Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Write Your Own Preaching Book in Order to Preach Better


In "Preaching On Your Feet" Fred Lybrand stresses the importance of knowing how you best prepare a sermon:

One of the most powerful things you can do is to write your own book on how you prepare your sermons. You may not write the book to share it with others, but having written, you will certainly have more clarity on your own approach. I have come to realize that I can study a book of a topic in any order I wish, but my mind can still go back and put it in an order that the subject needs. I often will chase different passages that relate to the topic and different words in a passage only to return and reorder my thoughts around the structure of the verses. I also like to arrive at tentative conclusions on my own before I read the commentators. Others may find reading commentaries to be more helpful at the beginning to get a frame on the debate about a passage before wrestling it through themselves. The preacher is a chef, not a server in a lunch line. He must learn and grow in his own approach to sermon preparation.

Actually the thought HAD crossed my mind of making a notebook with the various areas of preaching and what I do and what I find useful...along with ideas that I am learning from this blogging experiment. It would also help me identify the areas to which I need to pay more attention.

You may hear more about that or not, but I think Lybrand has a valid point in suggesting that we outline how we prepare sermons in written format whether anyone else ever sees it or not. It would help me clarify WHAT I do and WHY I do it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Sermon: A Study in Differences

imageYesterday's sermon was absolutely fascinating.  At least to me. Not because of the content (as far as that goes it was fairly average). 

But two things happened that I believe will be important in the future.  Two events came together this week:

First, I hadn't preached for three weeks. I miss one week and I can tell it some...but usually just the break is a pleasant relief.

After two weeks off however, things begin to atrophy.  We had a missionary speaker and a youth Sunday back to back.  And so it had been a while. When you get into the routine of preaching week after week after week, two weeks off can really shake up the habits.

The second thing that happened, however, was that I am reading Fred Lybrand's book "Preaching On Your Feet."  He really makes a case for extemporaneous preaching (or "preaching on your feet" as he calls it).  I thought it would be important for me to try some of his practices.  I agree with his point that if I spent the time that I normally take in writing up a manuscript in actually continuing to work on the sermon content, the overall sermon will be better.  And so I didn't really write a manuscript this week. (It drove Ron, my Powerpoint guy, crazy!)  I DID have a fairly "thick outline" as Lybrand calls it. I decided that I would "try" to stay away from it as much as possible.

(For what it's worth...I was preaching from Acts 16:6-10 and the Macedonian call when Paul got to Troas on his second missionary journey). 

The Leading of God

Acts 16:6-10

THEME: God is active leading and directing you in your life, but you must listen and obey.

1. Believe that God leads and directs

  • Paul was responsive to God's direction even as God kept shutting doors
  • Scriptures are filled with passages referring to God’s leading and directing of our lives
  • Sometimes God’s leading & directing is immediately visible.
  • Sometimes it is only seen in retrospect.

2. Be willing to surrender to God’s leading 

  • It was only because of Paul's obedience in following God's shut-door leading that he got to Troas where he was in the best place for God to reveal the Macedonian vision to him
  • All the belief is for naught unless we are willing to follow God’s lead

3. Begin moving in God’s general direction for your life; unless God tells you to sit still

  • None of Paul's initiative was seemingly at God's specific direction; it was only at the general direction of the life-long vision that God had given to him. 
  • He moved until God either shut a door or showed him a more specific vision

The audio (I pray of second service) is here.

The one thing I DIDN'T DO, however, was practice the sermon out loud. (Well...I guess I really did, but it was called First Service!)  I took the notes up...and as I was preaching, I couldn't get away from them and kept thinking..."this stinks"..."this is awful!"  It was choppy, it didn't flow, there were tangents that didn't make any sense!  Just because it was on the paper, I felt like I had to include it--it had not been excluded as a part of the manuscripting process.  It felt like I was preaching for the very first time instead of having 30 years of experience!!  I had fewer notes than I normally did, but the sermon was much longer than I normally preach.  Yuck. 

There was a shorter interim time between services (because I preached so long!) and "Half-time" (as we call it)  is always a key time for making connections with people and meeting new folks.  So, after doing the welcome for second service I went into the Sonrise Cafe we have at church, and while Will led the music time, grabbed a cup of coffee and a pastry and began to slice and dice.  I moved stuff around on the outline, I dropped LOTS of the sermon, including half of the cross-references I had used in first service. 

Second service was a totally different sermon!  It flowed.  I was able to just put the notes on the lectern and forget them.  It was fun!  And I feel like I really communicated with passion and focus. 

What was the difference? I think there were two:

1. I had "practiced" the sermon out-loud and saw what worked and what didn't. Unfortunately the "practice" was "live".  It should have been BEFORE first service.

2. Second service I was much more willing to just leave the notes on the lectern and go "naked." (sans notes, not sans clothing).  And it worked much better.

Lybrand stresses that while this method of delivery cannot be taught, it can be learned. (See previous post). And I think that is what was happening this morning.  I learned a couple of piece that were essential to improving my preaching.  So...even in first service...all was not lost!!  (I hope!!)

(Thanks for letting me process and debrief this in front of your eyes!)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learned But Not Taught


Andy Wilemen, former assistant to John Walvoord, president of Dallas Theological Seminary tells of a leadership study.  He said,

"What they discovered about leadership, is that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be learned."

Fred Lybrand (in relating this story) says that the same thing is true of extemporaneous preaching.  "Delivery [on your feet] cannot be taught, but it can be learned. 

I would agree with both statements. 

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Willard: Desire as the Alternative to Moral Knowledge

Yesterday in his lecture series at George Fox Seminary, Dallas Willard talked about desire. I referred to it in the first post in this series, but want to delve into it a little more. 

Willard stated that "When you don't have moral knowledge on which to base your action, imageyour action comes to be based on desire."   He goes on to say that "Desire creates the problems, especially when it comes to the masses."

This is a basic Bible principle that we sometimes forget, but which is being lived out right before us in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. (as I noted in my previous post).  

We see it illustrated in Romans 1:21-24:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

The removal of the knowledge of God/moral knowledge resulted in their lives being consumed by enslavement to desire. 

The same example can be seen in the Eve story: 

Gen. 3:6: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

She DESIRED.  All Satan had to do was to get her to remove God as a credible authority of moral knowledge, and then he knew that she would succumb to her desire.

Desire in and of itself is not bad. In fact Dallas states that desire is essential to life. Hunger is a desire which pushes us to eat and to grow and hunt food.  Sexual desire pushes us to procreate.  But when desire is not informed by moral knowledge it will always be destructive.  Dallas stated that desire is never satisfied; you can never limit it. It is always pushing forward for more and more. It obsesses on the thing it desires. 

Interestingly Willard does not say that "moral knowledge" must control desire.  Instead he states that, "The problem is to subordinate desire to what is good; i.e. to subordinate it to love, because love wants what is good."  The type of love that he is talking about is not soft, warm, fuzzy love, but a hard headed look at what is good, what is right, what is best. 

The problem with people in our culture understanding the above statement of subordinating desire to love is that our culture does not understand love. People call many things love when in reality they are just expressions of desire. 

Willard ended his second presentation with a forceful emphasis that Jesus is the only moral teacher who brings us an adequate defense against desire. 

There are so many preaching points in just this inadequate summary of what he taught about desire that it could be an entire sermon series.   While his purpose was not homiletic, it is an incredible resource of preaching materials.  He will be publishing a book on Moral Knowledge in the future.  I think that it would be well worth the time and money invested in it. 


Dallas ended his day with talking about an specific application of moral knowledge in the area of pornography.  I want to think through that tomorrow.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Willard: Pastors as Teachers of the Nations

Dallas Willard at GeorgeFox 2-cropped

Dallas Willard finished his presentation this afternoon on "Knowing Christ and the Hope of Moral Knowledge" at George Fox Evangelical Seminary this afternoon.   

His emphasis was on pastors as teachers of the nations. Pastors, as leaders of Christian communities have a unique role to speak to the culture and to our world about the need for moral knowledge and about Christ as the only viable source of moral knowledge.  He placed emphasis on both "evangelizing" within the Christian community so that our people understand the difference that it makes to have abandoned Christ as the source of moral knowledge and then seek/create opportunities to speak to the culture near-by to us presenting the Christ alternative to the increasing chaos of not having a unifying authority for determining moral knowledge.

A statement that I appreciated:

Our job is not to get people to do things, but to know and to understand and to be Christ’s person in life, based on a knowledge of who Christ is and what his kingdom involves.

He admits that it is an audacious thought—that pastors should be the teachers of the nations. They are to be the ones who answer the big questions of life.

  1. What is goodness, rightness & duty?
  2. Which things and people and actions are good, right, praiseworthy?
  3. How do we know goodness, etc., and which things are good, etc.?
  4. How does one become good, do the right thing, the morally honorable thing?

He notes, however that pastors must:

1.Be sure that they have taken the trouble "to know."  We must have knowledge of the things in which we put our trust.

2. Be open to the world and learning what the world is about. We must know what Buddhism says about the four questions stated above.  Every religious system answers the four questions above in one manner or another.

He ends this section by returning to the emphasis he made earlier:  pastors begin with discipleship.  Discipleship is increasingly the "in" word, but true discipleship must be a life-transforming thing.   He states that the disciples we are trying to create must...

    1. Know what Jesus said.
    2. Conduct the affairs of life as Jesus would, if he were you.
    3. Know how to operate in the power of God. (how prayer inducts the power of God into your situation)

He said (obviously much more--I have eight single spaced type written pages of notes) but these are some of the highlights.

How in our preaching are we teaching people the foundation of moral knowledge?  How are we communicating moral knowledge in our sermons?  How are we helping people not just to keep rules (don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie), but instead to become the type of Christ followers inside that would do what is consistent with life in Christ. 

(still more reflection to come)

Dallas Willard: Knowing Christ and the Hope of Moral Knowledge

Dallas Willard at GeorgeFox  01 modifiedWhile I am not attempting to live-blog it, today I am attending a seminar put on by George Fox Evangelical Seminary featuring Dallas Willard from Fuller Seminary and USC.

I have read works by Willard and heard of him for years but never heard him speak. My impression was quite different from the reality of what I am experiencing today.  Not good or bad, but just different. 

He has talked extensively about the disappearance of the teaching of moral knowledge, not only in academia, but also in the church.  He stressed that this does not mean that there IS NO moral knowledge in the church, but it is not being taught as knowledge. He has spent a lot more time on the disappearance of the teaching of moral knowledge in society than he has in the church, which has been a bit of a disappointment.  The former is old news and well documented.  I am hoping that in the afternoon session he will spend more time on the latter. 

In the second morning session he delved into the area of Jesus as the person with the highest understanding of moral knowledge.  He stressed that our world began setting aside Christ as the authority for moral knowledge in the 1800's and it went "mainstream" (my word) in the 1950-60's. 

The ultimate enemy of moral knowledge is desire.  Moral knowledge's purpose is (in part) to place boundaries around desire and to control it both personally and societally.  We have thrown off Christianity as the source of that moral knowledge, but have not found an adequate replacement for it. 

This is particularly poignant this week as the economic world roils with the results of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. (We have an account at Washington Mutual which was taken over by the feds last night and was sold to JP Morgan.  I've never had a bank in which I had money fail before.)  But the desire of people to live above their means financially and the desire of people with great amounts of money to make even shady loans in order to turn a profit is all a part of this.

He spent a good deal of time talking about the relationship justice and love.  Love is bigger than love, but justice is included in love. 

We are going to begin again briefly and I want to get this up, and so will say more later.  In the afternoon session he is going to deal with what he calls the four "Big Questions" of life:

  1. What is goodness, rightness & duty?
  2. Which things and people and actions are good, right, praiseworthy?
  3. How do we know goodness, etc., and which things are good, etc.?
  4. How does one become good, do the right thing, the morally honorable thing?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why Most Feedback Sucks


One of my elders sent me the link to an article by Scott H. Young.  It is primarily a productivity and business site, but the article is spot-on. 

He directs it toward product development, improvement, pricing, etc. but it is equally true of preaching and church leadership. 

Here is how he begins...

Getting better at anything requires feedback, that’s obvious.  But what is often more important is selectively ignoring most of the feedback you receive.  If you’re basing your decisions entirely on a comment by one person, you’re probably going to make a mistake.

Although it may seem like arrogance, I think following your own intuition and reasoning before the suggestions of other people is a much safer strategy.  Feedback can be helpful, but only after it’s been through a heavy washing of skepticism, so what you’re told matches what you experience.

He goes on to explain:

  • People don't know what they want (people usually can't tell you what they want more between what you have now and all the hypothetical improvements you could make)
  • Feedback Never Comes from an Unbiased Sample (most feedback is not the result of formal studies with rigorous techniques and random samples representative of the entire group)
  • Other People Can’t Speak for Your Motives (Feedback represents the perspective of the advice giver, not the advice receiver.  Even when people don’t have ulterior motives, they can rarely see through their own position to give advice best suited for you.
  • Although you may not have as much experience as the advice giver, you do have one advantage, you’re you.  You will always have access to your own perspective when trying to solve your problems, something often missing in feedback.)

  • People Have Split Personalities (Drinking, lust, anger, fear, enthusiasm all make different people out of us, and those people won’t give the same feedback.
  • If you’re asking for feedback, make sure your asking from a person who is in the same state as when their opinion will matter.)

Find the full article here.

I found it particularly encouraging.

Plagiarizing from Yourself?

image Fred Lybrand gives an interesting perspective/apologetic for "preaching on your feet": 

Years ago, I had a conversation with the elders of the church I was then serving, explaining my discoveries and burden to learn to preach on my feet. In that discussion I observed to them that between the time I finish a sermon on a Thursday or Friday and the delivery of the sermon on Sunday, I continue to grow in the Lord; therefore, if I preached on Sunday something I concluded on an Friday, it's plagiarism, because it was written by another person (that is, who I was on Friday)!  You may think this is a play on logic, but it's actually a play on truth. We are the person we are in the moment we preach; and when we copy, even ourselves, it has the cavernous sound of an echo.

While there may be legitimate reasons for "preaching on your feet" (as he calls it as opposed to extemporaneous preaching), this doesn't wash with me. 

Although I have used a manuscript almost all of my preaching years, it grows/morphs up until the time I step into the pulpit (and then morphs again sometimes between services!)  I am adding comments in the margins and extra add-in sheets up to the preaching moment.

Much to my wife's consternation, I never "finish" a sermon until it is preached.  (She says that the last day or so should only be left for memorizing and practicing). As Lybrand accurately notes, God continues to speak into my life but it is not difficult to adjust even a manuscript sermon to reflect what God is saying. 

None-the-less, I am finding "Preaching on Your Feet" fascinating.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thoroughly Bummed


I am REALLY bummed.  I hunted & hunted for a good preaching conference to attend  that fit my schedule and budget and had settled on Preaching West in Newport Beach, CA next month. (It was scheduled for St. Andrews Presby Church where John Hoffman preaches, pictured).  I had scheduled time away, purchased airline tickets, lined up housing and even practiced live blogging because I wanted to be able to live blog that multi-day event.  We even arranged the logistics of a follow-up weekend getaway around it. 

Then today I get the e-mail that Preaching West has been canceled, with no explanation.  Bummer.  Big bummer.

Phillips Brooks:

image Fred Lybrand in his book Preaching on Your Feet, quotes Phillips Brooks about the importance of your preaching ministry being uniquely an expression of yourself and a dynamic intersection with the people to whom you preach.  (He is setting up his apologetic for extemporaneous preaching).  But I find the quote from Brooks powerful:  

"I want to make you know two things: first, that if your ministry is to be good for anything, it must be your ministry, and not a feeble echo of another man's; and second, that the Christians ministry is not the mere practice of a set of rules and precedents, but is a broad, free, fresh meeting of a man with men, in such close contact that the Christ who has entered into his life may, through his, enter into theirs."

How far we have gotten from that.  With the idealization of one style of preaching or the idealization of the Warrens/Hybels/Russells/Driscolls/etc. of the world (as faithful servants as they may be), so many ministers are just an echo of someone else's ministry.  I know because I have been there. 

Part of the struggle, however, is that when I echo someone else, I get lots of affirmation from the congregation.  But when I try to speak with my unique voice, then arises the petty nit-picking and complaints that my preaching doesn't connect. 

I think that this book Preaching On Your Feet is going to not only be fun, but also be a deep challenge to me.  More about it in the days to come.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Camp Logos


Today (Thursday) and tomorrow I am attending Morris Procter's Camp Logos which is taking place up across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA.  Camp Logos is a two day training event to learn (or become more proficient in) Logos/Libronix Bible software.

I began to use Logos Bible software sometime back in the mid nineties when the whole program fit on a couple of 3.5" floppy disks.  Wow has that changed. 

Now Logos has morphed from a stand alone Bible program to an entire library system called Libronix.  Libronix is the underlying engine running all of the books that are in the Libronix Library.  Logos was the first name and still mostly refers to the Bible software part of it, as well as the name of the company.

The Bible and a multitude of ways to study the Bible are still at the core of Libronix, but there are several thousand books available in the Libronix electronic format.  I think that I am approaching 3,000 volumes in my Libronix electronic library. 

I attended Camp Logos up in Logos' hometown of Bellingham, WA a couple of years back.  It was excellent, but it was too much to absorb in two days.  And so I determined to go again and try to pick up more of the material that either went over my head or which I was just too overwhelmed to retain. 

It was a couple of months after I had been to camp Logos initially that a group of church members complained to my elders that (among other things) my sermons were too deep.  I guess that is some sort of recommendation for the training...and the software.

Perhaps because I have 10-15 years of experience using Logos/Libronix, I find it extremely easy to use.  (Others don't find it so easy, I know).  I have used Online Bible, e-Sword, WordSearch and Ages Bible software.  I keep coming back to Logos/Libronix and actually even quit trying out other programs. 

A Bible program is an intensely personal thing.  It is kind of trying to describe to someone why you love your spouse.  The reasons are intensely personal and even defy an adequate logical description.

I have no interest in starting a rancorous debate.  But I would be interested to find out what Bible software you use and why you chose it? 

What Have You Walked Away From?

image Carlin Flora in an article in Psychology Today entitled "You 2.0" quotes Barry Lubetkin, author of Bailing Out--The Healthy Way to Get Out of a Bad Relationship and Survive.  The gist of the article is on self evaluation. Lubetkin talks a lot about the fears that paralyze us.

I say all of this to quote one sentence. 

"Change equals loss, but if you don't have a series of things you've walked away from...you're probably not leading a rich life." 

I don't know exactly why that sentence has struck me. I have always had the opposite view...that a full life comes more by completing what you start and persevering through difficult times.  You fulfill your duty.  Faithfulness is more important than happiness. 

I understand that he is probably coming from a secular, not Christian perspective, but the quote strikes me as important none-the-less.

I am going to have to mull this over for a while.

What is your reaction to the quote?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

William P. Young: Whence the Source of Our Identity?

Servant80_000_Page_01 I am trying to do a white paper on the popular book, The Shack.  It is a huge bestseller (2 million copies in print) that is causing a great deal of controversy.  I periodically do "white papers" and make them available to our congregation. I did a hugely popular one on The DaVinci Code as well as others. 

But while doing my research, yesterday's mail brought a copy of Servant magazine,  the house organ of Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta (NE of Calgary).  And lo and behold, there was an extensive interview with William P. Young, the author of "The Shack."  Young lives here in the Portland area and I haven't seen him do very many interviews at all, so this caught my attention. 

In the interview, Young has an insightful quote.  He says,

People find their identity in ‘being right.’

Like so  many things in life there is that Socratic golden mean.  On the one hand, doctrine is important.  Ideas have consequences.  You cannot be wishy-washy about truth.  On the other hand, I have to recognize my finiteness and limited perspective.  I am not God.  I do not have a perfect handle on this thing called truth. 

But many believers base more of their identity on "being right" than they do in Christ.  Can correct doctrine be a false idol?  I am not sure I would go that far, but I do recognize that it is idolatry to base my identity on ANYTHING but Jesus Christ.  That would include "being right." 

That raised numerous questions in my mind:

  • Am I OK with basing my identity on Christ instead of being right. 
  • What would that look like?
  • Is my defense of my doctrinal positions based on being a son or daughter in Christ first, with the realization that understanding the things of God is a life-long journey? 
  • Or what would happen if suddenly I discovered that the way I looked on a number of things was just plain wrong biblically? 
  • Would it shake my faith in who I am as a believer? 
  • What do we teach our church people about "being right" versus finding our identity in Christ?

I may write more about this another day (I may not.)  When the whitepaper is done, I will let you know.

You can find an extended version of the interview here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Preaching On Your Feet

Bryan Lowery over at PreachingToday blog points to a book review that Scot McKnight atimage Jesus Creed blog did of Fred Lybrand's book Preaching on Your Feet.

Lybrand covers it all, but this point might be the most significant: there’s no example that anyone was using notes or reading a sermon or (he argues) preaching an “expository” sermon in the Bible. The only method we see is preaching on one’s feet. And he has a chp [chapter] listing the great preachers whose studied practice was preaching on their feet: Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc..

And he says something important: too many preachers today are using their seminary professors’ lectures as models for preaching. The differences in context, purpose, audience, content, etc, are obvious.

He proposes that you fill yourself full of study, perhaps have a rudimentary outline in your head, but get up and preach, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts based on your preparation. 

I would have to read more of Lybrand before was convinced.  You can find McKnight's post here.

The subject reminds me a bit of a statement I found in a little book I am currently reading.  It is Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand: The Story of Frontier Religion, by Ross Fares. I will probably add some posts later from/about, when I have completed it, but Fares gives this account that seems to fit:

Parson William G. Brownlow quoted one exhorter, not burdened with academic learning, who addressed his congregation: "My beloved hearers, I shall in the first place speak to you of things you know; second of what I know and you do not know; third, of things that neither of us know."

Perhaps there is a fine line between reliance on the Holy Spirit and the sin of presumption. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

When In Doubt, Speak It Out>>BiblicalPreaching

Peter Mead has what is really a simple and yet helpful exercise in sermon prep.  Early in my ministry I used to practice my sermons out loud in the pulpit either on Sunday afternoon or way early on Sunday morning. 

But his suggestion is not really that.  It is DURING YOUR PREPARATION TIME, if/when you get stuck, go to where you preach and preach it out...

It’s not surprising that words on paper sometimes feel overwhelming when we are actually preparing for an oral form of communication, not a written one.  So stand up, Bible in hand, and preach it.  It may still feel jumbled and confused, but it is amazing how quickly a flowing and organized message can form when it is formed orally rather than on paper.

That seems like an excellent suggestion that I am going to try to implement.  Find the entire post here

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Unjust Limit or Fair Balance, Part Two

Yesterday, I introduced the subject of the Alliance Defense Fund trying to get preachers to endorse candidates from the pulpit in order to challenge the restriction on tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates.  As I said yesterday, the government say, "Issues, yes; candidates, no."  And admittedly this is probably a bit of incumbent politicians protecting their turf.  If they offend churches, they don't want to be able to have churches mention them by name.  Admittedly, this is probably part of the genesis of this policy. 


I shake my head in amazement at the gall and foolishness of these people.  No one is image forbidding these churches from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit.  No one is forbidding them from preaching what they believe the Bible says.  They can preach whatever they want, but they cannot endorse specific candidates and maintain their tax-exempt status.  There is no God-given RIGHT to be considered a tax-exempt organization.  It is United States government policy.  And every governmental policy has limits or conditions.   And this is the condition of receiving this benefit from the US government.  Obviously, I think it is a reasonable requirement.  Maybe not consistent, but reasonable and within their proper jurisdiction to require.

The argument will be made that this is a first amendment issue.  The first amendment to the US Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.... 

And it will be stated that restricting churches from endorsing candidates is prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  However, (and I in no way pretend to be an attorney, nor do "I play one on TV", but I have watched these things for many years) as I stated above, the government is not forbidding churches from stating their endorsement of specific candidates.  They are only forbidding it for churches who want to maintain their status as a tax-exempt organization.  The issues, yes, the candidates, no.  It makes total sense for the government to argue that this special privilege can be accompanied by special restrictions.  If one does not want the special privilege, than one can get around the restriction.  No one is going to arrest them and throw them in jail for endorsing a candidate.  They will simply strip them of this special privilege. 

There is no chance that these churches will be successful in the contemporary court system (nor SHOULD they be, in my opinion).  A concern that I have, however, is that their efforts will result in the entire tax-exempt policy being thrown out by some unfriendly court (like the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in our area).  If they were to so decide, taking things to the Supreme Court is such a crap shoot today that a court declaration such as that actually COULD prevail. 

The majority of churches in the world and throughout history have not had this legal benefit that we enjoy.  While most churches would survive losing it, it would cause great harm to many churches.  I don't think that these misguided churches led by the Alliance Defense Fund are working in the interest of anyone but their own publicity-seeking interests.

IMHO.   Your thoughts?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Unjust Limit or Fair Balance? Part One

image "'Tis the season." 

Every two or four years the debate continues.  All of us would (hopefully) agree that we preachers must speak directly to the application of biblical principles when they touch the political world.  (From John the Baptist telling soldiers to no longer steal; to Jesus telling his hearers to pay Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what his God's; to the Old Testament prophets, we have manifold examples).

But I live in the United States in 2008.  And we have a couple of legal advantages as American churches:  we don't have to pay property tax (in some places churches don't have to pay sales tax), and people can take specific types of donations to our churches off of what they have to declare as taxable income.  The presumption is that this policy increases donations to our churches and the government believes (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) that churches give a benefit to society that outweighs the  lost taxes. 

What they ask in return is that, while we can speak/preach to specific moral/societal issues, we cannot endorse specific candidates.  The issue, yes. The person, no. 

And in most recent election cycles there have been those who have pushed that.  I have in my files a copy of the notorious brochure by Randall Terry from 1992 declaring that anyone who votes for Bill Clinton is not a Christian or is going to hell (or something like that). 

This year again, the issue has raised its hoary head.  The Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting churches to directly challenge the ban on tax-exempt churches endorsing political candidates from the pulpit. 

Two weeks from this coming Sunday (on Sept. 28) they have an unknown number of churches who are going to challenge the ban and endorse candidates from the pulpit.  They are trying to draw charges so that they can challenge the ban in court. 

You can find an article about this in the Washington Monthly here.

Part 2 of this is tomorrow

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cool Tool: AuthorStream


I came across a little tool this week that may be helpful.  It is called AuthorStream and is a tool that turns your sermon (or whatever...) Powerpoint presentations into flash files and then allows them to be stored and viewed on the net. I see two advantages of this:

1.  Rather than sending an entire PPT file to someone (which can be quite large & cumbersome), you can just send them a link and they can view the PPT right there on the site.

2. Because it is a flash presentation, and not a PPT presentation, it cannot be (as easily) changed and stolen.  You CAN allow people to also download the original PPT for their use, but that is only an option.

I found it very easy to register and just as easy to upload my first PPT.  I used this morning's sermon on Acts 15:36-41 [the division between Paul & Barnabas] and uploaded the converted the Powerpoint from that sermon to the flash.  You can find it here.

I would suggest you check it out. It may be of use to you and it may not, but I find it a cool little tool. You can find the homepage here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not What OUR Worship Team Will Be Doing This Week

Justin Buzzard points to a (what adjective shall I use here...) powerful example of what a worship team should NOT look like on a Sunday morning.

(I couldn't figure out what they were saying, but it is "The RENEWED MIND is they key to the power that I need...)


Kent Hughes Workshop and Live-Blog Debrief

Kent Hughes cropped This is probably a post that should be two posts, but I am going to try to combine them into one.  Earlier today I tried my first experience at live-blogging.  It was also my first time to attend the Spurgeon Fellowship at Western Seminary. (I was half way to Multnomah Biblical Seminary before I remembered that I was headed to the wrong one!!)

As for the workshop itself and Kent Hughes, it was very very good. 

I told a young pastor who grew up in our church here in Tigard that it was very "dense."  There was a lot packed into every minute that Kent Hughes spoke.  I am going to have to go back to my posts and kind of review and debrief.  What you got was what I have.  I just took notes and threw them up whenever I could catch my breath long enough to tether to my cell phone and upload the latest post.  (I have gone back and edited a few very blatant errors). 

It was heavy on inspiration.  Not as heavy on application.  I say that although his discussion of passion and the three tensions of the preacher that create passion/intensity was one of the best discussions I have ever heard of that subject. 

Next time (in about a month) Todd Miles (The King of the Kingdom) and Don Carson (A Pastoral Theology of Suffering and Evil ) will be the presenters.  If you are near Portland I would suggest penciling it in on your calendar.

Frankly one of the great aspects was the networking.  I saw more people that I expected that I knew at the event.  And God even ordained that I sit with a group of guys from Vernonia, OR, one of whom I had heard about (and had almost hired his father in law to my staff a couple of years back). I also found out that the guys at Monergism.com have their warehouse half-way between my home and office.  With an inventory of 1500 titles, that may not be a good thing to find out!



As for live-blogging.  That is a different matter.  I am still debating whether live-blogging  was really needed at this event.  It was only 2-1/2 hours of material.  (Although that is why I chose it as my first live-blog...I wanted something short and simple). 

I made sure I had an Internet connection backup.  I thought that surely Western Seminary had WiFi, but in case it was locked & I couldn't get onto it, I could always tether my cell phone.  Incredibly Western does not have WiFi.  For a first class institution like Western, I was flabbergasted.  (A helpful SF person said it is on the long-term goal list for the school. Oh, come on, people...don't embarrass yourselves by not having WiFi. I would recommend a student go elsewhere simply for THAT alone! WiFi is a part of the current educational mainstream! If Western is so behind in that, what else are they way behind on?) Fortunately I was able to tether.  More clumsy & slower, but it allowed me to connect.

While I DID bring my digital camera, I didn't bring the right cable to connect it to my laptop (I thought I had, but I hadn't).  So the picture of Kent Hughes above is all you get! Some resources suggest posting video clips, using your web cam. I'm not ready for that yet. (Plus I don't have a web cam).

I only did the one picture after I realized I didn't have the proper cable.  I was also intimidated to be taking flash photos during the session.  if I had more "official" permission to live-blog this event (is that necessary?  I should really check that out), I might have been more daring about taking more photos. 

Beth Kantor says,

I also try to get several photos that capture the essence of what it was like to be in the room.  I'll photograph the speaker, selected slides or flipchart notes, and people in the room. If someone asks a particularly compelling question or says something, I will photograph that as well.  I upload the flickr photos using the uploader tool into their own set and annotate them with notes.  However, now that I've recently upgraded my camera phone - I will play with using email to flickr option.

I have discovered a little software called CoverItLive.  I may download it and experiment with it before next month.  (Next month I am planning on live-blogging Preaching magazine's Preaching West Conference in Newport Beach, CA. I am registered and have contact Michael Diduit--the editor--but no response yet as to whether he will officially recognize my live-blogging.)   My Windows Live Writer worked OK, but I think CoverItLive lets you be more immediate.  It says it also allows you to take questions, to post polls, makes it easier to post pictures, videos, etc.  We'll see.

I wish that I had had the guts to ask if I could announce that I was live-blogging.  But since it was really an experiment, that was OK.  The advantage of doing that, especially in a place that is wired for WiFi, is that other attenders can check on and get parts of the notes that they missed while the session is still going on.  But today, even without WiFi, it would have let people know that notes were available online.

Aaron Uhrmacher from Mashable.com says:

Live blogging allows those that aren’t at the event to participate remotely, and it also helps facilitate a conversation among attendees by giving them access to content they might have missed as well as a place where they can discuss it.

One advantage for me of live-blogging is that I am MUCH more thorough in my note taking than I would be if I were just taking notes for myself.  The disadvantage is that I feel like more of a scribe.  It is harder to process what is being said (particularly in a "dense" presentation like Hughes') in real time while you are live-blogging. 

So, was it a success?  Yes and no. I am not totally satisfied with the quality of the live-blogging notes.  There is NO online real-time interaction with the material.  Hopefully that will get better with experience.  And (as I said above) the WiFi situation was frustrating.

But it WAS a success in that I pulled it off. It WAS a success in that it helped me lay a groundwork to find out what I need to do better next time.  And (hopefully) it DID provide some gems for you to aid in your preaching.  If so, let me know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kent Hughes: Toward a Definition of Biblical Exposition

Kent Hughes shared the following material at a beak break in today's workshop...

The preacher has done his work when...

  • he has worked out the theme of the book - the "melodic line."
  • he has prayerfully interpreted his text in its context, using the established principles of interpretation
  • he understands the text's application in its historical setting, and in the whole of Scripture.
  • he has discerned wherein it is a revelation of Jesus Christ, and has made the appropriate inter-canonical connections;
  • he has made the trip "from Jerusalem to Portland," [fill in your city's name] and he understands its present relevance
  • he has stated the theme of the text, its "Big Idea"
  • he has outlined his exposition using the literary structure of the text as a guide to his sermon's symmetries
  • he has used stories and illustrations which really do illuminate the text
  • he has written or outlined his sermon using language that actually does communicate in today's culture
  • he has submitted himself to the text so that it has so plowed his soul that he is sympathetic to, and desires the truths of the text to be active in his life;
  • as he stand in the pulpit in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit, the exposition of God's Word passionately flows from the inward affections of his heart without affectation.

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes #6


Jonathan Edwards-affections (not a moderate feeling or attachment) your heart, your inclinations & your will

Jonathan Edwards:  Your affections involve your fears, your hopes , your loves, your hatreds, your desires, your joys, your sorrows, your gratitudes, your compassions, your zeal.

Sermons preparation is 20-hours of prayer

At times Spurgeon said he would rather take a beating rather than stand in the pulpit & preach.



Preaching has to be directed in Spirit-directed passion

We live in a world of bogus passion. (Many preachers actually practice method acting)

Spiritual passion arises out of believing that what you are preaching is true.

Hume would go to hear Whitfield--"I don't believe what he preaches, but HE DOES."

Where there is no passion, there is no preaching!

You cannot have dispassionate preaching. Oxymoronic.

Peter Jenson: If you don't like the word passion, use the word intensity.

  1. There is the preacher's struggle with his own sin. There is a tension between his life and preaching and the holiness of God.
  2. The preacher must struggle with the text that contradicts his own life.
  3. There is an intensity that comes from struggling with an unbelieving world.

How can the Christian faith, so preached, be anything less than dramatic?


The struggle with yourself, the Word and the World creates passion. 

Your demonstration of passion must be in harmony with your personality.   Intensity may not be emotionally demonstrative.

NEVER copy someone else's passion.

However we preach there must be "blood earnestness"

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes #5

1:20 p.m.


The preacher must apply the text to his life first.

Brooks-truth through personality.  Truth must come through the character & intellect of the preacher.

Bishop Quayle-"Preaching is the art of making a preacher, and preaching that."

Quayle went too far & held that the preacher was to be the "great-souled man."  "The sermon is the preacher up to date".  That is going too far. It reflected the stylized idea of the "great souled man" of the time.

We can become so acquainted with the doctrine of repentance that we never see our need to repent.

Richard Baxter-They offer the bread of life to others that they themselves have not eaten.

C.S. Lewis:  "Sacred things can become profane by become a matter of the job [jaw?]."

What we preach MUST come through our souls.

"His sermon was like thunder because his life was like lightning."

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes #4



  1. You would preach texts you would otherwise never preach, maybe even avoid!
  2. I never had to fret about what I was going to preach on next Sunday. 
  3. If you preach, you ARE a theologian; exposition helps you develop as a better theologian. You are better at 30 than you were at 20; better at 40 than at 30, etc.
    • Michael Jordan is declining in his abilities.  Hughes is still improving in his abilities!!
  4. It keeps you subject to the text.  Topical preaching imposes an outside statement on desperate texts.    It keeps you from preaching your theological framework.
  5. It gives you confidence to preach, "Thus saith the Lord."
  6. It is the confidence that when you open the Word, the spirit speaks
  7. It avoids the accusation of preaching "at" people.
  8. It teaches people how to read "God's Word"
    • One person's reaction to Hughes expositional preaching: "It is like moving an athletic event into slo-mo so your people can see what is all involved that you miss when you rush through it."

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes #3


A. THE NATURE OF SCRIPTURE (demands expositional preaching)

What do we need to believe about the scripture if we are going to do proper exposition in our preaching over a life-time?

Lectio Continua--John Calvin used this phrase to describe the necessity of preaching through the Bible. 

When it comes to exposition, what you believe about Scripture is EVERYTHING.

Solid biblical exposition must come out of a inerrantists view of scripture.

Matt 5:18-Jesus' view of scripture.

But having a high view of scripture is not enough.

He must not only believe that it is inerrant, but he must believe that it is potent & sufficient.

Deut 31.  "they are not idle words for you...they are your life"

Isa 66.2-“These are the ones I look on with favor:...[those] who tremble at my word.

Our Lord lived in full submission to the scriptures that he knew.

Slaughter-here is the one man who not only KNEW the Word, but DID it.

John Winham: the Sermon on the Mount has few direction quotations, but it so full of allusion that it impossible to know what was conscious allusion and what was not...it was just his informed normal thought patterns and forms.

The scriptures are life to Moses & food to Jesus.

We need to take seriously Jesus' regard for the sufficiency of the Word of God.  They are LIFE and FOOD.

This informs all apostolic preaching

  • 2 Tim 3:16
  • 2 Tim 2.15

Our calling is to be a man who GETS it straight and GIVES it straight.

Heb 4.14-scripture divides soul & spirit


The one who will do exposition must believe that the scriptures are wholly inerrant, totally sufficient & massively potent

Is Hughes preaching to the choir when he tells this to us?  Yes and no.

Why the increasing dys-exposition in so many Bible-believing pulpits?

1. Some Bible believing preachers REALLY do not believe in the potency & sufficiency of scriptures.

They believe that they believe it, but they don't believe what they believe that they believe!

Many of us need to invite the Bible into our hearts...we need to believe it!

2. Some don't believe that the bare Word of God will connect. All sorts of other things will connect, but not the Word of God.

Many people find reasoned discourse difficult, but want to talk about subjective inner experience & feelings instead.

Because people like it, we revert to telling one story after another, but don't preach God's Word.

3. Some have been told so much about the difficulty of bringing the two worlds (biblical and contemporary) together that they don't try.

4. Many preachers don't do solid exposition because it is too much work:  preacher's sloth.


B. THE INSEPARABILITY OF WORD AND SPIRIT (demands expositional preaching)

John Woodhouse-the words ruach & pneuma can be both breath & spirit. "The Spirit of God is as closely connected to the WOG [my shorthand for Word of God] as breath is to speech."

Gen 1-the spirit was hovering

Ps 146 -

Is 34.16

Is 61.1-

Where the Word , the Spirit is as well.  (Woodhouse)

What was Jesus' view?

John 3.34

John 6.63

2 Tim 3.16-

If you don't have the Word, you don't have the Spirit


11:55 a.m.


I Tim 4.13-Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

At end of first century-Justin Martyr-it was taken for granted that biblical exposition would be the norm.


12:00 p.m.


The reformers return to scripture was accompanied by expositional preaching.

Calvin revered the scriptures as if they had been penned with the very blood of Christ.

Calvin: "We must not pick the scriptures to fit our fancy, but we must accept it wholly as the Word of God."




For the above reasons, exposition must be the regular diet of the church.

David Bass-the nature of preaching is plainly There are not different types of preaching--only one--expositional. 

"We must not be afraid of the text because 'it might spoil our sermon'." --David Bass



Azurdia comes up and concludes by exhorting people not to do two types of preaching: 

Skyscraper sermons-one story stacked on top of another, on top of another.

Longhorn sermons-two points with a lot of bull in between

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes #2


10:52-still waiting...  :-(


11:00-Art Azurdia introduces the program.  I misunderstood.  The publicity said that the program would start at 10:30, but actually registration started at 10:30.  The schedule for TODAY said that the program would begin @ 11.

This begins the 3rd season of the Spurgeon Fellowship.  Art Azurdia introduced Hughes.  Azurdia is on the staff here at Western.





The Bible has been a dominating passion of Hughes' ministry

45 years of ministry

  • Youth minister
  • Church planter
  • Traditional church pastor (College Church in Wheaton, IL for 27 years).

Contemporary slide to "dys-exposition"

Wandering/departing from the text

No engagement with text in context

Invites all types of abuses

1. De-contexted

Scripture ripped from its context

2. Lensed

Text used through a favorite lens-political, social, chauvinistic, etc.

Whatever the text it always comes back to the lens.  (Every text comes back to being about the home, or every text ends with the preacher wrapping himself in the American flag)

Psychologize-the most dangerous.  People may not recognize it.

3. Moralized

Phil 3:13-"this one thing I do".  Used to teach having goals & prioritizing.

Moralizing always leads to trivializing the text.

4. Doctrinalized

5. Silenced

Preacher speaks on the silences in God's Word. ("We don't know what Mary was thinking when she was pregnant, but she SURELY was thinking this...; therefore we must do this...)

A Biblical expositor BETTER be exposed to his peoples needs & the winds of culture.  But the problem preaching to felt needs is that the felt needs are not the deepest needs.

Dys-exposition is on the RISE in evangelical churches in America


"Therefore a prolegomenon to biblical exposition.  The Mind of the Preacher as it encounters and relates to the Word of God."

(picture is a stock photo of Kent Hughes, not from today)

Spurgeon Fellowship, Western Seminary: Kent Hughes

10:15 a.m.

I am trying the experiment of live-blogging Kent Hughes presentation at Western Seminary's Spurgeon Fellowship.  They do not have public WI-FI and so I am going to have to periodically go on line through my cell phone and upload my posts. 

Hughes' theme is "A Prolegomenon to Biblical Exposition".  It appears that his two major presentations will be on "The Preacher's Affections" and "The Preacher's Mind." 

The FS meets in the Johnson Chapel on the Western Seminary Campus. 



Still waiting to start...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Genuinely Puzzling & Disturbing Stat

image What do you make of this stat?

"31% of men who experience major depression have always attended religious services vs. 24% among those who have stopped attending?" (quoted in "The Foster Letter: Religious Market Update" [Sept. 10, 2008] without citation).

What do you make of that?  it puzzles me. And bothers me.

Live Blog: Spurgeon Fellowship

image Tomorrow is the fall session of the Spurgeon Fellowship at Western Seminary here in Portland.  The featured speaker is R. Kent Hughes, pastor emeritus at College Church in Wheaton, IL.  It has been almost twenty years since I have last heard Hughes. 

The stated purpose of the Spurgeon Fellowship is to be "a fraternity of ministers devoted to seeking the wisdom of classical pastoral theology for contemporary church ministry.  Drawing upon the gifts of experienced practitioners and theologians, The Spurgeon Fellowship aims to enhance the personal character and professional competency of pastors, and thus, by means of Word and Spirit, contribute to the reformation and revival of local congregations."  A pretty high standard. 

I am going to TRY to live-blog the workshop. That means I will be sending out periodic updates from 10a.m.-2p.m. Pacific Time from Western Seminary.  That is all dependent, however, on the moon being in the right place, me holding my mouth the right way and me being able to log onto wireless. 

Otherwise, I will give a summary afterwards. 

Is a New Engel Scale Needed?


Quite a number of years ago I was introduced to the Engel scale.  It is (and remains) a very helpful tool for remembering that coming to faith in Christ is most generally a process.  While the diagram above may be a bit fuzzy to see, it begins with the pre-Christian having only an awareness of a supreme being, but not effective knowledge of the Gospel.  The scale continues through awareness of the gospel and positive thoughts about it leading to a decision to receive Christ.  It then goes on to lay out the post-decision steps, of incorporation into a body, conceptual and behavioral growth, communion with God, stewardship, reproduction, etc. 

Part of the benefit of the Engel scale that in developing a relationship with someone you can see (roughly) where they are on the scale and thus have a next steps goal towards which you can direct them.  No scale is perfect, but I think this one has great merit.

I am beginning to wonder if there is a need for a new Engel scale.  Part of my question arises because of the huge cultural changes that we see today in western culture. 

I also would add into the mix the lousy job the church has done in demonstrating what discipleship entails.  There are too many unconverted "Christians" running around.  Often non-believers have to overcome their experiences with the church to be able to "see" Christ. Do we need to expand the Engle scale to involve those aspects of separating Christian hypocrisy from Christian truth?

Do we also need to add in something about the reality of truth and the it's objectivity.  For many, they can accept the factualness of the gospel, but believe that it is still irrelevant to their lives.  This is the multiple layers of truth or multiple centers of truth that is rampant in our culture.  Does there need to be, on the Engel scale, something about an understanding & acceptance of the reality of objective truth and its applicability to my life?


This pattern of thinking arises out of reading Zach Eswine's quote by Tim Keller in the Journal of Biblical Counseling ("Preaching to the Secular Mind").  Keller reminds us:

"In a Christianized, less secular culture, you can jump right to commitment...and go right to a gospel presentation...but secular people have many more stages to go through. Many of us are being forced to remember that one can be inconsistent in doctrine (like many of us), mistakes in some things (like all of us), and yet truly following Jesus one step at a time.  Sanctification is a process."

How familiar are you with the Engel scale?  Do you find it adequate?  Do you believe that elements may need to be added to it?  If so, what elements do you think should be included? Maybe someone already knows of some writing or research that has already been done in this area. 

Let me know your thoughts. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eswine: Preach What is Real


Zach Eswine begins his book Preaching to a Post Everything World talking about the importance of preaching what is "real."  He uses the illustration of his two  year old son who was unhappy when his two older siblings had empty glasses and pretended to pour water from cup to cup.  The two-year old could not conceptually understand the game of pretend water and longed for REAL water, not pretend.

He uses this a as way to introduce the need for us to Preach What is Real. 

Eswine quotes Simone Weil in Gravity and Grace to say, "Imagination and fiction go to make up more than three-quarters of our real life. Rare indeed are the the contacts with good and evil."  He continues:

Life is filled with things imagined.  Sometimes we imagine good and are helped:  A picture of a flower can make a long winter endurable.  A memory of his wife can enable a soldier to survive the bullets on his tour of duty. Pretend water for plastic ups gives children the enjoyment of play.  But when life is on the line, it is preferable to touch the actual flower; hold the actual woman, and drink the tactual water than to hold all the pictures, memories and empty cups of the world.

Weil's point also reminds us that life is filled with imagined evils.  A woman worries all her life that her children may be harmed. She suffers their imagined deaths a thousand times while they play ball, swing on swings, and blow out birthday candles.  A man fears that someone will harm him., He faces the imagined intruder every time his family takes a walk at night, he has some moments to himself, or he attends a crowded festival of celebration. Better to worry and fear when the actual moment of suffering arises than to suffer an imagined misery all of one's days while surrounded by joy.

To make true contact is to touch the real thing, to treasure the flower more than the picture of the flower; the person more than the memory, the actual moment more than potential moments.  It is to outrun mirages, disrupt illusions, and expose forgeries.  Preaching is mean by God to do this rare thing.

I have been camping in the Oregon coast range the past couple of days with Loretta and my parents who are in visiting from Colorado.  The discussion turned at one point to the things that cause fear in our lives.  I quoted the above section, not as a call to real preaching, but as a call to not borrow trouble.  We expend so much emotional energy worrying about things that never happen.

I appreciate Eswine's reminder of these truths. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Irish Calvinist: I thought you said preaching was outdated?


Thanks to TC Black for pointing me to another home run post by Irish Calvinist. It reflects on preaching in light of the recently concluded American political conventions. 


Erik Raymond begins:

We are now in the home stretch of the presidential conventions. With the exception of the Olympics, these last several months have seemed like a constant barrage of speeches. The candidates and their respective teams believe that speeches are one of the best mediums for communicating their ideas to the American people.

I thought we were cutting edge?

Does this not sound a bit old fashioned to the sophisticated evangelical pastor? After all, we are told by many ‘experts’ today that talking to people in large chunks of time is not effective. Furthermore, it is often said to be arrogant and archaic to stand up behind a podium and have people sit down while you talk.

But what do you see at the National Conventions? A speaker, a podium, a crowd seated, an appeal to action, and even propositional statements! What’s more, we have panels of talking heads dissecting everything about the speeches with the tenacity of a hyper-calvinist in a Methodist church.

It seems to me that the people who are spending millions of dollars to get their candidates message out actually believe that this venue is appropriate. They have apparently not gotten the evangelical memo outlining the social dynamic of our culture and their inability to listen.  Political experts must have dismissed all of the questioning and imagination that goes on in the contemporary church about the role of the preacher and the delivery of the message, specifically with regard to the audience’s ability to hear and listen.  They seem to be doing the same thing that politicians with something to say have always done, they stand up talk and expect us to listen and interact with it.

Check out the rest of his great post here.

Expository Bans

Last Sunday in my sermon on jealousy, I read a news account from an Australian newspaper about the depths to which jealousy can drive someone.  image

Aug 26- Jealous Man Beheaded Lover with Roo Knife

(Sydney) An Australian man who stuffed his partner's body in a freezer after beheading her with a kangaroo knife was relieved she had not "jumped around like a [chicken]”, an inquest was told this week. Northern Territory Coroner Greg Cavanagh said the relationship had been tainted by drinking and Wayne Walker's jealousy.

The pair started fighting on February 8 after Jacqueline Morrison skinny-dipped in a friend's pool. Sometime the following night, Mr. Walker punched Ms. Morrison's face, fracturing the left orbit of her eye.

"Their relationship which was characterized by "volatile verbal arguments" was adversely affected by high alcohol abuse by both parties and also extreme jealousy and possessiveness by Mr. Walker," he said.

I don't know why I have always felt it is important that the church is the place to be brutally honest.  I have displeased many people because I will lay out the way (I believe) that life is.  My perspective has been that sin has consequences that are not pretty. And when we flirt with sin it takes us down a road where we cannot usually chose the outcome. 

But I, again, had an upset parent.  Someone who did not believe that his middle-school children should be exposed to such gore at church.   (I had also used three other examples of jealousy (Simon Cowell's jealousy of Ryan Seacrest; a recent book claiming that Aristotle Onasis ordered Robert Kennedy assassinated because Bobby refused to let Jackie Kennedy marry Onasis.  Onasis' jealousy, it is postulated, resulted in the death of FRK; and last, Clemson University football teams struggle against inter-team jealousy)

But this Australian example was the last.  This parent did not think that his children should be exposed to such reality.  I agreed with him that the illustration could have been toned down to make it less sensationalistic [especially his relief that she hadn't "jumped around like a [chicken], but defended that the illustration itself was appropriate. 

This was brought to mind as I continued reading in Zach Eswine's, Preaching to a Post Everything World.  "Expository bans" are

those aspects of reality that we tend to avoid or that are culturally forbidden to mention from the pulpit.  Sexuality, emotions, famines, joys, tsunamis, celebrations, dreams, promotions, murders, crime victims, cancer survivors and injustice are part of everyday life, but we avoid them. 

I had the privilege of reading the Bible for a dear friend's wedding.  The passage I was assigned to read was Genesis 2:18-25, which begins, "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone."  Verse 24 says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."  What is interesting is that the church leadership requested that I stop at verse 24 and nor read verse 25, for proprietary reasons.  What does verse 25 say?  "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." It was felt that reading the verse about unashamed nakedness would not be appropriate.

Perhaps a pastoral concern beyond my knowledge led the leadership team to make this request.  My point is the request for a ban was made.  Sometimes preacher intentionally ban portions of reality from the pulpit.  At other times we are blind to the Contexts of Reality that we habitually leave unaddressed by our ministry of the Word.  Others are required to ban certain aspects of reality from their preaching due to congregational sensibilities.  One thing is certain about all of this.  Identify those areas of reality that a preacher does not talk about and you will discover those spheres of reality that people are daily trying to navigate without the light of God's Word.  (emphasis mine)

I think that that last statement is really important.  Can you think of examples of expository bans that you have seen established?  What do you think of them?  Helpful?  Necessary? 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What Doctrinal Imbalance Am I In Danger of Creating?


Again, reflecting on material from Zach Eswine's book, "Preaching to a Post-Everything World."

Zeal to recover a lost truth also distorts and confuses our preaching voice. The scenario goes like this: Sin isn’t talked about much in one generation or geography, so a preacher in the next generation is tempted to talk about nothing else but sin. The preacher intends this for good, but his overemphasis on sin actually hinders the next generation because those who follow will say, "Grace isn’t talked about much," and they will be tempted to the same overcompensation. False dichotomies are born; movements and countermovements of preaching emerge and challenge one another. The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Preachers ask, "What doctrines do I think we’ve lost and must recover?" Perhaps they should be asking, "What doctrinal imbalance am I in danger of creating?"

How true that is.  We see it in every area of the history of the church.  We see it in numerous denominational "births." 

I can't fix the excesses of history.  I can't even "fix" myself.  But I can ask that important question: "What doctrinal imbalance am I in danger of creating?"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Nostalgic vs Innovative Preaching


When I began this blog sixteen months ago, I stated that one of the purposes was  "to share things I am reading, discussions from other preaching blogs, ideas that work (or don't work!) for me."

A part of the unstated presumption (maybe even unrealized presumption) was that I wanted to make my preaching more VITAL, more RELEVANT, more IMPACTFUL. 

I notice (and I want to be very careful how I say this), that most of the blogs on preaching stress that there is ONE way to preach and they (as I have pointed out here before) wrongly state that that one method goes back to biblical times and examples.  That is not to say that these bloggers produce bad sermons or that they are ill-intentioned.  It is just that there seems to be one voice speaking in the preaching blogosphere (small though that sphere may be).

I was reflecting on this because I am currently reading the new book by Zach Eswine.  Interestingly the forward is by Bryan Chappell, one who I would put in the category above.  (And I say that with HUGE respect for his teaching and preaching). 

In Eswine's book "Preaching to a Post-Everything World," Eswine points out two larger categories of sermons or preachers:

Nostalgic preachers tend to believe that the best homiletic practices have already happened. Preaching will flourish only if it returns to what it once was.

In contrast, inventive preachers feel that past models are outdated and ill-equipped to handle fresh cultural challenges. For them, preaching, if it is needed at all, will thrive only if it reinvents itself. These movements urge us to create something new.

One might think that Eswine would push for the second.  Partly he does, but he fairly points out that there are benefits and dangers to both approaches. 

He goes on to say:

Invention comes generally with two perspectives. On the one hand, some will always feel that preaching doesn’t seem to work at all. This stream of inventive preachers declares that preaching is broken and must be abandoned. On the other hand, some inventive preachers will not go that far. They appreciate a bit more of what has gone before. They don’t want to do away with old forms. Rather, they want to update old forms. The key is to find the form best suitable for translating truth for our cultural moment.

On their worst days, the inventive will tend to characterize the nostalgic as storyless, unimaginative, passionless, narrow, dry, dull, out-of-touch, and unbiblical. The nostalgic, on their worst days, return the favor. They describe all inventive preachers as romantic, frenzied, broad, entertainment driven, shallow, out-of-bounds, and unbiblical.

If you want to look at this chapter, it is excerpted in the current issue of Preaching journal.  You can find it here.  I expect to say more about it tomorrow and in the future.

Monday, September 1, 2008

How I Ended My Sermon on Jealousy

Jealousy I told you I would report how I ended my sermon on jealousy, particularly regarding ending it with a Muslim poem. 

While I was not pleased with the sermon as a whole, I did think that the intro and conclusion worked OK.  I dropped the Hindu poem at the beginning of the sermon. I felt that the Muslim poem really fit better with my Christian sermon.  And the inclusion of two non-Christian poems seemed a bit much. 

Instead I began with a reference to jealousy in the movie Spiderman 3 (Eddie Brock's jealousy of Peter Parker and how his jealousy put him in a position to be attacked by the symbiote transforming him into the archrival Venom, which ultimately lead to his death). I wish that I had had a video clip, but settled on that intro way too late to do a clip.  Using the Spiderman clip seemed more culturally relevant and more of an attention grabber than the Hindu poem.

When it came to ending the sermon, which is what I sought your advice on, I kept the poem, but introduced it this way: 

While Islam gets many things wrong about God, Jesus and the Bible, one Muslim poet had a realistic perspective on Jealousy:


And most all of your sufferings

Are from believing

You know better than God....

While I was not overly pleased with the way that the sermon went, I had several strong positive responses to it, including one lady in tears over the jealousy with which she was currently struggling.  So God can use even my struggles in crafting a sermon. 

You can find the audio here.  (They are doing a server change-over today at the church[Labor Day holiday in the US], so if the site is down, try again tomorrow)

The Emergence of a New Moral Code in America

image The Barna Group, has taken a new survey that suggests that a new moral code might be emerging in America.  They suggested eight moral behaviors with moral overtones and ask 1003 adults whether or not they had engaged in the behavior(s) over the past week.  The results were very interesting. 

The Barna Group concludes with these statements:

"We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America," said survey director George Barna, a researcher and an author who has been surveying national trends in faith and morality for more than a quarter-century. He said adults 18 to 24 "have had little exposure to traditional moral teaching and limited accountability for such behavior."

The moral code began to disintegrate when the generation before them [adults between 25 and 43] pushed the limits that had been challenged by their parents—the Baby Boomers. The result is that without much fanfare or visible leadership, the U.S. has created a moral system based on convenience, feelings and selfishness."

Find the entire Chicago Trib article here.

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