The Center of Life


Q: What is the shortest chapter in the Bible? A: Psalm 117
Q: What is the longest chapter in the Bible? A: Psalm 119
Q: What chapter is in the center of the Bible? A: Psalm 118

Facts: There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118. There are 594 chapters after Psalm 118. Add those numbers together and the result is 1188.

Q: What is the center verse in the Bible? A: Psalm 118:8
Q: Does this verse say something significant about God’s perfect will for our lives?
A: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

The next time someone says he or she would like to find God’s perfect will for his or her life and that he or she wants to be in the center of his will, just send him or her to the center of his Word!

My prayer for each of you: Dear Lord, bless my friends in whatever area of their lives you know they need this day. May their lives be full of peace, prosperity, and power, love, life, and laughter as they seek a closer relationship with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Better Mousetrap

Pulpit 1Although it was over 40 years ago, I remember well my seminary homiletics class. “Homiletics” comes from a Greek term signifying conversation or discourse. In the church, homiletics refers to the art of preaching, which is essentially the communication of truths, thoughts, ideas and concepts based on a specific portion of Holy Scripture delivered to a listening audience.

Properly done, the homiletical process includes clear and convincing proclamation of God’s word and its compelling application in the life of the listener. A homiletician does well to answer the questions most likely in the minds of the hearers: “What’s your point?” “So what?” “How does what you’re saying have an impact on my life?”

My now sainted homiletics professor was a stern but evangelical task master and also an excellent preacher. Young seminarians (and other students as well) often view their professors with a unique combination of admiration for their accumulated experiential knowledge and a dab of disdain for their somewhat overly academic and thus not nearly practical enough perspectives on the subject they teach. I had some of both, but more of the former than of the latter.

Over the 44 years of my ministry I’ve observed some subtle and also some radical changes in homiletical style in my own preaching and in that of other homileticians. I was taught that every sermon should have three clearly delineated points drawn directly from the scriptural text. Any deviation from that recipe was unacceptable. I no longer insist on the first part of that formula.

Today’s sermons, including my own, are more likely to have a narrative focus, which is relational and heavily emotional (often but not always in the good sense of that term) rather than a cognitive focus, which is mostly rational and academic (also in the good sense of that term). While these two emphases need not be mutually exclusive, skillfully merging both approaches is a delicate but rewarding task.

The efficacy of preaching is directly proportionate to the homiletician’s success, by the grace of God, in accomplishing the homiletical task. An effective sermon is one that touches not only the head but also the heart. The preacher must convict the listener of human frailty and failure and also convince the listener of God’s complete forgiveness in Christ, transitioning that conviction and convincing into calling and commitment.

Why does one church shrivel on the vine while another church grows like wildfire? While there may be many reasons, including demographic, geographic, social and economic, I submit that the real reason mostly revolves around the difference in the efficacy and effectiveness of its preaching.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) is credited with saying, “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or build a better mousetrap, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his doorstep!” I believe that’s true still today!

Reformation Day

"Luther Before the Diet of Worms" by Anton von Werner, 1877 Credit: Wikipedia

“Luther Before the Diet of Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877
Credit: Wikipedia

Today is Reformation Day, observed and honored in Christian churches around the world. The primary focus is the work of Martin Luther, born November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar but went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures.

On October 31, 1517, Luther gained notoriety when he wrote a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin and nailed it to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. His “95 Theses” propounded two primary beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans receive salvation only by faith and not by works. His speaking and writing catalyzed the Protestant Reformation.

On November 9, 1518, Pope Leo X condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Church. Later, in July of 1520, Pope Leo issued a papal bull (public decree) concluding that Luther’s propositions were heretical and gave Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to recant, and on January 3, 1521, Pope Leo excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms (this term has nothing to do with culinary mattersJ) in Germany. Refusing again to recant, Luther concluded his testimony the next day, April 18, 1521, with the courageous statement:

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Frankly, for a number of reasons, I often ponder whether the world and church are long overdue for a new Reformation! Much has changed in nearly 500 years. Authority concentrated in the hands of leaders who pursue power and crave control does not serve the church well!

Renewal and reformation will occur only if and when humble, courageous servant leaders, lay and clergy alike, pave the way for a return to the primary purpose of the church. The heart of the Gospel, God’s grace in Christ, has life changing power! That message must be proclaimed clearly, unfettered by trappings and traditionalisms that hinder its impact!

So today while the world observes Halloween, we Lutheran Christians join members of other Protestant denominations in thanking God for Martin Luther’s insight, courage and conviction. In doing so we remember things as they were and envision things as they might and ought to be!