Sunday, November 30, 2008

Embarrassing preaching moments

A group of students came round to our house for a meal last week. One of them asked me if I had any embarrassing experiences in the pulpit. Eagerly they listened as I confessed I had. After I shared an early disaster, from when I was in seminary, the same student commented: "Oh, it's so good to you know that you've had such moments too." "You bet!" I answered.

And would you believe it - last Sunday at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park another occurred? During the third service my throat croaked half-way through the sermon. An attentive church member dashed out, returning with a cup of water. I stopped, thanked him and sipped gratefully. Turning back to face the congregation, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was in the sermon. No idea! My mind drew a massive blank (- no doubt confused by this being the third time of preaching the same sermon!) "Where was I?" I asked. Several people chorused back, but I was unable to interpret. For a minute (or so) I paused before God and his people. It seemed a very long minute! Eventually, my mind sharpened and I was off again.

Of course, in the long run such glitches don't matter at all, compared with the responsibility of speaking authentically for God (2 Cor. 5:20). Professional polished presentation can mask a profounder problem!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Big 7 for Christian Leaders (6)

The second quality I identify, is Secret Prayer. (This will be no surprise to anyone reading my Pages from a Preacher's Prayer Book!)

We cannot underestimate the importance of a person's private prayer relationship that joins in with the interceding Christ (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34, 1 John 2:1). I call this the fifth dimension. Alongside the part of ourselves that we know and like, and therefore project to others; the part that we dislike and try to keep hidden; the part that others know and we don't see; and the part that only God knows, there is a fifth dimension. That part of our lives that is lived for God only. Just between us and Him. I am never more alive than in this private place (Matthew 6:6) when I pray to my Father, who sees what is done in secret. This secret prayer relationship grounds personal conviction, gives victory over temptation, and grants discernment of God's purposes. My integrity depends utterly upon this relationship. Leaders with a fifth dimension reveal deeper resources of the Spirit in their character and work. Leaders without, crumble under pressure.

PS. I received a good comment from one of you about 1) SACRIFICIAL LOVE that I will work into my eventual reflections on the Big 7. I welcome all such insights. I will not be surprised if I have to change my big 7, once I have listed them and heard from you!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Live Successfully (2)

Continuing to "immerse' into Matthew 25:14-30, I have been struck by its strong message of accountability, as each servant has to show how they have used the master's wealth. One (popular) level of interpretation encourages accountability for our God-given talents. After all, how we use the word "talent" comes straight from this story. But a profounder level of interpretation forsees the ultimate accountability before Christ's judgment seat ( 2 Cor 5:10).

I am still working on the sermon's main impact::
By God's grace this sermon will say: living successfully means living with Christ's gifts on Christ's terms for his kingdom;
and this sermon will do: challenge us to live positively and expectantly, whether gifted by five, two or one talents.

Your collaboration will be welcome, as always.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blog's First Birthday

On November 18th 2007, I took my first tentative blog steps. Today, I marvel at the circle of friends, the wide range and liveliness of responses and (somehow) the ongoing birth of 120 posts over twelve months.

I have rarely attracted huge numbers of hits, though daily they number tens from across all continents. I recognize that my devotional tone is unlikely to register widely! But, perhaps the most surprising statistic concerns the average lengths of time others spend on my site. Apparently, 25.6 % of hits spend at least 1 hour each. Of course, it could mean people leave it on screen while they fall asleep!

I am encouraged to stagger on into a second year. Thank you for all your encouragement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pages from a Preacher's Prayer Book (8)

God’s call here (Part B)

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Rom. 10: 14,15).

Last time I said there is one truth that I have held onto from my earliest ministry. But let me complete the whole sentence: GOD HAS CALLED ME HERE FOR HIS GLORY.

It is not just that God called me to serve him, but that my journey has led me to this place and this people. Perhaps I might wish to be elsewhere. Others seem to enjoy ministry in easier places and I know tugs of envy and discontentment. But I must recollect how this place is God’s place for me. Here God calls me to bloom where I am planted. He wants my feet to be beautiful because they have gone to his right place.

Too often I am preoccupied with my own levels of satisfaction. I hunger for more success. I resent the cost and humbling, the low response and just being taken for granted. Sometimes, I even want to give up and move on. But God challenges me about taking my eyes off his glory as I seek my own. Sometimes I behave as though the call is for my sake and not for his. “ Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true” (John 7:18).

I must come back to basics. God does not call me to be successful and brilliant but to be his person where he wants me. To have beautiful feet. To recognize that these people are his people whom I have to love and serve now.

Prayer: Lord, help me remember that you called me here for your glory. Give me desire and love to serve you. Let me live for your glory. Let me overflow with love and conviction in the face of difficulties and disappointments. To labor and not to look for any reward save that of doing your will. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to Live Successfully

I am looking forward to a one-off preaching engagement back at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, on November 23rd. Because we near Advent, I am taking a powerful parable in Matthew 25:14-30. Often called the "parable of the talents", its verve still engages by themes of wealth, ability, judgment and success. These thread through twenty-first century life just as surely as in the first-century.

I've already titled the sermon: "How to Live Successfully". I guess any reader will quickly get the connection. But what did Jesus mean by living successfully? I'll keep in touch over the next few days of preparing! As always, any comments are welcome.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pages from a Preacher's Prayer Book (7)

God’s call (Part A)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ (Jer. 1 : 4,5)
‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people,’ (Mark 1:17)

However it happened, nothing is more significant about my ministry than my experience of God’s call. Jeremiah, young and inadequate, is called to belong to God even before birth. Abram, rich and successful, is called in later life (Gen 12:1-3); Moses is a runaway fugitive (Exod.3:1-12); Isaiah is shaken within worship (Isaiah 6:1-13); Simon, Andrew, James and John in the middle of their working day (Mark 1:16-20).

God’s spokespeople should never select themselves. Actually, Jeremiah and Moses shrink from the task. Though, in contrast, our stories of call may seem prosaic and confusing yet, by wrestling in prayer, we moved to inner conviction with peace that was then tested and affirmed as others looked at our gifting and vocation. I now look back and I know that it was so. Sometimes I can hardly believe it. God called me into ministry. Incredibly, foreknowing God chose me before I was born.

It is easy to lose heart and direction in the pressures of service - to feel useless and battered. But the foundational truth is: GOD HAS CALLED ME.

I have held onto that truth from the earliest days of ministry. On difficult days I need to recall how it really happened. Awesome and humbling there is no greater reason to be alive and to keep working. Why stoop to do anything else?

A Prayer: I marvel Lord that you chose me. At times I find it hard to understand why. But it happened by your grace. Give me a fresh experience of your love and your special choosing so that I can be my best for you today. Through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders (5)

One of you kindly wrote that, even though I write often for preachers and pastors, my ideas relate to others. That is particularly true of the Big 7 for Christian leaders. How I hope these have wide application! Over the next days I hope to fill out each claim.

1) SACRIFICIAL LOVE. For Christians, love is the greatest - no doubt about it! We can never substitute anything else for it, no matter how heavy the pressure on our lives, and how tempting are other options! 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a gifted church, tangled in strife because it had forgotten love. So too, many gifted Christians need reminding of this first principle. And it is sacrificial love because Christ first loved us and expects us to love with Christ-like love (John 13: 34, 35; 1 John 3:11). Nothing is more demanding in Christian leadership than this. Harnessed with this quality should be zeal, which burns to serve and save others for the Lord's sake. Yet, keeness to serve should never be at love's expense.
W.E. Sangster, the great preacher, used to warn about pastors "repenting of sacrifice" by which he meant that they regretted ever responding to God's call when the going got tough. But, especially when the going gets tough, love remains number one evidence of Christian leadership. Love is Jesus' gift to be exercised maturely in an immature world.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pages from a preacher's prayer book (6)

The Positive Power of Thankfulness

In our prayers for you we always thank God (Col. 1:3)
….giving thanks to the Father (Col. 1: 12).
….abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:7).
And be thankful (Col 3:15).
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving (Col 4:2).

Christian thankfulness is not a matter of courtesy. It profoundly liberates and motivates prayer. Even from a prison cell, Paul’s epistle is peppered with thanksgiving. It’s an intentional mindset of someone who is determinedly saying “Thank you God” for each new day. Whatever dark events may occur, God’s faithfulness is unshakeable and so is the faith and love of other Christians. In his imprisonment Paul gives thanks because of others’ faith in Christ Jesus (Col 1:4).

Keep saying: “Thank You God” and you open the door to his grace and love. A thankful spirit opens hearts and minds and begets generosity. Miserable ingratitude centers on self and stifles generosity.

Preachers, in common with all humanity, can easily let one bad thing overwhelm nine good things. It is a great gift when preachers show hearers their thankfulness. Positive thanking leads to positive praying, which leads to positive living in God. The old advice “Count your blessings” breathes gratitude into relationships. There is always more to give thanks for than we first imagine. In my ministry, the heroines and heroes have been ordinary people who have radiated peace and courage. And as I think of them I light up with thankfulness. Thankfulness is the secret to freshness in prayer and ministry.

A Prayer: O Lord, help me to be thankful to you, today. To open my mind and heart to your daily goodness; to notice things that I have taken for granted and to take time to reflect on your generosity through Jesus Christ and through Christian brothers and sisters. Help me to radiate the positive power of thankfulness, Through Jesus. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders (4)

I have pondered what seven characteristics matter most for Christian leaders:

1. Sacrificial Love
2. Secret Prayer
3. Sensitive Leadership
4. Realistic Pastoring
5. Unruffled Security
6. Coping Well with Criticism
7. Joyful Generosity

Each of these marks, requires more explanation that I hope to provide in coming days.