Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quentin Tarantino on Preaching

Now there are two words that you don't see right next to each other very often - Quentin Tarantino and Preaching.  (Quentin Tarantino, if you are not familiar with his work, is the "dark" film director who made such movies as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds - need I say more).  However, the other day while Quentin was delivering an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes for a recently received award for directing, he said an important thing:  "I want to thank all of you out there who just listened to me when I was reading my movie scripts.  The truth is that I never really wanted your advice, I just wanted to...


and that has made all the difference for me."

One of the most important lessons on preaching that I can offer, and I offer it because I have been made aware that there are a few young preachers who regularly read this blog-post, is this.  When you are writing your weekly message you must write it while listening to the words you write, "through the congregation's ears."  Each week when I write, I spend about 4 to 5 hours by myself at my desk.  But the truth is that I am never alone when I write.  As I sit at my desk, I also imagine that there are 4,000 members of my congregation sitting there and writing with me.  I write, and I hear the sermon through their ears.

But that isn't really the half of it.  In addition to the 4,000 or so people in my church who are with me when I write, I also imagine the weekly crowd of around 700 who are with me on Livestream from around the country.  I imagine the farmer in Montana who is listening, and I imagine the stock broker in New York City who has tuned in.  I imagine the 250,000 members of the armed services who reside in Colorado Springs also listening in, and I imagine the 450,000 other residents who also live in my city listening in.   I imagine the childhood, second grade teacher that I had growing up - Mrs. Sheets, listening in, and I imagine my friends from the seminary in Kerala, Kotayim, India listening in.  I...


The truth is, this maxim of Quentin's also applies to so many other aspects of our lives.  Sometimes people may come to us with a deep personal pain or a grief that they want to share.  A friend may pour out a long sad story about a divorce or a death in the family.  One of the worst things we can do, if the timing is not right, is to offer ADVICE about what the person should do.  Most of the time when people are telling us their griefs or their woes they just want to


Somehow, by watching our facial expressions or tuning into the emotions of another person's heart, we can get a feeling for where we are as individuals without hearing words from them.  If a person tells me a grief story, I often count it a privilege to simply sit and listen, and know that the words that they are speaking are being bounced off my ears and my heart, and that that reflection of the grief story is actually a healing dynamic in and of itself.

And perhaps that is one of the most important things that can be said of prayer.  When we pray, we are sharing our "deep heart's core" (to quote WB YEATS), with God.  What we need most is not a stentorian piece of advice from the heavens, but what we need most is that,


All For Now,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can Unbelievers Worship?

This year at First Pres we are focussing on worship; this is the year that we are digging into exactly what worship is, what it means, how we can worship better - the "Transcend 2013 - The Year We Are To Worship."  And so, we are reading and studying (As Presbyterians know so well how to do) major thinkers on the subject of worship.  Last week I read a statement of Rick Warren's (Pastor of Saddleback Church, and best selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life") that I wanted to use this blogpost to take slight issue with.  Rick said in a 12 point piece called; "Rick Warren's 12 Insights On Worship," that, "Only believers can truly worship."  While I understand the sentiments of Rick's thinking, I humbly disagree.

Here are Graham Baird's 5 Questions On Worship....:-)

Is Worship Only About What We Do, Or Is It Also About What God Does?
The basic premise of Rick's thinking is that worship is a human expression of God's love, power, dominion, creation, etc.  And this is true.  When we go to worship, we are going to humanly express these things.  But, is God also doing something in the context of worship?  Is it possible to worship without us doing anything, while God does everything?  I believe the answer is yes.  I believe that God meets unbelievers in worship services all the time, and "meets them where they are," and actually does something metaphysical in their hearts and minds and souls.

Is Infant Baptism A Form Of Worship?
While the subject of infant baptism as has been debated for years (most articulately by Karl Barth who didn't believe in the practice, and who saved evangelical Christian faith from the throws of the Nazis), I have always believed in infant baptism.  I have always believed that it was more than just a "wet dedication" as some have said.  I believe that infant baptism is God's connection with a still unbelieving heart that God created.  I believe that infant baptism is somehow and mysteriously transformative, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the child being baptized and for the parent who has their child baptized.  And I believe that infants are unbelievers.  The question here is, "Is Infant Baptism a form of worship?"  If not, then it does not belong in a worship service. If yes, it is an example of an unbeliever worshipping God.

Is The Reception of Grace a Form of Worship?
Grace is one of the most important doctrines of our faith.  Grace is essentially God's mechanism for helping us to be Saved; "For by Grace you are saved through faith, not a result of your own works, so that no one can boast (Ephes. 2:8-9)."  Grace, which can be found in both the New Testament and the Old Testament, is God's gift to us that precedes our ability to love God, or even to know God.  Basically, we believe that the human soul is so tainted by sin, fallenness, that we can't even begin to know God, until God gives us Grace.  Grace precedes faith, Grace precedes belief.  Unbelieving people can receive Grace.  Is the reception of God's grace a form of worship?  I believe yes!

Is Being in the Presence of the Cross a Form of Worship?
Another very significant Bible verse is Romans 5:8; "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  The image here is of Christ on the cross, being crucified on Golgatha, and of all kinds of people, all kinds of sinners, observing God there, dying.  Was that a form of worship to simply observe the presence of the cross?  This is actually a point on which I am willing to bend.  There were people who were observing Christ's death who were not worshipping, to be sure.  The soldiers who cast lots for Jesus' clothes were not worshipping God, though they were in his presence.  And yet, I believe that Nicodemus (the Pharisee) was present at the crucifixion, and I am not sure he was a, "fully devoted follower of Jesus," at that moment.  And yet, I am pretty sure that Nicodemus was worshipping God on that day.

So, those are my humbly submitted 4 questions, set beside Rick's really good 12 insights.  I do want to say that, in general, I really think Rick Warren is great, and his ideas have helped to change many lives and his church is a model, in many respects, for church's like mine to learn from.  One might ask, at the end of the day, why any of this really matters?

Well, as First Pres. is beginning the process of figuring out what worship is, I think it is crucial to determine whether the worship services on Sunday or throughout the week are for people who "believe" or are for people who don't.  The answer is, of course, for both.  Personally, my deepest heart has always been for those who don't believe, or who I call, "dechurched."  That is why I am a pastor, and that is why I do what I do.  And I believe that the most exciting place for transformation of "unbelievers" is in the context of worship.

All For Now,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Our Second Saving

Let me begin this week with a bold and provocative statement.  I believe that people are often saved twice.  I am using the word, "saved" here as an age long metaphor for the process of beginning a life long relationship with Jesus Christ (By the way, soteriology, or the concept of "salvation" in our faith has recently, and I think correctly, come under some fire from theological thinkers for utilizing a military or war time image - "salvation" - for the new relationship that people have with Christ.  This is why I also tend to stay away from the term "saved, or salvation" in church, and prefer the concept of "becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.)

The first time a person is "saved" is when they first find out about Christ, and they dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ, to be life long fully devoted followers of Him.  This first saving often happens at a church camp, or a youth retreat, or a moving worship service.  I spoke with one man who told me he was saved at a Billy Graham crusade many, many years ago in Boise, Idaho.  These are often powerful and moving experiences.  People often describe these experiences as a combination of a mountain top high, and a deeply emotional movement.  People often change the course of their lives irrevocably after such experiences - giving up addictions (like smoking, drinking, drugs), recommitting themselves to relationships (wives, husbands, children), re-orienting their hearts and their life behaviors and lifestyles.

People have often asked me when I had my first "saving" experience.  The truth is I cannot really remember.  Having grown up in the church all my life, I remember many, many, many mountain top "like" experiences where I felt very close to God.  However, when people ask me about my second saving experience, I am exactly and precisely certain of the very milli-second that that happened in my life.

I was a senior in college at Macalester College in St. Paul Minnesota.  I had been struggling with issues of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for about a year.  I was listless and out of energy and totally unable to focus, or concentrate or think in any meaningful way.  I was in a really bad place Spiritually, emotionally, physically.  So, I dropped out of college, and moved in with a dear couple who lived in Austin, Minnesota (Austin - home of the Hormel meat packing plant:-)).  I continued to spiral down hill further and further.  Then, one night at 3:00AM I got down on my knees at the foot of an old Norwegian bed and put my nose into a comforter there, and had a deep prayer - "Dear God, I need you to be involved in my life right now, or I am not going to be able to go on much longer with this life."  At that very second, I believe a deep light of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit entered my heart, and I experienced my "Second Saving."

What is a second saving?  Well, the truth is that it is a made up term, made up by me.  And I would not want to put it past any respected theology professor or thinker.  But I believe that it is often in the real depths of people's lives that they come to Christ the closest.  It is the in the real plummets of our souls that we most deeply connect with God.  So, a second saving is that moment when we are at our wits end, our souls dead end, and have no where else to turn but to God, and we ask God into our hearts (in my case it was a demand of God - I was really mad at Him...), and we feel God enter, almost imperceptibly into the midst of our pain and lostness.

Have you discovered who God is, and had a mountain-top high experience (a first saving?).  Are you in the midst of a crisis where God might enter your life in a new and deep way (a second saving?).   I have experienced both, and know that I wouldn't be who I am today without both experiences, and without God's guidance through both of them.

All For Now,