Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Saying 'Yes is Saying 'No'

Let’s see…8663 days ago my life changed forever.  I woke up that morning—with an initial feeling of uncertainty—got to my feet (I was sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor at that time), set my mind, and faced the day with joy and expectation.  In the mid-afternoon, I met up with friends and family at a local church (in Louisville, Kentucky)…and there, and then, I said “Yes” to the most amazing and wonderful woman, Jeanne Lee Herrin.

“Do you take this woman…?”  “YES!  I Do!”  And while I said the ‘yes’ with all joy and conviction, I’m not entirely sure that I was aware at the time that I was also saying ‘no.’  I was saying ‘yes’ to love, to passion, to commitment.  I was saying ‘yes’ to a life together with my wife.  I was saying ‘yes’ to hopes of family and adventures.  I was saying ‘yes’ to no more lonely nights…no more empty apartments.  I was saying a resounding ‘yes’ to so many things.  But, I was also saying ‘no.’

In saying ‘Yes’ to my Jeanne Lee, I was saying ‘no’ to every other woman in the world.  No more ‘new girlfriends’ (thank goodness!)  I was saying ‘no’ to doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  ‘No’ to writing cheques down to negative balances the day before pay-day.  ‘No’ to the concept of “my money”—it was and is forever now ‘our money.’  ‘No’ to a lackadaisical attitude towards my health—I was no longer just impacting my life; my health impacted my wife as well.  In saying ‘yes’ on that amazing day, I was also saying ‘no’ to so many things for the rest of my life.

In my classes, I always set aside time to talk about this as well.  As my students grapple with studies, families, work, and any other number of responsibilities, I strive to remind them (or show them) that when they said ‘yes’ to college, they also said ‘no’ to a lot of things—free time, parties every night, last-minute road-trips, and many more things that were once part-and-parcel of their lives.

When we say ‘yes’ to a spouse, ‘yes’ to a job, ‘yes’ to a home-purchase, ‘yes’ to an educational program, ‘yes’ to a television show we want to watch, ‘yes’ to Facebook, ‘yes’ to the latest technological gadget, ‘yes’ to cablevision—whatever ‘yes’ we agree to…when we say ‘yes’ to one thing, we say ‘no’ to something else.

As Christians, we must also recognize that when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we say ‘no’ as well.  ‘Yes’ to Jesus means ‘no’ to our favorite sins.  But, it’s more than that.  I think Jesus was getting at this when he said to his followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus is saying ‘no’ to me… ‘no’ to what I think is right… ‘no’ to my crafty rationalizations… ‘no’ to my preferred worldview. 

Yet, saying ‘yes’ to Jesus is also a whole lot more than just the ‘no’s’ I’ve mentioned above.  ‘Yes’ to him is ‘yes’ to a full and joyful life; ‘yes’ to a community of faith and a family; ‘yes’ to hope and grace and possibility!  In the life of faith, as in my married life, the 'yes' far outweighs the 'no.'

Friday, September 13, 2013

Preaching as a Response

(Some thoughts especially  for my co-laborers in ministry.)

I began doing a study on preaching in the New Testament some eight years ago.  My quest was to really understand the content of those early sermons—the sermons/teachings of the disciples in the Acts of Apostles.

First of all, if the sermons and teachings recorded are accurate and complete, not a sermon lasted more than 12 minutes (that’d be the Sermon on the Mount, read slowly).  Then, we’d also note the lack of powerpoint, bulletin outline, and light show (not that these are bad thing—just obviously not necessary).  And, one other thing we might notice is the variety of response—many times, there was an overwhelming response to the sermon or teaching.  At other times, there was an underwhelming or negative response.

Perhaps the most important realization that came to me as I studied Peter’s, Phillip’s, Steven’s, and Paul’s sermons/teachings is that their preaching or teaching is always…ALWAYS…a response to the situation around them.  Preaching in the book of Acts is an act of response.

What about today?  Is preaching still an act of response?  Do we teach and preach as a response to what is going on around us in the life of the Church or in the culture?  Is our preaching and teaching actually responding to the questions that are being asked?  Or, has preaching too often been reduced to an academic exercise of theological or literary exposition?  Has teaching in the Church been transformed into a dramatic, literary performance?

Before we go another step, I want to affirm that good expository preaching and dramatic teaching may very well be excellent, appropriate forms of responsive preaching.  The key is to make our teaching and preaching a responsive activity.  If we’re preaching and teaching as a response to the questions and events around us, the people will respond without our having to somehow nudge them into some sort of response.  If not, at best we may be raising good questions people have not thought to ask, and at worst, we may be answering questions no one is asking and no one really cares about.

In the face of some of the most tragic events of our times—9/11, the tsunamis of 2004 and 2011, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hooke Elementary School Shooting, and more—we have had opportunities to respond with meaningful preaching and teaching that really shows how we as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, can live through such times and minister to a world that doesn’t understand why these kinds of things happen.  In the same way, we can teach and preach in response to any and all the things that impact our lives and our communities.  We can show how the Scriptures provide a path for each and every one of us—not always an easy path!—to come through the struggles, difficulties, celebrations, victories of life…all the while maintaining our walk of faith.

May we who stand in the pulpit, lecture hall, or classroom be always aware of what is going on in our world, in our communities, in our churches so that our preaching responds to real needs and concerns in the hearts and lives of the people.