A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Extend the Sermon

Preaching has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been prayerfully thinking about how to maximize the spiritual impact of a sermon. Preaching brothers, if you're like me, so much heart and effort goes into a sermon, it just doesn't seem like enough to preach it, and maybe podcast it and be done. 

I want to "extend my sermons." Today, journaling about this, I came up with five ways to invite the congregation and visitors to interact with the Sunday morning sermon. Some of these will likely appeal to folks who happen upon the sermon online as well. If any of you preachers decide to do something like this, I encourage you to package it in such a way your hearers, both at home and online, can find all the materials they need. 

Number one, of course, is to podcast it. Since I'm not the usual pulpit guy in the church I serve, I don't post these often, but I podcast just about every sermon I preach, and am sometimes amazed how many people around the world listen to them (services like Podomatic.com provide the tools to track downloads and streams). Make sure the congregation knows how to find your sermon online and encourage them to listen to it again at least once during the week. 

Second, make a "further development" blog post. Nearly all preachers wrestle painfully with their sermons on the cutting floor. It's part of the maturation process to learn how to endure the pain of not being able to say as much as you want (need?) to say. If I'd have learned this earlier I'd have spared my hearers' rear ends a bit of pain, and probably would have been more effective as well. So, take the stuff you decide to cut out for time's sake and blog it. Let the congregation know when it'll go live and encourage them to read and comment as a follow-up to listening.

Three, try a "giving the sermon feet" challenge. You may not want to do this every week, but when the lesson's about something the congregation particularly needs to get up and do, give them a specific scenario. One of my homiletics professors told us we needed to "help the hearers be able to envision themselves doing what the sermon is calling them to do." 

A fourth idea is to have a "lunch with the preacher" session during the week. Invite the congregation to meet at the building one day during the week, brown bag it, and have an open discussion about the week's sermon. Due to work schedules, kids, etc., probably not many of the members will be able to make it, but those who can will have a priceless opportunity to really get a deeper grasp, and have their questions answered personally. 

Finally, prepare a family devo from the sermon material each week and post it online (or send as a mass email) like clockwork at the same time each week. Not only does it extend the life of all the work you put into the sermon a little longer, but it'll give the families in the church something they desperately need: some good material to sit down and study together at home. You'll strengthen the families in the church, and so strengthen the church.

What ideas do you have?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

GULF – 10,000 Reasons


One of the first songs we sang at GULF Youth Experience in Orange Beach Alabama last weekend was, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), written by Matt Redman. The sound of hundreds of young people lifting their voices up together to “bless the Lord” was inspiring to say the least.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to teach two of the breakout session classes on Sunday. I taught the Middle School boys first, then the High School fellas. The theme was “Under Construction.” The keynote speakers talked about tearing down and building up walls, about the building blocks of a faithful walk with Christ, and about living in expectation of the return of Christ. My classes were focused on helping the young men envision and reach their spiritual potential.

We took a few of our Middle-School students this year. They had a great time. They participated in the praise enthusiastically. We sang some of the songs together in the van afterward. The speakers really connected. Our guys talked together about points from their lessons. They probably liked the devo on the beach the best, and I’ll have to say it was a really great time and place to worship God together. That’s one of the things that makes GULF special among Youth Rallies.

I could probably come up with a thousand reasons why a good youth rally is a blessing to me, much less teens. But, instead, here’s 10,000.

"10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)"

[Chorus]
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

[Chorus]
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name

You're rich in love, and You're slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

[Chorus]
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

[Chorus x2]
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name

Jesus, I'll worship Your holy name
Lord, I'll worship Your holy name

Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name
Jesus, I'll worship Your holy name
I'll worship Your holy name

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thinking on Things (Part 6)

Time to finally wrap up the series about money and stuff. There are just two areas I mentioned in the first post in this series I don't think I've really touched on at all, so time to address them. The tougher question first.

If the church is called to help the poor, who qualifies as poor? I might add, how do we define help? Jesus put things in perspective when he said, "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me." (Mark 14:7). Serving Christ as Lord is the highest calling. My walk of faith with Christ comes before the good work of caring for the poor as it is but one aspect of the Christian way of life. But the Lord's words do show his concern with the plight of the poor, and he expects his disciples will share that concern. Many passages show how important it is to care for the poor. Consider these: Psalm 41:1, Matthew 25:34-46Luke 7:22, James 2:5-7, and 14-16


Who is poor then? There are certain ones we cannot help. "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2Thessalonians 3:10). I'm convinced this commandment primarily has to do with brothers and sisters in Christ who all ought to be godly enough to do their best to take care of their own needs and those of their dependents. In other words they ought to know better. "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1Timothy 5:8). If someone is able to do his fair share, but won't, particularly a Christian who ought to know better, the right thing to do is to let him suffer the consequences. Otherwise we become enablers, and share his guilt. But, it's not that this command is entirely punitive in nature. It's redemptive! The point is hunger will motivate the slothful to amend his ways, and he, and all of us will be the better for it. This redemptive purpose is what I think is the most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about how to help the poor. 

In other words, if someone is trying, but struggling, or perhaps physically or mentally unable to take care of things good people ought to pitch in and help however we can. Beyond that, even if someone isn't pulling his fair share we ought to give openhandedly when the purpose is redemptive, for instance with an unbeliever who might come to faith if shown some mercy and thus learn to be productive. These examples aren't intended to be exhaustive, but hopefully represent an application of the redemptive principle. 

Again, who is poor? Well, the answer is subjective. Poor in the "Western World" is different from the "Third World." This doesn't mean poor Americans aren't struggling. If my children are having to go without some of the things they need, it hardly solves anything to be told there are others who are going without even more of those things. Christians in "the West" ought to do what we can to redemptively help those among us as well as in the deeply poor places of the world. Poor means having less than what is adequate of something. Even those who are poor ought to do what they can to show mercy toward those who are in abject poverty. Remember, Jesus didn't help every poor family in Israel while he walked this earth any more than he healed every sick person. Helping the poor is an important ministry of the church, but it is a means to an end of pursuing the redemptive goals of the kingdom of God, not an end in and of itself. 

As for parents' responsibility to teach children about good stewardship of money and possessions, I'd like to say a lot, but I've already said about as much as I want to in a single post, so I'll just sum it up with two principles. 1) Parents must teach these things to their children. 2) Parents ought to give their children opportunities to go without things they want and to observe the lives of those who have less so they can understand how to appreciate what they have.

May God richly bless us all!

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Not Too Late for Some New Year's Goals!

We're a third of the way through the first month of a new year already, and I'm just now getting around to completing my goals for the year. But, that's how it goes. Influenced by Ron Edmondson's blog posts on churchleaders.com (Writing A Life Plan for the New Year), I decided to categorize this year's goals to make them easier to remember.

The first pages marked "The Year of Our Lord, 2013" in my journal are dominated with sections of one to three goals labelled Spiritual, Personal, Marriage and Family, Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Professional. I make sure my goals are specific, or else it's just wishful thinking. For instance, "I'm going to read my Bible more," won't happen unless I specify when and how much. Same with weight loss, etc.

I'm doing a few things with my goals for the year that go beyond the scope of Edmondson's blog post. I've chosen three scriptures for the year. Now, Lord willing 2013 will be a year in which I read, study, teach and preach a lot of Scripture, but there are three I've chosen that I want to keep coming back to all year: 2Timothy 1:7, Proverbs 16:3, and Colossians 3:17. I've also written out a short prayer for the year. I intend to come back to my journal and re-read it a couple of times each month to remind me what blessings I'm asking God for this year, and how I hope my life will praise him. If this old world makes it through 2013, and I along with it, it'll strengthen my faith to read the prayer and think of all the ways god has answered it. I encourage you to include these important things in your goals for the year.

I heard a sermon illustration several years ago that went something like: "A man from a small town picked up a client from out of state at the airport and was driving him back to town. As they got to town they passed a street sign and on it a target painted in red and white--an arrow stuck in the center. They went a little into town and there was another target painted on the wooden siding of an old building--an arrow dead center. Finally, as they drove through the town square there was a thick old tree with a target on it and an arrow shot straight into the bulls-eye. The client asked, "Do you folks have some kind of champion archer in town?" "No," the businessman replied, "An artist. He shoots an arrow and paints the target around it."

The point? (No pun intended.) It's easy to settle for less than the best from ourselves. We're tempted to pretend where we are in life is the bull's-eye, because that's easier on us emotionally in the short-term. But, it's the lazy way; definitely not the spiritual way. It'll disappoint in the long run. So, it's not too late to do a little soul-searching and make some decisions about what you want to accomplish this year. "If you aim at nothing you'll hit it."