Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’

The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.

Preaching a God you do not like

May 10, 2011 1 comment

I suppose if I did the math (and I did do the math) a person who is my age has had 1,836 Sundays.  I was a camp counselor for 6 summers: that’s about 300 campfire times.  I’ve also had chapels at both college and seminary.  That’s 7 years of chapels making roughly 910 chapel services.  Then there are all the worship services after that which break down to probably 750 where I’ve preached or participated in leading worship.  A rough total of about 3,800 corporate worship services.  I’m not trying to brag.  I know my heart, and I could have used twice that for sure.  But I want to make a point with the number.

I have never once heard a preacher, including myself, say the thing I want to say this week.  “I don’t like the God I see in this passage.”

Why is that?  Well, it’s either because the person preaching does like the God they see in the passage, or they’re afraid of admitting what they feel, or it’s just taboo to be honest in that way from behind the pulpit, or church politics would usher them out the door afterwards, or they are stuck on the idea that a worshiper must be in a perpetual state of praise.  I understand all that.  I do.  But the fact of the matter is that this week I’m preaching on Genesis 22.

It’s where God asks Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, the one he loves and sacrifice him on an altar.  What kind of a person does that?  What kind of a God does that?  This is the son God promised an old barren couple.  This is the son who is to be the beginning of a world-wide blessing.  This is Abraham’s flesh and blood.  What kind of misuse of power is this by God?  Why test someone like that?  I don’t like the God I see here.  I would not want to go out to lunch with this God.  This kind of God should not expect my love and gratitude and worship.

You might be thinking, “Yah, but God supplies a ram before Abraham can go through with it.”  So?  The boy was bound, laying on a pile of wood, and the knife was on its descent toward his lifeblood and it’s supposed to make it OK that God stopped him at that point?  Not for me.  I don’t like it, and in this story…I don’t like God.

I have to be able to say that.  I have to be able to say it in church on Sunday because of the kind of faith community we want to be.  We desire to be a place of authenticity – where you can be yourself and honestly engage scripture and the living God who breathed life into both the words and into us.

Pastors are given a big responsibility – be honest with God’s word and with God’s people.  And while I have great love and respect for Bill Wayland, my boyhood pastor, camp chaplains, college chaplains, seminary speakers, Perry DeGroot and others who have preached God’s word to me in the past, I’m hoping to break the cycle in a healthy way.  I don’t think any of them ever lied to me, but they protected me, and I’m not sure that’s a service to the hearer.

I’m no homeletics professor, but I know this: preachers are not only teaching God’s word, they also are teaching how to honestly engage God.  And in a church plant I’m surrounded by people who can sniff a half-truth better than most.  And if I ease past something like this, I’ve lost them…and I really shouldn’t be surprised if they never came back.  People are looking for a lot of things: comfort? yes. inspiration? yes. But they also look for truth – and not the “we can stand in the face of the world holding this truth to their noses” kind of truth.  Sometimes just a little “I don’t like the God I see in this passage” kind of truth goes a long way.  It’s permission, basically.  Permission to feel what they feel – or maybe just what I feel.

This story may not show a God I like, but it’s the God I have, and…the God I dearly love.  I think I may need to end there both today and on Sunday.

Momentum

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the fun challenges in church planting is generating momentum.  In particular, it is challenging to generate momentum in attendance.  We have 100 or so people in our directory, but an average attendance of 65-70.  I know, I know…this is a pretty normal percentage for a church, but we need, Need, NEED to gain momentum to take a next step.

I don’t want just numbers, but I do want to help those who have never made weekly worship attendance a priority or a practice/discipline feel the benefits of having an established rythm of worship.  So, I’m trying something fresh this week.

We are going to be walking through the book of Esther for the next 5-6 weeks.  The story is one of the funniest, most ironic, soap operas in the Bible and I think it lends itself to a series in the fashion we enjoy at Embody – conversational engagement of the text.

Here are some of the things we’ll be doing over the next 5-6 weeks:

1. One of our resident artists will be producing a weekly piece of art in various mediums during the worship service (we’ll see if this is helpful, distracting, or both).

2. We’ll read the story outloud.  Since this would take over an hour to do all at once, we’ll read our weekly portion outloud and use cartoon pictures (made by a resident artist) to recap the previous parts of the story before we read each new section.  By the end of the series we’ll have a cartoon handout of the whole story!

3. I’m inviting people to read each week’s passage before hand and turning in (via email) a 10-word or less summary, like a headline for the passage.  For instance, if we were doing the story of David and Goliath headlines might read: “Underage Recruits Used In Battle”, “King Refuses Lead Army In Battle”, “Ancient Weaponry Utilized”, or even “Shepherd Boy Defeats Giant, Leads Israeli Army to Victory”

4. If appropriate and if we’re able, I hope to use some people in reenacting parts of the story.  Physical representation of certain aspects might be helpful.

My hope is that this will give people a reason to continue to return to hear more of the story and to engage scripture as well as participate in the sermon.  I don’t have a number goal, but I do have the aim of having the same people return week after week.  We’ll let God do what God does best – work in the heart of God’s people!

Here’s how you can help with my sermon…well, with the intro to the sermon: I could use your summaries or “headlines” for this Sunday over Esther 1:1-2:18.  Send them to my email account jim@embodychrist.com .  Thanks!

Sermon Notes

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastor Dan from First Church and I swapped pulpits today.  I told Alex that I wanted to know what Dan preached about, so I was asking him to take notes during the sermon.  The passage was John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine.  Following are the notes he took, separated by commas:

old scripture, dan doesn’t understand it, cind of a part of a puzzle, Angels talking about what Jesus might do, wedding in Gallale, Jesus, Deciples invited, talking about wine the best is Jesus blood, smart guy named rodney – studies gods and goddisis, jurny found 1 temple with 100,000 skulls, sacrifice them to the gods, mean guys thats wat people in the olden days were like, they came to Isreal to do bad stuff, wedding whole comuniys there, wine gone, weddings usaly 7 days of food, wine dude screws up, peple laugh at them, its not there foult, there misreble, Jesus comes up with a plan, they have no more wine, Jesus: I’m no longer just belong to you, I belong to the world., saves them, first mericle, turns water into wine, happiest day of his and there life, take big stuff to him, take little stuff too he cares about everything, what matters to you matters to God, this scripture takes along time to understand

Those are the notes he took.  Not bad.  Kind of proud of the little guy for paying such good attention.  I can see that kids of that age are definitely able to pay attention and get a lot out of a sermon.  I should never discount their presence and their ability.  Perhaps we should start expecting a little more out of children in worship and in life.

At what age do we start allowing children to lead us in one way or another?  At what age do we allow children to make important decisions alongside the adults?  I have a bit of a grip with the church, and it’s this: I hear complaints from pastors all the time about the missing generation (people from 18-28).  Seems we lose our children for about 10 years after graduation and only get them back (maybe) when they have children of their own and remember the importance of raising your children in the company of other believers.

I don’t have the answers to this challenge, but I propose this: why not treat them like part of the church before they’re 28?  Why separate them all the time?  Why not incorporate them in important decisions, ask them their opinions, take their point of view into council?  Why not have a teenager on every important task force or ministry team?  Help them prepare for being an adult in the church by taking them seriously.

Maybe, just maybe their involvement will give them enough ownership in their own faith and faith community that they’ll know how to act as an adult believer when they come of “age” … whatever that means.  Perhaps we should be taking a few sermon notes from them, huh?

Strategery

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of numbers.  I did my time in Algebra class and took the bare minimals in college.  Some people are great with numbers, love them, live by them, play with them…those people are freaks.  Yah, I’m talking about you, you science freaks.  I’m not that guy.  Give me words; give me a metaphor, “give me liberty or give me death,” “Ask not what you can do for your country…,” “Four score and seven years ago…”.  See? Words can move people.  Numbers just convince people.  I want to be moved.

So…I don’t like budgets, I don’t like adding, I don’t like subtracting, and I hate dividing.  BUT, I understand that it is vital to church planting in the background.  Numbers help tell the story, they give us milestones, and they help us see our trajectory.  Plus (notice I am able to use math terms) there are numbers we have to see in order to maintain us into the future.

Here’s the fact(or) of the matter (notice, math terms can be used for puns as well): Embody needs to have 120 or so people to be self-sustaining.  Presently we worship about 65-70.  This means that as our funding starts to dry up we will need to increase in numbers as a worshiping fellowship and become healthy givers.  Now the big question: how do you faithfully grow in numbers without becoming all about numbers?  What’s the equation? (I had to push for that one).

So I have a little plan, but it relies on the Spirit and on our folks.  Here’s what I’m thinking for the fall: a mailer…it’ll go out in a week or so to our neighborhood; a sermon series (keeps people coming back week to week); two classes for people who are not necessarily part of our fellowship (I’ll put an invite in the paper and send our folks to their friends); and we’ll make plans for 2 services in the future…think it out so we’re ready when we don’t all fit in our building at the same time.

I need a few things that are out of my control: prayer from you, people to be inviters, Holy Spirit moving in hearts.

I need a few things that are in my control: faith, hope, hard work, pavement pounding, planning, sermon prep.

Maybe if all our variables fall into place our function will include multiplication.

Explaining Death To A Child

July 7, 2010 3 comments

A few weeks back a friend brought her adult niece to church.  She does this on ocassion, so…nothing new.  The sermon that day was on the wayward son (also known as the prodigal son).  This was a grand slam of a sermon.  I try not to toot my horn, but it really was exquisite.  Well written, music fit perfectly, prayer, communion…everything just great – thank the Holy Spirit for all that.  Anyway, I was a little bummed because there was hardly anyone there.  like 25 people (beautiful summer day…blah blah blah)

After the sending, while Lee was playing some background music, my friend (who had brought the niece) found me and was beaming because her niece is the prodigal and the sermon was just perfect for her.  So…yah, quit feeling sorry for yourself Daniels and recognize that God is doing something just a little bigger than you and your ego.  Anyway – that’s the backdrop to my sad story to come.

I was at the Way Cup Cafe this morning and a friend of mine told me about a horrible tragedy that occurred the night before.  A little boy of 4 was run over by someone looking for a parking spot.  The child died.  There’s no easy way to say that.  My friend was involved in some of the legal matters that followed, and was a little shook up – understandably so.

1 hour later I received a phone call from the niece who showed up to church a few weeks back.  She was present when the accidental death happened.  The family of the little boy had been living with them.  Now she has the horrible task of telling her two children (ages 4 and 6) that their best friend was not coming home and was now dead.

“I was hoping you could give me some help…some ideas…something I can say to my children.”

Oh my God help me.  That was my selfish, little, and very honest prayer.  I don’t know what to say to a child in a situation like that.  What can you say?  Here’s what I do know: the less you have to say, the better.  Jobs friends had it right until they started opening their mouth.  They sat and cried with him for days until they thought they had some kind of answer – that’s when they blew it.

So, what do you say to a 4 and 6  year old about their best friend dying?  I’m not sure, but it will probably be very simple, fact layden, and sad.  There’s no upbeat to something like this.  You can’t scoop in there with a lollypop and say it’s going to be alright because it’s not.  This sucks, and there’s no answer to the question why.  There’s no answer to the question “what kind of God…”

“Kids, I’m sorry to have to tell you this.  Jimmy won’t be coming home anymore because a terrible thing happened.  He was hit by a car and has died.”  Is that it?  Is that all you can say?  Maybe add, “It’s a horrible thing and we don’t know why it happened, but it did.  It’s nobody’s fault.  These things just happen sometimes.”  What do you say to the miriad of possible questions to follow?  “This won’t happen to you”?  “God’s not angry at someone”?

Perhaps this: I don’t understand all of this, but I do know that God loves us and understands all the pain we’re going through.  He’s here with us and will listen to all that we need to say to Him.  You can say anything you need to, and God won’t be upset at you.  Be honest with God and don’t worry about making him angry – he couldn’t be angry with you…God loves you even in the middle of this big, horrible mess.

Friends, if you’re still reading this entry, please pray for me as I try to love and listen and sit with this family.  And more than that…please pray for the family of this little boy – I can’t imagine…and doing so hurts.  Thanks.

The Moment I Love

Comerica Park and the great view from my seat behind the Tigers' dugout

Took my son to a Detroit Tigers game yesterday.  He’s 7, and going to a game is a really exciting thing for him.  Ok, it is for me, too.  I love the stark green grass.  I enjoy the smells and sounds at the park.  I like a greatly overpriced bun-length kielbasa.  I can’t get enough of watching the pop flies that someone almost catches while their buddy actually DOES catch it (then watching the interplay between the two of them…high fives, barely hidden jealousy while the lucky catcher raises his ball-filled fist into the air for all the crowd to see and cheer for (15 seconds of fame)).

We picked up some friends and drove the three hours to Detroit, found the right exit, parked the car, got out and realized it was going to be a VERY hot day for a ball game, walked around the corner to be blown away by the enormity of the park – bigger than life.  We went inside and found our seats, but before we did that we did my absolute favorite thing to do at a park.  I LOVE knowing that I’m going to see the field and then walking to the place where I do see the field for the first time.  Sounds silly, but I love the anticipation and the fulfillment of that moment.

Section 133, Seats 5,6, Row 21

Baseball is, in my opinion, just about the perfect game…you never know what is going to happen, there’s no clock, the rules are set and can be tricky in strange situations, there is a human element to the calling of the game by the umpire, and each pitch has unlimited potential to go anywhere and do about anything.  I love the game, and the initial seeing of the field: it’s bright green grass, the brilliant and poorly named “foul” poles, the flashing scoreboard, the stark while lines and bases against the freshly watered dirt and shortly shorn grass.  It’s poetry, and the initial viewing is perfection.

Some people worship baseball, and I understand this.  I get some of the same feelings on Sunday mornings.  I’m usually the first to the building on a Sunday and when I open the door I get something akin to the ball park.  The colors are there, but the smell is different.  The chairs are set and the sermon is prepared.  But anything can happen…after all the Holy Spirit is present and we’re going to be worshiping the God who creates…and God creates something new all the time – in me, in us.  Every pitch, every prayer, every song, every sermon, every cry from a child is something stark and fresh.  I love that moment of entering the building and anticipating.

Here’s the big difference: At our building we have air conditioning.

The only reason I took this picture was to show you the insanely awesome hats these ladies were wearing