Sunday, June 06, 2010

Well, I have little doubt about it any more. The church in this country, is changing. One reason is that the general perception of Sundays is changing. For those who do attend "church" it is more about connecting and seeing friends, checking in with accountability, getting a rush from the worship team, or other things, than it is about really paying attention to the preaching, deliberately offering up awe and affection to the Lord. I have fended off this feeling for a long time. Now, I think this is the main interest of American Christians. At least the evangelical ones.

It isn't that we have apostasized from our core doctrines or abandoned our love of the Word of God. We just love ourselves more. That's my opinion, at the moment at least.

Ideally, I wish all Christians would do these things:

Commit to attending a church every week, even if things aren't ideal there. Make time for worship. He is worth it.
Be loyal to whatever church you go to, for as long as you can do so. And demonstrate that loyalty in many ways.
Read your Bibles every day.
Forgive your fellow church people heavily, and frequently.
Ask God to make you less about you and more about other people. Ask Him for this repeatedly.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Concerning preaching.
I think it must be true that preachers really make up about 97% of people who think about preaching other than when listening to Sunday's sermon. But we preachers think about if often. A lot. We are interested in preaching for a bunch of reasons. At a carnal level, its the gladiatorial games of evangelicalism and we measure our warrior-ish-ness by our preaching. Okay, maybe that's a bit much. But we DO measure something by our preaching. Very few of us are so egoless that we don't somehow gauge our self-worth by what, how, how long, how cool and how many heard what we said in that 35 minutes last Sunday. On a little deeper level, we actually do take our calling fairly seriously (and ourselves too, some days.) In a nutshell, Spurgeon said to his "students," "Dude. Can't preach well? Get a job. You're not called to the ministry." Or something to that effect.

I am in the process of scanning 27 years of sermons into PDF format via our new, cool Bizhub C220 Galactic Copier/Scanner/Assimilator. I have been finding sermon series--I have always preached from full manuscripts--around our church (one series set of Notes, I found on the floor of the church attic--isn't that cool?) These were MY Notes. Here's another interesting thing--with a bunch of these series, I don't even remember preaching them. Thus, I find a series, say to myself, "Whoa! Cool! I preached that??!! Dang. I don't even remember preaching that series back in, like, 1989." Which makes me think that the sub-story of both LOST and FRINGE, the idea that there are parallel universes which exist and which have their own versions of Us in them, might be right. I think maybe the Other Me in a parallel universe must have preached some of these series. Anyway, I am scanning these series for posterity. They will be available in PDF via e-mail, website, CD and any other cool way I can think of getting them out. Not that anyone will want them, but as I said, we measure our self-worth by these messages.

Also of note to me, in viewing all my old series in neat stacks on the Library table, I notice that I have (embarrasingly) had a peculiar fetish for creating nifty (dorky?) new logos (haha no pun of the Bible software I use, intended) for my Dartmouth Bible Notes masthead. I have made up, like, 15 different logos over the years. (Here's my Cool-Retro-1940's era; here's my snazzy, Back to the Future 1980's era; here's my Minimalist, Just Read the Flippin Notes era.) Man, I must really be addicted to something...

I also note that I have always--over some 1,400 sermons at this point--done messages about 3½ to 4 pages, single space, 12 pt. font, translating into the fact that my messages are all about the same length. Which must make listening to me for 27 years (there's a few in my church who have endured that long) really, really predictable! (Predictable people defend themselves by pointing out that we are dependable.)

In doing this Scan Project, I am now publishing a List of Available Messages - Electronic (LAME). It will be in this Sunday's bulletin, which means, it will be on the sanctuary floor, in copious numbers on Sunday afternoon! I am quite proud of the fact that I, single-handedly, have scanned over 2,300 pages of very spiritual, relevant, intuitive and otherwise highly practical Notes of Sermons - Electronic (NOSE), thus far. I estimate that this represents about 2/3 of my sermon production, to date, going back to the Big Bang (when I actually graduated from seminary) in 1983.

Preaching is such a strange practice. On the one hand, it seems remotely sexual. It is an intimate thing to do, to reveal your thoughts for interplay, discussion and then Final Point! It is also sort of like gaming - there is a sense of moving from one level to another. It, of course, is primarily spiritual and I am all too aware of the implications of You-Can't-Take-the-Flock-Further-Than-You've-Come-Yourself as it applies to what I say in a sermon. Preaching is also hugely sensitive for preachers. We are laying out our minds, our hearts, our lives for people to see. That is hard some weeks. Because some weeks I have had a crappy week, spiritually, myself, or I have been in conflict which some sheep and I feel hypocritical trying to Say Something to them about their spiritual walk. But lay out our hearts, we do just the same. Week after week.

All of this to say, I find, upon review of the whole experience, that I really enjoy the business of preaching. I studied with Haddon Robinson for a while, twice. I listen to sermons all the time and I have a few favorite preachers--none of which are the Hot Ones on the radio. And I have come to regard these values as important:
a. Preach the Word of God, primarily. Stay on target.
b. Learn about humor.
c. Mind the time of a message. Know when people begin drifting, and quit 3 minutes before that.
d. Be humble.
e. Don't yell.
f. Don't use words like "millieu."
g. Use good illustrations only, and only a few.
h. Tell cool stories, and personal ones regularly.
i. Pray over every sermon. Every one. Never become smug, self-sufficient.

I would love to start a preaching small group, with a few preachers where we would talk about preaching and our sermons. But I don't think that will happen. There's too many other small groups needing to happen...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Concerning evangelism,
The bad news is, people don't think its cool to proselytize. The good news coolness isn't everything.The bad news is, evangelism is considered a dirty word in polite circles. The good news is, we didn't invent it.The bad news is, statistics don't seem to bear out that we're winning people to Christ faster than we are losing them. The good news is that we're not ultimately in control of who becomes a Christian anyway.The bad news is, pluralism seems to have relativised the Gospel. The good news is the real Gospel never changes and never loses its power.The bad news is, Christians seem bored or disinterested in sharing the news about Christ. The good news is, the Lord of the harvest will just find other Christians to spread the news. The bad news is, Christians mess it up too often and even distort the Gospel or worse, even do evangelism to make money. The good news is, so what else is new? The bad news is, Satan is alive and well on planet earth. The good news is, greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.The bad news is, we might get in trouble for sharing Christ. The good news is, God loves it when we share Christ.

Monday, February 22, 2010

In its nature, marriage is of perpetual obligation and can be dissolved in no way by the life of the parties but by some crime which wholly subverts its design. The scriptures mention two such: adultery, and willful, permanent desertion (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 16:18; 1st Corinthians 7:15). Irratibility of temper, want of congeniality, ungodliness, scolding, penuriousness, insanity, incurable disease, helplessness or consent of parties can give no right to dissolve the marriage bond. The law of God is decisive. The laws of man should be no less so. --Dr. W.S.Plumer (1870)

When did our wisdom in this country come to exceed Dr. Plumer's?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

So it seems to me... that every so many years, there is a new trend towards refining the church. A new author, a music group, a visionary pastor (etc.) gets an idea and puts it out there and people start going, "Hey YEAAA!!! I AM unhappy with the church!" And so a reformation of sorts kicks in. The target issues tend to be the same (it seems to me), i.e. the church has become stuffy, the church has become rules minded, the church has become too formal, the church has become too informal, the church has lost its sense of tradition, the church cares only about tradition, the church is too top-heavy in its authority, the church doesn't HAVE "kingdom" authority, the church is not edgy enough, the church is too edgy, etc.

And then usually the Cutting Edge Leaders (C.E.L.s) align themselves with Martin Luther or Martin Luther King or some well-known leader of years-gone-by, to validate their vision for a purer church, a more spiritual church, a cleaner church, etc.

Frankly, I am worn out by the many cycles of refinement that the church seems to be destined to endure. Doesn't anyone just say any more, "I love the church?" Or, "I like to be with Christians of kindred spirit?" Or, "I thank God for the good things the church does, and I give God all the credit?" Lately, the book The Naked Church has come into vogue again. I read the book and while Jacobsen's writing captures some true points it tires me out to read AGAIN how "the church fails" and "isn't interested in real intimacy with God." Books like this all too often seem generated from the circus that is the church scene on the West Coast. I can only speak for the scene in the Northeast--but the churches here are doing the best they can to stay alive, to be Spirit-filled, and to reach our region with the Gospel. They don't need to be beat up again. They need encouragement and support.