Posts Tagged: Preaching

Jesus’ TED Talk

I am consistently annoyed with how long I preach!

I often have the following quote in the back of my mind:

“Speak short. Your discourses are generally double the length they should be.” Ellen, G. White,  Testimonies to Ministers & GW, p. 311

I don’t always preach too long, but often I feel that I do. I’m happy to be in the 32-35 minute range…I’m mildly perturbed if I get over 40 minutes, and I’m downright irritated with myself when I get near 50 minutes or above.

I know, I know, there are times for long talks:

“He should not always give so long a discourse that there will be no opportunity for those present to confess Christ. The sermon should frequently be short…” Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 171

This would indicate that occasionally it is acceptable to give a long discourse, but for the most part, “The sermon should frequently be short.”

Now when I talk about “short” we are not speaking of laziness…some pastors are short because they’re lazy. I’m not talking about shallowness, because some pastors are short in their preaching because they’ve chosen to be shallow…or some have just chosen not to study and are thus shallow because of their brain emptiness. No I am talking about the type of “short” preaching Jesus did:

“In Christ’s teaching there is no long, far-fetched, complicated reasoning. He comes right to the point. In His ministry He read every heart as an open book, and from the inexhaustible store of His treasure house He drew things both new and old to illustrate and enforce His teachings. He touched the heart, and awakened the sympathies.” Ellen G. White—Manuscript 24, 1891

Why am I thinking about this?

Because last week I preached

45 minutes & 11 seconds

& the week before that I preached

50 minutes and 21 seconds

& before that

42 minutes & 52 seconds…so you can see I’ve been consistently annoyed with my preaching recently.

Yes people have been blessed…but I could do better…

I want to be better…

Oh yeah why am I thinking about this?

Because I enjoy TED talks.

What are TED talks? You can listen to them (after you finish reading this blog of course) here.

Basically they are some of the greatest minds around sharing ideas about our world and all kinds of different things in our world. One of the distinctive features of a TED talk, they are messages delivered in 18 minutes or less (a few people go a little over but that is the general rule). If you listen to some of these talks you’ll be amazed by their quality and beauty and how they capture your attention (just watch this one by Benjamin Zander…after you finish reading my blog of course:)). And they do all this in a very short amount of time.

So I am thinking about this…

Because I want to capture peoples minds with the Word of God the way TED talks capture my mind. 

As I thought about this I began to think about the sermon I have often heard referred to as, “The greatest sermon ever preached.”

I was once at a Youth Specialties Conference and I heard Shane Claiborne recite just this sermon…no other words…just this sermon…

and I was raptured by its beauty,

profundity,

and also by it’s brevity. 

It is Jesus’ TED talk. It is found in the Bible in the first book of the New Testament, known as Matthew; Matthew chapters 5-7.

The greatest sermon ever preached…

The Sermon on the Mount

So tonight I paused and I read it aloud…

I read it like I was doing a dramatic reading…

I read it as I remember Shane Claiborne reading it…

Simply & slowly…

I read it because I wanted to see how long it was.

Let me pause and say, if you have not ever read scripture out loud to yourself…not just at church or in front of another;

But to yourself…

Start with The Sermon on the Mount…

It moved my heart to hear these words.

Not because of my voice…but as I slowly read, as I read as if I were preaching…

the words…Jesus’ words, moved my heart.

Read scripture out loud to yourself…you’ll be blessed.

But I read out loud, slowly, like I was preaching to see the time…

To confirm my self rebuke.

It was confirmed!

Jesus’ TED talk was 00:13:11:98

Thirteen Minutes

Eleven Seconds

Ninety-Eight one hundredths of a second

The greatest sermon ever preached was 1/4 of MOST of my sermons.

So I want to be like Jesus.

This includes in my preaching.

The TED talks motivate me to get shorter…

Jesus’ TED talk convicts me to get shorter.

Why the Recent Rhetoric in the Church Makes Me Want to Shout About “SPIRITUAL FORMATION

So today I was listening to a book on tape, in this book on tape there was a chapter heading, “Spiritual Formation.” I listened to the entire chapter and guess what? Afterwards I didn’t want to go and empty my mind, burn incense, light candles, chant in repetition or deny the infallibility of the Bible. In fact the authors description of “SPIRITUAL FORMATION” made me want to read my Bible more, spend more time alone being guided by the scriptures to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. He impressed upon me the need to have a consistent devotional time, and that part of Spiritual Formation included being willing to be more generous with my money to the cause of Jesus, particularly the local church…can you believe such heresy? I say tongue in cheek!

At the end of the chapter the thought that came into my mind and started to drive me crazy, “There are so many in our church that would have shut the audiobook off, or closed the book (if they were actually reading it) the moment they heard/saw those words, “Spiritual Formation” and they would have missed out on some great counsel! Why? Because over the last 3+ years many in the Adventist church have taught our people to be scared of words and phrases, like: “spiritual formation,” “liturgy,” and “kingdom growth.” Even “meditation” is being spoken of like all meditation is bad…I sure hope the folk that believe that fallacy never read the writings of Ellen G. White, there are over 800 references of “meditation” or “meditate;” and oh boy they better not read the Bible either, since there are a good thirty times meditation is mentioned in that GREAT book.

Why would I even say that? Because I really believe some would be shocked! They’d be shocked because we don’t teach them to read and to study and to discern truth for themselves, we teach them to be scared of certain words and so many of the sermons I’ve heard say, “Spiritual formation is evil. It is about meditation, and mantras.” And therefore meditation is wrong, even when there is a very good kind of Biblical meditation, but these people don’t know that, all they know is what we’ve told them to be scared of. We’ve taught them to be scared of words, just like the pharisees taught the Jews to be scared of Jesus because He used the words, “I Am.”

In preaching in this manner and writing EXTREME books on this topic not only are we teaching our people to be scared of words, we are also teaching them to be very judgmental.

I was given a CD of a fairly popular and well known speaker amongst Adventists, he is one that frequents many camp meetings. I’d heard him on a couple different occasions and was usually blessed by his messages. Then I received this CD and I listened…what I listened to was fear mongering and a call to judge, not to judge on actions, not to judge on doctrine, just to judge based on words. This preacher was speaking of a pastor of a mega-church and pointing out all the areas he was in error; which by the way, how far have we fallen when we think that is an acceptable topic for a Sabbath morning service? Anyway, he then said this, which blew my mind, “When you hear our preachers (Adventist preachers) use the term ‘Kingdom Growth’ you know they have been under the influence of (name of the Sunday preacher here) and you need to be on guard.” REALLY? REALLY? This semi-well known pastor with at least a moderate amount of influence told a bunch of folk to judge their pastors based on a phrase, “Kingdom Growth.” I’ve been using that phrase as often as I can ever since; yep, there is a rebel in me.

So we’re teaching our people to be scared of words. We’re teaching our people to be judgmental based on phrases. We’re also teaching our people how to be mere reflectors of man’s thoughts, rather than true discerners.

I was at a camp meeting. The evening speaker delivered a wonderful message, but he went on a tangent. In this tangent he began to condemn those associated with spiritual formation (he didn’t give context to this), he just used those catch words of course. But what drove me even more crazy was at the end of this little tangent he said, “that is why we shouldn’t be reading anything outside of Adventist literature.” REALLY? REALLY? I love this man, he has been a blessing in my life, I don’t know him, but I’ve read his books and listened to his sermons. But REALLY? I couldn’t take it so I confronted him afterwards, “How could you say that?” I asked. Well in the course of the conversation he acknowledged we should, and he even quoted Mrs. White referencing her statement about our need to be well read in the literature of the age, and how of course he didn’t mean don’t read anything outside of Adventism (he has a doctorate from a non-Adventist university). I asked him then why he said it, he didn’t have a great answer, something to the effect of wanting to protect the people. That is not protection though, it is dumbing people down. To this man’s credit he corrected the statement in his seminar a few days later and acknowledged that is not what he meant; unfortunately there were only 150 people at his seminar versus the 2000 that heard his original statement.

We’re teaching our people to be scared of words. We’re teaching our people to be judgmental based on phrases. We’re teaching our people how be mere reflectors of man’s thoughts, rather than true discerners.

But maybe most of all we’re teaching people how to miss the good and beautiful truth completely. The pharisees were so focused on all the potential negatives that could happen around the Sabbath day that when someone, Jesus Himself, actually showed up on the scene keeping the Sabbath they way it should be kept…they missed it completely! I worry that we are teaching our people to focus so much on the negative that they may actually miss a lot of good when it is being done right in front of their eyes.

Someone smart in my life said, I’m not sure who said this to me (maybe it was David in our Faster Pastor episode on Christmas), but whoever it was this is brilliant, “Words and symbols only have as much meaning in your life as you allow them to have.”

Our church needs to learn this! The words Spiritual Formation or any others like this only have the meaning that one attaches to them and if we attach all kinds of fear, judgment, and ignorance to them that is exactly the meaning they’ll have in people’s lives.

But maybe some people out there are using those same words and they are doing a great job of teaching about Bible Study, Sacrifice, Prayer, Service, Repentance, Tithing…but our people will never know; cause they’ll close the book the moment they see the buzz words our church has decided to condemn and attach unnecessary negative value to over the last 3+ years.

Lord help us to spend more time teaching people about the beautiful truths of Jesus and in the glorious light of Jesus’ truth maybe we can trust them to be able to discern error for themselves.

 

 

They Hear Your Words, But They Do Not Put Them Into Practice

Could there be any more depressing of text to the heart of a preacher than Ezekiel 33:30-32?

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” –Ezekiel 33:30-32

One of the most painful things for myself and I am sure other pastors as well, is to observe folk that “like” our sermons but don’t take them beyond the walls of the church. Ezekiel in this text is told that the downfall of the people of Israel is in part due to the fact that they listen to the words of God but fail to put them into practice. How many of our churches are struggling, how many of our homes are falling apart, how many lives are personally crumbling because of the very same reality in our day?  In fact this is such a key point of the text that God tells Ezekiel this twice,

“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice.” 

Then again…

“Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

What an indictment of the church in North America! What an indictment of the Laodicean Church in North American!

But wait pastor, before we agree to quickly!

Something that is even more disappointing and indicting is this: I think there are actually pastors that preach expecting people to hear their words, but never put them into practice. There are pastors that prepare like they are just filling time. Pastors that study like they have nothing new to learn. Pastors that pray for habit not for conviction. Pastors that step into pulpits each week because it is their job, rather than their Divine calling.

As a preacher I want to say to all congregants, and hopefully this is true of your pastor as well:

  • I don’t want you to “like” my sermons. I want you to apply them.
  • I don’t want my sermons to generate accolades, I want them to generate life change.
  • I don’t want you to remember the funny, I want you to remember the Biblical.
  • I don’t want you to follow me, I want you to follow Jesus.

If we are, if I am preaching sermons that are only worth a surface level appreciation, if I am preaching sermons that are only worth a pat on the back, if I am preaching sermons that only entertain & do not take you to the Bible then tell me/us so that I/we can change.

The church in North America is dying…not a slow death…a rapid death! We are falling like Israel! In part because, “They Hear Your Words, But They Do Not Put Them Into Practice!”

Congregants be accountable–say, “Enough is enough! I will not pass through another sermon, another Sabbath, another worship service unchanged, without application to my life.”

Pastors be accountable–say, “Enough is enough! We will not prepare one more message, preach one more sermon, teach one more lesson without the expectation of life change amongst God’s flock.”

Enough is enough for all of us!

 

Late Night Ruminations on Preaching

Awoken by a 2 year old, I am now ruminating on Mrs. White’s instruction,

 “Let your discourses be short.” (Evangelism, p. 177)

I find it funny how many of us Seventh-day Adventist preachers desire & call folk to submit to her counsel yet so many of those same preachers (myself included), cast aside this counsel with one excuse or another.

I know there are settings where the long sermon is expected, maybe at a camp meeting or a week of prayer. The general rule however of preaching in the church or in an evangelistic series according to Mrs. White, “less is more.”

As I’ve been watching Pastor Elizabeth Talbot’s DVD’s (Jesus 101 Biblical Institute) over the last week, I notice she presents true profundity in 28 minutes. This corresponds with the counsel of Ellen White as she references several times that roughly 30 minutes should be the primary length of our preaching. I’m praying for God to move me in this direction.  Again, “less is more.”

I believe it is time for me to submit to this counsel. If I can’t say what the Spirit wants me to say in 30-35 minutes, if I can’t say what the Spirit wants me to say without wearing out the folk in the pews, maybe I shouldn’t be up there saying it at all. So Lord, do this work in me please!

 

 

You Need to Listen to Great Preachers!

What would happen if more of us listened to great preaching rather than the non-sense on the radio (for me sports talk radio)? Would we all be more edified? I’m pretty sure we would!

Thanks to modern technology most of us can take great preaching with us wherever we go through ipods, iphones, ipads, and I am sure all the other non-Apple gadgets I know nothing about (yes that was a plug for Apple:)).

Right now there is some great preaching going on and I would encourage y’all to download some and have a regular listen. Have church in your car every time you drive.

We’ll start with to me the living Dean of Preachers in Adventism:

Pastor Dwight Nelson: He brings a strong word week after week!

On the Lightbearers website you can get tons of free audio as well as lots of other great resources. Here you will hear great preachers like Pastors David Asscherick, Ty Gibson, James Rafferty, & Jeffery Rosario.

Pastor John Bradshaw will bless you through the weekly It Is Written Broadcast

You can hear a good word from Pastor Nathan Renner

I’m sure there are many more–one I think of is Pastor Carlton Byrd (and hopefully he’ll read this and get his stuff online:))–but these are just a few I would recommend for this evening.

What about you, who would you suggest? Feel free to post the links in the comments.

 

The Ellen G. White Quote Quota

As a preacher I have a quota on Ellen G. White quotes for my sermons. The quota is basically this: “NEVER have more Ellen White quotes than Bible texts, NEVER!” 

Many years ago my wife and I were traveling, when we arrived at our destination for the evening I had a message on my phone,

“Pastor, Pastor you have to listen to the sermon that was preached today at church. We had guests, they walked out. It was horrible. Just listen!”

Well the next day my wife and I would be driving again and so I decided to download the sermon and listen to it as we drove.  The content wasn’t horrible, the premise wasn’t to far off the mark (though out there a ‘bit), but I quickly realized what the issue was. About ten minutes into the sermon I started to count: 3 scriptures, 20 Ellen G. White quotes, and the three scriptures were from the first 10 minutes–they were easy to remember there were only 3 of them in the entire sermon! (I have to give the speaker credit he introduced her by all her titles: Mrs. White, Sister White, The prophet, The prophetess, The pen of inspiration, Our inspired writer, My favorite author, etc.)

Needless to say I wasn’t pleased!

This gentleman definitely wasn’t following the rule; never have Mrs. White out quote the Word of God!

So why do I bring this up?

Not because I am trying to discourage preachers from using Ellen White, in fact I think it is ridiculous for an Adventist preacher to not quote her, yet to quote from every other Spiritual writer there is, Lucado, Warren, Swindoll, Hybels, etc.. Her writings are powerful and she is often the first quote I want to use to illuminate what is being said. So we as preachers should quote her.

I don’t bring it up because I hear the pastors that do quote her, quoting her too much. I think most Adventist pastors are respectful of the “EGW Quote Quota.”

I bring this issue up, because I am afraid that for many of us, myself included (and not just pastors but many Seventh-day Adventist Christians) we have forgotten this rule when it comes to our Facebook & Twitter accounts!

I am finding more and more Ellen White quotes amongst my peers on Facebook & Twitter and not enough Bible. It seems her quotes are outpacing the Bible 3 to 1 (of course that is not an official ratio), but you get the point! I hope? 

There are times when I’ve been doing seminars or speaking in front of an exclusively Adventist crowd and on these occasions I will use tons of Ellen White quotes, but when I am in a public forum speaking where I know there are many pre-Adventists present I will always make sure there is more Bible than “my favorite author.”

Why?

Because I want to do what Ellen White told us to do & what she tried to do for all of us, “Point people back to the Bible.”

Well Facebook, Twitter, & other Social Media outlets for most of us are public forums. They are for many of us, places where we have a signficant amount of contact w/ a captive audience. an audience which often times may not believe as we do, in those moments where do we want to FIRST point these individuals–hear me I am not saying to do away with Ellen White quotes or that they are unable to be edifying to the unbeliever–but where do we want to FIRST point our readers? To the Word of God! That which is, “a lamp unto their feet & a light unto their path.” (Psalm 119:105)

So let us all strive to remember The Ellen G. White Quote Quota, not just in our public speaking, but in all our public discourse, “NEVER quote Ellen White more than you quote the Bible, NEVER!”

 

 

 

“I Have a Dream”

If you have not seen all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” talk, take 17 minutes and watch one of the greatest oratory moments in our countries history.  Following the video I have a couple thoughts below.

I watch this message usually a couple times a year.  I watch it for several reasons first because the power of the message still needs to resonate in my moral conscience 48 years later.  I watch because in this message Martin Luther King Jr. teaches those of us who cast vision, how to really cast a vision with words in less than 20 minutes.  Finally, I will admit I watch because I want to be a better preacher.  You see I believe that pastors or anyone that speaks publicly on a regular basis need to listen to great orators.  Most of us are not that good of speakers and if we are only listening to ourselves, we may become fooled and begin to think we can really preach, when our congregations or audiences or classrooms have but one wish: “Please Stop Talking!”  So I encourage y’all to listen to great orators, read great orators (yes even reading some of the great talks of yester year are of benefit), and become a better speaker. 

Here are few that I really enjoy listening to:

Dwight K. Nelson

David Asscherick

Martin Luther King Jr.

Billy Graham (especially his campaigns from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s)

Ronald Reagan

Bill Clinton

Tim Keller

Bill Hybels

C.D. Brooks

Haddon W. Robinson

Some to read:

Abraham Lincoln

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Winston Churchill (Probably listen to some of his as well)

Dwight L. Moody

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones

You can find a couple of these individuals on the American Rhetoric site

 

 

 

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