Monday, December 29, 2008

30 Years of Life and Ministry Together

image Today I am celebrating the  30th anniversary of my wedding to my best friend.  We are back in the place where we were married with both of our sons & their wives.  Happy anniversary, honey!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

image

From Loretta and I, let me thank you for your faithfulness to this blog and to the craft of communicating God’s Word.  May we, wherever we are around the world this Christmas, give praise to the one who came to earth as a servant, that we might reign forever with Him in glory.  Come Lord Jesus, Come. 

 

(Note: My family leaves on Christmas morning for Kansas City to be with my wife’s family. While I MAY have blogging capability, I don’t know whether or not I will.  So until next time…God’s blessings…and Merry Christmas!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Fun Blast from the Past

Cal at ISCC pulpit3

My wife Loretta is going through stacks of old pictures (they are spread all over the floor of a spare bedroom).  But one of the pictures she came across is me in the pulpit of the first church I served.  It is near Kingsport, TN (between Kingsport and Blountville, if you know the area) and I served as Associate Minister from 1979-1983.  This picture is from 1980.  I preached occasionally from 1979-1981 and then I served as the interim minister for nine months from summer 1981 to spring 1982.  Don’t you love the baby-blue three piece suit? Not sure they could hear much I was saying for the brightness of the suit!!  Good memories. 

Purpose, Success and Fearlessness…What More Could We Want?

Preaching Without Notes Storrs(2)Richard Storrs in his little book “Conditions of Success in Preaching Without Notes” (1875 lecture series at Union Theological Seminary) has a striking statement about the preacher.

“Strength of purpose, expectation of success, and a serene fearlessness, become the very prerogatives of his office when he stands to represent the King of the world in uttering His message to the men of the World.”

It is important for us to remember that Power that stands behind us and resides within us when we get up and preach, not our own opinions, but the very Word of God.  As the title to this post asks,  “What more could we want?”

Cleansing the Mental Palate

Preaching Without Notes-Storrs

In his book on Preaching Without Notes (1875), Richard Storrs  reminds us of the simple necessity of clearing out the brain before preparing a similar sermon.  He states:

Discharge your mind of the sermon when once you have have preached it so keeping the mind free and open for other subjects succeeding that one.  I cannot give you any rule by which to do this. I only know that it can be done, though it is not easy; that the habit of doing it can be formed like [a] habit….

The lawyer does it, all the time.  All sorts of cases come successively before him, and each, in its turn, fully occupies his mind: cases of insurance; cases involving felony—murder, theft, forgery, battatry [sic], libel, or what not; cases of patent-rights; cases involving the title to lands; horse-cases perhaps.  While he is arguing one, his thoughts are full of it. The next eliminates it wholly from his mind; and the one is forgotten when the other is before him. 

A minister must learn to do much the same thing. It is not easy, as I said.  …I found that one great secret of success in doing what was needed was to take a second subject very different from the first: then the expulsive power of the new subject, occupying the thoughts, freed them from embarrassing reminiscences of the other.  If you have preached on a theme of doctrine, for example, in the morning, take some point of Christian practice for your theme in the evening.  If one discourse is preceptive and hortatory, let another be narrative, in its structure.  If one is closely argumentative, let the next be a careful yet free exposition of a parable or a psalm.  So you will find that the mind releases itself from the one subject, by taking another entirely distinct; its natural resilience is helped and stimulated, and you cease to be weighted with your previous processes. 

In this way, or some other, you must secure the result which I indicate. Otherwise, you will be all the while in danger of repeating proceeding trains of thought, of applying the intellectual methods proper to one subject to another widely different, and of wholly failing to widen and enrich your mind. You will be likely, even, to get by degrees a set of pet subjects, of recurring phrases, and of familiar illustrations; and to feel yourself, and to make your people feel as well, that your mind is becoming narrow and unproductive through your method of preaching.  (pp. 56-58)

I don’t know how it is with you, but I don’t preach Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening with a Bible study in between.  I preach, basically once a week, barring weddings or funerals.  And the small group lesson I prepare and teach is based on the sermon material!    I suspect, however, that the preparation of some lesson on a clearly different subject would serve the purpose. 

A common sense suggestion, but not one I would have put into words like this little book…132 years old!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Totally Unusable Video Clips

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It happens with frustrating frequency.  You find an excellent video clip.  One that makes the point of a sermon in an incredible manner.  It is striking, memorable and doesn’t rely on 15 minutes of set-up before you can show it. The “ideal” video clip.

And you can’t use it.

Why not?

Because something surrounding the point is totally objectionable and offensive. 

Case in point.  I am working my way through the movie version of the graphic novel “300”. (It is too violent for me to watch in one sitting, frankly. While the dialogue in the movie is pretty witty and the casting & costuming is superb, the graphic violence makes me tired.) It is the story of the battle between King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 men of the elite king’s guard battling the million+ man army of King Xerxes of Persia. 

There are two scenes where Xerxes appears that seem ripe to use. The parallels to Satanic temptation are so rich and colorful, I was dying to use them someday.

In the first, Xerxes confronts Leonidas personally and throws down all sorts of temptations if Leonidas will bow before him. (In the picture below, Rodrigo Santoro plays Xerxes brilliantly. He is speaking to Leonidas, whose back we see at the edge and in the poster above.)

Xerxes: But I am a generous god. I can make you rich beyond all measure. I will make you warlord of all Greece. You will carry my battle standard to the heart of Europa. Your Athenian rivals will kneel at your feet if you will but kneel at mine.
King Leonidas: You are generous as you are divine, O king of kings. Such an offer only a madman would refuse. But the, uh, the idea of kneeling, it's- You see, slaughtering all those men of yours has, uh, well it's left a nasty cramp in my leg, so kneeling will be hard for me.

The response is classic:

Xerxes: There will be no glory in your sacrifice. I will erase even the memory of Sparta from the histories! Every piece of Greek parchment shall be burned. Every Greek historian, and every scribe shall have their eyes pulled out, and their tongues cut from their mouths. Why, uttering the very name of Sparta, or Leonidas, will be punishable by death! The world will never know you existed at all!
King Leonidas: The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed.image

The better clip, really, is Xerxes temptation of the traitor Ephialtes, a crippled shepherd whose pride has been injured by Leonidas.  He comes with knowledge of the secret goat path around to the flank of Leonidas’ army (which ultimately proves to be the Spartans undoing). 

But the scene where Xerxes tempts Ephialtes is classic.  Xerxes is pure Satan.  He is charming.  He speaks of how “kind” he is.  He wants nothing but Ephialtes best, as opposed to Leonidas, who only wants his ill.  He promises Efialtes money and women.  Ultimately what Ephialtes wants is to be able to be dressed in an soldier’s uniform.  And he succumbs.

But the scene is totally ruined by the sensuality surrounding Xerxes court.  There is nudity, lesbianism and just totally inappropriate surroundings to enable this to be used as a clip in a sermon or Bible lesson.  If you could block out the surrounding circumstances, it would be very, very usable.  As it is, it is a no-go.

Are there video clips that you have wanted to use, but which have been rendered totally useless by the surroundings in the movie or TV show? 

Share them with us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Day at Church

12 20_0080 Today is weird…very weird.  We cancelled church due to snow and ice.  That is very unusual for the “banana belt” of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  We waited until 5p.m. last night to call it, but wanted to do it in time to get the word out.  It was a good call. 

I think we got about 8” of snow at our house and then a coating of ice on top of it. And so at 10:38 on a Sunday morning, I am sitting at home in flannel pants & a sweatshirt.  We went to a birthday party of a friend last night…and then the friend couldn’t get out of her subdivision to come to the party.  (Didn’t keep us from having a good time, however).  As we drove home, the ice pellets started pounding the Tahoe & I knew it was time to get inside.  So…time to read the paper on Sunday morning, fireplace going, and all is well.

Hopefully, we will all be out and ready for a great Christmas Eve service on Wednesday night. Stay warm. 

Evergreen tree from bedroom window(The pictures are ones Loretta took this morning.  One is of  her camellia bush in the back yard taken through our dining room window.  The other is of the neighbors spruce tree taken from our upstairs bedroom window. I liked them.)

Camillia Bush

Texting Questions to the Preacher While He is Preaching?

It has been suggested by a couple of people that we encourage/allow people to text questions to me while I preach.  Some have even suggested that the text  imagemessage be projected onto the screen behind me (I can see a smaller screen in the back of the sanctuary).  I have thought it was an idea  that I would not necessarily want to do every Sunday, but might be interesting to try.  It would take a lot more technological savvy than I possess to project it on the screen than just to have the text messages handed to me at appropriate times.  It probably would take a video splitter (or whatever that machine is called). I’m not really sure where in the flow of the sermon a Q&A like this would work. I wouldn’t want to keep stopping to answer questions and I  certainly wouldn’t want a constant barrage of comments…applicable or not…flashing up on the screen distracting me. But just because I don’t see how the flow would work doesn’t mean that it should/could never happen.

Therefore, I found the following statistics interesting.  

Messaging Preferences by Age Group (% of Age Group)

Age

Instant Messaging

SMS (Texting)

Email

15-17

16%

42%

27%

18-24

19

34

34

25-34

8

21

58

35-44

5

10

78

45-54

5

6

80

55-64

2

3

87

65+

0

0

88

(ExactTarget 10/08)

It shows the great disparity between listeners aged 34 and under and 35 and above when it comes to texting.  I am frankly surprised at how few IM-ers there are in each of the age groups.  I am equally surprised at the percentage of seniors who use e-mail.  That statistic is not really consistent with my experience, but my experience may be rather slanted.  If I were preaching in a predominantly young church or we had one service that was predominantly made up of people 35 & under, I think I would at least give it a shot.  Given where I am and how long I will still be here at this church, I don’t think it is going to happen. 

But interesting stats none the less. 

Is this something you would try?  Is this something you have done?  What do you think?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Interesting Statistic About Recessions

imageAccording to David Beckworth in Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States, churches grow in hard times During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50%. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

Glory to God in the Highest

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When the angels appeared to the shepherds they declared:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14)

That is part of the text I intend to preach on tomorrow.  I say “intend” because they are calling for 4-6” of snow and freezing rain here in Portland. I would say it is a 40/60% chance that we will have corporate worship tomorrow.

PART of my observations on the text include the fact that we focus on the second part of the angel’s message, but sometimes don’t focus enough attention on the first.  We focus on what “peace on earth” means and we squabble over what “those on whom his favor rests” means (or “goodwill to men”).  But do we think seriously about what it means to link Christ’s birth with the glory of God?

I am thinking along these lines because I have just begun John Piper’s book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.”  And the second chapter is entitled, “Brothers, God Loves His Glory.”  In one place Piper warns:

“Many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem. Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that is the foundation of His love for us.” (pp. 6-7)

We stress the John 3:16 aspect of the angel’s message: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son….” But there is an aspect of the angel’s message that is AT LEAST just as important. And that is that God came in human form to declare and to protect his own glory. 

When humanity sinned, Satan and any onlookers had the opportunity to deride God’s glory.  God’s glory was not diminished by our sin, but the opportunity to deride his glory was given to others.  Therefore, since God desires to protect his glory, he put a plan into place to reverse the effects of our sin.  That is much of the history of God’s workings with mankind:

When God created a people out of Abraham’s descendents,to belong to himself he did it for his glory:

Isaiah 43:7: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Why did God spare rebellious Israel in the wilderness and finally bring them to the promised land?” (p. 8)

Ezekiel 20:14: But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

When God bore with patience those of us who deserved his wrath and destruction he did so for his glory:

Romans 9:22-23: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

“Why did the Father send the Incarnate son to Israel?” (p. 8)

Romans 15:8-9: For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”

“Christ died to glorify the Father and to repair all the defamation we had brought upon His honor.  Our only hopes is that the death of Christ satisfied God’s righteous claims to receive proper glory from His creatures.” (p. 8)

Romans 3:23-26 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

The question of God’s love and God’s glory are inextricably linked.   God cares immensely for his glory.  Is that overblown ego?  Not at all, since God is worthy of any praise he receives. It is not exaggeration:  He IS that worthy and He DESERVES whatever praise and glory we can give to Him. (Piper phrases it, playing off of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end of God?  God’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy His glory forever.”)

At Christmas time, the focus is most often on how special we are because God loved us.  And I don’t want to minimize that God’s love for us is amazing. (Not that WE are so amazing, but that God’s LOVE for us is amazing.)  But the other reality contained in the angels declaration was that God is to be glorified & praised for the incredible love, power and wisdom he showed in the incarnation & nativity. 

As Charles Wesley has said so well:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing

Glory to the new-born King!

 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Facebook Sermonette Movement

image Readers at salon.com’s Table Talk were asked to sum up their lives in six words or less.  Some of the summaries:

  • “They don’t hear, unless I yell.”
  • “Broke. Payday. Broke.  Payday.  Broke, Payday.”
  • “Exited Hardees from the back, weeping.” (Hardees is like Carls, Jr. for those of us on the West Coast)
  • “I never mastered the Theremin.”
  • “Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck…GOOSE!”
  • “Does not work up to potential.”
  • “I never learned how to swashbuckle.”
  • “Pizza.  Donuts. Milkshake. Salad. Weight Watchers.” 
  • Oh, no, not again. Again. Again.
  • Fire, Wind. Water. Exorbitant insurance premiums.”

 

That reminded me of a Facebook group of which I am apart: “Status Bar Sermonette Movement.”  The group is described as people who weekly summarize their sermon on their status bar in 120 words or less:

Miniature sermons contained within the status bar, around 120 words total.
We are committed to the short the sweet and the profound.
No time for long winded illustrations or personal stories. Straight to the point.
The challenge of sharing the Word of God in around 120 words..

image

 

 

Here are a few examples from recent weeks…

  • "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 Christ can save you.”
  • "We are the Bibles the world is reading; We are the creeds the world is needing; We are the sermons the world is heeding." --Billy Graham
  • “On Proverbs."The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." (18:10) Are you safe today? Run!”
  • “I want to have a "Mary Attitude"..I am the Lord's servant...may it be to me as you have said..Luke 1:38..God allow me to the a vessel for YOUR GLORY!”
  • “God does not have to send out thank you cards. We are slaves to the Master and what we do for God is our duty. You can chose to to serve or be a servant. A servant does everything the Master commands. However, when I chose to serve, I chose who, what, when, where and how I want to do it. Do you serve or are you a servant? Luke 17: 7-10”
  • “Dry Brooks---You may have been 'fed by ravens' in the past; but, when your brook dries up, it's time for you to obey the Lord and move on. You have no idea what God has in store for you once the brook dries up! {I Kings 17:1-24}”
  • “The ‘stuff’. Jonah - Nineveh turned from evil, "God relented", He did not destroy them. Modern day destruction avoidance? Accept Christ.” image

Mine for last Sunday was: “Joseph is an example for us of a man who cared more about what God thought/wanted than what others thought/wanted.”

For 12/7 it was “Frightening or difficult times are often the times that God uses to call his people to do great things.”

So, if you were to summarize your sermon in 120 words or less, how would you do it. If you already use a theme statement or “big idea” (Brian Chappell’s words…maybe Haddon Robinson’s word first) what would you say?  Post it in the comments.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

False Peace/False Guilt

image “It is equally perverted in God's sight to declare false guilt as it is to offer false peace.  To condemn the innocent is as troublesome as to acquit the guilty. (Ezek 13:19-22).”  --Zach Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World (p. 121).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lewis on Reading Doctrinal Books Devotionally

Heath McPherson on his FB site provides a great C.S. Lewis quote of which I was unfamiliar:image

"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." —C.S. Lewis

One of the FB comments was, “What doctrinal books did Lewis read?”  I think you get out of doctrinal books whatever you put into them.  If I am reading them to get through them, or to debate with them, or to use them to debate with others, then they may not be so helpful. But if I read them asking, “What does this tell me about God?  About myself?  About our world?  Is this true to scripture and my experience?” then I think that doctrinal books can be extremely devotional. It depends, however, on the attitude that we bring to the books.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Warren: How to Trim Your Sermons

Whatever you think of Rick Warren, he gives some very helpful suggestions on tightening up your sermons on his Ministry Toolbox. I find his suggestions very helpful. You can find the article here.

How to Preach Things People Will Understand

Again and again, I find my reading on writing informing my preaching. One of the weaknesses of my preaching, however, is that I love to write…I love words…I love using  “the correct” word.  And so I have often tried to preach that way. And it just doesn’t work.  But Jim Heath of Viacorp has written a concise article entitled How to Write Things People Will Read that reminds me that generally good writing isn’t that way either.  He is writing particularly on business writing and not writing for academia, but his points are helpful both for writers as well as for preachers:

  1. damaging circumstances 1. Have you cut out the deadwood?

    Look at these examples: “The deluxe table is red in color.”
    “Our batteries last for a duration of 25 hours.” “To start the generator, turn the handle in a clockwise direction.” See the deadwood?
    The same sentences come to life when you chop it out: “The  deluxe table is red.” “Our batteries last 25 hours.” “To start the  generator, turn the handle clockwise.”

  2. Are your words & sentences too long?

    Why do you get a headache when you read your insurance policy? Because the policy says “implement” when it could have said “do”. Or it says “terminate” when it could have said “end”. And the sentences run for miles. Who can wade through it? If you overdo the long words and sentences, you might as well write in Greek. Your readers won’t understand a thing. And you don’t even impress them –– most people have a quiet contempt for stuffy writing.

  3. Are Your Verbs Working?

Make your verbs work as hard as possible. They drive the writing along.
WRITE: “This report explains our policy.”
NOT: “This report is an explanation of our policy.”
WRITE: “Our company designed and developed the new console.”
NOT: “Our company has done the design and development of the new console.”
WRITE: “The costs exceed what we expected.”
NOT: “The costs are in excess of what we expected.”
Both versions say the same thing. Yet one has force and the other lacks it.

4. Is your conversational level about right?

If you never use words like “you”, “we” , “your”, and “our”, then your publications could suffer. People relate to personal words. And these words help a lot when you’re giving instructions. (“When you get off the train, watch the step” not “It is advised to observe the step when alighting from the train.”)

5. Will everyone get the same message?

Most people find it easy to write something they can understand themselves. But someone else might read it in a completely different way.
Here’s a typical scene: “That’s not what I wrote!” says the writer, getting mad, explaining it in new words. The reader stareschickens are ready to eat
at the page again, and sure enough –– there it is: the meaning he hadn’t seen. Yet both meanings were there in black and white
. . . Ambiguous writing.
Sound familiar? It’s why professional writers tell you to put your writing away when you’re finished. Then look at it later, with a cold eye. Or let someone else criticize it.

6. What About the Big Picture?

Do you start with the main point? Or do you lead your reader up to it slowly?
For a hundred years, newspapers and magazines have put the main point first. (The “inverted pyramid” style.) Readers now expect it. If you don’t do the same thing, your readers may never get to your main point. And they may feel tricked.
Imagine you get a long letter that starts off by thanking you for your support for your bowling club. The letter goes on and on, saying how well the club is doing, telling about the events coming up, the new members, then –– bang! –– after four pages
you find out what they’re after: a $200 special contribution from every member! Feel burned?
Another example. Scientists used to put their conclusions at the end of their reports. (After they’d softened up their readers
with arguments and evidence.) But readers automatically skipped to the end, to find the meat. So scientific reports now have the
summary right at the front.
Look at your newspaper. The headline sums up the whole story. The first paragraph sums it up again, with a little more detail. And so on, until the end –– where you’ll find the least important details.
Do the same thing. It’s easy. And it helps your reader.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Greetings from the TCC Pastoral Staff!!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

God Knows What He’s Talking About…Again…

Also from that paragon of religious wisdom: Men’s Health magazine’s Dec. issue:image

Coming clean can reduce stress, boosting your health in the process, a 2007 Wayne State University study found.  And don’t worry if you don’t have a priest on speed deal—it’s the process that helps.  So bare your soul to anyone you trust.  “The translation of emotional experience into language changes the way it’s represented in the brain,” says James Pennebaker, Ph.D., chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Texas. “By articulating their feelings, people receive relief from worry.  It provides an alternative way of thinking about problems.”

Equal Time for Men

image Been a bit overwhelmed, but came across this in Men’s Health magazine’s December edition & thought it would balance my post re: concerns of women.

Men’s Health periodically does a compilation of surveys on men’s faith issues.  This year’s summary of American men:

71% –go to synagogue, church, or other services at least once a year

21%-drew pictures as a kid to stay awake at church

77%-say petitioning for divine intervention paid off at least once

83% -have prayed for some [divine intervention] in an “oh, s--t” moment.

73% believe in miracles

69% have tuned in to watch a televangelist

6%- those whose spirits were moved enough to crack open their checkbooks

68% say their faith helps them manage life’s little stressors

40% – have seriously considered making faith a full-time job

35% have doubted religious enough to consider atheism

32%-say the holiday spirit makes them feel more religious

26% have swallowed a “Merry Christmas” greeting because they didn’t want to risk offending someone.

78% –admit checking out the women in their congregation

60%-would marry a woman of a different religion

88%–would call off it off if the pre-nup included a conversion clause. 

15% -percentage of affairs that involve the desperate housewife next door.

26% –the denomination with the lowest divorce rate: evangelical Christians

30% –divorce rate among atheists & agnostics

The average guy’s favorite movie that melds religious themes with whip-cracking action: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A couple of these really surprised me—40% have considered some form of professional ministry.  That explains all of the guys who I thought would be the last guy on earth to consider ministry saying, “You know, I thought about being a minister when I was younger.”

That 60% would consider marrying a woman of another religion surprises me, but I guess a good percentage of those are guys who don’t practice their faith anyway?

I don’t know what to think about the the stat about evangelicals having the lowest divorce rate. First, evangelicals are not a denomination—that says something about the awareness of the Men’s Health writer. But I have heard for years that evangelicals have the same divorce rate as non-Christians, and in some surveys, an even higher rate. As I say, I don’t know what to think about the stat, except that I hope it is true. While they credit the photos used on the page, they didn’t credit where the stats came from.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Worries Women

Keeping in mind the concerns of 50% of our listeners:

The leading causes of worry and stress among image Christian women:

  • 57% money concerns
  • 48% health issues
  • 34% not enough time
  • 31% job/career issues
  • 27% parenting/relationship with kids
  • 27% relationship with family/friends
  • 19% marriage/relationship w/spouse
  • 17% care for aging parents
  • 13% over-commitment/ involvement in activities
  • 6% moving/relocating
  • 11% of Christian women say they don't worry about anything.

Your Church Nov-Dec /08

Monday, December 8, 2008

Extemporaneous Preaching…from Acts to Advent

Speaking of preaching without notes: I suffered a bit of image a setback yesterday in my effort to do more extemporaneous preaching.  I finished my year-long series on Acts last Sunday and moved into a three week Advent series on the “Fear Nots” of the Christmas narratives.  This week, it was Gabriel’s word to Mary—”Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:29).  The switch from Acts to Advent was harder than I anticipated—no matter how I looked this passage, I just couldn’t get into it. I was frantically working on the message up to the last minute.  The message was not solidly in my head, therefore, I relied heavily on notes.  Kind of bummed about the setback, but learned a few lessons, including

  • the importance of preparation with extemporaneous preaching in view all along. 
  • the lesson of advance preparation. 
  • that God can still use my preaching even when I don’t do it with the style I would prefer:  quite a number of people commented on how helpful the sermon was. 

Here is/was my outline:

FEAR NOT… TO DO GREAT THINGS FOR GOD

Luke 1:30-38

Theme: Frightening or difficult times are often the times that God uses to call his people to do great things.

THE GREAT THING THAT GOD WANTED MARY TO DO: TO BEAR THE SON OF GOD.

Gabriel stresses three things about Jesus:

  • his position (Son of God, Son of the Most High, ruler),
  • his authority (seated on Israel’s throne forever; ruler of a kingdom that will never end)
  • his divine ties (the Holy Spirit will come … and … overshadow you). In short, Jesus is the promised king of the Davidic line.

GOD’S GREAT THINGS…

  • … are almost always an interruption in life.
  • … come in the difficult times in life
  • … are not usually given to the most humanly qualified
  • …ALWAYS demand faith

In Order to Speak Well Without Notes…Write More

In my present quest to preach more and more without notes, I came across an old volume entitled, “Conditions of Success in Preaching Without Notes.”  It was written by Richard S. Storrs. It arose out of a three day lectureship (spread over three weeks) at Union Theological Seminary Jan. 13, 20 & 27, 1875 and was published later that year.

Much of the first lecture is anecdotal, but he gives several conclusions.  One that I find interesting is that if you are going to preach well without notes, it is important  that you write regularly. 

He words it this way:  “Always be careful to keep up the habit of writing, with whatever of skill, elegance and force you can command.”

He discusses the importance of being familiar with and using a broad vocabulary.  He uses several such words (some of which I have never heard!!)

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He goes on:

We cannot be always using such words.  The plainer are better for common service.  But when these richer, remoter words, come into the discourse, they make it ample and royal.  They are like glittering threads of gold, interwoven with the commoner tissue.  There is a certain spell in them, for the memory, the imagination.  Elect hearers will be warmed and won by them.  But we cannot get such words, and keep them except by writing.  Reading will put them into our hands.  Only careful writing separates, signalized, infixes them in the mind, makes then out possession forever.  We pass over them as we read. We pick them out, with the pen

So always be careful to write, habitually; not sermons, necessarily; essays, analyses, articles for papers, lectures if you like—whatever most attracts you to the use of the pen.

You will need the constant discipline of such writing to enable you to form sentences rapidly and securely,—sentences which shall be firm, well=proportioned, consistent, complete.  nothing is more absolutely fatal to the impression of a spoken discourse than a succession of halting broken-backed sentences.  They are like broken-winged birds, hindering the flight of the whole flock; almost like broken rails on the track, which fling the entire train into a heap.  When subject and predicate, protasis & apodosis are jumbled together in inextricable confusion or are hopelessly disjoined from each other, no one will long try to follow the speaker. At the beginning of every sentence one should be able to look at the end of it, that he himself may be carried on, and his hearers with him, with ease and steadfastness, to its foreseen conclusion.

I believe that in this blog, I have found an important tool in preaching better.  Not just in the content that I expose myself to and try to share highlights/excerpts with you, gentle reader.  ;-)  But the act of forcing myself to get my “'daily pages” in (a writing term) forces me into the habit of expressing the flow of words that is necessary to preaching without notes.

Perhaps more on this later. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Most Important Element in Introduction? « Biblical Preaching

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Peter Mead (again) has hit a home run with his most recent post on sermon introductions.   He accurately makes the observation that showing relevance is the most important element in Introductions:

In one way or another showing how:

  • This speaker is relevant to me.
  • This message is relevant to me.
  • This passage is relevant to me.

Find his entire post here: Most Important Element in Introduction? « Biblical Preaching

Friday, December 5, 2008

Solomon Stoddard: Defects of Preachers Reproved

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Solomon Stoddard was a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts who lived from 1643-1728/29.  He graduated from Harvard and was the first librarian at that college. He served as pastor at Northampton, Mass from 1672 until his death. There were major “revivals of religion” at Northampton in 1679, 1683, 1712 and 1718.  The Dictionary of American Biography states: “As an ecclesiastical statesman he was unrivaled in his generation.”  It is also notable that he was the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards.

On May 19, 1723, Stoddard preached a sermon at Northampton entitled “Defects of Preachers Reproved”. 

He uses as his text Matt 23:2-3:‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise [sic] what they teach.”

After reviewing who it is to whom the text refers and what the biblical expectations of the Jewish leaders and teachers were, he moves into the application of those principles to the preachers of his day.

There may be a great deal of preaching, but that does not meant that it is good preaching.  Good, sound, biblical doctrines may be taught, but the people are harmed if some things are left untaught/unpreached. 

Stoddard holds that many preachers are moral men and learned men, but those things do not make for good preachers.  One may be learned, “yet drunk in very corrupt doctrine.”

Many preachers, Stoddard accuses, know much about the Bible, but have not had a conversion experience:

It is as with a Man that has seen a Map of a Country, or has read a great deal about it; he can’t tell the Way between Town and Town, and Hundreds of particular Circumstances, as a Man that has travelled or lived there is able to do. Experience fits Men to teach others.

I. An Examination to See If This Is The Case:

Stoddard suggests all preachers do self examination.

1. Bad preaching allows people to think that they don’t need to have to know a specific time of conversion in their lives.   He sees minimizing having a specific time where one was converted as a sign of a lack of regeneration.

2.  Good preaching always stresses that humiliation must precede faith.  By “humiliation” I take it that he means to be broken of any sense of one’s own self-righteousness.  We do not “grow” into Christian faith and maturity. It comes from brokenness, not progress.

Men must see their Malady, before they see their Remedy. Men must be led into the Understanding of the Badness of their Hearts and the strictness of the Law, before they will be convinced of the Preciousness of Christ. Men that can heal their own Consciences, will not come to Christ for Healing. Men must be driven by Necessity indeed before they come to Christ.

3. Bad preaching minimizes the “Danger of Damnation.”

Some Ministers preach most about moral Duties, and the blessed Estate of godly Men, but don’t seek to awaken Sinners and make them sensible of their Danger; they cry for Reformation: These Things are very needful in their Places to be spoken unto; but if Sinners don’t hear often of Judgment and Damnation, few will be converted. Many Men are in a deep Sleep, and flatter themselves as if there was no Hell, or at least that God will not deal so harshly with them as to damn them.

4. Bad preaching misrepresents justifying faith.  Some preach that it is possible to understand all that God says or requires of us.  “Faith in Christ is said to be only a Perswasion [sic] of the Truth of the Christian Religion.”  They are Christian because it is more logical than “Heathenism” or Judaism or some other way.

Justifying Faith is set forth in the Scripture by many figurative Expressions; coming to Christ, opening to him, sitting under his Shadow, flying to him for Refuge, building on him as on a Foundation, feeding on him, [etc]. These Expressions do imply not only an Act of Understanding, but also an Act of the Will, accepting of him, depending on him.

Many “believed” in Jesus when they saw the miracles that he performed, but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew that their faith was fickle. 

5.  (My copy jumps from Point 4 to point 6. I don’t know if this is a typo or point 5 has been edited out)

6. Bad preaching points to miraculous signs or the effect that the Word has on people’s lives as the sign of it's authority.  The authority of God’s word stands apart from any witness to it, miraculous or experiential.  It stands because it IS the Word of God. 

These Considerations may well strengthen the Faith of the People of God; but these Things cannot be the Foundation of our Faith: it is only the certain Knowledge of their Authority, that can be the Foundation of Faith or any other Grace.

7. If we preach that some things are “liberties as God doth not allow” it is not good preaching.  Many preachers are unwilling to call people to account for the inconsistency of their behavior with their supposed profession of faith.  While I am not sure I can buy into all the list of “licentious liberties” that Stoddard lists [some are pretty culturally bound], still his point is valid.  We are often too meek to call people to account in our preaching for the inconsistencies in their walk. 

As long as Men live in Way of Intemperance, Injustice, and unsuitable Carriages on the Sabbath, it will be a great Impediment to a thorough Work of Conversion. There may be Conversion tho’ Men are not broken off from Sins of Ignorance, but as long as they tolerate themselves in Immoralities, that will be a mighty Bar in the Way of their Conversion.

II. The Results of This Bad Preaching is Twofold:

1. There is so little conversion.

2. Even those who make a profession of faith, lead unsanctified lives.  As Stoddard puts it: “tho’ they profess high, they live very low.”   If they were confronted with their sin, Stoddard says, they not only would be able to reform,but they would better be prepared for eternal life.

You can find the entire text of the sermon here.

 

LATER ADDITION:  In looking at another version of Stoddard’s sermon, I found that there was indeed a #5 that we left out of the previous version & had seen. 

5. If we give people the impression that good behavior is a sign that we are under grace, that is not good preaching.  (He words it: If any give false signs of godliness, that is not good preaching.”)  Some behavior can make us think that probably someone is a believer, but only probably.  It is able to be done by un-regenerate persons as well.  We do not do well to allow people to think they are saved simply because they act in godly ways. 

Those things that may flow from common principles don’t truly distinguish between saints and hypocrites, things such as a good conversation savory discourse, zeal against sin, strong religious affections, sorrow for sin, quietness under afflictions, delight in ordinances, or suffering for religion. From such loose signs people are in danger of taking up a false persuasion of their godliness.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Necessary and Possible « Biblical Preaching

image Peter Mead has a very helpful post re: the question:

In simple terms, how much of a message should be spent on explaining the pas sage, and how much should be spent on applying it?

His answer is summarized by the two words in the title.  It is definitely worth your time to read.  Check it out here.

Expositional Preaching That Obstructs the Message

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In looking for lists of some of the best books on preaching, I came across a post by Greg Loughridge that included the following poignant story which is a summary of a Warren Wiersbe story:

Grandma Thatcher hobbles into church one morning. As usual, her unsaved husband had sent her off to church with curses ringing in her ears. She was in constant pain, and had a doctor's appointment on Wednesday. She dreaded the arrival of winter and was praying that fuel prices wouldn't go up again. If it weren't for her Lord, her large-print Bible, and her Christian friends, Grandma Thatcher would have given up a long time ago.

When Pastor Bowers stepped into the pulpit to preach, Grandma Thatcher silently prayed, "Father, give him something special for me. I need it!" The text was Genesis 9, and the message was the twenty-second in a series on Genesis that Pastor Bowers called "Beginning at the Beginnings."

The sermon was titled, "God Talks to Noah." Pastor Bowers read the chapter and then gave the congregation his main points:
I. Creation Presented - 9:1-3
II. Capital Punishment - 9:4-7
III. Covenant Promised - 9:8-17
IV. Carnality Practiced - 9:18-23
V. Consequences Prophesied - 9:24-29

As some of the saints dutifully wrote the outline in the space provided on the back page of their worship folders, Grandma Thatcher breathed a disappointed sigh. "Last week it was all S's. Today it's all CP's." She settled back in the pew, turned the preacher off and began meditating on the psalm she'd read early that morning before George had gotten up to menace her day.

In the effort to let scripture speak for itself, we must always remember that our efforts can really hinder what God is trying to say to our people.

Equal Time for Our Spouses

So, lots of people seemed to enjoy the video on “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Pastors.”   But it left the Pastor’s wife, kind of as the poor, helpless by-stander.  Here is the other side of that coin…

(BTW: one woman let me know how offended she was by some of the You-Tube video's that came up at the end of MDLYBGUTBP.  I have no control over that.  YouTube just rotates in other videos on their site that they consider related.  I have no control over that.  Sorry…)

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

32 Years Later

image 32 years ago today my future wife Loretta and I had our first date.  Lots of changes since then!  Happy anniversary, honey.

(Don’t you love the jacket?  I wouldn’t preach in it today!!!)

Continuing Thoughts from Willimon

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I have recently been thinking through a book that I recently finished on “Preaching About Conflict in the Local Church”  by William H. Willimon. 

It is pertinent to me as I review the past nine years of my ministry here in Portland.  Some of you are aware that my ministry here will be ending sometime after the first of the year.  We are not sure what the future holds, and so we covet your prayers.

Part of my reflection deals with how much of my ministry has been accommodation and how much of it has been prophetic.  How much of it has been pastoral (not as much as many would have liked, I realize), but how much has been looking for the long-term good instead of the short-term good-will. 

Anyway, I found Willimon’s following words helpful: 

As Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) the pastor offers more than healing and sustaining ministry, The pastor must also offer guidance, remembering that pastoral assertiveness is also a means of caring. For too long pastoral care, using the model of psychology, shied away from the idea that the pastors judgment had any part in the helping process.  But pastoral indifference can be as destructive as pastor’s overbearing judgments.  The history of pastoral care in United States shows the tendency of pastors to adopt the prevalent self-culture of American society with its emphasis on adjustment, self-realization, and the radical personalization of the gospel. The pastor cares, not for isolated individuals, but for the family of God and its health. (p. 53-4)

Walter Brueggemann says, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness, and perception of the dominant culture around us.” God’s prophet deliberately evokes in situations a newness that confronts decadent systems of belief & practice.  The prophet is more than the “angry young man” or the carping social critic whose alienation from the culture is mirrored in his or her shrill denouncements of society  The prophet, in Brueggemann’s opinion, is the poet, the artist who contends with false fields of perception, idolatrous value systems, and arrogant rulers by articulating an imaginative, evocative vision of the faith community. (p. 54)

There is an inevitable distancing of the pastor from the congregation.  Every time the pastor stands in the pulpit and preaches, there is a gap that separates pastor from people  Some preachers resist this separation, longing to come out of the pulpit and sit in the pew.…  The gospel itself sets up a distance between the prophet who bears the word and the people who hear it. Of course, the one who bears the word must also have heard the word. But the gospel is about the gap between where we are and where God would have us be. It can be a lonely enterprise to speak that word. 

Luther spoke of the gospel as the “external word,” Many are weary of self-centeredness, a self-centeredness that is too often confirmed in our self-help, psychologically oriented sermons.  (p. 61)

Good thoughts.  Your reactions to his words?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Twyla Tharp about Motivation

image I will make no pretension about knowing much about dance.  But one of the writing sites that I keep up with had this video clip of Twyla Tharp.  Tharp is an American dancer & choreographer.  She has won both Emmy and Tony awards. She has has choreographed dances for many companies including The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, The Boston Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and The Martha Graham Dance Company.

In this clip, Tharp discusses creativity and being true to what you are trying to accomplish.  In our preaching we must ask, what is it that we are trying to accomplish?  I think the concept that really struck me was the phrase describing those who go “after something because they want something else from it.”

My transcription of the quote is not grammatically all that coherent, but that is not really the point.  I think it still communicates what she is saying: 

“Those who are too aware, or anyone who is at the time when they are too aware, of going after something because they want something else from it: they want recognition, they want reputation, they want glamour, they want money, they want success. Instead of just doing the job at hand and seeing whether these things come along with it. It’s about making the dance (in my case) that you’re really curious about and trusting that others will be interested in it and that if it has a sincerity and truthfulness to it and if you really tried something in it and guess what?  you guess right and it has a really wonderful feel to it; people will sense that and all this other things will come. But if you’re working in the studio with the notion that it will engender X dollars.   X dollars have nothing to making the dance.  They do, however have to do with paying for the studio, trying to afford the dancers, some kind of income paying your own bills, so yes, it is a problem…

What is it that we expect from preaching?  Is that everyone will like us? Is it that people will recognize how erudite we are; how folksy we are?   Is it that this one sermon will change the behavior or worldview of an entire congregation?  Is it that we can speak in subtleties and that people will “catch our drift” without us offending them?  That people will see how to apply the text even though we don’t tell them to?

Do I want to preach in order to become the preacher of a large mega-church?  Do I want to preach and become the talk of our community?  Do we want to preach and have hundreds come to Christ?  Do I want to have people say that I am the next… (fill your preaching hero in the blank).

I think that both for individual sermons as well as the entire act of preaching week in and week out to a specific people, we have to ask (and be honest with the answer) “What is it that I am trying to accomplish?”  What is my motivation?  Am I unsuccessful (or FEEL unsuccessful) in my preaching because I say I want to accomplish one thing, but actually am trying to accomplish something else?  Or I feel unsuccessful because I am expecting things of preaching that preaching can never produce? 

For myself, I think that too often in my preaching, I have WANTED to be an evangelistic preacher, although that is not my gift. I am a teacher.  I am an expositor.  There are times when the subject at hand is evangelistic, but that does not mean that I am a very successful evangelistic preacher.  I really WISH that I was able to preach evangelistically.  I have taken the Billy Graham home study course on “Evangelistic Preaching” (back in the early 90’s).   And while people could recognize that I was trying to be evangelistic in my preaching, it didn’t win any more souls to Christ. 

It is all a part of being honest with yourself. God knows your motivation and still loves and uses you.  But you will be much more effective (and much more satisfied) if you know your motivations and work in harmony with them instead of doing one thing that will produce one result, but in reality hoping/expecting a different result. 

 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preaching as Spiritual Formation

image Craig Brian Larson of PreachingToday.com has written an insightful and helpful article on the Spiritual Disciplines and preaching.  He  notes that most programs on Spiritual Formation either ignore preaching or relegate it to a mere mention. 

Contrast this with the important description of the early church's spiritual disciplines in Acts 2:42–47. It begins: "They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (italics mine). In addition, the importance that the apostles placed on preaching (in passages like Acts 6:1–4; 1 Tim 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim 4:1–3) suggests that listening to preaching was a first-order spiritual discipline. Certainly the leaders of the Reformation felt that way. They placed primary attention on public teaching and preaching. Karl Barth, writing to the well-educated West, regarded the proclamation of the Word as one of the three fundamental ways that people experience the life-changing Word of God.

Larson goes on to say (he goes into more full detail on most of these items) 

Sound biblical preaching does the following nine things that individual Bible reading, memorization, and meditation does not:

  1. Good preaching rescues us from our self-deceptions and blind spots, for left to ourselves we tend to ignore the very things in God's Word that we most need to see.
  2. Preaching brings us before God's Word in the special presence of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the gathered church.
  3. Good preaching challenges us to do things we otherwise would not and gives us the will to do them.
  4. Good preaching brings us into the place of corporate obedience rather than merely individual obedience.
  5. Good preaching contributes to spiritual humility by disciplining us to sit under the teaching, correction, and exhortation of another human. Relying on ourselves alone for food from the Word can lead to a spirit of arrogance and spiritual independence.
  6. Good preaching gives a place for a spiritually qualified person to protect believers from dangerous error.
  7. Preaching and listening is a uniquely embodied, physical act. It literally puts us into the habit of having "ears that hear." There is something to be said for this physical act of listening and heeding.
  8. Good preaching does what most Christians are not gifted, trained, or time-endowed to do: interpret a text in context, distill the theological truths that are universally true, and apply those truths in a particular time and place to particular people in a particular church—all this with the help of resources informed by 2,000 years of the Church's study that average Christians do not own.
  9. Listening to preaching has a much lower threshold of difficulty for almost all people.

He also goes on to address the question, "If preaching is so important, how can some Christians listen to it for decades and not be transformed?" But I’ll leave that for him to answer for you.

If you are a member of PreachingToday.com you can find the complete article here here.  The shorter, non-member version is here.

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of you in the US, may you have a day filled with God’s love and a thankful heart.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Billy Graham on the Centrality of the Cross to Preaching

imageThis month was Billy Graham’s 90th birthday. (b. Nov. 7, 1918).  In an article in 1959, he spoke about an event that became transformational in the effectiveness of his preaching:

A few years ago I was in Dallas, Texas, and we had a crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 people. I preached and gave an invitation and practically no one came forward. I left the platform a little bit perplexed and wondering what had happened. A saint from Germany put his arm around me and said, "Billy, could I say a word to you?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Son, you didn't preach the Cross tonight. Your message was good, but you didn't preach the Cross." I went to my room and wept. I said, "Oh, God, so help me, there will never be a sermon that I preach unless the Cross is central." Now, there are many mysteries to the Atonement, and I don't understand all the light that comes from that Cross. But to lift it up is the secret of evangelistic preaching.

Find the complete article here.

Mosaics are Indeed a Mosaic

If I am going to blog about 13-14 year old boys, then I better also include stats that might help us preach more effectively to the teens/young adults in our image congregation.  Mosaics are those Americans who were born between 1984-2002. One of my sons fits in this category (1985) and my other son is just on the cusp (1983)—and I see a difference in how they perceive things. Here are characteristics of Mosaics as given by enrichmentjournal.ag.org (via The Foster Letter, 11/25/08).

Americans born between ’84 and ’02, possess the following distinctive generational traits:

  • Eclectic lifestyles: Teens experiment with many activities, making their lifestyles more multifaceted and stressful than ever.
  • Nonlinear thinking styles: Rather than using logic and rationality, teens embrace contradictions and process information in a flexible, adaptable manner.
  • Fluid relationships: Teen friendships are in a constant state of flux; their heroes and role models change regularly; their network of peers is extraordinarily diverse ethnically; and many experience an up-and-down family life.
  • Cut-and-paste values and personalized spirituality: Most embrace moral pragmatism (“whatever works”) and customized spirituality, drawing on many sources to decide ethical dilemmas and to determine spiritual meaning.
  • Open-minded attitudes: Teens are not particularly dogmatic about their views and they give others space to chart their own paths — the same space they want for themselves.
  • Technology-fueled expectations: The Internet and mobile devices drive teens’ information use and much of their connectivity. The Internet in particular represents an ever-changing and broad-ranging collage of input that fuels much of their nonlinear expectations.

Mosaics lifestyles and perspectives are changing the way people live, work, and worship.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dallas Willard

image Back on Sept. 26-27 I had three blog posts about Dallas Willard’s presentation at George Fox University’s Ministry & Contemporary Culture series.  His topic was “Knowing Christ:

  • Presentation One: Where We Are and How We Got Here
  • Presentation Two: Pastors & Teachers of the Nations
  • Presentation Three: The Task of the Moral Teacher and the Centrality of Jesus Now.

 

You can find the video of his presentation here.

Willimon: Preaching Gives Meaning to All Other Pastoral Responsibilities, Including Conflict Management

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Continuing my gleaning of good stuff from “Preaching About Conflict in the Local Church” by William Willimon:

Because the pastor who responds to conflict is also the preacher, the pastor’s response to crisis will always be in dialogue with the gospel.  The  pastor is not called simply to do good things for the church, but to do Christian things for the church. The preaching task helps us to keep necessary theological focus and content within our management of conflict.  Preaching keeps reminding us that “success” in the church dealing with crisis is not measured by criteria such as what works, what is permissible, the greatest good for the greatest number, he who has the most power gets most attention, or another secular criteria.  Our response to conflict is, like our preaching, part of the church’s attempt to listen to the story of God and to embody that story in our lives.

A preacher is always a pastor, one called to edify the body of Christ in this time and place.  Our contention that the sermon is an appropriate place for the pastor to deal with congregational conflict arises out of our confidence that preaching and worship leadership are the central pastoral tasks and give meaning and direction to all other pastoral responsibilities (p. 43-44)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Willimon: Preventative Conflict Preaching

willamon book on conflict Willimon makes an excellent point about the way to help avoid conflict before it arises, by using the pulpit to educate and remind the congregation about the “stories, values and visions that make [it] Christian.” 

One fundamental reason why congregations are plagued by conflict is that there is no consensus within the congregation about the purpose and nature of the church.  In today’s mobile society, where half the population moves every five years, many congregations are faced with the task of continually integrating newcomers into the congregation.  Preaching, as a major source of Christian identity, is the chief opportunity for reiterating the stories, values and visions that make a congregation Christian.  Through this process the community gathers and focuses itself, celebrates its common goals and underscores its mission.  All of this is to suggest that much of our preaching, while not specifically related to solving a particular conflict within the congregation, is essential preparation for the Christian resolution of conflicts when they occur.  A congregation that has no center, no general consensus about the direction of the church, is ill-equipped to handle crisis. Thus the preaching that occurs in a congregation, week in and week out, is a major component in conflict management.  (p. 27)

That is good for all of us, especially if we are NOT in a season of conflict. 

Preaching on Conflict

In introducing the subject of “Preaching About Conflict in the Local Church” William Willimon quotes Speed Leas & Paul Kittlaus to identify three ways in which conflict is experienced:

    1. Intrapersonal conflict: the contest that one has when different parts of the self compete with one another.  I want to be a beloved pastor, but I also want to be a preacher who speaks the truth.
    2. Interpersonal conflict: personality differences between people that are not related primarily to issues.  I like to think of myself as a strong, independent person but my administrative board chairperson treats me like an incompetent who must be told what to do.
    3. Substantive conflict: disputes over facts, values, goals, and beliefs. I think we ought to put a new roof on the church but the social concerns committee wants to open a clothes closet for the poor. (p. 10-11)

willamon book on conflictWillimon notes that it is important to identify which type of conflict confronts us “because different methods are appropriate for solving different kinds of conflict.  Intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict, because they tend to be deeply personal and individual, can best be handled in counseling, therapy, personal confrontation or other individualized and personal means rather than through the more public forum of the pulpit.” (p. 11)

As I am reading this book today, it is helpful because simply the issue of whether or not and WHEN an issue creating conflict should be addressed from the pulpit is an extremely nuanced one.  Avoidance is not helpful, but neither is attacking it with a sledge hammer.  Even the right sermon can be wrong if it is at the wrong time. 

For me, this is not an academic exercise.  It takes (and will take) much prayer and introspection. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Peter Mead: Learning About Introductions

image I haven’t quoted from Peter Mead for a while.  His stuff is so rich, I find myself not jumping into it and then suddenly I have built up too big a backlog of his blog posts that it becomes intimidating.  But his writings are always meaty. 

Yesterday he was talking about introduction.  The subject arose because he had been with a group of evangelists who work with the military.  Soldiers will not tune them in unless the evangelists have gotten their attention.  But this is the same with people in the pews: 

A preacher can’t take the introduction to a sermon for granted.… People are living real lives with real issues.  When we launch into our message by simply stating a reference and reading the text, we give no real reason for hearers to hear.  We should presume distraction and fight for their focus.  Find a way to connect, demonstrate early on that what you are going to say is relevant to their real lives and people will lean forward to listen.  Choose to default to a non-introduction and people will settle back in the pew and let their minds wander elsewhere.

Whether we are sharing the gospel in a conversation, or preaching the Word in a church, we need to give thought to connecting early and engaging our listeners with the message.  Unengaged listeners may be many things, but they are not truly hearers.

I find it hard to find the right balance between not being too boring and not being too cheesy or sensationalistic.  But I keep trying!

Find the entire article here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NC-17 Redux

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If you don’t normally look at the comments to posts, you might find it helpful to look at the ones on the post MH-17 below.  I give an example of how I handled Agrippa & Berneice’s incestuous relationship in last week’s sermon.

Typeism or Moralism…Which One?

image In a Q&A section of their workshop “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World”, Tim Keller & Edmund Clowney talk about preaching Christ from Old Testament characters both so that it our preaching is not reduced simply to moralism and yet does not ignore moral principles in an effort to point to Christ. 

Keller stresses that it is not either or, but neither is it really both-and.  It must be a synthesis. 

It is not “As a type, Joseph points us to Christ.” AND “Joseph models for us sexual purity.” 

But it IS: “You will never be sexually pure (you will not be able to say no to temptation) unless you put trust in the one that Joseph is pointing to at this very second. If you just try to be like Joseph, you will fail. It is only when you embrace Joseph’s God that you will ever be able to overcome sexual temptation.”

It is not “As a type David points us to the true King, the Messiah, Jesus.”  AND “David models for us how to face the giants in our lives.”

But it IS: “You’re not going to be able to face the giants in your own life unless you first embrace David’s greater son, Jesus. Only when I see that Jesus has dealt with the bigger giants of sin & death that I am able to go back & face the lesser giants.”

I really appreciate this insight.  I usually am too moralistic a preacher. 

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007