3 Posts from October 2014

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Good Communication—Apply the Text

If I have one strength in my teaching it would have to be the application of Scripture. For the life of me, I don’t know why that’s true. It might just be a habit of my life that I can’t let the text rest until it’s been applied. But I appreciate others telling me that it’s one of my strengths. I think it can be yours, too. 

For this blog entry on application, I want to get very practical. Let me share with you in three short lists what I have found to be helpful in the process of drawing application from the Bible.

Let’s start with the negative, and let’s make it personal. What if I fail to apply the Scriptures? 

1. The truth will not invade areas of my life that need attention.
2. I will substitute an emotional experience for a willful decision. Haven’t you had that happen? A few tears, but the truth is soon forgotten. 
3. I will rationalize according to the areas of my prejudice or preference.

Remember James’s illustration of the mirror in James 1:22–25? Application is the essential response to hearing the Word. Here are some steps I walk through to help facilitate that in my preaching. 

1. I write down general principles that relate to me and to others. These are timeless truths that come straight from the passage I’m preaching.
2. I search for specific areas of weakness. I think of life in categories: my world at the church, in social settings, with children, with a mate, with older people, my emotional life, my intellectual life, my leisure, and my pressures—you get the idea. I run the principles through those categories. Then I think about how this specifically applies to an area of life that needs attention. 
3. I also look for specific areas of affirmation. I try to think about how the principles can encourage others. I picture people in all walks of life: the single, the married, the divorced, the broken, the troubled, the sick, the recovering, the happy, the fulfilled, the successful, the older, the younger, the teenager—and on and on. I apply my principles as if I’m standing in their shoes.
4. I spell out specific methods of correction.    

Finally, let me suggest three rules that I find extremely helpful when crafting a point of application. 

1. It needs to be brief enough to be remembered. 
2. It needs to be clear enough to be written down.
3. It needs to be realistic enough to be achieved. 

If you’ll run your applications through the grid of these rules, I think you’ll find that it helps the truth stick. It’s not a formula that replaces prayer. It’s simply a tool that makes us better at our craft. I have employed it for years and have seen that God has blessed it—and used it to change lives. And that’s our goal in preaching, isn’t it?


Good Communication—Tell Me a Story

I am a glutton for illustrations. I have boxes of illustrations that I save and keep on file (and occasionally, lose). They are priceless to my preaching.

A good illustration is worth every minute it takes from your sermon. I didn’t always think so. I used to think an illustration was a waste of time. I no longer believe that. The men and women who have deeply ministered to me are people who have been able to take a story and help me see its relevance in light of biblical truth. 

Through all the years and in all the places I have been engaged in ministry, I have learned the value of good illustrations. Interesting illustrations. Illustrations that grab the attention and clear the minds of the listeners. Illustrations that open the windows and have surprise elements, bringing light to truth. More times than I can count, I remember watching God pry open the eyes and unstop the ears (not to mention soften the hearts) of others, many of whom were bound and determined not to give me the time of day . . . until they were stabbed awake and compelled to listen. A well-chosen illustration can transform a hostile skeptic into an interested participant. I know; I’ve seen it happen. 

Be a good storyteller—even if the story is only three sentences. Pay attention to the way you turn a phrase. Pay attention to details. You don’t need a lot of words, but you do need some color to make the stories stick. Show emotion. Gesture. Raise and lower your voice. You can even whisper. When you teach the Scriptures and apply them, people may forget your insightful observations of the text—but believe me, they won’t forget meaningful and creative illustrations.

Every good novelist knows the axiom: “Show, don’t tell.” That works in preaching as well. Even Jesus, the Master-Preacher, told stories to illustrate biblical truth. How could we not do the same?