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!”