Posted tagged ‘Preaching’

Sermon Sorting

September 7, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   September 7, 2016

                                        

I’m in the midst of chaos in my home study. As my mom used to say, “It looks like a tornado went through your room!” She often exaggerated when it suited the point she was making! If, however, she saw my study she would run for shelter.

The reason for the chaos is that I’m going through all my old sermons…all thirty-six and a half years of them! I’m sorting them according to the main scripture text in various piles that cover the floor. I’ve been going about it a few minutes at a time, because my knees can’t take that much floor time! Old knees kneeling over old sermons…quite a combination!

As I’ve gone about the sorting process I’ve started to discover certain things. Although I’m not done yet, Matthew seems to have been my favorite book of the Bible to preach from. Mark is not far behind! In fact, the gospels are getting a majority of the manuscripts. If it was my fantasy football league draft they would be my first four picks in building a solid point-producing line-up.

There are certain books that are missing in my sermons. Song of Solomon and Lamentations did not make the sermon cut. I was always a bit shy about preaching about gazelles and pomegranates in THAT kind of way. And although it is the Word of God, Lamentations didn’t really inspire much hope for me. It was understandably hard to “get up” for preaching doom-and-gloom!

I’m already seeing certain themes appear. In my earlier years of ministry my sermons tended to dish out the guilt more. My task seemed to be to make people realize how screwed up they were. In my later years of ministry the theme of grace filters through my messages more and more. I can’t analyze that too much yet. It could be that I was seeing how ridicule and accusation were becoming more dominant in our culture, or it could be that I was sensing more sorrow in people’s lives because of who they had become. It is always easier to condemn rather than help people reconcile. Whatever winds blew me in that direction, grace has been a guiding theme for me the last few years.

I was never really into “end times prophecy”. There’s a void in my preaching in regards to that. I was much more into present-day living and life application. My emphasis was not on what’s going to happen in the future, but rather what does this means for us now?

When I breathe my last breath I’m not sure whether my bulk of messages will survive “the clean-out.” They may end up in some dumpster, along with my old underwear and twenty year old bottles of cologne. Perhaps one of my kids will feel some kind of “dad obligation” and keep them in a few boxes in their basement…maybe!

They are what they are, simply written two thousand word manuscripts from a time gone by. The bigger question will be what sermons will my life have communicated that will stay with people. The most important sermons are not those written on typing paper. The most important messages are those that a person’s life writes with the kind of ink that never fades away.

Going back to Lamentations, I realize that all those three page sermon manuscripts I have are as nothing. They represent thousands of hours of preparation, revision, and pondering and yet they will one day be gone.

But what my life preaches will be remembered! It’s a humbling thought for a preacher, and yet it is one that keeps things in perspective for me. When it comes to a Sunday morning message I’ve assisted a multitude of people in getting a few moments of slumber, but when it comes to what my life preaches there is always an attentive audience.

My life will preach a sermon today. What will be the dominant theme that comes from it?

Reaching and Reality

April 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 16, 2016

                                        

  

      I remember my seminary days of studying theology, talking about it in non-personal ways, and writing papers about it that connected with my mind, but not my soul. A minister friend of mine recently referred to that period of our lives as “reaching for our theology.” That is, we reached for books on library shelves and wrote various statements in essays that were a mixture of what someone else believed and what we thought we believed. In those days, we were not adverse to do some name-dropping in these papers of theology. If a quote from Moltmann’s The Crucified God could be nonchalantly inserted into the pages we would go for it…whether we understood the run-on sentences or believed the doctrine.

Like flying in a plane at 35,000 feet and describing what Kansas is, our words were often “reaches’ for a grade, and not heartfelt beliefs. I confess…I was often in that place of reaching.

And then many of us upon graduation took positions on church ministry staffs and we soon discovered that there is a difference between “reaching” and reality. What we seemed to be able to stay a safe distance from- the actual experiencing of our statement of beliefs- suddenly moved into where we lived.

We went from explaining grace to having to live out grace in our ministries. We went from “reaching preaching” to “preaching from our life experiences.” In many ways it was good, but in some ways it was to uncomfortably close to home.

John Piper is a well-known author and, until 2013, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. I have several of his books in my personal library, including Desiring God and Future Grace (I just name-dropped, didn’t I?). In 2010 Piper took an eight month leave from his position for what he called “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He sensed that he had a growing disconnect between what he wrote about and who he was.

A reality check from the Holy Spirit! Many times in my years of ministry I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging my life. Sometimes I faced up to it, and other times…I just kept flying over Kansas!

One of the most difficult elements of ministry is connecting what we believe with why we believe it. It’s the knowledge getting married to the intimate, the distant God that we realize is close at hand, the words of God now being experienced with the breath of God.

In my “reaching days” I could quote from Moltmann’s  Theology of Hope, but the reality of ministry is standing by the bed of a hospice patient and talking to him about the hope of the resurrection and what it means for each one of us.

There is a difference between preaching on forgiveness and being forgiving to the person who has purposely told a lie about you that has resulted in deep emotional pain.

I had many excellent professors back in my seminary days. One that I will always be indebted to was a theology professor named Tom Finger, not because I took pages and pages of notes in his classes, but rather because he kept asking me the hard questions:

“Why do you believe what you believe?” “

“What does that mean to you and for your life?”

“What difference does it make?”

He took me from flying over Kansas to having my feet in the dirt. People like that are God’s uncomfortable blessings upon our lives, because they help us figure out life. We see their handprints upon us as we gradually transform from “reaching preaching” to “preaching from our reality.”

Preaching Again…Again!

February 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 February 29, 2016

                                      

Yesterday I brought “the Word” to a gathering of fifteen saints gathered on one side of a sanctuary that seats about a hundred and fifty. All of them entered the building with smiles on their faces. Their church, small as it is, is counted upon to be their support, their fellowship…their life encouragers.

There were two children and one infant. I did a children’s story. The kids were ecstatic. One of them, a Girl Scout, felt comfortable enough with me to hit it up after the service for two boxes of the cookies she is selling. Her brother bonded with me when we both agreed that spiders scare us.

The worshipers sang…not very well, but with conviction and sincerity. They shared prayer concerns and greeted one another. There wasn’t a designated greeting time during the worship service, because they had already hugged on one another and caught up on life happenings before the first hymn. After the service no one left, but instead moved over to the side room and sipped on coffee while enjoying cake made by a saintly woman who had taken a fall that week, was homebound, but made sure she got the cake baked.

I remember all of their names…Kathleen, Phil, Lena, Elizabeth… Great people! Godly people!

The husband and wife who greeted me arrived a good hour and a half before worship to get things set up, brew the coffee, and run off the bulletin. Carol and I felt like we were royalty as they welcomed us and made sure all of our needs were met.

I preached about David facing a nine foot giant, and talked about some of the fears we face in life that we make into giants. There were nods of agreement, as opposed to people nodding off in slumber and indifference.

In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said “Where two or three are gather in my name, there am I with them.” In the midst of these fifteen people he had a residence!

At the end of the service the host couple came to me and thanked me and then asked me what I was doing next Sunday? It looks like I’ll be preaching again…again. After all, I’ve got to pick up my Girl Scout cookies…and pay for them!

And be blessed by the saints and the smiles, the warmth in the midst of people who journeyed long weeks, and gathered once again to be encouraged.

What these dear folk don’t understand is that, although I’m the preacher, they are teaching me about what the church is and what it can be.

Preaching Again!

February 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 28, 2016

                                            

When you have been a pastor for over thirty-six years and then take that step to being a former pastor of thirty-six years…it feels strange…kind of like sleeping without my blanket. Let me emphasize THE blanket!

This morning I’m filling the pulpit at a little church in a small community about forty-five minutes from where we live. It will be the first time I’ve preached since January 17, and it will feel strange!

When you’ve preached for so long making that transition to “no longer preaching” is freeing in some ways, and bewildering in others. A few months ago I would deliver my Sunday morning message and then, after a Sunday afternoon nap, begin thinking of the message for the next Sunday. I planned Sunday worship themes well in advance, but putting the substance and flesh around the frame happened in the few days before. It became a routine, a routine that was challenging, but also helpful.

This morning I speak in a church that doesn’t use Power Point…so no slides to help make a point. That will be a change for me, kind of like going back to my seminary class on preaching.

I must admit that I have thoughts of insecurity running through my brain. It’s been six weeks! Do I still know how to deliver a sermon? Will this small gathering of farmers and good folk understand my humor? Will they be a tough crowd? Will they ask me to come back again?

And yet the thought of preaching in front of a new group of people is exciting! I’m anxious to hear some of their faith stories, to see how what I say this morning resonates with many of them.

I’m preaching on my favorite story from the Old Testament…David and Goliath. I asked the man from the church if there were any children? If so, I would do a children’s story. He told me “Well…there’s a couple! I’ll contact them to make sure they will be there.” A few days later he called me back to tell me that the family with the two kids would be there, and he added, “There may even be a third and fourth! They were pretty excited!”

So I’ll launch into the story of a shepherd boy with a sling, and talk about how God use what other people see as foolish to do something that can only be explained as being of God.

After the service I’m sure people will tell me how happy they were to have me come…I hope…and would I come back again?

I hope so! Two Sundays in a row would almost be a routine!

Preaching With Them

July 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          July 26, 2015

                                              

This morning in worship I told the story of Legion from the Gospel of Mark. I was led to do two things this morning that I hoped the congregation caught. So often we tell the story from the view of outside eyes and distant ears. We minimize its relevance to our lives by speaking about it as if we are in the balcony.

So this morning I told the story and brought the congregation into it by referring to them as the people of Gerasena where the demon-possessed man was from. I came at it from the perspective of the congregation being the ones who drove off the man to the tombs. We went through the life stages. I admit that I envisioned the man’s childhood…the beginning signs of a troubled mind and spirit, the increasing tension in the city whenever he was around people, the heartbreak of his parents in knowing they couldn’t make him better. I led us through the story carefully, drawing in the emotions that we felt as Legion became more apparent.

The second thing I did was use the pronoun “we” instead of “you.” In fact, I only used “you” once and that was towards the end of the story in asking the worshipers “You remember, don’t you?”

I did not preach at, but rather included myself as one of the Gerasenes. I was simply the one who was re-telling the story about us.

I’m sure if I looked back through my old sermon manuscripts I would be embarrassed by the number of times I preached to “them”, heaping accusations and a John the Baptist call to repent! In my elderly state I’m acutely aware of my need for the grace of God in the midst of my blunders and shortcomings.

And so I preach more and more about us.

I don’t know if those who journeyed with me this morning noticed the different perspective of things. I was not driven from the sanctuary like the man was driven from the town. I noticed, however, that some of the usual slumbering saints had their eyes open throughout.

That in itself is somewhat of a miracle!

Being Blessed By Normal People

June 5, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   June 4, 2015

                                      

It was ingenious of Jesus to call normal guys to be his first disciples. Talk about your average Joe’s! Average might actually be a compliment. Jesus started a movement with men who were mediocre fishermen.

Why was it ingenious? Because more prominent men with bulging egos might have thought they were responsible for changing the world. Sometimes talented people let their talent get in the way of the workings of God.

In my years as a pastor I’ve seen spiritual movements begun as a result of a few inspiring words by the most unlikely of people. At a homiletics conference I was recently at one of the things that was said by a keynote speaker resonated with me. He made the point that we (preachers) all know how to create a sermon. The difference is whether our preparation of that sermon is immersed in prayer. Prayer takes it out of the hands of control freaky pastors, and places it back with the One who gives us the words.

And once again it comes back to talented people letting their eloquence get in the way of the workings of the Holy Spirit.

I believe there is a battle going on in “church world” these days. The gospel gets treated too many times like it is a product that needs to be wrapped in attractive packaging so people will buy it. Jesus gets portrayed as “way cool.” We become so determined to make the church look relevant that we risk inventing a gospel of outer looks and appearance instead of a gospel that changes hearts.

Now that I’ve entered into my sixty-first year on this earth I’m fairly certain that I’m an average pastor who seeks to serve the Lord the best he can. I’m not way cool…I don’t even use hair gel! The closest I am to cool is driving a 2008 Civic Hybrid. I’m just an average Joe…like James and Thomas, Philip and Andrew…nothing really special about me. I brush with Colgate and say certain words funny. I’ve been called to be a pastor who serves a church filled with great people who will not be in Time magazine, and almost all of them will never even be in the local newspaper. We have a desire to serve the Lord by serving the community around us. It’s a picture of average fueled by hope.

And I’m okay with that!

Crushing the Sermon

July 2, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   July 2, 2014

 

                                   

 

I’m a pastor.

I’m suppose to be humble.

Last week a young guy from my church who makes me laugh in a good way asked me the question, “Do you ever come home on Sunday afternoon after church and pump your fists as you shout ‘I crushed that sermon today?’ Do you ever say ‘I was awesome?’”

    Yes, that happens all the time! And then my wife says, “And honey! That second point was off the charts!”

And then I dance around our kitchen like an NFL wide receiver who has just scored a touchdown…taking a Sharpie out of my suit coat pocket and signing the bulletin with it!

And then my wife falls down in front of me in recognition of my pastoral celebrity status, and tells me how blessed she is to be married to such an awesome sermonizer!

I relive the message highlights the rest of that day, and several times during the day I remind the rest of the family that “I was money” that morning!

I call my dad and tell him how Jesus was giving me high-fives that afternoon in the nap dream I had.

I put my “Orange Crush” jersey on with the number “1” on the back with a finger pointing heavenward, and my “playing name above it “Rev. Crush!”

“I crushed it, God!”

Oh, going back to the question my young friend asked me at the beginning: Do I ever come home from church and exclaim “I crushed the sermon today?”

 

The answer is “no”…and thus none of the other things I wrote above occurred as well!

I just come home and start getting ready for the next Sunday. After all, I’m a pastor. I’m suppose to be humble.

And I’ll admit there’s been a few Sundays where I’m come home and said “I crashed the sermon today!”