Month: October 2016

The Three People Who Hear My Sermons

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:2

I am writing this on a Friday with a Sunday sermon not yet delivered. I woke up this morning thinking about my text, about the stories I would tell and the appeals I would make to my congregation. As a pastor, I carry the weekend homily like a crockpot simmers a well-crafted stew. It is a slow cook with the hopes of a Sunday meal that is rich and nourishing. I’m also thinking this morning about three groups of people who will hear and receive the message in completely different ways.

1. The Saints

… to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …

Ephesians 4:12

I love the phrase “his people.” These are people that already belong to God but they need help, strength, teaching, and lots of encouragement. When I preach, I think about the grandparents who have faithfully followed Christ for 40 years who just need some wind in their sails. I think about the young college student who is trying to be a faithful witness at her school. I think about the saints who need some hope and sometimes, some rebuilding. The saints know they are to be salt and light, ambassadors and witnesses. They feel the deep call to worship God and serve their neighbors, but they need strength for the journey. They need their pastors to think about them when they preach.

2. The Cynics

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.

Acts 17:32

The crowds of people who heard Paul preach in Athens, Greece were a tough bunch to convince. They had heard the great philosophers of their age discuss the latest trends and fads. They were not moved by emotional diatribes or tirades about morality. Discussion and questions led to more discussions and questions. There are cynics sitting in my congregation every weekend who want me to be passionate, but thoughtful. They want to see proof that my life has been transformed by the messages I bring. They will not accept cheap Twitter slogans or emotional hyperbole. They will listen to me only if I care about their questions. They will not be coerced into an immediate response, but they will return to hear me again, sometimes with an entirely new list of questions.

3. The Prodigals

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:22-24

Is there any better redemption story than this one? The son was a punk, who had really messed up his life. He imagined that dad would be angry and dismissive, but he had no other choice but to come home and risk a shameful reception. Instead, his dad ran toward him, kissed him and welcomed him home. Every weekend, my building is full of prodigals wanting to come home. They want to believe that God will forgive them, receive them in all their messiness and call them sons and daughters. It all sounds too good to be true. But it is true. Every time I preach, on any topic, I think about the prodigals and what they will hear. When it is time, I try to make it easy for them to find their way home.

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Speak Life Devotional from Luke 4

In Luke 4, after we read of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness,
we see him returning to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”
(v. 14). News about him began spreading throughout the countryside.
He began appointing apostles and teaching in synagogues
and ministering to people in need. He went to his hometown of
Nazareth, and on the Sabbath, he spoke those famous words we
looked at earlier from the book of Isaiah about who he was and
why he’d come:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the
prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(vv. 18–19)

And then, with everyone’s eyes “fastened on him” (v. 20),
he rolled up the scroll on which that prophecy was printed and
sat down. After which everyone spoke well of him, saying how
“amazed” (v. 22) they were by his words.

What I want you to catch is that after Jesus made it successfully
through his trials and temptations, he was able to join
his heavenly Father in kingdom-oriented work. The same is true
for us. As we stand firm against the schemes of Satan, choosing
truth instead of fallacy, kindness instead of anger, and forgiveness
instead of revenge, we free ourselves up to move ahead with what
God has called us to do. Not to steal the next chapter’s thunder,
but that mission has a lot to do with love. It’s tough to love people
we can’t find room in our hearts to forgive, after all, which is why
the sequence is what it is.

When we walk around eager to extend forgiveness, we
become the most loving versions of ourselves we’ve ever been.
Why? Because we’ve released the burden of putting people who
hurt us in their places. We’ve turned that burden over to God
and are trusting him to take things from there. We don’t have
to join the Enemy in his mission to divide and destroy our lives,
a mission that’s destined for destruction in the end. We can go
a different way.

If you want to read more, my new book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Speak Life Devotional from Ephesians 4

The most concentrated advice on how to communicate well shows up in Ephesians 4. We are told there to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully . . . for we are all members of one body” (v. 25), and we are also advised “In your anger do not sin” (v. 26). We are told not to “let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (v. 29).

We are also instructed not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30). The apostle Paul ends his spiel by packing the biggest punch: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (vv. 31-32). When we use our words the way God asks us to use them, Paul essentially says, we can speak life and peace and joy. When we don’t use them well, we speak chaos and death, revealing that once again, we’ve jumped the fence.

The funny thing about that Ephesians passage is that any rational person would say, “Yeah, that all sounds good,” even as we fail to implement it in our own lives. What we really mean when we nod our heads in agreement of Paul’s words is, “Yeah! That is exactly how people should talk to me.”

Therein lies the rub: we’re not asked to help keep everyone else within the fences of God’s commands, we’re asked to keep ourselves there—preferably every day. If we do so, we’ll know relational freedom like we’ve never known before; if we don’t, we won’t. It all comes down to what we will do with exhortations like those in Ephesians 4. Will we choose to get rid of bitterness? Will we choose to put away lies? Will we forgive as Jesus has forgiven us? Will we choose to build others up rather than tear them down?

 

If you want to read more, my new book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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The Team that Teaches with Me

One of the great joys I have as pastor is to teach the sacred Scriptures each week to my congregation. I spend hours praying and studying, hoping that the message on Sunday encourages the saints, convinces the cynic and calls the prodigals home. For the past nine years I’ve preached at the 9am service, lingered to pray for people after the service, and then gone to my office to refuel for 20 minutes.  At 11am, I  have preached the message again, followed by an hour or so of praying for individual members and greeting lots of guests. It is a full, but really rewarding day.

This Sunday, I made a necessary change. I will still preach at either the 9am or 11am service, but not to both services. It’s not easy to ask for help, but the elders of our church agree with me that I can’t continue my “normal” routine for two really good reasons.

1. My health needs some attention right now. After three major heart surgeries the past 49 years and two corrective procedures in the past nine months, I need to adjust my pace. I simply do not have the same energy levels as I did ten years ago, and my doctors have told me explicitly to limit my stress. Our bodies require a great deal of adrenaline to preach well and then it needs time to recover. I need to listen to my doctors and my body right now, so I must modify my Sunday schedule. I believe these changes will enable me to actually preach more sermons at New Life, long term. Burnout is simply not an option for me.

2. The church needs to hear many voices, not just mine. I’m still responsible for the pulpit at New Life, but God has given us some really gifted and humble communicators who love our congregations as much as me. They study with me each week and we usually preach from the same text each weekend. They have different perspectives and stories, but they’re solid bible teachers who I trust completely. If I’m not at one of the services, it means I’m preaching at the other.

When I’m absent, Glenn Packiam or Daniel Grothe will primarily teach in my spot. Glenn is the pastor of New Life Downtown and Daniel leads our Friday night congregation and together, we’ll now comprise the senior teaching team.  They will continue to lead those congregations in our city while helping me by teaching more at New Life North. This creates additional opportunities at all our locations for us to hear more often from some trusted guests and the other great teachers on our team.

These small changes will allow me to hang around a lot longer with adequate strength to finish the race. I’ve also adjusted my weekday work calendar, so my primary energies can be spent where most needed. I’ll still lead the staff each week and oversee all the ministries at New Life, including the amazing work happening in our city through the Dream Centers. I’m getting good healthcare and feel really confident that my health is sustainable and will actually improve. Thanks so much for your prayers and kindness. Great days are ahead for the church that we call home.

 

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