“Wonderland” is Moncton Wesleyan Church’s 2013 Advent series. You may wonder why we would present Advent messages to you after Advent is done adventing. Well, we hope that we give you resources that spark your thinking for the coming year. We do not want to give you resources you copy and plagiarize for the next Sunday. With that in mind, and a smile in our eyes, we offer you this advent sermon in hopes that you might start planning this coming Advent in advance.
Towards the beginning of his message, Pastor Tim explains that “Wonderland” holds a double meaning, capturing both the wonder that we find at Christmastime and also bringing into focus those things about the Christmas story that we “wonder” about- the Virgin Birth, angels, wise men, etc. In week two of “Wonderland”, Pastor Tim focuses on the faith and the fear that Joseph experienced in Matthew 1.
Tim addresses nonbelievers in the congregation. Sometimes in church we become so comfortable with our congregations that we forget that there are unbelievers sitting in the pews, too. Pastor Tim acknowledges that some listeners may not believe; it’s important to let your congregation know that you understand where they are at in their faith journey, even those who don’t yet believe. Several times throughout the sermon, Pastor Tim addresses nonbelievers, including in the response time. Of course every experienced pastor will nod their head in silent approval. Yet not every experienced pastor will remember to do so diligently week after week. Believers and non believers alike need to hear the gospel in all its fullness. As non-believers overhear the gospel, acknowledge that they are there. As believers overhear the gospel, acknowledge that they still need to hear the word of grace again and again.
Tim acknowledges that Christ’s power still moves today. Through story and through simple words, Pastor Tim acknowledges that God still moves among us. he tells a story of a time that God spoke in a voice that seemed audible to him; he also mentions that there are stories throughout his congregation of people who have found Jesus. Pastor Tim proclaims that Jesus still breaks chains. We can get rather human about our preaching at times. Overreacting to the health and wealth movement, or chasing respectability from mainline denominations we can stop preaching miraculous intervention and start preaching helps and tips for hurting people. May God give us courage to preach a faith that involves the miraculous.
Tim provides time for response. Do you ever hear a sermon and think, “Wow. That was powerful, the air is thick!” Then the pastor closes the service and you’re left sitting in your seat not knowing what to do next, not wanting to leave that moment? Pastor Tim provides an appropriate time and means for people to respond to the word and leaves it wide open; he doesn’t make it complicated, but simply asks those who want to response to the Word of God to come forward.
Remember, every hour after a sermon without any tangible response reduces the likelihood by half that the listener will do anything with the sermon.
To get you thinking:
1. If I counted the number of times I preached about the miraculous intervention of God in recent months, how may fingers would I need?
2. How can I give my people space to respond, simply and without manipulation this coming Sunday?
Tim Guptill is the Lead Pastor of the Moncton Wesleyan Church.
Tim served on staff at Moncton Wesleyan from 2000-2005. Most recently he served as the Director of Adult Ministries at World HQ of the Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis and then as the Lead Pastor of Crosspoint Church in Fredericton before returning to lead Moncton Wesleyan. Tim has a passion for changed lives and for the local church and is looking forward to using those passions to help move MW forward into the future.
Tim and his wife Gayla have been partners in life and ministry for 21 years. They have two daughters, Hope (16) and Autumn (12), for whom, Tim & Gayla are ridiculously proud.
A friend of mine teaches an entire class on reading for the sake of preaching. Reading great literature has always been a way to help foundering preachers find their footing with words. Recently a set of controlled studies intimated that people who read “serious fiction” have a higher emotional intelligence than the average population. People who read fluff fiction, popular fiction, have no statistical difference. People who read significant amounts of nonfiction at any level of difficulty, also show no sign in increase in emotional intelligence. I can attest to that. I work in the academy with a lot of professors who read high level books, and have low levels of EQ.
Of course this begs the chicken and the egg question: which caused which? It is possible that emotionally intelligent people simply enjoy reading great literature because they “get it,” while others do not. It is also possible that simply reading great books is the way to get a high EQ, the new success path for your future. It is more likely a mix of the two. A budding EQ when combined with reading of serious fiction gives rise to an ability to understand character, to empathize with wider suffering, to celebrate the accomplishments of the human spirit, and to recognize the kinds of activities that offend others without having to be told.
When was the last time you read a good piece of serious fiction? Hemmingway would count. Harry Potter would not. The Orphan Master’s Son would count. Hunger games would not. Gilead would count. The Shack would not. All of the “would not count” novels are fine in their own way. They simply are not the kind of novel that studies demonstrate having a correlation with EQ.
Why does Emotional Intelligence matter for preaching? Do we have to answer? Does it need asked? Preaching peers into the person of God through the lens of scripture. Then when the eyes of faith refocus, the preacher perceives the human spirit in the mirror that was once a lens for God. In other words, is there anything to preaching that is not deeply touched by Emotional Intelligence? Emotional Intelligence helps us discern the divine and offer help to the human.
There are some challenges for the preacher who wants to become more emotionally intelligent and thinks reading might help her along the way. First, there is NetFlix and the smart TV. They call our names and asks us to sink into the soft pillow of intellectual numbness. TV is wonderful for moving our emotions, for pulling us out of the here and now, for getting “our minds off of” whatever ails us. Second, serious fiction is serious effort. It does get you out of anxious focus on your church, your projects, or your conflicts. However, it isn’t an easy page turner like a Tom Clancy. It takes effort. Serious novels are often thicker books…with less pictures.
Here are two pieces of serious fiction you might consider:
1. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison. You will have to brace yourself for some content that is mature in nature, even offensive at times. Yet this novel about racism and the experience of the African American male in particular remains a classic for a reason. If you can set aside pharisaical judgment of the content, and face the world as it is, you will come out of reading this book with new insights into the race problem in America you would not have had otherwise.
2. The Winter of Our Discontent - Steinbeck’s smaller and lighter hearted work than some, this novel is shaped around Lent headed toward Easter. The main character however, does not repent from evil, he repents from good. He turns his soul over to greed and power and watches the “light go out” in his personhood.
If those don’t grab you, head over to the Pulitzer Prize novels list. Look up some novels from the recent past. (Teaser: one recent winner is a novel written in first person from a dying pastor written to his son. Interested?) These are works the literary world finds to be some of the best of the serious.
When you find yourself frustrated by the world view presented in the book, remember this one thing. You are now reminded of how the lost you seek to love think, believe, and dream. You are now entering into the world darkened by the fallenness of humanity. And, in case you are tempted to think that world does not come into your church, your people might think more like the characters in these novels than you care to admit.
One more unexpected surprise: you learn how to use words well. As preachers know, words help shape the soul. Words are the tools the master sculptor has chosen to use. Learn them well.
Dusty books smelling of decay are the things professors love, not preachers. Preachers love the scent of a coffee house conversation that leads to conversion. Preachers love the smell of new books with fresh ideas. Preachers savor the scent of waning summer and approaching fall when school kicks off, and congregations return in force. Preachers don’t love the smell of old books do they?
I think young preachers do not care for the scent of old books. Experienced preachers do. The experienced preacher knows the value of a perfectly phrased quote. Experienced preachers know that some of the best inspirations for sermons come from sermons that have gone before. Experienced preachers all have a memory of hearing someone else’s sermon and thinking how they would have preached it differently – voilá a sermon is born. It still has to grow up, mature, and walk on it’s own legs. But birthing is the hard part, the scary part, and the most likely spot for a sermon to die. The infant mortality rate of beginning sermons is high they tell me.
A cautionary tale. A friend of mine shared the story of sitting in a car with one of the “princes of the pulpit” of the Wesleyan movement. A well known pulpiteer this high level influencer was widely desired, often booked, and a frequenter of conferences and camps alike. The names will go unmentioned. But in the middle of an honest sharing session he laughed and said something close to this, “Honestly I pull out those great old Scottish preachers and preach one of their sermons straight out of the text. No one reads them anymore. A few personal changes to fit you and you come away sounding brilliant.”
Here are a few thoughts on how to benefit from those old books without diminishing other’s sense of your integrity:
1. Actually own some. Have fun going through old bookstores and showing up at library sale days. Libraries often unload old books of sermons for 50 cents a piece. Used bookstores, themselves a dying breed, often have books there for a buck that will give you loads of sermon helps and material. Of course, then there’s Amazon. What a gift that is. Used books of old sermons are treasure troves. Buy them. After all the proverb tells us to buy wisdom, if it cost all you have, get wisdom. These books have compiled wisdom you can buy for much less than all you have.
2. Read a sermon or two for you.
The old saw says “A sermon is the thing a pastor will travel a thousand miles to deliver, but will not walk across the street to hear.” I think the best inspiration for sermons always emerges from well-aged personal transformation. The best way to benefit from an old sermon book a year from now, is to allow it to change you deeply today.
3. Pull out great quotes.
You cannot be accused of plagiarism when you say even the simplest annotation. “As a favorite preacher of mine once wrote…” or “That great preacher Clovis Gillham Chappel says it this way…” Speaking of Chappell, here’s a gem I just found in the collection of sermons called “The Protestant Pulpit” in 1947:
“No amount of negatives will make us Christians. No one ever becomes a Christian by virtue of what he does not do. No amount of don’ts summed up will equal a saint.”
Or how about this one from Walter Maier,
“The great gift of Christ is not given to God’s friends, but to His enemies.”
Quotes can inspire an entire new train of thought on a passage you were struggling to bring to the ground.
4. Find enduring stories.
One preacher I read wrote about Octavius, we usually call him Augustus in Christian conversations, who ruled the world when Christ was born in Bethlehem. Today, however, only a few crumbling columns from broken down temples remain of his glory. Truly speaking, his great empire is now remembered and revisited only in ruins. There are no temples to Octavius in use. You can see the preaching moment there I am sure. So long as I make the story come alive my own way, this sort of historical insight does not become irrelevant with time. Quite the opposite. I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise. Yet, my integrity is intact so long as I tell the story with my words and apply it in my own way as the Spirit leads.
5. Beware of Borrowing Outlines.
There are a few times you can do this. I suggest to most preachers I coach that they have a sermon series every now and then that is completely made up of others’ sermons and that is explicitly known among the congregation. The original preacher is given credit. The series is always clear that the reason they are repeated is they are worth repeating. Then you preach the outline of their thoughts with the wording reworked and the analogies updated and the application made contextually. In other words, the sermon still becomes yours. You are not simply reading an old sermon. You put the flesh on the sermon, but the skeleton was dug up from an archaeological hole…an old book of sermons. Or a sermon found online.
6. Never Read Another’s Sermon Unless Everyone Knows You Are
I suppose God may view this differently than we do. After all, a sermon that was written on the heart of a preacher by the Spirit of God truly belongs to God, not the preacher. If we are biblically preaching, then the insights come to us now just from us, but primarily by submitting ourselves to the text and it’s voice and wishes. So then again, the sermon is not ours. It is best to think of all sermons as God’s sermons when thinking of your own sermons. However, when you think of someone else’s sermon, consider it theirs. Let them decide if they wish to surrender it again on the altar of another preacher’s use. And if you do preach it, they must absolutely must receive credit, better yet, public thanks for the gift they gave.
For you and I, we should follow Augustine’s advice in the first homiletics text that we know of, On Christian Doctrine. In that book he tells us it is fine to read another’s sermon so long as we stick to that role and the congregation is fully aware that we are doing so the entire time. Reading it and passing it off as our own, or weaving in and out of the sermon written by someone else may not be stealing exactly–but those who find out will likely think it is. Imagine your congregant looking up a phrase they wrote down that you said into Google. Up pops Dwight Moody from a little known message he gave when he was young. They listen to your sermon again to see if you actually gave credit. What will they find? How will they feel about what they find? Let the answers you give, guide you.
Do you have a great book of old sermons to recommend to other preachers?
Over the next few weeks we would like to recommend some books to read about preaching before we get back to watching other Wesleyan sermons for insights, practices, and habits we can learn from. These books are not preaching texts. They are not books you would normally think about in connection with preaching directly. At the same time, they could prove to be great unexpected resources for your preaching preparation that most preaching books ignore.
This week’s book emerges from the concept that preaching does its best work by making room for the Spirit of God. The Spirit transforms, the Spirit teaches the inner soul, The Spirit guides the Christian onward to God. The preacher in all the preacher’s humanity is used by the Spirit, hopefully as an instrument fully in tune. Yet, still, it is the Spirit’s work the preacher points to. One of the most effective tools a preacher has to make space for the Spirit is silence…preceded by the right question.
That leads us to recommend an old paperback book you can get for $8 online. 201 Great Questions by Jerry Jones. It was put out by Navpress in 1989 but still carries with it a lot of force.
In order to give you a good taste of the book, we want to share just a few of the questions we think might be most fruitful for preaching. But before we do, we ask you to do one thing: resist thinking about preaching them for a time. Instead, take out a piece of paper and answer them for yourself. When they impact you, you will know which ones to use in sermons in the future and why.
29. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God?
74. Would you say your life right now is more focused on the building of relationships or the accomplishment of objectives and goals? What would you like to change about this focus?
102. Is there something you would be tempted to do if you knew you could never be found out? Is it primarily good or evil?
124. How would you describe God to a child?
135. How much is your personal self worth and value determined by the job you have and your success at it?
186. What do you worry about that you wish you would never have to worry about again? Why?
197. C.S. Lewis says that “God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pains.” How is God whispering and shouting to you in your life?
Consider getting this little book for a few reasons. First, it will give you windows into your soul you desperately need. Answer the questions and you will learn things about yourself you would likely wish to ignore. You will also learn things about yourself you have not paid nearly enough attention to in the positive sense. There are desires in you that could be fulfilled in God if you allowed them to be. There are dreams and wishes God has placed in your heart that you are numbing with other pursuits.
Second, this book and other books like it will teach you the difficult and rare skill of asking compelling questions. One of the most overlooked and undertrained skills in preaching is the ability to ask a question that is compelling to all, convicting to some, confirming to others, and clearly moves the sermon toward a space for the Spirit to act and move. The sermon should not be over full of questions. You must have something to say. Still, a sermon suffering from a poverty of questions should not be surprised to end up famished from lack of clear and transforming application.
Now to ask questions about the questions:
1. Which questions were most compelling to you? What made them more compelling than others? Is it a principle of good question asking or a personal connection that is at play?
2. What questions could you create for your next sermon that give the Spirit well plowed ground to plant seeds: silent space prepared by the most compelling of questions?
In the Apple app store a new gift for preachers has emerged. “Sermon Design” is an app designed to help you work throughout he process of planning sermons digitally. It helps you keep track of your notes in color coded organic form as you go. It even helps you turn those otherwise scattered notes into typical sermon forms.
Here’s what you might love about it:
The app comes pre-loaded with multiple sermon forms including point based sermons, narrative sermons, theologically structured sermons, etc. By giving you widgets in which you place blocks of sermonic material, it allows you to easily restructure those sermon forms with swipes of your finger or to populate different sermon forms quickly and easily. For those moments when your gut tells you “this just isn’t flowing” sermon design can give you quick and easy options to help it flow better.
Your preaching notes and presentation notes can be in the same program. Instead of having to rewrite your sermon into a different format, just toggle over to “preaching mode” from “compose mode” and take your ipad or iphone up into the pulpit with you.
It syncs with the cloud. If you have ever lost your sermon notes, or had your computer crash when you were counting on it, you will be glad for this feature. You do not have to remember to back this up, just set it up to sync with the cloud automatically and rest at ease. If your ipad crashes or your iphone falls into the toilet, just borrow someone else’s tech and download your work quickly and easily.
Time and record your sermons. If you time them your sermons in order to make sure you aren’t the long winded preacher everyone dreads (hint hint) then you will love this feature of the app. Time your sermon with your notes right in front of you. Record your run through of it, and listen to your sermon back while on the way to church or in your living room with earbuds in. One of the best ways to prepare for the verbal event of preaching when you cannot preach out loud is to listen to yourself again. You can even rate your own sermon and keep it on the cloud for some day down the road when you need to pull a sermon from your guest preaching barrel.
It’s for apple tech users. Sorry PC peeps.
It won’t work on a jail broken ipad or iphone. Sorry hackers.
In the past we have shied away from printing manuscripts or transcripts of sermons for Wesleyan Sermons. The reason behind our thinking was that we wanted to make it harder not easier for pastors to copy other people’s sermons. However, after giving it more thought, we believe that pastors who are going to copy sermons wholesale will find a way to do it whether we posts text or not. Further, some content is helpful to read in a condensed form, especially if you do not have time to listen to the entire sermon online. This week we’re posting a highly theologically focused sermon. It’s content rich so it feels like a good sermon to start our new practices with. In the future we hope to post more condensed texts of sermons like this one. Some will be contemporary, some historical.
Dr. Steve Lennox has more than a decade of full time pastoring experience, two decades of teaching experience, and has served as Associate Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry and the Dean of the Chapel at Indiana Wesleyan University. We hope you enjoy reading and listening to this sermon “I Believe.”
This is the first in a series of sermons on the Apostles creed. It’s called the Apostles creed, not because they wrote it, but because it reflects the apostles’ teaching as it began to be condensed and combined at about the end of the first century. Think of the Apostles Creed like the bull’s eye in a target. It represents the core of Christianity, what we’re aiming for. The circle around the outside of that bull’s eye would be our doctrines, and outside that circle would be our opinions. The heart of what Christians believe is found in the creeds.
How many of you grew up in churches where reciting the creed was a regular part of your worship? Most of us did not. I didn’t. I secretly looked down at the people who did. I figured the only reason they had to read somebody else’s affirmation of faith is because they didn’t have enough faith of their own. I’ve grown up a bit since then, and have come to understand that some things need to be learned with the right content in the right order because this represents reality. It’s like the Periodic Table of Elements. It is arranged in that order because it represents the way things really are in the physical universe. The colors of a prism are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, not in order of popularity, but because that represents the color spectrum of reality.
The creeds are like this. They represent reality in the spiritual realm making it essential that we learn their content. Over the course of this series, we’ll examine the creed, phrase by phrase. For today I thought it best to start with a word used multiple times in the creed, the word, believe, or the concept, faith. Talking about faith is not as simple as it seems. To get our bearings, let’s turn to the faith chapter, Hebrews 11. Our text for today is the first two verses of chapter 11, then verse 6.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Drop down to verse 6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Right away we see that faith means being certain of something. This leads us to our first problem: this isn’t how we use believe. You ask your friend, “Who do the Colts play on Sunday?” and he answers, “I believe it’s the 49ers but I’ll have to check.” We tend to use believe to refer to something we aren’t certain about. The writer of Hebrews assumes that faith means being certain of something.
Verse two tells how certain we can be. It speaks of “the ancients” being commended for” their faith. The rest of chapter 11 tells about these ancients, Old Testament believers either commanded by God to do something or given a promise that God would do something. They are in this chapter because they were certain about that; they lived by their faith. Faith isn’t really faith unless it’s a faith with feet, unless it is put into action.
This brings up two more problems. For many, faith involves only intellectual ascent, like a software agreement. You skim down, click accept and use the software. For some, that’s all faith involves, checking the box that says “I agree.” Others view faith as emotional assent. We have always believed something passionately. But the writer of Hebrews is not talking about intellectual or emotional assent. He is talking about a sit-down faith. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how this stool will hold my weight. I can tell you why its physical properties can definitely support 185 pounds. I can tell you all this with great passion! But there’s only one way to prove it. I’ve got to sit down. This is the kind of faith the Bible calls us to possess: a sit down faith. This is the kind of faith the ancients were commended for.
We can claim to believe God controls all that happens in human history, but the real test of our faith is how we respond to the phone call with devastating news. We can talk passionately about how God provides all our needs but the real test of our faith is when it is time to register for classes and your bill is unpaid.
Faith is having a sit-down certainty of something, but certainty in what? What is the content of our faith? Let’s go back to our text. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for,” that is, what remains in the future, “and certain of what we do not see,” that is, the invisible. Faith is being sure of something that hasn’t happened yet. God told Noah to build a boat because there was going to be a flood. Noah believed God and built that boat when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
The creed calls us to believe in future things, like the return of Christ, the resurrection of our bodies, and the life everlasting. Although these haven’t happened yet, we are called to live with certainty that they will occur. We are called to have a faith that makes decisions today based on what we believe about tomorrow.
Faith also means being sure about the invisible. Hebrews 11 talks about Moses standing fearlessly in the presence of Pharaoh, the most powerful man of his day. Moses did not fear Pharaoh, we’re told, because Moses saw Him who is invisible (11:27). Though he could not see God at that moment, Moses believed God was present. This certainty gave him the courage to face down Pharaoh. The creed calls for belief in the invisible, such as things that happened in the past: Jesus Christ “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried.” The creed also talks about believing things that are real, but invisible, things like “one holy, universal Church.” What we see now are multiple denominations, divisions, disobedience; we don’t see “one holy, universal Church.” But we are called to believe in the invisible reality, this church which is more than meets the eye. If you really believe that the Church is one, unified body of believers, you will put feet to your faith by getting involved and making the church an important part of your life.
Faith calls us to have a certainty about things we cannot see and things still to come. But if we can’t see it and if it hasn’t happened yet, how do we know what we are supposed to be certain about? Let me suggest two criteria. First, you can be certain of anything God has promised. God promised Abram and Sarah they would have a son and from that son would come a whole nation. They accepted that promise with certainty, even though it hadn’t happened yet and seemed like it never would. God has made promises to us as His people: that He would never forsake us, He would provide for our needs, He would turn all things to His glory and our good.
Second, you can be certain of whatever flows naturally and essentially from God’s character. Take Abraham on Mount Moriah. He remembers God’s promise that the same boy who lies on the altar bound like a sacrificial animal will be the one through whom a great nation comes. In other words, Isaac would have to be alive. Yet God was commanding Abram to kill Isaac. What does Abram do? He “reasoned.” That’s what it says in Hebrews 11:19. Abram reasoned. The Greek word describes the process of calculation. Abram added things up and reasoned that though he must kill Isaac, God would then raise Isaac from the dead, enabling him to fulfill God’s promise. None of us will ever have to face a dilemma like that, but we will have our own conundrums. When we do, like Abraham we can be certain of what flows naturally and essentially from God’s character. He is all-powerful and can do anything. He is all-loving and will only ever allow what He can turn to good.
I like this phrase, “Abraham reasoned,” because it silences the claim that faith and reason are incompatible. It was Abraham’s faith that allowed him to reason. C.S. Lewis illustrates the compatibility of faith and reason by describing a poem being given to a person who cannot read. Lewis writes,
One who contended that a poem was nothing but black marks on white paper would be unanswerable if he addressed an audience who couldn’t read. Look at it through microscopes, analyse the printer’s ink and the paper, study it (in that way) as long as you like; you will never find something over and above all the products of analysis whereof you can say ‘This is the poem’. Those who can read, however, will continue to say the poem exists.
Reason allows us to become experts in analyzing the marks on the paper, but faith allows us to read the poem.
God intends faith and reason to be kept together. In fact, faith keeps reason reasonable. Without faith, reason gets away with a lot of mischief. Smart people lacking faith can do dumb things. When our emotions have our reason’s arm twisted behind its back, faith reminds you of what you cannot see, an eternity of joy awaiting the faithful.
One final thing from this passage: “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Faith is not an option, but a necessity. Faith is like the operating system on your computer. Without it, your computer is just attractive plastic. It can’t do anything. The keyboard can’t talk to the monitor and no one gets any help from the central processing unit. But install the operating system and the hardware works as designed. This is what faith does for us. It makes it possible to please God.
When you hear that faith is essential, you might respond, “but Steve, you don’t know about my doubts.” Don’t worry about your doubts, worry about your fears. The opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear, and fear weakens us. We know what we ought to do but we’re afraid to do it. Fear can kill you, but doubts are harmless. Abram is known as the father of those who believe. In the same chapter where Abram first expressed doubts about God’s plan, Abram’s faith was most directly affirmed. “People do not have their faith snatched away from them by force of argument,” said Lewis. “They just forget where they put it.” Your doubts are not only harmless, they’re inevitable. Pannenberg said doubt is only the shadow cast by faith. Just get used to praying the prayer of the father in the gospels: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” If you must doubt, follow the advice of G.K. Chesterton: when doubting, doubt boldly. Doubt fervently. Doubt daily. Doubt everything, until you begin to doubt your doubts, and finally, doubt the doubter.
Let’s pray. We don’t need much of it, Lord Christ, a mustard seed worth will do. But if with that little faith we take you at your word, you can do great things through us. Give us the certainty to have a sit-down faith until we find you faithful to your people of faith. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
New Year is around the corner and you are thinking about your weight, the books you promised yourself you would read, the relationship that you let go fallow, and other such New Years Resolutions. Can we put a few preaching ideas into your mind to consider? The New Year is a great time to evaluate where you are in the middle of the preaching calendar, make mid year adjustments, and look forward toward a new calendar year of preaching growth and faithfulness.
Here are a few resolutions to consider:
1. Start every sermon two weeks before you preach them. Starting a sermon really doesn’t take that much time. It can begin with a five minute brainstorm on a notecard or yellow pad. It could begin with a first cursory reading of the text, or a glance at the interlinear. But the beauty of the human mind is that it keeps working on open projects (like sermons) even when we do not tell it to do so. The reason you come up with ideas in the shower is often because you went to bed thinking about it, you dreamed about it, your brain reintegrated things as you awoke, and the calming effect of the showers brought the pieces together. What if you could make those shower moments of insight happen more often? You can! Just start thinking about sermons sooner.
2. Never let anyone hear you preach your sermon the first time. Preaching is an oral/aural art form. In other words, it isn’t text and it isn’t manuscript and it isn’t outline. It happens in the electric space between the lips of the preacher and the hearts of the listeners. Preacher is verbal. Preaching is performative. Imagine going to a play where the first time it was ever practiced was in front of you. Imagine listening to a concert where the music had never been performed from A to Z before. Preaching almost always flows better, makes more sense, and becomes more compelling when the sermon is honed out loud, practiced but not memorized.
3. Include others in your preaching preparation. Every year my preaching students are forced into “preaching groups” where they pray for each other, study passages together, and woodshed sermonic ideas together. When they are dry and uninspired, they turn to their preaching groups. When a passage seems to be heretical or abusive, they turn to their preaching groups. When they are not sure if an illustration will be helpful or distracting, they turn to their preaching groups. Each year my students tell me the most significant portion of their preaching experience was a preaching group. One of those groups that started in 2006 is still running strong. They still support each other, pray for each other, brainstorm sermons together, and help each other pick up their lives when they fall apart. And yes, their lives have fallen apart here and there. Do you have a preaching group? Why not make 2014 the year to start one.
If you make one of these resolutions for your preaching this year, let us know how it goes. If you have a different resolution you plan to make, let us know about that too.
May God give you the best preaching year of your ministerial life, this year.
Christ is coming and our celebration of his birth is building to its climax. Even in K-mart, Wal-mart, or Target the songs of “our savior” are being sung. If you are a bibliophile (book lover) you may get a gift card to amazon or Barnes and Noble. You may also get a small Christmas bonus to help make up for the fact that you’re the pastor leading the communion service Christmas eve while others head home. You might also have a friend with a birthday right after Christmas. For whatever reason you might be looking, here are some great gifts for the preachers in your life (including you.)
1. A brand new Bible. There is nothing more special to me, besides my family, in my house than my marked up and well-worn bible. But every few years, it’s time to wipe the mental slate clean, set aside the filled-up margins, and read the bible with fresh eyes again. I personally love the NIV wide margin leather bound bibles. The wide margins give me plenty of room to take notes or even outline sermons. I always have a few sermons ready to go because the outline for them is penciled into my bible’s margins. A new bible is out recently though that you may want to consider. The Common English Bible as sought to create a new, more readable, and less doctrinally slanted version. Abingdon has put it out, and the study bible comes with color illustrations of archaeological finds and historical background pieces. Listen to the general editor, Joel Green, discuss the translation in this embedded video:
If you can’t see the video, click here. Dr. Ken Schenck from Wesley Seminary helped in the translations for the book of Hebrews.
2. Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and Hope- by Luke A. Powery (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2012). A fresh preaching book can breath new life into the doldrums of weekly preaching if it’s a good one. This one is a good one. Dr. Luke Powery, new Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, has written a beautiful gem in “Dem Bones.” In this book Powery draws depth and beauty together with the threads of death and resurrection. A child of the pilgrim holiness church of the Caribbean with ties to other spirit-focused theological schools Powery will resonate with Wesleyan preacher’s theology and sentiments. He uses phrases like “death as the context of preaching” and “spiritual hermeneutics” all from the perspective of African American spirituals and their birth in preaching.
3. Preaching Creation: the Environment and the Pulpit- by John C. Holbert (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2011). Some of you may already be nervous about my faith and theology simply by me mentioning the title. Others now assume I am closer to Jesus for the same reasons. Whatever you might think, preaching faithfully about creation and its stewardship is a great need in our pulpits. John Holbert who just received the life time achievement award at the Academy of Homiletics this year, has written a very accessible book about 100 pages long. In other words, it won’t over burden you. But if you have not yet delved into the theology of ecology from the old and new testaments this is a good book to start with. You may even come out of it with a sermon series in your mind.
Of course, you could just get them another piece of low-brow Christian art from the nearby bookstore, or fruitcake, or even socks. But if you want to get something for a preacher, none of these three ideas would go wrong.
A couple of years ago Lenny Luchetti wrote an article for Wesleyan sermons on creating your own sermon planning retreat. One of our readers, Kevin Baker took Lenny up on the challenge and is glad he did. Below is the first portion of his blog post followed by a link where you can read the rest.
My First Sermon Planning Retreat … And why I have already planned my next one.
As I have already mentioned here, I have recently returned from my first sermon planning retreat and wanted to share some of my insights and learnings. First let me share with you some of the logistics and then outline how I structured my time. I should also add that my spouse traveled with me, using our time away for her own work, writing, and 2014 planning. Though she may not always be able to go with me in the future, I found that her company during our shared times of prayer, breaks, and meals was a welcome break and made the experience even more enjoyable!
Read more about Kevin Baker’s first sermon planning retreat.
My wife and I missed the TV series 24. We were living in the north Maine woods where cable and satellite were unavailable. After the first two seasons were aired, we bought the DVDs for Season One. We were hooked. In fact, we now laugh about going to work red-eyed and groggy because each night we stayed up until 2am saying, “Let’s watch just one more episode.” 24 created a series where each show was like a chapter in a book. The story line moved from show to show. I now like watching TV series better than movies. A movie has to cram an entire plot into one showing. A TV series can develop character and plot over many episodes.
Preaching is much the same. A stand-alone sermon is like a movie. Everything pertinent to the message has to be said in that one sitting. And because we only have 30 minuets or so, we spend as much time cutting material as we did researching it. A sermon series, however, is more like a TV series. We can develop theme, plot lines and character over a number of weeks. That’s why I am committed to preaching in series.
So every year I have worked to create a preaching calendar, which has led to another problem. Dietrich Bonheoffer said that preaching the Word of God is the Word of God. He meant that when we expound the Scriptures, Christ, through His Spirit, is incarnated in the congregation. The implications of that statement are far reaching. One is that an incarnational sermon is one that moves from text to topic. But the typical preaching calendar tips calls us to move from topic to text. We are encouraged to think about the needs of our church and plan various sermon series accordingly. Each year we need to be sure and include a series on marriage, sex, finances, parenting, relationships and vision. Those are the issues people are thinking about when they walk through our doors.
The most pragmatic way to do that is to develop topical sermon series. But if Bonheoffer was right, then moving from topic to text is potentially dangerous. If I do not exposit a text, but instead, hang a verse on a point, then I am not preaching the Word of God. I am using the Word of God to support my ideas. If I am not preaching the Word of God, then my preaching is not the Word of God. It is human wisdom. Paul had some harsh things to say about that in 1 Corinthians.
That leads to my struggle in creating preaching calendars. Moving from felt needs to Biblical text makes the sermons appear relevant. And moving from text to topic threatens to make the message seem disconnected from life. How can we create an expositional preaching calendar that feels like a needs-based sermon series? If I introduce a 37 part sermon series through the book of Joshua people will check out. But if I stay exclusively with topically based sermon series, I may hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.
This year I created a preaching calendar that appears to be topical and relevant, but is in fact, expositional. I started by blocking out specific dates—Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, guest speakers, vacations, etc. I also blocked out specific times when I need to preach a stand alone sermon, or a topical mini-series. Yes, I do still preach some topical messages, but it is the exception. When I do preach that type of sermon I preach what I call a “topositional” sermon. (That’s another article). I then looked at the blocks of weeks between those dates. For example, from the first of January until Palm Sunday are 14 Sundays. The first three Sundays I am preaching a series on finances. Then I have a guest speaker on January 26. So my first open block of weeks starts in February.
I have 10 weeks open from the first of February until Palm Sunday. This year I feel led to preach through the book of 1 Corinthians. I am going to divide the book up into separate sermon series and brand them as such. So my first installment will be a four-part series. The second will also be a four-part, and the last two weeks will be a two part mini series. That will take me to Easter. Then after Easter, I will continue through 1 Corinthians. Though I will preach systematically through 1 Corinthians, I will not promote it in that way. Instead, I have taken each preaching segment and have studied it to discover the controlling theme. Then, I have sought a way to advertise it that connects with the felt needs of our congregation.
For example, the first preaching segment will be 1 Corinthians 1:1-31. I have divided this chapter into four parts; 1:1-9, 1:10-17, 1:18-25 and 1:26-31. The theme of this section is for the church to live in unity. Paul talks about fellowship and fighting. I decided to craft the theme around the movie, The Lord of the Rings. My personal notes, to direct me in sermon preparation are listed below.
Series Title: The Fellowship of the Ring—This series will focus on the need for the church to be in unity; that we need to be united in heart and mission and that our allegiance must be on the One true leader of the church—Jesus Christ
Feb 2—The Mission of the Ring—1:1-9—This passage establishes the foundational importance of unity—it focuses on the fact that we all have to be united in heart, mind and mission. I will draw from the movie the idea that everyone engaged in the mission, though coming from a different background, all had to work together or the mission would fail.
Feb 9—Everyone wants the Ring—1:10-17—There are often divisions and fights in the church because people engage in politics, pushing various agendas and leaders. Jesus hates politics in the church, because there is only one leader (Jesus) and one agenda (His mission). In the movie, various characters were fighting to possess the ring. I will use that for the tie-in to the movie.
Feb 16—The Lord of the Ring—1:18-25—people are drawn to powerful leaders but Christ is the Lord of our fellowship and He is our focus and message.
Feb 23—A Simple Hobbit—1:26-31—God doesn’t call superstars, just ordinary people transformed by the gospel.
Pastor Rick Kavanaugh has been at First Wesleyan Church in High Point, NC since July, 2008 and came from Presque Isle, Maine, where he served as a Senior Pastor for 22 years. He and his wife, Marcia, have been married for 30 years. They have 2 kids and a granddaughter and a grandson.