Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Every discipline has its own language.  Golfers talks about birdies and eagles.  Mathematicians celebrate Pi Day.  Doctors have a fondness for big words understood only by other medical people.  Baseball players throw the ball "around the horn" and basketball players throw "air balls."  Preachers, too, often use familiar words that are difficult for the average person to define.  Sometimes it seems they have their own language, too.
When preachers talk about "chasing rabbits," they are not telling some hunting story.  Instead, they are referring to some story so powerful that it takes people away from the main point of the sermon to a place of remembering some personal experience from which they never return.  They also often talk about "the landing."  Of course, this has nothing to do with airplanes, but bringing the sermon to a conclusion.  Many a pew sitter has heard the preacher go on and on as he or she circles saying over and over, "and finally." only to keep going another ten minutes.  And while no one hears much about it, preachers often run into "dead ends" while writing a sermon.  Many a good sermon dies there.  Or, what starts out as a good sermon ends prematurely with no place to go, but the trash can.
A personal favorite is the use of the word "unction."  It is word which describes a sermon that not only nails the point of the scriptural text, but one that does so with such persuasive power that both preacher and listener know it is the Word of God.  The preacher preaching with unction is the one who is so overcome with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that it truly becomes a "thus says the Lord," moment.  The old timers used the word more than we do today.  "Lord, send us more preachers today who preach with holy unction."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Preaching Without Praying

Preaching without praying is dangerous.  Preaching is not ordinary communication.  It is about "...thus says the Lord."   It is about becoming the voice of God.  It is heavy stuff to stand in the pulpit and to be the one who is speaking for God.   Preaching without listening to what God is saying is the epitome of human arrogance.  The secular world which is listening, or watching, or, perhaps, even ignoring declares the preaching to be just another moment of public speaking, but the real preacher knows and understands that preaching is not just about entertainment.  Something far more important happens when the preacher stands to speak for the Holy One.

Every Sunday there are people out there in the pews who have come with unspoken and unimaginable needs.  Some are dealing with unhandled guilt.  Some are struggling with children who are breaking their hearts.  Some are dealing with illness.  Some have been told they are dying.  It goes on and on.  There is no way to bring to a conclusion the list of the things people bring to the sanctuary.  And when the preacher stands, there is in the beginning this single moment of desperate hope.  They come hoping the preacher will have a Word that will somehow enable them to go home, live through the day, and get up to face one more.

A preacher is a fool to stand and attempt to preach in that arena depending only on his or her insight and creativity.  God brings to any sanctuary on any given Sunday such people who are in life and death struggles and the preacher is the one they trust to give them hope.  Preaching is indeed heavy stuff.  Preaching without praying is dangerous.  The danger is not the possibility of failing to communicate, but failing to be so spiritually equipped that God's work can be done. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Smart PK

When I walked into the church this morning, only three were present.  I slipped into a pew with them and joined in the conversation.  The normal crowd at Rocky Ford is 12, but this morning some were sick, some were travelling, and some were home.   It was a surprising and amazing morning.  It was the kind of morning which could only happen in the small church where everyone present has a shared history and a strong sense of belonging to one another.  The hour of worship came and no one seemed to notice.  Important stuff was happening in our midst.
No, it was not some unplanned revival breaking out, but as powerful a moment of fellowship as I have ever experienced in any church.  Stories from the unwritten history of the church began surfacing in the room.  One woman remembered the pastor who married her and her husband fifty years ago and his untimely death a few months after their wedding.  Another remembered still another who was there when she was confirmed.  A deep family hurt was shared with a request for prayer.  As the moment continued, they began to name in succession pastors who had served their church long years ago as well as some of their trials.  One ran into a great deal of trouble because he dared to wear a casual shirt in the pulpit on Sunday night instead of his coat and tie. 
One story was about two preachers kids or PKs who were always into some kind of mischief.  One of them drug a dead pig under the church and when folks arrived on Sunday morning, it was not the smell of incense which greeted them.  Finally, they figured out the source of the smell; however, no one was dressed to crawl under the church and drag out the pig.  Someone offered to pay one of the boys to go under and drag him out.  So, the PK who put it there volunteered and got paid to undo his smelly deed.  It made me think of the shrewd servant praised by Jesus.  Finally, about 11:30 I stood between the first and second pew, read the Word, and preached the message.   What a great moment of fellowship and worship.  Too bad so many missed it, but then, had they been there, it no doubt, never would have happened!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


I recently read an excerpt from a book entitled, "The Go-to Church," which set the wheels upstairs in motion.  While it is never safe to judge a book entirely from a pulled out section, what I read sounded like something I started reading back early in my ministry.  "The Go-To Church lives by a different set of questions and rules.  The Go-To Church doesn't ask, 'What can we do to get people to come here?' Instead they ask, 'What needs do people out there have that we need to meet?'...Everything is about relationship, and that means the Go-To Church goes to the community to build relationships that meet the needs of the ....disconnected." 
Nothing bad here.  It is an approach to ministry that a lot of clergy and churches were employing back in the '80's; however, reflection makes me wonder if we were not putting the emphasis in the wrong place.  As I look back I wonder if it was not a way of trying to get folks into the church by meeting whatever need they might have which results in a church filled with folks who think it is all about me.  Me-ism is what gives birth and life to the church shopper who is never satisfied and the church malcontent who keeps leaving one place for another that will regard him and his opinions with more value. 
Looking back I fear we were doing a soft sell trying to fill pews.  If such was the case then Jesus was surely disappointed.  The gospel of Christ is a wonderful thing to consider and embrace.  It has power within it that frees us from our sin and enables us to get beyond beating ourselves up with unhandled guilt.  It even has the power to deliver us from this life to a life that can only be described as eternal.  But, its call to sacrificial love for God and those around us is also a part of what it means to enter into this life brought into being by the gospel of Christ.  Me-ism and Jesus simply cannot be put in the same harness.  It is no wonder so many in the church today find more frustration than fulfillment.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Indian Springs

Last week we made a day trip over to Flovilla, Georgia to attend Indian Springs Camp Meeting.  Indian Springs is a holiness camp meeting which has been going on now since 1890.  A lot of things have changed in the camp meeting ministry since 1890.  Preachers wear polo shirts instead of black suits and white shirts.  Even though funeral home fans still are laying around, the open air tabernacle actually has some air conditioning.  However, some things remain the same.  It is one of the few preaching places anymore where what is called Wesleyan Holiness is still preached.  The preacher for the morning service preached on the text from John which tells the story of the woman at the well. 
What really made his sermon memorable was something which took place after the benediction.  We went to nearby Indian Springs State Park where there are several natural springs flowing out of the ground.  A long time ago the Creek Indians lived in the area and they regarded water from the springs as water which had curative powers.  Folks still do.  The park employees give a handout which tells anyone interested enough to read how the water is said to enhance health.  But, to make a long story short, there was a woman at this well.  Ok.  Actually, it was a spring.  But, she was there along with her family drawing water in a couple dozen plastic gallon jugs.  As we visited, she talked about the power of the water.  So, I heard my second sermon in less than an hour.  One was preached about the woman at the well and the other was preached by the woman at the well.
It got my attention.  When I got home, I spent some time reading that old story of this remarkable encounter Jesus had with the woman of Samaria.  It was not a passage I have preached from a great deal over the years, but I find myself thinking about returning to that text for preaching soon.  As I read it again and remembered those two moments, I found myself being nurtured once more by this living water.  No matter what anyone says,  nothing quenches our heart-thirst like the living water Jesus gives.