Saturday, December 31, 2011

NY Times Article on Gardner Taylor

This is the new book mentioned in the NYT
article. It contains sermons and a CD. Find
more at
At 93, Gardner Taylor has been one of the leading preachers in America now for many decades. He is one of the twelve preachers Baylor highlighted in their 1996 list of the most effective preachers in the English speaking world.

Yesterday, the NY Times, highlighted his training of younger preachers in the article, "A Lion of the Pulpit, Aging Now, Has a Message for New Generation." One of my favorite parts of the article is when Dr. Gardner is instructing a younger minister by making him write sermons and then practice delivering them. Dr. Gardner doesn't hesitate to offer suggestions and critiques. "Go deeper there."  Haven't we all needed to hear that critique?  Dr. Reginald High, the young minister receiving these instructions, treasures his time with the aging Dr. Taylor. What preacher wouldn't?

I have always thought the African American preaching tradition does an excellent job of having older ministers mentor younger ministers.  This is especially when it comes to preaching. Has anyone ever had an experience in which a mentor has worked with you on your preaching? What was that like for you?  Do you think it helped your preaching?

Friday, December 16, 2011

No need to make Jesus relevant

Challenging thoughts from Dr. Richard Lischer, especially as we conclude our advent preaching.  Does your preaching primarily move backward to the historical Jesus or forward to the risen Christ? 

"Because the risen Christ is alive and moving toward us from his own future, the preacher is not constrained to make him relevant as if Jesus were only a figure in the distant past. We do not have to prove that he is real because he is already here. We do not have to dig him up from his Sitz im Leben, for the movement of preaching is not backward to the historical Jesus but forward to the risen Christ."

Richard Lischer, The End of Words, 37-38.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Preaching on Money

Money is a hot topic in the news these days (when is it not?!). People constantly want to know who has it, who doesn't, who's doing what with it. You've got the Tea Partiers arguing the government has too much.  The Occupy Wallstreeters claim corporations and the ultra rich have too much. Very few people claim they themselves have too much.  Most people have know idea how their wealth or income actually compares to others.

Here are two websites that can help a person (and a preacher) to be better informed about the distribution of wealth in the world.  
  1. The Global Rich List - this site is simple enough.  Enter how much you make (be sure to change the currency from pounds to dollars) and then click "Show me the money."  You'll then be told where your income ranks globally.  Puts things in perspective pretty quickly.  Hint: Almost all of us in America are the 1%.
  2. Visualizing Economics - this site puts difficult to comprehend economic statistics in easy to understand graphics.
Here was my latest effort at preaching a difficult text on money.

Setting the Record Straight, a sermon from Luke 16:19-31.  Who are the rich?  What is their responsibility to the poor?  Politicians have their answers.  Protesters have theirs.  Jesus has his.

or to download the mp3 file right click here and select "save link as" or "save target as" depending on your browser.  Use iTunes? Click here to subscribe to our Podcast.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Fred Craddock Story

CNN has a terrific article on preaching giant, Fred Craddock. Learned several things I did not know about the man. Not only has it increased my already high opinion of Dr. Craddock, it has also blessed my soul. Such a rich story of God's calling and equipping of a preacher.

"A preaching 'genius' faces his toughest convert" by John Blake 

 Here's an audio of Dr. Craddock's sermon, "Learning to Read" from Psalm 19.

Learning to Read from Faithkid Zhang on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Give an Advent devotional new life.

FaithVillage is taking submissions for Advent devotionals, art, etc. for use on their blog throughout the season. If you're like me, you've written a few things about Advent through the years. Why not find your best and give it some new life by sending in it. Submissions are due by November 27.

Seeking Advent Submissions: What Are You Waiting For?

Advent Sermon Series

The Advent season is upon us. I thought it would be a good time to share some past Advent sermon series with each other. No doubt, we should already have this year planned. But, if you're like me, this is a time of year when the number of devotionals, talks, articles one needs to come up with skyrockets. So maybe our sharing with one another will spur some creativity on that front. No doubt it can sow some seeds for future Advent seasons.

I'm going to list all the series I've done here at Southland. I am not strictly a lectionary preacher as you'll see. But some of these have followed the lectionary readings. Please leave a series or two that you've done in the comments. I know I will benefit, and I'm confident others will, as well.

2011 - Finding God in Unexpected Places (a title I borrowed from an old Philip Yancey book)

Advent I - Matthew 1:1-17 - Finding God Among the Screw-ups
Advent II - Matthew 1:18-21 - Finding God in our Disappointments
Advent III - Matthew 2:1-12 - Finding God Above our Heads
Advent IV - Matthew 2:13-23 - Finding God Through the Tears
Christmas I - Matthew 2:22-25 - Finding God in Josh Davidson

2010 - A Light has Dawned

Advent I - Luke 1:11-17 – Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it
Advent II - Luke 1:26-28 – It’s not what you know, but who you know (or maybe even better yet, who knows you!)
Advent III - Luke 1:46-56 – Pride comes before a fall
Advent IV - Luke 2:1-7 – Behind every great man . . .
Christmas I - Luke 2:8-20 – Good things really do come in small packages

2009 - Simply Christmas: How to Maximize the Season by Minimizing the Distractions

Advent I - Luke 21:34-36 - Live Lightly
Advent II - Philippians 1:3-13 - Live Gratefully
Advent III - Luke 3:7-18 - Live Contentedly
Advent IV - Micah 5:2-5a - Live Humbly
Christmas I - Colossians 3:16-17 - Put your new clothes on

2008 - Songs of the Season

Advent I - I was out this year
Advent II - Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 - Turning Towards Joy
Advent III - Psalm 126 - Sowing in Tears, Reaping in Joy
Advent IV - Psalm 98 - Sing a New Song . . . A Christmas Song

2007 - Follow the Star - Finding true wisdom this Christmas season.

Advent I - Romans 13:11-14 - Wake Up! Get Dressed! Learning to pay attention to Christ's work in our world.
Advent II - Matthew 3:1-12 - Make Way! Make Room! Learning to make space for Christ's activity in our homes.
Advent III - James 5:7-10 - Wait! Have Patience! Learning to wait on Christ's provision for our needs.
Advent IV - Matthew 1:18-25 - Enjoy! Rejoice! Learning to celebrate Christ's work in our lives.

2006 - Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

Advent I - Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-26 - The Seedling of Hope
Advent II - Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79 - Pathway of Peace
Advent III - Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7 - The Song of Joy
Advent IV - Micah 5:2-5; Psalm 80:1-7; Luke 1:46-55 - The Face of Love
Christmas I - Isaiah 9:2-7 - The Light of Life

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Illustration-a-day: If making babies were all the world needed . . .

I know you’ve seen them, those Johnson & Johnson ads – the black and white ones with the cutest of babies and the voiceovers. One has the chubbiest little boy you’ve ever seen sitting in the sink taking a bath grinning a large toothless grin. He splashes around as a voice ponders, “You always went for the tall, dark, handsome types. So who’d have ever thought the love of your life would be short and bald?” And then after a brief pause to build effect, says, “Having a baby changes everything.”

The birth of a baby is one of those sacred moments that takes our concrete, no nonsense world and in a moment transforms it into a place that’s at once mysterious and magical and at the same time perplexing and full of terror. You can’t get over how small his fingers are. You giggle at the recognition that he has that funny little flap on his ears like his mother. You wonder in delighted expectation at what this newest of lives might become.

But along with all the new found joy you can’t help but recognize new fears. You find yourself looking intently at his miniscule lips asking yourself again and again, “Is he still breathing?” You eye every guest who holds him with suspicion, “Have they been sick recently? Did they wash their hands?” He seems so fragile, so helpless, so small. Your can barely watch the evening news with its stories of senseless death, its reports of disease and famine, its images of war without wondering, “What kind of world have I brought this child into?”

Because the greater truth is, while my baby’s birth has changed my world, his birth hasn’t changed the world. It’s really quite remarkable. On the one hand my immediate world pauses for a glimpse at LIFE – new life – life full of promise and possibility – complete strangers pause and wish you congratulations. It seems as if the world is at peace – but then you see the headlines and realize that the world continues to fall apart. Oh, we long for a day when there could be an end to war, or pollution, or rape, or kidnapping, or drug use – we look at our new born child and think – surely for our children we would change – we have to change – and then we don’t. We keep on sinning. I keep on sinning. The world keeps on sinning. We keep on polluting and robbing and hurting one another. And sometimes we even do so to our own families. If making babies was all the world needed to reverse its course then the world would have righted its ship long ago.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Links of the week

Over at the Pangea Blog guest blogger Rachel Blom asks an important question for all preachers: Do you preach to your whole church? How do your sermons and illustrations within those sermons sound to singles, teenagers, etc.? Excellent post to get you thinking about who sits in your congregation.

On David Slagle shares three irrational beliefs that too many ministers buy into.  He identifies the reasons and provides healthier alternatives.  A good article that might serve as a good discussion for church staff.  One of the better lines, "Expecting messed up human beings to treat us nicely at all times is, well, messed up."

Mark Roberts, director and scholar in residence of Laity Lodge looks at how the web empowers gossipers. He concludes that while the web probably doesn't make us meaner - he thinks we're pretty mean already - the web does allow us to get away with more meanness. Read more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Warp speed exegesis

Last week I attending the Preaching Practicum at Wilshire Baptist Church. The featured speaker was Dr. Anna Carter Florence, the Peter Marshall Associate Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. I was not familiar with Dr. Carter Florence other than having viewed one or two of her video clips at She was excellent.

One thing she taught us was what she called "Warp Speed Exegesis."  Her point wasn't how to fast-forward through exegesis. Instead, the purpose was to help the preacher dig into the text on his or her own without turning too quickly to commentaries. The practice was simple. Take the biblical text and work through it verse by verse paying particular attention to the verbs. Who is doing what? And what are they doing? What isn't happening? One also pays particular attention to where things might have gone differently in the text. What could have happened instead? 

We did this with a dificult passage, the rape of Tamar, found in 2 Samuel 13:1-22. I was surprised at how helpful this method proved to be. Part of the effectiveness was no doubt in part because we did this as a group, which was also one of the main points of the practicum. Doing this activity with lay people can add a whole other dimension to sermon preparation. The other reason this method was effective was because it help move you through the passage helping you pick up the key moments when something could have gone differently - Amnon could have confessed his troubles to a better chosen friend than Jonadab (a crafty man). David could have taken off his sin-induced blinders and kept from sending his daughter into a dangerous situation. The servants could have spoken up (though at a high cost). Before the exercise I thought to myself, how would I ever preach this passage. After the exercise, I had at least five legitimate ways I could preach this text.

Since then, I've tried this method on a few passages - Ps. 46, 1 Thess 3:6-13, and Rev 5:11-14. The results have not been as dramatic as they were for the purely narrative text in 2 Samuel. One reason might be that this works best for narratives. Another reason could easily be that I was working on my own and not with a group. Nevertheless, I have benefited from employing this method in each case and I'm grateful for Dr. Carter Florence's time with us.

Below is one of her videos from In it she talks about how to involve the church in this process. Enjoy.

God is not just the object of our preaching. He is also the Subject who proclaims

"As we craft our sermons with love and care, we must remember that God is not merely the object of our preaching, a dose of theological content poured into homiletical form, but the Subject who proclaims. As we speak words of scripture, recall promises passed down through Christian communities, God the active subject in Christian proclamation again encounters us as the Word. . . Preaching is nothing less than God risking an encounter with humankind, week after week, in pulpits and on street corners. The Word continually becomes flesh for us" - Scott Black Johnston in Theology for Preaching (Abingdon, 1997)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quote of the Week

"There is a homiletics so obsessed with form, or what rhetoric called arrangement - points, steps, blocks, moves, illustrations - that it loses touch with the New Testament's rhetoric, which is characterized by astonishment and self-abandonment to God's future." - Richard Lischer, The End of Words, p. 118.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The cure for boring preaching

"The cure for pulpit dullness is not brilliance but reality" - P.T. Forsyth

Added a new blog to the blogroll

I've added This Preaching Thing to the blogroll. It's a blog by Michael Ruffin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA.

Michael's been at this preaching thing for forty years and has some thoughtful insights. You can get a taste for his writing in this post: Preaching to the Dying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ministry is sermon preparation

I am an advocate of the study. I think good, wise, biblical sermons require the preacher to spend ample time listening to the text so that they might also hear a fresh word from God. That being said, I was struck by a passage I read recently in Richard Lischer's The End of Words that reminded me, sermons are not the product of study alone. Ministry, especially ministry to the least of these, is also sermon preparation because it is where we encounter the presence of the living Christ.

“Training in preaching begins with training for ministry. ‘When did we see you naked or hungry or in prison?’ the naive sheep ask the Judge. Preachers have ransacked nature, history, and their own emotions for illustrations of the divine. They have scratched into every conceivable experience in search of divinity or its analogues. They have explored every possible site except the very places Jesus promises to be – among those who suffer and seek restoration.

"Preachers have looked for him virtually everywhere save among the ordinary practices of the people of God, who yearn more deeply than they are willing to admit for sermons that credibly portray their lives of faith – not Mother Teresa’s, Gandhi’s, or Gandolf’s, but theirs” (Richard Lischer, The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence (The Lyman Beecher Lectures in Preaching), 39).

What are ways you join the study and day to day ministry in your sermon preparation? How do you get out of the office and into people's lives?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The interplay between the altar and the pulpit

The late John Claypool was an Episcopalian priest that started off as a Southern Baptist minister.  This binocular vision provided him with a wonderful insight into many aspects of worship.  I especially like his take on the "interplay between altar and table."

"I have found the interplay between the altar and the pulpit to be mutually supportive and creative. Kneeling at the altar before a mystery I cannot fathom keeps me from being fanatical and arrogant in the pulpit, while attempting to make as much sense as possible of life and the gospel in the pulpit keeps the altar from degenerating into mindless ‘mumbo-jumbo.’ The Church has always known a feeding of both kinds, and I cherish the opportunity to spend the last phase of my ministry in this particular room of God’s Great Church" (Claypool, The Preaching Event, 2).

My particular room of God's Great Church tends to emphasize the practical to the expense of the mysterious. I wonder how a renewal of the table's presence in worship might help balance our experience?  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action: Helping your sermons come to life

In his book, The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching, (Abingdon, 1999), Paul Scott Wilson argues that preachers should envision their sermons as movie scenes in order to help bring their sermons to life.  Wilson's thesis reminded me of an interview I did with Richard Kannwischer, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California.  Dr. Kannwischer said that one of the books that had most influenced his sermon preparation was The Screenwriter's Bible.  Wilson doesn't directly reference any such work, but he does provide some basic suggestions for how to transform your sentences in ways that help the congregation to visualize what you are saying.

1. Avoid adjectives and and adverbs. Wilson argues that these descriptive words actually diminish description.   Notice the difference in the examples he provides.  The sentences without adjectives or adverbs are easier to visualize.
  • "The beautiful road" vs. "The road ran alongside the beach"
  • "She ran quickly" vs. "She scrambled" or "Her feet pounded down the trail"

2. Avoid cliches.

3. Concentrate on a few small details to set the scene.  Think about what details you would need to shoot the scripture text or the modern illustration as a movie.  What decisions would you need to make about gestures, clothing, the age of the character, etc.?  By just adding one or two of these details, the preacher can help a scene leap off the pages of the Bible and into a listener's imagination.  
  • Clothing - By briefly mentioning a small detail about a person's clothing we can not only help the congregation visualize the scene, but we also are providing information about that person's economic situation, interest, age, profession, etc.  
  • Gestures/Facial Expressions - Emotions are difficult to visualize.  Gestures or facial expressions are not.  Instead of saying, "the boy was bored," one could say, "The boy slumped in his chair with boredom."
  • Age - A few quick words about the color of one's hair or the state of one's skin can give a wealth of information about a person's age.

4. Stay out of characters' heads - Wilson argues that if we want people to visualize a scene, we must "stay out of the minds of the characters."  The best movies don't narrate a character's thoughts, they show you a character's actions and let you eavesdrop on their conversations.  This leaves many thoughts hidden, but that is what creates interest in the story. The listener or viewer is drawn into into the movie (or sermon) because they want to figure out what a character is thinking.  He notes that the Bible also rarely gives us a person's thoughts, but instead focuses upon their actions and a few brief quotations of dialogue.  To this day we can read, say, the story of Adam and Eve and wonder at motive as we ponder their actions.  The Bible doesn't give us thoughts, but action and dialogue.

5. Keep the camera on people and actions - Wilson doesn't want a sermon devoid of doctrine.  In fact, his  book is an attempt to get preachers to preach more doctrine in their sermons.  But, he argues, this is done best by focusing upon God as the primary actor in the story.  Instead of preaching on the caring nature of God, we ought to preach on God reaching out to those in trouble.  The action keeps us interested and informs us about doctrine.  Just saying "God is caring" is not as interesting, even if it is as accurate.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From around the Web this week

A man in South Africa, thought to be dead by friends and family, woke up after spending 21 hours in a morgue refrigerator. Workers went screaming from the building after hearing his screams thinking he was a ghost. Lots of applications from this one from thoughts on the resurrection to what it's like to mistake a person for being dead.

CNN's Faith Blog listed ten things they learned in their first year of existence.  Included in their findings, Atheist like to comment on religious stories; Americans, though very religious, don't actually know much about religion; and people are still interested in the Bible.

What does your church communicate about its beliefs through its Sunday morning worship service?  Skye Jethani, senior editor of Leadership Journal writes about his 9-year-old daughter's encounter with two different churches: one liturgical and one contemporary.  In one church she notices the cross, the Bible, and communion.  In the other, she notices they have a coffee shop.  Worth your read.

Finally, to brag on my wife, she has written an excellent piece about grief, the church, and learning to worship not only with, but for one another.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Can't attend a preaching conference this year? Watch one online.

I enjoy listening to other preachers talk about the craft, but I can't always take the time away from family or church to travel to one of the many conferences offered around the country. The good news is that, now, with the Internet, you can find more resources than you could ever work through. One that I have great affection for is the work being done at The Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at George W. Truett Seminary. They've started hosting several events a year. When I can, I attend.  When I can't, I watch online. Currently they have the entire Will Willimon and Haddon Robinson Lectures available with more on the way.

To listen to the first Willimon lecture, click through the jump.

Does the Bible teach us how to preach?

"The new Testament contains an implicit theology of preaching but no operating instructions or tips for effective preaching."

Richard Lischer, The End of Words, 10.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What can preachers learn from poets?

Gary Charles briefly explains how reading helps preaching. I especially like his reasoning for reading poetry. "Most good poets," he explains, "are forced to make something that is fairly mundane, imaginative, and do it in few words. And most preachers would really benefit to learn how to say what they say in fewer words."


Thanks again to the folks over at for these videos. Keep them coming.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Preaching from the whole Bible

Does it matter to you if you preach from the whole of Scripture?  Should it matter?  If you preach in a tradition that emphasizes the lectionary in worship, the congregation should at least hear most of the Bible read to them every three years in worship.  Even so, there is no guarantee you preach from each portion of the scriptures.  If you are from a more free church tradition then there is a good chance that portions of scripture go completely untouched in corporate worship over the course of a congregation's life.

I've been preaching at Southland now for five years, so I decided to do an inventory of the sermons I've preached here.  I preach from the New Testament 73% of the time, from the Old Testament 27% of the time.  Over a forth of my sermons are from the gospels, Luke being my apparent favorite.  I've preached from the third gospel twice as often as any of the others.  I've spent over three months of those five years in the book of Acts.  The rest of my NT sermons are fairly evenly split between the Pauline epistles and the rest of the NT cannon.  In the OT I've spent a lot of time in Psalms.  This inventory revealed that there are 20 OT and 5 NT books I've never preached a sermon on here at Southland.  11 of those I've covered in Wednesday evening Bible Study, but that is a much smaller crowd.

I will certainly take these numbers into consideration as I plan my sermons in the future.  Do any of you keep statistics like this?  What about keeping topical statistics (Like how many sermons on forgiveness, discipleship, loneliness, etc.)?  I could see where that might be helpful.  I'd love to have your input on your record keeping and how that record planning influences your planning.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The survey says . . . Using polls in research and as illustrations

I will use a statistic from a poll only infrequently as an illustration in one of my sermons.  Many people today, I think, are fairly skeptical of polls having seen opposing sides of an argument use surveys in contradictory ways. That being said, a good poll can help the preacher get a feel for what his or her congregation might be thinking on an issue. Preachers are like everyone else.  We often assume that other people think the way we do about a given issue.  Good research can help broaden our understanding of our congregation and of our communities.

Rasmussen Reports is a reputable source of polls. Primarily they survey political opinions, but also do surveys on other things like, "Do you believe life exists on other planets in the universe?" 58% of Americans say they do. You can browse the surveys at their website or sign up for a daily e-mail of their latest poll. Barna Research Group focuses their research upon the church.  You can sign up for a twice a month e-mail from them that highlights some of their more recent work.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tony Campolo, "Models for Forgiveness"

This sermonette is from the web show 30 Good Minutes. They do interviews with preachers (primarily mainline preachers) and ask them to preach a brief sermon. The sermons often fall flat. My guess is that this has to do with preachers attempting to preach to a camera in a nearly empty studio when they are accustomed to preaching to a congregation.

Campolo handles the camera with ease. Unlike most of the others, he's been there before. I like listening to Campolo speak. After listening to this, I've decided, I really like listening to Campolo speak for 10 minutes! He usually goes much longer. Anyway, this is a good example of a deductive sermon. This is a style of sermon that has taken a beating in preaching classes over the last few decades due to its overuse in the past. Tony proves that sometimes deductive preaching sounds great.

Tony Campolo, "Models for Forgiveness" - PG5323 from 30goodminutes on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Preaching that is more than your two cents

I came across this quote from Fred Craddock today, "Small topics are like pennies; even when polished to a high gloss, they are still pennies" (Preaching, 49). The quote is placed within a section in which Craddock argues for preachers who think and preach theologically.  His point is that good theology compels the preacher to bring a big agenda to the pulpit for God has a big agenda for the world.  Good theology reminds us that God is up to more than whether or not we, the congregation, are presently pleased, comfortable, or entertained.

Craddock's point is well taken.  I read quite a few theology books each year, and I believe I am a better preacher because of it.  This isn't because I get anything out of those books for direct use in my sermons (like quotes or illustrations).  No.  Very little in such books makes a direct jump into the text of my sermons.  No, the point isn't to get material for my sermons, but rather, to get deeper thoughts into me.  Reading theology stretches my understanding and challenges my assumptions.  Reading theology calls me to examine questions I'd rather leave unasked and to hear answers I'd rather not hear.  Reading theology, good theology, deepens my faith, and that makes me a better preacher.

Three favorite theology books (among many):
  •  Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslav Volf
  • The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer
  • The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann
Here are two of the more theologically focused blogs that I follow:
  • Roger Olson, Professor of Theology at Truett Seminary.  You can read his thoughts on why theology is essential to ministry here.
  • Scot McKnight, a New Testament professor at North Park University (I realize McKnight is not technically a theologian, but the truth is, all good biblical scholars also do theology just as good theologians also study their Bibles!).
I'd love to hear of your favorite theology books and blogs, as well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Preaching Quote of the Week

"The supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching. This is a day in which one of our great perils is that of doing a thousand little things to the neglect of the one thing, which is preaching."

G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching (published in 1937)

What are your favorite books on preaching?

I try to read at least a couple of preaching books a year.  Thanks to doctoral studies, I've read more than that in this past year.  While not every book on preaching is helpful towards the task, several have proved immensely rewarding.  I'm currently reading Fred Craddock's now classic work Preaching.  In the first chapter he advocates the reading or rereading of older books on preaching:

"Let us not be uncritically enamored of the new.  Some older volumes on preaching could profitably be reissued, not as a sentimental return to old paths but as confession that part of the malaise in the discipline is due not to a stubborn refusal to move beyond tradition but to a thoughtless failure to listen carefully to that tradition.  One becomes a concert pianist not by abandoning the scales but by mastering and repeating that most basic exercise. Who could say, after all the centuries, that reading Aristotle's Rhetoric or Poetics or Augustine's instructions on preaching is no longer of benefit to the preacher?"

So the question of the week is this: What are your favorite books on preaching?  These of course, don't have to be books about preaching.  Some books my be very influential on one's preaching even if they are only indirectly about the topic.

Here are some of mine:

Favorite how-to on preaching: Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by Haddon Robinson.  This basic text isn't glamorous, but it reminds me of the "scales of preaching" quite well.  The updated addition (2001) includes a greater emphasis upon different forms of preaching than the first (1980) plus more gender inclusive language.  It's a text I'd recommend to anyone wanting to learn to preach or to review their "scales." 

Most inspirational book on preaching: This is usually whatever book I happen to currently be reading.  But a lasting favorite is Barbara Brown Taylor's Preaching Life.  Not only does she paint a beautiful portrait of the preaching task as only she can do, a third of the book includes sample sermons which are themselves worth the price of the book.

Favorite collection of sermons: OK, this is cheating a little, but I'm going with 20 Centuries of Great Preaching, a thirteen volume set edited by Clyde Fant and William Pinson.  I inherited this from a mentor and have found it a true delight.  I freely admit that I have not read the entire thirteen volumes.  But I do occasionally pull a volume down and read through the sermons by a famous preacher.  All the heavyweights are there, but so are many that I have never heard of before.  Not every sermon is great, but many are.   

Favorite non-preaching book that has influenced my preaching:  Again, this one changes frequently. Most recently it has been Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.  This isn't a book about preaching, but a book about loving words, both written and spoken.  I don't reread many books, but this is one I can envision picking up and reading again and again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preaching is Performance Art |

Clayton Schmidt, professor of preaching at Fuller Seminary has written an article for Leadership Journal entitled Preaching is Performance Art. In it he argues that:

"Preaching is not merely the art of textual exegesis, contextual analysis, and creative writing—though it involves all of these. Performance lies at the heart of proclamation.

"In literal terms, the word performance means to bring a message through (per) a form. It is a tool for expression, not a means of drawing attention to the performer. Our suspicions of performance are based on a caricature of the real thing, a performance pathology.

"Ultimately, if the preacher's words are to become the Word of life, they must be presented in a way that creates a world for listeners to inhabit. This has to do with delivery, but there is more. To truly understand performance requires a theological understanding of human responsibility in the equation of incarnation."

The article is a little long, but has some good thoughts on what it means to perform the sermon without becoming a diva in the process.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Question of the week: Do you preach both yes and no sermons?

I came across this quote in an article by S. Bowen Matthews: "Denouncing sin has a place in pastoral ministry.  But in order of intention, it is not first place.  Yes, we need to know what to say no to.  But above all we need to know what to say yes to."  He goes on to explain how he preached a series on the Ten Commandments, preaching two sermons per commandment.  One sermon expounded on the meaning of the commandment, the second said, "Let's assume that we obey the commandment.  What possibilities of holiness does it open up for us?"

I think Pastor Matthews is on to something profound.  The "Thou Shalt Nots" of our faith exist in order to open the way for the glorious "Thou Shalts."  I had not read this article before last Sunday, but my sermon fit this pattern well.  I spoke about resisting the temptation of viewing pornography in order to open up the possibilities of genuine relationship.  The emphasis in the sermon was not upon the evils of pornography so much as it was no the gift of true relationship.  Nevertheless, I had to preach the no before I could preach the yes.  Some call this law and gospel preaching, others trouble and grace, I like Matthews description of no and yes sermons. 

My guess is that many, many sermons naturally follow this pattern.  But I also know that sometimes I get stuck in one or the other.  Sometimes I preach a strong "No" but I do not have a well developed "Yes."  This can lead to self-righteousness if it's a sin I don't struggle with, or despair if it is a sin over which I often stumble.  Other times I preach only a yes, which while more comfortable for the preacher, often leaves people unaware of the requirements or cost of following Jesus.   I think I agree with Matthews, the best sermons have a no and a yes.

What do you think?  Do your sermons follow a no then yes pattern?  Can you give an example?  Which do you find easier to preach on, the no or the yes?  Do you think every sermon need a no and a yes or you can preach one with out the other, say a Yes without a No?  Is there a danger in preaching a yes without a no, or a no without a yes?

*S. Bowen Matthews, "Conviction and Compassion: It takes both toughness and tenderness to rescue people from sin," in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today's Communicators, 250-254.

Quote of the Week: More than a history lesson and some freeze-dried stories

"In the next millennium, knowledge about God will not preach. Knowledge of God will. And if that is too much to ask, then passionate pursuit of God will do. Those who listen to us expect more than a history lesson on Luke-Acts plus some freeze-dried stories we got out of a book. They want food for their hearts. They want help for their souls. They want to see Jesus, or at least someone who knows Jesus, and God help us if we offer them less than that."

Barbara Brown Taylor, "Preaching into the Next Millennium" in Erskine Clarke, ed., Exilic Preaching: Testimony for Christian Exiles in an Increasingly Hostile Culture (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1998), 98-99.

Thursday, May 19, 2011



Publisher: Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN)

Cost: Free.

Offerings: offers commentary on each of the lectionary texts along with articles and videos centered upon the craft of preaching.

Leading contributors: The majority of contributors are Lutheran ministers, but the articles and videos also include contributions from Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others.

My Thoughts: is up front about what they do and do not offer.  On their site you will find plenty articles about preaching and theology, preaching and the Bible, even preaching and the culture.  You will also find commentary on the various lectionary texts for each week.  What you won't find are illustrations, sermons, or sermon outlines. If you are out searching the web for one last illustration for this week's sermon, is not for you.

If you are looking for a place to refresh your thinking about the task of preaching, then holds some usefulness for you.  The articles tend to be well written, although I find them difficult to search through.  Adding the ability to search the articles by topic would greatly improve the site.  The brief commentaries on each of the lectionary passages are good starting points to get the brain going.  You can search these by date or if you aren't a lectionary preacher, there is a Bible passage index, that allows you to search the site's commentary by Biblical passage. 

By far, the best part of the site is the Preaching Moments video podcasts.  These are short, 3-4 minute interviews with preachers from various backgrounds.  I've embedded several on this blog.  Included among the 170+ videos are videos from Haddon Robinson, Will Willimon, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson.  I find watching them on Youtube easier than watching them on the site.  On YouTube you can add several to your playlist and let them roll while you work at some other task.  My only complaint, which is the same complaint I have about the articles, is that the videos are not searchable by topic.

I have found the Preaching Moments so helpful, that I wish someone in a more evangelical tradition would take a cue and make similar videos with evangelical preachers.  I think there is so much to learn from pastors who have been at the task of preaching long enough to have developed a deep reservoir of wisdom on subject.  I appreciate having captured some of that wisdom on video and encourage other centers for preaching to follow suit.

Read other reviews:
The Text this Week
Preaching Today

Illustration-a-day: Pornography

I'm preaching a sermon series entitled, "Living Virtuously in a Virtual World." This week's sermon is from 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and is entitled, "Looks that Kill: Practicing self-control in a world of instant gratification."

In researching the topic here are some articles and sources I have found helpful.

Romona Richard's wrote an article for about the rise in the number of women addicted to online pornography entitled, "Dirty Little Secret: Men aren't the only ones lured by Internet porn."

An anonymous woman wrote an article for National Review Online about the damage done to her own family by her husband's pornography addiction, "Getting Serious About Pornography: It is ravaging American families."

Perhaps most helpful has been the issue of Christian Reflection on The Pornographic Culture. Most of the articles of that issue, plus some study guides are available online here. Todd Lake's sermon "Sex and the City (of God)" was a wonderful example of a sermon that approached this topic with wisdom and grace.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Question of the week: Words that dance - how do you make your sermons more descriptive?

I once picked up Frank G. Honeycutt's book Preaching for Adult Conversion and Commitment from CBD's bargain section.  I didn't know what to expect from a book that only cost $3 but I was pleasantly surprised.  Honeycutt's book turned out to be a great look at preaching for transformation, something I hope all of us aim for.

As a side benefit, each chapter contains a sermon of Honeycutt's.  Each sermon reads like a three-dimensional movie with vivid descriptions that bring the biblical text into the reader's lap.  Take this section of a sermon in which Honeycut brings to life Luke 4:1-11.  The sermon is set up by a retelling of a scene from Joseph Heller's God Knows in which God utters to Moses the line, "Whoever said I was going to make sense? Show me where it says I have to make sense. I never promised sense. . . I'll give milk, I'll give honey.  Not sense."  Honeycutt moves from that line to discuss the gospel reading:

"Jesus has been invited to the home of a prominent religious leader, a successful clergyman who has a couple published books and pastors a successful congregation downtown.  This is a nice sit-down meal with the town's upper crust.  The kind of meal where you have about six more gleaming eating utensils than you really need when a single fork would do.  The sort of meal where you probably got an invitation in the mail including the white doily that falls out with the rectangular RSVP card.  The sort of gathering where someone stands at the door and makes sure you're on 'the list.'  I can't imagine that Jesus had an extensive wardrobe, but let's say he dressed up for the affair and rang the doorbell wearing nice slacks, Rockport loafers, and a navy blue sport coat.

"Jesus has hardly gotten in the door and air-kissed the hostess when he starts to deliver odious one-liners that have about the same effect as a loud fart at a funeral.  It says in the Bible that members of the church council were watching Jesus 'closely,' and to tell you the truth I can sure see why.  Into that gathering of the town's blue-blood elite, Jesus injects advice that would make Martha Stewart shiver.  It doesn't make sense, this upside-down etiquette.  'Whoever said I was going to make sense?' we can almost hear Jesus say. 'Show me where it says I have to make sense.'"

The rest of this sermon follows in this pattern as Honeycutt brings to life the healing of the man with dropsy, Jesus teaching about taking the lowest seat, and Jesus advice to invite the least of these to the next banquet.

At least in written form, the sermon's language does an excellent job of rescuing the text from the Oh-I've-heard-this-one-before syndrome.  For some preachers, such description comes naturally.  My guess is, that most of us have to work at it.  I know I do.  While we may not all be comfortable using the word "fart" in a sermon, spending time on how we describe things, finding the right word instead of simply the adequate word, can be the difference between evoking the listeners' imagination or lulling them to sleep.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre explains in her book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, that what we ought to be after is precision in our language.  "Precise language," she explains, "surprises like a dancer's extra second of stillness in mid-air: word and experience come together in an irreproducible moment of epiphanic delight."  That is, the precise word, well employed facilitate epiphanies, encounters with the divine.  in other words, how we say it matters.

So I wonder, how much time do you spend on how you are going to say whatever it is you are going to say?  How have you learned to say it better?

Illustration-a-day: Jesus gives bad advice

"Mr. Hayes was a churchgoer (indeed, a deacon), but he considered his religion a civic duty, a moral discipline, a social obligation, and (he was honest) a business asset. . . . Hayes was a Christian, but if the truth be known, Christ irritated him to death.  With the army in Freiburg, Germany, in 1959, he'd read the Gospels while cooped up in the infirmary, and he'd argued by pencil in the margins against the Savior.  In his personal opinion, Christ's advice sounded like civic sabotage, moral lunacy, social anarchy, and business disaster."

Michael Malone, Handling Sin, as quoted in Frank G. Honeycutt's, Preaching for Adult Conversion

Quote of the week: Preaching with a straight face

"Pastors who climb into a pulpit Sunday after Sunday inherit a rather odd story to proclaim with a straight face. . . Our homiletical goal for our people over time must be nothing short of conversion to this odd man revealed in this odd story."

Frank G. Honeycutt, Preaching for Adult Conversion and Commitment

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Brevity and Boldness: A word from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.

Great word on brevity and boldness from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. Favorite line, "A bad sermon can be forgiven if it's short. A good sermon can lose its way if it's too long."

found on

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quote of the Week - Homiletics is rhetoric under the tutelage of theology

Homiletics is nothing more than rhetoric under the tutelage of theology.  In sum, good preachers are always good theologians.  Bad preachers are still dozing through the theological books they always meant to read.

David G. Buttrick, "Side Thoughts on Preaching for Those Who Must Stammer God's Unnamed Name" in Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers

Question of the week: What are some tricks you have to find some extra time?

As is evidenced by the lack of posts last week, life caught up with me. School work combined with some extra tasks at work meant little time for the blog. That's alright, I doubt the world suffered very much for that. One thing that can suffer when extra work piles on is sermon preparation. Time spent in the study is time almost no one sees and it is tempting at times for the preacher to cut corners there by not doing enough exegetical work or not sitting with the text long enough to find a fresh word from God. What we usually end up with on those weeks is something that isn't very thought out or something rehashed that we've done before. In other words, not our best.

While we can't always predict when extra work will pile on - like when a funeral occurs. However, we do sometimes know when busy weeks are headed our way. Family vacations, conferences, etc. - these things show up on our calendar months ahead of time, usually. We can, plan our sermons in such a way as to take such heavy weeks into consideration.

One thing I will often do, if I know I have a week coming up that will prevent a lot of study time is plan to preach from a text for two or more weeks in row. I'm a one idea per sermon kind of preacher, but most texts, especially in the epistles have more than one idea in them. As a result, if I'm willing to do some very heavy lifting exegetically that first week on the whole passage, then I will be able to greatly reduce the amount of exegetical work I'll need to do over the next couple of weeks. I spend about 2/5 of my sermon preparation on exegetical work (2/5 on writing, 1/5 on delivery), so getting this part of my preparation finished ahead of time reduces the amount of time I'm spending on a sermon by 40%. That can be very helpful on a week that I know is going to be busy.

An example might be a sermon series that I did out of Hebrews 13. By exegeting the whole chapter in the first week of sermon preparation, I was able to minimize that portion of sermon work for the following three weeks - one of which I was at a conference limiting my ability to prepare.

Hebrews 13:1-2 Keep on Loving . . . the StrangerHebrews 13:1, 3 Keep on Loving . . . the PersecutedHebrews 13:1, 4 Keep on Loving . . . your SpouseHebrews 13:1, 7-8 Keep on Loving . . . Those who Taught you the Faith

To do this requires some advanced planning, but it can really help with the work load on weeks we know will be busy ones.

What are some things you do to help balance the responsibility of faithful preparation with all the other duties that a pastor faces?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Question of the week: Summer Sermon Series?

Hey friends.  I hope you had a blessed Easter season and have had some time to rest.  I've taken the first part of this week off to get some doctoral work done.  I'm not doing much on the blog either, but I'll pick it up again later in the week.  Until then, a question that needs your input.  Do you preach sermon series?  Do you have one planned for the summer or early next fall?  Can you share what you are doing or perhaps what you've done in the past?  The more of you who share, the more help this post will be for others.  Below is a series I've done before that worked well for me.

The Practice of Worship: Why we need to work at the worship of God - Psalm 100

Enjoying God: The Practice of Praise - 1 Timothy 1:12-19

Telling the Truth: The Practice of Confession - Psalm 73

Dying to Live: The Practice of Baptism - Romans 6:1-7

Life Together: The Practice of the Lord's Supper - 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Turning the World Upside Down: The Practice of Giving - Mark 12:41-44

A Saving Word: The Practice of Proclamation - 1 Timothy 4:9-16

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why you should take more risks this Sunday

I've been reading Will Willimon's, Calling and Character, a book on clergy ethics.  Far from being a dry read as the topic might imply, Willimon's words have deeply challenged me - especially his call for preachers to be bolder.  The resurrection of Jesus demands bold preaching.  He writes, "We ought to preach in such a way that, if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our sermons are utterly incomprehensible."  Later he broadens that challenge to include our entire ministries, "We ought to minister in such a reckless, utterly-dependent-upon-God sort of way that, if God has not vindicated the peculiar way of Jesus by raising him from the dead, then our ministry is ridiculous."

So, looking over your sermon for this Sunday, would your words make sense to your congregation without the reality of the resurrection?  Many sermons would - those, "here's a way to be a slightly better person than you were last week" kind of sermons.  The resurrection means more than that.  Maybe it's time for rewrite.  Maybe it's time to take some bigger risks.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Episodic, narrative, or something else? Thomas Long explores the current state of preaching in America.

If you follow homiletic discussions, you know that over the last fifty years, narrative preaching has been the main form of preaching taught in mainline seminaries. This is primarily the result of the New Homiletic pioneered by Fred Craddock, David Buttrick, Eugene Lowry, and Henri Mitchell. The reach of their influence has extended even into evangelical circles. Haddon Robinson, by his own admission, has moved towards more narrative preaching in his sermons. In fact, I think at this point, Robinson ranks as one of the premier narrative preachers.

Within the last few years, there has been a growing consensus that narrative preaching is on the wane. There is, however, no consensus on what comes next. Here, Tom Long offers his thoughts. He touches on the advantages and disadvantages of both narrative preaching and another popular form of preaching, what he calls episodic, and what comes next. I find his critique of narrative preaching insightful. The problem is not so much with narrative preaching but with the fact that we live in a society that may no longer think in narratives. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts as well on where preaching is headed.

Illustration-a-day: Masterpiece from our Mess

Have you ever had something you were working on become messed up? It’s a horrible feeling. I can remember a time as a child I was working on a painting. I had been taking art classes, and whether or not my talent warranted it, I took the whole endeavor rather seriously. Just weeks before the county fair (where I hoped to enter my painting and maybe win a prize) I was putting the finishing touches upon a dramatic landscape filled with billowing clouds and mighty evergreens. I was cleaning some brushes when I turned in time to see a classmate bump up against my painting creating an ugly streak right across the face of the clouds. “AHHHH! It’s ruined,” I exclaimed. My third grade heart with its over sized ambitions was devastated. My teacher came over to see what the commotion was about. She tried to calm me and assured me, that sometimes, what are initially mistakes, can become the workings of a masterpiece. And with skill and grace, she took brush in hand and worked magic on that canvas, redeeming the scar and making it an integral part of a glorious sky.

When I think about the grand story of the Bible, I see God at much the same work. Again and again, through our sins, we mar the work of God. Cain took Abel’s life. Lamech took revenge on a young man who had injured him by killing him and then took delight in having done so. Evil became so great that God attempted a new start with Noah after the flood, but even then, our fallen humanity failed to receive the new start with open hands. With the ground still moist, Canaan took some potshots at his drunk, naked father. Noah then took Canaan’s folly as a chance to curse his own flesh and blood. And then in chapter 11, the whole world, it says, took on heaven, building a tower to the skies that they might make a name for themselves.

The first eleven chapters of the Bible are enough of a mess that it’s a wonder God allowed there to be a twelfth. But as is his nature, we find God giving once more. His gift in chapter 12 is a simple but lasting promise. God gives Abram a promise that serves as the initial brush strokes in his great work of salvation history. For the rest of the Bible, the painting unfolds, stroke by stroke, color by color until God redeems our errors for his glory by painting the picture that culminates in Jesus Christ and the redemption of our souls – God’s masterpiece from our mess.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Around the web this week

Here are articles I've found interesting around the web this past week.

One of my professors, Roger Olson, asks the question, "Whatever happened to the cross?"  His thoughts apply to worship in general, but certainly are good reading for the preacher.  Olson writes, "The cross, properly, biblically understood and not reduced to a martyrdom, is scandalous. But it is a scandal central to the gospel and therefore to Christianity. I am not sure one can find Christianity where the cross is absent or diminished in importance." After reading his article, the preacher is left reflecting upon the question, "How often am I preaching the scandalous good news of the cross?

Christian singer/songwriter, Shaun Groves, writes about the difficulty of finding just the right word for a song about God.  He sounds like a preacher when he confesses, "I write about God because I love Him deeply. And yet because I love Him, I’m afraid to write about Him."

In England, a six year old girl wrote a letter to God and the Bishop of Canterbury answered on God's behalf. Read his well-crafted answer here.

Illustration-a-day: Worship or art?

The other day I was listening online to a concert by one of my favorite singers.  I don't know this woman's faith story.  Most of her music is not faith oriented, but her latest album is an album of gospel covers.  It's a tremendous collection of songs and a the concert was terrific.  At the end of the show, as the credits rolled, the producers showed some backstage footage of the singer discussing her making of the album.  These were her words:

There’s so many performers that I got to listen to and find out about that I had never heard of that were just astonishingly good and that most people . . . that were definitely not household names.  So they're people who came to this earth and did this amazing music that a couple a hundred people heard in a church and then now they're gone.  But this music is out there some of it’s recorded.  It’s so exciting to me that there are people who just made this impossibly beautiful music because they loved it and that was it.

Like I said, I don't know this singer personally.  I just like her music - both the sacred and the secular.  I also know that it's not good to judge a person based on a soundbite.  So I don't want to speak to her whole concept of art and worship, but at least in that short little paragraph, this artist confuses the motivation of art and worship as being identical to one another.  Now, all good art probably walks up to the front porch of worship in some way.  That is, the best art touches upon the transcendent.  But true worshipers make it past the porch, they march right on into the house.  The difference?  Artists sing for the love of the song.  Worshipers sing because they love the one to whom the song is directed.  Gospel music may very well be a kind of art - but those who've been touched by Christ's gospel make art that is first and foremost, true worship.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Preaching Question of the Week: Where do you find reminders of God's love?

Dallas Willard writes that we preachers can tell if we are running dry spiritually by the kinds of questions we ask ourselves right after the worship service is over. When our first questions are, "How did it go?" or "What could I have done differently?" there is a good chance that we are running on empty. It's not because spiritually full preachers never preach bad sermons. They can and do. Rather, it's because those who have found their deepest satisfaction in Christ know that how the service or sermon goes depends upon God far more than it depends upon us. We should do our best, yes, but without God our best is never good enough.

Empty preachers are constantly attempting to fill themselves up with the assurance that the service went well - the preacher's equivalent of the schoolboy's good grade. Preachers filled to the brim with God's presence know that "successful" services are a poor substitute for the presence of God, who can be present in the poorest of services.

I admit, this word strikes at one of my most glaring weakness as a preacher. So often I look for satisfaction not in the love of God about which I preach, but rather, in preaching well about the love of God. How silly. How excruciatingly frustrating. My performance never satisfies, nor was it meant to satisfy that part of my soul that was meant for God alone. I remember a line from an old Switchfoot song, a prayer really, "God, let me know that you love me, and let that be enough." I don't pray that prayer nearly enough.

So the question of the week is this - Is this a struggle for you? If so, how do resist the urge to find your worth in preaching instead of in the God of whom you preach? Where in life and ministry do you find the best reminders of God's love?

Preaching Quote of the Week

"A large part of what the pastor does in preaching and life is to listen and help people feel their real needs, not just superficial needs. The satisfied preacher speaks from a listening heart. Since people often do not know what they really need, such preaching can help them find out. This requires a spaciousness that only comes if your cup is running over because you are well-cared for by God." - Dallas Willard

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Learning to live from a dying man.

I've posted a short devotional on Jesus' prayer in John 17 over on my other blog Between Sundays. I've had that blog for a few years now. It's mainly aimed at my own church members and whoever else happens to wander along.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter is coming.

A well done video on the difference Easter makes from

Illustration-a-day: Living the resurrection

"Christian holiness consists not of trying as hard as we can to be good but of learning to live in the new world created by Easter, the new world we publicly entered in our baptism. There are many parts of the world we can't do anything about except pray. But there is one part of the world, one part of physical reality, that we can do something about, and that is the creature each of us calls 'myself.'"

N. T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 253.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Preaching Quote of the Week

"We do not make sermons out of air: our creations, poor or brilliant as they may be, are always variations on someone else's theme.  The main melody is always a given, and even when we launch into our own bold improvisations we are limited to a scale of eight notes.  Our words are not ends in themselves; they exist to serve other words, which means that we never work alone.  Sitting all by ourselves in our rooms with bitten pencils in our hands, we compose our sermons in partnership with all those who have done so before us.  Together we explore the parameters of our common faith, testing the truth of one another's discoveries and holding each other accountable so that what we offer those who listen to us will not aim to dazzle but to nourish them."

Barbara Brown Taylor,Preaching Life (Boston: Cowley, 1993), 81.

Illustration-a-day: Like the sun rising over the dark horizon

"At one time the world cringed in terror befor death, engaging in timid dreams of continued life, of wisps and shades of remaining vitality. But the coming of Christ was like the sun rising over the dark horizon: the shadows of fear, dread and terror fled at the blazing brilliance of the One who triumphed over death."

A.J. Conyers, The Eclipse of Heaven (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 42.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Question of the week: What are your thoughts on preaching Easter sermons?

Bigger crowds.  Unfamiliar faces.  The most basic story of our faith.  Easter has it all.  Do you find preaching Easter sermons to be . . . easier than other sermons? More difficult? Do you get more uptight than normal?  Less?  Do you prepare differently for Easter than other sermons?  If so how? 

Remember, I allow anonymous comments so feel free to tell the truth without worrying about whether or not your congregation will find out.

Keeping it Fresh - Preaching Easter Sunday as if it were the very first time.

"Everything is a Quotation" a painting
by my brother Erick Sandlin
Preaching Easter services can be daunting. The crowd's bigger than normal. It's full of unfamiliar faces. People in the congregation seem so worried about how they look and what they're doing for lunch that you can wonder if they're even listening. And then there's the text. It's the same as last year. You've tried to switch it up on occasion. You preached from 1 Cor 15 one year; you've rotated through the gospels; you even tried an Easter sermon out of 1 John, once. But no matter how you craft it, it still feels the same. How do you say it differently than before? And even more basic how do you say it? I mean say it in a way that does the story justice? What words can any of us say that will convey the power, the glory, the outrageousness of the resurrection? Superlatives fail us.

Part of our problem is that we have preached this so many times, we think we need new words to make the story of the resurrection sound fresh (as if it were our words that supplied new life to this story instead of it being the resurrection that brings new life to our words!). We've handled this story so often that we, the preacher, have become deadened to its sacred power. The fault is ours alone. Philip Brooks once wrote, "Familiarity does not breed contempt except of contemptible things or in contemptible people." The resurrection is clearly not a contemptible thing so . . . Ouch.

Willimon channels Brooks when he writes, "Don't you find it curious that High Holy Days get 'old' mostly for us preachers? Most of our people come to church on Christmas or Easter hoping to sing the same old hymns, to hear a familiar story. No lay person ever asked, 'Easter? Again?' Most laity come to church on these high days hoping it will all be 'again.' . . . Perhaps our laity, failing to receive the benefits of a first-rate theological education, are less well defended against Jesus than we clergy, therefore to them, the good news of Jesus Christ stays news."

I think Willimon is on to something. Nobody but the preacher is upset that this year's sermon sounds somewhat like last year's. The power, after all, isn't in the preacher or the preacher's words so much as it's in the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and now moves within the gospel's proclamation and among those who hear it. So don't worry so much about how to preach this story anew. Just trust that when we proclaim he is risen once more, it's news that's as new as ever.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all - Acts 4:33.

Illustration-a-day: What God gave us in the resurrection

“In the resurrection, so we believe, God gave us that which we could never have on our own – a beyond.” – William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh (Abingdon: Nashville, 2009), 9.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Illustration-a-day: Meeting a real celebrity

A few years ago, I heard the delightful story of Troy Aikman taking his daughter to a Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, concert. This was back when Miley was at her most popular and her Hanna Montana concerts were selling out in matters of minutes, not hours, not days, minutes. Troy Aikman, being a dad with connections, he was able to get his daughter front row tickets and a chance to go back stage and meet Miley. Now, back stage, some of the stage hands came up and asked for Aikman’s autograph, which is understandable to any of us old enough to know that Aikman’s main gig in life wasn’t as a commentator for FOX Sports. Aikman laughed, though, as he told of the incident saying, his daughter was befuddled as to why anyone would be paying attention to her dad when someone as great as Miley Cyrus was in their presence. His daughter would later confess to her dad, her dad the three-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback, “This is so cool, I’ve never met a real celebrity before.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More tips on improving your sermon from Jim Martin

Over at A Place for the God Hungry, Jim Martin completes his list of ten ways to improve your preaching. The last five tips include:

1. Talk to people as if they are intelligent (they are) but resist the urge to prepare a sermon for a seminary professor.

2. Note the importance of ethos.

3. Present the opposing view as if very intelligent, good people believe this.

4. If you want people to take you seriously, then do nothing that might give them reason not to.

5. Take your preaching seriously and yourself less seriously.

Read his excellent explanations about each tip here.

A sermon from Will Willimon on the disciples' post Easter encounter with Jesus

Below is a sermon from Will Willimon preached last year on the third Sunday of Eastertide. The text is John 21:1-14. The sermon starts at 27:45 and ends at 46:44.

illustration-a-day:Best evidence for Easter

Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Gospel, once wrote, “The crowning evidence that Jesus was alive was not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried away church.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Illustration-a-day: The two reasons people don't believe in the resurrection

Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the leading theologians of our day, explains, “The evidence for Jesus' resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Have any easter illustrations you'd like to share?

We are now two weeks away from Easter, a sermon, a big sermon that we preach every year, often from the same few texts.  This can press the best preacher's creativity.  Got a good illustration from a past easter sermon, or maybe a good intro, or even a simple outline?  Post it in the comments and lend your preaching friends a hand.

Here's mine, an introduction from an Easter sermon preached from John 1:1-4:

There are some stories that we simply can’t help but repeat. This is especially true when it comes to families. Hang around my family long enough and you’ll hear about the time I got a suction cup stuck to my head which left a giant purple mark on my forehead for over six weeks. Or you’ll hear of the time my dad was putting up a basketball goal for my brother and me, only he didn't read the directions and cemented that ten foot pole into the ground without first removing the brackets stored inside that were supposed to hold up the backboard.  What a sight he was perched up on a ten foot ladder attempting to fish out those brackets from the bottom of that pole!  That's one of our stories.  I'm sure you have your own. Of course, not every story is funny. Some are sad like the day Grandaddy breathed his last – but those stories have their place as well. The stories that show up again and again though are those that mark major milestones in our lives. These often take the form of birth stories – that is stories of our beginnings. Just this past week, Alyson and I were having supper with some close family friends who are expecting their first child in about a month. As we shared in their excitement we couldn’t help but begin to recall the stories of our own children’s births. “Remember when?” we’d ask each other. As if we could forget. Then again, maybe you can forget, that’s why we keep telling the stories to each other. The stories of our beginnings, the stories of when life appeared and life changed forever.

John is telling us one of those stories in our text today, one of those beginnings that bears repeating and that “grows dearer every day”[i]. His is the ultimate story of the day life appeared and life changed forever. We’re not sure who he’s writing this short little letter to other than that it is a collection of believers that he’s familiar with. We’re not even sure it’s a letter – it could be a sermon. I like that idea for obvious reasons. Either way, he starts in with a theme he’s probably preached on a thousand times before and they’ve heard just as many times. He starts in with the essence of Christian proclamation – that in the person of Jesus Christ, God himself showed up on the scene and forever altered life as we know it. In fact, John, echoing language from both his gospel and from the book of Genesis writes that in Christ Jesus, life itself appeared and made eternal life possible for those who believe.

[The rest of the sermon was a basic retelling of the Easter story and of its importance for our faith - I may outline it later in the week]
[i] One of my favorite Rich Mullin’s songs is entitled “Hello, Old Friends.” Mullins begins, “Hello, old friends. There’s really nothing new to say. But the old, old story bears repeating. And the plain old truth grows dearer everyday. When you find something worth believing, Well, that’s a joy that nothing can take away.”