Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

We hear it all the time, “Pastor you really preached this morning. That was a GREAT sermon!” But, was it really a great sermon? How can we tell? Many times people make statements like this because the message addressed an issue they were currently dealing with. That’s one of the great blessings of the Word of God – it is living and it touches us right where we live. However, that leaves a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to analyzing the merits of the transmission of the message. Quite honestly, it is entirely possible to have a great message and a terrible sermon. The sermon is the vehicle the preacher uses to transport the message God has given to him or her, and the preacher must be careful not to allow the vehicle to get in the way of the message.

One of the opportunities the Lord has blessed me with is to serve as an adjunct professor at Carolina Christian College, where I teach courses in the field of homiletics. Homiletics is the art and science of preaching. Preaching is an art form. God uses all of who He created us to be in the preaching process. That’s why you will never find two sermons that are exactly the same – because there are no two people who are exactly the same. However, while preaching is an art, it is also a science. In other words, there is (or at least should be) some methodology to the preaching process.

It is extremely important for the preacher to engage in the process of regularly evaluating his or her sermon…because the congregation already is! For every person who says, “Great sermon, pastor” there are five who walk by thinking that it was the worst thing they ever heard. That should not discourage the preacher, but should inspire him or her to continually strive to improve and develop his or her craft. Preaching is a life-long call, and it involves a life-long process. Any preacher who is not seeking to improve his or her ministry is doing the congregation (and ultimately, the call) a disservice.

When it comes to evaluating the sermon, there are six key elements that form a rubric from the acrostic: PREACH.

Punctuality

One of the most important elements of a sermon is time. Great sermon content can be easily overshadowed by poor time-management. When it comes to time-management, err on the side of caution. Oftentimes, less is more. Of all the thousands of sermons I’ve heard or have preached I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the times I’ve heard someone complain that the sermon was too short. As the old adage goes, “The mind can only absorb what the behind can endure.” People in the audience no longer want to suffer through hour-long sermons of preachers proving how smart they are and how much they’ve studied. You don’t have to preach the whole Bible in one sermon. The good thing about Sundays is that they come every week. Save a little for the next one.

Relevance

As stated earlier, people are moved by the message when it speaks to where they are. The goal of preaching is  contemporizing timeless truths and make them relevant to the audience of today. This does not in any way involve changing the timeless truths, but it does involve packaging them in such a way that the audience can understand. It is, in essence, what Jesus did. Jesus used parables as a way of packaging the principles of the Kingdom so His audience could grasp them and apply them to their context. A perfectly constructed sermon that lacks relevance is merely a lecture. Preaching must connect with the audience.

Exegesis

Exegesis simply means exploring and interpreting the text. Far too many sermons have no biblical foundation. The Bible remains the road map for every good sermon. If the preacher does not follow the map, the audience is bound to get lost. Preachers must stay true to the biblical text if their message is to maintain any substance. The role of the preacher is not to preach his or her opinion but to preach God’s opinion, and God’s opinion is found in His Word. I’m very leery of preachers who consistently ignore the Word or just read it as a formality at the beginning of the sermon and spend the entire sermon talking about everything but that scripture. Good preaching is biblical preaching.

Appearance

You may be wondering what appearance has to do with a good sermon. The reality is that people see you before the hear you, and your appearance can either help or hinder the sermon. You never want your suit to get more attention than your sermon. Don’t be too flashy, and certainly don’t be too shabby. Your appearance must be appropriate for your audience. Also, for God’s sake, please use an iron. It’s hard for your audience to hear you talk about “a church without spot or wrinkle” when your clothes are full of them! Watch your appearance…because the congregation is.

Clarity

The greatest sermon has no effect if people don’t understand it. Sermons must be CLEAR in order for people to HEAR. Some preachers treat sermons like doctoral theses, but sermons are designed to reach the “least of these.” Like my pastor, Bishop Alfred Owens, always taught me, “We must always remember that we are feeding sheep…not giraffes.” The goal is not to be high and lofty in our preaching, but to preach with clarity and simplicity so the sheep can graze on the Word.

HEAT!

Preaching must be done with passion! This is not a matter of style, but it is a matter of conviction. The preacher must preach like he or she believes the message…or no one else will. When we preach with conviction…the message is convicting. The purpose of preaching is to produce a change. When we bring the heat, we are stirring the congregation toward positive change. Listless preaching leads to lifeless congregations. Preach with passion, and God’s power will manifest!

The greatest sermon ever preached is undoubtedly Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7. It is the largest collection of red letters in the entire Bible. (In many Bibles, the direct words of Jesus are written in red.) In this sermon, Jesus begins by telling us a collection of statements about blessings and what it takes to be blessed. These statements are collectively referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

However, while Jesus begins his sermon talking about blessings, He ends it basically talking about cursings. It’s clear Jesus didn’t attend any seminars on preaching. He would have realized that His homiletic structure leaves much to be desired. Any preacher worth his salt knows you’re supposed to END with the blessings! Didn’t Jesus know that He was supposed to leave the people on a high note so they could shout, dance and praise so they would be ready to give more in the offering? *tongue planted firmly in cheek*

In any event, Jesus ends His sermon with a warning. He says in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” It’s from this warning that we derive the colloquialism “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The message is clear: “Watch out for people who pretend to be harmless sheep when they’re really ravenous wolves.” The worst part of this warning is that Jesus is not telling us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing at our jobs, at school, or even in our families. He says we are to watch out for them in the Church! He says “Beware of false prophets.”

Sadly, today we don’t only have to worry about wolves simply infiltrating the ranks of the prophets. There are many who have also invaded our pulpits and call themselves pastors. I call them “Wolves in SHEPHERD’S Clothing.” It’s one thing when you can’t trust the sheep beside you, but how dangerous is it when you can’t trust the shepherd in front of you? Wolves in shepherd’s clothing don’t PRAY for the sheep…they PREY on the sheep. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing believe that the sheep exist to serve them, when the exact opposite is true. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing can preach with INTENSITY, but they have no INTEGRITY. They have CHARISMA, but no CHARACTER. We must beware the wolves in shepherd’s clothing!

The word beware simply means to “BE AWARE.” In other words, we must learn how to identify the wolves in shepherd’s clothing. How do we do that, when the express reason the wolves put on the shepherd’s clothing is to disguise themselves from detection? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 7. He says, “You will know them by their fruits” (v. 16) and “by their fruits you will know them” (v. 20). Focus on the fruit. There are four particular fruits that help us identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

Appearance

Now, I know you’re thinking, “How can I identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing by his or her appearance when they are in disguise?” The reality is that no matter how great a wolf is at disguising himself, if you watch him or her long enough and closely enough, they will eventually show their true colors. There isn’t enough wool in the world to cover up all their fur. So look for the fur. Wool is soft and comfortable. Fur is rough and prickly. If a pastor is ALWAYS in a bad mood and treats people like they’re his or her servants instead of the other way around, it’s a good chance he or she is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

Aroma

Wolves have a distinctive scent. A wolf smells very differently than a sheep or a shepherd. While they may be able to “pull the wool over your eyes” wolves cannot hide their scent. Even if they pass the eye test, they can’t pass the smell test. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing usually carry an aroma of arrogance. They usually try to huff and puff and blow stuff down. Shepherds serve the sheep. Wolves try to subjugate the sheep. Shepherds should carry the fragrance of humility…not the aroma of arrogance.

Appetite

Wolves have a ravenous appetite. They are never satisfied; never content. They always want more. One of the ways to identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is by his or her appetite. If they’re “hungry like a wolf” chances are it’s because they ARE a wolf. This is the taste test.  You can tell a lot about a person by their tastes. What are they attracted to? If they desire things of the world more than the things of God, perhaps that pastor is merely a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. This is not to suggest that a pastor must be perfect – for none of us are. We all make mistakes. The difference is that a wolf in shepherd’s clothing has developed a lifestyle around his or her illicit appetites. We must beware.

Articulation

The final test for wolves in shepherd’s clothing is the ear test. No matter how cunning and smooth of tongue a wolf is, eventually he or she will let out a howl. If we listen to many of the sermons preached in pulpits around the world, there’s a whole lot of howling going on. We must learn to listen for it. Jesus said that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice and will not follow the voice of a stranger. Listen out for strange voices from the pulpit, and if it doesn’t sound like Christ or His Word…DO NOT FOLLOW!

These are just a few of the ways we can identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing: appearance, aroma, appetite and articulation. The key is that once we are aware of wolves in shepherd’s clothing, we must not allow them to continue to devour the sheep. True shepherds must not allow wolves into their pulpits – even if they can preach well and raise big offerings. If we don’t protect the sheep in our fold, the Master will hold us accountable. We also must protect the wolves from themselves. We must remember that even a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is not out of reach of God’s grace. Jesus ends His sermon with a warning for the wolves. He says, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?’…And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.'”

I guess we need to tell the wolves that they need to BEWARE.

“My marriage is on the rocks!” That’s one of the first statements I hear from the many couples I counsel who are having marital problems. Or they may say that they’re going through a rocky period in their relationship. Whatever the terminology, the point is that things have gone from bad to worse, and they can’t even remember what good felt like. It’s at this point that I remind them that instead of throwing rocks at each other we must work together to build our marriage on The ROCK. This is no easy task, but whoever said that marriage would be easy?

There could be no better example of marriage than the first one. Adam and Eve had the perfect relationship. They were LITERALLY made for each other. They had a mansion with no mortgage (and it came with a beautiful Garden). Adam had a great job and because they had no bills, Eve was able to stay at home and take care of the house. They didn’t have any kids yet, but they had tons of pets to keep them company, and perhaps best of all, they had no nosey in-laws trying to get in their business :-).

Despite all of this, one day trouble came knocking at their door. Their marriage faced its first real test. It doesn’t matter how great your marriage is, one day it will be tested. Adam lost his cushy job in management and had to start working in the field (literally), Eve got pregnant and had to deal with the pain of childbirth (not to mention the mood swings of pregnancy), and they got evicted from their beautiful home. Talk about a test! And to make matters worse, when Adam had a chance to stand up and take responsibility for his mistakes, he blamed everything on Eve!

Most marriages would not have survived all this turmoil. In fact, many don’t survive much less than this. Yet, Adam and Eve stayed together and built quite a little family (they’re called The Human Race – ever heard of ’em?). I wonder what kept them together? How did their marriage survive? Adam could have asked God to put him to sleep and make him another wife, after he all he did have a few “spare ribs” (BADUM-CHING – LOL). Eve could have left and moved back in with her mother…oh wait, she couldn’t…but she could have decided she didn’t want to stay with a man who blamed her for everything and decided to go her separate way, effectively ending the human race. The entire world was riding on their marriage! Thankfully for you and me, they decided to stick it out and stay together.

The secret, I believe, is that from the beginning, Adam and Eve were not alone in their marriage. Their marriage was built on The ROCK. No, I’m not talking about that wrestler-turned-actor who’s always inviting people to smell whatever he’s cooking. I’m talking about “The ROCK of Ages.” The only reason Adam and Eve’s marriage survived is that their marriage was not only built on their relationship with each other, but also on their relationship with God. When the world is counting on your marriage to survive, you better have more than your mutual love because as one singer so eloquently put it, “Love don’t pay the rent.”

Adam and Eve had The ROCK to run to when their marriage was on the rocks. The first thing The ROCK did is He covered them. Genesis 3:21 says, “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (NKJV). They were naked and ashamed, and God clothed them. He covered their nakedness, their hurt, their anger, and their pain. Perhaps the reason our relationships are so rocky is because we’ve got uncovered wounds. Any health professional will tell you that if you have a wound, you’ve got to cover it before it gets infected. Many of us are walking around in our marriages with uncovered wounds that have become infected with the spirit of bitterness. Now the infection has spread to all parts of our marriage, and what started out as a fairy tale has now become a horror show.

If that’s the story of your marriage, the good news is that if you don’t like what you are seeing, you have the power to change the channel. Don’t settle for a marriage on the rocks when you can have a marriage on The ROCK. Of course this begins by putting God first in your life and in your marriage, but there are also a few practical steps we can take to make our marriage ROCK.

1. Repent to your spouse for all you’ve done wrong.

Repent of the wrong you have done to your spouse in the past. You cannot move forward in your marriage if you don’t deal with the stuff in your past. Otherwise, it will keep popping up at the most inopportune time, and a discussion about who left the dirty dishes in the sink last night will turn into a full-blown argument over all the dirty things you’ve done over the years. I’m not saying that you should go back and cut open every old scar, but I am suggesting that you should recognize that there are scars and acknowledge your part in putting them there. This is one area we should NOT take our cue from Adam and Eve. When turmoil hit, they both shifted the blame and failed to take responsibility for their actions. Repent for your past so you can move on to your future. This is something that BOTH parties should do. Even though one person may have done the most wrong, no spouse is blameless. Focus on what YOU have done wrong and repent for that.

2. Overcome the spirit of bitterness.

We overcome bitterness through forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are not an “If/Then” proposition.  One is not a pre-condition for the other. They are both unconditional expressions of unconditional love. If you want to put your marriage on the ROCK you must remove all conditions. In other words, you cannot say, “I will only forgive my spouse after they repent.” You are called to forgive your spouse whether or not they repent and ask for forgiveness. The first statement Jesus made from the cross in Luke 23:34 was “Father forgive them.” They never asked for forgiveness. In fact, He forgave them while they were still crucifying Him! Marriage is not a give and  take; it is a GIVE and FORGIVE. You give your best…and forgive your spouse’s worst.

3. Consider your spouse’s needs.

As you move forward with your marriage on The ROCK, your spouse’s needs must become your priority. That means you must be mindful of him or her before you do anything. Most “rocky” relationships are the result of selfishness on the part of one or both spouses. Marriage is the process of two becoming one. You cannot become one if you’re always looking out for number one. Marriage is a sacrifice…that’s why it begins at an altar! Consider your spouse’s needs, and do everything in your power to meet them.

4. Keep repeating steps 1-3.

Building your marriage on The ROCK is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight…it happens over time. You have to constantly work on improving your marriage. It’s like the bottle of shampoo that comes with the instructions: Wash, Rinse, Repeat. You can’t just do it one time and think your work is done. As a matter of fact, your work has just begun. You have a lot of work to do to build your marriage on The ROCK. The good news is you have a lot of time to do it. After all, marriage is meant to last a lifetime!

Sleeping Through a Storm

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , ,

Recently, we have experienced an influx of various kinds of storms all over the United States and around the world. We’ve seen tornadoes ravage across portions of Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama. We’ve seen entire towns swallowed up in floods, and even this past week an earthquake hit just outside of Washington, DC that was felt across the Eastern seaboard from South Carolina to New York.

The latest major storm in the news is Hurricane Irene, a storm so powerful that it packed winds upward of 135 miles per hour! I paid particular attention to this storm because it’s path tracked directly through the islands of The Bahamas, the place of my birth, and where my parents and much of my family still live.

One thing that captured my attention the most throughout this ordeal was a text message I received from my father while they were experiencing the height of the storm. They had no electricity and were holed up inside the house, and his text simply read, “We’re riding out the storm. The winds are whipping at my door…I’m going back to sleep!”

It amazed me that despite the danger of the storm, my father had enough peace of mind to sleep right through it. This made me think of the many spiritual, emotional, and psychological storms we all face on a daily basis. We face financial storms, family storms, career storms, health storms, ministry storms, and we even sometimes have to deal with other people’s storms. Storms are a natural part of life.

In fact, life, in many ways, consists of a series of storms, and it is how we manage those storms that determines our success in life. Success is not determined by the ABSENCE of storms; it’s determined by how we ACT in our storms. My father chose to sleep through his storm. This reminded me of another Person who decided to do the same.

Mark 4:35-41 records the story of Jesus and His disciples going through a storm. This alone is comforting to me because it lets me know that even Jesus had to go through a storm. In fact, He continues to go through storms everyday because He promised to be with us when we go through our storms.

 It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t PANIC through His storm; He had PEACE through His storm. So much peace that He decided to sleep through the storm. What gave Jesus the kind of peace that allowed Him to sleep through His storm? And, more importantly, what can we learn from Him to help us sleep through the storms in our lives? I believe that there are three primary principles that gave Jesus the peace to sleep through His storm that we can apply to our lives to have the peace to sleep through our storms.

Jesus knew the purpose of His journey.

When Jesus got in the boat He said, “Let us cross over to the other side” (v. 35). In other words, He knew that the purpose of His journey was to get to the other side. No storm could stop His purpose. He knew what would happen at the END of the storm…so he could sleep through the MIDDLE of it. Just as it’s easy to sleep through a movie if you already know the ending, we can sleep through the storms in our life when we understand our purpose and know where we’re going to end up. Your storm cannot preempt your purpose!

Jesus was prepared for the storm.

When the storm came, Jesus’ disciples panicked. All the while, Jesus was at the back of the ship, asleep on a pillow. Now, the Sea of Galilee, where they were sailing, is prone to sudden and violent storms. Jesus knew that a storm was a distinct possibility – yet He packed a pillow! He came PREPARED to sleep! He had premeditated peace. Even though He knew a storm was coming, He made up His mind that the storm would not affect his peace. Likewise, we know that storms are a part of life, but we must not allow those storms to rob us of our peace of mind. We must have premeditated peace!

Jesus knew that He was more powerful than the storm.

The ultimate reason, I believe, that Jesus could sleep through the storm is that He knew that at any moment He could wake up and say, “Peace, be still!” (v. 39). He possessed the power to speak to the storm. We also must realize that we have that same power! Jesus said that whoever believes on Him shall have the power to do “greater works” (John 14:12). You are more powerful than your storm. Death and life are in the power of your tongue (Prov. 18:21). Use that power to show your storm who’s boss. Speak to the storms in your marriage, your family, your career, and your church, and tell them, “Peace, be still!”

You have the power to SPEAK to your storms, and that ought to give you the peace to SLEEP through your storms.