Monday, May 21, 2018

Nothing But The Best

There’s a verse from the book of 2 Timothy that I’ve been mulling over all day. It’s a familiar verse, but one I’ve never thought through in regards to my role as preacher. In Paul’s second letter to his protégé, Timothy, he tells him to, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” Usually this verse is interpreted through the lens of evangelism—that when we are out in the world, going about our lives and interacting with our community, we should be ready and willing to share the gospel if the opportunity arises. And there is certainly significance in that interpretation, especially for those who are not paid, vocational preachers, with a pulpit to fill and a sermon to deliver each Sunday.

But I am a vocational preacher—and have a 25-minute sermon to deliver each week—so I’ve been wondering how this popular verse carries different importance for professional preachers than it does for the average layperson. And when I read this verse in the New Living Translation—“Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not”—it took on even more significance.

You see…I didn’t preach very well yesterday.

My sermon was too long, it wasn’t researched enough, the transitions from point to point were sloppy, and I was too dependent on my notes. And I even broke my one cardinal rule of preaching: be ruthlessly singular in purpose. In short, it wasn’t my best work.

And at this point in my preaching career, I’ve written and delivered enough sermons to be comfortable with the idea that I won’t knock every sermon out of the park. And I’m generally okay with this idea of occasional mediocrity. But, of course, yesterday happened to be a Sunday where we had about six first-time visitors. I didn’t make the greatest first impression.

Which brings me back to the words of wisdom from Paul to Timothy.

I certainly could have chalked yesterday up to being an ‘out-of-season’ Sunday—an ‘unfavorable’ day to have to preach. We had just moved to a new house, were getting ready to host all sorts of events, and my week was filled with a plethora of extra meetings. It wasn’t that I was unprepared to preach—in fact, I had cut over a page out of my sermon notes on Saturday night. I had enough quantity to my sermon, but hadn’t done enough to enhance the quality. Paul reminds me, however, that the Good News of Jesus is too important—and the art of preaching too significant—to ever give less than my best.

God deserves my best, the members of our church deserve my best, and our visitors most-certainly deserve my best.

And the same is true for all of us, regardless of our profession: God and the world deserve our best. We never know when people are watching or when we might have the opportunity to speak goodness, beauty, or truth into someone’s life. We never know when the quality of our life and our work might make a significant difference in the life of another. So, let’s be prepared, in favorable or unfavorable times, to do our jobs well, steward our words well, and live our lives well—as a testimony to the good work God is doing within us.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Need for Normalcy

On my drive to work this morning, I heard an interesting radio advertisement for the product “5-Hour Energy.” In the ad, they imagined a world where, similar to a battery indicator on a phone or computer, humans had a built-in indicator to reveal our remaining energy. The commercial then suggested that most of our indicators would probably be showing ‘low energy’—in desperate need of a recharge.

Now, I think I found this commercial especially interesting because, at present, I’m really tired—and so is my whole family. This past week was incredibly exhausting as we moved homes and I officiated a wedding, in addition to the normal busyness of work, school, soccer games, violin rehearsals, and Sunday worship. But, while this has been a week of insanity, the craziness really goes back over a month, when we first started the home-buying process. Our house has been in disarray for weeks, with moving boxes everywhere. The kids have watched more iPad than we wish they had, as Mandy and I sorted through the logistics of moving. And now they have the disorientation of the only home they’ve ever known no longer being ‘home.’

It’s been an unsettling time. And our energy indicator is most-certainly low. We need to be recharged.

But, unlike the 5-Hour Energy commercial suggested, I know better than to think the solution to our energy-deficient life is a 2-ounce shot of caffeine-laden who-knows-what. I’m in search of long-term solutions, an energy that will sustain us over the long-haul and not have us coming back for the next sugary fix when the vitality wanes.

What we really need is more regularity and rhythm in our lives again. We must get back to our routine. Our family functions best when we sit down on Sunday nights and map out our week. Our family is most-healthy (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) when we’re sitting down to regular, home-cooked, family meals. Our family is at our best when we find balance between activity and rest, going and staying, doing and being.

And of course that’s true—because that’s the way the universe is hard-wired. From the very beginning, God ordered creation to work and then rest, create and then recreate, produce and then play. This is the way God arranged the whole system. We aren’t meant to hustle our way through life, with no time to rest and take respite. It’s not healthy.

The secret to an abundant, thriving life is tapping into God’s balanced, rhythmic pattern for the universe.

And my family hasn’t been thriving much lately—we’ve just been surviving. So, I’m very excited to finally be in our new house and be able to get back to the balanced, rhythmic life we so desperately need and love. I’m looking forward to family meals around the dinner table and casual walks around the block. I’m excited to sip soda in the backyard as songbirds serenade us. I’m excited to sit with my bride on the front porch as our girls ride bikes on our new block.

And as my family reclaims God’s sacred rhythm of life for our own, I invite you all to do the same. Life’s too busy and short to not take time to rest, recharge, reflect, and rejoice in the goodness of God all around us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Drinking Deeply from the Word

Today in Bible Study, during our time of prayer, we read a quote from a seventeenth-century mystic named Madam Guyon that I found both beautiful and challenging. This is what she said:
"Praying scripture is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read. If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee that penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.”
That's deep and profound and probably would have stirred my soul regardless. But I think I'm so moved by this quote, presently, because of our current sermon series in the book of Colossians, which has been a slow, intentional crawl through each paragraph of the letter. And I have been LOVING this pace. It truly feels like we're exploring the depth of the book, rather than just glossing over the surface. I really sense that we're plunging ourselves into the deepest nectar of Paul's words to the Colossian church. 

And that's what I love most about preaching...that's what feeds my soul. There are times where quick, thematic series are appropriate and good, but this deep-dive approach is what most intrigues me as a follower of Christ. This slow journey through the text has been transforming me as I have prepared these sermons, and I hope it's been changing you as well. So, thank you for taking this tedious march through Colossians with me. Let's continue to allow God to mold and shape us as we drink deeply from the sweet nectar of His word.