Practicing what You Preach

God can be so…fair at times. Often we accuse Him of being quite unfair–giving good things to evil people, allowing disaster and illness. But other times He does what He’s asked to do in such a fair and even way. You pray for patience, so He lets you practice by raising up infuriating obstacles.

Or He does like He did me Sunday. I preached on the Theology of the Cross, the necessity of taking up your cross and following Jesus, of the sufferings that befall all Christians. And so what happens? Several different people criticized the sermon–not the delivery, but the content, which hurts the most. It hurts because they didn’t get it, because they are rejecting the message. Then my Bible study class was half what it was the Sunday before. After that someone accused me of never helping clean around the church–all through the grapevine, of course. And so it is, this life under the cross, living the life of Jesus, whether we want to or not. This is the cruciform life, the life of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus (1 Pet. 4:13).

It’s fair that these crosses and accusations and disappointments are bright and beautiful on the Sunday I preached that they come to us. God treats the preacher fairly, numbering us with the listeners, numbering us all with the One whom no one knew, who was rejected and accused, forsaken and killed. Not that our present sufferings are worthy of compare. Not that our sand burrs compare even with St. Paul’s thorn (2 Cor. 12:7).

Power and Humility

Rachel Held Adams writes about Mark Driscoll* and such mega-church consumerist evangelicalism:

When you build your church and your culture around hierarchy and power, you are naturally going to be 1) highly-organized, and 2) personality focused. But when you build your church and your culture around humility and service, you are naturally going to be 1) organic, growing at the grassroots level, and 2)  less dependent on one or two flashy personalities and more dependent on the daily faithfulness of regular people….

The Mark Driscolls of this world pull in (and publicize) the big numbers because that is how they measure success….

We are part of a living, growing Kingdom in which the last will be first and the first will be last, in which the peacemakers and the merciful and the meek will be blessed, in which the tiny seeds we plant today will grow into great trees where the birds of the air will nest, in which a crucified savior is King, and in which all things will be reconciled to God in love. Control is not the end of the story. Power is not the end of the story. Violence is not the end of the story. Inequality is not the end of the story. Jesus is. Those who preach the gospel of power will come and go; they will flourish and then fade.

I added her to my blogroll after Pr. Mark Surburg quoted her on Facebook. Pay attention to her. I’m really impressed so far.

*Who is Mark Driscoll? See this link or this link.

A Rant which May not Impress You, if Read Correctly

“How many of us have actually ever read through the Bible? We get bits and pieces of it, but never read through chapter-by-chapter.”

A layperson said this to me the other day. The more I think about it, the more upset I get. I get upset with myself for not reading Scripture devotionally as often as I should. But I get really upset with others if its true. Is it true? Are you all completely ignoring the Word of God to such an extent that your only exposure to it is the readings on Sundays and the bits and pieces and verses you might read in The Witness or the occasional Bible study you attend?

Seriously? You call it the Word of God, the eternal Truth, the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man, you have multiple copies in your homes, and can buy more for mere pennies and you don’t take time to read through it? At all?

Again, we are all guilty here. If Scripture is what we say it is, we are neglectful, lazy sods. Do we take our faith and our identity that carelessly and thoughtlessly?

Of course we are never worthy to bear his name. Of course we do not make ourselves worthy by knowing His Word. But let us not loose the salvation we have been given through neglect. Do not tempt God with laziness.

You too, pastors.

You too, Hall.

Law/Gospel Outlines?

I preached an unusual sermon Sunday. It was the infamous Law/Gospel outline. You probably have heard thousands of these. I’ve preached my fair share. Here’s the way they usually go:

Here’s the Word of God. Oh, there’s law. God says you should be doing such and such. You don’t. You need Jesus to forgive you. Conclusion.

It’s not a horrible outline, but I think it should be generally avoided. While Lutherans are supposed to properly distinguish Law and Gospel, that doesn’t mean to use it as an outline. Rather, it means to distinguish between the works of the Law and Gospel, the work of law and law of love, the work of flesh versus the life of the spirit and all kinds of other things.

But this Sunday I saw the need to do use it as an outline, and it worked. Next week I’ll do something different.

What kinds of outlines do you use?

Sermon Writing Advice

This is inside baseball, folks, so your mileage may vary.

Whatever lectionary (sequence of readings for Sundays) you use, you’ll end up with three readings and propers (introit, gradual, etc) for the Sunday. Often they work together, with a common theme bridging all the propers together. This is very common in the One Year lectionary, especially with the collect, introit and Gospel.

But don’t assume they all go together the same way, or that you have to connect them. Look, especially in the Three Year lectionary, there is the feature of a lectio continua (or really a lectio semi-continua) –a series of readings from one book, not necessarily coordinated with the Gospel. And in the One Year you don’t have a one-for-one correspondence either.

When you preach, look at the propers and other texts, borrow their language on occasion, but preach the text. Don’t preach the propers. Don’t try to link it all together into some tapestry of church-stuff. Preach the text. Preach one text. Learn what it says. Meditate on it. Research, pray and ponder. Preach that one text.

Then, if you are able, if you desire, if it fits, go back and look at the other propers again and see what else there is that may connect.

You preach the text of Scripture, not the propers.


Dare we Neglect the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

This article shows us why the worship of the Holy Trinity is at the heart of our Christian faith. Because we have failed to affirm the One in Three and Three in One at every time and place and place Him in the center of our worship and thought and sermons we have this false religion which denies the essence of God’s Being and Nature, denies the eternal Sonship of Jesus and yet thinks themselves as Christians.

You can talk about Jesus. You can love Jesus. You can believe Jesus died for your sins. But if you deny the Trinity you are not Christian. Such people are those who are “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Ti 3:5 ESV)”

Teaching the young who the Holy Trinity is is critical. Glorifying Him in our worship is at the heart and center of our faith. Trusting in His Goodness, even as the Son became Man is the faith.

So…is Mormonism a cult? No. But they are a non-Christian religion.

Unionism and Worship

Why is it that the LCMS seems more concerned with “joint worship” and “serial prayer” with other ministers than with the forms of worship? I mean, some congregations’ worship is identical to worship at any number of protestant churches down the street from them and there are no “rules” or CTCR statements regarding this. What sends a bigger message of false unity? My saying a prayer next to a Methodist at some community event or me leading worship just like him every single Sunday? (I don’t do either by the way).

It’s a rhetorical question, but in all honesty I fail to see how there is much of a distinction. Worship is Confession. Lex ordani, lex credendi. The way of worship is the way of belief.


Admitting Inexperience and Leading Nonetheless

Some of the Lutheran pastors and I were supposed to study Greek this morning, but instead, we spoke about causistry and pastoral practice–wedding stuff, mostly. It is fun and thought-provoking, to consider what I usually do and how it differs with some of the other pastors’ practices.

But one bit of discussion stood out for me: the importance of being earnest, of just speaking the truth. Admitting ignorance, admitting inexperience, admitting weakness. It’s actually quite powerful. It relaxes you, it relaxes those around you. It helps your hearers or co-workers or audience know what to expect.

It’s even more authoritative, though it sounds like it would be the opposite. Leaders don’t want to admit they are wrong or uncertain or inexperienced. They want to be heard and followed. But when the leader makes mistakes or shows those weaknesses he is desperately trying to hide, it dramatically affects his performance and how he is received. Two things happen to his team or audience: they may notice the mistake and then begin doubting, asking themselves, “Did he really say that? Am I missing something?” They become distracted. The other consequence is that the group begins to loose trust and confidence. When you tell them ahead of time, they expect some issues and aren’t bothered nearly as much.

Of course, you must be careful in admitting your weaknesses. Some humor and humility are good. Defensiveness, whining or excessive apologizing are bad.

Here’s an example about wedding rehearsals: “Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin, please remember I am a man and haven’t dreamed about this day since I was four years old, like the bride has, so I may be asking more questions than some. But she and I will make sure this is the day she planned and is done in reverence.” Then start the rehearsal. Begin the meeting. Go and be confident with what you know and confidently ask when you don’t.


Back with Both Feet In

Something about returning from vacation and being up to your neck in work and church and family schedules… it makes you want at least another week just for decompression. Ease back into it, you know? Maybe I should be preparing better.

In happy news, Christmas Eve worship was beautiful, Christmas Day was wonderful, St. Nicholas was good to us, God was good in providing safe travel, the in-laws were doing well, all things considered and we had a wonderful, fattening time eating too much and enjoying a break.

The other thing: we all tend to say, “After the holidays” when delaying things. It’s here now, boys and girls.

But in all, let us remember the one thing needful and what it is we do. We work for the good of others and glory of God, and the Gospel is here to bring us to repentance and faith. Let us attend!