Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Irresponsible listeners

Wheaton College's student newspaper's editorial last week criticized a recent chapel speaker..."we don't remember anything except that he made us laugh."

It continued:
It seems that we would rather listen to a man who can speak well and give us a few good chuckles, even if the core of his message is lacking, than a man who speaks with a stutter and proclaims good news.....we have a skewed idea of what matters if what sticks with us most is the entertainment value of a speaker.....

We're not asking for boring chapel speakers, or arguing that entertaining speakers are bad...but we are saying that we as listeners are often irresponsible. ....We as listeners have an equal responsibility to pay attention once our attention is captured and to evaluate if what is being said is correct and worth our attention.
(From The Wheaton Record, Feb 15, 2008).

Hmmm? Am I mostly responsible or irresponsible as a listener?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Leaping over a wall

It's been all quiet on my sermon production front these last few days. Instead, seminary grading has nearly overwhelmed me! But I return to duty on Saturday March 1st for the Annual Gathering of the Great Rivers Region of ABC churches. I have spoken to them before - they're a great crowd of believers.

Because the meetings begin on Feb 29 they have created a leap year theme: L.E.A.P. into Ministry: Lead, Empower, Affirm, Pray. Whenever I face a theme like this I yearn for a Bible text to ground me. ( I know it sounds like the preachers' old joke about trying to find a text to fit a good story!) This time, one hit me full-on, rushing in by "authorized version" memory - Psalm 18:29: And by my God I have leaped over a wall (AV). I call this psalm the "commando psalm" because its full of overcoming conflicts, running through troops, and over barricades.

So, it's eyes down to prepare a new message. It counts that it is "by my God' I have leaped - this cannot be a self-help message. But it also matters that it is "over a wall." For the psalmist this seems to be a battlement. I need to identify some walls God wants us to leap over today. Any ideas out there?

Monday, February 25, 2008

From everywhere to everywhere!

Yesterday, in First Baptist Church Wheaton, the missionary speaker from Brazil used skype, (the internet telephone), in the middle of his sermon. He called up two other Wheaton missionary friends in Pakistan. Nothing strange in that you say!

Except that he was calling to talk with one of his own young trained Brazilian missionaries, Miriam, who has just begun working in Pakistan with them! Brazil now sends missionaries all over the world. And it doesn't take much imagination to realize how powerfully they communicate the gospel across cultures! As I listened to Miriam with her brightness, her love for God, and her sacrifice to serve, I remembered that mission book title: "From everywhere to everywhere." And how people like Miriam show the sacrifice of twenty-first century mission to the rest of us. I feel humbled.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Worship Collaboration (1)

One great joy in last week's blogging was the buzz that followed my query about appropriate music for dealing with temptation. Several people replied. And, as a result, the worship leader was able to use some new music he had never heard before. So many worship tributaries flow in from every side. Nobody can keep in touch with them all...but how wonderful to receive others' suggestions and act on them. Worship was enriched.

At the moment I am writing an on-line course with music specialist at Northern Seminary, Karen Roberts. Called "Preaching and Worshiping through the Christian Year" it will launch in March 2008. Working with Karen has opened my eyes! How rarely do preachers and worship leaders collaborate over preparing public worship. Rather, they seem to work in separate boxes - preachers choosing texts and themes while worship leaders choose music. Their choices are then fed into the worship order that has become routine for their particular local church - from set liturgy to informal, (though often ordered!), worship.

What a difference it makes when they BOTH take greater responsibility for the whole. When the preacher cares about the shape of the worship service, and the content of its different elements. And the worship leader bothers about engaging with the Scripture to be preached and asks what impact this might have upon worship.

In refreshing ways I have already witnessed some collaboration in different places. Do you know preachers and worship leaders who collaborate effectively together? Could you share any "stories" with me? Whether you are a preacher, a worship leader or a concerned worshipper please give me feedback.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tough on-the-job learning

Several people spoke to me yesterday about experiences, when they felt they could no longer carry on. One person described their situation over many months: "I said to myself, ' I can't take another step forward...I've reached the end', only to find that I was still (somehow) going forward in God's strength. So many times I nearly gave up. But as I look back over that terrible time I can see how that God really did deliver his promise." And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13).

I also met people going through rough times right now. God's promises meet us in deep places, where we keep learning about how much more we can bear by his strength, and how much more perseverance, maturing and refinining of character may yet happen (James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1: 1-7)! Its the toughest on-the-job learning we ever have to do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogging God's Promises (14)

As I have been immersing in 1 Cor 10:1-13, my main impact for the sermon has become clearer. Though focused on the promise of verse 13, its context is vital.

By God's grace ...........
  • this sermon will SAY: Temptation can be deadly serious; no one is immune but God promises powerful help
  • and this sermon will DO; Strengthen us practically to resist temptation by seizing God's promise.

I am grateful for one or two emails I have already received to help me on my way. Please keep praying that God will speak powerfully through this particular promise. Carpe promissum.

Temptation - out of fashion?

I asked one of Sunday's worship leaders whether the theme of"facing "temptation" emerges much in contemporary song writing. I mentioned that when I was young (!) there were some old fashioned hymns like: "Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin" ! I questioned: " Do you think this theme is out of fashion?"

He bounced back: " I can't think of any worship songs in my library that address temptation as explicitly as this hymn. That said, modern worship tunes are less verbose and don't develop themes as comprehensively as hymns. In any case, I'm happy to hear that you are addressing temptation. While the topic may be out of fashion in today's music, it is as relevant as ever in our oversexed, materialistic, instant gratification culture."

Anybody out there aware of appropriate contemporary worship material for 1 Cor 10:13?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Blogging God's Promises (13)

Next Sunday (Feb 17th) we hear God's promise about temptation: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13).

Talk of temptation goes down deep and murky. Those uncomfortable preceding verses in 1 Cor 10 warn of failures in Israel's history - fatal consequences of giving in to temptation. Yet, God makes this promise. The Expositor's Bible Commentary describes verse 13:
one of the most helpful verses in the New Testament and presents the great antidote to falling into sin through temptation. Petrasmos, "trial" or "temptation" is not in itself sinful...the temptations that come to the Christian are those all human beings face - they are unavoidable. But, God is right there with us to keep us from being overwhelmed by the temptation."

Have you been tempted to give in or give up, and found God delivered this promise? As I prepare I should value your prayers and your stories.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

275 responses

At this morining's services I had mixed feelings. 290 packets of prayer materials sat at the front, waiting for people to sign up for "40 days of prayer and fasting." Of course, for the preacher, it's encouraging to have a practical response built into the service. No one could fail to notice that something specific was supposed to happen after the sermon! Too many sermons can disappear into thin (hot) least here tangible action was expected.

But, as I mentioned at the sermon's beginning, I had mixed feelings because people might easily see these packets as yet another "church program" - another good thing the pastors and leaders had planned for them! How often we are asked to sign up for 40 days of this, or that, or something else! So I pleaded for people to respond in spirit and truth to the promise John 16:.23-24: My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. .... Ask and you will receive , and your joy will be complete" To make commitment only if they had a measure of (1) childlike wonder trusting God as Father; (2) wanting to ask Him specifically together as Giver; (3) desiring to use Jesus' powerful name, and (4) anticipating joy.

Pastor Howard, who had organized these packets told me afterwards that he prayed for 275 people to take them. ( I am not quite sure why 275 exactly - presumably to leave just a few spare packets!) Anyway, at the end, 275 packets had gone with sign-up forms in their place. Of course, this is only the beginning of seizing this prayer promise. 40 days lie ahead. But Praise God for such a beginning! I am humbled as well as committed.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Blogging God's Promises (12)

Over the last few days I have been "immersing" in John 16:23-24 (and its context): My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive , and your joy will be complete"

In light of the church challenge about 40 days of prayer and fasting, this promise needs careful preaching. It is no good dashing off into a prayer program, without God refreshing us. And so, I see this sermon's main impact:

By God's grace.........

  • this sermon will SAY: Effective prayer depends on asking the Father in Jesus name with joy
  • and this sermon will DO: Encourage us all to pray in renewed ways over 40 days.

I am sure all who will be present at Calvary on Sunday morning want authentic commitments only. Please pray with me that God will speak powerfully through this particular promise. Carpe promissum.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Blogging God's Promises (11)

What a God-incidence! Many weeks ago, as an interim preacher, I planned to preach on God's promises about prayer on February 10th. At their recent retreat, the church leaders felt challenged to call the church to 40 days of prayer and fasting. And, it just so happens (oh really!) that one leader contacted me afterwards: "We wonder, in your series, if you could introduce the promise of prayer, say on February 10th?" "It's already planned for that date," I replied, to his great astonishment -and mine too.

Over the last three months, I have received more stories about answers to prayer promises than any other kind. One woman told me how important John 16:23-24 has been throughout her life. "My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive , and your joy will be complete" First memorizing these verses when she was 23 years old, (during a Navigator's Bible Study), her life ever since, with some dramatic turns (and downturns), has seen this promise repeatedly delivered. Actually, this promise in its setting was not well-known to me. However, seen in context, as Jesus leaves grieving disciples, it is very appropriate as we approach Lent and Easter.

So I am preparing hard on this particular passage through this week. With 40 days prayer and fasting beginning on February 11th, the sermon requires clear purpose. I shall try and blog further work soon. Any insights you can share will be very welcome. Don't forget, confidential comments can be sent to

"Shot-putting" anxiety

My shot-putting analogy for "casting" (1 Pet. 5:7) has provoked feedback! I discovered, yes, there were shot-putters in the congregation, (and I learned of my poor technique!) Others reflected how the effort, dynamics and discipline involved in throwing 13.2 lbs, relates to intentional prayer. And, best of all, were testimonies of recent throwing/casting, with fresh discoveries of how much God does care.

This afternoon I add a personal one. We had to visit a cancer clinic to hear the results of Carol's skin cancer surgery a few days ago. We have been throwing understandable (legitimate?) anxiety upon God for many days. His peace (with some undercurrents) has been a wonderful gift, as has the prayer support of many friends. Today we say: Alleluia! The answer is - all the cancer is removed!

Let's keep encouraging each other.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Blogging God's Promises (10)

As I blog, people's stories keep impacting me. Oh, the power of personal story! Often striking me with such raw honesty, specific experience, and (especially) spiritual insight. That's so with an email I received in November 2007. It began: "Here's my problem. I suffer from stress and anxiety...." Out tumbled one man's story of trying to cope with financial demands, family concerns, and health worries. The dictionary defines anxiety as "a state of apprehension and uncertainty" but this man lives it. Not only does he speak eloquently for the great majority of us, but his question about God's promises really hit hard too. He said that he really wanted God's promises of peace to work for him, and yet so often he was left as anxious as ever. Was this his fault?

What a powerful way into the subject of stress and anxiety! I plan to begin with this email on Sunday. From this real, local, life-story we see the problem writ large, and face a key spiritual question, on our way to seize the promise: Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Thank you for all your stories - I believe they help me to preach better! Please keep sharing them.