How to Make an Effective Announcement

The morning worship service was broadcast live each week on the local radio station. So, the pastor knew he had to wrap everything up by noon. At the close of the sermon, he glanced at his watch to see that he had only one minute left, so he quickly transitioned to announcements.

Imagine driving in your car and tuning in just in time to hear the preacher announce, “Tonight, we are going to fill the baptistery to my rear and celebrate these professions of faith!”

Announcements don’t always communicate what we intend. Sometimes, (unfortunately) they don’t communicate at all.

Announcements are the most dreaded part of a church service. Most people don’t want to sit through them, much less be the poor soul trying to communicate them. No matter the method of communication –verbal, bulletin, PowerPoint, video, website, email, etc.- things just seem to get “lost in translation.”

There are a few masters of communication who can find ways to make announcements “stick,” but even the best “announcers,” have experienced the frustration of a church member saying “I never heard about the picnic,” or “Why didn’t you tell us about the time change?” even though it had been announced in fourteen different formats for five consecutive weeks!

Human communication has its limitations. The communicator is limited in sharing the information and the audience is limited in receiving the information.

So when it comes to the message of the gospel, it might seem that God is taking a huge risk to entrust “this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4). After all, isn’t the message too important for imperfect human communicators?

In the past, when God wanted to communicate, he used various means including His audible voice (Exodus 3) and angel proclamation (Luke 1:26-38).    But even in those situations, after God spoke, He usually instructed humans to pass along the message. For instance, God communicated directly to Moses, but then told Moses to communicate to Pharaoh (Exodus 3:13-22).

Later, however, God chose to communicate through a different medium: His Son. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Now that’s a powerful announcement! Still, after communicating the message of salvation to us through His Son’s life, death, burial, and resurrection, God once again calls us to share the announcement of His grace through human communication.

But (unlike any announcement regarding picnics, special events, or schedule changes) the human proclamation of the gospel is equipped with divine aid in its communication and reception.

The first way in which the gospel is equipped with divine aid is in the nature of God’s Word. It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

What an encouragement! When we communicate the gospel, God injects (sword) His message into the heart of the hearer. And His message powerfully exposes the hearer at the deepest level.

But, as if that wasn’t enough, the sword of God’s Word belongs to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).  The Spirit, utilizing the Word, convicts the hearer of sin (John 16:8), and draws their heart toward Christ (John 6:44).

We are never alone in our efforts to “announce” the gospel! The living Word and the Holy Spirit work to translate our limited human communication into a language that speaks powerfully to the hearts of men. No other message shared by human lips will ever boast such power as the proclamation of the gospel!

So take all of the energy you spend agonizing over announcing the upcoming church softball league or the next church-wide pot-luck, and pour it into sharing the gospel with someone today. It’s more powerful –and it’s an announcement they may never forget!

One Story to Get Stuck In Your Brain

A friend texts you a strange picture of a piece of rusted iron fashioned into the shape of the number “1.”

As you try to figure out the significance of the picture, another text arrives from the same friend. It is the same image; only this time the picture shows a wider angle. The iron “1” is actually a dagger sticking through an eyeball. Disgusting.

A new picture arrives with an even wider angle of the scene. Now, you see the iron “1” sticking through the eyeball of a person’s head and into his brain. Thankfully, you don’t recognize the face.

“This is getting stranger by the minute,” you think to yourself, when all of a sudden a wider view of the image arrives revealing the person’s upper torso and arms. With the iron “1” sticking through the eyeball and into the brain, the person has his hands stretched out with all of his fingers spread wide.

Finally, one last picture arrives. Now you see the entire scene. The iron “1” is sticking through the person’s eyeball, through his brain, causing his hands to stretch out completely as he kneels on his knees.

What is this crazy picture all about? Bible study, of course. Each element of the story is designed to be a quick reference to remember how to study any passage of scripture. Here’s how it works:


The Iron #1: Choose one complete idea of Scripture.

The first step to studying Scripture is choosing a passage to study. The rule of thumb here is to choose a passage containing one complete idea — no more, no less.

If you choose less than one complete thought, you will have difficulty determining one complete meaning. This is frustrating and dangerous. Frustrating because you won’t understand what God is saying, dangerous because it leaves room for you to add your own ideas (which might be opposite of what God is saying).

This would be like sending a recipe to a friend only to find out that the friend only read the instructions to turn on the oven. That might not accomplish the results they desire (especially if they don’t turn it off). Just like with a recipe, you have to study a complete thought of Scripture.

If, on the other hand, you choose a passage containing more than one complete thought (i.e. six chapters containing four parables and three different conversations), you will likely find it difficult to focus on any one idea. Again — frustrating and dangerous. Imagine your friend trying to cook five recipes at the same time — in the same pan!


 The Eyeball: Observe the Text.

In our story, the iron #1 is stuck in the man’s eyeball. Likewise, the second step to studying Scripture is to observe the text.

Read the text. Read it again. Read what happens before and after. Ask questions like, “Who wrote this?” “Who is involved?” “Who is being spoken to?” “Where is this happening?” “What else is going on?” Notice any key words or repeating phrases. Determine what is going on.


The Brain: Interpret the Text.

The iron #1 goes through the man’s eye directly to his brain. That’s to help us remember that we have to think about and interpret Scripture.

Eventually, Bible study comes down to asking, “What does this mean?” In any given text, there is only one true meaning: God’s meaning. It’s not a matter of “What I think” or “What this sounds like.” Rather, we must ask, “What is God saying?”

God has given us a brain to discern His Word and His Spirit to illuminate the Word to our minds. This means we approach the Word seeking the Spirit’s help as we meditate on its meaning.

One of the best questions to ask is, “what does the rest of the Bible say about this?” Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.


The Hands: Apply the Text.

Here’s a great phrase to remember: Every passage has one meaning but many applications. In other words, God’s Word doesn’t change — it means exactly what God intended for it to mean from the beginning. But it is also timeless and relevant for application in all situations.

For instance, if I determine that the meaning of the passage I am studying is “Love others,” I can think of dozens of applications: Help my neighbor with yard work, treat my mother with honor, spend time serving an elderly friend, etc.

That’s why the man in our story’s hands are extended with every finger spread wide — to remind us that there are multiple ways to apply every text.

By the way, when thinking about how to apply a text, remember: the more specific, the better. It’s one thing to say, “Help my neighbor.” It’s another thing to say, “Every time I mow my yard, I’ll check to see if Larry’s yard needs to be mowed. If it does, I’ll mow it without asking.”

Understanding the meaning of Scripture is pointless unless we apply it.


The Knees: Pray the Text.

Finally, the man in the story is on his knees -a posture we usually associate with prayer.

Imagine God’s communication to us like a circle. God is at the top of the circle and we are at the bottom. God communicates to us through His Word — so imagine a Bible going from God to us clockwise around the circle. As we receive the Word, the Holy Spirit illuminates it to us. Then, as we understand the Word, we communicate back to God with the help of the Holy Spirit. Imagine our prayers continuing clockwise around the circle going back to God.

We pray about lots of things. We go to God with whatever is on our hearts. But our prayers should be shaped by the message of His Word. As we learn to “love one another” in Scripture, we should begin praying that God will help us to “Love Larry — even when he plays loud music at night,” or “Honor mom even when she disapproves of a decision I’ve made.” If you pray this way, you’ll be surprised what happens the next time Larry plays loud music or your mother disapproves of something. God will answer your prayer.

Now, think about the story — the iron “1,” the eyeball, the brain, the hands, and the knees. Each piece is meant to help you recall how to study the Word. So the next time you are reading your Bible, and you want a little help with your study think about that poor guy with the iron “1.” Hopefully, its stuck in your brain by now (pun intended)!

Just Stop

“Just Stop!” Maybe you’ve heard this phrase (or a variation of it) uttered from the mouth of a parent. Perhaps it has tread across your own lips.

Its funny how words like these can take on different meanings based upon the context in which they are spoken and the tone with which they are exclaimed.

For instance, “Just stop,” could mean, “Quit making that annoying noise that you have been repeating for the past hour and a half.”

Then again, it could mean, “Hit the brake on your bicycle before you hit the tree.”

The first example is a corrective measure. The second is a warning. But there is also a third way this phrase could be used.

A few months ago, my son and I were spending a night away from home. We went out for a walk down a long dirt road in the woods. Bryce was laughing, making funny noises, and running circles around me, when all of a sudden, I said, “Just stop!”

But it wasn’t a corrective measure and it wasn’t a warning. In fact, if you had heard the tone of my voice, you would have realized that something important was happening and I didn’t want Bryce to miss it.

We both stopped and I pointed toward the woods. The sun was almost gone and lightning bugs were everywhere. Our little walk was suddenly illuminated by one of God’s marvelous creations: The very first mobile light sources!

I wanted to make sure Bryce took it all in. I wanted to help him marvel at God’s creation.

In Exodus 14, right before the children of Israel pass through the red sea on dry land, Moses says, “Just stop.”  Okay, that’s my paraphrase. His actual words go like this:

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Here Moses was saying “Just stop” in the sense of, “Something important is about to happen –don’t miss this!”

God was about to do something huge. In fact, it was so big that Moses described it as, “The salvation of the Lord” from Egyptian captivity. What a tragedy it would have been to miss the parting of the Red Sea and the defeat of the Egyptians!

In verse 14, Moses gets more specific about what is about to happen. He explains that the Lord will fight for the Israelites. Consider the power of that idea. God Himself, with unlimited power and strength will fight on your behalf. What a marvelous foreshadowing of the victory Christ would accomplish on our behalf“ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

I love the last phrase Moses utters in verse 14: “….and you have only to be silent.” Wow! In other words, Moses was saying, “Just stand back and watch God do all the work.” It was a call to, “just stop” and stand in awe.

It’s the same call we have at the cross of Christ. Like the children of Israel’s plight against the Egyptians, we are powerless in and of ourselves to do battle with sin. Instead, Christ has fought the battle for us on the cross. Victory is ours through Him. “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Now, just stop and stand in awe.

Say It Now

My uncle Chuck was an amazing man. I remember as a young boy being mesmerized by his motorcycle and yo-yo tricks.

I attended my uncle’s funeral Saturday.  Uncle Chuck had suffered from cancer for several years and finally his body was set free. In the midst of the grieving there was a fresh relief known only to the family of believers.

During the service, I learned some interesting new facts about my uncle. For instance, as a youth, he wore a body cast for nine months due to polio. And as a young man, he served in the National Guard. He was assigned to guard duty at Little Rock Central High School during integration in 1957.

I was blown away to realize that my uncle -whom I had known all of my life- had these incredible stories that I never knew about.

And that’s when it hit me -uncle Chuck’s polio and his guard duty were not the most important things about his life. He chose, instead, to talk about more weighty issues.

It wouldn’t have taken anyone long to know that Uncle Chuck was a follower of Christ. Some of my earliest memories of him (other than the motorcycle and yo-yo) are seeing him study his Bible and his Sunday School book which always seemed to be on the table beside his favorite chair. His study was not last-minute. He was a consistent, disciplined student of the Word of God.

Even if you never saw him study, you knew that he was a man of deep conviction and faith. His character and lifestyle pointed to a Christ. The way he provided for his family and led them spiritually reflected Christ’s love for the Church.

In the midst of the funeral, as his brother was sharing a powerful eulogy, I had a sudden urge to go back in time and spend more time with Uncle Chuck. Most of all, I wished I could go back and tell him what I appreciated about him.

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” In other words, sharing your appreciation for someone is always a good idea. It allows you to honor Christ with your words by recognizing the way they honor Christ with their life. Further, its a way to fulfill Christ’s command to “love one another” (John 13:34). And, when spoken in a Christ-like way, it is beautiful (apples of gold) and appropriate (setting of silver).

Don’t wait until the funeral to express your feeling for your loved ones. Say it now.

So, until I see you again in Heaven, I love you uncle Chuck and I praise God for your legacy. Thank you for always loving me (even when I broke your window) and treating me like your own (even on a long trip to Disney World). I have reflected deeply on your quiet, but consistent, faithfulness in the midst of suffering. Your example and influence on my son and me have made an impact for the gospel that will not fade away.


SOAR 2013 Last Thoughts

Wow, what a great week at SOAR 2013. It was amazing to watch 2500 students study Christ’s call to discipleship.

As I think back on the week, a few last-minute thoughts go through my mind. So, here’s what I would want to leave with everyone who attended:

1) Discipleship is happening more than we realize. Because Christ is the Chief Disciple-maker, we is coordinating “hidden discipleship” in the lives of his children. Many times, we miss it. But I would encourage us all to open our eyes to the people who are pouring into us spiritually -even if its not in an “announced” discipleship relationship. Many times, these are the greatest influences that occur in our lives. (Romans 8:28)

2) Discipleship must be intentional. Just because Christ is weaving together discipleship in ways that we don’t understand, it does not give us an excuse to refrain from making efforts to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). If there is any element that I see missing in discipleship today, it is intentionality. The fact that Christ is weaving everything together should be more motivation to be intentional -not less motivation. It means that we can pour ourselves into others and trust Christ to use our efforts in ways we can’t possibly imagine (I Cor. 3:6).

3) Disciple-makers must desire to see everyone mature in Christ. (Col. 1:28) The goal is not for humans to make disciples who are independent masters of the faith, but instead, to make disciples who are dependent life-long learners of Christ. Its about progress, not perfection. We must have a desire to see every person we lock eyes with move closer to Christ. Sometimes this is in a one-time encounter, other times it is in week-long, year-long, or life-long relationships. Sometimes it is in a  formalized, announced discipleship relationship, other times it is in an informal life-on-life relationship.

4) The local church must provide a community of discipleship. (Matthew 28:20). Its interesting how Jesus connects the call to “make disciples” to the command to “baptize them.” The idea is simple, disciples need to continue growing in a nurturing discipleship community of mutual edification.

5) Every believer must sit in the middle chair. Its time to get on the bike. Christ calls us to sit in the middle chair so that we always have someone sitting on one side of us who is pouring into our life and someone on the other side whom we are pouring into. Its a part of the discipleship community that lasts a lifetime as we all grow together. Discipleship is for life.

Three Chairs

I’m enjoying the SOAR 2013 student conference this week in Dallas, TX. This year’s theme is “Three Chairs” and it revolves around discipleship.

The idea is really simple: you sit in the middle chair. This means that there is always someone on both sides of you -one that is pouring into you and one that you are pouring into.

Its a powerful picture of a life-long lifestyle of discipleship. No matter how much we have grown, we still need people discipling us. And, simultaneously, no matter how young we are in the faith, we have a responsibility to disciple others. Whether our resources are great or small, the great commission calls us to be faithful to give what has been invested in us to others.

Its all a part of the discipleship community that should be taking place in every church where we all pour into one another through authentic community. And, as we all grow together, we mutually increase in our ability to encourage one another. Its all a part of God’s incredible plan for discipleship.

That’s what we are trying to share with 7th-12th grade students at SOAR 2013 this week. Will you pray that God will use this conference to ignite discipleship communities in churches across our country?

Sermon Decoder

Here’s a quick attempt to pull the curtain back on the mystery of preaching. Hope you laugh a little.

There are a few phrases that seem to emerge in everyone’s sermons from time to time. In case you were wondering what those phrases REALLY mean, here’s a reference guide:

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  • “In the original languages” usually means, “My sermon will only work if this phrase means…”
  • “I have a burden for this message” usually means, “The sermon I listened to online last night got me fired up.”
  • “I had another sermon prepared, but God led me to this” usually means, “If the game hadn’t gone into triple overtime yesterday I could have studied more.”
  • “Let’s share our testimonies” usually means the game went into 4+ overtimes!
  • “The problem with our society today” usually means, “I didn’t have time to think of a real specific example.”
  • “True story” usually means, “My other stories utilize pastoral license.”
  • “Everyone needs to be back tonight” usually means, “If I have to get up from my nap –you should to.”
  • (After the song service) “I don’t even have to preach after that great singing” usually means, “I know this sermon is a dud and I wish I really didn’t have to preach now.”
  • “Some of you have been asking” usually means “One of the deacons has been pestering me about this.”
  • “In conclusion” usually means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

“Do No Harm” to the Boston Bomber

Yesterday’s newspaper reported that one of the Boston Marathon bombers was alive and in custody at a local hospital. More specifically, the bomber is being treated at the same hospital as eleven victims of the bombing.

That’s quite a powerful picture, isn’t it? Certainly the thought of a terrorist being treated alongside his victims provokes a myriad of emotional responses.

Some may say, “He doesn’t deserve such treatment,” or “what a slap in the face to the survivors.”

Another group of people may fear for the security of the survivors (as well as the rest of the hospital) while secretly hoping the bomber gets worse treatment.

Others may ponder the strange juxtaposition while admiring the power of medicine’s Hippocratic oath, which explicitly states that a doctor shall “do no harm” to his/her patient.

How does a gospel-perspective view the scene? Perhaps it’s a simple as this: The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Boston Massachusetts paints a stunning picture of the gospel where every sinner, no matter the record, is treated. And the over-riding message of grace erases any pecking order for sinners.

Remember, Christ’s admonition to “Judge not, that you not be judged,” (Matt. 7:1) specifically forbids one human determining whether or not another human deserves grace. What is the basis for this teaching? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Certainly, if we dig deep enough, we can find reasons to withhold grace from everyone –that is, until we consider that we are the undeserving recipients of grace as well.

The Hippocratic oath, like the gospel, causes us to look past “a record of wrongs” (I Cor. 13:5) to man’s fundamental need: life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When the Great Physician treats sinners, He does not allow any record of wrongs to impede His treatment of grace. And I am forever grateful.

A Kingdom Beyond California

Today’s newspaper announced the passing of Annette Funicello, who was best known for her role as one of the original Disney Mouseketeers. Certainly we offer our condolences to her family.

After her time as a Mousketeer, Funicello went on to make numerous beach movies with Franki Avalon. Funicello’s brand in the film and television industry was simply “forever young.”

Disney has been able to reproduce the youth formula over the years with new stars such as Brittney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera, and Lindsay Lohan. In a way, Disney’s “fountain of youth” programming tends to ignore the obvious: everyone gets old and eventually dies.

I wonder how the news of Funicello’s death strikes Justin Timberlake today? How will Christiana Aguilera take the news? Will it serve as a cold reminder of reality? Will it occur to them that the Magic Kingdom does not have power over death?

Hebrews 9:27 explains, “it is appointed for man to die once…” and Psalm 89:48 asks, “What man can live and never see death?” Death is reality in this world –even in the Magic Kingdom.

But there is another Kingdom in which “death is no more” (Revelation 21:4) because the King has defeated death (1 Cor. 15:54-56). There is a Kingdom where we live forever –but its not in California!

I don’t know about the spiritual lives of former Mickey Mouse Club members –but I do know that they are just like you and me: in need of a King who has conquered death and offers eternal life. Then, when the moment comes for us to leave this life, we have the hope that comes from Christ’s words in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

“Already-But Not Yet” Will End

The resurrection celebration at my Church yesterday left me with mixed emotions. I was overwhelmed by Christ’s victory over death. At the same time, I my thoughts were drawn to my wife, Jill.

Jill passed away four years ago. While I feel the agony of losing the love of my life, she experiences the triumph of the resurrection. Of course I understand and rejoice in the reality of Jill’s life in Christ. And I certainly praise God that she is united with Him in Christ’s resurrection. But as long as I am still on earth, I continue to experience the tension of the “already but not yet” nature of  kingdom life.

Already -I am seated in heavenly places with Christ. Not yet -have I left this world to be fully home. Already -I know in part the victory in Christ. Not yet -have I experienced the unfiltered glory of Christ. Already -I know in part. Not yet -have I known fully as I am known.

For those of us who know the loss of loved ones, author Jerry Sittser describes this tension powerfully in his book, A Grace Disguised: “Those who suffer loss live suspended between a past for which they long and a future for which they hope.” He goes on to explain from his own life, “I remembered a past that included people I did not want to give up, and I imagined a future that excluded people I desperately wanted to keep.”

I guess that’s why celebrating the resurrection was so emotional for me yesterday. The same event that reminds me of my separation from Jill also reminds me that the separation is only temporary. My only encouragement is in knowing that just as Jill has experienced the fulfillment of resurrection life, one day I will too -when the “already” meets the “not yet” for the last time!