Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Of course, I said "Yes" (- who could refuse a request like this?) Actually, I am due to lead this workshop next week. But I am intrigued that they have gone several years without preaching. Why? As a small church with a part-time pastor I guess there may have been a loss of enthusiasm for preaching or, perhaps, they allowed other priorities to squeeze it out. Indeed, I have been asked to give an introduction to briefly emphasize how vital preaching is! I know my student is very committed to preaching and, maybe, behind this request lies his influence on other church members.
But what an unusual request! It marks a first in my experience. I look forward to reporting back to you.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
- I met with the pastors of the seven churches at 9:15 for prayer. It was one of the most free, honest, humble, exciting times of prayer that I have participated in for a long time. For 25 minutes these pastors revealed not only their love for God, but for Elmhurst and (so importantly) for each other. It was palpable unity. The service was called "ONE worship" and they modeled it. I am sure these relationships expressed by such prayer give a vital foundation.
- After the first of three songs, the sound system failed. Technicians rushed to correct the fault, the musicians looked bemused, as did the congregation which eventually sat down in the awkward silence. After four minutes or so the amplification returned and we began singing, only for it to fail again. We were left singing "How great Thou art." Yet, suddenly we could hear the unaccompanied voices of this great crowd sounding beautifully across the city center. Eventually the power came back on but, frankly, the technical hitch didn't seem to matter. Afterwards nobody commented on it to me. Isn't it great when we major on majors!
- Communion was later served to this great crowd. All the pastors shared in leading. Each of us received a small sealed cup of juice with an extra sealed lid and a wafer inside. I had never seen such an inventive way of receiving communion. But, again, for all its novelty it proved a deep experience of connecting with the Lord as his united people. Us and Him.
I guess that all of us who were there will been struck by different issues. I would love to hear of your experiences too. I long for individuals to have been changed within this morning's worship and for the ministry of reconciliation (part of our service theme) to continue powerfully for this great group of churches.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The next two beatitudes take us to issues of personality and desire:
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Though many Scripture passages are relevant I shall particularly focus on Matthew 11:28-30, Rom. 3: 21-26 and John 4:10-15. At present my sermon main impact is:
By the grace of God thise sermon will SAY - Christian living means Christ-like personalities - gentleness with the strength of steel - and deep desire for justification.
The sermon will DO - challenge hearers about their personality and motivation today.
I have still much to do for this coming Sunday, but am grateful for those already working for the following week. Any insights, personal stories relating to these next two beatitudes will be gratefully received!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
As I have been working on the text for next Sunday, 2 Cor. 5: 14-20, I am focussing on a main impact:
By the grace of God what this sermon will say is: Christ's love is the greatest motivating force in the world, creating us as "new creation" and commissioning us as ambassadors of reconciliation.
And what this sermon will do is: Challenge us to believe more fully in Christ's love and to act for him by behavior and witness.
I am aware that these Elmhurst churches are already practically involved together. For example, on October 8 they are joining to pack food for "Feed My Starving Children." I am sure there are other initiatives too. Any examples of practical ways by which these churches can express Christ's love and witness together will be gratefully received.
Monday, August 22, 2011
But now to the open-air service. I continue to think about this and its dynamics:
- Its very strangeness (only the second time for Elmhurst churches) must be taken into account. I cannot just preach as though (safely) within four walls.
- Its evangelistic opportunity is high level. Who knows how many people may "overhear" the gospel as they walk past or live in surrounding apartments.
- Its boldness requires a clear message that can be understood by everyone and that issues in practical outcomes.
- Its inclusion of communion means a wonderful opportunity to do something for Jesus publicly that will "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" ( 1 Cor 11: 26).
In preaching we sometimes talk about the importance of "contextualizing the message." It needs to be appropriate for its hearers. Oh, yes. That's what I need to be aware of as I work this week!
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
But, already I am being stretched as I think ahead to sermon (2) which will preached in a large outdoor worship service in the center of downtown Elmhurst on August 28th. I mentioned in a recent posting how several evangelical churches are combining, and the organizers have given me the text: 2 Cor. 5: 14-21. What an honor to be able to preach to such a gathering that wants to show Elmhurst its unity of faith and of mission in Jesus Christ.
The text is very challenging. With a shorter time than usual, I shall need to be aware of very different dynamics. I shall let you know how the sermon is developing. But I wonder what advice you would give me about preaching in an open-air setting to such a group of people. What do you think I particularly need to keep in mind as I prepare? I really value your input.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
On Sunday August 21st. the sermon title is: "You're blessed at the end of your rope" - the Eugene Petersen paraphrase of the first beatitude (Matt. 5: 3). Actually, I shall preach on the first two beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
In developing these beatitudes I shall be spending time elsewhere in the gospels. Mark 10:35-52 vividly shows contrast of attitudes between the disciples ("rich in spirit"!) and blind Bartimaeus (poor in spirit). For the second beatitude I shall reflect on the significance of Jesus weeping (John 11: 35,36; Luke 19: 41).
Past readers of my blogs know that I seek to crystallize my sermon preparation by defining the sermon's main impact. Always, it can change as preparation continues!
By the grace of God, this sermon will SAY - Christian living begins when spiritual beggars admit their need, and those who grieve bring their tears before God.
And this sermon will DO - invite hearers to be real with God in order to receive blessing as never before.
At yesterday's planning meeting many suggestions were already being made about the shape of the service and how its outcome - "invite hearers to be real with God" might best be implemented. I am so grateful to the team for working on this and, of course, any suggestions from you will help my preparation too. If you do not want to post publicly, please use my personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for sharing on this new journey.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
A little later, I was able to join a lunch-time meeting of pastors from eight Elmburst churches who are sharing a joint outdoor worship service on August 28th. (when I shall preach). It will be held on a parking lot in downtown Elmhurst - 1500 chairs will accommodate members from these churches with a mass choir and communion. It was so refreshing to hear these pastors talk about their common vision to present the gospel as a united presence to the town of Elmhurst. I left with a powerful prayer ringing in my ears - full of conviction and faith - offered by one of those pastors. Wow!
Both these commitments mean plenty of blogging lies ahead (beginning tomorrow with the August 21st. service). But this evening, after supper with friends from Wheaton College, Carol and I returned home at dusk to find a package on the doorstep. It was the first copy of my new book: Preaching as Worship! It is weirdly wonderful holding this book after all these years. It is so long ago that I wrote some of it -turning the pages has been quite an adventure. It will be out officially on September 1st. but what a great way to end the day. Carol said that while she was watching a hospital program on TV (not my thing!) I ought to post a blog about this exciting day. And so I have, with thankgiving to the Lord who allowed me to experience all this. I hope you too have days that are worth celebrating!
Monday, August 8, 2011
While I was teaching the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-10) I suggested that we might memorize them. Because they are so compact and comprehensive, summing up the essentials of Christian living, they serve as a continual reminder of what really matters for daily living. Several people commented they were trying to memorize them (though at least one said it was a stretch). I committed myself to memory work too. Of course, it was easier for me because I was preaching them anyway!
However, both yesterday and today I had two experiences. Totally unbidden and therefore all the more surprising, I suddenly found myself going through the beatitudes line-by-line. Slowly and carefully. Not only did this memory work jolt me (one occurred while on the gym elliptical machine!) but I found different implications from the teaching last week came flooding back. I don't know how often the beatitudes will continue to interrupt me in the future, but I must testify that it has been an important influence on these last two days. Does anyone else have similar experiences with memorized Scripture 'interrupting" life?
Thursday, August 4, 2011
First, it has a stellar program that enables families to come and not only have their children in programs during the day, but enjoy dedicated support from a host of carers who look after the children in the evenings. One couple said to me, "Before we came to Northern Pines we had never had more than a very occasional snatched evening away from the kids for the previous 20 years! But here we have several free evenings when we can just be together. " So many families told me just how immense the care is. This was clear from the last evening as three generational groups were knit together all over the big hall with members telling us how Northern Pines had ministered to their families over 38 years. Wonderful and moving.
Second, was the amazingly serious serious program (serious for a vacation!) Three main speakers were responsible for a daily Bible study, a family hour teaching session and the evening hour (my task!) When I was first asked to speak, I enquired of the Director what the theme was going to be and he said they always left it to individual speakers to be guided by God in their choices. As you will know from my recent posting I focused on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10)in my preparation. Imagine my surprise on arrival when the Bible study leader (Dr. Stephen Bramer of Dallas Theological Seminary) told me that he had chosen to teach on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) but decided early on that he would not deal with the Beatitudes at all. Every time we spoke we seemed to complement each other, due entirely to Holy Spirit organization. Dr. Dave Currie of Doing Family Right taught immensely practical sessions on family life and, again, every session provided powerful application of beatitude principles. I marvel! Several people told me that this was God's speciality for Northern Pines - making the speakers complement each other! And, memorably (really!), the dynamic musician Peder Eide, led worship through the week, encouraging highly active participation while provoking thoughtful responses. We listened to his latest CD "Rescue" on the way home. Actually, Carol says one of the songs is so 'embedded' she's singing it all the time.
Carol and I have so appreciated the genuine friendship of a great group of people this past week. And, of course, the outstanding Green Lake Conference Center (with its ice cream) added to enjoyment. We have returned with many new friends and (I was going to write) a packed notebook from the sessions. However, I left my notebook behind and am now hoping they find it in lost property. But, Carol correctly observes: My handwriting is so appalling nobody else will be able to read my notes anyway!It is very encouraging to be able to reflect so positively. We are very grateful to God for the experience. Go to the Northern Pines web site: http://www.npines.org/ for more info. As you can guess, I recommend it thoroughly.