A Glimpse of Truth: The Brothers Karamazov

“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.”

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An Unlikely Writer’s Story and Assumptions Preacher’s Can’t Afford

Scribble: Robert Greene’s Unlikely Writing Success Story

 

Preach: The Assumption We Cannot Afford

“We ended another year of women’s Bible study last Tuesday: eleven weeks in the epistles of John and eleven weeks in James. Fifty-four different churches were represented in our enrollment this year. A couple thousand more women podcast from around the country. At the conclusion I was deluged with cards and e-mails from participants expressing their gratitude, reflecting on what they had learned, and, almost uniformly, uttering a confession I have heard so often that it no longer surprises. I still waver between joy and discouragement as I read that confession on card after beautiful thank you card. I still vacillate between celebration and grief each time it turns up in my inbox. I still hesitate between thankfulness and frustration every time it is spoken to me over coffee. Their confession is this:

I’ve been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now.”

Read the rest here.

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12 Ways Churches Can Reach Out to Artists.

If there’s one crowd that’s conspicuously missing from the church, it’s artists. Few artists feel understood by the church, and fewer feel the church has anything to offer them as artists. But artists have incredible potential to influence our society. By providing a framework within which they can work, not only will you be reaching an untapped people group, but you’ll multiply God’s glory in your church as you express Him clearly through art that worships.

Here 12 simple ways we can affirm the place of artists in the church, and encourage them to use their work for God’s glory:

1. Purchase art. Affirm artists by buying their work. Put it up in your home. And put it up in your church, even if it doesn’t have a Thomas Kinkadian/ethereal-Jesus-with-outstretched-arms-in the-background feel to it. If it’s good art, let it be beautiful because it is.

2. Pay artists for their contributions to the church. I’ve had folks tell me they’re disgusted that some ministries would pay Sunday morning musicians for their music. Why? Are we disgusted that we pay a pastor for preaching? The disgust comes from the idea that musicians and artists are the church’s rightful slaves, whose work is sub-par to “gospel work”. If we’re going to have a church open to artists, we need to communicate that what they do is meaningful. Being an artist doesn’t pay much, so we as the church can affirm artist’s work by giving them an outlet for expression, along with a much-needed stipend.

 3. Let artists take charge of church art. If you’re a pastor – and I’ll only say this once – don’t design your church bulletin. Don’t design your sanctuary. Don’t decide how music ought to sound. Don’t create the advertising. Don’t design your power-points. UNLESS you’re an artist. Not only are you doing work you don’t need to do, but you’re sending a message to artists: “What you do is easy. I can do it, and I don’t need your gifts.” I had one artist recently tell me he walked into a church and the design of the bulletin was like a blaring siren to him saying, “YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE.”

 4. Don’t insist art = ministry. When artists do create art, don’t insist the art needs to contain special grace. In other words – not every piece of literature requires a conversion experience. Not every song needs to be about Jesus. Not every poem requires biblical allusions. Not every painting needs a crucifix. Art can be dark, or it can be joyous. Art portrays reality, and that is a gift of common grace to our world that has inherent value. If you don’t insist parishioners print John 3:16 on their business cards, don’t insist artists do their business in explicitly “Christian” ways either.

 5. Do insist art = ministry. While the work of an artist need not be “Christian”, Christian artists, by being good artists, have an inlet to a largely untapped/unreached people group: other artists. Affirm artists that create beautiful and true things, and also push them to reach the natural community they form with other artists.

 6. Staff artists. Since most pastors don’t have an eye for art or what might seem off-putting to artists, pastors ought to consider hiring artists on staff. It benefits our ministry to have a different pair of eyes and ears in everything we do, asking, “How does this sound? How does it look? Is it pleasing?” It also provides for a need (an artist’s salary) and sends a message to your community: We value artists in everything we do.

 7. Acquire a theology of art. Read some works on theological aesthetics, be familiar with great theologians and Christian artists – try to see the theological value of beautiful art, and how it images God in the world.

 8. Provide tools for artists. Artists need space. They need time. They need tools. They need communities of artists who will give them feedback. Churches have money, they have building space, they have community. Consider opening the door during the week or on the weekends for musicians, or having an after-hours artists coffee-shop one night a week. Clear a room in the church for messiness – let it be a place where artists can experiment.

 9. Create an artist mentoring system. Create a family of artists. Young business folks are mentored by older business folks. Young pastors, by older pastors. Why not young artists, by older, more stable artists? Artists tend to be eccentric, without a deep sense of identity. How great would it be to have older, more stable Christian artists guiding them personally and professionally?

10Allow artists to learn like artists. Take this as far as you will, but artists have a hard time sitting down and listening to sermons. They just do. Consider giving them a room to watch the sermon on-screen and create art that expresses their reactions. Consider incorporating visuals and keying in on the narrative aspects of certain passages. Use object lessons. Move around the room when you preach – look artists in the eye. Consider using drama in your pre-service presentation (something Stott recommends in “Between Two Worlds”). Give artists a forum in which they can respond to sermons – in small groups, Q&A, or through live tweeting. Let them be hands on.

 11. Provide theological structure for artists. One of the reasons pastors and artists don’t get along is that pastors tend to be linear, and artists tend to be connectors. We need to learn to treat each-other’s gifts respectfully. In other words, pastors can give to artists a much-needed theological structure for their work. They can give them a concrete meta-narrative from which to work, and theological boundaries that can guard artists from become experimental with truth. At the same time, Pastors can listen to artists’ challenges to traditional theological boundaries, and trust them to express these truths better than we ever could.

 12. Meet artists where they are. Finally – artists aren’t going to show up to church. The crevasse between artists and the church is too deep at this point. This means, churches need to take initiative with artists. We need to find out where they meet, what they talk about, and how they interact. Then we need to go to them. We need to listen to them. We need to invite them to participate in shaping our culture. We need to affirm them, and show them a church that is holistic in its approach to the world – and that includes the redemption of art for God’s glory.

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4 Stages of Writing and 5 Errors to Drop from Easter Preaching

 

Scribble: 4 Stages of Writing and 3 Mistakes We Make

“I recently came across the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, a book that has a chapter on the four stages of the writing process. Reflecting on my experience writing blogs and non-fiction books, I recognized these stages even if I’d never consciously labeled them this way.”

Read the rest, along with 3 wrong-turns we can make along the way, here.

Preach: Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon

“1. Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 years old.

The common assertion seems reasonable that if Jesus “began his ministry” when he “was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) and engaged in a three-year ministry (John mentions three Passovers, and there might have been a fourth one), then he was 33 years old at the time of his death. However, virtually no scholar believes Jesus was actually 33 when he died. Jesus was born before Herod the Great issued the decree to execute “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matt. 2:16, ESV) and before Herod died in the spring of 4 B.C. If Jesus was born in the fall of 5 or 6 B.C., and if we remember that we don’t count the “0″ between B.C. and A.D., then Jesus would have been 37 or 38 years old when he died in the spring of A.D. 33 (as we believe is most likely). Even if Jesus died in the year A.D. 30 (the only serious alternative date), he would have been 34 or 35, not 33 years old. No major doctrine is affected by this common misconception. But don’t damage your credibility by confidently proclaiming “facts” from the pulpit that are not true.”

Read the other four here.

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New Series: Preach Like a Missionary.

Last week, drinking my morning coffee, I stumbled across a book. I’d read through the book before, once or twice. But that was before ministry, mostly. I thought the book was “decent”, at the time. I’d have given it an obligatory 4 stars on Amazon, if someone paid me.

But last week – oh, last week – I cracked this little book open, wiped off the dust, and read. The words leapt off the page, screaming, sizzling and popping like firecrackers. I hadn’t realized the liquid gold I’d had in hand, sitting on the shelf, for years.

It was a letter from an old pastor. He’d been converted at a late age, then gone on to lead a church planting effort so effective it virtually upended the largest empire in history. He was writing to a struggling church plant in a major metropolitan city. They’d had back and forth before, and now it came down to it: apparently, some were questioning his pastoral competency.

So the pastor sat down, and composed a letter. It’s a letter about being a pastor on mission. The letter is part autobiography, part theology, and all practical. It’s dripping with untapped wisdom, from a man who was arguably the most effective missional pastor in history.

His name is Paul. The letter, “2 Corinthians”.

As I’ve gleaned over this little gem over the last few weeks, I’ve decided it’s worth a blog series. I’d originally thought to post once on some takeaways, but soon realized the book was too big for that. Every page is brimming with missional preaching wisdom.

So, you want to learn to preach like missionary? Let’s learn together, from the most effective evangelist the world has ever known.

The series will begin next Tuesday, 4/22/14. Installments will be one week apart, until we’ve finished the book together. So, gear up, read through 2 Corinthians, and let’s learn together.

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A Glimpse of Truth: Sherlock Holmes

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, Book #9

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“Frozen” Writers on Princess Mythology and 10 Ways to Kill Your Sermon Series

Scribble: “Frozen” Writers on Princess Mythology

“If you have young children, you may know by heart the songs from the Disney animated musical Frozen, including its massively ubiquitous “Let It Go.” The songwriting team behind the Oscar-winning hit includes Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (a married couple with two children), who each sing on the soundtrack.

Robert Lopez co-wrote the satirical Broadway musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, which is now touring. He is now an EGOT, the acronym for the select few who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Together, the two also wrote the songs for the 2011 Disney animated musical Winnie the Pooh. They tell Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about the inspiration for the songs from Frozen, including “Let It Go” and a “very strong strike across the bow at all princess-myth things” song that didn’t make the film.”

Listen to the whole interview here.

10 Ways to Kill Your Sermon Series

By visiting churches across the country, I’ve learned that many churches use sermon series to hone their message and encourage people to invite their friends, not just for one week but perhaps for four or six. I’ve also noticed that some churches implement sermon series more effectively than others. And some series engage the unchurched better than others. You can learn how to do things right from the churches who are doing it wrong.

Here are ten ways to sink your sermon series: Here.

 

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Killing Your Creativity Killer.

You sit down to write, pick up your pen, or place your hands on the keyboard.

Cup of coffee? Check.

Pacing nervously around the room for half-hour? Check.

Exhausting every social media outlet available so you have no conceivable excuse to delay? Check.

It’s only you, and the blank page. Sort of. Other people are there, too, it seems. Little people, in your head, shouting at you:

“This is a waste of time – you’re not doing anything important.”

“This book is CRAZY. No one will understand it.”

“Why do you think you can write? You don’t have formal training. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

And on, and on, and on it goes until you just can’t take it anymore. These little voices are most writers greatest hindrances – they kill our creativity, and keep us frozen, unable to produce work. They prohibit us from writing those terrible but necessary first drafts, and keep us re-editing the same sentence over and over again, never finishing a thing.

So, to the rescue – Anne Lammott:

“Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent.”  Here’s an exercise she suggests to quiet those voices:

“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in … anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away ….”

Maybe your exercise doesn’t look exactly the same – but if you’re going to write, you’re going to have to shut those little buggers up somehow, and it’s not a bad way to start.

Stay positive. Keep writing. It will come.

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900 Free Online Courses and Making it Stick Through Story

Scribble: 900 Free Online University Courses

Get free online courses from the world’s leading universities –  Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Oxford and more. This collection includes over 900 free courses in the liberal arts and sciences. You can download these audio & video courses (often from iTunes, YouTube, or university web sites) straight to your computer or mp3 player. Over 30,000 hours of free audio & video lectures, await you now.

See all the collections here.

Preach: Make it Stick Through Storytelling

Before there was the written word, humans used stories to transfer culture from one generation to the next. Stories are who we are, and we are our stories. Stories may contain analogies or metaphors, powerful tools for bringing people in and helping them understand our thoughts clearly and concretely. The best presenters illustrate their points with stories, often personal ones.

The easiest way to explain complicated ideas is through examples or by sharing a story that underscores the point. If you want your audience to remember your content, then find a way to make it more relevant and memorable by strengthening your core message with good, short, stories or examples.

Read the research here.

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Two People Who Shouldn’t Like Your Sermon.

One of them is you.

In other words, don’t preach the sermon you want to hear. You’re a preacher, so I’ll assume you’re a mature Christian, which means you’re interested in the nuances of scripture. You likely (although not surely) don’t need to hear a beckoning call to receive Christ. You probably don’t need to hear that secular worldviews are unworkable. If you were hearing a sermon, you’d want mind-twisting theology, deeper knowledge of a text than you’ve acquired after years of study, and a no holds-barred, in your face approach to application.

You also bring your personality into it. Certain illustrations resonate with you. You bring your own sin struggles in – some applications resonate with you. You bring in your own presuppositions – things you assume about scripture, and the gospel, and how life works.

But the people sitting in the pew aren’t you. So don’t preach the sermon you want to hear.

On the other hand: the people listening shouldn’t be happy with your sermon, either.

They should be convicted. So we change our illustrations, and we change our tone, and we change the words we use and we switch up the content to avoid our pet-issues. But it’s not to make them happy.

It’s to make the gospel understandable. And it’s to make God glorified.

And that should make you happy, anyway. And them.

Just not the way we thought.

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