Awana Camp 2017 started today. The kids from First Central Bible Church in Chicopee and Second Baptist Church in South Hadley headed for Pine Brook Camp & Conference Center in Shutesbury, MA, about an hour’s drive away. We have 50 children and 24 staff for the week. Today we enjoyed games, singing, and a Bible story, along with two thunderstorms and a power outage. It was a great start to what should be a wonderful week. Thanks for praying.
During my days as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Carol and I attended Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX. Pastor Jim Rose met with seminary students and his wife, Phyllis, met with seminary wives to offer their insights and perspectives on ministry.
On one occasion, Jim Rose shared how he planned his sermon calendar three years in advance. Year one was what he was currently studying and preaching. Year two was what he was having his devotions in at present. Year three was what he was thinking about and collecting information about. We all marveled and wondered how you could ever plan that far ahead.
After 30+ years of ministry and almost 13 as a senior pastor, I find myself doing that very thing. I typically lay out my sermon calendar 3-12 months at a time. I give the list to our worship leaders to aid them in planning the services and picking appropriate music for the passage, if possible.
My approach to preaching is to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I am committed to expository preaching, explaining what the text means and how to apply it in daily life. As I lay out my calendar, I try to balance Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. With the Old Testament, sometimes I preach through a whole book and sometimes I focus on one character (Abraham, Joseph) and preach through the section of the book that deals with their life.
This past week, I laid out my plan for the next 18 months. I am currently preaching through the life of Moses (portions of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). We will follow that series with a study of the 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus, a vision series on the church (Revelation 1-3), 1 Peter, and the book of Joshua. Over the next year and a half, we will talk about character, marriage, leadership, culture, suffering, work, anger, how to live in today’s world, and much, much more.
One of the challenges in planning a sermon calendar is what to with Christmas and Easter, namely, how to avoid repeating yourself. My approach is to use a 3-4 year cycle of messages. While I do repeat myself, it’s not every year. Christmas/Advent: (1) Mary, Joseph, Wise men, Shepherds; (2) Anna, Simeon, Mary’s song of joy, Isaiah 9:6; (3) Isaiah’s prophecies, Isaiah 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 40:1-11, 52:13-53:12; (4) 7 “I AM’s” of Jesus. Palm Sunday: (1) Matthew 21:1-11; (2) Matthew 21:12-22; (3) John 12:12-26. Easter: (1) Luke 24:1-12; (2) Luke 24:13-35; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:1-19; (4) Luke 24:36-49 (I will add this one in future years).
Having a sermon calendar aids me in a number of ways. It ensures I don’t just tackle easy, familiar, favorite topics. I have to preach the next paragraph in line. It provides a sense of balance over time. It exposes me and the congregation to the entire word of God rather than one slice (gospels, epistles, etc.). It helps me to know where I’m going. When other staff take my place when I’m gone, they continue the series by taking the next passage, which helps maintain continuity as well as giving the congregation a different “voice.” It also reinforces the conviction that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I’m grateful for Jim Rose’s model and encouragement. I’ve found it to be very beneficial.
June is the season of graduations. Preschool. Kindergarten. High School. College. Grad School. Every graduate faces a similar question—Will you go on for more education? or Will you pursue something else? Regardless of the level of education, every graduate has something in common. Once the schooling stops, the real education begins.
I received my doctorate in 1989 and was fired by my church two months later. While I had not done anything wrong, neither had I done enough right. I was told I was not a leader, though no one could explain what that meant. Being the quick study that I am, it only took me 12 years to figure it out. Through the efforts of LEAD at Dallas Theological Seminary, I discovered that I lead through preaching and teaching. However, I was in a position that was purely administrative. It was more a question of fit rather than an issue of giftedness and ability.
Through my 12 years of wandering in the wilderness, I discovered the benefits of enrolling in The Graduate School of the Desert. God often speaks to his people in the desert (Deuteronomy 32:10-12). God often trains his servants in the wilderness. Jacob (Genesis 28), Elijah (1 Kings 19), John the Baptist (Matthew 3), Jesus (Matthew 4), and Paul (Galatians 1:17) all learned valuable, life-shaping lessons in the wilderness. It seems that adversity is a required course in God’s curriculum. Trials teach us to obey (Psalm 119:67) and failure makes us teachable (Psalm 119:71).
After fleeing Egypt, Moses heads for God’s graduate school in the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15-25). Moses took classes in humble service (16-17), advanced obscurity (18-22), and remedial waiting (23-25). God used these experiences to teach him to listen for God’s voice and learn the lessons God had for him.
Moses learned humble service (16-17). He learned to serve those in need and to keep his temper under control. He defended some female shepherds without resorting to violence and killing the oppressors.
Moses studied advanced obscurity (18-22). Far from the spotlight of Pharaoh’s palace, Moses learned to be content as a simple shepherd. He learned how to lead by caring for his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. He learned the topography of the Sinai desert which would be useful when he led Israel for 40 years in that region.
Moses practiced remedial waiting (23-25). He learned to rely on God’s timing. While in Midian, there is a change in leadership in Egypt as the Pharaoh who sought Moses’ life dies. The Hebrew people cried out to God for deliverance. God was now ready to act. The stage is set for God to call Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
If you find yourself in a wilderness experience, listen for God’s voice and learn the lessons he has for you.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 25, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy or the sermon notes.
Book Review: The Light is Winning: why religion just might bring us back to life, by Zach Hoag
I did not like the book. The book did not live up to its title. The book describes the flaws of a narrow slice of legalistic Christianity rather than stories of the benefits of religious practices. I do not recommend the book. These four statements summarize my evaluation of Zach Hoag’s latest book, The Light is Winning: why religion just might bring us back to life.
The author’s purpose is stated on p. 28, “…the decline of Christian faith in America is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to be embraced.” However, he never develops that idea but instead spends the bulk of the book, fully two-thirds, describing his journey from growing up in an apocalyptic cult in east Texas to an overbearing, controlling father to a legalistic Calvinistic Baptist Church to planting a church that would ultimately fail. If anyone has a reason to quit the church, it’s him. You come away feeling sad for the author.
Despite describing the problems of American Christianity, he doesn’t really give a solution to the problem. He spends a few pages saying that the church needs more Jesus, specifically that we need to spend more time in the Gospels than the rest of Scripture. He spends a few pages extolling the virtues of Methodist traditions and rituals and how they helped him recover from his failed church plant. However, he never gets to the title of the book until the last chapter and never truly develops why he believes there is hope for the church or American Christianity. In between, he peppers his ideas with illustrations from HBO TV shows.
My guess is that the book is aimed at a younger generation than mine, and certainly not aimed at a long-term pastor like myself. I did not agree with all the endorsements inside the front cover.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Last night, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held our semi-annual business meeting. Jim, our moderator, asked me to open in prayer at 7:01PM. After reading the minutes from the last meeting, voting on four nominations for open board positions, hearing an update from Doug on the building renovation project, and me giving an update on our intern, Jack, the meeting was closed in prayer at 7:15PM. A 14-minute church business meeting!
Afterwards, several commented about previous 3-hour, contentious business meetings where we talked in circles and the comments generated more heat than light.
On the one hand, there was nothing significant on our agenda. We will undoubtedly have a much longer meeting this fall when we present the proposal to renovate our building. In fact, we will have several presentations, Q&A sessions, and discussions before the actual vote.
On the other hand, the shortness of the meeting demonstrates the improved health and stability of the church.
- We started 2017 with a financial deficit and our giving is now ahead of budget.
- There is greater confidence in and trust of the leadership. I have now been here five years and we have elders, deacons, and deaconesses who are all functioning in their respective roles.
- We are stable and headed in the right direction.
That being said, there was still a fair amount of slack-jawed amazement when the moderator asked J to close in prayer. 😉