Preaching and the Zombie Apocalypse

Animated-Zombie-ReverseLifehacker just ran a great article — “Craft a Better Presentation with Zombie Apocalypse Principles.” It’s a zombie-themed advice column on making your presentations better. While they wrote for a more general audience, I thought my preaching friends might enjoy the article, too.

Here were the tips they suggested:

Know your endgame. Indecision and meandering get people killed in zombie movies. They kill audiences with boredom and irrelevancy, too!

Be Clear and Kill the Vague. Again–anything “extra” is just dead weight that distracts from the main idea. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, lose it.

Be Ready for Emergencies. They’re talking tech, here. Know what you’ll do if your PowerPoint crashes. Have a backup plan to minimize that risk. Do you have your own dry erase markers? The ones that the venue might be dried out. Plan ahead.

Create Community. They quote Walking Dead: “Stray from the pack, you become a snack.” In a presentation, you want everyone with you, going the same place. Plan the “next steps” after the talk that will allow people to immediately act on what you’ve taught.

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These are great suggestions for preaching, too. I’d like to chip in a few of my own.

Be Bold. Fortune favors the bold, right? Don’t be afraid to speak strongly and passionately. Leaders lead! The sermon might not always be for everyone–but it will be clear.

Go for Bodies and Brains. Zombies are bodies hungry for brains, right? I like to divide a person into three parts (no, not literally!) — head, hands, and heart. The head is intellect. Preaching should speak intellectually. The hands symbolize action. Good preaching should call towards godly action. The heart symbolizes our feelings. A sermon that tells you what to do and how to do it, but that fails to answer the “why” with a motivation will fail. It’s a brain without a body. Make sure to hit the whole person.

Urgency. The great thing about zombie movies is the sense of urgency. If the characters don’t find water, they will die. If they don’t build this barricade, they will die. The movies are filled with urgency. Good preaching should be urgent, too. If it is important, treat it like it’s important. If it’s not important, why are you wasting my time by saying it?

I should probably leave this one alone — but sometimes you feel like you’re standing before a room full of people that want to eat you. Other times, you might feel like it’s just a brainless horde! But whatever crowd you’re in, these tips will help sharpen your presentations.

What to do with opinions?

opinion“That’s my opinion, and it ought to be yours!”

That’s how radio character Makk Truck would sign off his daily comedy bit on WSIX on the House Foundation each day. It was a funny way to end a goofy rant on the radio, but in reality, it’s how most of us feel. After all, if I believe something, I believe it to be correct—so you should, too.

Dealing with opinions can be really tough. The “letters to the editor” page in the paper is proof enough of the diversity of opinions, and we know that they aren’t all equally valid. We always argue more about what the Bible doesn’t say (or what it might imply) than what it actually says. My friend Wes McAdams shared three suggestions for what we do with our opinions. I’ve tweaked them a bit for our purposes…

FIRST: Don’t be argumentative about them. That’s what Romans 14:1 says: “don’t quarrel over opinions.” There are some things worth fighting for; opinions aren’t one of those things. (By the way—an argumentative spirit seldom wins anyone!)

SECOND: Keep them to yourself. Proverbs 18:2 is great: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” You don’t have to share everything you know. Paul said that knowledge can puff up while love builds up. Sometimes the best thing to do is do nothing at all.

THIRD: Use your opinions to restrain yourself, but not others. It’s not our job to judge our brothers—that’s God’s prerogative. Read the rest of Romans 14 and you’ll see that for yourself. One of our heroes in the faith, Thomas Campbell, wrote a document called Declaration and Address in 1809. While encouraging us to go back to the Bible and reject human creeds and divisions, in section #6, he warned the church to be very careful not to bind the things that are not explicitly clear in scripture on others as a test of fellowship, lest we raise our own beliefs to the status of scripture.

I wish that we all agreed on everything, everywhere—but we don’t. How we navigate the uncertainty of our opinions can make us or break us as a fellowship!

Our Halloween Masks

I like Halloween. It’s always fun to see what costumes you come up with at Keith and Donna’s house. I wasn’t here for the year that there were two Glenn and Connie Buffingtons, but I do remember seeing lots of ghosts, cowboys, super heroes, and more.

12HalloweenMasks1Nov09At Halloween, we put on masks and pretend to be other people (or other creatures). I think it makes a pretty good reminder that people around us are wearing masks all year round.

Most people don’t live their lives in “Superman” masks—but sometimes they wear an invisible mask that tries to hide pain and sadness that hasn’t been dealt with. They pretend that an insult didn’t hurt or that they didn’t mind being overlooked. They’re always “fine” in words, but never in reality.

Very few people walk around at work in masks that have other people’s faces on it, but many people do have invisible masks where they try to project a different image of who they really are. We try to look richer than we are or younger than we are. We spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. It’s a game we can’t win!

Sometimes we even have a “church mask” that we wear. We pretend to be perfect, pious, and put-together, and hope that nobody notices that it’s only hanging on by a string.

Masks at Halloween are fun, because we’re all in on the joke. We can play pretend and have a good time, but the masks we wear every day in our lives aren’t healthy because most people don’t see what’s really going on, and sometimes we haven’t dealt with reality ourselves. When we pretend to be something else, we deny ourselves the help that we so desperately need. Let’s make sure we don’t wear our masks anytime besides Halloween this year!

Everybody’s a Jesus Expert

expertsI love that the Bible is for everyone. It’s not chained to the pulpit. It’s not interpreted by only the elect few. One of great translator William Tyndale’s dreams was that the plow-boy could know more scripture than the priest.

Despite that, we may have forgotten an important premise: equal opportunity does not guarantee equal results. In other words, just because we all can read and study scripture doesn’t mean that we all do.

Here’s how this plays out: whenever there’s a public issue that somehow involves Christianity, everybody has an opinion. The talking heads on TV interview scholars and people off the street and everybody’s opinion gets equal screen time. The opinion of the guy who couldn’t name the four gospels is counted as equal to the Christian who has dedicated herself to studying the scriptures honestly and deeply. That’s insane.

Do you see the problem? Everybody claims to be an expert on Jesus, but not everything said about Jesus is true. Do you know how Jesus said you could tell who someone was that really knew his stuff about him? He said that, “the student who is fully trained will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). The angry, arrogant, combative guy who claims to be speaking for Jesus probably doesn’t know as much about Jesus as he claims.

On the flip side, there are others who always want to tell you what Jesus thinks about things. No matter what the question is, they have the same answer: don’t judge and Jesus loves you. Are those two teachings of Jesus legit? Absolutely and undeniably. I can’t imagine the teaching of Jesus without these thoughts. But the range of Jesus’ teaching is far richer and deeper than those two concepts alone.

Can I encourage you to spend some time with Jesus. Read the scriptures and see what made him cry. See what prompted him to anger—and watch how he handled his anger. Notice what brought him joy, and see the subtle nuance of his handling of delicate situations with hurting people.

I can promise you this: the real Jesus is better than the 30-second version you get from the experts on TV.

One Simple Tool to Improve Your Marriage

1simpletoolDr. Tony Campolo says that he can give you one simple tool that will make your marriage better, no matter how you’re doing right now.

Imagine what it would look like if you and your spouse were really, truly in love. Imagine what it would look like if you weren’t fighting and it was like the best times you’ve ever had—or even the best times you never had. Then think about this and answer a question: in your imagined scenario, what were ten things you did (not your spouse, but you!) every day that you’re not doing now?

Dr. Campolo’s advice is simple: whatever those ten things are—do them!

He says, “My prescription for creating love is simple: do ten things each day that you would do if you really were in love. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are identified with being in love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do to make the other person happy and fulfilled. Often, we don’t realize that what a person does influences what he feels.”

This is good advice. It follows the model of Jesus. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12).

Here’s some real good news: this prescription doesn’t work only in marriages. It works in all of our relationships. Trouble with the kids? How would you act if you had a great relationship with them? Do it! Irritating boss? Act like he isn’t. Want one more application? Are you having trouble with your faith? I’m not asking you to be a fraud; I’m asking you to live into the instructions of Jesus, and see if things don’t work out.

What Would You Do?

kent-brantlyOn Thursday, Dr. Kent Brantly made the news by doing the last thing most people expected him to do: walking out of a hospital.

If you haven’t followed the story, Dr. Brantly contracted the Ebola virus while doing humanitarian mission work in Liberia. Ebola is a strange and deadly virus, with an estimated fatality rate of 50-90%. There is no known cure. Dr. Brantly was perhaps the first human to receive an experimental drug. Researchers don’t know what (if any) impact that treatment had on his recovery.

The drama of this story is incredible. A man, moved by his faith, intentionally goes to the sickest people in the world. In the course of his service, he contracts what they had and is handed what amounts to a death sentence, but by the grace of God, the sentence was commuted.

What would you do if your doctor told you that you were going to die in 2-4 weeks?

What would you do if after 4 weeks, you found out he was wrong?

When Brantly was released, he went to spend time with his family. I’m guessing that catching up on paperwork at the office didn’t seem so important, anymore. I don’t think he rushed home to make sure the grass had been cut. I suspect that he wasn’t in a hurry to catch up on his favorite TV shows. I think that he wanted to be with the ones he loved.

Life is temporary. A church down the road had a true sign: “You are one heartbeat from eternity.” So here’s my question: are you where you want to be? Make sure you’re spending the time you have doing what matters.

Book Review: “A ____’s Heart” by Jeff and Dale Jenkins

father'sThis book review is WAY late…but I hope it’s better late than never!

Dale Jenkins has put together several books that are designed to encourage. A Minister’s Heart and A Youth Minister’s Heart would make great gifts for anyone you know in ministry, or even as a “peek behind the curtain” before someone gets into ministry.

If memory serves, the first book (Minister’s Heart) originated in a chapel talk that Dale was putting together for ministry students. It walks through the ups and downs of ministry. You’ll laugh on some pages, get angry on some pages, and want to cry on some pages.

A Father’s Heart and A Mother’s Heart follow this same pattern. They’re short gift books with a thought and an illustration on each page. These books would make mother’s day or father’s day gifts—or maybe even a great joint gift for expectant first-time parents.

It’s hard to know how to review these except to say that they were designed to be encouraging, and they accomplish just that. With all of the discouraging junk going on in the world, you’ll be glad that you spent time with these.

The books are available on Amazon, but check with The Jenkins Institute to order in bulk.

The Jesus Way in Ferguson, MO

ferg1If you’ve seen any news reports this week, you’ve heard about what’s going in on Ferguson, MO. We may never know all of the details about what happened when a police officer shot an unarmed man. Some claim he was complying; others say he was trying to take the officer’s weapon to use it against him. Some see racism; others say it was a split-second life-or-death decision made by an officer in the heat of the moment.

The aftermath is awful. It seems like everyone has gone crazy. The community hasn’t acted reasonably—looting, rioting, destroying private property, and threatening the lives of the officer and his family. The police haven’t acted reasonably—firing tear gas at the press who were reporting on the situation. Nobody seems to know who or what is in control. This unreasonable reaction has created a cycle: the crowds get agitated, the police intensify the situation, the crowd gets angrier, so police make threats, the crowd makes threats…and it just kept getting worse. There’s plenty of blame to pass around in this story. It seems like nobody has done right, and everybody has used the actions of the other side as their excuse to do wrong.

Did you notice something? This is the exact way that the world tends to operate. “If you treat me wrong, I’ll treat you wrong-er!” But what did Jesus say? If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other. The world’s way clearly hasn’t worked! I like how Calvin Miller puts it. He said that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is fair and just, but it’s the shortest, most direct route to an eye-less, tooth-less world. Maybe it’s time to try the Jesus way.

When I opened up the news on Friday morning, I saw a headline that said something like “First Peaceful Night in Ferguson.” I clicked on the story and what I saw could preach a sermon. On Thursday night, the Governor installed Captain Johnson, a Highway Patrol officer, to take control of the scene. Rather than showing up in riot gear and a Humvee (which sounds pretty reasonable to me!), he showed up in the standard traffic cop uniform—a dress shirt and badge. Rather than putting a shield between him and the crowd, he walked among the crowd, talked, listened, hugged, and even took selfies with protestors. He spoke with them, saying, “In our anger, we have to make sure that we don’t burn down our own house.” Did I mention that Captain Johnson grew up in the area?

Think about this: what calmed high tensions and brought peace to Ferguson was not weaponry that was so powerful that it could intimidate the crowd into silence. It took someone stepping from their realm of safety into a dangerous, different world. He left comfort and ease to go to the people who hated him and the people like him. He became like those people and loved those people despite the risk.

Captain Ferguson hugging a protestor

Captain Ferguson hugging a protestor

Does that sound like anybody you’ve ever heard of? John 1:14 says, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Message paraphrased it as, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

I don’t know anything about Captain Johnson, but what he did on Thursday night sounds like what Jesus would do if he were in Ferguson, MO. I’m more convinced with each passing day that the Jesus way really works. Will you try it?

Missed Opportunities

mwgcRalph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars came out only once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course! We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. But instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.  When the extraordinary becomes ordinary, we tend to take it for granted.

The stars can’t be the only extraordinary opportunity that has become ordinary.

What about our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper? It is certainly possible that we can forget just what a beautiful and powerful celebration it is.

What about the opportunities we have to meet as a church? As I watch the news and see stories of ISIS and other militant groups attempting to ban Christianity in their realms, I wonder if we would see our opportunities to worship and study as more valuable if they were threatened.

What about all of the opportunities that we have to make a difference in this life and in the next? We have so many chances to help people, sometimes we forget what an incredible privilege it is to walk beside someone in a difficult time and place, and help get them to somewhere better.

What about your friends and your family? It isn’t hard to treat them like they’ll always be here…but we all know that just isn’t true.

The Bible describes life as a mist or a vapor. It’s ephemeral. A temporary blessing. Ephesians tells us to walk while we have light. Let’s take advantage of these opportunities and do the best we can with what God is giving us.

The Double Win

John Dale, who preaches in Murray, Kentucky, describes the difference between winners and losers—and then talks about how we can be “second mile” double winners. He adapted this material from The Double Win by Dr. Denis Waitley and shared it with us at our 1st Monday preachers’ meeting at Granny White.

Losers say, “There is no way I can win.”
Winners say, “I’ll do everything I can to win.”
Double Winners say, “If I help you win, I win too!”

Losers seek attention. Winners seek admiration. Double winners earn respect.

Losers see a problem in every solution.
Winners seek a solution in every problem.
Double winners help others solve their problems.

Losers fix the blame. Winners fix the solution. Double winners fix what caused the problem in the first place!

Losers let life happen to them.
Winners make life happen for them.
Double winners make life a joyous happening for others.

Losers live in the past for the future.
Winners learn from the past, live in the present, and set goals for the future.
Double winners learn from the past and work in the present to accomplish goals that benefit everyone’s future.

Losers make promises they never keep.
Winners make commitments to themselves and keep them.
Double winners make commitments to themselves and others and keep both.

Losers react negatively. Winners respond effectively. Double winners reinforce successfully.

Losers gripe about their failures. Winners cheer their successes. Double winners share the glory and praise the team.