Since coming to North America, I’ve preached in a number of different churches. A few times I’ve been taken aback by laughter in response to something I’ve said in my sermon. The first time it happened, I froze on the spot. I could hardly go on. I was stunned. In Scotland, I never cracked a joke in the pulpit. It would not even cross my mind to try to make people laugh. That just was not done in most Reformed churches. Yet, now, the same words, said in the same way, create laughter!
A few months ago I heard a well-known preacher give an address on a very serious subject to a large conference. He started by speaking of his own sinful inadequacy. But as he confessed his sinfulness, laughter erupted. The speaker was startled. He tried again. Same result. He eventually said that he could not understand the reaction, abandoned his introduction, and just got started on his address.Living as we do in a comedy-saturated culture, this should not surprise us. Evening television pumps out a steady diet of comedy programming night after night. Sit-coms dominate the ratings. The big TV names are comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, who take the daily news and turn it into a series of jokes. But we don’t need to go to the “world” to find a comedy culture. I’m afraid this has influenced the church as well. If we tune into some of the most popular preachers, even Reformed preachers, we find their sermons peppered with jokes. Many preachers now seem to think that they cannot begin to preach without “softening up” their hearers with a little bit of stand-up comedy. So, in many ways, we cannot blame just the hearers. Preachers mix the most solemn of subjects with silly asides, so that people do not know whether to laugh or cry. I head one famous preacher asking for prayer about a particular weakness in his life. He then said a couple of funny things about this weakness. Eventually no one knew if he was seriously asking for prayer, or just making a joke. So this article is a plea. It is a plea for serious preaching in a comedy culture. And notice, I am talking about serious preaching, not life in general. Laughter is a gift of God and is good for us. There is “a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4). There are known health benefits of having a good laugh. It reduces stress and blood pressure. It helps the digestive system, etc. But I am speaking here about preaching, not life in general. The appropriate subjects and degrees of laughter in everyday life is another topic. I’m also going to exclude theological lectures and seminars from this address. These are gray areas and deserve separate treatment. I want to keep our focus on preaching the Word: the public, authoritative declaration of God’s Word to needy sinners. Notice also that this is a plea for serious preaching. This is not an argument for dull, boring, predictable, unimaginative or lethargic preaching. Preaching should be energetic, lively, interesting, creative and joyful. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that, “a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.” I will support my plea for serious preaching in a comedy culture with seven arguments. Then I will briefly consider four arguments that are often made in support of humor in preaching. Read the rest of the article here.
Apr 16, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
Any leader aspiring to greatness must do two things, and he must do them not just at supreme moments or occasionally but all the time. Of course, there are many other things a leader must do, but these are the two that matter most: to listen and to tell the truth (Paul Johnson, Forbes Magazine).
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it! Yet, as renowned historian Paul Johnson highlights in his Forbes Magazine column, these are rare individual traits, and even rarer in combination. He does go on to tell some entertaining (and challenging) stories about past Presidents, that Pastors could do well to learn from. Here are my three favorites:
George Washington listened all his life because he loved to learn and because he had no overwhelming desire to speak, unlike most of those in public life. One passion a leader should forgo, if possible, is a love affair with his own voice…Washington, happily, liked the sound of his own silence…When I was writing my book George Washington, I failed to come across any occasion when he had deliberately concealed the truth from anyone who had a right to know it.
Calvin Coolidge…was aptly called “Silent Cal.” He listened courteously to all his visitors but would not be drawn out. He said: “Nine-tenths of a President’s callers at the White House want something they ought not to have. If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes.” So Coolidge would remain mute. Slight twitches of his facial muscles spoke for him. He was described as “an eloquent listener.” When he did speak, however, it was the truth.
Considering all he had to do and say, Abraham Lincoln spoke amazingly little. As he put it, “I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.” His Gettysburg Address is a classic instance–there is none better in history–of using as few words as possible (261, to be precise) while conveying a powerful message….Lincoln always endeavored to tell the truth and to ensure that all heard it by clothing it in arresting language.
Read the whole article here.
Apr 15, 2010 • By David Murray • 4 Comments
Praying in public is hard. Praying in public week after week is very hard. Praying in public week after week in a fresh and edifying way is almost impossible. Ask any pastor. Preaching is easy, in comparison. Here are some things I’ve found helpful:
1. Slow down: You don’t need to speak like Sean Hannity. Slowing down helps you think before you speak. “Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and you upon earth: therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). Better to say less and mean it, than to fill the prayer with meaningless cliches and well-worn phrases. (Bonus point: the slower you speak, the less words you need to find!).
2. Pause: When you speak to your wife, you probably do pause (I hope) from time to time between sentences. And when you transition from one subject to another, you probably take at least a small breath in between. Why not do this also in prayer? Those praying with you will appreciate the time to reflect on what you’ve said and to pray it on heavenwards themselves before you move on.
3. Use God’s name carefully: Many Christians, especially older Christians, find it painful to hear “Lord” or “Father God” used as the capital letter, comma, semi-colon, and full stop of every sentence in a prayer. It is something young Christians and young pastors are prone to default to, unthinkingly, as they understandably struggle for words in public prayer. Some years ago, a kind older Christian pointed out my own tendency to do this. As soon as it was pointed out to me, I was horrified at the careless and thoughtless way I was using God’s name. I was most certainly breaking the third commandment. Once I started to slow down and pause more, I did this much less.
4. Vary your use of God’s name: We have many to choose from: Father, Lord, God, Almighty, Sovereign, King, Shepherd, Rock, Most High, Jehovah, etc. Find a book on all the names of God and freshen your prayers by selecting a few to use in prayer.
5. Be specific: I still use the well-worn ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) to guide many of my prayers (both in private and public). Sometimes I vary the order, often depending on what has just been sung. But within each of these four divisions, I would suggest being as specific as possible. If you stick with general phrases of adoration, confession, etc., then you will soon sound samey. Avoid that by picking one attribute or name of God to worship Him with. Pick one of the ten commandments and confess sin in relation to it. Pick one area of life (children, marriages, work, health) to thank God for. Same goes for supplication.
6. Don’t feel you have to cover every base every week: You do not need to pray for the same people every week, or the same groups of people every week. That’s a sure fire way to predictable prayers. God knows our needs and we don’t need to remind Him every week.
7. Memorize a verse of Scripture: It’s amazing how even one verse of Scripture can re-vitalize our prayers as we use it to worship God, plead His promises, etc. A prayer quoting Scripture after Scripture is not usually a prayer. But to use one verse in this way can be edifying.
8. Remember neglected groups: The bereaved, the sick, the old, the persecuted are part of prayer’s staple diet. But there are other groups, equally needy, yet often forgotten. Pray for the unemployed, the stay-at-home moms, special needs children, the carers (for special needs children and elderly parents), single men and women, etc.
9. Internationalize your prayers: I’m sure we all pray for “world missions” and for the “persecuted throughout the world.” But what about picking one nation from time to time. Find out about the missions there, or the details of the persecution, and then pray for that nation for a week or maybe for a few weeks.
10. Start in private: If your private prayers are stale, your public prayers will smell moldy too. Try to find a time and place where you can pray out loud (not loudly!). I find that makes me more lively and engaged in my prayers. If I just pray silently, it is all too easy to drift off, mumble on, and end up just talking with myself. Praying out loud in private will help you to detect bad habits before you go out to pray in public. And make sure you are not praying for longer in public than you ever do in private.
Apr 14, 2010 • By David Murray • 3 Comments
Download audio file here.
Welcome to episode one of Connected Kingdom, a weekly podcast in which Tim Challies and I will talk about living the Christian life in a digital world. As Tim says: “It’s about that place where life and faith meet – that place where we want to live all of our lives before God. It is about normal life, about theology and technology and family and morality and culture and everything else that makes life what it is. It’s about us and it’s about you. It’s about life lived coram deo—before the face of God.”I hope you’ll join us each week as we talk about the challenges and opportunities of following Christ through the digital revolution. We’ll talk about books, blogs, and sermons. We’ll talk about church life and family life. We’ll talk about historic Christian doctrines and practical Christian living. We’ll talk about ourselves and we’ll talk with others – both well-known and unknown. Our aim is to connect the historic Christian faith with the modern world: to connect truth with life, old with new, Christians with Christians, and to connect us all with the best Christian resources available today.
- We will publish the podcast every Tuesday on our two blogs (here and here).
- If you’d like to subscribe to the feed, you can do so here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/challies/podcast. It will be available in iTunes in the near future.
- If you want to embed the player at your own site, you can get the embed code over at Tim’s blog here.
- If you have any comments, questions or suggestions for future podcasts, please let us know on our Connected Kingdom Facebook page.
Apr 13, 2010 • By David Murray • 1 Comment
My favorite blog is Challies.com. I look forward to reading it every day (well, Monday to Saturday actually). Tim Challies is the blogger, and I am privileged to call him a friend. Tim’s writing is always fresh, stimulating, substantial, entertaining, edifying, and practical. And brief! He covers a wide range of subjects, but always with a focus on living out the Christian life in our challenging world.I’ve also come to admire Tim’s courage. He tackles subjects many of us would run from, and he is not afraid to challenge some of the popular trends and speakers in the Church. Perhaps what I like most about Tim’s writing is the way he puts himself into his posts. So much writing today, especially Christian writing, is utterly characterless. If you picked up ten books, it is hard to tell if they’ve all been written by one person or by ten different people. Part of this is the fault of over-zealous editors, purging books of all personality. But part is also just a robotic and impersonal style of writing. You don’t get that from Tim. When you read Tim, you get Tim. And it’s not in an arrogant self-seeking way, but in a humble and self-effacing way. After reading his blog for a few months, you will feel like you have a new friend! Then there is A la Carte, Tim’s almost daily pick of five or six blog articles or websites worth visiting. This has saved me so much time searching for good stuff on the web. It has also introduced me to many other profitable websites and blogs. And again, you get a flavor of Tim’s personality in his choices. Lastly, there are Tim’s book reviews. Apart from his Gospel Coalition blog, Ten Million Words, in which he is reviewing every New York Times Bestseller this year, Tim also reviews lots of Christian books at his own blog. I’ve come to trust Tim’s judgment over the years, and if he recommends a book, I usually act on that. If he doesn’t, I save my dollars. And Tim does all this, every day, for nothing! I’ve always felt guilty about this. And so I was delighted when he told me about Friends of the Blog, Tim’s innovative way of funding the development and maintenance costs of his blog (the price he pays for being the one of the most popular Christian blogs). I think I was second to sign up (Dewalt beat me to it). You can sign up here. But, in brief, for $39 you get $160 worth of Christian books, DVD’s, audio, etc. Yes, you read that right. It’s a proverbial win-win, isn’t it. Tim gets to cover his costs (with, I hope, a bit left over to feed his wife and three children!), and you get $120 of Christian resources free. Personally, I would pay the $39 without expecting anything in return. “The laborer is worthy of his reward” (1 Tim. 5:18). If you have profited from Tim’s sacrificial writing ministry, then I encourage you to sign up to Friends of the Blog and support this dear brother. If you are not familiar with Tim’s blog, then pay him a visit and get to know him better through his writing. As you do, you will also get to know your Savior better.