The Sermon You Preach in Your Sleep

When was the last time you heard a sermon on sleep?

We spend about 30% of our lives doing it, and nothing impacts our lives more than doing it, yet…pulpit crickets.

Have Christians mastered this so well that we don’t need instructed on it?

“Instruction on sleep? Are you serious? Is it that complicated? You close your eyes. Darkness. You open your eyes. Light. What’s to learn?”

Yet few things are as theological as sleep. Show me your sleep pattern and I’ll show you your theology, your anthropology, your soteriology, your ecclesiology, and even your eschatology!

For example, some pride themselves on sleeping only about five hours a night. What does that preach?

I don’t trust God with my work, my church, my family: I believe God is sovereign, but He needs all the help I can give Him. Although Christ has promised to build His church, who’s doing the nightshift? I believe in the Holy Spirit but if I don’t work on my sermon after midnight, people won’t be saved.

I don’t respect how my Creator has made me: I am strong enough to cope without God’s gift of sufficient sleep (ps. 3:5; 4:8). I refuse to accept my creaturely limitations (Ps. 127:1-2).

I don’t believe that the soul and body are linked: I can neglect the body and my soul will not suffer. I can weaken my body and not weaken my mind, conscience, and will. Alan Dericksen says that “lost sleep impairs decision-making capability, undercuts productivity, and contributes to expensive adverse health effects, including elevated risks of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal conditions.” But that’s only true for wimps, isn’t it?

I don’t need to demonstrate my rest in Christ: Although the Bible repeatedly portrays salvation as rest, I’ll let others do the resting. I want people to know how busy, important, and zealous I am. That’s far more important than the daily demonstration of Christ’s salvation in when and how I rest.

Sleep reveals my idols – what I substitute for sleep – whether it be football, the Internet, ministry, or work. Sleep reveals my corruption – those utterly weird, dark, and perverse dreams. Sleep reveals my anxiety – insomnia, restlessness, tension.

“But what about eschatology? You said that sleep reveals your eschatology.”

Yes, that’s because God has connected our sleep patterns with our end, with how long we will live and when we will die.

Although people often point to famous Christians “who only slept one hour a week” (I exaggerate – slightly), many of them died quite young, often 10-20 years before the average. We only have a limited amount of fuel in our tanks, and that fuel will run out eventually. If we drive at 90mph with hardly a rest break, that fuel is going to run out much quicker than for those who do take their mortality seriously, look after their engines, and drive economically.

What sermon are you preaching in your sleep?

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7 Ways to Stop Students Texting in Class

The tell-tale body-language gives the game away:

  • The student’s head is down when every other head is up.
  • He’s typing when no one else is typing.
  • A little smirk appears on his face when looking at his screen (and you didn’t tell a joke).
  • He doesn’t laugh when you do tell a joke.
  • The glazed look when he “returns” to planet classroom.
  • He then leans across to copy his neighbor’s notes

All the classic signs of a student texting, tweeting, updating, or emailing in class. And now we have the statistics to confirm our suspicions:

  • 90 percent of students admit to using their devices for non-class activities during class times. Less than 8 percent said that they never do so.
  • Undergraduates reporting using their devices for non-class purposes 11 times a day, on average, compared to 4 times a day for graduate students.
  • Asked why they were using their devices in class, the top answer was texting (86 percent), followed by checking the time (79 percent), e-mail (68 percent), social networking (66 percent), web surfing (38 percent) and games (8 percent).

The problem is so huge and engrained you wonder if it is even worth fighting against it? Some teachers have resorted to banning all electronic devices in their classes. However this antagonizes students big time, with only 9% agreeing with this idea. And it’s not just those who want to keep texting; many students have got so used to typing their notes that they’ve forgotten how to write!

Other teachers publish a “Technology use” policy as part of their syllabus, and 54% of students think this is a reasonable step. However, to have any effect, these policies need to be enforced with sanctions and many teachers hate acting the part of the NSA in their classrooms.

Many teachers have decided to simply abandon the traditional lecture and to teach using more interactive and discussion type lessons. Some have tried “flipping” the classroom by putting most of their teaching online for accessing outside class hours and using the class time for exercises, assignments, labs, etc. Some students love this; others absolutely hate it.

I know some teachers whose answer is to make all class lectures “examinable,” which certainly increases attentive note-taking. However, that kind of “constant threat” takes away much of the joy of learning (and of teaching).

Instead of resorting to judicial or methodological remedies, maybe teachers should try appealing more to the moral sense of their students. Here are some good moral levers we can pull:

1. Respect: It’s basic good manners to listen to someone who is talking to you, especially if they have spent 10-20 hours preparing a lesson for your benefit.

2. Example: I sat at the back of a class once and watched as one student started checking email, followed by another close by, then another, then another. It was like watching dominoes fall. Your bad example can impact a whole class.

3. Distraction: Obviously emailing when you should be listening is going to limit your understanding and recall of the lecture. But your surfing and Facebooking is also distracting others beside you and behind you.

4. Discouraging: If your lecturer has any tech-savvy, he’s able to tell when you’re “in the class” and when you’re in the World Wide Web. It’s not exactly going to motivate him to prepare lessons and deliver them with passion if you’re continually in a digital daze.

5. Justice: It’s a strange thing, but life has the tendency to bite back. I’ve noticed that areas where I sinned against my teachers and pastors are biting back now that I’m in their roles. In the future, God may give you a bitter taste of your own medicine to teach you to be sorry for your past sins.

6. Habit-forming: School is the place to prepare for our working life. If you get into the habit of constantly checking social media in classes, you’ll do it in your future office, factory, etc., and in future work-related meetings. The longer your habit goes on, the more difficult it will be to change.

7. Damaging: Plenty research is confirming the damaging effects of digital distraction on the brain. It is harming our ability to think long, deep, and on one thing at a time.

At the end of the day though, maybe teachers should also take  more responsibility to make their teaching more interesting and stimulating. “What is the best way,” asked a young preacher of an older one, “to get the attention of the congregation?” “Give ’em something to attend to,” was the gruff reply.

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5 Churchy Phrases That Are Scaring Off Millennials

I must admit when I see Washington Post headlines like 5 Church Phrases That Are Scaring Off Millennials, my first instinct is “Tell me what they are, so I make sure to use them all in my next sermon!”

I know, I know, that’s a perverse and twisted reaction; but it eventually passes, sanity and reason return, and I try to listen for the truth in the midst of all the over-sensitivity.

So let’s examine these terrorizing and terrifying words to see if we should drop them, modify them, or indeed say them more than ever!

1. “The Bible clearly says…”
Apparently the age of IT and social media has turned millions into Bible scholars who don’t need to hear about the Bible’s clarity and who don’t believe the Bible is clear on much at all. Millennials want a lot more hesitation, qualification, humility, and admissions of fallibility in pastors’ sermons. It’s claimed that this will build greater trust in the Bible!

I agree that where the Bible is not dogmatic, the preacher should not be dogmatic. I also agree that way too many pastors claim the Bible’s clear support for what are often just personal preferences and prejudices. However, there is plenty that the Bible is crystal clear on, no matter how much people try to muddy the waters or blunt the blade. In these areas we must insist on the clarity and authority of Scripture.

Verdict: Say it, and say it loudly and authoritatively, but reserve it only for areas that are indeed clear.

2. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
Millennials object to this because they say it implies that if you can’t handle life, if you need outside help (e.g. friendship, therapy, etc), then your faith is not strong enough.

If millennials understand the phrase in this way, then I can understand why they hate it.

I actually dislike this phrase too, but for different reasons. God often gives us more than we can handle, in order to make us feel our need of Him, His Church, His people, etc.

Verdict: Retire the phrase, but for Murray rather than millennial reasons.

3. Love on (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.”
They find this creepy and and troubling. “We may understand that we need help, but we certainly don’t want to be anyone’s project or ministry…It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler…but deeper.”

I’m with them on this, although I’m not sure I can reason it out as well as they do. It just gives me the creeps.

Verdict: Take it to the trash.

4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding”
“Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist….We want to be accepted, not analyzed.”

There’s a lot of misunderstanding here. Of course, unbelief exists even in the strongest believer’s life. However, the Bible is very clear (Did I just write that? I think I hear millions of millennials stampeding to the hills)…Yes, the Bible and Jesus are very clear that there are only two gates, two roads, two destinations, and that we are to analyze or examine our selves to see if we are in the faith. Sermons help us to do that.

Verdict: We need more of this black and white clarity, not less. But preachers need to be skillful spiritual surgeons to ensure that they do not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax.

5. “God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways”
Millennials believe this but don’t want to hear it, especially when things go wrong in their lives. “We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead…even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life.”

They have a point here. The sovereignty of God is a glorious truth, but Christians often do toss it out way too quickly and tritely when they should be weeping with weepers. Cue the best line in the whole article: “The Jesus we read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.”

Ouch! Painful truth.

Verdict: Keep it, but delay the use of it.

So, thank you millennials for your honesty and your challenges. We want to learn from you and love you.

But we also hope you will learn how to learn from us; and even learn how to love us too. Cliches and all.

Read The Washington Post article here: 5 Churchy Phrases that are Scaring off Millennials.

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