“Listen Up!” Book Review

Listen Up bookListen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash is a Christian leader’s dream.  His simple and practical guidance is geared towards helping the sermon listener shift their focus from “me” to Christ and the church.  Plus, Ash enables the reader to examine their own heart and motives underlying their attitudes and thoughts as they approach listening to a sermon.  (I listed several quotes from the book on yesterday’s blog post.)  An added bonus, are the built in questions at the end of each chapter enabling the reader to rethink and apply the material to their own particular situation.

The 7 concepts listed by Christoper Ash are:

1) Expect God to Speak
2) Admit God Knows Better Than You
3) Check [What] the Preacher Says [With] What the Passage Says
4) Hear the Sermon in Church
5) Be There Week by Week
6) Do What the Bible Says
7) Do What the Bible Says Today – And Rejoice!

Ash gives the final few pages to give advice on “How to listen to bad sermons”.  He breaks “bad sermons” down into three categories: dull, biblically inadequate, and heretical.  Like the first section of the book, the author does a good job of challenging the listener to not jump to conclusions, examine their own heart, and gives helpful definitions of the terms that he employs.

The biggest problem with the book is that the content is wonderful but many people think the preacher or leader presumptuous to recommend a book on listening to sermons.  I would have liked an appendix with some thoughts on how a church leadership team could help their congregation into the contents of the book; whether a willing congregation, cautious congregation, or resistant congregation.

Overall, it is a great book and well worth a read.

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5 Types of Scripture Illustrations

The Bible is full of stories and illustrations used to convey the meaning, principles, and doctrines of God’s truth.  Jesus used parables, analogies, and word pictures – like a camel and the eye of a needle  (a great hyperbole joke) – to help drive home His points.

If we are honest, we are thankful for the Bible’s supply of illustrations to help us comprehend its message.  So, it behooves us to consider how we can utilize illustrations to help others understand the Bible and see how it applies to their lives.  As we contemplate and wrestle with how to explain a text to another person, it also works the text into our own hearts.

What types of illustrations could we use?  The article below, by Eric McKiddie, is focused on five useful types of illustrations when preaching.  These may not be the only types of illustrations out there, but they are a good place to start.  The five “sermon illustrations” need not be reserved for the pulpit, but can be applied in gospel conversations and discipleship relationships.

The next time you read the Word, stop and consider not only how you would explain the text with proper exegesis, but also how you could add an illustration to help explain the text to someone else.

5 Types of Sermon Illustrations and How to Use Them

By Eric McKiddie

I used to never bother with sermon illustrations because I believed their number one myth. I thought the purpose of illustrations is to help explain the passage you are preaching. I figured if I did a good job teaching the text, I could avoid the work of crafting modern-day connections. The result was sermons heavy on explanation, light on application, and empty of illustrations.

My perspective took a 180-degree turn after listening to Bryan Chapell’s lectures on Christ-centered preaching. He argues that illustrations are not for the head so much as the heart. They don’t primarily explain, they motivate.

At that point it became abundantly clear that the preacher must connect emotion to cognition in order to get action. There is no motion without emotion. It’s as true in the underdog’s locker room at halftime as it is in your pews on Sunday.

I no longer had an excuse to neglect the work of applying audible paintbrushes to mental canvases.

Various Illustrations for Various Purposes

One reason I neglected illustrations for so long was that I operated with a narrow definition. As far as I was concerned, illustrations were limited to stories that brought out the point of the sermon. But it wasn’t long into my efforts to improve as an illustrator before I realized that illustrations are not “one size fits all.”

While a fourth grader can get away with one brush in art class, anyone beginning to take painting seriously knows she needs brushes of various breadths and sizes. It is the same with the preacher beginning to take illustrations seriously. Some sections of the sermon call for thick brushes like stories while others require only thin dab from an analogy.

The question, then, is which illustrations are most effective for which parts of the sermon?

5 Effective Sermon Illustrations

1. The story. This is what most people think of when it comes to sermon illustrations. Examples include personal experiences, accounts from world history, and current events.

One-paragraph stories work well for transitioning from exegesis of the passage to application of it. Anything much longer and your audience might forget the point you were trying to drive home. But longer stories can be effective for conclusions, when you’re trying to pull together the points you want your church to take home.

No matter the length, stories work best when the problem or conflict of the story raises the need for a solution the passage provides.

2. The word picture. This illustration elaborates on something figurative or metaphorical in the passage in order to show its significance.

For example, I was recently teaching on Ephesians 5:15 where Paul says, “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise.” I went on to tell about my 2-year-old son who, during a game of tag, was running at full speed, looking everywhere in the room except where he was running. That is how many of us go through life, foolishly not paying attention to the way we live.

Next time during your sermon prep, list out the figurative phrases in the passage and consider ways to expand on them by painting a word picture.

3. The analogy. Analogies in general highlight points of comparison, but the best analogies end with unexpected punch lines that draw out a surprising connection. Forrest Gump is famous for this kind of analogy: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” The surprise punch line sticks with the listener.

Analogies are especially effective for communicating cultural aspects of biblical times that would be lost on readers today. I once heard David Helm say, “When God tells Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals,’ he’s saying, ‘Don’t track your dirt on my carpet.'” Again, the key is a good punch line.

4. The list of examples. Examples illustrate contexts where your church can apply the sermon. Instead of giving steps for application (they won’t remember them anyway), provide a quick list of examples to show how one might apply the message in various contexts. Your church can work out the steps themselves if you show them where the passage can bring change in their lives.

The key with lists is not to be cliché, superficial, or painfully obvious. Don’t say, “This applies to lust, finances, and impatience.” Those are examples, but they are not illustrative examples. Instead say, “This applies when an attractive coworker walks into the break room, when the calculator won’t give you the numbers you need for your budget, and when your kids are setting a world record for the slowest meal ever eaten.”

5. The split story. An effective way to bookend your sermon is by telling one half of a story in your sermon’s introduction and then the other half in the conclusion. In the introduction, cut off the story before the problem is resolved. Then connect the unresolved conflict to the main spiritual need the passage addresses.

This approach leaves your audience under the assumption that the story doesn’t have a happy ending, compelling them to listen in order to avoid a similar fate. Then, in your conclusion—to everyone’s surprise—tell the happy ending your church didn’t anticipate.

This technique is effective because it gives a satisfying closure to the sermon. We are wired to desire a happy ending to stories. Even better, you give listeners who still think they can’t change an example of someone who overcame a seemingly insurmountable problem. Hopefully this illustration will help convince them that—with God’s help—they can change, too.

Putting the Tools in Your Belt

Categorizing illustrations is helpful because it gives you certain tools for certain purposes. It would be frustrating to use a hammer on a screw instead of a screwdriver, although if you pound hard enough it could do the job. Similarly, it can be frustrating to write an extended story to illustrate a Bible verse that only needs a word picture or an analogy. When you match the right illustration tool to right job, it gets easier and more enjoyable.

So before you resign yourself to being a preacher who doesn’t bother much with illustrations, experiment with the different types. You might find illustrations to be more effective than you think.

Preaching on Sunday? Read This

preach-word

When preparing to preach on Sunday mornings, there is a certain level of nervous anticipation that arises.  On the one hand, there is a confidence that the Lord will bless your preparation in the Word and your prayers heading into the sermon.  On the other hand, there is the fear of misrepresenting the Lord or preaching a “dud” that seems to completely miss the mark for the congregation.

A certain level of anxiety is good because if you are completely confident in your abilities, you may be walking the line or have crossed over into self-confidence and self-reliance, rather than a dependence on the Lord in the midst of your preparation and preaching.  So, with the beginning of the college church season and the “back to church” surge within the United Sates, here is some encouragement heading into the new season:

PREACHING ON SUNDAY? READ THIS.

Darryl Dash

Pastors can always use encouragement. If you’re a pastor (or even if you’re not), here are some truths that you might find encouraging today.

  • God promises to use his Word (Isaiah 55:11). When God speaks, things happen. No matter how feebly preached, God honors the proclamation of his Word.
  • Our weakness displays God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our weakness doesn’t diminish God’s glory. It provides greater contrast between us and the surpassing power of the God we serve.
  • God uses the “things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). If you and your church don’t look like much, you are just the type that God loves to use.
  • Your position is secure (Romans 8). There is no sermon that you could preach that would make you more acceptable to God. There is no sermon, however bad, that can remove you from the love of God.
  • Our imperfect churches display the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). When God wants to display his wisdom to angelic beings, he points to the church. The fact that church exists despite our failings causes angels to marvel and to glorify God.
  • Your work is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We often don’t see it, but because of the resurrection we can stay at it, knowing that our work isn’t wasted.

There’s so much more. Things may be tough. We may not see much progress. But God is at work. On Friday as we prepare to preach, we can rest knowing that all is well. There’s every reason to be encouraged.

Actively Listening to a Sermon

It is easy to sit in a chair for twenty, thirty, forty-five, sixty, or seventy-five minutes (depending on the preacher) listening to a preacher open the Word of God.  After the pastor sits down and everyone heads for the door the typical take-away is often a humorous illustration, and maybe a point (hopefully a main point) from the sermon.

How does a person get more than that out of a sermon?  How can a person fully engage the preaching and get the most out of the presentation of God’s Word each week?

Active listening is a big key.  Coming prepared to listen, hear, and receive.  A mind that puts all other tasks on hold so that it can consider what is being preached.  No preacher is perfect or infallible.  Perfection and infallibility are reserved for Jesus and the Bible. So discernment is needed, but not to the level looking for ways to deconstruct a Bible-based message.  Rather there is an attitude of expecting God to speak and having a spirit tuned to hearing the voice of the Spirit through the presentation of the Scripture.

The blog  5 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Sermon adds some more key thoughts on this matter:

The Art of Listening might well be the most the important skill a Christian must develop, because Christianity is at its essence all about the Word of God. In fact, God himself is the Word (John 1:1) and the Word became flesh (John 1:2)—safe to say that if God is the Word then how we use our ears is pretty important. Furthermore, you can only come to faith through hearing (Rom. 10:14) and then you grow mature through hearing (Matt. 13:23).

The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (1 Sam 3:21).

Do you get it? Seeing God happens through hearing. Our vision is through our ears. My friend, if you have either not yet come to Christ, or you have but are frustrated, confused, and not really growing, then I would bet big money that your problem revolves around not listening as you should. Here are some tips on listening well to a preacher, or to the Word of God in any context:

1. Get in range regularly

The reason Zacchaeus collided with Jesus was because he climbed the tree. If the soil is not in range of the sower then it isn’t going to receive any seed. This first point isn’t rocket science: you need to be regularly exposed to God’s word. Try to do a few minutes of personal time each day with the Bible, and obviously ensure you are at church each Sunday. Get in range.

2. Be expectant to receive

The good news is that the Word of God is supernatural stuff. It is living and active and burrows right inside us, doing us good (Heb. 4:12) and it will always achieve its purpose (Isa. 55:11). So listen expectantly. If it is a topic or preacher that you are not too excited about, then pull yourself together and get excited—the issue is the pizza, not the delivery boy or the box it comes in.

3. Understand it

The Parable of the Soil (Matt. 13:23) stresses the importance of not just hearing but understanding. Take notes, listen again to the download, discuss it at small group, go over the Scriptures again. One way or another, check you that you ‘get it’.

4. Mix with faith

Hebrews 4:1-3 speaks about two groups of people who heard the same message. One group benefited big time. The others thought the message was useless. What was the difference? Only one group mixed the incoming word with faith. As you listen, be assured that God has your best at heart, and set yourself to receive the word and to obey it with joy and conviction. Not because you ‘have to’ but because you ‘get to.’ God isn’t looking for blind, begrudging obedience. He is looking for faith!

5. Actually do it

The difference between the foolish and wise builders in Matthew 7 was that one put the word into practice and one didn’t. If you don’t actually obey the word then your life and faith will be built on sand. You will continuously be unsure that ‘Christianity really works.’ So, if you hear a message on forgiveness but do not forgive, then your house may fall flat. James says that you will be a like a man who looks at himself in the mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like—you will be insecure in who you are and in who God is. Obey. Put it into practice. Then you’ll grow.

 

Big Picture: Masterpiece in the Making

Listen in to the start of this new four part series on the “Big Picture”.  The first message is Masterpiece in the Making spoken at UA Christian Assembly by John Myer.  It will continue for three more weeks.

Big Picture

Welcome Week & Riptides

The first week of classes at OSU are over and we are heading into week two…the first full week of classes.  After crashing and catching up on a little sleep from two weeks of 8:00am-3:00am work days I have had a little time to reflect on the week’s events.

The Welcome Week went rather well even in the face of pouring rain and minor “oops, I forgot to do that” moments in the carrying out of activities.  For those “oops” moments, I have to take responsibility for not following up with people to ensure that all the details were indeed covered a day before the events.  As for the success and wonderful attraction of the events, I have to give major props to the returning Oasis students. The jobs that Liz, Tim, and Carl (to name just a few people) did of welcoming and spending time with incoming students was phenomenal!

It is my hope that this year we can strengthen and establish a core of students with a love for the Lord, a love for people, and a love to support the church in good times and not so good times.  Those who helped put on the Welcome Week activities and the first Sunday Oasis church service of the quarter are such people.  I can only image what great things the Lord could do with more people fighting for Him and His church together as a team.

RipTideSpeaking of the Sunday church service, we had a pretty good turn out this weekend.  The band did a great job in leading worship and the message from 1 Peter entitled Christ on Campus: Riptide was good, even if a little long for my taste (since I gave the message I feel free to openly critique it) as an opening sermon.  The message was an overview of the refining work that God is doing in our lives as we encounter the struggles of being “in the world but not of the world”.  The glorious work God is doing in us as we stand firm in His grace against the riptide pulling us to isolate ourselves in our own Christian subculture and against he riptide pulling us to conform to the culture around us to the point of compromising the truth of Scripture.

“Irrelevant” Scripture

I listened to a message online today called The Curious Joy of “Irrelevant” Scriptures. It was spoken on Sunday by John Myer at UA Christian Assembly and based upon the Lord’s “Bible study” in Luke 24:15-32.

The message dealt with the trend of consistently making the Bible “relevant” by turning it into a “how to” manual and forgetting to point to the person of Christ.  John reasoned out the habit of how we can get so accustomed to trying to find out “how to” live the Christian life or “how to” feel better that we forget that the point and focus of the Bible is not us but Jesus Christ.   He demonstrated that if we are not careful our desires for “solutions” can replace our our focus and hunger for Jesus.