Hello wonderful friends! Here’s a seminar that I gave in San Jose, CA about the truths and myths of dating & relationships within both the church-culture & pop-culture. Stream below or download directly here.
Some things I talk about are: “The time I overheard a couple have their final knock-down drag-out fight, my absolutely favorite type of scene in the movies, what everyone really wants in the hospital, dating theology from Taylor Swift, when God looks at you through the ceiling, and Christianity according to a cologne sample.”
I also did a follow-up Q&A which you can stream below or download here.
So I’m speaking to my youth group this Wednesday (I’m 16 and this is the first time speaking at church) and I was just wondering if maybe you had any tips?
My friend, that is awesome. Woo!! Let’s first be grateful to God for this amazing opportunity that you’ve been given. You and I never earned the right to preach or teach, but were given this honor by the Creator of everything so that others might know Him, be loved by Him, and love Him in return. Please start there, in a place of humility, recognizing we are absolutely unworthy to teach others with our squishy tiny 3 lb. brains and our half-inch vocal cords, to other squishy fallen human beings from a wild variety of diverse back-stories — except by the grace of God.
I mean that’s really crazy, when you think about it. I’ve never gotten over that.
I don’t want to give you a formula or checklist because then you might be tempted to follow that instead of Jesus. So here just a few things to pray about and consider. You’re not obligated to any of these nor to memorize them, so simply reflect and go forth, my friend.
1) Love your people. This is obvious, but so very often I forget to love the people who are right in front of me. Sometimes I’m so quick to check off my awesome agenda of great sermon points, that I forget these are real hurting broken struggling people who care less about my intelligence and more about their maker. Every word and sentence and theme must be fashioned out of love for your people. Let your group know that this is a big deal for you and that you’re available outside of preaching time. If they know you care about them, they’ll remember that more than the message.
2) You be you. My initial problem in preaching was imitation. When I first started, I listened to a lot of James MacDonald, who is a fiery aggressive preacher with a booming voice and roughly twenty points in every sermon. I even took on some of his tone and inflections. Soon I learned, I wasn’t good at preaching like this. My strengths were not a booming voice and twenty-point messages. If you’re not naturally funny, you don’t have to try. If you’re loud, use that to your advantage. Be comfortable with how God has made you. Part of trusting God is trusting how He made you to be you in the world. Let yourself out to play.
Some things I talk about are: The last secret technique of a dying karate master on his deathbed, when a gigantic six-foot twelve-year-old jock protected me in sixth grade, how Barney the dinosaur saved my next door neighbors, how Chaos Theory and the butterfly effect reveals the tapestry of God’s Story in the world, and how a mean internet comment drove me to a slobbery broken down mess.
The Scripture is Mark 2. Some things I talk about are: The day I saw a pastor at the strip club, the life and times of Matthew Levi the hardcore playboy, Jesus versus the Pharisees in a Freestyle Battle Throwdown, and the first step in leaving behind the slavery of sin.
There are things we hear in the pulpit that sound uber-deeply complex, but like a time travel movie, the more we think about it, the more likely our heads will explode from sheer absurdity. Here are some incomplete half-truths we hear in church that need more nuance. Let’s be thoughtful.
John 4. Lake Yale Retreat 2012. Part 1 of 4. Our infinite thirst; the infinite God. “When my dad nearly killed a dude with a samurai sword, your three options when a gun is pulled on your head, the crying kid at VBS, and when a pug explodes from overeating.” 7-2-12
Isaiah 53. Lake Yale Retreat 2012. Part 2 of 4. Freedom from ourselves. “The hopes and dreams of our brother Kyle, having your name in the ‘Acknowledgements’ of a book, ordering the steak with a side of lobster, the threats we yell out the car window, and biblical lessons from The Avengers.” 7-3-12
Mark 2, 10, John 8. Lake Yale Retreat 2012. Part 3 of 4. Why do we follow God? “When the preacher tells you not to be like that filthy pagan loser Bill, if Jesus and the Pharisees had a freestyle battle, if my future-wife gained 250 lbs, the Laotians questioning Jesus stilling the storm, and Before-Jesus/After-Jesus.” 7-4-12
Acts 2:42-47. Lake Yale Retreat 2012. Part 4 of 4. Honesty and compassion. “How the church is a bunch of jagged deformed rocks, why calling out hypocrites is hypocrisy, trying not to flinch when someone unloads a crazy confession, and brotherhood in the ghetto versus the church.” 7-4-12
Philippians 3. Taking hold of God’s Call. “The gracious God who will jackslap you upside your head, why I feel sorry for good-looking people, trading in your bike for a Dodge Viper, and our lives a billion years from now.” 4-6-12
At church on Sunday, I preached on why we should forgive. After service, we wrote the names of those we wanted to forgive, wrote down the debt we thought they owed us, and put those notes in a wooden cigar box. We poured lighter fluid on it and burned it out back.
As a wise man once said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping it kills the other guy.”
“A lot of times when we think about sin, we think sin is when we do those things that God prohibits. … There’s also another way to sin. It’s the sin of omission. And that’s when God says, ‘I want you to do this’ and we don’t do it … When God goes, ‘Not only are these things prohibited, but here’s where I’ve called you to walk.’ “
“What many of us need to repent of is a cold, pragmatic heart that loves ministry and barely loves the King of Glory. … When I read the Bible, all I see in there is men who are tormented … There’s this angst and pain in men of God where their glory, their excitement, their fervor is not in the acts that God has allowed them to do, but in God Himself. … There’s this angst, this awe, this weird holy pain where it appears they want to scream, cry, and laugh all at the same time.
But that seems foreign to me. And what I mean is, I just don’t hear much about God being taught this way anymore. It seems like everything’s built on pragmatism. A plus B equals C. If you want C, do A, do B, you’ll get C. Here’s what “we do.” It’s going well there, let me do what they do. … I’m not saying planning is wrong. But where is that man whose heart is aflame for God, that God is enough?”
Like a soldier’s manual in the heat of battle, Speaking To Teenagers is a resource for both the newly graduated seminarian and the burnt out veteran. It might have better been called Speaking Well since it delivers such practical wisdom for preachers who were taught all exegesis and no communication. While overly pragmatic in spots, this will help to unlock much of the preacher’s block.
Doug Fields, pastor of Saddleback Church, and Duffy Robbins, a professor of youth ministry, dive into the daunting topic of communicating to the youth. Though they write as one voice, it can be easy to tell who is speaking: Doug offers the relational tips and Duffy is more systematic, detailed, and doctrinal. Using a method called S.T.I.C.K., their methodology pulls from both traditional and contemporary teaching, pulling the best of both worlds. Mostly this works and at times it does not.
“Unless you attend a church led by of one of the celebrated preachers of our day, you most likely have faced a similar situation. Either at a conference or on the internet, you have heard exceptional preaching, but each Sunday you’re back in your simple little home church that hardly anybody beyond your town knows about, with its ‘nobody’ of a pastor who will probably never preach to thousands.
What if your gospel-preaching pastor is not as good as one of the great orators of our day? Is it time to sell the house, pack up the family, and change churches? No, I don’t think so. But what should you do?”
2 Peter 1:1-15. God loves us before we took a single breath. Part 1. “The pre-qualification of God’s Love, always having game with God, stuck in Flex-To-Impress Mode, and the One Constant in the universe.” Dec. 2, 2011
2 Peter 1:16-21, 2:1-3. When Jesus is a reflex. Part 2. “The absolute hardest part about following Jesus, the Five Fails of Peter and his Two Names, and when Jesus is one more thing on your busy schedule.” Dec. 9th, 2011
2 Peter 2:12-22. Exposing the ridiculous. Part 4. “A movie (supposedly) based on a true story, breaking up with someone over text, the Problem of Pain versus Pleasure, the religion of celebrities, and a culture of collision.” 1-27-12
2 Peter 3. The Bible’s conclusion. Part 5. “The token prophet who declares doom in the ghost-disaster-conspiracy movie, the problem with Jesus’ miracles, breaking in the Kingdom of God today, and Jesus the cannibal.” 2-3-12
“Even if you’ve been coming for years or grew up in the church or whatever else, I have this fear that some of you, or possibly many, many of you — are going to hell. It keeps me up at night. … Do you understand the reality of what I said? I’m talking about hell. Have you heard that word so many times that you’ve just grown numb to it? Eternal punishment. So what in the world am I doing up here then? And again, I sure hope you don’t see this as, ‘Oh Francis is up there judging the congregation saying he’s saved’ — I’m not saying that. I’m saying I’m willing to bet some of you would leave this room and say it about yourself, that you are lukewarm — meaning you’ll be spit out of the mouth of God and cast into the fires of hell. That’s all I’m saying, is what you would say about yourself. And it blows me away that some of you won’t do anything.”
Daniel 1. Choosing God when it’s tough. 1 of 5. “The Gateway Drug Theory, the But Vs. So-Then Christian, what Lecrae said about Jesus the Rebel, and lessons from Angels In The Outfield.” August 19th, 2011.
Daniel 2. God’s working hand as we work through Him. 2 of 5. “How to properly spot the bench press, The Unreasonable Demands, when to Act and when to Ask God, and the Greatest Intervention.” August 29th, 2011
Daniel 3. Faith in the fire. 3 of 5. “When the Real You comes screaming out of your civilized mask, the toys versus the fire in Toy Story 3, and having an Even-If Faith because we have an Even-If God.” Sept. 2nd, 2011
Daniel 4-5. Losing control is a good thing. 4 of 5. “The Messy Unnecessary Argument, turning into a cow when you’re having a cow, and the future version of yourself warning you today.” September 16th, 2011.
Daniel 6. What to do with opposition. 5 of 5. “When to roll hard against some clowns, the story of Jesus found in Daniel, the crazy lady screaming at prayer group, and how God flexes His fruits in opposition.” January 13th, 2012
I am a certified sermon junkie: I probably watch and listen to a dozen hours of sermons per week.
This will be a ten or twelve part blog series of my favorite preachers. Please note that I don’t necessarily endorse all of them or everything they say.
Pictures are taken from random Google searches.
To see the other blog posts in this series, click here.
James MacDonald Lead Pastor of Bible Harvest Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois
The first time I heard Pastor James MacDonald preach was in my sermon prep class in 2010. Dr. Greg Heisler, my wonderful preaching professor, showed him as an example of superb exegetical preaching: that you didn’t have to sacrifice style for substance or the other way around. The message was from the Southeastern Seminary Chapel, April 17th 2008, which I later purchased from their archives. It was an incredible sermon. I remember my mouth was open almost the whole time. He was aggressive, convicting, biblical, real, and hilarious. Since I’ve bought that sermon, I still watch it every few months to re-energize back into ministry.
I began regularly downloading his podcast and buying his other resources, including books and DVDs from his teaching ministry Walk In The Word. Though I don’t agree with every word he says — what preacher do we ever fully agree with? — Pastor James is about as legit as they get. He goes straight from the text, word for word, exegeting the exact meaning, but unlike a commentary manages to captivate you right into Scripture. He is microscopic in his preaching and this proves to be his strength. Many preachers try to throw a wide net on a broad topic hoping to catch it all, but Dr. James is content for each sermon to dig deep into one small aspect of the multi-faceted Bible. Over time, that sort of laser-sight preaching illuminates more than packing it all in one.
“So if God is ultimately about God, if God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then God is ferociously about your joy in Him.
So then, the Law of God is good. The commands of God are good. When He says, “This is marriage,” He’s not trying to take from you, but rather give to you. We’ve got to get out of our mind as Christians that we’re in this kind of moral cage, but at least we’ve got heaven. Because that’s not reality.
The teachings of God on sex, money, family and all of those things are not God robbing from you, but rather Him leading you into ever-increasing joy. Why? For the praise of His glorious grace. And the apex of God’s plan to bring glory to His name is in the coming of Jesus Christ. The pinnacle of God’s glory is seen as God puts on flesh and blood and saves sinners.”
From one of my favorite preachers, Dr. James MacDonald.
Note to pastors: Ministry is downright, flat-out, straight up hard. It’s not at all glamorous and glitzy like the megachurch rockstars have you believe. You might aspire to be the next best author or have the next hit website, and while that’s fine, those are not the biblical models of sacrifice amidst persecution. Aspire to be the pastor who stays with his people for forty years, persevering week in and week out under the crucible of ministering to one home. God might call you to leave when it’s time, but He doesn’t call you to quit when it’s tough. Press on.
We need more love-building-up here on these blogs. Speaking boldly is wonderful, but boldness by itself is just mean. With internet it’s easy to flex, I know: which is more reason to watch the tongue, not less. So much of our rebuke and conviction is done with a motive of macho-doctrine credibility and flesh-fed ego. God’s church must be in the business of restoring. Many of my friends don’t go to church because of our “boldness.” We’re obviously not here to impress them, but dang, Jesus was bold and loving too.