Archive for the category “Worship”

Pastors Don’t Always Want to Go to Church Either

I like the psalms, but I can’t pray some of them with a straight face. Psalm 122 is a prime example. David is a little too cheerful for me as he exclaims,

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

sleepinginchurchThat certainly doesn’t roll off my tongue when I roll out of bed on Sunday morning. Maybe my wife and I stayed out a little too late on Saturday night. There’s still yard work and grocery shopping and laundry and a hundred other things that need to be done before Monday comes around. There’s a voters’ meeting after church that I’d like to avoid at all costs. I’m likely to get corned by Mr. Meddler or Mrs. Gossipalot and have to find a way politely to excuse myself from their logorrhea. Or maybe I’m just bone tired. I want to chill. I don’t want to see people. I just want to stay home on Sunday morning, drink coffee, and do as little as possible. I’m not always smiling at the thought of going to the house of the Lord.

What may surprise you is that your pastor or priest doesn’t always want to go to church either. Maybe between sermon and Bible Study preparations; hospital visits; committee meetings; counseling sessions; visitor follow-ups; late night phone calls; and typing, copying, and folding the bulletins, he’s worked his butt off the last six days. He’s sick of being cooped up in church; he could really use a day at the beach or a long walk in the park. He tried to write a good sermon, but, in all honesty, this one he’s going to preach today is a total flop. He might even fall asleep in the pulpit while he’s preaching it. He doesn’t want to see Mr. Changehater, who’s been bellyaching for three months straight about the church not singing his favorite hymns, who sits there with his arms crossed over his chest during every song. He knows Mrs. Gossipalot is probably going to corner him, too, and express “Christian concern” about the fact that she just happened to notice that the nice young unmarried couple who sit in the back pew are living together in sin and wants to know if pastor is aware of this fact? Honestly, some Sunday mornings he doesn’t even want to be a pastor. He wishes he had a different vocation. He has zero desire to stand in the pulpit or at the altar. For once, he’d like to leave his alarm clock unset on Sunday morning, sleep till the sun’s up, and do nothing but be lazy. The last thing your pastor would pray is, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” What would make him very glad, however, is to stay at the house he calls home.

I’m not saying every Sunday, or even most Sundays, are like this for him. Nor am I saying that this is true of every pastor and priest—though I suspect most of them have been here more than they’d care to admit. But, for many, there are days when they’re as excited about going to work on Sunday morning as you are about going to work on Monday morning.

But here’s the point: he goes anyway. Glad or not, willing or not, he gets out of bed and gets himself to the house of the Lord. And in so doing, in a most unexpected way, he fulfills another duty of his office: he sets an example for his flock.

Nobody, not even your pastor, goes to the house of the Lord for entirely spiritually pure motives. Yes, he goes to church to hear the Word, but he also knows he has a mortgage and car payment due, not to mention tuition for his children, and those are hard to pay if he’s unemployed. Yes, he goes to the house of the Lord to receive the Supper, but he’s secretly glad to get out of his own house early since he and his wife had a disagreement the night before and there’s a bit of chill in the air. Indeed, he enjoys singing praises to the Lord, but the handshakes and pats on the back as his flock leave church leave him feeling a bit better about himself, too.

So, is he glad to go to the house of the Lord for the Lord’s sake or for his own sake? Yes.

In other words, your pastor is just like you are. He’s a deeply flawed human being, with an inflated ego, potentially thin skin, lust in his heart, selfish ambitions, and plenty of other nastiness hidden beneath his Sunday best. And for all those reasons, going to church is the best thing he can do, regardless of his motives. Because in church he’ll hear about the God who loves him despite his flaws, who calls him to repentance, and who stands ready to wash him in the waters of forgiveness. He’ll hear, in his own sermon(!), about the Christ who died and rose for him and Mr. Meddler and Mrs. Gossipalot and the young couple in the back of the church without wedding rings on. He will kneel at the altar and hear Christ say, “Take, eat, this is my body,” without ever questioning what his motives are for kneeling there. In the house of the Lord, the Spirit will apply the cleansing blood of Jesus to his heart full of bad and twisted and self-serving motives, so that his heart is pumped full of nothing but the pure, saving blood of Christ. And what God does for your pastor on Sunday morning, he does for you, regardless of whether you’re there for entirely right reasons or not.

Part of the vocation of your pastor is to go to the house of the Lord even on those hard days when he’d rather stay home. He sets an example for us who’d like to stay home many Sundays as well.

One thing is certain: when we’re not glad to go to the house of the Lord, the Lord is glad to have us there. And that’s really all that matters.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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Everything I Know About Worship I Learned from a Whore

I’ve had a handful of rather unusual teachers in my life. A shrimp of a man who’d been excommunicated from the Amish community for owning a stereo—he taught me how to shingle a roof. A wheelchair-bound country music singer and songwriter who penned one of George Strait’s hits—he taught me the fine art of woodwork. An ex-con with a string of DWI’s—he taught me the ins and outs of the work I did in the oilfield. You never know at whose feet you might learn something. I certainly never dreamed that I’d learn all about what Christian worship is from a prostitute.

The Prostitute Who Crashed the Party

She must have snuck in the house of Simon since she obviously wouldn’t have been welcomed otherwise. I can’t imagine how shocked this respectable Pharisee must have been to see that that kind of woman had crashed his party.

It was bad enough that she was there, but, dear God, what she did was even worse. A banquet was going on for the religious bigwigs in town. Their special guest that day was a newcomer named Jesus who’d been making waves amongst the Jews by doing and saying some rather unkosher things. He couldn’t be ignored so it was best to have him over and feel him out, to see what kind of man he really was.

prostituteweepingatjesusfeetThis woman, what does she do to Jesus? He’s reclining at table, as the Jews were wont to do at their banquets, lying on his side with his feet outstretched behind him. And this whore, she appears out of nowhere, and starts crying over the feet of Jesus, drenching them with her tears. But she doesn’t stop there. She uses her hair as a towel to wipe clean his dirty feet, kisses them, and tops it all off by pouring perfume over them.

Now think about this. Those eyes, which had viewed countless men naked in her bed, drip tears that wet the feet of the Son of God. That hair, which had been splayed behind her as she lay there offering her sexual services, wipes down the feet at which angels offer adoration. Those hands, which had undressed strangers, touched their privates, held a few coins in exchange for their orgasms, those unclean, immoral, shameful hands cradled the feet of the most holy Messiah. And those lips, which had…well, done what whores do with their mouths, those lips touched the skin of the pure and spotless Lord of heaven and earth. Scandalous is too mild a term for what went down here. This was an outrage.

And these scandalous, outrageous acts of a whore are a beautiful, sacred picture of what worship is. This woman is our rabbi. Christ reveals through her what kind of worship he desires.

The Highest Way of Worshiping Jesus is to Receive

She comes to Jesus with nothing he needs, but needing everything from him. If she brings anything, it is faith—faith which itself is a gift of God. She is defiled and unclean, with her heart’s closet full of skeletons, yet still she comes. She is a pariah in polite society, shunned by the religious do-gooders, yet still she comes. She has no good works to place upon the altar of God, yet still she comes. Nothing, she comes to him who is everything. And in so doing, this most unlikely teacher makes us her students. She who wept upon, dried, and anointed those feet of Jesus—at her feet we now sit to learn what true worship is.

Consider what Jesus says. When Simon the Pharisee got his holier-than-thou panties in a wad over what this woman was doing, Jesus insulted him by pointing out how much a better host this prostitute was than he was. He was a guest in this Pharisees’ home, yet Simon had not washed his feet, had not kissed him, had not anointed his head. Yet this woman did what she did. But the real question is why. Why did she do what she did? Because she believed that he forgave her; and because of that faith, she loved Jesus. “Her sins,” Jesus says, “which are many, have been forgiven, because she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then to this prostitute, Jesus says, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The highest way of worshiping Jesus is to receive from him what this woman received: the forgiveness of sins. Of all the acts of worship in which she could engage, none was greater than coming to Jesus with faith, knowing and believing that he loved her, accepted her, forgave her, and sent her on her way in peace. Her weeping, drying, anointing—all of those were beautiful, meaningful acts of worship, but they were not the greatest. The highest act of worship is not even an act we do; it is a gift we receive.

The Prostitute in the Pew

Every Sunday, when I enter the Lord’s house, an unseen prostitute sits in the pew with me. She doesn’t say a word, but she teaches me throughout the service. No one sees her, but her every act is a lesson to me. I come to my Lord with a heart full of skeletons; I come to him as one shunned by many, especially the spiritual elite; I come to him with no righteousness of my own but gobs upon gobs of unrighteousness; I come to him with nothing, and he gives me everything. He weeps over me with tears of love and bathes away the dirt of my immorality. He wipes clean my feet, my hands, my face, my heart and soul. He anoints me with the oil of the Spirit. He bids me recline at his own table and dine on heaven’s food, drink to the dregs the bloody wine of the Father’s love. Oh, I respond. I pray, I sing, I praise, I confess. But my response, a loving and grateful response, is nothing compared to what Jesus does for me. He forgives. He gives. He floods me with gifts beyond telling, all of which flow from his cross and tomb, onto and into my open mouth, my outstretched hands, my thirsty soul.

The Daughter of God

I’ve had a handful of rather unusual teachers in my life. But none quite like her. None like the woman who taught me that the highest act of worship is not to serve God, but to be served by God; not to give to him but receive from him. Oh, how strange and wonderful our faith is, that everything I know about worship I learned from a prostitute who is the forgiven daughter of our Lord of love.

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Church in Bed: Why Leave Home on Sunday Mornings?

churchinbedI can experience almost every aspect of church from the comfort of my own bed. I can prop up my pillow, open my laptop, and enter my very own cyber sanctuary. The music of beautiful hymns can reverberate through my computer. I can read the Bible myself or listen to an audio recording of a trained professional narrate the Scriptures for me. Preachers from across the spectrum of Christianity can squeeze their pulpits within my computer screen. I can sing, pray, read the Bible, hear sermons, all without the hassle of getting dressed, driving across town, and sitting in a pew for an hour. So why leave home for church on Sunday morning when I can receive the word of God just fine under my own roof?

Suppose that’s what I did. Honestly, what would I be missing? Only a few things.

I’d only be missing the participation of my whole body in worship. My feet worshiping as they stand on holy ground in the presence of Christ. My nose worshiping as it smells the varnish on the pews, the pages of the hymnal, perhaps even the incense as its smoke traces the upward trail of prayers ascending to the Father’s ears. My tongue worshiping as it’s painted Passover red by the blood of the Lamb who saves me from destruction. My hands worshiping as I clasp another’s to say, “Peace to you.” My muscles worshipping as I sit and rise, folds my hands, kneel and bow my head. My eyes worshiping as I view the pulpit, the altar, the lectern, the font, through which Christ forgives, heals, and enlivens His people with hope. All of who we are—body and soul, eyes, ears and everything that makes us human—has been redeemed by Christ, blessed by Christ, and worships this Christ who become all of who we are in His incarnation.

If I stayed home, I’d only be missing the community of fellow forgiven sinners whom I need and who need me. The recently widowed woman who sits in front of me and listens as I sing a resurrection hymn that her tear-drenched eyes and the lump in her throat won’t let her sing herself. The teenager who’s never said a word to me but secretly looks to me as an example. The grumpy old man whom God has placed in my path so as to give me an occasion for practicing charity and patience. My son and daughter who’ll be watching and emulating what I teach them about their place in the body of Christ. I’d be missing these fellow believers who are Christ’s gifts to me, and I to them.

In my cyber sanctuary, staring at my laptop, I’d only be missing face-to-face, ear-to-mouth contact with the man whom the Lord Himself chose to shepherd me as a lamb in God’s flock. As useful as electronic communication is, there’s a reason we call it virtual reality. I don’t have a virtual need for a pastor; I have a real one. I need real encounters with him, where he looks me in the eye to call me to repentance, places his hand upon my head and speaks Christ’s forgiveness into my ears, extends his hand to my open mouth to feed me the body broken and blood outpoured on the altar of the cross.

I’d only be missing these things, and more. I know that sometimes illness, old age, travel, and other situations in life prevent us from joining other believers around the font and altar and pulpit. But I also know that sometimes we simply forget about what we are missing when we can go to church, but choose not to attend.

Jesus never said, “Thou shalt go to church on Sunday morning.” But He did send Paul throughout the Roman world to establish communities of faith and to appoint pastors and teachers in those churches. He did admonish us not to forsake our own assembling together (Hebrews 10:25). He did call us not to despise preaching and the word of God, but to hear it and learn it gladly. Most importantly, Christ said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He will do that 24/7, anytime and anywhere, but He lavishly pours out His rest in the waters of Baptism, in the spoken words of absolution from the pastor’s lips, in the preaching of the cross and resurrection, in the consumption of heavenly cuisine from the table at which He is host and meal.

Around Jesus the church gathers as sheep around their shepherd, as the dying and wounded around this great physician of soul and body, as earth-bound believers who join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the song that never ends.

I don’t know about you, but since Christ promises blessings like that, there’s no place I’d rather be on Sunday mornings than out of bed and in a pew, basking in the forgiveness and peace and love of the God who merges heaven and earth within the four walls of His sanctuary to fill us with gifts of grace galore.

In all my writings, the grace of Jesus Christ for you is front and center. That is what we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people. My award-winning book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Everything I Needed to Know About Vocation I Learned at the Lord’s Supper

On my mother’s Sunday table was a feast fit for a southern king: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot buttered rolls, pecan pie, and plenty of other country delicacies. Back then, eating at a Chinese restaurant was about as cross-cultural an experience as I could imagine. Over the years, I’ve expanded the horizons of my palate to sample everything from Iranian to Indian to Russian cuisine. And most of it, while no match to my momma’s cooking, has pleased my palate. However, I do live by a strict rule: when I’m about to try a new cultural restaurant, I never go alone. I take along a food-wise friend. I lean on him for advice about what to order, what combination of foods is best, what drinks complement the entree, and even how to eat (with my fingers? a fork? a piece of bread?). The meal, in addition to a culinary experience, also becomes a learning experience.

The meal at which I have learned the most, however, was not at a restaurant but a church. There’s no need for a menu because everyone receives and consumes the same items. The conversation around the table is minimal. I eat, then drink, while on my knees. Outwardly, the meal is spartan, hardly sufficient to ease a man’s hunger or slake his thirst, but inwardly the meal is regal, feeding a man’s hunger with the only food that satisfies, slaking his thirst with a drink that puts to shame the finest of wines. At this meal of meals, the supper of Jesus, He serves me Himself. And in so doing, He also teaches me something profoundly important. As He feeds me His body, as He pours in me His blood, I learn how to be a father, a husband, a son, a citizen, a worker. Everything I need to know about vocation I learn at the Lord’s Supper.

Vocation: More Than What We Do For a Living

Let me explain what I mean by first clarifying what I mean by vocation. We usually understand vocation in a very narrow sense; it’s your job, your “calling.” Vocation, however, is not so much what you do for a living but what Christ does through you for the living. It’s a 24/7 calling, not a 9 to 5 occupation. A child’s vocation is to be a son or daughter to parents; a spouse’s vocation is to be a husband to his wife, a wife to her husband. And, of course, if you have a job, that too is a vocation, whether you’re a priest or policeman, carpenter or accountant. In each of these vocations, you have people to love, to serve, to take care of. Yet—and this is of the utmost importance—it is not so much you who serve your neighbor as Christ who serves your neighbor through you. You have been crucified with Jesus on the cross of baptism, so that it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you (Gal 2:20). It is no longer you who are a wife but Jesus who is a wife through you; no longer you who are a teacher, but Jesus who is a teacher through you. Your vocation, as with your identity, is bound up in Him.

Permitting Ourselves to be Eaten and Drunk

Whatever vocation God has given to you, you learn what that calling is all about at the Lord’s Supper. Just as He gives Himself to you in this meal, so He goes on to give Himself through you to your neighbor in your vocation. He pours the blood of His love into your body and then pours Himself through you into others as you faithfully serve in your vocations. Luther puts it this way:

Now this is the fruit [of the Lord’s Supper], that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink…meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had. (Sermons of Martin Luther; trans. and ed. J. N. Lenker; Grand Rapids: Baker; Volume 2:208)

We eat the Lord by the faith of the Word which the soul consumes and enjoys. In this way my neighbor also eats me: I give him my goods, body, and life and all I have, and let him consume and use it in his want. Likewise I also need my neighbor; I too am poor and afflicted, and suffer him to help and serve me in turn. Thus we are woven one into the other, helping one another even as Christ helped us. (2:213)

familyaltarrailTherefore, when I kneel beside my wife at the altar rail, there Christ also shows me how to be a husband to her. Just as Jesus loved the church and gave Himself up for her, uniting His body with her own in this meal, so I should love my wife as my own body, nourish and cherish our united body, even as Christ does for the church (Eph 5:25, 28-29). When I kneel beside my son and daughter, there Christ shows me how to be a father to them. Just as Jesus feeds and cares for me in this Supper, clothes me with His righteousness, so I in turn care for my children by giving myself wholly to them in my vocation as their dad.

In the Lord’s Supper, the Lord holds nothing back. He gives us His life. He gives us His forgiveness. He gives us Himself. When we return to the pew, then later go out to our cars and drive home, then awake Monday morning to go about our various callings, we still carry Jesus with us. Unlike every other meal, wherein we digest the food and turn it into ourselves, in the Lord’s Supper the food turns us into itself. Jesus transforms our bodies into His. We become as He is. So whatever we do, we do in and through and with Jesus. Or, as I prefer to say it, Jesus does it in and through and with us. We become His lips to speak, His hands to work, His feet to walk. Just as He gave us Himself in the Supper on Sunday, so He gives Himself to others through us in our vocations every day of the week.

The next time you change your baby’s diaper, or make a sales call, or nail a shingle to the roof, remember this: just as Jesus has hidden Himself under those simple forms of bread and wine, so He hides Himself under the simple acts of your vocation. And just as He gave Himself to you in such simple profundity, so He continues to give Himself to others through you in the simple, but profound, acts of your vocation. When all is said and done, everything you need to know about vocation was learned at the Lord’s Supper.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was a blessing to you, please take a moment to check out my book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon.

You may also be interested in my two other books. The Infant Priest is a collection of hymns and poems. These give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. It is available at this website or on Amazon.com.  I also just published Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing. This booklet is a clear and concise explanation of the place of hymns in worship. To buy your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at birdchadlouis@yahoo.com for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!

Taking the Road More Traveled By: The Benefit of Tradition in the Church

I grew up over-singing ”Just As I Am” and watching folks get drenched from head to toe in their baptisms. There was something of a rhythm and rhyme to our Southern Baptist services; it certainly wasn’t a charismatic free-for-all. The hymns, sermon, offering, and altar call all fell into place. But it had little akin to what I was to discover in my late teens when I began my pilgrimage into a liturgical church. There, I encountered psalm chanting, creedal confessions, vested clergy, an altar with real wine (!) atop it, worshipers making the sign of the cross, the rare but occasional smoke of incense, and plenty of other practices that sent my non-traditional sensitivities into shock.

Some might suppose that, awed by the reverence imbuing the service, wooed by its sacred antiquity, it was love at first sight. But, no, to be honest, I didn’t like it, not one little bit.

Twenty five years later, having written a Eucharistic hymn that is sung in the liturgy, presided as celebrant and deacon at various altars in the Lutheran Church, and contributed regularly to a journal devoted to the traditional divine service, I guess you could safely say that my first impressions of traditional worship were not my lasting ones. Like an arranged marriage, it took me years to get to know this heretofore unknown liturgical bride, to delve into her past, learn her eccentricities, and eventually fall in love with her. Now, a quarter century after our initial meeting, I can’t imagine life without her.

What Good is Tradition?

Devotees of various faiths, Christian and otherwise, have their distinctive traditions and their reasons for perpetuating them. Some like the way these practices are transhistorical, providing an unbroken ritual link with prior generations of the faithful. Others appreciate how traditions tend to concretize doctrine, embodying religious teachings in religious rites, so that the eyes and ears and other senses participate fully in what a faith teaches, rescuing it from becoming a bloodless religion of the mind. Still others embrace tradition as the communal expression of the faith, the participation of all in a shared rite, thereby bonding them, and avoiding the tyranny of individualism or clerical whim. And there are some who simply enjoy the artistry of religious rites, how they lift the common to new heights of aesthetic beauty. My own gradual appreciation of Christian rites involved all of these. Ultimately, however, I fell in love with traditions—and specifically, traditional worship—for a single, overarching reason: its components, to varying degrees, are all in the service of the Gospel.

Tradition in the Service of the Gospel

What you’ll encounter in a traditional worship service is a framework of readings, creeds, confessions, hymns, and prayers that pulsate with the language of Scripture, with Christ Jesus at the heart of it all. By the repetition of these, with new elements circulating every week, truths seep into the hearts and minds of worshipers, steeping them in vivifying words. Every element of worship flows toward, into, and from the altar, where Jesus sits as Lamb, Priest, King, and Man, all rolled into one, giving his blood and body into his people and thereby literally embodying them with God. Cognizant of the fact that Jesus came to save not only the soul, but also the body, the body participates fully in this worship. Knees bow before the regal Lord; hands trace the sign of the saving cross upon themselves; mouths dine at his feast; eyes soak in the portrayal of his Passion in crucifix, icons, stained-glass windows; and noses spell the aromatic incense wafting prayers up toward God’s throne. Moreover, just as the world operates according to a calendar, so the church follows a calendar of her own, with seasons and festivals that punctuate the year, each in one way or another preaching the mystery of Christ crucified and resurrected for us.  Though some of the elements of this worship are mandated by Christ–the preaching of his Word, baptism, his Supper–others are not, but are part of the heritage of prior generations, who bequeathed to us rites and ceremonies which glorify God, beautify worship, and work in concert with the Gospel.  All is claimed for Jesus—time, art, movement, architecture, music—so that in everything he may be glorified, and his people receive him and his gifts for their salvation.

Interest in the Traditional Liturgy Among Baptists

Though my own participation in liturgical worship happened after I left the church of my upbringing, I was surprised and delighted to read that in the Baptist church there has recently been a groundswell of interest, especially among young believers, in such worship. In a CNN blog post, Rachel Held Evans, writes, “Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions– Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. –precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being ‘cool,’ and we find that refreshingly authentic.” Whether this is merely a passing fad or a change of more substance and longevity remains to be seen. Needless to say, I hope it is the latter. If so, I pray that their spiritual odyssey may leave them not deeper into tradition but that tradition may leave them deeper into Christ.  For if tradition is not in the service of the Gospel, it is fool’s gold, worthless and void.  But if it is in Christ’s service, it is gold worthy of becoming a receptacle for heaven’s blessings.

The Road More Traveled By

The poet Robert Frost famously spoke of taking “the road less traveled by” when he came to where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Perhaps in some aspects of life, that is sage advice. But when I came to where two roads diverged in the church, I took the road more traveled by, smoothed by the feet of the faithful for centuries, tried and tested by time, a path free of the pitfalls of modernity and the quicksands of fads, which leads always to the God crucified and risen for us. And that has made all the difference.

why lutherans sing adsmallIf you are interested in learning more about the traditional hymnody of the church, check out my newly published booklet, Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing. Here is a clear and concise explanation of the place of hymns in worship. Sadly, not everything that is advertised these days as “Christian music” is very Christian at all. This booklet discusses five criteria for choosing quality, theologically sound hymns and songs, and thus provides the reader with clarity in filtering out what is worthy of being sung by the church. To purchase your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at birdchadlouis@yahoo.com for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!

My Newest Book: Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing

why lutherans sing adsmallSinging is part of the lifeblood of the church. It always has been. In the Old Testament, believers joined voices to sing the Psalms before the Lord everywhere from the shores of the Red Sea to His temple in Jerusalem. So also in the early church, Paul encourages the Christians to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16). These hymns are, first and foremost, the Word of God put to music, and secondly, a confession of thanksgiving and praise back to the Giver of all good gifts.

Singing has certainly been a major part of the life of the Lutheran church. The Reformer himself, Martin Luther, wrote a number of hymns, as did countless others after him. These sacred songs embody the confession of the Gospel as the free grace of God in Christ. They teach the faithful, encourage the weak, give hope to the grieving.

Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing was published years ago, but has been updated to reflect the Lutheran Service Book and now includes a Foreword by the well-known hymn writer, Steve Starke. In this forty page booklet, I introduce and discuss five criteria that I believe are an essential part of what makes a hymn worthy of being on the lips of the Christian church. These criteria are:

  1. A Lutheran hymn aims not to create the right atmosphere or mood for worship, but serves as a vehicle for the Spirit-filled Word of God.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is not entertainment but proclamation.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is shaped by the theology of the cross.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is not bound merely to paraphrase the biblical text; rather, it interprets the Scriptures in reference to Christ.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is bound to no culture save the culture of the church catholic.

In the Foreword, Stephen Starke comments:

Chad Bird’s Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing offers clear criteria in defending Lutheran hymns as well as showing the reader why such hymns remain important now and for the future. He writes in a clear, understandable manner. I believe the booklet’s content will be a blessing to all those who seek to understand the great importance of why Lutherans sing what they sing when they gather for worship.

To read part of the opening chapter, check out this blog post. To purchase your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at birdchadlouis@yahoo.com for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!

The Church of Regal Entertainment: Does Where We Worship Matter?

“I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home….” So begins an old country song. Fed up with her husband perched on a bar stool every evening, drinking away his paycheck, then stumbling home three sheets to the wind, this resourceful wife decides to transform their home into a bar. So she hires an alcoholic to assist with the redecoration. They take out the dining room table to make room for the bar. She hangs a neon sign that points the way to the bathroom. Her husband and his buddies can cash their paychecks at the house, and while they’re sleeping off the booze the next morning she’ll deposit the money in the bank

Her whole strategy is summed in the chorus, “I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home, so you’ll feel more at ease here and you won’t have to roam…” If she erases the boundaries between home and bar, her husband will feel comfortable, his friends will feel welcome, and she’ll have money in the bank. She will make some sacrifices, but since she’ll regain her husband, it’ll all be worth it.

To Decorate or to Destroy?

But will it be worth it? And will she really regain her husband? The truth is that she hasn’t really made the bar and home equal; the bar wears the pants in that family now. The pub culture, which her husband loves, in which he feels comfortable, has much more control over his thinking, his actions, and his heart, than does the culture of his home. She sacrifices the intimacy of their household in a failed attempt to win back her husband. And, yes, she’ll have him there, but in a space that does nothing more than perpetuate the very lifestyle that is wrecking her home and marriage. Her intentions may be golden, but she’s doing nothing more than enabling his beer-guzzling, family-avoiding lifestyle. She hasn’t so much hired a wino to decorate their home as to destroy their home—to destroy any chance it might be a place where that man is transformed back into the husband he needs to be.

I’m Gonna Hire a Theological Wino to Decorate Our Church

The wife in this old country song bears a strong resemblance to lady church in many parts of America. She is motivated by the desire to connect with people who don’t feel at ease sitting in a pew, surrounded by stained glass, the cross of Jesus sitting atop the altar. They’re not comfortable with organ music, sermons preached from pulpits, songs sung from hymnals. Where are they at ease? In a movie theatre, or a sports stadium, or a bar. They are comfortable jamming to a band full of drums and steel guitars, listening to comedians and other entertainers, and hearing soloists or groups sing to them during concerts. They can kick back with a cup of Starbucks in their hands, wearing their favorite blue jeans, reclining in stadium seats with a big screen in front of them. So lady church hires the equivalent of a theological wino to decorate her church home, so these people will feel more at ease.

Worship in a Movie Theatre

Movie Theatre ChurchFor instance, Regal Entertainment Group offers churches the option of renting one of their theatres for worship services. In their ad, they boast that “clients have even said that holding their services in a theatre was a no-brainer for them because they wanted to reach the unchurched and the theatre was in a familiar, culturally relevant place.” Besides the perks of “ample parking, spacious lobbies, plenty of bathrooms” there is the “perfect view of the screen from a comfortable seat (cup holders included!).” And, of course, they add that “there’s no more powerful way to share your message.”

Yes, but what powerful message is really being shared? What message is the church communicating that chooses a movie theatre for its worship space? Or what message, for instance, is Joel Osteen’s congregation communicating when it chooses a former sports stadium for its gathering space? It’s the same type of message that the frustrated wife in our country song is communicating. Only in the case of lady church, it is this: the church does not have a message that is radically different from that of the world. It is not so radically different as to require a radically different space in which to communicate it. It is a comfortable, entertaining, non-life-altering message. The Gospel is as American as apple pie, Chevrolet, and Regal Cinemas.

Only it’s not. The Gospel is a radical message. It is as contrary to the ways and thoughts of the world as a home is to a bar, as a temple is to a theatre. And because of that, the church where this Gospel is preached dare not ape the architecture of the world. If she does, if she transforms the church into a theatre of entertainment, then she will teach the world that the Gospel is about titillation, feeling good, kicking back and being comfortable.

Holy Worship of a Holy God in a Holy Place

As the Old Testament tabernacle and temple were, so the New Testament church is: a holy place where the holy God dwells to meet with His holy people. I want to feel uncomfortable in church. I want my family and friends and fellow worshipers not to feel at ease, but to feel in awe when they enter the sanctuary of God. I want them to exclaim, as did Jacob, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,” (Gen 28:17). I don’t want them to say, “How cool is this place! This is none other than the theatre where I watched ‘Annabelle’ last week, and here’s the cup holder where I put my Dr. Pepper while I ate popcorn.”

The church is a place of radical transformation. God meets with His people in this place to speak a law to them that reveals their selfishness, the bad man in all of them, the death that lurks within them. And through that law He kills. He puts them to the death of repentance in order that He might resurrect them through the good news of Jesus Christ. In Him they are not made comfortable and at ease, but are changed. They are made alive, truly alive, in the Son of God who loves them, who gave up His life for their own, who burst forth from the grace triumphant over death. That resurrection proclamation is transformative. It makes living saints out of dead sinners. It gives hope and healing to the wounded and bleeding.

Yes, of course, mission congregations often gather in spaces that are less than ideal. But I pray that even then they choose as neutral a space as possible for their temporary sanctuary, and transform that room or building on Sunday morning into as church-like a setting as possible. Why? Because the architecture, the furnishings, and the decorations of the church are not peripheral to this message. They too preach Christ. Stained glass and icons preach in color and symbol the good news of Jesus. Crosses and crucifixes focus the viewer on the heart of the church’s message of Christ crucified for you. The altar and communion rail beckon the worshiper to the feast of Jesus’ forgiving flesh and vivifying blood. Incense proclaims to our sense of smell the pleasing aroma of Jesus’ sacrifice and the rising smoke visually portrays our prayers that rise to heaven’s throne of grace. Pulpits and altars root the believers in the divine Word that comes down from heaven to feed our souls with words of truth. All together, architecture, sacred furnishings, and holy décor proclaim the Christ who radically transforms us into the children of God, citizens not of this world but a divine kingdom, worshipers who experience heaven on earth every Sunday morning.

You like to drink beer? Fine, enjoy a pint at the pub. You like to watch movies? Me too, so let’s go to the theatre. But when we’re meeting God face-to-face, leave the beer and the popcorn outside, for that place of divine encounter is none other than the house of God, the gate of heaven, the church of Jesus Christ.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

How a Small Rural Congregation Became a Megachurch Overnight

church-wheatfieldThis is the story of how one small, country parish, nestled between wheat fields in the vast stretches of the Texas panhandle, astounded the experts on church growth by becoming a megachurch overnight, without even trying.

The gravel parking lot around St. John’s began to fill early that morning. The shadow from the steeple cast the image of the cross on the western side of the church as families from miles around climbed out of Fords and Chevrolets and the occasional Buick to make their way into the sanctuary. The pastor stood by the front door, greeting folks who came in, asking about Aunt Susan’s broken hip, and the Reynold’s new horse, and how the football game how turned out in Sunray the other night. The man of God who served this parish wasn’t much to look at, and his accent was a bit too northernish for most people’s tastes, but they loved the man anyway. He had baptized their children, buried their grandparents, and preached a fairly decent sermon most Sundays.

By the time church was ready to begin, it still hadn’t happened—that shocking influx of worshipers I spoke of. In fact, things looked just about as ordinary as ordinary could be. The Kirkpatricks, with their five children, took up most of the next-to-last pew, just like every Lord’s day. The spinster organist, Ms. Schultz, was playing softly and hitting, well, most every note. Hymnals were opened to the page where the divine service would soon begin. At 10:30 sharp, Pastor Baker walked up front and spoke the same words he did at the start of every Sunday morning service, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the congregation responded with a hearty, “Amen!”

Then, without any warning, it happened. The floodgates were opened. Worshipers began streaming in. Before the congregation had finished saying, “Amen,” this rural Texas minichurch was transformed into the mega of megachurches.

Through the stained glass windows and the steeply pitched roof, seraphim swooped down from celestial realms. Each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And around the sanctuary you could hear them chant one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” The foundations of St. John’s shook at the sound of their voices and the whole church was filled with the smoke of incense.

But they were not alone. Cherubim winged their way down from the heavenly Jerusalem. Not the cute, chubby Precious Moments’ angels, but massive, manly warriors who stationed themselves like sentinels around the sanctuary, belting out the words to every hymn sung, adding their Amen to every divine word read and preached that day.

But the angels were not alone. With that angelic crowd came saints beyond number, men and women who had fought the good fight, finished the race, and gone on to glory. But here they were, back at St. John’s during this Sunday morning service to lend their voices to the earthly choir of farmers and ranchers and coaches and teachers who were still on their way to the heavenly Jerusalem. Every pew was packed. Standing room only in the aisles. Some sat on the rafters and looked down with serene gazes upon the altar, where, wonder of wonders, there was a throne. And on that throne was a Lamb, slain yet alive, sacrificed but resurrected. Every face of every worshiper, angelic and human, earthly and heavenly, was fixated upon His face, for there they beheld the face of God Himself.

With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, the people of St. John’s lauded and glorified the name of that Lamb, their Lord Jesus Christ, that day. Every song shook the building as the celestial and terrestrial choirs blended their voices. The Lord’s Supper was a reunion meal, where the folks on earth and the saints in heaven received from their Host the food above all foods and the drink that quenches the deepest thirst.

It was a day to remember. And it was a day to repeat. For the following Sunday it would happen again. And then again. And then yet again, when this tiny Texas church would bulge at the seams with worshipers from realms seen and unseen, all joining together in the adoration of the Lamb whose kingdom is without end.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral

funeralThere will come a day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, when the man in the coffin will be me. They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?

Because I do care now, and will care even after I’m with the Lord, here are some things I hope and pray are not said at my funeral. I care about those who will be there, about what they will hear. I want the truth to be spoken, the truth about sin, the truth about death, and, above all, the truth about the love of God in Jesus Christ.

So, please don’t say…

1. He was a good man. Don’t turn my funeral into a celebration of my moral resume. For one thing, I don’t have one. I’m guilty of far more immoral acts than moral ones. Secondly, even if I were the male equivalent of Mother Teresa, don’t eulogize me. Talk about the goodness of the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. Talk about our good Father who’s made us all His children in baptism. Talk about the good Husband that Christ is to His bride, the church. Don’t say, “He was a good man,” but “our good God loved this sinful man.”

2. Chad…Chad…Chad. I don’t want to be the focus of my own funeral. I was not the center of the liturgy on Sunday mornings, so why should it be any different during my funeral liturgy? If anyone’s name comes up over and over, let it be the name that is above every name—Jesus. He is the one who has conquered death. He is the one in whose arms I will have died. He is the one, the only one, who gives hope to the bereaved. Let me decrease that Christ may increase.

3. God now has another angel. Heaven is not going to de-humanize me. In fact, once I am resurrected on the last day, I will be more human than ever before, for my human soul and human body will finally be in a glorified state that’s free of sin. People don’t become angels in heaven any more than they become gods or trees or puppies. The creature we are now, we shall be forever. God has enough angels already. All He wants is more of His children in the place Jesus has prepared for them.

4. We are not here to mourn Chad’s death, but to celebrate his life. So-called “Celebrations of Life” (which I have written against in “The Tragic Death of the Funeral”) do a disservice to the mourners for they deny or euphemize death. The gift of life cannot fully be embraced if we disregard the reality of death, along with sin, its ultimate cause. Whatever the apparent reason for my decease may be—a sickness, accident, or old age—the real reason is because I was conceived and born in sin, and I built atop that sinful nature a mountain’s worth of actual sins. The only person’s life to celebrate at a funeral is the Savior conceived of the virgin Mary, who became our sin on the cursed tree that we might become His righteousness in the blessed font, who buried sin and death in the empty tomb He left behind on Easter morning.

5. Chad would not want us to weep. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Those tears betoken a God who’s fully human, who experienced the sadness and grief we all do at the death of those we love. To cry is not to deny that our friend or family member is with the Lord, but to acknowledge that in this vale of tears there is still death, still loss, still suffering. I do want those who mourn my death to weep, not for my sake, but for their own, for it is an integral part of the healing process. But while they weep, let them remember that in the new heavens and new earth, God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain,” (Revelation 21:4).

6. What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Chad. What’s in that coffin is the body that was fearfully and wonderfully made when our Father wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). What’s in that coffin is the body that Jesus baptized into His own body to make me part of Him. What’s in that coffin is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus, and drank His forgiving blood in the Supper, that I might consume the medicine of immortality. And what’s in that coffin is the body that, when the last trumpet shall sound, will burst from my grave as a body glorified and ready to be reunited with my soul. My body is God’s creation, an essential part of my identity as a human being. It is not a shell. It is God’s gift to me. And one day I’ll get it back, alive, restored, perfected to be like the resurrected body of Jesus.

Of course, there’s always more that could be added to this list—and perhaps you’d like to add more in the comments below—but I believe these get the point across. I want the beginning of my funeral to be focused on Jesus, as well as the middle, as well as the end, as well as every point in between. I care about those who will attend. Let them hear the good news, especially in the context of this sobering reminder of mortality, that neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is the resurrection and the life.
**Here is a short YouTube video in which I talk about death, so-called “natural death,” and the hope we have in the resurrection of Christ.

Thank you for reading this blog post! For my other writings, please visit my new website: chadbird.com

 

 

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christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Ten Ways You Can Help Your Pastor Be an Even Better Preacher

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View from the pulpit

If you sit in the pew on Sunday morning, part of you also stands in the pulpit. Whether you realize it or not, you have a hand in shaping every sermon that your pastor preaches. That’s because the word of God that your shepherd is expounding is not a one-size-fits-all message; he specifically tailored this sermon to fit the life situations of the saints whom he serves. He has you in his mind, and on his heart, when he preaches.

A Blessing and a Challenge

This is a blessing, but it’s also a tremendous challenge. It’s a blessing because who wants a sermon that’s like a Hallmark card, written vaguely enough to apply to just about any situation? Paul wrote very different letters to the churches at Rome and Corinth and Ephesus for a reason: each congregation had unique struggles which required different applications of the divine word to their situation. It’s no different today.

But this blessed, precise preaching is a weekly challenge. Your pastor, above all, wants his proclamation to remain true to the word of God. But he also wants it to remain fresh, creative, understandable, and applicable to his flock. When it comes to facing and overcoming this challenge, you can either assist your pastor or make it even more difficult for him. The part of you that stands in the pulpit with him can either be a help or a hindrance.

Here are ten suggestions on how you can be helpful, how you can make your pastor an even better preacher.

1. Spend time with your pastor outside of church. This can be as simple as enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee together during the week. Pastors cannot really get to know you if they know only the Sunday-morning you. Welcome his visits to your home. Include him and his family in your family’s life. The better he knows you outside of church, the better he will preach to you inside of church.

2. Be open with him about your personal struggles. If you’re sick and want your doctor to help you, you can’t sit there on the table, fully-dressed, smiling, and telling him you feel like a million bucks. He needs to know where you hurt and how you hurt if he’s going to help you. The more he knows about your sickness, the better he’ll be at prescribing the right medicine. So it is with your pastor. The more you tell him about your struggles, your sins, your addictions, your regrets—all the ills from which you suffer—the better physician of your soul he will be. This may take place in a more structured format such as private confession and absolution, or it may be in a less liturgical setting. Wherever it happens, this deeper knowledge of his flock will in turn deepen the pastor’s preaching, for the better he knows what’s going on inside his hearers, the better he will be inside the pulpit as he applies the healing balm of the Gospel.

3. Give your pastor honest feedback about his sermons. Very often the only substantive feedback a pastor gets about his sermons is from his wife. As helpful as that may be, he needs to hear from you, too. And a word to you pastors: pray for humility and thick skin so that you will receive this honest feedback—be it positive or negative—with gratitude. Hear me well: I’m not advocating that parishioners critique sermons like a movie critic rates the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Rather, you should freely communicate with your pastor if anything about his sermons troubles you, seems unclear, or just plain doesn’t square with your understanding of the word of God. To remain silent about preaching that could be improved, clarified, or corrected, only gives voice to apathy. At the same time, express to him how thankful you are for his bold adherence to pure doctrine, and for placing before you, week after week, the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for you. Like any Christian, pastors too need vocal encouragement to remain steadfast and faithful in their vocation.

4. Ask your pastor questions about the sermon. This dovetails with the point made above concerning feedback. Some biblical texts are harder to understand than others. And if you think these biblical knots are hard to untie, try preparing a sermon on them! It can be a formidable task. So if you listen to a sermon on one of these passages, or any text for that matter, where certain issues still remain difficult for you to understand, then don’t be afraid to ask your pastor about them. Chances are he has many insights into that passage of Scripture that he chose not to include in the sermon. Your post-homily conversation will give him a chance to explain the biblical story more fully, and you to understand it more clearly. And your questions will reveal to him ways in which he can provide even greater clarity to his hearers about this passage of Scripture in his ongoing proclamation of it.

5. Be a faithful student in the Bible Class your pastor teaches. I cannot overemphasize this point. To put it quite simply: the deeper knowledge you have of the Bible, the deeper understanding you will have of biblical preaching. And the deeper understanding you have of both the Bible and biblical preaching will enable your pastor to be a better preacher for you. Imagine how frustrating it would be for a high school teacher who wants to introduce his students to the beauties and intricacies of Shakespeare, to discover that many in the class only want to read the CliffsNotes. Unfortunately, a parallel situation often exists in congregations. The pastor wishes to lead his hearers more deeply into the Scriptures, but many of them only want to skim the surface. Immerse yourself in the word of God with your pastor, ask him questions, listen to the discussions, ponder how all the biblical stories fit together in Christ. What you learn from your pastor in Bible class, as well as what he learns from his interaction with you and other students of the word, will have a direct and positive impact on his preaching.

6. Encourage your pastor to study God’s word with other pastors.  The best pulpits are crowded pulpits. Surrounding your pastor are patriarchs and prophets, apostles and evangelists, college and seminary professors, fellow saints and sinners—everyone whom Christ has used to shape your shepherd’s preaching. Especially helpful to your pastor are his fellow proclaimers. Like him, they wrestle weekly with the word, know the angst of the office, and strive to preach faithfully in their own parishes. These men lean on and learn from each other. If your pastor regularly studies the Scriptures with other pastors, encourage him to continue to do so. Indeed, encourage your fellow members to respect that time he has with his brothers in the ministry. What they learn from him, and what he learns from them, will enrich the preaching that you and your fellow Christians hear.

7. Protect the time your pastor needs for sermon preparation.  One of the earliest recorded problems faced by the church was that the apostles were so overburdened that they were in danger of neglecting the real duties of their office (Acts 6:1ff). It wasn’t right, they said, for them to “neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” The duties of the office of the ministry are weighty enough without your pastor also being asked to make sure the church lawn gets mowed, the budget prepared, pews dusted, and a thousand other responsibilities that someone else can take care of. Protect the time he needs to be fully engaged in the real duties of his office, which includes study of the Scriptures on which he will preaching. The more time he has to prepare a homily, the better his proclamation to you will be.

8. Gift your pastor with helpful, trustworthy preaching resources. There is a wealth of material available for pastors who are looking for fresh and faithful ways to preach. There are journals and books, seminars and conferences, as well as online resources. The only problem is that there’s a price tag attached to most of these. And the ministry not being the most lucrative calling there is, sometimes that cost is prohibitive. Every pastor has a birthday, an ordination anniversary day, and he too sets up a Christmas tree. Why not ask him if there’s a preaching resource he’d like as a gift? Not only will he profit from that gift, so will you as you see it bear fruit in the pulpit.

9. Be “all there” when you’re in the pew. Imagine what your reaction would be if you placed a costly gift into the lap of your child, only to have him reach for his phone to text a friend, or yawn then fall asleep, or turn to a friend to begin a whispered conversation, all the while ignoring the gift you had worked so hard to give him. Every sermon your pastor preaches is his gift to you; indeed, it is the Lord’s gift to you, His saving word wrapped in your pastor’s words. He places that gift in your lap every Sunday. Receive it with attentiveness, thankfulness, faithfulness. Make eye contact with your pastor as he preaches. What you communicate nonverbally says volumes about what you think of his preaching. And, believe me, he notices every yawn, every whispered conversation, every head down not-so-secretly texting or Facebooking or tweeting or whatever else you might be doing that amounts to a despising of the divine word you are ignoring. You took the time to be in church; when you’re there, be all there.

10. Pray for your pastor. It’s common for pastors to spend a few moments in prayer before they enter the pulpit. Perhaps they pray something like Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.” Echo that prayer with your own. Ask the Lord to bless your pastor’s words, to give you repentance and faith to hear them aright. And continue to pray even as he preaches. Translate his words of law into prayers of repentance. Respond to his words of grace with prayers of thanksgiving. Preaching is not a monologue; it is a conversation, partly spoken aloud, partly prayed silently, between you, your pastor, and Jesus Christ. Before, during, after your pastor preaches, endeavor to pray for him and yourself and all who are present, that the words from your pastor’s mouth and the meditations of every heart present, may be acceptable in the sight of the Lord of the church.

There are, no doubt, other ways besides these ten suggestions by which you can help your pastor become an even better preacher. And, if you are so inclined, I encourage you to write about those ideas in the comment section of my blog. I offer these, however, as some ways in which you can help the man whom God has called to serve you in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ.

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If you enjoy my writings, and would like to read more of them, check out my two recently published books, one of hymns and poetry, and one of meditations and sermons. The Infant Priest is a collection of about 20 hymns and 90 poems. Christ Alone contains brief meditations and sermons that are steeped in the language of creation, the Passover, the worship life of Israel, and the Gospels. Click on either of the titles, or visit Amazon.com, to read more and find out how you can purchase a copy. Thank you for your interest!

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