Friday, December 14, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gain enough!

"For preachers, preaching is a no-win situation. We can never greet opposition as sure evidence of sin without first examining our own thoroughly mixed motivations, our lack of love, and our strident self-aggrandizements; and we can never bask in praise as if we are anything more than mediators, the servants of grace. Though we can take no credit and, indeed, must accept our share of blame, there are compensations. Because we are preachers, we are afforded the gladness of exploring the gospel week after week and thus coming to know the Mystery of God through Jesus Christ. Gain enough!"

David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 456.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When God Rocks Your World - Will Willimon

"The gospel in just two sentences. The good news of Jesus Christ: 1) God is going to get the world that God wants. 2) No matter how much God has got to rock your world to get it." - Will Willimon

So concludes Will Willimon's sermon from Mark 13 preached two weeks ago at Duke Chapel. That text has parallels to this week's gospel reading in Luke 21. Powerful stuff. Sermon starts at the 33:35 mark and runs for nineteen minutes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Four Advent Sermons by Jim Somerville

Jim Somerville, Senior Pastor of Richmond's First Baptist Church, presents four sermons for Advent, 2012, based on the lectionary readings for Year C. The embed feature has been disabled for these videos so you'll have to make the jump.

These sermons are sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Babara Brown Taylor Sermon

In my opinion, there is no better wordsmith in the pulpit than Barbara Brown Taylor. Here, she preaches from James 3 on the power of our words. The sermon starts at the 35:40 mark and finishes near the 53.00 mark. Well worth the listen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Overcoming writer's block with the help of others

Every pastor has struggled with it - the blank page. No words are more difficult to write sometimes than the first words. I was looking over some notes from a conference I went to a while back and came across these notes taken from a lecture by Anna Carter Florence:

Writers block is rarely about being blocked, usually it has to do with being empty. If your spouse locks you out of your house, the problem isn't the door.

At first glance, I get a little defensive when I read these words. Nobody likes  to be told the problem is with them. We'd rather think that there is simply a problem with method or technique. Change our technique and we'll be well on our way. I'd rather not admit that I have times of emptiness.

Over time, though, I've come to realize that this is more true than I'd like to admit. I've come to realize, there will be times of emptiness for every preacher. If you prepare a Sunday sermon and at least one Bible study a week with just a few weeks of vacation each year, you are creating nearly 100 sermons a year. That's a high demand on one's creativity. For some of us, it's just more than we can generate. Trying to tackle that volume all on our own will lead to seasons of emptiness.

Dr. Florence's advice, fortunately, was not to put more pressure on the preacher by telling them to just dig a little deeper. That advice feeds into the myth that one person is capable of being the one voice a church needs to hear from all year long. I just don't believe that anymore. Churches should hear from multiple voices. Some churches are picking up on this and moving towards a team approach to preaching.

For those of us in churches that still follow a more traditional pattern of hearing from one voice most of the time, Dr. Florence suggests that the preacher learn to draw from more sources than one's own brain during the sermon preparation process. I don't mean simply copying another's words or thoughts. I mean something more akin to group work. At the conference, we did exegetical and homiletical work with small groups of other ministers. It's amazing how this encouraged the creativity in all of us.

I've occasional borrowed this method of overcoming emptiness by reading an upcoming text in staff meeting and allowing the other staff to speak of what they see in the text or even how they might preach the text. I also have a pastor's group I meet with regularly and we've occasionally done something similar. In each instance, I have left the group setting with more ideas on how to preach a certain text than I ever would have had on my own. I've also felt sermon preparation has moved towards being a church activity and not simply something the pastor does all by himself.

What do you think? Do you agree with Dr. Florence that writer's block is a result of emptiness? Also, do you ever attempt to prepare sermons with someone else? How has that worked for you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Will Willimon's sermon, "Together..."

Together ... from St. Luke's UMC on Vimeo.

This sermon was preached at St. Luke's UMC Gethsemane Campus (Houston, TX) on January 8, 2012. Find more from St. Luke's at their vimeo site here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Are you well acquainted with the subject?

I was looking over some notes from last year's Preaching Practicum at Wilshire Baptist Church and came across this gem of a quote from Dr. George Mason.

"When people come to church to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, they have the right to hear it from someone well acquainted with the subject."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Be Alive! Pay Attention! Follow Jesus!

Chuck Campbell talks about the presence of good preaching and the importance of living a life apart from one's preaching. Thanks to the folks at for another good video clip.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quote of the Week: Conducting a Text

"The sermon is not an act of reporting on an old text, but it is an act of making a new text visible and available. This new text in part is the old text, and in part is the imaginative construction of the preacher, which did not exist until the moment of utterance by the preacher. Like a conductor 'rendering' Beethoven so that that particular music exists only in that occasion, so the preacher renders a text so that it only exists in that particular form in that particular occasion of speaking."

- Walter Brueggemann, The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word (Fortress, 2007), p. 85.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blessed Voices (even among the voiceless)

Doctoral work has kept me pretty silent on the blogosphere lately. No matter. Other excellent voices have been hard at work. Some of my favorites....

All of us who practice the awkward act of dunking a new believer beneath the waters in baptism (and then trying to figure out how to get them back up) will be blessed by Lee Hull Moses's post "Newness of Life Or: How I Gave up the Waders and Learned to Love the Water."

All of us who've preached till we are hoarse can learn from Charlie Johnson's post over at, "What a Preacher Learned When He Stopped Preaching."

Would love to hear what you've been reading in the comments section.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How wandering through the library can make you a better preacher.

I escape to the public library to write many of my sermons so I was struck by Tom Long's advice on connecting the library's vast resources to your sermon preparation. As always, thanks to for these great videos.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How to keep from being enslaved by the opinions of others (as well as your own!)

Julie Pennington-Russell, my former pastor and current pastor of FBC Decatur, GA was the keynote speaker for the Women in Ministry Conference at Truett Seminary back in March. I was saddened not to be able to attend, but Truett has posted her sermons. Her first session, "Who and Whose are You?," is a must listen for all who struggle through the highs and lows of ministry.  You can listen after the jump below. You can find her other two sessions here and here. The videos are slow to load on the Baylor site, but worth the wait.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Sermons from Sam Wells and Adam Hamilton

Need some Easter inspiration? Here are two very different kinds of sermons that both communicate the Easter message. I, of course, don't advocating plagiarizing these sermons. Preach your own sermon, but sometimes a phrase or sentence from another sermon will help get the creative juices flowing. I was struck by Sam Well's phrase, "safely dead." That's an evocative image. What things might we assume are "safely dead" that we'd rather not see resurrected?

If you use something from these sermons in your own, be sure to give these guys credit.

Sam Wells, "Rolling Stones," Preached at Duke Chapter on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011.  The sermon starts at 34:11 and runs for 18 minutes.

Adam Hamilton, "Easter: The Resurrection," preached at Church of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 24,2011.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The rich really do steal candy from babies (and other illustrations from the web)

Here are four interesting reads from the last week.

  1. Apparently the old saying is true, the rich really are more likely to steal candy from babies. The Huffington Post reports on a study published by the National Academy of Sciences that shows the wealthy are more likely to engage in unethical behavior than the poor including, yes, taking candy from babies.
  2. It's an undeniable truth that many college students leave the faith during their early twenties. Is higher education the cause? Experts weigh in a USA Today article. The resounding answer is that the true problem is to be found in a "lack of 'a robust faith,' strongly committed parents and an essential church connection." 
  3. What do high profile apologies have to teach us about our own acts of contrition? Chuck Warnock explores the possibilities in his blogpost "Why Rush Limbaugh's apology fails" over at Confessions of a Small Church Pastor
  4. Many preachers also serve as supervisors of employees. A tongue-in-cheek article from the WashingtonPost explores the best ways for a supervisor to "completely, utterly destroy an employee's work life."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thomas Long - The God We Get

The God We Get from First Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

Dr. Long preached this sermon at First Presbyterian Church of Naples, FL on March 21, 2010. It's a different take on the Parable of the Talents. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Six questions for preachers to ask themselves during Lent

We're already a few weeks into Lent, the 40 day season of preparation before Easter. I've been pondering what Lent means for me as a preacher. I don't mean for my preaching, but rather, for me as a person who also preaches. What do the themes of humility, temptation, confession, repentance, forgiveness, suffering and crucifixion have to teach me as a preacher? If I'm honest, more than I probably care to learn.
  • Humility: Which is more essential to your understanding of self your preaching or your relationship with Jesus?
  • Temptation: Which bothers you more, the presence of sin in your life or preaching a bad sermon?
  • Confession: When was the last time you were 100% honest with another person about the sin in your life?
  • Repentance: What is a practical step you could take to turn towards Christ in your day to day life? What is keeping you from taking that step?
  • Forgiveness: When was the last time you were a recipient of the proclamation of God's forgiveness and not simply the one who made the proclamation? 
  • Suffering/Crucifixion: In light of the fact that you proclaim the gospel of the One who was crucified, how do you define a successful sermon, a successful ministry, a successful career as a minister?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Preaching familiar texts.

As Easter approaches, we are confronted once more with the challenge of preaching from familiar texts. Matt Skinner, in an interview with, reminds us that these texts aren't familiar to everyone and that even the most familiar text, when given room to speak, can give a fresh word for today.

find more Preaching Moments at

Quote of the week: The proper response to biblical preaching

"The proper response to biblical preaching does not lie in pronouncing the pastor a skilled communicator but rather in determining whether God has spoken and whether or not He will be trusted and obeyed."

- Haddon Robinson, Making a Difference in Preaching, 71.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Holy Hutzpah" by Ben Patterson

Ben Patterson Sermon from FPC Kingwood on Vimeo.

There are two ways in which a text can be difficult. One is that it's simply difficult to understand. It's complex. It doesn't make sense. Other passages are difficult for the opposite reason, they are easy to understand, we just don't like what they have to say. In both cases, the temptation for the preacher is to make text easier, smoother, more palatable.

I like this sermon from Ben Patterson because he allows a difficult text to remain difficult. He doesn't smooth over the sharp edges, which in the end, keeps the text connected to our own rough experiences with life and with God. The Mark Galli book he references (Jesus Mean and Wild) is a good one for reminding us of the difficult sayings of Jesus. My favorite quote from the sermon, "If you've not met God as one who opposes you, you've not met God."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quote of the week - the scandal of Friday, the rumor of Sunday

"In a culture that has learned well how to imagine - how to make sense - of the world without reference to the God of the Bible, it is the preacher's primal responsibility to invite and empower and equip the community to reimagine the world as though Yahweh were a key and a decisive player . . .

"We are forever reimagining and retelling and reliving our lives throuh the scandal of Friday and the rumor of Sunday"

- Walter Brueggemann, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, 2, 10.

Monday, February 27, 2012

N.T. Wright on preaching the whole Bible via one text

The Whole Sweep Of Scripture from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Interviewer: "How should we read the scriptures?"
Bishop Wright: "Frequently and thoroughly."

Bishop Wright speaks a word to the whole church about reading scripture as it was meant to be read. For the preacher, I found the his word at the end of the video (around the 6 minute mark) especially valuable. He uses a metaphor about seeing the countryside through a window. Only by pressing in towards the window does one get a wide view of the countryside beyond the pane. In worship each week, we press in towards one text in order to see the sweeping countryside of the biblical story. This runs somewhat contrary to the way we often isolate texts in worship, especially in the free church tradition (where we may only read that one text in worship!). I wonder, what ways do you help the congregation keep the whole story in view during worship each week?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quote of the Week: Countercultural preaching

"I think that there is nothing more powerful than a person who loves other people, standing under the power of the Spirit and telling the truth about something. As a matter of fact, it's so shockingly countercultural that it has the ability, when it is done with passion, to create an attentive listener."

Thomas Long, from an interview in Ten Great Preachers: Messages and Interviews edited by Bill Turpie

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten Resources

Here are some Lenten resources that I've found helpful.
  • Journey to the Cross - this online devotional is from the folks over at The devotionals are simple and yet stirring. It's worth stopping by for the the Ken Medema music alone.
  • Lent for Everyone - This is a Lenten devotional by one of my favorite writers, N.T. Wright. I can only find this on the YouVersion website / app. I don't think you have to sign-up in order to use it, but you might. It's free, and the YouVersion app is a great way to read the Bible on your phone or tablet. 
  • Lenten Blog by the Huffington Post - As strange as this one is, two days in I've been pleasantly surprised by this Huffington Post Lenten blog. I'll say up front, I have no idea who all the contributors will be and so I don't vouch for any of them. That being said, o far they've had piece from the late Henri Nouwen and from Walter Brueggemann two of my favorite authors.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dr. William J. Carl III on preaching without notes

William J. Carl III Brain Technique for Preaching Without Notes from Tom Dykhuizen on Vimeo.

This seminar is a little over an hour. The technique is interesting. I haven't tried it yet, but might this week. I'll let you know how it goes. Have any of you tried something like this?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Life as a short preacher

Last week I was visiting with one of our 5th graders about being baptized. We were standing in the baptistery (sans water). I asked her if she had any questions. She said that she had always wondered what the cinder block in the bottom of the baptistery was for (our baptistery is level with the stage and it is easy for young ones to peer over the edge into it). I explained that shorter people will often stand on the block during their baptisms so that they they are easier to see.

She replied, "Oh, I always though it was for you."

I laughed, but the girl's mother shot her a look, as if to say, "That's not polite."

The 5th grader continued, "What?! That's what all the kids say."

Out of the mouth of babes. . .

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quote of the week: Calvin Miller

"Becoming a great preacher, like becoming a great artist, requires a life commitment."

- Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator

Friday, February 3, 2012

Women in Ministry (Part II): It's not about being a liberal or conservative

Liberal. In my part of the country, that's a bad word. Politically, if you call someone a liberal, you might as well be calling them a communist (Even the Democrats here try to avoid being called liberals!). Theologically the terms mean something different than they do in the political arena, but the term still means something negative to many of my baptist friends. In Baptist circles (and other evangelical traditions, as well), calling someone a theological liberal is the equivalent of questioning their commitment to the Bible and even their commitment to Christ. I'm not saying that I agree with the use of the word liberal as an epithet. I for one don't consider liberals enemies, even if I disagree with them on a number of issues. I'm simply explaining how the word is used in my part of the world.

I make this point for this simple fact: when someone (like myself) begins to advocate for women in ministry, many others will immediately begin accusing them of being a liberal. That's a serious accusation in the circles I operate in and can cost people their jobs and destroy their ministries. The threat of these accusations keeps many people (both lay and clergy) from voicing their support for women in ministry even though their convictions lead them in that direction.  The atrocity of this kind of criticism is not simply that it's often mean-spirited and damaging to the body of Christ. The trouble is that such accusations are often patently untrue. A person can be theologically conservative and a Christian who supports women in ministry. 

Take for instance, the many charismatic churches that have conservative theology and yet allow women to participate in all levels of ministry. The Salvation Army and Nazarene churches, both conservative denominations, also ordain women to the ministry. In the last few decades many evangelical churches have also begun to incorporate women into all aspects of church life. Conservative preachers like Haddon Robinson, former president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, have made the case for women in ministry. Heroes of Baptist life like Frank Pollard have, as well. Conservative scholars like Gordon Fee, F.F. Bruce, even Millard Erickson (Southern Baptist), have advocated for the ordination of women.

Now, I know that for every name that I throw out there will be someone who says, "Yeah, but that person isn't a real conservative." What those people mean is that these names don't fit their definition of what a conservative is supposed to look like (even though, all of the names listed above would be considered conservatives to many, many people).  This leads me to my bigger frustration with this issue. While I fully believe that you can be conservative theologically and support women in the ministry, I also believe the terms liberal and conservative have limited usefulness in many of our discussions. The reason is simple: nobody agrees on what these terms mean. When you think about it, how could they? Life is not made up of just one issue. It's made up of any number of issues. And there are a large number of ways to arrange one's beliefs. As my professor Roger Olson wrote recently on his blog, "There’s no 'right' or 'left' or 'middle.' There’s just (limited) variety."

There was a time that I would proudly boast of being a conservative. No more. That's not because I consider myself a liberal. I don't (but I do count both self-described liberals and self-described conservatives as my friends). No, the reason I don't worry about touting my conservative credentials is because I find such a term almost useless in describing what I think almost all of us are attempting to do - follow Jesus not liberally or conservatively but faithfully. How each of us works that out will definitely look a little different from one another. That's no reason to go slandering one another as being less than faithful.

For now, we all see through the glass darkly, but one day . . .


If you're interested in a more in-depth look at the uselessness of the left-middle-right spectrum in the field of theology, check out Dr. Roger Olson's blog post "On tossing out the 'right-middle-left' spectrum."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sermon of the Week: Case Study of a Mugging by Haddon Robinson

This sermon is from a series Haddon Robinson did for the Dallas Theological Seminary. All four sermons from the series are available on DTS's website. Each is worth hearing. Dr. Robinson excels at several levels of preaching, but I am always most impressed in his ability to say succinctly what the sermon is about. 

Watch for the lines: "Your neighbor is anyone whose need you see, whose need God put you in a position to meet" and "What you are determines what you see."

Women in Ministry (Part I): Why I'm glad to support women in ministry

My first genuine encounter with women in ministry happened in college. Week after week, I would listen to faithful women give powerful proclamation to the word of God. At that time, I'd never really given any thought as to whether or not it was permissible for a woman to preach to men or to serve on a church staff. The church I grew up in only had men in the pulpit, but I remember women taking a prominent role in many other aspects of church life. If that church had discussions about the role of gender in church life, they didn't have it with the teenagers. So college was the first time that I encountered women teaching and preaching in any significant way. It was, therefore, the first time I began a serious pursuit of what the Bible had to say about women in ministry. 

The women that first got me thinking about this issue weren't employed by any church. They were my peers at the Baptist Student Ministry at Texas A&M. We would often have students lead small group Bible studies and the larger weekly meetings. Some of the very best teachers/preachers were some of the women students. What is ironic, is that these women, for the most part, believed that it was unscriptural for women to preach. They would explain their own teaching by explaining that it wasn't in a church setting or that it wasn't really preaching. They'd call it testimony or something like that (I think Beth Moore does the same kind of verbal gymnastics). I always found that a little silly. In those days, we Baptist would often talk of having a foot-function, but everyone (including us) knew we were having a dance. The difference between teaching/preaching/offering a testimony is almost negligible.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In the Library: Matthew

While I usually only have 3-4 commentaries per book of the Bible, I admit to having about twice that when it comes to the gospels. That being said, I don't have one, favorite volume for the Gospel of Matthew nor do I have a commentary that tackles Matthew's Greek in much detail. Here are four Matthean commentaries that I turn to most frequently.

Craig S. Keener's A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 1999). I have the older edition. I've noticed that it has been reissued as a part of Ben Witherington's Socio-Rhetorical Commentary series. I really like Witherington's series, so it makes sense that I would like this.  While a very detailed commentary, Keener's work does not do much work in the Greek.  If you are looking for that, you need to look elsewhere.

Ben Withernington III's Matthew (Smyth & Helwys, 2006). Witherington is one of my favorite scholars. His writing is clear and helpful and his work is thorough. The Smyth & Helwys series is nice and includes many of my favorite authors. The added CD-ROM for each volume is helpful as it comes with a searchable PDF of the commentary.  My main issue with this series is the price.  If I didn't have a decent book allowance, I probably would find less expensive options.  But if you have the money, these are generally, very good commentaries. You can save some money by getting on their standing order list.

David E. Garland's Reading Matthew (Smyth & Helwys, 2001). Dr. Garland was one of my professors at Truett (where he now serves as dean). I buy any commentary he publishes, not because I know him, but because he writes excellent commentaries.  This brief volume is no exception. The Reading the New Testaemtne series from Smyth & Helwys employs literary criticism, so it reads differently than other commentaries. You get less verse by verse commentary and more attention to the movement within the overall text of the gospel.

Stanley Hauerwas's Matthew (Brazos, 2006). The Brazos Theological Commentaries on the Bible are not your average commentary set. Instead of Biblical scholars, they invite theologians to engage a specific biblical text. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Hauerwas's volume is one of the ones that works. I don't always agree with Hauerwas, but his commentary always makes for lively encounter with both the church and the text.

What's on your shelf that you find helpful?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Quote of the week: Defining the faith vs. Proclaiming the gospel

"Definers and defenders of the faith are always needed, but it is bad for a church when its ministers count it their true work to define and defend the faith rather than to preach the gospel."

- Phillips Brooks

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Links: What is good preaching?

Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., asks the question: What is good preaching?  I like her answer. You can find more from Amy at her blog Talk With the Preacher.

CBF Oklahoma had their Fall Gathering back on October 15, 2011, but the videos from that day have just made the web (thanks to Bruce Prescott).  Preston CleggMeredith StoneKyndall Renfro, and Lavonn Brown preached on the four freedoms (Church, Bible, Religious, and Soul). The sound on the video isn't great, so you'll need to be in a quiet spot to listen, but the sermons are good.

Preston's sermon is especially inspiring for the the preacher working in a local church. His opening illustration, "The corner of Benton and Plumb," did everything an opening illustration should do. It hooked me into the sermon and had me contemplating the truth of his main point without even realizing that he had gotten me to do some deep thinking. Preston and I were at Truett Seminary at the same time, it's no surprise to see him doing so well. I've included his sermon below. The actual sermon starts around the 4:30 mark.

Preston Clegg on Church Freedom from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the Library: Psalms

Since, most of my preaching peers tend to buy commentaries that have been recommended by a friend, I've always thought it would be helpful to have a working list of our favorite volumes.  Let this be one attempt at such a list. I'll try to post on one or two books of the Bible a week.  I'll list one or two of my favorites commentaries with a brief description and invite you to do the same in the comments.  First up - Psalms.

My go to commentary if I have a short week: 
Mays, James L. Psalms. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox, 1994.

I've had Mays' commentary in my library for over a decade. The commentary is concise but still includes enough information to be useful. His writing inspires even as it educates.

My favorite commentary that looks good on the shelf and is actually helpful:
Goldingay, John. Psalms. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Wisdom and Psalms. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

At around $32 a volume, this three volume set is pricey, but it delivers. Goldingay gives every Psalm its fair due, exploring language and theological issues in a way that is incredibly thorough but still accessible to those who have not kept up with their Hebrew.

What's on your shelf?

William Willimon - "God on the Prowl" from 30goodminutes

William Willimon, "God on the Prowl" - PG5316 from 30goodminutes on Vimeo.

I like Willimon's sermons because 1) they're usually brief 2) he does an excellent job of keeping God as the subject of his preaching. This isn't as easy as it sounds. The subject of most of our sermons (mine included) tend to be ourselves. Willimon's sermons reinforce his statement that I quoted earlier in the week,"Preaching that is boring is preaching that talks first about us and then only tangentially about God. Preaching that is faithful is preaching that talks first about God and then only secondarily and derivatively talks about us. The God of Scripture is so much more interestingly than we are."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Choosing the Best Commentaries

Do you have a strategy for buying commentaries?

I am always on the lookout for good commentaries, but it's not always easy to know where to find them.  With limited resources, you hate to burn $30, $50, even $75 dollars on a commentary that ends up being of little use to you. What I usually end up doing is buying commentaries by authors I already know and trust (I'll buy any commentary I find by Walter Brueggemann, Will Willimon, Fred Craddock, David Garland, Scott McKnight. . . ). This is a fine strategy in some regards, but it leaves holes in my library in both scope and the number of perspectives represented.

My ideal library would be the size of a university library.  In my actual library I'll settle for having three exceptional commentaries for each book of the Bible. First, I like having one really thorough, technical commentary that can take me through all the ins and outs of the biblical language and the major historical critical issues. I prefer this to be a more recent publication as that hopefully ensures coverage of the most recent scholarship. Dr. David Garland's volume on 1 Corinthians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an example of what I'm talking about. Then I like to have two or three less technical but still thorough commentaries. I want these to be from different theological perspectives (moderate/liberal/conservative, Anabaptist/Mainstream Protestant/Catholic, etc.). The idea is to hear different voices as they read the same text. I find my sermon preparation deeply enriched by the variety of voices within the church including and sometimes especially the voices with whom I disagree most often. These diverse voices help me think of familiar texts in new ways.  

The nerd in me would love to churn through 7-8 commentaries a week in sermon prep, but the full time pastor in me has learned that 3-4 good commentaries are enough.  

What about you?  What do you look for in a commentary?  Who are some of your favorite authors?  What are some of your favorite volumes?  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eugene Peterson: What pastors have that Madison Ave. doesn't

The good folks over at have posted several new videos.  They're worth checking out.  Here's a wonderful one from Eugene Peterson on the advantages pastors have over all the other voices that compete for our people's attention.

Minimize fear (and pride) in the pulpit this week.

Like most preachers, I spend some time in prayer every Sunday morning. I pray for the obvious things. I pray for the service that's about to happen. I pray that the people in the service will come face to face with God. If I'm honest, I mostly pray for my own part in that process. This week, thanks to a tweet by a fellow pastor, I added something to my prayers. I began praying for other ministers in town and their sermons.

Now, I realize that many of you have probably been doing this for ages, but I'm a little slow on the uptake.  It's not that I've never prayed for other churches or their ministers, I have, but not on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning is crunch time. When the pressure is on, I admit, my prayers become a little bit more me-focused than they are on other occasions. Which feels normal. I am, after all, about to go lay my week's efforts (not to mention my soul) in front of a few hundred people. Preaching always feels dangerous to me.  When I find myself in a dangerous place, I have no problem admitting that my instinct is to pray for myself. God, help me. God, save me. God, don't let me look like an idiot up there.

But doing what feels natural isn't always the best course of action. Just ask the armadillo. His natural instinct when threatened is to jump straight up into air (sometimes up to four feet!) before sprinting away. That might work well when facing a bobcat. It doesn't work well when facing a Ford F150 on the highway.  So this week, I did something unnatural. I took time out of my Sunday morning routine to pray for other preachers in town. I called them by name. Some of these guys I really like. Others not so much. Either way, I asked God to speak through them and to bless their sermons.  

Something remarkable happened as I prayed for others, I found myself sensing God's presence in a new way. Praying for other preachers connected me to the larger community of faith and reminded me that my part, which can feel so big on Sunday mornings, isn't as big as I think. Don't get me wrong, I still think my part is important. It's just not the most important part. It's not the decisive part. Yes, I need to be prepared. Yes, I need to be faithful. The most important part, however, is that God is faithful.  

These prayers for others exposed some unflattering truths about me. Most of my prayers are rooted in either fear or pride. The two go together. When I think about preaching, I often get caught up in how I'm doing. Am I preaching well? If I think I am, well, I'm usually pretty proud of that fact. But what if I'm not? I begin to worry about what people will think of me then? Enter fear. Both sentiments (pride and fear) come from focusing primarily on my own efforts.

When I pray for others, I instinctively believe that God is the decisive part in their ministries, not their own efforts. After all, I'd hate to give those guys too much credit! Which helps me realize, I don't need to give myself too much credit either. Praying for other preacher's sermons brings me back to the truth that the decisive part in my own sermon will be nothing less than the gracious activity of God.

Obviously, I've only done this for one Sunday, but it really did make a difference in my outlook. So, thanks to @markbatterson for praying for other preachers in your city and tweeting about it. I think I'll make praying for other pastors a regular part of my Sunday morning routine, as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Preaching Quote of the Week

"Preaching that is boring is preaching that talks first about us and then only tangentially about God.  Preaching that is faithful is preaching that talks first about God and then only secondarily and derivatively talks about us.  The God of Scripture is so much more interestingly than we are."

Will Willimon from "My Advice for Preachers" in Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers (edited by William J. Carl, III)