You Don’t Preach Right!

“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”

This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently.  This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.

Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.

My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.

I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.

For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach.  Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.

I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.

A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether.  What I think really happened was an incident of either

  1. “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
  2. “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.

Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?

You Don’t Preach Right!

Texas secession resolution passes GOP committee, headed for Party vote Saturday – Houston Chronicle

So, would I have dual citizenship? Would I have to leave since I wasn’t born in Texas, or could I stay because w of my kids were born here?

Or will they build a wall around me?

Texas secession resolution passes GOP committee, headed for Party vote Saturday – Houston Chronicle

Confirmation Bias

I just read another blog post about an atheist attempting to disprove Christianity and becoming converted in the process.

landing-pages-confirmation-bias-lessonOnce upon a time I was impressed by such stories.  No; more than impressed, I was convinced this kind of thing was the linchpin to converting the rest of the world to the truth of Christianity.

Because I was interpreting such an event from the perspective of a Christian, I now believe it is fair to say that I was suffering from confirmation bias. Evidence that agrees with me or supports my side in an argument gets extra weight in my thinking.

I mean, lets face it: does it even make news that a Christian walks away from the faith?  Do you know someone who once considered him or herself a christian but now claims to be an atheist?

Christians: Please join me in being excited for any who come to the faith, no matter the place from whence they’ve come, or the difficulty of the journey of following Jesus along side us.  But lets get rid of the scoreboard we are prone to keep in our minds that values our ‘wins’ with more points than our ‘losses.’

Confirmation Bias

Lesson from a 3rd Grader

Yesterday I made my weekly trek to South Euless Elementary Schoolsouth euless 2where I mentor a couple of boys.  One of them is in 3rd grade, the other in 6th.  This week, I met only with the 3rd grader.

As usual, I checked in on social media. This time, I checked in with this statement: “What will I learn from a 3rd grader today?”

And my bluff was called. So, what did I learn from a 3rd grader yesterday?

That I don’t always communicate what I intend to communicate, and that if I don’t pay attention, I’ll miss something.

He and I have been meeting together over lunch most of this school year. Each time, he seems eager to sit down with me and start talking.

I learned early on that we are better off if I don’t force the conversation where I want it to go.  When I do, I quickly sound like just another older person dispensing advice and wisdom.  I know this because I see it in his eyes, and I hear it as he gently mocks me.  Sometimes he’ll parrot my words back to me. Sometimes he just says, at increased volume, “You tell me that every week!”

I don’t believe I do tell him the same think every week, but if I argue with him about that, then I’ve lost the battle for relationship before I’ve even started.

It is a challenge for a 52 year old to meet a 3rd grader on his own terms, but if I want this child to respect my experience and the wisdom and insight I’ve gained along the way, I owe it to him to try my best.

We only have 30 minutes together each week. Sometimes this will be filled with significant conversation. Sometimes it will be mostly his making faces at his friends at other tables.

But he still looks forward to my meeting him at lunch. That’s something I’ll take any day of the week.

Lesson from a 3rd Grader

Measuring the Love of God (Book Review)

I want to know what love is! I mean, who doesn’t want to know what love is?  Love is a word offered to describe anythingOord - Uncontrolling Love from one’s preference for food to the foundation of an eternal relationship.

I have recently read a book which provocatively suggests we reconsider common understandings of love, and Thomas Jay Oord does not mean the kind of love one means when one says “I love fish tacos.”

He means the kind of love understood in the statement “God is love.”

For Christians, and likely for many other people of faith, God’s love is the benchmark, the standard by which all other accounts of love are measured.

As with any other standard, this benchmark deserves to be reconsidered from time to time. Don’t hate on me for the reference to Subway here; the claim made to a sandwich being a foot long is analogous to any other and every other claim that anyone makes.

The Uncontrolling Love of God is Oord’s newest book, and, I think, worth the read. I read it as a follow up and deeper fleshing out of the position he stakes out in The Nature of Love, a Theolgy.  I reviewed this book here.

In The Nature of Love, we are introduced to the premise that God’s love is kenotic in nature. Kenotic means self-emptying; Christians know the idea primarily from the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2, where, in verse 7, it says that Jesus “emptied himself….” Oord suggests that kenosis has come, of late, to explain how Jesus revealed God’s nature, rather than as Jesus showing God’s nature.

Oord argues that kenosis, “self-giving, other-empowering love,” is God’s nature.

In that previous review, I shared that what I found most refreshing in this understanding was the freedom it offered from our bent to circumscribe God by our own philosophical limits and parameters.  We have, for instance, swallowed whole claims that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, though these are philosophical categories rather than biblical ones.

In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord deepens and strengthens his argument with an account of providence.

How and when does God act?  How and when, and especially why(!), does God not act?

Sadly, Christians are too often left with some version or another of this:thenamiracleoccurs

He opens with a variety of tragedies that are next to impossible to explain without making God out to be calloused, indifferent, conniving, or sometimes downright evil. If, that is, God is all powerful and indeed, in active control of everything; sitting outside the universe directing things, as it were.

Oord offers another account of providence; and it is one that fits better with prevailing scientific understandings of the way the world works.  There are, in fact, “random, chance, and accidental” events. Science recognizes this. I appreciate Oord’s presentation of current science in language that I can grasp, though I haven’t taken a single science course since 1980. There

Oord summarizes his position, called Essential Kenosis, with this statement:

God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with creatures God cannot control.

Kenosis, self-emptying, other-empowering love, is the essential nature of God.  Because this is so, we can identify things God cannot do: God cannot foreknow or prevent evil.control, God cannot coerce creatures to conform to certain behavior. Because this love is God’s essence, God does not, and cannot, override free choices of creatures.

Oord’s account of providence is at least as coherent as any account I know.  He presents several others and engages them fairly, though the serious thinker would consider a longer, denser engagement with each helpful.

I found The Uncontrolling Love of God an accessible and readable yet academic presentation.  I believe any Christian would fare better in engaging the culture around him or her having read Oord’s newest book. After all, our categories and the ways we measure them deserves a fresh look every now and again.

The Uncontrolling Love of God can be pre-ordered here.

Here is a video with more about the book.

Measuring the Love of God (Book Review)

Who is holding up your trampoline?

During the day of our big annual event, a Lord’s Acre, this past Saturday, I received news that one of our youth had run away the day before.

Our Director of Student Ministries jumped on it, contacting folks and catching up with family members.  I interspersed prayer into the other events of the day I to which I was committed.

By that evening I had received word the youth was safe, and taking some steps toward returning to normalcy.

Whenever I would pause and pray, I kept getting drawn back to a class in seminar. It was my first Joy class.  By “my first Joy class,” I mean my first class with Dr. Don Joy Here is a bio, written by a seminary classmate of mine who now teaches at Asbury Seminary.

trampolineDr. Joy taught us about our trampoline.  Or let me put it this way: he had us all look at our own life as a trampoline. Then we were required to identify the people who served as springs and legs – those who held up or supported our trampoline.
If I remember right, he had us draw a box as our trampoline, and then draw “supports” off each side of it, something like this:  20151026_112127

Then we were required to write the names of people who supported us, encouraged us in significant ways, around each side of the trampoline.

These were the people who held up the trampoline that was our life.

Anyone knows who has ever bounced on a trampoline, that it needs quite a few springs to work well. In fact, one could say, the more springs the better.

The point was quickly clear to me, and, I assume, to the rest of the class. To grow up well, or to live healthy as a person, one ought to have a support system holding up one’s trampoline.

This particular youth, the one who ran away, has quite a few people holding the trampoline up.

Of course, part of adolescence is that it seems increasingly difficult, as one tries to find one’s own identity, to maintain those ties, to accept the support of others.

I not only invite you to pray for this young person, but I ask you also: who is holding up your trampoline?

And, finally: whose trampoline are you holding up?

Who is holding up your trampoline?