Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

As a congregant you have a significant role to play in helping your preacher preach better. In the last post, we talked a little about time and the effect lack of time can have on sermon preparation. Think about this: After Seinfeld went off television, Jerry Seinfeld decided to retire all his old stand-up material (watch the movie, “Comedian”). He spent the next year crafting a new act. After a year, Seinfeld had 30-minutes worth of material. That’s right ONE YEAR! 30 MINUTES!

Guess what? Your preacher does 30 minutes every week!

Could he or she do less? Probably. But here’s my point: Many of us have been in church so long that we’ve forgotten or never understood what we were asking of our preacher in terms of the speech act itself. Your preacher, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, can’t simply use the same “material” over and over again and be effective. Also, read the sermons in the book of Acts. They are strikingly similar and mercifully short. Churches, however, asks their minister to speak a fresh word every week and sometimes to speak multiple fresh words throughout the week. Hear me correctly, this isn’t a preacher complaining about his job. Complaining is fruitless. It is, however, one preacher asking you to help your preacher preach better by understanding what they are up against. And here’s how:

1. Prayer – Seems obvious, but I’ve known preachers who were cursed more than they were prayed for. The prayers won’t just changed the preaching, it’ll change your heart about the preacher.

2. Feedback – Preachers are generally narcissist who are very self-conscious. (No worries, God made them this way in order to stand before great multitudes each week AND care about what’s coming out of their mouths.) But they are also overwhelmingly concerned about doing what they can to help your life and your relationship with God. When giving feedback, tell them what you LIKED, what was meaningful. Trust me, like a professional golfer walking off the 18th green, preachers know every shot they missed and where their swing was flawed. If you want more of something from your preacher, praise it. He or she is human-being, they’ll respond.

3. Force Time Away – Good preachers work all the time, they even work when they’re not supposed to be working. If you want to nurture your preacher, send them and their spouse away for a weekend. Be insistent and do what you can to make that happen. Sometimes that means paying for it yourself or with a group. You’re not paying for it because your preacher is broke, but because they’ll be less likely to turn it down if it’s paid for already.

4. Be Friends – Ask around, many preachers don’t have friends. You can be a friend. Just imagine what it would be like to stand in front of a crowd of people each week and having them ALL want something from you. It’s tiring. Try taking your preacher to a ball game, out to the movies, or to play cards. Just him or her, not their entire family, and build a genuine relationship. Here’s the inside scoop, when preachers get overtures from other churches, one of the overwhelming reasons they stay put, is friends.

You’ll notice that all the ways to help your preacher are relational, not technical. I bet relational connectedness is his or her greatest felt need. The best preachers I’ve known felt relationally connected to their congregation. They didn’t just look connected – which is different. They felt connected. Here’s the thing: There’s only one way to find out if your preacher feels connected and loved rather than looks connected and loves, you have to ask them.

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A few posts ago, I commented, “Preaching naively believes that preaching can help” this troubled world. What I mean by this is that preaching, the act of speaking to an audience who will likely soon forget what was said, on the face, appears to be fairly anemic, but the preacher believes it is not. Jesus seems to think that preaching does something that nothing else can do. As His cousin, John, sits in prison, Jesus chooses not to visit or set John free. Rather, Jesus preaches. And it’s important to pay attention to exactly what Jesus preaches.

In Mark, as Jesus begins His public ministry, the apostle tells us that Jesus announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” Again, each word here could produce a book in it’s own right, but I want to highlight a few things that I think are generally important for preacher’s (and listeners) to keep in mind as we examine how preaching can help.

  1. “The Time is fulfilled.” Jesus is announcing a present reality. This reality is associated with both His presence and person, as well as heralding an eschatological vision. Therefore, the faithful do not simply await a future occurrence, but a reality that is being inaugurated. For the preacher, this means drawing the ears of the listener to God’s activity in the world today, rather than merely encouraging them to hang onto earth until we enjoy pie-in-the-sky. Weekly preaching needs immediacy! In short, the end has begun; we are caught between the now and the not yet.
  2. “The Kingdom of God has come near.” Christ announces a new system of both politics and living. We are invited, then, to live within this kingdom and assuage the narrow-mindedness of American left/right political polarities –or any other political system, for that matter – to see a vision of the kingdom of God. This is true of all systems or philosophies that cultures may offer. The kingdom of God upends all other kingdoms – American, financial, scientific, theological or personal. The preacher then must be certain not to loan the preaching event to alternative kingdoms; to spare the pulpit of his or her personal feeling about “Proposition Whatever” and call both all people – those with whom he or she aggress and/or disagrees with – to participation in the only governing that matters – God’s.
  3. “Repent and believe the good news.” After having told us that the kingdom of God was near, the Lord now instructs us regarding what to do about it. First, says Jesus, “repent,” literally to “change your mind.” He means to tell us to abandon alternative kingdoms, philosophies, politics, and epistemologies and believe the good news, which is, in short, Jesus Himself and not a theological system (Calvinism, Restoration, Methodism, etc…). Though many would like to reduce “the good news” only to the Passion narrative, this alone cannot be true, since Jesus is calling people to the good news BEFORE the Passion events. In large, Jesus proclaims that salvation hope can be found in Him; that there is a path back to wholeness for those who repent. Every pronouncement concerning God, then, should announce the good news. It matters little to beat up people about our estrangement from the Creator without a vocalization of the way back to God.

These 3 moves shape the fundamental message of Jesus’ ministry. You will notice here that Jesus’ preaching – both here and other places – lack the kinds of specifics and steps that contemporary preaching has devolved into. Jesus’ preaching is about a particular vision of the world. It is not nuggets, principles, helpful hints, or good advice. Those who reduce preaching to sound bites cut against the grain of how Jesus preached.  Sound bites, we should now have learned from the political world, don’t change the world. Preaching should aim for more.

To be continued…

Another reason to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons is that all Christians ultimately believe that a world of unbounded peace and unity will eventually be. This is an eschatological reasoning. Perhaps John Howard Yoder can best articulate this point, but suffice it to say this: There will be a day in the future in which the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will be a day of complete, undisturbed peace. As a follower of Jesus, both my instincts and my calling are to live as if that day is this day. I am called to live my life to honor this coming and peaceable Kingdom. I am summoned to live as though – as Jesus said – the Kingdom of God is near.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6.9ff). Prayer, as always, is not only a petition to God, but also a call to local, global and real action. To pray such a prayer involves my decision to side with God toward the in breaking of God’s Kingdom.

If Christian people know that a day is coming without not only war, but also without the threat of war, annihilation, fear, forceful coercion or terror, we are to actively engage the bringing about of that day.  In stark contrasts, a world in possession of over 20,000 nuclear weapons opposes the vision of God for the earth and the vision of God for His children. The simple fact that I can thoughtlessly or easily live in a world that is made, shaped, and formed by such deadly and dangerous weapons, without giving voice to a more peaceful vision for humanity suggests – to me at least – that I do not take the Lord’s Prayer seriously.  As I do when I give a cup of water in the name of Jesus, when I pray and petition world leaders to reduce and  eliminate nuclear weapons, I stand as a voice in this world calling out for the initiation of the next world.

I cannot imagine, therefore, that there will be nuclear weapons in heaven – as I cannot imagine rape, abuse and murder – so I must oppose them here. I cannot imagine that lasting, hopeful peace will be instituted by the threat or commencement of violence. It has not worked for past superpowers and it will not last for the nations now in possession of nuclear weapons. These weapons are icons of our bent to destruction rather than peace. This is an inclination that God, I suspect, wishes we did not have.

Scripture teaches us that only peace is eternal, and not “peace” at the tip of the sword, therefore, let us together step into eternity’s peace…today.

Every time I mention to someone that I wake up at either 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. the first question they ask me is “Why?”. Why would anyone who doesn’t HAVE to wake up that early do so? Apparently it’s OK for people who must be at work that early, but why punish yourself?

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Become An Early Riser

I’m not naturally a morning person, though. Because I am a night owl, I presumed the move to early rising was going to be a struggle. It wasn’t. Now having made the shift, I am an early-riser evangelist, believing everyone should do it. And here are three reasons why:

  1. Spiritual Development. Most Christ-followers I know want a deeper relationship with God. We know how to do it – prayer, spiritual reading, silence and solitude, along with other spiritual disciplines – but most of us don’t have good time to do it. It’s not that we don’t have time altogether; we don’t have good time. The time we have for ourselves, after work and kids, church and life, we are often far too exhausted to do anything worthwhile. Rising early changes the scales in the direction of spiritual formation. When I wake up, before the kids, the dawn and the Dawn Rochelle (my wife), I have the best and most time – coffee aided, of course – to engage God. Getting up a little earlier affords me the opportunity to orient my life towards God.
  2. Knowledge is King. Another plus of arising at five is seeking and finding all the news that’s good to know about our world. Karl Barth once said that a good preacher prepares his sermons with his Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And he’s right. Each morning, I crack open my MacBook Pro, fire up my Google Reader and check all the news sites and blogs that I favor. Before 6:30 a.m. I’ve picked up leadership lessons from the likes of Michael Hyatt and Brad Lomenick; I’ve been introduced to ways of connecting others with what I’m doing through folks like Seth Godin and Chris Brogan, and I’m up to speed on national and international events thanks to Politico.com, NYTimes.com, Washingtonpost.com, and drudgereport.com. Being on the west coast, most of what’s going to happen in the world has already happened by the time my neighbors wake up, but I’m ahead of the game. More than that though, throughout my day I don’t have to check websites, etc…once I arrive at the office, I can focus on being with people and tackling the day’s tasks.
  3. Family Harmony. Once our oldest daughter began school, we quickly realized that all four of us waking up, preparing and eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting dressed at the same time was pretty tough. Now, I’m awake, coffee-fueled, fed and ready to go by the time the girls get up. This makes our mornings much less stressful resulting in better, less stressful mornings.

There you have it.  There are other reasons – such as a more productive workday and exercise – which serve as additional reasons to get up early, but I think you’re getting the point. My encouragement to you is to give it two-weeks, make a plan describing what it is you want to do with your time and stick to it. You’ll find that your bedtime comes earlier, but, most likely, it’ll be worth it.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m teaching a class on spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. The class is going well, but as is the case whenever a group of people explore spiritual formation, there are points that stretch all of us. The stretching is always both painful and necessary. After all, theses practices are designed to aid us in our drawing closer to God and becoming more like Jesus. That, it seems, has never been easy.

This week we focused on approaches to prayer. At root, we were attempting to move away from what I call “Laundry List” prayers and embrace a more robust view of the discipline. Prayers that perhaps are less about speaking and more about listening. Prayers that lead us more toward mystical union with God and a sense of His ever abiding presence with us. 

Particularly we considered The Jesus Prayer as written about in The Way Of The Pilgrim” and contemplative prayer as practiced by John Cassian. The Jesus Prayer is a simply repetition of these words: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Today I took it upon myself to pray the prayer 50 times. The result? The Jesus Prayer keeps one in touch with their own sinfulness (and self-centeredness). Fortunately, this “in-touch-ness” does not come in a negative way, wherein the continued realization of our sinfulness depletes us making us feel depressed and worthless. Rather, one feels — quite appropriately, I think — the sense that they should be careful about the way they “face” the world and speak about others.

Perhaps as we are armed with the knowledge that we are sinners we will embrace patience rather than picketing with those we disagree with or have failed to understand. Perhaps within the church and without it we can extend grace and harmony to others. Perhaps we would be slower in claiming our own rightness or high ground when other faithful Christians disagree with us about denominational (or non-denominational) distinctives. And we should do so simply because we so desperately need it ourselves. 

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Next week I’ll be reviewing an upcoming commentary by attorney, theologian, author and friend, Edward Fudge. Edward’s new commentary tackles the meaty, dense and oft-misunderstood book of Hebrews. Trust me, you’ll be interested in what Edward brings to light from this fabulous book. Before year’s end I will be preaching through Hebrews and Edward’s commentary will surely be a trusted guide.

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On my “Sean Palmer” page I’ve highlighted that I have reduced my out-of-town speaking and travel this year due to my new ministry context. However of you want to catch me somewhere I will be doing some limited traveling.

Pepperdine Bible Lectures: May 5-8 (Loving and Affirming the Justice of God)

Houston Summer Youth Series: July 13

Abilene Christian University Summit: September 20-23 (Hear The Voice)

Of course if you live in Silicon Valley you can join me for worship each Sunday at 9:00 ( a cappella) and 10:45 (instrumental) AM at Redwood Church or listen to the weekly podcast.

Tomorrow night I continue a series I’ve been teaching called, The Sacred Way. For 8-weeks we are looking at some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. I call them “ancient” for two reasons: (1) They were all conceived a long time ago and (2) Most people in American Evangelical churches don’t practice them (out of ignorance or willing abandonment, I don’t know). At any rate, our community here in Northern California is attempting to recapture them. Were coming to better understand that knowledge and narrow readings of scripture alone do not produce the Life that Jesus promised. We’re also learning together that our brothers and sisters throughout the ages have something to teach us regarding drawing closer to God.

This week’s reflection is prayer. In particular we will be looking at The Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayer, and Centering Prayer. This is scratching the surface, but it is enought to get us started. While we will be exploring these ancient disciplines, our time will begin with C.S. Lewis — a comparatively contemporary figure. Though most of us know Lewis as a writer of prose, we are going to begin our discussion of prayer with one of Lewis’ poems, and I want to share it with you here. This poem — IMHO — is deeply powerful and provocative.

Footnote To All Prayers…C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow,
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou.
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart.
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme.
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address,
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless,
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Monday I received a cold call from the local hospital, Kaiser Redwood City. The wife of an elderly couple was dying and the family wanted a local pastor or chaplain to come by and pray with them. The social worker (and you know I have a special place in my heart for social workers) knew the family was Protestant and we were the only “non-denominational” church she could find.

So, I went to the hospital. The couple was in their 80’s and had been married for 63 years. For the past 8 months the husband and his adult, special needs son had visited his dying wife, and for 8 months she hadn’t gotten any better. The 8 months of anticipation hadn’t curtailed his heartache as his tears revealed. And now I was with them. I was there to pray before he told the doctors the very last thing any of us ever wants to tell a doctor; that it was OK to let her attempt her own breathing, all the while knowing she couldn’t.

It was Holy ground.

I’m reminded tonight of all the petty and small things so many of us in the church become consumed with. It’s hard to miss pettiness when it rubs up against the beauty and heartache of loving devotion.

In these times I’m mindful of the simple power of love and that loving one another volunteers us for tears. Yet in the end, who among us would rather not have loved?