Baseball pitchers need to have a “go-to” pitch. This is their best pitch. And, it is their most important pitch because it sets up effectiveness and it compensates for under-effectiveness. How do you know what a pitcher’s money pitch is? It is what he throws when he is down in the count or in some trouble with runners on base. It is his “go-to” pitch when he gets into jams.
As Christians we have something of a spiritual go-to pitch. When we are in a jam or need answers we shake off other pitches in favor of what we think will get the job done. Whether at work or in the home, physical or emotional, in the church or in your neighborhood—we get into jams. What do we do?
As a pastor my life is characterized by an incessant longing for people to taste and see the goodness of God’s grace in the gospel. I pray for it, plan for, organize events to promote it, and even dream about it. I want to see the gospel come to our city and our church. I want evident gospel renewal.
In Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, there is a memorable scene where a large cask of wine is dropped and broken in the street. The cask had burst like a walnut shell and gushing all over the stones in the street. Dickens goes on to write:
All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stern the wine as it ran; others, directed …
I really appreciated this brief video from The Gospel Coalition. Bryan Chapell, Mike Bullmore, and Alistair Begg discuss some important reminders concerning the process of sermon prep. I am thankful for these guys, who, being veterans are willing to share with a younger generation.
In particular, I liked Begg’s words here:
Each week I…
Think myself empty.
Read myself full.
Write myself clear.
Pray myself hot.
Here is more from this group (RSS readers may have to click through to the site to view the video)
I recently asked one of our younger children to do a job that required some detailed clean-up. In the course of explaining the job as well as the steps to complete the job, I was interrupted. “I know. Dad, I know.” Everything I said was punctuated with “I know.” It was like a Baptist church hitting you with Amen’s after everything. Then I let them do it. It was a disaster. Things didn’t get put away, they actually got misplaced. Instead of the table being cleaned the floor became messy. Upon coming back to check on the situation I asked, “What happened here?” The answer, not surprisingly, “I don’t know how to do that.”
In the church we have a lot of impediments to growth in godliness. We live in a sinful world, have imperfect preachers, have trials and tribulations, and a relentless enemy who endeavors to be the stick in our spokes at every turn. But there is one great impediment to growth, this is the impediment of thinking that we already know everything. Let’s call this person “Mr Know-it-All”.
Mr Know-it-All does not really think that they have to learn anything. They are already there. They are, in effect, unteachable.
We tend to embrace technology without much consideration. Advancements must be good because, after all, they are advancements. If we can be more connected to people and process more information then it must be a win. Right? Why should we even give it a second thought?
The ubiquity of smartphones should cause us to think for a minute. According to Pew Research data, 58% of Americans have smart phones while 90% have a cell phone (source). This is a very connected society. It is also a very new phenomenon in history. This should cause us to think and ask some questions.
For example, is this level of connection necessary? Is it good, harmful or indifferent? Is it changing me? Is it changing the way I relate to others and do my job?
It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.
In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.
Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.
So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?
Technological advancements have made communication much easier. We can email, text, instant message, call, or Skype. While this makes meeting easier it does not necessarily make it better. As Christians we should endeavor to be loving in everything we do. This requires thoughtful intentionality when considering the medium for communicating information. Ease must never trump love.
If the evangelical church were a boat then it would have some leaks. And everyone seems to have an opinion as to the problem. If I could put the two most common critiques in buckets they would be 1) the preaching, 2) the appetite of church members. In my years of ministry I have often found it quite ironic that many evangelicals complain about preaching not being “biblical” while pastors often complain about “evangelicals today who don’t want biblical preaching”.
Somebody cue the Alanis Morissette.
I can’t attempt to bridge the gap nor fix the problem in a short blog post, however, I can offer a suggestion that I think would help: Make use of the old confessions and catechisms.
In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”
As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.
If you get around a couple of preachers you will hear them eventually begin to discuss preaching. At some point in the discussion they will talk about how they prepare their sermons and what formate that use for their notes. It’s very interesting shop talk actually.
Myself, I have, over the last several years, significantly adjusted the way I prepare and use my notes for preaching. Much like a batter adjusting his swing to gain some advantage, a preacher is always analyzing, evaluating, and tweaking.
I have gone through several variations and now am at the place where I am comfortable (for now). Here are some of them. If you are a preacher, I’m sure you can relate to a few.