Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tri-Perspectival Preachers


If you didn't go look at the introduction to Tim Keller and his sermon notes over at Josh  Harris' page, you missed a terrific observation by Tullian Tchividjian (pictured at right), the pastor at New City Presbyterian Church.  He is introducing the preaching of Tim Keller, but the observations he makes about the three ways that preachers must apply every text is extremely helpful. 

To be a great preacher, one needs to be tri-perspectival in their exegesis. That is, they need to be committed to the exegesis of the Bible, the exegesis of our culture, and the exegesis of the human heart. Some preachers claim that if you exegete the Bible properly, you don't need to bother yourself with the exegesis of our culture or the human heart. The problem with this view, however, is that the Bible itself exhorts us to apply Biblical norms to both our lives and to our world.

As a preacher myself, I benefit greatly from listening to a wide variety of preachers. In some cases I learn what to do, and in other cases I learn what not to do. But in every case, I learn something. Some preachers teach me how to be a better exegete of the Bible. Others teach me how to be a better exegete of our culture. And still others teach me how to be a better exegete of the human heart.

I had never heard of exegeting the human heart, but I think that it is an extremely helpful term.  Oh, I have DONE it, but I have never seen in that tri-perspective before. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Advice Time Again...What Would YOU Do?


OK, occasionally I have asked for your advice on a preaching matter.  Tomorrow I am  preaching on the jealousy of the Jewish leaders towards Paul & Barnabas in Acts 13:42-52.  Preaching on jealousy really is not a hard sermon to do, since there is such  a wealth of material available.

Including non-Christian material. 

I have two poems that I want to use in my sermon.  The problem (?) is that one is by a Hindu teacher and the other is by a Sufi (a Muslim mystic). 

I get lots of good feedback when I sprinkle poetry in my sermons.  I enjoy it and while it might not work in some places, it seems to work here. I don't do it every week or even every month. 

I have always said that if something is true, then it is God's truth.  And, like Paul used the pagan poets of his day, I will use truths from other religions to help clarify the truth of scripture.

I have no real problem beginning with the poem by Sri Chinmoy, a Hindu teacher who died last year.

You are my mind's purity-stealer,
You are my heart's peace-intruder,
You are my life's divinity-invader!

(although the list phrase "divinity-invader" could be mis-interpreted)

My uncomfortableness is that a poem by Hafiz of Shiraz (a Sufi Poet who lived from 1320-1389) sums up my sermon very nicely.


Will Beat You Up2

The problem with it is that it would be the last thing I say.  And I really am uncomfortable with having the last words of a biblical sermon be words of affirmation by a Muslim mystic.  While the content of my sermon is distinctly Christian, what Hafiz says sums up part of what I say about jealousy in the life of the believer,

What would you do?  I could leave it out, but it just seems to fit.  But if I include it, I don't want anyone to think that I affirm what Islam teaches. It is just that non-Christians are able to see portions of God's truth.  And this is an example of it. I have thought about simply saying, "As one ancient poet has said...."  But that seems to be the chicken's way out (or re: a previous post...the Cowardly Lion's way out). 

So, tell me what you would do. I probably won't get all the answers by tomorrow morning, but even if it is after that, let me will inform me (and you, my readers, for the next time).  

And I will let you know what I did!!  (And how it went).

Wow...How Does Keller Preach from This??

image Tim Keller is the next in Josh Harris' list of prominent preachers who have given him manuscripts that they use in preaching . (Or others close to said preacher have passed on to Josh).

I am astounded.  There is no other way to put it.  I have printed out Keller's notes, and it looks like something from the footnotes of a textbook.  Wow. 

I am going to have to listen to the sermon while following along in the notes before I can really comment on it. 

Find the manuscript & an intro on Keller at Josh Harris' blog

Friday, August 29, 2008

P. Mead: 7 Reasons to Preach from a Lesser Known Book

image Peter Mead has a evocative post on reasons to preach from a lesser known [Bible] book. 

1. It will be fresh for the listeners.

2. It will be fresh for you.

3. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful.

4. It will reinforce to listeners that they can profitably spend time in the whole canon.

Find his full discussion of each point and the rest of his list here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nice Break with My Wife and Sons

We have been away on vacation, camping in the mountains of Washington, south of Olympia.  But over the past five days I have been able to spend time with  Loretta as well as both of my sons (and their wives).  I am never more content that when I am with my sons.  On Sunday we went to a pirate theme birthday bash at Trevor's parents in law's house and on Tuesday we went to a Seattle Mariners game with Ryan.  (The Mariners won, which is rare this season!) Mateys Washington camping 2008 061

Saturday, August 23, 2008

From The Event to the events.

image E. Stanley Jones was a long-time Methodist missionary to India, a friend of Gandhi and a tireless writer and speaker.  He made two attempts at writing his autobiography, but refused to allow either one to be published.  The first he thought was too full of insignificant events. In the second he tried to tell the big events of his life and then philosophize about life in general.  But it, too, was unacceptable to Jones.

He later (as he tells in his introduction to his third--and successful--attempt) found why the first two had failed.  They were attempts to begin with the events of his life and through them to point to The Event, Christ himself. He states: "Christ has been, and is, to me the Event."  But he had it backwards.  He needed to begin with The Event and through that Event, understand the events of his life.

I am using this as an illustration on my sermon tomorrow on Acts 13:13-41 focusing on the centrality of God both to history as well as to our lives.  We will look at the 15 things that Saul/Paul says, in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, that God is.

Cowardly Lion Preaching

imageYou are likely familiar with the exchange between Dorothy and the Lion when they meet up in the forest in the Wizard of Oz: 

DOROTHY: Why, you're nothing but a great big coward!

LION: You're right -- I am a coward. I haven't any courage at all. I even scare myself. Look at the circles under my eyes. I haven't slept in weeks.

TIN MAN: Why don't you try counting sheep?

LION: That doesn't do any good -- I'm afraid of 'em.

Well, Cowardly Lions are not the only ones who lack courage.  Many preachers lack courage in their preaching. 

Colin Adams points to an outstanding post by Michael Quicke ("Ten Leading Questions for Preachers" [here]) noting:

"Ten Marks of Preaching that Lacks Courage"

    1. Individualistic. Is "you" always about the personal individual lives of hearers, and how often is "you" (plural) and "we" related to the community?
    2. Aimed at head or heart but rarely at both. Identify where head and heart were balanced, to call the community to be holistically engaged?
    3. Spineless theology. Is there a theology of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, either explicit or implicit?
    4. Generic application. In what ways did the personal relationship of preacher with church community and surrounding context make the sermon particular rather than general?
    5. Avoids conflict. Were there assumptions that everything in church is bound to be happy?
    6. Low compliance. What, if ANY, response to we expect as a result of this sermon?
    7. Absence of process issues. Was there any connection with larger congregational issues like congregational vision or congregational changes that are needed?
    8. Solo role. Is it obvious that other people were involved in the sermon preparation and its delivery?
    9. Cowardice. Were there times when scriptural challenges were softened or missed?
    10. Missionally defective. In what ways did the sermon challenge the church to live as missional people, expressing Christ's life and love in its witness before the world?

The article is well worth your time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tell Us a Story...


A big part of much preaching is least Jesus thought so.  I would propose  that any preacher who neglects storytelling in his or her preaching does so to their own and their listeners loss. 

An article in the current Scientific American speaks to "The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn."  While not all of the article is useful for Christian preaching, some of it is.  The article is heavy on Darwinism...both biological as well as literary. 

The article, however, notes,

"We tell stories about other people and for other people.  Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities.  The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society.  And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy."

But even defining storytelling is tricky.  The author (Jeremy Hsu) observes that scholars often identify story by explaining what it is not:

    • Exposition contrasts with narrative by being a simple, straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry.
    • Narrative is a series of causally linked events that unfold over time.
    • Narrative is the interaction of intentional agents---characters with minds--who possess various motivations.

However narrative is defined,people know it when they feel it. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism--recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters....

But the best stories--those retold through generations and translated into other languages--do more than simply present a believable picture.  These takes captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story's characters.  Such immersion is a state psychologists call "narrative transport."

Stories help us relate truth to our lives by approaching us on an emotional level.  When we hear that a story in a sermon "rings true" we are more likely to accept the truth or biblical principle behind it.

I find it interesting that Hsu boils down to stories to three basic narrative patterns: 

  1. Romantic (the trials & travails of love)
  2. Heroic scenarios (power struggles)
  3. "Sacrificial"-"focuses on agrarian plenty versus famine as well as social redemption."

I have done a little bit of reading in Joseph Campbell and of course he has narrative traditions that are much more complex than these three.

However deeply we delve into these things (and they can be "Alice's hole") all preachers would do well to think through their use of stories and to craft them towards specific ends.  It is well worth thinking about. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Top Twelve Posts from My First Year of Talking the Walk

Back in May I finished my first year of blogging on Talking the Walk. At the time I promised to come up with a list of my Top Ten Posts from the first year.

That proved to be a harder job than I thought. There were just a LOT of posts to go through. And do I count posts that basically are quoting someone else's material? How much of the post has to be my material to allow it to count?

I finally narrowed it down to an even dozen, plus one honorable mention (see below).

So here are MY choices. Thanks to Milton Stanley who was the only one who submitted HIS choice of my top post.

In chronological order only:

How to Give an Evangelistic Invitation

Participating in the Eternal

On Smiling

Trying not to Slaughter Typology
Preaching "Beyond" What the Bible Says (Milton's favorite)
On the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship, Pt 1 (There were four parts to this series, but I will count the entire series as one post).
A Prepared Preacher, More Than a Prepared Sermon

27 Ways to Introduce a Sermon

16 Things Paul Did Right in His Sermon Introduction on Mars Hill

"Will You Turn With Me To"...To Wait or Not to Wait?

Preaching Sunday Morning to a Monday People

Feeling Uncomfortable With What I DIDN'T Do.

The Honorable Mention Has to be the Post Nazis & Preaching. It garnered the most comments (most were hateful--some even so vile I deleted them), the most log-ins (my highest weeks to date) and actual physical actions in response from Nazi's across the nation. There were a couple of other posts regarding the topic afterwards, and there have even recently been activity against my family by the Nazis, (after I preached on racism earlier this month) but I have basically quit posting about it at my wife's request.

(I guess I just broke that promise...oops!)

Are We Asking the Right Questions?

imageI am working my way through the old classic "The Disciple-Making Pastor."  A quote from early on in the book really struck me:

The timeworn work of the pastor, such as a solid exegetical preaching, prayer, and disciple-making, have gone out of style.  We determine a successful church by how many come to the Sunday morning performance.  How good is the preacher, how talented the musicians, how charged the atmosphere, how big the offerings and beautiful the buildings?  These things warm the heart.  Many have stopped asking the right questions, What are those gathered for the performance like? Are they penetrating their worlds for Christ? Are they walking in integrity before God, are they placing Him first financially?  Are they committed to world evangelism?  These are the right questions.   (p. 41)

That's why this book has become a classic. 

"And I Quote" Peter Mead...again

image Peter Mead is a Preaching Blog Machine.  (I was going to say a Preaching Blog Stud, but thought better of it).  I am SO far behind in reading his posts, Jesus will probably come back before I get through them all.  He cranks out so many and they are consistently good. 

Peter had a very helpful post a couple of weeks back on quoting others. He gave four guidelines. I will give the principles and perhaps one sentence, but you really need to check out the post.  Find it here.

1. Make sure you are genuinely comfortable with the quote and its author. This can be particularly significant in a church setting where you would not want to quote certain people unawares. 

2. Strive to use quotes from well-known folks. Obscure characters from history, or unknown academics, tend to struggle for effective reception in church circles. 

3. Keep quotes punchy. A long quote is a long quote, but hardly ever an effective quote. 

4. Verbally frame your quote. When you have that one that works so well, that will support or clarify or drive home your point, then don’t waste it.  It is better to verbally frame it, to set it up so they are listening for it.  Perhaps pulling a card from your inner pocket or Bible, pausing and then reading it, will work much better than simply saying it from memory.  The goal is not to read, but to make sure listeners hear.  The movement, the visual element and the pause all help to highlight and press bold on your verbal quote.

Good stuff. 

What If...?

Milton Stanley quotes Royce Ogle to ask:

imageI just wonder what it would be like if for six months if all of us had preachers like those in Acts 6:4. If the preachers’ only task was preaching and praying. If deacons really did what deacons are supposed to do, I wonder how different our churches would be?

If your preacher had a week, locked away in seclusion with just his Bible and his God, no books, no Internet, do you think his preaching would improve? What do you think?



While there might be some theological haggling over who the contemporary counterparts to the apostles and seven seen in Acts 6 are today...still Ogle's point is provocative and one we would do well to consider...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fosdick on Preaching

image In his discussion on imagination in preaching, Warren Wiersbe quotes Emerson Fosdick, that bastion of liberal theology of a couple of generations ago:

"While I do not agree with Harry Emerson Fosdick's theology, his philosophy of preaching was excellent:  "The purpose of preaching is not to explain a subject, but to achieve an object."

I like that. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wiersbe on Imagination, Part 2


If imagination is such an essential part of preaching, how do you cultivate it?

1. READ!! And not just non-fiction. (Whenever I hear someone say smugly that they never read fiction, I realize that I have someone who is both very boring as well as inexperienced in life.)  Wiersbe suggests reading poetry and children's stories as well as history, biography and theology. 

All truth is God's truth and (as Phillips Brooks reminds us) all truth intersects.

2. The preacher must LIVE!! 

He must mix learning and living, the library and the marketplace. He must be among his people, with the publicans and sinners as well as the preachers and saints. Emerson said, "If you would learn to write, 'tis in the street you must learn it. … The people, and not the college, is the writer's home." Substitute the word "preacher" for "writer," and take it to heart.

Martin Luther used to say that prayer, meditation, and suffering made a preacher, and he was right. Sermons are not made from books so much as from battles and burdens. Hermeneutics professors take note: some in the Bible who suffered most gave us the most imaginative pictures of spiritual truth—Moses, David, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, John, and Paul … not to mention our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Cultivate a sense of humor. 

A humorist has been defined as a person who can see more than one thing at a time—and that is what imagination is all about. If you know how to laugh—and why you laugh—you can feed your imagination on humor.

4. Regain your child-like sense of wonder at life.

Spend your days with your eyes and ears open, your mind constantly inquiring. Beware of coming to a place in life where you feel you have learned it all and done it all. When you come to that place, you are entering a dead-end street." What is experience," asked advertising magnate Alex Osborn, "but a wealth of parallels upon which our imagination can draw?"


5. Intentionally set aside time for relaxation and meditation. 

Creative people need times of incubation as well as times of investigation. Your best ideas may come when you least expect them, provided you have been doing your homework. We must get away from things in order to see them clearly.

Each person must know his own creative cycle: when to study, when to get away from the desk, and how to make the best use of free time. We need parentheses in our lives. This means setting priorities. Creative people know how to say no.

These are helpful words for me as well as for all of us who preach.  #5 is the most difficult for me.  In recent months I have tried to write "on demand."  But I come to those writing times so drained from the experiences of ministry that there is nothing left to give.  I have a few ways in the hopper that I am hoping to try to regain (or gain for the first time) those intention times for relaxation and meditation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Strength is in the Roots « Biblical Preaching


Peter Mead never fails to inspire me.  He has an excellent article today. Read the whole thing, but here is his concluding paragraph:

The real strength of a sermon is not found in delivery, although that aspect matters much.  It is not found in the structure and content – try stealing a sermon and notice that it feels weaker than when you heard it from its source!  The strength of a sermon has to reside in the roots.  So check the roots of your sermons, of your ministry as a preacher.  Are they deep into the soil of life’s struggle?  Are they deeper still in the subsoil of the eternal Word?  Let’s be sure we are not preaching impressive, but rootless sermons . . . a breeze might just blow them over!

Find it here:  The Strength is in the Roots « Biblical Preaching

Wiersbe on Imagination in Preaching


Warren Wiersbe is one prolific writer.  The breadth of his writing continue to amaze me. I recently came across an article on on imagination. It is entitled, Imagination: The Preacher's Neglected Ally.

As a writer of fiction, I find conservative Christians frustratingly afraid of imagination.  Back when we were homeschooling our sons (we did it all 13 years) I grew very impatient with homeschoolers who would actually work to steer their children away from their natural creativity and imagination.  "We must see everything realistically, as the Bible sees everything realistically," is such a narrow view of the Bible and of God's give of imagination.

Some Wiersbe quotes:

Imagination and fancy are not the same. Fancy helps me escape reality, while imagination helps me penetrate reality and understand it better. Fancy wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but inspired imagination wrote Psalm 23. Fancy creates a new world for you; imagination gives you new insight into the old world....

Perhaps the greatest cause of the decline of imagination in preaching is right there: we have forgotten that the Bible is an imaginative book. It contains every kind of literature, from funeral dirges and pastoral poems to epigrams, parables, allegories, and creative symbols that have captured poets, artists, and composers for centuries. For some reason, our views of inspiration and inerrancy have robbed us of a living book, a book that throbs with excitement and enrichment. Instead of entering into the literary genre of the passage, we treat all passages alike. David's poems sound, to our ears, like Paul's arguments, and our Lord's parables like Moses' genealogies. Shame on us!...

We do not degrade Scripture when we come to its pages with a sanctified imagination. Rather, we accept the Scriptures as they were given to us, in simile and metaphor, in parable and allegory, in poetry and narrative, in song and proverb. The preacher who masters a book like The Language and Imagery of the Bible by G. B. Caird (Westminster, 1980) will discover a new touch to both his hermeneutics and his homiletics....

Though we often deal with abstract truth, the best way to get it across is to incarnate it in pictures and illustrations. "You may build up laborious definitions and explanations," Spurgeon told his students, "and yet leave your hearers in the dark as to your meaning; but a thoroughly suitable metaphor will wonderfully clear the sense."

It amazes me how some preachers can make Bible doctrine so dull! Each of the key doctrinal words in our New Testament is part of an exciting picture. Justification belonged to the courtroom before it moved to the seminary. Redemption was born out of Greek and Roman slavery. The phrase born again was familiar to the Greeks and carried meanings that would illumine any sermon today. The preacher who does not study words—including English words—is robbing himself of an effective tool for communicating truth. It is not accidental that some of our most effective preachers were students of words, readers of dictionaries, and lovers of crossword puzzles.

Tomorrow I will share some of his ideas for cultivating imagination.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

We've Never Known What To Do With the Term Anyway...


Among the more religiously observant Christians in America, the term "evangelical" is unpopular, according to a Baylor University study. Nearly 70% of evangelical and black Protestants say "Bible-believing" better describes their views. Nearly as many preferred the term "born-again." Only 15% of all respondents called themselves "evangelical", and within that group just 2% said it was the best description

--The Globe and Mail 9/11/06

8 times out of 10 most Christians wrongly use "evangelistic" for "evangelical" or "evangelical" for "evangelistic" anyway.  The term no longer really connects with people.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Great Quote on Prayer


I am preaching on Acts 12:12-17 tomorrow and on the church's failure to believe that God had answered their prayer.  In looking for illustrations, I came across this wonderful quote from  Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

When I was a senior in high school, I can remember Solzhenitsyn being exiled from the Soviet Union.  Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel Prize winning novelist, dramatist and historian.  I was able to read a couple of his works, but his massive Gulag Archipelago always stymied me.  Solzhenitsyn died two weeks ago tomorrow, Aug. 3, after returning to Russia in 1994. 

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Ivan endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day, he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, "Prayers won't help you get out of here any faster."  Opening his eyes, Ivan answers, "I do not pray to get out of prison, but to do the will of God."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sermon Manuscripts Continued: Bullmore

Josh Harris is continuing his series of original sermon manuscripts from famous contemporary preachers.   Yesterday I showed and commented on Mark Dever's sermon. 

image Mike Bullmore is the pastor of Crossway Community Church in Bristol/Kenosha, Wisconsin.  He was formerly the professor of homiletics and pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He is a Moody, Wheaton, Trinity and Northwestern grad. 

You can find the sermon notes here.

Bullmore's notes could not be more different from Devers.  They are handwritten instead of typed.  The handwriting is (naturally) much larger than the printed text of Dever's sermons. 

While Dever's had all sorts of markings (lines in the margins, first word of every paragraph underlined, boxes around certain words, Bullmore's have none/little of that.  There are a few cross-outs and a few additions, but very little compared to Deaver

While it is neither here nor there, I find Bullmore's handwriting interesting. It has lots of flourishes and is very stylistic. It is extremely difficult to read. 

I don't know that I would have gotten much out of these notes without listening to the audio of the sermon while I followed on his notes. 

Amazingly to me, it is a word-for-word manuscript, like Deaver's.

Some observations:

Bullmore uses numerous instance of parallelism. And he lays it out that way clearly in his notes. 

(p. 7, 1/3 of the way down the page)

Listen: this applies to everyone of us.  God is the greatest reality in the universe. And not just in THE universe; YOUR universe. 

So the Question is Where Are You Putting God in YOUR Universe?

  • Are you Neglecting God?    Trusting yourself?
  • Are you Patronizing God?   saying OK, I'll go to church
  • Are you Trivializing God?    saying "he won't care what I do or how I act?

There will be judgment for all who have neglected, patronized and trivialized God."

He does put some instructions. When he wants to emphasize something put (2x) behind it:  "There appears a glimmer of hope" (2x)

When he quotes the hymn "Rock of Ages" he simply puts a break //Rock of Ages.  He has the words to the hymn memorized.

He doesn't give the extent of what he is going to read.  He just directs people's attention to the first verse.  He then puts in brackets the verses he intends to read.

"Look with me at ch. 3, v. 14 [vv. 14-17]"

Good sermon.  Glad Bullmore could read his own handwriting!!!

"The One from Whom We Need to Be Saved"

image "The glory of the Gospel is this: The One from whom we need to be saved is the very one who saves us."  

--R.C. Sproul, as quoted by Mike Bullmore.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Meditating on Scripture

CB064047Brian Larson of Preaching Today is at the Transformational Expository Expository Preaching Conference in Arlington Heights, IL (which I presume is in the Chicago area?).  It is put on by Colin Smith who gave the first two plenary sessions.  Smith noted that he has found three ways to meditate on a text that have been beneficial to him.

The three ways correspond to three types of Old Testament leaders.

  • First, you can meditate on a text as a prophet would, with truth in view.
  • Second, you can meditate on a text as a priest would, with the people in view.
  • Third, you can meditate on a text as a king would, with leadership in view.

I think that is useful. I'm going to have to work that for a while. 

Mark Dever's Sermon Notes

Josh Harris (who grew up here in Portland, the son of homeschool giant Gregg Harris) has acquired/is acquiring the actual preaching notes of several famous contemporary preachers.  He began posting them with the sermon notes of Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.  It is a sermon on Isa. 52 entitled "Pierced for Our Transgressions; Crushed for Our Iniquities".  It was preached this past Jan. 8.

image The notes are quite surprising if I may say so.   I have felt guilty for sticking with manuscript preaching, but his sermons is a very tight, small print manuscript. 

(It might be helpful to open the manuscript so that my comments below make more sense).

He has hand-written all over the manuscript.  There are scratch outs and words hand written to be added in.

Dever has underlined the first word of every paragraph.  Why, I wonder?  Colin Adams at Unashamed Workman draws my attention to the notation in the introduction that it is to draw Dever's eyes down to them.  It may work for him, but it sure wouldn't work for me. 

He occasionally puts pacing notes.  About 1/3 of the way down p. 3 he writes "SLOWLY" in the margin reminding him to draw out a sentence that makes a key point.  He also has done this with about half of his conclusion. 

In other places he marks a couple of sentences with vertical lines in the margins and puts a large exclamation point in both margins. 

Periodically, there are "//" marks.  I wonder if this is a mark to pause.  It seems to be added in at points that would be appropriate for such. 

He draws around words all over the pages, but I can't figure out any rhyme or reason to them. 


Anyway...I am looking forward to further examples from Josh Harris.  He already has sermon manuscripts from Mike Bullmore, C.J. Mahaney , Ray Ortlund, Jr.,  and Tim Keller.  (I hate to say it, but Ortlund and Keller are the only two I have heard of on that list).

Maybe I'll comment more when others are posted. 

H. Robinson: More from the Context


In the article I have referenced several times in recent weeks, "Busting Out of Sermon  Block" by Haddon Robinson, he discusses the importance of context.  He says,

I study the context for flow of thought. I usually get more preachable insights from context than from studying the grammar and word structure of the original language. 

I think that not only are there more preachable insights, but you are actually going to get more to the point of what the writer was saying. It is fun (for me) to look at grammar and word structure, but it is too easy either to go off on a tangent or to emphasize something because of the meaning of a specific word on word structure that is not actually emphasized (or even SAID) in the passage. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Butler: Useful Aids for Alliteration

Continuing to look at the little pamphlet Alliterated Sermon Outlines" by John G. Butler, he gives several sources of finding that "right" word to make an alliterated outline.  I have used the thesaurus, both paper and on-line.  But I never thought of using a speller.  I knew that certain letters worked better than others, but I had never seen it broken down as thoroughly as Butler has done. 

Alliteration may be passe, but as someone who loves words and loves symmetry, I find them rewarding. 

    • Thesaurus-A thesaurus is a dictionary of synonyms. It is an invaluable aid for alliteration. Purchase several brands. The more words the better. Get a thesaurus that says it has 30,000 or more words.


    • Dictionary -A dictionary is needed to have the right meaning of a word. As an example, it will distinguish between “sorrow” and “remorse.” All remorse is sorrow, but not all sorrow is remorse. Dictionaries vary in size. The more words the better. Old dictionaries can be a problem, for words change meaning over the years.
    • Speller- Sometimes in desperation when the thesaurus does not give me a word I need, I will go to a speller and go through the entire list of words under a particular letter. A speller is better for this search than a dictionary because it lists the words without the meaning and thus it is easier to search through the words quicker.
    • Internet- Use your computer internet services. Places such as "" will help. Do a Google search for more help.
    • Gift- Alliteration skill is often more a gift from God than anything else. Some many try very hard to alliterate and just cannot do it. That may reflect a lack of a gift, not a lack of intelligence. Gifts need to be developed, of course. A gifted piano player needs to practice to develop his gift. The gift of alliteration can be developed using our suggestions. But if you lack the gift, don’t be discouraged. Simply use the gifts you do have.
    • Letters -Some letters alliterate better than other letters. The following is how I evaluated the letters. Other preachers may have different favorites, but these are mine.
      • BestC, P, R, S (I work these four letters to death.)
      • GoodD, I, M, W (These letters will sometimes work as well as the first four letters above.)
      • FairA, B, E, F, N, V, T, L (These letters will give good outlines but not as frequently as the above letters.)
      • SeldomG, H, O (If I can alliterate with these letters I think I am really on a roll—sometimes they do work well.)
      • Rare to NeverQ, U, X, Y, Z (The only letter of this group that I have used much is “u” and that is general in an “un” prefix like unwanted, untamed, unfruitful, etc.)

I Really Don't Know What to Think About This

I came across this today in the Church Leader Intelligence Report.  I am a bit flummoxedimage as to what to think:

A new television series airing in the United Kingdom follows an atheist, a lesbian, and others as they attempt to live the Christian life for three weeks. Thirteen non-believers will engage in Bible study and Christian mentoring on "Make Me a Christian," a reality-style show presented by a team of British Christian leaders including the Rev. George Hargreaves, the current Church of England Curate and a pastor from Kensington Temple. Other non-believing participants include an unmarried couple expecting a child, a self-proclaimed witch, and an ex-Christian Muslim. The series intends to document the changes that occur as unbelievers' perspectives on life and the Church are examined in light of Bible teachings and topics. Rev. Hargreaves hopes the series will spark a nationwide evangelical movement, perhaps reversing what he calls "a state of moral decline" in Britain. The "Make Me a Christian" series will air starting August 10. 8/5/08

On the one hand, it may be good.  It might not only be a channel for the Holy Spirit to use to bring some of these people to faith.  It might also de-mystify the faith for non-believers who are watching it on TV.

On the other hand...the Christian life is not primarily a lifestyle.  It is a relationship with God in Christ.  The lifestyle is a RESULT of the relationship, not the other way around.  As always, I am a bit jittery that the show will just be another avenue for non-believers to mock Christian values and lifestyles. 

While it is a British show, we may never know how it ends up.  But it is intriguing none the less. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Butler: Alliteration










In his little brochure, Alliterated Sermon Outlines, John G. Butler gives five different ways to alliterate the points of a sermon outline:

    • Same Beginning (Letter)
      • Passion of God’s love: “so”
      • Perimeter of God’s love: “the world”
      • Proof of God’s love: “He gave”
      • Price of God’s love: “gave His only begotten Son”
      • Prerequisite for God’s love: “believeth”
      • Protection by God’s love: “shall not perish”
      • Provision of God’s love: “have everlasting life”
    • Same Beginning (Prefix)
      • unwanted, unable, unfaithful.
    • Same Ending (Suffix)
      • Psalm 119: information, obligation, regulation, compensation, adoration.
    • Same Ending (Subject)
      • A Genesis 15:1
        • Word of God: “Word of the LORD came to Abraham”
        • Comfort of God: “Fear not”
        • Shield of God: “I am thy shield”
        • Reward of God: “I am…thy…great reward”
    • Same Sound (Assonance-Rhyming)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oscar Romero: Perspective on Ministry

The martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero gives an incredibly helpful reminder of the image long-term focus in ministry. 

"It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.  The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.  We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord's work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that should be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession makes us perfect; no pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes fully the church's mission.  No set of goals and objective includes everything.  This is who we are. We plant the seeds that some day will grow.  We water seeds that were already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need much further development.  We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.  We cannot do everything and, realizing that, there is a sense of liberation in our very being.   This enables us to do something and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is the difference between the master builder and the laborer.  We are laborers, not master builders, ministers, not the Messiah.  We are prophets of a future that is not our own."

Thanks to Mike St.Clair for the quote. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No Surprise Here...

image A recent Wilson Research Strategies survey finds the most popular reason for tuning in to Christian radio is to listen to Christian music (56%) while 40% of Christians tune in to listen to sermons and teaching. Those who listen to Christian music are predominantly women ages 18-44 and are more likely to attend church less frequently, while those who tune in listen to teaching/sermons tend to be older (both genders) and attend church more frequently. 

--Pastor's Weekly Briefing 7/18/08

No Second-Guessing


This is more in the Church Leader department than the preaching department, perhaps.  But it could pertain to reviewing style and substance of our sermons.  (Sunday afternoon second-guessing).

From the current issue of Church Leaders Intelligence Report:

Spiritual leaders' decision-making process is undermined by nagging doubts about their choices. If things don't go the way they anticipated, the problem is further compounded by self-blame. Depending on personality and cognitive style, leaders need differing amounts of information and lead times in order to make decisions. But once decisions are made, the best leaders practice little second-guessing. "Would I have made the same decision with the same information I had at the time?" is a good question for leaders to ask themselves when tempted to second-guess. If the answer is yes, then the leader can move on. If the answer is no, then the issue is to find a better way to make decisions.
Adapted from Practicing Greatness: Seven Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal, Jossey-Bass)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bishop Quayle: Preparing a Preacher and Delivering Him

In an excellent article on "Preaching Evangelistically " Myron image Augsburger quotes Methodist Bishop Quayle as saying

Preaching is not so much preparing a sermon and delivering it, as it is preparing a preacher and delivering him.

We can have all of the techniques and knowledge down, but it is ultimately the personality through whom God speaks. 

I am not sure that we take this idea of a new "incarnation" seriously enough.  Maybe I'll write more on it someday.

Headhunters Wanted?

image To help churches raise the next generation of pastors and leaders, the Fund for Theological Education will be giving away grants to congregations that motivate young Christians to enter into ordained ministry. FTE will be offering grants of $5,000 to $12,000 for grassroots programs, up to 18 months in duration, that cultivate a sense of Christian vocation and the call to ministry among youth. This effort is part of the fund’s response to a growing shortage of young Christians entering into pastoral and clergy vocations. Less than 7% of clergy in mainline denominations today are under the age of 35; fewer seminary students seek a career as an ordained minister, and only 33% plan to work in a church. The goal is to jumpstart a culture where churches play a key role in guiding the youth to Christian vocation.

--Christian Post 7/23/08

Friday, August 8, 2008

10,000 and Counting...Thanks!


Wow!  While I began this blog in May 2007, I didn't install a counter until around Dec. 15 of last year.  As of today we have passed 10,000 visits since the counter was installed!!

While there are of course many more popular blogs (As of today, this is the 713,734 most popular blog tracked by Technorati) this is my space to share about preaching and my efforts to improve in that area. 

Thanks for your interest and continued faithfulness to this blog and thanks even more for your commitment to improving the craft of preaching in the church.


What God Values

image In his article on Busting Out of Sermon Block   Haddon Robinson notes:

God doesn't give us any points for originality.  He gives points for being faithful and clear. To have sitting on our shelves books from the great teachers of the world, people who have spent years of their lives studying a book like Romans, and not use them is to deny the many contributions of Christ's church.  To think that in three hours of exegesis we're going to match the insights of those who've spent years studying a book is a mistake.

H. Robinson: What's Hard to Believe

 image In his article on "Busting Out of Sermon Block,"  Haddon Robinson gives an excellent suggestion:

One of the best ways to overcome "sermon block" is to think through What's hard to believe about this passage?  We can underrate the need to prove the truth of a text.  Even if there isn't a skeptical bone in our body, we need task, Will those who hear me believe this?  Does this conform to my and their experience?  If not, why not? 

Our experience doesn't govern the Bible, but we need to explain perceived discrepancies between what the Bible says and our reality.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Keep it Positive

image Most Thursdays I meet with a half-dozen other pastors from Tigard for mutual support and prayer.  We meet for an hour, and usually the time flies by.  As with all things, some weeks are better than others. 

This morning was one of the better discussions we had had.  While the mix varies every week, this morning's variety of ministers was typical:  We had a Presbyterian, a retired Lutheran (and his wife), an Episcopal priest, a Vineyard pastor, an independent charismatic and me.  (Since a number of you read this blog--"The rest of know who you are...where were you...!?") 

But Glen (the Vineyard pastor) was asking about Mormons and how we interact with them. It seems that each one had a unique perspective. The Episcopal priest had lived for quite a number of years in Utah. Everyone had some really helpful comments and no one person dominated [which is a bit unusual for this--or maybe ANY group of Christian leaders]. While we often get into some pretty heated debates (but all genuinely within the context of mutual respect and--dare I say it--love), today there was pretty much a unanimity of opinion.  Some even ended up taking notes. 

But a question I had, brought an answer that surprised me.  We have a woman (a senior citizen) who sometimes attends our congregation with one of our older church men. I am not certain if it is a romantic interest or just good friends, but that is really besides the point.  She is Mormon.  And one time I was preaching a sermon on something where it seemed relevant to mention Mormon beliefs. What Mormons teach was significant different from what the Bible taught in that text.  I don't really remember what it was. But I have had negative letters from her, negative phone calls and negative conversations.  She feels that I am always bashing her religion. 

I generally don't find it productive to mention other faiths or religions in my sermons. But Mormons are both pretty thick here as well as very active proselytizers.  Because Mormons take biblical teaching and use the same terminology, but redefine it, and are not public about several of their core doctrines, I think it is important that I forearm my people by explaining (when it is appropriate to the text) how the Bible differs from what they will hear from the Mormon missionaries.

I was surprised that everyone present disagreed with that approach. They felt that it was inappropriate to mention ANY other group in a sermon in a negative light.  They said it might be appropriate for a special class, but not for a sermon.  What surprised me was that this was the consensus all across the theological spectrum represented in the room...except me.   They stressed the importance of only preaching the truth (the old illustration was used about the FBI--they ONLY train them on legitimate bills, not on counterfeits.  Therefore, when they see a counterfeit, they can easily spot it because they are experts in the real thing).

I am going to have to think that through. I don't make it a practice to negatively mention other religions (although I will freely admit bringing up the Mormons more than any other individual group).  Many of our people will not get into a special class on cults and false religions.  And yet they will interact both with their Mormon neighbors as well as the boys on bikes (I refuse to call them "Elder" when they are 19-20 years old.    It just seems like a choice teaching moment lost.  I don't go out of my way, but  if it fits, I have not hesitated to mention how they differ from orthodox biblical teaching.

What do you think?  Do you mention cults or cult-like groups and differentiate them from historic Christianity in your preaching?  Do you reserve it for a special class? I legitimately would like to hear your perspective.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

45,000 Great Preaching Illustrations « Biblical Preaching

image Peter Mead has a short but helpful article about being a spring or well of your own sermon illustrations.  He gives four categories of illustrations, but I would strongly suggest that you click over to his site and read his explanation of each one.

Here is a simplified list of sources for illustrations, and the order is deliberate:

1. From the experience of both speaker and listener.

2. From the experience of the listener, but learned by you.

3. From your experience, but learned by the listener.

4. From neither your experience, nor theirs.

Check out what Peter says about each of these at: 45,000 Great Preaching Illustrations « Biblical Preaching

Frazee: The Three Legs of Preaching

In an audio interview with Preaching Today a while back, Randy Frazee talks about the threeimage legs of preaching.  He has identified sixty elements of Christian maturity and discipleship and he makes sure that his preaching died includes each of them every year. The three legs are :theological, biblical, and practical. In other words Christian maturity is developed as we have a set of beliefs that renew our minds, a set of practices that we put into play, and a set of virtues that God wants us to become (i.e. Know, Do, Be).

Frazee’s ten core beliefs are: The Trinity; Salvation by grace; Authority of the Bible; Personal God; Identity in Christ; Belief in the church; God's view of humanity; Compassion; Eternity; Stewardship

The ten practices are: Worship; Prayer; Bible study; Single mindedness; Biblical community; Giving away my time; Giving away my faith; Giving away my life; Giving away my money; Spiritual gifts

The virtues are things we're pursuing to become. Essentially they are the fruit of the Spirit. They are: Joy and peace; Self-control; Faith and faithfulness; Humility; Love; Patience; Gentleness; Kindness; Goodness: Hope

He has much more to say about this, (and any kind of list like this is artificial) but I find a list like this sparks my own sense of direction and purpose in preaching.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Haddon: Work on Sermons in Ten Day Cycles


Haddon Robinson in his article on Busting Out of Sermon Block gave some very helpful advice regarding how long he lets a sermon ferment in the short run:  


Work on sermons in ten-day cycles

The purpose of a longer cycle is to provide simmer time. On the Thursday ten days prior to the Sunday I will preach, I do my exegetical study. I read the text and think about it till I hit a wall. Then I write down what is holding me up: What words don't I understand? What issues can't I solve? What ideas don't make sense? If you can't state specifically where your problems are, you won't get answers.

Thus, ten days before I preach a sermon, I know what I need to be thinking about, which I do while driving the car, taking a shower, or laying awake at night. This also directs my reading. I know where the gaps in my understanding are, and I can more quickly find the answers. I can cull twenty commentaries in an hour if I know the key questions. Often, when I sit down to resume study the following Tuesday, the issues in the passage are much clearer. I wonder, What in the world was I so hung up about?

While I have always planned my preaching out for the year (or at least two quarters out), I have struggled with looking beyond the current week.  I am going to try this and see if it helps.  Do you do a similar thing? 

How Often Do You Think?


Haddon Robinson is always helpful.  In an article entitled, Busting  Out of Sermon Block, he states:

The great science fiction writer H.G. Wells reportedly said most people think only once or twice in a lifetime, whereas he had made an international reputation by thinking once or twice a year.  Lots of pastors have to think once (or more) a week!  More often than we would like to admit, we begin preparing a sermon with the feeling not that we have something to say, but that we have to say something.  Only one time in twenty do I start my preparation feeling that this sermon will go well.  The creative process is accompanied with a feeling of ambiguity, uncertainty, of trying to make the unknown known.

He has some very helpful things to say in this article and want to share some of them this week, but I can really identify with his words above!  What about you? 

Monday, August 4, 2008

"You Talk Too Much About Yourself"?

image Yesterday I taught about racism in the community of faith from Acts 10.  That is not a typical sermon for me, and I had one older woman say that she had never heard a sermon on that her entire life of attending church.  That's too bad.

Last night we had our semi-monthly elders meeting.  One of the elders commented that the only disappointment he had with the sermon was that I didn't talk much about how racism affected me, or my experiences with God teaching me in that area. 

And although I agreed with him, I pointed out that while I had prepared some material on that than I actually used, time constraints (at least perceived) made me leave that part out. 

In that past couple of weeks, my attention has been again drawn to the balance in using yourself as an illustration.  I was raised right at the end of the the era where it was seen as inappropriate and self-centered to use yourself or your family as illustrations.  I heard a speaker in that past week (on tape, I think) make the statement, "If you will pardon a personal illustration of...(the point he was making)."  I know that that wording was heard often in my early years. 

But I have gotten away from that.  I have grown to think that people are looking for authenticity in the pulpit and they want to know that the preacher struggles with similar issues as they do.  (Not lay out your gut & expose every sin every week, but appropriate transparency that recognizes the dynamics of the part that respect for the leader plays in leadership).  As we preach to people today, my observation is that people don't care about propositional truth unless they can see how it is lived out.  That is not the same as REJECTING propositional truth, but insisting that it must be "liveable."  I can buy that, and actually find that refreshing. 

And then this past week I read an article by Dr. Larry Moyer President & CEO of EvanTell, Inc.  The article was entitled "Three Things Your People Hate to Tell you About Your Preaching." 

They are:

  1. You talk too long
  2. You talk too much about yourself
  3. Your messages are too dry.

Numbers 1 & 3, I can buy into.  But I struggle with #2.  He says:

A certain amount of information about your family can be helpful, especially when you show struggles you've had as a family. Audiences need to know that your family isn't perfect either.  Transparency helps, but too much of it comes across as self-centered.  Instead of asking me to come into your world, it's important that you step into mine.

When you purposefully and anonymously share conversations about people who don't live behind the same walls you do, two things strike me: one is that you are 'other-centered,' not self-centered.  A second thing is that you enjoy people, even those who are not part of your immediate family. You come across as a speaker who cares.  So if I want to ask you a question about a struggled I'm going through, your appear to have the interest and time to talk. You've struck me as an "other" centered person.

What do you think?  I suspect that it is simply a matter of balance, but Moyer doesn't seem to put it that way.  What experiences/observations have you had?  Is it strictly a generational thing? (Moyer looks in his picture my age or older).  Or is there a genuine communication principle at work here?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Gamut of Emotions in Preaching


Last week was an emotional roller-coaster, both personally as well as in preaching. As I have already mentioned in this space, a friend of mine, Bruce, died in an accident while camping in Central Oregon. His funeral/memorial service (whatever you call these things nowadays) was Thursday afternoon. It was well attended. I had prepared a brief message with which to conclude the service. (I usually do that. Some people really take offense at it, but it is my opportunity to point people to the reality of eternity and the hope that is in Christ Jesus. Otherwise a funeral is just looking back at a persons life and the memories, good or bad, that accompany that.)

It ended up that a friend of Bruce's who was to give one of the eulogies also brought a sermon and preached it. (It was about 30 minutes long). Given the fact that the service had passed an hour in length, I took my sermon, distilled it down to a 60-second closing word, and ended the service. But throughout the preparation of the message and the service and being with the family, there was a lot of pain and grief going on within me as well. One of the classic professional liabilities of ministry is that it is improper to show that emotion when you are with the family or at the service. But the grief is still there.

Then at 5 a.m. Friday morning, Loretta and I and our son Trevor and his new wife of 5 weeks piled into our Tahoe and headed down to Placerville, CA (east of Sacramento). It was a LONG 10-1/2 hr. drive. We were there because I was officiating (and Trevor was the best man) at the wedding of a young man who is very close to our family. Kyle and my son have been best friends for years, his family moved across the street from us a few years back, and in fact Kyle lived with us for a summer after his parents moved to Idaho. (The picture is of Loretta and I with Kyle and Aly at the front of the church which was built in 1855 and is in Coloma, CA, just down the street from Sutter's Mill where gold was first discovered that sparked the California Gold Rush)

The wedding was a time of joy. They wanted God honored in the service and it was a joy to lead in the public joining of a Christian man and women in matrimony. While some weddings are straight out of hell, this one was a delight from beginning to end. And the sermon I preached there (yes, I always to that, too, in spite of some people's objections) was a blast to preach. I used I Corinthians 13 and since they are both avid athletes, I used the parallels between the type of commitment-love that I Cor. 13 demands and the type of commitment that it takes to be successful in sport endeavors. It went well.

Immediately after the wedding reception, we piled back in the Tahoe and began the journey back to Portland. After the weekend was done, I have been in a funk and felt physically bad all week. I think that part of that (besides just the physical demands of the trip) was the emotional toll taken by my leadership responsibility in leading groups of people in times of grief and times of immense joy so closely together when I was so emotionally invested in both experiences.

I cannot begin to compare my emotional state with that of Bruce's family or Kyle & Aly's family, but having two such extreme preaching/pastoral care responsibilities that close together can really take its toll (on top of whatever emotional experiences ministry is bringing at the time!).

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