Devotion: ‘When Defense begins to look like attack.’
Acts 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Acts 26:28 At this Agrippa said to Paul, ‘A little more, and your arguments would make a Christian of me.’
So I came to the chapter in the Book of Acts where Paul is (yet again) standing before so-called authorities giving his legal defense for him being arrested earlier on in the temple. Feel free to read it in its entirety yourself, but I want to particular focus on this verse, which as you may notice can be translated in two different ways.
Here’s what fascinates me. Paul here is meant to be on the back foot. On the defense. However, despite this, Paul is so filled with the Gospel that he cannot help but ‘bleed it’. This is revealed by the second possible translation option, where the Jewish king Agrippa, is like “crickey Paul, if you keep going much longer I might just sign up!”
How did Paul do it? What is the key behind such an effective presentation of the faith? It’s so simple:
It was real to Paul.
When you have lived the life that Paul had lived, heard the word of God like he did and had the experiences of God like Paul did no one, not one person would ever be able to convince you otherwise. Paul knew the truth. He didn’t just know about it. He knew it.
Ultimately, nothing can replace this. You can have all the presentation skills in the world, but at the end of the day, the only thing that will really make a devotion effective is our experience of God. The more we pursue him, the more he will bear fruit in our lives for his glory.
Maybe this is why John Owen, consistently said to his church “do whatever it takes to pursue an experience of the Holy Spirit.”
God’s word commands, (not suggests) that we be ready at any moment to give an account of the hope within us. (1 Pet 3:15) The thing is, the more filed with the Spirit we are, the more our defense will begin to be an ‘attack’ and because Jesus has made a way, the door is open for us to commune with Him any time.
Term 3 2016 session 1; How to ‘do’ effective devotions.
Section 1: When presenting……
- Choose confidence especially when you don’t feel it.
Just because you don’t feel confident it doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be confident.
When you do, you may hear a little voice say something like this: “you’re faking it.” Here’s how to answer that voice: “nope, I’m faith-ing it.” You see I can tell you to choose confidence because God’s word is more true than how we feel. There’s a deeper truth than our most shouty feelings that we need to learn to trust: Matthew 10:19-20 “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Obedience flowing from faith is how God changes a human heart. Choosing confidence when you don’t feel like it is faith in action, faith that refuses to ‘lean upon its own understanding.’ This is the faith that God works through.
When we say “I don’t have the confidence to do that,” what we’re really saying is: “I know I’m going to screw it up, no matter what God says and when I do, I am scared that it’s going to make me look bad or that it means that every negative person who ever told me I couldn’t was right.”
Embrace the furnace of fear, and your bonds will be consumed as Jesus stands with you in the fire.
- Say what is on your heart first, what is on your notes second. (Spiritual awareness)
Most seminars on preaching/giving talks etc will at some point say things like ‘stick to the notes’ don’t ‘chase rabbits’ (thoughts going off on a tangent) and yes there are some people that really need to heed this warning. But I don’t think that is our biggest problem these days.
You can write waffle just as much as improv it. Moreover, as a listener, if I must be subject to waffle, I’d rather be subject to passionate, Christ-centered waffle! I’d much rather people walk away thinking, “he just can’t shut-up about Jesus,” than “that was about as remarkably accurate and yet dry as ‘Pi’ calculated to the 27th decimal place.”
My wife taught me this. I watched her approach a pulpit once to preach what was I think only her second sermon when she turned to face the congregation, she ripped her notes in two, much to the horror of everyone watching. Why? Because she simply knew what she had wasn’t what God wanted to say.
So (assuming you have indeed prayed first) as important as notes are, what God has placed on your heart takes precedent over what you have placed on the page.
Someone really close to me recently came up to me and said “when you said ‘x’ in that sermon God spoke thru that and changed my life,” when I heard what that statement was, I immediately knew that it was not in my original notes for that sermon. God used a ‘tangent’ to bring about a spiritual breakthrough in someone’s life.
Section 2: When preparing:
Prayer is choosing awareness. Awareness of what? Awareness that at the end of the day, only God can change a heart. But moreover, prayer reminds us that God wins, Satan loses and that our primary role in life is to serve God.
C.H. Spurgeon said once: “The fear of the Lord is like a Lion which chases all other fears away.” It is so true. This is why the Lord’s prayer starts as it does: “Our father who is in heaven, may you be glorified, may your kingdom come, may your will be done. Etc.
It is impossible to maintain a spiritual confidence and a sense of personal entitlement at the same time. Prayer reminds us that we’re just earthen vessels.
- The best sermons/devotions/presentations have 1 main point
Do you know what the 18th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon, 20th Century Mega-evangelist Billy Graham and just about every 21st century TED talk has in common?
They all spoke/speak to one point. Sure they have sub-points but all of the thoughts laid out in their talks serve the purpose of underlining the point of the talk. You may have heard me some Sundays say something like “Ok, if you only get one thing from this morning, here’s the central idea…..” The truth is, if I am doing my job right, I wouldn’t need to say it and you’d still know what it is.
What is the main point of your devotion?
- Context, context, context (and for good measure) context.
At some point, you do need to do some ‘brain sweat’ and study some scripture. You do need to know what you’re talking about. God does not ever bless laziness. A key way to know if someone knows what they are talking about is if they have an idea of the context of their bible text their speaking to.
We need to model to those around us, how serious we are about the Bible as the authoritative by handling it with respect and honestly. That means finding the main point of the text rather than finding a text that we can squeeze into our talk to suit our main point.
This happens more than you might realize. Here’s a classic example: The Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-28) If I hear that this parable is all about us using what God gives us to the max, one more time I’m going to scream. Ugh, so shallow! If you look at the context, it appears in a chapter almost completely concerned with the concept of heaven, hell and eternal judgement. (Who’s in, who’s out -if you will)
In that context we realize, It’s about how what we do with what we are given reveals whether we really know God or not. The moment resources land in our hands, our assumptions about God are revealed. One set is correct, the other set is incorrect Therefore, if we find ourselves making the incorrect set, we need to heed the warning that we may not be really worshiping (or even know) God anywhere near as much as we thought!
This is a parable should lead us to do some serious soul searching.
(Don’t even get me started on how much pop-Christianity likes to see itself as ‘the sower’)
- Answer these questions:
Lastly, structure you devotions to answer these questions:
- What does this bible text/verse tell me about God?
- What does bible text/verse tell me about me?
- How does it relate to Jesus’ story?
- Is this going to make a difference to real life?
- Did I just give them more rules, or did I communicate the Gospel of Grace?
Let’s have some fun. Choose 1 of the verses below, read it. Grab a bible and skim the chapter it appears in for context. Answer the above four questions. Correlate them into one main point.
Here’s an example to follow:
Text/verse: Exodus 14:14 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Context ch14: Israelites up against the sea on one side, Egyptian army up their tailpipe on the other side. Everything looks impossible. All they have is God’s promise of rescue. Thus, everything visually running counter to the earlier promises given thru Mo.
- God is always at work, always fulfilling his promises even when (even especially when) it’s all looking like it’s going pear-shaped.
- I’m an ‘Israelite’. I freak out. Because, the reality is I/we tend to live more by sight than by faith, maybe more than we’d like to admit.
- Everyone standing before the screaming Jesus on the cross had no idea that he was in the process of winning the greatest victory in history. Because it didn’t look like it.
- The more I realize the biblical pattern, the more I will learn not only how God works (surprises when you least expect) but also that my salvation rests on this very part of God’s character.
- The Gospel means I worship a God who knows what it is to have to experience a ‘cross’ before a ‘resurrection’ but he holds on to me and is on control when I am most tempted to let go of him.
Main point: What if we chose to believe that God is doing his greatest work in our lives when it least looks like it?
Ok, over to you, pick one:
2 Kings 5:13 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
Isaiah 65:1 Isaiah 65:1 “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
Jonah 3:4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
Genesis 4:6 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.
James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. –(tough one!)
Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”