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Saturday, November 24, 2007

What We've Been Up To...

We had a great Thanksgiving, as the kids were intrigued by the headless turkey. Lots of questions came flying out of their mouths like "where's the head...why did the hunter kill the turkey...what do turkeys eat???" When dinner was served the questions ceased as the kids devoured the food in front of them and talked to their friends Elliott and Nate, who joined us for the feast along with their grandmother Phyllis.

Lots of questions have been floating around in my mind too, not about turkeys but about my dissertation topic and research. October and early November was a pretty exhausting time for us Beeson Pastors, though we all made it through and met our assignment deadlines. Our attention now begins to turn with more intentionality toward our dissertation.

The focus of my dissertation is to develop a model for preaching as a spiritual discipline, as opposed to a merely technical task. Too many preachers, myself included, get so caught up with homiletic technique and rhetorical ability that we sometimes forget how utterly reliant we are upon the power of God's Spirit to empower the words we preach. I'm not suggesting that the development of technique and rhetorical skills is unimportant; it is very vital to effective preaching. What my dissertaion argues, however, is that the technique of preaching should never take the lead in the homiletic dance with the spirituality of preaching.

So, I will develop a process for developing and delivering sermons that is more driven by spiritual disciplines than rhetorical technique. I hope to recruit 5 preaching pastors in the Penn-Jersey District of the Wesleyan Church who will employ my model for six months. My hunch is that their utilization of this spiritual homiletic will cultivate in them greater joy in preaching and more pronounced ethos (integrity/character/holiness) among the congregants to whom they speak. My hope and prayer is that the model I develop will invite the power of God's Spirit through my preaching and that of my pastoral colleagues in a heightened way. Because at the end of the day, the impact of Christian preaching relies more on the spiritual ethos than the rhetorical eloquence of the preacher. In other words, who the preacher is in Christ matters more than what they say and how they say it. Or, to put it another way, the power of a sermon comes more from the ethos of the preacher than the eloquence of the preaching.

I genuinely welcome your thoughts and questions about my dissetation focus, which will help me to better articulate my own thoughts and questions.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meeting with some incredible leaders!

Our group of Beeson Pastors have recently met with some incredible international leaders. What a privilege it is to sit down in a small group with leaders who have had a profound impact not only upon the Church but upon the World.

Last week we met with Ken Blanchard (pictured above) while we were in San Diego for the National Outreach Conference. Few people have impacted the day-to-day management of people and companies as has Ken Blanchard. A gregarious, sought-after, and prominent author, speaker, and business consultant, he is universally characterized by friends, colleagues, and clients as one of the most insightful, powerful, and compassionate men in business today. His coauthored The One Minute Manager library, includes The One Minute Manager (1982), Putting the One Minute Manager to Work (1984), The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey (1989), and The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams (1990). The library has collectively sold more than nine million books and has been translated into more than 20 languages. He shared with our small group very candidly and passionately about his conversion to Christ in his 40's.

Two days ago, our group had lunch with N.T. Wright (pictured above...the guy in the center with the cool clerical collar and cross) and his wife, Maggie. The Rev. N. T. Wright is Bishop of Durham, Church of England. Bishop Wright is one of today's best known and respected New Testament scholars. From 1978 to 1981 he was Fellow and Chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge. In 1981 he received the D.Phil. degree from the University of Oxford. He then moved to Montreal as Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at McGill University. He returned in 1986 to Oxford as University Lecturer in New Testament, and Fellow and Chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford. He became Dean of Lichfield in 1994, and Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000. Also in 2000 he received the earned D.D. degree for his post-doctoral published research work, principally The New Testament and the People of God, The Climax of the Covenant and Jesus and the Victory of God. In 2003 he was elected and ordained Bishop of Durham. Bishop Wright has written over thirty books, both at the scholarly level and for a popular audience.

These are two very different Christian leaders, one a Christian business person whose books and speaking have shaped millions of people for business and the other a Pastoral theologian whose books and speaking have shaped millions of people for vocation. These leaders together symbolize what the Beeson Program is all about, the merger of practical ministry (Blanchard) with thoughtful theology (Wright).


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Boxing Ourselves In

These two pictures (one above, one below) of Samuel, my son, illustrate an important reality in our lives about sin and, in particular, the sin of idolatry. I know what you're thinking, how could something as adorably appealing as toddler illustrate something as gruesome as sin? That's my point exactly! You see, so often we throw ourselves into pursuits and pleasures that are appealing but clearly contrary to God's loving will for our lives. The result may be a certain amount of bliss (pictured above), at least for a little while. We forsake God for the box of lust, pride, greed, gluttony, lying, etc. and perhaps at first we smile while in the box. However, the picture of Samuel below illustrates what inevitably happens when we put ourselves in the box of sinful self-centeredness instead of in the hands of a loving and holy God. We get caught in our own idolatrous box!

The good news is that when we cry out for help, as Samuel did not hesitate to do, our heavenly Father picks us up and frees us from the boxes we find ourselves in. If you find yourself somewhat trapped in a self-imposed box, cry out to God with a fervent desire to be forgiven and freed. He will come to you, pick you up and whisper lovingly in your ear, "be holy as I am holy."