Do you want to know more than any other person in the room about your subject? This would make total sense, right? Why would you tell people stuff they already know? And, everyone says they want more depth. They want the original greek and the tense and historical significance and the cultural norms surrounding it all. You could give them all that if you were the smartest guy in the room. And, you could share it in a way that really connects with every one. We'd bring it "down" to their level so they could grasp these great Biblical concepts.
Or maybe we should be the most spiritual. I mean we are preaching, right? We've spent hours in prayer every day just like Billy Graham! The Holy Spirit just oozes out of us. People can see it and sense it. We have all our text memorized and look right at them while we quote the very words of God. We sense the leading of the Holy Spirit and have zero problems adding a few points that God downloads into us as we're preaching. At the end, we open the altars and loads of people come down and get right with God.
Or should we opt to be the most emotional person there? We preach with the greatest passion any stage has seen. With the smile of Joel O. and the conviction of MLK we raise our fist to the air and shout with all our might the great attributes of God. Then, in the same moment, with tears in our eyes, we tell our people how unworthy we are to know such a great God. We end our sermon with a call to action that is truly challenging. We know most of these people could never accomplish such a feat, but everyone leaves the building with boldness and courage. Ready to take on the world!
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see evidence of all three of these. Jesus the brilliant shows up when He was only 12 years old. I've heard this story so many times, it becomes a little ho hum. But, go spend some time with a 12-year-old and then read it again. Imagine this preteen, probably skinny as a rail and a little fidgety, explaining things about your ancestors. At first, it's a bit of a side show, it's just cool that someone has taught this kid all this information. Maybe you ask a question or two to see where his knowledge ends. Then, he starts making applications and piecing stuff together that you've never thought of. Maybe for a small moment you forget you're listening to just a kid and you're engaged in this brilliant message.
Jesus the spiritual giant . . . do we even need to address this? He was God! I love the stories where people approached Jesus and they just knew who He was. It wasn't like he was up on some huge stage with lights and a killer sound system. He wasn't being announced at the Staple's Center in front of 60,000 fans. He didn't even have a name tag on. Still, His very presence was convicting, or moving, or comforting. It was . . . spiritual. Matthew 8:28, "When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 'What do you want with us, Son of God?" No one said, "Here comes Jesus! He's a prayer warrior." No one had handed out invites to the landing of this great leader. These two guys just knew. There was something great, something deep about this guy.
Jesus the passionate? Do we see that? I think we see it in two ways. We do see a Jesus who is so passionate, he turns over the tables in the temple. That's some serious passion. But I think just as important is the times Jesus stayed level headed, like when the fight was breaking out between the disciples and guards (why was peter carrying a sword anyway?) and Jesus reaches out heals the man's ear. I'm guessing Jesus' heart rate wasn't even escalated, kinda like when he slept through the storm out at sea.
So Jesus was the perfect example of the intellectual, spiritual, emotional giant. Is it possible for us to be all of those things? Can we be a smart, righteous, passionate preacher? Well, the short answer is probably. Some of us have certain limitations that we can never get past. No matter how hard we try, we'll never be the smartest guy in the room. I'm a great example of that. No matter how hard I try, or how many people try to help me, I still just don't get certain things. I miss social cues, say awkward things, and I'm great at stepping on other leaders toes. I think I'm above average at problem solving and creative solutions, but ask me to name the capital of your favorite state and you'll realize fairly quickly that my hard drive doesn't hold much. I took a semester of Greek in college with the vision of reading God's word in it's original form. How great would that be? I got a D-. I'm pretty sure I didn't deserve it. Thank you Dr. Weeter for being gracious! I tried to memorize all the words, but they just wouldn't stick. So frustrating. The good news is, I now have google and it is amazing! If you give me any subject and about 10 minutes and I'll find more information than you care to know. This is true in our sermons too. There's no excuse for lack of material. It's all out there and waiting for you. Instead of preparing a sermon, you can just spend your week listening to a dozen sermons about your topic and you'll have enough material for an entire series. Obviously you still need to listen to the Holy Spirit and see what he says.
When it comes to passion, this is easy for me. Partly because CX is so new that I'm still preaching sermons that I've been dying to preach for a while. New churches are all about reaching the lost and dechurched. I'm naturally pretty passionate about that. But what if you have to preach on something that you know God has called you to preach on, but you're just not feeling it? What works well for me is imagining someone who desperately needs to hear that exact message. How will this change their life? Will this help get them over the a major hump in their spiritual journey? Although I might not get fired up on certain subjects, I definitely get fired up about seeing lives changed. That's really encouraging. Also, and this may be a little too honest for some people, but if I'm preaching to guests (first time attenders) to CX, something in me just lights up. I feel like my messages come alive. New people energize me. The usual people still make me smile, but something about a new face walking in the door that is just exciting. If we had a room full of guests, I could get fired up about Easter Eggs (I actually did one time, listen to "Focus" on our media page).
The last question is can we be a spiritual giant. Of course we can! The challenge is that there are no shortcuts. You can't dial it up on your iPhone or order it off the internet. It can be faked, but not for very long. It takes time in the word and on your knees. A pastor I greatly respect said something in a meeting the other day that grabbed me. He said, "Do you really pray to your God? Do you get on your knees and pray?" I know, I know, we're all thinking, "We'll duh." But it's a bit of a challenge for me. The stillness the quietness, the lack of task or goal, that gets me. I need a goal, a finish line, something like . . . "Ok Dusty, you have exactly 4 minutes to pray for all 100 people that are connected with Connections, you have to mention them by name and at least one thing they need help with, on your mark, get set . . ." Then the music would come on and a big timer would appear in the corner of my room. That would be my kind of prayer time! I have a great friend who spends a half hour in prayer and a half hour reading his Bible every work day at the crack of dawn. I'm blown away by his commitment and consistency, and it gives me something to strive towards. Again, there's no way around the time, you just have to put it in!
I want to conclude with a tip on preaching. These three concepts, emotional, spiritual and intellectual, represent the people sitting in our pews and chairs. Some need proof there's a God, some need encouragement and motivation and some are just hungry for Scripture. How do we hit all three of these people every week? Honestly, it is a challenge. The intellectual loves the talk on evolution vs. creation. The spiritual want you to preach exegetically, and the emotional just want the pastor to cry. Although you'll rarely hit home runs for everyone every week, when I prepare a major sermon (Easter, Christmas, camps etc.) I use the 3 S's, stories, stats and Scripture.
Stories break down walls and if told correctly, puts everyone on the same ship. If it's a story we can all relate to, like the financial crises, it gives credibility to the speaker. "He's in the same boat we are." I love stories for two reasons. One, Jesus told a bunch of them. We call them parables, but they were really just great stories. Sometimes, he didn't even tell them what it meant. He just told stories and walked away. We should stop explaining everything to our people. Let 'em figure it out once in a while. Two, stories are engaging, even bad, stupid stories. I can be preaching about something incredible, the glory of God or the final judgement day when Satan is finally banished, and still, eventually people start to drift. Now remember, at CX, we only meet for 59 minutes, so it's not like I'm preaching for 40 minutes. Even in my 25 minute talk, I see a yawn or two, but if I say something like, "The other day I walked into the Sprint store . . ." Everyone reengages. Here comes a story, I better listen. Use more stories. Luckily the clouds are full of sermon illustrations, google it up!
Statistics are great because they prove a point outside of our opinions. I've been studying more lately about the homosexual movement so that I can defend my view points without Scripture. I read recently that more men have AIDS than women. Here's the interesting part, if you take all the way men can get HIV/AIDS besides being with other homosexuals, sharing needles, blood transfusions, heterosexual partners, and you put them all together, it only equals around 39% of the infected men. The rest is from homosexual encounters. Without the gay lifestyle, AIDS is cut by more than half in our nation. Not just because it is no longer being passed from man to man, but it's no longer being passed from man to woman. Now, I don't have time to go into the fact we do love homosexuals and we heterosexuals have temptations too etc.etc. But the point is, no one can argue with these facts. They are facts. The homosexual lifestyle kills people and in some cases babies are born with it because of homosexuality. One word of caution about statistics from the internet is that anyone can put together a website, anyone can make up a survey and get the answers they want, don't just find someone who says what you're looking for, seek the truth.
The last and most important is Scripture. I've been recommending an audio Bible lately called, "The Bible Experience." It's a very (very) well produced audio recording of the entire Bible being read by famous African American actors, actresses and pastors. I often use it at CX for our main Bible passage. It really brings things to life. I'll never understand why there is so much power in the words that make up the Bible. It's one of those mysteries. I was chatting with a friend of mine about the double edged sword passage that we all use and he made the comment that sometimes you read or hear the Word and it's more like a paper cut, you don't even realize you have it for a couple of days and then something happens and it stings you! Very well said. I have had an instance or two where I use a secondary passage of scripture to support the first someone comes up to me afterwards and tells me how much it spoke to them. Funny thing is my whole sermon was about something else, but that one passage grabbed them so much, they thought that it was the main topic. Amazing.
I hope there was something useful here. Since I don't get to preach this week, this is my release! Continue praying for CX. We're growing one family at a time. Even through the summer. God is so, so good. And, forgive the typos, my wife is out of town : )