Monday, June 30, 2008

Storytelling as Preaching

Storytelling

This week I am at Wi-Ne-Ma Christian Camp on the Oregon coast.  I have been here many times and find it a wonderful place to see God  at work.  

Several years ago I was asked to be the evening bonfire speaker for this particular week of camp. I know how to preach to adults, but this "congregation" is made up of 75-100 9,10 & 11 year olds.  That is more of a challenge for me.  The first year I did it, I was stewing over why in the world I had said yes to my children's minister, and then my wife Loretta commented, "Why don't you just tell them a story?  You're good at telling stories." 

At first I thought, "I don't want to tell a story...I am expected to give content!  I need to give things that will give the kids things to think about, apply and remember from God's Word."  And then God prompted me...what do you think I was doing when I told parables?

And so I crafted my first story.  It was six installments long (Sun-Fri) and both had to reinforce the daily Bible scripture or lesson of the day, but also had to be good story form...i.e. it had to hold together, be interesting, have flow and leave the kids wanting more.  (Not bad suggestions for adult sermons either...)

So this is the fourth year I have done this.  Every year it is fabulously received and people clamor for me to have each of the stories published.  Although I have looked into that (and still would like to have that happened), I don't know that the stories translate well into book form.  They are first of all tied to the daily lessons.  They are also shorter than more books for tweeners (this age group).

But I have learned a big lesson.  Telling a story CAN be a very legitimate form of preaching. While some poo-poo it, I have seen the difference it can make in kids (and adults) lives. 

So last night I began...

"Brandon knew he wasn’t supposed to be in the old barn. It was located on the most remote part of his grandparent’s property and he had been told repeatedly not to venture inside of it...."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barna: Five Significant Barriers To More Generous Giving

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I was in a management team meeting for our daughter church  Potters Hands last week and we were talking about financial difficulty and stewardship preaching/teaching.  Maybe I'm odd (OK, yes...I'm odd) but I enjoy preaching on stewardship.  I think partly it is because I have seen time and time again the benefits that come to people who take seriously the challenge to be faithful stewards.  I want my people to be blessed, and I see God blessing when I/they give faithfully.

Anyway...as we talked about how to get this toddler church to be more stable in their giving, the mention was made that George Barna had listed five barriers to giving.  A quick Google search came up with his list.  I scanned my copy of "How to Increase Giving in Your Church" by Barna and didn't find this list, so I don't know where it comes from originally.  But I think they are helpful...and I have seen them apply to our own church. 

1. Some people lack the motivation to give away their hard-earned money because the church has failed to provide a compelling vision for how the money will make a difference in the world. These are donors who can find other uses for their money and are not excited about simply handing money over to a church.

2. Those who see their giving as leverage on the future. They withhold money from the church because they do not see a sufficient return on their investment.

3. People who do not realize the church needs their money to be effective. Their church has done an inadequate job of asking for money, so people remain oblivious to the church’s expectations and potential.

4. Those who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches about our responsibility to apply God’s resources in ways that affect lives.

5. Those who are just selfish. They figure they worked hard for their money and it’s theirs to use as they please. Their priorities revolve around their personal needs and desires."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Value Those Volunteers

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While not strictly about preaching, we all recognize that without the volunteer services (we prefer to call it "ministry activities") of our church family, ministry would never happen:

The value of a volunteer hour nearly kept pace with inflation during ’07, increasing 3.94% while consumer prices tracked at 4.1%. The estimate for the value of a volunteer hour jumped 74¢, from $18.77 in ’06 to $19.51 in ’07, reports the Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits and foundations. Volunteers play a vital role in helping America’s 1.4 million charitable organizations improve lives across the country and around the world.
--Non-Profit Times 4/17/08 via the Church Leaders Intelligence Report

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who Am I Glorifying

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I am working my way through the book The Peace Maker by Ken  Sande.  It was recommended to me a year of so ago during a very difficult time in my life with the church and I bought it, but didn't really get into it.  Then, recently, my mother in Colorado sent me a brochure on a program that the Torchbearers use at their program at Ravencrest near Estes Park, CO. (My mom & step father have hosted several people/groups from Ravencrest in their home for different occasions.) The material in the brochure was directly from Sande's book, which prompted me to take another look at it.  I am enjoying it and finding it quite useful. 

Sande emphasizes that conflict is not an inconvenience, nor an opportunity to force our will on others, "but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives."

Sande sees in I Cor. 10:31-11:1 an opportunity, in conflict, to:

  1. Glorify God
  2. Serve Others
  3. Grow to be Like Christ

Sande writes:

If it important to realize that if you do not glorify God when you are involved in a conflict, you will inevitably glorify someone or something else.  By your actions you will show either that you have a big God, or that you have a big self and big problems.  To put it another way, if you do not focus on God, you will inevitably focus on yourself and your will, or on other people and the threat of their wills.  (p. 34)

That principle is true both in conflict within a church, but also in preaching.  In my preaching, I will either glorify God, or something or someone else.  May it be the former...

Sangster: The Power of Preaching

image William Sangster in "The Craft of Sermon Construction" speaks to the power of preaching:

"Confidence in preaching is not so very hard to maintain.… If he treasures up the proofs which God gives him of the power of preaching, and if he remembers clearly what someone’s preaching did for him, he will not slide into supposing that it is a useless and parasitic occupation. When he thinks on all that God has done by preaching through the years—Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Bernard of Clairvaux, Wycliffe, Edwards, Spurgeon, Hugh Price Hughes, and tens of thousands of lesser known men will not wave it aside as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

(as quoted in Preaching That Changes Lives by Michael Fabarez)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Never Enough Ribbons in My Bible

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For what it's worth, here is a little visual tutorial on adding ribbons to your Bible.  Simple, but some good tips.

A Wedding in the Family

My posts over the past couple of weeks have been pretty sparse, I know.  Last Saturday our younger son got married.  Since family was coming in from Kansas and Colorado, [some of whom had never seen our home], we wanted to finish some landscaping in the back yard & make everything as spruced up as possible.  Then, beginning last Wednesday, the first of the family (maybe 20 or so) began to arrive.  The last ones headed to the airport tonight, so I can begin to THINK about life returning to something resembling normalcy. 

The happy couple, Trevor and Kelsey Csergei-Habig are honeymooning on a cruise-ship somewhere off the coast of Mexico. 

 woohoo!

A HIM-Book

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In speaking of the centrality of Christ in preaching and the Bible, Dr. Robert Smith, in his article in the current issue of Preaching Journal, refers to the Bible as a HIM-BOOK.  All of the Bible points to Him.  

Friday, June 20, 2008

God's Love...is God's Hell?

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In his interview in current issue of Preaching Journal, Dr. Robert Smith, when asked what doctrine was most difficult for him to preach stated that it probably was hell. 

I believe that hell is just as real as heaven. It's separation from God.  In fact, Luther said that God's hell is God's love for us--the fact that God loved us so much is God's hell. 

I couldn't figure out what he was meaning until he in the next paragraph mentioned the "cry of dereliction", "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

God's love for us was so strong that he had to be separated from the Father in order to save us.  "God's love...is God's hell."

Does it get more powerful than that?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Theological Anemia

image Continuing some observations of Dr. Robert Smith, the author of Doctrine That Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, in an interview with Art Azurdia of The Spurgeon Fellowship Journal:

RS: ...“Don’t be theologically anemic!” is what I would say to individuals who are pastoring. “Study theology!” Why is it that since you’ve been out of seminary for ten years you haven’t bought a new book? What are you reading? Where are you getting your messages from? The movie theater? Online? In school, we had to read in order to pass with a decent GPA. But what are you going to do when nobody is giving you a syllabus and demanding that you turn in papers and reading reports? There’s got to be something from within us that cries, “Our God is a God of excellence! O Lord, our Lord: how excellent your name is in all the earth!” I must give Him excellence. There must be an insatiable appetite to literally devour the word of God and other books so that my preaching is characterized by theological depth – not fluff. I must be planning six months ahead and seeking where God is leading me in terms of my preaching.

AA: It sounds like what you’re saying to pastors is, “You need to be more academic” and what you’re saying to academics is “You need to be more pastoral.”

RS: Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying!

I am appreciative of the renewed emphasis on doctrine.  Dr. Smith is also interviewed in the cover article of Preaching magazine.  There he says,

"Doctrine doesn't have to be dull.  Doctrine can dance. I'm using that metaphor of dance--the whole idea of rhythm and excitement and joy and exuberance--and marrying exegesis with exuberance. In fact, I use the metaphor of the exegetical escort and the doxological dancer.  These are the two pillars that hold it up."

For too many years I avoided doctrinal preaching.  I thought of it as polemical and divisive.  But I am beginning to see that there really is a place for GOOD doctrinal preaching.  If doctrine matters (and most evangelicals would say that it does), then people must be taught well.  And the preacher needs to be the main teacher of correct doctrine.  Not in an indoctrinational way, but in a true explanatory way. 

But...let it dance!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Church Franchises

This evening my wife brought home the "Weekend Journal"  section of today's Wall Street Journal from work.  The cover story imagewas on "Church Franchises."  They use as their model Troy Gramling the pastor of the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, FL and specifically his church franchise in Lima, Peru. (They also several times reference our geographical neighbor to the north, Living Hope Church in Vancouver, WA...just across the Columbia River from Portland.)

It wasn't a bad article, journalistically.  But I will admit reading it in increasing horror.  Listen to a few of the quotes from the article: 

    • Rather than seeking converts to a mainstream denomination, these independent churches are forming global organizations anchored by a single leader. 
    • Mr Gramling is thinking big.  His goal is 50 churched world-wide, 100,000 members and a $150 million-a-year budget. 
    • If Starbucks can start four stores a day, why can't churches?" --John Bishop of Living Hope Church.
    • "The religious market in saturated in the U.S", says Manual Vasquez, co-author of Globalizing the Sacred: Religion Across the Americas. "There is a sense how that you have to go international to expand your reach if you want to be a player."
    • [At the Lima church] "there was a sign-up sheet for baptisms during an upcoming visit by Mr. Gramling, and DVD copies of his past sermons."
    • "Mr. Bishop of Living Hope Church, says he is expanding abroad in part because of demands: Christians in other countries invite him to launch Living Hope churches. "It's like they're asking us, 'Can we please sell Nikes in our country/"  Mr. Bishop says.  "They just love the brand."
    • The article notes that "some of Mr. Gramling's sermons fail to translate well [culturally].  He uses concepts that are culturally confusing or offensive to people in the recipient culture. 
    • "Mr. Guschov [the on-site manager of the Peru franchise of Flamingo Road church] inspected a hotel conference room that overlooked the Amazon. There was a big screen to show a sermon, and room for 150 chairs.  It would do for now.  "When it comes to Flamingo Road, because of the brand, we need large campuses." Mr. Gramling says.  "We're not going to be satisfied with a campus running at 300."

I am not going to comment a lot on the above quotes. I thought about putting a snide rejoinder under each one, but chose not to do so. I am presuming that the quotes are relatively accurate and fairly reflect what the quoted people say. (I have been quoted enough by the media to know that that is often NOT the case).  But the quotes are consistent enough to lead me to think they are relatively accurate. 

As I am preaching/studying through the book of Acts this year, I see NOTHING of the book of Acts in these quotes. I see nothing of Jesus, of discipleship, of humility, of servant leadership.  I see American marketing and franchising at its smarmiest.  God help us if this is the future of the church in North America.

You should be able to access the article here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Content of the Kerygma

image Yesterday I posted a quote from Dr. Robert Smith of Beeson Divinity School from the Spurgeon Fellowship Journal from Western Seminary here in Portland.  Art Azurdia asked Dr. Smith about the content of the gospel. 

AA: There seems, today, to be a lot of controversy with regard to the gospel-proper. How would you define the gospel? How would you summarize it for one of your students?

RS:  The gospel is the good news concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. C.H. Dodd, preaching in 1936, said that whole idea of what he calls kerygma, is: life, death, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, sending out the Holy Spirit, and repentance. I think that the sermon has to have at least some of those ingredients. Not every sermon, all the time, but they must at least be in the background informing our preaching to ensure that we are being biblical. We see that Paul takes one whole chapter in 1 Corinthians 15 to talk about the significance of the resurrection – that “if Christ be not risen from the dead,” Christianity is the greatest hoax that has ever been voiced. So the gospel is good news about Jesus Christ in all of these areas that God talks about and it is bad news for a person who rejects it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Ameri-thenian Church

Dr. Robert Smith was interviewed by Art Azurdia in the current issue of the Spurgeon Fellowship Journal.  Dr. Smith serves as Professor of Christian Preaching at Beeson Divinity School and was a pastor of the New Mission Missionary Baptist Church for twenty years. 

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I think that too many churches in America pattern the Athenian congregation. I think you are either an Athenian entity or a Beroean entity. Acts 17:11 says that the Beroeans heard Paul preach and daily examined the Scriptures to see whether or not what he said was so. They welcomed his message with eagerness, appreciating his preaching and critiquing it. They didn’t trust it just because he said it. They went home, read it, and checked it out so that they could grow and internalize the message. They could say they believed not only because Paul said it, but because they discovered it to be true upon their examination of the Scriptures. Now, that’s what I think the church needs to be . . . so biblically saturated that it’s not enough to be in church, hear the word and study the word, but to go home and to be a Beroen Christian who consumes that word so it becomes part of them and so they will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine. On the other hand, you could also be an Athenian congregation. Acts 17:21 says that the Athenians did nothing all day long but to listen for something that was new . . . fads, novelties, theological innovations, tricks, and gimmicks. I think that’s where too many preachers/churches are. We are more Athenian. You’ve seen it – people trying to make relevant that which can never be irrelevant. By trying to be relevant we relativize the gospel and so I want to push pastors to be Beroean pastors and congregations to be Beroean churches – not Athenians! Also, I think we tend to be more reactionary. We’re reactant to every crisis and felt needs and what we think people want to hear – what is popular in culture. In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr, “If it’s Christ against culture, the folk don’t want to hear it. It’s not popular and we can’t fill our churches.” Less people means less money, and so we wind up no longer having churches, but Sunday clubs where people come to meet and enjoy and socialize and where no one gets offended. There is no scandalous, cutting, penetrating thrust in the gospel. It is no longer a two-edged sword. It is not an any-edged sword! If there’s an edge to it it’s been blunted. We’re no longer affected. And so I think we need to avoid being reactionary. On the contrary, I think we need to be pre-actionary. Before any action takes place I think we need to be in the advance guard, up-front leading the way since we already know we’re victorious and Christ is Lord. This is His battle – we ought to take it to the gates of hell. Of course, for so long we’ve interpreted that text in Matthew 16:18 as if we are on the defense. But we are on the offence. Gates don’t come up from the ground and come after us. We go to the kingdom. And so I think we need to be pre-actionary, offensive, the kingdom of God comes through violence I think we need to be that and stop being so defensive and frightened. It may cost some blood and some loss of life. But God is on God’s side and if we are on God’s side God will answer. The prosperity theology is very crucial and we are catering to what people want. These are the things that threaten the gospel. You see it in Scripture – it’s not just the 21st century. Ray Stedman once said that the New Testament is not twenty centuries old, but one century old repeated twenty times. And that’s so true. We’re on different terms in a different context seeing the same thing.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Keep Preaching...Your Church's Marriages May Depend On It

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A study published in the 6/08 Journal of Marriage and Family  found that strong faith in God by itself won’t protect against marital infidelity. But a study by Fuller Seminary researchers David Atkins and Deborah Kessel found that regular church attendance does make a difference. People who rarely attend services are 4 times more likely to have an affair than those who attend more often. Frequent churchgoers hear sermons about the moral aspect of marital infidelity and are likely to practice what is preached. Other activities such as prayer do not make a statistical difference in marital faithfulness. (www.foxnews.com, 4/15/08 via The Foster Letter)

PowerPointing on Purpose

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Peter Mead has a thoughtful post on only PowerPointing on purpose.  As someone who PPT's every week (and has for 10 years), it is a thoughtful reminder to be purposeful. 

Peter says (in part) about Powerpoint:

I think it may be worth using if there is an image that will really help, such as a biblical map, image or a contemporary scene of significance (the person to go with the quote, etc.), or if there is a series of verses away from your preaching text that you want people to see quickly (have good reason for sharing multiple other verses), or if there is a movie clip that will reinforce and help (but not overwhelm) the message.  I only think it may be worth using if either you or another person can design it and control it perfectly (clear and consistent fonts of the right size, very limited use of words, transitions that work to the millisecond both coming on and going off, etc.)  Sadly, often even appropriate powerpoint material is sabotaged by very amateurish use.

I don’t think it is worth using in order to show your outline (that’s for you, not them), or to show your preaching text (they need the practice reading their own Bibles).  I don’t think it’s worth using if it means sacrificing preparation time for formatting time.  I certainly don’t think it’s worth using just because you have a projector and a laptop.  I don’t think we should use it just because it is used in the business world (please note many in the business world are lousy speakers, and many of the good ones left compulsive powerpoint use behind years ago!)  I’d rather have listeners engaged with me and with the Bible in their laps than with a screen.

You can find his entire post here.

Interesting Stats on Marriage

image One of the things I find most interesting about these stats is that for several years we have been lambasted with the statistic that the divorce rate for evangelical Christians is at least the same and in some studies MORE than the divorce rate for the general population.  This seems a bit more encouraging:

78% of U.S. adults have been married at least once and 33% of those have been divorced at least once says a new Barna Group study. 84% of born-again Christian adults have tied the knot, versus 74% of people aligned with non-Christian faiths and 65% of atheists and agnostics. Those with the most prolific divorce rate are downscale adults (39%), Baby Boomers (38%), those aligned with a non-Christian faith (38%), African-Americans (36%), and people who define themselves to be socially and politically liberal (37%). Those with lowest likelihood of divorce are Catholics (28%), evangelicals (26%), upscale adults (22%), Asians (20%) and those who deem themselves socially and politically conservative (28%).
Barna Update 3/31/08 via Church Leadership Intelligence Report

Friday, June 6, 2008

RICK WARREN: 10 THINGS I'VE LEARNED ABOUT PREACHING ON PURPOSE

Dave Furgason over at Velocity Blog went & heard Rick Warren last month.  Dave put his notes on his blog & some of it is useful for preachers.   image

With the current garbage video making the rounds about Warren by some... (well...I can't think of words I can  say as a Christian to describe what I think of this guy) called Todd Friel (The Way of the Master Radio), I thought this would more accurately reflect on the views of Rick Warren than a cut & paste video hatchet job. 

Rick Warren listed:

10 THINGS I'VE LEARNED ABOUT PREACHING ON PURPOSE

  1. All behavior is based on a belief.  We do what we do (good or bad) because we believe something about the behavior.
  2. When we sin we think that is the best decision in the moment.  When you figure out the lie behind the behavior you will be a better preacher.
  3. Change always starts in your mind.
  4. To help people change we must change their beliefs first.  The battle of sin always starts with helping people to see the lie they believe.  You must expose the lie.
  5. Trying to change people's behavior without changing their beliefs is a waste of time.
  6. We need to lead people to repentance.  Repentance is simply getting people to change their mind. Repentance is another term for a paradigm shift.  "Metanoia" means to change your mind; it is not change you're behavior.
  7. You don't change people's minds; the applied word of God does change their minds.
  8. Changing the way I act is the result or fruit of repentance.
  9. The "deepest" kind of preaching is preaching for repentance.
  10. To produce lasting life change:  enlighten the mind, engage the emotions, and challenge the will.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Advice: Preaching Seminars/Workshops?

I could use some advice from my readership. One of my goals for 2008 was/is to attend two preaching workshops/seminars this year. So far I am batting 0.

  • Western Seminary here in Portland has its Spurgeon Fellowship lectureships, but I found out about them the day before their spring one and I was already booked. The next one is in September & it is on my calendar (Kent Hughes is the speaker), but I am looking for something more extensive than that.
  • Cascade College is here in Portland, and I found out about their Expositors Conference the week after it happened.
  • The Text and Context Conference up in Seattle (sponsored by Mars Hill Church) was one I was planning on plugging into. I had lined up housing with my son & his wife in Monroe, WA. And then when I went to register, it was booked full. The tapes have been good to listen to, but it's not the same as being there and the networking and relationship building is also a critical piece that you miss on MP3.
  • Northwest Christian College down in Eugene always has their Rice-Seifke lectureship on preaching. Except they canceled it this year.
  • I attended the Festival of Homiletics in Nashville in May of 2007...it was part of the impetus for beginning this blog. And I hoped to go this year, but it overlapped with my sons graduation from college. (It was in Minneapolis this year).
  • Preaching Magazine had their workshop in Washington D.C. on Preaching and Culture, but the list of speakers were all pretty right-wing and it turned me off. There was genuinely no one there I wanted to hear...or I pretty well knew what they would say.

image I am finding Preaching West in Newport Beach, VA Oct 20-21, and have tentatively penciled that in (speakers: Dan Kimball, John Huffman, James Wilson from Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, Michael Diduit of Preaching Magazine & John Webb from Hope International University...the place from where my son just graduated last month). But that is a 24 hour thing and it seems like a long ways to go for a 24-hour thing. I still may go, however.

Calvin Theological Seminary (in Grand Rapids, MI) have several things coming up this year: "Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching" (Cornelius Planinga) and "From Text to Sermon" (Frederick Bruner & Scott Hoezee) both in July.

Do you know of quality workshops/seminars that you would recommend that are happening in the second half of the year? West coast is helpful, Pacific Northwest is even better! But neither is absolutely essential. (John Brand & Colin Adams...I would love to come to Great Britain & participate in one of your workshops, but the swim is a killer!!)

Thanks in advance for any suggestions. I will share whatever suggestions I get with the rest of you!!

Stephen's Real Crime

I am preaching on the death of Stephen this week.  My research found never-before revealed secrets of the Greek text.  Maybe I should write a book & make a PBS series!

(Get thee behind me, Sarcasm) 

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Lecturing or Preaching?

I hate to be a "me too" kind of blogger, but both Unashamed Workman and Transforming Sermon blogs have linked to what is a fabulous post by Irish Calvinist.

Why do some guys walk to the pulpit and from first word to last seem to be clicking, dripping with passion, demonstrating some brokenness, and a visible burden for their people to ‘get it’? While others are able to deliver a biblically faithful message but seem to lack that extra ‘something’ that makes a good sermon different?

I think it comes down to what one is doing in the pulpit. There is a difference between being a lecturer and a preacher. A lecturer may get all of the points correct, be elegant, engage you with humor, and even give you something to think about as you leave. The preacher, on the other hand, has been powerfully affected by the truth that he is proclaiming. He himself has spent a considerable time canvassing his own heart for agreement with the text’s proposition. Where there is a deviation from the divine will the preacher has bent his own will through prayer and meditation that he might be aligned with heaven in truth. Furthermore, the preacher is one who has worn out a path to the throne of grace petitioning for the hearts of his people to ‘get it’. The preacher is convinced of the urgency and power of the message; he really believes that what he is about to say is exactly what God wants these people to hear, therefore, it is the most important thing in the world for them to attend to at that very moment.

That convicts my soul.  That drives me to my knees in prayer.  You can find the rest of this great post at:

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rick Warren: Six Things That Are True About Everyone

Dave Ferguson is sharing his notes from a conference at Saddleback.  Rick Warren made the following list: 

6 THINGS THAT ARE TRUE ABOUT ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE

  1. Everyone wants to be loved.
  2. Everyone wants their life to count.
  3. Everyone wants Christ.
  4. Everyone feels guilty.
  5. Everyone is consumed with bitterness over past hurt.
  6. Everyone is afraid of death.

imageI vacillate on whether or not I agree with the list.  If the list said, "at some point in their lives everyone...."  I would have less issue with it.  I know people whose consciences have been seared.  I have a woman in my church now whose cancer is arrested and she is angry at God because she WANTS to die and be with her Lord.  While I would agree that "At some point in their lives, everyone knows bitterness over past hurts," as it is stated I don't agree.  A six year old child may easily not be consumed with bitterness. 

The one I disagreed with first, which now I don't disagree with so much is #3.  "Everyone wants Christ."  I would disagree with the statement as it stands.  But if it were worded, "Everyone wants Christ, what he represents or what he brings to live," then I might have much more agreement. 

  • Christ represents connection with God.
  • Christ beings forgiveness of sin
  • Christ brings hope after death
  • Christ brings power to overcome sin and temptation.

Those I can buy into.  But the bold faced statement that "Everyone wants Christ," seems brazenly naive.

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism...One Prayer?

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I ran across this article today and found it interesting.  LifeChurch.tv out of Edmonds, WA is spearheading an effort called "One Prayer."  The idea is that a pastor preaches a sermon on the subject,  Craig Groeschel, LifeChurch.tv's senior pastor wondered if he could pray one thing for the church universal and have it happen, what would it be?

He then contacted three other churches and asked their pastors to do the same.  The idea is that the preacher of the local church would preach his/her sermon on one Sunday, June 22-23.  He would receive three videos of the other pastors preaching, and he had his choice: he could show the videos of the other pastors preaching on what their One Prayer would be on succeeding Sundays.  He could use the videos for a midweek meeting.  Whatever. 

Not only did it expand far beyond those three churches, but today 1,200 churches, representing 700 people from around the globe are participating in the One Church undertaking. 

I think the idea has some potential.  It doesn't really fit in with the flow of expository preaching like I have been doing. But it might be a nice break for a month. 

Just an idea.  You can find the article here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to Read 500 Books in a Year

image Denny Burk has a good post quoting from D.A. Carson about how he reads 500 books in a year.  It is good advice. Find it here.

Waiting Your Turn

Public speaking is the art of diluting a two-minute idea with a two-hour vocabulary.                                         - Evan Esar

On Tuesday mornings I meet at 6a.m. at Panera Bread with one of our elders.  We work through one chapter of Acts each week.  This morning we were in Acts 13.  vv. 1-4 consumed most of our time...it is rich with meat and insights. 

But this morning toward the end of our time we moved into vv. 13ff.  Both Dan and I had made similar observations. 

Acts 13:14-15: From Perga they [Paul and his companions] went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”image

I understand that this is a cultural thing. In my travels in eastern Europe two similar things happen: as a guest I am always invited to bring greetings from my home congregation.  And if it known that I am a teacher/preacher, I am always asked to speak something from the Word.  Now, admittedly, they usually have more than one sermon.  And (at least in the Christian-Baptist churches in which I have moved) they spontaneously ask the 2-3 men who are going to preach to do so right before the service begins. 

But I think there is more than culture here.  Paul waited until he was invited in order to speak.  He did not rush in, but was polite to the synagogue leader. The above quote by Evan Esar is a caution to every preacher.  Listen.  Wait.  Speak only what is necessary.  Speak only what is of God. 

P.S. The picture is of the foundation of a/the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch today.

Prayer is Something to Do During a Free Hour!?

Henri Nouwen said, “We have fallen into the temptation of  separating ministry from spirituality, service from prayer. Our imagedemon says, ‘We are too busy to pray; we have too many needs to attend to, too many people to respond to, too many wounds to heal.’ Prayer is a luxury, something to do during a free hour, a day away from work or on retreat. Service and prayer can never be separated; they are as related to each other as the yin and yang of the Japanese Circle. The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it. Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.” (Bob Buford’s ACTIVEnergy.net 1/4/08 via Church Leader's Intelligence Report)

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Perfect Human Being is Uninteresting

imageI am fascinated by the writings of Joseph Campbell.  Campbell in The Power of  Myth states: "The only way you can describe a human being truly is by describing his imperfections. The perfect human being is uninteresting."

I partly agree and partly disagree with that.  I don't know that any Jesus-follower could totally agree with it.  I find the one perfect human being of Jesus totally interesting.

EXCURSIS:  Is Jesus, however, a special case in this regard?  He is God enfleshed.  He is totally God and yet totally human. He regularly performed miracles, read people's minds, walked on water.  So in one way he IS a special case.  While I have the holy spirit in me, I am NOT God enfleshed.  He must be considered as a special case.

In another way, the whole point of the incarnation is that Jesus is NOT a special case.  He came JUST LIKE WE ARE.  We say, "He became what we are so that we can become what he is."  In our regenerate state, we are supposed to be able to live like him.  We are supposed to be able to live the perfect life that he lived.  We are supposed to be able to have the connection with God that he had.

Before I get myself in deeper than I want to get, let's just say that Jesus is a special case IN THAT he was the only one to ever live a perfectly sinless life.  (End of Excursus)

I find the perfect person of Jesus Christ TOTALLY interesting.  But is it true that the only way you can describe a human being TRULY is by describing his imperfections?  I partially think that that is true.  Certainly you can describe someone in positive terms:  their beneficent actions, their positive character traits, their heart-felt motives.  But for we who are not totally yet sanctified, it is not a complete description of us.  We MUST take into account the imperfections each of us bears.  Some of those imperfections are inborn into us as we are born into an imperfect world.  Other imperfections, we inflict on our selves. 

Too often as we describe Bible characters in our preaching, we make them too one-dimensional.  They become caricatures, rather than living, breathing beings.

As a writer of fiction that is a critical point for me to remember:  people find your characters much more interesting when you paint a full-orbed picture of them, warts and all. 

As a preacher, it is important that we draw full-blown descriptions of the Bible characters about whom we preach.  (As much as we can legitimately know about many of them).  Application comes much easier when the Bible character looks like me...failures and worries and cravings and all. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

All We Hear is That Abstinence Education Doesn't Work

image Abstinence Students receiving abstinence education are about one-half as likely to initiate sexual activity as students who did not receive abstinence education, finds a Heritage Foundation study. (Baptist Press 4/23/08 via The Foster Letter)

What We Worship Determines What We Become

James Michener, in his book The Source, tells the story of a man  named Urbaal, who was a farmer living about 2200 B.C. He imageworships two gods: one, a god of death; the other, a goddess of fertility. One day, the temple priests tell Urbaal to bring his young son to the temple for sacrifice – if he wants good crops. Urbaal obeys, and on the appointed day drags his wife and boy to the scene of the boy's "religious execution" by fire to the god of death.

After the sacrifice of Urbaal's boy along with several others, the priests announce one of the fathers will spend next week in the temple, with a new temple prostitute. Urbaal's wife is stunned as she notices a desire written more intensely across his face than she had ever seen, and she is overwhelmed to see him eagerly lunge forward when his name is called. The ceremony over, she walks out of the temple with her head swimming, concluding that, "If he had different gods, he would have been a different man."

What you believe determines where you go, what you do, how you spend your time. What you believe determines how you respond to hard times, temptation, and pressures around you. What you believe determines where you will spend eternity, and how quickly you get there. Really, what you believe determines who you are. (Pat Cook, SermonCentral newsletter, via PreachingNOW newsletter 5/13/08 issue)

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