Tag Archives: Bible

16 Questions the Guest Preacher Should Ask

I hope these questions are helpful for my friends who are called upon to preach in a new church from time-to-time.

  1. Which service do you want me to preach and when does it start? If there are multiple services, you need to find out which ones you’re expected to cover. When you figure out when the service starts, plan to arrive at least 15-20 minutes early so you have time to greet people, connect your media, get your wireless microphone, and calm your nerves.
  2. Would you like me to attend another service or Sunday School? Some churches would find it helpful if you attended a Sunday School class, but others don’t see it as necessarily helpful. Get a sense of the importance of this meeting, if it exists, and plan accordingly.
  3. Who will be introducing me? This question is especially important if the lead pastor is out of town. You need to know who to especially introduce yourself to and who to be watching for your queue from to go onstage.
  4. What’s the usual order of service? This question not only helps clarify when you’ll be going onstage, but also flags any liturgical anomalies that you may do well to be aware of.
  5. How much time is usually allotted for the sermon? You need to ask about sermon duration so that you can begin shaping your content for the amount of time you’ll have. I often do a practice run to make sure that I’m in the ballpark of the time that I’ve been given. As a guest speaker, I’m pretty sure that it’s a cardinal sin to preach too long. You’ll never get a congregation angry at you for letting them out a few minutes early.
  6. When do you usually finish? This is a slightly different question than the previous one. Sometimes an excited worship leader, other liturgical elements, or an unusual announcement prior to the preaching may eat into your allotted time. You need a method to gauge if this has happened.
  7. Who closes after a guest speaker preaches? How is this done? Some churches always have an altar call. Some churches never do it. Making assumptions here could lead to a major faux pas. The ideal is to be able to hand off the service closing to someone who knows the people and the process.
  8. What Bible version do you typically use? Even if the version is one that you don’t typically use, you’ll gain more rapport with the congregation if you’re quoting the text that most of them have in front of them. This question also needs to be asked early on because it will determine the English version that you’ll “stew” in (read, re-read, memorize, etc.).
  9. Do you typically use projected media? If so, how do I connect to it or where do I need to send material/links? As a guest speaker, you need to be cautious about being reliant on technology. Even if you’ve carefully asked the right questions and prepped your tech, you can still hit an odd hitch as you’re getting set to preach. Remember that you’ve usually got only a limited time to get this right. Have a backup method for deploying your media and, worst case, be capable of delivering your sermon without any technology.
  10. Do you use a portable microphone? If so, where will I get it and will there be someone to show me how it works? This isn’t usually too complicated, but sometimes you may be dealing with some odd mic that doesn’t work normally. Pro tip: even if the sound guy tells you that he’s not going to have your mic hot until you get up to preach, keep it off and remember to turn it on while you’re on your way up to the platform.
  11. How much room is on the podium for a Bible, notes, etc.? Pulpit real estate is at a premium. Some churches have tiny pulpits that are comfortable for the pastor who may preach with different pulpit material than you do. As more and more younger preachers bring iPads and other tech with them onstage, the variety of what a preacher can expect has only broadened.
  12. What do you wear when you preach? And don’t just take a “professional” or “business casual” category answer on this one. People mean different things when they use dress categories. Get a specific answer (i.e., “jeans and a button-up shirt untucked”) and don’t deviate from it.
  13. How would you describe your style of preaching? What have you been preaching on lately? Although you have your own style as a preacher, it is helpful to understand the norm at this church. Maybe if the pastor tends to do exegetical studies of books of the Bible, you could do an exegetical study of a one-off topic? If the pastor has been doing a deep dive in Romans, it may be healthy to do a narrative passage.
  14. What is the congregation like? Young/old, quiet/interactive, new/old Christians, jobs, backgrounds, approximate attendance? Truth preaches anywhere, but it never hurts to understand the audience you’ll be speaking to. Jesus didn’t have to study in order to know the hearts of his listeners, but Paul definitely understood the philosophers on Mars Hill. Every bit of information you get should shape how truth will be presented.
  15. Does your church have a missions statement? You need to know what this church is and isn’t all about. Follow up this question by asking: What are some major red flags of what you don’t want someone to preach about? Are there any practical or theological issues that you think might be important for a guest preacher to know? I try to use questions like this to draw out go/no-go zones. Regardless of how you feel about a church’s hangups or pursuits, it’s not your job to do a drive-by sermon on any of these issues. If there’s an issue that is too big for you to ignore, consider declining the invitation.
  16. Can we meet before I preach in order to get to know each other? Also: How can we follow-up afterward? I think this is the most frequently missed question on the list. Meeting before you speak can help you better understand the heart and philosophy of the pastor. If you’re able to meet on the church property, you can get a feel for the auditorium, platform, pulpit, microphone, etc. Following up gives you a great opportunity for a critique of your preaching and an ongoing relationship with the pastor.

I hope these questions are helpful. I’ve missed a couple of these in some instances and have learned from my mistakes. There are probably a few questions that you shouldn’t ask, the chief of which is anything related to compensation for speaking. Speak out of a desire for ministry and not for money. For some great additional insights on filling pulpits, see Dane Ortlund’s excellent article.

May God bless you as you preach his Word!

Legalism Part 3: The First Legalist

Red Apple. Used white paper behind apple and a...

See also Part 1 and Part 2

As I pondered the apple, it surprised me to think that legalism is something that finds its roots in the very beginning of the Bible.  Our first mother was also the first legalist!  You see, the legalist thinks they’re safe from doing bad things because they follow the strictest rules possible.  They’ve got the guardrails constructed to keep themselves from going off the road.

You see, Eve did just that.  Remember when the snake started talking to her about eating the fruit from the tree?  The snake questioned whether or not God really said they couldn’t eat from the tree.  Eve responded that they shouldn’t eat from the tree and that they couldn’t even touch it.  But this part about touching it wasn’t recorded in what God said to the couple.  Nope.  Eve had added this guardrail rule to keep her from violating God’s rule.  Somewhere along the line it became elevated to the same level as God’s law.  Imagine little Eve farming in the garden and always cutting a careful path as far from the tree as possible.  Whenever Adam would go near the tree to plant some flowers she would remind him, “Don’t get that close!”  But now Eve was the one standing there by the tree talking with Satan about not even touching the fruit or the tree.  It makes me wonder if maybe after Eve finished telling him that the fruit was not to be touched, he may have touched it himself or just pushed Eve into it.  I imagine the snake chuckling and saying, “See, you can touch it.  I wonder what else God has lied about?”  Far from protecting her, Eve’s guardrail only opened the door to sin.  It was like thin plastic in the face of a flame.  The broken image of God was not able to be prevented by a little legalism, what makes us think that it will be restored by a little legalism?

Eve was the first of our family to be a legalist, but she wouldn’t be the last.  Throughout Scripture we have examples of people who practiced the methods of Eve.  For example, I always find it interesting that when God came to earth, He didn’t spend a whole lot of time dealing with those who went around doing what would seem to be the worst sins of the race.  He actually spent most of His time addressing those who practiced the methods of Eve: making up rules to keep them from breaking God’s rules.  Why not address those who broke God’s rules instead of those who were trying to keep them?  Perhaps Jesus saw something here that we miss.  Perhaps Jesus knew that it is as much a sin to prohibit what God permits as to permit what God prohibits.  The Pharisees were going around promoting their prohibitions on everybody.  They were setting up a standard of righteousness that was choking out everyone around them.  You see…legalism is not just a sin against ones’ self.  I think this is why Jesus went after the Pharisees so hard.  Legalism has disastrous effects on the whole community.

Legalism Part 2: The Broad Appeal of Legalism

Toyota Prius

(To see Part 1, click here)

But why is legalism appealing?  We absolutely detest it in other people and especially when the finger is pointed at ourselves.  I think it is the one sin that the most righteous to the most wicked person in society would condemn in others but would be least likely to see that they commit it themselves.  But if we hate it in others, how can we live with ourselves?  Why then does legalism turn people on?  I thought that there may be a couple reasons.  Perhaps it has something to do with enjoying absolutes…black and white.  There certainly is something reassuring in knowing that there are no questions and only answers.  But the Bible doesn’t always work that way.  It seems to give us the answers to the key issues of life and leaves other things for us as individuals to work out (Rom 14).  God actually gives us the space to apply the Gospel in our contexts.  But the legalist hates this kind of thought.  It seems downright postmodern to believe that something could be right for one person and wrong for another; however, that’s exactly what the Bible indicates (Rom 14:22-23).  But there seems to be another reason why legalism is so appealing.   I think this is tied with the other appeal of knowing all the answers.  It is that sense of awesome spiritual superiority that you get when you have all the answers.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.  You’ve seen it in yourself and others.

It’s the parent whose kids all turned out right.

It’s the guy in prison who stole, but at least he didn’t commit child abuse like that other inmate.

It’s the hipster in the Prius.

It’s the preacher with the right Bible version.

It’s the cop who is always catching everyone else doing wrong.

It’s the vegan to that poser’s vegetarian.

It’s the guy who owns his own home.

It’s the kid who is the teacher’s pet because she always keeps the rules while the teacher is looking.

It’s the guy who wishes he could say “I told you so” a million times when people don’t follow his procedures.

It’s the overweight guy who smirks at the alcoholic.

It’s the protester on the street that says that another person or company did something wrong.

It’s the intellectual who always has the deepest insights on all things political and religious.

It’s the lady with a college diploma to that guy’s GED.

It’s the voter who is so thankful for the good sense not to vote like the person with that bumper sticker.

It’s the guy who lusts after women and not men.

It’s the person who looks at the bum on the street and assumes things about their poor choices.

It’s the family who always know what holidays to celebrate and how.

It’s the person who wears the nice clothes.

It’s the guy who is in touch and connected in his culture (whether high culture or pop culture).

It’s the angry motorist on the highway who wishes everyone could drive as well as he does.

Now I don’t suppose that all of these people have to become legalistic and superior about the way they do things.  But based on my experience, when you find yourself in one of these spots it’s really easy to start smiling and thinking to yourself about how much better you are.  Been there.  Done that.

As I continued to think about the appeal of legalism, I shuffled by one of the teachers offices and somehow the archaic image of the teacher’s apple popped into my head – an image which took a couple of odd twists and turns as it usually does in my bizarre little mind.  Somehow I ended up thinking of an apple or probably some other really cool fruit dangling from a mist-covered tree in a garden some years ago.  Perhaps the roots of legalism’s grip on me go even deeper.  Maybe they go back to my parents…my first parents.

Miracles

I suppose that a great many things could be said about miracles.  We could describe a great many events in Scripture where the miraculous occurs.  We could investigate the reasons for their occurrence or find little tidbits about their causes.  But to begin to understand the idea of a miracle we must begin with the admission that miracles seem ever so uncomfortable to the Christian Theist.  Often I feel awkward as I discuss topics of worlds being spoken into existence, diseases being cured by a touch, and dead men coming to life again.  All this comes off rather suspicious to the modern listener who has only heard of rumors of healings being done by bizarre preachers who oddly walk away with millions and no hard and fast evidence of such miracles ever being accomplished.  A miracle, to my friend at Starbucks, seems too farfetched and other-worldly to be imagined and is rejected for that reason.

At first the rejection bothered me.  After all, why would someone reject miracles as bizarre?  But then I considered my own inhibitions about the whole notion and I had to admit that I too held my own inhibitions.  Sure, I believe the Bible, but wouldn’t a Bible without all the miracles and other-worldly concepts be somewhat easier to believe?  I do not suppose that other Christians have ever had such inhibitions because most Christians have more faith than me.  My faith has always been something of a struggle, or, as the Apostle Paul often says, a battle.  I don’t have big faith.  I shudder often at difficult things and feel the giant of despair in my life because I so often walk by sight so as to avoid seeing the key in my pocket that would free me from the dungeon.  I often find myself sympathetic to the man who cried out that he believed, but that he needed Jesus to help his unbelief.  Ultimately my faith is not the object of my faith.  My faith, albeit something of a mustard seed variety, rests in Christ and His work on my behalf.  So when I am pierced with doubt, I return back to the Gospel and begin reminding myself of where my faith rests and then working outward to the other things.  And it is in this outworking that I stumbled across the idea of miracles.

As I considered miracles it seemed to me that they must be considered at face value and given at least a fair shot at consideration before anyone should reject them out of hand.  So as I consider the idea of a miracle I find myself considering what the substance of a miracle is.  Perhaps if we understood this it would make much more sense.  Take, for example, the story where Jesus was welcomed to a wedding party where the poor bride and groom ran out of money for wine.  Jesus arrives on the scene and turns water into wine.  In the midst of the mundane of the mundane I read that the most other-worldly sort of thing has happened.  Water turned into wine.  It would seem that the rules of the universe as I know them have been suspended.  Herein we have arrived at something of our first conclusion in regard to miracles.  Miracles are an intervention into our world.

Horton Hears a Who!

What I mean here is that the little blueberry that we know as Planet Earth has been touched by something quite unknown to the specks on the blueberry.  We are made uncomfortable by miracles for this very reason, namely, that they intervene with our world but that we do not understand them.  It is like someone attempting to explain the color yellow to a blind person or an iPad to a caveman.  Without the ability to see what these things, explanation is impossible.  I’m often led to the neat little Doctor Seuss story of “Horton Hears a Who” as I think on this point.  In the neat little story, Horton tries to convince all the big animals that a speck he has found contains an entire world of strange little creatures.  Everyone around him thinks he’s lost it because he talks to a speck.  Meanwhile, on the speck the mayor of Whoville talks with Horton and finds out that the entire city is merely a tiny speck.  He tries to tell the Whos about this, but they laugh at it because they see it.  Ultimately, the Whos end up believing that they are a speck when Horton is able to interact with them and the big animals end up believing that the Whos are real when they are able to shout loud enough for the animals to hear.  Miracles are God’s way of shouting into our world.  They crackle like fireworks to tell us that there is something else out there.  Miracles are the explosion of the infinite crashing into the finite.  The real matter at hand now seems to be not a question of who so simple as to accept the existence of miracles, but a question of who is so arrogant as to believe that no other realm has interacted with our own.  Miracles are God’s way of reminding His creation that He exists.

This thought leads me to another.  Miracles, as we find described in the Bible, lead us to believe that this God which is worshipped is not aloof from His creation, but cares deeply about it and is involved in and with it in some extraordinary way.  Imagine that you have a son in the 4th grade.  He’s bullied because he’s ugly and has freckles.  When your son comes home from school with a bloody nose, how would you respond?  Would you simply hand him some cotton balls and send him to bed, or would you break into his world, call the teacher or principal, go to the PTA meeting, and do everything you could to rescue him from his sad estate?  In a similar manner, miracles are God’s way of showing us that He cares.  He even cares about the poor couple who couldn’t afford a proper wedding party.  Miracles are a sign, not merely that God exists, but that He cares about His creation.

Beyond this, another obvious point needs to be made (although I think most of this is obvious and I may be wasting many good peoples’ weekends of reading by writing this), namely that miracles speak not only to the fact that God exists and that He cares about His creation, but also to the fact that He is able to do something for His creation.  There are many of us that are happy with a sentimental view of God who hugs us and cares for us, but we don’t like what theologians refer to as an omnipotent and all-knowing God.  This is intimidating.  But this is what miracles speak to.  Miracles scream out that God is able to do something about the mess that we’re in.  This leads me to another point.

Miracles teach us that something is broken.  As we look out in our world we find hospitals full of sick and dying people.  We find earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes that destroy life.  We find that most of the world lives on $2 a day.  We see that 100% of us will someday face death.  Miracles amplify this brokenness because through them we see that there is hope for healing.  You see, Jesus came around teaching people on the hillsides of Galilee and told them that there was a coming kingdom.  In this kingdom everything would be made right again.  By again it is meant that there was once a time when humanity did not experience sickness, hurricanes, poverty, or death.  All this was before man’s rebellion against God.  Jesus spoke of a kingdom where all of this would be no more.  But He did more than just talk about it.  He showed us what this kingdom would look like.  From the eyewitness accounts we hear of numerous afflictions being cured, storms being stilled, the poor being fed, death being reversed, and even the minions of Satan being repelled.  All of the miracles of Scripture resonate with this reality, specifically that humanity is broken, God is there, God cares, and God is able to heal that brokenness.

So as I return to the idea of the awkwardness of miracles in this post-Christian age I am driven to consider that miracles are awkward because they are meant to be.  Miracles have been and always will be otherworldly and strange because hope for humanity’s healing does not come from within.  If we reject the miracles of the Bible then we are left with a humanity with all the answers to the problems of sickness, disaster, poverty, and death.  Call me what you will, but I refuse to believe in such a humanity.  Even a simple glance at the record of human history exposes that humanity is its own worst enemy.  We are broken and our hope must come from another realm.  Someone must break through to fix our problems, but we cannot let Him in.  Our culture cannot allow for such a breakthrough.

Our culture believes in the miracle of naturalistic evolution.  It sincerely believes that billions of years of explosion, mutation, and natural selection made the world and the complexity of the human genome.  I suppose that if my culture can believe something so fantastical and unobserved, then I may go on believing the eyewitness accounts of the man named Jesus who turned the world upside down by the greatest miracle humanity has ever known.  Death was shown to be subject to God.  While all the created order shivers and shakes and groans in its brokenness, the Healer shouts into the world by nothing less than the resurrection from the dead and tells us that He is there, He cares, and He has done something about all the brokenness.  And to this end the Christian prays when he says, “Thy kingdom come.”

Blind Spots

What Sounds Smart Today May Look Stupid Tomorrow

This morning my pastor quoted Matthew Henry’s commentary on James 2:1-4, where the great Christian writer stated as follows:

But we must be careful not to apply what is here said to the common assemblies for worship; for in these certainly there may be appointed different places of persons according to their rank and circumstances, without sin.

Interestingly enough, the passage is speaking to exactly that same issue, but Henry is blinded by the culture of his day and perceives the established tradition to be acceptable.  Its easy to throw stones at Matthew Henry, but I realized that I need to take a moment to look at myself.  If a guy like Matthew Henry can study his Bible and invest his life in Christian service and still miss the mark in his life, I’m certain I’ve got some blind spots that I need to be on the lookout for.  This morning I took a few minutes to think of some ways to identify blind spots in my life.

  1. Pray for wisdom from God to recognize where I’m not living as I should.
  2. Listen to the Word of God and apply its light to all traditions, practices, and applications.  Nothing is off limits.
  3. Listen to critiques of Christianity by unbelievers.
  4. Listen to critiques of my Christian subculture by those who are not part of it.
  5. Listen to critiques of individual of other generations.
  6. Seek insight from Christian brothers I rub shoulders with.
  7. Repeat.
If you have any more ideas, please feel free to share!