Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Prophetic Arrival - The sermon and Prezi

Here is what I said: The Sermon.

Here is what it looked like on the big screen.

If you have questions about prophecy in the life of Jesus, send it in the comment button. I predict I'll respond.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Unleashing the Prophet Within - Five Ways to Speak Like a Prophet

By nature, humans are predictive creatures. We forecast the weather, write out budgets, consider oil futures, and bet on players to score big in fantasy football. (My dog and fish make no such predictions; they merely replay their predictable routine--eat, poop, bark, breath, sleep--day after day.)

Indeed, humans are predictive animals, but I want something greater for God's church. I want us to be prophetic: speak for God to our fellow human. Prophetic godspeak includes prediction, but goes well beyond fortune-telling and draft pick projections.

Evangelical Christians tend to collapse the latter into the former. Recognizing this tendency, I highlighted the prophetic voice in the Christmas story yesterday.  Gospel writers, apostles, and Christ Jesus himself cite the prophetic voice of the Old Testament in their writing and preaching (e.g. 1 Peter 1:19-21). They say God's promises have been fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 1:1-4). 

Looking back, these authors can see what the original speaker could not: Jesus is God's Messiah.
Looking forward, however, the picture was not so clear. Hosea's prophecy (11:1) is a perfect example. 

In context, Hosea leads his people in a reflection on the past. God delivered us once from Egypt (Exodus 12-15). The covenant curses promise a future exile if we continue to disobey God (Deuteronomy 28), which we are doing! But even if we do return to Egypt, God will call us out of Egypt again (ch. 30). Thus, the prophetic force of Hosea spoke words of rebuke and comfort to the people of his day.

Ultimately, all prophecy serves as a word from God to the people of the day.
When Paul encourages the gift of prophecy for the church (1 Corinthians 14; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21), he envisions the people of God proclaiming the word of God to all people. We've lost that sense of the prophetic--the word that edifies, exhorts, and consoles--instead reducing God's Word to a printed version of an ancient text.

But God still speaks today. His word is living and active (Hebrews 4). It comes alive in preaching, counseling, teaching, (blogging?), and spiritually sensitive conversations. And here are Five Ways to Unleash Your Prophetic Voice:

  1. Pray for a Word: In his magnificent book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer tells his readers between every human relationships stands Jesus. He intercedes for us. To speak a prophetic word of admonishment, we should ask Jesus to give it to us.
  2. Meditate on the Story: The Old Testament prophets immersed themselves in the saving acts of God. They thought about it, sang about it, and, naturally, talked about it. Their prophetic voice emerged from a strong historical consciousness. Make an effort to retell mighty acts of God.
  3. Memorize God's Word: The prophetic voice always speaks in concert with itself. When we memorize passages and ideas from Scripture, God may bring them to our minds at the proper time. Who knows when you might need to say to someone, "Be still and know He is God"?
  4. Consult with Other Prophets: Find people who evidence a close walk with God. These people are listeners. Their words carry weight. They pray without ceasing. Like Elisha to Elijah, become a prophet-in-training, so you can take their mantel when the time comes.
  5. Open Your Eyes to Animate Your Lips: The prophets were not only historians, they were story-tellers, poets, bards, and thespians. They inhaled the riches of God's creation and breathed them out as fresh metaphors. The hope and criticism in their sermons was intensified by what imagery inspired them: sheep and shepherds, bones and blood, vines and branches, brides and whores. Take note of the world: what grabs your attention may serve as a prophetic word to another.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Unleashing the Poet Within - Five Tips to Spark Poetic Creativity

This Christmas I'm taking a cue from characters in the Nativity Story. Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon each bring a poetic voice to the birth of Christ.

Mary's poem, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) rejoices in God's ability to reverse the fortunes of His servant. She spoke the prayer after six months of bearing the Christ-child.

Zechariah's poem, the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), blesses God, remembering His promises and looking forward to His redemption. He spoke the prayer after nine-months of waiting for the birth of his prophet-child.

Simeon's prayer, the Nunc Dimittus (Luke 2:29-32), expresses Simeon's relief at God's salvation. He spoke the prayer after decades of waiting for God's promised Messiah. God had told him he would not die until he laid eyes on His Anointed.

I would argue these poems did not spring from the authors' lips spontaneously. Rather, these were carefully crafted reflections on the nature and mission of God. Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon displayed a poetic theology, answering C.S. Lewis's essay question, "Is Theology Poetry?" long before it was raised. Indeed, humans are "poetic animals," as Lewis' stated.

I would further argue our aching and amused world does not need more spontaneous expressions of Christian praise, but more poetic voices. Christians must learn to unleash their inner poet. We are, in fact, wired for poetic expression, as divine image-bearers. God spoke poetically to Job and Isaiah. He spoke poetically through Solomon, David, and Moses. Even Jesus's sermons and Paul's epistles were laced with poetry. We can speak poetically, too.

While I do not assume I can convince someone she is poetic, I will, at least, provide the courtesy of five poetic tips to living a more poetic life.

  1. Start. Get a writing instrument and go. Don't worry about its quality or completion. Some poems aren't worthy of a conclusion. But you'll never improve if you don't begin. 
  2. Set strict limits. Start with a known form, like Haiku, chiaism, or acrostic. Boundaries do not restrict creativity, but focus it. Another way to set limits is to use a timer (e.g. 5 minutes) and write as many words and phrases for a given topic (e.g. snowfall) in the allotted time. You can come back later and fashion the pieces into poetry.
  3. Forget rhyming. The definition of poetry (whatever one you chose) does not include rhyming. Figures of speech, imagery, honesty, and rhythm are more important to good poetry.
  4. Choose topics that interest you. Write about your passions. Write about your experiences. Don't wax poetically about slave trade only because it's a trend. Don't write about scars you don't bear. Your initial inspirations should be personal.
  5. Turn your emotions into an image. Poetry makes abstract matters concrete. Pick a normal emotion like rage and describe it in action. My fists pounds the wall / my eyes flash red. Then play the action out to its end.