Posted tagged ‘sermon’

Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

August 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

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!

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!”

What To Preach When No One Is Looking

August 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 27, 2013

I’ve been preaching through Leviticus the past three years…I mean, three months. Three more weeks and I’ll be transitioning to Jesus. That is, I’ll be focusing on themes that come out of the gospels.

Leviticus has been a challenge, and yet, it has been rewarding to see the threads connecting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.

Preaching is a privilege, and yet it is also a challenge. To be able to speak the truth in an age when truth is defined by a multitude of sources in a multitude of ways is a privilege…and a challenge.

Knowing that some of the listeners want it said in the shortest amount of time possible, while others want a whole loaf of spiritual bread to fill their souls for the week…is a challenge!

A greater question…that I wrestle with is… what does my life preach when no one is looking, and no one is listening? What echoes from my heart to God?

A couple of weeks ago I was attending the Global Leadership Summit local simulcast of the event that was happening at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois. After one of the breaks the next session started with a man playing an incredible instrument called an “earth harp.” The strings of the harp connected from the standing bridge on the stage to the balcony about 250 feet away. You could see the strings around the stage area because of the lighting, but then they just sort of disappeared into the air.

What song does my life preach when I have an audience of One, when the music of my soul rises up to the Unseen?

It is far easier to preach from a text than to live the text. Preachers can fool congregations. It happens every week.

But only the foolhardy think they can preach to the Lord in ways that are put-on and pontificating fluff.

It’s why I’ve always been impressed with the Book of Psalms. David was totally authentic in his writing and composing. His heart seeks revenge, justice, peace, comfort, cleansing, answers to torment. He shouts praises and thanksgiving. He cries out for rescue, deliverance, healing, restoration. David preached what he was living.

What does my life preach? My resume would have to include some things like bitterness, hate, envy, whining, apathy, and a few other of their close relatives. It also preaches joy, laughter, love, hope, and grace, but I wonder how much pepper mixes in with the salt?

Sometimes I’m afraid my life preaches nothing to the Magnificent One, and volumes to the congregation. My focus can easily drift to developing the written manuscript and bypass the Creator.

Perhaps this Sunday I’ll have my life preach volumes to, and focus on, the God of heavens and earth; and then on Sunday morning I’ll preach in silence to the congregation.

Sunday Thumb Twiddling

August 4, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 4, 2013

                             

     What does a pastor do on a Sunday morning when he isn’t speaking? That’s my morning today! I’m like one of those wind-up toys that you set down on the floor and it goes every which way, because it doesn’t know what else to do.

This morning I’ve walked around the building several times for no apparent reason, made coffee, straightened pews that were already straightened, wrote some birthday card greetings, looked at the bulletin, checked the lights, swept the sidewalk, pulled ten weeds, and stood looking at my bookcase.

Not speaking on a Sunday morning when I’m at the church I pastor is a strange feeling. Pastors have certain routines. Each week has a rhythm that develops in the midst of it. No two weeks are the same, and yet there are a number of likenesses, a number of things that you can count on.

And so I’ve been alternating between spasmossity (A word I made up!) and thumb twiddling. As I type this out I’m looking at things on my desk such as a bell from the Dominican Republic that I’m giving to Kim, a form for the state that needs to be filled out in regards to our tax exempt status, and a tube of Chapstick reminding me that my lips hurt really bad! (Movie line! Napoleon Dynamite!)

It isn’t that I think I’m the only one who can deliver the Word. Rich Blanchette, who is speaking this morning, will do a great job. It’s just who I am, and what I’ve been about for a few decades now.

Today, however, I sit, ponder, get hyper, and then repeat the process. Lord, help me to be a listener today!

Rhythm Preaching

June 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 23, 2013

Our first full day in Santo Domingo was full of new experiences and meeting new friends. We worshiped with The Church of the Liberator, which meets on the top floor of Grace School in the area known as Herrera. The top floor, depending on who you talk to, is the fourth or fifth floor of the building. It is actually the rooftop with a metal roof above it. That may not make sense..unless you’ve been there!

I had the privilege of giving the sermon. It happened to be the 34th anniversary of my ordination service…but it was the first time I had ever preached with a translator. Reuben, a twenty-one year old Dominican student, who was a high school exchange student for a year in Minnesota, stood by my side and we started. The text I read was from John 9:1-9 about the blind man who Jesus made spit mud for and placed on his eyes. He follows Jesus’ instruction to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash it off, and when he does he can see.

I began cautiously. One of our young people said, “Wow, Pastor Bill! Just like back at our church…they didn’t laugh at your jokes either!” She was kidding…I think.

I talked about being blind to what Jesus is doing, and Reuben followed closely behind. I gave a phrase, and Reuben repeated. We got to a point where it seemed almost natural, like inhaling and exhaling.

Whenever I mentioned that Jesus frees the enslaved, or gives sight to the blind, or takes the burdened and gives them release…and then Reuben translated…there was a chorus of “amens” from the Dominican congregation.

The Church of the Liberator is attended by people who have experienced liberation. It is not a white collar suburban congregation, or a contemporary emergent generational church with high-quality graphics and sound. It is not a high-church congregation that prints off a 12 page bulletin each Sunday. Rather, it is a congregation of people who understand in new and transformational ways the rhythm of God in their lives.

Reuben and I preached. We danced the story of release of the captives. Pastor Osvaldo prayed a prayer of blessing over me, and he closed the service with a closing prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of God, the grace of God, the gospel of God that The Church of the Liberator is proclaiming.

And to that, both Reuben and I say “Amen!”

Drinking Coffee With A Bad Tongue

June 14, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 June 14, 2013

This morning has its challenges! I’m trying to drink my first cup of coffee. That’s not usually a challenge, but today each sip does not have that soothing effect.

I got drilled yesterday in the mouth! No, it wasn’t a bar fight, or…bringing back some bad memories…I didn’t take a softball in the jaw.

I went to the dentist, and before she drilled me she gave me about eighty shots to numb the back of my mouth and close to my tongue. Even though that was yesterday mid-afternoon, this morning my tongue is still feeling the effects. It feels like it laid out in the beach in the sun all afternoon, and now anything that touches it gets a reaction.

Let me take another sip! (pause)

Ouch! Still sensitive.

I feel like Napoleon Dynamite whining about Chapstick.

A friend called me after I got home from the dentist yesterday. I sounded like Sylvester the Cat trying to properly pronunciate. “T’s” are hard to pronoun when you have a bad “t’hongue!” Sufferin succotash!

Some might ask why I’m drinking coffee if it is painful? Because it is a part of my daily routine. It’s what I do! It is a little weird tilting my head to the right and trying to swallow with the caffeine avoiding the left side of my tongue, but I’m halfway through my mug and I’ve only screamed like a baby once.

My fear is that I’ll still be talking this way on Sunday. My message will have so many “thou, thine, and thy’s” in it that I may start talking that way out of habit. It’s “thertainty” a possibility.

What happens when it’s hard for a preacher to preach? What happens when it’s painful? You preach carefully.

This coming Sunday will be an experience of that, not because of my “thongue”, but because of the week we have had here. Hundreds of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire…memories of the Waldo Canyon fire from one year ago almost to the day…lives altered. When it is hard for a preacher to preach you preach slowly and carefully. Sometimes the preacher doesn’t even need to speak and his words are heard.

The lesson that I’m experiencing this morning of a sensitive tongue may be a personal teaching moment. I long for a little comfort in my mouth. There will be people gathered in worship on Sunday who will long for a little comfort from my mouth. Words that are felt as they are preached become a cool drink of water on parched souls.

I need a “thrink.”

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!

June 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 7, 2013

 

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!”

 

Some people think I’m suspect because I don’t cuss…but I do say “Crap!”

Some people think I’m half a bubble off center because I have a personal “blankie” that I sleep with, and its name is not Carol. Its name is…Blankie! Carol has her personal electric blanket. Its name is not Bill!

And some people think my salvation is suspect because, for one, I preach from a manuscript, and, two, there are some Sundays that are a real struggle to give a word from the Lord. Ask any pastor who is trustworthy and they will tell you that. There are times where the message is about as easy as a root canal. The preparing of it is like being in rush hour traffic where there is no rhythm…stop and go…accelerate and brake.

Years ago Tony Campolo gave a message that he borrowed from an African-American Baptist pastor, entitled “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming!”

Classic! Awesome!

For most pastors there are times, however, when the scream is “It’s Friday, and Sunday is coming again already!”

So soon? Last Sunday might have lifted the roof, but then it’s on to the next Sunday. Pastors are like catchers in baseball. The starting pitchers only appear every fifth game. The third baseman fields four or five grounders or line drives the whole game. But the catcher is in every play. He makes a great stop on a wild pitch, but then it’s on to the next pitch. Catchers don’t take pitches off.

Pastors don’t take Sundays off!

Yes, I know we really do. It’s called vacation, and yet how many times have I heard the joke, “Vacation? You only work one hour one day a week.”

Although said in a teasing way, a lot of people wonder what pastors do between Sunday noon and the next Sunday at 10 A.M. That sense of Baptist guilt stays with me, and so I find myself preaching eight to twelve straight Sundays before I take a Sunday off.

In the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23) there is a condemning statement made by the Lord towards the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time. A number of them were making claims, or speaking oracles and claiming that they were from God…and God said “No way! That’s not of me!” In Jeremiah 23:34 the Lord says, “I will punish that man and his household!”

Can you envision my Adam’s apple (“laryngeal prominence” for the smarter folk) rising and falling

six inches as I gulp deeply?

So, it’s Friday and Sunday is coming again and the folk who show up at 10:00 for worship are expecting a word from the Lord…and I’m saying to the Lord “Can I get a word? It can be short. It can even be Greek! It can even be in the old King James! Lord, just give me something!”

A fresh word, a new word.

Perhaps you think that this is just some affliction that pastors deal with.

No, it is something any follower of Jesus deals with. Some people want a word, but they’re too busy to hear it. A cell phone in one ear and Coldplay rocking it through the ear bud in their other ear. Or some people want a word in a take-out container, quick and easy. Those are two extreme situations connected to our hyper lifestyles.

But many of us who seek to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe find ourselves from time to time grasping and missing. We deal with moments of indecision as to what direction God went in.

We want a fresh word, but we’re having a hard time forgiving the jerk who cut us off driving to church. We want a word from the Lord, and yet we’re not ready for the next step that word will take us to.

It’s Friday, and for many of us we long for Sunday, a new beginning…a fresh start. And for others, “Sunday” is an approaching time of uncertainty that we hope…we hope…is fresh wind and new wine!

Trading Pulpits

January 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           January 24, 2013

 

Last Sunday was the seventh year in a row that the pastors of the five neighborhood churches in our area traded pulpits. A Mennonite can become a Lutheran, a Presbyterian can experience being a Baptist, and a Methodist can be anyone of the aforementioned. We change preaching venues on a Sunday in mid-January to early February…and go at it.

The congregations love it. In fact, most of the members of each congregation look forward to it. When the Lutheran pastor came to our church a few years ago and delivered an eight minute message I had people the next Sunday asking when he could come back. I enjoy speaking in different churches because there are plenty of jokes I can tell about being a Baptist pastor. I’ve got a lot of bizarre stories as well, because “truth is stranger than fiction.” Being a Baptist pastor for almost 34 years now I can attest to the truth of that statement.

The value of trading pulpits for one is that as pastors, we visibly display our belief in, and commitment to, a church that has many shapes, sizes, emphases, colors, and looks, but one Lord, one Savior, and one Spirit.

The other value is a growing sense that other churches aren’t the enemy. Or even the competition. Just as I say that it takes the church and the school to partner together in creating a healthy community, I also believe that it takes our churches linking together in proclamation and ministry to be light in the midst of darkness.

There are many things that Dan Holt, Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and I can spend our time disagreeing on, but what we are united about is that Christ means Hope and Life and Truth. Of our eight pastors serving in the five congregations I am probably the most conservative theologically, but we don’t belabor our differences. We respect and value each other. To often value gets attributed only to people who resemble us.

Last Sunday I spoke in the Methodist church. I told them early on that the good news was that if I screwed anything up not to worry, Pastor Larry would be back next week. I had a good time delivering the word of the Lord. I’m almost afraid to say this, but they were perhaps even a little more receptive to what I was saying than my own congregation, because I was a new voice to them. Sometimes the familiar voice is respected and honored, but not necessarily heard with as much attention.

When our neighborhood pastors meet again the first Wednesday in February we will talk about how it went. There will be a heightened sense of connectedness with one another because we trusted each other, and our congregations trusted us to provide someone who would be faithful in bringing the Word of the Lord to them.

It was good!