Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sensitivity to Different People's Situations

Peter Mead provides some excellent advice for teachers and preachers on appropriate senstivity (without losing power and effectiveness) to singles, the childless, women, the elderly, and the unemployed. Recommended.

Christian vs. Muslim Views on the Crucifixion

The Islamic view is that Jesus was a prophet, but that he himself did not die on the cross. The Islamic perspective is that each person bears the burden of his sins alone -- and that repentance and obedience to God's commands are the means of redemption.

Check out this short blog post by Gene Veith for more on this contrast with Christian understanding of redemption.

It's important to understand these fundamental differences.

This Specific Truth Will Make You Free

Melinda at STR makes the great point that many people mistakenly quote John 8:32 out of context by saying "The truth will make you free."

If you read this in context, you will see that the truth Jesus refers to is that Jesus himself is the Truth -- a specific, objective truth, not a relativist or subjective truth.

Note: This would make for a great short lesson or devotional.

It Felt Awful...and the Lord Used It!

Have you ever put a lot into a lesson, and then didn't feel like it worked well afterwards?

Most of the time I feel good after I teach, because I've seen again the power of God's Word to touch hearts and minds. But sometimes I go into a lesson confident that I've heard from the Lord how to set up the hook, the best questions, strong applications -- and it just doesn't feel like it clicked. For me, or for my students. Dud. Flat.

The week before Easter I experienced this when I was teaching a large class of adults, talking about Jesus as our substitutionary sacrifice as pictured in Isaiah 52-53.

In baseball terms, I swung and hit the ball maybe 8 feet up the 1st base line.

"Ok, we go on," I said to myself.

But on Easter Sunday I heard that two people were powerfully impacted by the lesson. (One was a visitor who is Muslim.) Another person told me that they shared the key ideas with his neighbor and they were persuaded to come to Easter service.

My feelings did a 180 turn and I rejoiced that God had used it well. I really was teaching to change lives!

I share this with you to encourage you. Your feelings are real, but they are not the final arbiter of value of a lesson. Follow through on what you receive from the Lord in preparing a lesson.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Keeping Christ at the Center of Our Teaching

It is always good to be reminded that we need to keep Christ at the center of our teaching, no matter what passage of Scripture we're teaching from, and irrespective to whom we are teaching. Consider this counsel from Charles Spurgeon:

"I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often asked me, "What is the secret of your success?" I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel,—not about the gospel, but the gospel,—the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news. Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon. You remember the story of the old minister who heard a sermon by a young man, and when he was asked by the preacher what he thought of it he was rather slow to answer, but at last he said, "If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon." "No," answered the young man, "because I did not see that Christ was in the text." "Oh!" said the old minister, "but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, 'There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.'" "Well," said the young man, "but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?" "Then I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get at Him." So must we do, brethren; we must have Christ in all our discourses, whatever else is in or not in them. There ought to be enough of the gospel in every sermon to save a soul. Take care that it is so when you are called to preach before Her Majesty the Queen, and if you have to preach to charwomen or chairmen, still always take care that there is the real gospel in every sermon."

-CH Spurgeon, The Soul Winner.

He is Risen!

He Is Risen!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What Are You Missing in the Bible?

Check out this 30 second awareness test:

So what are you missing in the Bible, because you see only what you are looking for?

Let's face it, our minds are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and yet we have to work hard to overcome our natural tendencies. Build these into your study plans:

1. Read systematically, not just your favorite passages
2. For passages that you are teaching, read them over and over and over again -- two or three times a day for several days
3. Work through those passages in reverse order (it's amazing how many new things will occur to you)
4. Read passages aloud
5. Ask "What is this not saying?"
6. Check cross-references and related passages (tools like the Thompson's Chain Reference Bible are great for this work)

These study habits will help you uncover what casual reading misses! And you'll be better prepared to bring "fresh bread" from the Word to your hungry students.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

John Ortberg on Teaching the Bible

I highly recommend this short essay by John Ortberg, "People of the Book." He wonderfully analyzes the paradox of the availability of the Bible and yet the incredible lack of knowledge people have from the Bible -- and then goes on with sound advice about proclaiming Scripture.

A few excerpts to whet your appetite:

"How do I proclaim the Scriptures in a way that honors their authority, and at the same time recognizes where my hearers are (as opposed to where I wish they were)?"

"In many ways our situation is increasingly like that of the early church. The gospel had to compete in a multi-religious, pluralistic environment where, as Edward Gibbon put it, "the masses considered all religions equally true, the philosophers considered them equally false, and the politicians considered them equally useful." Historians like Rodney Stark say that the reason the church exploded across the ancient world was, to a large extent it was because the church incarnated the word—cared for the poor, fed the hungry, embraced the orphan, risked sheltering the sick. The gospel had to win a hearing by being incarnated along with being proclaimed. Those of us who preach the Scriptures, along with being nourished by it ourselves, have to figure out along with our congregations how we can incarnate the gospel in our community, or we will preach to a religious ghetto."

"I assume that if preaching the Scriptures is going to get under the skin of people I speak to, things will have to get a little edgy. We get so used to the Bible, we miss its edginess."

"The Scriptures really are used by God in a unique way to change lives. But those of us who teach them must be gripped by this conviction. It cannot be faked or forced. It comes as a gift."

Read the whole essay.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Test Yourself

Kevin Nelstead points us to a great test: "God's Test For Everyone"

See how you measure up to the 10 Commandments. Like Kevin, I scored a 0/10, and put my hope in Christ:

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2 ESV).

Make Sure Your Notes Are Readable!

Teaching tip: make sure your notes are readable.

I recently made the mistake of taking notes made in light pencil into the room where I was teaching. I didn't have any problem reading them in the light where I wrote them -- but the light was much stronger in the room where I was teaching, and my notes were practically invisible in the glare off the page! (Maybe my aging eyesight was a factor, too.)

Be sure to use pen or pencil that will have good contrast, so you can read even in challenging lighting conditions. Contrast is the key. It also helps to have a broader pen-stroke than a finer one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boredom Begone!

Howard Hendricks admonishes his seminary students: "Don't you dare bore them with the Gospel!"

Your students register your level of enthusiasm for a Bible passage or topic by the the tone of your words, your body language, and everything you "project" while you are teaching. You can't readily fake this passion (nor should you try).

Peter Mead has an excellent blog post, "Banish Boredom from the Sermon," which has a few paragraphs of helpful ideas for teachers. He correctly points out that the problems are far easier to repair in the lesson preparation time than during delivery!

"Enthusiasm and imagination are keys to unlocking boredom from a sermon, but try to overcome the problem ahead of time. Try to avoid discovering the sermon is boring by the facial feedback of a disconnecting congregation. It’s far easier to fix in the study than in the service!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Amazing Audio Library

Check out this amazing collection of hundreds of free audio messages -- searchable by topic, Bible passage, or speaker! Recommended.

Discipleship Library

HT: Brad Roth

Monday, March 10, 2008

"I have had enough, Lord!"

Perhaps the best unanswered prayer in the Bible is in 1 Kings 19:

"[Elijah] came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

Our gracious Lord, who answered Elijah's prayer about rain and fire from heaven to demonstrate his power, did not answer this prayer for death. Instead He gives Elijah what he really needs: a reset.

Many times in teaching roles and leadership roles we come to points where we feel like saying, "I have had enough, Lord!"

And God will deal graciously with us as He did with His servant Elijah:

1. He strengthens us with what we need (angels provided Elijah with food and drink twice -- see 1 Kings 19: 7-8)
2. He gives us time to listen (Elijah traveled 40 days and nights to Horeb. The Lord certainly could have spoken with him after a day or 5 days, but Elijah needed time to be prepared to hear clearly.)
3. He checks our mission and alignment ("What are you doing here Elijah?" v. 9b) and even if we get all whiny and complainy as Elijah did, He demonstrates his power and presence to us.
4. He provides new orders and guidance (Elijah didn't get any sympathy -- it would not have helped! -- but was told to go annoint Hazael and Jehu and Elisha v. 15-18)

Leaders are looking for help. I suspect Elijah heard the Lord say, "Yet I have reserved seven thousand..." and thought "Really? Where are they?" So do not be discouraged if you don't see the workers yet, but keep praying.

Elijah's God is our God. And He likewise deals with us, as we need it.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

But...Easter is Coming

More snow in Iowa. I think we're up to 58" here this long winter. Yesterday I was reminded of the White Witch's curse in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: "Always winter, and never Christmas."

And then I said to myself, "But...Easter is coming!" And that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Talking with Athiests and Doubters

I hope that you regularly talk about Jesus with athiests and doubters. It can be pretty intimidating at times, and one of the biggest hurdles is knowing where to start. That's why I'm suggesting you check out "A Wallet, A Dollar, and the Existence of God" as an example. These free example videos (and PDF transcription) from will not only give you ideas about how to share the reasonableness of the existence of God, they will strengthen your own convictions.