The tough part of preaching

Tomorrow I will preach the suggested Scripture for this Sunday.  The Scripture is Matthew 3 where John the Baptist is preaching and baptizing in the wilderness.  The Pharisees came out of the city to the wilderness to see what was going on.  The Pharisees saw John calling people to repent and turn from sin, and saw people confessing their sins and being baptized by John.  And if we think John was hard on people by calling them to repent of their sins, John was especially hard on the Pharisees, calling them a brood of vipers and asking them who warned them to flee.  I do not think they were there fleeing as much as they were rubber-necking, much like today when someone hears of an accident and goes out of their way to drive by the accident scene.

Make no mistake, John is making the same point to all – they all need to turn away from sin (and not go back to that sin, but quit doing it) and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some who listen to John are willing to receive it and respond and others are offended.  This concept of calling people to repentance in love is the most difficult and misunderstood part of preaching for me.  I know some people have walked away from the churches I have and do pastor because I have preached sin and repentance.  And they misunderstand.  They confuse a love that is strong enough to follow Christ’s call (on my life) to warn people to repent and be saved, with being judgemental.  I’m not judging anyone.  My job is to warn people of the wrath to come, accepting that some will receive and respond and others will be offended.  And it is my understanding of the New Testament that if a preacher is not OK with that assignment and that outcome, he or she should not be in the pulpit.

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.   They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~ 2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Who you are on the other days

It is not uncommon for non-Christians in America to have the opinion that beliefs in the church should stay in the church.  And there are some Christians who buy into that way of thinking: that a Believer should categorize his or her life separating their church life from their worldly life.  Divisions in that way are contradictory to what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  To be a follower of Jesus means that He is the Lord of your life in the church, at work, on vacation, in your home, at the ball field, at the grocery store, at school, and everywhere.  You can not swindle people at your business six days a week, and then profess Christ on Sundays.  As a matter of fact, Jesus says,

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…
Matthew 10:32-34

If you know what the Bible teaches and then go out in the world and deny those teachings just to get along, how do you think that is received by God?  Just as I am a pastor at the mission in Cumberland, on a Samaritan’s Purse mission trip, shopping at Sav-A-Lot, and at the church, you are a Christian before you are anything else.  Everything else you are falls under the umbrella of “follower of Christ”.  God does not accept part of your life.  You’re either all in or not in.  While the world does not mind if your faith stays in the church, Jesus does.

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Ten Years with Sean

A beautiful birthday tribute for one of God’s masterpieces. David Watson was my New Testament professor at United.

David F. Watson

Today is a momentous day in the Watson household. On this very day, the youngest member of our family, Sean David Watson, turns ten years old. We will have a grand celebration for the ages at none other than Chuck E. Cheese’s. Sean will hop from game to game like a jumping bean and we will follow him around until he gets tired. Then he will feast on pizza and milk until he gains his second wind. Some time later, he will decide that he has grown weary of Chuck E. Cheese’s and its denizens. We will thus repair to the car, where he will fall asleep and dream dreams of giant singing rats and skill cranes.

sean-pictures

It’s hard to believe that ten years have gone by. I remember the first time I ever held him. I remember holding our older son Luke’s hand in the neonatal ward of the…

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See you next Sunday

What bothered me most when I got to Wesley Chapel in Short Gap 3 1/2 years ago was not a lack of sidewalks, though that was a bummer.  What bothered me most was when so many would leave church on Sunday with the words, “See you next Sunday”.   That’s not how I see the church of Jesus, nor more importantly how I believe Jesus sees His church.

I met with my district superintendent last week and he asked me how our church led people into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  My answer was not, “We gather for worship every Sunday”.  Even as I believe meeting on Sundays is not to be neglected because it is a springboard to being the church for the next 6 days until the next Sunday when we hit the springboard again.  Think of Sunday worship like a roller coaster and how you get pulled to the top of the hill and then momentum takes you through the twists and turns until you get pulled to the top again.

I heard Matt Chandler say that his biggest fear for the American church today is that we gather for information once a week and never implement what we hear and read, through the living of our lives.  He said he worries that God would say to us what He said in the OT, “I hate your meetings”.  He says this in  Amos 5:21: “I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies” and Isaiah 1:13: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!…I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.”

img_8293I told the district superintendent that I see people grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus through serving.  I have friends who strengthen their faith and relationship through going to serve tent communities in Columbus, OH.  Some people in our church strengthen their faith through mission trips, working the OCC shoebox ministry, going to the Union Rescue Mission, working the food pantry, packing bags of food for school kids to take home every weekend, teaching Sunday School, collecting winter coats to give away, working Bible School, and more.  And when they do things things, they are able to say to me and others upon leaving church on Sunday, “See you tonight” or “See you Monday” or “See you Tuesday”……

And in so they are not only attending church, but are being the church… the church Jesus intended and still calls His.

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A new way to do a heart cath

I was once with a person in the hospital and the doctor told them they had to have a heart catherization.  In a heart cath they run a small line through your veins to your heart to look at blockages.  The person asked the doctor how many they had done and the doctor said, “15,000” and he had started the program at numerous hospitals.  Then the doctor explained how they would go through the groin to do the procedure. That’s how they’ve done in for decades.

As a pastor, I’ve been with enough people in the hospital to know there is a newer procedure where they run the line though the wrist and many consider it safer and faster.  You can read about it here.  It is a new way to accomplish the same thing.  Sometimes new ways are better.  Sometimes people prefer the old way.  In this case, neither way is wrong.

There is a new way the way the United Methodist Church is tracking church attendance.  We are now instructed to count mid-week ministries in our church attendance.  In other words, being that we average 60 people at our Wednesday night dinner and devotion, the UMC is instructing me to count that average in with our Sunday morning average.  So if a church averages 80 on Sunday and 60 on Wednesday, they would report 140 for their weekly attendance.

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My friend Amanda, who rarely misses a Wednesday night dinner.

I had been struggling with that until a pastor friend of mine said this:  “I do think there is an honest recognition that reaching people for Christ may sometimes look different than in generations past.”  And in honor of my friend Amanda who comes to our Wednesday night dinners, I say, “Amen to that”.  We have people who come to our Wednesday nights who do not come on Sundays, yet if anyone on the streets asks them if they go to church they would say, “Yes.  Wesley Chapel in Short Gap”.  They just go on Wednesdays, not Sundays.  And the truth is there are lots of people who are more faithful on Wednesdays than the majority of people are on Sundays.

I believe our typical Sunday morning Church will be around for at least several more decades.  But I also value this new way (which ironically is an old, old way) of the body of Christ gathering together.  And the people who are reached with the same old Gospel in new ways are just as relevant as those who are used to the old ways.

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My hope

Everyone has an opinion about last night’s election and through social media, many are expressing it today. Some people have way too much faith in what just happened and others are way too close to moving to Canada. 

It is reminder to me that we all have faith and hope in something.  40% had faith that Clinton was the best hope for our country and 40% have faith that Trump is our best hope.  I’m not in either camp.  We make a mistake when we place too much hope and confidence in people.  

Whoever was elected president was going to have an unenviable and impossible task.  My hope is not in our president, therefore my hope was not in the last two elections, and it’s not in this one either.  

My calling as a follower of Jesus stays the same. Today, I am on a mission trip on my way to help someone recover from WestVirginia  flooding.  I will get in the pulpit Sunday and preach Jesus.  And I will continue to remember our leaders are flawed humans, as am I. 

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It’s the homework

I’m at Duke Divinity School this week for continuing education. Yesterday I sat in on a class about Jonathan Edwards (who in 1741 preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” contributing to the Great Awakening). The professor was Grant Wacker who wrote the book “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation“.
Today I will sit in on a preaching class by renowned author, preacher, teacher Richard Lischer.  I read one of his books in seminary.  I am realizing I love seminary.  It was all the homework that made me not appreciate seminary at the time.  That’s a ridicous thought, though. 

In the Edwards class yesterday the students were talking about Edwards’ theology, his view of the native Americans in the 1700’s, and so much more.  All I could do is sit back with my uninformed opinions.  While I may have agreed or disagreed with things they said, my thoughts were based only on my own experiences, biases, and what little I know about Edwards and the sermon that I know him for.  Their opinions were based on extensive study.  I was in no position to debate anything they said. 

You all have your opinions about homosexuality, abortion, religion, heaven, hell, wrath, grace, love, and so on.  What’s it based on?  Feelings? Experience?  Or have you done your homework by reading the Bible & listening to teachers/preachers you trust?  The homework is the key. 

My sermon Sunday will be about the  authority of the Word of God. 

George Barna wrote, “…we no longer possess an anchor for truth. In contemporary America, truth is whatever we say it is. We have adopted the mind-set that everyone must determine their own truth, and nobody can question the veracity of that perspective for that individual. Today, everything is up for grabs”.

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