Thursday, June 28, 2007

Greek in Sermons

I struggle whether or not to use Greek words in my sermons. I know the arguments on both sides...on the one side there are people who say, "If you want to show you are educated, hang your diploma on the wall...don't use Greek in the sermon!" And it can be awfully dry and boring. I know that I have had negative feedback from using it ("We're not in a college class!")

On the other hand, the Bible was NOT originally written in English. The nature of language and language translation is that it is impossible to directly translate the meaning of one word in a perfect way by using another word in the second language. Cultures, multiple meanings, implications, etc. differ too much for there ever to be a word-for-word correspondence in translating one language to the other. And I have had people thank me repeatedly for the Greek words I use in my sermons. (BTW: I almost NEVER use Hebrew skills have been dead for several decades now).

This arises because I really struggled with whether to deal with the meaning of pneumatikos found in I Cor. 12:1 in Sunday's sermon on spiritual gifts. I mention Greek meanings or constructions in 1/3-1/2 of my sermons. But I was really struggling with this word. The NIV (& TNIV which I preach from) translates it as "spiritual gifts." But three previous times in I Cor. it is translated as "one with the spirit" The normal word for spiritual gifts is charismata. But here they translate pneumatikos as "spiritual gifts" And the Baker Commentary noted that some translaters prefer to translate it as "the one with the spirit" here as well. And so I made the point that spiritual maturity involves a proper understanding and use of spiritual gifts. I made more of this Greek word than I usually do, and am still not comfortable with it. I have not gotten feedback on it, but I think that if I am still uncomfortable with it 36 hours after preaching it, it probably was unnecessary. This is one of the very few times when I have felt uncomfortable using Greek in a sermon AFTER the sermon was done.

What about you? Do you mention Greek (or Hebrew, you genius, you) in your preaching? Do you have limitations or guidelines of what you will or will not use? How has it worked for you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Decision in light of the vandalism, I have decided to stay and preach this Sunday. From what I wrote earlier, I decided it is just too important that I be here. Yikes! Now I have three days in which to put together a credible sermon!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Diversion from Preaching...sort of

I promised myself that this blog would be strictly about preaching. There are way too many blogs out there about ministry in general for me to say much new. I wanted to focus strictly on preaching. But a sort-of diversion today.

Our church was vandalized last night along with three others. I have approximated between $10-20K in damage. The $20K may be a bit high, but surely it will top $10,000. Someone (probably "one") smashed out 11 plate glass windows & doors along the front of the church and 6 stained glass windows in the Fellowship Hall. The stained glass windows had been hand made by members of the church when the building was built forty years ago.

The media are saying it all happened within 45 minutes, but I don't think that is correct. One of our church families who lives next to Calvin Presbyterian say that the Tigard Police was there investigating vandalism there before midnight. Tigard Christian (where I preach) wasn't hit until sometime between 2-2:30. TCC was, however, the hardest hit. (I
f you know the Tigard area, Calvin Pres, SW Church of Christ and the Tigard LDS church in Summerfield were the others). I was interviewed by two TV stations (all four of the main ones in Portland were at our church) and KEX radio station. The whole thing was an interesting experience (beginning with getting called out at 2:45 a.m. by the police). I could/should write it down just to document my day. But that is for another place.

What prompted me to blog was Loretta's comment that it was too bad I wasn't preaching this Sunday and that she felt I should alert the substitute preacher (coming in from out of town) to the fact. She felt he needs to address it in his sermon some way. He will physically see it because most of the entire front part of our church is boarded up!! But there is a sense of loss in me because I really want to be here with "my" people when we gather for the first time since this loss. There has been grief and anger expressed by people coming by the church. Some say seeing it makes their feelings of anger and grief worse.Several have expressed a sense of being violated.

There is something that can be therapeutic about preaching during times of stress and grief in a congregation. I saw that directly when we had a tragic fatal van wreck that involved one of our church college girls in my last church. To gather the body together and open the Word of God and address what God's Word says to us in times like this is both helpful, but extremely bonding. I don't see how I can be here with the commitments I have made, but I wish I could because there are huge benefits in the shepherd speaking to the sheep after a traumatic experience like this. Pray for us. (For a media report, see

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lessons They Don't Teach You in Bible College...

Lesson #1: Turn off your text messages while you are preaching!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Prayer and Study for Sermons

When ask whether the role of prayer has become more or less important to him in his preaching ministry, Fred Craddock said in an interview in 2000:

"Well, for me, it's become more. More important. In fact, there is with the advancing of my life, maturing I hope, a blurring of the distinctions between praying and studying. Between worshipping and preaching. A sense of the presence of God which is what I think most people expect of the sermon. But in my own case, students who ask me, "Now how much time to you spend in prayer? How much time to you spend in study?" Study becomes prayer. Prayer becomes study. You love the Lord your God with all your mind. I don't know when I'm doing which, but I think if you were to ask me in your judgment which it is, I think the preparation of the sermon has become a more extended time of prayer than it was before."

Oh that I could reach towards that goal!!

(The whole interview can be found at:

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Minister of the Word

(author unknown)

"Make your preacher a minister of the word. Fling him into his office, tear the office sign from the door and nail on it the sign: STUDY. Take him off the mailing list, lock him up with his books. Get him all kind of books, and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts, broken hearts, flippant lives of a superficial flock, and the Holy God. Force him to be the one in the community who knows God. Throw him into the ring to box with God till he learns how short his arms are; engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. Let him come out only when he is bruised and beaten into being a blessing. Set a time clock on him that will imprison him with thought and writing about God for 60 hrs. a week. Shut his big mouth forever spouting `remarks' and stop his tongue always tripping lightly over everything non-essential. Require him to have something to say before he dare break silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley, fire him from the PTA and cancel his country club membership; burn his eyes with weary study, wreck his emotional poise with worry for God, and make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone, burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets, refuse his glad hand, and put water in the gas tank of his community buggy. Give him a Bible and tie him in his pulpit and make him preach the word of the living God. Test him, quiz him, and examine him; humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine, and shame him for his glib comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated attempts to play psychiatrist, scorn his insipid morality, ignore his broadmindedness, and compel him to be a minister of the Word!

When my friend Dan M (a student at Hope Int'l Univ) read these words on my other blog, he said, "I don't want to be a preacher!!" Neither should any of us, Dan, unless we are called to be by God.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What Do You Want Them to Remember-The Outline?

Peter Mead over at the Biblical Preaching blog has a very insightful and challenging reminder of what we are trying to do. I, for one, am way too guilty of emphasizing the content of the outline rather than the transformaion brought by the Spirit. Ouch!

He says:

Before preaching, it is important to have the end in sight. Is our goal really to have people remember the details of the sermon? It seems that both preachers and listeners alike assume that the listener is supposed to remember the outline of the message. So preachers lament the lack of note-taking, or actively encourage it, perhaps by giving “fill in the blank” outlines. Another approach is to use powerpoint projection with the outline visually presented to the listener. And, of course, there’s the common approach of preaching with memorable, sometimes alliterated, points that function as “hooks to hang thoughts on.” None of these things are wrong (or right), but they all point toward the goal of having listeners remember the outline of the sermon (or at least have a written record of it for future consultation).

Perhaps it is time to question the value of remembering or recording a sermon’s outline. Of course, the listener can think through the message later using the outline the preacher used (if a paper record of the sermon’s content is necessary, perhaps give out a handout after the service is over?) Would it not be a better goal for people to think through the text later, rather than through the preacher’s outline?

The real goal of preaching is lives transformed by God’s Word. Any transformation should come from the biblical passage’s main idea relevantly applied to the listener’s life. The goal is not memorization, but transformation. Yet if something should be remembered, surely it should be the main idea, clearly derived from the passage and relevantly applied. The outline of a message is there to order thought, to ensure progress and to serve the big idea and its purpose. The outline is not king. It is merely a discreet servant, usually serving behind the scenes.

You can find the orignial at

So...what do YOU think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FOH: WIlliam Willimon

I will not try to go on and on with Festival of Homiletics notes. I want to do a couple more entries (like Brian McLaren), but I found so much of this helpful for me in my preaching, I thought there might be a gem or two that would be helpful for others.

“Transformation with the Trinity; Preaching that disturbs”

William Willimon for many years was the chaplain & professor at Duke Univ. More recently he was appointed the Methodist bishop for the state of Georgia.

He also lectured on Thursday at the beautiful Christ Church. I could not have been more disappointed. He spoke there on "How God Changes People Through Preaching." He basically said I don't know, but took an hour to do it. It was profoundly disappointing. I went into his Friday lecture with my expectations pretty low. Friday was as good as Thursday was bad.

Some misc. notes on his Friday lecture.

Whenever two denominations merge, ten years later you have a weaker denomination.

Day of Pentecost: “God showed up and all hell broke loose.” People yelled fire! And ran for the doors.

You ask God at the opening of worship to descend among us, and every now and then, God answers.

Prophetic speech comes with the descent of the Holy Spirit. Preaching can be transformational because God is. That's why we have the chairs bolted down in worship.

Our preaching is usually not transformational until God shows up.

It is within the nature of the Trinity to move, disrupt, dislodge, create friction between our ways and God’s ways. As leaders, we sometimes think it is our role to negotiate this space. “'I’m a pastor, I’m a reconciler of troubled waters.' (“Well great, try nursing or something. We’re working with a living God.”)

(From Thursday lecture) There is something about the Trinity that results in God not staying in a place very long (God moves on and we humans refuse to accept that and we create institutions)

  1. The primary image of God in the Bible is a journey
  2. Church fathers used the concept of “the procession” of God
  3. Thin descriptions of God are killing us
  4. Preaching is not about transformation—it is about letting Christ move among his people.

(Back to Friday lecture) I don’t know why God moves on from places. It is usually painful.

“It’s hard to worship a God when he gets destructive”

The difference between a living God and a dead God is that a dead God can no longer shock us. An idol is a projection of the worshippers wants, thoughts, and desires.

We are to be a projection of the Trinity’s wants, thoughts and desires.

A renewable resource for energy for ministry is the Trinity

Preaching is not an encounter with helpful principles, but is an encounter with a person who transforms.

Too much preaching today is in the Wisdom Literature mode. “like being on a long trip with your mother.” Good principles that help you live through the World. “this way is a better life than that life.” It is not transformational

"Basically the sermon becomes an announcement that, 'I have found four, three, five biblical principles that will help you at work or help you in your marriage.' I wish being a Christian were that easy." “Power-point preaching.” (3/4/5 Biblical principles to help you at work/in your marriage/etc) -- instead of focusing on a God who is powerful, personal and unpredictable. “I wish being a Christian were that easy . . .”

“We don’t have any happy marriages in the Bible!”

I come to the Bible with my life projects and look for help with what I’m doing. Scripture may not be happy with my life as presently constituted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Preaching is the gutsy act of letting Christ roam among his people.”

Not an encounter with principles, but with a person. A person who calls your name, calls you out, intrudes.

Our preaching too often stabilizes Jesus.

Purpose Driven Life & its promise of spiritual fulfillment in Introduction:

  • If completing 40 days of spiritual homework will answer every question about life and faith, "don't bother with worshiping the Trinity,"
  • “That’s easier than the Trinity.” “I have discovered the way that will help you keep Jesus white.”
  • "Perilously close" to Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity.
  • questioned Borg's pledge of "a way of seeing Christianity that makes persuasive and compelling sense of life,"
  • Borg seems to have discovered how to "help you keep Jesus quiet."

"Preaching is hard because it is an encounter with the living Christ,"

We think preaching is about lessening the cognitive dissonance that exists between us and the gospel. That we’re to make the gospel receivable. That we can make people think “Huh, Jesus makes sense. I can use Jesus to get what I wanted before I confronted the gospel.” Jesus says to preachers, “would you get out of the way?”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Shauna Farley, PhD. Speech/Language Pathologist (Orange, CA)

  • Drink lots of water - 8 glasses a day.
  • Avoid smoking or being in smoke-filled rooms.
  • Avoid overuse or vocal abuse.
  • Avoid harsh substances such as alcohol, ammonia and other chemicals.
  • Avoid speaking over noise.
  • Avoid straining your voice.
  • Don't clear your throat; cough instead.
  • If your throat hurts or feels dry when you speak, don't ignore it. Something is wrong.

Do you experience:

  • frequent bouts of hoarseness
  • habitual throat clearing
  • coughing
  • vocal fatigue after speaking
  • pain or irritation
  • bulging veins in the neck
  • "lump in the throat"feeling
  • tightness in chest or neck
  • tenderness in muscles in neck or shoulders
  • too little or too much mucus
  • pain in the base of the tongue
  • reduced vocal range‑
  • pitch breaks
  • phonation breaks
  • poor endurance
  • raspy voice

If any of these problems last for more than 10 days, seek medical help,

Signs of vocal abuse:

  • nodules
  • polyps

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reminding People of What They Already Know

Loretta and I were walking last Saturday after coming back from a long day filled with weddings and dinners with our boys and their friends (and attendant girlfriends/wives) back in town for the weddings. And as we walked, Loretta was talking about her women's Bible study. They are doing Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life the long way...they are taking a day a week and so 40-days becomes a 40-week study. (The subject of why I have never preached on Purpose Driven Life is saved for another time and place). They are on the section on spiritual gifts. And Loretta became excited as she described the women's reaction to the study. These are all women who have been believers many years. And yet she described how this teaching was fresh to them. (Not NEW, but FRESH—big distinction). Their leader, Janice is brilliant at doing that.

Because I am Listening to Fred Craddock’s tape series Preaching as Storytelling, something he had said immediately came to mind:

"A highly prized form of learning is to understand what you know. As Luke says to Theophilus: ‘that you may understand those things in which you have been instructed.’ (Luke 1:4 paraphrased)

“By the way, In preaching, that is very important. It is very important that people have the experience of what they already know.

“At least 90% of every sermon should be such that they can say "Amen". They do not want to be insulted and certainly not put-down. I do not enjoy being put down. That is what the world offers me every day...a hot cup of despair and a big put-down. I think we ought to participate in the ministry of encouragement to each other.” (Tape 1, Track 2)

That ability to teach what is note new, but in a fresh way is always challenging. I have had very little negative criticism of my preaching, but every once in a while someone states that it is shallow. (Although last summer I was criticized for making it too classroom-like & too deep—oh well….)

But one of the areas that I find most difficult is preaching to a congregation of established believers. There are two types of established believers…those who are well grounded in the Word and those who are not. The second group brings all sorts of preconceptions and prejudices and misunderstandings to the sermon time. And then you have non-believers or new believers. As has been said many times, you used to be able to presume that non-believers or new believers at least knew a number of Bible stories or references because our culture referred to them and felt they were worth passing on as part of our cultural heritage. That is no longer the case and so you have people who know literally NOTHING about the Bible who are in our sanctuaries.

To preach one sermon to all three (maybe more) groups is a challenge. I guess that my approach has always been to find the middle ground. It is admittedly simple for those who are established believers. But hopefully (and here is where I tie in the above quote) I am reflect on our common experiences as established believers. I am not telling them anything (or much) new, but I am helping them see a new dimension or facet of it. And yet for the non-Christian, new believer, and established believer who is not grounded in the Word, it is important to clearly lay some of those foundations.

Have you found good ways to resolve this quandary? Share some of your ideas with the rest of us.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Narrative Sermon with Fear and Trembling

So...I preached a narrative sermon again this morning (mostly). I was looking at I Cor. 11:28 about "Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup," and was caught by the words "everyone ought to examine themselves."

(The audio can be heard at:

I had seen an outline that spoke that we need to examine our companions, our habits, our thoughts, our priorities and our motives. I liked the outline, but was a little bored with preaching it straight. And then I thought of narrative. What if I told a short story about five different people taking communion who needed to examine their companions habits. thoughts, priorities and motives. And so I did. But I pulled my punch a bit. I spent the last 7-8 minutes doing a "here's what each story means" explanation. The words of of those who push narrative preaching kept ringing in my head, "Trust the story to convey the message. Trust the story to convey the message. Trust the story."
And to one extent I did, but to another I didn't. I still had to do some straight teaching at the end to drive it home.

But I did so with a little fear & trembling. I had Cherie (my children's minister) agree to pray while I was preaching. The reason why I wanted more prayer than normal was that the last time I did this it was a disaster. It was in my first or second year here and I preached a 1st person narrative sermon on Elijah. I had a staff person read the text for the morning and then I came up in character (although not in costume) and preached the sermon as if I were Elijah. I felt REALLY good about it. I felt that it powerfully connected where Elijah was with where we are.

I thought it was well thought out and well executed. But frankly I got spooked. You'd have thought I'd denied the virgin birth (I didn't!) There were people who were actually angry after church and one person wrote to the elders that it was the sorriest excuse for a sermon and I was the sorriest excuse for a preacher that he had ever seen. The main guy (who wrote the letter) is still in the church and I thought that it would be best to leave narrative alone. I had done it effectively in my former church, but the congregation here was obviously different.

But as I looked at this text, it just seemed to scream narrative. To tell the story of five people who need to examine themselves, but who don't. Presentation-wise the sermon went fine. I read my notes too much, but in a story that is a little more acceptable. First worship hour only one man...a visitor...made any comment "Well you gave us something to think about!" (OK?!?) Second service one of my secretaries Kim (an encourager) gave me a thumbs up as she left & she said, "GREAT SERMON!" That was it. (At least no one one was mad.) Sometimes the Sundays I get no response it means that people are still processing what I have said. Time will tell what kind of response it gets. We'll see...

What has been your experience with narrative preaching?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

TOPICALISM-Connecting with Culture

I saw a brainstorming technique that is used by stand-up comics to develop material. Now...I understand that stand-up comedy is significantly different from preaching the transformative and eternal Word of God...but I find the list helpful. As you can see below, it spells out the acrostic TOPICALISM.

O-rganization (i.e. the organization you are speaking to)
I-nternational events

L-iterature (Best Sellers) [Please no editorial comments about whether ANY current best-sellers should be considered literature].
I-ntro (Program Chair--this works best for a comedian speaking to a community group)

Periodically I go through the list and use it as a brainstorming worksheet. I come up with as many current examples of each item as I can. I have had my staff do this for me as well. I am, frankly, not always up-to-date with television shows, crazes and songs. But others on my staff are. You could just hand it to selected individuals in the congregation as well. But that becomes a list that I use when I am thinking about sermon illustrations or beginnings of sermons, I glance over it to see if there is anything in any of these that would fit as an illustration or connection point in some way. It provides an "ah-ha" moment for the congregation when they hear you refer to something in the news or from the radio that they have heard of in another context. It is a reminder that the Gospel speaks to all of life.

Some would find this artificial. If so, don't use it. But I find it is a handy tool that helps me keep current. The Word of God is ALWAYS relevant. But it is easy for me as a preacher to become less and less relevant unless I work at it.
Do you have similar tools?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Telling Personal Stories from the Pulpit

The pendulum has swung quite widely about telling stories about yourself or your family from the pulpit. When I began in ministry we were just transitioning out of that period when it was not proper for the minister to use himself as an illustration within the sermon. Many, many time I heard older ministers apologize for using a personal story.

The pendulum has swung to quite the opposite extreme. Much of that is healthy. People need to hear how what we are preaching impacts our lives. But there are the extremes: I have heard preachers tell stories about themselves from the pulpit that seemed quite inappropriate. In an age of confessional tell-all, some think any thing that happens in their life is fair game for relating from the pulpit. Some cast themselves in an embarrassingly bad light, others in an overly good light (braggadocio). Other times it not not that the story is extreme either way, but I would ask, why is he or she telling this story? To make us laugh? Does it relate to the sermon at all and if so, how?

In his tape series of lectures on Preaching as Storytelling, Fred Craddock gives what is, I believe, a healthy balance. He comes from that generation that did not tell stories on themselves, but as a preacher, he tells stories on himself and his family with great relish and effectiveness. Here is what he says:

"The question comes: should I tell things about myself from the pulpit? The standard or canon by which you measure whether or not a personal story is to be used is whether or not the personal story is not just yours, but is Every-persons. To what extent in that experience you were "Every-person." You were Adam & Eve. If you were Everyperson, so that the listeners can identify with it, then it can be told. If it was yours in a peculiar sense remote from the experiences of other people, it is for private conversation and not for the pulpit. Because there can be no identification; and the point of it all is for people to enter into the story." (Preaching as Storytelling, Lecture 4)

Have you seen personal stories of the preacher used in especially effective or ineffective ways? What made the difference? What guidelines do you use in including or not including personal stories?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Staying Put in a Text

I have been holding onto a post for over a week and letting it ruminate in my head. The post is by Steve Matthewson over at (

He addresses a concern that I think is an issue in my preaching, which is a failure to stay put in a text. Here is his post: (My comments follow)

An old adage claims: “The best interpreter of Scripture is other Scripture.” True. But expositors must not abuse this insight when preaching a particular biblical passage. We must learn the discipline of staying put in the text we’re preaching. I face this challenge every weekend. I have to ask, “When is it appropriate to turn to another passage, and when is it better to stay put in the text I’m preaching?”

This question matters because teaching people how to think biblically means (1) teaching them to follow the flow of thought of a passage and (2) teaching them to connect the ideas of a passage with the overall message of the Bible. The first concern warrants staying put in a text. The second compels us to make connections with a passage we’re preaching and the whole sweep of the Bible. Every time we preach, we have to find the right balance between camping in the text we’re preaching and making forays into other parts of the Bible.

My concern, as I read and listen to some sermons, is that flitting all over the Bible can be a substitute for tracing the argument or the development of a passage. I reviewed a sermon outline recently and noticed that the preacher referred to thirty (yes, thirty!) other passages to develop the six-verse unit he preached. It was clear from the outline that he turned to all of them during the sermon. As I studied the outline more closely, I realized that the sermon got its shape from this assortment of texts scattered around the Bible rather than from the text on which the sermon was based. More accurately, the sermon got its shape from a grid created by the preacher as he read assorted passages related to the various words or topics in his text.

Remember, people learn how to read their Bibles from listening to your sermons! After a steady diet of your sermons, will they opt for a ‘concordance approach’ in which they simply look at the cross-references for every major word in the passage they’re reading? Or, will they develop the instinct to look for the flow of thought, to trace the argument, and to reflect on the figures of speech within this passage? As believers mature in their faith, we want them to make connections between texts of Scripture. We want them to think theologically (in terms of both biblical and systematic theology). But they will not do this well unless they learn first to stay put in a text. (Find the original post at:

Cal's reflection: While I do believe that I flit from scripture to scripture a lot less than I did early in my preaching years, I still find it easy to do that. (Frankly, it fills out the sermon). But it does not always ILLUMINE the text. And that is the point, isn't it? Even if the cross references ARE illuminating, does using them take time both in prep & in preaching that is better used in sticking with the original text and working through that? I find this train of thinking helpful. Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

General Observation on Festival of Homiletics

I am still struggling a little bit with what I think of my week in Nashville at the Festival of Homiletics about three weeks ago. I am glad I went...but I am having trouble articulating why. The types of churches represented were significantly more progressive/liberal than the churches with whom I normally associate. That is neither good nor just is. There was heavy emphasis on the lectionary texts for next year. Since I don't preach through the lectionary, that was of much less interest to me than it might be to most. It is always hard to go to something like this by yourself. Most of the people there either came together or were from the same denominations (Methodist, Presby, Lutheran, Episcopalian primarily) and either knew each other or had common friends or seminaries, etc. So it was hard not having someone with whom to debrief what I was experiencing and hearing.

The caliber of the preaching was very high. The number of preachers who have been rated as some of the best in the nation was phenomenal. It was kind of a who's who of progressive preachers today. A 1996 Newsweek article in my files gives a list of the 12 "most effective preachers" as named by Baylor University. Of the twelve, five were at FOH (Fred Craddock, Thomas Long, James Forbes, Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willamon. The others--FYI--were Walter Burgardt, Billy Graham, Llolyd Ogilvie, Haddon Robinson John R.W. Stott, Charles Swindoll & Gardner C. Taylor). You add in Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Calvin Miller, Will Campbell and Walter Brueggemann and you have a pretty all-star cast. It was very inspirational just to be there and to hear great preaching. I didn't want to miss a session, not simply because the church was paying my way, but because it was with very few exceptions outstanding preaching.

But when I got home people ask, "Will we see a difference in your preaching because of your time there?" I don't know. I hope so. But I am not sure. Perhaps they will simply because the bar has been raised. Perhaps they will because it has piqued my interest in diving into more reading and research (and blogging) on preaching. I think that the preaching/teaching at FOH has encouraged me to delve into parts of scripture (more Old Testament and parables) than I have done recently. I also know that FOH has encouraged me to address more social issues from the pulpit. In combination with a Craddock CD set that I purchased at FOH, I was encouraged to use more stories and improve in my storytelling ability. I also came to realize the importance of narrative in people's lives and the importance preaching plays in framing that narrative for people.

But it is not like there were lots of great tips and techniques shared (although there were a few. For example I was impressed with the use of repetition in Vashti Murphy McKenzie's sermon. Find a phrase and then play with ways it applies and repeat it with the phrase). I think one of the things that I most appreciated was great preaching that was not the typical evangelical and fundamentalist preaching I am accustomed to hearing. It was articulate, biblical, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and almost always challenging. There were times that the liberal theology got a bit old, however. I sometimes felt like a fish out of water. I know that the emphasis this year was on prophetic preaching, but that is what I needed to hear. It was also good to hear the affirmation (I think from Brueggemann) that prophetic preaching does not equal social action. It may result in it, but it is not the same thing.

I think the best thing about the FOH was the renewed passion for preaching (and GOOD preaching) that it stirred up in me. I would say that it was simply "Good for my soul." For that reason alone, it was worth my time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Helps for Communication

In looking through my sermon files, I came across this list that I found helpful. Unfortunately it is hand-written and I have no idea where it came from! If anyone knows the source of this, I would deeply appreciate being able to credit it.

Helps for Communication

1. Try to plan preaching a year at a time

a. Period One-General reading, pray & calendar building (Read good books on preaching)

b. Period Two-Plan the several series you will include

      • Sometimes note secular holidays
      • Include a Christian family series
      • Give associates the text (or a choice of several texts) to preach on
      • Preach 2/3 NT and 1/3 OT

c. Period Three—Six The development of each quarter at a time

2. Study the crowd and never stop studying the crowd

a. Books of surveys by Lon Harris (this is dated. I would replace it with George Barna)

b. Work

c. Home

d. Recreation

3. Sharpen points on some of your words and phrases. George Buttrick said: “Good diction is not using unusually words, but usual words in unusual ways.”

Good example: Frederick Buechner’s sermon on Jonah

4. Preach what you believe, not what you don’t believe.

5. Listen to good writers in terms of style

6. Economize on words

a. Don’t repeat over and over the idea of the sermon

b. Every 7-8 minutes everybody in the congregation has a serious problem with lack of attention. Don’t try to feed a congregation the whole load all in one Sunday

7. Have a point. Consider one-point preaching

8. Believe that preaching is important—anything less is prostitution.

9. Vary your preaching style—if you become predictable, people will listen to you less.

10. Try writing and memorizing every word of your conclusion.

11. Pray for ten people in the congregation every day.

12. Whatever age you are, pay little attention to your “barrel”

13. Get a good night’s rest so you can stay alert.

14. Be real, intense, and “into” the whole service. (Pay attention to the music). Posture and carriage are important.

15. “It’s better to assault a mountain, than to excavate a molehill” –George Buttrick

16. People identify with people and human illustrations.

Monday, June 11, 2007

You Are Not the Sermon

As a writer as well as a preacher, I read writing books as well as preaching books. And several years ago I marked this section in Natalie Goldberg's classic writing book "Writing Down the Bones" as particularly applicable to preaching. I keep coming back to it as helpful in keeping my preaching in perspective. Almost every place she uses the words “writing” or “poem”, you could put “preaching” and “sermon”.

I look back on the sermons I preached a year, five years, fifteen years…good grief...twenty-five years ago and want to apologize to the people for the sermons. But in reality, they were appropriate for the time and season. I have always gotten good feedback on my preaching. But it fit where I was at the time and where my people were at the time. But none of those sermons are me. I am in a totally different place of life and ministry and walk with God. The Word of God passed through me at that moment in time and I was privileged to be able to share that Word of the Lord for the congregation at that time, but none of those sermons WAS me.

That is why the "sermon barrel" (such an antiquated term) is so dangerous. It presumes that what the Holy Spirit wanted to say through you and to a specific group of people at a specific time is still what God wants to say to you to people--probably different people at a different time. And even YOU are different. How in the world can that message fit without major reworking?

Natalie Goldberg is an outspoken Buddhist and compatriot of Jack Kerouac, but I find her words inspiring none-the-less:

We Are Not the Poem

"The problem is we think we exist. We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That is not true. We write in the moment. Sometimes when I read poems at a reading to strangers, I realize they think those poems are me. They are not me, even if I speak in the "I" person. they were my thoughts and my hand and the space and the emotions at that time of writing. Watch yourself. Every minute we change. It is a great opportunity. At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin afresh. That is how writing is. Instead of freezing us, it frees us.

"The ability to put something down--to tell how you feel about an old husband, an old shoe, or the memory of a cheese sandwich on a gray morning in Miami --that moment you can finally align how you feel inside with the words you write; at that moment you are free because you are not fighting those things inside. You have accepted them, become one with them. I have a poem entitled, "No Hope"--it's a long poem. I always think of it as joyous because in my ability to write of desperation and emptiness I felt alive again and unafraid. However, when I read it, people comment, "How sad." I try to explain, but no one listens.

"It is important to remember we are not the poem. People will react however they want; and if you write poetry, get used to no reaction at all. But that's okay. The power is always in the act of writing. Come back to that again and again and again. Don't get caught in the admiration for your poems. It's fun. But then the public makes you read their favorites over rand over until you get sick of those poems. Write good poems and let go of them. Publish them, read them, go on writing.

(Deleted example)

"It is very painful to become frozen with your poems, to gain too much recognition for a certain set of poems. The real life is in writing, not in reading the same ones over and over again for years. We constantly need new insights, visions. We don't exist in any solid form. There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don't identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture."

Natalie Goldberg, "We Are Not the Poem," Writing Down the Bones, pp. 10-11.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Challenges to Faithfully Interpreting a Text

Wayne McDill in his book, "12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching" discusses three challenges to faithfully interpreting a biblical text.
1. The nature of the Bible itself ("it is a divine-human book, written by men but containing the very word of God."
2. The difference between the Bible world and our own.
But I found the third reason helpful to consider:
3. The nature of the modern believer. Here is what he says:
The problem lies in our subjectivity. This means we naturally interpret everything, including the Bible, in terms of our own personal views and interests. Realize it or not, we bring all that we are to our interpretation. In one sense our minds are already made up. We already have opinions and ideas on most issues. But the meaning we seek in a passage is not the meaning we give to it out of our own thinking. It is the objective meaning to be found in the words of the original author.
The pressure to find something to preach is always on us as preachers. Our approach to the text is naturally going to reflect our aim, to prepare a sermon. Most of us, then, come to Scripture looking for sermons like children looking for Easter eggs in the grass. They know the brightly colored eggs do not normally belong there. That is irrelevant;. The lawn is merely the place there all the eggs are cleverly hidden. In the same way, the text of Scripture can seem to be merely a place where some really colorful sermons are cleverly hidden. The temptation is to ignore the larger fabric of the text, just snatch up a sermon and keep moving. (p. 66)

I think I agree with 3/4 of this quote. I know that I am guilty of looking at Scripture with "homiletic eyes"--to only look for "what will preach." And his point is well made. But I DISAGREE with his statement that "the meaning we seek in a passage is not the meaning we give to it out of our own thinking. It is the objective meaning to be found in the words of the original author." We do need to find that, yes. But the whole nature of preaching is to interact with the text. What meaning do we give to it out of our own thinking? I think it is essential. If there is no personalization of the message, it is dry and the preacher is meaningless...he is just a repeater or rephraser of what is already there in the text. But the faithful preacher brings BOTH what is the message of the original author, but also asks, "What is my impression of this text? How have I seen this lived out? What meaning do I give to this text. It is a combination of objective and subjective truth. What do you think?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Festival of Homiletics-(Tuesday): Anna Carter Florence

Dr. Anna Carter Florence is an Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur , GA. The seminary web site says that she “is interested in historical, theological, aesthetic, and performative dimensions of preaching and the ways preaching engages other fields and different traditions. Her research focuses on testimony, feminist theology, the role of experience in preaching, and the history of preaching women.”

Anne Carter Florence spoke on the second day of the FOH. She said some good things, but I took a lot fewer notes on her than almost anyone else.

God is the subject of preaching and you are not: This is the great struggle of all preachers. We want to make it about us! There is a real struggle going on, but it is less between you and your listeners than it is between the temptation to speak about yourself and your experience and speaking about God.

The Preacher and Fear

The fear that holds us captive week to week, is an invention of the system/deceiver/ principalities/etc. It is intended to keep us and the word apart. When it succeeds in its aim and changes to the focus of subject, it wins.

Testimony is the opposite of fear based preaching. It tells the great advertising machine of our society to take a flying leap.

Fear twists simple questions into fearful ones. To where we become broken.

It sets up a false dichotomy where we have to choose between our fear and our own testimony.

Fear of Flying (A love of scripture and the stories of scripture)

We give our people information rather than our love of the message.

We have a lot to gain from biblical illiteracy. If we are the only readers in our community, then we get to call the shots. We hold the power, but not the lords power, its the system power.

If we can instill a love for the text then we are insuring the love of text and it is then the lords power.

Fear of Failing

While fundamentalist churches are increasing and mainline are decreasing. But it is not necessarily a bad thing. Their success is not our failure. We have set up an adversarial set up. Competing to win.. But win what and whose terms? The system is winning. Putting its own spin on our numbers.

We will assume that worship attendance is the key statistic. The loosing church will be driven to adopt the winning church identity. The failing ones need to imitate the winning ones..

Less tolerant for ambiguity. Want to be told what to believe.

Success by numbers is totally rigged. Rigged by the system

Fear of Fighting (Conflict)

Institutional survival

Least objectionable-nothing to do with the Gospel.

(Thanks again to Gavin Richardson for filling in some holes that I had in my notes. You can find his more extensive notes on Anna Carter Florence at:

Friday, June 8, 2007

More FOH: Walter Brueggemann

The Hard Work After the Celebrity Prophets

Walter Brueggemann gave an excellent presentation on Prophetic Preaching. The whole day at the Festival of Homiletics was sponsored by the Lilly Foundation and was on Prophetic Preaching.

At the FOH, I was not really all that interested in getting CD’s of the presentations. But since coming home I have regretted that mistake, particularly on the Brueggemann lecture. It was dense, but fantastic. Let me make a few observations, but many of my notes are incomplete. I may actually break down & see if I can order the tape.

Brueggemann began with Jurgen Moltmann’s dialectic of Christ's death and resurrection and compared it to the Destruction of Jerusalem and the restoration.

There were three parts: (This is hard to depict on Blogger.)

The three categories are

  • Vulnerability
  • Dread/Discontinuity
  • Surprise


  • Friday
  • Saturday
  • Sunday


  • Destruction of Jerusalem
  • Captivity
  • Restoration

Denial is a major pathology in our society ("Don't ask, don't tell")

It was the same in ancient Israel:

  • Jer 6:13-15
  • Jer 8:10-12
  • Jer 28:2-17
  • Denial of the coming abyss (Ezek. 13 -religious leaders whitewashed)

Resistance to the hope of restoration = despair

Lamentations-why have you forsaken us

  • Lamentations 5:20, 22
  • Isaiah 40:27
  • Isaiah 49:14
  • Isaiah 50:2
  • Isaiah 59:1

Despair fends off surprise & resurrection

The pastor’s role in prophetic ministry is to tell the truth. To remind people that we usually live in Saturday.

The wonder of preaching is that the talk sometimes emboldens the walk

Prophetic ministry is to talk into ways that move the people of God beyond denial and despair to vulnerability and surprise.

God is in the world

1. The prophetic antidote to denial is truth telling

2. (didn’t get point 2)

We live in a morally coherent creation where actions lead to consequences.

  • Isaiah 5.20-euphamisms ( Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.)
  • Amos 6:4-7
  • Hosea 4:1-3
  • Micah 2:1-4
  • Jeremiah 5:23-29
  • Jeremiah 9:17

The truth must be told sideways, by those who live alongside ("Do you see what I see?")

Prophetic ministry does not equal future telling

Prophetic ministry does not equal social action

The prophetic antidote to despair is HOPE telling

The hope to be told =the abyss will not overwhelm the promises

The dream keeps the abyss from becoming permanent

  • Amos 5:14-15
  • Hosea 2:18-23
  • Micah 4:1-3
  • Jeremiah 31:31

God's future rests on the lips of the hope-tellers

  • Jeremiah 33:10-11
  • Isaiah 43:1-5

2 Reasons Not to Fear:

  1. I am with you
  2. You are mine

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Diagramming the Greek text

A skill that I am still developing is sentence diagramming the text as part of sermon preparation. I became more recently motivated to look at it again when reading "12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching" by Wayne McDill. He calls it "Structural Diagramming"

My first re-introduction to this was about a year ago at the Libronix national camp in Bellingham I attended. I know that in Libronix I can do it, but I never understood (still don't) the add-in feature that they have. I admit to not paying a lot of attention when I had sentence diagramming 40 or so years ago in elementary school (Although WE had it--I don't think they do it in school anymore).

But today I ran across what I hope will be a helpful tool . "NT Greek in Diagram" is a downloadable resource where not the English, but instead, the Greek text is diagrammed. ( SinceI am preaching on I Corinthians, I downloaded the I Corinthians section ($9.95). You can set up a subscription where you can get all the NT diagrams for $44.95. I thought I would try out one book and see how I like THAT before I sign up for the whole thing. Although, if it is good, $44 is pretty fair. I still wish there was a place to find ENGLISH diagrams of the New Testament. But using this tool should help me continue my quest to brush up on my NT Greek as well as help me understand diagramming better.

If you have found any Greek (or especially English) diagramming tools helpful, I would appreciate hearing from you about them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

FOH: The Perspective of History: Joseph Lowery

Joseph E. Lowery

“You Got Shoes, I Got Shoes”

Luke 15:11-32

Wikipedia biography: Joseph “Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama from 1952 until 1961. After Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955, Lowery helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott. In 1957, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and subsequently led the organization as its president from 1977 to 1997. At the request of Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery led the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. Lowery served as pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta from (1986-92). He is now retired but remains active in the civil rights movement.”

Lowery compared the reception the Prodigal Son got to the old story/song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.”

“Shoes have come to symbolize membership in the household of the father.”

This was true in biblical times and was true during the times of black slavery in America. He spoke extensively historically and personally about the place of shoes in African-American culture.

Shadrach, Meshach & “A Bad Negro”—only a black preacher could say this and get away with it.

God is involved in the struggle for human dignity & freedom

The old KJV of I Cor. 13 used the term “charity” for agape. “Charity” [as it is currently defined] is insufficient.

  • Love embraces justice; charity may or may not (Equality is not the same as equity)
  • Charity is seasonal love is at all times
  • Charity is selective; love is inclusive

Spiritual Identity Theft: “some people are trying to steal God’s identity & do things God would never do.”

He said that if his generation was about “We Shall Overcome,” that the administration of this generation seems to be, “We Shall Overturn.”

II Peter: a “peculiar people” (crazy people)-we are called to be different.

I had never really heart of Joseph Lowery…shows a big hole in my education. But hearing him and hearing OF his history impress me very much. At almost 86, he will not be with us a lot longer. It was a privilege to hear him.

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