On Bricks and Sermons

I’ve always been into Legos. Ever since I can remember, I loved getting Lego sets for my birthday and Christmas. I had so much fun following the directions and constructing a new toy to play with. My imagination ran wild with all the adventures I could have with it. But, inevitably, I would deconstruct whatever I built and throw the pieces into a large bin with all the other pieces I’d accumulated.

The vast majority of my time spent with Legos consisted of creating new projects. Whether it was a space ship (I’d say this was 90% of what I built), a house, or a landscape, I was building something new. And this was the process I always went through – and still go through – when building something new:

  1. Dig through my entire Lego collection, setting aside every single piece I might want to use
  2. Build whatever I wanted from the pieces I had set aside
  3. Put the unused pieces in with the rest of my collection.

On any given project, no matter how large or small, I would only end up using – at most – 30% of all the pieces I originally set aside. When collecting those pieces, my imagination would go crazy with all the ideas I had… “I could use this piece if I wanted to make a kitchen-type room,” “What about this piece? Yeah, it could be a wing or something…,” “Every spaceship needs a grate over the mechanical segments,” and so-on.  In the end, however, the majority of my ideas would be scrapped.

I remember one time I was building a single-seater space ship (of course). I spent about an hour or so collecting all the parts I thought I could use. I probably had around 500 pieces in all by the end of it. My original idea kept changing, and the next hour was used for building exactly what I wanted. In fact, every time I think back to that project, I wish I wouldn’t have torn it apart because the set turned out perfectly.

All-in-all, it was only comprised of 100 pieces.  But man…. I loved that ship. It was just right!

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Being trained in ministry is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that my focus for being a pastor is more narrow, allowing me to better determine how to best used my time and energy in serving others. It also helped me in structuring sermons (probably my most consistent form of ministering to people).

But ministry training is also a curse. Probably the worst thing for a preacher to go through is listening to another preacher, because we have been trained in message preparation; Biblical hermeneutics, public speaking, presentation structure, ancient culture and language, and Christian theology. To be perfectly frank, one of my greatest struggles is attending other churches. It’s almost inevitable that something the preacher/speaker says is going to put me off; an anachronism, proof-texting, misappropriation of a text, exegetical fallacies, or something as silly as “the gain on his mic is set way too high.”  All of that is stuff I can look past, to a point, but I’ve noticed a larger issue that is happening in a lot of churches….

I typically develop a message the same way that I build with Legos: I start with a general idea, and then gather up all the pieces that I feel fit the best. I’ll jot down a story idea, point to other parts of the Bible, maybe a piece of philosophy or language, add in some backstory, a rabbit trail or two if it doesn’t distract from the message, and anything else that pops in my head.  Once that’s done, I strip everything down to what’s necessary to convey the truth of that Sunday’s Scripture reading.  Overall, I’d say that my weekly sermon is about 30% of what I’ve played with during preparation.

I can only imagine what my sermons would be like if I tried to add every “great idea” I had in preparation. I would have so many anecdotes, fluff information, and side-notes that the message would be way too long and convoluted, and ultimately people would leave thinking, “wait… what was the message?”  That’s what I see happening in a lot of churches, and even in people’s personal lives.

I’m not sure where it comes from, but there’s a growing atmosphere that consists of “Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are nice; but what else?” Perhaps we’ve stumbled into it, or maybe it’s a response to people who don’t think the Gospel is dense enough, or it could be that we keep trying to outdo ourselves in our presentation. Whatever it is, I rarely meet people (outside of my local community, because our pastors are pretty awesome) who confront the Word on a regular basis. They confront exciting, emotional music; they watch a well-produced movie or a sketch at church; but the Word must have been left in the Pastor’s study.

It’s sad to admit that when I read a ‘Christian’ book, watch a Christian movie, or see a televangelist, I resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to encounter the Word; I’m going to encounter an abstract painting – just enough color and texture to be interesting, but contorted to the point of being indistinguishable.

There seems to be a general dissatisfaction with the Gospel, because it’s been buried beneath a lot of “great ideas.” We dress it up, do some color correction, add cool effects, inject a bunch of memes to make it ‘relevant,’ and before too long Christ is left on the periphery of the real focus: a variety show.

Now, I’m not shouting “Heresy!” toward preachers, teachers, or speakers. If people are coming to know the Lord, I’m not going to heavily discount the work of a lot of churches out there. My point is this: Is the forgiveness of sins enough for us?  Is sanctification satisfying? Is resurrection, and life eternal, worthy of reflection?

Or do we even know what those mean anymore?

Maybe we threw them back into the bin, in favor of something else we want the Gospel to be.

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On Dating and Marriage

The atmosphere for the message was set.  I had been worshiping with the congregation for about 20 minutes, and even though there was some awkward reverb going on, my heart was ready.  The songs, the prayers, and the readings had allowed me to focus in and hear from the Lord.

A man in a suit walked up to the pulpit to introduce the revival speaker for tonight’s service, and after he had prayed over the service in preparation for what was to come he began to introduce the man who would bring the word of the Lord to us this evening.  But then it happened…

The audio feed for Olivet’s Live Streaming  website cut-out, and I couldn’t hear anything through my headphones anymore.  Since there wasn’t even a video feed to look at, I decided to go for a drive.

The morning message was good.  Very good, in fact.  I sat with my group of fellow Preaching Ambassadors and heard how our lives shouldn’t be lived through our efforts and actions, but that God should live in and through us in a way that our lives naturally produce good fruit. (the spirit of Christ in us – holiness).  It wasn’t until my drive tonight that something began to solidify in my heart and mind.

I enjoy driving.  Especially evening driving.  The day is winding down, not many people are on the road, and there is a general calm to the world.  Not to mention the low lighting gives a sense of privacy when driving a car with no tinted windows.  Evening/night driving has always been a time of quiet reflection and prayerful thinking for me; and a time to tune in to whatever God wants to talk about.

Apparently he wanted to talk to me about relationships.  I can’t say for sure if he had ever ‘said’ anything to me overtly about this topic ever before, either because I thought relationships are too ungodly to talk about, or because I have always been oblivious to what the word actually means when it is lived out.  But this time was different.  And in a world that has so many mixed and perverted messages about dating (or courting, or whatever you want to call this period of a relationship) and marriage, it was refreshing to hear what my Heavenly Father had to say about them as they pertain to my life.

As most of my conversations with God start out, I admitted my general stupidity about a lot of things.  I don’t claim to have a corner on relationships, and even though I worded my previous paragraph a little pointedly, I could very well be mistaken in my understanding and (God forbid!) I am putting words into God’s mouth.

What if our relationships didn’t exist for the sake of the relationship?  What if we dated someone for something more than just the dating experience?  What if marriage was not an end to a means, and dating a simple ‘phase’ to get through with no inherent significance outside of engagement, which has significance only in the fact that it precedes an ultimate goal: marriage.  What if our romantic relationships existed for a purpose greater than romantic and emotional fulfillment?

The Christian life is about living in a way that points directly to God.  Holiness is about being sourced by God; not leaning on our own strength, abilities, and understanding, but being entirely dependent upon the Spirit.  After all, the ultimate purpose of a Christian is to show God’s love to the world, correct?  Living selflessly, thinking of others before ourselves, showing grace and forgiveness – these are all ways that we demonstrate who God is and how much He loves us (and all people).  And what is important to know is that we cannot live in such a way on our own, which is why we need God to live it out through us by his power, by his mercy, by his love and grace.

What has been on my heart and mind recently is this:  What if my relationships did the same thing?  What if the purpose of my relationships was not to reach an ultimate goal, or fulfill some desire, but that the purpose was to show God to the world?

This morning before the service I jotted down something in my phone, and it says:

“What if the purpose of [a] relationship is to be a means by which the love of God is communicated to the world?  Wouldn’t that force us to focus beyond ourselves, to desire to build up and support each other?  To forgive mistakes and show grace [quicker]?  To love each other more?

“What would it look like if our relationship was not about us doing all things for the sake of the relationship and constantly trying to weave God into the mix, but that it was a vessel God uses to show the world who He is by the way we treat each other?”

If that were a reality, then everything changes.  Rather than constantly looking forward to the next anniversary, engagement, marriage, and whatever other major points in a relationship, every moment becomes significant.  Dating is no longer an awkward pre-engagement phase – it has a true purpose.  engagement becomes more than wedding-planning.  Yes, there are many nuances of relationships that are complicated, but what would it look like if communicating/displaying God’s love to the world was the primary purpose behind it?

Suddenly, marriage no longer becomes a goal.  Marriages becomes a part of the overall story of the relationship.  The two people get married because they can’t not get married.  They love each other so much that they can’t not commit their lives to each other.  They love each other so much that they can’t not forgive each other.  They love each other so much that they can’t not give up themselves for each other.  And all of this is not because they inherently have an ability to love each other in such a way, but because God has loved through them.  God is so alive within each of them, and is living through each of them, that they get wrapped up in this active and vibrant display of His love.  It is not merely a story of each person loving each other, but God loving each of them through each other.

Would that create a beautiful image of God’s love for the world?

“You see this couple and how they love each other?  That is how much I love you.”

What are your thoughts?