Sunday Preview: Don’t Be Talkin’ Smack!

Yep, that’s the title of tomorrow’s message on the 9th commandment. If you aren’t in the Phoenix Metro area to attend either our Goodyear or Surprise campuses, you can watch it live here at 9:00 and 10:30 PST.

The 9th commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Basically, we’re talking about everything from flat-out lying to your neighbor to the casual act of verbally throwing them under the bus to cover your booty.

Have you ever wondered why its so incredibly easy to let lies roll off your lips without even thinking? Well, the answer is simple: liars run in your family. In fact, they run in my family too, starting from the very first one.

The book of Genesis tells us that when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they were given a choice: live as they’d been created to live, as recipients of every gift of God that can a human being can handle, or declare their independence from him and strike out on their own, claiming the earth and their lives as their own.

This choice was manifested in a tree that stood in the middle of the garden. As long as they did not eat from the tree, then their lives would be filled with living constantly under the blessing of God, in perfect relationship with him, each other, and the rest of creation. In the Garden there was no such thing as insecurity, manipulation, fear, or isolation. It was rather a place of perfect freedom, the highest possible pinnacle of human life. But to eat from the tree was to signify a conscious decision to tell God to hit the road – we humans will take it from here.

Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Eve ate the fruit first, being tempted to do so by the serpent. Then she gave some to her husband, who the Bible says “was with her” (Gen. 3:6).

Immediately their eyes are opened and they realize they are naked. Their innocence is taken from them and, ashamed, all they can do is run and hide. God comes looking for them in the same way a parent, who knows exactly where their children are hiding, looks for them. “Where are you?” he calls out.

Adam admits that he’s naked. God responds by asking, “Who told you were naked?” In other words, the Garden has always been a “clothing optional place” why are you so self-conscoius about it all of a sudden? Then he asks the critical question, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (v. 11)

Here is where art of spin is originated: notice Adam doesn’t answer the question, he diverts the focus off of himself and his own culpability, a classic spinmeister tactic: “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some, and I ate.” (v. 12)

Ha! He only includes himself after he’s passed the buck to his wife and blamed God for creating her in the first place. He’s basically saying, “You know, none of this would have happened if you hadn’t put her here!”

For a moment it seems like it worked: God shifts his attention to Eve and basically asks, “Well?” She then proceeds to blame the serpent: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13).

Wow. Humanity’s first achievement after declaring their independence from God is to spin the truth to avoid blame and throw each other under the bus. Nice.

All of this should be very telling, however. We don’t “bear false witness” against our neighbor because we have nothing better to do. We bear false witness (i.e., spin the truth, hide the evidence, leave out critical details, blame someone else) for no other reason than to save our own skin. That’s it. Whatever it takes to come out smelling like a rose to the rest of the world, elevating ourselves above our fellow man and yes, even God!

But hiding the truth is serious business, as we’ll dive into more in Sunday’s message. God himself is described as truth in numerous passages in the Bible (e.g., Deut. 32:4; Psalm 31:5). Jesus also refers to himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Therefore any attempt on our part to alter or hide the truth is a direct attack against God. In fact, to lie even in the slightest is to actually do Satan’s work, as Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies.” (John 8:44).

This comes in all forms: little white lies, slander, and gossip. It’s interesting that the Greek word for “gossip” is ψιθυρισμός, transliterated “psithurismos.” Read that out loud: it actually sounds like gossip being whispered in someone’s ear, doesn’t it?

It takes a tremendous amount of resolve, however, to become someone who speaks the truth. Maybe that’s why Proverbs 24:26 says that an honest answer is like a “kiss on the lips.” – a little unexpected and a little wonderful at the same time!

But to actually own something, to actually admit that it was your fault, and no one else’s, is to introduce a level of clarity and courage into the world that is rarely seen. Dr. Mark Roberts, in his book Dare To Be True, illustrates this well. He tells the story of a man who arrived late to a business meeting. Rather than doing the usual and blaming the traffic, he said basically, “Please forgive me for being late. I did not allow enough time to get here.”

Apparently the response in the room was palpable. While the others excused his tardiness, this “honest answer” paved the way for more honest dialogue in the meeting, as others felt the courage to express their thoughts honestly and truthfully. Apparently, another man then walked in even later to the meeting, blaming the traffic, which gave them all a good laugh.

If you want to hear more, come on out to Compass Church tomorrow or tune in to the live stream if you’re out of town. If you can’t make either of those, then the video should be posted by Tuesday right here.

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The Art of Preaching

My job rocks. Every Sunday the challenge is to produce a 40 minute presentation of fresh, engaging material based on any passage in the Bible to hundreds of people who are hoping to catch something that will convince them that waking up before noon on a Sunday wasn’t a waste of time.

Preaching gets a bad rap and understandably so. The most common perception people have of “sermons” is that they are long, boring, irrelevant lectures droned out by marginally well-meaning but hopelessly out of touch individuals who had the unfortunate curse of being born in the wrong century.

But preaching is supposed to be an amazing and unique art form, primarily because the goal is not merely information but transformation. You don’t want people to leave saying, “I learned something I didn’t know.” You want them to leave saying, “I must change, and change now.”

There’s also a deeply spiritual dynamic inherent in preaching. The preacher, if he’s worth anything, believes, that because his sermon begins and ends with Scripture, it’s not merely his words, but the words of God coming out of his mouth. He is merely the interpreter, the translator, in a conversation between God and every single person listening. God is guiding the preacher’s words, using them to talk to each person, and connecting his truth to each unique need and circumstance. At its core preaching should be supernatural.

That’s not to say that whatever a preacher says is infallible. Preachers make mistakes all the time, and they can often be downright dangerous. But the goal of the preacher should be to communicate what God wants the people to hear, how God wants them to change, rather than just spouting off his own ideas.

Effective preaching is ultimately a result of the power of God. However, there are a bunch of practical skills preachers must have if they hope to truly engage their audiences. Here are a few I’ve learned:

1) Credibility is everything. What’s important is not that your hearers believe everything you’re saying. What’s important is that they believe that you believe everything you’re saying! Bottom line: If you don’t believe what you’re saying, get off the stage and give it to someone who does. Sadly, there are preachers in America who admit they don’t really believe what they’re preaching, but I guess they can’t find anything else to do at the moment. Nice.

2) Even the President needs… Passion!! I remember hearing Bill Hybels relay a conversation he had with Bono, where Bono told him that there’s one thing his fans expect when U2 hits the stage: energy. I’ve always remembered that. To have life oozing out of you is essential if people are to connect with you. Even if you’re a little nuts once in a while… at least you’re not boring!

3) Be clear. To clarify, be really, really clear. General Colin Powell described his approach to speaking like this: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. But in order to do that, you gotta know what you’re going to tell them. Dr. Howard Hendricks is famous for saying, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” The reason so many sermons fail so miserably is because no one can follow what the preacher is trying to say. He might crack a few jokes and have a magnetic personality, but that jig will be up really fast if know one, including himself, knows what in the world he’s talking about!

4) Crack a joke, the earlier the better. Laughter is the universal language of connection. Two people don’t even need to speak the same language, but if they can laugh together, a greater bond is possible than through hours of conversation. Don’t make those poor people sit there and listen to you for 30 or 40 minutes (or longer) without saying or doing something funny. They got up and got their kids ready because they trust you have something to say to them – the least you can do is crack them place up once or twice, lighten the mood, and help them engage with you even more.

5) Cut one major point entirely rather than hollowing out two or three major points. I learned this axiom from Dr. Don Sunukjian, my brilliant preaching professor. The idea is this: if you have to cut something due to time, don’t cut sub-point “c” out of points 1 and 2. Just cut all of point 3. If you cut your sub-points, you don’t get the opportunity to drive home your main points, leaving your message shallow. You know what you had to cut, but no one else does, so who don’t worry about it being incomplete. Most people will remember once salient sentence or story more than they’ll be able to recite all three or five of your main points anyway.

6) Use descriptive language instead of generalities. What’s more interesting? To say, “My brother has an old car with a big engine that’s a lot of fun,” or “My brother Matt has got a fire engine red 1967 Mustang with a .302 liter engine that literally sends a chill down your spine when you hit the gas.” It easy to be lazy with language.

7) Use slides sparingly. You’re not giving a lecture on the intricacies of grey matter in the human brain. You’re communicating for transformation, which is hard if you’ve got 85 Power Point slides to get through. Every time you transition a slide the eyes of the audience move off of you and on to your whatever is you’ve written. I want everyone’s eyes on me as much as possible. I limit my “slides” to main points (usually two or three), key verses of Scripture (for those who didn’t bring a Bible), an occasional significant quote, and sometimes a picture.

I love and believe in effective preaching and I think it is still the primary method which serves to transform the hearts of men and women who desperately need the touch of God.  Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

We who preach just need to get better at it. Thoughts?