I would currently describe my sermon writing style as “following breadcrumbs.”
Sitting down on Monday, I read the text I picked for my sermon repeatedly and from different English translations. Then, I start a list of observations and ideas from that reading. Then I see where it goes.
Each new idea is a little breadcrumb I pick up and digest along this journey.
What does that word mean? What does it mean for us, and what did the original word mean to the first readers? Is there any other place that word is used in the Bible? What concepts does this passage reveal or help us to understand? Are there any other passages we need to view to help us understand this one better?
Then comes the application breadcrumbs. What would happen if we lived this idea as believers? What would that look like? How would I explain it to people? Are there any analogies or anecdotes that would help people to understand this part of faith and put it into practice?
I no longer sit down with a firm idea and then use the Bible to prove I am correct. I don’t try to force a three-point outline like some cookie-cutter shape for sermons. I don’t try to use every passage of scripture that touches on a particular topic. Instead, I try to listen to what the Bible says, follow the Spirits leading, and communicate an idea that the people in my congregation might need to hear.
Some weeks this process leads me to Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Then it will lead me to an hour-long Google search on the stages of grief. And finally, I will handwrite the four movements of a person, from hearing the gospel to believing it, trying to identify how grief might keep us from Jesus.
All those breadcrumbs become a sermon. I write it. I edit it. I re-edit it. I leave it alone for a couple of days. I reread it. I practice it, and finally, I preach it.
I no longer view sermon writing as an exact science but as the art of taking God’s word and pulling together various thoughts until I can share them with God’s people. And I do it one breadcrumb at a time.
Bitterness is defined as anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly. It can be associated with resentment and hostility. It often leaves us with feelings of pain and distress.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Church in the city of Ephesus, he starts giving them instructions for living out their faith. In this part of his letter, he tells them to rid themselves of destructive behaviors. The first thing he writes is, “Get rid of all bitterness.” (Eph. 4:31)
One of the biggest things Christians need to remove from their lives is the painful sting caused by disappointments. We thought life should have gone this way for us, and it didn’t. This can be directed at other people, but often it is turned toward God. We believe God is real, and that is the quandary; how could this God have allowed us to be treated this way?
Why did they have to get cancer? Why did he have to do that to our family? Why did I have to walk through that hurt and pain? All those questions result in us becoming bitter.
I often talk to people about guilt, shame, and remorse. Those are the feelings brought on by our failures and sins. Bitterness is the result of painful feelings created by the actions of others, including God.
If we follow God, our faith must come to the point where we trust that he is doing a mighty work in our lives even when we do not see or understand it. While we do not like how things went, we know he works for our good. When we doubt his goodness, we lean into the words of scripture that encourage us to trust him.
There is no foolproof way to remove bitterness from the life of a believer, but there is a way for us to let it go. It requires a faith more immense than our circumstances in a God who is able to bring life out of death. The empty tomb reminds us that God can turn all bitterness into celebration.
I heard a person describe life with this analogy.
Life without God is like riding a bike uphill. You have to push yourself and work hard to make any progress. And you never seem to crest the top.
Life with God is like riding a bike downhill. You still must be alert and watch out for danger, but the ride is much easier. You will need to decide the exact path you will take, but most of the work is being driven by a force outside yourself. And you never seem to reach the bottom.
I know there are ways this analogy falls apart. Sometimes our experiences seem to prove it wrong. But overall, the general concept is valid. There are divine forces at work that we have no control over that are powering us through each leg of our journey. So often, we need to stop peddling so arduously and let God move us through the seasons of life.
When something positive happens in your life, there are two questions you need to answer.
Who do you call first? You know they will genuinely be happy for you.
Who do you feel will not truly be happy for you?
Those two answers will reveal who you need to spend more time with and who you need to move out of your life.
To have one, you need to have actually read the Bible.
Otherwise, you are only sharing your opinions.
Don’t claim to be an advocate for a book you don’t read or have never entirely read.
I believe God has a calling on your life to serve him. I am unsure what that might be, but I am sure of a few things.
God is not calling you to do everything. Therefore, you do not need to be involved in every ministry and fill every minute of your time.
God is not calling you to do nothing. You should not sit back and let everyone else serve while you watch.
God is calling you to do something.
The preacher shouted to his approving congregation, “Some people out there are ashamed of the truth. They don’t believe what I am telling you tonight.” At its core, I am sure he was partially correct. But there was another part that bothered me. His shouts were given to the most approving crowd possible. So there was zero risk in his declaration.
He had created what is often called a Straw Man fallacy. He made a caricature of the people who might oppose his words and then easily defeated them. He did not address the serious issues of the matter or offer well-reasoned arguments. His stand for truth was really more grandstanding.
For the Church to move forward in the name of Jesus, we need to be willing to address real people with complex issues with properly thought-through concepts. Then we must step out of the comfort of the Church and risk discussing our beliefs with people who do not agree or understand. When we do this, little affirmation will be given to our attempts, but real people will hear the gospel instead of us knocking down straw men.
Everyone in the audience seemed to be into it. They were singing along. Many were waving their arms and swaying with the music. Once the preacher got up, they took notes, and some people shouted, “Amen.” Still, other people in the crowd were nodding and into every word. The evening ended with some people in tears and enthusiasm for others.
The whole evening was incredibly moving for most of the people. The expression many used was “they could feel the spirit moving.”
Me? I felt nothing. Maybe it was because I was tired. Maybe because I was distracted.
Whatever the reason, I was not feeling it that night.
I was reminded that the Holy Spirit does not work on and in people the same way every time. Music that speaks to your soul may not be the songs that speak to mine. Messages you need to hear are not always what I need to hear.
Believers will not always feel the same things at the same time. And that is okay. We do not need identical experiences as believers, but we do need a time when the Spirit speaks to our soul. Saying, “I did not feel the Spirit that night,” is entirely understandable; saying, “I never feel the Spirit,” is when you may have a problem.
You will never find extra time for anything.
There is no magical way to find time for reading your Bible, praying, serving, or loving in the name of Jesus.
You have to make time for it.
Some of my mistakes play on a loop in my mind. They repeat themselves over and over in my brain, never letting me forget my failures. When I close my eyes at night, my sin is ever before me.
I know that scripture declares that I am forgiven and free because of the work of Jesus. But this part of me does not want to let it go.
If I were honest, part of my problem is that I do not completely trust God’s grace is enough. As a result, I feel this need to replay it as a way of punishing myself. With each remembrance, I feel horrible, and it seems only fitting for what I did. I should feel awful and not be able to escape it.
One part of being a Christian is stopping the music of mayhem that plays in the mind. That does not mean hitting pause and resuming play later. It means hitting remove and then deleting it from your library.