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.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five quick suggestions for making this week's sermon better

Jim Martin over at God Hungry blog gives five suggestions for better preaching. They're good. Check them out here.

Review: The Text this Week (


Publisher: The Text this Week owned and operated by Jenee Woodard.

Cost: Free.

Offerings: The Text this Week serves as a resource center connecting the preacher to a wealth of articles, online commentaries, artwork, children’s sermons, prayers for worship, and more for each text in the lectionary.

Leading contributors: All of the links are provided by Woodard.  Since this site is focused upon lectionary preaching, her links connect primarily to other lectionary based resources (Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, etc.).

My Thoughts:  One of the most difficult things about the Internet is its vastness.  There is so much information!  Admittedly, most of it totally worthless.  Google a biblical phrase and most of what you get in return has nothing to do with the Bible.  How do you find the good stuff that’s buried beneath so much garbage?  For lectionary preaching you lean on Jenee Woodard and her website The Text This Week.  What resources exist on the web for preaching on this week’s lectionary text?  Woodard has done most of the legwork for you, sorting through who knows how much garbage to find you relevant links to the biblical text.  Her gathering includes tools for preparation – commentaries, journal articles, possible illustration sources (her favorites being movies and art).  Beyond preparation, Woodard provides dozens of links to resources for worship planning – prayers, litanies, dramas, etc. 
For as many resources as she connects to (and she connects to a lot!) Woodard keeps her site clean and easily navigable.  She indexes her work by its place on the lectionary calendar, by scripture reference, and even by art or movie reference.  While the site clearly is set up with the lectionary preacher in mind, the non-lectionary preacher could easily use her scripture index as a way of aiding his or her own sermon preparation.
The only downside of The Text this Week is that Woodard is so thorough in her gathering of resources that one can feel overwhelmed with the number of links just on her page.  But that’s a little like complaining about having too much of a good thing. My guess is that preachers who frequent The Text this Week slowly discover their favorite links and return to those over and over again.  Overall, Woodard’s efforts serve as a great kindness to preachers hoping to discover a shortcut to finding good resources online.    

Illustration-a-day: Delight is incomplete until it is expressed

From about September 1st through the first weekend in February, an amazing thing happens in towns all across America. In coffee shops, and in homes, in Sunday School rooms, and in restaurants, men (and a handful of women) who otherwise find it difficult to express emotion, will pour forth their souls concerning the simple, almost silly events, of high school, college, and professional football. If their team loses, it can be horrendous, but if their team wins – oh, how their faces can dance. But what is interesting, is not that people get excited about football, but that they can so enjoy reliving the game. You can take two men, both of whom witnessed the game, and one will say to another, “Oh, could you believe the catch that so-and-so made?” The other, almost interrupting, will reply, “That was amazing wasn’t it. He was all the way stretched out for that one.” The first will contribute, “I didn’t think he had a chance – great catch – great catch.” “Sure was.”

We may laugh, certainly my wife has laughed at me, but reliving a football game is part of what completes a football game. It really isn’t over when the clock stops, it must be rehashed, reexamined, and the good plays must be praised. It is almost mandatory, isn’t it – that good things must be praised? If you go to a good restaurant, you almost feel compelled to tell others about it. If you hear a good joke, you almost feel compelled to share it. Praise, is simply a part of life. Even non-religious people are full of praise. Whether about football, fine art, or fine scenery, people like to praise things.

Thinking on this very same truth, C.S. Lewis noted, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you are for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with (the perfect hearer died a year ago)” (Reflections on the Psalms, chapter 9) Praise completes our enjoyment. What a wonderful way to put it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great tip from - start your sermon after the introduction

Rolf Jocobson gives three suggestions for improving one's preaching this week. My favorite tip - cut the introduction and get to the text quicker. I know that I often spend too much time on my introduction.

Illustration-a-day: The Bible is offensive

This week, I was ironing some clothes, not something I do all that often, which led me to do something else I don’t do very often, channel surf. The reason I don’t channel surf very often is because we don’t have very many channels – twenty-two to be exact – the most basic cable package you can order. But, there I was ironing, flipping through my less than two dozen channels and nothing was on. I can tell you nothing was on because I landed for a few minutes on a reality show called Wife Swap. That was my best option. The premise is simple, two very different families trade moms for two weeks to see what conflict can ensue. In this episode a farmer’s wife, I believe from the panhandle, switched places with a rock and roll mom from California.

They let the moms scout out the houses so they can judge how much better of a mom they are than the other one. Anyway, Rock and Roll mom moving through the house, notices how clean it is, how cutesy - notices that Jesus is in every room. When she comes into the room she’ll be staying in she immediately affixes her gaze onto a Bible that’s been placed at the end of the bed. She looks into the camera and says, “You know, that offends me. It’s like they’re saying I need saving or something – like I’m not a good person already.” I don’t exactly know what the farmer’s family was saying by leaving the Bible on the bed (I didn’t watch any more of the show), but I do know what the Bible says – none of us are good people. We all need saving. The Bible goes so far as to call our righteousness “filthy rags.”

Is that offensive? You bet. The gospel is offensive.  But offending is what we need, if that’s what it takes for us to recognize our state before a Holy God. We all need saving. Not from the things we think we need saving from. No doubt Rock and Roll mom had probably been judged by Christians about her tattoos and her taste in music and all manner of other things – those aren’t the things she needs saving from. And Christians who think that are judgmental folks who misrepresent the kingdom of God. But don’t let us think for a moment that because some people misjudge us that judgment isn’t real. God will judge us. His judgments are real, accurate, and fair. We are a broken, sinful people. None of us are ok - whether we’re farmer’s wives from Texas or Rock and Roll moms from LA.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Preaching Today


Publisher: Preaching Today is a part of Christianity Today's online offerings.

Cost: $69.99 a year (or $9.95 a month); there is a 30-day free trial.

Offerings: 11,000+ sermon illustrations; almost 1000 sermons; 600+ articles/podcasts on improving your preaching; and more.

Leading contributors: Haddon Robinson, Mark Buchanan, John Ortberg, Leith Anderson, and a whole bunch of other evangelical pastors.  It does include a few sermons/articles from mainline pastors like Barbara Brown Taylor, Will Wilimon, and Fred Craddock.

My Thoughts: Obviously, there are plenty of free preaching resources out there on the web (some of which we'll cover soon).  My experience with many of them is that while helpful, they can be difficult to navigate and sometimes spotty in what they deliver.  I've even found that to be true with some of the pay sites.  Not so with Preaching Today.  Your $70, about the cost of two nice commentaries, gains you access to a well organized, easily searchable, treasure trove of preaching resources. 

By far, Preaching Today has the most expansive illustration database on the web.  It is easily searchable by keyword, subject, even biblical reference.  Now, as is always the case with illustrations gathered by others, many of the 11,000+ illustrations on Preaching Today will be illustrations that you will never use because they don't ring true to who you are or your style of preaching.  That's OK, many will.  And Preaching Today allows you to mark those that do resonate with you so that you begin to build your own file cabinet of illustrations within their system.

One especially rich source of illustrations on the site is to be found in the weekly "News that Illustrates" sections compiled by editor Craig Brian Larson.  In these short articles (which can be received as e-mails) Larson lists four or five news stories a week that might be rich sources of illustrations for upcoming sermons.  I like this section quite a bit because far from giving the preacher canned illustrations, the "News that Illustrates" section encourages the preacher to make his or her own connections between the sermon and current events in the world.  Surveying these over the past year or so have helped me to develop my own ability to read the news with an eye on the pulpit.

While my guess is that most ministers who subscribe to Preaching Today do so mainly for the illustrations, the best part of the site may very well be its articles.  Seasoned practitioners have provided a wealth of articles on every thing from the technicalities of the sermon to preparing the preacher's own soul.  Like the illustrations, the articles are easily searchable and often grouped together in ways that create an online workshop for the preacher to work through at his or her own pace.  It would take forever to work through all the articles, but reading two or three a month not only helps keep me constantly thinking about ways I can improve my preaching but also provides me with encouragement for the task.

Not everyone has $70 to invest in such a resource, but if you do, I recommend giving Preaching Today a try.

Illustration-a-day: First duty of every soul

"The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master" - P. T. Forsyth

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flub a line in your sermon yesterday? You probably weren't the only one.

Question of the Week: What online resources do you use most often?

Preachers today live in a world that is incredibly different than our predecessors - at least from the standpoint of the accessibility of resources (no doubt people, their sinfulness, and the good news of the gospel remain the same!) Through the Internet we have access to resources that preachers of a previous day could only dream of having. Sometimes, however, the vastness of information and resources is overwhelming. How do you know what's out there? What's good? What's worth spending $79.99/year on?

My goal over the next few weeks is to start reviewing many of the online resources for preachers. But let's start with your suggestions. What websites do you find most helpful for your preaching? They don't even have to be "preaching" websites - just websites that for whatever reason, help your preaching.

Illustration-a-day: Judgment is a good thing.

N. T. Wright, one of the top Christian thinkers of our day, reminds us, that while the word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our postmodern world, “throughout the Bible God's coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.”

N. T. Wright,Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church(San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), 137.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Pastor's Sunday Morning Prayer

Every Sunday Lord, I tiptoe
around the fire, hoping
to speak just enough of You
that we leave a little warmed
without being consumed
even though, I know, the Word
that incarnates the air about me is
a consuming fire.

How can I play with such a fire
and not get burned?


You are the Word, Lord, speak today
else my words are spoken in vain.
Remind me, even though I die
a thousand deaths upon this pulpit
if I do so believing in you
yet shall I live -
though maybe not to preach another day.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Illustration-a-day: God's stubborn kindness

"The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compassion is our liberation." - C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

The content of Christian preaching: not a 'how' or a 'what' but a 'who'

Instrumental in my call to preach was the story of Peter and the apostles being miraculously set free from prison in Acts 5. There the angel of the Lord opens the gates of the prison and leads them out commanding the apostles, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20, NASB). When I read that verse as a teenager, it was as if the angel were speaking to me. My life’s task was to be the same as the apostles to stand and speak “the whole message of this Life.” That verse has continued to shape my theology of preaching.

Preaching is at its essence the proclaiming or heralding of a message. What is the content of the whole message of this life? It is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the message concerning “the unique life God provides through Jesus.” It is the announcement of the kingdom of God that has become manifest in and accessible through Jesus Christ. It involves the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the promise of his return. In a word, it is preaching the Word, who is Jesus Christ. I am continually struck by Christ’s preaching. It has one theme, the kingdom of God. Matthew’s report is paradigmatic, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17, NIV). In the book of Acts, the followers of Christ are also spoken of preaching about the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 28:31). The content of their preaching is the same as that of Christ. And yet, when Luke provides us insight into the actual words of their sermons, their preaching of the Kingdom is primarily a preaching about Christ! Peter, Stephen, and Paul all proclaim the kingdom by speaking of who Jesus is and what he has done. One can conclude, as William H. Willmon has put it, “Preaching like Jesus is preaching Jesus.”

Preaching, then, is not just any word. It is a word about and from God, specifically the God who has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ, and who makes himself known today through the Holy Spirit. True Christian preaching focuses not upon how we can have better marriages or bigger bank accounts or healthier self-images. True preaching announces the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So the Christian word is a limited word; we do not speak on anything and everything. We speak of Christ. We speak of his kingdom come. But this limited word is the word the world so desperately needs. Again, it is the whole or entire message of this life. Jesus is the only word that matters eternally. He is the only word that lasts. Without him, all other words cease to be. So while there is a place to speak of having healthy marriages, or more sound financial practices, or better parenting skills, I doubt that place is the pulpit. In the pulpit, we must speak the word that only the church can speak, the word we've been commanded to speak - the Word, who is Jesus Christ.