Vending Machine Sermons

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

If I would get a ‘tenner’ every time someone complains about a subject that is their ‘pet project’ and isn’t preached by the pastors… It never ceases to amaze how we love to reinforce our information and conviction on what we know and feel safe with, to the detriment of discovering something that might just rock our world a little. I’m not talking about reinterpreting Scripture. I’m talking about ignoring Scripture.

This wrestling is evident to me, personally. As I am doing my daily-ish readings through The Bible in One Year – I feel so tempted to skip Old Testament passages. My attention span wrestles with some of the detail heavy narratives, my sensibility is affected by the gory and blood-filled conflicts and my spirit is grieved by the countless number of lessons not learned…

The Psalms and Proverbs are fine in small chunks but either repetitive thematically (Psalms) or one liners that deserve to be meditated on in small bites (Wisdom Literature). Don’t even get me started on the depressive darkness of some of the prophetic books…

I like logic and like lists and practical day to day applications – at heart I guess I am a pragmatist – that’s why the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s Epistles rank highly in my estimation.

Yet I have discovered that if I was to act on my preferences – I would have a poorer understanding of God’s character, HIStory and man’s role in it. I would be like the kid that eats just ice cream – hardly a healthy and balanced diet, pleasurable though it may be.

Some of the modern day dangers of this approach to preaching/teaching in our faith communities are these:

  • when we chose thematic issues that we feel are relevant – we are like patients that prescribe their own chosen medicine for their self-diagnosed sickness
  • when we avoid a systematic Biblical expository approach – we are likely to miss out on being surprised by unexpected comforts and challenges that ‘the whole counsel of God brings’.
  • when we isolate certain passages for extra focus (red letter Christians) – we are less likely to trace a pretty clear Scriptural pattern evident through HIStory.

My encouragement to us all is to keep engaging with the study of the whole Bible – wrestling with genres and passages we find harder. I encourage the formation of new ‘preaching taste buds’ primarily for expository preaching where the preacher works through and applies the text rather than coming up with an idea and then finding texts to support it. The later isn’t wrong as an occasional method but not recommended as a staple diet.

As Tim Keller observes:

“Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. . . . You can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks and months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.”

Get the Most out of the Sermon

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash
Sometimes it’s not just them – it’s us. As consumers we are instinctively expecting to be entertained, and often that shows in our approach to engaging with the preached/taught Word of God during our gatherings. Sometimes it’s the fault of the one standing in front of us but often it is a failure to prepare ourselves properly. I struggle with distraction and boredom just like everyone else – if not more. But I have learned, by grace and over time, to use some tools that can help my attention and enhance the reception of what is being communicated. Our personalities would create a very different experience and you need to learn to figure out your own tricks and tips. Nevertheless, these suggestions might help you too.
  • Pray for yourself through the week – that God would make you spiritually hungry, receptive and attentive.
  • Pray for the speaker – that God would speak to them and enable them to communicate with clarity, compassion and courage.
  • If you have the bookmarks with the series – read the passage beforehand and meditate on it.
  • Attempt to do discipline yourself to come in the best possible shape mentally, ready to hear and engage with God’s word.
  • Participate fully in the prayers and singing in the rest of the service – as that can provide a healthy foundation for a grateful and hungry heart – ready to receive God’s word.
  • Bring a Bible, better not use a smartphone, keeping distractions at bay. Unless you’re Jedi-like in your ability to resist checking other stuff.
  • Bring a Notepad and a Pen.
  • Write the main points down.
  • Write some questions/issues that you need to work through.
  • Write what was the ‘one thing’ for you to take away and apply.
  • As the service has finished, don’t rush, ask the Holy Spirit to seal and bring forth fruit from that message.
  • While ‘doing life together’ is important – don’t be swamped by just talking about trivialities afterwards – ask each other what God spoke to us about.
  • If the message ‘hit home’ – get a coffee/send an email and explain to the speaker how this was relevant to you.
  • Talk in the car and over lunch with family (if you can) about what you have learned.
  • Take some time mid-week to review and simplify what God spoke to you through the message.
  • Take your questions and observations to the LIFE Group – that’s your spiritual contribution to the spiritual Jacob’s Join.
  • Figure out ways to encourage others by passing on what you have heard God speak to you either personally or by forwarding the podcast

My 10 Commandments of Facebook (in no particular order)

  1. don’t ‘add’ just to boost your number of friends. no one cares. really. it’s not a competition.
  2. don’t put mundane posts: i.e.: ‘I yawned 2 times this morning’. it’s dull really.
  3. don’t post attention seeking cryptic comments: i.e. ‘I hate this’; just say what’s wrong and how people can help you
  4. don’t flood people with posts at once. it’s annoying. use buffer.
  5. don’t post under the influence. enough said.
  6. don’t insult, demean and gossip. it’s selfish, hurtful, cheap, nasty. and cowardly.
  7. don’t ‘unfriend’ people secretly. have the ‘guts’ to tell them and tell them why.
  8. don’t stalk or spy on people. that’s just creepy.
  9. be funny, smart and hope-filled (3 for the price of 1)
  10. don’t send invitations for games. ever.

Positive Productivity 1.2

Email is such a phenomenal innovation in communication. Yet, like any good thing, it has it’s drawbacks. Here are some more lessons I have learned.

  1. Appropriateness. Discern whether what you need to communicate is best done through face to face communication or electronic means. All of us have heard of the unpleasant text message break-ups. there are certain things that can only be communicated in an environment where the words are matched by expressions and where there is the opportunity of feedback. Other times, e-mail really is best – factual and un-emotive. The key is evaluating beforehand and anticipating the desired impact.
  2. Mobile email can be a blessing – in emergency cases or as you’re expecting a very important news. But i think – at least in my case – that is the exception rather than the norm. Over-checking email, while on the go can be at best distracting and at worst dangerous. If you’re not expecting something vital – learn to check and reply to email only as a way to redeem time, if stuck waiting somewhere.
  3. RSVP – this can be one of the perils of checking on the go and then forgetting about it. Learn to reply as soon as you can as this will avoid your inbox looking bloated and therefore encourage panic-stricken procrastination. If you don’t know what to say – say so. If you need more time to gather data or think – say so. Just, reply. Soon. This will add ‘zing’ to your electronic communication like you never thought…
  4. Drafting – related to the point above – if you have something to say but it’s incomplete, write what you know/feel and draft it. Gmail does it automatically for you. Then you can come back to it and continue. this works brilliantly for reports. You enter data as it happens, draft it, and then add further developments and then – bingo – it’s ready to be sent. That way you work on the go.
  5. CC-ing – always ask yourself the question ‘who else needs to know about this’. Most of the time we ‘under-communicate’ and that’s the root of misunderstandings, confusion and other perils. Include anyone in your team that would benefit from being ‘in the loop’. That will not just avoid hassle but will often redeem precious time in meetings as everyone is on the same page.

Making Yourself Heard | Research


I often get asked for help or feedback about preaching, teaching and general public speaking. In the next few posts I will pass on some of the things that are useful for me. Obviously they will reflect my particular field of communication – but I am sure that some skills are transferable.

Let’s start with the research that is needed prior to the delivery.

 Prayer is your first step in preparation. That way you acknowledge your dependence and humble submission to serve Him and His people. Ask God for guidance/clarity with regards to your message. He might guide you through a passage, an idea or sometimes just speak on what you are passionate about or what you have been asked to.

 Read the passage(s) at least 10 times in different versions of the Bible (see Read slowly and carefully, underlining or circling words that catch your attention. Make sure that you are familiar with it. Take time to tell to yourself what the passage is about – in your own words.

 Look at the context of the passage carefully – make sure you understand it. The danger is that your text might become a pretext. (If you are not careful you can make the text say what you want; it should be the other way around). Get a feel of why that is where it is. What is related to? Is it just randomly placed there in isolation?

 Make sure that you understand what the main ideas are. Ask questions of the text (imagining you are part of your listeners) – and make sure that you understand the ideas, words & principles that you are trying to convey. Don’t be afraid to ‘wrestle’ with the text – as that very often will bring the most rewarding results.

 Read a commentary on the passage/verses (if you can) to see what other thinkers understood from the passage. Try to avoid teh temptation to skip the previous steps. You might buy yourself some time but you are less likely to develop your understnading and be original.

Good Discussion

As many of you would be aware, community life, and particularly church small groups are a one of my passions.
Here are some helpful tips for any group or small group leader.

Everyone should be prepared to contribute to the discussion. You – as discussion coordinator – play a very important role.

Preparation – this is absolutely essential. Getting ready will make you feel more confident in leading the group. it honours God and will minister to the people who turn-up

Passage – familiarise yourself with it by reading it several times; look out for interesting or difficult issues. Raise questions and get clarifications if needed.

Pointed – try to narrow down the many issues and questions. What is the one thing you MUST get across during the meeting. Often that will help you as the evening takes an unexpected turn.

Prayer – as you pray for yourself and the group you will have a deeper sense of direction and will feel the enabling of the Holy Spirit as you seek to convey God’s truth.

Practical – work as creatively as you can to make the discussion point to a transformational practical outcome. Stir, provoke and inspire people to see how God’s truth connects with their family life, work place and leisure