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“I Want To Be Clear” – The Low Hanging Fruit of Bullet Point Preachers

We’ve been walking through the problem (and I do think it is a problem) of bullet-point style preaching. You can catch up in the conversation here, here, and here. I know that for many preachers bullet-points are preferable. The reason they cite is “clarity.” I want to address this issue.

The pressing question is this, Were the teachings of Jesus clear? You’re right, it’s a trick question. Some of the Lord’s teachings are clear. Take for instance Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are bringing an offering to God and you remember that your brother is angry at you or holds a grudge against you, then leave your gift before the altar, go to your brother, repent and forgive one another, be reconciled, and then return to the altar to offer your gift to God.” The fact that this teaching is clear hasn’t stopped it from being almost universally ignored. There is no connection between the clarity of the teaching and the application of what has been taught. Preachers, let’s loose the illusions that clarity necessarily produces obedience.

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Saturday Song – Where The Streets Have No Name

Where The Streets Have No Name  by U2 is one of my favorite songs. It is spiritually, theologically, and sociologically deep. Tomorrow at 10:15 am in Temple, TX, we launch The Vine Church and this will be our feature song. It is a kind of prayer for where we want to go as community of faith. If you’re in the Central, TX are, join us. You won’t regret it.

What songs are speaking to you about the Kingdom of God?

Tough Sledding: How To Read Difficult Books

As a preacher, church and community leader and comunicator, I do a great deal of reading, studying and research. Much of this is difficult technical and academic literature. This reading gives people the illusion that I’m smarter than the average bear, but that’s not really true.
Truth is, even though I read a lot of demanding material; I’m not a natural reader and I don’t think that my IQ is higher than the average person. I merely went to graduate school, which forced me to read a lot, retain a good bit of what I read, and then deliver the same material, along with my own reflections, in ways that make sense to people. I’ve learned some simple strategies that anyone can employ in order to read difficult texts.
Here They Are:
  1. Read in Short Burst. I rarely read more than 10-15 minutes at a time. I cut out all other disctractions, set the timer on my iPhone, put my head down and plow through. When the time is up, I walk around, check e-mail or something else for 5-minutes, then set the time again. It sounds short, but you’ll be amazed at what you’ll get done in an hour.
  2. Set A Daily Page Count. Getting through tough reading becomes easier if you’ll covenant with yourself to get through a certain number of pages per day. For me, it’s usually 50-75 pages. That’s not many, but you can make it through a tough book in a few days.
  3. YouTube Videos. Some books (read: authors) are really difficult to follow. When you come across an author you don’t understand, stop reading and hop on YouTube! Hopefully you can find video of the author speaking. Doing this will give you a feel for the author’s diction and rhythm and the way they use language. (Confession: I never made it through a N.T. Wright book until I did this. After hearing him perform several sermons, his books flowed much more easily. I began to understand how he communicated.)
  4. Read The Conclusion First. I picked this up from my friend, Kraig Martin, as he was doing his Master’s in Philosophy. Kraig would read the conclusion of each chapter in order to get a sense of what was being argued. He’d then go back and read the argument. I tried it. It helps.
  5. Keep Resources Handy. I’m not picking up theologians like Mark Heim without my online dictionary handy. He uses words I don’t know. Without the resources hand, I’d be debilitated. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and look it up. There’s even a Wikipedia for theology.

These tips have helped me and my reading. Reading, in turn, helps me with everything else in life. Try them for a while. I bet they’ll help you too.

Share with us how you get through tough (but good) books.

Breakdown, The First Steps of Deconstructing Your Paradigm

Reading the Bible isn’t as easy as I was taught as a child.

For instance, a few months ago I walked a group of people through a class entitled, A Dangerous Word. Essentially we examined how we read scripture. It’s obvious – given the 1,000′s of Christian denominations – that people and ecclesiological traditions read the Bible differently. What’s less obvious – and this applies to all groups – is that “we” have a particular way of reading scripture. What’s more, “our” way of reading is largely culturally-conditioned and has it’s own beauty and it’s own blind spots. Texts that are crucial to one person or group are oftentimes marginalized or flat-out ignored by others – it’s called “privileging a text.”

This privileging of texts gets pretty astonishing at times. some traditions find themselves honoring and privileging one half of a sentence and ignoring the second part of the same sentence. For instance, the church of my childhood demanded that “Church of Christ” was the only proper name for a church because it was the only one mentioned in the New Testament (Romans 16.16). Yet, in those same churches, no one – and I mean NO ONE – ever exchanged a “Holy kiss” though that is also in Romans 16.16. As Scot McKnight has pointed out in his great book, The Blue Parakeet“every one of us adopts and (at the same time) adapts the Bible to our culture.”

In preparing the class I was once again reminded how difficult it is to peel back our constructs in order to build a better and more constructive one. Like many theology students, the death of our “first naivete” and the introduction of  the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” can be oft-putting. People, including myself, are resistant to the process of deconstruction.

For one, deconstruction is hard. In the process we have to examine our preconceptions and offer the lamb of our philosophical and theological constructs up for sacrifice. Only truth-seekers can truly do this. Those who desire to use their version of truth or partial truth reject the process out-right. There’s simply too much at stake – namely power. In order to get to the heart of truth one must be willing to clear the debris of partial truth, idols and comforting platitudes.

Second, the deconstructive process puts our past on the line. We are who we are because of our history. Even our painful experiences shape us. Since most of us like ourselves we protect our history. How disorienting it is to willingly engage a process that critiques both our current belief system and past beliefs…especially for leaders. We’ve given advice and walked through life with other people, offering the seeds of a belief system throughout the process. We bring into question the good we have done if we allow ourselves to questions the beliefs that gave rise to those good works. For Christians, this should be mitigated by belief that God is working through us and it was never about us in the first place.

Third, it’s easy to believe that if we don’t recognize or acknowledge something, it’s not really there. For instance, if we never talk about translation issues, hermeneutics, the role of genres, etc…then they don’t exist. Questions regarding the function of Genesis 1-12, Job, Daniel or Revelation aren’t easy to wade through, yet we need to nevertheless.

We need the deconstructive process for one simple reason: Truth! Many Christians live with false, ultimately indefensible, and theologically poor paradigms because we have simply swallowed  what was spoon fed us as children, teens, or when we first came to have a life-changing, though rudimentary relationship with Jesus. Yet, for many, the process is simply too painful to embrace.

But I don’t know anyone who deeply wants to live with an ill-concieved or false worldview. We don’t reject deconstruction because we desire falsehood, we reject it because it’s painful. Yet, it is Jesus who assures us that the truth will set us free. Therefore, when we examine the scriptures, we are seek nothing less than truth. The best Bible readers – both laity and clergy – seek truth with the fundamental belief that whatever else we sacrifice on our journey to truth is worth sacrificing.

Six Messages Kids Need To Hear

Yesterday I shared a post dealing with Barbara Coloroso’s Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline. Part of Coloroso’s work is teaching parents the six critical messages kids need. I think you’ll find you need them too.

What messages are you sending to your kids? How do you communicate them?

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