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Thanks for visiting our website! This month’s picture is of a seminar in Guatemala at Ezell Clinic, December 2018. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Seminar in Guatemala

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the task of ministry and mission work for over 50 years! (We traveled together to preaching appointments during the year before we were married.) Countless people have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob" or "Hermano Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and to help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature as disciples of Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!


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Archive for the ‘Preaching-Preachers’ Category

Preaching: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

When I was a kid, I  liked the section of the comics that challenged the reader to identify the things that were wrong in a picture.  I admit that sometimes I still glance at the children’s section of the comics to see how quickly I can find the problems in the picture.  Keeps my mind sharp–questioning and thinking about the disconnects of life. Forgive me while I “rant.”

The “news” article was about a preacher that took his sermon theme from a pizza company mission statement.   The pizza company representative was quoted as saying, “It’s humbling that our values can be used for such a higher cause.” Sorry to be a naysayer!  “Is there something wrong with this picture?”

I have long suspected, after working with lots of students in sermon preparation classes and after reading lots of sermons online and in various publications, that a subtle shift (and sometimes not so subtle!) is occurring in how preachers go about the task of preaching. Lots of preachers just don’t know the Bible. They borrow (steal?) sermons. They find ideas and inspiration almost everywhere but in the Word of God.  I always enjoyed listening to Jim Bill McInteer.  I was amazed that he knew just the right Bible story to illustrate his point, many of them from obscure Old Testament stories.  Today preachers seem to get their illustrations from everywhere but the Bible.  Do we live in an age where our preachers get their sermon ideas from every place EXCEPT the Bible?  Is the church’s mission informed by God’s purpose or a pizza chain’s pledge?  Who should be influencing whom?

The article was titled, “Pizza a key ingredient in sermon.”  I guess that’s news.  Let me suggest something else that would be news in a lot of congregations:  “Word of God a key ingredient in sermon.”  Preachers! May God help us find our mission and purpose in life by tuning our lives to Him so that we desire his Word as did the Psalmist!

Preach the Gospel–Use Words!

Friday, March 28th, 2014

With the selection of Pope Francis, one very clever and popular quote I hear more and more is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
The quote is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and seems to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than proclaiming it verbally. I dislike the quote for several reasons. First, it creates an artificial dichotomy between preaching and practice, seeming to force a choice between speech and action. Second, the idea that the gospel can be preached without words is not true. Third, it is unbiblical and biased, subtly suggesting that those who “practice the Gospel” are more faithful than those who preach it. Finally, Francis of Assisi never said it. There is no record of the quotation from his disciples or from early or later biographers. It does not appear in any of his writings. The truth is that Francis was a powerful preacher. He was known as much for his preaching as for his lifestyle. Francis did not depend only on his actions to proclaim the gospel. The popularity of the quote likely tells us more about the spirit of our age than of any historical reality.
Mark Galli has suggested a different quotation: “Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.”

[Note: See also my article: Preach the Gospel–Use Words Always.]

The Ministry of Study

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

The first 2+ months of 2013 have begun with a blur–filled with almost non-stop ministry and mission opportunities. I have not been home for more than a few days at a time. A quick look at my day planner reveals that I have been on the road 47 days of the first 70 days of 2013–including a month of international travel.
I am grateful to be home with some unscheduled days that will give me the opportunity to spend time in study and preparation for future presentations. The focus of our contemporary society on relationships and time spent with others has all but eliminated the concept of the ministry of study. Nonetheless, reading and studying God’s word to hear and apply God’s will in our lives is an essential part of ministry. I am grateful that I have been able to talk to many church leaders and preachers across Latin America about the most pressing needs of the churches. Now the challenge is to connect solid Bible teaching and the identified needs.
Preachers, seek to develop and maintain the ministry of study. In our day of rapid information access via Internet and other technology, it is easy to simply “borrow” what others have done. Learn to prepare spiritual food that is not merely warmed over from someone else’s table.
Church leaders, insist on and protect the time needed for preachers to honor the ministry of study.
Members, appreciate the ministry of study and encourage the preacher when he spends time to bring fresh ideas and honestly and openly share his heart and his own personal struggles with the Word.

The Problem of Preaching: Short on the Why?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Preaching is challenging.  Preaching done well is an art.  Lives are changed little by moralizing (you should, we must, we need to….).  I know what I ought to do, but I just can’t do it.  Lives are changed by the renewal of our minds so that we are more and more focused on God.  It is easy to identify things Christians ought to do–it is hard to do them without adequate foundations sunk deeply into the nature of God as revealed in his word.  Preaching must be balanced–theological foundations and practical applications.  The minister is a theological practitioner or a practical theologian.  The first task is to say something about God–to clearly speak the word and will and way of God. 

If preachers are to err on one side or the other, let us make certain our preaching is “long on God”.  Seeing God clearly motivates faithfulness and develops worthiness.  The one-talent man misunderstood God and missed faithfulness. Even worse, he missed worthiness–the text describes him as worthless.  The text does not overtly say that the two-talent and five-talent men understood God’s nature, but the textual contrast implies such.  The one-talent man thought he could please his master with a short-list of “oughts”, a risk-free response.  The text not only applauds the faithfulness of the first two servants, it reveals why the one-talent man was not faithful, and suggests what are appropriate components of faithfulness. But perhaps the most significant lesson of the text is that the goal is not faithfulness but worthiness. The ultimate judgment was that the unfaithful servant was worthless. No value in being “faithful” if we are worthless. Faithful focuses on human actions–worthless focuses on God’s goals.

To think that frail, sinful human beings can be worth something to God is a great leap of faith, but the text suggests such. How can I be worthwhile to God? Let me suggest some goals from the text, ideas which are more focused in our being than in our doing. Let us….

  • seek to become like God, understanding what God is like and imitating him
  • be fully-devoted to the things that matter to God
  • be partakers of the divine nature, those whose lives are consistent with the nature of the Master
  • be those who reflect the Master’s nature and will.

Faithfulness often says “look at me”. Worth says “look at God.” Is who we are and what we are doing worthy of the great and glorious God we serve? Are we reflecting God? If we get the why right, the application is a lot easier and becomes a part of our nature, not something we have to be constantly reminded of.

Have Our Preachers Quit Reading?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

In March, at a gathering that draws Christians from across the nation, I visited with the owner of a Christian bookstore. He is a good friend; I always ask how sales are going. His observation, “Our preachers have quit buying books. Look around you. Our preachers are not here. These are motivated members who love the church, are actively involved, and want to improve their own lives. Most of what I sell is not to preachers.”
Last week I visited with the owner of a bookstore that specializes in used books. He is a brother in Christ and his bookstore has an excellent selection of used (and inexpensive) books of interest to Restorationists. He and I reminisced, and I thought about the countless hours I have spent over the past 40 years in browsing used books. He said, “Our preachers have quit buying books.” He was referring to preachers in churches of Christ. As I reflect upon his statement, another question surfaces: “Have our preachers quit reading and studying?”

We live in a world with multiple information sources. One does not have to acquire books to read them–public and private libraries have amazing sharing plans and almost any book in the world can be accessed at a local library. One can e-read with Kindle and Amazon. The Internet is everywhere. But much of the significant research and up-to-date information is in copyrighted books that are not distributed electronically.
The answer to the question in our title can only be answered by our preachers, and each must answer personally. For me, I have not quit reading, but I read differently. During some years of my ministry, I read or reviewed a book a day. I read the New Testament through every month. I have changed my reading habits, but I still read–some would say voraciously.
I am sure of one thing. Christianity rests upon the principled foundation of truth, and when our preachers quit reading, researching, and studying, Christianity is in trouble.

Education and Foolishness

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

We don’t know what to do with education. I regularly hear comments and read sermon segments that belittle study, academic pursuits, and learning. Of course, most of these are references to advanced learning and collegiate or graduate ministry training. On the surface, it appears the church is still “for” education–we maintain our Bible schools and Bible classes. On the other hand, maybe we as a people are “against” education since barely over 50% of the members in the average congregation participate in Bible education through these Bible classes! Have we come to value ignorance over knowledge? Do we want some truth but not all truth? Does intelligence or knowledge automatically move one away from God? Does education necessarily imply that one ceases to depend on God, substituting one’s personal ability or reasoning? That there are potential dangers in education does not deny its value. If one could choose between education and not being educated, why would one choose to be uneducated?

The Bible never says that the wise man or the educated man cannot see God. Paul says that education is not the basis for one’s calling from God (1 Cor. 1). We read too much into this passage if we conclude that education disqualifies one from being called by God. The man who penned these words was a man educated in the Jewish traditions, at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most well-known Jewish teachers of the day, prior to God’s calling in his life.

If we don’t value education, do we unwittingly value ignorance? In Romans 3, Paul quotes the Old Testament text, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Education and foolishness are not mutually exclusive. Remember the descriptive phrase, “educated fool”. Why does the fool deny God?

    He cannot see him.
    He is too foolish to see him.
    He is too smart to see him.
    He is looking in the wrong place.
    God is higher than we are.
    He is looking for the wrong kind of God, even as Israel did.

Some educated people are fools. Some uneducated people are fools. Our task is to understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:15-17).

No bad sermons allowed!

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I was tempted during my years of full-time preaching to post a small sign on the pulpit–visible to me but not to the congregation. The sign would have read: NO BAD SERMONS ALLOWED!

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I have preached my share of bad sermons. In my early preaching efforts, there were possibly more bad sermons than good ones. I was a novice, it took time to find my “preaching legs.” I took minimalist, fluffy bulletin articles and turned them into sermons. I too often began with a sermon idea rather than with the Word of God. It pains me to think about and admit what sometimes passed for sermons.

Along the way as my preaching journey developed, I determined that my primary commitment would be to preach good sermons. I committed to spend the necessary time in preparation. (Some weeks you mine for ore all week long and still find very little precious metal by the end of the week!) I committed to Bible study and Bible reading. I committed to reading broadly in related materials and books. For several years, I read the New Testament through each month. I tried to read a book a day, although sometimes a book a week was all I could manage. Yes, I have read the books in my personal library–numbering near 5000 volumes before I began to give away books I had read.

From my undergraduate days, I remember a discussion (argument, disagreement) with my roommate at Oklahoma Christian College. I affirmed that a preacher ought to know or have an idea about the meaning of every chapter of the Bible. He said it was impossible. Today, I admit that this is a difficult goal. I have not reached the level I desire, so it remains a constant challenge. Think with me. We who preach and teach are the “experts” in the Word. We stand up and say we are speaking for God. We say that when we speak, God speaks. We claim that we are providing the exact word from God that is most needed in the life of the church at a particular moment. How can we do that if we are not careful, diligent students of the Word?

Good sermons attract listeners. People come to church to hear a word from God. Good sermons on Sunday nights bring people back. I spent 25 years in full-time ministry before I began serving in Christian higher education. Through those 25 years, it became a point of pride (healthy, I hope!) that Sunday night attendance stayed consistently high–usually near 75-80% of Sunday morning attendance. I know the claim–we live in a different world. My heart of hearts yearns to reclaim a full-time ministry to test the theory–good sermons bring people back on Sunday nights. There are numerous examples of this truth in the denominational world where thousands assemble on Sunday evenings to hear God’s Word.

I told my preaching students that if they only had one good sermon on a given Sunday, to preach that sermon on Sunday night, since the folks would continue to come on Sunday mornings out of duty. The principle has validity. Do not preach the dregs on Sunday night. Do not preach the leftovers. Do not make do with second best. Do not depreciate the Sunday night crowd with fluff and stuff. Preachers! On Sunday nights, you are sharing with the cream of the crop. You are in the midst of those who are ultimately making a difference in the local congregation. You are among the most committed, most serious, and most faithful Christians. They will forgive your inadequacies–but do not take advantage of them and demean them with spiritual junk food!

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