Category Archives: Preaching

Seeing the Word

Among the many presenters at the Festival of Homiletics this week, Barbara Lundblad is one that I wanted to hear.  She is one of the first women preacher to develop a national reputation as communicator of the gospel.  She is also a Lutheran and has ruffled many feathers with some of her controversial statements. 

She gave a workshop Tuesday called “Seeing the Word.”  Barbara is a professor of Old Testament and she focused on the Advent scripture texts from Isaiah.  She encouraged us to see the significance of using visual metaphors to help the congregation not only hear the word, but see the word as well.  She asked us to engage the artists and designers in our congregations to create visual symbols that help the congregation fully enter the story of the texts.  

Barbara then told a humorous story about a young intern pastor spending nearly the entire annual budget for worship in her congregation on a long bolt of clothe.  He then ruined the church kitchen sink dyeing the fabric blue.  For Sunday worship, he rolled the blue cloth from the altar down the center aisle, through the narthex and out the church door and into their neighborhood.  He preached on Ezekiel 47 where the prophet describes a river of water flowing from the temple in Jerusalem into the Dead Sea.  The river was a symbol of life for Ezekiel and for us.  The intern’s  blue cloth symbolized the congregation becoming a God’s river of life in their community.  

forgiveness logI was reminded of last fall when our stewardship team encourage me to use some visual symbols as part of our “Fuel the Flame” stewardship theme.   Members of the congregation created logs that captured some of the words of faith and we used them in worship.   Later the logs became part of a congregational bonfire.  The logs became symbols of how our faith can catch fire with God’s love and in turn we can share the fire with others.

I am thankful for all that I can learn from some of the outstanding preachers in our country.

Lord Jesus, you are the Word made flesh for us.  Open our eyes to see your Word for us.

5 Reasons I Support Youth Sunday

Youth Sunday WorshipYesterday was Youth Sunday at Resurrection and I was a very thankful pastor as I watched our youth sing, pray, read, welcome and preach. Here are my top five reasons for celebrating Youth Sunday.

1. The opportunity to celebrate talent. The youth of Resurrection are blessed by God with incredible talent that needs to be shared. Like any member, they could do this any Sunday, but Youth Sunday gives them the excuse or reason to do this with their peers’ support. The whole congregation, young and old, can celebrate together.

Youth Worship Band2. Parents can rejoice with their children. Parents of high school youth know that their children need to start the process of differentiation – separating from their parents. This includes making their Christian faith their own. But this can be painful for the parents to watch. The celebration of Youth Sunday gives parents a moment to see the faith being handed down to a new generation without directly pushing their children into it.

3. Young children are given aspirations and models. Young elementary age children see older siblings/peers/teenagers participate in a special way within the life of the church. This participation can spark such aspirations in them to perform in the worship band or read scripture or present the children’s message. Also parents of young children see and hear how the ministry of this congregation has impacted its youth, giving them reasons for their family to be actively involved.

4. Mentors share their gifts. Yesterday was a real celebration for John Moore, a member of our worship team, who for the past six months has coached and directed the youth band as it prepared for yesterday’s worship service. He and the band did an outstanding job. Our youth director Hannah Koehler also had the opportunity to directly mentor students as they participated in leadership roles in worship.

5. Pastor try-outs. This one is personal for me. As high school junior I had the opportunity to preach at my home congregation. Though my preaching on the “Population Bomb and Environmentalism” was strange and controversial, the affirmations I received were part of my process of discerning my call as a pastor. Though our youth can serve God’s kingdom in a wide variety of vocations (see here), the church will need good pastors, youth directors and music directors in the future and I am praying that God will call some of the youth of Resurrection Lutheran Church to serve in this way. God continues to call forth his servants to serve among us.

What are some others reasons to support Youth Sunday?

Lord Jesus, I am thankful that you call all ages to follow you, including our youth.

Wilderness Journey – Day Four

Last Night at Tileston Meadow Campsite

My last night on the trail involved one more thunderstorm. This time it was not the lightning that disturbed me, but the rain itself. In the alpine meadow on Mummy Mountain, the vegetation there absorbed most of the water. Here at the designated campsite, the tent pad was simply flat dirt. The rain splattered from the tarp to the ground to my ground cloth and sleeping pad. After a few minutes my ground tarp was splattered with muddy water and debris. I had pitched my tarp too high with too much space between the edge of the tarp and the ground. After the evening storm passed, I lowered the tarp.

I also questioned the wisdom of concentrating all backpackers to a few locations. I realize that many backpackers do not practice “leave-no-trace” camping, and that the national parks are trying to keep the back country as wild and pristine as possible. But the designated campsites create sites devoid of vegetation and wonder.

I prefer to seek my own stealth campsite off the beaten trail where I can create a wonderful sleep space for one night. In the morning I work hard to clear any trace of my having been there. Fortunately a hiker can use such techniques on the Pacific Crest Trail where I plan to hike a section next summer.

My last morning on the trail was uneventful. The sky was partly sunny and my body and mind were ready to leave. It was not that I was tired of the trail, but that I had set my expectations for four days and was ready to go.

My path on the Black Canyon trail was consistently downhill and I gobbled up the miles. My feet and legs were stronger now and I was thankful for my decision to use trail running shoes instead of my heavier backpacking boots. Only in the boulder fields on Mummy Mountain did I have any doubts regarding this decision. My feet seemed light and quick as I strode down the trail and I reflected on a sermon I once heard from Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary. He preached on Isaiah 52:7.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

He observed that most people would focus on the words or mouth of the messenger, but the text reflects on the feet. His observation is that the words or mouth of the messenger have no significance unless the messenger first arrives at his or her destination. Messengers need to use their feet and go.

As I hiked out, I was thankful for the opportunity to be on trail, but also thankful for the opportunity to go, live and serve among the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church. My feet and I were ready to continue the mission of announcing, “Your God reigns!”

Lord Jesus, show me how to announce that your kingdom comes.

“No Win in Comparison”

Yesterday I preached on the spiritual emotion/virtue of humility. I borrowed a phrase from Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, who preached “There is no win in comparison.” The real enemy of humility is not just pride, but envy; we have a constant need to compare ourselves to others to see if we measure up. If our self-worth is based on a comparison model, we never win.  There is always someone who is richer, smarter, faster, fitter, holier than we are.

Then yesterday, Seth Godin wrote in his blog about the danger of comparison in one’s business model.

Compared to magical

The easiest way to sell yourself short is to compare your work to the competition. To say that you are 5% cheaper or have one or two features that stand out–this is a formula for slightly better mediocrity.

The goal ought to be to compare yourself not to the best your peers or the competition has managed to get through a committee or down on paper, but to an unattainable, magical unicorn.

Compared to that, how are you doing?

I don’t know much about magical unicorns (I will need to check with my daughter Suzanne regarding that), but the one place I go for comparison is Jesus Christ. Not that I live a “What-Would-Jesus-Do” life, but rather a life based solely on “What-has-Jesus-created-and-called-me-to-be-and-do?” As a child of God, my value and worth rests totally in God’s Son. When my heart, mind, and soul focus on Jesus, then the comparison model does not have a chance.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me (Galatians 2:20)

Lord Jesus, keep my focus on you and your call in my life.

Mystery of Trust

Paul at the Areopagus by artist Kennedy Paizs

One of the great mysteries of faith is why some people believe in Jesus and others do not.  One trusts completely while another turns away.  In Acts 17, Paul comes to Thessalonica and preaches in the Jewish synagogue.

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Act 17:2-4)

Paul was persuasive and some came to trust in Jesus, yet many did not believe. I recognize that the Holy Spirit, prayer, and human temperament all play a role, yet I am amazed that within one family, exposed to the same environment and influences, some members place their trust in Jesus and other members do not. The parents and church community express the gospel in word and deed, but not everyone hears and responds. It is like the seed in Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4. Some seed falls on rocky soil, some among the weeds, some on the trodden path, and some on the good soil. Only the see in the good soil takes root and bears fruit.

Occasionally what seems to be the random nature of faith can be disheartening. My intellectual curiosity can twist me into knots. At those times, I “fold the wings of my intellect” and simply rest in  Jesus. I trust in his mercy and grace. Jesus has touched and changed my life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God has impacted my life. And I have seen other lives changed as well. With hope I continue to fling the seed of God’s Word, trusting in God and not myself.

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ, Romans 10:17

Lord Jesus, create in each of us a faith that bears fruit for your kingdom.

Seeds that Bear Fruit

Yesterday was a great day of worship at Resurrection. The youth lead us in prayer, preaching and song. All did a great job, from the sound and video team to the ushers and greeters.  I am especially grateful for our three preachers, Cooper Dillon, Garth Natwick and Ryan Garbe. All three have been active in the congregation for years and they each expressed their appreciation for how the congregation and pastors have shaped their faith. Each declared their faith in Jesus as a dynamic, growing relationship that has grown over many years of participation.

Being the newcomer at Resurrection, I need reminding that a solid foundation has been laid prior to my coming. I tend to live my life in episodes and seasons, seeing only the immediate events around me. I forget that God is weaving a much bigger narrative through the life of this congregation and through the history of the global church. The Holy Spirit has been shaping the lives of the youth and families long before I began my ministry here. It is joy to witness the seeds that were planted bear fruit for God’s Kingdom.

Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the Corinthians as the congregation argued over which pastor had the more lasting spiritual impact,

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. I Corinthians 3:5-6

The good news of yesterday was highlighted in the generous response of the congregation for our Youth Scholarship Fund. Over $3500 was donated so that eight of our High School Youth can attend the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans this summer. Thanks be to God!

How has your church community shaped your faith?

Lord Jesus, continue to call me back into deeper relationships with all your children, young and old.

“That’s Stupid!”

This Sunday I am preaching on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, during which Moses instructed the people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all  your heart and with all your sould and with all your might.”  Moses goes on to say, “Recite these words to your children.”

Like many parents, my wife and I struggled to communicate our faith to our children, especially being the offspring of two pastors.  Being pastor’s kids is rarely easy.   People sometimes carried unhealthy expectations for their behavior.  But we did our best to teach them, sometimes with odd results.

I had read about a family devotional in which the object lesson was “following the crowds can be foolish; following Jesus is wise.”   The devotional instructed me to buy frozen popsicles for my kids and then tell them that there was a new fad that I had just heard about: “microwaved popsicles.”  I showed them the popsicles and how “everyone” was microwaving their popsicles before eating them.  My kids, ages 8, 6, and 3, thought it was a stupid idea from the beginning.  My wife agreed.  Still I placed the popsicle in the microwave and we watched them melt.  When I took the popsicles out, they just stared at me and said, “that’s stupid.”  I tried to explain that they were right, that doing what “everyone” else is doing can be “stupid.”  But my daughter just stared at me and said, “But you just did it, Daddy.  Does that mean you’re stupid?”  I had no good response, except to laugh.

Fortunately, my children had an excellent mother who instructed them well on the love of God.

What are ways that you have taught children the love of God?

Lord Jesus, teach me how to teach my children your Word.

Love to Tell the Story

One of my favorite hymns is “I Love to Tell the Story.”  

 The second stanza is
I love to tell the story: How pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it,
More wonderfully sweet! 
I love to tell the story, For some have never heard
The message of salvation
From God’s own Holy Word.”

In Acts 10:34-43, Peter tells Jesus’ story to Cornelius and his household with a similar joy.  Peter is delighted to tell them about Jesus Christ and is amazed at how open and receptive they are.  Too often in our culture we have this perception that bearing witness to Jesus Christ is stressful and difficult.  Peter demonstrates that as we follow the Spirit’s prompting, it can be a joyous, amazing event that the Spirit can bless. 

Samaritan Woman meets Jesus at the Well

Tomorrow I am preaching on another story-teller, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  Her encounter with Jesus leads to her spontaneous testimony about Jesus to others in her village.  It is as if a well of joy and excitement has bubbled up inside her.  She is the one of the first evangelist or story tellers in the Gospel of John.   She loves to tell the story!    

My prayer today is simple: 
Lord Jesus, grant me the joyous opportunity to bear witness to your life story.  Your life has changed my life in so many ways; may I bear witness to you today in some special way. Amen.

What story in scripture excites you?

Stories Shape Us

The Story of Coke

This morning Rolf Jacobson told a story.  His sixth-grade daughter had a science project in which she tested people’s taste and perceptions.  First she had people do a blind taste test of three cola drinks: Coke, Pepsi and a generic supermarket brand.   Not knowing which cola was which, they split pretty evenly, but the generic was the winner.  Then she had the taste testers go into a second room and try the same three drinks but this time they knew which drink was the Coke, Pepsi and generic.  Coke and Pepsi were the easy winners.   Rolf  saw this as the victory of American brand marketing, a kind of story telling.  We believe in the Coke’s (or Pepsi) story and identify with their products.  Their story has shaped us.

Rolf, a Luther Seminary professor, connected that successful story-telling to the church’s failure to tell the Biblical story in as convincing fashion.  For many the Bible has become a dusty ancient book about some strange people, events and ideas that are jumbled together with God and Jesus.  We recognize bits and pieces of the story, but it rarely has connection to our daily lives.  Though most Lutheran pastors use a Biblical text in their preaching, the over-arching story of the Bible has been lost or never known. 

Rolf has proposed a new worship schedule of Bible readings that would guide a congregation through the Old and New Tesatment story in nine months. More information is at narrative lectionary.

Stories shape us.  Today I had lunch with two running buddies and I realized that running has been one of the stories that has shaped my life for the past ten years.  Because of injury, I miss not being able to run, but I also miss my story/identity as a runner.  I continue my physical therapy in hopes of restoring that activity and identity.   

Still a deeper story is at work.  It’s a story I have heard over and over in worship and study.   My truest identity is as not as a runner, but as a child of God.  Jesus lived, died and rose again to give me that identity and I can not run away from his story.

How does your life story connect with the Biblical story?  Has worship and preaching helped make those connections?