Category Archives: Preaching

Slay the dragon

George is living his life. He doesn’t do anything that would hurt anyone.  “Can’t we get along” is his mantra. There are times of happiness, but they are fleeting. There are occasions when George is moved to go the extra mile for someone else. In his own keep calm and carry on he has made great strides in being a good person.

 There is a foreboding presence in George.  Deep inside of George a terrible dragon dwells.  A dragon living in a dark and dank cave. A cave hidden from everyone but himself. That dragon craves for power, and reputation and self-reliance. Occasionally George is overcome by the dragon. Especially when he is really stressed. Out of the unfortunate events in his life the dragon growls.  The dragon shouts, “I can do it”.  Giving into the dragon brings guilt, pain, embarrassment. George has lost self-control and let the dragon direct his responses. Few see his dastardly dragon, but he is there.  The dragon shapes and overshadows all his beliefs, attitudes, and more than he would admit, his actions.

A day not to long ago, George heard the Gospel.

In the word of God, George hears, “I will make you mine and take possession of the cave and slay the dragon. Will you yield to my possession? It will mean a whole new way of thinking and feeling and acting.”

George replied: “But that dragon has always been with me.”  And with down cast eyes and with a whimper, “the dragon is me. Even though I am embarrassed by him, he is who I am.”

In a desperate instant George raises his eyes and shouts back at Jesus, “If you kill it I will die.”

Jesus says, “And you will rise to newness of life, I will give you a new identity, I will make my mind, my will, and my heart your own.”

In the depths of George’s hidden cave he hears the dragon roar.

George in a moment of great distress and resolve and willfully ignoring the dragon, says, “What must I do?”

He answers, “Trust me and do as I say. As long as you trust me, we cannot lose.” Overcome by the beauty and power of Christ, George bows and makes a pledge of eternal loyalty and trust.

George rises with a new resolve, “I will follow you anywhere.”

Jesus responds placing a great sword in George’s hand and says, “Follow me.” He leads George to the mouth of the cave and says, “Go slay the dragon.”

But George looks at him bewildered, “I cannot do it, I have tried to silence him.  He is invincible. He is more than anything I can or have tried.  I cannot do it without you.”

Jesus smiles. “Well said. You learn quickly. Never forget: my commands for you to do something are never commands do alone.” Shoulder to shoulder and the sword in hand, they enter the cave together.

It was a horrific battle.  But each swipe of the sword, the hand of Jesus was there guiding, enabling, strengthening. Christ’s hand became George’s hand.

At last, the dragon lies limp. George asks, “Is it dead?”

Jesus with a concerned knit brow states, “I have come to give you a new life. This new identity is what you received when you yielded to my possession and pledged faith and loyalty to me. And now with my sword and my hand you have felled the dragon of the flesh. It is a mortal wound. It will die. That is certain. But it has not yet bled to death. I will help you seal up the cave. You must hold constant vigil to make sure the spirit of flesh does not come and cause earthquakes in your life and loosen the stones. It is up to you to keep the entrance fortified and well built. I have this confidence in you.  With My sword and My hand in yours, this dragon will die, he is finished, your new life is secure.

On the Move

The accounts of Jesus seem to be characterized by movement.  He would never stay tarry long in any one spot.  Move, walk, go, come, get into a boat, go to a wedding, Jerusalem, Capernaum, always moving.  

The disciples had been sent two by two on missionary journeys. The teams were now returning to report their successes and disappointments. When the disciples had returned to the Master, they were tired, hungry, and wanted to share their experiences (Mark 6:30).  These disciples had traveled far and upon arrival, they were confronted by throngs of the curious, the hangers-on, and other would-be disciples all trying to get the attention of the Master. Pushing through the crowd they were situating themselves in the little space which remained in front of Jesus.  Each taking a seat in a semi-circle to isolate Jesus from the masses. It was their place of honor; all the others would have to wait. The oral reports were made, duly given in turn.  It was difficult to hear over the crowd’s comings and goings. Additionally, the rumbling of empty stomachs was adding to the distractions.

They had completed the stories of great and small successes and a few not so great.  Jesus listened intently and said nothing in direct response. They wanted to hear how they had scored on their first missionary efforts. They expected great accolades and praise from Jesus after recounting the fantastic things they had done.

“Come with me.” “I know you need rest and a time to recoup, but let’s take a walk first.”

They were already footsore from walking for the last two weeks or so.  Reluctantly these tired, hungry, and now frustrated disciples followed Jesus for a brisk two-mile hike down to the Sea of Galilee. Just a little stretch of the legs.  Besides, it was not time to eat lunch quite yet.

They arrived at the shoreline. The Sea edge was soft with small breaking waves. The soft breezes of the lake filled their lungs.  It was a good place to stop and rest. One by one the weary disciples sat down on the sand.

“Let’s get into the boats and to over to the other shore.”

Back on their feet they all boarded one of the boats and set sail for the other side. The wind was blowing in a direction making the journey longer than expected. Unfortunately for the missionary travelers, the word got out that they were on the move, and the people arrived at their destination first. The slow boat of disciples was slower than running around the lake.

They had been recognized and the whole of the region was alerted. Five thousand had come to see and hear Jesus. Jesus had compassion on them and started to teach.  As the words of God flowed as water upon the dusty ground the crowd was in rapt attention.

It was now late in the day and the disciples had not eaten much of anything all day.  Jesus did not show any hint of a conclusion. and with rumbling stomachs and sore feet, the disciples attracted the attention of Jesus saying, “We are in a very secluded spot and it is getting late. It would be best if you would send the crowds away so they can secure their physical needs.”

“You give them something to eat.”

They looked at Judas who was carrying the cadre’s combined treasury who simply shook his head. “That would take almost a year’s wages. Are we to spend the last of our money to feed the uninvited?”

After additional ceremony and miracles, the five thousand and the disciples were fed.

Time to move again, “Get into the boat and off you go to Bethsaida, I will meet you there.”

I get the impression from this account and many like them, that Jesus is a restless spirit.

I like the sense of God moving around. I like to think that God is already ahead of me wherever I am going, preparing the way, hoping that I will notice him in that place and that time. I also like the idea of Jesus continually on the move. He went to where the people were. And once he showed up somewhere, more people thronged to see him. The presence of Jesus was compelling, and even his detractors showed up to see what all the fuss was about.

Did the foot-sore disciples ever get their well-deserved rest?  The closest I find is in the upper room, as they were reclining at table.  Yet even then Jesus was still teaching.  He goes before us and He goes with us, and sometimes he hangs back to clean up our mess.  God is always moving.

Teacher or Preacher

Going through Matthew again to catalog the roles of Jesus.  My list is now twenty-six and therefore I thought I must combine a few.  On the list are both preaching and teaching.  So, I ask myself, “self, what is the difference to you?” Both words have been used in the church interchangeably at times. What is the difference?  Or is there a difference?  When I hear preaching am I being taught?  So off I go, on another tangent to discover answers.

I have found information about the characteristics of both.  Audience, focus, language, motivation, and even the form of speech have been raised as the difference.  I have references to preaching teachers and teachers that have been accused of preaching.  Another reference stated that “preaching is much simpler than teaching.” 

Again, what is the difference?

Putting it all together I have found several simply ridiculous ideas.

  1.  Preaching is based on the Bible and preaching is more personal. The inference here is that preaching uses more “up to date” illustrations.  If I discover a preacher not using the Bible, I am out of there.
  2. Preaching is much more emotional, and teaching is slow and very intellectual.  Preaching is all shouts and amens.  I do not think so.  I have heard some great preachers with a very calm demeanor that were simply great.
  3. Teaching has its aim at the head, while preaching is an arrow pointing toward the heart.  But if you ask me to park my mind at the door to listen to a preacher, it is not for me.  Further, if I attend a Bible study that does not bring me to an internal, life-changing experience, they equally have missed the mark.
  4. Preaching is mostly topical and teaching is more methodical and calculated.  I can’t find that distinction in the Bible.  I read the sermon on the mount, obviously preaching, there are great topical ideas but I also see a marvelous cohesiveness to it.  When Jesus is teaching his disciples with parables they all have a specific topic but follow a pattern.
  5. Teaching must be more complicated than preaching. Teaching strains at the minutia and preaching are broad strokes. It has been said, “You can’t preach the tough stuff to new Christians, they won’t get it.”  “Teach them in Sunday School.”  But again, Jesus’ teaching to the disciples was simple.
  6. Teaching is all about relaying information, whereas preaching aims at the revelation.  The preacher is the imparter of God’s prophetic wisdom and the teacher is simply a spouter of the normal and understood.
  7. Preaching is a calling of God and anyone can teach.  Let the gifted and the well learned, ordained be the preacher and leave all else to the teacher.  As if the teacher was much lower on the religious hierarchy.  I really don’t think God sees it that way.

So what is the difference if these proposed ideas are quite askew? In the original language of the Bible, there are two different words and different meanings:  didáskalos for teacher and kēryx for preacher. 

A preacher was a herald or messenger vested with public authority, who conveyed the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave a public summons or demand, or a proclaimer of the divine word. Preaching is proclaiming, is the provision of the Good News. It is the call to the light.

A teacher was, according to the definition, is someone who to holds discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses, impart instruction, instill doctrine, to explain a thing. Teaching is the clarification of the Good news.  It is the explanation of the Gospel. It is how to live in light.

A helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming the Good News, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions. What does amnesty mean? When does this announcement take effect? Does that mean I can leave my slave master now? Will compensation be paid to masters? And so on. At that point, Piper says, you must start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response to the proclamation.

The difference is not in form or in enthusiasm.  Not shouting with “give me an amen” thrown in once and a while.  It isn’t even a revelation versus informing. The difference is between heralding and explaining.  It is about knowledge of the offering of grace and living in that grace.

My conclusion is Jesus did both. Therefore I must be very careful when I profess to either. I must set my goal for each with the intent of the calling.

Fool for Christ

I worry about what is happening to this generation. It is a generation that doesn’t know books.  The ability to read and be moved by the well-written page is slowly slipping away. Today it is all about screens, smartphones, blogs, Social Media, Kindles, and iPads. Through video games, they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies, and killed hundreds. They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion.

Is there hope for this generation to continue to get excited about the church?  To be deeply moved by a sermon or a passage in the Bible.  Does this generation know what it is like to sing heartily of the blessing of God and even shed a tear when someone finds God? How will God use this generation to fill the pulpits of our churches? 

God still calls men and women to the overwhelming responsibility of standing in a church and being the mouthpiece of God. God still uses the preaching of his Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints, and engage the lost. Even now a sermon can not seem to be preached without a PowerPoint presentation providing the salient points.  Congregants simply can’t be trusted to take their own notes so there are fill in the blank’s puzzles in the bulletin. Are all these devices to keep attention symptoms of shortening attention spans and instant gratification?  Do we just forget it all and let the internet do it all.  The preachers there seem to have enough passion to hold even a gen Xer’s attention long enough to feel good about themselves.

Preachers don’t give up.  Be willing to go the extra mile.  Try preaching without props.  Get excited about your text.  This is the Word of God, not a five-minute podcast.  Risk being a fool for Christ.

So to preach the Word, anyone called to fill the holy desk must be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

How do I find intimacy with God?

Sermons just don’t do it for me anymore. For that matter the music or should I say spiritual songs, don’t do it for me either.  I have served as a preacher in five churches of various lengths and sizes.  It was overwhelming experience to which I have always accounted as both a privilege and call. To translate the difficult and make it plain and relevant is a task not to be taken lightly.  I am fully aware of the time which must be expended to reach that perfect balance between deep theology and practical understanding. It is a gift from God to both the preacher and those who submit themselves each Sunday. They come to fill their spiritual bread baskets full for the week. They depend on the preacher to fill infuse them to carry on for a little while longer.

Years have come and gone.  Hundreds of messages, prayer meeting studies, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies have been completed. I continually study, build and prepare messages.  Weekly Bible study for the men in our church requires just as much time and preparation as preaching; or maybe even more.  And if the truth be known, these studies are more preaching than a shared study. A few faithful shows up each week and seem to be challenged.  Some are even studying ahead.  One even told me that the studies has caused him to dig deeper.  

As I recollect on the nearer present, I am not quite as enthused.  I don’t get much out of the messages as presented in church.  Sure, there is evidence of study and all the video clips are well placed, but they are not doing it for me. There is nothing new.  There is nothing challenging.  I am easily distracted and the slow pace of the sermon allows my mind to wander.  I guess I would rather read a well thought out argument, than to listen to one more three point, fill in the blank sermon.

I connect to God by working. My connection to God is more focused and more intimate when I am doing for Him. I find true joy in study and passing on that knowledge, that wisdom on to others.  It is not enough to just accumulate a vast amount of facts and illustrations.  There is a true joy in helping someone else to light the fire of their own intellectual pursuits.

So, I am at a quandary.  Do I just keep on going to church to be seen by my brothers and sisters?  Does the effort equal any reward?  I can well fill my own basket.  I share from my basket and it never seems to run out.  I feel an inner satisfaction with the supply by God.  I read voraciously the great preachers; I am challenged by the great hymns of the church.  I long for a church which challenges me more and coddles me less.

Where do I find intimacy with God? It is in my books, in my study, in the crafting of words to would challenge others.  I guess that is good enough.

Preaching

It is tough to be the mouthpiece of God.  The task of preaching is nothing to be taken lightly or with little deliberation. It requires the very soul to be transformed to the expected mold of people like Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, John, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Graham. It is the most difficult thing to do. 

It is difficult to be an artist.  To paint a portrait with the skill and practice of years of experience.  To touch the canvas in such a way that the person being painted will live.  To create a picture which seems to breath and speak.  But how much more is it to take human words and paint the face of Jesus that will draw mankind to the love of the Savior?

It is difficult to master the art of music. To take the world of tone, harmony, and melodies which set the soul to tingle.  To take eight notes and express them so well that the hearer is filled with the same emotions as the singer.  But how much more is to take the world eternal and translate it into finite human speech, so that human hearts on which it spreads its parade of all history to a point the create a celestial sympathetic vibration.

It is a great thing to take a great piece of marble and expose the form of David like Michelangelo. He made that statue live and all that gaze upon it are amazed.  King David in perfect form and stature displayed for all to see the art of the sculptor’s hand.  How much more to take temporary words spoke but once and create a powerful yet meek Jesus that would please the King of Kings.

The lawyer has a very difficult job to do, but it is not the most.  It is hard to apply the complicated and sometimes illogical laws of man to specific situations to ensure justice.  How much more is the job of a preacher to take the words of the Lawgiver and apply it to all without prejudice or favoritism.  The preacher must proclaim the Just Law of God.

Oh, how about a doctor.  That is a tough job. To know the thousands of possibilities for a cure, to learn pharmaceuticals role in healing, To understand the many inter-related functions of the body.  Without skill and knowledge, the doctor is nothing.  But to preach to a mind sick in sin, to soothe a fevered brow who is filled with guilt and regret, that is something greater than all the aspirin in the world. To be able to soothe a conscience crying out in pain requires something more.

I am a preacher but I take no pride in it.  It is all God, it is “thus says the LORD.”

Words are important!

I have a facebook account in which you may well call me a lurker. I don’t post much. Once and a while I will be struck by a phrase or an idea that can’t be ignored. Today a post from a wonderful person reposted the phrase, “We need preachers who preach that hell is still hot, that heaven is still real, that sin is still wrong, that the Bible is God’s Word and that Jesus is the only way of Salvation.” What really struck me from that was the seeming lack of any of these things from the pulpit, but even more from those calling themselves Christians. All in the name of being more socially minded and more sensitive, and more politically correct, we (this includes me) have seemed to let the world dictate our speech, our behavior and belief structures.

I believe that we need good strong definitions to the words we use and hold on to. Take for instance the word sin. It does not mean it is all ok if you can get away with it. Or if there are no current prohibitions from in by civil law. For me sin is “any feeling or thought or speech or action coming from the heart which does not treasure God over, under, through, around, and within all other things.” Sin is preference over God. Sin is mainly not what you do, but what you are.

Cash Register Eternal Life

I just finished teaching a cadre of men an eighteen-week study on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. The best time to assess that study is a couple of weeks afterward.  Lesson after lesson we explored the depths of this passage.  There were times where we found true understanding of scripture and lives were changed with slight veers in individual paths.  Now I am looking back and seeing what these passages really mean to me.

It is the third verse which was the greatest point of my study.  This is eternal life; that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. This is the only scripture where Jesus gives a precise, unwavering, perfect, straightforward definition of eternal life. 

The church today seems to want to define “eternal life” as a simple phrase pointing to where you go when you die.  It is a good place. It is the place you want to go.  It is the place where there are fluffy clouds and angel wings.  The church today seems to have made a part of an either-or situation.  And with this option, a market or economic value system has been attached. What does it cost?  What effort is required to attain it?  We want to know if God takes plastic.

Eternal life can not be bought.  Not by a sinner’s prayer.  Not by a perfectly recited and overly used system of chants.  Not by a set of behavioral attitudes.  Not by demonstrating in view of all and everyone in earshot that you have faith.

Eternal life is not the reward for effort. Eternal life is knowing God.  It is in that relationship of knowing one another that makes life eternal.  Simply by saying, “I am up to accepting your sacrifice,” or “I am willing to be your treasure,” is going to make the heavenly cash register open up and a little round token with the words, “Eternal Life” be given to you.  These are just the starting point.  The initial intersection between you and God. That first step is like the wedding ceremony; it is just the start.  Marriage is more than one simple saying of your vows.  Marriage and eternal life are about the relationship that goes on and on.  It is a daily seeking of relationship.  It is knowing.  It is devotion.  It is saying your sorry more than once.  Eternal life is not doing but knowing.

Comments?

Rise and Shine

I don’t understand.  I wake up and the first thing I hear is the news on in the living room and I am blasted by the latest scandal, the latest opinion that is contrary to the ones I have. I wonder how our “Christian nation” arrived at a place where our college students don’t think and just react to the latest rhetoric pumped from a tiny screen. I am aghast that our government seems unwilling or unable to just sit down and talk with each other.  Rather they are so polarized they would rather the country fail than not get their ideological viewpoint undermined.  I sit here questioning seeming fluid self-declared gender identity sweeping our culture, thrown in the face of God-created differences.

It is not just secular tidal waves that loom on our horizon. The church is being changed by these forces.  The church is called to change the world, not the other way around. I read of what we would call mainline churches just giving up on basic Christian beliefs.  “Mary wasn’t a virgin, she was just a maiden.”  “Jesus did not raise from the dead, it is just an allegory.” It has become more of what you do than what you believe, “Live the good life.”  The church no longer talks about the blood of Jesus providing a life-changing salvation.  It is all about an entertainment of the senses in a joint expression of euphoria as a substitute for worship.

As a result, there is a cultural relativism.  There are no absolutes. “We don’t need theology, we need a social application of cultural norms,” is touted at the latest seminar or church conference. The sheep have been set free to roam where ever they think is best.”  And they have taken this relative culture and ran with it.  Running toward destruction.

We must get back to basics.  Where we hold standards high. Where the truth is the truth.  Where the Bible is the basis of life.  There must be an evangelism in our church.  We must show unity, we must love one another. There are mainline churches across this great nation that are dying because they are not connected to the True Vine.

I pray for the church to be filled.  I pray for the church to be called to prayer.  I call for the church to change our culture.  I pray that the great churches of America have a genuine revival of the Spirit of God.

And with this revival will come a change in our country.

Without Love

I may well speak fluently of Calvinism, Reformed, Wesleyan and even Seven Day Adventist within an assemblage of brethren. I can even lead them to a point of excitement and feelings of being accepted as one great body of believers.  Never-the-less, when I walk away, and I see them only as theological misfits, I am nothing more than sound and fury signifying nothing.

I even can preach and teach the great mysteries of theology and apologetics. I can make thoughtful and logical expositional and theological stands.  I can and have used illustrations of media and popular culture in making my three points of homiletics clear.  I have presented the Words of God to such a way that people broke out in song or raised hands in expressions of joy.  If I have opened Gods truth that some were moved to simply sit in awe.  Never-the-less, if I do not care enough to know God myself and those who are loved by that same God, I am nothing but a white noise.

If I create a new vision for the church for new things and buildings are built as one more big edifice to Christianity, but I lose sight of the God I serve and the people that God loves, I am nothing.

If I am well known in the congregation as being one the biggest givers, and I am always there to sponsor the next big thing at the church and always willing to go the conference or barbeque, and I do not show love for those sitting in the corner wanting the most just to be included, they don’t mean a thing.

You see, no matter what I say, or believe or even what I do, if I leave out love, I am a man without hope or worth.

Love is the thing.  Love is never exhausted, it never gets too old, it never runs out of energy.  Love and compassion are more concerned with the other guy than my own selfish desires. Love is giving a couple of dollars to the man standing at a street corner; the very dollars you were going to spend for coffee on the way to church.

Love isn’t about the next big thing that everyone else has.  It is acknowledging all that I have are gifts from Him.

The opposite of love is walking around with the nicest clothes, with head held high, with the expectation that all around you will notice and give you preferential treatment.  It is giving everyone a voice.
It is the realization that you are not that important.  It is the acceptance of equality of idea, belief, stature, hope, dreams, and life.

Love is about sitting in the back at church not wanting to be seen or giving the best piece of pie at the potluck to the person who really needs it. It is giving up your place in line when it is inconvenient. In traffic, it is giving the other guy a way to get in even though he has just cut off three other cars. And when someone does not let you in, you say to yourself, “we all have places to go.”

Love is not caring about a heavenly scorecard keeping the size and quantity of sins for everyone else but me.
Love does not reveal the secrets of other travelers going the same way, instead, love takes delight and joy in new understandings and knowledge.

Love puts up with more than anyone would expect. When things get you down, love is there to bring you back up because God is trust.  Love in you will always be looking for the best in people, best in events, best in circumstances and best in the worst.

For Love, the past is the past and we need not look back with feelings of regret and longing; Love simply keeps going to the ultimate rewards of God.

You see my friends, Love just keeps on going, it never stops, it does not grow weary, it does not slow down because of resistance or age.

All that I have written will be nothing someday.  All the lessons I have diligently prepared and presented in God’s name will be gone and forgotten.

Even the essence of my intellect and understanding will reach a limit.

I can not know it all; I try with all my strength to push one more idea or catchphrase into my limited mind.  But I still know just a little piece of the truth. Everything I have ever learned, explored, understood, known, taught, preached, prayed is and will always be incomplete.  The good news is that when the total, the complete, the absolute, the perfect arrives, my incompleteness will all be eliminated.

When I was a kid, running wild in the streets and hills, I had few responsibilities or wonder.  I spoke of little things and fretted about even smaller things.  But I have grown up and have eliminated all the little things only to be confronted by the things I cannot know.

Today we can’t see the things that are right before our eyes.  There seems to be a wispy cloud between God and me.  I want to see better, I want to find some tool to dispel the mist, but there is none to be found.

Someday the mist will part.  Someday the fog will burn through by a great light. I won’t be long before the crystal-clear day dawns and the sun will cast its warmth upon my face and I will be warmed by it.  We’ll see it all then.  We will see as clearly and keenly as God sees.  Someday the view will be so clear so perfect that we all will see as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

Until that perfect completeness comes and reveals itself through the new day, we must keep on loving. Faith in the love of God has for us, hope in the inescapable and unchanging Love of God and to simply Love without extravagant limits.  But the best of these is simple and uncomplicated; LOVE!