Words Worth Hearing–The Royal Wedding Sermon

Yesterday, I heard several people refer to the sermon at the Royal Wedding. I went to the official website for the Royal Wedding and read a transcript of the sermon spoken by Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London.

The sermon is very good. There is several lines which I particularly like. I have highlighted them in blue.

April 29, 2011


Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.  

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,

Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.


I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Ministry Inside.44

Each Thursday this particular series “Ministry Inside,” is published especially for church leaders, pastors, ministers, elders, etc. That doesn’t mean you should pass on reading this if you are not in one of these roles. You might find this interesting.


1. The following interview is with Nancy Duarte (author of Slide:ology and Resonate). Her material is basically geared toward business presentations. What she says could also be very helpful to preachers. I’ve learned from listening to and reading Nancy’s writing. Notice what she says about some presentations.

In particular, notice what she says about presentations that are broken. It is as if the presenter is thinking: “Well, this is really dry material and I have to present it as dry.”

I’ve seen this again and again. A person is going to preach regarding money, the budget, elders, etc. You can almost pick the subject. The preacher begins his sermon telegraphing to the church that he is not excited about this subject at all. What happens? The church takes their cue from the preacher and they check out. The preacher then ends the sermon and talks later about how the people are not interested in that subject and how they zoned out. Yet, the truth is, he contributed to that response.



2. Do you write it down? I love to be in the company of people who continue to learn. A man I have long admired is my friend, Dr. Willis E. Kirk is a former minister, counselor, and educator. For years, Bill and his wife Virginia have been a part of our church family. Even in his 80s, Bill often stopped by my office early in the week to ask a question. He regularly asked about books or other resources I had referred to in a sermon or class. He might take a card or pad from his front pocket and write down the information. Or, he might ask me a question about the best book on a particular subject. Bill is constantly learning.

I try to practice this discipline as well. I keep my moleskin notebook with me most of the time. If it is not with me, I will speak or write a note into Evernote so it will be there for me in a file. I write down titles of books, author’s names, a story, or a particular thought. Sometimes I will write down a phrase that someone is using. Let me encourage you to not assume that this information will necessarily come from a noted speaker or scholar. This information may come from a conversation with a business person or a talk given by a college student. In fact, I will sometimes tell a college student: “Please send me the name of any book or author that you think I need to be aware of.”

Years ago I was in Bethesda, Maryland, in a seminar with Dr. Edwin Friedman. There were about twenty people present and there was much discussion. At one point in the discussion, Friedman said “Wait, I need to make a note of what you said and how I responded. I don’t think I have ever expressed this point quite like this.” He then paused and made a few notes. I was impressed that he did not want to miss the value of that moment.


3. I will be at the Pepperdine Lectures next week. I always enjoy meeting people who are readers of this blog. If you plan to be there, I would love to meet you.


Warning: Dead Silence Can Do Damage


Silence can be deadly.


It happened a number of years ago in a meeting. All those present had been Christians for many years. All were church leaders. One man present was having a difficult time on a number of fronts. He began to express this to the group. Finally he stopped talking. The group was silent. Finally the chairman said, “The next item on the agenda is ….”

The man who had been transparent about his struggles later said, “I won’t ever do that again. I won’t ever open up to that group again.”


Silence can be deadly.


• You pour out your heart to your friend in an e-mail after being betrayed at work. Your friend doesn’t respond. Several weeks later, you ask if she ever received your note. “Yes, I was going to write you back. I’ve been busy.”

• You write a letter of serious concerns to the leaders in your congregation. You never receive a reply.

• You express some deep personal concerns to your dad or mom in an e-mail. These were difficult for you to write. You never hear back from your parents

• You are being harshly chewed out by someone in front of a group of friends. Yet, not a single person says one word in your defense. They remain silent.

• You express an opinion in a class. The teacher doesn’t even acknowledge what you said. He is silent for a few seconds and then moves on with his material. For a moment you feel quite silly.

• You leave two voice messages on your friend’s cell phone asking her to call you back. You’ve learned that your father has cancer and you need to talk. She never calls you back.


In churches, most people are not mean and do not intend to hurt. (No, I am not naive. I know there are some very mean and cantankerous people who spend time in church buildings.) I am specifically focusing on people who have been hurt through the thoughtless passivity and silence of others.

• How do you respond at work when someone tells you that the weekend was difficult?
• What do you say when a friend tells you on coffee break that she has been very depressed lately?
• What do you say to a high school student who says that high school is horrible?
• How do you respond when a friend at the university tells you that he feels totally stressed out about what is going on back home?

“But I don’t know what to say.” That’s OK. So often I don’t really know what to say either. What you can do is actively listen. You can show interest. You can ask questions. You can show concern.


Anything but complete silence.


This silence communicates volumes if you are on the other end. Silence can cause another to feel not valuable. Dead silence leaves a person believing that her feelings or actions apparently mean little or nothing.


This is not about knowing exactly what to say when a person attempts to connect with you. However, respond with concern or compassion. Be interested. That might mean more than you realize.


Question:

What does it do to a person when his/her friends remain silent while he is being verbally mistreated?


The Dangerous Business of Playing It Safe

Playing it safe can sometimes be quite dangerous.fear1.jpg


One can choose to play it safe and refuse to risk, venture out, or try anything new.


Yet, a fear-based life comes at a price.


Of course there are times when it might be wise to hesitate before speaking or doing. I am not suggesting that one should not use wisdom or even common sense. Refusing to always play it safe does not mean that one needs to live recklessly.

Yet, far too often, we live in constant hesitation out of fear. Fear can result in playing it safe and, as a result, sacrificing much.

  • Don’t ask people in the church to tell you what they really think. Play it safe. You might not like what they have to say.

  • Don’t talk with that ministry leader in your church about something you disagree with. Play it safe. Instead, find a few key people and get them agitated and disturbed. They might get angry enough to go to that person themselves. In other words, manipulate others to do your work.

  • Don’t disagree with the leaders in your church. Play it safe. They might not like what you have to say. Instead, kiss up to them in their presence, while you say what you really think in their absence.
  • Don’t give people at work your real opinion. Play it safe. You may be the only one who believes the behavior in question is wrong. Then what would others think about you?
  • Don’t preach to the church what you really think or what you believe. Play it safe. Measure your words. Cover your backside. After all, you have to take care of yourself.
  • Don’t reveal that you are weak. Play it safe. Don’t admit that you were wrong. Show people strength, not weakness.
  • Don’t show all your cards. Play it safe. Don’t you remember all of those times when others failed and disappointed you? You can’t really open your heart to these people. They will hurt you.

Play it safe.

Many do.

Sadly enough, ministers/elders/pastors/other church leaders regularly convey to their congregations that they are going to play it safe. Unfortunately, the church witnesses fear instead of faith. What a lost opportunity for a church to trust God.

It really is a paradox. When we spend most of our lives playing it safe, we are actually doing what is most dangerous. In the end, everyone loses – we lose and the people we influence lose.

Maybe one of the saddest statements that could be written about a church is that they had many opportunities to trust God, but they lived in hesitation not sure if he would come through. As a result, they played it safe-and lost.


Question:

What fears keep many people from experiencing a life of faith in God? What do we seem to fear most?


The Cry of Jesus (Mark 15:33-39)

I won’t forget that wailCross3.jpg.


I was a young minister who had just moved to a small town. One afternoon a young man from our church called and told me there had been a terrible accident. A friend of his had been checking the fences around his property. In the back of the truck was his young daughter. Somehow, she fell out of the truck while he was backing up. The unthinkable happened. Not realizing that she had fallen out, he ran over her. She died en route to the hospital.

A few nights later, my friend and I entered the funeral home. I heard the wail of this father weeping over his child.

There is nothing quite like the wail of grief that can erupt from a father for his child or a child for his mother or father.

So now everything is dark. From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness overshadowed the land. And into the darkness, the son of God cries out to his father as he approaches his own death.

“My God, my God, why have you left me?”

Echoing the literature of lament in the Old Testament (such as Psalms, Lamentations and Habakkuk), Jesus cried out to his father asking an honest question. (Notice there is not editorial note in which the editor tells the reader, “Of course, he really shouldn’t have said this to God.”) This was the son of God with an honest cry from the cross.


Jesus’ cry was heard


  • By mockers who put wine vinegar on a stick and offered it to him.
  • By a centurion who declared “This man was certainly God’s son.”
  • By some women who had already cared for his needs and were ready to do what they could, again.


And yes, his cry was heard by his Father. The Temple curtain tore, no doubt a sign from God that this was a momentous event. Yes, God had heard his cry.

Some may have heard his cry, saw his death, and thought this to be the end of the story.

This was anything but the end.


(This post is a reflection on Mark 15:33-39 written for the Lenton Blog Tour. Or you may want to check out the Lenton Blog Tour Facebook Fan page. You can find it here. These reflections are based on the Common English Bible.)

Ministry Inside.43

coffee cup (1).jpg

Each Thursday, I post “Ministry Inside” which is intended to be helpful to those who serve as pastors, ministers, elders, and church leaders in general. I suspect those who are not in these roles may find something here to either be interesting or helpful.


1. Do you tweet? Don’t underestimate the usefulness of this. The links that appear on Twitter (through “following” good people) have been enormously beneficial. I have become aware of numerous helpful articles and posts because of these links. Where do you start? Start by going to Twitter and signing up. Then begin “following” people who interest you and who have Twitter accounts. Look at whom they follow and you will often become aware of new possibilities.


2. One of the goals of conversation ought to be clarification. First, I want to gain clarity about what others are trying to say to me. When I am talking with one of our elders or a new member, I may hear something that immediately registers a certain emotion. For example, a new member may say something to me and I may immediately feel defensive. Or, an elder or longtime church member might say something and I may immediately feel frustration.

Ministers do well to be very intentional about seeking clarity with others. That means you will need to hold your opinion and your reaction while you first seek to really understand the person to whom you are talking. Now it is very easy to assume that you totally understand and to begin sharing your opinion (or even rebuttal). Yet, there really is something to be gained by actively seeking clarity.

Ask questions such as:

  • So it sounds like you are saying you are feeling frustrated over the way the decision was made and that we used a process that was very unclear. Is that accurate? What did I miss?
  • Can you walk me through the process of how you arrived at your conclusion?
  • When did you arrive at this decision? How difficult was it to finally get to that place?
  • What resources were especially helpful to you as you settled on this particular interpretation?
  • I’m glad you could meet this afternoon. Could we take a moment to clarify why we are meeting today. What would you hope to accomplish? Or, what would make you feel really good about our time together?


3. I want to mention a few resources that you might find helpful as a minister/pastor/elder/church leader:

  • Brandon Baker of Temple, Texas, has started an excellent blog, Practical Youth Ministry.
  • Jordan Hubbard of Belton, Texas, has also started a very good blog, and you can read it here.
  • Be sure to read Patrick Mitchel’s discussion of the tension between “Side A” and “Side B” of ministry. “Which side of Christian ministry are you on?” Interesting post and comments. The tension is very real. (His post was re-posted at Jesus Creed which you can find here.)

When Adults Refuse to Grow Up

Have you ever known a man or a woman who refused to grow up?growup.jpg


(This person could have been a preacher or an elder in your church.)

“Adult” ought to suggest something desirable. One would think an adult or a mature person might inspire or in some way cause us to do better.

Yet:

  • Have you ever known a man or woman who was stuck in adolescence?
  • Have you ever known someone who refused to grow up?
  • Have you ever known someone who had an adult body but who was so immature that she damaged many people in her life?
  • Have you ever known a man who would not commit to hardly anything?

I’ve been a minister for a long time. Through the years, I have known a few very immature ministers who began working with a church only to frustrate that church by their own immaturity. Nothing is sadder than a minister who spends his time and energy manipulating people into propping up his ego instead of relating to people on an adult level. Of course, this kind of behavior is not limited to ministers. I talk with people on a regular basis who deal with such people at work.


So what does it mean to be an adult?

  • An adult takes responsibility for her life. An adult says, “I did it” or “I was mistaken” or “I was wrong.”

  • An adult does not forever blame people for where she is in life. An adult does not spend the workday whining about this and that. An adult learns to take responsibility for what she has control over and move on.

  • An adult does not use people to prop up his sagging ego. An adult can focus on another person, compliment and affirm without always turning the conversation to himself. Even the person who is always denigrating himself may be doing that in an effort to keep the attention focused on him.
  • An adult considers the implications of his behavior on other people. “If I don’t come through with my part of the project, how will that impact the other team members?”
  • An adult considers the schedules of others instead of being consistently and regularly late (which communicates to others that I care more about what I am doing than causing others to always have to wait).
  • An adult follows through. “I’ll give you a call.” “I’ll put you in my prayers.” “I’ll bring this book right back.” Do you follow through? Do people know that when you say you will call that you will call? Do they know that when you say “Let’s have lunch” that you are serious? Or do they know that you rarely follow through on what you say? I was visiting with a friend the other day. He told me of a mutual friend who one day said to him, “Let’s all get together for dinner soon.” My friend said, “I knew that would be the last I would ever hear of that unless I took the initiative to make it happen. That guy is always saying such things but doesn’t follow through.

Don’t get me wrong. Adults are not people who are overly serious and a bore to be around. No, adults can laugh, be silly, ride bikes, cheer at sports events, and on and on. In other words, having fun and being adult do not contradict one another. It’s just that adults have learned one thing that many others have not.

Appropriateness.

Adults are learning what behavior is appropriate and when.

Want to learn more about what it means to be “adult”? Read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or the book of James. All are in the Bible. All give us pictures of people who are maturing and those who aren’t.


Question:

When you are around someone who is mature, how does that impact your own behavior? How does immaturity impact relationships?

Ministry Inside.42

1. Any minister is challenged to be creative. Be sure to read L. L. Barkat’s post “coffee_cup (1).jpg How to Work Like a Genius.” Interesting comments about Albert Einstein’s work habits. You might also enjoy the post I wrote last week “How to Make Space for Good Thinking.”

Ministers really need to give thought to habits and practices that can contribute to creative thinking. We really can create environments which are more conducive to creativity and thoughtfulness. The point is not to be novel. Rather, those of us who are constantly teaching, preaching, and writing may benefit from certain habits or practices that stimulate our thinking.


2. Again, regarding creativity. You might consider reading the comments from readers of The Atlantic on the creative process. You can find the discussion here.


3. Recently, I posted “10 Suggestions for Better Preaching.” You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. These suggestions are not related to tools, techniques, or homiletical approaches. Rather, these suggestions are about using good judgment and wisdom in preaching. Preaching is so much more than giving a talk or making a speech. It is much more than having certain homiletical skills. Preaching to a congregation each week calls for much wisdom and discernment.


4. It doesn’t always take a great amount of time to be fully present with another person. It does take your attention, however. When a minister is at a church on a Sunday morning, it is very easy for this person to end up not really being fully present in any conversation.

This is something I’ve consciously worked on. Right out of graduate school, I began preaching for a congregation in northern Alabama. I remember feeling very frustrated because I wanted to speak to as many people as possible on Sunday mornings. I tried to do this but felt even more dissatisfied. While I was speaking to more people, I felt as if I wasn’t fully present in so many of those conversations. I recall talking with people and having difficulty really staying focused.

In more recent years, I still attempt to speak to many people on a Sunday. However, I am more concerned about listening and being fully present with whomever I am talking and not worrying about how many people I actually speak to.


5. Be sure to read Tim Spivey’s very good discussion on preaching (you can find his two recent posts here and here). Also, you might want to check here for a discussion on Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) about one of Tim’s questions. Also, my friend Taylor Sandlin has started a new blog on preaching. Taylor is a great guy and a good thinker.

10 Suggestions for Better Preaching (Part 2 of 2)

The following are suggestions for better preaching. (See Part one here.) bullseye_target.jpg


1. Talk to people as if they are intelligent (they are) but resist the urge to prepare a sermon for a seminary professor. You are now before the people of the congregation. You are not trying to impress your professor. You are trying to connect with a group of people who have a variety of problems and who are engaged in a number of professions. This doesn’t mean that you must “dumb down” your preaching. It does mean that you need to work hard for clarity.   

When I was almost finished with my DMin degree, I received a call one day from one of my professors. He said he and his wife were going to be in our assembly the following Sunday. He wanted to hear me preach. After hearing that he was going to visit, I panicked. I wondered if I should not toss my sermon into the trash and start over.

Fortunately, I caught myself and realized I was preparing to preach to one person instead of preaching to the people who would be gathered in our assembly.


2. Note the importance of ethos. Your genuiness and goodness are incredibly important. No longer will people listen simply because you are the preacher and you have been to seminary. For many people today, your credibility will first come from your life and godliness.


3. Present the opposing view as if very intelligent, good people believe this. In other words, don’t make fun of the opposing view or talk as if those who hold such a view are obviously not intelligent, thoughtful, or spiritual. When presenting an opposing view, present the strongest argument for that view, not the weakest. In other words, you may not agree with the view but you can respect those who happen to hold that view.


4. If you want people to take you seriously, then do nothing that might give them reason not to. Remember that preaching is a matter of trust and credibility. Preaching that deals with Jesus, sin, suffering, doubt, faith is deeply personal. Very often your hearers will listen not only with their ears but in some of the most tender places in their hearts. They are allowing you, as you handle the Word of God, to speak to their hearts. They are trusting you to walk gently and to handle the Word of God as a skillful surgeon. They trust your integrity and authenticity.

(This is one reason why it is devastating for a member of the congregation to learn that their preacher is committing adultery. They have given that preacher much trust and it turns out this person has not been living a trustworthy life.)


5. Take your preaching seriously and yourself less seriously. Remember that most any preacher can be heard through podcasts or some sort of digital recording. Don’t panic when the congregation starts quoting a nationally known preacher after listening to his latest podcast. Be glad they are learning and growing.

When you make mistakes, laugh at yourself. Your laughter will put them at ease and they will more readily connect with you. Admitting your mistakes and laughing at yourself will actually help you bond with the church.