaching emerges out of what you are; we must be holy people.  … The three common areas of Satanic attack against preachers are money, morals and pride; and we will battle them all of our lives." In classical rhetoric this is ethos.

Graham reacted against Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry image of American evangelists who are manipulative, emotional, anti-local church, anti-intellectual and crave money. While in Modesto, California (1948), he and Cliff Barrows discussed all the things wrong with American itinerant evangelism and decided to do something to change it.

Professionally, they incorporated (accountability and publication of all finances) and receive public salaries set and raised by an external board of directors (rather than love offerings, gifts and honorariums). Personally, they hold one another accountable in their private lives. This includes developing humble attitudes, always learning, involving others, receiving counsel, accepting responsibility and admitting wrongs. Graham has walked away from Hollywood offers for fame, business offers for financial prosperity and the prestige of a college presidency.

Exercise The Promise Of Prayer
Since the 1949 Los Angeles tent crusade and all-night prayer sessions, Graham has understood the role of prayer in effective preaching. "Saturate yourself in the Word of God and prayer. … The Holy Spirit responds to the prayer offered to bless the simple, clear message of Jesus—His death, burial and resurrection—when it is proclaimed with confident faith."

With Professor Ellis of Princeton Seminary, Graham affirms, "You are never preaching until the audience hears Another Voice. … We must hear the voice of the Spirit of God. … The filling and anointing of the Spirit of God and preaching with authority is essential to preaching the gospel. … The glorious fact is the Holy Spirit takes the message, no matter how weak, how primitively it is delivered, and communicates it to the heart and mind with power and breaks down the barriers. It is the supernatural act of the Spirit of God. … In the final analysis, it is the Holy Spirit who is the Communicator."

Graham admits preparing a message is hard work. When asked how long it takes to prepare a message, he says, "A lifetime."
(See website on preaching here).


From the Philo Trust

Lent, the forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays), is a somewhat curious period in the Church’s calendar. Most things in the Church’s year are festivals and we happily talk about celebrating them. Lent is very different: it is a minor-key period which is never ‘celebrated’ but only ‘kept’. Some churches and Christians treat Lent very seriously, while others ignore it entirely.

Even among those who keep Lent, there is no agreement on how it should be kept. Many Christians try to give up something: for instance, chocolate, Facebook or television. It’s even become a period for us to try to break bad habits, almost as if Lent gives us another opportunity to retake those New Year’s resolutions!

Now what exactly is Lent about? One word used by those who observe Lent is ‘preparation’. Lent is about three preparations.

Lent is a preparation for Easter. Easter, with its message of Christ destroying sin and death through his death and resurrection, is the most exciting moment in the Church’s year. Yet we can undercut this note of victory by being so occupied that, amid the frantic busyness of our lives, we carelessly stumble upon Easter. Lent provides us with forty days’ build-up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that forces us to prayerfully ponder the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the best way to appreciate a sunrise is to be there in the darkness before dawn, so the only way to appreciate Easter is to have come to it through Lent. We as Christians are, of course, an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

Secondly, Lent is a preparation for Existence. A fatal flaw in our culture today is that people do not know how to say ‘no’ to bad things. It is now almost a virtue to give in to every desire that comes upon us. Yet a great element in Christian morality is to be able to say no to wrong desires. Paul, in Titus chapter 2 verses 11 and 12, says this: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ Lent gives us the opportunity to practice resisting harmful and hurtful desires that will continue for life. Trivial as it may appear, a battle won over chocolate or coffee at Lent may help us win a war over lust, lying or loving shortly afterwards.

Finally, Lent is a preparation for Eternity. If you take Lent seriously, then these forty days can seem to be a long and often wearying season in which we never get our own way. Here, for a time, pleasures are put to one side and joys are postponed. But Lent doesn't last. The darkness is broken by the joyful light of the glorious triumph of Easter Day. Here there is a splendid parallel with our lives. For many of us, much of our life seems to take place in what we might call ‘Lent mode’: things do not go as we hope, we do not get what we want and our joys are absent or at best short-lived. Yet, for the Christian, there is that wonderful and certain hope that however deep and hard the darkness is in our lives, it will ultimately be lifted and replaced by an indestructible joy. For those who love Christ, life’s long Lent will end, one day, in an eternal Easter in which death and sin are destroyed for ever.

Whether or not you keep Lent, starting on Wednesday 5 March this year – and in what way you keep it – is your choice. But to keep Lent, thoughtfully and prayerfully, is to come into a rich and lasting inheritance.
Be blessed this Lent and bless others!


Check out website here.

Monroe's Motivated Sequence

The following is an excerpt from the website "Mindtools" (click here) and introduces a method of motivational speaking called Monroe's Motivated Sequence. It poses the question whether some people are born speakers and motivators or can they be taught certain techniques to help them.

"While there are certainly those who seem to inspire and deliver memorable speeches effortlessly, the rest of us can learn how to give effective presentations too. Key factors include putting together a strong message and delivering it in the right sequence.

Monroe's Motivated Sequence: The Five Steps

Alan H. Monroe, a Purdue University professor, used the psychology of persuasion to develop an outline for making speeches that will deliver results. It's now known as Monroe's Motivated Sequence.

This is a well-used and time-proven method to organize presentations for maximum impact. You can use it for a variety of situations to create and arrange the components of any message. The steps are explained below.

Step One: Get Attention
Get the attention of your audience. Use storytelling  , humor, a shocking statistic, or a rhetorical question – anything that will get the audience to sit up and take notice.

This step doesn't replace your introduction – it's part of your introduction. In your opening, you should also establish your credibility, state your purpose, and let the audience know what to expect. Delivering Great Presentations provides a strong foundation for building the steps in Monroe's Motivated Sequence.

Step Two: Establish the Need
Convince your audience there's a problem. This set of statements must help the audience realize that what's happening right now isn't good enough – and it needs to change.

Use statistics to back up your statements.
Talk about the consequences of maintaining the status quo and not making changes.
Show your audience how the problem directly affects them.
Remember, you're not at the "I have a solution" stage. Here, you want to make the audience uncomfortable and restless, and ready to do the "something" that you recommend.

Step Three: Satisfy the Need
Introduce your solution. How will you solve the problem that your audience is ready to address? This is the main part of your presentation. It will vary significantly, depending on your purpose.

Discuss the facts.
Elaborate and give details to make sure the audience understands your position and solution.
Clearly state what you want the audience to do or believe.
Summarize your information from time to time as you speak.
Use examples, testimonials, and statistics to prove the effectiveness of your solution.
Prepare counterarguments to anticipated objections.

Step Four: Visualize the Future
Describe what the situation will look like if the audience does nothing. The more realistic and detailed the vision, the better it will create the desire to do what you recommend. Your goal is to motivate the audience to agree with you and adopt similar behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Help them see what the results could be if they act the way you want them to. Make sure your vision is believable and realistic.

You can use three methods to help the audience share your vision:

Positive method – Describe what the situation will look like if your ideas are adopted. Emphasize the positive aspects.
Negative method – Describe what the situation will look like if your ideas are rejected. Focus on the dangers and difficulties caused by not acting.
Contrast method – Develop the negative picture first, and then reveal what could happen if your ideas are accepted.

Step Five: Action/Actualization
Your final job is to leave your audience with specific things they can do to solve the problem. You want them to take action now. Don't overwhelm them with too much information or too many expectations, and be sure to give them options to increase their sense of ownership of the solution. This can be as simple as inviting them to have some refreshments as you walk around and answer questions. For very complex problems, the action step might be getting together again to review plans.

For some of us, persuasive arguments and motivational speaking come naturally. The rest of us may try to avoid speeches and presentations, fearing that our message won't be well received. Using Monroe's Motivated Sequence, you can improve your persuasive skills and your confidence.

Get the attention of your audience, create a convincing need, define your solution, describe a detailed picture of success (or failure), and ask the audience to do something right away: It's a straightforward formula for success that's been used time and again. Try it for your next presentation, and you'll no doubt be impressed with the results!

Check out the following websites which have lots more information and helps:

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sermon preparation

"If you want to be the best you must learn from the best" so the saying goes. When it comes to preaching I can think of no greater preacher in the last 50 years than Rev John Stott. Here is a summary of his own approach to sermon preparation:

Steps for Preparing a Sermon

1. Choose your text and meditate on it.
- Read the text, re-read it, re-read it and read it again.
- Probe it, chew on it, bore into it, soak in it.
- You are not called to preach yourself or your ideas, but charged to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Clarence Edward McCartney: "Put all the Bible you can into it."

2. Ask questions of the text.
- What does it mean? Or better yet, what did it mean when first spoken or written?
- What did the author intend to affirm or condemn or promise or command?
- What does it say? What is its contemporary message? How does it speak to us today?
- Remember: Keep these questions distinct but together--the text's meaning is of purely academic interest unless you go on to discern its message for today, it's significance. But you cannot discover it's contemporary message without first wrestling with its original meaning.

3.Combine diligent study with fervent prayer.
- All the time you study cry humbly to God for illumination by the Spirit of truth. Like Moses, "I pray you, show me your glory" (Exod 33:18), and Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Sam 3:9).
- Stott: "I have always found it helpful to do as much of my sermon preparation as possible on my knees, with the Bible open before me, in prayerful study.
- R.W. Dale: "Work without prayer is atheism; and prayer without work is presumption."

4. Isolate the Dominant Thought of the Text.
- Every text has a main theme, an overriding thrust.
- A sermon is not a lecture, it aims to convey only one major message
- The congregation will forget details of the message, but they should remember the dominant thought, because all the sermon's details should be marshaled to help them grasp its message and feel its power.
- Once the text's principle meaning has been determined, express it in a 'categorical proposition.'
- J.H. Jowett: "I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching...until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting and the most fruitful labor in my study...I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon."
- Ian Pitt-Watson: "Every sermon should be ruthlessly unitary in its theme."
- Don't by-pass the discipline of waiting patiently for the dominant thought to disclose itself. You have to be ready to pray and think yourself deep into the text, even under it, until we give up all pretensions of being its master or manipulator, and become instead its humble and obedient servant.

5. Arrange Your Material to Serve the Dominant Thought
- The goal is not a literary masterpiece, but organization that enables the text's main thrust to make its maximum impact.
- Ruthlessly discard irrelevant material
- Subordinate material to theme so that it illumines and supports it.
- Golden Rule for Sermon Outlines: Let each text supply its own structure. Let it open itself up like a rose to the morning sun.
- Be precise with your words. It is impossible to convey a precise message without choosing precise words.
- Words to use:
- Simple and Clear words. Ryle: "Preach as if you had asthma."
- Vivid words. They should conjur up images in the mind.
- Honest words. Beware of exaggerations and be sparing in use of superlatives.
- C.S. Lewis: don't just tell people how to feel, describe in such a way that people feel it themselves.
- Don't use words too big for the subject.

6. Remember the Power of Imagination--Illustrate!
- Imagination: the power of the mind by which it conceives of invisible things, and is able to present them as though they were visible to others. (Beecher)
- Remember that humans have trouble grasping abstract concepts--we need them converted into pictures and examples.
- Exert your greatest effort for illustrations that reinforce and serve the dominant thought.
- Think of illustrations as windows that let in light on our subject and help people to more clearly see and appreciate it.
- Beware of illustrations that draw too much attention (to themselves instead of the subject) or which actually take people away from the main point.

7. Add Your Introduction
- It's better to start with the body so that we don't twist our text to fit our introduction.
- Stott: A good introduction serves two purposes. First, it arouses interest, stimulates curiosity, and whets the appetite for more. Secondly, it genuinely introduces the theme by leading the hearers into it.
- Don't make the intro too long or too short. "Men have a natural aversion to abruptness, and delight in a somewhat gradual approach. A building is rarely pleasing in appearance without a porch or some sort of inviting entrance."

8. Add Your Conclusion.
- Conclusions are more difficult. Avoid endlessly circling and never landing. Avoid ending too abruptly.
- A true conclusion goes beyond recapitulation to personal application. (Not that all application should wait till the end--the text needs to be applied as we go along.)
- Nevertheless, it is a mistake to disclose too soon the conclusion to which we are going to come. If we do, we lose people's sense of expectation. It is better to keep something up our sleeve. Then we can leave to the end that persuading which, by the Holy Spirit's power, will prevail on people to take action.
- Call the congregation to act! Our expectation as the sermon comes to an end, is not merely that people will understand or remember or enjoy our teaching, but that they will do something about it. If there is no summons, there is no sermon!
- The precise application of your sermon depends on the character of the text. The dominant thought points us to how people should act in response. Does the text call to repentance or stimulate faith? Does it evoke worship, demand obedience, summon to witness, or challenge to service? The text itself determines the particular response we desire.
- Consider the composition of your congregation. It is good to let your mind wander over the church family and ask prayerfully what message God might have for each from your text. Consider their unique circumstances, weaknesses, strengths and temptations.

9. Write Down Your Sermon
- Don't take too long to get to this stage! Get something on paper, don't endlessly noodle on vague notes (this is my temptation).
- Writing obliges you to think straight.

10. Edit it Again
- View hitting your time goal (40-45 minutes) as just as essential to its overall effectiveness as anything else you do. People will take more away if you say less.
- Ruthlessly cut the unneeded and extra. Look for places where you can be more concise.
- Err on the side of cutting things--especially long quotes.

11. Pray over Your Message
- Stott: "We need to pray until our text comes freshly alive to us, the glory shines forth from it, the fire burns in our heart, and we begin to experience the explosive power of God's Word within us."

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Simply Jesus and a Reason for living

One of the great questions that people of every age have asked is "What is the reason for living?" All the great teachers, philosophers and thinkers down through the ages have asked this question in one form or other. It is the Church's great calling to answer this question. But how do we do so? Some say come to church and you will find it there. But that depends on whether the answer is communicated adequately through the liturgy and worship. It may well do but I don't believe that it is explicit enough. It needs taking time to sit down and listen first to the way, and the context, within which the questioner or seeker asks the question. How we answer therefore depends on how well we listen. Anyhow lets listen to Timothy Keller speaking on the topic of "A Reason for Living". Timothy Keller is the pastor of a church in New York which seeks to reach out to the city in culturally relevant ways, with the Gospel. He is, for me, a master at explaining the Christian message in ways anyone can understand. We can - and need to - learn a lot from people like him.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Writing sermons

The following YouTube post is not included to make preachers feel guilty - been there, done that after reading "I believe in preaching" by John Stott - but to emphasize the need to take preaching seriously as one of the primary ways we are to share the Gospel.