2016 Sermon Recap

 

As we near the end of 2016, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the past year, particularly when it comes to preaching. Every year I try to devote some time to processing how things went – what was effective, what was less than stellar, and how I can improve. Just like an artist, an actor/actress, or even a coach, there are some final products that I’m personally more pleased with than others. I think working back through what seemed to be most and least effective, along with figuring out why, is an important discipline if you are serious about your craft. This is a yearly attempt to stay disciplined as a preacher, teacher, and communicator.

In general, I would say that preaching this year has been both harder and easier than in years past. The part that has come easier is the delivery side of the message, as I am grow
ing more comfortable communicating on a stage. There were some tangible delivery goals I was able to accomplish over the past 12 months, some of which were aided by using a chair and pub table. This approach has allowed me to be more deliberate and even slow down (just a hair). The aspects that have been harder this yearhave been on the content creation side of the process. In October, I reached my six-year anniversary of being Lead Pastor at Harris Creek. The most candid way to put it is that I feel like I hit a bit of a wall this year. When you preach 40+ times a year for six straight years, it’s not always easy to keep your creative edge while also remaining rooted in Scripture. The delicate balance is to try to keep reading Scripture with a fresh perspective without getting too “cute” with it and end up butchering what the text is actually saying.

Harris Creek 8-21-16-135.jpg.jpg

The other unique challenge in 2016 was changing my approach to preparation due to the design of Elements. To begin with, the sermons in Elements are slightly different than the way I tend to teach. This was something I warmed up to because, as I said earlier, I probably needed to change something up after hitting a creative wall. The process of creating content for Elements is also much more collaborative, with five other people having a role in the development of the material. Each voice at the table is uniquely gifted and incredibly helpful. On the flip side, it feels a bit like multiple artists trying to paint a picture on the same canvas. Each person might have a slightly different style, and it’s my job to bring a singular voice to the final product (including the sermons).

All in all, I am proud of the ground we covered as a congregation in 2016 and the license our people gave me to try new things. We have an incredibly flexible, gracious, and supportive ethos amongst our congregation. There is great value in people coming together on a weekly basis, doing their best to listen to the Spirit speak through Scripture, and earnestly seeking to respond obediently to what God is saying to us. The approach I like to take in this recap is to follow this pattern: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable stats” from my 2016 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year. I hope this gives you some helpful insight into my world and what goes into the sermons each week.

 

2016 MEASURABLE STATS
2016 Sermon Stats.jpg

 

SERMON SERIES IN 2016
– Rebuilding from Rubble
– Rediscovering Freedom
– God in the Movies
– Thriving in Exile
– Two Pictures of Discipleship
– Elements: Unit 1
– The Glorious Return

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERMON: “Stone Tablets” from The Glorious Return
WHY: This one is still fresh for me, which means I’m still not over it. The week before this sermon we were coming off of a fairly intense stretch of discussions with our bank regarding the “Our Turn” initiative, and I updated everyone on the not-so-fun surprise appraisal. The following week, I was worn out. It took me twice as long to get something semi-coherent on paper for this message.

This was one of the few times I have ever had to work on a Saturday to land a message. Some pastors love to create “Saturday Night Specials.” Not me – they stress me out. All that to say, I was not as confident in the message as I wanted to be heading into the morning. I think one of the most challenging aspects of my job is having a “project” due every weekend for people to review, no matter how I feel or what’s going on. It’s part of it, and our congregation is always extremely gracious, as I stated earlier. But I personally hate when I haven’t landed things the way I wanted to in a message, and this one stands out to me as one of those times this happened in 2016.

 

FAVORITE SERMON: From the Ground Up” from Rediscovering Freedom
WHY: This sermon was my message for Easter in 2016, and I felt like it struck the best balance of all my Easter sermons to date. The typical rhythm is for Easter to conclude our sermon series during the Season of Lent. This means people who haven’t been with us previously are hearing the final message that we’ve been building up to for six weeks. Easter also presents some distinct challenges because the demographics on Easter Sunday tend to be different than the typical makeup of our congregation the rest of the year. Finally, the congregation seems to be a little “stiff” (from my perspective) every year on Easter Sunday. This is probably due to the fact that we have more guests, we have church members who have invited friends, and people are even a little more formal in how they dress compared to your average Sunday.

My first few years, I was not exactly prepared for these shifts and the different dynamic in the room on Easter. This year, I felt like I was able to anticipate what was coming and speak to the people in the room. That meant speaking to our congregation and wrapping up our series in a satisfying way. It also meant speaking to newcomers in such a way that they could join the conversation without feeling lost. Finally, it meant speaking to anyone who might be a skeptic in such a way that might make them more open them to the revolutionary power of the resurrection. With all that is on the line every Easter, it’s easy to get disappointed with yourself as a communicator and feel as though you didn’t do it justice. This year, I was pleased and content with how things landed.

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERIES: God in the Movies
WHY: This is typically an annual series that I really look forward to every spring. This year, I felt a little more constrained based on feeling conflicted over a particular movie I considered reviewing. The film had an “R” rating, but it was not for the reasons that seem to be more gratuitous which sometimes draw this rating. The violence and disturbing images that caused it to be restricted carried an important message in the film, and it was a message I believed was worthy of discussion. However, after getting some wise feedback from our leadership (elders and staff), I ultimately decided to go a different direction. It was also a conversation with another local pastor who I trust and respect that helped me make this decision. But the whole conversation had (and still has) me questioning if this series can accomplish its intended purpose of engaging the culture around us.

If there are films that seem to be shaping our culture and they aren’t overly perverse “just to be perverse,” I think those are movies we need to be aware of as Christians. Yet, I also recognize that there is a line here, and there are some conversations that can’t be had with the entire church family due to the broad range of both age and maturity levels within our congregation. The line on this whole discussion tends to be a bit of a moving target. I do know that if we simply talk about the parts of culture that we’re comfortable with or “family friendly,” then we need to probably call it for what it is – “God in the Disney Movies.” I’m still praying through which direction this needs to go in the future, but I’m thinking this series may have run its course.

 

FAVORITE SERIES: Thriving in Exile
WHY: For years, we’ve talked about “planning in pencil” around Harris Creek as part of what it means to be a leader on our team. This approach has two sides to it: (1) doing the hard work of actually charting the direction we are heading, and (2) being flexible enough to call an audible when the situation demands it. This series was one of the bigger “audibles” I’ve called when it comes to planning a sermon series. The original plan was to preach through the Book of Ecclesiastes last summer, but it just didn’t seem to fit where we were as a congregation. The next plan was to preach through the second half of the Book of Acts, the part that tends to get ignored. This, too, felt like it wasn’t exactly what was needed at the time.

Ultimately, we ended up studying the narrative portion of the Book of Daniel, and it was a series that seemed to be timely for where we are as a culture. “Upheaval” would be one word that I think accurately describes 2016 for many people. With an unconventional election on the national front and a lot of turmoil surrounding the highly visible Baylor football program at a local level, the past year was disorienting for many of our people. The story of Daniel was one that came to me as the summer was approaching, and it turned out to be a fascinating study. I personally learned a lot from Daniel’s story and the faithfulness of the Israelites in Exile. For something that wasn’t planned on my end of things, this series became a great encouragement to my own faith and hopefully the faith of many others.

 

2015 Sermon Graphic Recap

Each year, our Lead Pastor, Brady Herbert, does a Sermon Recap where he revisits and reflects on his favorite/least favorite sermons/sermon series from this past year. It’s really cool to look back and see his thoughts on the series/sermons, but personally, it’s also a unique way to process and remember what all God had taught me over the course of the year.

A lot can happen over the course of a year. In 2015 there were a total of 8 different sermon series with 8 stand alone messages as well. Being an artist and therefore a very visual person, I correlate memories and ideas with visuals. For instance, when I see a sermon image from the past year, it brings back all the corresponding “big ideas” I might have taken away from that series. That’s one reason I believe it’s so important to create memorable graphics for each series – these are images that represent God teaching us powerful truths. Many times, when you listen to a song from your past, it can immediately take you back to that point in time and you instantly remember the season of life you were in. I think images can do the same thing. Sometimes after a year has gone by, just trying to remember what a sermon series was about could be extremely difficult, but looking at an image can be really helpful in recalling those lessons God showed us during that time.

That’s one reason I believe it’s so important to create memorable graphics for each series – these are images that represent God teaching us powerful truths.

That being said, I wanted to look back at 2015 and the images I created for the sermon series. This is a helpful practice for me personally, but I hope it can be just as meaningful for you as well. Below, I’ll go into detail about each sermon series image (I am not covering stand alone sermon images). I’ll talk about my favorite, my least favorite, and things in between. Please feel free to comment below with your favorite and least favorite (of course with your reasoning, too). I love hearing how meaningful, or not, an image was for you during this past year and your time with Harris Creek.

So, with that being said. Here is my 2015 Sermon Series Graphic Recap.

If you needed a reminder the 2015 sermon series, here are the 8 images I’m critiquing:

 

Favorite Overall Sermon Series Graphic:

89
Ethos

WHY?

This might be my overall favorite in similar ways to why “The Noonday Demon” was my “most surprising” image last year – the series was incredibly meaningful for me and therefore the image carries a lot of meaning as well. Along with that, aesthetically, this image matches my personal design preference (many images I design for Harris Creek might not be). I can’t take credit for the heart diagram image in the background because I did not draw it, but I added several effects and edits I added to make the final product you see above. The only thing that still bothers me is what’s called the letter “kerning” (aka spacing) between the letter “O” and the letter “S.” I somehow missed that in the original design..but it still is my favorite from this past year!

 

Least Favorite Overall Sermon Series Graphic:

98
Life After Life

 

WHY?

Everyone is saying a collective, “WHAT!?” right now, I know. So many people made comments about this design and how much they loved it. But just based on personal preference, I don’t love it. I love muted colors or neutrals – so you can see why this might not personally speak to me. It obviously fit the series really well – so it was successful as a series image, just not my personal favorite. Once again, to be honest and up-front with what I’m taking credit for, I did not make the butterfly. That is an image I grabbed from an online source. You all can tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.

 

Most Surprising Sermon Series Graphic:

97
#Blessed

WHY?

This image was such an evolution of ideas – I definitely didn’t start out in this direction. Honestly, to begin with, I was quite stumped as to how this series could translate into an image that wasn’t to much of a “stretch” to understand or too abstract. I think that’s why this turned out to be the most surprising in the best way possible. This one of my top favorites as well, and it also might be the most I’ve ever manipulated an image for a series graphic. I had to photoshop quite a bit out of the original water photo, then grab the man from another photo, fixing what’s called a “color cast” on the guy to make him match the water and appear as one cohesive image. This was a technically challenging image to make, although the outcome was pretty simple. I just love the subtle nudge towards the tagline the “upside down nature of the gospel” and therefore flipping the water on it’s head. It makes the image kind of “trippy” and unexpected. So I think there’s a lot of symbolism there. The color theme on this is also one of my favorites – muted, but not all neutrals. The steel blue hits just right to me. Definitely an unexpected outcome for this series image!

 

Most Disappointing Sermon Series Graphic:

90
The Great I Am

WHY?

Easter/Lent sermon series images are always so hard to nail down because you know you’ll be stuck with that image for a long period of time. As I start to design images that will be used for an extended period of time, this paralysis tends to seeps in during the design process. Therefore, it’s daunting to land an image for seasons like this. This series, that talked about the many different attributes of the “Great I Am,” also made it difficult to nail down a singular image since it covered such a wide variety of topics (thanks Brady). Since we changed the weekly sermon series images depending on the attribute we focused on that week, it also made this a dauntingly huge sermon series image set to make. On top of the usual images I make for every sermon series (title slides, content slides, posters, Instagram, etc.) I had to do all of those for EACH sermon instead of one for the entire series. That could also contribute to the negative feeling I have towards this image – justified right? Right. There were tons of opportunities with each name of God to get really crazy creative with it. I could have taken this a few steps farther and I would have been happier with it. The final outcome just wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

 

That’s all I have! To be clear, these are just all MY opinions. Not anyone else’s. Just mine. I definitely want to hear from you too! Leave a comment with your ranking and thoughts on any of the graphics from 2015. Comment below!

 

 

2014 Sermon Graphic Recap

Each year, our Lead Pastor, Brady Herbert, does a Sermon Recap where he revisits and reflects on his favorite/least favorite sermons/sermon series from that past year. I love reading his thoughts on each series he liked or maybe didn’t like — it also brings out a little nostalgia in me from the past year.

A lot can happen over the course of a year. In 2014 there were 52 different sermons preached at Harris Creek which includes 8 different sermon series with quite a few stand alone messages peppered in there as well. I’m a really visual person so a way I can remember what I learned from sermons in 2014, is to remember the graphic that I made to go along with a particular series. Many times, that will spark in my mind what I learned by seeing that image I associated with it.

That being said, I wanted to look back at 2014 and all the images I created for the sermon series to remember what I learned during those seasons, but also to tell you which ones I liked the best and which ones maybe not so much. I also want to hear what you think! I love getting feedback for my work good or bad. And yes I’m totally opening things up for you to share what you think — just keep things civil please — let’s not get carried away here. I hope this also shows how much effort and thought goes behind each and every graphic we make to further the sermon series.

So, with that being said. Here is my 2014 Sermon Series Graphic Recap. 

In case you forgot, here are all the sermon series graphics from 2014. For many, if not all, of the “stand alone sermons” I use predominantly premade graphics (for time sake), so for recap purposes I am going to stick to the complete series graphics all of which (besides the “Essentials” series) I personally made from scratch. I feel I can speak most into those. If you want to see a complete archive of all our sermon graphics, feel free to go on our website to our sermon page to reference every single graphic we’ve used for the past few years.

 

 

Favorite Overall Sermon Series Graphic:

The New Exodus
The New Exodus

Why: As simple as it might seem, this graphic is loaded with meaning. From the red “blood-esque” brush strokes being wiped away, to the beautiful scenery peaking through — It was one of those moments where what I was thinking in my head translated well to the computer and then to this title graphic. The contrast in terms of legibility works well, and I always love designing with realistic photos like this. My one draw back to this would be I wish I would have done “The New” in a different font than the Exodus. But hey, isn’t hindsight 20/20. My take-away from this sermon series was really, if anything, a realization of how expansive the biblical narrative truly is — how stories in the Old Testament are not obsolete and instead show a beautiful picture of what was and is still to come. 

Least Favorite Overall Sermon Series Graphic:

For the Love of Money
For the Love of Money

Why: My “go-to” design style isn’t normally extremely graphic in nature. And no, not “graphic” in the way most all of you are thinking as you read this. Graphic as in, dealing with mostly geometric shapes and vector elements, not pixel based images.  I enjoy dealing mostly with photos and overlaying elements with those (aka pixel based). That being said, I realize we all need some diversity in our lives, so every once in a while I will mix in some “graphic” style series graphics. This one for me just didn’t pan out. It’s a little plain and simple, which isn’t always a bad thing, but this time it is. To end on a positive note, I do like the symbolism of the “strings” tied to the money. Aka money comes with strings attached. 

Most Surprising Sermon Series Graphic:

The Noonday Demon
The Noonday Demon

Why: This graphic started in a completely different direction then slowly evolved into what you see here. We started in the obvious direction of plants, nature, seeds, etc. and just couldn’t land it (pun definitely intended). Finally, in hashing out the sermon series even more with Brady, we began to go a more photo realistic route (surprise…my go to). There were a lot of different images and iterations of this we went through — train tracks, airports, someone sitting on dock looking off in the distance — all of which could’ve been great. I LOVE this one we landed on though, and still even have this image as my computer desktop to remind me of this series. The elements I love: 1. The subtle look over his shoulder the person is giving to his bicycle, 2. The slight touch of red color in the right corner, 3. The crisp clean font 4. The bicycle symbolizing wanting to go, move, or our mobile culture, take your pic. This one surprised me in the end, and I love the outcome. This one might be tied for my most favorite graphic in terms of the symbolism in it. First glance its not impressive, but paired with the sermon series, it’s special.

Most Disappointing Sermon Series Graphic:

The Art of Peacemaking
The Art of Peacemaking

Why: Ironically, I might have spent the most time on this graphic. All the different elements and piecing them all together was a task. The reason it ended up being disappointing to me was that it didn’t translate as well onto huge screens. I should have made the contrast a little more pronounced and therefore some of the elements would have been more visible. They got lost in the sea of black a little more than I wished. That being said, I love the look and feel of it, its very different than other things I’ve done before, but overall a little disappointed with the final look of it.

 

To be clear, these are just all MY opinions. Not anyone else’s. Just mine. I welcome yours too! Take the poll below or leave a comment with your thoughts on any of the graphics. I would also love to hear if you are a visual person who remembers sermons based on the graphics associated with them. Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent Day 26 Reflection

Blaise Pascal[1] is famous for once saying, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.”[2] The focus of our Lenten readings this week is on the subject of “peace.” It seems as though peace is what we all long for, yet is most often just beyond our grasp. We want peace in our relationships, peace in our country, peace in the world, but most of all, we want to feel a sense of peace inside.

When we lack the internal peace we long for, we begin to wage war on those around us. I believe, like Pascal, that the lack of peace in our world stems from a lack of peace on the inside. Apart from Christ we are restless, conflicted, troubled souls that cannot sit quietly with ourselves. Yet any admittance to internal turmoil would mean we would have to forfeit some of our social and relational authority, so we begin to find other ways to deal with the internal storms. We quickly blame our problems on something or someone “other” than myself. The harsh reality of human nature is that we tend to project our unrest onto others just to quiet the dull roar going on in our own souls.

How can we find the peace we are all looking for as fellow human beings? How can we find the harmony we so often pray for? The Scripture for today from Isaiah 33 says it comes by submitting to the authority of God, the Creator and Sustainer of peace. Isaiah 33:6 says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times…the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.” The key to living a life of peace is submitting our lives, our emotions, our desires, and our plans to the authority of God alone.

The problem with this statement is we have become really adept at creating God in our own image. We convince ourselves through the manipulation of Scripture and community that God has ordained our plans, rather than submitting our lives to His purposes. Richard Rohr says, “We will all find endless disguises and excuses to avoid letting go of what really needs to die for our own spiritual growth. And it is not other humans (firstborn sons of Egyptians), animals (lambs or goats), or even ‘meat on Friday’ that God wants or needs. It is always our beloved passing self that has to be let go of.”[3]

As I said in my sermon this morning, the scary thing is that we can actually get to a place where we justify in our hearts what God clearly says is wrong. We can get to a place where we justify our gossip because that person deserves it. We can begin to justify our anger because “they intentionally did that to upset me.” We can easily justify our pride because we need to have a positive self-image. We can justify our lust because it’s a normal part of our biology. We can justify our laziness because “Jesus paid it all.” You get the point.

To make God the true foundation of our lives means we must move past our terrible habit of turning Him into a genie that is there to affirm my decisions at genieevery turn. In the story of Exodus, one of Pharaoh’s primary problems was he continually exalted himself above God.[4] This stemmed from his failure to listen to God and the counsel around him, which eventually led to his own demise. Pharaoh had made his goals, his desires, and his thoughts the foundation of life. Paul says it this way in Romans 8:5: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires.” In other words, if you live to make yourself “god” of your universe, you’ll never see beyond yourself and never find the satisfaction, or peace, you are looking for.

On the flip-side, Paul goes on to say, “…the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.[5] If we allow God to govern, or rule, our lives, the result will be life and peace. Perhaps the only way to see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, finally bring peace on earth is to allow Him to first bring peace to our hearts. If that is going to happen, we must submit to His lordship and surrender our desire for control. I will close with a prayer that our Lenten guide calls us to pray today: “Lord, Fill our minds with knowledge. Fill our hearts with wisdom. Fill our agendas with redemption. And fill our city with peace like a river.” Amen.


 

[1] Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, physicist, mathematician and pure genius.
[2] Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, Kindle Locations 857-859
[3] Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters, Pg. 134
[4] See Exodus 9:17
[5] Romans 8:6

2013 Sermon Recap

Last year I did a recap of the Scripture and authors I covered throughout the year, and it proved to be a helpful exercise for a couple of reasons. First, one of my primary goals in preaching is to make sure we are covering a broad range of genres in Scripture each year. I want to make sure there is a healthy does that includes the gospels (NT), epistles (NT), historical books (OT), the prophets (OT), and wisdom literature (primarily OT). Another reason this recap is helpful is it’s good to reflect on what we’ve covered as a Body and how God worked in the last year. Another reason I love doing this at the end of the year is it’s always helpful to see who has influenced my thinking by including the authors I’ve quoted in my sermons. I put a lot of work and thought into each message, and there are obviously many authors and scholars who have greatly influenced by thoughts in each sermon.[1] So, here’s a list of the authors and Scriptures we covered at Harris Creek in 2013:

Microsoft Word - 2013 Sermon Recap.docx

I also wanted include some of my personal comments and thoughts on what I enjoyed the least and the most myself. Growing up with a mother who made a living by being an artist, I feel strongly that each sermon is should be crafted like any piece of art. Preaching is the primary medium God has given me to express the work He is doing in my life. In saying that, each piece of art doesn’t always turn out the way you had hoped it would, nor does every sermon. So, for reasons I won’t fully cover in this blog, here are some of my personal opinions on how the sermons turned out…for better or worse:

Favorite Sermon: “Depression” from our Psalms of Disorientation series
Least Favorite Sermon: “Worship Fully” from our Advent series
Favorite Series: The Book of Judges
Least Favorite Series: Return on Investment[2]

Finally, I’ll close by saying that I believe preaching matters immensely (if you couldn’t tell that already). The spoken word of Scripture changes things and has the ability to create new realities in our lives, just like the spoken Word did in Genesis 1. My hope and prayer is that you encountered the Spirit of God over the last year. If any of these sermons played even a small part in that work, I consider that to be a huge honor. I love the soft hearts, open minds, and generous hands of the people of Harris Creek, and I am grateful that I get to work with you to advance the Kingdom of God.


[1] A byproduct is also putting the stats on paper so we can let the facts speak for themselves when I hear things like “you quote ________ every week” or “you never preach from the New Testament.” It’s helpful to be able to show the wide-range of people and passages covered to help offset some of these incorrect perceptions.
[2] I didn’t have time to develop this like I wanted with only two weeks to spend on this topic.

Barriers to Engagement

On Sunday, we talked about Judges 4 and the idea that God wants us to join Him in actively fighting against injustice. Scripture is clear that God is passionate about His purposes in the world, and He is always on the side of those who are downtrodden and oppressed. As children of God, we are called to join Him in giving a voice to the voiceless and defending the defenseless.

If you are a follower of Christ, I would guess this is something you want to participate in. I seriously doubt that many people in our church lack the desire to help those in need. Yet, the reality is we don’t find ourselves participating in this kind of work as often as we would like. So what keeps us from engaging those who are hurting and meeting the needs right in front of us? Emotions such as fear or the idea that we simply lack the right information are what probably come to mind. However, one study done at Princeton University a number of years ago says that our busy schedule might be the biggest barrier to us meeting the needs of those around us.

Two men named John Darley and Daniel Batson did a study called “From Jerusalem to Jericho” where they wanted to study what factors increased or decreased our likelihood of helping others in need.[1] They performed the study with a group of seminary students from Princeton, and their goal was to see if good intentions, social awareness, or being in a hurry had any effect on our willingness to help someone in need. The students were asked to prepare a sermon on a biblical theme and then walk to another building on campus to deliver it. A man was staged along the pathway groaning in pain to see how many students would stop to help.

"The Good Samaritan"  by Paula Modersohn-Becker
“The Good Samaritan”
by Paula Modersohn-Becker

The study found that the students who got into ministry to help people out were not any more likely to help the man than the students who went into ministry for more personal reasons. Even more fascinating was the students who were asked to prepare a talk on the story of the Good Samaritan were also not any more likely to help than those who were preaching on a random passage in Scripture. In other words, having Jesus’ words fresh in their minds made little to no difference at all. There was only one variable that dramatically changed the response of the students.

Some students were told before they left, “Oh, by the way, you’re late. They were expecting you ten minutes ago.” Others were told, “It will be a few minutes before they are expecting you, but you might as well head over there now.” The students who thought they had plenty of time stopped to help the man 63% of the time.[2] However, the students who thought they were in a rush only stopped to help 10% of the time. The researchers concluded, “Ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!).”[3]

What this means is that one of the biggest barriers to us joining God in fighting injustice and helping those in need really has nothing to do with our good intentions, being in the right mindset, or even having the right information. What likely keeps most of us from helping those in need is our busy lives. When we view it through this lens, maybe all of our extracurricular activities aren’t as harmless as we originally thought. If we aren’t careful, we can spend our entire lives rushing from one activity to the next (even one church activity to the next), and never truly join God in His mission.

This is one reason we fight hard to not have an activity every night of the week at Harris Creek. If we’re always in our church building, then we’re never out in the community encountering people in need. However, that’s only part of the equation. We each—individually and as families—must choose to slow down and intentionally build in unfettered time. When we give God space to speak, we then become aware of the needs around us, and our likelihood to join God in the work He is already doing will dramatically increase.


[1] I first came across this study in Tipping Point (Pg. 163-166) by Malcolm Gladwell.
[2] This still seems pretty low considering all the facts. What were the other 37% thinking?
[3] http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html

Put Off/Put On

In yesterday’s sermon, we looked at Psalm 40, which is a “Psalm of Reorientation.” This particular psalm talks about some very practical ways we are called to embrace the new life God gives us when we fully embrace His resurrection power. The psalmsofreorientationarthelperlanguage King David uses in verse 8 implies that God wants us to take His Word inside of us, to the core of who we are.[1] He wants to transform who we are throughout and wants to make us into a person that looks more like the Resurrected Christ. That, in fact, is what Easter is all about. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “If a few people really believed [in the resurrection] and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of the resurrection—that is what Easter means. Most people do not know what their lives are actually based on.”[2]

I said yesterday that the message in Psalm 40 is actually very similar to what the Apostle Paul talks about in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4, Paul is describing what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished for us. He goes on to describe how the resurrection specifically should change the way we live here and now. Paul says in Ephesians 4:22–24, “22Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, 23a life renewed from the inside 24and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”[3] This is the same idea King David talks about in Psalm 40.

What I didn’t get to yesterday is some very practical advice Paul goes on to give the Christians at Ephesus just a few verses later. He is spelling out in plain terms how we can begin to put our old self to death and experience the new life God has for us. Paul says if you used to steal in your former life, you need to find something productive to do with your hands. His advice is to find honest work to do with your hands so that you can share with those in need.[4] This is, if you think about it, a complete reversal of the former life for a thief. Paul then says if you are constantly struggling with your mouth and cutting people down, don’t just stop talking. Instead, he says, you are called to use your mouth as an instrument of redemption to build others up with your language.[5] Again, this is a complete reversal of the former destructive life for someone with loose lips. Finally, Paul says if you are part of a community that is suffering from disunity and divisive habits, put those things to death; but, rather than simply abstaining from the community, be an agent of reconciliation by becoming gentle and modeling forgiveness when you are wronged.[6] In each of these examples, Paul is showing us what it means to “put off” our old self and “put on” our new self in Christ.

So, if you’re still struggling with gossip, Paul might say to instead use your mouth to only build others up. If you are struggling with focusing on the negative, take time to list off five things daily that you are thankful for. If you’ve been in the habit of using or taking advantage of others, go out of your way to serve others in a tangible way. If you lack a zeal for life right now, take on a new adventure or try out a new hobby. This is the goal behind the challenge I issued on Easter Sunday. On Easter I encouraged you to take forty days to celebrate the resurrected life Jesus has given us in a new way. Ascension Sunday is on May 9 this year. Until then, work on putting off an old, destructive habit and replacing it with a new habit that you will find to be life giving.

Where do you sense God working in your life and calling you to surrender? When you reflect on your life, where do you find yourself still wallowing around, as David might say, “in the mud and the mire”[7] of your former way of life? Which habits still exist in your life that do not reflect the new/resurrected life Christ is calling you to? What are some ways you can not only “put off” those old habits, but also “put on” a new, life-giving habit to replace it?


[1] The phrase in verse 8 is literally “in my gut”
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You, Pg. 111
[3] From The Message
[4] Ephesians 4:28
[5] Ephesians 4:29
[6] Ephesians 4:31-32
[7] Psalm 40:2