Archive for February, 2021

Any parent that has taken their family on a trip of any substantial distance is acquainted with the question, “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer until we get there?” In my case, it was my punishment for asking the question repeatedly as a child of my parents. As it has been said, you pay for your raisin’.

Abram’s journey led him to a geographical destination. He left Ur and travelled to Canaan. But I think we miss something if we limit his journey to one of physical travel. For in the midst of the geographical transition came a spiritual transformation. Not only did he have a change of address, he himself became changed.

The reader will note that his original name was Abram, which means “father is exalted.” And Abram lived up to that name, following Terah from Ur to Haran, where he remained until his father’s death. When Abram arrived in Canaan he eventually received a new name, Abraham, which means “father of multitudes.” This simple change of names reveals the transformation I’m talking about. As Abram, he was focused on his father. As Abraham, he received a new purpose, which was to become the father. And not just a father, the father of many people and many nations.

My point here is that while the story features a change of location, the real destination centered on the kind of person Abram was to become. And that principle is true of you and me. Not every destination God leads us toward requires relocation. Sometimes the destination God leads us toward is an internal redistribution of our values and the development of our character.

Like the proverbial family vacation, spiritual formation takes time. A long time. It may feel like we’re never going to arrive. But if we’ll relax and trust God to lead us through the journey we’ll be there before we know it and we’ll be better for it. What’s more, we’ll be glad we took the trip.

Categories : Out of Ur
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Feb
21

Relevant Sermons

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Years ago I came across a book by Os Guinness titled Prophetic Untimeliness. In it Guinness asserts, “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.” The challenge for the church is to be timely, not trendy. This comes not by being in step with the times, but having the courage to be out of step with the conventional wisdom of our present culture. The popular need for cultural relevance comes because of our fixation with time. But in reality, only that which is eternal is truly relevant. Guinness writes, “It takes the eternal to guarantee the relevant; only the repeated touch of the timeless will keep us truly timely.”

Those words bring to mind the words of the late Dr. Calvin Miller. In his book Preaching, Miller wrote that the greatest challenge preachers face each week is the decision between saying important things or saying interesting things. Or put another way, “Shall I say something important this week? Or shall I settle for merely being interesting?” Well put.

Preaching that truly makes a relevant impact is preaching that works toward helping people become more Christlike. Unfortunately, many sermons are aimed at helping people have better lives, better bodies, better financial security, better relationships, and better marriages (including better sex). If you study the teachings of Jesus, he pointed his listeners to living lives that love God and love others. And he did so without wearing a Rolex or a pair of $500 sneakers. Just sayin’.

Categories : Preaching
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Feb
14

Out of Ur: The Destination

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Much of Abram’s life had been spent in between his point of departure and his arrival in Canaan. While the biblical narrative doesn’t give us many details about Abram’s in between, we do learn some valuable lessons that can be of practical help to us today.

First, Abram was willing to pull up the anchor from his hometown of Ur and begin a journey into the future. God had spoken to him ever so clearly and he listened to the divine voice.

Second, along the way Abram faced a distraction that led him on a detour. Like Abram, if we are serious in undertaking the journey of obedience to God we will find the path is littered with distractions that can become detours. The danger of those detours is that we can “stop and settle.” Once we stop and settle, it can be just as difficult to pull up the anchor as it was when we first set out.

Third, just because we stop and settle doesn’t mean we have to remain stuck. It just means it is more difficult to reset the course and restart the trip toward our destination. Distractions can lead to detours, but they don’t have to remain our final destination. We can choose to follow the path to the land of promise or settle in the land of immediate gratification, filled with its counterfeits and substitutions.

If you continue to read the story, you’ll find there’s no magical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Abram’s tangible sense of having arrived is still a long way off into the future. But some how, in the midst of his journey, he must have had the growing sense that his new destination was his true home. And when we follow God’s direction to our divinely appointed destination, we too may find the serenity that comes with being home in a way that overshadows all other stops along the way.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief series of posts on Out of Ur. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, feel free to check out www.timdeatrick.com where you’ll find the archives to this newsletter and more. If you are enjoying the Out of Ur weekly email newsletter, forward it to a friend and encourage them to subscribe! Have a great week!

Categories : Out of Ur
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Feb
14

The Hardest Part of Preaching

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Most preachers have a routine of sermon preparation and delivery that has become natural and even reflexive. Some preachers prefer the study and writing, while others prefer the act of delivering the sermon. In order to be effective, preachers have to find a level of proficiency in both, otherwise the sermon will either be all heat and no light, or vice versa.

For me, the hardest part of sermon preparation has been the decisions surrounding what not to say. Allow me to explain.

I believe that the Bible contains the inexhaustible truths of God. So to select a text and then attempt to plumb the depths of every insight is impossible. When a pastor prepares a sermon, he or she brings all of their prior knowledge to the table, then adds the collective wisdom of reference works, commentaries, historical contexts, original languages and multiple English translations. This collection of scholarship, added to the revelation of God’s Spirit and personal experience, can yield an overwhelming amount of information. The temptation preachers have is to try to bring the entirety of their preparation into the pulpit. Thus, the sermon sounds like a book report rather than a message from God.

Years ago I had the honor of interviewing preaching and New Testament author and professor Fred Craddock for a paper I was writing for my doctoral program. When I asked him the question, “What is the hardest part of preaching?”, he quickly replied, “determining what not to say.” That insight has perhaps helped me in my personal preaching more than any other I have learned.

If preachers are disciplined about developing a “main idea” (Haddon Robinson), everything that is prepared for delivery must pass across that bar of judgment. The main idea serves as the litmus test for what is to be included and what is to be saved for another sermon on another date. If the information does not serve the main idea, then edit it, and focus more on illustration and application. One idea presented with clarity will have more impact than ten points that are unclear and overwhelming.

Remember, the goal of preaching is transformation of lives, not transmission of information.

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Feb
07

Out of Ur: The Decision

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Terah’s good intention to leave Ur and travel to the land of Canaan was disrupted at the half way point with a distraction. This distraction led him on an 80 mile detour to the city of Haran, where he stopped and settled. He put down roots in Haran and stayed there until he died. Distractions and detours can do that to us. The siren song of the shiny has an allure, that often over promises and under delivers. If you’ve read the story closely, you’ll see that Terah had named one of his son’s Haran. The name isn’t exactly the same as the city in the Hebrew language, even though it is spelled the same in English. The son’s name means “mountain.” You’ll recall that the city’s name means “crossroads.” The point is that many times what we perceive to be the pinnacle of success and achievement is merely nothing more than a crossroads where we have to choose between what is good and what is best. Terah was satisfied that he would be content with good enough, and he died without ever leaving his presumed mountain of accomplishment. In his own mind, he had arrived “on top.”

But Abram still had something stirring in his heart. His vision of Canaan had not evaporated. The death of his father served as a signal to pick up the original call to the land of promise. He made the decision to leave Haran and finish the journey. This would not have been an easy decision if you think about it in terms of ancient culture, for Abram would not just leave a place. He would leave all sorts of things behind.

At the age of 75, Abram left his homeland, his family, his potential inheritance, his position in the family, the family idols, his financial security, the familiarity of culture and community, and the faith of his childhood. But somehow his God given vision surpassed all of that. I’m sure he counted the cost, but the cost of leaving paled in comparison to the future reward of obedience.

One way to think about this is to consider the fact that Abram, by faith, left his certainty and journeyed toward uncertainty. His walk of faith was not void of doubt, for if you look at his life you’ll discover that Abram is often slow to believe. But in the midst of this uncertainty, he walked by faith and obedience. My friend Matt Manos once said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” As long as we demand a faith that is certain, we’ll remain in our Haran, and find that we’ve not just settled, we’ve become stuck.

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Feb
07

Why Sermons Are Boring

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An old time evangelist named Vance Havner once quipped that “most churches start at 11:00 sharp and end at 12:00 dull.” This elicits a chuckle from many pew occupants simply because it is often true. One of the arguments against church attendance has been the criticism that sermons are boring. Is it still possible in today’s information age? I have probably delivered more than my share of boring sermons, and I have a theory as to why I and many others are also guilty.

I believe the reason that sermons are boring, or at least perceived to be as such, is that they are written for the eye and not the ear. In other words, they are prepared much like one would write an essay and not a speech. Essays can be very compelling to read, but you may not wish to have one read to you.

So what is the difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear? Let me offer some observations about the distinctions.

First, writing for the eye includes longer sentences that can be more detailed and complex than typical speech. Speech can be be delivered in smaller bites and utilize repetition for emphasis that writing would not include.

Second, writing for the eye is more formal whereas writing for the ear is more informal and conversational. This is the difference between a saying a length of distance is 300 yards versus saying the same length equals three football fields.

The third difference is that writing for the eye is timeless and can be reviews over and over. Writing for the ear is timely, making its impact in an exact moment of time.

Next, writing for the eye is a one way conversation while writing for the ear is a two way conversation. Writers who publish papers and books do not have the benefit of immediate feedback that speakers do, allowing them to make on the fly edits based on the audience’s responses.

Finally, writers for the eye depend on punctuation to deliver emphasis compared to the speakers use of gestures and volume to deliver emphasis. An unspoken gesture, facial expression, or a pregnant pause are all tools that a speaker possesses that cannot easily be replicated on the printed page.

Sermon and speech writing is unlike any other form of writing, in that it is intended to be heard. Wise pastors and speakers will identify the difference between writing for the eye and for the ear, and will use that to enhance their preaching.

Categories : Preaching, Sermons
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