“3 Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)
“Pastors, cut your preaching preparation by Half”. This was the lead in to an ad that was on one of my social media pages the other day. You know how advertising like this works. They scan what you like, your interests, occupation etc. In short, most of your information is scanned so they can place, on your feed, ads they believe will interest you. Like a move and you’ll likely see ads for t-shirts, mugs etc. that pertain to that movie. If you have a job, you’ll see ads that would be of interest to others in your profession.
So I get a lot of ads for seminaries, Christian books, clergy robes etc. Most of which I don’t pay any attention to. It’s what you deal with to get your social media for “free”. But this one came across offering me a chance to cut my preaching preparation down and I thought, Boy you are barking up the wrong tree.” But I clicked on it anyway.
It turns out it really wasn’t about the sermon preparation at all. It was all the stuff that goes with it in a modern worship service. Ready made slides so you can list all of those pertinent bullet points the sermon will have. Slides that easily transfer the lyrics to the praise songs sung during worship. How to quickly add video content so you can use a clip to drive the point home. And software to live stream or podcast the message. It actually looked like a pretty good program.
But it had nothing to do with the sermon preparation. One could argue it helps cut down the sermon presentation preparation a lot. And that’s not a bad thing at all. But it really doesn’t affect the time it takes to prepare the sermon. The real preparation is not in the slides or visuals or video. All of which, in full disclosure, I use.
The real preparation for a sermon being son one’s knees as a preacher prays for God to prepare them for the message and give that message to the pastor. After all, I never want to preach “my sermon” I want to preach what God wants to say, from His word, to this congregation. The preparation comes from the study of the scripture for that Sunday the pouring over how the church has explained this passage of Scripture as well as bring one’s own thoughts and experiences to the table. Yes, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture being supported by tradition, reason and experience applies to the preparation of a sermon. Even the pouring over stories and examples to help people grasps the message of the scripture is important.
Sermon preparation is important and shouldn’t be cut down for convenience sake. Not just because we want to give that great, eloquent sermon. Frankly, there are a lot of resources out there that will give you everything you need to cut and paste a biblical, eloquent sermon. and you can do it in half the time. That’s not the point of preparation. Preparation of the sermon is only a small a part of the process. What’s just as crucial is the preparation of the preacher. Wrestling over the word of God, study, prayer immerses our souls with the presence of God and changes us. We need that preparation time before we ever enter the pulpit. God wants us to be prepared, to struggle over his word because it is forming our spirits to become like His spirit.
That’s true for all of us though, isn’t it? Spiritual formation isn’t just for the”prfessional Christians” Jesus constantly calls us into a deeper, life changing, person alerting relationship with Him. Our preparation time is crucial to that process.
How is God preparing you to become more like Him? Certainly he calls you to worship, partake of the Means of Grace, participate in the sacraments. He invites you to study His word and wrestle with it live in it. I believe God wants to marinate our souls in the Word of God. You know the more a piece of meat marinates the more tender it becomes and the more flavorful. We have a lot of tough, tasteless souls in the church today because we aren’t allowing God to prepare us. But the more we allow God’s word to soften our hearts, give flavor to our souls, the better.
In some ways life itself is a place of preparation. God may be preparing you through a tie of disappointment. There may have been a hope or a dream in your life that isn’t going to come to pass. God may be using that experience to prepare you for something more. It may be a time where you are struggling in a relationship, or struggling because of the lack of one. It could be an illness. It could be a moment of great joy and success.
No, I don’t believe God causes everything to happen to us. Some happen simply because of life itself. Some are because of our own choices, or the choices of others. While I don’t believe God causes all of it, I do believe that life happens. It happens to all of us. And I believe God asks us to use all of life as a time or preparation that we might become more like Him. The challenge, of course, is not to cut the preparation time short. We all want results. We all want answers. But sometimes, the preparation is as important as the presentation. What is God preparing you for?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><
6 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)
Do you have a bucket list? You know that list of things you’ve always wanted to do before you, well, kick the bucket. In short it’s the list of things you’ve always wanted to do before you die. It could be visiting an exotic locale. Or starting a business, or bungee jumping, zip lining over Niagara Falls (it doesn’t have to be sane to get on your bucket list.).
I imagine almost everyone has a bucket list of some kind. we all have dreams and wishes. Things we’d like to do before we die. Or things we’d like to do if our finances or family situations change to the point where we can do them. Oh, I think we know we won’t accomplish all of them. But most of us would be satisfied with at least knocking off a good portion of our list.
And to the end that a bucket list keeps you dreaming, they are good things. It’s nice to have aspirations. It’s also healthy for us to have goals that we want to reach regardless of age, time or life limitations. And everyone’s list is different. Some of them are exotic. But to others might seem more mundane, such as dancing at a grandchild’s wedding. so almost every bucket list has good in it.
The operative word being almost. I recently came across a different type of bucket list. A well known pastor and leader in the UMC has written a book on how to understand the Bible. Please understand I have respect for what this minister has done in serving the church in many ways. At the same time I am greatly troubled by his “bucket list”
He writes that there are three buckets into which Scripture fall
- Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for His people
- Scriptures that express God’s will in a particular time but no longer binding
- Scriptures that never fully expressed God’s heart character or will.
Now that sounds good. Logical. We have Scriptures that we know from bucket 1 are binding. Bucket 2 isn’t as binding, but if we dig deep enough, we can find a principle behind it. Bucket 3 is for those scriptures we need not see as binding on our hearts. It sounds good, but these are some pretty troubling buckets.
One of the problems we have, is that it leaves us asking what to do with the Scripture above. If it goes in bucket one, then we have to do away with the third bucket all together. If it goes into bucket two we might need to ask what then, with any legitimacy goes into the first bucket? What it comes down to, in all honesty, is simply an attempt to legitimize beliefs that are not congruent with Scripture, which is a very dangerous position for any Christian to be in.
But less I sound too critical against the author, the truth is we all do this. His idea is nothing new. We all have certain buckets we place Scripture in. We have that all important first bucket. We place in it the Scriptures that make us feel good, the ones that warm our hearts like a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning. And some of us have a second bucket. That’s for those scriptures that aren’t easy to understand and we’d really not have to dig too deep into them. After all, we are busy people and if God has something to say to us,he ought to spit it out in a plain, easy to understand manner.
All of us, heaven help us, have that third bucket. It’s the bucket we place Scriptures that make us uncomfortable. The ones that challenge us. The Scriptures that go against the flow of cultural acceptance. These are the Scriptures that, if we live them out, will cause us to stand out from everyone else and take on a completely different set of values. They are the Scriptures that cause us to look into the dark recesses of our souls and drag our sins into the light.
Of course, if we take the Scripture at the top of the page seriously, we must admit the first bucket, with all its warm fuzzies, are still true and have value. But here is the rub. While those Scriptures help me, they rarely change me. The times of deepest spiritual growth in my life have come from being challenged by God. They come when God’s word calls me to look at the world around me and live differently. The Scriptures that cause me to wrestle with God are the ones that prove the most valuable. That’s probably true for you as well.
So let me encourage you to kick the bucket. Embrace all of God’s word. It’s not easy. It won’t make you popular. It might change your life. But it will be worth it.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
I ran across a post on social media the other day that asked for your greatest church fail. Not in the vein of what have you done to close a church, or what did you do that turned out to be a bad ministry. These were humorous posts. te times we did something in church we wished we hadn’t. One of my favorites involved a young lady who high-fived a man who had lifted his hand as she walked by. Not realizing he was in a moment of praise lifting his hands to the Lord. Stories like that.
As you can imagine, a good many of the stories involved children. Things children did or said, such as the little boy screaming “pray for me!” as his father removed him from the service for being disruptive. And some of them involved the baptism of a baby.
Infant baptism, if you want everything to go perfectly can be a risky thing. So anything can go wrong. babies crying and squirming. older siblings misbehaving. Spit up and well, other things, happening. And of course the fact the baby is completely oblivious to the theological ramifications of being wrapped in the mystery of the sacrament.
And yet all of these things are some of the exact reasons why we do Infant Baptism in the church. Before I go on, please know I am only speaking from my tradition as a United Methodist. And as a United Methodist I want to stress there is nothing magical about infant baptism. It’s perfectly fine to wait until one if of an age of accountability. But that being said, let me share why I am a proponent for infant baptism.
It’s at infant baptism we find ourselves being terribly Wesleyan in our theology. Wesley stressed Prevenient grace, the grace that “goes before”. Wesley asserted none of us come to Christ on our own. God moves first, wooing us, drawing us near. Often we are oblivious to the entire thing, much like the baby. At infant baptism we say in some way we can’t understand God loves you more than we ever will. Our love pales in comparison to the love God has for you.
Now lets’ think about that for a moment. The baby, other than being cute, as done nothing to earn God’s love. It doesn’t even know what’s going on. And yet even though the baby can give nothing back, God pours His love upon this child in a unmerited way. That’s grace.
At infant baptism the church takes responsibility for the child, knowing they will be a conduit for God’s love and grace into the child’s life. I’ll often remind the congregation that this baby will become the toddler who kicks the back of your pew and the youth that messes up the church van. And it’s OK. Our promise to share God’s love and grace still stands.
Imperfect, oblivious self-centered caring only for their own comfort. Yet at the same time loved. grace filled. Gifted with a purpose in life. That’s infant baptism. Yesterday we held a Baptismal remembrance service. The congregation came up and ok a clear stone from a bowl of water and remembered they were baptized as they pressed the stone to their forehead. I marveled at the people. Some not even in middle school. Some members of the church for 60 years. All coming down to remember. To remember that when they were at their most unlovable moment. When they were weak and powerless God still loved them. God had a plan for their lives. God knew them. Not because of anything they had done. Simply because of who God is.
We all need that type of reminder don’t we? As we move through this New year, my prayer it’s that you will remember. Remember a God who knew you before you were born and had a plan for you. Remember that God’s love and grace can’t be earned, and don’t need to be. Remember God’s grace that changes and shapes our lives. Remember, and be thankful.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><