Setting hearts on fire

chapman-setting-hearts-fireJohn Chapman’s Setting hearts on fire: A guide to giving evangelistic talks is the book that I wished I’d had when I started out as a preacher. It’s clear on the Bible and it’s clear about preaching the Bible. It offers a template for approaching, preparing, and delivering talks in a faithful and captivating manner. You don’t have to be an evangelistic preacher to gain from this book. You don’t even have to be a preacher at all. If you’re involved in teaching the Bible in Sunday School, youth group, Bible study, or school scripture then you’ll find so much of value here. In fact, if you want a book that will help you to read the Bible for yourself, know what the Bible is about, and know how to respond to the Bible, grab yourself a copy. It’s gold!

The opening chapter shows the importance of preaching. It matters because it involves being God’s mouthpiece to others.

That is the wonder of preaching and teaching. A human is speaking but the listeners encounter the living God speaking.  (p23)

Chappo’s understanding of preaching comes from 2 Timothy 4:1, where Timothy is charged to Preach the Word. This is the task. It’s not simply imparting wise words from someone who is well trained and can come up with good ideas. No, it’s faithfully passing on the very words of God. God is a speaking God. He communicates by words. These are very powerful words. They bring life. They transform and change people. They bridge the chasm between God and people, such that people are welcomed back into relationship with God. Preaching, therefore, is a weighty responsibility.

Preaching God’s Word is an unequal partnership between God and the preacher. God works through the spoken word, by the power of his Spirit, to effect change in people. For this reason, we are called to pray for the work of understanding and proclaiming God’s message. We need to work hard at it. Praying and preaching are our side of the partnership. Chappo warns against three things that can get in the way of people responding to the preaching of God’s word. He mentions 1) unbiblical teaching; 2) preachers showing off; and 3) the spiritual blindness of listeners. I would add a fourth: 4) confusing the message. If the preacher hasn’t worked out what it means, or how to communicate it clearly, then people can be left unclear about what God is saying or how they should respond.

Chapter 2 of Setting hearts on fire is an inspiring chapter. It speaks of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour and King. Chappo shows how this is the entire message of the Bible in a nutshell. He takes us from Genesis to Revelation, with great clarity, summarising the big picture (or metanarrative) of the Bible. He shows how the Old Testament points to Jesus and how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament. If you’re not sure how the Bible hangs together then you should probably take 15 minutes to read through this chapter. What’s more you shouldn’t begin teaching the Bible until you do!

While this is a book on evangelistic preaching, Chappo shows how all biblically faithful preaching will be evangelistic because it will point people to Jesus. Three things distinguish evangelistic preaching in this book:

  1. its content is a summary of the whole Bible message of Jesus as the Saving Messiah
  2. it is aimed specifically at unbelievers
  3. its style is controlled by the target audience (eg. absence of jargon  and technical terms, user friendly)

Chappo is not saying that every talk should have John 3:16 tacked on at the end of it, or that ever talk should be the same three point summary of the gospel. Rather, we should work within the context of the passage, the book, and the whole Bible, so as to point people to Jesus. His aim in this book, and for preaching in general is for people to respond to God’s word, in the same way that the disciples responded after hearing the resurrected Jesus teach them the Bible:

Were not our hearts burning within us, while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?  (Luke 24:32)

Every sermon, talk and Bible study should be headed in the same direction – pointing people to Jesus. Every sermon, talk and Bible study should be seeking the same positive response to the Word of God – repentance (turning back to God) and faith (trusting in God to save them through the work of Jesus). Chappo shows us how to do this without violating the text or importing external ideas into the passage of the Bible.

This is a liberating book for the preacher, because it makes clear what is God’s work and what is the preacher’s work. How people respond is up to the listener and God. It’s good to be reminded that the Holy Spirit knows our listeners more than we do and loves them more than we do. This takes the pressure off the preacher. Our job is to proclaim the word faithfully, while God is responsible for changing people’s hearts. Therefore we should pray and work hard at our preaching.

After offering some tips on how to choose passages for evangelistic preaching, Chappo moves into the second half of the book on preparing and preaching the word. He offers us an excellent outline for structuring the shape of talks:

  1. State the point
  2. Show me in the Bible
  3. Explain it
  4. Illustrate the point
  5. Apply it

This is easy to remember. One point for each finger: 1) state it; 2) read it; 3) explain it; 4) illustrate it; 5) apply it. I’d recommend this as a good shape for any preacher. It gives balance in helping people to work from the Bible, to changing their lives. This chapter models how it’s done, with Chappo giving us the text of a talk he was working on at the time. He shows how he gets from there to here in a way that is clear and transparent. Sometimes I hear preachers and I wonder what mental gymnastics they’ve done to get to the sermon, or what they expect their listeners to do once they’ve finished. With Chappo’s model you work toward a coherent Bible-shaped message.

Chappo was a master illustrator, and he encouraged illustrations for a variety of reasons. They help clarify or reinforce an explanation. They arouse interest, recall attention, or offer a mental break to the listeners. They help people to learn a little about the speaker, which is especially important if people don’t know you. They engage the emotions as well as the intellect, and they tap into different learning styles. The main focus here seems to be in illustrating the explanation of the passage. I’ve found it can also be helpful to illustrate the application, or transition to the application by way of illustration. There are some good ideas about different types of illustrations and some important warnings about the unhelpful use of illustrations.

After the body of the talk has been prepared, Chappo urges us to give careful attention to its introduction and conclusion. Hooking people in at the start is critical if they’re going to stay with us for the next 20 minutes or more. He recommends a few ideas such as asking people a question, using a shocking statement or statistics, appealing to a known need, or telling a story. Likewise, it’s important to end the talk well. Assuming there’s been application throughout the talk, we should tie it together and restate key points as we finish. The conclusion shouldn’t be tacked on as an afterthought. This is the last thing people will hear, it should be important and clear.

Preachers vary from those who use a full manuscript to those who don’t use notes at all. Chappo used a half-way approach with notes and points and there is a sample in the book. Work out what works for you. If you use a full script, it’s important not to be dependent upon it. If you don’t use notes, then you will need to be disciplined and clear so you don’t meander all over the place. The important thing is to know your talk, and this will mean practising it beforehand.

There’s much more wisdom in this book: suggestions for styles of preaching from different parts of the Bible; choosing the kind of talk and length of talk; the temptations that face a preacher; words, emotions, body language; some sample talks and talk outlines; and a sermon assessment guideline.

I recommend every preacher have this book in their toolkit. If you’re starting out, then you’ll find it a huge help. If you’ve been doing it for a while, it will help you recalibrate. If you’re involved in equipping others, it will provide an excellent training manual. Get yourself a copy.

A Fresh Start by Chappo

A_Fresh_StartOn Saturday afternoon we joined with hundreds of others in St Andrews Cathedral, to give thanks for John Chapman. His passing had affected people in a manner that I hadn’t seen since the death of Princess Diana in 1997. No doubt the death of Princess Diana impacted millions more than Chappo, but as I watched the flood of facebook tributes in the hours following his death, I was deeply moved. Chappo shaped the lives of thousands of people in ways that he would never have known. It was a joy to celebrate his life, to be reminded of his Saviour, to sing the songs he loved, to pray for the legacy of his life and ministry to continue, and to thank God that we were able to share in his life.

My relationship with this man grew over many years, from first hearing him speak as a uni student, to being trained by him as a preacher, to being mentored and encouraged by him as a pastor. He became a very good friend who was not afraid to tell me the honest truth. I sought his wisdom on many occasions, especially when faced with big decisions, and his advice was always controlled by a desire to honour Jesus Christ. He’d often give advice, even when it wasn’t asked for – but it was always good! Chappo loved nothing more that to explain the message of Jesus clearly, so that people would hear God’s wonderful message of life, forgiveness, relationship with God, and hope for eternity.

A Fresh Start by John Chapman is one of the clearest books explaining the guts of the Christian message that I’ve read. It’s written with charm and wit. If you’ve heard him speak a few times, you can almost hear the tone of voice in his writing. It’s full of stories and illustrations, but it doesn’t waffle or meander off track. I looked for a copy of this book on my shelf, following Chappo’s death, and I couldn’t find one. The reason is that as quickly as I buy them, I seem to give them away to others. So I’ve just ordered another 20 copies.

I remember some years back speaking at an annual Christian conference, and reviewing A Fresh Start to the gathering. I asked the question, ‘Who has been influenced to become a Christian through their reading of this book?’ A number of hands went up! One time I was with Chappo after he’d received a letter from someone in prison who’d been deeply affected by reading it. We talked about it, and Chappo humbly revealed to me that hardly a week went by when he didn’t receive a letter of thanks for this book.

I’m not going to summarise the contents of the book, other than to say it explains very clearly what a Christian is, and how you can become one. It focuses explicitly on Jesus Christ, revealing who he is, what he has done, and why he should be followed. Many of the questions that people ask about Christianity are well answered in this little book. It’s worth buying to read, and to pass onto others who are interested in finding out more.

On the 8th December last year, Chappo was very unwell in hospital in Sydney. As was I in Canberra. It was only days after I’d been diagnosed with cancer. My 13 year old, Marcus, had just finished reading A Fresh Start, and Fiona suggested that he write a note to Chappo thanking him. He did and I understand that Chappo was very moved by the letter. He mentioned it often, not only to us, but also to others. In fact, a friend approached me after the thanksgiving service and shared how he’d been with Chappo shortly after he received the letter. With tears in his eyes, he suggested that my friend would be encouraged as he read it too. And he was.

Marcus has agreed to me reproducing a slightly edited version of his personal letter to Chappo and we hope it’ll encourage others to read A Fresh Start.

Letter to Chappo 8/12/11

Dear John Chapman

My name is Marcus McDonald, son of David McDonald. I asked my dad for your book, a fresh start because one of my youth group leaders said it was a good book to read, and it was a great book to read. I became a Christian a few months ago at my youth group camp. I heard an amazing talk by Steve Prior and that’s when I decided to live for Christ. Since then I’ve been having a bit of trouble being a Christian at school. I’ve been too focused on what other people think of me and not what God thinks of me.

Your book has really led me back onto track with Jesus. I’m reading God’s word a lot more now. I’m reading through the New Testament and I’m up to Philippians. I finished your book the night I found out my father had cancer. It was a very hard night I felt very sad. I read the last chapter that night and it told me to just pray and let God decide what he wants to do. Your book has helped me with a lot of things and I want to thank you for writing this book and I hope to read more of your books.

When I found out my dad was in hospital I thought it would be nothing and that we would still go to Darwin and start a new church, but it doesn’t look like we will move after all. Which is disappointing because I was really looking forward to moving. I was looking forward to going to a Christian school and making more Christian friends, because at the moment I don’t have many Christian friends. I just have to trust God that he helps me live for him at school. I also wanted to go fishing a lot in Darwin.

I’ve heard you are in hospital and I hope that you will get better very soon. It’s sad to have a lot of sick people close to you. My grandad also has cancer in the throat and that’s been hard on him and my dad. I enjoy going to church and youth group and spending time with God and some friends. I went to one night of NTE and I loved the great Christian atmosphere and the singing was amazing fun, it was so loud.

So thank you so much.

Marcus

Chappo’s gain

 Chappo
John Charles Chapman
23 July 1930 – 16 November 2012
being with Christ is better by far

I received news earlier this evening that John Chapman was not expected to live much longer. He was in ICU, his breathing was shallow, and he was no longer responding to people around him. I wanted to call and tell him that we loved him, to thank him for his kindness, generosity, love and prayers. I wanted to thank him again for writing to our youngest son, encouraging him to read his Bible, sending him books, praying for him. I wanted to tell him what a huge influence he’d had on my life and so many others. As I spoke with a friend at the hospital, I asked if he would read Chappo Psalm 62, so that he would be reminded again that his God is all powerful and all loving.

At 9.15 this evening Chappo departed to be with his Lord and Saviour. This was the occasion he’d been looking forward to since he was a teenager. This was the hope that Chappo had shared with all who’d listen. Chappo loved explaining to people that Jesus had given his life to pay for their sins and offer forgiveness. He’d share how God had raised Jesus from the dead, and how he was now the Lord of this universe. He’d passionately plead with people to consider how they’d been treating God, to turn and seek forgiveness, and to hand over control of their lives to Jesus.

What a privilege to have known Chappo as a brother and friend, and I look forward to catching up with him one day in heaven. In fact, as we spoke with each other (both in hospital) nearly a year ago, I think I said that maybe I’d make it there before him. It wasn’t to be.

John Chapman gave up his life tonight. But he’d given up his life daily for the last 57 or so years. He gave up his life in the service of God and others. For Chappo, to live was to serve Christ, and to die was to be in the presence of Christ. He kept on serving Christ to the very end, sharing his faith, encouraging others, preaching in the last few weeks, and publishing his latest book. It’s been better for us that Chappo has lived! And now it’s Chappo’s gain. He’s where he truly belongs – not because he was a great man, but because he has a great Saviour. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians truly describe how Chappo lived and died…

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  (Philippians 1:20-24)

I miss Chappo already. My heart is heavy. There’s sadness and tears. And yet, I also feel joy because God has completed the work he began in my brother. Thank you God.

Thank you God for bringing us into Chappo’s life and he into ours.

Thank you God  for Chappo’s gruelling sermon deconstructions and critiques.

Thank you God for the huge encouragement I received after preaching at Sydney University, when Chappo came up to me and said, “If I wasn’t a Christian already, I’d have become one immediately after that talk!”

Thank you God that Chappo kept our family in his prayer diary for the past 24 years – and that he prayed!

Thank you God for Chappo’s prayers for Fiona and our family after the accident.

Thank you God that each time he got up at night to go to the toilet, he’d pray for me and his other ‘oncology friends’!

Thank you God that Chappo would write and ring up, just to offer a word of encouragement – even though he had the worst phone manner of anyone!

Thank you God that Chappo preached at our first ever Crossroads Christian Church service and many more after that.

Thank you God for letting me and many of my friends and family share my 50th birthday with Chappo this year.

Thank you God for placing it on Chappo’s heart to write and encourage my son.

Thank you God for Chappo’s passion for preaching Christ.

Thank you God for changing people’s hearts as they came to know Christ through Chappo’s preaching and writing.

But mostly, thank you God that you have removed the sting of death, that you’ve prepared a place for Chappo, and that he’s now free from sickness and suffering, and enjoying your presence forever and ever.

Making the most of the Bible

My youngest son received a wonderful parcel in the mail this morning – four copies of Making the most of the Bible sent by its author, John Chapman. One for him, another for his sister, one for Fiona and I, and another to give away. Thanks so much Chappo!

This is a great little primer for getting the most out of reading the Scriptures. It’s warm and engaging without wasting words. It’s more about attitude to the Bible than any special approach to reading. It’s only 66 pages short, I read it between breakfast and morning tea, and it’s the first book I’ve been able to read all year without glasses (nice large print)!

Chappo begins with the importance of faith. Reading the Bible should be more than an academic pursuit. We read it to discover the joy of trusting God with our lives. The Gospels reveal Jesus to be someone who can be completely trusted. He is reliable and always keeps his promises. As we read the Bible we have two choices: (1) either we approach it with hard hearts, only accepting what fits with our own desires and dismissing what doesn’t, or (2) we open our minds to discovering who God is, what he’s like, with a willingness grow in trusting him. Our attitude will make all the difference.

Making the most of the Bible focuses upon Jesus understanding and use of the Scriptures. This is an excellent approach, because anyone claiming to follow Jesus will surely want to see how Jesus treated the Bible. If we’re going to follow him with our lives, then we’ll also want to follow his lead with the Bible.

What was Jesus’ attitude to the Old Testament, what do we make of Jesus’ own words, and what was Jesus’ view of the New Testament?

The first thing we discover is that Jesus treated the Old Testament as having authority because he believed it to be God’s own words. He submitted to these words and called others to do the same. Jesus resisted the ancient temptation to doubt God’s truth and goodness, instead placing his full confidence in God’s promises. Jesus also claimed a special relationship to these words. He declared that the whole Old Testament points to him, and finds its fulfilment in him. These are bold claims, and they offer us the key to understanding the whole message of the Bible. After his resurrection, Jesus explained his life and ministry to his followers in these words:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:44-45)

It’s common for people to grab hold of some of Jesus’ teaching, without any intention of following him personally. Chappo reminds us that Jesus’ person, works and words are all tied together. Jesus’ life and teaching reveal who he is and his words calls us to follow him. Jesus claims to reveal God to us and backs this up with all he says and does. We might not appreciate this today, but at the time the religious authorities recognised the magnitude of his claim and they killed him for it. As Jesus reminded one of his followers at the last supper:

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:9-10)

Jesus also explained why the New Testament should be accepted as God’s word. The apostles are the key. Jesus had spent time teaching them before and after his resurrection. It was his plan that they would pass on his message, and do it with an inspired accuracy. He promised the apostles that God’s Spirit would oversee this happening:

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”  (John 16:12-15)

Chappo takes us to the heart of the Bible’s message, drawing us to God’s awesome offer of forgiveness and life with him for eternity. These promises are rooted in the Old Testament and find their full expression in Jesus. My heart was warmed as I was reminded of some of the wonderful promises contained in the Bible:

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;  (Psalm 103:11-13)

34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:34)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
(Revelation 21:3-4)

What an awesome God! What wonderful promises he makes! What a beautiful hope he offers all who will take him at his word and put their trust in the Lord Jesus.

The final sections of this little book, highlight how to respect the Bible as literature and read it with understanding. They address commonly held concerns over the reliability of the Bible, confidence in the transmission of the manuscripts, and evidence for Jesus’ divinity.

Making the most of the Bible is an excellent introduction for people who want to understand what the Bible is about, why it matters and how we should approach it. I recommend it. Read it and think about who you can pass a copy to. Christmas is coming! I’d give this book to my two teenagers… but Chappo has beaten me to it!

Telling the truth in your 80s

John Chapman is as bold as brass when it comes to telling the truth. He knows that when you’re 82 it’s not too smart to keep putting things off. Especially the things that really matter. Life’s too short. There’s no point in pretending. And certainly not with the people you deeply care about. So he just tells it like it is, and he gets away with it. Addressing a bunch of oldies in his retirement home he says…

I can see there are a lot of snow-capped mountains and barren peaks here today. Now put your hand up if you think you’ll be alive in 10 years … what about 5 years? … if you’re not right with God, and you’ve only got 3 years to go, wouldn’t you make that a high priority? I would, if I were you!

Chappo has been a follower of Jesus since his teens and he’s learned a great deal over the years. In a recent interview, at an AFES student workers conference, he shared at length about his experiences as a Christian. It’s a long interview (86 minutes) but it’s full of priceless gems of encouragement amidst his trademark story telling and humour. The topics cover such areas as being a Christian at school, connecting with people in country towns, his experiences with the 1959 Billy Graham crusade, how to become a better preacher, communicating about Jesus Christ on university campuses, getting organised with prayer, the struggles of growing old, why heaven will be so much better, and more.

A particular highlight for me was hearing about Chappo’s commitment to praying for other people. (It occurs between 54 and 60 minutes into the video.) He explained how 6 weeks of hospitalisation over Christmas gave him more opportunities to pray. He described his strategies for prayer that include his photographic prayer diary, his daily lists, his 9 day cycle, and his special prayers for people in need. He mentioned that he prays for his ‘oncology patient’ friends, including myself, each time he gets up to go to the toilet at night. I feel very privileged to be on this exclusive prayer list! Furthermore, Fiona and I were so encouraged to hear Chappo share how he also prays for our youngest son, and how they’ve been writing to each other and found this mutually encouraging. God bless you brother!

Do yourself a favour. Skip that meaningless forensic pathology television show, or that B grade multi-repeat movie, or that footy game you were planning to watch… and listen to Chappo get fired up about what’s really important. Click here to watch.