Monday, December 31, 2007

Preachers Prayer for 2008 (and beyond)

For the past, oh, fifteen years or so, I have had a prayer taped prayer onto the front of my sermon preparation notebook.  At times I have paid more attention to it than others.  I am not sure where it came from...it is something I have typed up from someone else.  (If you know the source, I would deeply appreciate you letting me know so that I can properly credit it).

It summarizes my prayer for myself and my preaching as we enter into 2008.  It is also my prayer for you that this is true of you as well.

"Lord, here's my mind.  Think your thoughts in me.  Be my wisdom, knowledge and insight.  Here's my voice.  You told me not to worry about what I am to say but that it would be given me what to say and how to say it.  Free me to speak with silence or words, whichever is needed.  Give me your timing and tenderness. Now Lord, here's my body, release creative affection in my face, in my touch, in my embrace.  And Christ, if there is something I am to do by your indwelling presence, however menial or tough. control my will to do it.  Lord, I am ready now to be your manifest intervention in situations, to infuse joy, affirm growth or absorb pain and aching anguish.  I plan to live this day and the rest of my life in the reality of you in me.  Thank you for making it so. So, Lord Jesus, speak to us in your strong name.  Amen." 

May God bless you and your service for him in the New Year.  Come Lord Jesus, come. 

The Compass' Master Points in a Disingenuous Direction

golden_compass

For those of you who follow the same preaching blogs I do, you have probably seen comments on this quote before, but I can't get it out of my head, so I want to get it down on paper. (well...not paper so much as...keyboard...no, screen...no, get it...down in writing. That works).

Our church didn't do a lot when the movie "The Golden Compass" came out. We made an informational article about it available to parents warning them of the dangers that this film holds. We announced in the bulletin that the article was available, but I don't think I even made a verbal reference to it. I didn't want to draw attention to the film in any way to provoke curiosity.

But at the time of the release of the movie, Philip Pullman gave an interview in which he made an interesting statement. He is talking about the "anti-Christian purpose" of his book. In part he says: "...what I'm doing is telling a story, not preaching a sermon."

The reference for the quote is: http://www.fish.co.uk/culture/features/pullman_interview.htm

As both a fiction writer and a preacher, I must say that either Philip Pullman is incredibly naive (which no one has ever accused him of being) or he is totally disingenuous (the kindest conclusion). For a writer to minimize the power of words is a contradiction of terms. It is impossible to write stories without showing a bias and influencing people towards that bias. No one would say of the parables of Jesus, "What Jesus was doing was telling a story, not preaching a sermon." The message of the sermon comes through loud and clear through the use of the story.

There are two groups of people who should understand the power of words in influencing people: novelists and preachers. And in Pullman's case, I am sure that he understands the influence of his story. It was not unintended

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Trying not to Slaughter Typology

So today I tried an experiment that seemed to go OK. This Advent we have been looking at Christmas as a time for emotional healing: healing for barrenness, hurt, anger, fear and this week was healing for sorrow. I was preaching on the slaughter of the innocents. It only covers two verses and a big part of that is a quoting of the words of Jeremiah from Jer. 31:15.

"This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."

It is basically a strange passage (if you have studied it) because it is not easily identifiable how this verse pertains to the event, except that Rachel is buried at Bethlehem. But Rachel is not recorded to have wept for her children. She died in childbirth when Ben-Oni/Benjamin was born.

But in studying it, the event referred to in Jer. 31:15-17 is a "type" of the slaughter of the innocents. Without going into the entire sermon, the passage makes perfect sense if you understand biblical typology (which is currently pretty much out of vogue).

But I decided that this morning I wanted/needed to spend a little time explaining the principle of biblical typology. I thought, "this could really be disastrous!" I have been criticized for making my preaching more like college classroom than a pulpit.

But I clearly stated that one of the purposes of my preaching is to equip people to understand scripture as they read it for themselves. And an understanding of types is essential. It is found in the teachings of Jesus (Jonah and Jesus being in the tomb for three days) as well as Epistles (Melchizadek and the priesthood of Jesus). I only spent five minutes on it (although that is a LONG time if it is confusing and boring to you!) And so I was willing to invest the time. I then totally turned away from a discussion of typology and focused on principles from the slaughter of the innocents that inform us as we deal with sorrow.

  • Sorrow must be taken seriously (a particular need here in the northwest)
  • God is not the author of all sorrow.
  • Sorrow reminds us of the need for the promises of God
        • God has not forgotten us
        • For believers, there is eternal life
        • For believers, there is resurrection and reunion
        • God does bring healing
        • God can create new and wonderful things in your life, and in the life around you out of the heartache of your grief
  • God's plan is not thwarted by sorrow-causing events.

And I think my experiment was successful. I got good (often emotion-laden) responses to the sermon. And the one person I questioned about the discussion of typology mentioned that he had been helped by it because he had been troubled by this verse for some time (Thanks for the feedback, Bruce!)

I hope that I accomplished both of my purposes: Inspiration: showing how this passage addresses how we handle sorrow; but also Biblical Exegesis: equipping the saints to understand an important principle of biblical interpretation.

Bible Marathon for the New Year?

Boy reading scripture

This is the time of year for encouraging people to increase (start?) their regular reading of the Word of God in the New Year.

Garry Friesen (from Multnomah Bible here in Portland) has great experience in running Bible reading marathons. This is a bit different from regular individual reading of scripture. Anything from 2-18 hours of oral reading of scripture qualifies as a marathon.

He has some great ideas!

http://www.gfriesen.net/sections/em_bible_marathons.php

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Don't Suffer Fools Gladly

foolToday I have been reading in "Hear and Be Wise: Becoming a Preacher and Teacher of Wisdom" by Alyce M. McKenzie.

It was recommended by Wes Taylor a friend who preaches in an area UMC, is highly involved in community social affairs and teaches preaching in the M.Div. program at Marylhurst University near here.

She says that one of the responsibilities of the preacher is to serve in his/her function of sage. That role of sage has three parts: Preservation of Shalom, Fool Management and Character Building.

I was intrigued with the part of the pastors role which she labeled "Fool Management." She says, "'I thought briefly about becoming a pastor,' confided a friend of mine. 'But then I realized that I don't suffer fools gladly enough.' Part of the role of [the pastor] is to protect the community from the fools in its midst. Fools represent, to varying degrees, chaos in the community that is counter to the moral order created by God."

She states that there are eight different Hebrew words for fools used in the Hear and Be Wise book of Proverbs, (she references James Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction). She, however, only highlights three.

The pethi (simple fool-the shallow, gullible person who believes anything and everything--Proverbs 14:15). "He lacks the wisdom to stabilize his life and is therefore susceptible to evil companions.

The lutz (scorning fool-the know-it-all; the unteachable type of person-Proverbs 9:7; 13:1) "The word is often translated 'scoffer' or 'scorner.' The lutz is haughty (21:24) and delights in mocking others, especially wisdom teachers (1:22). He delights in folly (1:22) and will not listen to wisdom (13:1; 15:12). His supercilious arrogance (21:24) sets the whole community on edge (22:10; 29:8).... Heraclitus, a philosopher of the fifth century B.C.E. once said, with reference to his opponents, that the opposite of wisdom is not stupidity, but knowing it all. The lutz know it all and has nothing to learn from God or other people."

The nabal (steadfast fool-a churlish, brutal person who cannot control his anger and who enjoys the misery of others). This is the fool who in Proverbs. 14:1 "says in his heart that there is no God." Sensible words are out of place in his mouth (Proverbs 17:7) and he is a source of grief to his parents (Proverbs 17:21).

As McKenzie says, "In our teaching and preaching, it is important to acknowledge our own tendencies toward folly and the chaos that it brings, but also to celebrate the progress we have made on the path of wisdom."

While I have not seen Crenshaw's book, a website of the Advanced Training Institute International adds a couple more:

The kes-eel (Sensual Fool-who rejects the correction of parents or other authorities and seems almost determined to make wrong choices) His (or her) focus is on that which brings him/her immediate gratification or pleasure. (Proverbs 10:23; 13:19–20; 18:6-7). The book of Proverbs gives more warnings to/about this type of fool than that of any other. (Proverbs 13:30; 26:3; 19:21)

The ev-eel (Silly Fool-perverse or silly;when things go wrong for the silly fool, he becomes angry, resulting in more damage.) I don't know that I can clearly differentiate between this type of fool and the lutz. This fool believes that his own way of thinking is right (Proverbs.12:15; 1:7; 10:21; 29:9; 7:22).

I am just getting into the book, but I have high expectations for it. The preacher's role as sage is one that is unfamiliar to me. And if the rest of it is as intriguing as that of "Fool Management," I know I am going to enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas!

A Child is born May all who read my blog have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Frederick Buechner: Out of Touch, but with What?

frederickbuechnerlrg"The trouble with many sermons is not so much that the preachers are out of touch with what is going on in the world or in books or in theology, but that they are out of touch with what is going on in their own lives and in the lives of the people they are preaching to. Whether their subject is hope or faith or charity or anything else, let them speak out of the living truth of their own experience of those high matters. Let them have the courage to be themselves." --Frederick Buechner, The Living Pulpit

Friday, December 21, 2007

Some Recent Posts to Check Out

There have been some posts in blogosphere this week that are Blog1worth checking out.
Peter Mead talks about The Secret to Preaching With Passion

Gordon Cheng on Ten great reasons for preachers to work at one-to-one ministry

Colin Adams over at Unashamed Workman has excellent quote from Bryan Chappell on The Greatest Danger in Sermon Preparation. An excellent quote

Peter Mead (again) charges us to be thankful for The Preacher’s Personal Cloud. I for one sent out several notes of appreciation to some (not all, but some) of the cloud of witnesses in my life.

I don't know why this stands out to me, but Peter is from England, Colin is from Scotland and Gordon is from Australia. I am so thankful for the breadth of geographical perspective that the Internet can bring us!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Judge Rules in Sermon Sharing Scandal

Evangelical churches and ministries across Americaman in handcuffs are reeling today after a lower court in Manhattan found the defendants guilty in the "U.S. vs. 'Rev. John Smith'" sermon sharing case.

On April 1, 2007 the justice department filed charges against thousands of pastors and seminary students across America. Due to the large number of parties involved, the justice department simply designated the defendant as "Rev. John Smith" to represent the whole.

At the center of the suit are the sermons and writings of Rev. Timothy J. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. After an intensive three year investigation the justice department uncovered an extensive network of pastors, seminary students and other church workers who downloaded hundreds of sermons by Rev. Keller, distributed them and preached them regularly in churches across America.

Read more at Judge Rules in Sermon Sharing Scandal

Creative Preaching meets Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Over at Ministry Today Magazine, John Brandon writes about a  program (plus individual hand-held wireless keypads) that allow people to answer questions anonymously that the preacher poses from the pulpit. Turning Point is a PowerPoint add-in, but doesn't work well with Media Shout (we happen to use both). logo_turningpoint

The preacher can ask simple questions to gauge the congregation's interest or level of experience with a subject matter.  An example was "Porn Sunday" users were asked about their struggles.  The responses helped people understand that they are not alone in their struggles. Because it is anonymous, those who use it believe that people will be more honest in their answers. 

Another church used it to survey the congregation as to when throughout the week they would like small groups to be offered. 

I got to their site, (see below) but did not find an easy way to find the cost. I am usually pretty out front when it comes to tech things...but I can think of a lot of other ways to spend our church's money first.

Ministry Mag's article: http://www.ministrytodaymag.com/display_cms.php?id=14362

or Turning Points website: http://www.turningtechnologies.com/

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Helpful Blogs

blogcover1As a follow-up to my post about reading on preaching, here are the preaching blogs I referred to that I currently have in my reader (Bloglines):

Transforming Sermons http://transformingsermons.blogspot.com/

A Peculiar Prophet (Blog of William Willamon) http://willimon.blogspot.com/

A Steward of the Secret Things http://stewardofthesecretthings.com/

PreachingToday Blog http://blog.preachingtoday.com/

Unashamed Workman (the more recent addition to my list) http://unashamedworkman.wordpress.com/

Theocentric Preaching http://www.theocentricpreaching.com/

Biblical Preaching. http://biblicalpreaching.wordpress.com/

All are quite good. Milton Stanley lists others as well as a preaching blog group in the comments section of my previous post. I recommend you check it out.

Five Elements of Inspirational Preaching

...............................................................When people talk about preachers, often the presumption is that they specialize in inspiration. And many times (in my experience) that is denigrated. "Oh, that was an just an inspirational sermon...really no meat there." "Oh there was lots of warm and fuzzy feel good inspiration, but he/she never really told us what we should DO about it."

Maybe it was the time period in which I was formed, perhaps it was the churches in which I was raised, but KNOWING the Bible was paramount. To KNOW was the key. The Holy Spirit only legitimately spoke through the Word of God and so knowing the Word was huge. (and while I still affirm the second, I would rephrase the first--the Word is the PRIMARY way the Holy Spirit speaks but not the only way.).

And I have always tried to allow the Holy Spirit to be the one providing the inspiration. Emotional manipulation is anathema to me. I still believe that the Word preached will lead to inspiration.

But what is inspiration? Is it helping people to "dream the impossible dream"? Is it pushing people to "march off the map"?

One newsletter I get (from Dan Reiland) noted today that inspiration can be done through charisma, through relationships and/or through passion.

But that doesn't really tell me what inspiration IS. It only tells me ways it can be communicated.

In thinking about inspiration, I still don't have a definition, but I see five elements of inspiration:

  • Inspiration broadens people’s visions of what is do-able or desirable. Suddenly all sorts of possibilities seem to open up.
  • Inspiration helps people believe that what seems too big for them is actually do-able, or at least worth attempting. It may seem too big to be accomplished at present, but might be accomplishable if we allow ourselves to… (grow, trust God, give someone a second chance…whatever.)
  • Inspiration includes a call to action, but also motivates people to be excited about acting or feeling drawn to want to act.
  • Inspiration is evolutionary. There is a bit of uncertainty about where the path will lead, but wherever it is, it will be exciting.
  • Inspiration is a call to grow personally in some way. Gifts and talents within you seem to awaken or call for development. Inspiration will not leave you where it found you.

These goes way beyond facts and beliefs. They touches the heart God has put within us.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Preaching "Beyond" What the Bible Says

Ever since Friday when I added my "Amen" to the article about not using Mary and Joseph as an example of how to handle marital stress, I have had a bit of discomfiture. CB064047

The article seemed to make sense. But there was something about it that bugged me. And after giving it some thought, I think I have figured out what it was. (Caution: I have not heard the sermon that Darryl Dash, pastor of Richview Baptist Church in Toronto [the author of Theocentric Preaching] refers to. And so I am just reacting to his reaction to the sermon, which is always a dangerous thing to do.)

But the thing that made me uncomfortable is the unstated presupposition that it is illegitimate to take a secondary feature of a passage and make it a primary point for teaching and preaching.

Haddon Robinson, who is someone that we should be very cautious about contradicting says, “We must never take the incidental features of a passage and make it the focal point of our teaching.” Or put in other words, “One must not take a secondary feature of a passage and make it the focal point of a sermon.” But is that true?

I have referred in a previous post or two to a series of lectures by Daniel Doriani (a Presbyterian pastor in St. Louis) who gave this fall's preaching lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary.

And in his closing lecture (provocative entitled, Beyond the Sacred Page: When The Story Doesn't Quite Say What You Wish) he states that not only CAN we do so, but it is necessary to do so. And we do so in the best of company. JESUS did so. Doriani gives several examples:

  • Matt 12:1-8=Jesus takes a secondary point (that David & his men took the showbread from the tabernacle & ate it) to make the point that mercy allows for his disciples to take wheat on the Sabbath and prepare and eat it.
  • Matt 22:29=Jesus takes the self-revelation of the Father to Moses ("I am who I am") to explain why there is not marrying or giving of marriage in heaven. That is definitely not the point of God's self-revelation. Jesus takes a secondary feature and makes it the primary point of his teaching.
  • Doriani also uses the example of multitudes of preachers at weddings who have said that Jesus blessed weddings by the performing of his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. Blessing weddings was NOT the point of the Cana story or of the Cana miracle. But still...we take a secondary point (Jesus' presence at and miracle performed at the wedding at Cana) to make the point that this was a blessing of the wedding ceremony.

And so to take the tension between Mary and Joseph and to use it as an example of how we should/could handle stress in our marriages today (while recognizing that is not the main point of the passage), COULD be a legitimate use of the passage. It also could be used illegitimately, but that depends on how the passage is used in the specific sermon. Bro. Dash doesn't tell us HOW the passage was used, just that it was used to make this specific point.

That is why I felt uncomfortable that I had (mostly thoughtlessly) added my "Amen" to that point, when I'm not sure (upon further reflection) that I still can.

You really should check out Doriani's lecture. A lot of it is a helpful reaction to I.H. Marshall's, “Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology.” That book moves well beyond what Doriani is advocating here into areas that would make most evangelicals shudder. But in countering that book, Doriani notes that there are several ways to go "beyond the Bible" and still stay faithful to the message of the text.

You will find the audio at: Doriani: Beyond the Sacred Page

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How Many Words Does It Take?

bored listeners

In my constant struggle against verbosity (along with several other similar struggles), I am helped by there words collected by Leroy Lawson, one of my predecessors at my current church assignment:

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. --Alexander Pope

Thomas Hardy observed that Henry James had developed a "ponderously warm manner of saying nothing in infinite sentences."

Chief Kilchie: "I must think more on this. Otherwise my words will have no mind behind them, and be like rattling stones.'

Lincoln responded to a vitriolic critic: "He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met."

Disraeli's description of Gladstone in 1878: "a sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity."

  • Lord's Prayer-56 words
  • Lincoln's Gettysburg address-268 words
  • Declaration of Independence-1322 words
  • U.S. Government's regulation on the sale of cabbages -26,911

Fred Smith, early in his speaking career, found his speeches getting heavier, crowds becoming smaller. In Indiana he saw a farmer plowing with a single mule & fifty chickens were following him. He thought, "The chickens will always follow the fellow whose plowing up the worms. I realized then I had to feed people not only what I thought would feed them, but what they are really hungry for."

Friday, December 14, 2007

More About Christmas Preaching: It's Not All About Us

All About Me MugOver at Theocentric Preaching there is an excellent entry reminding us that the Christmas season is not ultimately about us. He uses the great example of a sermon which used Mary's pregnancy as an example of how to handle stress in our marriages. It's worth checking out:

Preaching Christ at Christmas

Reading on Preaching?!?

I was having lunch with a couple of friends last week...one the church planter of our most recent daughter church and the other a friend who heads a local para-church organization. Sean (the planter) was commenting on a post on my blog (the principles on the use of PPT by Guy Kawasaki) and the other friend asked about the blog. I commented that I started the blog when I realized that I had not read anything new on preaching in a long time. I had been approached by and was interviewing with my alma mater about heading their preaching department (I eventually pulled out), but in the interview process one of the faculty asked a VERY fair question. "What are you currently reading or what have you recently read on preaching?" I am embarrassed to say that everything I came up with was old and they were things I had read years ago. After almost 30 years of ministry it is so easy to get into ruts. And so part of the reason for the blog was to serve as an accountability tool to myself to make sure that I am reading on preaching.

The friend asked, "Reading on preaching? What would you read about preaching?" Ignoring the presumptions behind the question I mentioned what I was currently reading:

Books
1. The "Supremacy of God in Preaching" by John Piper
2. "Preaching" by Fred Craddock
3. I just finished "Preaching:25 Things You Can't Learn in School" by James MacDonald.
4. I am ready to re-read "Between Two Worlds" by John Stott
(Many of the books and articles I have been reading over the past seven months that I have been writing this blog have been referenced in posts as I have gone along. These are only the things I am in right now.)

Magazines
I currently subscribe to (and read) Preaching magazine. I have looked at (and used to subscribe to) others, but this one has proven to be most helpful to me.

Blogs and Websites
I have seven preaching blogs that come up in my Bloglines reader. Some of them post several posts per day. A few have more than one person who posts on the blog. Others haven't posted in weeks. (Eventually if they don't post, I will delete them). But I find them helpful. You see a number of them referenced here on my site. I also receive e-mail newsletters from preachingtoday.com. They are very frustrating, however, in that you can't read the articles unless you subscribe to their service which is relatively expensive. (IMHO)

What other resources have you found helpful? Whatever you find helpful, make sure that you are constantly honing your craft. We are instruments in the hands of the master communicator, but we have a responsibility to make sure that the instrument is sharp.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grace and Truth

John 1:14 & 17 says: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. ...For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

James MacDonald makes an important point about Jesus and about our preaching. It is often hard to balance that "grace" and "truth"
thing. I suspect that I over stress the grace part, but I think that this is a reaction to being raised in a church environment where the truth was stressed over and over and over again. It was the time of denominational fissure in our church movement and doctrinal truth seemed (and was ) critical. It was the time of the charismatic movements early 'heady' days. And we were raised to examine the claims of the "charismaniacs" with extreme skepticism. In the Meiers Briggs I am solidly a INTJ where the J stands or Judging, which anyone who knows me well knows that I am very good at doing. And so I think in reaction I overreact and stress the grace aspect too much perhaps at times. But whether or not I do, I believe that most preachers have difficulty in balancing grace and truth.

The point that MacDonald makes is that Jesus is awesome because he is not a 50/50 balance of grace and truth. He is FULL of grace and truth. He is 100% grace AND 100% truth.

"He is totally truthful, but with so much grace. All truth and no grace is brutality. All grace and no truth is hypocrisy. But let your preaching be like Jesus, full of grace and truth, and you will find greater power." (Preaching: 25 Things You Can't Learn in School, p. 36.)

May God give me the length of life and the strength to be able to learn to be that 100% truth and 100% grace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Death by Video

I have used movie video clips in sermons for 10-12 years (or more?). They can be very effective. I have also caused all sorts of furor by some clips I have used. (Live and learn, I guess).

Michael Duduit (the editor of Preaching magazine) summarizes some principles for using video clips that were found in the fall issue of Leadership journal. There are some basic principles to make sure that videos used in preaching are handled effectively.

Michael's summary: “You’ve heard it said that ‘too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.’ This is certainly true with video clips. Video can be very compelling, when used sparingly. Here are my rules for video use:

The 60-Second Rule. Keep it short. A minute is plenty.

The R-rated Rule. No clips from a film that I would not encourage church families to see in its entirety.

The Room-Size Rule. What looks and sounds good on a television screen in the living room may be inaudible or too dark when shown in the sanctuary.

The Simplicity Rule. If it takes longer to explain the clip or set it up than it takes to play it, don’t use it.

The “Stories Rule!” Rule. Often telling a story is more powerful than seeing it. Don’t feel like you must use video. Some sermons are more effective without it.”

cph: I have broken everyone of these rules. I still think that videos are an important linkage in illustrating a point in a message. Not AS the point, but illustrating the point. I question whether #1 and 4 are self-contradictory, however. #2 is problematic for me. I have used some clips from R-rated movies, but prefaced my cautions about the movie. Have also gotten flack for it. Good food for thought.

The Secret to Good Preaching


Someone once asked John MacArthur "What's the secret to good preaching?" He said, "Keep your butt in the chair until the hard work is done."

As the Cowardly Lion used to say, "Ain't it the truth...ain't it the truth."

There are so many things, both legitimate and illegitimate that would draw us out of the chair and away from sermon preparation. One of the hard things is that there are so many LEGITIMATE reasons to get your rear out of the chair. People expect you to be available. There are always calls to be made. There are always "emergencies." Staff always have questions. One of my favorite cartoons is of the secretary barging into the pastor's office and when she sees that he is praying, she says, "Oh good...you're not busy." (Fortunately my secretaries are much more thoughtful than that.)

And yet people will be able to tell if you (I) strayed too much out of the chair and fudged on getting the hard work done.
"Keep your butt in the chair until the hard work is done." Thanks Macarthur.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sermons are Seen

Quite a few years ago, 10BiggestMistakesFloyd Bresee in Ministry magazine listed out five good ways to improve pulpit body language:

1. Beware of mannerisms

Chances are you unconsciously making many meaningless movements in the pulpit. You may move your Bible or notes, adjust your clothing, put your hands in and out of your pockets or fidget with your glasses. These mannerisms are probably unconscious, yet they are extremely distracting to listeners. Ask someone you trust (like a spouse) to pick these up and share them with you. But if you do, care enough to listen & adjust!

cph: Loretta is an excellent help to me in this. I am not always as good as I need to be in following her critiques, but they are always fair & balanced.

2. Improve gestures in daily conversation

Watch how people express themselves as naturally through body movements as through words. Pretentiousness turns listeners off.

3. Be sure your body and mouth agree.

Body movement that says nothing can be very distracting to listeners. Logically, the time to move from one place to another is when your sermon makes a transition from one direction to another.

cph: Again, Loretta reminds me regularly that I need to SMILE more. (See my October 30 post on this). But it IS essential that my body and my mouth agree. She will point out that sometimes when welcoming someone into the congregation I am sour faced & look like I am not happy to have them. Whoops....

4. Keep you eye on your target.

Your eyes should focus on the people, not on the ceiling, or the back wall, or your notes. If your congregation cannot see your eyes and the expression on your face, they may miss half the sermon.

Quintilian says: "The face is the dominant power of expression. With this we supplicate; with this we threaten; with this we soothe; with this we mourn; with this we rejoice; with this we triumph; with this we make our submissions; upon this the audience hang; upon this they keep their eyes fixed; this they examine and study even before a word is spoken."

5. See it, feel it, and forget it.

  • See it-see pictures in your mind as your prepare the sermon & you'll naturally use gestures to describe what you see. Imagine yourself saying it from the pulpit.
  • Feel it-Gestures improve not from practice, but from feeling more. Generally the more you rely on notes the more difficult it is to use gestures well. Following notes makes it difficult to feel your sermon as you preach.
  • Forget it-A focus on gestures while we are preaching will make them seem unnatural and ridiculous. Once you are in the pulpit, focus on your subject, your audience and what you want your subject to do for your audience. Then feelings & gestures should come naturally.

(Others, not in Bresee):

6. The feet. The standing position should be easy, the feet at an angle of forty-five degrees, one foot in advance of the other, the width of the base depending upon the height of the speaker. The knees should be straight, shoulders even and chin level. Avoid rising on the toes and too frequent change of foot position. The most graceful effect is secured when the left foot is forward and the gesture made with the right hand, or vice versa. This combination gives balance, though it is not always possible to use it. The change of foot position will not be so noticeable if done in the act of making a gesture.

7. The hands are the most important tool you have to make a gesture in public speaking. Making a gesture with your arms will add a visual representation for your audience hence making it more interesting. All your hand gestures must be deliberate and slow enough for the audience to know what you are gesturing. Movements may be slow and gentle, slow and intense, swift and light, or swift and strong. The size, length, and velocity of a gesture depend upon the what you need to emphasize on.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Can I Shoot to Wound?

An interesting article in today's New York Times reports that police officers who shoot their weapons in response to crime hit their target less than half the time, many times less than one-third of the time.

New York City police statistics show that in 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired a gun at a person, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent, according to the department’s Firearms Discharge Report.

In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate.

In all shootings — including those against people, animals and in suicides and other situations — New York City officers achieved a 34 percent accuracy rate (182 out of 540), and a 43 percent accuracy rate when the target ranged from zero to six feet away.

Wow! When the target is less than six feet away the officers still miss more than half of the time! Does that mean that they are bad marksmen (markspersons?)

Not at all. When you factor in that the target is likely running, the officer is likely running, the weather, the lighting conditions, the officer being taken by surprise, that the officers are trying to not hit innocent by-standers, the fact that a handgun is not a perfect weapon...all that combines to result that those who track such things consider the "hit rate" to be fairly acceptable. It also lays to rest the misconception that officers can "shoot to wound" verses "shoot to kill." It is only in TV and movies that an officer can realistically shoot a gun out of a criminals hand. It just doesn't happen. In the majority of cases, the officer shoots, not to kill, not to wound, but to stop. The subject must be stopped from harming others and the intent is simply to stop the subject. Wounding vs. killing is not necesarily an option.

(Entire news story: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/weekinreview/09baker.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin)

So what is the point of that in a preaching blog? This morning I got slammed by a couple of church members who were livid over some comment that I made from the pulpit. They took almost my entire time between worship services complaining about a comment that they disagreed with. And part of that is OK...that's my job...whether the comments are justified or not. But it did totally bum me out and put me in a lousy mood to begin second worship service.

But for some reason, reading that news report encouraged me. Usually I don't have upset people (whether I should be WORKING to upset more people instead of pleased that I don't upset people is a subject for an entirely different blog entry!!). And my observation was that most of the people there today were encouraged by what I had to say. So if I only had two mad ladies out of 350 in attendance...I guess my rate is better than that of the police officers in New York. Good salesmen make sales often less than the 50% the time. Marketers consider something a success if more than .5% of the people their message reaches make a purchase! So I guess that would put my "hit rate" into a little better light.

So, it puts is in perspective for me. You preach what you believe God has put on your heart to say. You do your best. You are faithful to the text. If you miss hitting someone, well...that is unfortunate, but not avoidable. You trust that God takes your best efforts at being faithful and works them for his purposes.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Whore of Babylon for Christmas?

Woah! Now here is an advent series! Steve Matthewson is preaching on/from the book of Revelation this advent.

His plan:
Dec. 2 – “Discover the Wonder” (Revelation 1)
Dec. 9 – “The Defeat of the Grinch That Stole Christmas (Revelation 17-18)
Dec. 16 – “A Tale of Two Suppers” (Revelation 19)
Dec. 23 – “A River Runs Through It” (Revelation 22)

The whole article: http://blog.preachingtoday.com/2007/12/revelation_for_advent.html

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Preaching

I had a hard time coming up with what to preach this Christmas season. I began preaching weekly in 1983 (plus a stint in 1981 as a six-months interim in Kingsport, TN). Maybe it is lack of creativity, but I had a hard time being excited about preaching Christmas this year. It was not that I was not excited about Christmas, I just felt like my reading of the Christmas story had become old hat.

I decided to preach a series that I couldn't get out of my mind that I couldn't see that I had preached yet. It was related to emotions and healing. And so that was the direction I went. But in order to keep this from happening again, I laid out what I had preached on at Christmastime for the past twenty years. In 1987, we moved from the Wichita, KS area (Benton, KS) to Garden City, KS where I began a 13 year ministry, followed by the 8 years (so far) here in Oregon. Much to my chagrin, I see some patterns that mean my choice of texts and subjects is pretty much the same year after year! Yuck! Now, I realize that there is a limited number of Christmas texts, but I seem to be overusing the same old ones. I think that I will do some looking at the lectionary before next Christmas and see if it offers some helpful ideas.

For what it is worth, here is my list of sermon titles and texts along with any series I could identify:

(No, the guy in the white robe is not me...)


2007: Christmas: the Healing Season

  • Dec. 2 Healing of Barrenness (Zechariah & Elizabeth) (Luke 1:5-25; 57-80)
  • Dec. 9 Healing of Hurt (Joseph)
  • Dec. 16 Healing of Anger (Herod)
  • Dec. 23 Healing of Fear (Mary)
  • Dec. 30 Healing of Mourning (Women of Bethlehem)

2006: A Christmas to Learn Dependence

  • Dec. 3 Ready Willing & Waiting (Matt. 1:1-17)
  • Dec. 10 There’s Something About Joseph (Matt. 1:18-25)
  • Dec. 17 The Grinch…Named Herod (Luke 1:5-66; 2:1-20)
  • Dec. 24 Generation to Generation (Luke 1:46-56)

2005 Always Winter, Never Christmas

  • Dec. 4: “Aslan is on the Move” (The Hope of Christmas) (Heb. 6:18-19)
  • Dec. 11 Turkish Delight (The Power of Sin to Capture) (John 8:34)
  • Dec. 18 The Lion of Judah (Who is the one in the manger?) (Rev. 5:5)
  • Dec. 25: What If It Never (Were?) Was Christmas? (Luke 2:1)

2004:

  • Preached a series on stewardship up until the Sunday before Christmas
  • Dec. 19-Desperate Housewives (and other Christmas Shoppers) Luke 2:1-7
  • Dec. 26 Sunday after Christmas--Beyond Christmas (story of Joseph)

2003: Christmas Conflict

  • Nov. 25 …Belief vs. Skepticism (Zechariah and the Angel)
  • Dec. 7 …Joy vs. Disillusionment (May and Joseph)
  • Dec. 14 …Spiritual vs. Material (The Shepherds)
  • Dec 21…Humility vs. Egotism (The Wise Men and Herod)
  • Dec. 28- Holiday vs. Reality (Slaughter of the Innocents)

2002

  • Did stewardship series up until Dec. 15
  • Dec. 22 What Christmas is All About (Micah 5:4-5)

2001: Waiting for Christmas

  • Dec. 9 Only 1,095,000 Shopping Days Until Christmas (Gen. 3:15)
  • Dec. 16 Open My Eyes that I May See (Ps. 2 & 22)
  • Dec. 23 A Christmas Carol (Isa. 8:19-9:7)

2000

  • Dec. 3 Finished Vital Connections series
  • Dec. 10 Joseph—Believe the Best in People (Matt. 1:18-25)
  • Dec. 17 Mary—Trust God for the Impossible (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Dec. 24 Staff person preached

1999

  • 12/5 Only 1,095,000 Shopping Days Until Christmas (Gen. 3:15)
  • Next Sunday was my farewell sermon at BCC & then we moved to Oregon.

  • 1998
  • 11/29 Shepherds Seize the Moment (Luke 2:18-20)
  • 12/13 Christmas-Prepare the Way (Luke 7:18-28)
  • 12/20 Jesus: Prince of Egypt (Matt 1:18-25)

1997 Open before Christmas

  • 11/30 Open My Ears (Is 55:3)
  • 12/7 Seeing is Believing (Luke 2:25-32)
  • 12/28 Open Your Mouth (Luke 2:20)

1996

  • 12/1 Only 1,095,000 Shopping Days Until Christmas (Gen. 3:15)
  • 12/8 Could Jesus be born at Bible Christian Church? (Phil 2:5-7)
  • 12/15 Open My Eyes That I May See (Ps. 2)
  • 12/22 A Christmas Carol (Isa 9:1-7)

1995

  • 12/10 Christmas-Healing from Hurts (Matt 1:18-25)
  • 12/17 Christmas-Healing from Anger (Matt 2:1-16)
  • 12/24 Christmas-Healing of Fear (Luke 1:26-38)

1994

  • 12/4 From Barrenness to Celebration (Luke 1:5-20)
  • 12/11 From Anger to Peace (Matt 2:1-18)
  • 12/18 An Awesome Night (Luke 2:17-18)
  • 12/25 The Giving Season (Luke 1:38)

1993

  • 12/5 The Small Becomes Great (Ps. 22)
  • 12/12 O Come Let Us Adore Him (2 Sam 6:1-22)
  • 12/19 Unto You is Born in the City of David (Micah 5:2-5)

1992

  • 12/6 Between Alpha & Omega (Rev. 22:12-13)
  • 12/13 Dayspring from on High (Luke 1:78-79)
  • 12/20 Just Call Me Jesus (Matt 1:21)
  • 12/27 He Shall Be Called a Nazarene (Matt 2:23)

1991

  • 12/1 The Word in the World (John 1:1-18)
  • 12/8 Rediscovering Unity (Isa 58:11-12)
  • 12/15 Whose Child is This? (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38)
  • 12/22 Prophet, Priest & King (Luke 2:11)
1990
  • 12/2 Prepared but Not Ready (Gal. 4.4)
  • 12/9 Messiah Our Deliverer (Rom 11.26)
  • 12/16 The Christ is Now Here (Ps. 110)

1989 –People at the Manger

  • 12/3 The Forgotten Joseph (Matt 1:15-25)
  • 12/10 Fear Not (Luke 2:2-18)
  • 12/17 Mary an Example of Giving (Luke 1:26-38)
  • 12//24 Wonderful Counselor (Isa 9:1-7)

1988

  • 12/4 God’s Creative Love (John 4:10-11)
  • 12/11 Incarnation: Fact or Fiction? (John 1:1-18)
  • 12/18 Emmanuel- God With Us (Isa 7:14)

1987

  • 12/13 The Who of Christmas (Luke 2)
  • 12/20 The Where of Christmas (Luke 2)
  • 12/23 She Treasured & Pondered (Luke 2:19-51)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seven Passions of a Revolutionary and NCD

While I was reading Barna's book Revolution, I was struck that there were similarities between his "Seven Passions of a Revolutionary" (as he coins it) and the eight signs of a healthy church.

Christian Swartz (and his research of tens of thousands of churches) has found that churches that are growing in ALL places around the world exhibit eight common characteristics. And he found that NO church that scores above 60/100 in these areas on his inventory is NOT growing. The characteristics are:

  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-Oriented Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Functional Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Services
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-oriented Evangelism
  • Loving Relationships

This post is not intended to be an exposition of NCD (Natural Church Development), although I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with it. (If you are familiar with NCD, you will know the significance of the staved barrel above. If not...I suggest you look into it!)

But Barna has listed seven characteristics of "Revolutionary Christians." (See my previous post about this). I find the two lists interesting in their similarities:

Barna's list:

  • Servanthood
  • Faith Based Conversations
  • Intentional Spiritual Growth
  • Servanthood
  • Intimate Worship
  • Resource Investment
  • Family Faith
  • Spiritual Friendships

Both lists stress the importance of meaningful worship, Servanthood (need-oriented evangelism as well as gift-oriented ministry) Loving Relationships (Spiritual Friendships, perhaps Faith based conversations), Functional structures (while not on the list, Barna's entire thesis is presupposed on the assertion that the current church structures are not working. There are perhaps other areas of overlap, but I just find the parallels interesting. It would be interesting to find out the receptivity of NCD "healthy" churches to the "revolutionary" movement described by Barna.

Preaching the Passions

revolution by barna

I have just finished reading "Revolution" by George Barna. It is not a new book (copyright 2005). But I am just now getting around to it. I have not been overly impressed with the house-church movement through the years and when first looking at the book and thinking that house-churches was what Barna was pushing, it dropped way down my reading list.

But circumstances arranged themselves for me to spend time in this little book. And while this is not going to be a book review, I will say that I have real mixed reactions to it. On the one level, it is an idealistic book that paints "revolutionaries" in the best possible light and churches in the worse possible light. And when you compare the best of one movement to the worst of another, it doesn't take a fifth grader to guess which one is going to come out on top. I don't believe that he also takes human sin seriously. He paints a picture of the future of house churches that is all rosy and, well..., revolutionary. While he tips his hat, to "this movement will not be perfect", I believe that the movement he describes will take on the same or fundamentally similar foibles & weaknesses of the local church, because it will be populated by (mostly) redeemed sinners, just like the church.

HOWEVER... I do believe that there is much to be said for how we address people in this new age. Drawing from the book of Acts, he lays out seven (the perfect number of course) passions of revolutionaries. Putting it that way is a bit disingenuous because it presumes that they are not passions of other believers as well...but the point is still valid that these are biblical passions that fit well for this emerging culture:

Seven Passions of Revolutionaries (drawn from Acts 2-5.

  • Intimate Worship
  • Faith Based Conversations
  • Intentional Spiritual Growth
  • Servanthood
  • Resource Investment
  • Spiritual Friendships
  • Family Faith

Barna then takes each of these and lays out how existing churches can take advantage of this movement (in a good way) to help people in their church draw closer to Jesus.

How Churches Should Respond:

1. Your church must cultivate an atmosphere in which intimate
worship can occur.

2. We must resource and encourage people to enter faith-based
conversations with others.

3. We must get intentional about spiritual growth.

4. We must release in people the God-given desire to serve.

5. Don’t be afraid to address the issue of resources – and that
includes money.

6. Create opportunities for the development of spiritual friendships

7. We must put emphasis on the family, resourcing parents to teach their children the ways and ethics of the Kingdom of Christ.

There is nothing there that is objectionable (at least to me). It will be important for me to make sure that my preaching reflects how to develop these characteristics in our lives...and that our church's programming is focused in these directions.

Maybe more later on Barna...but maybe not!

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007