Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fearful of Judgment


In the article in Christian Century “Stand and Deliver” that I referenced recently, a statement was made that is not in anyway new, but which struck me.  It is a quote from a former stand-up comic who is now a preacher:  “You can’t do preaching or comedy without some speaking skills…if you’re terrified or fearful of judgment.”

I am not positive why that phrase “fearful of judgment” struck me powerfully , but it did. 

Are we preachers “fearful of judgment”? Whose? Peoples?  Or God’s?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Preaching Through the Crises of Hope

On June 3 & 5, I posted about two of the three crises of human existence and the need for preaching to address them.  This idea comes from imageChristoph Schwöbel’s (pictured) introduction to Colin Gunton’s Theology Through Preaching: The Gospel and the Christian Life (Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark, 2001).  The introduction is  entitled “The Preacher’s Art: Preaching Theologically.”  Schwöbel says, in part:

the proclamation of the gospel of Christ must always occur in the context of pastoral care. Indeed, preaching which remains true to the content of the gospel is a form of pastoral care….  Through preaching, the gospel is communicated to us personally, so that the personal relationship of preacher and listener is an indispensable part of the communication of the gospel, and one for which both preacher and listener are constitutive. (p. 9)

Earlier, we looked at the Crises of Faith and the Crises of Love.  Equally prominent in our world are the Crises of Hope.

The sad things that happen to us, the death of people dear to us, illness in people we care about and in ourselves, the failure of projects with which we identify, but also the sheer repetition of daily routines, they all can have the effect of wounding our ability to hope. We feel unable to look beyond our immediate horizon, and if we could, we would not want to for fear that we might only encounter further sadness. Hope is not a virtue we might or might not have, it is an essential element of our humanity. Dealing with hopelessness is, therefore, at the centre of all pastoral concern. (p. 12)

Preaching itself will not restore hope, but counters the “presumed ultimacy” of our hopelessness by “seeing it in the context of the story of God’s relationship with his creation.”

Preaching pastorally to those burdened by hopelessness, therefore, means communicating the gospel as the liberation from hoping only what is humanly possible. The restoration of hope begins where the grip of despair about exhausted human possibilities is loosened by directing our hearts to God who is not bound by what is humanly possible. This hope is not an empty hope, because it has Christ as its content. It is in the story of Christ that divine possibilities which lead beyond situations of human hopelessness are not only promised but actualised. Preaching pastorally, therefore, implies redirecting our attention from the hopelessness we experience to the story of Christ’s death and resurrection as the transformation from death to life, from hopelessness to a renewed hope. (p. 13)

Faith…Love…Hope.  Paul says that the greatest of these is love, but I also believe that we cannot ultimately be compete or satisfied as humans without resolving the continual crises of all three of these in our lives.

Riverside Church Installation: Don’t Destroy the Unique for the Commonplace

imageThe Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has printed the installation sermon for Brad Braxton, the new Senior Minister at the Riverside Church in Harlem, NYC.  It was preached by Dr. Robert M. Franklin and is entitled “Magnificence, Once Again” and has as it’s text 2 Cor. 2:1-12.

Braxton is the successor to Henry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloane Coffin Jr., and James Forbes, Jr. (as well as others)

The sermon says in part:

At this moment in history, America needs to emulate Riverside’s tradition of interfaith collaboration and respect. [The church is both an American Baptist as well as a United Church of Christ congregation.]

As I say this I think of that marvelous place, Córdoba, Spain. In its history I find a warning for the church of today. Cordoba flourished under the Romans, then passed to the Visigoths (572) and later the Moors (711). Under the Umayyad dynasty it became the seat (756-1031) of an independent emirate which included most of Muslim Spain. The city was then one of the greatest and wealthiest in Europe and renowned as a center of Muslim and Jewish culture and admired for its architectural glories—notably, the great mosque. This construction of the mosque began in the 8th century and became one of the largest in Europe and the finest of all Muslim monuments. But by the 1560s Christians had retaken the region and destroyed thousands of mosques. Amidst their breathless demolition of all things non-Christian, they came to La Mezquita (the great mosque). It was a masterpiece adorned by 900 horseshoe-shaped arches of onyx, marble, jasper, and granite. The red and white color of the arches resembles candy canes for as far as the eye can see.

But they destroyed a large part of it and built a cathedral right in middle of it. The juxtaposition of two architectures, two traditions fused and crushed together. It is one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen, and I urge you to visit. Ironically, as Christian intolerance for diversity grew, only this mosque was preserved because it had become a church and a symbol of Christian triumphalism. Proud of their victory, the builders awaited the approval of the Holy Roman Emperor. But when Charles V visited and observed, he recoiled and declared, “You have destroyed something unique to make way for something commonplace.” They had replaced the magnificent with the mediocre.

The church has always been at its worse when it has destroyed the unique to make place for the commonplace.

Contemporary examples are abundant. In recent years, we have witnessed the strange and sad career of the American church in the public square. Too often, the church has drifted from its core mission. It has experienced an identity crisis, at times becoming little more than an instrument of the state or a political party or an economic system. The magnificent has been subverted by the mundane.

Or consider prayer: Pascal said that God has instituted prayer so as to confer upon man the dignity of being a cause. How often have we transformed prayer, the soul’s magnificent leap into the arms of God, into selfish bargaining for personal health, wealth, and success?

Or preaching: In the life of Jesus, preaching was a means of saving lives through mass communication. But in recent years, preaching has been downgraded into a shrill, sharp weapon used by petty men to promote arrogant piety, intolerance, and blind patriotism.

Find the complete text of the sermon here.

(Although I will note that the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly does not comment on Braxton’s $600,000 a year salary, more than double James Forbes, Jr.’s salary who was one of the country’s best known preachers & had led the church for 18 years….  Ouch.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Washington Examiner>>Is 'ministry' getting a divorce from the 'gospel'?

image Gilberto Gonzalez has a good reminder of the limits of servant evangelism and the continuing importance of preaching (or at least the declaration of the Gospel in human words, which would seem to me to be pretty close to a definition of preaching.) Find his article here.


Why is it that we in the church can never find balance?  We focus on evangelism (1970s-1980s), but turn serving others over the “the liberals”.    Then we swing the pendulum over to serving others (biblical concept), but denigrate the preached Word.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What is the Health of the Seven Deadly Sins in Your Hometown?


If you follow me on Facebook, you know that several weeks ago I posted a link to an article on a group of researchers at Kansas State University who plotted  demographically the prominence of each of the "7 Deadly Sins” in different parts of the country.  Since my wife is a Kansas State University grad…”If it comes from KSU, it has to be completely true.” Observant readers will note the presence of the K-State “Power Cat” on each of the slides shown here).

Researchers there presented their findings at the Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting at the Riviera Casino in (where else, but) Las Vegas, NV. 

Furthermore, since the presentation was being done in “Sin City", the researchers went a step further and categorized Nevada counties by the predominance of specific  sins. 

imageGreed was calculated by comparing average incomes with the total number of inhabitants living beneath the poverty line. (Shown in yellow)

Envy was calculated using the total number of thefts — robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen cars. Rendered in green, of course.

Wrath was calculated by comparing the total number of violent crimes — murder, assault and rape — reported to the FBI per capita. Vought and his colleagues used the color red to illustrate wrath.

Lust was calculated by compiling the number of sexually transmitted diseases — HIV, AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia and imagegonorrhea — reported per capita.

Gluttony was calculated by counting the number of fast food restaurants per capita,

Sloth was calculated by comparing expenditures on arts, entertainment and recreation with the rate of employment.

And pride, lastly, is most important. The root of all sins, in this study, is the aggregate of all data. Vought and his Kansas State colleagues combined all data from the six other sins and averaged it into an overview of all evil. (Shown in Purple)

Find the article for the Las Vegas Sun here.  The Sun dismissed the research as “a precision party trick — rigorous mapping of ridiculous data.”

It is interesting (to me at least) to see what sins are listed as predominant in the area where I live…what about you?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If God Texted the 10 Commandments

My niece put this up on her Facebook account:image

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no omg's
4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)
5. pos ok - ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-X only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. dnt ogle ur bf's m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.
M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.
ttyl, JHWH.
ps. wwjd

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Criteria for a Good Husband-Storytelling?

Winema I am writing an historical youth novel on an actual young Modoc Native-American Indian woman named Wi-ne-ma (which means “woman-chief”).  Wi-ne-ma married (at the ripe old age of 14) a white miner from California. She became a central and critical part of the Modoc Indian Wars in the mid 1870’s in California and Oregon.

Her father allowed her to marry since Frank Riddle produced the six horses necessary as a gift to marry his daughter (it specifically was not a “price” but was a socially obligatory gift).

But Se-cot (Wi-ne-ma’s father) did not approve of the marriage, until afterwards he found out three things:

  1. Riddle was an excellent shot
  2. He was a good story teller
  3. He did not abuse alcohol. 

At that point, to show his approval for the marriage, he returned all the horses and added some from his own herds.

I am intrigued by #2.   While I understand that native American cultures were more verbal than written and thus storytelling took on a bigger role than it does in our culture, I am intrigued for a couple of reasons: 

  1. Story telling is such an essential part of preaching.  No matter what type of preaching you do, you need to be good at storytelling.  I am not talking about creating stories whole-cloth, but we need to have the observations skills and the ability to draw a mental picture for people and the enthusiasm that draws them in and makes them WANT to hear the picture.  Even as we tell the stories of the Bible, we can make them deadly dull, or we can make people feel as if they can at least catch a glimpse of what it was like to be there at that time and place. As we increase our skills at story telling, I believe we become better preachers. 

I came across a very simple list of skills necessary to improve one’s storytelling:

Voice Mechanics: Speaks with an appropriate volume for the audience to hear. Employs clear enunciation. Uses non-monotonous, vocal expression to clarify the meaning of the text.
Face/Body/Gesture: Expressively uses non-verbal communication to clarify the meaning of the text.
Concentration is clear.
Eye contact with audience is engaging.
Maintains a charismatic presence in space (stage presence).
Characterization: If dialogue is employed, characters are believable to listener. Storyteller's natural voice is differentiated from character voices.
Use of Space: Storyteller seems comfortable, relaxed and confident in front of listeners. Storyteller maintains clear spatial relationships for characters and narrator.
Pacing: The story is presented efficiently and keeps listeners' interest throughout.    (from here.)

I would add to this list good observation skills. As we observe what happens either in an event or in human life generally, or in a Biblical text, we have more data to be able to draw upon to build the scene or characters or action in our storytelling. 


2. We often think of storytelling as something that is reserved for “artistic types.”  And it may come easier to people who are more right brained.  But I would say that those who are more analytical can learn to be good storytellers because we have good observation skills and it is a skill in which we (at least) can improve. 

The story I am writing about Wi-ne-ma will be one that I will tell to a group of 4-5 graders the first of next month.  (The church camp we attend is named after her).  I didn’t used to think of myself as a good storyteller, but it is a skill in which I have grown AND have come to thoroughly enjoy. 

I am staying with my parents-in-law for a couple of weeks to help the family through a medical emergency.  I am sure glad they didn’t ask me how good I was at storytelling before I married Loretta!  (They might not have meant the same thing that Se-cot did!!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

For Whom Do We Speak?

From Paul Lamey: image

“Many preachers are tempted to identify themselves with the congregation in preaching, rather than with God. This may be the most significant reason for their feeling ill at ease in speaking to their congregation in the second person. Such preachers do not want their people to get the impression that the preacher is holier than them — for preachers know they are not . . . If a man, even for the most noble of motives, identifies himself primarily with the congregation in preaching, rather than with God, the best he will be able to do is speak as one sinner to other sinners about God. He will not be able to speak from God to them” (Wagner, Tongues Aflame, p. 74).

No comment needed.

Monday, June 8, 2009

10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-a** Sermon

image (Well, at least the title got your attention.)  A couple of years ago Leo Babauta wrote what I consider a classic post on his blog LifeHack. I have kept a printed copy of it at the top of my files ever since.  I thought I had long-since blogged about it, but can’t find it, so don’t think I did. 

Leo is speaking to a secular audience and his real title is “10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-ass Speech.”  But since this is a blog about preaching, I believed that his principles hit home about preaching.  Now, you will not find anything in here about the Bible, faithfulness to the text or dependence on the Holy Spirit.  But from a put planning and construction point of view, I think that the points he makes are extremely valid. 

Leo is a great writer and is a former speech writer.  He takes what is one of the best human speeches in history and uses it as a template for producing a great speech on your own.  The same prpinciples can be said of preaching.  So, without further ado;

10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-Ass Sermon

If you ever have to give a speech, unless you’re an accomplished public speaker, it’s often best to write your speech beforehand. Be prepared. And don’t just write a plain, boring old speech that anyone else can give any day of the week — make it a kick-ass speech, one that will be listened to and remembered.

As a former speechwriter, I’ve studied many speechwriters and many public speakers. By far the best is Abraham Lincoln, and his best speech is the very famous Gettysburg Address – one of the best speeches ever, comparable to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Hamlet’s soliloquy.

So what can we learn from Honest Abe, a man who wasn’t very good-looking but who knew the art of rhetoric better than any of the modern masters? Here are the 10 best things we can take away from him:Gettysburg Address

  1. Keep it short. Every year, Congress is forced to listen to the President give his State of the Union Address for more than an hour. Lincoln’s speech followed a two-hour oration by Edward Everett that was 13,607 words long. Lincoln’s speech, by contrast, lasted for two minutes, and was 10 sentences (or 272 words) long. But it was much more powerful. Capture the key emotions and ideas you want to convey in as little time as possible. If you can deliver a two-minute speech, instead of a 30-minute droner, your audience will actually listen, and will love your for your brevity.
  2. Abandon the formalities. The President usually starts his State of the Union Address by acknowledging all the dignitaries, and thanking a million people. Many other speakers make this same mistake, and ruin their speeches. By the time you’re done acknowledging and thanking everyone, you’ve lost your audience. Go right into the meat of the issue, and your audience will pay attention. Lincoln skipped any kind of intro and began with the key to his speech.
  3. Have purpose. Don’t just get up to speak and make yourself sound good or your organization look good. Speak to communicate a message, and to get your audience to act. Lincoln did this by regalvanizing his Union’s purpose and resolve to win a war for the ideals of the forefathers of the United States.
  4. Connect to your audience’s hearts. A speech is not a logical argument, or a listing of accomplishments or facts or events. Lincoln knew his audience, and spoke to their emotions, by showing them that the men who died on the battlefield of Gettysburg did so for certain ideals, and asking them to ensure that those men did not die in vain.
  5. Speak to larger truths. While it isn’t best to be too grandiose, especially if you are speaking to small audience like your child’s 2nd grade class on career day, it’s best if you connect your ideas and words to larger causes and ideals, as Lincoln did when he connected the cause of the Union to the ideals of liberty and equality conceived by the forefathers of the nation.
  6. Speak to the larger audience. When you give a speech, ideally, it’s not just to those before you. Lincoln knew that the Gettysburg address was not really addressed to the audience before him, but to the nation as a whole (and perhaps to history). But his short little speech was reprinted across the nation, and it had an effect on many people. This happens today — speeches by Steve Jobs, for example, are not just for the audience at the conference, but to the entire world. Think about how your speech will affect a greater audience, and what message you want to convey to them. With the Internet, your speech can be communicated to many others.
  7. Use imagery. Lincoln used imagery for birth and life and death — “conceived” and “brought forth” and “perish”. It is important to do more than use bland words, but to create a picture in people’s minds through your words. The imagery, of course, should be related to your central theme.
  8. Recall more famous lines. Lincoln opened his speech with a line from a more famous (at that time) document, the Declaration of Independence (”that all men are created equal”). The reference brings with it many ideas and emotions associated with the Declaration of Independence and the men who signed it. Other famous lines that could be referenced include the Bible, Shakespeare, poetry, songs, books, other speeches. The references bring a lot more with them than just the phrase or quote you use, if your audience is familiar with it.
  9. Revise, revise, revise. Lincoln wrote several versions of his speech before settling on the final version. Each revision should cut out the unnecessary, develop the central idea, make the words flow more smoothly, and powerful develop imagery and phrases.
  10. End strong. Lincoln ended the Gettysburg Address with the line “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And that line went down in history. End with a line people will remember, that contains the message you want them to remember, because, aside from the opening, it’s the most important line.

Find Leo’s original post here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How Prepared Are You to Preach…Really?

imagePeter Mead summarizes a preacher training course in China. 

Here’s the 66:33:1 curriculum:

66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible.  This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China.  At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.

33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels).  His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!)  Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!

1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity).  The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view.

I’m afraid many of us who have been preaching for years could not pass this course.  And that is too bad.   Find Peter’s post here and find the book that he drew the material from here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Put Your Dream to the Test

imageI have said before that I have a love-hate relationship with John Maxwell. I have benefitted greatly from his tape clubs, his seminars and his books. And yet I think he, more than probably any other, bears the blame for the “corporatizing” of the American church.   He is a corporate/business expert, but has tried to form the church into that business image.

And yet it was with high hopes that I began Put Your Dream to the Test, one of Maxwell’s most recent books. And I wasn’t disappointed.  Visioning and following through on a vision have never been strong suits in my life or ministry. And yet I am at a phase of life where I realize that reviewing the principles re: visioning and working toward a vision are important.

Maxwell outlines the book in a series of 10 Questions with three sub-questions under each one related to evaluating a vision and one’s readiness to

  • The Ownership Question: Is My Dream Really My Dream?
  • The Clarity Question: Do I Clearly See My Dream?
  • The Reality Question: Am I Depending on Factors within My Control to Achieve My Dream?
  • The Passion Question: Does My Dream Compel Me to Follow It?
  • The Pathway Question: Do I Have a Strategy to Reach My Dream?
  • The People Question: Have I Included the People I Need to Realize My Dream?
  • The Cost Question: Am I Willing to Pay the Price for My Dream?
  • The Tenacity Question: Am I Moving Closer to My Dream?
  • The Fulfillment Question: Does Working Toward My Dream Bring Satisfaction?
  • The Significance Question: Does My Dream Benefit Others?

There is not a lot of new stuff here, (as with most Maxwell books…by his own admission), but it is collected in a helpful manner.  It is Maxwell’s typical blend of inspirational stories and pithy maxims. 

One of my favorites:

I will do more than belong. I will participate.

I will do more than care. I will help.

I will do more than believe. I will practice.

I will do more than be fair. I will be kind.

I will do more than forgive. I will forget.

I will do more than dream. I will work.

I will do more than teach. I will inspire.

I will do more than earn. I will enrich.

I will do more than give. I will serve.

I will do more than live. I will grow.

I will do more than suffer. I will triumph.

- William Arthur Ward

As clichéd as Maxwell stuff can be, I still found this to be an inspirational read.  It is a book I will keep and refer back to for needed inspiration in the future. 

You can find more information for Put Your Dream to the Test  here.

Can the Church Give a Crap If You’re Going Through a Divorce?


In an interview in the current issue of Christian Century there is an interview with Peter Rollins (pictured).  Rollins is a prominent figure in the Emergent church movement  in the UK.  He works with a group called Ikon, which engages in “anarchic experiments in transformance art” and holds “theodramatic” events in pubs and on the streets of Belfast.

The interview as a whole is quite thought provoking and challenging.  But for the purpose of this blog, I thought one question really stood out to me.  Ikon meets as a group regularly and has a leadership group to plan the gatherings.  I was fascinated with CC asked about community and pastoral care:

Christian Century: Would you call Ikon a community?
Rollins: No, because as soon as you say that word all of the people who need community come out—the group turns incredibly needy, and suddenly the whole thing is on its way to vanishing. The best way to forge community is not to call it a community. We call Ikon a collective, a gathering or a crowd. People naturally make connections, and community happens.

I make an analogy to the way a planet creates a gravitational orbit. Ikon creates an orbit that brings interesting people together. The most important thing is not the planet; it's the orbit. But you can't have the orbit without the planet. The most important parts of our gatherings are pre-Ikon and post-Ikon, but you can't have either of those without Ikon itself. We have about 45 minutes before an Ikon meeting starts where people just have a drink and chat, and the same for a couple of hours afterward.

Paradoxically, I say, "Ikon doesn't care about you. Ikon doesn't give a crap if you are going through a divorce. The only person who cares is the person sitting beside you, and if that person doesn't care, you're stuffed." People will say, "I left the church because they didn't phone me when my dad died, and that was really hurtful." But the problem is not that the church didn't phone but that it promised to phone. I say, "Ikon ain't ever gonna phone ya." Pete Rollins might. But if he does, it will be as Pete Rollins and not as a representative of Ikon. Ikon will never notice if you don't come. But if you've made a connection with the person sitting next to you, that person might.

Ikon is like the people who run a pub. It's not their responsibility to help the patrons become friends. But they create a space in which people can actually encounter each other.

Find the complete interview here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Preaching Through the Crises of Love

image I recently blogged about the introduction that Christoph Schwöbel has written to Colin Gunton’s (pictured, left) collection of sermons, “Theology Through Preaching: Sermons for Brentwood.”

The Introduction is entitled “The Preacher’s Art: Preaching Theologically.” What got my attention was his section on preaching pastorally. Schwöbel says that Pastoral Preaching deals with three major crises in the lives of all humans:

  • The Crises of Faith
  • The Crises of Love
  • The Crises of Hope

I have already dealt with what he says about “The Crises of Faith”

The second crises that our people to whom we preach face is the crises of love. Schwöbel states that these crises come in two forms:

  • The failure of love in our relationships to other people can inflict wounds on our ability to love ourselves.
  • Alternately, we discover that our love is so fiercely focused on ourselves that we are unable to relate to others. (p. 11)

Schwöbel states what most of us would say about the love of God:

The communication of the gospel in preaching confronts us with a God who does not love us with a love that is proportioned to the measure of our attractiveness as objects of divine love. (p. 11)

But he goes beyond that to say that God “loves us where we are, but He loves us too much to leave us where we are.” (in the words of that old cliché).  In Schwöbel’s words, his creative power works to makes us beautiful: “God’s love is a transforming love, transforming our unattractiveness into loveliness.” (p. 11)  I don’t know that I am wild about Schwöbel’s comment that God's transforming power “makes us worthy of His love,” but I appreciate his point none the less.

Preaching that is truly pastoral communicates

this creative character of God’s love as it is contained in the gospel. It does not only provide information about the character of God’s love, it follows the way of God’s love to those whose ability to love is restricted, by communicating God’s love to them.  (p. 11)

Our challenge to them is:

…to love others as they are loved by God, as they appear in the eyes of God’s love and not in the often impaired vision of our human loves. The summary of the commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbour contains a fundamental asymmetry. Our love of God is the recognition of God’s creative love towards us, because he loved us first, while our love of our neighbour is the invitation to love them as they are loved by God just as we are loved by God. The crisis of our love is broken up by the promise that our ability to love does not depend on our capacities of loving, but on God’s infinite creative capacities for creating our love as a response-to being loved. (p. 12)

Modern preaching has been fairly good at preaching that we are loved by God in spite of our unloveliness.  I don’t know that we have been as good at preaching that not only are we to love others as God sees and loves them, but that our ability to love like that does not depend on our capacity to love, but in God’s creative power for creating that type of love in us. 

Next time we will look at the Crises of Hope.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When Is Is Prophetic and When Is It Just Politics as Usual?

From the April 22 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirerimage

Michelle Obama’s planting of a garden at the White House was a prophetic act, according to Ellen F. Davis, biblical scholar at Duke Divinity School.  “The essence of biblical prophecy is to show where the social order is broken, where human action threatens the created order, and where possibilities for healing lie,” writes Davis.  The way the agriculture business produces food is not sustainable in the long term.  Davis says: the use of chemical fertilizers is eroding the soil, for example, and chemical runoff is making water unsafe to drink.”

I was really caught up in Davis’ definition of biblical prophecy.  I think that she speaks truth, in part.  I think that PART of biblical prophecy is what she describes.  But biblical prophecy is not just horizontal. It is also vertical.  There is also an aspect of human-divine connection.  And the evaluation that the social order is broken comes not from society, but from God.

But as to her conclusion about the agricultural business, I fear that she is just using Mrs.. Obama’s garden to further Davis’ political views.   Nowhere in anything I read did I see that Michelle Obama had any intention of making a statement about agri-business.  I understood it to show her concern for the plight of many poor and unemployed people and as an example of the way we can save money and care for one another.

Why do I raise this in my preaching blog?  Because I have long held that prophetic preaching has been very one-sided in the conservative/evangelical community.  We speak loudly against abortion and gay marriage and the like. We preach what we know our mostly Republican congregations want to hear.  But when it comes to poverty, the abuses of capitalism, the sins of materialism while people starve to death daily, rampant militarism, we’re more quiet on that. 

It is a shame that Davis, in my humble opinion (IMHO) diluted down the prophetic statement that I believe Michelle Obama was making by tying it to her own political agenda. 

Checking Out Blogs: Do You Pay Any Attention to the Labels?

Labels Screenshot2Earlier this week I was talking with someone here in Kansas City about my blog and I invited him to check it out.  That got me to thinking…when someone checks out my blog, do they just look at the top post or two and decide if it is of any interest to them? 


But I would suggest a much more productive way of using my blog (or most any other blog). And that is by paying attention to the labels.   Almost every blogger of any seriousness will label his/her posts.  It is a (albeit imperfect) way of indexing posts as you go along.  After 10-15 posts, you realize that you are posting on a variety of subjects.  It might be (and is) helpful for people to be able to go back an see what you have posted on any specific subject.

For most bloggers, somewhere on their main page there will be a list of “Labels.”  While Blog Archive serves as a sort of chronological “Table of Contents,” the Labels are more useful as an “Index” for the entirety of the blog.

After a while you begin to standardize your labels.  The labels can be SO post specific as to be fairly useless.  For example, long-time readers will (maybe) remember that in the early days (most of 2007), I would label a post with the name of any person I was discussing in the post (C.S. Lewis, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Bill Hybels, etc).  They were labeled as:

  • People-Bill Hybels
  • People-C.S. Lewis. 
  • People-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Unfortunately, I would only focus on a person in one or two posts and the labels list got unwieldy and more and more useless, since you had to scroll through all of these People-… entries in the list.  And so through the years I have standardized my labels list.  That doesn’t mean that I never add a label (I did the middle of last month when I added the label “series”).

For what it’s worth, I am currently working with a list of 130 labels. 

I made a list of the labels on which I have blogged 10 or more times in the 2+ years I have been blogging here.  For your reading pleasure, here they are in descending order:

  • Preparation (48)
  • Preaching [Generally] (35)
  • Personal (32)
  • Illustrations (30) –I probably should subdivide this out into posts about illustrating sermons from posts that contain specific sermon illustrations. 
  • The Preacher (29)
  • Listeners (22)
  • Quotes (22)
  • Conferences & Workshops (17)
  • Bible (15)
  • Introductions (15)
  • Politics (15) –this number is boosted by the series of posts I did when the lives of a number of us Tigard pastors were threatened and I was harassed by Neo-Nazis a little over a year ago.
  • Extemporaneous Preaching (13) –this was a special personal focus at the end of 2008.
  • Prayer (13)
  • Culture (12)
  • Outline (12)
  • Holy Spirit (11)
  • Humor (11)
  • Application (10)
  • Books (10)
  • Powerpoint (10)
  • Stewardship (10)

Check some of them out. But more important, when you check out a new blog, go to their labels and see on what sorts of things the blogger posts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Does It Mean to Preach Pastorally?


Christoph Schwöbel has written an excellent introduction to British theologian Colin Gunton’s collection of sermons, “Theology Through Preaching: Sermons for Brentwood.”  (Schwöbel was co-founder, with Gunton, of the Research Institute for Systematic Theology.)

The Introduction is entitled “The Preacher’s Art: Preaching Theologically.” He lays out what I think is a fairly good description of what it means to preach theologically. Too many of us confuse doctrinal preaching with theological preaching.  Schwöbel says that doctrinal preaching is a subset of theological preaching, but the two are not coterminous.  (I will probably say more about that later)

But what got my attention was his section on preaching pastorally.  Pastoral preaching is sometimes put in contrast to theological preaching, when, like doctrinal preaching, it is a subset of it.  Schwöbel reiterates what most of us heard in Bible College/Seminary:

the proclamation of the gospel of Christ must always occur in the context of pastoral care. Indeed, preaching which remains true to the content of the gospel is a form of pastoral care….  Through preaching, the gospel is communicated to us personally, so that the personal relationship of preacher and listener is an indispensable part of the communication of the gospel, and one for which both preacher and listener are constitutive. (p. 9)

And yet Schwöbel goes farther than that.  He says that Pastoral Preaching deals with three major crises in the lives of all humans:

  • The Crises of Faith
  • The Crises of Love
  • The Crises of Hope


The Crises of Faith

A crisis of faith consists not only of doubting certain articles of Christian belief, of being unable to assent to the truth claims of the Christian message. More profoundly, it is the situation in which our basic trust in life has become uncertain. (p. 10)

This comes, normally, because of disappointment or heartache or tragedy in our lives.  Suddenly the things on/in which we put our faith are questioned.  Is God there?  On whom can we rely?  Was Peggy Lee right when she asked, “Is that all there is…to life?”  Will life itself prove to be (in her words) “that final disappointment?” 

Pastoral preaching in the face of crises of faith, Schwöbel states, is reminding people that…

The promise of the gospel is not about small comforts that might alleviate our situation, it is about God offering himself to us in Christ through the Spirit as the anchor for our faith. God offers himself to us as the object of our trust, and if the promise of gospel reaches us we discover that God is by no means an inert object but a dynamic subject who restores our faith by reasserting himself as the one in whom we can trust.

Preaching pastorally is the style of preaching which brings our crises of faith before God in the expectation that God will renew his promise to us in such a way that our faith is thereby-restored, that because we can trust in God, we can also trust in life again. (p. 11)

My perspective is that as we continue further and further into the twenty-first century, the preaching along these lines will be a major source of productive evangelism.  Post-moderns (if we may still use that term) have given up on the church because the church has offered up too many platitudes that have proven to be inadequate. They have asked people to put faith in the church and its leadership instead of in God. 

And young adults are smart enough and have experienced enough to know that these things will always prove to be a shifting foundation upon which to build. And yet young people also know that they themselves are not the foundation upon which their faith can be built (as much as many may protest to the contrary).

Unlike much preaching today:

Our shattered self-confidence is not restored by-rhetorical repair works on our battered self-esteem, it is restored by finding its ground not in ourselves, but in God. (p. 11)

Preaching pastorally in the face of crises of faith means pointing to the one who ultimately is worthy of our trust.  That does NOT mean that God will live up to every expectation that we have of him. 

We are currently in Kansas City with my wife’s parents.  Last Friday, my father in law was taken into emergency surgery and then given the diagnosis of having inoperable and terminal brain cancer. He has been given between 2-18 months to live, based on the choice of treatment (if any) and his responsiveness to the treatment.   We, of course, are praying for a miracle of healing from God.  And we firmly believe that God can and does do such miracles.  (Otherwise, why pray for it?)  But will my faith in God be shattered if he does not perform this miracle?  No. My faith is not in a God who caters to every desire and want that I have.  If he did that for everyone, we would not live in a world of order, but in a world of utter chaos.  My trust is in the God who is worthy of my trust and will prove himself to be faithful and our strength no matter what the outcome of this specific prayer. 

But I do not say any of that glibly.  I want fervently for my father-in-law to be well.   But true pastoral preaching only happens when we teach people the proper basis for faith; the proper object of faith.  And that takes hard work to preach sermons that do that in an honest and thorough way.   May our pastoral preaching reflect that.

I think I will deal with the crises of love and hope tomorrow (or the next).

Please, if you will, be in prayer for my father-in-law, Henry, and all of my wife’s family. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Murder in the Place of Worship

image I have been really conflicted over the past day over the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, KS.  Because I lived for four years in the greater Wichita area (1983-1987) and drove by his abortion clinic more times than I can count, I am aware of what went on in that brick building.   Tiller ran one of only three abortion clinics in the nation that will perform “late term” abortions.

Following our move from Wichita to Garden City, KS, Dr. Tiller was always in the news throughout the state.  Part of that was his own self-promotion, but most of it was the hatred of pro-lifers and anti-abortionists of all stripes.  (I differentiate the two, because not all anti-abortionists are pro-life, as yesterday’s murder shows).  This is not the first time Dr. Tiller has been shot by self-appointed vigilantes. 

In 1991, Dr. Tiller’s clinic became the focus of “The Summer of Mercy” protests.  In April Tiller had sent an advertisement to doctors all over the nation promoting his “late-term abortions.”  Operation Rescue showed up and the non-violent “Summer of Mercy” extended from July into August 1991.  Tens of thousands showed up at Tiller’s clinic and at two others to sing and to pray.  imageA smaller number chose to blockade the clinics.  On one occasion 80 pastors were arrested for blockading one of the facilities.  Numerous of my friends and ministers I respect greatly were arrested.  I seriously debated about driving the four hours from Garden City to Wichita to participate, but did not. 

Despite the continuing opposition, Tiller has continued his work, until yesterday when Scott Roeder, a divorced loner from the Kansas City area allegedly shot and killed Tiller as he handed out bulletins at his church, Reformation Lutheran Church in east Wichita.  Tiller’s wife was in the choir in a back room getting ready to come on and sing.  Someone had to come and summon her to where her husband lay dying.

My thoughts today are not really so much about Dr. Tiller’s clinic or the Summer of Mercy, but about his murder in the foyer of his church.  I was visiting with my parents-in-law’s minister today at the Kansas City hospital where my father-in-law is hospitalized with terminal, inoperable brain cancer. And both of us thought soberly about what our reaction might be if a controversial church member of ours were to be slain in the foyer as they volunteered for the church.

The shock, the communal grief, the sense of violation that so many of one’s church members would feel overwhelms the pastoral resources of any minister.  While I cannot understand a church welcoming Dr. Tiller as a member without any kind of church discipline for his actions, I still have great empathy for Lowell Michelson and Kristin Neitzel, pastors of the church. Their world has been turned upside down. (Of course, not as much as Dr. Tiller’s family, or many of the families of the infants whose life Dr. Tiller took).  Everything from cleaning up the foyer which is a crime scene (which makes clean up problematic for some time), to dealing with media requests, to working with grieving families, from the Tiller family on down, to preparing for a funeral at which every word will be weighed and analyzed and potentially put on national news, to every member who replays where they were and what they were doing when the shot rang out.  The other ushers, I am sure, keep replaying, “Could I have prevented this?”  The questions about what type of security the church had (or should have had?) in place.  The church members who now will not return to Reformation Lutheran, not because they have anything against the body of believers, but because they emotionally cannot step into the foyer where the murder of one of their fellow parishioners happened. The pastors Michelson & Neitzel must be dealing with all of that that and more.

On the Reformation Lutheran Church homepage, they have put this statement:

The Reformation Lutheran Church family is shocked and deeply saddened by the violent murder of Dr. George Tiller, a longtime member of our   congregation, that occurred in our church home May 31.

Our congregation strives to be a safe place for all people.  We deplore the violence that imagetook place within the walls of imageour church.  Further, we reject any notion that violence against another human being is an acceptable way to resolve differences over any issue. We must always strive to engage in peaceful discussion. Our faith calls us to this. Our humanity demands it.

In the wake of this tragic event, our deepest concern is for the family of George Tiller. We ask the community to join us in prayer for them as they face the difficult days ahead. Our hearts ache with them. We also ask that the family's privacy be respected.

Members of Reformation Lutheran Church have been deeply affected by this tragedy. To address their needs, we are assembling a team of crisis intervention specialists.

In this time of uncertainty, we stand firm in the promises of Jesus Christ: forgiveness, hope, love, and new life, even from death. We pray for healing and peace to be restored. We offer our thanks for the many prayers of support from across the country. Your words of encouragement are a blessing to the people of Reformation Lutheran Church and Wichita.

The Rev. Lowell Michelson
The Rev. Kristin Neitzel
Reformation Lutheran Church

There are numerous ministers (Paducah, Kentucky and Littleton Colorado come immediately to mind) who have had tragedy strike their congregations.  But it is a separate matter to have the violence happen in the church building itself. I am not sure that even the shooting that happened in Colorado Springs at New Life Church a couple of years back are comparable. 

The actions and words in this statement are good.  I am sure that much, much more must and is being done. 

While I abhor what Dr. Tiller did and stood for, the self-appointed vigilante-type of violence seen yesterday is unjustified and must be condemned.  Two years ago Roeder had posted on an Operation Rescue message board: “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”

Even in the Old Testament where an eye for an eye was technically the law, a stranger who was unaffected by the offense had no right to step in and take the law into his /her own hands.  Even the government could not execute without a formal process and trial with witnesses.  And while I cannot understand the type of church that would welcome someone like this as an active member, my heart still goes out to Revs. Michelson & Neitzel.  The ministry that they now are called upon to perform in the face of tragedy will be overwhelming.  The sermon that one or the other of them preach next Sunday will probably be the hardest sermon of their careers.  My prayers are with them.

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007