Friday, June 18, 2010

Two Questions that Every Believer must Settle

Miles Stanford said, "There are two questions that every believer must settle as soon as possible. The one is, Does God fully accept me? and the second, If so, upon what basis does He do so?"

The answer to these questions is crucial.

Eph 1:3-6
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (ESV).

God’s basis must be our basis for acceptance. There is no other. Our Father is fully satisfied with His beloved Son on our behalf, and there is no reason for us not to be. Our satisfaction can only spring from and rest in His satisfaction. It is from God to us, not from us to God.

Sadly today, most believers actually reason just the opposite—from themselves to God. When all is going well and God seems to be blessing, then it is that they feel He loves and accepts them. But when they are stumbling and everything seems dry and hard, then they feel that He does not love and accept them.

There is nothing about us to commend us to God, our acceptance being in Christ, plus the fact that most of our true spiritual development comes through the dry and hard times.

Thank God, He has accepted us in His Son, and upon this fact we must rest our faith. As in justification, our acceptance is by grace alone. It is from God to us, not from us to God.

- Adapted from Miles J. Stanford, Complete Works of Miles J. Stanford (Galaxie Software, 2002; 2002).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Relevance and the Power of Story

I recently finished a project trying to discover what principles comprise effective communication. One of those principles was relevant application. During an interaction with my mom, she said, "A good preacher makes meaningful statements that awe his listeners; an exceptional preacher makes statements meaningful which inspire his listeners. It is a matter of how far the action goes. Does it end at the ear during the service or does it soak into the heart, mind, and soul of the listener? Is it taken out into daily life for reference, decision making, and personal commitment?”

One of the things the Heath brothers talk about in Made to Stick is an idea’s concreteness, which is application to life. “We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. In proverbs, abstract truths are encoded in concrete language. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’”

One tool is storytelling. For example, firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire and by doing so they multiply their experience both for themselves and others. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing listeners to respond in daily life. Stories can almost defeat what the Heath brothers call the curse of knowledge. Knowledge has cursed us. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Stories help transfer our knowledge to others because it is difficult to re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

Stories are not neutral. The stories we hear change the way we see life. Stories teach us what is worth pursuing, what is worth living for, and what is worth sacrificing for. For example, if a person wants a boat and is willing to work overtime to get it, then the moral of the story is we work hard and some day you will get a boat. It is not a bad story, but it is not a good one, either.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Preaching with your Authentic Voice

Communicators can be impatient to find a “style” – to embellish the simple words so that listeners will recognize us as someone special. We buy sermons (in my case) and resources, as if “style” were something we could buy at a conference and drape onto our sermons. There is no style store; style is organic to the person doing the preaching, as much a part of him as his hair, or, if he is bald, his lack of it.

Trying to add style is like adding a toupee. At first glance, the formerly bald man looks young and handsome, but at second glance, he does not look quite right. The problem is not that he does not look well groomed because he does, but we can only admire the wigmaker’s skill. The point is that he does not look like himself. Therefore, a fundamental principle is: Be yourself. Confidence in our unique voice is a matter of trust in God.

In View from the Pew, Lora-Ellen McKinney says, “Confidence attracts. Humility endears. Arrogance distances. Performance, rather than preaching, insults. Be humble. Make it easy for God to work in and through you.” She warns preachers not to be showmen. We should speak God’s Word while allowing our personal journeys with God to shine through and illustrate our messages.

We need to start by asking ourselves who we really are. Then we must decide to take that person, that real person, into every ministry setting. Ministry does not need clones, or people wearing masks, pretending to be all things to all people. What is the most transparent version of ourselves that we can bring into the pulpit? Authenticity is the practice of integrity with who God has created us to be. Too many of us refuse to be ourselves and, instead, imitate better-known preachers or authors. Why fear being yourself? Deliver God’s message your way.