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NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Now for something I know very little about—the National Football League.  In principal I believe people have an unhealthy obsession with sports in our culture, but, what are you going to do about it?  So, in an attempt at “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” I thought I would make my predictions for this weekends NFL Conference championship games.  The winners of these two games will represent their conference in the Super Bowl. 

            AFC—Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the New York Jets

            Pittsburgh will probably win this game because the officials love Pittsburgh.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Seattle and Phoenix about their encounters with Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.  It is impossible for Pittsburgh to not win once they make the Playoffs.  For that reason, I tend to want to root for New York.  The Jets have not been to a Super Bowl since Joe Namath and the famous guarantee.  But I can’t stand their coach.  He is such the antithesis of good sportsmanship. 

            NFC—Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers

            This old school battle from the heartland of America feels right.  The Bears have a great defense and they are playing on what might be the worst field turf in the NFL.  This will offset the advantage that Green Bay has on offense.  Green Bay has a smell of Cinderella on it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t come up with the victory, even on the road.  Chicago should win, but that doesn’t mean Chicago will win.

Now, there are several X-factors for me as I think about the games.

  •  X-Factor One:  The Cheese element.  My passion for cheese tells me that I can’t root against a team whose fans are called Cheeseheads.
  •  X-Factor Two:  The NFL wants big market teams in the Super Bowl.  This means New York and Chicago will win. 
  •  X-Factor Three:  The Favre.  New York and Green Bay have ties to Brett Favre.  It would be great if both of his former teams made the Super Bowl in the year he finally retired.  This would then be labeled the “Favre Bowl.”
  •   X-Factor Four:  It all comes down to the beards.  Mark Sanchez has a great beard.  http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/jets/mark_sanchez_beard_love_it_or_hate_OivX9R2D6NNVcHXUO0KpKI  It looked kind of trimmed last week, but the week before that against Indianapolis I saw a shot of him and I had instant admiration for a man who could grow such a beard.  In the end the Fellowship of the Follicle is the deciding factor. 

 

Keep I mind, of course, that I will probably not watch any of it.  I want to finish watching Season Two of the original Star Trek that I got on DVD from my wife for Christmas.  Nevertheless, my Final Prediction—Jets beat Pittsburgh by a hair, Green Bay beats Chicago on a last second field goal that is “Gouda.”

******Update, Monday Morning January 24.  I was 50% accurate with Green Bay beating the Bears, but the Jets did lose to the Steelers.  But, did anyone notice the great beard Roethlisberger was sporting.  I mean, that was pretty amazing.  Let the record reflect that only bearded quarterbacks won yesterday–Aaron Rodgers had a pretty good full beard too.  The Fellowship of the Follicle will always prevail.********

GOOD PREACHER PART TWO–A RANT or WHO MOURNS FOR THE JEBUSITES

I am finally finding myself again after the flurry of activity around the holidays.  Literally.  This week I just found my November (yeah, you read that right, November) copy of Preaching magazine.  It is one of my favorites—along with Christianity Today, Biblical Archaeology Review, and National Geographic.  I hope to find my January BAR soon.  Preaching is one of those publications every preacher has to read in order to know what we’re doing wrong and how the cool preachers are doing. 

As I wrote about last week, there is a quick little article early in the November Preaching Magazine titled “What Makes a Preacher ‘Good’” by Ben Mandrell.  Mandrell lists six things that make a preacher good. 

1.  The preacher should give people a bigger picture of God.

2.  The preacher should train people to turn to their Bible when problems arise.

3.  The preacher should show people how to read, study, and handle the Bible for themselves.

4.  The preacher should teach all parts of the Bible and show how unique and wonderful each section truly is.

5.  The preacher should challenge people to own the truth by responding to the message.

6.  The preacher should prove that the Bible is ancient yet speaks to us today.

 

I pondered his article for long while.  I like his points, and I like that four of them specifically refer to the Bible.  I am “all in” as it regards the primacy of the Bible in preaching.  Even if a sermon doesn’t address a specific text, it must be biblical! (NOTE—it doesn’t have to cover a specific text in any specific way in order to be biblical.)  I also appreciated his first “should” about a bigger perspective of God.  I believe too often our preaching makes God seem small and little.  We focus on immanence to such a degree we’ve lost a lot of transcendence.   

The one that bothered me though, is #6.  It bothered me for three reasons.  First, I reject the notion that I have to “prove” anything about the Bible.  It is the Holy Spirit of God who speaks.  I prefer to let him do his own proving.  Second, although he doesn’t use the term ‘relevant’ it is his underlying assumption that the preacher must make the Bible relevant.  I reject that.  I don’t make the Bible relevant.  The Bible is relevant.  The third reason I was troubled by #6 is that it seemed to cancel out his #1.  The way he words #6 seems to indicate the author believes the Bible speaks today in spite of itself and that would not be very big of God.    

To support his last point, Mandrell pulled out the old Harry Fosdick quote, “Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folks come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.”  Okay, I admit no one is anxious about the Jebusites.  But what I also believe is that people are actually very interested in the backgrounds, details, and history of the biblical material.  If they are not, well, they should be.  Good preaching stirs people’s desire to know more of the antiquity of the biblical text.  Good preaching should not give excuse for ignoring or minimizing the ancient world.

            What I mean, using Fosdick’s example, is the Jebusites were people.  They were people who lived in Jerusalem before King David conquered it.  The most important part of that sentence is that they were people; people with feelings, emotions, hopes and dreams, a shared history, and a common culture just like anyone else.  It is wrong to sweep them onto the dust bin of history as if they never mattered.  The kind of preaching we need for today is not the kind that ignores the Jebusites in favor of some kind of relevant application but instead we need preaching that openly and honestly explores the Jebusites and how their plight is often like our own, or how their situation can connect to us, or what we can learn from them.  But for the love of all that is decent, do not ignore them.

            It is a western cultural bias or arrogance that leads us to minimize things or people we do not understand or are too lazy to work through.  But here’s one for you.  The Jebusites were conquered by David—what happened to them?  Well, there are two options.  One, they were victims of genocide and David killed them all.  Before you reject that, as I read the Old Testament, David was certainly capable of this brutality.  The second possibility is that after they lost Jerusalem the Jebusites began a painful cultural assimilation into the majority culture. 

            So, when I read Jebusite it is not hard for me to it as Cherokee, Comanche, or Apache.  Keep pushing the text and perhaps the Jebusites begin to look like the Etruscans from the Italian Peninsula so long ago.  Keep pushing and maybe they are a small, quiet, rural community that suddenly finds itself the victim of urban sprawl and their property taxes increase, strip malls are put in, old business board up as big box stores move in as the Jebusites find their entire way of life slowly eroding out from underneath them.

            We should be anxious about the Jebusites.

PERSPECTIVES ON A “GOOD PREACHER”

I’m finally catching up on my reading and was flipping through November’s Preaching magazine.  There is a quick little article early in this edition titled “What Makes a Preacher ‘Good’” by Ben Mandrell.  Mandrell lists six things that make a preacher good. 

1.  The preacher should give people a bigger picture of God.

2.  The preacher should train people to turn to their Bible when problems arise.

3.  The preacher should show people how to read, study, and handle the Bible for themselves.

4.  The preacher should teach all parts of the Bible and show how unique and wonderful each section truly is.

5.  The preacher should challenge people to own the truth by responding to the message.

6.  The preacher should prove that the Bible is ancient yet speaks to us today.

This is a fine list.  Next Monday I will post a blog I have written that is a deeper critique of this list, but for now, what I got to thinking about is what would my list be?  I use his same “the preacher should” to describe my six.

1.  The preacher should help me laugh at myself.

2.  The preacher should respect the Bible but not be afraid to play with it.

3.  The preacher should be so familiar with his material that notes are not really needed.

4.  The preacher should manuscript the sermon so he or she knows how it ends.

5.  The preacher should have one point around which all the material flows.

6.  The preacher should use variety in delivery and presentation.

 

If I spent another 30 minutes or so on it, I think I could probably have 15 more “the preacher shoulds.”    I’ll save those for my someday book on homiletics.  But what has me really thinking is what would be the list of six things a preacher should do from the vantage point of the congregation?

1.  The preacher should get to the point.

2.  The preacher should take care not to be too repetitive.

3.  The preacher should take care not to be too repetitive.

4.  The preacher should take, on average, 40% off the sermon. 

5.  The preacher should work the nursery sometimes to think about how it feels.

6.  The preacher should get someone to help him color coordinate his clothes—he is an eyesore.

7.  The preacher should be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to his own sermons.

8.  The preacher should finish on time and be docked in pay if he/she doesn’t.

Okay, that is more than 6 but I was having way too much fun.  But wait.  I’m not quite through.  What do you perceive God’s list, if we could know such a thing, would be of what makes a preacher “Good?”  I have some ideas.  (Note, I have substituted “God” for the personal pronoun, but if it were God thinking, then, well, you get the point.)

1.  The preacher should seek to know what God thinks, not blather what he/she thinks.

2.  The preacher should love God more than preaching about God.

3.  The preacher should resist the temptation to judge success in anything other than faithfulness to the calling.

4.  The preacher should love the people more than he/she loves that the people listen to him/her.

5.  The preacher should preach fewer sermons but better ones—say less mean more.

6.  The preacher should finish on time and be docked in pay if he/she doesn’t.

NON SEQUITUR

As a general rule, I like things that have themes to them.  However, life is often theme-less.  Things happen to us everyday which are not connected and make no sense.  That is the way today’s blog is.  Below are three hopefully interesting, yet completely unrelated notes on my life since Sunday.   

            1.  Where there is smoke, there is . . . smoke?

            Today I was at a local bank doing business for our church and we all realized that outside the building, in the grocery store parking lot there was what appeared to be a car on fire.  Dark smoke was billowing out of the automobile.  At first we thought it might be an engine fire but we learned that it was not.  Someone, apparently, was smoking a cigarette and dropped it and in so doing caused the seat to catch on fire.  I don’t think anyone was hurt, although I am not certain of it.  It looked like EMT’s and Fire and Rescue showed up quickly.

            For the whole rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking—man, that car was smokin’. 

            2.  And the winner is . . .

            Tonight I watched the BCS Championship game and discovered that the winner is; the field.  Did anybody else out there see that players on both teams had an incredibly difficult time running, stopping, cutting, and planting their feet into the supposedly wonderful sod?  Auburn won the game by scoring 22 points to Oregon’s 19, but I can tell you the field scored far more than 22 points which means the field won. 

            The Bible teaches us that from dirt we came and to dirt we shall return.  Dirt always wins.

            3.  Udderly ridiculous

            Sunday I was very sick and did not feel very well at all.  I was barely alive and much less ready to preach.  Nevertheless, duty calls.  Apparently while preaching I said something stupid.  I was trying to make a point about maturation, and in the context of a calf I used the word “steer” and then said it would grow to be a dairy cow.  Now, I’m a good Texas boy and know better.  A steer is a castrated bull.  One person pointed this out to me playfully.  Another person wrote me a nasty self-righteous anonymous note; not that I’m bitter. 

            I don’t know what bothers me more—that I made a verbal mistake on something I know, or that someone was so preoccupied with it that they missed the actual point, or that the whole thing is kind of a blur to me.  That’s the last time I take Nyquil before I preach.  At any rate, the fact that I uttered that a steer has udders is udderly ridiculous.*

*Yes, I know it should be utterly, but it is a play on word sounds.