Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Considering Shorter Sermons


For all of 2018 I’ve been trying to preach shorter sermons, largely in vain.

I found that I was preaching in the 40-45 minute range. I really wanted to be around 35 minutes. Why?

According to CavWife, this is my sweet spot. I’m not exactly sure about that. She is dealing with the kids, so when I go longer it puts some pressure on her.

ThatImage result for preaching is the point, I don’t want to put pressure on her or other parents. I want to love them by giving them God’s Word but not in such a way that it becomes overwhelming in dealing with kids.

While our members have raised no complaints about the length of my sermons (it was a bit different in FL but that may be a different blog), I need to consider visitors. I have literally had visitors walk out near the end of sermons. I exceeded their acceptable sermon length.

Should I care? I think so. We are made of dust, weak and limited. People have different limits. While I don’t want to concede to the lowest common denominator, say 20 minutes (oh, Florida popped up), I shouldn’t be insensitive to the needs and limits of others. I have to find a relatively happy medium.

This will also help shorten our service. We celebrate communion weekly, so I’d like the service as a whole to be 90 minutes or under. Under would be good.

We have, I think, a meaningful service. I don’t want to chop out the call, confession of sin or faith, pastoral prayer or Scripture readings which support the sermon text. Music and singing is important too. We have shortened our prelude but the easiest and most consistent way to be under 90 minutes is to preach about 35 minutes.

Two Sundays ago I preached about 45 minutes. CavWife noted this to me. It was a bit shorter than some recent sermons in my Issues from Genesis mini-series. But still longer than I wanted, and thought going into the sermon. I jokingly asked her which 10 minutes should I remove. She said it was good and couldn’t think of something to remove.

I noted this to one of our long-time members. He noted that sometimes I can repeat myself. Yes, he’s right.

So I decided to think some on Monday morning. I wrote a few things on my whiteboard:

  1. Remove redundancies.
  2. Limit cross references to the most pertinent & important.
  3. 1 illustration per subject. Don’t over-illustrate.

It is important to choose a proper text size so you can meaningfully explain and apply the text in the allotted time frame. At times we can be redundant (I can), bringing up an idea you discussed in an earlier point. That adds time unnecessarily to your sermon.

I tend to read cross references- letting the Scripture speak- and this takes some time. When I put together my outline I know that 8 inches down the page is where I want to be. But then I put in the Scripture quotations. Too many add too much time. So I need to be more economical in choosing which ones I read and which ones I may just mention the reference to.

Sometimes I can fall in love with illustrations. I know that not all illustrations speak to all people. But I need to limit them since they add time. Too many illustrations can make things more complex as well.

The first attempt? 35 minutes! That is just one sermon, but hopefully it is a step in the right direction to achieving this goal. Let’s see.

Advertisements

Considering The Long Run


I Image result for the dudewasn’t planning on doing an Eagles record next. But I watched The History of the Eagles. I’m almost afraid to put an Eagles’ album on here. The scene when the Dude is in the taxi declaring his hate for the Eagles is quite hilarious. They were popular, almost too popular when they imploded after the tour for The Long Run.

It was tempting to list Hotel California. It has some great songs on it like Life on the Fast Lane. The famous riff was …. an exercise Walsh did that the other guys heard and said, “What’s that?!”. Yes, another hit song derived from an exercise (like Dust in the Wind and Space Truckin’). Life sure is weird. It also has Victim of Love which Felder really wanted to sing. But when you have “Golden Throat” Henley … that just makes more sense.

The Eagles The Long Run.jpgDespite the fact that it took them 18 months to produce The Long Run, in part due to being burned out and in part due to snorting too much cocaine, I think it is a better album than the illustrious Hotel California. I never cared what critics thought.

The first song, The Long Run, was almost prophetic. Would their relationships make it in the long run? Certainly didn’t look like it as personal tensions tore them apart. Henley claims the song was about the new music that had emerged. The Eagles were considered dinosaurs, but whose music would last? While the band broke up, their music survive on the new Classic Rock radio format.

Things slowed down for the ballad I Can’t Tell You Why. It is a stripped down song with a nice little guitar run in it. Timothy B. Schmit, who had just joined the band, brought the partially written song with him. He sang the completed song, having a hit before his dream melted away from him.

But it gets back to upbeat with the Joe Walsh song from The Warriors, In the City. Like the movie, it was a bleak sort of view of the city. It had classic Eagles harmonies to go with Joe’s classic guitar sound.

DImage result for the eaglesisco Strangler is a strange song musically. It is guitar driven, but not a typical Eagles song. It is about our quest for recognition, to be desired, which meets a sad end in the hands of a serial killer. Felder is reputed to have written it using a disco beat despite the fact that the band disliked this new style. Perhaps they really thought disco would kill rock music.

It is a return to ballads for the King of Hollywood. Not their best song.

Back to rock with side 2’s first song and hit, Heartache Tonight. It has the sound of an old J. Geils blues romp. It is a fun sounding song about the fact that disappointment seems to find us.

Then the guitar driven Those Shoes. Almost like Steve Martin’s cruel shoes put to music. But not quite. Those shoes are the kind you go out in, and make mistakes in. Always liked this song.

Teenage Jail is not a very memorable song but the guitar part was interesting. This would be one of those which disappointed the critics.

It is another party song throw away with The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks. The chord progression is interesting and the lyrics playful but …

The album closes with the ballad The Sad Cafe. Plenty of classic harmonies around Henley’s vocals. It is this albums version of The Last Resort.

I’ve got memories of listening to this album on my Sony Walkman in the back of the car while on a college campus visit. I was visiting Manhattanville College. It was a women’s only college that the Kennedy girls when to (supposedly) that went co-ed. I had a good scholarship and was accepted into a 6-year law degree program with NY State law school. I didn’t accept it. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I did. Would I have spent too much time at the pub on campus (at the time the drinking age in NY was 19 and I would turn 19 a few short months into my college experience). So much better than posing as Seth Rothstein on a fake ID in Boston. But would I have dated Liz if I’d gone that far from home? Would I turn into a miserable lawyer who drinks too much whiskey and thinks its romantic to have the occasional cigarette (this is how I pictured my future at the time minus the misery)?

During my time between pastorates, when I was under-employed and miserable, I wondered about that decision. But I was where I needed to be. Sometimes things fall apart, but it’s okay. The Eagles fell apart after this album, but that was alright.

 

 

Considering Machine Head


Time to shift to the 70’s in looking at my favorite albums.

We also shift to what is probably my favorite band over the years. And my favorite incarnation of the band: Mach II.

Deep Purple was a bit of a progressive band that covered a few songs for singles as they pumped out 3 albums quickly in the 60’s. They had some initial success in the U.S. with Hush.

But then Ritchie Blackmore heard Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin, and knew it was time to make a change if they were to compete. Ian Gillan, who had turned them down previously, accepted this time. And he brought Roger Glover with him to be the new bassist.

In Rock was Ritchie’s statement with the British edition beginning with a frenzied guitar piece. The follow up, Fireball, had some hard rock on it but it was not as consistent. Gillan really liked it. Even early on it seemed those two men struggled for control. Jon Lord had conceded to Blackmore but Gillan never would. But I get ahead of myself.

Machine Head album cover.jpgMachine Head was sort of the album that broke it all wide open for Deep Purple. This album would form the core of their live shows until Gillan left the band. While Smoke on the Water, with its famous riff, is the most well-known, Highway Star and Space Trucking still get plenty of airplay. Alice Cooper seems to play the later on his radio show pretty frequently. This is an album with no bad songs, in my estimation. I like them all. The album is too short, about 36 minutes if I remember correctly. It needed another song. It had one, but Ritchie vetoed When a Blind Man Cries. Gillan loved the song and it ended up as the B-side of a single. After Blackmore’s departure during The Battle Rages On tour, it would join the setlist from time to time.

Highway Star was initially written on a whim, or should I say a request from a reporter. He asked them how they write a song. They wrote one in the van on the way to a gig. Early versions have different lyrics. Gillan’s lyrics still aren’t anything to write home about, but his voice and the music is what matters. It begins with the bass and Ritchie hitting power chords. Paice begins to pound those drums. Then Gillan’s scream echoes in a classic intro.

Blackmore didn’t write out solos ahead of time. But this time he did. And it was worth it! He put together one of the greatest solos recorded. Making it even better was the interplay with Jon Lord’s organ, one of the signatures of the Deep Purple sound. It would be their standard opener for many a tour with Gillan. During the Coverdale years it was removed from the set.

The albums slows from Highway Star‘s frenetic pace with a love song of sorts- Maybe I’m a Leo. It starts with a drum roll and Ritchie playing a blues riff. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what this song is about. Perhaps cowardice with the “Maybe I’m a Leo but I ain’t a lion.” Still a good song. The organ hangs in the background thru most of the song with the focus on guitar, drums and vocals. This is a slower solo that is more about feel than technique. A live version of the song shows up on the In Concert album, featuring two album releases recorded live for the BBC.

The next song begins with even more drums, a mini-solo of sorts before Ritchie tears it up. Pictures of Home is a great song. It doesn’t show up in any of the live albums with Blackmore, but does after Morse took over. That is unfortunate. One of his weaknesses is his technical memory. He could only fit so many songs in his head, I think, and therefore they didn’t do as many songs or play as long as Led Zeppelin would. But they did have the long improvisational stretches. But I digress.  “I’m alone here, with emptiness, eagles and snow, unfriendliness chilling my body, and screaming out pictures of home.” Lord’s organ is more prominent in this song. RB’s riff is good though. Neither Ian is subdued in this song.

The first single off the album, Never Before, is next. It is a love lost song, and the main character is devastated. It is bluesy. It is good. But it wasn’t the best song off the album and it didn’t really go anywhere. Of course, neither did Smoke of the Water when it was initially released. It starts with Ian’s drums, again. Ritichie plays some blues before getting into the riff. Lord’s organ is simmering in the background during that mini-solo. Another drum roll, and the riff and lyrics begin: “Somebody, somebody, come to my side. I’m tired, I’m crying, I’m sick inside. Help me now, please my friend. I’ve never felt this bad before, never before…” This song, like Leo was on the In Concert album and then wasn’t played again until Morse took over on guitar.

These three songs share that distinction of not being part of the normal set list until Morse took over. Odd that the 3 less known songs on this album are all together, and on side 1. that is usually where you put your best songs.

The second side is only 3 songs long, but 3 incredible songs. The first is the signature song, Smoke on the Water, detailing the events of the fire that burned down the concert venue where they were set to record the album in Montreaux. Similar to Highway Star, it slowly adds in the instruments. Ritchie is first playing the iconic riff, Roger enters, then Paice. The solos are very good, but not the best on this album.

Lazy is best known for Ritchie’s guitar work but there is some harmonica in there too. His solos are among his most well-known. Lazy often shows up in the list of songs with the best guitar solos. The live version on Made in Japan is astounding, and different from most other versions as it begins with Jon destroying his organ. Or so it seems. Gillan seems to revisit his Catholic upbringing as the lyrics seem influenced by Proverbs and its warnings about the sluggard. Later live versions would use the song for Ian’s drum solo. After the reunion in 1984, the song would become more efficient.

The last song begins with another famous Blackmore riff. It came from a thumb exercise on the low E. Livgren would turn a finger-picking exercise into Dust in the Wind. Ritchie turned this into Space Trucking. They both came up with memorable songs. Part hard rock and part boogie this live staple would frequently be stretched out to over 20 minutes as it was mashed with instrumental sections from Mandrake Root.

There it is, a nearly perfect album in terms of songs anyway. The production was much better than some of their earlier albums, but still wasn’t as good as one would hope. Even for it’s time. But these songs…. this is the best Deep Purple album. Period. The Behind the Music episode on this album is very interesting.

This album wasn’t a hit at first. Those live versions on Made in Japan, originally slated as a Japan-only release to appease the record company were magic. The band realized this was worth releasing. People entranced by the album, went back to Machine Head.

It was a little too late though. The constant touring which helped make such amazing live performances, also wore down the members and exacerbated the tensions between Ritchie and Ian. A promising future would burn to the ground instead. The management, who wanted to maximize the profit ended up shorting themselves in the long run, assuming the two alpha dogs could co-exist. Not so sure about that. But they made some great albums and this is the best of them.


I’m getting older.

Last week I sat at a funeral and pondered the fact that soon we’ll begin burying our parents. I’m on high blood pressure medicine and trying to avoid medicine for cholesterol. The finish line of retirement is getting too close and I don’t have money to retire. I’m close to being too old to change congregations as a pastor. Windows are closing on me. I’m dealing with the fading of the flesh.

I want to see the flourishing of faith in my life. I want the renewal of the inner man as the outer man fades away.

What better book to read on vacation than The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock. I own the Works of Swinnock, a Puritan, and have read his material on prayer. This is a short reproduction by Reformation Heritage Books.

I didn’t finish it on vacation and it got bogged down in my post-vacation reading surge for a short topical sermon series. But I got through it.

Don’t let that dissuade you from reading the book. That was a me thing, not a it thing.

The basis of this book was a funeral sermon that Swinnock preached. It would be interesting to know how much of this was the sermon, since it is about 170 pages. I usually try to preach a homily, what I call sermons of about 20 minutes or less. CavWife jokes that 20-30 becomes the sermomily and over 30 is a full-blown sermon. This easily could have been one long funeral sermon.

It is broken into two main ideas, as indicated by the title. He wants people to face the futility of life and the “treasures” it offers. He calls people to seek their satisfaction in God as their portion. This is an exposition of Psalm 73:26. Much of it seems to be taken up with the negative, but he keeps coming back to what Piper would call Christian Hedonism in the 1980’s.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

There are chapter titles like: Man’s Flesh will Fail Him, The Folly of Living for the Flesh, Be Prepared to Die, How to Be Prepared to Die. As I said the futility of living for the flesh. Sowing there we will reap nothing by misery & condemnation.

Beginning chapter 9 the focus shifts to: God Is Man’s True Happiness, God Alone Is Sufficient to Man’s Soul, Portion of Sinners and Saints in the World to Come.

The chapters are relatively short allowing for devotional reading. You can work through the book as time permits. If you are like me, you hate stopping mid-chapter. You don’t need a big chunk of time to work through a chapter.

Who cares if it isn’t worth reading? It is worth reading. Even as a Christian for over 30 years, living for the flesh is always an ever-present danger. It changes over time and as you age. You can be preoccupied with health (I joke with some retired folks that going to the doctor is their new job), or retirement or “legacy”. The world still offers distractions from Christ.

We still need reminders of the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ as our portion. This book presses that home in a variety of ways.

I had a few minor quibbles. For instance, Swinnock is critical of Naboth for wanting to hang on to his inheritance. He seemed to take that out of its historical context in which that was part of the portion God provided. The villains of the story are Ahab and Jezebel who coveted his inheritance for themselves and destroyed him as a result. The walk away for that text is not that Naboth should have treasured God and sold his inheritance.

This is a book worth reading to reorient yourself as your flesh fades so God will be the portion you seek.


I’ve been swamped with reading lately, and this has meant too many books in process. My brain has been pulled in too many directions. To top it off I decided to preach on a series of “hot button” issues from Genesis. This meant reading a bunch of new books to prepare for these varied subjects.

In one case it meant picking up one of those books that I had started but had been languishing in the cabinet in our kitchen in which I keep my Bible and the books I’m currently reading at home. When God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (GTD) by Andrew T. Walker came out I bought it and started to read it. After a few chapters, it sat there waiting while I focused on other reading that was more pressing.

Since I was preaching on gender last Sunday, I resumed my reading of GTD.

The book has evangelical & Reformed street cred with a forward by Al Mohler and book cover blurbs by Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, Trevin Wax and (oddly) Rod Dreher. Walker will express a conservative and compassionate perspective on this issue. He avoids extremes that can so often be a trap for us. We tend to pit truth against love. He wants to uphold truth AND express love toward people who experience gender dysphoria.

He begins with Compassion and refers to Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus is the Truth and therefore spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet, Jesus was also compassionate toward the suffering. His is the example for ministry we should follow, but often don’t. In the Gospels we see Jesus healing people with no hope for healing, giving strength to burdened people, and engaging with the outcasts of society (due to disease or sin).

Walker wrote this book because of the cultural changes in the West. “Society is now attempting to help people who experience doubts and struggles with their gender identity, rather than push those people to the margins.” I’d go farther- they are pushing those people to the center. But I won’t quibble too much. He wants to help us think through these issues biblically, and love our friends, children or neighbors who experience these doubts and struggles.

“… remember that the God who speaks to you in the Bible is the same God who loves you so much that he came, lived, and even died to strengthen bruised reeds and fan flickering flames.”

Image result for bruce jennerBringing up Bruce Jenner, Walker then addresses How We Got Where We Are. Due to his cultural & historical stature, you couldn’t avoid media coverage of his dysphoria and going further to transgender. A public discussion ensued that was not limited to adults. Children, thru bathroom laws and sex ed courses, were being dragged into a discussion they are not able to process intellectually and ethically. Relativism has burrowed deep into our cultural understanding so that people with “narrow views” are pushed to the margins. Ours is now a post-Christian culture that doesn’t understand the Scriptures and wants to marginalize those who are still connected with this former majority worldview. Radical individualism and the sexual revolution are turning ethics upside down. We also see the influence of Gnosticism as the body becomes meaningless both in what it says (as part of the Book of Creation) and what we do to it. The person, their feelings or sense of self, matter more than the body (Nancy Pearcey explores this Cartesian dualism in post-modernism in her recent book Love Thy Body).

He then moves to The Language. He provides the working definitions he will use in the book for:

  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • gender dysphoria
  • transgender

This helps dispel any confusion about what he means going forward. I wish more people would do this. I was frustrated yesterday with a page in Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered where she didn’t define a key term in a discussion of temptation & sin.

The next chapter, On Making a Decision, focuses on how we can or should sort thru these issues by asking three important questions.

  • Authority: who has the right to tell me what to do?
  • Knowledge: who knows what is best for me to do?
  • Trustworthiness: who loves me and wants what is best for me?

Relying on ourselves is not the best answer to these questions. We have all followed our hearts (desires, feelings, great ideas) into disaster. He points us to the Bible which tells us a different, better, all encompassing Story that makes sense of our stories.

“A crucified Creator is a God who has the authority to tell us what to do, who has the wisdom to know what is best for us, and who has proved that he can be trusted to tell us what is best for us.”

He then discusses creation in Well-Designed. He covers the Story in declaring us made in God’s image, made with care. The blueprint for humanity is two complementary genders. God had a good purpose in created humanity this way. Our bodies, as part of creation, declare His praises (Ps. 19). He does caution us against baptizing cultural stereotypes in our discussion of gender. Sometimes we create dysphoria because of extreme views of masculinity and femininity. There will always be outliers. They don’t cease to be their biological gender. Jesus affirmed the creational design in a discussion of divorce in Matthew 19.

DRelated imageue to the fall & curse we see Beauty and Brokenness. We are glorious ruins, as Francis Schaeffer said. All of creation is a glorious ruin. Therefore we are beautiful but also broken. Adam & Eve’s Story is ours as well. We suffer from darkened understanding, futile thinking and disordered desires. We also suffer from broken bodies. There are people with genetic disorders. There are also people who due to darkened understanding experience real distress about their gender identity. “But experiencing that feeling does not mean that feeding it and acting on it is best, or right.” (pp. 67) In other words, some experience dysphoria, but some who experience it also act on it and try to live as the opposite of their biological sex. Dysphoria is a manifestation of our brokenness just like the rest of creation. We leave out God and creation from our thinking and people can live as if the dysphoria is speaking truth instead of lies to us.

Jesus offers us A Better Future than following our sometimes shifting and creation denying feelings and thoughts. Faith in Christ as our Savior unites us with Jesus who makes us a new creation. In sanctification we are renewed in God’s image, a process which is not completed in this earthly existence. Therefore we all wait for freedom, including many who struggle with gender dysphoria. With all of creation, we all groan. In Romans 8 the Spirit of Jesus groans with us in prayer as we struggle with the futility of creation due to the curse. We have the hope of the resurrection, the redemption of our bodies, when the futility will be removed from creation and our  bodies.

He then shifts to Love Your Neighbor. We should not use the truth as a club. Our attitude toward those who experience dysphoria or are transgender matters. Just like us, those people are made in God’s image and have dignity. We are therefore called to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are to love truth and people. Often we love truth but are motivated by self-righteousness, pride, fear or a desire to win.

Walker admits that there are No Easy Paths for those who are transgender or experience gender dysphoria. The more boundaries you’ve broken, the more difficult it will be. Some are content to change clothing and names. Some use hormones to change themselves. Others change their body with surgery. Coming to faith and sorting out what next becomes increasingly complex. They require great wisdom and a loving community of faith. There are two aspects to this. First, all Christians will bear crosses. Some are heavier than others, but all are to deny themselves as part of the ordinary Christian life. Second, this cross bearing is not forever. The resurrection will resolve all these outstanding issues we experience in an already/not yet salvation.

This is Challenging to the Church. We will need to face our own self-righteousness and fear to become welcoming toward people who believe but still struggle. They don’t want to. Just like we may not want to struggle with anger, pride, passivity, pornography etc. While set apart and devoted to Christ, we are not perfectly sanctified. We will need to listen to other people’s struggles and groan with them. We bear their burdens with them.

Walker continues with Speaking to Children, and then Tough Questions to wrap up the book.

This is a readable book. It is not overly technical but accessible to people who aren’t scientists or doctors. He offers clear, biblical truth. He also calls us to compassion in how we speak to people. This is not a “these people are bad” book. But one that wrestles with the reality of our fallenness (original sin), and the sufficiency of Christ. He unfolds this in a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm. This is a book deserving to be read by pastors and laypeople alike. I bought an additional copy for our library. Perhaps you should too.

Here is the sermon on the subject.

 


I was a reluctant Led Zeppelin fan.

I had a resistance to popular music, and everyone loved Zeppelin. They were a particular fav of the potheads. This did not endear them to me. And the radio played Stairway to Heaven to death. While it commonly wins those most popular song polls on classic rock radio, it is not my favorite.

Eventually I succumbed.

They released their first two albums in the 60’s. Both were in 1969. Like many bands in that era, their record companies kept demanding they go in the studio to make records. These two albums had the imaginative titles Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II. The music wasn’t creative either- just great blues-rock.

It was hard to choose which album to pick to represent them in the 60’s. LZ I had lots of love songs. LZ II had a bunch of sex songs. Tie goes to the clean album. It was released while they were already touring the U.S.. It would peak at #10 on the U.S. charts.

Of the 9 songs, 3 are under 3 minutes. 4 of the remaining songs are over 6 minutes. We see the beginnings of the excess that would mark rock music in the 70’s.

Good Times, Bad Times is our introduction to the band that was originally called The New Yardbirds. It is a song about love lost, betrayed, despite the claim “I still don’t seem to care.” One of those songs under 3 minutes it still finds time for an excellent solo by Page, and a nice bass run after the chorus. This is one of their attempts for a hit single, but it is a great way to start an album.

The tables are turned with Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, one of those songs over 6 minutes long. Page uses the acoustic guitar but the song still rocks, with crescendos featuring Plant screaming. It would be vocals like this which prompted Blackmore to realize Deep Purple needed a new vocalist that could keep up with the likes of Robert Plant. Goodbye Rod Evans; hello Ian Gillan.

For the next 6+ minutes we get to enjoy You Shook Me. It features Page’s distorted blues lines, and Plant on echo as they tear up an old blues number. Page’s guitar also slides in and out with fills and runs.

A colour photograph of Robert Plant with microphone and Jimmy Page with a double necked guitar performing on stage.As if that wasn’t enough, the next song is Dazed and Confused. It is simply one of their best songs which Jones laying down the heavy bass line, Bonham tossing in drum lines like a lead guitarist, Plant wailing and Page challenging sonic limitations with his guitar. This is an epic song.

Page breaks out the acoustic again for Your Time is Gonna Come, while Bonham pounds the drums. Plant is warning an ex-lover that what comes around goes around. Usually the rest of band doesn’t sing, but here they seem to join a chorus. Not quite the harmony of the Beatles. This is one of the few average songs on this album.

Page is featured on the short acoustic number Black Mountain Side.

Things get revved up though with Communication Breakdown featuring Page’s frenetic riff. Plant is wailing about relational difficulties that are driving him insane with the last of the short numbers.

I Can’t Quit You Baby is 4 minutes of blues, guitar effects and Bonham drums laying down the beat. The album ends with 8 minutes of How Many More Times as Plant laments over Page’s driving rhythm. It isn’t When the Levee Breaks, but it is still good.

This was a sign of good things to come for Led Zeppelin. They would become the biggest band in the world, known for 4 hour long shows before Bruce ever did it. But the constant touring would take its toll on the band with drug and alcohol problems bringing an end to the music before the audience was ready. This album remains one of the best albums of the 60’s, and one of my favorites.


I‘ve been preaching for over 20 years. I haven’t arrived. I still read books about preaching so I can, hopefully, become a better preacher. This year in particular I wanted to focus on my preaching. Earlier this year I read Tim Keller’s book on preaching. This more recent vacation I decided to read Zack Eswine’s Preaching to a Post-Everything World.

I really like his book, The Imperfect Pastor. From that book I picked up his idea of the “gospel waltz” and have used it in my preaching. Zack teaches homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary.  He also addressed our presbytery a few years ago, with material in The Imperfect Pastor. It was very helpful material. I had high hopes for this book.

I was not disappointed. An important part of what a book on preaching should do is help you look at your preaching and see what you can do differently so you can communicate more effectively. I didn’t want an echo chamber that merely encouraged what I was already doing.

He addresses preaching truth in a post-Christian context where the Bible isn’t the authority that it once was. There are competing worldviews that are often better known (and lived) by the people to whom we speak. We can know longer assume biblical knowledge and a biblical worldview. This adds to the challenge.

He begins by encouraging us to preach what is real. We want to help people connect what the Bible says to the reality they live in today. We identify that reality in the text.

“By the Context of Reality, I mean the mutual life environment that contemporary believers and unbelievers share in common with those to or about whom the biblical text was written that teaches us about the nature of reality.

By showing them this mutual context, they see that the text matters and can inform them about their similar struggles. The Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum, not is it read or preached in one.

At times we avoid aspects of reality. The Scriptures can uncover them. They can force us to talk about the things we’d rather not talk about.

He wants us to preach what is redemptive. We want to explore connection between creation, fall and redemption. He discusses Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus and expands it:

“The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers or nonbelievers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him or for those who resist God to properly regard him and to be reconciled to him.

We experience a fallen condition, a finite condition, a fragile condition (fra-gee-lay), and a faltering condition. Eswine explores these so that we are better able to connect the text to people’s need for Christ in these areas. In this context, he warns of moralism.

He deviates from the repetition by telling us to preach the stories. We need to help them understand the story. He encourages us to pay attention to parrot words (repeated words and phrases), These give us a clue as to the big idea of a passage. Any divine comments or assessments can also give us a hint as to the big idea of the story.

One of the most helpful ideas for me was inductive preaching. It was like one of those light bulb moments- “why hadn’t I seen that before?” Often the point of a passage is unclear until the end of the passage. We tend to frontload the big idea instead of exploring the text in the sermon to discover the big idea. This way people are engaged, curious, and the sermon follows the track of the story. I’ve begun to utilize an inductive approach more often. Let’s see if my congregation stones me.

He does discuss a deductive approach, but I’ve been utilizing one for decades. So …. not as useful for me. But that is just me.

He advises us to remember where we’ve been. We need to keep our presuppositions and personal history in mind. I’m not preaching to myself (that’s preparation) but people who don’t necessarily share my presuppositions and history. We can address how others look at the topic or text so they know others dissent, and therefore why we hold to this. We also share some of our history that connects with the text so they can see how truth works in a life. He calls this redemptive vulnerability.

“Redemptive vulnerability invites preachers to a general transparency with everyone, a specific vulnerability with a few.”

He also address how to face the inevitable criticism that comes. As well as the inevitable misunderstanding since the truth will generally offend the irreligious and religious, the progressive and conservative at times.

He moves into the second part about biblical models to explore. We are to follow God’s lead. You are not your favorite preacher. We have to find our own voice. We can all fall into this trap, especially if we listen to one person too much. I’ve been there, hearing another pastor’s intonation and going to myself “hold on a minute.” God wants to speak to them thru me, not me channeling my best Sinclair Ferguson impersonation (for an example). He speaks of the main voices as prophet, priest and sage (there is a footnote explaining this last one).

The Bible uses different kinds of language, all of what the people understood. We can use different kinds of language, as long as they are what the people understand. We can be scientific, poetic doctrinal etc. We can also preach in different cultural contexts. He groups them as churched, unchurched, and once-church or in-between.

“… the prophet primarily addresses the relational faithfulness of what we might to as a churched audience. The priest’s teaching maintains doctrinal clarity and integrity in audiences that are churched or in-between. The wise likewise address any audience. But I suggest that their fear-of-the-Lord approach to reality forms a communication approach that is accessible to nonchurched hearers.”

I think this is why Tim Keller is generally successful in NYC, but a lot of churched people (particularly pastors in the Bible Belt) get frustrated. He’s not speaking to them directly. He’s speaking to people with little to no biblical background. Therefore he doesn’t meet their shibboleths.

The next three chapters address those prophetic, priestly and sage (wisdom) paradigms that Eswine mentioned earlier. He then mentions that we should step outside and explore creation so we can speak about it. For instance, both Edwards and Spurgeon loved being outdoors, taking in God’s glory in creation and used illustrations from nature frequently.

The third part is about engaging the cultures of a post-everything world. He begins with accents: the biblical text’s, yours and your audience’s accents. He interacts with war passages in our age of terror as well. He helps us learn to speak about hell, addressing idols and devilish spin. He ends with crying out for the Holy Spirit.

I found this a helpful book as an experienced preaching pastor. There were some new ideas explored, old ones (to me) expanded and I felt encouraged. This is a book well worth reading for pastors experienced and inexperienced.