The Day After The Birthday

Yesterday, my boy turned three, and if you know anything about me, you know that I love to reflect and get nostalgic about years gone by.  It was fun to retrace Erin and my steps three years ago.  I kept thinking, "I bet we were doing ________ about this time."  The fact is that Friday February 23, 2007 was an incredibly fun day.  Erin's mom was with us all day, Emma spent the day with Erin Humphries, Dr. Curran did a great job delivering the boy, and my parents rolled into town that evening.  Everything was going so smoothly that we were pretty sure we would leave the hospital on Saturday afternoon and begin the journey of being a family of four.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at the house and checked on Emma to discover she had a fever.  It wasn't that big of a deal-at the time I was only thinking about how she wouldn't be able to go up to the hospital at all that day.  After talking to my parents who were staying with us, we decided that my mom would hang out with her that morning while my dad, brother, and I went to the hospital.  Lunch time arrived and the guys decided that we would go pick up some BBQ sandwiches and bring them by the house for my mom and Emma.  I was having a hard time reaching mom on the phone, but I finally I got through to hear this: "I called an ambulance for Emma.  You need to come home right now."  The mile from Cripple Creek BBQ to my house seemed like an eternity.  What happened?  Why was an ambulance involved?  Why hadn't I been there?  What was I going to tell Erin?

When we got to the house, there was indeed an ambulance in the driveway, and Emma was lying on the gurney.  To see her two-and-a-half year old frame inside of an ambulance filled with tubes and masks and wires was too much.  My mom and the EMTs were all telling me the story-her fever had spiked and she had a seizure.  She had been looking at the DVD's trying to find a movie to watch when she went limp and became unresponsive.  Mom was the only one at the house and she called 911.  After a few preliminary checks, I hopped in the ambulance with Emma and we went to the ER.  One of the perks of living in a small town (and having a hospital in town) was quickly apparent – Dr. Curran met us at the ER doors, and Erin was able to come down not long after.  In fact, Erin's OB nurses checked on her for the next couple of hours in the ER; I seriously doubt that Methodist Hospital (where Emma was delivered) would have been so helpful.

Although Emma was not very responsive, the doctors and nurses assured us that she would most likely be fine in a little while.  The seizure was a febrile seizure brought on by a high fever, and had most likely not caused any damage.  It's actually the body's natural way of breaking an exceptionally high fever.  To be on the safe side, Emma was admitted for the night, and in a strange twist of fate, her room was exactly 50 steps away from Erin and Caedmon's room.  Erin and I each went to one of our children's rooms, and if we wanted to switch we would call each others rooms and hug as we passed in the hallway on our 50 step journey.

Rob Bell talks about the hallways of life in his newest book Drops Like Stars and I know exactly what he means.  The 24 hours in the hospital was lived in a hallway between the one of the best and worst experiences of our lives.  On the way to Caedmon's room, I remember feeling lifted and excited, but traveling to Emma's room was such a reminder of how little control we have in life.  How could I have helped her?  What could I have done to keep this from happening?  After one night, everyone was released to go home; to this day, Emma has never shown any ill effects from her seizure.  But the experience made deep impressions on me, and is a constant reminder of the tension between wonderful and awful that seems to fill up our lives.  It's a tension between how things should be and how things actually are.  I long for a time when everything is made new and right, but for now there will be more instances of heartache and pain.  And I will continue to live in the hallway between the two.

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Let The Lent Begin

Lent is such a strange time of year.  I can remember having discussions about why as a non-Catholic there was no reason to pay any attention to Lent.  There does not seem to be a great deal of focus in most Baptist churches about this season, but you could easily say the same thing about Sabbath, confession, or silence and each of those have held a important place in my relationship with Christ.  Primarily, I've understood Lent as a time where you give up chocolate or sodas to identify with Christ's suffering…and maybe that's why I've never quite understood it.  It's like saying, "I know what you're going through Jesus-I haven't been to Starbucks in two weeks!"  Giving up one simple thing for 40 days sounded a bit empty and like a fancy case of legalism and more rules.

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, he says "Let him who cannot be alone, beware of being in community.  Let him who is not in community, beware of being alone."  Bonhoeffer's point is that our normal habits must be put aside so that we can develop the life of a disciple of Jesus.  Community and solitude both have their benefits, but they also have their pitfalls, and without a balance we are find ourselves lost in despair.  I can hear the echoes of this sentiment in the Lenten period – the point is not to give up something simply to give it up; no, there is something much greater going on.

This is the period of renewing our minds from Romans 12:1-2 – by putting aside habits and emptying ourselves, we are creating space for God to fill us up.  The point is not what you give up, but how to create more space for God to transform us.  This leads down a road of 1,000 more questions – is giving up Facebook going to help me stay connected to a community of Christ or cause me to retreat further into my introverted shell?  How does giving up soda open me up to God?  Is staying away from fast food going to allow me to focus on a new aspect of my relationship to Christ?

Lent is like any other discipline in that it is a means to an end, not the end itself.  Start with the end in mind.  For me, I have realized that I can become so obsessed with reading about Scripture that I am often drawn away from Scripture.  I have stacks of books about church, God, Jesus, disciplines, how to study the bible, etc, and often I spend more time reading those than I do the actual word of God.  So I have decided to put aside that non-essential reading for the next 40 days.  It will mean my Kindle goes dark for a while.  It will mean that I won't get around to reading Crazy Love like I had wanted to.  But the point isn't to prove to Jesus that I can sacrifice books – the point is to give up one thing to get something else.  I want these next 40 days that are leading up to Easter to be an intense time of opening the Scriptures and letting God speak to me through them, rather than an interpreter like Donald Miller, Rob Bell, or even Bonhoeffer.

Where could you create more space in your life for God to move?  What would you have to sell in order to buy the treasure hidden in a field?

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Free Graphics for Church and Stuff

Creativemyk.com is a great site to go to if you are in need of a graphic, background, sermon slide, or just some inspiration. Users can upload their work and make it available for download for free. There is also a forum for getting constructive criticism on your work.

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Sunday Sermon Audio

The Letter To Thyatira by First Baptist Church – Athens, Tx
Download now or listen on posterous

The Letter to Thyatira.mp3 (33127 KB)

This past Sunday, I had the chance to deliver the sermon on Sunday morning. I went through my process of crafting a sermon last week, and here is the finished product. For some reason, the first few minutes are missing but it was just some introduction stuff. No big deal.

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How I Write a Sermon: Research

Ah, this is where it all comes together.  Depending on the passage, the research time might be difficult and strenuous, or it will fit together perfectly.  You never know.  I have a pretty standard process that I work through:

  • I begin by reading the context around the passage.  I read the entire chapter, and sometimes the chapter before and after to get a sense of how this story fits into the overall narrative.
  • I also read the text in a few different translations and note any big differences.  I tend to start with the TNIV and then gravitate to the NAS, NLT, ESV, Message, and sometimes the King James.
  • From there I move to Logos – an awesome computer bible study program.
  • In Logos, I find the passage in a Greek/English interlinear text.  This takes the greek version and roughly translates each word below the Greek word.  For the major words, I look them up in a couple of different resources: The Theological Dictionary of The New Testament, Strongs Concordance, and the Dictionary of Biblical Languages.  Side Note-I’m no greek scholar, and I probably only know enough to make me dangerous.  I try not to rely too heavily on anything I pull from the Greek because I’m simply not skilled enough.  If I have a serious question, I’ll call one of my smart friends.
  • The commentaries are pretty limited on Logos, but I’ll use what is there.  My favorite commentary series are the NIV Application Commentary and Interpretation.  Sometimes I’ll borrow The New Interpreter’s Bible or the Ancient Practices commentary from Kyle.
  • Once I’ve gotten an idea of the major themes of the passage, I’ll scan through my Google Reader and see if any blogs I follow have touched on the subject, or I’ll look through my Kindle notes and see if I have a highlight that lines up with the text.
  • Honestly, I spend a long time standing in front of my bookshelf scanning the books that I’ve read, trying to remember if I have read anything on the subject.
  • By now, I should have a couple of pages of notes scattered throughout notepads, sticky notes, a Google Doc, and any other piece of paper that was laying around my desk.

In a good week, I can usually spend a solid day or two gathering up resources, reading, re-reading, and meditating on the passage.  On a bad week, this gets compressed which usually makes the next part (forming the talk) much more difficult.

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How I Write A Sermon: Choosing The Passage

Yesterday, I started a series of posts about how I arrive at a sermon for Sunday morning.  I normally have 3-5 times a year that I preach on a Sunday, and this weekend happens to be one of those occasions.  Today I thought I would share some of my tips for choosing a passage of Scripture.

There are two choices right at the very beginning: will I be using an assigned passage or choosing one on my own?  I have had opportunities for both.  Last year, Kyle preached thorough the Gospels and so when it was my turn to fill-in, I continued the pattern.  That meant that I had 7 readings from the Dayword blog to choose from.  There was one other pre-Athens sermon that I used a pre-chosen passage from the Lectionary.  The Lectionary is a calendar of readings that is used by Episcopal, Catholic, Anglican, and some other faith traditions.  While having to use an assigned passage might seem limiting at first, there is a freedom to knowing well in advance what you will be studying.

When I have the ability to choose whatever Scripture I would like, I usually first ask myself two questions:

  • What have I been reading lately?
  • What has God been teaching me?

Most of the time, I preach on the answer to one or both of these questions.  In fact, if I can’t come up with a satisfactory answer to either of these, then I probably need to ask myself if I should stand up in front of a group and try to teach at all.  I believe that the best sermons are born well in advance of when they are delivered; this is why personal study is so important.  Teaching what I’m learning also raises my personal passion and engagement in the sermon.  If I have to teach on a prescribed topic, there is the chance that a sermon might seem forced and not from the heart.

Other sources of inspiration might include:

  • Books I’ve been reading
  • Movies
  • Other Sermons (not to copy or plagiarize – but sometimes hearing someone else illuminate Scripture can lead me to new thoughts and ideas)
  • News and Current Events
  • Blogs (check my blogroll – lots of good thinkers there)

Once you’ve settled on a text, next it’s time to do some research and study.  We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

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How I Write A Sermon

Craig Groeschel at LifeChurch.tv does a great job of tackling a practical subject over a series of blog posts.  Seeing as how I have spent most of this week getting ready to teach at the college bible study on Thursday and in big church on Sunday, I thought it might be fun to show you how I actually arrive at something to say.  So over the next few days I’m going to post how I choose a passage, study that part of scripture, and then ultimately craft it into a sermon.

Disclaimers:

  • I don’t have to do this every week.  I can’t state that enough.  When you only preach in this setting 3-5 times a year, there is a certain freedom and excitement that I experience.  It’s not a grind for me.  I usually have a couple of weeks notice to prepare for one sunday.  While I do teach within our student ministry, most of that is based on a curriculum that we are using for a semester and so a lot of the initial legwork is already done for me.  It doesn’t mean that I’m not studying or spending time preparing, but it is a different process than this.
  • The practice of study isn’t only limited to preparing a sermon.  Just the other day, I pulled out my commentaries for Genesis and Exodus and read through them for a while.  I had been re-reading those stories at the beginning of Israel’s history and I simply wanted to better understand them.  It wasn’t so I could craft a study around Joseph or a 10 week series on the 10 Commandments.  Personal Study and Sermon Prep go hand-in-hand for me.  In fact, each one makes the other better.  Without personal study, my sermon skills would be seriously flawed, and likewise, without some outlet to share the knowledge, I would probably not be as disciplined in studying on my own.  All that said: preparing for a sermon will never replace personal time studying the Bible.
  • I am a hardcore novice at this.  Over my four years at FBC, I have preached 10 or 11 times on a Sunday morning.  In that same span, Kyle has spoken nearly 200 times.  Repetition can seriously help you work out the kinks.  As one enouraging/backhanded-compliment postcard I received said: “Your sermon this Sunday was so much better than your first one!”

And finally, this is the process that helps me best.  I try and start with a broad view and then focus in until the truth becomes clear and tangible.  Sometimes it works and other times I get to Saturday night wondering if I have anything worth saying the next day.  Take what’s helpful, and leave the rest.

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