Saturday, August 29, 2009

not walking past the best ones

One of the major irritants for me in the training of preachers is the dependence people can develop on books and websites for their illustrations.

"Omnibus volumes (and websites) of sermon anecdotes are the last refuge of a bankrupt intelligence." They sound so second-hand, so predigested, so stale...

We tend to walk past our best illustrations. So it is about pausing to listen and to watch. Then it is about using our imagination to think creatively. This will yield - consistently - the best illustrations. There is an immediacy about them. There is an intimacy with them. There is an everydayness. Everyone identifies with the everyday. That is why it is called 'everyday'.

Being able to see the spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary is the key. The best illustrators are like fishermen who trawl and photographers who click ... and then think for a bit.

Let me illustrate(!) what I mean. During the Langham Preaching seminars in which I am involved I now get people out of their seats and we go for a walk together. "Look at this. Look at that. What truth might they illustrate?"

When in Pakistan a few weeks ago we did this. I had them look at a vast slab of immoveable concrete out of which, in one section, a bit of a plant was growing which carried a tinge of greenery.

What might this illustrate?

They looked and looked. Not a lot of firing-up of the imagination in that rote-learning style of education! I wondered whether this approach would work?! Silence. Gulp - did I misread things here?

A voice speaks. Then the translator speaks.

"It is a bit like how it is for us as God's people in this (Muslim) majority culture in Pakistan."

What do you mean? Please tell me more.

"It is just so hard here - but maybe God can still bring some growth."

I will never, ever forget that moment. I don't think they will either. Immediacy. Intimacy. Everydayness. And we didn't walk right past it...

This morning I walked back from the letterbox and caught the sight of this rose. Just for a bit of fun, what illustrations might this image generate? I invite readers to offer their suggestions and see how many we can gather...

OK? Click on it to get the closer view...

What d'ya reckon?!


nice chatting

Paul

12 comments:

Ben Carswell said...

Amen! Am in full agreement with you Paul - so much so, that I felt it was worthy of writing a comment to say as much. Warren Wiersbe often uses the phrase "The human mind is a picture gallery, not a library" (which I think you may even have quoted in your First XV sessions). Part of the problem for people is that this kind of thinking takes time, effort, thought and imagination & we lack that so much. I think it was FW Boreham who did this kind of thing with most of his writings, which provided an interesting & creative read. Now, as for your rose...I'll have to think more & then post my thoughts later!

Ben Carswell said...

Paul - after a little bit of reflection (probably not enough), there's so much that this picture could illustrate.
There's clearly the promise of something to come - the hope of the flower...
There's evidence of pruning (and more skillful pruning than goes on in my garden!), which though painful is ultimately good.
And, I've not even talked of the thorns, or depth of colour, or the lichen...I'll leave those for others to illustrate from.
One of the remarkable things about Jesus was that He pulled illustrations like this from nature, happenings & circumstances around him - it's a challenge for us in our preaching & talking w/ people.

Paul said...

Thanks, Ben ... the place of hope and the value of pruning.

A couple more from me:

There is some deadness in this rose. Branches that carry no life now. Failure. Error. The consequences of it are visible and will remain but it does not seem to impact the ongoing life and health and fruitfulness of the rose.

Although my camera doesn't pick it quite so well, some micro-bubbles of dew on the leaves. The new growth knows that refreshment, becomes a venue which attracts that added sign of God's blessing and resourcing - by God's spirit.

enuf from me for now - give space for others to jump in, if they wish

Paul said...

Ben, further on FW Boreham - formerly of the UK, Mosgiel (Otago) and Tasmania and one of the most colourful, image-rich preachers of the twentieth century (as seen in his book, A Bunch of Everlastings)...

Geoff Pound - who jumps aboard this blog occasionally, most recently on 11 August with my post on "on indigenous peoples" - has had a long-time love for FW Boreham's writings and has done post-graduate work on him (I think). He now runs a blog devoted to Boreham:
http://fwboreham.blogspot.com/

By the way, gotta be one of the greatest names ever for a preacher, pronounced "bore 'em"!

Paul said...

oh yes - and a facebook page for Boreham! (easily accessible through the blog)

Sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean said...

A related point is that at times, many preachers get disconnected from "everyday" life, because of "Christian/Church" life. This was my experience for a time while I was pastoring. Isolated from the "everyday" reality of most people in our community, my message felt disconnected from their worlds. Thus, I had to find creative ways to engage with that world, and from there, most of my illustrations just "happened" to me. And it surprised me how many illustrations on various topics "happened" to me, as I was engaging with those who don't yet know Jesus.

Paul said...

That "happening" is so true, Sean. Nicely put. It is one of the ways in which I am reassured that God is at work through (my) preaching. As I give myself to right convictions/disciplines in preaching, I find His Spirit "drops" ideas into my mind. Some of the most creative insights leave me asking "How did I come up with that?". The answer? In all likelihood, I didn't...

This is not dissimilar to the way preaching through the books of the Bible, passage by passage, can find us in places of startling relevance to a particular people of God. Again this is God honouring the best convictions. There we are planning months in advance what passage it will be and there He is - above space and beyond time - marrying our diligent planning to the work of His Spirit to create biblical preaching ministries with a compelling contemporaneity.

But now I am a long way from roses - apologies!

Mark Maffey said...

The first thing this image draws me into is John 15 and God as the gardener the picture could be used as a demonstration of how a gardener nurtures a rose, and yet in order for the rose to grow it needs pruning.

It also illustrates to me a bit about going through stages and seasons of life. From a small plant to maturity, having solid roots, how at times the rose is bare wood, then leaves develop, then rosebuds, then the gradual opening and revelation of the bloom. Then the fullness of colour through to the need to deadhead and start the process again.

Regards
Mark

Raymond said...

Thanks Paul for the timely reminder as I prepare for another message. The lichen reminds me of the things that require our time and energy. Lichen uses host plants to exist. We have different people who rely on us. Family, Friends, Colleagues. The gnarliness of the rose reminds me that new things can grow from the old.

Paul said...

Good stuff, Mark and Raymond. So many possibilities...

Jade Stanger said...

This image to me illustrates how new growth is dependent on the previous growth of the old. The old part of the plant is a giant compared to the new part. Reminds me of the saying I think the University of Auckland uses, something like standing on the heads of giants.