Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!

Here is a link to the article under question, “Still Saving Eutychus,” by Marty Sweeney. Says the author: “In my circles it is assumed, to put it simplistically, that to be more faithful to God you must preach longer.” He goes on to question that assumption.

And despite my sermons of 40ish minutes, I more or less sympathize with the article.

I have heard 90 minute sermons which flew past; I have heard 15 minute ones which I thought would never end.

Now, I don’t mind a longer sermon, but I do object to:

  • Those preachers who lack basic self-discipline and try to pass that flaw off as depth.
  • Or who preach “in the spirit of the Puritans,” who, you know, gave really long messages.
  • Or who preach on and on because, if they don’t, then somehow we have caved into that handy catchall bogeyman, postmodernism.
  • Or because we don’t want the bigger boys to make fun of our unmanly “sermonettes preached by preacherettes!” (that other bogeyman, the ideology of gender)

But wait! Eutychus! I hear you say. Acts 20:7-12! Ah, yes. But when Eutychus (whose Greek name means “Lucky”) took a header from that window, it was during an extraordinarily long preaching session. A record-breaker. One that the author describes only because it was such an oddity, given under urgent circumstances.

But I insist that, if Paul taught (let’s say) for 12 hours that night, there is no way that he filled that slot with stories of guys he knew growing up in Tarsus; or some cute thing that Epaphroditus had said the other day: or a long list of “You Might be an Ephesian if…”; or 15 principles of how to become a better executive; or why gladiators (the ancient equivalent of football stars) have excellent insight into gospel truths; or page after page that he got from some bestseller; or some clever but unhelpful analysis of some Hebrew verb. Nor even a sermon that might have gone somewhere, but then went off the grid (“I HAVE A DREAM TODAY! Well, not really a dream, it’s more of a…what’s that thing, what do you call it, an ideal. But a realistic one that may or may not be able to be pulled off! Anyway, I have one of those,” etc, etc). Or a conclusion he makes 5 or 6 attempts at, before finally “sticking the landing.”

A Preacher Amber Alert – “The pastor was last seen at 10:58 Sunday. He looked lost. He wandered in, he wandered out. And now his people are getting really worried!”

We should be very conscious that every minute we speak, we are asking the People of God to invest that amount of time with us.

If I am preaching to a group of – well, let’s say, 60 people, to make the math easier – then for every minute I speak, I am consuming a man-hour of the church’s energy. For every hour I speak, I am consuming 60 man-hours. And yes, I am fully aware that God’s people misuse whopping amounts of time on junk, but that gives me no excuse for burning up the clock unnecessarily.

At the very least, God’s people should get a lived-out and prayed-through encounter with the Lord in and through his Word, a right-out-of-the-gate beginning, a solid meal, realistic and specific application, and a confident conclusion.

Related Posts:

“Mini-Sermon: Matt 22, What is the Greatest Commandment.”

“‘But the Greek REALLY says…’: Why Hebrew and Greek are not Needed in the Pulpit”

“Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Busyness is no excuse for being an uncommitted Christian

With all due respect to the original, this is my thorough paraphrase, condensation, and updating of George Whitfield’s, “Worldly Business No Plea for the Neglect of Religion,” Sermon 20 of his Collected Sermons

Matthew 8:22 – “Let the dead bury their dead.”

When Paul preached at Athens, he observed that they were “very religious.” But if he came and visited us today, he wouldn’t be able to make the same claim. Rather he would say you are very “fixed on this world” or “pursuing your careers,” so much so that you neglect or even ignore completely the one thing that a Christian needs to do. That’s why I will point out to such believers that they are too busy grabbing material things and instead must be fixed on their future.

It is so easy to be fixed on this world. We claim to be doing God’s will by working hard at our job, but we allow this to make us spiritually dopey.

“Let the dead bury their dead” shows how we should be focused on the life to come.

Jesus Christ himself said these words after he had called on a man to be his disciple, but the man replied “Let me go home first and bury my father,” which probably means, “Let me go and bring my business dealings up to date, first.” Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their dead.” This means, leave the business of this world to people of the world, let your secular matters become unraveled, if that is what is keeping you from following me.

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We don’t know how this man responded in the end. But we do know that Christ is whispering the very same thing to people here, people who get up early and knock off late, and their income comes through stressful work. He says, “Stop fixing your heart on the things of this life (more…)

“A Disciple is basically an Imitator” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 4]

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7, Paul is still thanking God for the Thessalonians, and his thanksgiving sets the pace for the rest of the letter.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

And again in 2:14 –

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.

disciplesLet’s read some verses that use the word “disciple”. In the gospels we see the word “disciple”. Disciples are learners. When Jesus called his first disciples, he said “follow me”. Later on in Matthew 5:1b-2, “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

But being a disciple is not just learning about Jesus or the kingdom of God; it means to learn to do what Jesus does (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part B [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 3]

Paul has spoken about how he knows that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians: first of all, because they have the fruit of the Spirit. Words, yes, but also attitudes, actions, values that go beyond what we would expect from a human being, apart from Christ.

imagesYou can’t see the Spirit, but you can see what he does. Let’s start with v. 5 and later go to v. 4.

In v. 5 we read about “power, the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

When Paul speaks of power and the Holy Spirit, he is usually talking of miracles that he performed.

2 Cor 12:12 – I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.

Rom 15:18-19a – I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

In Macedonia, we assume that there were many miracles, although we have the record of only one, and that was in Philippi, not Thessalonica – the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl.

If there are miracles, Paul is saying, then God is at work. (more…)

The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

FREE BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS!

As a Christmas gift this year, I have bundled together some of my blog posts that have to deal with “How to Life the Christian Life: throw out the old rules and play by the New Covenant.” Over a hundred of you have downloaded it already – enjoy!

Simply click here: How to live the Christian Life_Shogren

I ask only that you consider signing up for my blog on the right-hand column. Either way, the gift is without obligation, and I will not use your email or name in any way.

Gary Shogren, Christmas 2014

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Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!

So basically, we can offer you two plans.

Plan A.

The spiritual produce wagon arrives every day, full to overflowing for those who wish to ask the Father. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that’s not the complete list; it’s only a summary. They are miracle gifts, planted, watered, grown, harvested, replanted by the Almighty. Just nod your head Yes, the Gardener is standing by.

Or do you imagine we’re speaking about doing some housecleaning, where we clench our teeth to sort through and toss out old behaviors? No – Spirit-gifts arrive come with the power to displace antagonism, condescension, digital addictions, self-abandonment, playing half-on-half-off with Heaven, materialism, both consumerist soft- or Wall Street hardcore. You name the weed, the Spirit knows best how to pull it.

Plan B.

Of course, it’s easy enough to fake that you’re on good terms with the Spirit, if that’s what you want. Just repeat after us as we recite the formulas! Pat a back or two; work one sacrificial act into your weekly lifestyle; count all the way to eleven before you open up to irritation. Repression can be made up to look like peacefulness, hubbub can masquerade as joy. Is that generosity I see, or are you paying off a hungry man so he will let you go? Only an expert can tell the difference! Is it patience, or protocol you follow? Are you self-controlled or only too fatigued to do anything really nasty? Is it unity you promote, or have you withdrawn because you have just stopped caring enough to fight?

Now, when things start to fall apart, don’t come to this desk to complain. We’ll just tell you to relax those facial muscles and for goodness sake, when you clench your fists do it behind your back! Subtler insults, laser-guided gossip, humble brags, use minimal force to split one group into three, erase your browser history after every use. Things can be spiffed up, there are ways and there are ways.

Yum!

Yum! I guess…

But a warning: this plan B is basically a secular way of life, grafted onto a spiritual one. It’s what Paul warned about, that there are people with the mere form of piety, but who deny its power. Eventually this will backfire on you, and the conversion of fake fruit to an evil harvest is not a long or complicated process. (It turns out that the Spirit won’t long invest his time on the self-made Christian, and when he pulls out on your life, things tend to get real messy, real fast.)

Plan B, plastic fruit in a plastic bowl. Plan A, the reality. The choice is yours.

Related Posts:

The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God´s People

“Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

New Year’s Resolutions or New Covenant Miracles? [Studies in the New Covenant]

"Okay, this time for sure!"

“Okay, this time for sure!”

For many years, I made no New Year’s resolutions. My reasoning:

  • Why make a big deal just because the planet has revolved around the sun to an arbitrary point in space?
  • Why try to be a better persons on this one day when I should be doing it all the time?
  • Are resolutions relevant to me, since I don’t need to quit smoking, drinking or gambling?

I’ve come to think differently, having taken another look at the Bible and paid closer attention to human behavior. For the past 5 years or so, I have made a single New Year’s Resolution on December 31.

The Word reveals to us that there are two methods for making resolutions (more…)

Dear Apple, Inc. – you ruined my life, so I’m suing

A gateway drug?

A gateway drug?

Hey, did you hear about the guy who sued Apple computers, blaming its devices for his lifelong addiction to pornography, a failed marriage, and “emotional distress to the point of hospitalization”?

I pride myself on being able to sniff out fake stories. When I heard the PornApple one I immediately decided, that’s a little too “neat” to be true; I guessed that it’s from The Onion, which currently is running spoofy stories titled “Biden has Guy named Worm sit in for him at Cabinet Meeting” and “Alex Rodriguez Has Asked 4 In 5 Americans For Steroids.”

The good people at Snopes.com are my “go-to-guys” for rumors. They didn’t have the PornApple one. Instead, I found the story all over the net at reputable news sources, for example, HERE. I have before me the authentic 50-page complaint of Chris Sevier v. Apple, Inc., (more…)

“Help! I can’t stop sinning!” [Studies in the New Covenant]

The Bible says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s why, when we come to Christ, we experience rapid changes in our conduct. People start telling us, “You’ve changed, you’re different.” Different, yes: but we haven’t become perfect, not yet. That is why the Bible tells us that we must keep on fighting against sin, every day, every minute. [1] (more…)