The Dodgers are perhaps my second or third favorite major league basball team. I especially enjoyed watching them in the 1980s. (Maybe more because they beat Reggie Jackson and the Yankees when my KC Royals didn’t)
Two of the greatest Dodger personalities of all time were Vin Sculley and Tommy Lasorda. Sculley was the Shakespeare of Baseball commentary calling Dodger games for over 50 years. Lasorda, a hall of fame coach with multiple World Series wins. How do these two men relate to my blog today on preaching? Keep these two men in mind as I explain.
As a preacher I want to be open to discovery and improvement. Honestly if I don’t occasionally experience some improvement in my preaching my ministry becomes stale.
Today as I was studying for my Sunday morning message, I realized a weakness I have in sermon formatting and composition. I shy away from offending my hearers by presenting truth in a sterile format. I use the third person instead of the first or second person. This permits the listener to remain on the outside as an observer rather than forcing them to step inside the message as a participant.
It’s the difference between a Sculley and a Lasorda. Sculley sits in the booth and talks to the fans about the game, the players, the strategies, the rules, etc. He may be considered an expert but he is distant and removed from the game. He works to be objective and report on the game as a third person. Sculley uses words like “they and he.” “He was behind the pitch.” “They need to play harder.” The Sculley, as good as he is, is still outside the game.
But Lasorda was in the game. He cared more about the outcome of the game than Sculley. His job security and future negotiating leverage was at stake. So he addressed players directly. He used “you” more than the Scully did. “Here’s what YOU need to do.” Here’s how YOU can inprove.” Lasorda got personal. And sometimes offended players.
And that’s why I avoid the Lasorda approach and favor the Sculley approach. I want to explain truth without becoming offensive. But I’m learning that this approach creates fans who know the game, can discuss strategies, and watch victories; it does not develop players who are playing the game, living out the life, experiencing victory.
So in order to become more effective in my preaching, and develop players instead of just fans, I will need to change my pronouns, get more personal and think more like Tommy Lasorda.
For many years it seemed that my activities and experiences on Sunday were out of synch with my life the remainder of the week. Sunday life means attendance at church where we sing hymns, receive communion, give an offering and hear a sermon. Since these are strictly Sunday activities it felt as if my spiritial life didn’t fit with or was foreign to “normal” life. But is this accurate? I’ve begun to challenge that notion.
Just because Sunday activities are different than Monday thru Saturday activities doesn’t make Sunday life out of synch with the rest of our week. In fact, a very strong case can be made that worship activities on the Lord’s day contributes to a more synchronized life rhythm. Worship without labor becomes irrelevant or at least unproductive; but labor without worship deteriorates into a chasing of the wind. We need both work and worship to be balanced. In fact, a truly Christian worldview attaches spiritual value to every mundane task-even that of eating and drinking.
With that said, most days my heart prefers the rhythm of Sunday.
Anyone who takes time to read the Bible with an open and hungry heart will occasionally encounter verses that jump off the page, stand up and demand attention. This happemed to me this morning as I was reading Isaiah 8. A verse I had never noticed suddenly caught my attention. Today’s blog addresses this phenomenon.
Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 AMPC
The power and mystery of this phenomenon is explained by the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is full of verses waiting to be released upon our hearts. But my question for today is, “why does this phenomenon happen?”
The Holy Spirit, who applies truth to our minds knows exactly what we need at any given time. So when a verse I’ve never noticed before surprises me, I can be sure the Holy Spirit is communicating with me along a line of thought that I need to hear and apply. He knows my thoughts, my struggles, temptations and inner arguments. He uses the Word to awaken my heart to His truth. At that point it’s critical for me to stop reading and allow the truth to sink into my heart. If there is something for me to do differently, I need to obey. If it is a point of encouragement, I need to take heart.
The bottom line is we never know when the Holy Spirit will cause a passage to come alive to us suddenly. But when it happens, He is speaking His truth into a need we have at that moment and it would benefit us to pay attention.
1. The danger of an evil heart-“take heed….”this is spoken to Jewish believers
A. It is entity possible for us to allow evil back into our hearts.
B. We are advised to take heed son this does not happen
2. The description of an evil heart-it need not be shocking sin just “unbelief…”
A. Unbelief and disobedience are linked
B. Unbelief and pride are linked
C. Unbelief and defeat are linked.
3. The direction of an evil heart-“departing from the living God.”
A. Unbelief leads away from God
B. Unbelief leads us toward ourselves.
4 . The deception of an evil heart-“hardens the heart”
A. Evil hearts despise truth
B. Evil hearts resist truth
C. Evil hearts replace truth
A1. If the Word is not challenging you, convicting you, changing you, you’re not growing.
I remember the energy, the thrill, the wonder of youth and early days of ministry. There was a conviction that the Word of God and Holy Spirit could work through me to change lives and even the world. The call of God was on my life. I took that call seriously. Caring for and deivering the Word to the congregations under my care became the fulfilling of that calling. Hope was alive. Plans were big.
But over the years life’s unexpected ingredients were being added to the elixir of joyful salvation.
- Ministry disappointments brought disillusionment
- Financial pressures created anxiety
- Cultural shifts threatened uncertainty
- Personal failures created shame
- Relationship losses inflicted sadness
- Family pain caused frustration
- Marriage conflict added loneliness
These ingredients were mixed together in a poisonous brew and I was forced to swallow. The nasty concoction embittered my soul, destroyed my hope, drained my energy and stole my vision. I became cynical. I learned to build walls to hide behind. A sinister shadow of discontent crept in. A heavy fog suggesting God’s disapproval and disappointment seeped into me. Was I in danger of forfeiting something sacred or had the exchange already happened without me realizing it? Not only had I lost the enthusiastic joy of ministry but I had also allowed the joy of personal salvation to die.
Surely I’m not the only servant of God who has ever been poisoned by the heartaches of life. There must be others out there. Have any of them swallowed this brew and avoided the sour stomach. Is there an antidonte available or is my condition terminal?
The Apostle Paul comes to mind. He drank the poison too but seemed to survive without the belly ache I got. How? How could he say in Acts 20:24 “But none of these things move me…”?
In examination of Paul’s testimony in Acts 20, I see the antidote to this poison. The treatment for life poisoning is primarily a transformation of the mind and heart. Buried in Paul’s goodbye speech to the Ephesians elders, we find 8 treatments which helped him avoid the effects of life’s poisons. Here they are:
Treatment 1: He thought of himself as bound in the spirit. He deserved no special treatment.
Treatment 2: He considered his life expendable for His Lord. “Neither count I my life dear to myself.”
Treatment 3: He was focused on ministry. “That I may finish my course …and ministry.”
Treatment 4: He gave people to God instead of worrying about their outcome. “I commend you to God and His grace.”
Treatment 5: He prevented covetousness in his heart. “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothing.”
Treatment 6: He engaged in manual labor to provide for himself. “These hands have ministered to my necessities.”
Treatment 7: He nurtured and practiced generosity of spirit. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Treatment 8: He prayed with his friends. “He kneeled down and prayed with them all.”
One might speculate that Paul was putting on a good face for the Ephesian elders lest they abandon hope too. Maybe deep inside he too felt the burn of life’s poison. But until we try the treatment plan and continue to suffer the effects of the poison, it may be to our advantage to follow the treatment plan.
During my morning message yesterday, I noticed two of my congregation members weeping. After the service my Co-pastor sat with them, presumably to comfort or counsel them. Immediately my heart broke with thier hearts.
The experience brought home to my heart how critical it is for us pastors not to dispose of our duties as hired shepherds. There are real needs, hurts and struggles our people bring with them to church. One of many opportunities we have as preaching pastors is to shine the gospel light into the dark corners of our hearers.
I am thankful for my friend and Co-laborer who RECOGNIZED the need and initiated a moment of ministry in the lives of these two precious people. I am humbled to think that the Lord wants to use me to bring hope and Help to God’s children. It’s sobering to hold such responsibility. My prayer this morning was that the Lord would help me be faithful to thier souls.