Brian Mavis on Jesus’ Last Hours

I love the way Brian Mavis thinks and writes.  Here is a guest post from Brian on the 24 hour period that make up Jesus’ Last Hours:

A few years ago, inspired by the show “24,” I tried to lay out a timeline of Jesus’ last hours. I found it interesting to see all that happened in fewer than 24 hours. Thought you might like to see it too. This is my best guess at the timeline, helped by hour-marker clues given in the Bible.

JESUS’ LAST HOURS
Thursday
11:00 PM Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
Friday
12:30 AM Jesus is Betrayed Judas and Arrested
1:00 AM Jesus is Interrogated by Annas
1:00 AM Peter Denies Knowing Jesus
1:30 AM Peter Denies Knowing Jesus a Second Time
2:00 AM Jesus is Tried by Caiaphas. He is Mocked, Hit & Spat On
4:00 AM Peter Denies Jesus for the Third Time
4:00 AM Jesus is Imprisoned
5:00 AM The Sanhedrin Sentence Jesus to Die
5:30 AM Jesus is Taken to Pilate
6:00 AM Judas Hangs Himself
6:00 AM Pilate Hears the Case Against Jesus
6:30 AM Jesus is Taken to Herod to Be Tried
7:00 AM Pilate Resumes Jesus’ Trial
7:30 AM Jesus Is Beaten and Given a Crown of Thorns
8:00 AM Jesus is Sentenced to Die and Beaten
8:30 AM Jesus Carries Cross
9:00 AM Jesus is Crucified
9:00 AM Jesus Ask God to Forgive Us
9:30 AM The Soldiers Cast Lots for Jesus’ Clothing
10:00 AM Jesus is Insulted and Mocked
10:30 AM Jesus Tells One of The Crucified Criminals That He Will Be in Paradise with Jesus
11:30 AM Jesus Speaks to Mary and John
Noon Darkness Covers the Land
1:00 PM Jesus Cries Out to the Father, Asking Why He Has Been Forsaken
2:30 PM Jesus Says He Is Thirsty
2:50 PM Jesus Says “It is Finished”
2:55 PM Jesus Prays “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
3:00 PM Jesus Dies
3:00 PM An Earthquake Occurs
3:00 PM The Huge Temple Curtain Tears in Half Opening The Holy of Holies
3:10 PM The Roman Centurion Exclaims “Surely he was the Son of God!”
3:15 PM The Soldiers Break the Thieves’ Legs
3:20 PM The Soldier Pierces Jesus’ Side
4:00 PM Jesus is Laid in the Tomb


If you are interested in how I established the timeline, here is the gist of it: Continue reading

The Unsustainable Sermon Conclusion

I’ve been on a journey lately to notice powerful preaching and what makes it great.  It has been a wonderful learning journey so far and of course, along the way I have paid attention to the opposite:  what traits make for a damaging sermon?

I’ve come to the conclusion that a wise preacher is careful not to challenge people to something unsustainable or something she or he will not do themselves.

Oh man.  How many of my early pulpit attempts contained some kind of challenging conclusion that was unsustainable?  Thank God that my early sermons were in a vintage before podcasting – there is no record of those terrible attempts.

Back when the Prayer Of Jabez book was popular, I sat in an auditorium and heard a preacher give quite a powerful message on prayer.  But then at the conclusion he said, “Stand up if you’ll commit to pray the Prayer of Jabez every day for the rest of your life.”

You know what happened next.  Some people stood. Then a lot of people stood because they felt the social pressure to stand.  Everyone felt good making a public declaration to this daily prayer.  The preacher felt good seeing such a visible response to his challenge.

But $20 says that neither those people nor the preacher are praying that prayer every day now, 12 years later.

Pulling this sort of move feels good in the moment and creates a “wow” moment, but I think you win the battle and lose the war on this one.  Because this sort of move also creates unnecessary guilt in people who cannot fulfill this unkeepable promise.  And further more, us preachers are not in the habit of publicly repenting of our previous sermons.  By that I mean, we don’t get in front of our people and confess, “I know two years ago we all pledged to do X at the end of a sermon, but I’ve honestly forgotten to keep doing that pledge.”

And so in this vacuum of honesty people instead blame themselves for not being able to keep an unkeepable commitment.  They decide they are not as close to Jesus as the preacher, who is not keeping that promise either. Worse yet, they build a subconscious wall of cynicism toward preaching.

No, as I listen to great preaching, I’m struck by the common thread that a great sermon’s call to action is do-able, sustainable, concrete and within reach of every listener.  It certainly can and should contain a call to higher living, or shedding of one’s current ways, but it is careful to be authentic to what can actually be done.

Sheep or Shepherd?

funny-sheep-pictures-15

I think one of the temptations in church leadership is to forget our DNA.  We can forget we are 100% human being.  I think this is because we open the pages of The Authority every week and teach from it.  Over time, we can get confused and think that our thoughts about The Authority are the authority, but they are not.

Too many leaders believe they are exempt from “sheep status” and act as if they are a shepherd.  I have attended too many church leader conferences where the conference speaker talks in a derogatory way about “the sheep,” meaning “the people in our churches.”  Its a cheap hit that gets an easy laugh from the fellow church leader attendees.    But wait, aren’t we sheep too?

Yes, some people can be frustrating and difficult. They can be amazing too.  I would like to hear more church leaders share stories of what they have learned about God from the people they are leading in their church.  I have dozens, if not hundreds of examples of lessons and inspiration I have drawn from my fellow sheep.

When it comes to preaching, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we are his sheep.  Our job is to hear the shepherd’s voice. If you want to get technical, we sometimes inhabit the role of under shepherd or perhaps even sheepdog (!!) But even when we do, we are still very, very sheepesque.

We are fully human like the people we preach to.  Our DNA never changes due to theological training, preaching, leadership experience and spending time each week studying and listening to God.  Am I better at listening to God’s voice than other sheep?  Maybe, maybe not. I know that I am paid to spend time listening to it on behalf of my fellow sheep, but I am not the shepherd.

Of course, the Bible clearly teaches that leaders are overseers and shepherds responsible for the well being of our flock.  I have no intention of claiming otherwise, but this command is one of function not of DNA.  We function as a shepherd in our protection and care of people, but we are still sheep through and through.

We suffer the same foibles and sins as our people and we ought to posture our message as one most in need of hearing it.  We never gradate to be above the people we preach toward.  Our preaching posture is that of “fellow sheep” not that of “shepherd teaching the sheep.”

SermonSmith Podcast Review

I’m always on the hunt for a great resources in the craft of preaching and recently discovered a gem in a podcast called “Sermonsmith.”  The host, John Chandler interviews various preachers to learn about their preparation habits, goals of preaching, philosophy and influences.  But John also digs into the nuts and bolts of preparation, process, how the preacher spends her or his week etc.  The interview is a great balance between vision and execution.

John is a church planter and a natural interviewer.  He gets quality content out of his guests, is never in the spotlight and creates a very low key conversational mood.  I’m only 3 episodes in, but already marvel at the variety of approaches and preparation styles used.  There really is no one correct way to prepare a sermon.

But for preaching nerds out there, it will feed your inner geek to hear how others approach the craft and creativity of week in/week out preaching.

The Litmus Test for Any Church

litmus-test

The Litmus Test: Can I bring my unchurched friends to this church?

Will I have to prepare them before hand or can they just show up?

Will I have to translate for them so they can participate without feeling like an outsider?

Will I have to apologize to them afterward?

Will they encounter Jesus when they come?

The apostle Paul said that the gospel is a stumbling block.  It sure is.  It always has been an anathema to the human condition.  It is bad news before it is good news.  But the church ought not be a stumbling block.

The church ought to be as welcoming as Jesus.  And people ought to be able to belong before they believe.  How’s your church doing on this litmus test?

Review of Donald Miller’s “Scary Close”

“Tell me the truth, but tell it slant.”  Emily Dickinson

I read Donald Miller because he tells it slant. His writing is vulnerable, witty, but most of all provocative.  Not so much in a controversial way (although sometimes….) but in the purer sense: Donald Miller provokes thought, engaging the reader to find themselves in his journey.

His latest work Scary Close chronicles his insight into his relationship habits, looking at friendship, parenting, dating and ultimately marriage.  The meat of the book revolves around his relationship with his now wife, Betsy, from meeting to dating to engagement etc, but also covers previous relationships, friendships and business dealings.  The book is vintage Donald Miller in that it contains hilarious moments and profound insights into human behavior. I highly recommend it.

My two favorite themes:

1) Too many people expect too much from another person and from God.  He told a hilarious story about his speech at his own wedding rehearsal dinner where he critiques the famous Jerry Maguire “You complete me” speech.  He told the crowd, “Betsy doesn’t complete me and I don’t want her to.”  He felt most of the crowd turn on him, wondering what sort of cold hearted jerk Betsy was hitching her future too.  I was laughing out loud at the idea of tanking your own wedding rehearsal speech, but he’s right.  He pushes the idea further when he also shows that even God doesn’t fill that longing this side of heaven. Loneliness is simply part of the human condition.  Two profound ideas from this:  “Betsy doesn’t fill my loneliness, but she’s the best companion for it,” and ‘the longing, loneliness and pain that humans experience is all fodder to produce character in me.”

Continue reading

Soul Health Triggers

Most pastors I know dangerously blur the lines between their identity as God’s child and their calling as a pastor.  Consistently blurring these lines can be deadly to the soul.  For the record, I am one of the “most pastors I know.”

Here is a litmus test that my soul is on a unhealthy trajectory and I need to either take a break, work harder on my day off or reset my approach to ministry:

1) When church matters are the last thing on my mind before falling asleep and the first thing when I wake up.

2) When I fail the Dallas Willard litmus test, “Are you more irritable than usual?  Are you more impatient than usual?”  If I ask myself these questions and find myself getting angry at Dallas Willard, that’s a sign.

3) When for several weeks in a row, I’ve said to my wife, “wow, that was a big week!”   And by “big week” I mean: intense issues, or several nights of work.  Its amazing how easily I can forget that I’ve had 6 or 7 “big weeks” in a row.

4) When I cultivate a growing indifference to people’s problems and pain as a defense mechanism for my own heart.

5) When I can’t seem to read my Bible without thinking of a sermon thread, or talk to God without only talking about church matters and church people.  Whatever happened to enjoying God and His word instead of using both as a work tool?

6) When I fail the question, “Do I relate to God more as his employee or his adopted child?”

Care to share your litmus list?

I’d love to post more, but this week I’ve failed too many of these, so I’m heading outside to walk the dog and enjoy the gift of being alive.

(this post was first published in 2011 and dusted off for a redux in 2015.)  

Applying for a Job Part 1: a Heart for Unchurched People

Discovery is currently searching for an Associate Pastor of Preaching and Community.  We posted an ad just over one month ago.  We’ve received 130+ inquiries and 78 full applications. There are a lot of good people looking for exciting ministry opportunities.

Almost every candidate, in some way or other, lists that they have a heart for unchurched people.  But as we look through their materials, only 15% or so seem show that they have time for unchurched people.  (if any past or current candidate is reading this, no I do not have one specific person in mind! I’m addressing an overwhelming trend I’m seeing)

If you have a heart for unchurched people but not a calendar for unchurched people, you don’t have a heart for unchurched people.  

It would never fly to say you have a heart for your spouse or children, but never spend time with them.  Never listen to them, their desires, fears, interests. Never get into what they are into.  Never inconvenience yourself and what you want to do with what they want to do.  But somehow, in church leadership, we think we can do this.  And hey, I totally get it, ministry jobs can put you on a momentum away from unchurched people if you are not careful.  

But reality check time:  there is very little distance between heart and time in today’s world.  Got a heart for someone?  Show me your calendar and I’ll show you your heart.

This is a non negotiable for us at Discovery.  On any given week, between 15 – 30% of our attendance would identify as unchurched.  Three of the many reasons for this:

1) Our people know that if they bring their friends, they will not have to translate or apologize for what their friends experience.  They will be equally welcomed from the lobby to the communion table to the pulpit.

2) All our “upfront” communications assume a courtesy toward an “unchurched” person, albeit intellectual skeptic or reluctant attender.  Our worship leader does this, our announcements are shaped through this lens and so is our sermon.

3) Our preachers spend preparation time wondering how the message would hit a skeptic.  What would their objections be? What about this seems foreign, weird, crazy, stupid?  And we build these objections back into the sermon.

Tim Keller and Erwin McManus are excellent examples of this.

Let this passion for the unchurched escape your heart and find its way onto your calendar. And if it finds its way onto your calendar long enough and if you listen more than you speak. If you come with a posture to learn, more than a posture to convince, If you pay attention to what these people are saying:  their hopes, fears, annoyances, objections to Jesus….

Then this passion will surely find its way into your pulpit.  And then these people will find their way into the church.  And when they hear you preach, they will not so much feel preached to as much as they will feel listened to.   They will not so much leave your sermon saying, “this person is really convincing” as much as they will say, “this person really understands me.”

Craddock the Giant

craddo1

Fred Craddock died over the weekend.  He was 86 years old.

His influence belied his small stature, extending to tens of thousands of pulpits around the world.  I cannot overstate how much he influenced my approach to scripture, story telling and preaching.

I first encountered Dr Craddock when I was a teenager in Western Australia.  Our preacher’s son, David Timms had returned from his theological education in USA.  He preached at our church and I’d never heard any sermon like it.  Winsome, gentle, inviting, provocative.  I was hooked.  David’s sermon was “Craddockesque” and he closed with a powerful story authored by Fred Craddock.  That was the kind of preacher I wanted to be.

With David’s influence, I enrolled at Johnson University,  Fred Craddock’s Alma Mater.  Dr Craddock came through town to give a lecture on the synoptic gospels.  Our professor, David Reece, took us to spend a day listening to the maestro.  6 hours of content, no notes.  Ninety minutes each on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.  Craddock was as fascinated by “why does Luke want us to notice this?” and “How does John arrange his stories?” as “what is Jesus saying here?”  I was fascinated by Craddock’s fascination.  That was the kind of Bible student I wanted to be.

To pay homage to my hero, here are a few lessons I learned from Dr Craddock:

1) Let the text work on you before ever opening a commentary.  If you begin by asking “scholar questions” you will end up with a “scholar sermon.”  First ask human questions before ever turning to the scholars.  Craddock, a world class New Testament scholar himself often said, “scholars can ruin a lot of good sermons.”  To be clear, he was pro scholarship and warned of the danger of a preacher going too far down his own path.  But his challenge was to FIRST ask the same sorts of questions of the text that the person in the pew would ask and to let that shape the message.  He was a PhD New Testament Scholar but he always came across as the fellow traveller on the journey of life.  He harnessed scholarship to serve every day people.

2) Preach in such a way to put the listener in a dynamic relationship with the text.  Dr Craddock was an early lone voice to shift preaching from proving a point to crafting an experience that gives room for the listener to draw his or her own conclusions.

3) 15 hours of prep, 30 minutes of resolution BAD.  To summarize Craddock: “why spend all that sermon preparation wrestling with the text, trying to figure out what it means, the implications, the challenges etc, only to resolve it for people in a 30 minute sermon?  Instead, structure your sermon to provide a framework for your people to wrestle 15 hours this next week.”  I wonder if this is why Craddock was so famous for crash landing his sermons.  In “What Shall I Do With The Gift” Craddock preaches for 26 minutes and doesn’t make his main point until the last 26 seconds of the message.  25 minutes in and Craddock is still cruising at 30,000 feet, when suddenly, within 30 seconds he’s done, sitting back down on the front row in silence while the rest of us are thinking, “wait, its not finished yet.” I have listened to that message over a dozen times and each time I ponder it for hours.

4) Effective preaching is as much about the audience as the text.  This isn’t pandering, it is connecting.  Craddock shaped preaching away from how it is spoken to how it is heard.  A subtle difference?  Craddock says it is all the difference and that is why people from all walks of life love Craddock’s sermons.  They fit as comfortably in Yale’s Chapel as they do in Appalachian Georgia.

5) A well told story never needs to be explained.   Craddock always advocated for the intelligence of the listeners, but too many preachers are heavy handed when connecting the dots.  When you attend a play, the director doesn’t come out at intermission and say, “Aren’t we all like the lead character, Daryl?”  Let the story do its own work and trust the intelligence of the listener to connect.  They will connect much deeper when you don’t try to hold their hand.

6) Not just “what does the text say” but “what does this author want us to notice?”  Before Craddock, I’d never thought much about the difference between Matthew and Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, but since Craddock, I always ask this vital question and it  brings the text more alive.

7) Find your voice and preach your way.  Craddock was famously short with a high pitched voice.  He came to influence in an era of 6′ tall baritone and bass preachers who’s very posture commanded authority.  Craddock said, “It would be ridiculous of me to try to barge in the front door of the heart.  With my size and voice, I have to climb in through the back window.”  He was a master at understanding the natural human resistance to a message.  We’d come in to listen to a sermon with the front door of our heart dead bolted shut.  Craddock would be rummaging around in our hearts before we ever realized we’d forgotten to lock the back window. He used what God had given him to a stunning advantage.

8) Finally, only preach what matters.  Late in life after a generation of teaching Homiletics and New Testament, Craddock retired and found himself planting a church in Georgia.  His pledge to them was, “I will only ever preach on things that matter.”  Too many sermons are too small for the gospel. They don’t match the burdens, wonder, excitement and fears of the listeners. Craddock says, “It is as if the preacher walked the whole way around God and took pictures.”  They have shrunk the grand mystery and power of the gospel down to their explanation.  They simply don’t matter.  Preach what matters to people and you’ll get a front row seat to spiritual hunger and growth in your people.

Thank you Dr Craddock for your profound influence on my life and the lives of tens of thousands of others.  I sit in my chair, about to continue sermon preparation for this week.  Your commentary on Luke is open and ready.

You have no equal in the pulpit, but I’m forever grateful for your influence.