Category: Preaching (Page 1 of 22)

The Art of the Sermon

Preachers, if you’re struggling with lame sermon illustrations and at a dead-end for new metaphors and examples, may I suggest handing every member of your congregation an 8×10″ canvas and asking them to participate. Two Sundays ago we began our “Hearing God” sermon series and handed out 380 of these canvases (canvi?). We asked our church family to be creative and to illustrate what it means to hear God. Where do you hear God? How do you hear God? What does God say when he speaks to you? Use markers, paints, watercolors, sketch pencils, glitter and glue – use whatever you’d like to best convey God’s voice and your ears.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. And beautiful. And inspiring.

In just the first week and a half, we’ve received right at 100 of these back and more are trickling in by the day. By this Sunday, the biggest wall in our Family Center is going to be covered up with these glorious works of art. From the oldest in our church to the youngest, from the brightly colored masterpieces to the black-and-white scribbles, each of them are reflective. Provocative. Serious. Insightful. Deeply personal.

I praise God for the ways our church family participates with our sermons. I thank him for those who have submitted art projects, for those who are  committing to the daily Word and Prayer exercises we’re providing with each lesson, for the small groups who are digging deeper into this topic each week, and for the way our Lord is speaking to our people right now.

I’ve spent about 30-minutes in there today, looking at each individual work of art, smiling at the creativity, connecting names and stories and images, recognizing both pain and joy, acknowledging how long it took to complete these paintings, marveling at the variety of experiences with our one God, praying  to him for these good people who are committed to listening to his voice.

“The one who has ears to hear, let him hear!”



Not Up to the Task

I’ve got this Sunday’s sermon finished, and it’s not that great.

The Easter sermon is the hardest one to write. It’s nearly impossible. I struggle with it every year. It’s not for lack of effort. I began planning this year’s Easter sermon on our latest trip to Israel, almost a year ago. It occurred to me then that, if I showed the pictures from our tour of the historical site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, I could stir our people to experience the thrill of the Resurrection that I’ve experienced. But it’s not working like I thought it would. It’s not enough.

Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted as saying he would always attend a “high” church on Easter Sunday where there would be great music but very little preaching. In his estimation, “No preacher is up to the task on Easter.” I think he’s probably right.

John Updike’s poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” beautifully and perfectly identifies the cause of every preacher’s frustration leading up to Resurrection Sunday. One of the lines is: “Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence… / let us walk through the door.”

Yes, it is a waste of time to try to explain the Resurrection. Some things can’t be reduced to an explanation and are greatly diminished in the process of trying. The task on Easter is proclamation, not explanation. On Easter, the preacher should only offer an invitation to “walk through the door” into a brand new world where the ultimate reality isn’t death, but everlasting life in the One who brought our Lord Jesus out of the grave.

Proclaim the Resurrection. That’s what the apostles did. And that’s what we’ll do together at GCR Church this Sunday.




The great Lenny Dawson died last night at the age of 87. The Hall of Fame quarterback took the Kansas City Chiefs to two Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the last football game played by the old AFL. I’m wearing my Len Dawson #16 football jersey today. For at least a couple of reasons.

The Chiefs have always been my second favorite football team. Remember, they began life as the Dallas Texans of the rival American Football League, sharing the Cotton Bowl with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, and competing with the Cowboys for fans and tickets and money. Both teams were so miserable during those early years, Texans owner Lamar Hunt once challenged Cowboys owner Clint Murchison to a head-to-head football game between the Texans and Cowboys, and “the winner gets to leave town.” Hunt did move his Texans to Kansas City where he renamed them the Chiefs and won a couple of AFL titles and, eventually, that Super Bowl with Dawson at quarterback. I’ve always felt a connection with the Chiefs because of their origins in my hometown. They’re from Dallas and I want them to succeed.

I’m also a huge fan of the old NFL Films and that Super Bowl IV in 1970 was the first time a head coach had been wired up for the championship game. Hank Stram stole the show with his one-liners and quips, most famously his exhortation to “Lenny” to “keep matriculating the ball down the field!”

That quote became the line that bonded me forever to a friend at the Legacy Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Chris Drake. Love the Drake. He called me Lenny or Leonard because, in his view, I was trying to move our church, trying to get us somewhere, trying to grow our faith outside our Sunday assemblies and grow our vision to include the Kingdom outside our walls. He could sense I had a passion and a plan. He could also sense that it would be tough at Legacy. So he encouraged me with “keep matriculating the ball down the field.” One yard at a time. One play at a time.

Drake called me Leonard all the time. Lenny. “Keep matriculating the ball down the field.” This is how he encouraged me when he knew things were rough. Continually. “Pump it in there, baby. Set ’em up for the 65 Toss Power Trap.” Constant encouragement. True friendship. “Work for it, wait for it, them drop it on ’em. One play at a time. One yard at a time.”

After a couple of setbacks with resistant elders and grumpy members, Drake told me he would be my Daryl Johnston. He would be my lead blocker, taking out anybody who got in my way. It made me slightly uncomfortable because I never knew how serious he was. He would text me after a particularly challenging sermon with “I’m turning the corner and looking for contact!” I never thought he would ever really physically take out one of our shepherds with a crack-back block in the west foyer. Would he? He signed his emails to me with “#48.” And kept me guessing.

He gave me this Len Dawson jersey as a Christmas gift a couple of years into our ministry at Legacy – that was thirteen years ago – and I still wear it every couple of months. We still text and email each other about the Cowboys and Rangers. We still go back and forth about church politics and Kingdom of God issues in the ‘comments’ section of this blog. He still signs his communications with me as “#48.” And he still calls me Leonard.

In a weird way, Drake helped me understand my role and solidify my identity as a preacher in God’s Church. It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team game. And not every play is a touchdown pass. It always takes a few short gains between the tackles before you can go deep. It takes dirty work in the trenches, down in the mud and the sweat of the real life of the Body of Christ, before you can run that sweep to the end zone.

Len Dawson died last night.

I’m reminded that he played in a different era and represents, in many ways, a different sport. Dawson was asked once how long halftime was back when he played and he replied, “About two cigarettes.” I’m reminded that success as a preacher in the Lord’s Church means keeping your eye on the big picture and just faithfully matriculating the ball down the field, one play at a time. And I’m reminded of Drake and the way he so intentionally went out of his way to encourage this brand new preacher so long ago.



First and Foremost

“First and foremost, I beg you to consider that there is nothing in this life, and especially in our own day, more easy and pleasant and acceptable to men than the office of bishop or priest or deacon, if its duties be discharged in a mechanical or sycophantic way; but nothing more worthless and deplorable and meet for chastisement in the sight of God. And, on the other hand, that there is nothing in this life, and especially in our own day, more difficult, toilsome, and hazardous than the office of bishop or priest or deacon; but nothing more blessed in the sight of God, if our service be in accordance with our Captain’s orders.”

~ Augustine to Valerius on his ordination at Hippo, 391 AD

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