Friday, November 30, 2007

Great Quote for the Life of a Preacher

It might seem strange to put a Kurt Vonnagut quote in a preaching blog, but I love this quote. It came from the last interview he gave before he died (which was last April). And while it may not deal directly with preaching, I think it deals directly with the LIFE of the preacher.

"I’ve been drawing all my life, just as a hobby, without really having shows or anything. It’s just an agreeable thing to do, and I recommend it to everybody. I always say to people, practice an art, no matter how well or badly [you do it], because then you have the experience of becoming, and it makes your soul grow. That includes singing, dancing, writing, drawing, playing a musical instrument."

On the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship, Pt. 4

The material in this blog post is now available for purchase here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

On the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship, Pt 3

The material in this blog post is now available for purchase here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship, Pt 2

The material in this blog post is now available for purchase here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship, Pt 1

The material in this blog post is now available for purchase here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Change in How We Get into a Sermon

Ed Stetzer comments that in the new culture in which we find ourselves, how we enter into a biblical text of topic must be approached differently than in the past. Formerly, when it was basically recognized that the Bible was authoritative and normative, you could simply state what the Bible said and urge people to do it, because they believed that what the Bible said was worthy of respect and following. He outlined it this way:
  • 1. The Bible says this.
  • 2. It is important
  • 3. You should do it.
But in a new culture in which the Bible is seen (tragically even among some Christians) as needing to be SHOWN to be authoritative or relevant, we must approach it differently. "For those with no biblical reverence point, the beginning point is often that of relevance. They are asking, 'Does this have anything to do with my life?' Or 'Is it relevant?'"

He suggests the following outline for beginning:
  • 1. Why is this important and how does it relate to me?
  • 2. What does the Bible say about it?
  • 3. What am I going to do with what the Bible says about it?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Preaching as Re-Revelation

Steve Mathewson over at the PreachingToday blog was really helpful to me today. Let me quote from his post and then comment. He writes:

"I recently ran across a helpful way of describing preaching. It’s in an essay by D. A. Carson in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (Crossway, 2007). In his essay, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit,” Carson encourages preachers to think of preaching in terms of 're-revelation.'”

"Carson explains: “Perennially we read [in the Scriptures], ‘The word of the Lord came to such-and-such a prophet.’ So when that Word is re-announced, there is a sense in which God, who revealed himself by that Word in the past, is re-revealing himself by that same Word once again.” Carson argues that preachers must bear this in mind, making their aim more than explaining the Bible. He writes: “They [preachers] want the proclamation of God’s Word to be a revelatory event, a moment when God discloses himself afresh, a time when the people of God know that they have met with the living God.”

"This raises the stakes, doesn’t it?! If my role as a preacher is to be a spokesperson through whom God reveals himself in a fresh way to His people, then this calls for a certain level of urgency and intensity as I study the text, pray over and through the text, and wrestle with what the Spirit is saying to me and to the people with whose care I have been entrusted."

"Pastors, our task as we preach this weekend and beyond is to re-reveal the living God. What a calling! What a privilege! What a responsibility! What a message! What a Savior and God!"

(Find this at:

cph: I think that this is helpful to me in terms of the information/inspiration tension upon which I have written on here before. As someone with a strong gift of teaching, I want people to UNDERSTAND the Bible. And when I have done maps and charts usually it is so that people can understand. And some of that is good. But does it further the message of the text? Or does it make us take a step back from the text? For example: this Sunday I am preaching on Esther. The "perhaps you were raised up for such a time as this" idea.

And I had planned on showing a map of Iran to show where Susa is located. But with a verbal reference, "Susa is located in present-day Iraq", I have located the scene in a real location without drawing attention away from the point of the story. I have always said that it was important to me for people to understand that the Bible events took place in real places...not "far, far away." But the point is NOT that Esther was in captivity in Susa. The point was that GOD was there and He raised Esther up to save his people. I have to apply that idea to my own life and then declare THAT TRUTH to people.

The term "re-revelation" makes me a bit squeamish, however. I understand what Carson means, that we are revealing to the people what God has already revealed to us in His Word. But I just don't care for the word. It seems to Joseph-Smith-ish if you know what I mean. The canon is closed and has been for centuries. But I can live with Carson's concept easily.

Am I catching his point? Is there something here that I am missing? Speak up if you have a thought.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

100th Blog Post: Reality Check

Well, what began as inspiration in Nashville the middle of May has now come to the point where I have logged my 100th blog post. Woo-hoo!! In light of that, the following quote is a good reality check:

"This site is best viewed by turning off your computer and participating in real life."
--Tantalizing If True website.

To those in the US: Happy Thanksgiving!


Daniel Doriani, preaching minister at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO, recently gave the main lectures at the 2007 Westminster Conference on Reformed Preaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

On Tuesday, Oct. 23, he gave his introductory sermon to the lecture series. But before he preached on the story of Jesus beckoning Peter to walk on the water, he gave a summary of how he tears apart a narrative in his sermon preparation. I found the outline helpful. Here are my notes on his lecture:
  1. Identify your story. Preach on the ENTIRE periscope. If it is 10 verses, let it be 10 verses. If it is 60 verses let it be 60 verses. “Let God’s unit of action be our unit of preaching.” Think hard and long before preaching on just half of a story.
  2. Locate where we are
    1. Physically-what land
    2. Time period
    3. Atmosphere-tense, happy, etc.
    4. Level of God’s activity/Where are we in the movement of redemption
    5. In a house or a field or temple or wherever.
  3. Identify the characters
    1. Triune God is always present
    2. Major char/Minor char
    3. Believers/Unbelievers
    4. Believers acting brilliantly, believers acting like unbelievers
  4. What event that starts the drama
  5. Find climax of the narrative—the point at which you would be holding your breath if you had been there. Example of Daniel & Lions den; we no longer hold our breath [we know how it ends], but IF YOU HAD BEEN THERE WHEN WOULD BE HOLDING YOUR BREATH?
  6. Final Resolution-when you exhale!
  7. Main point is usually found around –just before or just after—the climax/resolution nexus; usually in the dialog or commentary surrounding the climax/resolution. Sometimes God is speaking, sometimes it is the narrator; sometimes it is others.
His entire lecture can be found at:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lazy Preaching?

Peter Mead reflects on an Andy Stanley comment in a Preaching Magazine interview about cross referencing. Worthy of all of our attention whether or not you agree:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Henri Nouwen Quote

I am listening to Henri Nouwen's tape series on "The Return of the Prodigal Son." It was a lecture series he did some time before his death. Today's tape (#2- on the elder son) was one in which I kept saying (out loud in the car) "Oh wow." "Oh wow." "Oh wow." This is a tape that I am sure I will listen to again and again.

But one quote that I want to keep before my face regularly is appropriate for interpersonal relations, for actions and for choosing on what we will preach.

"Don't act when you know you have feelings that are not telling the truth."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

MLK: Political Preaching

In reflecting on my previous post, I was reminded of the following sermon by Marking Luther King, Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church some 40 years ago. He is an icon for many younger evangelicals today. Perhaps they should heed his example.

The quote is a bit long, but I think it bears reading. What would political leaders say to this today? This is just one example. I have in my library a book entitled,
"Political Sermons of the Founding Era (1730-1805)" It is a part of the heritage that has made America great.

MLK:The sermon which I am preaching this morning in a sense is not the usual kind of sermon, but it is a sermon and an important subject, nevertheless, because the issue that I will be discussing today is one of the most controversial issues confronting our nation. I'm using as a subject from which to preach, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam."

Now, let me make it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war. I preach to you today on the war in Vietnam because my conscience leaves me with no other choice. The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. "Ye shall know the truth," says Jesus, "and the truth shall set you free." Now, I've chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal. [...]

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we're always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on. Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for in all our history there has never been such a monumental dissent during a war, by the American people.

Polls reveal that almost fifteen million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam. Additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support it. And even those millions who do support the war [are] half-hearted, confused, and doubt-ridden. This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism, to the high grounds of firm dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Now, of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It's a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.

Yes, we must stand, and we must speak. [tape skip]...have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam. Many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. And so this morning, I speak to you on this issue, because I am determined to take the Gospel seriously. And I come this morning to my pulpit to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.

This sermon is not addressed to Hanoi, or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Nor is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in a successful resolution of the problem. This morning, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans, who bear the greatest responsibility, and entered a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is...a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube. And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hope of the poor at home. It was sending their sons, and their brothers, and their husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room. So we watch them in brutal solidarity, burning the huts of a poor village. But we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta. Now, I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

y third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years--especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, "So what about Vietnam?" They ask if our nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent. Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total movement; they've applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, we can't do it this way. They applauded us in the sit-in movement--we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, Be non-violent toward Bull Connor;when I was saying, Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark. There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children. There's something wrong with that press!

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was not just something taking place, but it was a commission--a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of Man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances. But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men, for communists and capitalists, for their children and ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative. Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that he died for them? What, then, can I say to the Vietcong, or to Castro, or to Mao, as a faithful minister to Jesus Christ? Can I threaten them with death, or must I not share with them my life? Finally, I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be the son of the Living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. And because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come today to speak for them. And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak not now of the soldiers of each side, not of the military government of Saigon, but simply of the people who have been under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know these people and hear their broken cries.

Now, let me tell you the truth about it. They must see Americans as strange liberators. Do you realize that the Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation. And incidentally, this was before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. And this is a little-known fact, and these people declared themselves independent in 1945. They quoted our Declaration of Independence in their document of freedom, and yet our government refused to recognize them. President Truman said they were not ready for independence. So we fell victim as a nation at that time of the same deadly arrogance that has poisoned the international situation for all of these years. France then set out to reconquer its former colony. And they fought eight long, hard, brutal years trying to re-conquer Vietnam. You know who helped France? It was the United States of America. It came to the point that we were meeting more than eighty percent of the war costs. And even when France started despairing of its reckless action, we did not. And in 1954, a conference was called at Geneva, and an agreement was reached, because France had been defeated at Dien Bien Phu. But even after that, and after the Geneva Accord, we did not stop. We must face the sad fact that our government sought, in a real sense, to sabotage the Geneva Accord. Well, after the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come through the Geneva agreement. But instead the United States came and started supporting a man named Diem who turned out to be one of the most ruthless dictators in the history of the world. He set out to silence all opposition. People were brutally murdered because they raised their voices against the brutal policies of Diem. And the peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States influence and by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem's methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown, they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace. And who are we supporting in Vietnam today? It's a man by the name of general Ky [Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky] who fought with the French against his own people, and who said on one occasion that the greatest hero of his life is Hitler. This is who we are supporting in Vietnam today. Oh, our government and the press generally won't tell us these things, but God told me to tell you this morning. The truth must be told.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support and all the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps, where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go, primarily women, and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the towns and see thousands of thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the United Buddhist Church. This is a role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible but refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investments. I'm convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Oh, my friends, if there is any one thing that we must see today is that these are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. They are saying, unconsciously, as we say in one of our freedom songs, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around!" It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I'm not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: "Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us."

Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism. The home that all too many Americans left was solidly structured idealistically; its pillars were solidly grounded in the insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage. All men are made in the image of God. All men are bothers. All men are created equal. Every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Every man has rights that are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State--they are God-given. Out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. What a marvelous foundation for any home! What a glorious and healthy place to inhabit. But America's strayed away, and this unnatural excursion has brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted with irrationality.

It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home. Come home, America. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on." I call on Washington today. I call on every man and woman of good will all over America today. I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, "You're too arrogant! And if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God."

Now it isn't easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means being frustrated. When you tell the truth and take a stand, sometimes it means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it means losing a job...means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a seven, eight year old child asking a daddy, "Why do you have to go to jail so much?" And I've long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it--bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I can still sing "We Shall Overcome" because Carlyle was right: "No lie can live forever." We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant was right: "Truth pressed to earth will rise again." We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell was right: "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne." Yet, that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the bible is right: "You shall reap what you sow." With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we're free at last!" With this faith, we'll sing it as we're getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore. And I don't know about you, I ain't gonna study war no more.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dante's Hottest Spots in Hell

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.
Dante Alighieri

This morning's Oregonian had an article that should have warmed my soul...but it didn't. It was an article entitled, "Evangelical Pastors Steer Clear of Politics." The gist of the article was that the traditional evangelical voices are split on who to support for president in 2008 and "a new generation of pastors turns away from politics altogether."

The article (LA Times-Washington Post syndicate) is by-lined in Colorado Springs, in recent years a hot-bed of right-wing evangelical activity. Let me quote just a couple of paragraphs:

"'As far as me standing in the pulpit holding a voter guide, that's not going to happen,' said Brady Boyd, 40, who leads a congregation of 10,000 at New Life Church. [This is Ted Haggard's former church]. He will use his position to teach the Bile to worshipers. 'I won't use it to influence their vote,' he said.

"That suits many in his congregation just fine. 'If he starts talking politics, that makes me very uneasy,' said Wolfgang Friesinger, 56, a political independent.

"'It's not his place to tell us who to vote for,' said Marsha Thorson, 54, a Republican who is leaning toward Guiliani.

"One third of born-again Christians younger than 30 told [pollster George] Barna that they are embarrassed to call themselves believers.

"'They're tired of the hard-edged politics that th Christian right has practiced in the last couple of generations," said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 'They see all this division, all this anger, without a lot to show for it.'

"Mega-church pastors have capitalized on that frustration by offering a different brand of Christianity. With sunny, affirming services, they cast a broad welcome net--and fill arena-sized sanctuaries each Sunday.

"They might promote a cause, such as AIDS relief in Africa. But endorse a candidate? BPush a partisan agenda? That could empty half their pews. Few up and coming pastors want to risk such a backlash."

cph: There is so much to react to in just that brief quote (maybe 1/8 of the article) . But the biggest disappointment is to hear that younger pastors are more interested in building personal mega-church kingdoms than preaching the news of the kingdom. To say that John the Baptist did not meddle in the politics of his day is not to know your Bible. To say that Jeremiah, Elijah, Isaiah, and on and on through the list of prophets, did not speak politically is to be ignorant of the content and context of those books of the Bible.

As someone who is no admirer of Pres. Bush and his failed policies, (and hasn't been for a long time) it should make me glad to see that churches are more and more ashamed of being associated with him. But the answer is not to retreat into silence. The answer is to preach the Bible. The above excerpts promote an error that most pastors know...we cannot legally endorse ANY candidate as a church. Individual pastors can do so, as long as it is outside of the context of their church and it is clear that they are not speaking on behalf of their church. But if a church endorses a specific candidate, it endangers its 502(c)(3) status. (Although I don't see John the Baptist worrying about that). But issues (just not specific candidates) can and must be addressed.

Simply to recognize that the right-wing politicians (including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc.) have been terribly wrong-headed and done tremendous damage to the church of Christ is NOT to say that preachers should self-silence themselves politically. But perhaps it is to say that they should read their Bible's more AND THEN preach sermons that reflect the Bible's concern with issues like justice, peace, mercy and concern for the poor.

For a secular newspaper reporter to recognize young evangelicals are shutting their mouths about speaking how the Bible addresses the political issues of the day because it threatens their popularity and financial base is truly a sad day for America...and for the church.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Information and Inspiration

Lori Carrell, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, studied 581 U.S. congregations to measure how preaching affects its listeners. Her findings are featured in the 2000 book The Great American Sermon Survey. Among other things, Carrell discovered that 65 percent of listeners primarily expect spiritual inspiration and life application from sermons, while 35 percent desire information and insight.
"Farther In and Deeper Down: Evangelicals of all stripes are reviving the neglected art of expository preaching." , Christianity Today 4/1/02

cph: So how does that determine how we preach? I recognize that it is easier for me to emphasize the information and insight aspects. That is a weakness in my preaching. I am pretty fair with always including some life application (the "so what" I call it). I am working on increasing the inspirational aspect of my preaching. On my DiSC test, my ability to inspire is incredibly low. I don't really know what to think/do about that. Except focus on it. My Ministry Coach (Greg Salciccioli) has suggested I make "find ways to be inspirational" a task since I am highly task oriented.

What about you? How is your balance between information and inspiration?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Addressing Objections to Christianity

In a recent post on the blog, Steve Mathewson raises the idea of addressing objections to Christianity. In part, he says,

"One of the ways that I’m trying to speak to the non-believers who attend our worship services is to take a couple minutes in each sermon to address an objection to Christianity. I got this idea from Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. He points out that almost every text we preach speaks to one of the major objections to Christianity.

"Tim Keller identifies six objections to Christianity. He calls them “defeater beliefs.” That is, these are six reasons why people argue that Christianity can not be true. Recently, I’ve been trying to address one of them in every sermon I preach. Here is a paraphrase of the six objections.

1. Christianity is not superior to other religions; there are many ways to God.
2. Evil and suffering argue against a God who is powerful, good, or loving.
3. Truth is a personal matter, not something the Bible can legislate.
4. Christians are condemning, exclusive, and intolerant.
5. The God of Christianity is condemning, judgmental, and angry.
6. The Bible is unreliable."

The entire blog post can be read at:

I like this idea a lot, but I am not sure about including it in every sermon. That seems a little slavish. But in thinking back to recent sermons, it could have worked.

I am preaching on Psalms of Thanksgiving in the three weeks preceding Thanksgiving. There are 13 of them and I have just selected three to raise up.

Yesterday, I preached on Ps. 124 and giving thanks to God for his intervention in difficult times and recognizing "What Might Have Been" I spoke a little bit (not as much as was in my notes) on what misinterpretations we make of God's delay in "rescuing" us. I could have used #5 and addressed the misunderstanding that God's delay or his failure to act is interpreted by some as proof that God is angry & condemning. It could also have addressed #2-bad things happening are seen as some that proof that God doesn't not exist. It would have been an easy transition into the ways that God works, even when we misinterpret his actions (or his silences).

The week before was on Psalm 30 and how God is a God of new beginnings and we can thank & praise him for that. Again the myth that "Christians are condemning, exclusive, and intolerant." could have been raised in addressing that we serve a God of new beginnings. It seems a little forced in that text, but could be made to work.

Interesting idea. What do you think?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Willimon Does It Again (or is it still?)

I'm hurrying to get to a meeting tonight, so I'll pretty much just throw the URL up here, but Will Willamon has an excellent post today about the purpose of our preaching.

A quick teaser:
"Sometimes in leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear that we may have fallen in! When, in our sermons, we sought to use our sermons to build a bridge from the old world of the Bible to the new modern world, the traffic was only moving in one direction on that interpretive bridge. It was always the modern world rummaging about in Scripture, saying things like "This relates to me," or, "I'm sorry, this is really impractical," or, "I really can't make sense out of that." It was always the modern world telling the Bible what's what.

"I don't believe that the Bible wants to "speak to the modern world." Rather, I think the Bible wants to change, convert the modern world.

"The modern world is not only the realm of the telephone, the telegraph, and allegedly "critical thinking," this world is also the habitat of Auschwitz, two of the bloodiest wars of history, and assorted totalitarian schemes which have consumed the lives of millions. Why would our preaching want to be comprehensible to that world?

"Too often Christians have treated the modern world as if it is an unalterable fact, a reality to which we were obligated to adjust and adapt, rather than a point of view with which we might argue."

Find the entire excellent post at:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

On Anorexic Sermon Outlines

Last night I was up late sorting out some filing and had the TV on after the news had ended. I was only half aware of what was was one of those banal entertainment shows. (Seriously, WHY SHOULD I CARE THAT BRAD AND ANGELINA WENT OUT ON A DATE NIGHT WITHOUT THE KIDS!!!???)

But they had a segment on some former child star who had been anorexic and her conversation with Isabelle Caro, a 27-year-old French woman who has been battling anorexia for 15 years and recently posted nude for a series of ads promoting anorexia awareness, especially among young girls who seek to be like the skin & bones movie stars. The segment was pretty much the former anorexic (I don't know if someone can actually BE a "'former" anorexic) talking AT Isabelle Caro. It seemed more like a lecture. It was pathetic in two ways. What Ms Caro looked like was skeletal. But the only thing she said in the entire interview was "I hope that someday I will have long hair like you do." I fear for that woman.

But it made me think of sermon outlines. How's that for a bizarre segue? Actually after reading Peter Mead's excellent post which I have copied below, I began to think of a change that I have consciously made recently in my preaching. Specifically, I have begun to make a change in how I preach my sermon outline. For years I have announced each major point in my outline as I came to is. In thinking through why my preaching is criticized as too academic, I have decided that that is too much like a classroom. It gives a choppy feel to the sermon. The emphasis seems to be on the points to be copied instead of the point of the message. In fact, I left out one entire section of my sermon outline last Sunday and only one AR person came and insisted on knowing the points I had left out. I saw that as progress because normally there is a line of people agitated that they "missed" what I had said.

Now, I still have the Powerpoint slide show the next point on the screen behind me, but I think that it smooths out the presentation and helps focus people back on the big point, rather than the outline. No more anorexic sermons for me (I hope!)

Peter Mead (again) on Evaluating Outlines

I just deeply appreciate what Peter Mead writes. I will try not to do too many Mead quotes so close together, but this is good:

"The outline of a sermon is important. Even though it may not always show clearly to the listeners, it must be clear to you the preacher. So when you have an outline, how can you evaluate it to make sure it is a good one?

1. Look for the unity of the sermon. When all pieces (points or movements) in an outline are considered, the whole idea should be adequately covered and supported. At the same time, the whole biblical text should be adequately covered. This should be saying the same thing since both the outline and the idea should take into account the entire text.

2. Look for the order of the sermon. The elements of an outline should move forward in an order that makes sense, and often in the order of the text (although this is not a requirement).

3. Look for proportion in the sermon. This does not mean that every point has to cover the same number of verses, but the points should be proportional to their relative weight in the sermon. Often the points will be roughly equal in importance and length. At other times you may have two or three briefer points and one more major point. In this case a briefer point should be clearly briefer in the outline. Is briefer a word?

4. Look for progress in the sermon. Each point or movement should convey the message forward. Listeners do not enjoy the feeling of standing still or moving backwards in a message. This is similar to point 2 above, but also different. Order has to make sense. Progress has to be felt.

Outlining is not about jumping through a homiletical hoop. It is about accurately reflecting your thought, the structure of the message, in a visible form. With the outline in hand, you can then evaluate not only an outline, but the message itself."

Find the original at:

cph: This post plus an experience on TV last night led me to blog further on outlines. See my next post.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Peter Mead on TJ Hooker and Preaching

Peter Mead is almost always inspiring and challenging to me. He has the following two posts some differences between preaching in our world as opposed to preaching in the world of TJ Hooker. (early 80's) I don't remember ever seeing TJ Hooker, but any show that has William Shatner in it can't be all bad.

I believe Peter makes some excellent observations: To wit... (some more of my comments below)

"Compare and contrast. Sounds like an exam question. I’ve been comparing and contrasting two TV shows. I’m away from home so I’ve watched a couple of TV shows to unwind at night. One is a classic police show from the early 80’s. The other a quality mini-series from last year. One is compelling viewing, the other is hilarious. Apart from great clothes, old cars that roll in every chase, shallow plots and pathetic one-liners, what else has changed in 25 years of TV production?"

"The introduction. A quarter of a century ago people would gladly sit through three minutes of canned music, watching several action shots and freeze frames of central characters with yellow lettering across the screen, “Starring – William Shatner.” I can just imagine people making themselves comfortable and saying to themselves, “I’ll watch it if he’s in it!” After the opening credits there are then a few more minutes of tedious scene setting, relaxed police officers enjoying a few empty jokes. Finally things start when a crime takes place (unrealistic, utterly ridiculous, but at least it is some action)."

"Today the opening credits last 45 seconds and don’t come until 8 minutes into the show. The very first frame of the broadcast is action, tension, intrigue, interest. Producers know that unless you grab people in the first seconds, you’ll lose them to one of the several hundred other options under their right thumb.

"We are not preaching 25 years ago. People don’t make themselves comfortable and say to themselves, “a sermon about Moses, great! I’ll listen to it if he’s in it!” Life is faster, people are ready to move on quicker (not physically, but in their minds). What can you do in the first three or four sentences to arrest their interest and lock their focus?"

"I hope your clothes have changed in 25 years, and if the Lord has blessed you at all then hopefully your car has changed too. Let’s not go retro on the intro."

"So just one more “lesson.” A quarter of a century ago, the episode I was watching followed a clear plot line. A situation thrown into tension by a problem, with the tension then increasing until the moment of resolution, followed by several minutes of denouement – tying together loose ends and returning the viewers to a state of relaxed contentment. Those last few minutes were intriguing to me. The program almost landed twice, but still dragged on. After the satisfying capture of the felons, there were two more scenes. One in which the arresting officer made a tricky play on words in reference to the length of jail term one would receive. Then another showing the officers joking together as they headed out of the door. Corny? Yes. Necessary? No."

"Compare that with equivalent police or military dramas today. Often the show ends just before you expect it to end, not three minutes after it should have ended. Often the show ends with some tension remaining, a thought-provoking scene, or a cliff-hanger. These two approaches illustrate a preaching lesson that homiletics writers also affirm:"

"When you come to the end of your message, don’t add three minutes of nothing and a corny freeze frame moment that leaves listeners comfortably returned to a state of relaxed levity. Instead carefully craft your conclusion to both resolve the message, yet also to leave an unresolved state of heart and mind, a slight disequilibrium that gives some momentum into the application or further consideration of the message. Oh, and try to do all that and finish a couple of sentences earlier than they expect."

You can find the complete original posts at:


cph: I think that often I do try to wrap things up too neatly. Maybe I am guilty of wantng people walk away with a feeling of completeness or satisfaction rather than that "unresolved state of heart and mind, a slight disequilibrium that gives some momentum into the application or further consideration of the message."

I am not sure that I have as big an issue with prolonged introductions. I bore pretty easily and usually (or at least often) try to just jump in, get their attention and go from there. That is illustrated a little bit by my sermon last Sunday. It was on Psalm 30. But the sermon was at least half done before I read the text. And we were a good ten minutes into the sermon before I ended the story of the background narrative behind Ps. 30. (David's sin of taking a census of his fighting men and his follow-up purchase of the threshing floor of Aruanah on which to build an alter and eventually on which to build the temple.). There was a bit of suspense (I hope) about the identity of the leader I was describing.

In reading Peter's post, I think of "The Practice" and "Boston Legal" (two related TV shows I used to watch until Boston Legal became unbearably anti-Christian.). As he said there was always a longer beginning (which often held tie-ins from previous shows: "Previously on 'Boston Legal...'") and then they just jump into the action or intrigue. It is always at a key moment either of tension or humor that they jump to the credits. They don't (as some shows do) roll the credits over the action & dialogue. In fact their credits are unbearably long.

While the ending of Boston Legal is often as Peter describes, they DO always end with William Shatner and David Spader smoking cigars and drinking scotch on Shatner's office balcony and reflecting on something from the episode. It is always a highlight.

Maybe (my worship pastor) Will and I should end each worship service with us sitting on stage smoking cigars and drinking scotch?

Or maybe not.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hindu Preaching

Bankim Chandra Chatterji was perhaps the greatest literary figure of Bengal during the later part of the nineteenth century. He was one of the creators of modern Bengali literature and wrote on social and religious subjects. Bankim was a product of the contact of India with England. He gave modern interpretations of the Hindu scriptures and advocated drastic social reforms.

It is said that one day he was invited to the Calcutta home of a friend named Andhar to converse and question the great prophet Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was central to the renaissance of Hinduism in the nineteenth century.

Following is the answer that Ramakrishna gave to Bankim when he asked, "Sir, why don't you preach?"

MASTER Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): "Preaching? It is only a man's vanity that makes him think of preaching. A man is but an insignificant creature. It is God alone who will preach — God who has created the sun and moon and so illumined the universe. Is preaching such a trifling affair? You cannot preach unless God reveals Himself to you and gives you the command to preach. Of course, no one can stop you from preaching. You haven't received the command, but still you cry yourself hoarse. People will listen to you a couple of days and then forget all about it. It is like any other sensation: as long as you speak, people will say, 'Ah! He speaks well'; and the moment you stop, everything will disappear.

"The milk in the pot hisses and swells as long as there is heat under it. Take away the heat, and the milk will quiet down as before.

"One must increase one's strength by sadhana; [spiritual practices which are are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives] otherwise one cannot preach. As the proverb goes: 'You have no room to sleep yourself and you invite a friend to sleep with you.' There is no place for you to lie down and you say: 'Come, friend! Come and lie down with me.' (Laughter.)

"Some people used to befoul the bank of the Haldarpukur [a pool in which Ramakrishna bathed and played as a child] at Kamarpukur [a village in the west Bengal state of India] every morning. The villagers would notice it and abuse the offenders. But that didn't stop it. At last the villagers filed a petition with the Government. An officer visited the place and put up a sign: 'Commit no nuisance. Offenders fenders will be punished.' That stopped it completely. Afterwards there was no more trouble. It was a government order, and everyone had to obey it.

"Likewise, if God reveals Himself to you and gives you the command, then you can preach and teach people. Otherwise, who will listen to you?"

cph: The thing that struck me about this quote was how close it came to the Christian belief on preaching. In our preaching,
1. We believe that it is God speaking through the preacher to the heart of the hearer.
2. Unless we are preaching the Word of God, it will come to nothing. People's ears may be tickled for a season, but after a little time it will be forgotten.
3. You cannot preach what you do not know and do not live.
4. This is only received through regular practice of spiritual disciplines.
5. We must always remember that we speak with the authority of God behind us.

I am not trying to become synchretistic, but I am a little amazed by the similarities of the doctrine of preaching in these two inharmonious understandings of God.

On the other hand, we should not expect the non-Christian world to understand everything about preaching. As scripture says, "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (I Cor. 21)

What do you think?

The entire interview can be found at:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Eugene Peterson on worship

My friend Jeff Kallevig, pastor of the local Evangelical Lutheran Church here in town was in my office last week and during our conversation he noticed my copy of "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society" by Eugene Peterson on my shelf. He commented on it as being pertinent to the subject we were discussing. I admitted that I had started the book 3-4 times and had never found it engaging enough to stick with. But he challenged me to try again and I am glad that he did. I think that certain books are made for certain times in our lives. And this time I am finding Peterson extremely helpful.

This morning I was reading his chapter on worship. If you are unfamiliar with the book, he uses the Psalms of Assent to address various subjects in the pilgrimage of the Christian life. And in this chapter he addresses Ps. 122: "Let's Go to the House of God."

Towards the end of the chapter he states:

"The Word of God is everywhere in worship. In the call to worship we hear God's first word to us; in the benediction we hear God's last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our faith-parents; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate. Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the judgments of God, we are familiarized with what God says, what he has decided, the ways he is working out our salvation."

"If we stay at home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss a lot, for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unnoticed prejudices. In worship we are part of 'the large congregation' where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us not only in our heads, but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith & blessing with the worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation's present experience. We want to hear what God says and what he says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God."

This is basically Worship 101, but it challenged me again to recognize what is happening in worship. With the politics and complaining and pettiness of church and worship, it is important to recognize the various elements through which God speaks. Why DO people come to worship? He points out that it is not just through cultural convention or obligation.

But his comment on preaching struck me: "where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith & blessing with the worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation's present experience." It is a reminder that it is both the preacher and the congregations experience that must inform the declaration of the Word of God. The good preacher is not above the people declaring the Word of God, but is standing beside the people, reflecting on his/her own experience with the Word as well as his/her knowledge of the people's lives this week and shining the Word of God on it.

Good read. Thanks, JK.

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