Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jonah: Reluctant Prophet, Merciful God - My first book!

I'm grateful to Smyth & Helwys for the opportunity to write this year's Annual Bible Study. You can get your copy today here.

Book Description

Jonah: Reluctant Prophet, Merciful God is a four-session Bible study for individuals and groups. The study guide revisits the classic story of “Jonah and the Whale” and discovers a rich and complex tale that proves far more interesting than we might suspect. First, the Bible makes no mention of a whale. Instead, we learn about a great fish that has only a minor role in the narrative. The main character of the story is not the fish or even Jonah; the main character of this story is God. Furthermore, the book of Jonah invites readers to ask important questions about who God is and who God calls us to be in response. Along with the prophet, we ask questions such as What kind of God is the God of Israel? and Who falls within the sphere of God’s care? Most importantly, perhaps, we find ourselves asking How will I respond when I discover that God loves the people I love to hate? These sessions invite readers to wrestle with these questions and others like them as we discover God’s mercy for both the worst of sinners and the most reluctant of prophets.

Jonah Teaching Guide

This Teaching Guide for the Smyth & Helwys Annual Bible Study on Jonah includes teaching options, suggested worship and sermon outlines, and approaches to leading discussions and group study. This study also includes relevant lesson plans for including youth and children in a congregational study of Jonah.

Jonah Study Guide

This Study Guide for the Smyth & Helwys Annual Bible Study on Jonah serves three purposes: to educate the learner on major issues of appropriate interpretation, to offer an overview of theological themes, and to build the learner’s Bible study skills by reviewing significant interpretations. Each session comes with thoughtful questions for reflection and discussion.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Fight Before Dinner - Anna Carter Florence

June 7: The Fight Before Dinner from phpccommunications on Vimeo.

Preachers don't always need illustrations from modern life to connect the Bible with our lives today. Anna Carter Florence provides an excellent example of how to connect a single text with other examples from the scriptures in order to relate that text to our lives today. By tying the Mary/Martha story to all the other stories of squabbling siblings in the Bible, Dr. Carter Florence establishes a pattern that quickly becomes recognizable to anyone paying attention. Before she even makes the application to our lives today, attentive listeners have already made the connections for themselves. We see ourselves in that pattern of worry and concern established in the first half of the sermon and find ourselves looking to Jesus for a way out.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Where grammar cracks, grace erupts"

"Sometimes preachers cannot help but envy other users of words in our culture. News anchors, analysts, comics, pundits, and savants: They are so smooth. They have  but to open their mouths and out flows the spirit of the age.  They are so professional that they are able to deliver gut-wrenching information without a hint of emotional investment, and all with an air of effortless familiarity. Next to them, the preacher often appears to be fighting off a swarm of bees. Why? Because preachers are speaking from the embedded position. Because their language emerges from pastoral participation in the life and death struggles of the baptized. Speaking of the apostle Paul, who by any account we have of him was not a smooth man, Joseph Sittler said: 'Where grammar cracks, grace erupts.' He adds a stern warning to preachers: 'What God has riven asunder, let no preacher too suavely join together.'"

Richard Lischer, The End of Words, 41-42.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fred Craddock Sermons

Fred Craddock passed away yesterday, March 6, 2015. I had his classic textbook, Preaching, open on my desk this week. Whenever I feel like I'm stuck in a homiletic rut, his book is one of the handful that helps me find some good traction to get moving again. His is a voice that will be missed.

Nobody could preach quite like Dr. Craddock, though many tried. Here are some sermons by Dr. Craddock from sources like Youtube and Vimeo. The first two are a couple of my favorites. If you know of others, let me know and I'll add them.

When the Roll is Called Down Here - a sermon from Romans 16

Though One Rise from the Dead from Hershael York on Vimeo.

Fred Craddock, DOC General Assembly, July 2011 from TEL PSR on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Losing in Order to Find" - a sermon by Jim Somerville

Dr. Jim Somerville is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Virginia. I have admired his preaching for a while now. He is always succinct, always thoughtful. He proves a preacher need not be flamboyant to make a lasting impact.

This sermon has a clear catch, one that works well and could be adapted by any preacher. We all spend our life on something. Is what we spend it on a good investment or not?

Losing in Order to Find from Richmond's First Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Limping in the Pulpit

"The first time I preached a proper sermon, my mentor gave me some good advice: your praying and your preaching should be of the same length. You don't want to find yourself limping, with one leg shorter than the other. God works as a result of prayer and faithfulness, not technique and cleverness."

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 226.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Annihilated by God: Death and resurrection in the pulpit

"In the act of preaching something dies and something rises. What dies (or should die) is the preoccupation with the self that plagues so many performers. This death is ironic, since some sense of 'self' is stimulated by God's call in the first place and is necessary for public speaking. The prophets are uniformly annihilated by a conversation with God, only to reappear as powerful individual performers of the word on God's behalf. They do not lack a sense of self."

Richard Lischer, The End of Words, 35

Monday, October 14, 2013

At least one of us will give our life to Christ

"I go out to preach with two propositions in mind. First, every person ought to give his life to Christ. Second, whether or not anyone else gives him his life, I will give him mine."
- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Two kinds of sermons that are difficult to hear

“One must not forget that there are two kinds of preaching difficult to hear: poor preaching and good preaching.” 

- Fred Craddock, Preaching, 65.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"I Have a Dream" turns 50 today.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It would be more accurate to call it a sermon.

Time Magazine's latest issue is dedicated to remembering this historic American moment and does an excellent job of allowing participants of the march to tell their stories. The issue is worth picking up. Reading it, I was struck by how many of the participants understood the march in the context of their faith.

Jerome Smith, one of the Freedom riders, recalled "It was a procession of church. It was never, ever a march. It was a congregation that was answering the call."

I learned that at a particular moment in the speech, King began to struggle with his material, material that had been assembled by a committee of people. It wasn't until King heard from behind him the voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson saying, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin. Tell 'em about the dream" that King set aside his prepared text and transformed this speech into a sermon.

As Martin set aside his notes, one of his speech writers, Clarence Jones, turned to the person next to him and said, "These people don't know it, but they're about ready to go to church."

Indeed. Among the many things Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that day is the often forgotten truth: a good sermon can turn the world upside down.


There are many great biographies of MLK. The only one I know of that focuses on his preaching is Richard Lischer's The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word that Moved America. I found the book fair in its treatment of Martin Luther King as an actual human being and not simply a non-human icon of some sort. It is also an excellent look into the rich history of African American preaching in our country.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Preach like it matters

As we draw near to the first day of school, I find myself thinking back over my own school year. I had some great teachers through the years. Most of them cared about the material they were teaching and most of them cared about me. In fact, there seemed to be a direct correlation between those who cared for the material and those who cared for me. The handful of teachers who seemed to not give a rip about what they were teaching also seemed not to care about whether or not I improved as a person one bit.

There's a lesson there. One of the primary ways we convey that our people matter is by making sure that we are conveying that our sermon material matters. If it appears that we don't think our sermon matters (either through lack of preparation or enthusiasm), not only will we communicate that the gospel story doesn't matter, we'll inadvertently convey that our listener's don't matter either!

John Claypool tells a story about a friend who was assigned to an airborne division during WWII. This terrified his friend because he'd never even been in an airplane much less jumped out of one! He said it was funny, no one had to tell him to pay attention to his instructor. He hung on every word the man said. Plus, the instructor was a seasoned paratrooper himself, so he spoke of these literal issues of life and death with an urgency that only comes from one who trusts his material matters greatly.

Claypool summarizes, "Here was a human being sharing with other human beings what he knew about a subject of vital concern. I would suggest that this provides a getter description of what the preaching event ought to be than for some casual academic dilettante to pass out information that, even if correct, is of little existential moment. We are called to be and do far more than merely to pass out information" (John Claypool, The Preaching Event, 61).

Every week we stand up and share with other human beings what we know concerning a subject of vital concern. Let's do far more than just pass out information!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hopefulness: An essential ingredient to Christian preaching

Last week I attended the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's General Assembly. As always, it was a fun time to catch up with friends from seminary. It's amazing how far we've spread across the globe in just a decade of ministry. I was also immensely blessed by the evening worship services. This is not always the case at denominational meetings!

On the first night, Wendell Griffen, pastor of the New Millenium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas gave a sermon entitled, "We're on a Mission From God." The sermon starts at the 40:05 mark and runs just under twenty minutes. Totally worth the listen. Pastor Griffen reminded a room full of ministers about the importance of our calling. I left encouraged and emboldened. As student of preaching, I left reminded of the power of a well chosen phrase, even if that phrase is borrowed from a John Belushi movie.

Session 2 - Thur PM from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on Vimeo.

The second night, Suzii Paynter, the brand new Executive Coordinator of the CBF gave the message ("We can be alone, or we can be a Fellowship"). Part sermon, part State of the Fellowship, Suzii's message was aimed at those who participate in the Fellowship's work. I felt she hit a homerun. If you aren't a part of CBF, I'm not sure how the message will resonate.

What made her sermon powerful applies to all Christian speakers. In a day and age where so many denominational messages involve a catalog of threats and challenges, Suzii's message overflowed with hope. Her words were hope-filled, but so was her face and her posture. Her whole self exuded hope. Her hopefulness proved contagious. The excitement in the room was tangible - a true feat for a denominational meeting! I was reminded of the essential nature of hope to Christian preaching. Challenges abound today. Of course they do. Challenges have always abounded for the believer. But if a Christian preacher can't preach with hope in the face of the greatest of challenges, he or she should probably call it quits.

The entire service is worth watching - the children's choir and liturgical dancing prior to communion had me in tears. Suzii's sermon starts at 25:10 and runs for thirty-five minutes.

Session 4 - Fri PM from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What can you learn from a "Homiletical Belly Flop?"

You know that empty feeling you get after a sermon that's tanked? Yep, the one that makes you want to crawl in bed for the rest of the day? John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, has felt it to. He says that while it's not fun, it might just prove to be fruitful.

Catch the article "When Bad Sermons Happen to Good Preachers" over at Leadership Journal.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to orphan a sermon

"A sermon that is not directly drawn from Scripture is orphaned, however bright or clever it may be."

- Fred Craddock