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!

 

 

2015 Sermon Recap

Every year I take time to reflect on my sermons from the last year as a way to think through what worked, what didn’t, and how I need to proceed moving forward. It might seem odd to have me talk about this process (for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s important for people to peek “behind the scenes” when it comes to how sermons are prepared. Often times, people think they are either (a) hand delivered on a golden tablet every Saturday evening by an angel, or (b) half-cocked ideas from someone who is just talking off the cuff. The truth is, preaching is a serious task that requires a lot of prayer, work, and effort.[1]

The other thing people rarely think about is the fact that I don’t love the way every sermon turns out. I strive hard to, first, be a listener of the Word before preaching it. That means preaching is born out of what has convicted me first, not on the annoying things everyone around me needs to get better at to be more spiritual. The other thing that I naturally do is critique my own work. In fact, I tend to be harsher than (or at least as harsh as) many of the skeptical or cynical types listening to my sermons.[2] In the same breath, I also know I am anything but unbiased. Sermons are a little like your kids: you can be frustrated with your own children, but you naturally get a little defensive if someone else gets upset with your child. I’m not sure if it’s possible to avoid this dynamic. It just kind of is what it is.

That being said, this blog is the one chance I get to publicly do what many people do on a regular basis, which is armchair quarterback the sermon. I realize critiquing the worship service is simply Sunday lunch ritual for a lot of people. I get it. It comes with the territory. Rather than telling you to change your ways, I’m going to weigh-in myself. The approach is going to be this: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable” stats from my 2015 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year.


SERMON SERIES IN 2015

  • Ethos
  • The Great “I Am”
  • God in the Movies
  • The Dreamer
  • #blessed
  • Life After Life
  • Our Turn
  • Joy to the World

 

SERMON STATS FROM 2015

2015 Sermon Stats
FAVORITE SERMON: “Interstellar” from God in the Movies
WHY: There were a few sermons that were really fun for me to preach on a personal level, so it was hard to pick my absolute favorite. It was a year in which I got to share the stage with my dad, which was a huge highlight for me. I also had a few moments of personal insight[3] that led to the message scratching the creative itch for me. These were messages like “The Colors God Uses” in the series on Joseph called The Dreamer and even a few of the recent messages in our Advent series called Joy to the World.

With that being said, “Interstellar” was the way I would preach on a regular basis if context weren’t something you have to take into account. It combined elements from recent culture, science, philosophy, and was a sermon that was a form of what I would call “micro-apologetics.”[4] There was a mountain of information to cover, so this was a rewarding process in whittling it down as much as possible to what was essential. It was also challenging to work in ways to keep people engaged, which was part of the idea behind using the chalkboard and throwing the ball into the congregation how I did in this message. All in all, it was the message I was most proud of in 2015.


LEAST FAVORITE SERMON:
“LOCAL/GLOBAL” from Ethos
WHY: There are certainly messages I personally liked less, and there were messages that were less effective than this one, as well. I will also say that the most stressful sermon was sharing the stage with my dad. He did a fantastic job answering some incredibly difficult questions. On the flip side, the dialogue or “interview with commentary” style as a form of communicating is drastically different than preaching.

But the reason “LOCAL/GLOBAL” was my least favorite message is because there were way too many people who walked away thinking I am against global missions (as if that’s even something that is optional for a church or an individual disciple of Jesus).[5] Part of this may have been due to the fact that this was the first message in the series. I think it took a while to understand that we’re not opposed to doctrine, nor do we believe the Church should ignore the needs of “insiders.” For whatever reason, though, this message was received a lot of different ways, which is, first and foremost, on me as the communicator.


FAVORITE SERIES:
The Dreamer
WHY: The best reason I can give you for this being my favorite series is I got really enthralled with the details of Joseph’s story. It stands out in Scripture for a reason and is an amazing story of faith. Joseph is someone that I felt like I could relate to in many ways, yet he is simultaneously one of those people in the Bible that is in rarified air when you look at all he endured. All I can say is that means the author recounted Joseph’s story in the most captivating way possible. To tell a story in such a way that you can relate to someone who is nearly “untouchable” is unique. I’ve already thought back on Joseph’s life and his example of faith countless times since this series.


LEAST FAVORITE SERIES:
#blessed
WHY: Starting a new semester in a “college town” is always a difficult task because of the mixture of listeners you are going to encounter the first few weeks of the semester. Inevitably, we are going to have young people trying us out for the first time and making snap judgments on what we’re all about as a church. You also have families looking to get connected to a new church during this time of year, which is a completely different “audience” than college students. On top of all of this, you have the core of our church who also needs to grow and be challenged in their faith, and hearing some of the most fundamental aspects of our church get repeated too often can cause the vision to become stale for this group over time. And just for fun, you get to do all of the legwork of starting a new series with this complicated concoction of listeners. I’ll just say it’s not my favorite time of year to preach.

On top of all of the normal fun during that time of year, I was not pleased with how I executed as a communicator within this series. I felt as though I was extremely faithful to the text in the messages, but I didn’t do a great job of connecting the text (usually one or two verses) to the chapter it is in, the primary themes in Luke’s gospel, the message of the New Testament, and the major theological strands throughout the entire Bible.[6] All in all, the stakes were high and I felt as though it was important to set the stage for what was around the corner for our congregation. In doing so, I missed some key opportunities to be as clear as I needed to be with certain aspects of the Gospel message for those who were dropping in for the first time. I have to trust that the Spirit connected the dots for people despite my ineffectiveness.


CLOSING THOUGHTS
Overall, 2015 is a year that I am really proud of when I look back on all that we covered. I love being able to teach Scripture on a regular basis and realize that it’s a privilege, not a right. I believe preaching changes things and carries an inherent eternal value and weight. That’s probably one reason why it’s not always easy or “fun.” However, it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing and is something I want to keep getting better at over time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what stood out to you over the last 12 months. What was something you learned over the last year? In what new ways did God shape you as a disciple? What books of the Bible or topics would you personally like to see covered in 2016? Go ahead and share those lunch conversations you’ve already had in the comment section below.


[1] For those “purists” that think the Holy Spirit can only work in the moment, I think that is a fundamentally flawed idea. Spontaneity is not a pre-requisite for the Spirit to work. If that’s the case, then the Incarnation wasn’t a true work of the Spirit of God because it was prophesied thousands of years before the birth of Christ. What I find to be more inspiring and humbling is when the Spirit works in my sermon planning months in advance to reach someone in a unique way down the road.
[2] What is really fun is preaching a message that I know is falling flat a second time in our multiple service/multiple campus model!
[3] Call it “revelation,” if you will.
[4] This is when I begin by asking how this Scripture can be true because it sounds crazy on an initial, surface reading of it, and then we work to unveil the truth that your average person, no matter their worldview, agrees upon behind the text.
[5] The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is not optional or “a piece of good advice” for followers of Jesus.
[6] This method of biblical interpretation is a skill I plan on teaching in the spring of 2016.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming the Father

On Sunday at Harris Creek, we studied the most famous parable Jesus ever taught, popularly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”[1] Judging by the response to this sermon, we still love this story today as much as ever, and for good reason. However, heading into this message I was worried that I might contribute to a problem I’ve battled since I’ve been in ministry. I was afraid that I would unintentionally feed into our desire to justify our sin, whether that sin is outright rebellion like the younger son or self-righteous rebellion like the older son.

In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen best summarizes the concern I had heading into this message. He says, “If the only meaning of the story were that people photo 1sin but God forgives, I could easily begin to think of my sins as a fine occasion for God to show me his forgiveness. There would be no real challenge in such an interpretation. I would resign myself to my weaknesses and keep hoping that eventually God would close his eyes to them and let me come home, whatever I did. Such sentimental romanticism is not the message of the Gospels.”[2] Nouwen goes on to say that the call in this parable is for us all to eventually become “the father” in the story. Of course, Jesus has placed God in the role of “father” in this parable. That is obvious. However, this does not mean we are destined to be one of the two rebellious children for all eternity. In other words, there is a reason Jesus says, “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”[3]

photo 2Becoming adopted children into the family of God and co-heirs with Christ is part of the transformation and regeneration that happens for the believer.[4] As a father, I can tell you nothing causes me to swell with pride more than when others say that one of my children looks like me.This is particularly the case with my son, Camden.[5] I believe the same is true when it comes to our Heavenly Father. God wants His children to rediscover what it means to be made in His image. However, we can only see this happen in our lives if we choose to enter into a meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father, through Jesus, and forsake our rebellious ways.

“The Parable of the Prodigal Son” is an amazing story about the grace and love of God. Some have even gone as far as to call it “the gospel within the gospels.” It has certainly earned its reputation and should, without question, shape our understanding of God; it is also helpful to remember it’s only one parable amongst many. To treat this parable as a license to continue living in sin is to miss the point of the story and is an indicator that you have actually missed out on the grace of God altogether. My prayer is that this famous teaching would remind us of God’s kindness and compassion, and that God’s kindness would lead us to true and authentic repentance.


[1] I talked on Sunday about why I believe it’s more appropriately called “The Parable of the Two Sons.”
[2] Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Pg. 123
[3] Luke 6:36, New Living Translation
[4] See Paul’s explanation of this in Romans 8:12-17.
[5] And no, this is not because I’m sexist. This is because I don’t want my daughter, June, to be cursed with my looks. She’s fortunate that she looks like her mom so far!

Engaging the Culture

One tension Christians throughout the ages have wrestled with is how we are to relate to the culture around us. There are groups of well-meaning Christians that arrive at far different conclusions when it comes to this subject. At one extreme, there are people who attempt to live lives that are completely separate and distinct from the world around them. Their posture towards culture is generally defensive and guarded. On the other end of the spectrum, there are believers who look no different than the world around them because they want to be known for “engaging the world.” The tendency in this camp is to blindly consume all that culture has to offer. The challenge for every Christian is to learn how to thoughtfully and prayerfully engage the world without becoming a product of the world.

Raphael's painting of Paul at Mars Hill
Raphael’s painting of Paul at Mars Hill

Acts 17 contains one of the best and most famous examples of how we can approach this subject as Christians living in an increasingly pluralistic society.[1] While alone in Athens, the Apostle Paul becomes a student of the culture he finds himself in and engages the people of Athens in a way they could understand. He engages people in this context by using pieces of their culture to explain the story of the Gospel. In verse 23, he uses a false idol to explain the Gospel. In verse 28, he quotes famous Epicurean poets, the rock stars of their day, to again point to Christ. Paul took things the people of Athens already believed and reframed them in a way to help them understand the truth found in Scripture.

In the same way, I believe we are called to be students of the culture God has placed us in so that we can point people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. The technical word for this is “contextualization.” Alan Roxburgh says, “Contextualization means ‘weaving together,’ and when applied to theology, it is the process of using conversations to interweave the gospel into every aspect of local life.”[2] The interweaving of the gospel into “every aspect of local life” does not mean we are called to awkwardly force the gospel into every conversation; rather, it means the gospel is already present in every aspect of life.

This approach to evangelism is predicated and built upon a fundamental belief, and that is God is already at work in the world around us. We simply need to have eyes to see where God is working and get better at learning how to reveal this work to others. To say it another way, our job is not to “bring truth” to the culture we live in. Truth is already present in the world long before we arrive on the scene. Our job is to reveal the truth that is already present. The sooner more of us can grasp this subtle yet important distinction the better.


[1] See Acts 17:16-34
[2] Alan Roxburgh, Introducing the Missional Church, Pg. 93

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.