Roof Top or Pasture?

In preparing a sermon on pride I dove into Daniel chapter four . This chapter relates God’s humbling of Nebuchadnezzar. God had warned him through a dream to humble himself and relent from his prideful approach to life. What does Nebuchadnezzar do? He goes to the roof of his palace, surveys his kingdom and declares, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty.” (Daniel 4:29 NASB). Not exactly what God had in mind.

So God unleashed the warning he had given Nebuchadnezzar. The king goes mad. He moves out of the palace and takes up residence “with the beasts of the field” (4:32). His hair grows shaggy, his nails look like claws, he eats dinner with the cows and probably smells like a dead one. To say the least God brought Him down from the roof into the pasture.

Why? So that the most powerful human king of the time would give the King of Kings the glory He deserves. After this time of humbling Nebuchadnezzar was given his wits back. Now with his mind being cleansed from all the pride that had infected it he looks, not over the great Babylon, but into heaven and says, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways are just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (4:37).

Have you experienced God humbling you in this way? You probably have not rolled in the pasture and eaten grass, but has God removed from your life the things that kept you from exclusively giving Him glory? Maybe your source of pride is your work, but things have not been going all that great lately down at the office. Or maybe you have taken a bit too much credit for your financial stability, trusting it instead of God, only to be shaken by the recent economic downslide.

This might seem a bit egotistical on God’s behalf. Who is He to take stuff away from hard-working people in order to receive glory? This would be a fair assessment if we forget that (1) He is God and (2) He does everything out of love for His children and His knowledge of their deepest needs. God’s removal of the stuff that stands between us and Him is an act of love and benevolence. It allows us to move from the roof top to the pasture. To move from operating in self-reliance to operating in divine dependence. When we operate in divine dependence we are able to humbly receive the blessings God, out of His all-knowing mind, sees that we need.

I am being humbled as of late, and it hurts, but I know this is for the best. It moves me from making my own decisions to seeking God’s all-knowing guidance. I have found that I move from messing a lot of things up to trusting the one who directs my life into His perfect will.

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We Are Going to Church Right?

Emma, my four-year old,  was helping her mother pack clothes for vacation. It was a teaching moment for Shawna. She was instructing Emma how to consider your vacation destination and activities, then pack accordingly. In a moment of revelation Emma declared, “Well I need church clothes, we are going to church there aren’t we?” To say the least I was proud of my little girl for factoring worship into our vacation plans. She used some pretty good deductive reasoning: we go to church on Sunday, it will be Sunday at some point while we are on vacation, thus we are going to church on vacation.

I hope at some point Emma moves past going to church because it is Sunday and begins going to church for a host of other reasons.

I hope at some point in the future Emma goes to church because she delights in worship. I hope she will experience Isaiah moments when she “sees” the Lord in His glory, begins to long for that experience, and goes to church because she worships Him in His glory there.

I hope at some point in the future Emma goes to church out of a hunger to listen while God’s Word is being taught. Nothing transforms people like the Word of God and God has divinely ordained the act of preaching to be a major contributor to His children’s spiritual development. I hope Emma has a hunger for this development and discovers the joy of growing in her walk with Jesus through the guidance of a gifted teacher.

I hope at some point in the future Emma goes to church because she connects her life with other believers. Whether she is a teenager with a group of friends, a young lady adjusting to married life, or a young mother struggling with her four-year old daughter (oh yes I have prayed the proverbial, “just like you” prayer), I hope she is surrounded with other growing believers and connects with them at church.

I think Emma is right where she should be in her spiritual development to understand we go to church because it is Sunday, that is how four-year olds should think. But if she turns 14, or 24, or 54, and is still going to church just because it is Sunday, I will be a bit disappointed. I hope as she matures Emma will discover the joy of church that happens on Sunday, but she knows that she goes for a host of other reasons.

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When You Just Aren’t Sure What to Do

I am a pastor. One of the my frequently heard questions  is what to do when you are not sure what you are supposed to be doing. I often hear people say things like, “I just wish God would tell me what to do,” or, “Why can’t He just send me an email?” This morning I was led to Proverbs 8:34, via KLOVE, my favorite Christian radio station. In this verse I see three actions you can take when you are at the quagmire of not knowing what to do.

We can Listen

The verse says “Blessed is the man who listens to me” (NASB).  To listen to the Lord means to give Him your attention, to seek what He is saying, and to accept in at face value. When I listen to God I open His Word and encounter His voice. At times God speaks to me through others, either a sermon I hear, a book I read, or advice from a trusted person. But listening to the Lord goes beyond ingesting information. When I really listen to the Lord I also accept what He is saying, whether it is pleasant or not. Often times what the Lord says very challenging. If I am sincerely listening to Him I will accept those challenging (or convicting) words and act upon them.

We can Look

I just took part in this quick little exercise. I have been at my present church for five years. I walked through the church in an attempt to notice something I have never noticed before. Before I tell you what I saw get up from where you are and look for something you have never noticed before in your present location. Go – I will meet you back here in a moment.

What did you notice? I noticed a bell. Less that eight feet from my office door is a bell that rings every Sunday morning as a signal that Sunday School is over and people need to begin making their way to the sanctuary for worship. Without question I have walked past the bell no less than five hundred times, but I really can not remember ever noticing it. What is even funnier is that the bell is mounted on the wall less that one foot above my head, just barely out of my normal line of vision. Less an a foot below the bell is a framed poem I have stopped to read more than once. But I have never noticed the bell. I have never looked.

It could be that God is speaking to you through an event or situation very close, but you have never noticed. So stop and look. What is happening in your life, the lives of your kids, or your spouse? Changes in your workplace? A new ministry in your church? A close friend going through a difficult time? Maybe God is up to something and you need to just notice.

We can Linger

The Lord tells us those who know what to do are found “waiting at my doorposts.” Anyone ever said to you “Don’t just stand there do something?” God didn’t. Here He tells you that sometimes the best thing you can do is wait. But notice where you are told to wait – at the doorposts. The very first place you would see someone enter the house.

We have a large front window in our home. If I happen to be coming home from a trip and my children are awake I will call just before I turn on our street. It is selfish really. I call because I know they will be standing looking out the window with anticipation, and I love it when they are excited to see me.

To linger at the doorpost is to wait in anticipation of a movement of God in your life. A movement you can be part of. God promises us when we wait for Him with anticipation we will know what to do in His perfect timing.


I fear we have made knowing what to do far too complicated. God says those who listen, look and linger will be blessed. If you are among that number you are promised the divine activity of God in your life, and when the time is right you will know exactly what to do.

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How to Listen to Your Sermon Before Your Preach It

How can a sermon that looks so good on paper be such a flop Sunday morning?  Your exegesis was flawless, you would have been proud to present it to your seminary hermeneutics professor. Your advanced homiletics professor would have raved over the mechanics, outline, illustrations, introduction and conclusions.  You even practiced your voice inflection and stage movements.  So why didn’t anyone listen?

I have a hunch that you made the mistake many preachers make: in an attempt to write a grade A sermon you forgot your task was to preach it, not produce it on paper. Sermons are not made for paper they are made for people. They are to be listened to. Just like Ford test drives any prototype before they produce the vehicle you should test drive your sermon by listening to it before you preach it. Either audibly or silently you must listen to your sermon before you preach it seeking to hear it as the people in the pew will hear it. Listening for the following aspects knowing that when they are clearly identified you will be one step closer to preaching a sermon people will listen to.

 Listen for Content

What Biblical content are you presenting?  People want to hear a message from the Lord through a sermon based on Scripture. It could be that people are loosing interest because they do not hear the voice of God coming through the expounded Word of God. You must “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), before you step into the pulpit listen to your sermon, are you hearing a clear presentation of Biblical material?

What else are you saying? Unless you stand and read Scripture for the allotted preaching time you will be adding something else. Listen to your spoken content, the “body” of your sermon. What are you saying that people need to hear? Does your sermon’s body match the Scripture? It could be that people stop listening because they do not feel like there is anything to listen to. Before you preach imagine a husband whose wife guilted him into coming to church instead of fishing with his visiting Navy buddy. What content are you presenting that will make him leave glad he was there?

 Listen for Clarity

Have you ever noticed a vast difference between traveling with a GPS than stopping and asking for directions at a gas station? The voice enhanced GPS instructs you with phrases like, “At the next intersection turn left…now turn left.” The gas station attendant says, “Go down the road a bit, you will see a big tree…” Clarity. People stop listening when they are no longer able to follow. Your sermon must be clear, your explanation must be clear, your illustrations must be clear, your exhortations to transformed life must be clear. Imagine your chairman of deacons falling asleep mid-sermon. His wife nudges him awake. In thirty seconds, at any given moment in your sermon, will he be able to jump in and know exactly what you are talking about? People will listen when they hear clearly, as you listen to your sermon before you preach it listen for clarity.

 Listen for Connection

I have a three year old little girl who we jokingly say speaks “Emmanese.” She has the habit of making up words whose meaning are only know to her. Listening to her is amusing, but it is frustrating because you really have no idea what she is attempting to communicate. There is no connection between her message and her listener. For people to listen they must hear the connection. Here is a surprise, most people do not care that George Meuller prayed and started orphanages. They are not starting orphanages. They have teenagers whose life is going bust. Next Sunday there is will be in attendance a wife whose husband told her the night before he has been having an affair. There is a man whose just received lay off papers. Your task as a preacher is to declare the Word in such a way that you connect their life to the Biblical message. Illustrations about dead saints are good, but people must hear something that looks very much like their life if you are going to hold their attention.

 Listen for Creativity

Other than your Scripture and subject what is different about your sermon this week than last week? People listen when you are creative. You must remember that you are preaching in 20__ and people are engaged visually much more than intellectually. Proof – do you remember film day in your second grade class? When my second grade teacher showed a film the projector displayed still images and the audio came via record player. When my son, who is starting kindergarten, has film day he will watch a flat screen television displaying computer animated characters. We must be creative, adding visual elements and variation in our presentations. The sermon should not depend on them, but enhancing it with these elements will help keep people engaged.

 Listen to Calls for Action

What is the ultimate goal for the listener? What do you want people to do? While conversing with a lady from my church she said, “Brother Mark I really liked your sermon, but I am not sure what I am supposed to do.” People might not want to be told what to do, but they appreciate your efforts in suggesting how life can be “real world” different Monday based on the Scripture they studied Sunday. For example if your subject is a deep appreciation of the relationship we have with Jesus which of the following calls to action would make a greater impact? (1) “Now go home and spend some time thanking Jesus for your relationship with Him;” or (2) “On your way home today look for fifteen things that you see that you would enjoy but do not have and can not afford. When you pull in your driveway ask yourself which of these things, or the combination of these things, would you forfeit your relationship with Jesus to attain?”

As preacher we are given a great task: proclaiming the inspired Word of God.  Our part in the process is to allow the Spirit to lead us into sermons that connect and to which people listen. It will enhance your effectiveness if you listen to your sermon before anyone else, seeking to ensure that the necessary elements are in place. Do not do this so you will be a better preacher, do it so people will listen to the life changing message of the Bible.

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How to Stop Saying, “I Didn’t Get Anything Out of That Sermon”

The service ends with “Amen.” You and your family stand, walk through the back of the church saying your goodbyes to other worshippers. You shake the pastor’s hand and tell him how much you enjoyed the service. Buckle the kids in and commence the routine post- church conversation/debriefing. At some point the phrase comes out, as it always does. “I love him as a pastor, but I just didn’t get anything out of that sermon.” This week your pastor preached over your head. Last week he targeted an age group other than yours. The week before he spent too much time telling about the historical setting, whatever that is. The week before he told too many stories. And the week before that he preached on money.

It is frustrating to sit through a sermon that seems to lack connection. You attend church to hear the proclaimed Word.  Your Spirit longs for fresh truth. Your life desperately needs transformation based on the Scripture. So would you like to stop saying, “I just didn’t get anything out of that?”  As a student of preaching, I have discovered a one-sided slant to most discussions about sermon connectivity. Pastors and parishioners alike place the brunt of sermon connectivity on the shoulders of the pastor. Most people say that it solely is his job to make sure the sermon is informational, inspiring, truthful and transformational. But I have discovered that the sermon experience is much like listening to the radio.

For your radio to work three key components must be present: the station must broadcast with enough power to transmit the radio waves to your antenna and your radio must be turned on and tuned into the proper frequency. The sermon experience is not that much different. Two components must be in place: the preacher must connect and you must be tuned in.  If your preacher fails to connect you might say “I just didn’t get anything out of that.” BUT if you fail to tune in you will also leave church saying, “I just didn’t get anything out of that.” With this in mind I want to suggest three steps you can take to make sure you are doing your part to tune in every Sunday morning and get something out of the sermon.

Show up

Showing up obviously refers to the fact that you must be present at the sermon to get something out of it. Showing up goes beyond the physical and transcends into the mental and spiritual. It could be that at times you don’t get anything out of the sermon because you are mentally not there. You worry about the previous or coming week during the sermon event. Your mind wanders. Mentally you must show up and put effort into actively listening to the preacher. You must show up spiritually as well. Enter the sermon event prayerfully asking the Spirit to open your eyes to the revealed truth. If you listen with the attitude that this does not apply to me you will miss the movement of the Spirit who is able to connect every morsel of spiritual truth to your life. So if you want to stop saying “I just didn’t get anything out of that” start showing up!

Give up

In the parable of the wise man and fool found in Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said that wise man was the one who “heard” the word. Jesus is referring to more than physical understanding of the spoken words. Other places He uses the phrase, “He who has ears to hear…” Jesus taught that when the word is proclaimed the hearing is both physical recognition of the audible sounds, and spiritual connection to the truth as it is applied to the listener’s life. Having ears to hear is the listener’s willingness to submit himself or herself to what is being taught. The key word – submission. To get something out of a sermon you must submit yourself to the truth being proclaimed, accept it as God’s directive to your life, and hear the transformational imperative delivered. You must give up your sovereignty and submit to the truth, not the preacher, but the truth he is proclaiming as the Spirit is applying to your life.

Step up

In the parable of the wise man Jesus went on to say that the wise man not only heard His words, but did them.  If you develop the habit of living out the truths of the sermon each week you will experience two results: based on Colossians 1:9-11 God will give you deeper knowledge, wisdom and understanding in response to your obedient living and your heart will yearn more for more experiential knowledge in order to “please him in everything” thus your yearning will consequentially place the previous two steps in place. You will show up and give up in order to hear truth leading you to step up. 

Imagine the next Sunday’s debriefing to be centered on what you heard and how you can live out the new-found truths. You will never be able to change your pastor’s preaching, you can pray that God will use him in a mightier way, but you can not change him. You can grow in your listening engagement. You can get more from the sermon. Try this: show up, give up, and step up.

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How to Invite People to Church without Scaring them to Death

I love roller coasters. I love tall roller coasters. I love fast roller coasters. I love tall fast roller coasters. That’s why I love the Titan in Arlington, TX.  According to the Titan ranks number six among the tallest roller coasters in the world, featuring a drop of 255 feet, and wikipedia ranks it ninth among the fastest steel roller coasters in the world at speeds of 85 miles per hour. WOW!!! What I do not love is that feeling right before you step into the roller coaster car, the moment when you wonder if this is the biggest mistake of your life. That moment when the unknown rushes in and you just want to bolt.

I wonder if  people experience the same sensation right before they walk into church for the first time? Most of us have forgotten what it is like to visit a church. We are veterans. We basically know what is going to happen every Sunday (this might not be a good thing) in both our small group and worship. We forget that the people we invite to church do not have this same advantage. They have no idea what to expect and the unknown is very intimidating. But a little information will be a great service to those who accept our invitation to join us in worship or small group Bible study. Here are a few suggestions.

Tell people the dress code

People really are worried that they will not be dressed right and that they don’t have anything to wear. Often times we write this off as an excuse, however dress is a viable concern for people who have never been to church. If jeans are acceptable at your church (which they should be) then assure your guests of this. If most people wear “business casual” then let your guest know that as well. They will be more relaxed and more likely to anticipate the visit favorably, and not feel like they stick out when they arrive due to being over dressed or under dressed.

Tell people the agenda

What is going to happen? Remember that most who have limited exposure to church have formed their expectations based upon television and movies. Does your church look anything like the Hollywood churches, or televised mega churches? Since it probably does not then your guest will be less anxious if you brief them on what to expect.

Tell people the level of anonymity

Your guest really is afraid that they will be singled out, made to raise their hand, asked their name, asked to stand, or given the dreaded VISITOR: My Name Is – tag. If they will be asked any of these things then let them know up front. If they will attend anonymously then assure them that they will not be singled out.

We forget how scary church can be because we love it so much. But do your guests a favor try inviting them without scaring them to death.

Posted in Outreach, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Ministry of Prayer

I am part of a new generation of pastors, a generation full of untold potential and revolutionary ideas.  This generation is seeking to transform ministry paradigms and one so accustomed to change that ministry without it would be excruciating.  My pastoral generation can be described as the replacement generation.  Many of us have replaced our navy blue JC Penney Stafford suits with blue jeans from the GAP and button down shirts from American Eagle (which we wear un-tucked just to annoy our predecessors).  We have replaced our pocket calendars with iPhones, and our Rolodexes with contact lists.  We have replaced Bill Gaither with David Crowder and Billy Graham with…, well we still love Billy Graham.  But in all this replacement my generation of pastors must remember that we can never replace the role of the pastor’s personal ministry of prayer.

We must never replace the ministry of praying for our people with something more productive

Church leaders have more to do than anyone can imagine. Most pastors preach twice or three times a week, sometimes more. We have meeting to attend. We have visions to cast. We have visits to make. We have wives and kids, soccer and dance. Plus most of us like to sneak in a round of golf. Time is precious and productivity is necessary if we are to survive. Satan will try to tell you as a church leader that spending extended periods of time praying for people is too idle for your action oriented occupation. Refuse to listen to Him. Pastors are called to take their people before the throne of God and agonize over them there. We must never replace this divine call with something that promises more “results” and seems more productive.

We must never replace the ministry of praying with our people with conversations geared more personally

Go to any city in the country and you will find the coffee club. In some places the coffee club consists of older gentlemen huddled around strong black coffee served in decade old white cups. In others the coffee club is a group of twenty to thirty somethings lounging with paper cups shielded by cardboard holders (preferably with green writing on them). In either case you will find groups seeking personal interaction, though the first group would die if you even used those words at their wooden table.  Pastors must seek to be part of this interaction. But we must never replace the moment when we go together with those same people into God’s presence through prayer. We must never neglect praying with God’s people.

We must never replace the ministry of praying over our people with words offered more prophetically

As a pastor you will be invited in people’s deepest tragedies and most glorious moments of joy. You will go to the hospital in the middle of the night as someone’s husband passes away with a heart attack. Then join that same lady as her first grand son is born. In those moments you feel very pastoral. In those moments you feel like you should offer some words of wisdom, some prophetic utterance from the throne.  In those moment’s people do ont need your wisdom, they need to hear you as you take their pain or joy before the throne as stand in the gap as God’s representative in their life. Pray over them and cover them with your prayer. Replacing prayer with prophetic words will rob those hurting or rejoicing people of the one thing they need most: to know you are representing them before the throne and calling God’s presence into their life.

I look at how much differntly I minister than did the pastors of previous generations.  Imagine pastoring with out Facebook to keep us connected, or Twitter to keep us informed. In the ministry world full of new ideas prayer is one that can never become outdated and repalced.

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