I S_ _ _ at Sermon Writing

One of my favorite things to write about or tweet about or Facebook about is the process of sermon writing. It’s a process that never fails to amaze me. For each time a sermon comes flowing out of my fingers it is due to the Holy Spirit taking my fingers and putting life into them. And so hopefully you are not tired of this topic. For me, I am just tooting God’s horn and give God praise through the work of the Holy Spirit.


So today is Thursday, my sermon writing day at my favorite coffee shop. I am once again at my favorite table by the front window that looks out onto the sidewalk and the one-way main street. Vehicles line the street and there is a somewhat steady flow of activity. And in the midst of writing spurts I find myself looking out onto the world to day dream and reflect. And then after my “commercial break” ends the Holy Spirit returns me to the regularly scheduled programming (sermon writing). The characters may vary slightly, the plot is the same but the way I arrive at the message varies week to week. And despite the sameness in the “programming” I never lose interest (and hopefully those listening on Sunday don’t lose interest either).

And as I reflect on this amazing process of sermon writing I am reminded of something my wife’s uncle once asked me: How do you come up with all those sermons? Without batting an eyelash I said to him, God. To which he responded, I know that but how do you come up with a sermon each week? Me: God.

I think that frustrated him enough as our conversation quickly ended through some “diversion” that caught his attention. I think what he wanted to hear about was some skill or resource that I drew upon. He was amazed but amazed with the wrong person. As Martin Luther says in his sacristy prayer, If this task were left up to me I would surely bring it all to ruin. And that is the case with sermon writing. Because believe me, when it comes to writing and public speaking,

I suck (sorry about the language).

And so without sounding cocky or proud or anything like that, I am glad I suck at writing and public speaking. For as the apostle Paul says, when I am weak it is then that I am strong. That strength?


But really, where does your strength come from?


That’s it.

Now it time to return to the regularly scheduled programming. Come, Holy Spirit…

And have a great day 🙂

The Pastor -|—

Holy Saturday ~ Limbo

I feel like I am in limbo today.

The past two days we traveled through the cross of Jesus and now today ~ Nothing. Jesus has been crucified and buried, but tomorrow, though, is the joyous celebration of his resurrection. But I’m still in today ~ so nothing, at least for now.

And so I am here in my office reflecting on the cross, my sin and Jesus’ willingly going to the cross for me. And as I reflect on this I am polishing off TWO Easter sermons.

That’s right, I am just crazy enough to do that 🙂

This is something I have never done before. You see, I have two Easter services here at Salem Lutheran Church and one out at Belmont Lutheran Church. Every year I have written one Easter sermon and preached it three times. But there are a couple “problems” that I have never addressed before:

(1) Some people that come to the Sonrise worship service at Salem will come back for the Festival worship service later (I lead the Sonrise service at Belmont in between). And so those people hear the sermon twice, not necessarily bad since I need to hear something more than once to really get it, but I have heard comments.

(2) The crowd at each service is generally different (with a few the same). And so with a different crowd, a different message is needed; a different focus, if I am going to be contextual.

And so I felt the Spirit move stronger than ever, this year, to write TWO sermons. Besides, there shouldn’t be a problem, since I have plenty of material 🙂

Praise be to God!

And so this “nothing” day is turning into something. I am reflecting on the cross and preaching to myself an Easter message in two ways (but yet the same) as I get ready to lead God’s people in worship tomorrow.

What a day
Nothing to something ~ yup, that sounds like God

Holy Saturday, a day of limbo, but also a day of great expectation and hope as we know what is coming, and I am not talking about tomorrow.

God bless you as you wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, with your glorious Kingdom and praise be to God!

Living God, what a roller coaster ride this week, and now we wait for the glorious return of our Lord Jesus. Bless our waiting, Oh God, and may we feel the passion to share this Good News every single day. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Sermon Writing in the Valley

My sermon writing routine involves walking downtown to my favorite coffee shop; seting up camp and writing while enjoying a beautiful cup (or two or three or, who am I kidding? A lot of) coffee.

(and there are other details involved here but I won’t digress)

In any case, I often get asked, “How do you stay focused while writing in such a public place?” It’s a good question, really, because I seem to get a lot more done here than I do in my office at church.



My quick answer is that question is the background noise serves as a calming and focusing agent. Sounds strange but that’s how I roll. I think another answer (the longer version) is that I am reminded of my vocation.

As I preach the Gospel on Sundays (and throughout my week) I do so in the midst of community; in the valley, not isolated from it. It’s through talking with people and interacting with the public and hearing noises that I am brought back down to reality where the Gospel desperately needs to be preached. It’s the “transfiguration on the mountain and then back to the valley” thing at play here. Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured before them on that mountain, but God doesn’t allow them to build three tents there. Instead, Jesus leads them back down the mountain, to the valley, where they encounter a demon possessed boy that the others couldn’t cast out.

That’s reality.

And so it is through these distractions that I think and pray through a text before and while the Holy Spirit spews out words through my fingers and onto my computer screen. Really, it’s a beautiful process. Praise be to God!

Case in point, I have had a few “distractions” already (including this blog post) that has inspired some word spewing onto my keyboard: People walking by reminding me of situations they are dealing with. A Facebook conversation with a person recovering from another surgery. The busyness of main street reminding me of the faith distractions of many.  All of these noises/distractions are “holy distractions”.

My church office is so quiet that I sometimes just can’t seem to focus on the Word and the valley out there. Sometimes you just have to get out in the valley in order to be reminded of who you are called to be. Mountain tops are great but we are valley people and so this pastor writes in the valley to the praise and glory of God; all the while enjoying  A LOT of coffee (which might partially explain why I can handle multiple distractions).

And so there’s your long answer to a short question, but being a pastor, long answers go with the territory 🙂

Happy valley dwelling and praise be to God!

The Pastor -|—

In the Valley

[28] And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
(Mark 9:28-29 ESV)

Mark 9:14-29; Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit, is the sermon text for this week. Last week I preached on the transfiguration of Jesus in verses 1 – 13; where Peter, James and John had an amazing mountain top experience; one that definitely tops anything I have ever had.

But following this mountain top experience, Jesus and the boys head back down the mountain; back to reality; into the valley, where life happens. Because lets face it, as awesome as mountain top experiences are, we aren’t meant to live on the mountain top.

The battle is in the valley and it’s into the valley that God sends you. So as I reflect on this reality and ponder this text there are three truths that are ruminating in my head and heart as I ponder preaching this text. So I share them with you here to ponder and reflect on:

(1) When Satan confronts you; turn to Jesus.
(2) When in “darkness”; turn to Jesus.
(3) When Satan is turned away; turn to Jesus.

It seems to me that the disciples were struggling with these while Jesus, Peter, James and John were on that mountain. Those disciple were confronted by Satan but tried to cast the demon out without their eyes on Jesus. The disciples were in the “dark valley” but they failed to look at Jesus. And earlier in this Gospel account, the disciples were successful in casting out demons but have now failed to turn back to Jesus.

As Christians, we are called to the valley, but don’t forget to turn to Jesus.

Dear Lord, you have called us to proclaim the Gospel, announce forgiveness and do battle with Satan and his forces. But as we confront that which we have no power to defeat, may we look to Jesus. May we have the faith the size of mustard seed that sends Satan running away as You, oh God, are glorified. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Dead fish and Salmon (Mark 8:34-38)

A fun “tip” my dad used to share when I was young:
“Only dead fish go with the flow all the time.”

And then you have the opposite:
Salmon struggle to swim up stream to find a place to spawn and lay their eggs.

[Now cue the theologizing of the Pastor as he works on the Sunday sermon]

Only dead fish (“Christians”) go with the flow (of culture) all the time.

Salmon (true Christ followers) struggle to swim up stream (deny themselves and pick up their cross and follow Jesus) to find a place to spawn and lay their eggs (share the Gospel and bring glory to God).

Hmmm…that could work.

Any thoughts on this?

The Pastor -|—

Good but short

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” [Mark 8:4]

Much like me, these disciples have good but short memories. In chapter 6 they witness the incredible miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 men (add in the women and children who were there and you have close to probably 10,000 people). But numbers aside, this was an awesome miracle and display of God’s power through Jesus in which the disciples were amazed, but I wonder if they were really paying attention.

Now they are back in the wilderness with Jesus and have been there for three days with 4,000 people on some kind of retreat, as it were. Apparently there was no food committee because at the end of three days the people were hungry. But being the compassionate person Jesus is, he wasn’t going to send them home hungry, lest they faint on their way.

What shall we do? [of course Jesus knows]

Jesus, how can one possibly feed these people in such a desolate place?

Really? Did they just ask that question? Did they just wonder if Jesus is able to provide for a group of people much smaller than the one he fed earlier? Do they not remember the feeding of the 5000 (and then some)?

But we shouldn’t come down too hard on these guys because really, we’re no different. I mean, think about it. Aren’t there times you wonder if God will actually forgive you? Don’t you ever wonder at times if God is actually with you? Don’t you have moments of fear and anxiety over a situation, wondering if God will provide? Do you ever worry or doubt?

Of course you do.

And this is nothing more than sinful people forgetting about this awesome God of ours. You see, sin has a way of shortening our memories of the Gospel and therefore leading us astray. When we forget about God we turn inward and become selfish. When we forget about God we disobey and wander. When we forget about God his awesomeness and holiness becomes nothing more than a theological concept.

So what does one do? More fish oil to improve your memory?

Not exactly.

Rather you spend time with God every single day.
~ Keep His Word in front of you.
~ Set your mind on the things that are above.
~ Surround yourself with other believers.
~ Make sure that the Gospel is being proclaimed to you on a regular basis.
~ Ask someone to listen to your confession and pronounce the Gospel of forgiveness to you.
~ And, of course, read your Bible and pray.

Do these things and more on a regular basis to help with short-term Gospel memory loss. But be careful and don’t lose the sense of wonder. The disciples may have forgotten about the feeding of the 5000 but they had a chance to be amazed all over again. Don’t let familiarity with the Gospel take away the wonder.

Be amazed that God, through Jesus Christ, would forgive a sinner like you.

May you bask in the glory of God. May you remember his love and compassion. May you always know the hope of the resurrection through faith in Jesus.

And may God bless your day 🙂

In Jesus name, Amen!

The Pastor -|—

Something out of nothing

One of the many joys for me as a pastor is seeing God create something out of nothing. No, I am not talking about anything magical here but rather the Holy Spirit bringing about a sermon when I had nothing.

Often times I enter Thursday not knowing where I am going with a sermon. I know the text, since I am preaching through the Gospel of Mark, but I don’t always know what the message is. And there are many times when I am anxious about this even though I know I shouldn’t be; even though I know I should trust God.

Today was such a day.

I did my reading and note taking before “relocating my office” to my favorite coffee shop down town. I do this every Thursday (for the most part) and at the same time. I set up my computer, ordered my lunch to be brought to me at 11 AM, got my coffee and scotcheroo and off to work I went. This is my routine.

As I started writing I noticed that my fingers started flowing across the keyboard faster and faster and with purpose. The message started to materialize in front of me like a Star Trek transporter. And as the message became clear I got more and more excited and felt more and more guilty. I was excited as the Spirit was working through me to create this message but guilty that I didn’t trust God enough to not be anxious about it. I have been a pastor for 10 1/2+ years and God has not let me down. Every Sunday I was scheduled to preached, I preached a sermon. Never once did I show up on a Sunday morning with nothing.

And God does this in other ways in our lives; creates something out of nothing:
~ Opportunities to share our faith
~ Opportunities to serve one another
~ Faith where there was no faith
~ Purpose where there was hopelessness
~ Life where there was death

If only I had the faith to see this more often.

Oh God, increase my faith and sharpen my eyes to see you at work in this world.

Praise be to God!

The Pastor -|—


My least favorite day

I love Christmas, but recently I heard a pastor say something that saddened me:

“The only thing I love as much as Christmas is the day after Christmas.”

I didn’t quite know what to say to that because I knew what they meant; they were looking forward to Christmas being over 😦

Christmas is indeed busy.  There’s lot’s of extra things to do on top of what we already need to do.  Yesterday morning, for example, I thought I had the Christmas Eve service all planned last week.  I gave the musicians the bulletin outline so they could practice the music, but then my secretary pointed out a mistake I made ~ I put a carol in there twice.  So I had to make some changes and contact the musicians.  And this is all while I am trying to get my newsletter article done, do sermon prep, make a delivery to the nursing home and run a couple other errands.  And then the phone was ringing and I had to try very hard to be patient with people (because it is not their fault that everything was piling up on me).

Christmas can cause a lot of headaches and stress and sleepless night for a pastor but you know something…

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

For me Christmas is a golden opportunity to preach the Gospel to people who normally don’t come to worship.  It’s my chance to slap people across the face with the Good News of the Christ-child being born for all people.  It’s the perfect time to tell people that Christmas is not a secular holiday but rather a celebration of perfect love coming down to us.  As one of my 4th grade girls said in release time just recently:

“If Jesus wasn’t born then he wouldn’t have died on the cross for our sins and therefore we wouldn’t go to heaven.”

Amen!  That’s the Good News of Christmas.

Next to Easter, Christmas is my favorite day of the year and my least favorite day is the day after Christmas because it means I have 364 days to wait to do this again.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)


The pastor -|—


Don’t judge me when you see me seemingly doing nothing:
~ Sometimes I just need to sit and reflect.
~ Sometimes I just need to savor the Word just read.
~ Sometimes I just need to talk to my Savior.
~ Sometimes I just need to slowly sip my coffee.
~ Sometimes I just need to daydream about the ministry before me.
~ Sometimes I just need to mull over a conversation.

Sometimes I look lazy, sometimes I look lost but whatever the case don’t judge me because it’s in those times I can be the most productive. Many people don’t understand how a pastor works because how a pastor works can be so different from how we saw our parents work. But a pastor’s work can be just as taxing thus the different kind of work we sometimes engage in.

Today I sat in the corner at my favorite coffee shop for an hour or so; holding my Google tablet, sipping coffee and nibbling on a cookie.

And that was work.

My finger nails didn’t get dirty and I don’t have sore muscles as you know them but the pastor does feel the effects of ministry thus my coffee shop work.

And as I walked back to my office; breathing in the cool winter air, I felt refreshed and ready to do some more “traditional” work; work that doesn’t draw the ire of some.

But now you may say, “Work? You’re writing a blog post. How is that work?” To answer that fully I would have to write another blog post but I’m not going to do that. So what I will say in response will have to suffice for now:

Sometimes I just have to write…

And that is work of a different kind; one that exercises the mind.  But now I’m off and ready to go; thankful for the “work” I did today.  May God be praised in all I do and say; and not just sometimes but always.

The pastor -|—

One purpose

5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
[James 3:5-10]

I published a post a couple days ago titled, “A big fat lie”. I am not going to rehash what I said there as a way to get you up to speed here (I trust you are able to look back and read for yourself).  But what I am going to say is something that is rolling around in my heart as I prepare to preach this sermon on the 8th Commandment ~ “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”

How are you using your words?  Are they blessing and praising the Lord or bringing others down; people who were created in the image of God?  Are you crafting words together with the intention to create, build and maintain faith or are your words cursing others through inappropriate displays of power through gossiping and backstabbing.  What we say says a lot about our faith and relationship with Jesus.  What we don’t say also says a lot about us.

So as James says, how can a mouth bless and praise the Lord one minute and curse others the next.

This ought not be so!

As a fresh water spring can not produce salt water the same goes with the tongue.  The tongue has one purpose and one purpose only ~ to BLESS and PRAISE the Lord.



The pastor -|—