Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Four Week Preaching Template

I love crockpot cooking. Allowing the meal to sit in it's own juices for hours seems to heighten the flavor of every bite. I look for chances in life to add a crockpot mentality to my tasks. Taking the crockpot approach to sermon preparation allows me to let passages soak in my mind for several weeks before I present them. This means when I stand up to preach, the wrestling is done and the passage feels like an old friend.

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Most of my sermons take four weeks to prepare. That doesn't mean I'm working on one sermon for four weeks, but that every week I'm working on four sermons. Each week I have a specific goal to accomplish for each sermon:

Week One: I need to understand what the text says. I have two study sessions set aside during week one in which I devote my efforts to exegeting the text.

Week Two: I need to determine how this text applies to our church community. During week two, I work through several exercises to help me look at the passage from several different angles. The fruit of week two is several short "next step" ideas.

Week Three: I need to discern the most effective method for communicating the truths I've unpacked. As in week two, I've created several exercises which help me consider a variety of possibilities for my sermon presentation. The goal of week three is not to create or find new content, but to arrange the content I've already discovered.

Week Four: I need to get ready to preach. Throughout this week, I have several tasks to accomplish so that Sunday's sermon will be clear and concise. I also use week four to create a variety of follow-up materials for those who desire to go further with the sermon.

You can download the google doc template I use to work through my planning process at the link below:

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Different sermons lend themselves to different processes, so I may deviate from this template from time to time, but it is my starting point for every sermon. I'll post later about some of the exercises I use each week, but you can see them all listed at the template link above.

If you have questions or would like to chat more about this template, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Immigration and School Shootings Are Not Problems That Cannot Be Solved

Most problems require more than one solution because it is the complexity of the situation that has made a problem. Most problems have a presenting and immediate symptom, a long-term pattern which is unhealthy and a mess that needs to be cleaned up.
Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to tease out the three steps needed to solve most problem and then I’ll demonstrate how these three steps should be used to solve some of our countries most “unsolvable” problems. Finally, I’ll share some thoughts on why our elected officials often seem unwilling to address these difficult issues. This is a long post, but I think it will give you some mental beef jerky on which to chew if you make it to the end.


Imagine your boat is sinking. While you may decide it’s time for a new boat and you may realize a need for boating lessons so you can stop running into rocks, neither of these problems are urgent and immediate. In the moment, you need to start bailing water and patch the whole causing you to sink. The reason most problems never get solved is because people are too concerned with long-term fixes or too worried about past causes and they never deal with the present emergency. Before anything else, solve the urgent and immediate problem.


Once you’ve gotten your boat safely to shore, it’s time to start thinking about why your boat sank? Have you been lax in your care and inspection? Have you run aground too many times? Although you’ve solved the initial problem, you must know address the negative patterns in your boating life or else the original problem will return. Too often we find ourselves in a cyclical pattern of defeat because we solve the problem in front of us but never address the habits and patterns which caused that problem.


Having fixed your boating issues, you need to inspect your boat to make sure there is no long-term damage from your near-sink experience. When we make a mess of things, a little time spent cleaning up can go a long way to a much smoother future.


Allow me to briefly suggest one example of the three step problem-solving method which could help us address our countries immigration struggles.


Simply put, we need to ensure that the people who are entering our country are the people who should be entering our country AND the people who shouldn’t be entering our country are not entering our country. A wall might be one solution to this problem (it is likely more symbolic of a new commitment to security than it is a foolproof solution). The point is that before any discussion about deportations or future policy happens, the first problem needs to be solved which is to open the doors to the right people and close the doors to the wrong people.


Here is where policy debates should happen. We should have wide discussions about what immigration should look like in the future and we should have reasoned debates about how immigration should be carried out. However, these conversations should be saved until after the urgent and immediate problem is solved.


Once policy is clear and the future has been decided, we can begin talking about how to deal with those who are already here illegally. Having this conversation before the first two steps only ensures we’ll be addressing the same issues again in 10–20 years.


I vividly remember Columbine. Marianne and I were getting ready for a sports banquet for her cheerleaders as we watched that horrific event unfold on television. It’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago and we haven’t figured out how to stop these shootings. Here’s my suggestion.


Simply put, we need to keep evil people from entering schools with guns. Before we talk about anything else, our first conversation should be about how to secure our schools so those who wish to do ill cannot even get in. This might mean walls or fences, it might mean modifying entrances and exits and it might mean more armed security guards. Right now, the only problem we should be trying to solve is how to protect our students.


Once we’ve secured the schools, we should address the systemic issues involved. We can then discuss background checks, improving mental health care, gun purchasing policies and any other contributing issues. We must realize, though, that these are all long term solutions and will not protect students today or tomorrow. I might also suggest looking at more severe punishments for those who commit crimes with guns.


I’m not sure what the extent of the mess is in this situation. Certainly we need to deal with the huge amount of illegal firearms in our country. Once we’ve solved the initial problems, we can figure it out.


Columbine happened in 1999. Bill Clinton was the sitting president. SInce then, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have served 8 year terms. Donald Trump has been president for a little over a year. None of them solved this problem. There have been 9 midterm elections in which an entire new House of Representatives has been voted in, none of them have solved this problem. Every seat in the Senate (100) has turned over at least once, half of them twice since then. None of them have solved this problem.
Our leaders don’t solve these problems for two reasons (there are more, but this is getting long).


You’ve heard the term. We need “comprehensive health care reform.” We need “comprehensive immigration reform.” We need “comprehensive gun reform.” Comprehensive reform really means, “Unless we can solve every problem related to this issue, we aren’t going to address any of them.” It is also code for “I’m pretending to work on this so you’ll keep voting for me, but I’m not really going to do anything.”
Comprehensive reform never happens because it is impossible. The three-step solution I’ve outlined here is not rocket-science, but it requires difficult decisions that won’t make everyone happy. Your elected officials would rather twiddle their thumbs and work on comprehensive reform than make unpopular decisions that actually lead to solutions.


Our nation is a melting pot. That means lots of people have lots of ideas and not all of them are the same. The constitution was written because those men were willing to compromise. They all realized that they’d all have to give some things up so that they could all have something good.
We all make these kinds of decisions every day. I don’t spend money on a new book, because I’m saving it for vacation. I’d like to have the book, but I want vacation more. Sometimes I go shopping with my wife, not because I like shopping but because I love my wife. I am happy to give up my preference to avoid Ulta if it means the benefit of being with her.
Our leaders don’t compromise… ever. If they would be willing to get together, find the solutions on which they all agree and then decide on solutions with which they may not agree but might work, we could solve these problems and more in an unbelievably short amount of time.


Yup. Start modeling in your own conversations, the behaviour you want from Washington. 
Instead of arguing to convince others to think just like you, listen to others to determine how you can find common ground.
Instead of posting memes on social media (these do nothing to promote solutions and everything to promote division), ask questions and suggest solutions.
Instead of voting for those who will “hold the line” at all costs, vote for those who are willing to give up a little to get a lot more.
That’s all I have to say about that… and it was probably too much.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Is it even possible to find or know God?

This is from J.M. Boice's Foundations of the Christian Faith in which he quotes Os Guiness' The Dust of Death:

"In The Dust of Death Os Guiness makes this point by describing a comedy skit performed by the German comedian Karl Vallentin. In this routine the comic comes onto a stage illuminated only by one small circle of light. He paces around and around this circle with a worried face. He is searching for something. After a while a policeman joins him and asks what he has lost. 'I've lost the keys to my house,' Vallentin answers. The policeman joins the hunt, but the search eventually appears useless.

'Are you sure you lost it here?' asks the policeman.

'Oh no!' says Vallentin, pointing to a dark corner. 'It was over there.'

'Then why are you looking here?'

'There's no light over there,' answers the comic.

If there is no God or if there is a God but the failure to know him is God's fault, then the search for knowledge is like the search of the German comedian. Where the search should be made, there is no light; and where there is light there is no point in searching. But is this the case? The Bible declares that the problem is not God's but ours... God can take, and actually has taken, steps to reveal himself to us, thereby providing us with the missing key to knowledge."

Monday, February 12, 2018

Top 10 Ways To Fail As A Team Leader

I found this list which I created 10 years ago today. I still agree. These are all bad ideas.

1) Fill your team with people just like you.

2) Ask someone to do a specific job, and then do it yourself.

3) Don't trust anyone.

4) Look out for #1.

5) Exercise high control.

6) Make sure all ideas originate with you (or at least that people think they do).

7) Foster an atmosphere of paranoia.

8) Make sure nobody appears smarter than you.

9) Have a closed-door policy.

10) Conserve affirmation.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Bible Is An Autobiography, And It's Not About You

The central character of the Bible is God.

This is very important.

Often when reading the Bible we are wondering what it has to say about us, about our lives, about what we need to do, about what is in store for us, yada, yada, yada... That's not what it's about. It's about God.

It begins with God:

In the beginning God created...

It ends with God:

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus...

The middle is about him too.

The entire Bible is all about God.

Why make such a big deal about this? Because understanding Genesis 1 is impossible without a proper understanding of the Bible's main point. Genesis was not written to teach us about the scientific origin of the universe (that is not to say it is not completely accurate and trustworthy in any "scientific" assertions it makes). Genesis was written to teach us about God. Thus, when I read Genesis 1, the primary reason I must read it is to learn about God. If I learn something about origins... bonus!

Genesis opens:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"...

Here's a simple question, "Was there light before God spoke it?"
and one perhaps a little less obvious, "Was there a heavens and earth before God created it?"
and one a little tougher, "Was there anything before God created?"

The answers would be: "no", "no", "there was God".

This is our starting point. Without God, nothing exists. Apart from God, nothing exists. Everything that does exist is completely and totally dependent on God. Paul restated this concept in Colossians 1:
For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Dependency is not a virtue in our culture. 

Adult diapers are named "depends". We provide a tax break for those who are "burdened" by dependents. We consider adults to be those who are dependent on no one but themselves... isn't that the "American Dream"?

An unwillingness to acknowledge my dependence on God is in essence elevating the creation above the creator. This is nothing new. Eve chose not to depend on God's Word (she ate the fruit). Abraham wasn't willing to depend on God's promises (he has a child with Hagaar). The Israelites made a regular habit of not depending on God (read Judges). The disciples struggled to depend on Jesus' provision (feeding of the 5000). Paul pointed out that this unwillingness to assume the proper position of "creation" is at the heart of man's rebellion against God:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-- who is forever praised.

And now the big question for us. Are we willing to be dependent?

When Jesus prayed, "Give us this day our daily bread", He was really saying, "I am relying on you to keep me alive." We have no idea what this prayer really means. Our affluence and resources have made it possible for us to be completely self-reliant in the material realm. As a result, we have become somewhat self-reliant in the spiritual realm as well.

Rather than our sustainer and provider, God has become our vending machine. We turn to Him when we want something; but when we really need something, we tend to try to take care of that ourselves. Like the rich fool in Luke 12, we stock-pile retirement funds, investments, and CASH and like the rich fool we say, "I have plenty of good things laid up for many years."(by the way, check out the question Jesus was asked which prompted him to tell that story...) All the while, I give God a passing consideration once, twice, or maybe three times a week... This is hardly a dependent relationship.

It comes to this. I think the reason we don't really know God and struggle to really "abide in Christ" is because we are not ready to be completely dependent on Him. It's a frightening proposition to give away the responsibility for my life. But ultimately, if God is the creator, and if I am the creation I am dependent on Him.... I just need to acknowledge it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

If I don't let myself get stretched, eventually I'll get broken

I've noticed something as I get older.

When I run on the treadmill, I'm sore the next day...unless I stretch really well. In the past, I could play a full 90 minutes of soccer plus overtime in the snow and just walk off the field afterward... no soreness the next day.

Sadly, those days are over. Now, if i don't stretch regularly, I'll likely pull something when I try to really exercise.

I think the same is true of us mentally/philosophically/spiritually. As I get older (and I notice this in others also believe it or not), I sense a tendency toward being brittle in what I believe, the practices I deem acceptable, and my perceptions of what is truth. I'm more inclined to quickly dismiss new ideas, afraid of them, because they may stretch me too far and hurt me.

However, if I'm regularly stretching myself (by reading/considering/dialoguing/listening to ideas/books/people i don't necessarily agree with), I find it much easier to engage the more difficult issues that come down the pike. Perhaps this is one reason the Bible encourages us so often to be listeners. Listening stretches us and keeps us limber.

If I want to remain flexible and avoid becoming an old curmudgeon (I'm well on my way), I must find voices with whom I disagree and then listen to them. I'm not necessarily listening so I can change. I'm absolutely not listening so I can argue. I'm listening simply to understand, to see their point of view, to add their perspective to my own.

You can listen to podcasts, sermons, audio books. You can listen by reading articles, blog posts, books and even your twitter feed (do you only follow people who are exactly like you?). You can listen by inviting someone to coffee and then... listening to them.

Flexibility keeps us from breaking when the stress of life becomes overwhelming. Work on your flexibility today by listening to a new voice.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018