Friday, August 21, 2015

preaching by pictures

If I was ever to paint a painting, my only option would be to paint by numbers. The entire endeavour is beyond me. However, if I was ever to write a book on preaching - something I think about periodically ... but briefly - the latest option to come to mind is how to preach by pictures.

It is easy for those who are most committed to exposition to be the ones who are most image-deficient. This is not hard to understand. Their minds are so filled with the importance of the propositions they speak that it is difficult for them to squeeze in a picture here and there.

Well - it is not good enough.

With a UESI (the IFES-related student movement in India) training week starting on Sunday, I 'clicked refresh' on my resources and prepared a simple, little how-to-preach-by-pictures curriculum.

The anchor: preaching well needs a theology
Be held, amidst all the shifting tides of trends/methodologies, by what is forever contemporary.

The corners: preaching well needs a vision
Unpack the Word, the listener, the world, and the preacher and draw them all to Christ, every time.

The Olympic rings: preaching well needs a vocabulary
Remember that preaching fits within a wider, diverse range of ministries of the Word.

The magnifying glass: preaching well needs the text
Linger much longer with the details of the text, thereby igniting the joy of discovery.

The jigsaw puzzle: preaching well needs the context
Avoid error and heresy by embracing 'the restraining influence of context' (Carson).

The chairs: preaching well needs the plotline
Place every message within the good-bad-new-perfect story, getting started in biblical theology.

The map: preaching well needs a shape
Birthing the sermon from a passage needs a midwife to help it emerge through the labour.

The bridge: preaching well needs a connection
Once the meaning of the text is clear, build rapport and impact with listeners in multiple ways.

The tree: preaching well needs a depth
Surface the invisible beliefs which drive visible behaviour by preaching worldviewishly.

The spectrum: preaching well needs a sensitivity
Respecting where the listener is on their way to Christ, develop multiple designs with the sermon.

The library: preaching well needs a variety
Noting the diverse literature in the Bible, enjoy adapting the sermon to fit the different genre.

The backstage: preaching well needs a character
In this very public ministry, attend to the very private matter of building a godly life.

nice chatting


Monday, August 17, 2015

lyrics for living 7 (ever, only, all)

This hymn nourished me as a child. It still challenges me as an adult.

The first two lines go like this:
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Then the lyrics go on a tour, covering my moments/days, my hands, feet, voice, lips, silver/gold, intellect, will, heart and love. Each time crafting words which voice a desire for these specific areas to be consecrated to Christ. I've never been too good at giving appeals after sermons, but on one occasion I asked the congregation to remain seated while we sang this hymn - and then to stand when the lyrics arrived that captured the area of their lives which they needed to consecrate again to Christ. It was a moving sight.

The last two lines return to a similar idea as the opening line (using self instead of life), but now with every area consecrated and under His control, the singer is able to affirm 'I will be' in offering this stunning climax:
Take my self and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

These little words capture me. Small words with big implications. It reminds me of how one scholar described the parable: 'what they say is minimal; what they intend is maximal'.

Ever        there is no time in my life when he is not Lord. It is lifelong.
Only        there are no other lords in my life competing with him. It is exclusive.
All           there is no space in my life where he is not Lord. It is total.

What a challenge. Tie these little words to that big word - consecration - and we've found the life worth living in response to God's gracious initiative in our lives through Christ. And what I love about 'consecration' is that it pushes to the sidelines things like skill and talent and charisma and appearance and education and any of the other things that society rates as critical for success.

Nah! With 'ever-only-all' in place, the highly unspectacular person can be so beautifully used by Christ, if they are consecrated. That is one of the things I love about grace and abut the Spirit.

Sometimes I think about adding another a verse to this hymn. Is there something missing? When Frances Havergal takes us on this tour with these lyrics should she have lingered anywhere else? What do you think? Would you have remained seated at the end of the appeal because the lyrics do not go where they need to go with you? I wonder.

Sadly, the youtube clips which stick to an 'ever-only-all' climax tend to be the rather old, fuddy-duddy versions. But then the two I like most play around with the lyrics a bit much. Chris Tomlin has a beautiful updated version, but 'ever-only-all' gets lost a bit in words which he chooses to add - and repeat ... a lot! Then there is this powerful version by Kari Jobe. WOW. Just listen to the passion in her voice. Love it, except she deleted 'ever-only-all' completely and decided not to bother with some of the verses. What?! I can barely bring myself to embed it after this most grievous error! But listen to her sing ... and almost all can be forgiven :).

For a little history of the hymn, here are Havergal's own words:

Perhaps you will be interested to know the origin of the consecration hymn 'Take my life.' I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House, Worcester, in 1874]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer 'Lord, give me all in this house!' And He just did! Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying; then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with 'Ever, Only, ALL for Thee!'"

nice chatting


Here are the links to previous Lyrics for Living posts:
#1 (touched by a loving hand)
#2 (a thrill of hope)
#3 (dews of quietness)
#4 (trace the rainbow)
#5 (wing my words)
#6 (but this I know)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

transforming august

As a child August was kinda bland with a pinch of boring. Indian Independence Day came along, bang in the middle (15th), and after an early flag-raising anthem-singing service, the rest of the day was a holiday. Excellent. But that was pretty much it for August.

Not much for a sentimental chap like me. But then, ever so gradually, four generations have conspired together to fill this forgettable month with significance.

Along came Barby, with a birthday on the 6th and my wife now for more than 33 years. After sharing our childhood in India the idea of sharing our lives together only gained momentum after we left India. But that is exactly what we are doing... Here is Barby adding some beauty to a cottage in Murree, a beautiful place in the Pakistani Himalayas.
The sixth will never be the same

After two years of marriage the children started arriving every two years. We are forever grateful for God blessing us in this way. Plus, a wonderfully 'long straight' was emerging, with family birthdays in June, August, September, October, November. Add a July and a December and we'd have a run of seven. But Bethany couldn't wait for December (30 November) ... and Joseph? Well, Joseph wasn't even close to July, joining his Mum in August by arriving on the 26th. Here he is using his vertical leap - the guy has 'hops', let me tell you - to diversify the sky above a Northland beach in NZ.
The twenty sixth will never be the same

But transforming is not just about thanksgiving and blessing. Sometimes there is sadness and lament. The minor key joins the major key in the music of life. And so it came to pass. On the 10th, just four years ago, my precious Dad died after a lingering struggle with Parkinson's. Here he is in a church in Geneva (Illinois), looking so well as he prepares his speech at our wedding.
The tenth will never be the same

As the years have gone by our little ones got all growed up. Our daughter became a mum. And just last year, Alyssa and Tim - together with big brudder, Micah - welcomed a little baby girl on the 2nd. Amaliya Grace. Here she is in a home and in a family that loves and adores her. Just what every child needs in order to thrive.
The second will never be the same

When all is said and done (and there will be more saying and doing to be said and done), these are august transformations indeed. Bland and boring be gone. The month can never be the same again.

nice chatting


Monday, August 03, 2015

keller on preaching

I used to play a little football - or, soccer, as my American friends refer to it. Here the word 'little' refers both to time and talent. I didn't play for long and I didn't play very well. One of the challenges for me was that as I approached a position where I could shoot for goal, the goal-keeper would put this magnetic spell on my foot so that the ball would always go straight to him. Ugh. It was so difficult to strike the ball into the open spaces in the goal.

This is why I love Timothy Keller's new book on preaching - Preaching (H&S, 2015). He shoots into the spaces. He writes into the gaps - and here are the ones which I find to be compelling:

His tone
Yes, let's start with the spirit in which he writes. With Keller you always get the sense that he doesn't just love the gospel, he loves the unbeliever and enjoys the challenge of their skepticism. This was true of Reason for God all those years ago. For example, not too many proponents of expository preaching are perceived to be like this:
Try to remember that you are at odds with a system of beliefs far more than you are at war with a group of people. Contemporary people are the victims of the late-modern mind far more than they are its perpetrators. Seen in this light the Christian gospel is more of a prison break than a battle (155-6). 
His purpose
This is not 'a manual, but a manifesto' (213). While plenty of others have written the textbooks on 'how to write an expository sermon' (although there is space for a valuable Appendix on this topic, 213-240), Keller contributes a 'foundation for thinking about Christian communication of the Bible in a skeptical age ... (it is about) preaching the Word, preaching the gospel, preaching to the culture, preaching to the heart, all by preaching Christ' (241, emphasis mine).

His practice
The North American literature on preaching creaks under the burden of theory that is so difficult to translate into practice for unspectacular preachers - which is the vast majority of us. This book feels so much lighter and more accessible because it is laced together by so many examples and illustrations from Keller's own ministry (and the font is huge!).

His space
Keller is not narrow. At one point he takes a little potshot at 'expository legalism' (250). There is a place for topical preaching (30-31) and, even more satisfying, there is an advocacy of a more inductive approach to the sermon (102, 271-275, 305-308). These pages include a fascinating case study on how Jonathan Edwards shifted to a more inductive approach when he moved upstate to work among indigenous peoples.

His worldliness
Finally - an evangelical who takes the world seriously in their book on preaching. Hallelujah. Almost 40% of the book is devoted to this topic. About jolly time.

Yeah, I know this a hobby horse of mine. For years I have worked on a session which I call 'preaching worldviewishly' and now I have some required reading that I can give my students. Very exciting for me. Keller prefers to use the phrase 'baseline cultural narrative' (he identifies five of them, 121-156) noting the need to surface them, as they do tend to be assumed - and therefore invisible.
They are so pervasive, and felt to be so self-evident, that they are not visible as beliefs to those who hold them (127).
Then there is a chapter on Preaching Christ to the Culture (93-120) in which he provides 'six sound practices for preaching to and reaching a culture'.

His 'yes, but no, but yes' logic
Here he addresses the silly, shallow relevance that has so often marked the life of churches across the spectrum. For them is all about connection, but never confrontation. All salt. Little light. With Keller, the 'yes' is about affirming the deep cultural aspirations of the skeptic (cf Paul in Acts 17) ... the 'but no' is about demonstrating the futility of the search  ... and the 'but yes' is the rejoicing that 'only in Christ can this aspiration have a happy ending'. He uses this very logic in his engagement with each of the baseline cultural narratives. This is 'true contextualisation'. It is authentic relevance.
It means to resonate with, yet defy, the culture around you. It means to antagonize a society's idols while showing respect for its people and many of its hopes and aspirations. It means expressing the gospel in a way that is not only comprehensible but also convincing (99).
His balance
No wedges here. Keller is big on the Word, both in its written (Scripture) and living (Christ) forms. They go together. His double warning could not be more explicit: 'not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ' (67). Scripture becomes the basis of the sermon because 'as we unfold the meaning of the language of Scripture, God becomes powerfully active in our lives. The Bible is ... God's power in verbal form' (34). Jesus is the focus of the sermon, as demonstrated in an exquisite chapter on 'preaching Christ from all of scripture' (70-90) - 'pull on the thread' (73) and find this to be true.

His wisdom
Plenty of wisdom to be 'caught and taught' here. For those who teach preaching, the 70 pages of 'Notes' at the end are full of wisdom. Maybe the easiest thing is to let some assorted quotations provide some flavour...
When the preacher solves Christians' problems with the gospel - not by calling them to try harder but by pointing them to deeper faith in Christ's salvation - then believers are being edified and nonbelievers are hearing the gospel, all at the same time (120).
It's fine if listeners are taking notes in the first part of the sermon, but if they are doing so at the end, you are probably not reaching their affections (166).
(On the need for a 'nondeliberate transparency) ... they can sniff out if you are more concerned about looking good or sounding authoritative than you are about honoring God and loving them. (166-167).
(It is about text, context ...) and subtext, the message under your message (201).
You may not have strong public-speaking gifts, but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will make you an interesting preacher. You may not have strong pastoral or counseling gifts (eg., you may be very shy or introverted), but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will enable you to comfort and guide people. You may not have strong leadership gifts (eg., you may be disorganized or cautious by nature), but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will mean that people will respect and follow you (196).
Insightful preaching comes from depth of research and reading and experimentation (177). 
(Because of the mobility of people today) ... a strict, consecutive, whole-Bible-book approach will guarantee that most of your people will actually be exposed to less of the Bible's variety (40). 
(Illustration is) anything that connects an abstract proposition with the memory of an experience in the sensory world … (this) makes the truth real both by helping listeners better understand it and by inclining their hearts more to love it (169, 173).
Resist ending your sermon with 'live like this' and rather end with some form of 'You can't live like this. Oh, but there's one who did! And through faith in Him you can begin to live like this too'. The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from being primarily about them to being about Jesus (179).
If your heart isn't regularly engaged in praise and repentance, if you aren't constantly astonished at God's grace in your solitude, there's no way it can happen in public. You won't touch hearts because your own heart isn't touched (168). 
His bibliography
I need to read everything Alan Stibbs and Alec Motyer have written - and then there is the grieving to be done for leaving Ryken's Dictionary of Biblical Imagery and Sam Logan's The Preacher and Preaching in storage at home in New Zealand. Silly boy.

Preach biblically. 
Preach to cultural narratives. 
Preach to the heart. 
... and preach the gospel every time.

A little personal aside, especially for my past and future students...
In teaching preaching I've enjoyed developing the 'four corners' model where the road to the sermon needs to visit Word, listener, world and preacher (neatly illustrated here, a wonderful site for preachers). There is exegesis to do and story to tell in each corner. Sometimes there has been a fifth corner, directing preachers back to the Word. Keller's book has been so energising because for the first time I overhear all four corners in a single book on preaching. What's more he has given me ideas on how to improve things. What about 1 Corinthians 1.18-2.5 providing a biblical basis - from a single passage - for all four corners? What about the first corner being Word (written) - beginning with a basis in the Scripture ... and the fifth corner being Word (living) - climaxing with a focus on Christ, ensuring the sermon is truly christotelic?

nice chatting