Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Preparing for Public Prayer

This article by Kevin DeYoung has thirteen excellent suggestions on preparing for formal public prayer. Recommended, whether you routinely lead a long congregational prayer or a much shorter prayer for your class or small group.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Recommendation: Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently

I don’t often recommend John Maxwell books. It’s hard to know what he wrote and what someone on his staff wrote, and he has so many stories and illustrations and quotes from others (which he attributes appropriately) that some books don’t have a lot of original content. I also think he’s a better speaker than writer.

I do recommend the last half of this book for the ideas and practices on connecting with people. This is a significant issue for Bible teachers. Skim the 1st half to get the basic principles, which won’t be a surprise to you. There are still lots of stories and anecdotes and quotes from others, but I didn’t find this to be distracting here. For teachers, I particularly recommend pp. 199-228, the chapter titled “Connectors Inspire People.” His basic formula is

What they know + What they see + What they feel = Inspiration

Inspiration leads to actionable changes as individuals and groups. You want to teach the Bible to change lives, right? Get this book, study it, and start incorporating some of the ideas and suggestions here.

Note: this is not an affiliate link, and I will not earn any money from this recommendation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting New Insights from God's Word

Axiom: You and I will never reach the bottom of the depth of God's Word.

The Bible is amazing, astounding, with depth and breadth that will occupy our best thinking and most careful analysis and deepest meditation for our entire lives.

Unfortunately, you and me and many of the people we're teaching slip into the attitude of "Yup, studied that, heard that, nothing new here." We're always vulnerable to this arrogance. We're far too willing to be satisfied with whatever past understanding we've had. We're far too willing to treat the Bible as a dead book, rather than a means of continually interacting with the Lord.

Here are some suggested strategies for getting more from God's Word, so you can teach people by bringing them fresh bread every time:

1. Pray: "Lord, teach me anew." Ask God to give you a receptive mind and heart. This needs to happen above all else. And pray for the insights that God wants to you to share and to teach, as well as for your own understanding.

2. Look for patterns and connections. Check out repeated words. Consider the meaning (and what might have been written but was not) for adjectives and adverbs.

3. Use tools like concordances, topical indexes, and Thompson's Chain Reference Bible (my favorite!) to find related passages and ideas.

4. Read aloud. It's amazing what you will notice when you read aloud that you missed when reading silently.

5. Read in reverse order. Take familiar stories and work them backwards. You'll likely spot things you didn't notice before.

6. Read multiple translations of the Bible. Different word choices of the translators can give you new insights and ideas to follow-up on.

So the general strategy is simple: Put yourself in a position to see things afresh. Get your brain in a different mode. God does the rest.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Battling Cultural ADD

The preponderous effect of television and social media is that we're cultivating a population of youth and adults who prefer to be distracted than to concentrate. They're trained to ineffective multitasking and quick switching if something does "hold" their attention for more than a few seconds -- just press the remote channel up button, or click the mouse to go on to the next thing.

It's cultural attention-deficit disorder. Successful advertisers and content creators see the trend, and position content to be successful in this environment, which breeds more distraction behavior.

This is our real-world challenge as teachers of God's Word. How do we capture and keep attention? How do we promote engagement with the Bible?

I've written many times about using questions, story, and dialogue for effective teaching. Today I want to emphasize something else for you.

The Word of God stands like a towering rock over all this. It will not be moved, it will not be shaken, and it remains strong. It is not like the sea or the clouds, which are ever changing. God's Word will not be broken.

I encourage you to use the characteristic strength of the Bible as the attention-grabber and attention-holder. I see signs that God is at work opening people's eyes and hearts to the FACT that they are spending themselves on that which cannot satisfy. God is drawing people back to strength and solidity and confidence.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reading the Word Expressively

Don't you dare bore people with the Word of God! It's the very word of our Lord, it's powerful, it's living and active -- don't kill its power by your poor presentation! Your teaching will be so much easier and effective if you present the Word of God as engaging, interesting, personal, dynamic, powerful!

The simple truth is that not nearly enough teachers and pastors have received any coaching on how to read expressively, or practice it regularly. You don't have to be in this group! Just a few minutes of practice can make an enormous difference!

Try this exercise to feel the contrast effect:

First, pitch your shoulders forward, round your back, tuck your chin down toward your chest, and read a short passage in a quiet monotone

Next, straighten your shoulders, sit up tall, take a deep breath, and read the same passage loudly, emphasizing some of the words but not all.

Feel the difference? So will everyone listening to you.

Here are some eight
tips for reading expressively:

1. Prayerfully imagine how Jesus would read this passage to the same group you are teaching.

2. Practice reading your text aloud several times. Get comfortable with it.

3. Decide in advance how you will pronounce names

4. Try emphasizing different words and see how the meaning shifts in your mind. (Side benefit: you'll get new insights that you can use in teaching!)

5. Posture makes a HUGE difference. Stand or sit tall. Take deep breaths. Open your mouth wide. If you teach while sitting down, practice reading expressively while sitting down. If you teach standing up, practice reading expressively while standing up.

6. Read about 10-20% louder and with 10-20% more emphasis than you would in normal conversation with one other person. The bigger your audience, the bigger your voice should be.

7. Enunciate clearly. This is easier with practice.

8. Ask a few people to give you feedback on your reading.

Practice reading more expressively and your teaching effectiveness will improve. You'll be glad to did -- but not nearly as glad as those who are listening to you!

Note: this six minute video has an audio recording where I explain all this with some actual examples.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Resources for Teachers!

This will be a reminder to some of you, and perhaps news to others. I've published many free resources for Bible teachers, in addition to what's on this blog:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Happens to Infants Who Die?

John Piper answers the challenging question "What happens to infants who die?" You may or may not agree with his answer, but take note, dear teacher, of how he makes an argument from Scripture -- gently, firmly, carefully.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kingdom and Church

You might have some questions about the kingdom of God and how the Church fits into it. (Or perhaps your students will, and you'd like to be prepared :-). I recommend Kevin excellent short article, "The Kingdom and the Church Are Closer Than You Think."

Here is the ending:

"In other words, when we think of the kingdom as what we are trying to build in this world we will be severely disappointed, potentially dangerous. But when we see the church as the presence of the kingdom in this world then the theological pieces start falling into place. The oversight in some recent conceptions of building the kingdom is that the kingdom is only thought of in terms of social services. But where Christ reigns, wickedness is expelled too. If you want to build the kingdom in your town, if you want heaven to come down to earth in your city, then you must not allow unrepentant sinners to live there. For Scripture is clear that they share no part in the kingdom.

But once we understand that the local church is the witness to and manifestation ofthe kingdom the Bible makes more practical sense. In the kingdom, possessions are shared so that no one has to suffer want. That’s why the needs of the covenant community are met through the deacons. In the kingdom, unrepentant sinners are barred from entering. That’s why we have membership and church discipline. In the kingdom there is relational harmony and everyone is accepted by God and delights in God through his Son Jesus Christ. This is not only the goal of the church, but only in the church could we ever expect to see these realities.

So yes, we desire to bring the heavenly kingdom down to earth. But the kingdom that comes, the one we are looking for and living in, shows up in the church."

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Giant Print Strategy

A friend with failing eyesight showed me his strategy for using "giant print" to help his teaching. With small print, he was spending a lot of time peering at the text and losing his place frequently. He has a Giant Print Bible, but it's so big and awkward that it's hard for him to hold while's standing and teaching.

So he prepares the Bible text he's teaching from by copying/pasting it from into his word processing program. He changes the font size to be 24. Then he prints off pages of just the text he is teaching.

So it looks like this on his printout:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5)

That way he can easily read it and doesn't lose his place as often. He still keeps his Bible handy, if the conversation leads to passages he didn't anticipate.

Great idea!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Two Free Audio Books has two free downloadable audio books this month:
Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer)
50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die (Piper)

I recommend both. I try to read Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer's classic meditation built from the Sermon on the Mount, every other year. He grabs you from the first sentence: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Teaching for Spiritual Maturity

I appreciated Mark Batterson's insight:

"I think my preaching paradigm is shifting. I've always believed that as a preacher I'm called to study the word and teach the word, but that is changing as our congregation reads through the Bible together. My job is NOT to just study and teach the Bible. My job is to teach our congregation to study the Bible. That is a subtle yet huge difference. The prior approach leads to spiritual codependency. The latter leads to spiritual maturity."

It's important that your teaching ministry make disciples, who themselves are focused on Jesus.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What Does a Leader Need to Hear Over and Over?

There's a great leadership lesson about strength and courage to be learned from the life of Joshua.

Joshua had demonstrated his potential from the time he was a young man. Joshua was one of the 12 sent to spy out the land of Canaan - and one of the two who proved confident in God's leading. Joshua had spent many years serving as Moses' aide. Let's not underestimate the leadership development power of association with godly men! Think of how it would affect a man to stand outside the tent of meeting where God met Moses face to face (Exodus 33:11).

As he neared death, Moses tells the people that Joshua will lead them, and that they must be strong and courageous:

1 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 "I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, 'You shall not cross the Jordan.' 3 The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. 4 And the LORD will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deut 31:1-8)

The Lord commissions Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land:

14 The LORD said to Moses, "Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the Tent of Meeting, where I will commission him." So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting.
23 The LORD gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: "Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you." (Deut 31:14, 23)

This commissioning probably occurred through Moses laying hands on Joshua (see Deut 34:9)

Then after Moses dies, Joshua is again told to be strong and courageous (3 times!):

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: 2 "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
6 "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:1-9)

Finally the people ask Joshua to be strong and courageous:

16 Then they answered Joshua, "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!" (Joshua 1:16-18)

Let's review: Who is told to be strong and courageous?
Moses tells the people of Israel (Deut 31:1-6)
Moses tells Joshua (Deut 31:7-8)
The Lord tells Joshua -- several times (Joshua 1:1-9)
The people tell Joshua (Joshua 1:16-18)

(And it doesn't end here: at the end of his life, Joshua commands the people to be very strong -- Joshua 23:6)

It's safe for us to infer that leaders should be strong and courageous! The fact that this is repeated so much here suggests:
o The great danger for leaders to guard against is slipping back to our default state: timidity and fear.
o Leaders need to be reminded of the important things.
o Leaders need to remind people of the important things (being strong, courageous, and obeying God's commands).
o Being reminded frequently is a sign of God's love and compassion on us.

Let's strive to be strong and courageous leaders for God's people within the spheres of influence God gives us. Our situation today is no different than this biblical history: we have a bright future, we're a called people, we need godly leadership, and we need to be strong and courageous.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Stop Sign Prayer Challenge

Here's my challenge for you: Every time you see a stop sign, pray for someone you know fighting cancer.

Develop habits of prayer like this with ordinary activities. Washing your hands, brushing your teeth, taking out the trash, starting the car, opening the mailbox -- associate all of these with prayer. These are helpful steps towards praying continually, little buoying moments to lift our thoughts towards God.