Advice on Preaching

FB MeyerIn the beginning of our ministry, our sermons are crowded with too many differing thoughts...we hurry from one subject to another, as the bee flits from flower to flower. At the close of our address our hearers may feel that it has all been very good, but they have no definite conception left with them, and they certainly do not feel compelled, as the Athenians were after hearing Demosthenes, “to go and fight Phillip.”

Everything that detracts from the main end in view should be carefully cut out; and the current thought should be kept within as narrow a channel as possible, that it may flow swiftly, and move the machinery along its banks.

This type of preaching makes heavier demands on careful preparation…every new paragraph has be to be weighed, and its place carefully considered…

— F.B. Meyer. Jottings and Hints for Lay Preachers.

Frederick Brotherton Meyer was a close friend and colleague of D.L. Moody. He pastored churches in New York and London, and was involved in inner-city ministry on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The difference between a rut and a routine

Difference between a rut and a routineOn a rugged highway somewhere in Alaska a warning sign says, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 50 miles.” Though I’m not fond of the word rut, this is actually good advice for life.

It would be better to say: “Choose your routine carefully. You’ll be tied to it for awhile. It determines what your future becomes, so make sure you’re comfortable with it.”

People often refer to the daily routine as if it’s a negative thing, as if it’s something you need to break in order to fully live. But what if your daily routine was designed in a way that could make your life everything you’ve dreamed it could be? Wouldn’t this be a routine worth living for?

King David said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Another way to say it: “Help us understand that life is short. What we do every day really matters.”

Our challenge is to organize our days in such a way — to create a daily routine that includes time for everything important. Stephen Covey said it this way: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Look at today’s to-do list. It will take you either somewhere good, or nowhere good.

It depends on whether you’ve chosen a rut or a routine.

At the time, it seemed like the right decision…

DecisionsIn the fall of 2011, Netflix announced it would spin off its DVD division and give it a new name: Qwikster.The company was already in the process of losing almost a million subscribers due to a change in billing structure; the name change didn’t sit well with their customer base.

Analysts were unanimous in their opinion that the split was not a good idea, one calling it the dumbest move he’s seen a business make in a long time.

At this point, most companies would have stuck to their guns and bulldozed through the transition, determined to make the best of a bad decision.

That’s not what Netflix did.

Instead, less than a month after announcing their big Qwikster plans, they made another announcement: “Never mind.” They scrapped the entire idea and went back to the way things were.

Again the pundits howled: the management team doesn’t know what they’re doing; this could be the beginning of the end for Netflix.

Except it wasn’t.

In the three years since the Qwikster detour, Netflix has almost doubled their subscriber base and their earnings have gone through the roof. So much for those predicting their demise. And so much for those making jokes at their expense. At this point it appears that Netflix earned the last laugh.

It’s an idea worth trying.

Here’s why I like this story. When Netflix realized they made a mistake, they swallowed their pride, reversed their decision, and fixed the situation.

What a great principle to live by: Admit your mistakes and make them right — sooner better than later.

Errors are often embarrassing to acknowledge; our tendency typically is to keep pressing on, posturing as though the decision was right, pretending that square pegs really do fit in round holes.

Or we could learn a lesson from Netflix: Reverse the wrong decision and get back to the business of being successful.

While some decisions can’t be undone, most can. Wrong turns can be re-directed — if we’ll just take the steps. It usually involves some pride-swallowing and pie consuming (of the humble kind), but it’s worth it to be headed once again in the right direction.

We all make choices that have taken us off the right path, maybe even off the beaten path. Every leader and every believer sometimes find themselves facing situations that should be made right, that could be made right, and that would be made right with a simple change in direction.

And you? Are there any decisions you’ve made crying out to be reversed?

Let this be the week you make it happen.

“For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

You’re half way there. So much potential lies ahead…

PotentialWe’ve reached the mid-way point in 2014. A half year behind us, a half year to go. Have you thought about what the remaining months can be?

Earl Nightengale noted that if you will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, you can become expert on that subject.

True, no doubt, but for now, forget about five years and an hour a day.

Think instead about the next six months, thirty minutes a day. Think about the potential that exists.

What headway could you make in one area of your life? Maybe attaining expert status is not realistic, but serious progress is.

• You could become conversationally proficient in a second language.

• You could learn to play the guitar; in six months you can reach the level of “decent.”

• You could walk 300+ miles.

• You could get in great physical shape.

• You could do a masters-level study of your favorite subject, such as church history.

• You could dig in-depth into one of the gospels or one of Paul’s letters, until you own it.

As one called to preach the good news, can you imagine how 30 minutes a day of focused effort could make a difference in your ability to communicate? What if, every day for the next 180 days, you devoted a half-hour to working on your craft? Can you imagine how the difference would be played out in the results you see?

The next 180 days will come and go, along with this 90 hour block of time. How will you invest it?

Some will watch 90 more hours of cat videos on youtube. Some will catch an additional 90 hours of zzzzs. Some will do whatever they feel like doing at the moment.

And you? If you’re willing to take the road less traveled, you can use these moments each day to move forward in the calling God has placed on your life. 

“The hands of the diligent will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24)

Inspiration vs. Perspiration

Inspiration vs perspirationThe artist Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Along the same lines, Tchaikovsky said that “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

E.B. White said it this way: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

The consensus among successful creative types is that, over the long haul, perspiration trumps inspiration.

I like what screenwriter Neil Gaiman said about writing on the Nerdist Podcast. In talking about a novelist’s need to be consistent, he said (in summary): “You have to make your word count each day; those words won’t wait for you. You have to write whether you’re ‘inspired’ or not. And the weird thing is that six months from now, you’ll look back and you won’t be able to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”

Why it matters.

What does this have to do with preaching, or ministry, or living the Christian life? Quite a bit, actually.

In our work, we must learn to resist the temptation of waiting for inspiration to prepare a sermon or get ready for a meeting or knock out a newsletter.

And we need to remind those we lead (and to remind ourselves, too) that the Christian life isn’t lived by inspiration. We don’t wait for the moment to arrive in which we feel like it doing right. We just need to do right, today and every day, whether we feel inspired or not.

Is there something you’ve been putting off while you wait for the right inspiration? Try perspiration instead.

Forget about how how little you feel like doing the task at hand, and just do it. In six months — or for the remainder of eternity — it won’t matter how inspired you felt at the time.

It will only matter that you did what needed to be done.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Colossians 3:23)

Add two days to your life … every month

No ComplaintsAdd two days to your life … every month. In his book Mojo, excecutive coach Marshall Goldsmith tells about research done by the company DDI revealing that the average American worker spends 15 hours a month criticizing or complaining about their boss.

Skeptical when he read the results of the study, he followed up with his own research and came to the same conclusion: The average employee spends a great deal of time complaining — almost the equivalent of two work days a month, twenty-four days a year.

In another study, work-place happiness expert Alexander Kjerulf learned that the number one cause of unhappiness on the job is having co-workers who constantly complain.

Could it be that the average person, people like you and me, waste more time complaining than we realize?

It’s an easy trap to fall into, and a difficult one to get out of. (Especially when the rest of the world makes it so easy. If only everyone would do everything the way I think it should be done…)

In addition to complaining at work, we’re tempted to complain at home and at church and everywhere else we go. And what does our complaining accomplish? Nothing, except to erase time from the calendar, and to make others miserable in our presence.

Today I’m encouraging you to reclaim lost time. Take back the 24 days each year that this sinful habit is seeking to steal. Start today. Now, even.

“Do everything without complaining…” (Philippians 2:14)

LeBron JamesCommitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe. How committed are you to winning? How committed are you to being a good friend? To being trustworthy? To being successful? How committed are you to being a good father, a good teammate, a good role model? There’s that moment every morning when you look in the mirror: Are you committed, or are you not?

– LeBron James

William BarclayThe proof of Christianity is that it works, that it does change people, that it does make bad people good, that it does bring the Spirit of God to men and women.

It is when our deeds contradict our words that the gravest discredit is brought on Christianity; it is when our words are confirmed by our deeds that the world is presented with an argument for Christianity which cannot be denied. — William Barclay

Engaging Worship

Transformational churches actively engage people in worship and are led by worship leaders who value participation over performance. — Mike Harland

Decisions

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. –Stephen Covey