The Prayers of the People

Everyone struggles with their sense of purpose from time to time. If you are a preacher I can tell you what to do when you struggle with yours. Have the congregation you serve write out their prayers and read them. You will never be the same.
This past Sunday night we had a concert of prayer at our church. The service ended with us placing our supplications into offering plates at the front of the church. I read them early Monday morning. They were filled with hurt, passion, desperation, longing, and hope. They were the honest words of genuine disciples. When one reads that kind of stuff every face in the crowd changes into someone Christ died to save. If you are a servant leader in a church then hear the prayers of God's people. It will change you.

Ears to Hear

I will give a talk this Sunday night about listening to sermons. I am a preacher but I spend most Sunday mornings, “on the other side of the communion table.” I’ve had a lot of time to think about listening to sermons and will share some of these insights this Sunday evening. Here’s what it’ll look like -

“Ears to Hear: You Can Make Every Sermon More Useful”
Deuteronomy 31:11-13

To make every message more useful you need to -

Appear (11) showing up is ¼ the challenge.

Hear (11) passionate listening is a key.

Adhere (12) we’ve got to be committed to “doing the stuff.”

Rear (13) messages are personal but they’re not private. We’ve got to use them to care for and lift up other people.

This could be a series but I’m going to chunk the material at you during an Equipped to Serve Sunday night environment. I’m pretty sure it will be helpful. I know it will be fun.

The Tribe of Inman

Amy Roller is the associate pastor at Central United Methodist Church. She will be preaching at FBC Meridian tomorrow during the noon Lenten service. I had the privilege of preaching at her church a few weeks ago for the same gathering. I'm looking forward to her being here and hearing her message. Amy's coming has given me a chance to think about women serving in ministry and the influence of Wesley's tradition. A little cross-pollination can help us at times.

Many people assert that the Methodist movement really began with Mamma. Susanna Wesley was passionate about Christ and her family. In 1711, her Anglican preacher husband, went to London and left the church in the care of a Curate named Inman. J.B. Wakeley described him as a, "very stupid and narrow man." Ouch! The church suffered under his leadership and starved for the word. Susanna Wesley began an "unauthorized evening meeting" in the parsonage. It began small but grew fast. Inman complained loudly but the ox was out of the barn. The work could not be stopped. Mrs. Wesley's strong spiritual influence impacted her sons and marked the Methodist movement.

I went to seminary at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I had a friend there that was an Assemblies of God pastor. She walked in the tradition of Susanna Wesley (Many Pentecostals affirm the inerrancy of scripture and recognize the ministry giftings of women). She loved God, held a high view of scripture, and believed God called her to lead and preach. She is far from liberal. That label just won't stick to her. It is true that all liberals affirm women in ministry. It does not follow that the affirmation of women in ministry makes one a liberal.

Some of my friends just returned from a mission trip to India. One of them told me just last week of the female tribal pastors (Baptists) that labor to spread the fame of Christ. I celebrate their work. Sadly, there is still a tribe of Inmans that refuse to recognize that God's, "sons and daughters shall prophesy." I know that there are some difficult passages that we must take seriously. I don't think we shouldn't wrestle with the text. I just think we should wrestle with all of it and see grace at work in the lives of our sisters that faithfully share the message of Christ. May their tribe increase.

A Prayer for the Day

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;

The wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

St Patricks' Breastplate, 5th century AD, adapted

What Are You Doing?: Thinking About Twitter and Communicating the Gospel

I've thought a good bit about how I share messages lately. Oddly, Twitter has helped. I've mapped out a model and I've been using it in preacing, teaching, and personal evangelism. It's a work in progress. Check it out if you have time and let me know what you think. Thanks!

What Are You Doing: Thinking about Twitter and Communicating the Gospel

I became a pastor at 22 and began preaching three sermons a week. This went for eight years until I accepted a staff position at First Baptist Church in Meridian, MS. This put me on the other side of the Lord’s Supper table for the first time in a long time. I teach several times a week in very different settings and still get to preach often but the Sunday morning change has given me an unexpected gift. Getting the opportunity to listen to sermons and reflect on preaching has helped me do something I have not yet done in my young ministry. I’ve developed a philosophy of preaching. I preached my first sermon at 15 and have preached a truck load of them. I’ve done this with passion and have really enjoyed it. I’ve now had some time to think about what I’m doing and I am grateful.

My thoughts on preaching have been impacted by an unpreacherly source, Twitter. Twitter is a social networking tool that connects people through the sharing of simple messages through the day. I’ve often played host to the wedding of intellectual odd couples. They get together in my brain and send me off in a new direction. Twitter and preaching have synched up in my noodle and here are the resulting thoughts –

Social Networking
Preaching and teaching are acts of social networking. The preaching event draws together a group of people that are connected by a common bond. The people have come to hear and respond. The gathered community is the preacher’s network. Each hearer also sits in the middle of a network of his or her own. The wise teacher or preacher sees both the network gathered under the steeple and the many networks just beyond.

When you go to the introduction page explains Twitter using the categories: what, why, and how. I’ve begun thinking about preaching and teaching using these categories. The WHAT of preaching consists of three things – text, title, and tweet.
The sermon must honor the biblical text. People come to church with the strange notion that they will hear something from God. They want this message to speak to deep needs in their lives but they want it to be more than friendly advice. They get that all week long. If they went to the trouble of getting to church they want to connect with God. A message must be built from the biblical text.
The talk or sermon also needs a title. I’ve found that the really good ones also wind up with nick names. Sometimes I start with the pet name and then write out something for the worship guide. This helps me love the message.
The sermon needs a Tweet. Each sermon or lesson needs a point. Think of an arrow. The entire arrow and the bow serve the purpose of the point. Sermons need to be well tipped. I have friends who go around looking for ancient Native American arrow heads. The heads always last the longest. The same is true for the sermon. The point is what will last.
A Twitter message is called a Tweet. With Twitter, you only get 140 characters. I have not done a good job of sermon prep if I can’t tell you what the message is about on Twitter. When I prepare the point of a message I ask the sermon, “What are you doing?” If I can’t Tweet it I won’t preach it. Calvin Miller and Andy Stanley are my favorite preachers (I don’t know them. I mean technically.). They are big champions of one point preaching. I’ll bet they can Tweet a sermon.

The point of the message must connect with people. The network of people in front of the preacher is the reason for the sermon. The sermon exists for the people because people matter to God. The preacher must make the case for the point. We can’t assume people will care. The "why" part of the message generates creative tension, without which every sermon falls to the ground. What are the people's longings and fears? What does God want for them? These types of questions help craft the why of a message.

Application is the gift of a message. To stand in the center of our network each week and talk about the what and why of scripture is not enough. Sadly, we often assume they will know exactly what to do with the message. I think of John the Baptist’s network in Luke chapter 3. After he preached they asked him, “What shall we do then?” As a preacher I need to anticipate this question and work hard at application.

Don’t take notes Tweet.
When I grew up I was taught that the good Christian takes notes during a sermon, so I became a note taker. I’ve been encouraging people to update Facebook and Tweet during lessons and messages. This happened last night as I led a bible study for young adults called The Gathering on Parkway. They were all goofing around with their fancy little phones. I told them to update their status. To tell their network what they were doing. This gets the word out and sends the message down a relational bridge already built for the gospel. CNBC just ran a piece of Mark Driscoll’s encouragement of sermon twittering at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I hope this goes viral.
Andy Stanley wrote something interesting that applies here, “The last category I might apply a message to is the person who is not there. Every time you speak, somebody is sitting there thinking about someone who really needed to hear what you had to say. Go ahead and address the person who is there but who knows someone who should have been there. Suggest ways for them to get your message in front of that person, tactfully.” Here’s a weird sentence I've come up with that helps me – “We preach to our thems for them AND for their thems.” Preaching is social networking.

These thoughts are really for me and they are a work in progress. Feel free to comment if you can help me with them. I’m working to craft my lessons and sermons based on these ideas so it’s a big deal to me and I’d appreciate your insight. If they help you communicate the gospel then I am really grateful. If you read all this thanks!
you think.

Job: My Lenten Friend

I’m preaching at a Lenten Lunch later today. St. Paul’s Episcopal and Central United Methodist are hosting the event in conjunction with the Downtown Church Association. My text is Job 42. Job is my Lenten friend. The ashy old man from the OT helps me see Lenten possibilities.

Some possibilities for this year’s Lent are:

We can see God. Job 42:5
Job went from a theoretical understanding of God to a very personal one. He experienced God in the deep places of his heart and was changed by the encounter. I believe God wants all people to make this move. He is interested in us having a deep and personal relationship with him.

We can repent. Job 42:6
When Job encountered God he recognized both God’s holiness and his sin. He turned to God for new life. Ralph Wood says that the South is, “a Christ haunted place.” We have symbols of the faith littered all over the countryside. One of these symbols is the ever present, hand-painted, roadside admonition, “REPENT!” Some respond to the call to repent in an entirely negative way but repentance is a beautiful biblical concept. It’s the invitation to life. Lent reminds us of the hopeful power of repentance.

We can pray for our friends. Job 42:8
Job’s friends did not give him much help in his time of need. They piled up a bunch of bad theology and bumper sticker religion and dumped it on his head. God, however, would not let Job live in bitterness. He called him to forgive them and pray for them. We live in a broken world. We are hurt by and hurt our friends. Lent is a good time to release the bitterness and pray for each other. So often we would rather hold the bait of bitterness and stay in the snare.

We can be restored. Job 42:10
God worked restoration in Job’s life. He wants to do the same in our lives. In fact, restoration is one of the major themes of scripture. He may want to restore: your faith, your passion for service, you love for you wife… Some of us are grasping bitterness and un-forgiveness to the point that we are unable to receive gifts from God’s hand. What does God want to restore in your life this spring?

I’ve been guided by these thoughts this Lenten season and I hope they are a blessing to you.

Small Group Prayer Gathering

Dr. Leake preached on the phrase "Our Father" from the Lord's Prayer this morning. Tonight we are going to gather for prayer experiences in homes around Meridian. Jack Jackson, Neil Henry, and I will be leading a group of young parents. We'll use this outline in our time together.

Small Group Prayer Experience
“Our Father”

Call To Worship
Leader -
“And in praying do not heap
empty phrases as the Gentiles do;
for they think that they will be heard
for their many words.
Do not be like them,
for your Father knows what you
need before you ask him.
Pray then like this:

Group -
“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, As we
also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

Leader -
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your
heavenly Father also will forgive you.”

Group -
Let us then approach the throne
of grace with confidence, so that
we may receive mercy and find grace to help
us in our time of need.


Prayer Experience:
Prayer Triplets
Closing Community Prayer

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
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