Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Twyla Tharp about Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preaching as Spiritual Formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

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


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Billy Graham on the Centrality of the Cross to Preaching

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

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

Find the complete article here.

Mosaics are Indeed a Mosaic

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dallas Willard

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

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


You can find the video of his presentation here.

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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Willimon: Preventative Conflict Preaching

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

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

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

Preaching on Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Peter Mead: Learning About Introductions

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

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

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

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

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

Find the entire article here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NC-17 Redux


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

Typeism or Moralism…Which One?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


image Mars Hill teaching pastor Mark Driscoll threw open the book of Song of Songs in a recent sermon series on sex within the context of marriage. "We got a whole book of the Bible talking about this issue, and even sometimes good faithful Bible teachers won't touch this book and I've asked them why. And they're like 'because it's got some parts in there that are pretty dicey,'" Driscoll said early on in his "The Peasant Princess" sermon series, which launched in September. Driscoll called the series "exceedingly important" to preach on, especially at a time when traditional marriage is being challenged in courts, Americans are daily inundated with sexual images, and more money is being spent on pornography than foreign aid. More and more pastors have decided to deal more frankly and openly with the issue, some even advertising their teaching series to the public and others challenging the married couples in their congregations to be intimate every day for a week or a month. But Mars Hill's Driscoll is hitting more touchy topics through the study the Song of Songs, giving "MH-17" warnings for some of his sermons. "Our study of the Song of Songs is meant neither to kill our desires nor permit them to flow into deadly sin. Rather, this series is an attempt to cultivate our desires and channel them toward our spouse according to the wisdom God gives us in his Word," he explained. In addition to preaching, Driscoll and his wife, Grace, are taking questions from congregants via text and e-mail immediately after each sermon—a daring session of unscripted answers that began at Mars Hill in January. With a no-holds-barred attitude, Driscoll has answered some of the more explicit questions on his blog.         --Christian Post 11/13/08

There have been a few times when I have given a warning, either the week before, or at the beginning of the worship service that my sermon was going to  be”R” rated.  The problem is what to do with kids who are too old for children’s church.  During second service we don’t have alternate programming for kids over 5th grade. I hate for sensitive families not to come to church or feel like they have to leave because they don’t want their kids exposed to something a little more “delicate”.  I recognize that my tastes may be a little more liberal than some about what is OK for kids to be exposed to, but still preach the Word in its completeness. 

Suggestions on how you have handled this?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whether It Was a Miracle or Not, Thank You God!

image Yesterday I was pretty concerned.  I had my sermon ready, but had been without voice most of the week.  One of our elders offered to preach, but I said it wasn’t necessary. 

BUT…Friday night and Saturday all day I had been at a conference with lots of good singing.  And I just CAN’T not sing!  I love to sing worship songs.  And so I arrived home raspy and at half-volume. 

Surely a good night’s sleep will take care of that. 

No. It was worse on Sunday morning. I was going to pay the price of singing too much.

Oh, no…what do I do?   I asked various people, please pray that my voice holds out.  Welcome and announcements were a little rough, but passable. 

But when I got up to preach, it was like I had no problem.  Full voice, not overly raspy and did not break like I was going through second puberty. 

During half-time between services, my raspy, airy whisper was back.  But then when I got up to preach second service, it was the same, seemingly clear and full voiced.

And after service…rough and raspy again.  I want to bed early last night and had to take off work today because of sickness, but God got me through!  Whether it was divine intervention of honey & lemon tea, I don’t know for sure, but either way, God got me through.  Thank you Lord!   Now if I can just get well.  This crud is going into its third week.  Yuck. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do We Even THINK About the Thirteen Year-Old Boys?


In another of my several personalities, I write children’s novels.  But in today’s e-mail was an article from Publishers Weekly by an eighth grade boy from New Jersey named Max Leone.  He is writing to book writers and publishers about what younger teenage boys WANT in novels.

Admitting they seldom read, he blames part of it on the lack of literary choices available to teens. The big dynasties of Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl have completed their series and there is nothing like them on the horizon. 

So “Max the eighth grader” gives four words of advice to writers and publishers of children’s novels.  The reason why I mention it here is that I think his advice can also be given to preachers who preach to a mixed audience.  Teenage boys seems to be some of the hardest nuts to crack.  Often they are hanging out in the church cafe or out on the ramp leading out of the church unless some adult is encouraging them along.

But Max suggests (and I think preachers would do well to):

1. Don’t use archaic language. 

2. Don’t over moralize.  Make the point, but don’t keep driving it home.  Kids get it.

3. Let good be good and evil be evil.  (I am being an little fast and loose with Max here…actually he talks about integrity in depicting vampires and other supernatural creatures!)

4.  Let me quote from Max directly:

Finally, here is what I consider the cardinal rule of writing for young adults: Do Not Underestimate Your Audience. They actually know a lot about what's going on in politics. They will get most of the jokes you expect them not to. They have a much higher tolerance for horror and action than most adults. Most of the books I read actually don't fall under the “young adult” category. I can understand the humor in Jon Stewart's or Stephen Colbert's books as well as any adult.

Of course we don’t target the entire sermon toward thirteen and fourteen year old boys; but do we think of them AT ALL in our sermon preparation?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we lose so many of them. 

What to you think?  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are You Aware of Wireless Mic Regulation Changes?

image This is a preaching blog, not a tech blog, but the one piece of tech that most of us use is a microphone.  And for many (most?) of us, it is a wireless mic. 

My music/worship minister has been sounding the alarm for several months.  As of Feb. 17, 2009, ALL wireless microphones in the 700 MHz range will become illegal to use.  That is A LOT of microphones.  I purposefully work to not know a lot about our soundboard & mics (lest I end up having to run them by default). But if you use wireless mics and are not aware of this, you or your church tech people need to be.  You can find the government regulation changes here.

Second, just running out and buying new wireless mics isn’t quite the answer.  They are talking about enforcing the laws requiring all users of wireless mics to have obtained a broadcast license with the FCC.  WHAT!?! 

Here is how one newsletter puts it:

The FCC requires all operators of RF transmitters (TV & radio stations, ham radios, wireless mics and IEMs) to have a license to operate on a given set of frequencies. I don’t know about you, but I know of no one who actually has a license to operate a wireless mic. This is because the transmitting power of a wireless mic is so much lower than a TV station that it’s laughable to think a wireless mic would cause interference. Since the only other devices operating in the same spectrum as wireless mics were TV stations, and TV stations obviously have the power advantage, the FCC left us unlicensed (and technically illegal) wireless mic operators alone.

This could all change if the FCC decides to open up the “white spaces” (the open frequencies between TV stations in any given market) to other low-power RF devices (to deliver broadband internet, for example). Presumably these devices would be licensed by the manufacturer, and could be the victim of interference by a wireless mic.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, and/or complaints filed against wireless mic operators by any new devices, we could be in a lot of trouble.

This may not seem as critical as correct exegesis and relevant application, but if you preaching using a wireless mic and you have not checked this out…well, let’s just say… you have been warned.

How Do You Whisper a Sermon?

At small group tonight, I was chastised by one of our group members who is a speech image therapist.   She interrupted the Bible study to give what she called “unsolicited advice.” I have continued to croak & squeak with laryngitis for almost 10 days and am VERY frustrated.  (Although, I seem to be a world of entertainment for those around me).

Sally’s advice—”Quit vocalizing”. Not…quit talking, but “Quit vocalizing.”  Speak EVERYTHING in a whisper without using your vocal cords.  She said…they are surely swollen and you are not giving them a chance to rest.  The advice…”Don’t talk!” is neither helpful nor practical.  But she said, “If you whisper everything, your voice will come back a lot sooner.”

And so, I am trying “Dr.” Sally’s advice.  The real test was not the rest of Bible study tonight with the whole group watching for the least use of my vocal cords, but tomorrow. I have a series of meetings.  We’ll see how it works.

What has worked for you?  Have you had a bad case of laryngitis before?  What helped? I have already told one of our elders to be prepared to preach this Sunday if this is no better.  I don’t like missing preaching, when I am on schedule to preach.  It was OK that we had to do something different last Sunday.  But when God gives a message, I want the physical capability to declare it.

Theological German/Theologisches Deutsch

imageI recognize that this link may appeal to a limited audience, but yesterday I discovered a blog entitled Theological German/ Theologisches Deutsch.  He posts a relatively short piece of theological writing (in German, of course). The past few posts have been by Bonhoeffer—either letters or his thoughts on Karl Barth.  Today’s post are Bonhoeffer’s reflections on Weizs├Ącker’s The World View of Physics.  The author (unnamed on the site, but I think is a prof from Kansas) puts a vocabulary list of all but the most basic German words.  I can poke through and make out a sentence here and there, but hope that it will help me brush up on my German and develop my theological German vocabulary.

BTW…if there is anyone from the greater metro Portland area who would like to meet periodically and work through some of these passages and hone each others theological German, let me know.  I’m up for it.

Although:  The great majority of my readers are not from Portland.

(A big shout out to visitors the past three days from Tuscon, AZ; San Jose, Los Angeles, Murrietta, Huntington Beach, Mountain View, Costa Mesa & San Diego, CA; Hartford, CT; Winter Springs, Jacksonville & Ponte Verde Beach, FL; Columbus, GA; Honolulu, HI; Aurora, IL; Rensselaer, Indianapolis & Warsaw, IN; Covington & Louisville, KY; New Orleans, LA; Silver Springs, MD; Woburn & Dudley, MA; Sartell & Minneapolis, MN; St. Louis, MO, Trenton, NJ; Buffalo, New York City, Martville, Brooklyn & Lindenhurst, NY; Norman & OKC, OK; Butler, Norisstown & Wexford PA; Memphis, TN; Dallas, Springtown, Houston & Carrolton, TX; Suffolk, Richmond, Winchester, Arlington & Reston VA; Tacoma & Everett, WA; Beloit, WI; Calgary & Edmonton Alberta; Halifax & Dartsmouth Nova Scotia; Waterloo & Toronto, ON; Prague, Czech Republic; London & Ipswich, England; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Hamilton, & Dundee Scotland; Bad Homburg, Germany; Korea AND Singapore)

I’ll never make the Technorati Top 100, (and that’s OK), but we are a group with a similar passion and your checking in regularly means an awful lot to me. Thanks.

(If my friend from Bad Homburg would like to come join & help us decipher theological German, Sie seid immer welkommen!)

If you are from Portland (I’m on the inner westside, but would travel for this) drop me a comment or a note. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Knight: The Will to Prepare to Preach is Most Important

image Bobby Knight, of basketball fame (or infamy) described his philosophy as

“The will to win is not most important; it is the will to prepare to win.”

The same could be said of preaching.  “The will to preach well is not most important;  it is the will to prepare to preach.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Interesting Stats on Spiritual Disciplines


The Christian Post of 10/14/08 gives a fascinating look at discipleship and spiritual  disciplines

Just 17% of Protestant churchgoers in America demonstrate a “decent” level of discipleship or spiritual maturity, claims Brad Waggoner, author of Shape of Faith to Come: Spiritual Formation and the Future of Discipleship, B&H 2008. This minority scored 80% or higher on a Spiritual Formation Inventory, developed to measure key areas of Christian discipleship. Waggoner writes, “At present I believe that too many of us are settling for easy goals. It is one thing to grow a church numerically. It is quite another to seek the transformation of heart, mind, and character.” Other findings show only 16% of Protestant churchgoers read their Bible daily, while another 20% read it “a few times a week.” 23% “agreed strongly” with the statement, “When I come to realize that some aspect of my life is not right in God’s eyes, I make the necessary changes.” 47% admitted to just “going through the motions,” often during the singing and prayer portions of worship services, while 25% strongly disagreed. In the past 6 months, 29% said they shared with someone how to become a Christian twice or more, 14% did so once and 57% not at all. 55% of churchgoers believe they grew spiritually over the past year, yet only 3.5% showed a statistically significant level of growth.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Preaching With Laryngitis

imageWell, today was an odd day.  I caught a cold from my wife when she came back from a family trip to Kansas City.  She caught the cold and had laryngitis for a day or two on our trip to San Diego last month, but it didn’t last long. 

But she was “loving” enough to share and I first caught the cold a week and a half back.  Beginning last Sunday, however, a bad case of laryngitis came on.  It may be as bad a case of laryngitis as I have ever had.  I just kind of whisper & squeak!

The longer the week wore on, the more people asked, “What are you going to if it is like this on Sunday?”  I just always laughed & said, “Oh, it will be fine.” 

I was working on a message from Acts 23 when the High Priest had Paul struck and Paul called him “a white-washed wall.”  When someone nearby criticized him for speaking thus to the high priest, Paul backpedaled because he knew the high priest carried the authority of God,   I was going to make application to the government and the elders of our church. 

My outline was:

1. Paul Recognized That His Reaction Was Wrong (23:5a)

  • Was what he said wrong? No. But the attitude he communicated was wrong.

2. It Was Wrong Because All Authority Is Given By God (23:5b)

  • All authority is delegated.

3. Respect Does Not Demand Being A Doormat (23:6)

  • He WAS willing, however, to pit the Sadducees and Pharisees against each other because he realized the “deck was stacked” against him.

ANYWAY…yesterday, I realized that it was very unlikely that I would be able to preach today.   I was not real excited about calling our youth minister or one of our lay-elders & springing preaching on them with under 24-hours to go.  They could have done it, but I didn’t think it was fair to ask them to. 

As Loretta and I talked, she suggested we do a concert of prayer.  I have done those on numerous occasions, but never on a Sunday morning.  But it was not too difficult to put together, until I had to call our elders & get them onboard, so they would lead and I wouldn’t have to.  It was scurry and leave phone message after message.  (One wife said she had to listen to the message three times to make out who I was and what I was saying).

It went OK, and a number of people thought that it was God’s timing. It was a hard Sunday because we had to announce staff lay-offs because of poor finances.  That, plus concern over what the election results meant, resulted in this being a good time simply for prayer. 

What have you done in similar circumstances?

Matthew 18 and the Internet?

image I have had a fascinating experience over the past day. I mentioned earlier that I was part of a Facebook group that posed weekly questions.  I quoted from one of the posters (a guy named Matt) last week.  But there was another of the posters who did not like my responses to the topic. So much so that he (keyboard) yelled & fumed and stormed off saying that he was quitting the forum.  Leaving his strange behavior aside, what was I to do?   If this were a person in our church, I would feel a need to kick into Matt 18 and try to meet with this person one on one in order to restore the relationship.

In this case, there WAS no prior relationship.  He was just a poster who took great umbrage at my comments and any attempt I made to clarify them only maddened him more (I realize you are only getting my perspective on the interaction).

But my question is this:  what does one do when he/she realizes that a brother or sister somewhere out in cyberspace has a problem with you?  I believe that the anonymity of the internet brings out the worse in many of us.  We say things to people we would never say to them if they were standing in front of us. And we are dealing with a LOT of people whom we will never meet.

But does that get us off the hook?  (“I didn’t have a relationship with them, so I can ignore them when they get mad at me?)   I know that there are people who would say yes in answer to that question. 

But I’m not so sure.  I don’t see an internet exception in these verses:

Matt. 18:15-17-“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matt. 5:23-24-Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.

I posted the following on the forum and sent almost the same thing to his e-mail address:

--------: Believing that Matt. 18 has to do with internet forums as well as face to face relationships, if you would be willing to discuss this privately, my e-mail is I am posting this here and will e-mail you as well.

We’ll see what happens, but this is the first time an internet interaction has gotten so acrimonious so fast.  I’ll let you know if anything develops.

What do you think?  Does Matt. 18 have to do with the fairly anonymous internet interactions we have?  If so, how would you handle it?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Trusting Those Who Are Trying to Fix You

Since church relational things seems to be a theme in my thinking recently, I was really touched by Bill Hull's Blog post "Being a Friend of God"

He begins:

On one of my trips I was picked up at the airport by a church leader. It took just a few moments for my driver to start voicing his concerns about his pastor. He gave me a very reasoned history of his relationship to the church and to his pastor. He spoke of the congregations decline, of the many faithful families who had chosen to leave the church, thus attendance was down and money was scarce. He presented himself as a close friend of the pastor, they met weekly. He had purchased a Health Club membership for the pastor so they could work out together, so they could sweat as one, so they could have that relaxed informal time when defenses are low,where reasoned persuasion would find its mark.  He even wanted to take his pastor friend skiing. Then he imagebegan to vent about the mistakes his pastor friend had made, and that he had spoken with him about his problems every time they met. He went on to wonder why he couldn’t get closer to the pastor, “ Why won’t he let me into his inner life?” he lamented.

Bill’s reaction and response is enlightening.  It is more diagnostic than prescriptive, but still helpful. 

A Parable: What If Starbucks Marketed Like the Church


Check out this video from  Even if you’re not into “coffee culture” (why not, I can’t imagine) you’ll appreciate this.  It is a reminder of how we set the perceptions of visitors to our church.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Let’s STOP Making Christians!

imageBill Hull in the Disciple-Making Pastor has a good comment on the difference between disciple, convert & Christian: 

[Jesus] did not say, “Make converts,” or “Make Christians.”  Being a convert or a Christian does not necessarily equip reproduction.  Many Christians are spiritually sterile; many don’t take the gospel forward.  When a disciples is made, two good things happen: a disciples is healthy and godly; disciples reproduce themselves, and some become disciple makers, resulting in multiplication.  Therefore, disciples solve the crisis at the heart of the church.  Disciple making creates a quality produce and an effective work force.  This is God’s plan for the church.

For too long we have attempted to make converts.  Once you are a convert, you can stop.  Or we have tried to “make Christians.”  But Christian, culturally defined at least, is a label, not a task.  You can’t get around the word “disciple” without the meaning of follower…someone who is becoming like someone else. 

Get Out of the Game

image I belong to a Facebook group for ministers in our fellowship of “independent” churches. (I know…I know…how can you have a fellowship and be independent at the same time…)

But there is always a “question of the week” on the group “wall.”  I have responded to a couple of them, but mostly they don’t rouse me to write.  This week’s hasn’t either, but I was really struck by a quote by a guy name Matt Worstel. I don’t know his location or his age (he look’s 40-ish in the teeny-tiny picts they let you see if you are not friends with someone on FB. 

The question of the week is: “We have all experienced disappointments in ministry… sometimes from elders, staff, the church body, or sometimes we become disappointed in our own actions. How have you overcome that disappointment and what keeps you from throwing in the towel?”

Matt Worstel talked about “leaving ministry” and for him that was a good experience.  At the end of his comments (some of which I think is a lot of self-justification), he noted:

For me it came down to this...if you don't wanna play the game...then you can't complain about the game. If you can't stop complaining about the game...then get out of the game.

How true that is of so many things in life, but it particularly is pertinent to ministry.  So many preachers (me included) complain and gripe about ministry.  “If you can’t stop complaining about it…then get out of the game!”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Men and Boys

image Someone has said the difference between the men and the boys is that the boys want to be somebody, while the men want to do something.  The superficial Christians wants to have all the benefits of a victorious Christian life without the commitment.                             —Bill Hull

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Helpful Practice or Just More Background Noise?


I was talking with my mom this week about preaching and the imagechanges that I am trying to make in my style of preaching (extemporaneous preaching). I commented about my frustration with my sermon a few weeks back where I had WAY TOO MANY cross references and it really distracted from my preaching. 

A bit of background:  Mom attends a mega-church north of Denver.  When we began attending there in 1967, First Christian Church of imageLongmont, CO was probably 250-300 in attendance.  Since then they have exploded in attendance (I think they now average around 3,000-3,500).  They have changed their names (now Lifebridge Christian Church…so as not to be confused with an ultra liberal church in the neighborhood [First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in nearby Boulder, CO]. They have relocated campuses and are trying to do so again.  While Dale McCann was the preaching minister there all the years that I attended FCC, Rick Rusaw is the current preaching minister and has done incredible things there.  My mom has been an active part of that congregation for 41 years.     

Back to my topic:  When I said that I felt that the scriptures were necessary, but just reading them one after the other gets a bit pedantic and trying to remember which scriptures go in which order is a memory nightmare.  Mom commented that Rick often has scriptures put up imageon the screen that relate to what he is talking about, but that he does not mention from the pulpit. They may be cross references or just related scriptures, but they go up while he is preaching.

len sweetI don’t know….  Maybe it would work with a younger postmodern crowd. I know I would find it distracting.  Last year, when Len Sweet was lecturing at George Fox Seminary here in town, he had someone positioned in the front row with a laptop hooked to the internet.  And while Len lectured, Rob (a friend of mine who does home-church) Goggled words and concepts that Len was mentioning and threw them up on a screen.   Fortunately there was only one that came up that was, let’s say, inappropriate for mixed company.  Many in the crowd loved it.  I found it horribly distracting.  But I recognize that my thinking is very linear.   Others don’t think so linearly (is that a word?) imageKind of like I am trying to do in this blog post.  Seems distracting to me…

I can’t decide if throwing up numerous scriptures that I don’t mention from the pulpit on the screen would be a helpful asset or a horrible distraction.  It would absolutely take advance coordination between the projectionist and me. 

I don’t know…what are your thoughts on this? 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Did It Stop Being a Doctrine?

WF Lown(4)I have mentioned here that one of my heroes of the faith is W.F. Lown, the president of Manhattan Christian College and one of the two founders of Christian Missionary Fellowship. Dr. Lown taught Preaching III in college and I heard him preach more times than I can count at the school and on school road trips. And in a previous post, I mentioned that he was a preaching hero of mine because “he modeled excellence in preparation, intensity in delivery and an obvious love for those to whom he was preaching.”

I am thinking of Bill Lown today because I am quoting him in my sermon tomorrow. I am preaching from Acts 20 re: elders in the local church. I am quoting an exchange I heard which involved Dr. Lown. Someone was making a comment about a preacher or elder that they both knew. The first person said that the man in question was doctrinally straight as an arrow, but was not a loving person. Dr. Lown thought for a minute and then quietly asked, “When did love stop being a doctrine?”

Ever since that time I have tried to remember the importance of the balance. Doctrinal accuracy MUST include a spirit of love if it is indeed to be doctrinally accurate. It can be said of many preachers as well as elders alike that their doctrine is incomplete because they have not yet learned the doctrine of Christian love. May it not be said of us.

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