Archive for category Preaching
Ok, not really WITH him. But I spent my week in Florida studying the life and ministry of Billy Graham. I read a biography, part of his autobiography, watched a documentary and the movie Billy: The Early Years that came out a couple years ago.
What – a – life. What – a – legacy.
I was especially draw to the early break-through years for Billy in the late 40s and 50s. Many of us think of the internationally respected Billy of his later years. But there was a time when Billy Graham was a nobody. I’m drawn to the faith and boldness that led him and his entourage to first step out and begin holding evangelistic rallies back in the old days.
Would anyone turn out? Would they invest money and advertising, spend thousands on setting up big tents in Los Angeles and have no one show up? Would his message (more fiery and intense in his earlier days) have any impact on the modern minds skeptical of this traveling preacher?
Before his career as a traveling evangelist, Billy was a young, scared Bible student yet to preach his first sermon. I loved the story of his very first preaching experience in 1937 as a 19 year old. The Dean of his school volunteered him to fill the pulpit of a backwoods little Baptist church in Bostwick Florida. Billy was up in a cold sweat the night before, running over his 4 prepared sermons. Each sermon he suspected could last 25 minutes or so.
His debut was a humiliating disaster. He breezed through his sermon so fast that it only lasted 2 minutes. He went on to the next and the same thing. After he had preached through the notes on all four sermons, only 8 minutes had gone by. He sat down thinking to himself, “I’m never doing that again!”
Well, I read this story sitting by the pool in Florida and wondered where this church was where Billy preached his first sermon. On Friday Keri and I went on a pilgrimage to find it. The church is still there, looks much the same on the outside, and they even put up a historical marker outside last year!
As someone who has also had his share of humiliating preaching experiences but continue to press on in obedience to God’s call, this was a wonderfully inspiring week with Billy Graham.
“Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul preached on and on” (Acts. 20:8).
Every pastor has to deal with the issue of preferred sermon length among his or her congregation. What is the ideal sermon length? In some traditions, the 15-20 minute homily is typical. I grew up in this tradition. This is fine if your goal is to merely impart a thoughtful reflection on a brief Bible text and offer a couple points of application to send the worshipers away with. The goal here is typically inspiration.
I have come to a far different view of the weekly sermon over the past many years. I have spent the past 10 years in churches where the average sermon is 40 minutes. Here’s a few of my personal convictions and goals surrounding my philosophy of preaching. I hope sermons at MainStreet would provide not only inspiration, but a rich time of education, active participation and evoke supernatural transformation. That’s a lot to cram into 20 minutes.
(Note: I am a young, inexperienced preacher who has no idea what he’s doing. I don’t even claim to be an average preacher. Those who put up with me each Sunday are enduring what I hope will be the worst sermons of my life — as I hope to constantly improve with practice. But by God’s grace this is the kind of culture I hope to cultivate at MainStreet on Sunday mornings. Please pray for me as I grow as a preacher!)
1. I view the sermon as an invitation into another world, the strange and unfamiliar world of a text that requires more than 10 minutes to find our footing in the world of the text. I lament that most people want their pastor to take that journey into the text alone in his study all week, and merely bring back to our world a few snapshots and souvenirs for a 15 minute “show and tell” time. I believe this deprives the people of the joy of the journey, the excitement of new discovery, the surprises one encounters along the way. People who just want a short 3 point teaching and who aren’t willing to go on a longer trip will miss out on the deeper, hidden treasures in a text. You can disagree with me, but there’s a huge mental difference between a 15 minute and a 45 minute commute to work — and I believe the same holds true for a sermon. Read the rest of this entry »
For those who read my blog, one bonus is that you often get a preview of what might be coming down the pipe as far as sermons go at MainStreet. I’m a deep processor and require time to chew on ideas and try them out before I preach on them. Daily Illumination often becomes a forum where I’ll share some ideas and biblical gleanings from my own personal study.
This also means that what comes out on this blog is not a finished product, but rather some half-baked ideas I’m still sorting through. So, think of DI as more of a journal than a newspaper.
Every pastor has their own routine for preparing sermons. Some spend 20 hours in their study, pouring over commentaries, reading the Greek or Hebrew, and preparing elaborate outlines or manuscripts. Others draw largely from others’ research and study, using preaching outlines, ready-made illustrations, finding sermons online or following a curriculum of sorts.
Most of us are somewhere between. Read the rest of this entry »
“You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified. I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else” (1 Cor. 2:1-5, The Message).
The Bible is filled with many freaked-out, tongue-tied messengers commissioned with bring God’s Word into risky situations. Moses stammered when he spoke, but was told to go to Pharaoh anyway. Jeremiah thought he was too young and inexperienced, but that didn’t get him off the hook. Paul had a reputation for being impressive in writing, but awkward in person.
Pastors and speakers who have the privilege of sharing God’s message with others each week can gain reassurance from passages that remind us that even the great Apostle Paul had many moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. Do you find it encouraging to know that even Paul “felt totally inadequate” and “scared to death” at times? I certainly do.
Do you speak, preach or teach regularly to groups? Do you go through deep valleys of uncontrollable self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy in ministry? Do you sweat each time you step in front of your congregation or youth group? This can be a weight that sinks your ministry under the waters of despair, or it can be the thing that drives you to become more dependent on God’s power in your ministry and preaching. Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday I have the honor of preaching a message on one of the most significant truths and experiences in all the universe: God’s supernatural work of New Birth in the human heart. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above” (John 3:3).
How do you talk about something that is necessary to experience firsthand? It’s like describing a Mozart piece instead of listening to it. It’s like talking about a Rembrandt painting rather than looking at it. It’s like trying to describe love to someone who’s never been in love.
These sermons drive a preacher to his knees, and bring him to the end of himself. I can only invite people to follow Nicodemus into that face-t0-face, personal encounter with Jesus, and pray that the Holy Spirit will come among us and open people’s eyes and transform hearts. Come Holy Spirit!
Here’s a good quote from Gary Burge’s commentary on The Gospel of John:
“Religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.
Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief(3:16,18), and yet is is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped with sin” (Gary Burge, Gospel of John: New Application Commentary, 126).
Come Holy Spirit! Invade our presence, and sabotage our hearts! Blow mightily among us at MainStreet this Sunday and every day!
Rob Bell’s final Sunday at the church he founded has now come and gone. I am looking forward to listening to his final words to his beloved Mars Hill on my drive home today. I should take a moment to share some of my own appreciations for Rob’s ministry that has been so influential to so many of my generation. Love him or hate him, you certainly cannot ignore Rob Bell’s voice in the wilderness of post-modern evangelical Christianity. Until I take time to share my own thoughts on Rob’s ministry, I will be lazy and share another’s reflections.
Aaron Niequist, a member of Mars Hill, offers his thoughts on Rob’s teaching and influence at Mars Hill these past years. I think he puts his finger on a lot of gems worth sharing. Thanks, Aaron. Well put. Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »
“Mission begins with commissioning. Therefore, preaching is an essential part of mission. I suppose that we preachers ought to strive, in every sermon, to have some illustration or example whereby ordinary Christian people could sense God’s vocation. Mission begins in the heart of God, in God’s determination to love the world, to have a people. Mission involves individual Christians hearing their names called to be part of that mission.
One of the greatest hindrances for mission is lack of imagination. Too many people in the church think of mission as something exotic, something that goes on somewhere else, something that cannot work here. In preaching, particularly when stories of mission activity and success are narrated, people are disarmed, they let down their defenses, they come to see themselves as part of God’s gracious activity in the world. Thus, mission and preaching are powerfully related. I know of no congregation where there is active, bold, engaging mission where there is not also vibrant preaching. People are in mission because in preaching they have heard a commission by the pastor, who is the chief missionary of the missional congregation.”
In the October 2011 issue of Christianity Today, J. Todd Billings has a gem of an article called, “How to Read the Bible.” He makes the initial claim that “Even when the Bible is turned to as the authority, it’s not necessarily interpreted Christianly.” He then describes the two most popular ways people approach Scripture today before offering another more fruitful and faithful approach. Here’s how he describes most readers of the Bible today:
“When examining how we interpret Scripture, we should pay attention to our functional theology of Scripture: how our use of Scripture reflects particular beliefs about what the Bible is. There are two common approaches to using Scripture today.
Some readers start with a detailed blueprint of what the Bible says, then read individual passages of Scripture as if they were the concrete building blocks to fit into the blueprint. They translate each passage into a set of propositions or principles that fit the established details of the blueprint. This approach assumes that we already know the larger meaning of Scripture; our system of theology gives us the meaning. Thus, the task of interpreting Scripture becomes a matter of discovering where in our theological system a particular passage fits.
Others prefer a smorgasbord approach. Imagine a huge cafeteria loaded with food of many kinds for many tastes; you are at the cafeteria with the members of a small-group Bible study. Can you imagine what some of the other members of the group would choose to eat? I suspect that there might even be patterns based on age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, but each person chooses which foods to feast on based his or her appetite. In the smorgasbord approach to Scripture, the Bible becomes the answer book for our felt needs and personal perspectives.
With both the blueprint and smorgasbord approaches, we end up using Scripture for our own purposes. We are in control. The Bible may be viewed as authoritative, but it provides either confirmation of our preconceived ideas or divine advice for felt needs.” Read the rest of this entry »
A recent Christianity Today article made me cry. It’s called “The Pastor’s Speech: How ‘The King’s Speech’ Resonates with this Stuttering Preacher”
Why was I so deeply moved by the film The King’s Speech? Yes, I cried during that, too. (And I’m not easily brought to tears at movies — unless its a kids movie like Up, Despicable Me, or Toy Story!.) Then why was this preacher’s story of his stuttering in the pulpit so emotional for me as well?
I am not a stutterer or stammerer. Therefore, I shouldn’t really complain. But I am a reluctant preacher who for years has been trying to overcome my own fear of public speaking, and my own struggles with this scary art.
I remember when I was a sophomore in college, and I was pursuing a degree in Elementary Education. The first time I had to stand in the front of a 6th grace Math classroom and teach a lesson on multiplying fractions, I almost had a heart attack. Sixth graders! What’s so scary about a bunch of 12 year olds?
I changed majors soon after this.
Now I was a Communication major. Oops. Wrong choice again. Soon I was in the front of a classroom giving a informational speech on ‘Winter Travel Safety Tips’ with props and everything. I didn’t sleep at all the night before. Terror. What is so hard about telling a room full of people to carry some kitty litter and an shovel in their trunk in case they get stuck? I was then informed that all Com majors were required to attend a number of Speech Tournaments to earn the degree. No way! I jumped out of that major immediately.
To my credit, most studies reveal that public speaking is the number one worst fear of most human beings. Yes, it ranks higher than death itself. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld has said, “
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Read the rest of this entry »