God taught me again

I was the guest speaker at Bukang Liwayway for its Baccalaureate Service. I used Deuteronomy 8 with the title, Remembering God with Thankfulness.

I preached with an almost unprepared heart. I mostly relied upon the prayers of others. Blessedly, God helped me and I was so glad that the night before I once again cried in prayer and there was a genuine change in heart.

The church is a large one, with a good number of youth and children. They have more than twenty leaders. The church is spacious too with a large room for visitors. They also sponsor many children and youth for their academic scholarship.

The moment I arrived there, it dawned on me that I have to tone down the message. I also wished I chose a different Text. Yet, by His Grace, the message made its full impact upon the parents – and partially upon the graduates.

I was also humbled down by the fact that they call Ptr Paolo as Kuya and not pastor. I was a bit ashamed of myself.

God taught me to be sensitive – to feel and discern the surroundings. He also taught me adaptability – the wisdom and courage to adjust instantly according to needs.

Thank You Lord for these learnings.

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Content or Delivery: Which is more Important in Preaching?

The divine task of preaching will always involve the elements of content and delivery. Content is simply the message of the sermon, and delivery is the means wherein the message is seen and heard by the listeners. Complementing each other, these two go side by side and could never be separated from each other. Of these two, which is more important?

An efficient sermon will always have something to say, as Haddon Robinson calls it, ‘a big idea.’ A sermon that has several little ideas without one big idea will be a confusing one, and nothing would likely remain in the minds of the listeners. An ideal sermon will always have a central idea, or a big idea, supported by several little ideas. Without a big idea, there is no real message, it could hardly be called a sermon, and preaching becomes futile or mute. Thus, a clear message is a principal element in the holy task of preaching; the content is indispensable in preaching.

The same could be said for the delivery of the message. A good content will come almost void to the hearers if the delivery is lifeless. The delivery plays an important role in capturing the interest of the listeners, emphasizing ideas, and ultimately in affecting positive influence in the lives of the listeners.

It is not easy to put some clear distinctions; are we talking about the technical or mechanical aspects of preaching, or the spiritual aspects as well? Frankly, both the mechanical and the spiritual. Both the preparation of a good content and the efficient delivery of the sermon involves both the mechanical and spiritual.

To think and use your pen and paper are mechanical, yet the means and the grace to do it is spiritual, so the making of a good content covers both the mechanical and the spiritual. To say that it is purely mechanical reflects a boastful heart, one that is inclined not to acknowledge the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit to write a good sermon. Proper interpretation of the Biblical text, by the way, demands the illumination of the Holy Spirit, which is spiritual. The methodologies of hermeneutics (i.e., the science and art of interpreting the Bible) provide help in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, yet the Holy Spirit illumines it in a deeper way in our minds and hearts.

The same goes with the delivery of the sermon. Great oratory skills will fall short if devoid of God’s power thru the work of His Spirit. Is good delivery to be measured alone by the good utilization of voice, gestures, body movements, eye contact and facial expressions? Truly they serve their purpose and could for some measure touch the intellect and the emotions, but a good delivery has the power to influence the mind and heart that can only be achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit. How could this be assessed? Not just by the tears and different emotions seen from the listeners, but more so, by the inward change of the hearts, which is of course only possible to assess outside the church building, in real life. A powerful delivery of the sermon will and always will include the unction or the anointing of the Holy Spirit; mere oratory skills will never achieve the glory preaching deserves, for preaching is more than just public speaking.

1 Thessalonians 1:5
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

1 Corinthians 2:4-5
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Now before we answer the question which is more important between content and delivery, let us make first some clarifications.

The first clarification is that we do not try here to belittle any of the two, or to promote any of them at the expense of the other, or to put one against the other. Rather, what we are trying to do here is to encourage preachers to do their best in improving both their content and delivery in preaching. Today’s world is much more broken and darker than before, and preaching will always be one of God’s tools to bring lost souls to His Kingdom and to strengthen His Church.

Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 16:25
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began

The second clarification is that in the writing of the content and in the act of delivery, we are not only talking about the physical, mental, and mechanical actions in these two endeavors. Rather, the spiritual aspects (i.e., the help of the Holy Spirit in illuminating His Word and the anointing during the delivery of the preaching that gives its power) are also considered. Explanation about the certain distinctions and the blending of the mechanical and spiritual aspects has been given earlier.

Now let us draw the conclusion and the answer to our question. At first thought I am inclined to say that content is more important for two reasons. First, because what value is there in delivery if the content is wrong? And second, content is more important because I know of some preachers whose delivery is flat and monotonous (strictly in the technical sense, not spiritually) like Jonathan Edwards’, yet the preaching is so powerful because of its great content. Yet, I know, that Edwards’ preaching though flat in delivery is helped by the Holy Spirit to make it powerful. So these two reasons have in some value tend to bring more weight towards content than delivery.

Yet still I will say that these two, content and delivery, are equally important in both the mechanical and spiritual aspects of preaching. These two complement each other: great content demands and creates powerful delivery, and efficient delivery illumines the content to its utmost clarity, truthfulness, accuracy, and applicability in everyday life. These two both uphold the preacher during the task of preaching, partnered with the unction of the Holy Spirit. These two should be fully understood and acknowledged by every preacher, and every effort should be utilized to improve in both areas. Hence, let us do our best to write an accurate and relevant sermon, and deliver it with our everything and make room for the Holy Spirit to do His supernatural work of affecting positive change in the lives of the hearers.

Prayer Fellowship at Home

It’s been a long time since we had our last Overnight Prayer Meeting at home. Though tonight’s Prayer Meeting was much shorter, and not an overnight, God moved my family to tears – Mylene and Ate Leah. Mylene said she found her second family in us, and my sister received her second life from God.

Also, Ptr Paolo Figueroa, our new friend in the ministry and her girlfriend were with us.

My father, mother, sister and Mylene gave their heartfelt testimonies.

It was a small Fellowship and we enjoyed each other’s presence.

It was presided by Ptr Ian. He also gave the message from Acts 20:17-38 with three pointers for us, Christians:

1) Reliance on the Holy Spirit
2) The need to work for sustaining the ministry
3) The loving relationship with the brethren that includes correction

Ate Merlyn’s Birthday

We celebrated Ate Merlyn’s 40th Birthday at the Provincial Hospital. I was quite glad to notice the fellowship that these brothers and sisters are enjoying. They are TB patients, yet they are happy people seeking God.

Each one present gave his message, and Ate Merlyn cried in tears. Then we prayed for her.

We talked about Philippians 4:4-9.

How to be Happy in God.

Philippians 4:4-9

1) Be happy and free in Christ, not caged by outward circumstances (4)
2) ‎Wait eagerly for the Lord (5)
3) ‎Ask in prayer with thanksgiving (6)
4) ‎Meditate on holy things (8)
5) ‎Practice what you were thought (9)

Preaching as Public Speaking

1

True, preaching is a divine task, yet basically it is also a form of public speaking. A true preacher will eventually realise that as much as preaching involves spiritual dynamics, it also certainly includes oratory skills. These oratory skills constitute the technical aspect of preaching.

Before I tell about this technical aspect of preaching, or the oratory skills, which make us realise that preaching is a form of public speaking, let me tell first some important points to consider.

The first point is that though the technical side of preaching is important, still the spiritual side is more important. Preaching is firstly divine, then secondly it is public speaking. Preaching achieves eternal spiritual fruits, something that ordinary public speaking can never produce.

The second point to consider is that no methodology is holy, no matter how helpful it is in preaching. The techniques of delivering a sermon are never holy in themselves, though they are blessed by God as secondary tools to deliver His Word. Only the written words of God in the Bible are holy; the Word of God is holy, not our methods and techniques. The Word that we try to deliver everytime we preach is the one that revives the spirit and strengthens the soul, it is certainly not the preaching in itself.

Psalms 12:6 (KJV)  The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Romans 1:16 (KJV)  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 (KJV)  For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

Now that we have already discussed that the spiritual side of preaching outweighs the technical, we can now discuss the latter, and that describes preaching as a form of public speaking.

Preaching involves skills and techniques that enhance the delivery of our sermons (not the power but only the delivery). These skills basically revolve around the use of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures and movements.

The proper utilization and creative use of voice is of utmost importance in preaching, for the fact that spoken words serve as the medium for the transmission of God’s message to the hearers. A dull and monotonous voice will certainly invite boredom in the hearers. There are four P’s that could be used for the efficient use of voice during the discourse of God’s Word.

The first P is Pitch, or the raising and lowering of voice tone. The first and probably the easiest step that we could do to avoid a monotonous and boring sermon delivery is by putting stress on some words or phrases by varying the voice tone. We could also achieve this by varying the voice volume. Generally, heightening the pitch and increasing the volume on some words and phrases would put emphasis on the ideas that those words or phrases present.

The second P is Punch, and it is very similar to Pitch in its purpose of putting a stress on an important idea. However, what differentiates punch from an ordinary stress is that punch is usually used for some climactic expressions and thoughts, and is usually achieved by either a sudden or a much more powerful change of voice tone or volume.

The third P is Pause, and it is of equal importance to punch. We utilise pause also in trying to put emphasis on some ideas. We give around a three-second pause after saying something to indicate that what we have just told is important. Furthermore, by utilising the pause technique we give the hearers an ample amount of time to digest and reflect on the important idea given.

The fourth and final P in utilizing the voice is Progress. It is maybe the hardest one to master, but if done correctly will prove not only to emphasize a good point but furthermore to elevate the hearers’ interest and to provoke a more positive response. Generally, progress is effectively achieved by the continuous increase of the voice tone and volume beginning at the start of an idea you would like to emphasize, and then concluded with a strong punch at the end. Thus, progress is indeed the combination of the techniques of pitch and punch in a prolonged manner. Finally, progress becomes even more effective if followed by a pause. Those are the four P’s for the efficient utilization of voice, the pitch, punch, pause, and progress.

Another important factor to consider in the good delivery of the sermon is the eye contact technique. The function of eye contact in preaching is twofold: the transmission of truth and feedback.

Without eye contact, no matter how well we could use our voice we will never be able to truly connect to our listeners. It is a very awkward moment for the hearers to listen to a preacher who does not look at them, most specifically at their eyes. At worst, the hearers could feel offended. With the good use of eye contact, even the preacher who has not yet mastered the use of voice will be able to connect with his listeners.

Using eye contact to connect with listeners involves looking straight at the eyes, for around 3-5 seconds. If intimidated by the listeners, you could look also at the forehead. Look at them individually, trying to connect with each one of the listeners, for the duration of the preaching, if their number is around fifty. If their number is around a hundred or more, then having a look for each one becomes virtually impossible. In this case, using creative imagination, group the entire audience into several smaller groups mostly consisting of around five people each. Then try to look at the middle person of each group, and it will give them the impression that you are genuinely interested in them.

Furthermore, eye contact is arguably the single most effective tool to gain feedback from the hearers. If you want immediate feedback during the course of your preaching, the best way is by looking at them. That way you will immediately see if they are really listening or interested, and you as the speaker will be able to adjust your delivery to suit the emerging need. Eye contact demands that we have mastery of our sermon content. It is hard to practice good eye contact with the hearers if we are  relying too much on our notes or if we are not confident enough in our own message and delivery.

Then comes the technique of facial expressions. A serious message of rebuke and correction demands a serious emotion, but could also be told with a subtle smile and a sincere look – it depends on the ability of the preacher. Generally, laughter is very much minimal in preaching, overall the general emotions permeating are those of seriousness, sincerity, love, holiness, and command – those traits characterise very much a true preacher. A careful examination on the preaching of Jesus, the Apostles, and even of the prophets reveal the same thing. This is only my personal conviction, but I am not a follower of those preachings that use jokes and laughter just to engage the listeners. In my varied experiences in preaching, I have seen how a serious delivery of a sermon could captivate the listeners from start to finish, of course, with the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.

Other equally important factors are gestures and body movements. With gestures, we pertain to the movements of the upper body, mostly those of the shoulders, arms, and hands. With body movements, we talk about the movements of the legs and feet.

The content dictate the gestures, and not the other way around. This means that the shoulders, arms, and hands movements reflect the true emotions and thoughts of the preacher. When I was just beginning to preach, I used to practice my gestures, and my actions looked like ‘scripted movements’, there was no life in them. Later on, as I gradually developed as a preacher, it is the message that would consume my heart and mind. That way, gestures flowed out naturally, and they certainly looked natural. Powerful gestures reveal connected movements, that is, the movements of the hands are not separated from those of the arms, the shoulders, and the upper body.

Body movements involving the legs and feet contribute to the lively delivery of the sermon. Personally, I like to get in touch with the hearers in the most possible way and to communicate with them in the most personal way, and I do that mostly by leaving the pulpit and walking towards them. Occasional walking is helpful, too much is already distracting. Another helpful thing about walking is that it relieves the tension and let go of nervousness.

The general rule regarding gestures and body movements is that the larger the audience, the bigger the gestures and body movements. The larger the audience, the further the pulpit is from the audience, so the preacher will likely to be seen by all.

A climactic note that I would like to add for all of these skills is that the Spirit of God and His anointing enhance all of them. In fact, I could attest that whenever I am filled with the Word and the Holy Spirit all of these skills just flowed out naturally and powerfully. Furthermore, the Holy Word and the Spirit of God have taught me to do these skills naturally, far better than what my training and practice did for me.

So I have presented the technical side of preaching, the side that tells us that preaching is also public speaking. We do not try to learn and master this aspect for the purpose of increasing the power of our preaching – only God could do that with our humble cooperation of holiness, submission, prayer, and obedience. As Robert McCheyne once told us, ‘A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.’

What these techniques do for us preachers are to enhance the delivery of our sermon, to make it lively, penetrating, and connecting, and to catch the interest and attention of our listeners. True, the technical side is important, but we must not substitute it to the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to change the lives of the listeners. The true mark of a preacher is not his very good oratory skills (though it may include these), but the divine capacity to change the lives of the hearers.

*I am indebted to Mr. Haddon Robinson for some of my learnings in oratory skills in preaching. I recommend his book Biblical Preaching, second edition.

Glimpses of God’s Glory

13 JULY 2017, 10:50 PM

I am so grateful to God for this wonderful day. In simple yet powerful ways He allowed me to see His greatness.

God used me to bring His message of love and hope in the form of rebuke at the Provincial Jail with the Scripture of Lamentations 3:22-26.

Lamentations 3:22-26 (KJV) It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

God’s message for the prisoners was: Wait on His deliverance in the time of His discipline. It was a message of rebuke, yet love and hope were present. If only they would look upon His discipline as an expression of His Fatherly love, then they would also sense hope, and bring themselves under humble submission to the rod of their heavenly Father. Instead of rebellion, they would develop in their hearts a greater love for their Father.

Hebrews 12:5-6, 11 (KJV) And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

As I was speaking His message, I could deeply sense God’s presence in their lives and their spirits were touched.

The second thing for which I was so thankful to God was my prayer time with a sister in faith. God allowed me to pray for her, releasing her from her burdens and granting her to receive more of God’s blessings. She cried in the presence of God, thankful for the freedom and peace that she received.

Am I grateful because God used me? Yes, but the main reason why I praise God is that He again allowed me to see His glory and greatness in simple yet powerful ways. I do not deserve any of these, and the fact that I am undeserving makes me praise Him even more. Truly, I am most satisfied in God when I know that God is most satisfied (and glorified) in God. It has absolutely nothing to do about me.