Let it go.

bed empty equipments floor

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The sermon was crap.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I hold myself to higher standards. See, I want to speak God’s Word faithfully. Every week I want to deliver Law that cuts and Gospel that heals, as revealed in that specific portion of God’s Word we’re concentrating on. But that’s still not enough. I want to apply it directly to my congregation’s lives. What does it mean for them personally? How does this portion of God’s Word affect them in their daily lives? How do they live it?

And the sermon wasn’t there. Oh, it really, really wasn’t there.

Now, there was no false doctrine in it. There was Law and Gospel. But it needed to be clearer. Sharper. Applied better.

The problem: All last week, I felt like junk. I had a depressive episode on Monday that kept me from doing any hard work. Then I got physically sick. I slept very little because of coughing. I felt terrible. It meant I memorized the sermon a day later than normal, having done less work on it than normal. (more…)

This is the Time

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Hadassah lugs the clay jar back home. Susa’s dust swirls around her ankles. The capital city of the Persian empire is relatively quiet at this hour; the women gossip at the well, and over at the market the men grumble as they set up their stalls. The sun peaks over the roofs of the buildings around her, sending golden light everywhere. She breaths a morning prayer of thanks to Yahweh. “Creator, you make the sun to shine on us. Bless this day and bless this water. Give us life. Move us to be thankful. We look for the One you promised would come. Watch over those Jews who have gone home. Bring us home to Israel someday. And help me have a good birthday.”

She comes to the orange clay wall that hides her home. As she rounds the gate to the front garden shadowed by two date trees, she sets down the jar and wipes the sweat from her forehead. Today she is fifteen. Maybe Uncle Mordecai will finally tell her who she’s going to marry. Most of her friends are already married. Chava’s going to have her first baby soon! She hoists the jar to carry into their little home.

Somewhere in the distance, someone screams, breaking the quiet morning air. And then another person screams. There’s weeping far away, carried over the clay roofs of the city. (more…)

Review: The Foolishness of Preaching

The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World
by Robert Farrar Capon

How can a preacher preach? What is the foundation of a good sermon? What steps can a preacher go through to make sure he has a great sermon? In The Foolishness of Preaching Robert Capon teaches his method for creating good sermons. In part one of the book, he emphasizes that for a sermon to be good, the preacher must first be passionate about Jesus. In part two, he takes a look at the mechanics of forming a good sermon. In the end, he reminds readers what preaching is all about.

Capon gives some fantastic advice in the book. For instance, he insists that a preacher must simply listen to the Word and proclaim it faithfully. “I don’t have to like it; I just have to hear it. Nobody made me the boss of the Bible – and I bridle at people who make themselves bosses because the Boss himself strikes them as too bossy” (77, emphasis in original). In that vein, he reminds that most listeners in the pews really don’t want to hear what God says. But, in response, “You were not sent to spout opinions they can dismiss. You were sent to proclaim the sharp, authentic Word to them – the Word who isn’t NutraSweet. Tell them that no preacher worth his or her salt ever turned the Gospel into a trademarked substitute for the authentic sweetness of Jesus’ death – and that you’re not about to risk it yourself” (134). (more…)

Man, am I preaching wrong!

I’m doing it all wrong.

I’m currently reading The Foolishness of Preaching by Robert Farrar Capon. This professional book about putting together a sermon has some good advice: Let the Word speak. Read the context. Forget PC or what you’re “supposed” to say; just speak the Word. Let the Word dwell in you all week long. These aren’t bad things.

But then Capon starts talking about the timeline of the sermon:

Monday morning, read the text, in the original language if possible. Print it out with lots of room in the margins. Write your notes all over it. Scriptural allusions. Illustrations. What it means. Applications. Everything. And do that every day of the week until Saturday. Then Saturday take all your notes, look them over, and streamline them. Then put them away. Memorize them Sunday morning. Preach.

According to this, I am a terrible preacher. (more…)

And then he told me to leave.

And that’s when my member told me that he thought I should leave this congregation.

Wait. That’s not where we start this. Let me back up.

A member of my congregation runs most of our evangelism events. We’ve just wrapped up two fairly large efforts, and we were debriefing. I asked what went well, and among other things he mentioned, “There were plenty of prospects there, and our members made sure to talk with all of them. My son,” who is not a member, “said that he really enjoyed talking to the people of the church, and that’s really important.”

I agreed. “Yeah. That’s one of the purposes of the church – not just to connect to Jesus, but to be encouraged by other people here on earth. If you’re only connected to the pastor, that’s a bad thing. After all, someday I’m leaving. I don’t know when – it might be six months, it might be sixty years, but eventually I’m leaving!”

And he nodded. “Yeah, pastor. You’re too good a preacher to be at this small church. You need to be someplace bigger.” (more…)

Stupid Other Preacher

“Thank you for holding good prepared services and not just reading off of a paper”

That was the text waiting for me after I wrapped up Bible study this morning. It came from a teen who was visiting family several hours from here. She had visited a local church.

And what a compliment she paid! I’m very thankful for it. It shows that what I strive for gets accomplished, at least some weeks: A service that centers on a theme, as shown in the Bible lessons for that day. I make a point of announcing (in a one-sentence introduction) how each lesson and hymn fits that theme. She understands how a service is meant to communicate a particular truth from God’s Word each week in a very pointed way.

It also gladdens my heart that she appreciates the work I put into my sermons. In my years of ministry, I’ve only used notes for a sermon once – and that once happened to be the day after one of my children was born. I’ll give myself a pass for that day. Otherwise, the sermon is memorized. I have my Bible and use that to read the passages (usually paperclipped) – which means I’m usually making eye contact with the congregation the entire sermon. I’ve been told by other pastors I have talent for preaching God’s Word; I love communicating what Jesus has done for us.

You can see what she thought of that other church. (more…)

I Forgot

Sunday morning. I preach in two hours. People needing my attention arrive in one.

I haven’t memorized the sermon yet. I’m holding the manuscript, but since I printed it out Thursday, I haven’t even glanced at it. Haven’t had the chance.

I get to the sanctuary to memorize. I’ve gotten memorization down to about a half-hour; it’s not ideal, but I should be able to get this thing nailed down.

And then the cell rings. It’s the family of the baby I’m baptizing in two hours as part of the service. Baby’s sick. They’re not sure if they’ll be able to make it. No, not an emergency, no need for a visit, but might not be able to make it to church.

OK. No problem. If they don’t show, I’m going to have to switch the opening hymn. That means organizing with the organist and figuring out how to handle the projector if we switch. But the family doesn’t know, because it’ll depend how the baby’s doing at that moment.

Great. OK, set that aside. I need to memorize the sermon.

My grounds and facilities guy comes in as I’m about a paragraph in. Fairly normal. On an average Sunday, we’ll chat for a few minutes before I review the sermon. Today I don’t have the time.

Today he really wants to talk.

Ten minutes later, and I’ve got the room to myself again. I look at the manuscript. Do I at least have the outline firm in my head?

Wait. What was I thinking when I wrote this? I look at the passage from Scripture it’s based on. Did I totally miss the point, or am I just delusional at the moment from lack of sleep? The kids have not been sleeping well this week, and a number of late-night early-morning emergencies have addled me. Do I have time to even consider a rewrite?

My organist comes in the door early to practice a harder hymn. I’m out of time. “Oh!” she says. “Everything OK, pastor?”

Yeah, why?

“I don’t usually see you in your jeans on a Sunday morning.”

Really? I’m so tired I forgot to dress up? Good thing my house is attached to the church. I fill her in on the possible baptism switch and run home to change. And as I change, I look at the time – church should be starting right now. What happened? She’s playing the opening hymn! I can hear the congregation singing! Robe! I need to get my robe on! And…

…and I still haven’t figured out what’s going on with the sermon!

Heart pounding I throw my robe on over my jeans and step out to greet the congregation. I slip and fall. I’d taken off my shoes to change, never put any others on, and now I’m in my socks. (more…)

I lost my Bible.

I lost my Bible.

I lost my Bible.

How does a pastor lose his Bible?!

A little backstory: I love my Bible. It’s an NIV 84 my wife got for me a number of years back. She searched all over for it; I’d already given an identical copy away twice to people who didn’t have Bibles. So, there’s a nostalgia factor for the source of this particular printed copy of God’s Word. Add in several notes I keep in there, and there are factors beyond it being “simply” the exact human words God chose to communicate to us.

Add in that I’ve used this Bible for years. It’s literally the only Bible I’ve used in ministry since I’ve become a pastor. The thing’s falling apart. The binding is shot.

And the memories… (more…)