The Sunday Sermon is Brutal

Allan's Journey, Preaching 2 Comments »

preachingbibleI want to share something with you today that’s very personal. This is not sad, it’s not disturbing, this doesn’t depress me in the least. Don’t mis-read or mis-interpret today’s post. This is a reality I’m only just now recognizing in the past two or three years, and I want to simply acknowledge it.

I’m sharing this for two reasons: One, I want all preachers who read this post to fully understand that they are not alone and, two, I want everybody else who reads this post to have a better understanding of something really weird and quirky about their pulpit guy.

The Sunday sermon is brutal.

The weekly homily consumes me every waking moment of my every day. I think about it all the time. Mowing the yard. Eating dinner with the family. Watching a baseball game. During a meeting. When I get up in the morning and when I close my eyes at night, I’m thinking about the sermon. Maybe I need to arrange the points differently. Should I leave out that illustration? Should both of those passages be used or just one of them? Is this truly what the Scripture says or am I making this up? Does this encourage anybody? Do I need a better example? Should I use that person’s name in this story or not? Does the end connect to the beginning? Are they going to hear what I want them to hear? One more word study. Look up one more cross reference. One more prayer begging God to reveal himself to me one more time. It truly consumes me. I can be having a conversation with you, face to face, about your family or your job or the Rangers or the fact that my house is on fire and burning to the ground, and I’ve still got the sermon in the back of my mind: Is there something in 2 Thessalonians about God’s providence? The sermon is this thing that hangs over me, following me, always with me, always there.

The sermon is never finished. It’s 10:00 Friday morning and the sermon for this Sunday is finished. But it’s really not. I’ll be obsessing over it all day today, at several points during the Amarillo – Tascosa game tonight, and all day tomorrow. I’ll be second guessing some key components of the sermon during Bible class Sunday. It’s brutal.

And when the sermon is finally delivered…

I’m almost always disappointed.

I’m telling you, it’s brutal.

It rarely turns out as good as it was supposed to. It hardly ever lives up to what it should. There’s a tremendous sense of relief, but a more pronounced feeling of let-down. It sounded so grand in my head, it felt so inspirational in my prayers, it meant so much to me when I read it from the Bible, but it didn’t come out of my mouth that way.

The words of the 4th century preacher Augustine, who lived with this same agony week after week, resonate in my soul: “I am saddened that my tongue cannot live up to my heart.”

Every Sunday.

Now that I’ve actually written this down, it looks and sounds depressing. But, really, it’s not. It’s just a weird reality for me and, I’m guessing, all preachers except maybe Rick Atchley. To be consumed by and obsessed with something all week long and never have it turn out just right is the reality of this calling.

But so is the beauty of God’s grace.

I experience God’s grace in my preaching nearly every Sunday. This is also a reality of the calling: that through my inadequacies and shortcomings and full-on failures, our sovereign Lord is doing eternal work. He shows it to me every week. He is at work when his Word is being proclaimed. He is doing salvation and reconciliation and sanctification when his Gospel is being preached. He affirms that to me almost every single week in very real and encouraging ways. And I’m so grateful. Most preachers do understand this. I suppose it’s the best reason most of us keep doing the chore.

That gives real meaning and purpose to the terror of the weekly sermon, but it doesn’t alter the terrible cycle for the preacher. So, when your preacher doesn’t seem fully engaged, maybe a bit distant, not totally there, give him a break — he’s thinking about the sermon. And on Sunday afternoon and evening when he’s a bit quieter than normal or even withdrawn, cut him some slack — the sermon wasn’t as good as it should have been.



Full Time Work

Jesus, John, Ministry, Preaching No Comments »


Today I’m speaking downstairs at our weekly Loaves and Fishes gathering, I’m finishing up the sermon for this Sunday, re-reading the passage in Mark I’m teaching in our Bible class, writing questions for the small groups discussions, and visiting a dear church member who was moved into hospice care last night. While you’re slaving away at the office or the construction site or the airport or the school, I’m at the church building doing God’s work. Right?


We are all doing God’s work, together, every day, seven days a week.

Sometimes we speak in ways that make what I do as a preacher “full-time Christian work” and what you do as a member of the Body of Christ “part-time Christian work” or “weekend Christian work.” You must know that you are a full-time Christian banker or plumber or homemaker. You are a full-time Christian truck driver or repair man, administrator or salesperson. When we are at our work, we are at the same time at God’s work. Just like our Lord Jesus.

You realize that most of what Jesus did he did in a secular workplace: in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well, on a country hillside, in a court room, at dinner with friends and family, while walking along a road, in the marketplace. Sometimes in the Gospels Jesus shows up in a synagogue or the temple. But he mostly spends his time in the workplace.

The Fourth Gospel identifies Jesus as a “worker” 27-times. It quotes our Lord as saying, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”

Your work does not take you away from God, it continues the work of God. Our God is always in his workplace, your workplace, working. And once we recognize that, we can more easily see ourselves — all of us — working in our workplaces in the name and manner of Jesus to his eternal glory and praise.



Act Five – Church: The Proclaimed Kingdom

Acts, Evangelism, Holy Spirit, Jesus, John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Ministry, Preaching, Resurrection, Story of God, Texas Rangers 2 Comments »

The Rangers' Magic Number is 8!The Texas Rangers’ magic number for clinching their sixth division title is “8.” After last night’s clubbing of the A’s, Texas has its largest division lead in more than two years at 3-1/2 games. Texas has won Cole Hamels’ last seven starts, and he’s pitching the getaway game today in Oakland. And then they fly to Houston for this critical three game weekend set with the Astros. As good as Texas has played in September (14-7) and as badly as Houston has played this month (7-14) it’s still going to come down to this weekend series. Going to Houston with the division lead sure helps. Taking two of three from the ‘Stros would just about clinch it.


Spirit-ArtAct Five of the Story of God is where all of us are suddenly pushed out onto the stage. The lights come up, the curtain opens, and we’re on the stage with lines to say and parts to play. We’ve been given a role in the Story of God, an important role. This is not just a cameo appearance.

On that first Sunday morning, the women arrive at the tomb to find the stone has been moved and their rabbi Jesus is not there. And the angel says:

“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” ~Mark 16:6-7

In other words, look, everything Jesus told you about the coming of the Kingdom of God — in his work, his teachings, his life and death — has all come true! The Resurrection is not just a miracle to show us how powerful God is. It’s not just a way of showing us there is life after death. The Resurrection of Jesus is the decisive event that proves God’s Kingdom has been launched on earth. The Resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s Kingdom. It’s not, “Hey, Jesus is risen, it looks like we all get to go to heaven when we die.” It’s more like, “Hey, Jesus is risen, you’d better get to Galilee and check in; see what he wants you to do.”

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.'” ~Matthew 28:6-7

When Jesus ran into these women at the tomb, he tells them the same thing:

“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” ~Matthew 28:10

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go… Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” ~Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus is claiming all authority in the universe now belongs to him. And by that authority he commands his disciples to go now and make it happen. Go do the Kingdom work as agents of my authority. Jesus is now enthroned as Lord of heaven and earth. His Kingdom has been established. And now his Kingdom rule is to be proclaimed. Jesus’ ambassadors are told to declare the Good News to all the nations and to call all the territories to allegiance to their new Lord.

“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms… The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things!” ~Luke 24:44-49

The Resurrection is not a happy ending for the Son of God. Jesus says the Resurrection is the turning point for a brand new beginning. Because of the Resurrection, all the old promises are coming true: the promise of an unshakable kingdom, the promise of God’s holy presence, forgiveness and a restored relationship with the Creator, blessings from God through Abraham’s line for all the peoples of the world.

There’s a new order. New rules. New law. Everything’s brand new for all the nations. The enemy has been destroyed. Peace between God and all people has been established. The good and just reign of the true King of the world has begun. Jesus is Lord over all the earth today, tomorrow, and for ever more! True peace. Genuine security. And Jesus, the King, says to his disciples, “You go tell everybody the Good News!”

In the mid 30s AD, this is what a King does when he becomes the ruler over a new region.

In Matthew, the first words spoken by Jesus following his Resurrection are, “Greetings. Do not be afraid. Go and tell.” Later, that same evening: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, the first recorded words of the risen Jesus are, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to all of creation.” In Luke, Jesus says, “The Good News is going to be proclaimed to all nations.” Same thing in John when, on Resurrection day, the King’s first words to his disciples are, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Jesus is Lord. Jesus is now the undisputed King over all the earth. And his messengers, his emissaries, are to go to all the territories where Christ is enthroned as Lord to proclaim the Good News of his righteous rule.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8

HolySpiritCircleAnd that’s exactly what happens. And please notice — this is the main point — they don’t just offer people a new and different religious experience. They don’t just teach about eternal life after we die. They don’t just preach the Resurrection as a miracle that proves how powerful God is. The disciples are commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the world that Jesus, the Messiah, really is the world’s true Lord and to call all the nations of the earth to submit now to his rule.

Act Five. The Proclaimed Kingdom. There is where we come in. We are living today in the unfinished fifth act of the drama of the Story of God. God’s Church was established by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in order to proclaim to the world the Good News. We are telling all nations that God has come here in the flesh-and-blood of Jesus to establish his rule and to forgive and redeem and restore all the men and women of the earth. We are no longer enemies of God. It’s truly Good News! And we are called to declare it to all the earth.

Now, you are not exempt from this part of the Story. In this Act Five, you are not in the audience. You’re not backstage. You’re not a spectator or a critic. You’re not selling programs in the lobby or reading about it the next day. You are on the stage. You have lines to say. You have a role to play. To borrow from Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

You must contribute a verse. All of us who have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are commissioned to jump into the Story and proclaim the Good News. In Act Five, following the Resurrection of Jesus all the way through the rest of the New Testament, all the characters in the Story are proclaiming. Church leaders, church members, all Christ followers do the work of evangelism. It’s the number one priority for all disciples. No exceptions. Everything takes a back seat to the proclamation of the Good News. Everything serves the purpose of proclaiming the rule of Christ and the Kingdom of God. That is our role today in Act Five.

What will your verse be?



It’s About Today

Bible, Ephesians, Jesus, John, Luke, Matthew, Preaching, Promise, Salvation No Comments »

“Today this Scripture is fulfilled.” ~Luke 4:21

The good news of the Gospel is not just helpful advice or even truthful statements. Scripture is all about what God is doing right now. Right here. Today. I think Jesus’ sermon in that synagogue in Nazareth really hits home when he says “Today! Today this Scripture is fulfilled!”

It’s one thing to say God will move. God will act. God will save. It’s quite another thing to say God is moving today! God is acting right now today! God is saving right here today!


That’s exciting. It’s immediate. It’s right now, in your face, all around you, in your space, and it demands a response. Look at it. God is speaking, he is doing, he is disrupting things, he is changing people, he is saving men and women, he is renewing the world! Today!

Do you read the Scriptures the way Jesus and his disciples read them? Do you look in the Bible for what God did back then or for what it says God is doing today? It’s all about today. Do you see his potential in your today? Do you feel his possibility in today? Do you know what he is doing in you and through you right now today?

Take a minute today and read a psalm or two out loud. Real loud. Pray a passage from Matthew 5-7 or John 17 or Ephesians 1-2 out loud. Real loud. Ask God to speak to you. Ask him to show you. Now praise him. Give him thanksgiving and honor. He is not distant or aloof. Our God is not uncaring or inactive, hesitant or restrained. He is gloriously at work right now today!



Preaching the Word

Bible, Isaiah, Jesus, Luke, Preaching No Comments »

“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.” ~Luke 4:17

When he took the pulpit that day in his home church, notice the congregation at First Nazareth didn’t ask Jesus to share his feelings or talk about the news or quote a best-selling author or show a movie clip. They handed him the Holy Scriptures and demanded that he work from that. Jesus preached God’s Word.

God’s Word.

The same Word that created everything out of nothing. What else would we possibly want to preach?!?

When God speaks, things happen. God’s Word gets things done. God’s Word accomplishes the impossible. It defeats the invincible. It moves the unmovable. God does things — mighty things, eternal things, unbelievably wonderful things — with his Word. He can do anything just by saying a word.

And that’s one reason I preach.

I think I can shake you. I think I can change your life. Sometimes I think I can make you jump up out of your seat and shout “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” with nothing but the Word of God. I preach because I think Christ Jesus can get a hold of you with nothing but the Word of God.

God’s Word is just as powerful and transformative today as it was when Jesus opened it up in front of his church two thousand years ago. And I get to do it again tomorrow.

How cool is that?



The Gospel is for All

Bible, Jesus, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Preaching, Salvation No Comments »

Jesus was a preacher. Jesus preached all the time. And, like every preacher I’ve ever met, he had a couple of common themes he returned to over and over again in his sermons. His favorite was the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. Constantly.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” ~Matthew 4:17
“The time has come! The Kingdom of God is near!” ~Mark 1 :15
“I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God !” ~Luke 4:43

As he heals the blind and the deaf and the crippled, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God is near. As he sends his disciples to preach all over Israel, he directs them to declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was the steady beat that drove Jesus’ preaching, it was the flag at the front of his sermons: the good news of the Kingdom of God.

So, what was Jesus trying to show us in these sermons? What does he want us to know about God and the eternal Kingdom of God? What are we supposed to see?

I think Jesus’ main point in all his sermons is that the Kingdom of God is for everybody. The Gospel is for all. It was a radical idea then, and it’s still very much a dramatic idea today.

In his very first (and, I assume, last) sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was for all people. He reminds the listeners that there were many poor widows in Israel during the great famine, but Elijah didn’t feed any of those good Jewish women. He only fed the one alien woman of another nation and race. He points out that there were lots of suffering lepers in Israel, but the only person Elisha healed was a violent, non-Jewish army officer of the occupying Syrian forces. Jesus preaches that, yes, God has come. But he’s not really come in exactly the ways you expected. God really enjoys working the other side of the street.

This sermon and all the others like it didn’t go over so well in front of congregations full of people who believed they were the only ones who had gotten it right. When Jesus says God is doing a new thing, it doesn’t fly with a bunch of people who are holding tight with a white-knuckle death grip to things that are old.

The Kingdom of God is for everybody. That’s what Jesus wants us to see.

Jesus made friends with the poor and oppressed. And we celebrate that. But he also made friends with the rich and the oppressors. And that’s maddening to us because we’re always trying to divide the world up between us and them. Good and bad. Worthy and unworthy. Called and not called. Those who might accept the Lordship of Jesus and those who never will. Those who are a good investment of the church’s money and energy and those who would be a waste of the church’s time and resources.

Jesus wants us to see that his Kingdom is for everybody. Everybody! The curtain is torn! The walls are down! The barriers are destroyed!

That’s the message. It’s what Jesus preached. It’s what he lived. And it kept him in hot water. It got him disfellowshipped from his home church and nearly killed.

And Jesus sends us out to preach and to live the exact same good news. In the exact same ways.

As you go, preach this message: the Kingdom of God is near!” ~Matthew 10:7
“He sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God.” ~Luke 9:2
“Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God!” ~Luke 9:60
“Tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you!'” ~Luke 10:9
“The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations!” ~Matthew 24:14

Jesus calls us to speak and to live this same message. We spread this word around liberally. Lavishly. We live it out with others generously. Abundantly. We forgive. We love. We share. We help. We compliment. We bring the gospel to everybody without reservation. We treat everybody like Jesus the Christ came to this earth to save them. We treat them like the Kingdom of God is for them. We speak to a mean neighbor like they belong in God’s Kingdom. We talk about the terrorists like God loves them. Like the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, whether they want it or not, whether they ask for it or not, whether they accept it or not, here it is! The love of God. The forgiveness of Christ. The mercy of the Holy Spirit. Freely and joyfully we proclaim and live the good news of God’s Kingdom with all.

Because that is God. That is the Kingdom of God. It’s the truth. And if we live it, it will truly set us and everybody we know free.