Saturday, December 9, 2017

Come for a short sermon this weekend

I'm not sure when I copied this quote in one of my journals.  But I remember the impact it made on me.

A long sermon may be good.  But a good sermon is rarely long.

Jazz great, John Coltrane, once talked about his idea that good experimental jazz had no time limits.  If it took 20 minutes to play the song, that was the appropriate length for the song.  Then he had an epiphany of sorts - he began playing with musicians who seemed to accomplish the same impact with their music in 10 minutes and Coltrane realized that quality, rather than quantity, was what he should strive for.

My mentor at the Seminary, Glenn Nielsen, was once asked, "How long should a sermon be?" His answer - "As long as it needs to be."  So there's no time limit to how short or long a sermon should be, huh?

Yes, that's right.  But that's not the only consideration.

We live in a day and age where people are not accustomed to receiving information from a talking head, standing in a pulpit, going on for 15, 20 or more minutes.  The average attention span of a person today is, depending on who you read, is only a couple of minutes at best.  So, if a pastor is going to go on and on, sharing every idea he's discovered in his study of the text, he'd better be a captivating speaker.

Most of us aren't.

Even someone as talented as Max Lucado doesn't speak endlessly.  He brilliantly decides on one goal or theme for his message and then develops that one goal or theme.  His books were sermons first - so you get an idea of how he arranges his thoughts and how he masterfully presents the central truth of the text.  And he's such a great writer and speaker that he could go on forever and you'd never once look at your watch.

But he doesn't.

Not being one of those great speakers, I do pay attention to the length of my messages.  That doesn't mean that I never stray into the 17, 18 minutes area.

But I'd better be convinced that I really need to speak that long and I'd better feel certain that the material that I've developed needs to be presented to the flock.

I started a new Advent sermon series last Sunday, "Moving Toward the Manger."  The message lasted, I believe, 15 minutes.  When I first read it the message timed out around 17 minutes.  So, I reviewed the manuscript carefully.  I looked for redundancies.  I sought out paragraphs that could be tightened up. I found stray sentences that were just in the way of the main point I was trying to make.
I trimmed a good two minutes from the manuscript.

Was it a great sermon? I don't know.  The feedback I received was good.  Mostly, I felt like I had delivered the message I thought the flock needed and I did so in an appropriate time period.

This weekend I offer part two of the series - "Moving Toward the Manger - With Faith."  We'll look at Mary's encounter with an angel and his message - that she would be the mother of the Most High God.  The question I want to explore is, "What was it that the angel said that caused Mary to respond the way she did?"

The message takes 12 minutes to deliver.  It could be longer.  In fact, I wondered if I'd left something out that needed to be communicated.  But having read through the message a couple of times, I'm satisfied with what I've written.

But the proof is in the preaching so I'm anxious to see how it goes.

Join us tonight at 5 pm or tomorrow at 8 or 11 am.  Come and travel with us as we move toward the manger in Bethlehem to receive the gift God has given us - His Son!

And have a blessed weekend! 

Friday, December 8, 2017

You say the sermon was a little long?

A pastor, known for his lengthy sermons, noticed a man get up and leave during the middle of his message. The man returned just before the conclusion of the service. Afterwards the pastor asked the man where he had gone.

"I went to get a haircut," was the reply.

"But," said the pastor, "why didn't you do that before the service?"

"Because," the gentleman said, "I didn't need one then."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

When we make church all about us

But when we make church about us, we can expect two outcomes: shallow friendships and a shallow faith.

Sharon Hodle Miller, "Free of Me," page 117

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

BFP (five years ago) - The Devil's Agenda

Another nugget from John Jeske's great book, "Connecting Sinai to Calvary"

(Satan's goal) is to rob us of our thankfulness for God's good gifts.  If it was within Satan's power, we wouldn't have a single piece of bread, not a single penny of income, not even a single hour of life.  But since that's not in his power, he'll try to rob us of God's blessings by making us ungrateful and unappreciative of them.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Your favorite hymn?

What is your favorite hymn or song? Is there a psalm, hymn or spiritual song that cheers and blesses you every time you hear its melody or sing its words?

Of modern songs I am blessed every time I hear the Stuart Townend/Keith Getty song, "In Christ Alone."  And with some help from his friends, Matt Maher wrote and and recorded, "Abide With Me." The former is a statement of faith; the later a cry for the presence of God.  Both, in my humble opinion (doesn't count for much) are masterpieces.

My all-time favorite hymn is 'My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less."

My hope is built on nothing less
 Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
No merit of my own I claim
 But wholly lean on Jesus' name
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand
 All other ground is sinking sand  (LSB 575)

My devotional reading over the past few weeks has taken me once again through the Psalms.  I often read each one as if I'm a miner looking for a gem or two that I've missed before.  I had that experience recently as I reread Psalm 13:6 - I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.

At the beginning of this new work week why not follow the lead of the psalmist and sing to the Lord? His goodness to you is all the reason you need.

God is:

Your shelter - see Exodus 33:22
Your keeper - see Psalm 121:4
Your helper - see 1 Peter 5:7

Include your favorite hymn or song in your devotion time this week.  Sing the song or hum its melody as you travel around town.  Ask your spouse, kids or friends about their favorite hymn. Share why your special hymn or song is so meaningful to you.  Someone said, "The one who sings prays twice!" (Was that Luther?)  Go ahead - sing to the Lord! He has been good to you!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Happy 2017 Church New Year

Yes, the beginning of Advent marks the start of a new church year.  Observing major festivals in the church year like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost help provide a rhythm for worship and an opportunity to utilize the entire Scriptures in worship and study.

We worship today at 5 pm and on Sunday at 8 and 11 am.  My Advent sermon series is "Moving Toward the Manger," and we'll follow Luke chapter one and what happens to Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary as we look forward to the events that take place in Bethlehem.  Come and join us this weekend at LICL! 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Let it all go

This morning I woke up unusually anxious.  The the season of Advent and Christmas will soon be here.  It is a more stressful time for clergy.  There are extra services and sermons to prepare for along with special projects and events to plan for the upcoming year.

I was feeling the stress pretty badly.  I didn't want the dark cloud to completely envelope me again.

I sat down in my chair and started to breathe deeply - in and out, in and out.  As the anxious thoughts began to flood my mind I prayed, "Lord, I give this to you.  Lord, I give this to you."

As I relaxed and prayed eventually a peaceful feeling came over me.  I could feel my body relax.  The anxiety began to lessen.  I found myself at peace, breathing in and out quite easily.  This quiet time with God was such a blessing to me.

I may have to do this several more times today.  I've given my anxious thoughts to God.  But I have a very bad habit of taking them back.  Do you do the same?

Psalm 32:7 - "You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."  Praise the Lord that He is our hiding place in times of anxiety and stress.  May His unfailing love surround you and me and all who call out to Him to take our troubles away.