Thursday, April 30, 2009

Must Be Facebook Quote Day


I don’t know what it is about today, but lots of people on FB seem to be putting up quotes.  did I miss the announcement that this was “National Post a Quote on FB Day”?

Three that especially struck me:

"If there are 12 clowns in a circus ring, you can jump in there and start quoting Shakespeare, but to the audience, you’re just the 13th Clown." –borrowed (via Scott Jacobson)
"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." -C.S. Lewis (via Heath McPherson)
"Things which matter most must be never be at the mercy of things which matter least." Goethe (via Tabitha Colson)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cancer Update

C&L at Keller

For any who have been keeping score,I had my follow up appt with my urologist today and they were able to remove all of the cancer.  There was plenty of “clear tissue” around the cancer that the could say, “You are cancer free.” (“ Woo-hoo! and thank you, God”)  The only caveat to that is that I now will have pretty frequent PSA tests to make sure that none of the cancer cells sloughed off into my blood stream and took up residence elsewhere. But that was the news we had hoped for.  All “un-natural appliances” have been removed (double woo-hoo!) & I have a ways to go in several areas, but we are on the way.  Thanks for the prayers you offered up on our behalf.

Cal & Loretta. (Picture is from first of March when we went to see the stage play Wicked.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review of “The Noticer” Which Is Being Released Today

imageWhen Thomas Nelson asked if I wanted to review their new book, “The Noticer” at first I declined.It seemed like a book my wife might enjoy (ala Nicholas Sparks), but the descriptions of it didn’t “ring my bell” so to speak.  But later, (almost too late) I changed my mind.  At that point, they could not send me the paper copy in time for the release date, so I read an electronic copy.

The basic storyline is that a mysterious old man named “Jones” (“Not Mr. Jones…just Jones”) --“The Noticer” of the title--appears in people’s lives at one or two key moments in their lives when they need direction, encouragement, focus.   Jones seems to be either an angel or an incarnation of God. People know him by names appropriate to their culture:  Garcia to an Hispanic person, Chen to an Asian person, etc.  He walks through locked doors, appears on boats out on the ocean, appears out in the ocean waters beside another boat, even “transfigures” himself: morphing from one nationality to another in front of Andrews. He notices people and what they need to know.

Andy Andrews, the author, who in real life is a corporate motivational speaker appears as the first one that Jones appears to when he is homeless, jobless, living below a pier on the Gulf Coast and about at his wits end.  Jones has Andy read biography after biography of famous and successful people.  (What the book doesn’t say is that this practice and the Seven Decisions that Andrews developed from it formed the basis of his motivational speaking career).

The book tells a series of vignettes of Jones’ interaction with people in the community on the Gulf Coast: a couple on the verge of divorce, a set of teens asking advice on who to marry, a businessman filled with worry, an old woman waiting/wanting to die, a hard and corrupt contractor, another homeless teen, like Andrews, living under the same abandoned pier. 

The book is filled with nice truisms, but truisms we often forget:

  • Whatever you focus on, increases.
  • When you are happy & enthusiastic, people want to be around you, and when people want to be around you, your opportunities increase.
  • A successful life has a great deal to do with perspective. And another person’s perspective about you can sometimes be as important as your perspective is about yourself. Ask yourself, what would other people change about me if they could?
  • Most folks figure a true friend is someone who accepts them as they are. But that’s dangerous garbage to believe. The kid who works the drive-through at your local fast-food restaurant accepts you for who you are—because he doesn’t care anything about you. But a true friend holds you to a higher standard. A true friend brings out the best in you. A best friend, will tell you the truth . . . and a wise best friend will include a healthy dose of perspective.”
  • The way we feel love is generally the way we express love.  But the person we love may feel love differently (saying “I love you” as opposed to doing acts of kindness).  If we don’t know how they receive love and express love in that language they will believe we don’t really love them.
    1. Words of approval
    2. Favors and deeds
    3. Physical contact
    4. Quality time
  • Smart people get tripped up with worry and fear. Worry . . . fear . . . is just a misuse of the creative imagination that has been placed in each of us. Because we are smart and creative, we imagine all the things that could happen, that might happen, that will happen if this or that happens.
  • The easiest way to defeat these worries & fears is with logic:
    • 40% of what you worry about will never happen
    • 30% of what you worry about has already happened, it’s in the past.
    • 12% have to do with needless imaginings about our health.
    • 10% would be petty little-nothing worries about what other people think.
    • 8% are legitimate concerns that are things we can actually do something about.
  • Wisdom is the ability to see, into the future, the consequences of your choices in the present.
  • If you are breathing, you are still alive. If you are alive, then you are still here, physically, on this planet. If you are still here, then you have not completed what you were put on earth to do. If you have not completed what you were put on earth to do . . .that means your very purpose has not yet been fulfilled. If your purpose has not yet been fulfilled, then the most important part of your life has not yet been lived. And if the most important part of your life has not yet been lived . . that is one’s proof of hope.
  • No matter your age, physical condition, financial situation, color, gender, emotional state, or belief . . . everything you do, every move you make, matters to all of us—and forever.
  • There is a big difference between our perception of SUCCESS and our perception of a successful LIFE.
  • There is no power in intention.  There is only power in action.

What is very confusing is the connected campaign: “The Noticer Project: A Movement to “Notice” the Five Most Important People in Your Life.”   It seems disconnected from anything in the book, but shares the same title and advertizing space.

I had never heard of Andy Andrews before this book.  He is advertized as a raconteur, the Will Rogers of the 21st century.  Could be.  Perhaps it is my cynical side, but it seems like a book designed to promote the career of a motivational speaker.  The writing is inconsistent:  touching in spots and yet often choppy and awkward.  Often it is simply a lecture put into dialogic form. 

But as with many books like this it is not without its redeeming features:  the messages are true, the story format makes them easily accessible.  Many people (me included) would do well to heed many of its words.  Is it great literature?  Absolutely not. It is worth spending some time with?  Yes.  Am I better for having read it?  Absolutely.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another example of Preaching & Social Media

image The Next Level Church in Matthews, NC recently also used a creative method of social networking as a part of the Easter Sunday sermon (see previous post about LifeBridge Christian Church).  People were encouraged to “tweet” on their Twitter accounts about their reactions/feelings about the sermon as they hear it. 

The goal was to let others experience what God was doing in that persons life as they heard the sermon.

“People who didn’t get to make the service get the opportunity to see what notes I’m taking and what’s going on here in the service,” church member Robbie McLaughlin said.

Lead Pastor Todd Hahn, said social networking sties like Twitter are evidence of “a real desire in our community and our city for human connection.”

“We want to leverage everything that happens technologically in our culture to help people to God and to teach each other,” Hahn said

The article said that members did not find the activity distracting them from the message.  I neither commend nor condemn.  I just find it fascinating.  While I have a Twitter account & “tweet” some, I would be really fascinated to see how many of our church folks do.  Find the article about the service here.

Text Messaging and Sermons


On Easter Sunday Loretta and I worshipped with my parents at my home congregation (now called Lifebridge Christian Church) in Longmont, CO.  Rick Rusaw has been the preacher there for a number of years and has done powerful things in his leadership of the body there.  Rick is going to be preaching a series on “Home, Life and Relationships” this Spring. And so on Easter Sunday, he asked people to indicate their choice for sermon topics.  He gave a list of about a dozen choices: Divorce, Sex and Romance, Finding Balance, etc. with a text code beside each possible sermon topic. People were to text to a certain phone number and give the text codes of the sermons that they wanted to hear.  They specifically gave time in the service for people to text.  It was a great, contemporary and quick way to gain the pulse of those attending and a great hook to get Easter visitors to come back to see if “their” sermon was on the final list.

A couple of drawbacks and suggestions:

1. My parents (in their 70’s & early 80’s) both had their cell phone with them.  But neither one is very tech-savvy.  And although my mom tried to respond, she just doesn’t do text messaging and never was able to figure it out.  There was no alternative method offered for making your choice known.  The list with the codes was flashed up when the series was announced and at the end of the service, but there was no opportunity to pick up the list & try it at home.

2. The sampling was totally absent from their website.  I went on the website a day or two later to see if I could come up with the entire list for this blog post.  No luck.  No notice of the survey, no opportunity to do it online, nothing. 

Great concept.  Great presentation.  Just presumes that everyone is fast and tech savvy.  Not necessarily so. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Blessing Ranch Trip 070If you check here regularly, you know that I haven’t blogged in a while.  Loretta and I were gone to Blessing Ranch in Livermore, CO for a week (very hard week emotionally, but excellent program of [in their words} minister[ing] to ministers and other Christian leaders in need of restoration and renewal.  In addition we spent Easter with my family in Longmont, CO.  It was the first Easter in 30 years I didn’t have church responsibilities.

Then tomorrow is my cancer surgery.  While the recovery period is just a couple of weeks, I am not sure when I will be back up to blogging. 

And so, please check back, but it may be a week or so before I am up to posting.  I actually have some in the hopper that just need to be finished, so this may be an opportune time to pull out some of them.


C & L & Mom & Roland

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Information Age Prayer…What Will They Think of Next?

Today on NPR I hard about a website called “Information Age Prayer.”  It is the' “newest” way to pray!  Why didn’t we think of this before??


Basically, you send your e-mail prayer request to the website (along with your introductory fee of $3.95 per month) and they will “pray” your prayer for you on a regular basis, using a voice digitizer to turn your e-mail into an audible voice (I guess God can’t read…?)

Their pitch:

Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.

We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying. Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.

You have your basic…

  • Protestant Prayer
  • Catholic Prayer
  • Jewish Prayer
  • Muslim Prayer
  • Unaffiliated Prayer
  • Other Religions (oops… “We apologize but other religions are not yet supported.”)

Why, you don’t even have to write your own prayer!  They provide suggested prayers:

The Morning Prayer (“Subscribe to tell God that you think of him each morning!”)

Prayer for the Dead (“Pray for their easy journey for Only $4.95/Month”)

Prayer for the Sick  (Although they do include the caveat to “Make God's task easy and always see and follow directions of a medical doctor!”) Limited Time Only Up to 5 get well prayers each day $9.95/Month with space for you to put in the names of five sick friends [will God know who it is if the digitizer mispronounces the name??]

Prayer for World Peace (“This is a special prayer that is not religion specific.”)

Prayer for  Financial Help (“Take care, this prayer is not an alternative to fiscal responsibility!” ...enough with the caveats, already!)

Prayer for Your Children (discounted to $1.95 per month: “This is the cheapest prayer you can get for the Information Age, it can be said each day for an entire month for only $1.95”)

and of course we have the “Special Discount Package: The Lords Prayer, The Morning Prayer, 5 Get Well Prayers and Peace Prayer, only $19.95 each Month”

Finally, there is a Q&A page that includes:

Are prayers blasphemous when voiced by a computer?
We recommend you contact your local clergy for a personal answer, however we think that Information Age Prayer is a new and exciting way to connect with God.


What will they think of next?  When money is involved, there is no telling the limits shysters will go to! (But they give 10% of all their revenue to charity!)

You can find the Information Age Prayer here.

How NOT to Use Powerpoint!

We always need reminders on good and bad techniques if you use PowerPoint (or similar software).  Here is a cute video with some good points.  The camera is really too far away, but you can pick up the points he is making none, the less.

(Thanks Chromey for the link!)

Hipster Prayer List

Prayer Hipster 001The “Hipster” is known in many circles as a great do-it-yourself calendar/organizer (also known as the Hipster PDA). I have found that (for me) it works even better as a carry-along prayer list. It allows me both to pray for those I care about in the spare moments of the day, plus it is always available, and so instead of just saying “I’ll pray for you” I can whip out the Hipster Prayer List and write down their name & need. (I usually also put the date I begin praying). It is called the “Hipster” because it is easy to stick in a hip pocket & carry along with you. (Or in a purse if you carry a purse!)Binder clip  Having it with me also helps me remember to whom I need to make a phone call or plan a pastoral care visit.

The Hipster is basically just a stack of 3x5 cards held together by something (many use a black binder clip, but below re: my preference).

On my website you can find this article to which I have attached twelve cards for you to be able to print out & begin immediately. You will need to cut them out after printing. I generally put a yellow stripe across the top so the cards are easily identifiable. I have given you eight pre-printed cards. The third sheet of cards has the yellow stripe, but not the labels, so you can print it, cut the cards & then label yourselves.

I also carry several blank cards, so that if I need to go to a second card on a specific area, I have the cards with me. You can also just not cut two cards that are side by side, fold them in the middle and “voila!” you have a 4 page 3x5 card! They are also great for making notes on or writing down reminders to yourself (that was part of the original intent of the “Hipster”—it was to be an “ubiquitous capture tool” (in the words of productivity guru David Allen).  Those cards come in very handy when you come upon a sermon illustration—if your hipster is with you, you always have something on which to write it down.  Some will clip a pin under the scrunchie, or you can actually clip a pen onto a binder clip. 

There are, however, two more important keys for me:Prayer Hipster 002

1. I take a piece of cardboard (the back piece off of a yellow legal pad works perfectly). Just some piece of cardboard that is not too thick (not corrugated), but thick enough to be a backing to allow you to write on the cards. If you cut the cardboard just a tiny big bigger than the 3x5 cards, that works great. THEN--this is important—midway down the card you cut two notches (see photo) on either side. (See #2 for why). Some people make a front cover out of a similar thickness of cardboard to keep the cards clean & from bending.  They often decorate the cover with all sorts of art, pictures, etc.  It is just too much of a nuisance for me to do that.  Every time I want access to a specific card, I have to first remove the cover, find a place for it and then find the card.  It’s not worth the hassle to me…but for you, you may be different!

image 2. A hair scrunchie or elastic-band-like-thing that girls use in their hair. Not the thick frilly kind of “scrunchie”, but the thin kind that girls have been using in their hair for generations in place of rubber bands to make a pony tail, etc. You have cut a notch in both sides of the cardboard (haven’t you?) & the “scrunchie” fits into the notches, both holding your cards in place and itself staying in place without easily sliding off.  For me this works better than a binder clip.

It is as complicated as that.  

If you want to find more information on the Hipster PDA check here or  here.


Again, to download the templates I have provided check here on my website.

HIPSTER prayer cards_Page_4

Monday, April 6, 2009

Four Types of Substantive Conflict

A post that I have had in the “hopper” for a while comes from the book I was posting on last December: William Willimon’s “Preaching on Conflict in the Church”

Willimon quotes Speed Leas & Paul Kittlaus in Church Fights: Managing Conflict.  They state that within the area of substantive conflict,there are four different kinds:

    1. Conflict over the facts of a situation. Is there enough money to pay for the new roof? image
    2. Conflict over the method or means of achieving a solution to the problem. Should we take up a food collection for the poor in town or lobby the town council to take action on decent housing laws?  
    3. Conflict over ends or goals.  Should this church be involved in direct political action or is this a matter of concern for Christian individuals alone?
    4. Conflict over values.  Values are the source of our goals and the means by which the church gains direction.  Values tell us which goals are worth adopting and what means of achieving these goals is appropriately Christian.  Should Christians ever be engaged in confrontation and agitation or should we always be reconcilers and peace-makers in every situation? 

I think that the key word in Leas/Kittlaus’ list is the word “substantive.”  Earlier, Leas & Kittlaus note that substantive conflict is only one of three kinds of conflict.  I blogged about that here. (As a reminder there are intrapersonal conflicts and interpersonal conflict as well as substantive conflicts. See the previous posts about the definitions of each type.)

I find that substantive conflicts are often less vitriolic than interpersonal conflicts. But preaching on conflict can take place in all three kinds of conflict.  Perhaps (and only perhaps) substantive conflict is easier to address.  What do you think? 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another Libronix Resource


I have linked to several Restoration Movement .pbbs that I have built.  They have to be used within the Logos/Libronix Bible software.  But  today I uploaded J.W. McGarvey’s Treatise on the Eldership to my website.

If you have Libronix and want to download the file, you can find it here. (As before, the link is toward the bottom of the page and you will need to right click it and “Save as” to wherever your Libronix Resources directory is located on your computer).

Per the request of some who have asked me who this is and why it is important:

McGarvey was for many years professor at the School of the Bible in Lexington, KY.  Here is a brief bio.  This book was
seminal in many churches’ understanding of the biblical role of eldership in the late 1800's even up until the middle of the 20th century. He is also known for his works: The Fourfold Gospel, his Commentary on Acts and Lands of the Bible (along with many others).

He was affiliated with the Restoration Movement (Stone-Campbell movement) which is the common heritage of the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ; the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental); and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The original movement was a unity movement based on the philosophy of restoring the church found in the New Testament.  It was
(until the upsurge of the Mormons) the largest church body indigenous to North America, and in recent years the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have been the fastest growing church body in the nation. (That stat is 2-3 years old, so may be out of date).

I have checked and double and triple checked the .pbb, but if you find errors, please let me know (I'm sure you will!)  I BELIEVE that this time I have
uploaded the right file.  We'll see...  (Again, I have no doubts you will let me know!)

Peter Mead>>The First-Person Exception Clause

Over at Biblical Preaching Blog, Peter Mead has a follow up blog on first person narrative preaching.  

Doug Finkbeiner at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary defines Narrative preaching as: “expositing a narrative text from Scripture in a narrative sermonic form.”

He also includes definitions/explanations from two other homiletics teachers:

it contains but also elaborates upon the events and characters in a vivid manner so that: 1) the idea or theme of the biblical story is conveyed implicitly in the narration of the story, and 2) there is empathy or identification between the hearer and an element in the story.” (Smith)

“Narrative exposition is the communication of a biblical concept derived from a careful study of the text and preached with the Spirit’s power using the dynamics of story to apply its truth.” (Shields)

But in Peter’s post, he is commenting on an e-mail that he received from one of his students who had taken Mead’s advice to heart and had preached in a narrative fashion. 

The letter that Peter received read, in part: (the ellipses are where Peter inserted commentary).

“Whereas I’ve heard another preacher do this with a slight tongue in cheek approach, I did the whole thing totally straight, trying to maintain the idea that I was Abraham telling my story to my grandchildren….It was really tough going as I had no notes whatsoever and when you realize you’ve missed something it is so hard to think around whether you should go back and make that point you forgot or carry on, whilst still keeping totally in character…. I think many were impressed with the fact I listed out Abraham’s genealogy from Abraham back to Noah. That was just a memory trick though and very early on in the sermon…. It was so good though as I was taking the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac and so many people came up afterwards and said that the story had come alive for them like never before and made them think what it really felt like for them both. You could really see people on the edge of their seats…. It was definitely worth doing though even if it was a real challenge.”

(The “exception” that Peter refers to is generally avoiding “anything that smacks of showing off in our preaching.  It can be easy to do after spending hours with our nose in the books, but we are there to serve and communicate, not to show off.”  He questions whether reciting all of the ancestors from Noah to Abraham is showing off, or genuinely helpful.)

Reading this exchange reminded me of the last time I tried narrative preaching at my last church. I used it as a comment on Peter’s post:

image Eight or nine years ago I did a first person narrative of Elijah. I thought that it was profoundly helpful and I enjoyed doing it (I didn’t do any of the hokey costume stuff…I just did it as I normally dress).

But I was not prepared for the reaction. There were a minority who had very thoughtful comments about how it had helped them see the story more clearly.

But the great majority were negative, some even hostile. Some were offended by what I had said (it is long ago now that I don’t really remember much of the content). Others said it was a waste of time. I even had one older church member write a letter to our board of elders asking that I be dismissed because it was “the sorriest excuse for a sermon he had ever heard” and I was “the sorriest excuse of a preacher he had ever seen.”

In debriefing the sermon with my staff, (they loved it, but…they were my staff, after all!) they believed that we should have set it up differently. I simply had my children’s minister read the scripture upon which the narrative was based and then I got up to speak/preach/whatever it was I did. She didn’t “warn them” about what was about to transpire (I didn’t want her to). In the debrief, the staff believed that people were caught off-guard and never really got over being taken aback.

I would like to do it in the future, but never, ever attempted it in that church again. I think that they, and I, were the poorer because I didn’t. I still hold that, used sparingly, it can really shed light on the scriptures.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Review of “Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century”

Chrisrtianity in Crisis 21st century

Hank Hanegraaff’s new book Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a great primer on the Word of Faith movement. It appears to be a rewrite of the book of the same title with some of the same cast of characters released ten years ago. Unfortunately, instead of the problem going away, it has only grown in popularity. This segment of the American church has, in effect, taken the worst of American cultural greed and self centeredness and attempted to give it a theological foundation.

The old standards Word of Faith characters are here: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Marklyn Hickee and Robert Tilton, but Hanegraaf also includes its more recently popularizers: Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Morris Cerullo and Paul & Jan Crouch.

Hanegraaf is extremely thorough in outlining the doctrines that bind this group together, complete with amazing quotes as well as comparisons with what the Bible has to say about these doctrines.

The central theme of the Word of Faith movement is that our Words have an objective reality when we speak them that make a difference in and of themselves. There is a world force “Faith” that is greater than humanity, greater than natural forces, greater than even God himself. When we speak, something objective comes into existence that even God himself must obey.

While the Word of Faith movement is best known for its hurtful and bizarre claims of being able to manipulate God to bring wealth and health to those who will send enough money to their coffers, Hanegraaf points out the even more disturbing doctrinal aberrations of these false teachers.

The author lays out the acrostic F-L-A-W-S as a mnemonic device to help remember the bizarre teachings of these men & women:

Faith in Faith

Little Gods

Atonement Atrocities

Wealth & Want

Sickness & Suffering

These teachers not only shrink God down to a semi-god who is subservient to the force of “Faith” but also elevate humans to equality with God. The transformation Christ and his death and his resurrection into something that is completely foreign to the Bible is amazing: something I had never imagined was being taught.

Hanegraaf ends the book with another acrostic that includes a “back to the basics” description of how to combat false teachers:

A-Amen (Prayer)

B-Bible (feed on the Word of God)

C-Church (not to neglect participation in a local congregation)

D-Defense (equipping yourself for the defense of the faith)

E-Essentials (knowing the essential doctrines of our faith)

All in all this is an excellent resource. I have known of the Word of Faith movement for thirty plus years, but have never known many of the things exposed in this book. When my wife, seeing me write this review, asked if I had finished reading the book & if I benefited from it, I replied, “Absolutely, and it will be a reference book for me to come back to time and time again.” I recommend it highly.

Here is the product page for Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Piper: No Necessary Contradiction Between Form and Fire


I am reading through John Piper’s “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.”  It is a book I have had for a while and had a hard time getting into. (That doesn’t say as much about the book as it does about me).   The book is a collection of essays, all directed to pastors, exhorting them in one way or another. 

One of the paradoxes of life is that I continue to be richly blessed by those with whom I profoundly disagree.  There is much in Piper’s theology that rankles me.  But his insights continue to richly bless me. 

This morning I read the chapter, “Brothers, Let the Rivers Run Deep.”   And the title of this blog post is the gist of the chapter.  There is not a necessary contradiction between form and fire.   Piper uses the book of Lamentations as the basis of his meditation.  Lamentations is arguably the most emotional book in the Bible.  Jeremiah has seen his city destroyed, his family killed and all that was familiar swept away.  And (as the title of the book indicates) he laments.

There is weeping (1:2), desolation (1:4), mockery (1:7), groaning (1:8), hunger (1:11), grief (2:11) and the horrid loss of compassion as mothers boil their own children to eat them (2:20; 4:10).  If there ever was intensity and fervor in the expression of passion from the heart, this is it.  (p. 146)

And yet Piper goes on to observe that Lamentations is one of the most carefully and formally crafted books in the Bible.  All of its chapters are all divided into twenty two stanzas.  Three of the five chapters all serve as an acrostic: each stanza begins with one of the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.   The third chapter has twenty-two stanzas as well, but is not an in the same acrostic form.  But it is even MORE highly structured.  “Again, there are twenty-two stanzas, but now each stanza has exactly three lines.  The three lines in each stanza begin with the same letter, and each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a different letter in alphabetical order. Chapter 5 is the only chapter that is not an acrostic. But it still has twenty-two lines in conformity with the acrostic pattern of chapters 1-4.” (p. 146-7)

How do you get such structure and such passion? It is inconceivable that Jeremiah’s lament spontaneously came out in this format.  There was work that went into it.  Thought.  And yet, it remains one of the most personal and emotional books in the Bible.

Piper says:

After reading Lamentations, we can no longer believe that unpondered prayers are more powerful or real or passionate or heartfelt or genuine or alive than prayers that are thoughtfully and earnestly (and painfully?) poured out through a carefully crafted form.  The danger of formalism is real. Prayers and sermons that are read from a manuscript are usually stiff and unnatural and artificial. But the danger of spontaneity is also great. If the heart is without passion, it will produce lifeless, jargon-laden spontaneity. And if the heart is aflame, no form will quench it.  (p. 147)

I believe that this is one of the reasons why I have found reading written prayers so helpful.  Usually, the prayers are well thought out. But (and there are exceptions) the prayers also generally express deep emotion. 

I also believe that this is one of the secrets of preaching I found in my last few months at my last church. The first preacher I served under (in east Tennessee in the late 70’s & early 80’s) wrote out all of his sermons.  And he had the great ability to make them sound spontaneous.  And so I picked up that form.  There were a couple of reasons for that, I believe: one was because I knew the danger of spontaneity. Especially in that southern environment where preaching was judged by two criteria: how loud it was and how bad it made you feel.  If you hit those two criteria it was a good sermon in many people’s minds. As a seminary student, I reacted negatively against that.  But secondly, while I have deep emotions, they often scare me and so I work to not express them publicly.  (Now there’s a psychological study for you!)   And so, reading a manuscript “worked” for me.  Although, I will admit it made me a little dry as a preacher. (And criticism over that was the part of the original impetus for this blog and the first step in in the beginning of the end of that ministry).

But in my last few months at TCC, I began to study more and more on preaching without notes. (If you are a regular reader of these posts, you will remember that I posted quite a bit on that subject last fall).  Reading from a manuscript and preaching without notes are pretty much opposites.  But the clue I discovered was to prepare well, even writing a manuscript if necessary (sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t).  But then leave the manuscript in my office or on the pew or in a folder on the pulpit (there is a slippery slope of failure if ever I saw one).  But DON’T USE IT. 

And my preaching seemed to take off like a rocket.  It has structure and form: that had been hammered out in the study.  But I preached from my heart.  I preached what I felt deeply about and it was incredibly well received.   People were more profoundly affected, and people took note. 

Form and freedom.  They are BOTH necessary for dynamic preaching.  

Piper continues:

Emotions are like a river flowing out of one’s heart.  Form is like the riverbanks.  Without them the river runs shallow and dissipates on the plain. But banks make the river run deep.  Why else have humans for centuries reached for poetry when we have deep affections to express?  The creation of a form happens because someone feels a passion. How ironic, then, that we often fault form when the real evil is a dry spring. (p. 148)

Thanks John Piper.  While I believe that you are seriously wrong about a number of issues, you are absolutely right on target on this. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Correct Cicero’s Orator file

Elvis Ooops

If you tried to download the file The Orator by Cicero that I uploaded a few days back, my apologies. I uploaded the wrong file.  I have corrected it and the new file is up.  A reminder: You have to right click on it and hit “Save file as” and save it to your Libronix Resources directory. Just clicking on the file will just get you gobbledygook.  (Is that how you spell that?)

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