Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Abraham Concluded, with Thanks (9)

Sunday saw the last of my Abraham series, with a quiverful of realities from God's Covenant in Genesis 17:
I value you (verse 1)
I command you (verses 1,9)
I promise you (verses 2-8)
I brand you (verses 10,11)
and overarching all of these, from Mark 14: 24, I love you.
Several commented especially on 'I brand you', with the connection between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism (Col. 2:11,12). Truly Christ does call for a branded distinctive people living in the challenges of the twenty-first century!

How I shall miss the ready responses of this great congregation as my journey, over two and a half years of preaching at Calvary Memorial (alongside others) is now over. And for the best of reasons as the new senior pastor, Dr. Todd Wilson, begins his preaching ministry. Certainly, since I began my blog last year the most consistent respondents have come from this church.....and I hope they keep on reading. Thank you for the difference you have made to my preaching.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Preaching Abraham (8)

The last text for this brief series is Genesis 17:1-22 -though actually it should begin Gen 16:16 - do you see why? Yesterday's sermon focused on Worship -be open to God's surprises; Ethics - beware loving this world (with some words on Wall Street!); Faith - keep trusting. These big three belong together as foundational for believers.

Turning to Gen 17 there is another vital word. I call it God's amazing 8 letter word. It's already emerged with Noah (Gen 6:18; 9:8-11), but now it's reinforced with Abraham, and resounds on through the story (Exodus 24:5-8, Jeremiah 31:33) and especially with Jesus (Mark 14:24). Yes, the word is COVENANT.

Maybe this word sounds rather dry to you, but it's action-packed about the way that God intends that we belong together.
The main impact of the sermon will be:
By God's grace my sermon will say: God amazingly covenants with believers, effecting our relationships, future, distinctives and our togetherness
And my sermon will do: God's covenant in Christ makes us different people today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Preaching Abraham (7)

I have been really stretched by the "God possibilities" in Gen 14:17- 15:6, and (regretfully) I am late posting this. As I've said before in this series, it's not so much Abraham's story, as the story of Abraham's God that really matters.

The main impact of the sermon will be:
By God's grace
my sermon will say: God surprises us in worship, though the world tests our worship, yet we must keep trusting.
And my sermon will do: God can surprise us in worship, and call us to faith TODAY.

Please pray and prepare along with me!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Preaching Abraham (6)

Today's sermon emphasized how Abraham is made "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27) - an image spoiled in Genesis 3, yet still promising God possibilities in spite of sin. God designed humans to reflect his best. Though Abraham can fail lamentably (Gen 12:10-20), he can demonstrate powerful God possibilities - (1) in worship (Gen 13:4,18,); (2) in avoiding wrong battles (Gen 13:5-13); (3) in fighting right battles (Gen. 8-16). We too, made in God's image, defaced by sin, yet renewed by Christ (Col. 3:10), face similar choices. Much immediate feedback focused on (3) - the need for Christians to be proactive, in the face of injustices of every kind.

Next Sunday we see Abraham keeps growing in stature. Gen 14:17- 15:6, the aftermath of rescuing Lot, brings an extraordinary encounter with Melchizedek (see Heb 7), with bread, wine, blessing, giving ....so many features of worship as we know it. What? So early in the story? He rejects the king of Sodom's offer. And then God speaks again with 15:6 trumpeting a theme that reverberates through the NT that "faith is credited as righteousness."

This week I am on faculty retreat in Wisconsin on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I'll keep working on the next sermon and shall keep you posted. I always value your insights - keep in touch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Preachers aren't usually interested in worship

Today, at lunchtime, I spoke to a ACT3 forum (a mission for advancing the Christian tradition in the third millennium). I sounded out my latest passion - that too many preachers are marginalizing worship.

That quote: "Preachers aren't usually interested in worship" came from a worship conference I attended. It shocked me. Do you think it's true? But, perhaps, preachers do see worship as:
less important,
an extra burden in a busy life,
a specialism they are not trained for,
too controversial and best left alone,
an enthusiasm best left to those who are keen
a personal pain because of poor relationships between pastors and worship leaders.

Whatever the reason (can you think of more?), I fear that preachers who belittle worship end up as tuneless preachers - preachers who "just don't get worship." I identified ten characteristics of such tuneless preachers. In rapid fire:
1. A faulty definition of worship, such as music only, or pragmatics only....
2. A thin theology of worship, that is often "practical unitarianism" rather than trinitarian.
3. Scripture fails to direct the whole of worship.
4. Patchy liturgy has little appreciation of the past - no interest in the Christian year, or patterns of worship.
5. No awareness of worship's community formation - the sermon is all that matters!
6. Sacraments or ordinances - just add-ons.
7. Culture - all too easy compromise, going after "what people want" rather than "what God desires to develop his mature people in Christ."
8. Narrative - living God's big story of creation, incarnation, and new creation is lost in bits and pieces of sermons.
9. Teaching on worship - neglected.
10. Preparation of sermons and worship - solo, with preachers isolated from worship leaders.

There were several immediate responses - John Armstrong, President and Founder of Act 3, remembered asking a mega church leader what his theology of worship was. His reply: "I didn't know there was a theology of worship!" What? An Orthodox pastor said he was writing a book in his liturgical tradition about the role of preaching - the opposite problem, he said! Another pastor said he thought that non-liturgical churches were in a good position to deepen worship experience, provided there is good teaching and collaboration. Others commented on the gap between preachers and worship leaders in churches they know.

I look forward to further comments. Please, let's keep dialogue going.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Preaching Abraham (5)

This short series on Abraham has already challenged us by big ideas about God and his world. Old Testament stories are not primarily about individuals, but God's work with and through individuals. The next sermon looks at Gen 13:1-18, & Gen 14:8-16 where Abraham is back on track after his deceit in Egypt. But see what happens when conflict emerges and choices have to be made.

My sermon's main impact:
By God's grace my sermon will say: in conflict God gives choices, with some battles to avoid and other battles to fight.
And my sermon will do: challenge us to avoid wrong battles and fight right ones today.

It's a busy week -please pray as I continue to prepare.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Filling in the blanks (3)

To my joy, around 300 men gathered for Saturday's Prayer Breakfast - actually, one group arrived at 5.30 am to set up tables. Each table had copies of my sheets with six blanks (all beginning with S), with pens provided. As soon as I started to speak, I noticed how many (it seemed the great majority) reached for pens and followed closely. I know filling in blanks keenly doesn't indicate keen changes in behavior, but it certainly showed commitment to listen.

So what were the missing words? One of two of you have said you tried to identify them but gave up. The first three come from Moses' personal prayer life (Exodus 33: 7-23) , and the last three from his public prayer (Exodus 17:8-15).
1. Separate yourself
2. Speak intimately
3. Specify promises and needs
4. Stand up
5. Share together
6. Succeed for God's glory.

I wonder how these might have translated into specific action following Saturday? Any differences? Of course, that's always the question for preachers themselves, as well as their hearers.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Filling in the blanks (2)

I appreciated the comments on my earlier posting on this subject (Aug 27 2008). One asked about the value of note-taking, and I want to endorse strongly this very helpful method of engaging. Another wrote with "brutal honesty" that, when a preacher offers an outline sheet, at least it shows some serious preparation (!) Both raised other interesting issues that need further pondering.

Tomorrow I am addressing around 250 men at a Prayer Breakfast, and have provided an outline with 6 blanks - all beginning with S. Each S principle emerges out of Moses' prayer life - in private (Exodus 33: 7-23) , and in public (Exodus 17:8-15). Just to show you my serious preparation here they are:
1. S_________ yourself
2. S_________ intimately
3. S_________ promises and needs
4. S_________ up
5. S_________ together
6. S_________ for God's glory.

I'll fill in the blanks next week. I wonder if you can guess them?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Preaching Abraham (4)

Genesis 12:10-20 provides such vital contrast with last week's upbeat message.
My sermon's main impact will be:
By God's grace my sermon will say that God keeps working when bad things happen to good people, and good people do bad things. And my sermon will do: bring trusting realism for the Christian walk, right where we are.

I continue to value feedback.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How can preachers hear loving critique?

I must mention a troubling conversation I shared recently with a group of church goers from different churches. One said: "You teach preaching. How can we get through to our preacher? We love him, and rate his Bible knowledge and giftedness very highly. But, everytime he preaches he speaks too fast and goes on for nearly an hour. He's too fast and gives us too much to take in! I've emailed him and asked him gently to slow down and cut down. BUT HE TAKES NO NOTICE."

Others in the group asked why it is that preachers can become so protective that they reject even loving feedback. I believe this is an important issue.

As a preacher I know receiving critique is difficult, because sometimes it may not be kindly given or fair. But how am I to learn about basic communication flaws if I don't listen to others? If I preach too fast, for example, this can be/should be corrected. But imagine preaching for years and never knowing! Is there some way that we preachers could hear loving critique without feeling crushed?

I couldn't answer the opening question. Do you have any suggestions as preachers and listeners?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Preaching Abraham (3)

It was great being back preaching at Calvary Memorial yesterday. With a new Senior Pastor - Dr. Todd Wilson - there is rejoicing all the way! (He starts preaching on October 4th).

So, I launched into Abraham's story in Genesis 11 & 12, emphasizing how God speaks, disturbs and promises. The fact that Abram is the first to respond seriously to God marks him at the very beginning of Jesus' genealogy and our story. Major steps forward for humankind!

Next Sunday, however, the mood changes. Extraordinarily, Genesis 12:10-20 spells out all too human failure. Abram pretends Sarai is not his wife to save his own skin and is caught out in deception. Weird! After such steps forward of faith of Gen 12:1-9, here are pathetic steps backward. How does this help our own understanding of God and our journey of faith? Why is this story in Scripture anyway? As always I shall value insights and your prayers as I prepare.