some of why I preach

 

A friend of mine recently asked me, and many other preachers, two questions: (1) what led you to decide to preach and (2) what most helped your development as a young man? Feeling a bit  reflective at the moment, I’ll take a swipe at answering such right here.

A lot of creeks fed those two rivers, but I’ll only share a few of them.

First: what led me to decide to preach?

(a) A godly grandmother laid the foundation before I even realized it. My Dad’s mother was a devout Christian. She lived 1,600 miles away and in the course of my entire life, I can count on one hand the number of times we saw each other face-to-face. However, from the time of my earliest memory, she wrote my family a letter every week, without fail; every week for years. With every letter – and with no exceptions – she would include along with her letter some religious clipping, a quote from a sermon, a church bulletin, a prayer, or some such. When I grew old enough to read on my own, I read her letters … and what she sent along. Ever so often – not “too” often, just ever so often – she would write a single sentence to the effect of something specific she was praying about for me and my parents, typically regarding our coming to know the Lord.

I was baptized into Christ at the age of 16 and shortly thereafter, my grandmother conveyed to me that her prayers had now shifted from my coming to Christ to my continuing with him and proclaiming him. I have no doubt that had it not been for my grandmother’s prayers, any and all other creeks that might have fed that river would have turned up dry.

(b) A sorry sermon was the tipping point. I was a young Christian (both in terms of age [19] and duration in Christ [3 yrs.]) anxious to hear some good word to help me grow in Christ. I had worked all day at my job, quickly come home and cleaned up, bolted out the door, and drove to a gospel meeting in a nearby town that had been heavily advertised, featuring the preaching of a very experienced and competent minister. However, what I received that night in terms of a sermon was a virtually empty plate, devoid of milk or meat. It was a 45 minute account of how many verses there are in the Bible, how many years required in its composition, etc. When the final “Amen” was said, I walked out the door totally frustrated, muttering under my breath as I exited, “I don’t know ‘come here’ from ‘sic ‘em’ yet and I could have done a better job than that!” It was not the most humble of thoughts, but it certainly was not one devoid of conviction … or lacking genuine foundation. I found myself dwelling on that thought all the way home, that night, considering it until I drifted off to sleep, and for the better part of probably a month following.

To fully appreciate that statement (“.. I could do a better job …”) you should also know that at that time, when it came to speaking in public, I was an introvert’s introvert. Looking back, I can say with confidence that the die was cast as I walked out the door that night; it just took a while for me to realize it.

(c) A college prof sealed the deal. Fifteen semester hours short of a degree, I had dropped out of college. After working at my Dad’s service station for about nine months I decided to get back into college (Cameron University). At the time, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to pursue for my degree, much less my life. My first class back was Fundamentals of Speech, my first exposure to any training in public speaking. The last day of the course, the prof – Dr. Tony Allison, a deacon in one of the Churches of Christ in Lawton, OK – called me into his office to talk privately. He had two things to say to me. First, he asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told him I hadn’t a clue. Second, he simply said: “Have you considered preaching? You’ve got what it takes. I think you should.” I was consumed with much thought and fervent prayer the weeks following. I went on to major in Speech and was preaching every week for well over a year before graduation. All because a brother in Christ, a prof of mine, took an interest in me and offered me his measured guidance.

Now I say all of that to say three things. First, for whatever reason(s), sometimes a sermon falls flat. Not to worry: someone just might get the idea to take up preaching as a result! Trust me, this is no small source of consolation to me whenever I feel upon exiting the pulpit on any given Sunday that I “just didn’t bring my ‘A’ game” that day and would rather just go crawl under a big rock and die. Second, never underestimate the power of little old blue-haired church ladies’ prayers. God’s answers to them just might be what keeps things going! Third, an individualized, sincere question from a righteous person coupled with a thoughtful, considered suggestion, is powerful and effective.

Second: what most helped my development as a young man in Christ?

(a) Middle-aged folks and old timers in the church – not my peers – who took the time and made the effort to learn the name of a faceless teen who suddenly started showing up at church. They went out of their way to get to know me, befriend me, and deliberately be a source of endless encouragement to me when I had little to offer them in return aside from a smile and a simple pleasantry.

(b) Preachers who allowed me to simply be in their presence, ask them questions, hitched me up to responsibilities, gave me opportunities, put up with my mistakes, and/or who simply had a listening ear for a clueless teen seeking company and direction were invaluable. I will forever be in tremendous debt to men of God like Steve Bracken, Duard Givens, Robert Gregg, Jerry Hurst, Stanley Sayers, and Clayton Waller.

Preaching. It’s something that at one time in life I would ‘ve laughed in your face at the mere suggestion of it. Now it’s something I can’t imagine not doing. I wouldn’t ever want it any other way.

my personal reading plans for 2013

 

Reading is a critical part of my life. In case you’re curious as to what I have in mind to graze on in 2013, this coming year I intend to:

1. Read and pray 5-10 minutes every day over one chapter of the New Testament. This reading will be in conjunction with a church-wide program known as The Christ House (TCH) reading project. You’ll see daily posts here on my site regarding TCH starting on Sat., Dec. 29. We’ll begin our reading in Luke’s Gospel with Luke 1 on Tues., Jan. 1.

2. Read the Apocrypha. I’ll start the year (Jan.-Apr.) by reading and reflecting on a section of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) each day. I’ll finish the year by reading the remaining books (June-Dec.). This will require 5-10 minutes each day. If you’ve never read Sirach, but enjoy the book of Proverbs, you’d appreciate Sirach. Here’s a small sample.

3. Starting this year I’ll I’ll spend about 5 minutes each day reading the writings of “The Church Fathers,” a collection of various writings of some of leading Christian thinkers during the first seven centuries of church history. To do this, I’ll follow the seven-year reading plan outlined on the site known as Read the Fathers.

4. Read about and pray for one nation of the world every day. I’ll follow the daily briefing and schedule offered by OperationWorld.org to systematically pray for the peoples of all the countries in the world. I’ll dedicate between 5-10 minutes each day to this objective.

5. Focus the majority of the rest of my reading (listed here by priority) on: (a) weekly sermon and class preparation, (b) matters related to my upcoming trip to Turkey and Israel (Jan.-Apr.), (c) the subject of non-violence/violence (Jan.-Dec.), (d) misc. Bible and ministry-related topics, and (e) photography.

What do you feed your head?

a sermon to my granddaughter

 

I’m a father of two and a grandfather of four. The most recent birth of a grandchild was this past Wed., June 6 when Kinley Lynn Wheeler was born to my daughter and son-in-law, Brant & Amber Wheeler (that was the reason for the tremor in the earth you felt). No, my feet still haven’t touched the ground yet.

Now upon the birth of each child and grandchild, it’s been my privilege and habit to preach the following Sunday morning sermon from some Scripture that came to mind during the preceding week’s glorious gifting from God. Consequently, at MoSt Church this past Sunday morning (June 10, 2012), I preached a sermon entitled A Sermon to my Granddaughter. I very rarely manuscript sermons, but I did write out in advance the majority of the heart of this one, choosing my wording with a bit of extra special care. The words of that manuscript, the words of the lion’s share of this past Sunday morning’s sermon, appear below.

Before we get to the sermon text, let me help set it up with three notes. First, no small percentage of MoSt Church‘s attendees on any given Sunday morning are grandparents or great-grandparents. We have no shortage of gray hair. Not surprisingly, a common question I’ve fielded through the years goes something like this: “How can I, as a grandparent, maximize my influence for Christ in the life of my grandchildren?” This sermon was, by example, a portion of my typical answer: “Start telling them and backing it up with your life as soon as they enter this world!”

Second, I preached this sermon with all of the children and grandchildren present very much in mind. I wanted them to overhear some of the things a Christ-following grandparent would say to them by enabling them to overhear what I want all of my grandchildren hearing and seeing as they grow up.

And third, I nickname the females in our family, but not the males. The nickname I’ve landed on for my granddaughter is “Starshine.” Understand that little Kinley has a head full of dark hair and it was my wife’s long and lovely brunette hair that I noticed first when I first saw my future wife and “Starshine” was my wife’s CB handle back in the day.

Now, the sermon …

… we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. … He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” … we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1.16-19)

I, Jesus … [am] the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come! Let the one who wishes receive life-giving water as a gift. (Revelation 22.16-17)

My Little Starshine,

There’s so much I want to tell you. I can’t tell you all of it now, but I can start. And I want to begin telling it to you this way, in a sermon, because I want you to spend your whole life deeply listening to and engaging sermons with all of your heart and ways. And as you hear what I say, understand it’s all coming from someone who is still has so very, very much to learn.

You have exactly one life in which to do everything you’ll ever do, so live accordingly.

That doesn’t mean live life for yourself. Quite the opposite. It doesn’t mean indulge yourself in whatever you please or whatever feels good to you in the moment. No, not at all.

It means to live your life deliberately and to live it for the one who gave it to you.

It means to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22.37-39)

Worship God. Develop an unquenchable thirst and unceasing hunger for God. Crave knowing him. Revel in rejoicing in him, praising him, and thanking him.

Stand in awe of God. Neither assume nor presume too much of him. He is wholly other. Ever remember your place before him, small like a grain of sand before a mountain, and ever personal, present and perfect. He is love. Live your life caught up higher and higher into the clouds of the wonder of him.

And so, see your whole life as worship of him. You were given life to serve God, and serving him is your life. This is worship. This is life. Let no one lead you to think otherwise.

Memorize and meditate on what God has revealed to us. Take the book of God, the Bible, and eat it. Make it your daily food.

Count success in your life not by your number of accomplishments, but by your accommodating yourself to the will of God.

Pray. Talk to God and never stop. Listen. Listen to God and follow up with your life.

Plant yourself in the community of faith, Christ’s church, and stay there, bearing shade and fruit as God enables you. Life among God’s people, his church, is your laboratory for living out eternal life. Among his people is where he put you, and so, is where you belong. In his church is where you’ll be equipped and sharpened for use by God to be fully his.

Walk with God. Pray for and summon up the courage to actually live out whatever you understand of God. Whether anyone else does or not.

Make faith, not fear, your foundation in life. And as you walk thru your life, walk by faith in God and not by sight. Never stop moving, and inch ever closer to making your good intentions reality.

Keep walking with God, come what may. Troubles will come your way. Some will go and some may stay. No matter the size of the trouble, keep walking with God. He’s the one who will see you through it.

Let Jesus be your hero and model your life after him. Make your life about living well, not about living well off. That is, live your life holy and pure, wholly pleasing to God.

Soak your attitude and spirit in the holiness of God’s Spirit, for this is the soil out of which all of your actions grow. Guard your heart and your mind so that nothing or no one can trick you or deceive you into behavior that isn’t pure.

Never stop seeking and accepting God’s forgiveness. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, failures, and sins, but run with them to God for your forgiveness.

See every person you encounter as one made in God’s image. Treat them as you would treat Jesus Christ or as Christ would deal with them.

Come to know the power of your words to others, and so, choose them wisely and spend them economically.

Become a very good listener with true care for others, for the world is very short of, and in great need of, such people.

Establish and devote yourself to healthy habits that will keep you healthy in body and spirit. Those habits will shield you from many a distraction and temptation, wrong turn and sin. And so, die daily to yourself that you may live daily to Him.

Or to put it all of this in just as few a words as possible, I cannot improve upon the words of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-inspired apostle Paul …

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5.6b)

I love you. Far beyond words. But not nearly so much as our Lord does. And so, love him so.

Your Da-Do

Kinley Lynn Wheeler is born!

Hey, I’ve been a grandfather (Da-Do) for a few years now and that never gets old, but today I became something different: the grandfather of a granddaughter! Whoo-hoo!

Granddaughter Kinley Lynn Wheeler arrived at 3:00 p.m. today, June 6, 2012. Thanks be to God, mother and daughter are doing great! And let me add that my daughter and I both predicted the exact time of her arrival to the very minute this morning.

This little girl – who already has me wrapped around her little finger! – weighed 6 lbs., 8 oz. at birth and is 19″ long. She’s got a goodly amount of black hair; not a lot, not a little. And I’m told that “Kinley” means “fair-headed hero” (or “fair-headed heroine”). We’ll see if her hair lightens up as she grows up, but I can tell you right now she’s already a hero in my heart!

Pray with me:

Heavenly Father, thank, thank you, thank you! May this little one you’ve entrusted us with rise up to be a devoted disciple of your Son Jesus, full of, and fruitful in, your Spirit, for life! May you ever be the hero of her heart and life in every way, all of her days. Amen. And amen.

every time I preach …

 

Recently, I asked a large group of preachers how they would complete this sentence: “Every time I preach I _____.” It was an attempt to let us all overhear what we’re intentional about, as well as what else is going through our head, every time we deliver a sermon.

Following are two versions of how I completed the sentence. Obviously, the “long answer” version could be greatly expanded and also assumes the content, first and foremost, of the “short answer.”

Every time I preach I …

Short answer:

  • trust God will work through me.
  • believe God will work in spite of me.
  • have faith God is working on me.

Long answer:

  • try to give to all: skeptics & believers, seekers & wanderers, friends & enemies, men and women, rich & the poor, young & old.
  • can point to and reveal only the tip of the iceberg of what the sermon preparation has done for me and to me.
  • feed on seeing people hunger for God and actively work with me in that before, during, and after the sermon.
  • find fuel in recognizing those who are giving me clear encouragement to speak God’s will as I grasp it.
  • strive to do the best I can with what I’ve been able to contribute the preceding week to this moment.
  • am sensitive to the fact that people can’t hear a word of what I’m saying unless I’m living it myself.
  • deeply grieve over those who have obviously mentally checked out of what’s happening.
  • pray God will use this moment to bless someone powerfully and all of us in some way.
  • forget some of what I planned to say and insert things I hadn’t planned on saying.
  • want to magnify God in the name of Christ through the power of his Spirit.
  • feel inadequate to the task, being simultaneously broken and built up.
  • rejoice at the sound of crying babies, for it means youth are present.
  • hope for no needless distractions or attention-breaking happenings.
  • stay keenly aware of the quality of the content and the connection.
  • thank God for this tremendous responsibility and privilege.
  • regret having said something or having said it in some way.
  • yearn for prayers to be offered up for myself and for all.
  • will unintentionally leave some things unclear to some.
  • intend to represent our Lord the best way I know how.
  • wish I could do it without having to wear a necktie.
  • don’t know everywhere the sermon will go.
  • endeavor to deliver “fresh bread.”
  • thank God it’s not about me.
  • know I will make mistakes.
  • can’t wait to do it again.
  • sweat like a race horse.
  • seek to just be myself.
  • ain’t got not spit.
  • tremble.
  • pray.

war stories: the hidden cross

For years I’ve been dogging a friend of mine to make a written record of some of his “stories with impact.” And then, the light bulb turned on for me today: (a) perhaps I should stop asking others to do what I am not willing to do myself and (b) perhaps I should lead by example.

And so, this is the first post in a series of random recollections from across my years thus far in preaching ministry. Some might make you smile, some will likely cause you to sigh, and some will simply just be stories. But all of these stories will have these two things in common: (a) they’re absolutely true and (b) none of the events come from any of my experiences with my current church family.

Place: a Church of Christ in a small town in Oklahoma
Time: about 1963

There were three Churches of Christ in this small town, two of them having a Sunday morning attendance average of between 150-200 members each. One day, one of these two larger church buildings burnt to the ground. Instead of rebuilding the one that was destroyed, the two larger churches decided to merge and construct a new building. And so they did.

During the course of construction, the question arose among them as to whether or not a cross would be placed in, or on, the building. Some passionately wanted one. Some passionately did not. The latter prevailed. Or so they thought …

Place: the same Church of Christ in the same small town in Oklahoma
Time: 1984

I was preaching with this congregation and I was standing in the church parking lot talking with one of the members. This brother had served as an elder for years in that church back in the 1960′s and 1970′s. His house was located across the street from the back of the church building. The front of his house had a large, unobstructed view of the back of the church building.

As we stood in the parking lot, this brother was telling me the story of “the fight over the cross” in/on the church building. He noted with a wee bit satisfaction that no cross had been placed there. That’s when I pointed to the massive brick wall that made up the back of the church building and asked, “Well then, what do you call that? How’d that get there?”

Understand that in the top third of the center of the huge back wall of the building, a large number of bricks had been set so that they slightly protruded, forming a subtle, but very distinct – and quite large! – cross.

Following my eyes and extended finger toward the top of the wall, I thought his jaw was going to fall off and his eyes would bug out! After a long pause, he said he had never noticed such before. Do recall, the wall had been erected over twenty years prior. Add to that the fact my friend had lived in his house for many years and still served as the church’s custodian and grounds keeper. Though his house faced the wall (and the cross in bold relief therein) – though his house had a large picture window and kitchen window facing it – though he walked daily from his house to the church building – and though he had served as an elder when the building was constructed – the cross had gone completely unnoticed by him.

Our conversation continued briefly, and let’s just say that he was not happy with what the contractor had deliberately done, clearly doing what he had explicitly been told to make sure didn’t happen!

That “hidden cross” provided the spark for, and something of “the punch” in, a sermon I preached that next Sunday morning. The sermon was about how we Christians often keep the cross of Christ hidden from our friends by refusing to mount it ourselves with Christ. When I got to the part about the cross in our building’s most prominent wall, there were quite a few dropped jaws and unbelievers … until they raced outside into the parking lot, and looking up to the cross, believed! By the account of all, it appeared I was the first member there to have ever even notice it!

I never heard a negative word about crosses and church buildings again there. And from that day forward, I rarely saw the former-elder/custodian & grounds-keeper walk across the street and up the parking lot to the church building without seeing him cast a glance up toward that cross. I’m left to wonder what went through his mind.

4 significant changes I made in 2011

 

Understand, when I say “change,” I don’t mean I merely changed my mind or my intentions. I mean I changed my behavior, habits, and ways.

1. I changed the way I work. My “office” now is wherever I need to be to do whatever would be the best thing to do. Armed with a laptop, a smartphone, and a proactive mindset, I make a plan and work it. Rather than spending unproductive and often frustrating hours in an office endlessly punctuated by countless, often totally unnecessary interruptions, I now do far better work from home, in my car, and out and about in contact with people.

The result? I don’t feel nearly so stressed and burdened. I’m a happier person and I’m usually more pleasant to be around. I sleep better at night and I’m more fully “present” with people when I’m with them. I believe Christ is more easily seen in my life.

2. I changed my posture. I might spend a total of sixty to ninety minutes sitting at a desk in a given week now. For nearly all of my adult life I did that much sitting before sunrise every day. Not anymore. When I do desk work, now I do that work standing up. If I have a day that’s dedicated mostly to desk work, I stand up that day. Oh, I still have my desk and it gets used, but the top of a three-shelf bookcase serves as my primary “parking place” now.

The result? I’m more alert. My legs and feet are stronger. My back and knees hurt much less. I suspect my circulation is improved and my whole body generally thanks me for this change.

3. I changed my perspective of possessions. I went through my closet and donated half of my clothes to charity. I sold almost all of my music collection. In many contexts, I tell the clerk to “just keep the change” and in other contexts I often tip more generously than I have before. As for books, I sold virtually everything that wasn’t related to ministry. What I own now must fit in one of my two full-size book cases or in one of my two short bookcases or else I don’t purchase it. If I buy a new book, I sell or give away an existing paper book, even if the new book is in electronic format. I now own fewer books than I did when I entered full-time ministry almost twenty-nine years ago; fewer books than before my children were born.

The result? I feel more “free.” There’s less “stuff” to store and dust. I think less about owning or caring for things and so, have better things to do with my thoughts.

4. I changed the way I eat. I virtually eliminated caffeine consumption. What caffeine I consume now comes only in trace amounts in decaffeinated tea. I now nearly never eat beef or pork. To be sure, I’m not a vegetarian, but meat is now a rather small blip on the radar of my overall diet. I very rarely eat fried food of any kind and consuming strong sweets (candy, cake, pie, etc.) is an even more rare event (pretty much just on special occasions such as holidays or birthdays). Any sort of dairy product (milk, cheese, etc.) is history; either soy milk or almond milk goes on my cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Wheat products of any kind, including bread, very rarely cross my palate now. Carbonated beverages? I don’t go there at all anymore, period. Water is what I drink 95% of the time.

And the result? I feel better; much better. I have more energy, can think more clearly, don’t crash in the afternoon, and don’t generally go to bed feeling fatigued. My complexion is much improved. To boot, I’ve gained a belt notch back and while that’s not much, it’s something and I’m still making headway. Further, I don’t long for my old eating habits nearly as much as you might guess. Truth be told, I rarely miss those ways at all.

Now that it’s the end of this year, I’m wondering why I didn’t make these changes years ago to the glory of God. But I am thankful I made them, by God’s grace, this year.

Question: What specific, significant changes could you make in your life this coming year that would significantly improve your life?