Sermons

July 18, 2016

Some of you who read these ruminations on a regular basis are wont to respond on occasion and I appreciate that more than I can say. There have been times when I have been speaking to someone who refers to one of my writings and I am shocked that they are on the list to receive them let alone that they read them!  I say that because today I would really like a number of you to respond.  I have a question.  What makes for a good sermon?  Or conversely, what makes for a bad one?  Seriously.  I will list a number of things that I think, but I honestly have no idea from your perspective.  And let’s be very clear here… I am not fishing for compliments, nor am I interested in getting hammered.  If you write a response, please do not refer to any individuals by name, nor should we be able to recognize them by what you say.  So with that in mind… let’s begin.

When I graduated from Seminary, Ellen and I went to a small church for a while as I was looking for a permanent pastoral position. The preacher at the church we attended was a great guy, but his sermons… well….  He would read his text for the morning and glean some sort of a theme from it.  Let’s say the theme was “love.”  He would then proceed to string together a number of illustrations about love without ever returning to the scripture.  (Most, if not all of the illustrations, would have been found in a book of illustrations for pastors.)  One morning I decided to keep track of how many he used.  Ellen eventually saw me making pencil marks on my bulletin and asked me what I was doing.  “Counting illustrations,” I whispered.  I was up to 16 at that point!  (In a 20 minute sermon!!!)  Sorry, but I would give that a “D-.”

I have also heard pompous, arrogant pastors from big churches (not all are, of course!) who were duds in the pulpit. But because the church was large, folks just assumed that whatever came out of the mouth of those preachers must be good.  UGH!

Conversely, we attended a church while in seminary for 3 years. The name of the pastor will mean nothing to you.  But he was the best I have ever heard from week to week.  Why?  Because he was faithful to the Bible.  He was not flashy.  He was not a great story teller.  He wasn’t even “inspirational” in regard to his personality.  He didn’t make me want to go run through walls after I heard him.  He was just a solid, balanced Bible preacher who faithfully studied and taught what the Scripture says.

Personally I think it is a tragedy when sermons:

  • Are boring
  • Have no application
  • Do not come from Scripture
  • Do not stick to the Scripture
  • When the Bible is used as a proof text to substantiate the pastor’s or anybody else’s agenda, i.e., the Bible becomes secondary to our own thoughts and moral positions.
  • When the Bible is taken out of context to support the most recent cultural whim. For example, “The bible says ‘we should not Judge’.” Well if one were to study that issue you would find that statement to be false. Surely, we are not called to hypocrisy, but we can’t live without making judgments. We are also called to forgive, mind you. How does one do that without making some “judgment” as to the person needing forgiveness?! It’s just so much easier to say, “You can’t judge me.” That way, people can do whatever they want without fear that someone might call them on their behavior. Actually, I can make judgments. And if you want to know, I do it quite regularly. I am however, learning to do it in the context of love as I grow older. Do you know the story of the emperor’s new clothes? It’s partly about making judgments or calling things what they are. If you have not read it in a while go to: http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheEmperorsNewClothes_e.html
  • Are blatantly non-Christian or non-Biblical.
  • Are found online and preached as if they are the pastors own work. It’s called plagiarism! (You didn’t know that? There are 10’s of thousands of sermons online!!)
  • Are irrelevant.
  • Are formulaic. You know like, “Today we are starting a series on ‘8 keys to a Godly marriage’.” Then the pastor scrambles to find 8 things in the Bible that can be interpreted to mean something about marriage.
  • Speak down to the congregation. “I am the GREAT WIZARD OF OZ…” “I am the GREAT PASTOR and you are the lowly flock. Listen to my unquestionable words of wisdom…”

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m sure I have done many of the things listed above.  Some of them however, I have honestly been careful never to do.

I DO think sermons should be

  • Compelling
  • Relevant
  • Biblical
  • Vulnerable
  • Prayerfully thought out
  • Meditated on
  • Honest

There are many more thoughts I’m sure. I would really like to hear yours or the affirmation of any of the thoughts above.  Or disagreements, if you want!  I suspect there is some easy way to reply to these ruminations.  If you don’t want to do so on this site then send me an email at williamL392@comcast.net  Thanks!

Blessings.

STOP PRAYING TO A SILLY GOD

July 11, 2016

We have a war memorial in the parking lot of our church. Honestly, I don’t know who owns the property nor do I know who is ultimately responsible for taking care of it, but for now Bill Heller, a member of our church respectfully looks after it and the Boy Scouts use it for flag raising and such. I suppose in some ways, maintaining it for the long run is a community responsibility. I have taken it upon myself to lower the flag when occasions warrant. Flags are flying at half mast again. I told our congregation on Sunday that I was tired and saddened by the thought of once again lowering that flag. I have a notion that this will become a regular event. Well, until terrorism and mental instability resulting in tragedy become so common place that they will no longer warrant half mast. I wonder how far off that is? Not too distant, I suspect.

Sorry if this sounds a bit cynical but… I have seen many posts on face book and on the internet regarding the events of this past week… the shooting (murder?) of two people by the police and the murder of 5 policemen in Dallas… not to mention the additional number of folks injured. One of the notes that is often included is something like this, “Praying for the officers.” Or, “Praying for the families of those who were killed or injured.” Really??? Seriously all those folks are really praying? I seriously doubt they are. Furthermore… Praying for what? Or maybe more importantly, praying to whom? Don’t get me wrong, I obviously believe in the power and the necessity of prayer. I’m just trying to figure out what people mean when they say they are praying.

So folks who believe in a god that is not worthy of worship (or maybe is only worthy of worship on Christmas and Easter) are praying to that same god? Why? If your god is so powerless and irrelevant that he/she/it is not worthy of regular worship, then why waste your time praying? And again, what are you praying for anyway? What exactly do you want your irrelevant god to do? I know that there are “no atheists in foxholes” but are we in foxholes now?

Or maybe folks have a special connection with “the big guys upstairs.” (Hold on a moment. I need to go vomit!) I personally believe in a Holy, Majestic, all Powerful God of the Universe Who requires our worship and respect, not a silly “guy upstairs” of my own invention. If you’re praying to the “big guy…,” then you are wasting your time.

I have heard this quote recently: 2 Chronicles 7:14 “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I don’t have a problem quoting this verse as long as we realize it is spoken to and about the people of Israel in the O.T., i.e., the Chosen People of God. It is not spoken to the United States of America. We are NOT the “people of God” as referred to here in 2 Chronicles. If anything this verse applies to the Church… but not to our country. That being said it is never wrong or bad to pray for our nation. But again, what are we supposed to pray for? Or what are we praying for? It always amazes me when our prayers are so self serving. “Oh Lord please move the hearts of those in positions of power so they (fill in the blank with your favorite agenda items).” That is not a prayer worth praying. Maybe a more valuable prayer is something like this: “Lord I come to you with no preconceived agenda. I seek your will. I want to do what you want. Help me to discern your desires and not my own.” And until we are certain that we have heard from God and are prepared to obey, well then just… wait. Oh yeah and be quiet! I grow weary of bone headed Christians who have opinions that are self informed and social media informed and rumor informed and favorite news agency informed, but are not God informed. I should add, in all fairness, that I have on too many occasions fallen into the “bonehead” category myself.

So, what should we pray? Well, go to prayer and ask God! But do not tell people you will be praying when you will not. And don’t say you will be praying when you don’t know what to pray nor do you really believe in a God who can do anything. And don’t waste your time with the “big guy upstairs.” He/she/it is a product of silliness. God is NOT silly.

Random Stuff

July 6, 2016

(Written over the course of the past week)

So, it’s Friday morning and I pull out a pan and the measuring cup to make myself a big bowl of oatmeal. I detested oatmeal as a kid, but it’s one of many things I have learned to really appreciate. Not unlike broccoli, peas, asparagus and the Psalms. Anyway, I pull the oats out of the cupboard and as I’m removing the lid I fumble the container and they spill all over the stove. Shoot! But the good news is this… I spill them close to the edge so they can slowly sift down into the space between the stove and the cupboard. Grrrrrrr! Now I’m pulling the cupboard and stove away from the wall and vacuuming the pile of oats. Thankfully, when I’m done and have everything returned I reach for my morning coffee… which I might add I proceed to knock over and watch coffee spread all over the counter. Honestly!? I’m afraid to leave the kitchen. But I decide to do something safe and go for a ride on my motorcycle. Ah… the wind blowing briskly through my… well… okay, my beard and what’s left of my curly mane. Some days… well…

I got home the other day after running several errands only to discover that my zipper was down the whole time I was out. My question to myself was this, am I old enough now where that is considered “acceptable” behavior? Know what I mean? Should I be embarrassed? Or do people look at me and say… “Oh boy, look at that old man… doesn’t even know the barn door is open.” Simply one more example of the deep thoughts that run through my ever expanding mind.

Today is the 4th of July. We are “celebrating” our country’s independence. Or at least in theory we are. Serious question… what does it mean to “celebrate?” I understand fire crackers, picnics, parades and all that. But if the thought never crosses our minds of the “miracle” that occurred at the end of the 18th century (and it was indeed a miracle), then what are we celebrating? The fact that we are on this side of the Revolutionary War makes it easy to take our independence and freedom for granted, but do you know that that war could have gone either way?  And frankly, if it had not been for George Washington’s ability to lead the Continental Army to masterfully run away for the first 6 years of the war… well… we would be British. All the men that we remember as founding fathers would have been executed if we had lost that war.  This “celebration” thing reminds me of Christmas. If we don’t acknowledge the birth of our savior in a very real and significant way… well… then it’s just a bunch of materialism, family, football and drinking. One of those things isn’t bad and the second is neutral (you pick) but they have virtually nothing to do with Christmas. The same is true of most of our major holidays. By the way do you know that the word “holiday” comes from “holy day?” Hmmmmmmm…. So, how did you knowingly/deliberately “celebrate” the 4th?

There again… the previous paragraph causes me to reflect on worship. What exactly is it?  Is it the 60 minutes (more or less) that takes place in many churches on Sunday morning?  Is that (whatever “that” is) worship?  Is “worship” a few “Jesus songs” with some prayer and a sermon?  Is that what it means?  I am reminded of Mark 7 where he quotes Isaiah:

Mark 7

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,     but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;     their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

It’s easy to write this off by acknowledging that Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day who had gotten WAY off track in the faith.  Seriously who can say definitively that we have not also gotten off of the track…  that our worship is not amiss and in vain?  A “hymn sandwich” and a boring preacher are not worship!  And frankly ”contemporary worship” and an interesting preacher are not worship either.

Worship is transformative. Period.  If we are not becoming more like Jesus because of hanging out with Him on Sunday mornings… then we are not worshipping.  I’m not sure what we are doing but it’s NOT WORSHIP.  Seriously, how can someone spend time with God, allow their spirit to be touched by His Spirit and not be changed and become more like Him?  That is not a rhetorical question.  How can that be?

I said to our congregation sometime ago, “I wish we would not refer to Sunday mornings as ‘going to church.’” Why is that?  Because we can “go to church” to do many things.   If we refer to what we do as “going to worship”… well then… that conjures up entirely different expectations.

So, this Sunday, or the next time you show up on Sunday morn, what are your expectations? Are you prepared to be transformed as your spirit touches the Spirit of God?  Or are you hoping you like the music and that the sermon isn’t too long?

What is “worship” anyway?

Blessings.