Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Insufficiently Prepared? ? ? . . . . Probably Not. . .

Yesterday spelled out another important lesson for me as I was riding my bike. It is amazing how many little lessons of life a man can get on the road particularly if you mix it with a bit of Scripture. With the time change allowing me a little more daylight and the weather change allowing me a reprieve from the cold grips of winter, I have gotten back into getting in shape again. One of the drawbacks with bike riding is that during the short days of winter, the bike is relegated to hanging from its ceiling hook in the garage. During this time of inactivity, the bike and the rider generally begin to deteriorate. The changes with the bike are far more subtle than the changes in the rider. The rider reflects the inactivity with slowly increasing weight and rapidly decreasing lung capacity so that when the bike is finally engaged again it takes a bit for the weight to come off and the breath to return.

Although a little weight is starting to drop and the breath is coming back, I am still not in the shape that I was at the end of the summer a couple of years ago. But in time, I have all intentions of being back at that weight and shape that I was a few summers ago.

Yesterday around mile 17 or so, I was pressing along at a pretty good pace through some of the rural farmland around Wicksburg when things got incredibly exciting. I had just climbed a long, long hill of at least ½ a mile and had leveled off and was just getting my speed up to around 19-20 mph on a flat when a large surprise came bounding out of a yard. I was just past a nice brick house that had a long driveway but to my great dismay, the gate was open. A large (as in huge) Doberman Pinscher was running that driveway for all he was worth and just about 5 yards behind him was a German Shepherd that was only a bit smaller than the Doberman. Both of them were barking and yowling and sincerely thought they were about to chew on some part of my soft anatomy.

My heart-rate went through the roof and adrenaline began to pour from everywhere as suddenly the threat of these dogs gripped me. I begin to try and get my foot out of the clip-in pedals that I use but I could not get my foot loose. With bike wobbling all over the road because I was jerking my foot to get it dislodged, the Doberman is gaining on me in all of his hideousness. I determine that I am not going to get my foot out so I reach down and pull my water bottle from its holder and squeeze off a jet of green Gatorade in the direction of this huge beast. I am utterly amazed at the results! The Doberman puts on his brakes and screeches to a stop because apparently he is afraid of my little water bottle filled with Gatorade.

With my overactive imagination, I had already seen the outcome of the matter. I was going to go down because I couldn’t get my feet out of the clip-ins and two dogs were going to devour me while I twitched in the road. They were going to tear me from stem to stern and all sorts of blood, bone, muscle, and gristle would be for their taking. That was what happened in my mind all in a racing stretch of about 25-30 yards that they chased me. However, my little water-bottle, a .99 cent job from Walmart kept the beast at bay furthermore it kept him off of me for the day. Amazing how such a simple solution was at my fingertips and I was trying my best to figure out how to defend against something that was threatening me.

Far too often both in physical and spiritual life, we are prone to look for the huge and complicated solutions to help us with our dilemmas when in actuality all it takes is a .99 cent water-bottle. Far too often men are constantly looking over the proverbial fences at the greener grass on the other side. It is a myth that the greener grass is always on the other side of the fence.

What happens is that a whole lot of life gets lost because of our belief that we are insufficiently prepared to do what God has called us to do. I have to confess that on yesterday I thought of several solutions for me and the dog for our next go around. Pepper spray or mace or a few other things that could be added to my arsenal to help me when the fact is that on yesterday I had exactly what I needed to get the job done.

I encourage you to believe that you are exactly where God wants you to be. If you weren’t then God is big enough to move us to where He wants us to be and He can get you “there” if He needs to. Otherwise, let the joy of contentment bring great blessing to your life and start believing that you are sufficiently prepared by the grace of God to fulfill exactly His will.

• If you don’t have much to spend, then spend well what you have.
• If you don’t have many books, read what you have and master them.
• If you aren’t where you want to be spiritually, physically, and so forth, spend a day writing down some goals of where you would like to be this time next year.
• Learn the value of borrowing (and returning) resources that will make you a better man.
• Re-read your books, your sermons, your Bible studies and take notes from them there is still much to harvest from them as they grow.
• Re-pray your prayers, your visions, your dreams, your desires, and let faith rise in your heart.
• Don’t let what you may not have ruin what you do have! Look for opportunities to be great in the challenges of life be they miserable conditions, resistant people, or rocky roads.
• Study your soul for it is the most difficult study you will ever undertake.
• For those in ministry, look for the older men to convey wisdom and experience to you. Just listen to them. Look for the younger men so you may add something to their experience with God.
• Don’t let the interruptions frustrate you, take them and use them to help your soul to grow. Far too many allow a “stepping-stone” mentality cause them to miss out on the day because they are so focused on the journey.
• Look for ways to express appreciation, to accomplish great things, and outrun the dogs that will do their best to bring you down.

Go ride and don’t let the Doberman’s of life fill you with fear that you are not sufficiently prepared to do the will of God.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Recommendation -- Chaim Potok, The Chosen

One of the marks of a great book is for the author to be able to reach out to the world beyond the pages and pull the reader into the pages of the tale he is telling. Louis L’Amour is one such writer that has the ability to put the reader on a horse with him or in the middle of a range war with bad hombres. A. J. Cronin is another such writer who with books such as The Citadel and The Keys of the Kingdom forces the reader to live out the depth of emotions of his main characters.

Another author whom I was only recently connected with is Chaim Potok. Both Jason Calhoun and Ben Weeks were flabbergasted that I had never read any of his books. I was encouraged to begin with The Chosen which actually was written in 1967. The actual setting of the book is Brooklyn, New York in a very highly concentrated neighborhood of Jews. It is here that the worlds of Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders collide. Reuven’s father is a Jewish scholar who is encouraging the Zionist movement to find a homeland and form a nation. Danny’s father is a very revered Hasidic rabbi who has a powerful devotion to extreme conservatism among the Jews. Although the story surrounds the boys, you should read this book simply to acquaint yourself with the rigors and disciplined training that the Jewish rabbis go through to be set aside in their calling. I was both amazed and motivated by the disciplines of mind and spirit that I found Chaim Potok describing in his narrative.

The book starts off with a bang with Reuven experiencing a very serious (nearly fatal?) injury at the hands of Danny. (I don’t want to spoil the details so I will be vague with the storyline.) As the book tracks their immense feelings of agitation between the two, they ultimately become the closest of friends and it is through this friendship that Potok gives us the ability to see the best of both worlds.

The book also brings the reader to taste events of world history as they were unfolding in the late 1940’s. Roosevelt’s death, the Holocaust, and the development of the nation of Israel all serve as a backdrop to this intensely emotional story. If you are given to thinking, there will be times that you will find yourself putting the book down and contemplating the varying themes that develop in the characters of this story. This book explores areas like commitment, honor, valor, suffering, and the dilemmas that involve the heart and the mind.

In addition, if you are a minister who is involved in the ministry of the Word, I have a feeling that when you read this book that you will discover that very little discipline is in your life concerning study. These Jewish rabbis and scholars are so entirely given to study and prayer it is remarkable. One the remarkable scenes that I really found very interesting was when Danny went on the initial visit to Reb Saunders study and the description that Potok gives to this. I found a lot of motivation to seek a greater depth of life through disciplined study as a I read this book.

I am thinking that if you start with this work of Potok’s, you will invest your time in reading all this author has written.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Tale of Three Kings

I was tired, weary, and defeated just to sum up a few of the massive dark feelings of the soul that night. To that point in my life, I am not sure that I had ever faced the dilemma quite like the one I was now staring down. My heart was dark and my feelings were very spiritually unhealthy to say the least. It would have been very easy to give in to defeat, pack up the tent and go in another direction with my life.

Looking back it was almost thirteen years ago on a late Wednesday night in October 1996. I had come from home from mid-week prayer and Bible study and it seemed as if the world of darkness was doing everything possible to choke the life out of me. What was so strange is that in January 1996, a very distinct directive from the Lord had told me that I would be on the current assignment for four more years. I expected a lot of great things but instead I was grappling with a storm that threatened to overpower me. A blinding and quite unforeseen trial had broadsided me and what little Christian character I had was being eroded by a lot of very carnal emotions to say the least.

I can still remember almost the exact time on that memorable Wednesday night as sometime around 10:35 or so. The house was finally quiet as Teresa and I had gotten the kids down for the night and she was in the back of the house and I was in my study in the front. I leaned back in my chair and propped my feet up on my desk and begin to encourage a dark and brooding stream of emotions. In retrospect and hopefully with an eye toward a little more spiritual maturity, I can see now that it was a shaping process of the soul that God was using to my own benefit. Spiritual growth is very necessary in all of our lives but most of the time it is very painful because it involves a pruning of the soul. But how that pruning is so conducive to greater fruitfulness!

Somehow my eyes flitted to the top of the bookshelf. Tucked in between all of the other inspirational books written by Gordon MacDonald, Charles Swindoll, Max Lucado, and a few others, I spied a little paperback that I had owned for at least 3 years. Numerous preachers had told me that I had to read Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings. I took half of their advice and bought it but never read it. In fact, as I think about it now, I can think of at least ten good men who told me that I needed to read this book. I didn’t ignore their advice it just wasn’t in God’s timing for me to read the book just yet. No doubt when I purchased the book, God knew there would come a time that I would need to read this book. I am of the opinion that this was one of the types of books that Paul encouraged Timothy to bring to him before winter (2 Tim. 4:13).

So at 10:35, I picked up that book and it mesmerized me until shortly after midnight. The impact of this little book (a little over 80 pages) has remained with me to this day. For those of you who have not read it, I won’t give you any details that will spoil it. For those who have read it before, you might want to pick it back up again! It is a tale for the ages because it exposes the fact that within every one of us is either a mad king who worships himself or there is a broken king who worships God. . . . . . and only the pain of trials can reveal what kind of man that we are. . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Discipline of Study -- John Carroll

I continue our series on the discipline of study with a John Kerryesque sort of statement, “I knew John Carroll before I knew John Carroll.” A number of years ago, a friend of mine told me that I should visit an internet forum that was sort of a discussion ground for a lot of disgruntled Pentecostals who spent much time and energy trying to tear down some of the core doctrines and traditions that have been long held. When I ventured into this very weary land (I quit going very shortly thereafter), I kept noting a person who was commenting who went by the name “Coonskinner.” This “Coonskinner” and one other person (of whom I have since learned his identity also) would have about 50 people piling on with all sorts of rude comments and ridiculous innuendo concerning their defense of the faith. I did my best to post and agree with the “Coonskinner” and his valiant friend but because the forum required a special login and registration (to which I tried to gain but never could), I could never post my remarks in agreement with them.

Years passed and about 3 years ago, I was relating to a friend of mine, Scott Phillips, how that I always agreed with what “Coonskinner” had to say on this other far-out forum. When I told him this, Scott began to laugh heartily and told me that the “Coonskinner” was one of his best friends. It was through that friendship that I came to know a very good man who possesses an excellent spirit. About three years ago, I was introduced to the world of John Carroll and I am a much better man for it having come to pass. He pastors in Salina, Kansas but he hails from Oklahoma.

When John Carroll was eleven years, sitting in a rocking chair in his grandmother’s house, he was reading in the book of Acts, specifically chapter 2, when he heard the audible voice of God. He was told “One day you will be preaching about this!” He was so unnerved by this event that he missed supper that night and although his grandmother was aware that something was amiss, he did not tell her what had happened. It was at this very early and tender age that the seed was planted about the future God had planned for him. He would be 19 before he actually preached his first sermon. He has now been preaching almost 20 years.

As with all of these previous men, there are influencers who marked the direction that his life took in ministry.

Loyd Jones -- The pastor of his formative years was not really a world-class preacher, just a faithful man who watched his flock. However he did provide some excellent advice to him in the early days of his ministry. He told John to give himself to prayers that were marked by consecration and to study. But as to the mechanical aspects of putting sermons, together no advice was offered.

C. A. Nelson -- Brother Nelson was a man who allowed him to preach in the church he pastored. He was a very convicting preacher and this appealed to John. Brother Nelson was a retired District Superintendent for the Oklahoma District when John met him.

O. R. Fauss -- Another greatly convicting preacher. A whole lot of men in the age range of late 30’s and beyond can testify of the effect that O. R. Fauss had on them as young men and young ministers. Some of his sermons are on Faithbuilder.

J. T. Pugh -- Brother Pugh affected him long before John met him through his preaching. I don’t have the time to go into a story John told me sometime back about meeting Brother Pugh in the Denver airport at one of the most crucial times of his life but he received much spiritual direction during that time from Brother Pugh. When I asked him about specific messages of Brother Pugh, he mentioned two although they are probably not the classics that he is mostly known for. The classics are “You’re First Night in Hell,” “Anointed But Not Blessed,” and “Something Better than Heaven.”

“Fadeless Stars That Never Go Out” was a message that he heard on tape. It was a very provoking and complex message. Jude speaks of “wandering stars” and Brother Pugh took this and compared and contrasted stars with black holes. A black hole is a star that turns in on itself and consumes itself. A man can turn in on himself and quit praying and giving and pursuing and seeking until his ministry shrivels up to nothingness. Or a man can be like Jeremiah who had no converts to speak of, did not have a wife or family and spent much of his ministry in tears seemingly almost in defeat with little outward success. However, the influence of his ministry would be lived out in Babylon by Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

As a sidenote, I have written a couple of blogs about Brother Pugh in the past. Spiritual Creativity and The Making of a Champion.

John would later meet Brother Pugh and establish somewhat of a relationship with him that remains until this day.

Another message was “Stars You’ve Never Seen Before” by way of cassette tape that produced a very strong prayer meeting after John listened to it.

Verbal Bean -- His series “Prayer” and “The Works of the Holy Ghost” were a multi-tape series that John listened to a number of times in his early years of ministry. Both of these series are on Faithbuilder in MP3 format although the audio quality is not the greatest in world due to the age of the tapes.

Derold and Judy Doughty -- This is a man who is very important currently in his life. He is who John looks to as a pastor. Judy Doughty is a woman who is given to early morning prayer and has been an inspiration to him in this area.

Gary Howard -- This man was an evangelist who preached many times during John’s childhood. He told me that there were messages that Brother Howard preached when he was five and six years old that he does not necessarily remember the content of the message but how there was great depth of the Spirit and provided for long altar services. I am convinced that the key to true revival are those moments that we are able to spend in the altars allow God to work through and to knead the spirit of the man.

I asked John what he thought allowed men to move with such a depth in the Spirit and a feeling of conviction that those in the pew responded to. He told me it was something that our generation does not want to hear but the real keys are pain, suffering, and affliction that will almost break a man in two. Two things we can do with trouble determines how God will let it work for us: 1) The thorn of affliction can be taken to the throne of grace and a measure of grace will come that will sustain a man in his work, or 2) a man can turn that pain inward and become shallow and bitter until it consumes him and those around him.

Before a man can rightly divide the Word, the Word has to rightly divide the man. The Word has the capacity separate soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12) and until this happens, men will always be at a loss to really minister the Word.

A man who has no personal depth will never inspire a congregation to work and reach the high calling that God has for them. Trials have the capacity to move us beyond the places of “maintenance prayer” which basically only covers what our daily needs require. In the Tabernacle, the second altar had to be visited and then one moved beyond the veil into the presence of God at the Ark of the Covenant. There is a place of prayer that moves us into the very presence of God that has to be sought out every day. Far too often, men find a place to pray but never stay long enough find that second wave of the Spirit. Moses left the Tabernacle but it was Joshua who lingered in the presence of God (Exodus 33:11) and it paid huge dividends in his life. When we get into a rush and the hustle and bustle of life it can be taxing to our relationship with God.

When I asked John about sermons that he had heard that over the years had meant much to him, he mentioned three particular men who preached messages.

Mark Morgan -- “When the Avenger Arrives” that was preached at the ARK conference. Another one, “When God Changes His Coat” at the Colorado District Campmeeting.

David Shatwell -- “How to Heal a Wounded Spirit” which was preached either at Annapolis, Maryland or Madison, Mississippi.

Tony Bailey -- “Early Morning Prayer” which he heard 8-9 years ago.

In the past, John had related to me his early morning routine which I found to be inspiring and remarkable. He gets up between 5-5:30 AM for prayer. At this time of the day, there are no disturbances because the world is not yet stirring. He will pray until he touches God and then there is that lingering in the presence of God that will cause his heart to be inclined toward ministry his church. After the prayer, John begins to muse through the Bible, quietly, carefully, prayerfully, and God uses the Word to speak powerfully to him. On a sidebar, when I speak with John on the phone, I never leave the conversation but that he has not dropped a tremendous thought that he has gained from Scripture. In fact, I have a notebook that I drag around with me everywhere and more than once or twice, something he has said to me makes its way into the pages.

While this Bible reading is going on, a cup of steaming Community Coffee is at hand along with a journal (8 ½ X 11) accompanied by a fountain pen. John has been writing with fountain pens since he was a kid and learned the art of it from his granny. His granny had an old wooden barreled Schaeffer that he started with. He has a variety of fountain pens. He has a Schaeffer, a Waterman, several Parker’s, and a utilitarian type fountain pen that he uses daily. Instead of using one that has an active inkwell, he uses the ones with cartridges for the sake of convenience.
When he was telling me about the pens, he said he had an old preacher tell him one time that he was the “youngest, old preacher” he had ever met. John told me that he likes old saddles, old guns, old pocket knives, but he has a special affinity for old coon-dogs (we shall get to more of that later).

So with Bible, coffee, journal, and fountain pen the inspiration starts to flow and he writes out his notes. He has a number of these hard-bound journals as he will usually fill up 1-2 of them every year. These thoughts will end up becoming sermons and Bible studies for him at later points.

The reason he is committed to writing his thoughts out is because every preacher has times when he is almost trying to drink from a fire hydrant and there are other times it is as dry as a desert. He told me that J. T. Pugh spoke of seasons of inspiration and that the inspiration comes but it has to have structure or it will be worthless. The structure is what causes the perspiration.

John then told me that on these early mornings he can feel the power that is expressed in an old song, Shut In With God:

The disciples were praying for the power to fall
Ten days they did tarry, on God they did call
Then God sent His spirit to baptize them all
For they had been shut in with God


Shut in with God in a secret place
There in the spirit, beholding His face
Gaining new power to run in this race
Oh, I love to be shut in with God

Of all pleasant places on land or on sea
There’s no place on earth that is sweeter to me
Than to kneel at the feet of my Master and Lord
For there, I’ll be shut in with God

The pathway to Heaven, though rugged it may be
I’ll travel ‘til my precious Saviour I’ll see
Then the gates of that city will open for me
And there I’ll be shut in with God

John stressed the importance of not being a “binge” student. You have to take Brother Wayne McClain’s advice that he had given to him years before, “Gather the manna every day.” So on approximately 330 days of the 365 you will find John Carroll from 5-5:30 AM until 7:00 praying and working through the Scriptures.

He told me that he gained his love for the Word from a Sunday School teacher who had taught him as a kid. Then his aunt gave him a Bible when he was 7 after he had received the Holy Ghost and was baptized in Jesus’ name. Then through the work of his old pastor, who was very doctrinal in his preaching, gave him a love for apostolic doctrine. So with that first Bible (which he requested from his aunt to have red-letters, pictures, and a concordance), he begin to underline all the major parts of doctrine concerning the Oneness of God and the New Birth experience. One day as he was running the references, John 10:30 leaped out at him and it felt as if the revelation of the Oneness of God was pouring into his mind. So at a very young age, he was very much devoted to doctrine. He encourages his young ministers in his church to work messages in such a manner that they can build a bridge from the message to Acts 2:38.

When I asked him about particular books that he read, an amazing world opened up. John has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and actually was a schoolteacher before going into full time ministry. Therefore because of this background he rarely (as in never) reads books that are religious in nature. He learned from his profs in college that if a man will give himself to reading the classics then there is a stimulation toward deep and orderly thinking.

There are three reasons to read: 1) For recreation; 2) To gain information; and 3) To discipline the mind. The latter two are the most important reasons that someone should spend time reading. The classic literature that he has read includes Dante’s Inferno, Plato’s Republic (which is an incredible task in itself), the essays of Sir Frances Bacon, varied works by Shakespeare, and poetry. His two favorite poets are Emily Dickinson of which all of her works are enjoyed and Rudyard Kipling. The two favorite poems of Kipling are “If” and “The Female of the Species.”

He also expressed an enjoyment of reading Mark Twain’s works. Of Twain, he told me that he is deceptively deep and multi-layered in his writings, to which I greatly agree as I have used several illustrations from Twain over the years in my own preaching. He mentioned that Twain could be enjoyed by a 12 year old boy and at the same time could challenge a well educated college professor.

When he told me about the process of putting the messages that he preaches together, he said that he could in no way say he would fall into the category as a Doug White who might spend 10 hours on a message. He said that all week long is basically the process by which the message will be borne during those times of devotion and prayer. The real work of preaching is not so much the event as it is the praying, gathering, and working to put it into a preachable design. When we were talking about the aspect of God speaking to the man he mentioned a provoking verse from Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 23:21-22 KJV I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. [22] But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

The dilemma of our days could very well be related to the fact that few are willing to stand in the counsel of the Lord and hear what He longs to say to the His Church. All that was required of the prophets was for them to stand and stay in the place of the Lord until they had heard from God and they could not do it and Israel failed.

As far as his notes, he takes to the pulpit 2-4 sheets of lined notebook paper. He will write out transitional points. His outline ranges from very detailed to very scanty. He uses different colored pens to write with, primarily black, blue, and red. The Scriptures are always in red and the blues and blacks alternate the other portions of the message. He doesn’t use a computer to type of his notes on.

As for his closest friends, they are Terry Harmon, David Shatwell, Doug White, Scott Phillips, and Guy Godwin. All of these friends were met at events/conferences that involved deep moves of the Spirit and consecrating prayer. He told me that for all of these friends that a principle came about in that what is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Things will bear fruit in the realm that they are born in. If a friendship is born in a spiritual way, the friendship has a tendency to bring about spiritual change and encouragement.

I asked him about a particular Bible preference and he said he has used a Thompson Chain reference for years. He likes the font and the margins that allow him to write things in the margins. He told me that all of his Bibles over the years have been marked up. I did not tell him but I have told numerous men that they need to write in their Bibles simply for the fact that when they die, their children will have a very valuable gift but it will be much more than that, it will be a legacy passed on.

On a lighter note, I asked him about his coon dogs to which he has a great love for. He has three American Bluetick Hounds. He said these are the best coondogs a man can buy. He has three and they chase coons in the surrounding regions of Salina. Their names are Mabel, Emmy Lou, and Judy.

When I asked him what final advice he might give to young men who are just entering the ministry, he told me he about a Scripture that he wrote in the front of every Bible he has ever owned:

Proverbs 13:20 KJV He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Make sure the friends that you have are men who will make you reach higher and be better. Never associate with those who are always testing the limits and the boundaries seeking to wander off into a spiritual wasteland. Also, if a young man does not want to pray and study, he needs to find something else to do with his life. Finally, get a grip of Truth and never let it go!

There are some various sermons by John Carroll on Faithbuilder.

Also the following sermons are available:

God's Gift to the Rebellious

The Three-fold Perspective of the Worshipper

The Road Less Traveled

The other posts related to this one are as follow:

The Discipline of Study.
Jeff Arnold.
Scott Graham.
Ben Weeks.
Jason Calhoun.
Doug White.
J. H. Osborne.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Treasure Trove You Might've Missed

The last two days has left me incredibly pressed for time, however I have made a personal commitment to try and blog at least four times a week until the horse falls over so here we go at almost midnight.

For those of you who have been diligently following the “Discipline of Study” posts, I will get back to those probably next week. I have had to go fishing and have some good men out on the line but it will be next week before I can sit down with them. I want to tell you that I am greatly appreciative of all the comments and e-mails that you are sending in regards to this particular series of blogs.

I am going to encourage you to look carefully at a book that is a treasure trove that you might have overlooked. I am speaking of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Currently this book runs secondly only to the Bible as the most published piece of Christian literature. If you have never read it, you are really in for a good treat. I recommend that you get the updated edition by L. Edward Hazelbaker.

I read this book years ago, but it was not until Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas urged me to really dig into this classic piece by Bunyan. It was said that Charles Spurgeon read “Pilgrim’s Progress” more than 100 times in his lifetime. If you have read any of Spurgeon’s sermons then you will have at least ran across one or two times that he has mentioned either scenes or characters from the story.

Last night for our mid-week Bible study series, I am patiently working through 1st John and came to the passage in 4:1 where John demands that we do not believe every spirit but rather that we test them. That is to assay or weigh them out through the strong element of spiritual discernment. As I worked through the passage, an illustration that fit extremely well was when Christian and Faithful make their way through Vanity Fair and have to decipher through all of the voices that are clamoring for their attention. It is amazing how well the illustration worked when you read the part where the Bunyan paints up all of his characters in the allegory.

I have preached a few sermons using “Pilgrim’s Progress” scenes as a leaping off point. “The Fight of Your Life” was a message I preached about Christian battling Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. Another message I preached was “Giants Under Junipers” which took into consideration the story of Christian when he was locked up in Doubting Castle and had to escape the dungeon. He had wandered off the right path and it almost led to a terrible ending for him. Another one is "The Magnetism of the Finish Line."

The whole allegory is concerned with Christian getting to the Celestial City (Heaven) and the battles and characters that he encounters along the way. Mr. Facing Both Ways, Worldly Wiseman, Hopeful, Faithful, and the Man in the Iron Cage are just a small few of worthy characters that will work for very good “sermon spice” as my friend Ben Weeks calls it. Also another very valuable resource to look for in conjunction with Bunyan’s book is Alexander Whyte’s “Characters of Pilgrim’s Progress.” There are three volumes of Whyte’s musings but there are absolutely essential for one who wants to look a little deeper.

Pilgrim's Progress On-line for free.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Discipline of Study -- J. H. Osborne

I have a very proper analogy that I would like to use concerning Pastor J. H. Osborne of First Bible Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. That analogy has to do with the prowess and strength that an NFL linebacker has. I was hit with an incredible force, speed, and intensity and I went down in a heap, and it was a blind-sided hit at that.

Several years ago (2003-04), I was invited to the “Fall Classic” that is hosted by Brother Jerry Dean in Bossier City, Louisiana in a smaller group setting. There are about 40-50 men that he invites for this meeting in October and he will ask men from around the nation to preach and teach on a two-night and one full day affair. When I was invited, I was told that Brother Osborne would be one of the main speakers to which I then asked, “Who is Brother Osborne?” and the very subtle answer came back, “He pastors in Indianapolis.” That was the understatement of the year!

Brother Osborne has to be one of the most masterful and engaging preachers that I have ever heard. Furthermore there is an amazing story behind him. He really never saw himself in the role as a pastor or a preacher. He told me that if you would have placed an ad in the paper asking for the most unqualified person to pastor a church it would have been him. Thirty-nine years ago, he began pastoring First Bible Church. His pastor, James Petty, died quite unexpectedly on a Wednesday night, and Brother Osborne was elected pastor on Sunday. He had never preached! He had taught a few Sunday School lessons, led the service, and occasionally led singing but no training at all. In fact, he did not even have a key to the church.

Brother Osborne said he really did not know what to do and despite the fact of having grown up in this church it had never been his desire to preach much less be the pastor. In fact, he shied away from it and attended Purdue University majoring in electronics for a while before being voted in as the pastor.

He said that his ministry in the early days was a lot of trial and error. During those days, Bible schools were discouraged by many pastors because they said that it only turned out “cookie cutter” preachers who were all the same. He had not participated in any weddings or funerals. In fact, he had no mentors at all. In his early days, older preachers were not much on mentoring or on sharing anything. They were “sermon graveyards” in that they would not give anything out. Their sermons and Bible studies died with them after having been preached only to their local church.

After he felt the call and the responsibility of pastoring the church it placed him in a do or die mode. He watched, imitated, learned, and did everything possible to learn the ropes of pastoral ministry and preaching. If he saw something that another man was doing well, he would imitate it and if he saw something that was bad he would move away from it.

He soon discovered one premise about preaching from Romans 15:4. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Everything written in the Bible is for our learning so that we may provide hope to those who are hearing us. The Bible is prophecy, poetry, revelation, parables, songs, and ultimately a book of hope. He always asks himself when he is studying, “Where is the hope in this?”

The primary goal of preaching is to provide the hope of salvation to those who are hearing the preaching. The man by the pool for 38 years had very little hope. Prior to Lazarus being resurrected there was very little hope. But the diligent student will pull the hope from the passage and present it.

Sermons can be studied out and they can be preached out of the mind of the preacher but the truly good ones that will have an impact are those that are “born” in the midst of life’s pressing experiences. As a pastor, he will see certain needs in the church and he will need to address those. Whether they are issues of prayer, holiness, and even tithing, a shepherd will seek out messages that will be “born” in his heart so that he may impact the hearer.

Brother Osborne told me that he enjoys working with words. There are many repetitive words that are in the Psalms as compared to Isaiah. Isaiah was a much more educated man than David was and so therefore the words in Isaiah will be more varied than what one finds in the Psalms of David. However, the repetition of the words can make for some very powerful messages.

Brother Osborne also told me that he seeks out the situations behind the stories. He mentioned a message he had preached sometime ago, “False Gods and Old Nurses.” It was about Jacob weeping for the nurse but oddly he did not weep at the death of Rachel. This is a passage of Scripture that shows some very odd things and it is looking at a circumstance that seems to leap out of nowhere that will give rise to some very good messages. An anointed imagination is very important to have although one must be careful not to violate the integrity of the Scriptures.

Characters will play out the human drama. In every story that we read in the Bible there are stars, co-stars, walk-ons, those in the crowd, and even those who appear to be the wallflowers have something to contribute to the message. Find the people who do not necessarily do the fantastic because all characters in the Bible have a story that needs, in fact must be told. To do this, one has to get off the beaten path and find these sorts of people. An often over-looked character is Hannah’s husband. What about him? “A man named Elkanah” is worth a preacher’s time. We have often heard Hannah, Samuel, Eli, and Eli’s sons preached about, but have you ever heard a message about Elkanah?

In Hebrews 11, “and others” gives us an indication that the Bible is full of “others” who were important to the work of God. They will come kicking and screaming from the pages of the Scripture but they must need to do this for effective preaching to take place. Jonah takes the reader on a trip that is worth a man digging into. However, this kind of study is very hard work and far too many will not give themselves to working it out.

It is important to read the Bible but to study the Bible is going to require the discipline of “little by little.” The Bible ought to be new every time that we read it. It is not so much that the actual words are new but we have to approach the Bible through a sense of having been changed by our experiences since the last time we read it. If you continue to go back to the well of Scripture it will speak much to your life.

Three elements that will help our preaching are tests, trials, and experiences. All three of these categories are separate entities and they will heighten our own experience with God and His Word. Notice John, the closest disciple of Jesus. He heard the heartbeat of God. He heard the blood before he ever saw the blood that was spilled at Calvary. He knew what the hands and feet of Jesus looked like before they were pierced. But it would not be until he reached Patmos that revelation would come to him. Revelation can only come to a man who is in a place of isolation and persecution. Much revelatory preaching can only come to us through the birth of painful experiences. Tribulation, patience, experience, and then the bursting evidence of hope.

Experience is the crucible of life or it can be otherwise called the Patmos Experience. Before God can use a man greatly, He will hurt him deeply! Make experiences and the pain of life work for your preaching. A young man can preach a message and it will be neither good nor bad but an older man can take that same sermon and it will be monumental simply because of the fact of experience and suffering has rendered it effective. Experience makes a difference in the life of the preacher. He told me that every young preacher should to go a morgue and see a body that has a tag on the toe. Young preachers ought to spend time with the terminally ill because all of the extraneous is cut out of their conversation and only what is vital is spoken of.

However a preacher must be very careful that he is not always preaching out of his own experiences because it can taint a church. If he is dealing with the illness of a family member, church problems, or the challenges of putting a marriage back together, he must be careful not to get mired in the trap of preaching as therapeutic. If a preacher is not very, very careful he can allow the experiences of life to force him to preach out of his frustrations. When this occurs, the preacher must get on a new track. Often this can occur if he will change the routine, go to a conference that may give some inspiration, or seek a deeper aspect in his own prayer life.

Brother Osborne told me that he is shocked that he has arrived on the conference circuit because he does not see himself as any better than any other pastor. The whole focus of his preaching has always been more to help his local church than anywhere else and the messages that are heard at conferences and meetings across the country are things that his church has already heard him preach. What a powerful testimony! If a pastor will give himself to the excellence of ministry there will be a time that it will bear fruit.

His closest friend is Pastor Spencer McCool who pastors in Michigan. Brother Osborne has preached several times for him for marriage retreats. They talk frequently and many of their conversations are concerning sermons they are preaching and Bible studies that they are working on in their churches.

When I asked Brother Osborne about books, he again reiterated how totally unprepared and unequipped he was concerning pastoral ministry when he started. He had no friends who could help him and point him in a direction toward books. He frankly had very little idea that there were books of sermons, commentaries, and other books that were available to ministers. So his primary source was the Bible. He did mentioned the old, old (as in 1940’s and 1950’s) condensed Reader’s Digest books that contained shorter stories that could be read through fairly quickly for a source of illustrations and sometimes even a catchy sermon title. A good place to find the books is the Goodwill stores that usually place a price of a quarter on them. You will find obscure cases and people mentioned that will not be things that people run across every day. He was flipping through one of them as we were talking and he mentioned something that might be worked out, “Ten Marks of an Educated Man.” This is the way that a preacher can develop a reservoir of material.

As for his sermons, he has every sermon he has ever preached. Before the computer days, it was a typewriter that the sermons were born on. At the present, he has 22 (8.5X11) binders on bookshelves but he also has a closet full of binders because of shelf limitations. Thirty-nine years of preaching all at his fingertips. The majority of the sermons are alphabetized by title. He has three other categories that he places other sermons in. He has divided his funeral messages, men’s ministry sermons, and sermons that he could preach in other local churches should the invitation be given.

He told me that titles are very important to him and he can remember much of the sermons not so much by their Scripture reference but according to the title. The majority of the notes are laid out in a fairly detailed way in outline form but with a lot of bulleted lists. A few of the messages that he considers “heavy” are word-for-word manuscripts. He said that the test of every set of sermon notes is whether or not those notes can be passed along to another preacher and he can preach them without having to ask the author, ‘what did you mean by this’? Good notes also can serve as a fence to keep a preacher from wandering off into Neverland. Furthermore the making up of a good set of notes can help a man to preach better because it forces him to crystallize his thoughts.

Brother Osborne works with a single legal pad which he spends writing down his thoughts on a daily basis. He never tears a page out of it but goes through looking at the collection and milks them for things to work into messages (Brother Jeff Arnold also does this same thing although not with a specific legal pad but varied notebooks, etc.) As Brother Osborne goes back through the notes he gleans things from them. When it is full, he tosses it in the garbage.

He told me some of the things that is written on the current legal pad he is working with:

-A series of words -- Paupers, beggars, poor, and weary.

-Old Foes with New Faces
-- He does not know where this came from. The picture is of Herod who was a descendant of Jacob. The Edomites. The Amalekites.

-Ego -- A Latin word meaning, “I.” Ego is often an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

-Don’t Believe Everything You Think
-- A sermon about overcoming the power of stray thoughts.

Brother Osborne told me that preaching has always been hard work for him. It did not come easy years ago and it does not come easy now. He noted the importance of writing something down every single day and this helps with the challenge of having that reservoir. He also mentioned that it is somewhat hard to just sit down with the purpose of putting a sermon together although he will do this at times. He has noticed over the years that studying at night is the best outlet for him.

I asked about any lengthy series that he has done in his church. He did a long series on the pearl and how that the gates of heaven are of pearl. Pearls as associated with irritations and suffering and he used the aspects of the oyster forming a pearl for this series. He has also done a series on Holiness, Strong Men, and The Cedar Tree. The cedar is rooted in the earth (terrestrial) and its branches reach up toward the sky (celestial).

When I asked him about any sermons that he had preached that stood out to him over the years, he mentioned, “Marry all the King’s Wives,” “The Silence of a Man” which has been preached at a number of men’s conferences, “The Keeper of the Cellar,” and “The Perils of a Servant.” He is currently working on a book that will have his sermon notes. I feel certain that there will be a market for his work!

As for sharing and/or borrowing other preacher’s messages, he told me that there is a great blessing and value in giving other men your notes. The fact of the matter is that most messages never are preached again and they die with that man and the church where he preaches. Even if the notes are preached verbatim they come through a different voice and will have that man’s experiences bolstering the message. Take the notes and use them but make them your message that comes through your voice.

On a closing note, I will share some of the messages that Brother Osborne has preached that have stood out to me:

“To the Priest Goes the Skin”
“Until the Sun Be Hot”
“When It’s Time to Pay the Dancer”
“Marry All the King’s Wives”
“Wanted: Sons of Issachar”
“The Power of a Bloodline”
“The Perils of a Servant”

In addition, I also have the 2003 and 2004 handwritten notes that I took at Brother Dean’s “Fall Classic” that I will try to transcribe and post sometime before the summer. There are probably 15 pages over the two years. On a sidebar, I would encourage preachers to take notes when you are listening to someone preach as it will focus your attention and you never know what you may glean to turn into a message.

God Bless and thanks for reading. . . .

Philip Harrelson

The Other Links with this series:

The Discipline of Study
Jeff Arnold
Scott Graham
Ben Weeks
Jason Calhoun
Doug White

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Recommendation -- Preaching with Freshness -- Bruce Mawhinney

A shorter post for a very wet and rainy Monday here in my neck of the woods and it appears that we will have much more before the day is over with.

Sometime back I gave several lists of books particularly related to those who are ministers that are in an active preparation for preaching on a weekly basis. You can read these posts by following the links below:

A Book List For Sermon Preparation

A Reading List by E. E. Jolley

A Reading List for the Minister’s Personal Growth

There was one book that I mentioned that I am choosing to do a much more in-depth review of. It was published in 1997 by Kregel Publications and is still being reprinted and available in most Christian bookstores. Preaching with Freshness by Bruce Mawhinney is an excellent little book (258 pages) that is more along the lines of a novel than a technical book on preaching. It tells the story of a pastor who has been preaching for 10 years and has allowed his preaching to go flat and now the folks are complaining about it. Now is another good opportunity to insert a quote from J. R. Ensey that I continue to hear rattle around in my head on occasion. “Poor preaching is a heavy cross for a church to have to bear!” Brother Ensey mentioned this more than 15 years ago and it has stuck with me.

Pastor Paul Andrews is making his church drag around a very heavy cross and is feeling the pressure from it. As you read this book, if you have been preaching for any length of time, you will relate to the struggles and pressures that this book addresses. Luckily Paul Andrews happens to run into Dr. Vickerson who taught him in seminary.

As they renew their friendship and catch up on old times, Paul bares his soul to the old preacher. Dr. Vickerson rises to the challenge and helps Paul breath some “freshness” back into his preaching. It is a very good story and you will find a number of solid principles that will be very useful to you.
I am listing some of the chapter titles to give you an idea of what the book is about.

The Preacher’s One Business -- Focus in on the giant but extremely important purpose of preaching.

The Importance of Starting Early -- Planning your week. Most preachers are not even aware of how much time they waste until they track their week. Just as a budget will show where your money is going, if you are willing to track your time you will see where time is getting away from you.

Rifles and Shotguns -- The importance of a clear purpose aimed carefully at its target.

Jonah Snoring -- Using “non-dictionary” sounds to enliven preaching.

Surprise Power -- Tapping into the power of the surprising statements in Scripture.

Reservoir Power -- A reservoir of Scripture, scholarship, and prayer. Study that goes beyond week-to-week preparation. The importance of studying the sermons of powerful preachers.

Light From Fog -- What do you mean by what you said? The worthy art of making an application to what you are conveying in the message.

Here are some random quotes from throughout the book:

The Prince of Darkness will have you running here and there doing a thousand good little works in order to keep you from doing those two important works: prayer and the ministry of the Word.

Often those who hold a high view of God’s Word mistakenly think they don’t need to do the diligent work of preparation. They just throw out the message to the people in whatever form it first comes to them.

Attack early and attack daily! Each day will add more input and energy to your message. All week long you will be filling up your reservoir, not draining it.

As time goes by a certain smoothness comes with the experience of the years. That smoothness has a more professional sound to it, but it may also bring with it a certain dullness.

Jesus accented particular truths and set them apart in memorable form. Even if the crowd or the disciples didn’t immediately grasp what He was saying, they would remember His words long after He had spoken them.

Shallow and shoddy preaching is one reason so many immature believers are desperate for counseling. If they were being motivated each week by strong inspiring preaching they wouldn’t get into so many messy situations.

Experience the exhilaration that comes from discovering the deep hidden treasures of God’s Word, treasures that cannot be unearthed by a half-hearted effort using a child’s toy shovel.

In addition in the back of the book there is a very valuable checklist for preaching with freshness. To the man who might choose to do so, there is an outline for a seminar that could be given.

All-in-all this is worth the $10 you will pray for it. I have a feeling that you probably could round it up from an on-line used book source at a much cheaper price.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Discipline of Study -- Doug White

On my behalf, I must confess that speaking with these men about their particular patterns of study has been a tremendous blessing to me. In addition, much motivation has come from them to me as I have discovered some of the methods and means by which they go about compiling their work.

Today is no different. I was tremendously blessed and inspired to spend some time with Pastor Douglas White of Abundant Life Church in Silsbee, Texas. He has been preaching for 29 years. In the neighborhood of eight years he was an evangelist and has now been the pastor in Silsbee for 20 years having just celebrated that anniversary.

Brother White came from a difficult home life one that was marked with alcohol abuse by a father who often made life very miserable for the whole family. Brother White’s testimony of mental, verbal, and physical abuse at the hands of a drunken father and the overcoming grace of God through all of it is an incredible testimony. He received the Holy Ghost and was baptized in Jesus Name in a church in southern Indiana and it was not long as a teen that he began to feel the stirrings of a call to preach.

After about six months, he hit the field as an evangelist. Even to this day, he feels that primary calling of his life has been that of an evangelist. He did admit that there were times that this may have hampered the pastoral work but apparently not enough that the folks in Silsbee thought otherwise because he and they have hung in there for a little over twenty years. Although Brother White preaches a number of conferences and camps around the country every year he expressed to me that the thing he enjoys most is going into a local church as an evangelist and strengthening the things that remain and then reaching out to the lost.

His early influences were primarily that of two men, both of which were pastors. Hiram Brock pastored a church that ran in attendance 450-475 where Brother White came in out of the world. One of the heart-rending things to Brother White even to this day, is the fact this man who was formerly one of the town’s drunks collapsed in moral failure ending his ministry.

When I asked him about the influences on his life as a young preacher there were three names that he mentioned.

Morris Golder -- Bishop Golder was the former superintendent of the Pentecostals Assemblies of the World (PAW). He would drive many miles to hear this man preach before he passed away. Bishop Golder also had a radio broadcast that came on every Sunday morning at 8:30 and if he was near Indianapolis, he would try to tune in to hear him preach. His messages were marked by being very Word driven and there wasn’t an ounce of sensationalism to them at all. When I asked him if there were any messages that stood out to him, he indicated “Ye Are the Salt of the Earth,” “The Interval Between,” “Viewing Creation through Re-Creation,” and “True Repentance.” “True Repentance” dealt with the attitude of simply a person being sorry for their mistakes and the more transforming side of actively seeking a change of heart and direction.

Marshall Taylor -- He is a PAW evangelist who received the Spirit when he was in prison and is still preaching today although apparently at an advanced age in life.
(Both of these men are still men that Brother White listens to preach on a regular basis. Although Golder is no longer alive there are several of his messages on He mentioned just getting in a set of CD’s by Marshall Taylor.)

Rex Johnson -- Back in the early ‘80’s is when Pastor Rex Johnson had his biggest impact on Brother White. He explained to me that when Rex Johnson appeared on the scene as the national youth president that there were many who had begin to press against active and passionate worship. It was a time when “dignity” was being stressed among Pentecostal churches. Brother White said that Brother Johnson came out with such passionate preaching and he stressed the importance of heart-felt worship in our churches that Brother White gravitated toward the style of Brother Johnson.

Mark Hanby -- He mentioned his early messages from the ‘70’s that really stood out to him and were very beneficial.

O. R. Fauss -- He had a high level of influence on him simply because of his conviction style preaching. (More about Brother Fauss later.)

As for men who influence him now, he mentioned a couple of men.

Paul Mooney -- He expressed the thing about Brother Mooney is that he is a very ardent supporter with an unshakeable devotion to Apostolic doctrine.

Larry Booker -- He has a great admiration for the mind of this man and feels like that he is a brilliant thinker among the Apostolic brethren in our times.

Scott Graham
-- Brother Graham is his closest friend and they talk very frequently about preaching and messages that are in progress.

(All of these men, except Marshall Taylor have sermons on Faithbuilder that you may listen to and/or download.)

When I asked him about the books that have helped to shape him over the years, I received an interesting response.

The Bible -- As the years roll on in his ministry, he has found that he spends much more time reading Scripture than he did in his earlier years. There is something about the power of Scripture to be able to shape the message a man is about to preach more than any book one might read. He has recently purchased the Reformation Study Bible which is in the English Standard Version. He told me that he has always been a KJV disciple, he has found the RSB to be packed full of good notes scattered throughout.

Clarence Edward Macartney -- He was an old Presbyterian pastor who was very careful about doing character studies in a biographical manner.

Gene Edwards -- All of his early works since the late works have really gone into the “house church” concept. Brother White requires all of the young ministers coming up in his church to read “A Tale of Three Kings” and “The Prisoner in the Third Cell” because they have such value in understanding the importance of anointing and also of suffering. I also highly commend each of these volumes to you as they are some of the most important books I have ever read. Both books are right at 100 pages or so and can be easily read in a short period of time but they contain life lessons that will last forever.

Jewish History -- There is much “fodder” to be gleaned from the right sources. He mentioned one sermon he had preached after he had studied some of the writings of a Jewish rabbinic scholar. The sermon was “The Perpetual Miracle of Pentecost” which dealt with the column of smoke that issued from the Temple and the fact that the shewbread was always kept warm in the Temple.

Brother White tremendously enjoys the simple aspect of preaching. But he has developed a system by which he keeps very meticulous records concerning messages he has preached. He has a MS Excel file that has more than 4500 entries that references Title, Date, and Location where the message was preached. He was encouraged (maybe even almost demanded) by another early pastor named Robert Johnson. He urged Brother White to keep a diary of his preaching material and now he is very glad he heeded that advice. On a side bar when he was speaking about Pastor Johnson he told me how much he loved, honored, and respected this man even to this day although apparently Brother Johnson is in ill-health. He told me that one of the reasons that our generation has being loyal to the ways of God is because they are not loyal to the man of God.

As for the record-keeping another benefit comes from it. A man who keeps good records can almost see the maturity that has taken place in his life. It should be the desire of every preacher to see spiritual maturity taking place in his life and he can track this through the development of his messages.

Brother White mentioned that every preacher has “signature sermons.” These are sermons that are a part of the man’s spirit. It is almost what a man is known for. He can preach these sermons anywhere usually with a good impact simply because those messages expose the heart and soul of that preacher. When I asked him about some of his messages that he thought fell into this category he mentioned two.

“When God Delivers His Darling from the Dogs” is a message about overcoming the flesh and being delivered from self. He preached this because he understood the huge struggle that often comes from the Spirit and the flesh but there comes a time when the Spirit takes the upper hand as spiritual maturity and authority develops in the saint of God. He also told me about “Echoes of My Sermons” which came through the heartaches and pains that a pastor has to endure in working with people who walk away from the church in a backslidden state.

Brother White mentioned some of those high-energy, classic Pentecostal messages that he has gotten some good mileage from over the years. “Who Let the Dogs Out” was a take-off from a rap song several years ago. “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” was another of those messages that was a roof shaker. He also mentioned “Hell Bent in a Heavenly Place.” I have to admit that has he told me the titles of these my curiosity was piqued and maybe I can find copies of these in MP3 somewhere and upload them to Faithbuilder.

He also mentioned a message that I heard him preach at Alabama Youth Camp several years ago. “Things Feared More than God’s Judgment” was a message about living in the shadow of an awesome God and enjoying the blessings of God but unwilling to make the necessary commitment to live for God. God told Israel that if they would stay close to Him, He would save the nation and their king. Fear only God and yet they did not fear God but rather feared commitment to God and spent their lives living on the fringes and it was spiritual death to them.

As for his sermon notes, he prepares a full manuscript word-for-word although he does not preach them word-for-word. He does this for two reasons: 1) It is important for future reference should he desire to go back to this message and want to preach it again; 2) He has two sons who are coming along behind him in ministry and he desires for his notes to be useful to them. His detailed notes for the following generation has a way of showing exactly what he believed, why he believed it from Scripture, and how he came to that conclusion. The notes are in a 14-point font and instead of double-spacing he uses a space and half. After 29 years of preaching he has accumulated more than 1,000,000 (one million) pages of notes that are in notebooks and filing cabinets in his study.

Brother White told me that he got on the computer train years ago when they first came out and now he is very thankful he did because they have helped him to arrange, store, and categorize his notes. He has three files of which he works with his preaching. “Sermons Used” is a large file containing in the range of 300-400 messages that he feels were good enough to be used again in another church, youth camp, or conference. He has a “Sermons” file which contains 2000+ messages that are most likely ones that will never be preached again but still can be useful for referring back to for study helps. The last folder is “Sermons In Preparation” and currently in this file he has 82-83 seed thoughts. Some of them are just titles, some are just Scripture references, some are just a bulleted list of points, and some of them may be just a sentence. However, all of them are in constant motion. He told me that a preacher really ought to be preaching 24 hours a day. By that he meant that whenever he is in a bookstore he is constantly scanning for sermon titles, when he is in the hospital for pastoral visitation he is looking for things to weave into his preaching, and other various points of life there are things that will leap out to the ready and spiritual mind.

Brother White carries around a Moleskin and another comb-bound notebook to write down various thoughts during the day. The way he puts a message together when he moves into the gear of putting it together, he generally will start with something he has pulled from the “Sermon Prep” folder. Then he will begin to plug in the rough outline with the major points and then will go back and work in the parts from various Scripture references and illustrative sources whether they are biblical or outside the Bible. He feels the introduction is the most important part of the message as it allows the preacher to pull in the hearer and hold his attention. As he does this, the message takes its shape.

As for study habits, he primarily studies late at night after the day has calmed down. There have been times that he would start messages at 11:30PM and end up working on them through the night to the early morning hours. Also he uses Saturdays to put much steam into Sunday. On Sunday afternoons, he is also very involved in putting the message together. All day on Wednesday he is usually working on the message for the night. He also mentioned to me that he has found that the messages he thought were “duds” and had no usefulness whatsoever that these were sometimes the messages that spoke most to the church.

I conclude with a conversation that he had with O. R. Fauss several years ago at General Conference. He asked Brother Fauss why that there seemed to be a lack of conviction/commitment style preachers in our times. Brother Fauss told him that it took a special man to carry the cross of this kind of ministry. It was usually one of isolation and this kind of preacher had very few real friends. He may have some acquaintances but there would be very few who were willing to desire this. Secondly, Brother Fauss told him that mostly our generation is seeking after the presents of God instead of the presence of God. Although this may have been a play on words, it was an excellent analogy that deserves our attention.

I was tremendously blessed by the conversation that I had with Brother White about preaching and I anticipate that you will have been blessed by his commitment to preaching also.

Have a great weekend. . . . I will wrap up this series next week with two very good men: J. H. Osborne and John Carroll.

The Links:

The discipline of Study

Jeff Arnold

Scott Graham

Ben Weeks

Jason Calhoun

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Discipline of Study -- Jason Calhoun

Continuing with this series on the discipline of study, I am going to share with you some thoughts and observations from another friend of mine. I have known Jason Calhoun for at least 15 years maybe longer. He and I became acquainted through my very good friend Paul Jacks who I attended Bible College with 20 years ago. At the time that I met him, he was involved in the ministry as an evangelist of which he did for 10 years.

Jason Calhoun began actively preaching at the age of 17 and was placed into youth ministry at 18. When he turned 19, he began actively evangelizing often preaching two revivals a week. He would be at one church from Thursday through the weekend and then would pick up at another church as soon as that revival concluded sometimes preaching as much as 32 times during a 30 day period. He told me that during these times that life taught him the importance of understanding the ministry as a marathon and not just a sprint. It takes time for certain dreams to be accomplished but given time, effort, and discipline the process will fulfill itself and dreams have a way of fulfilling themselves.

He was raised in the church by faithful parents. His father served in roles as assistant pastor before finally being in the role as a pastor. In the early years, his father had been a business owner who was willing to take a risk if he thought that God was in the plan. On one occasion, the family moved from the mid-West to Hawaii to start a business. Jason’s father ended up there with a successful business venture and fulfilling the role as an assistant pastor before serving as a pastor in Hawaii. Jason mentioned that both of his parents were very hard workers when it came to the Kingdom of God and their willingness to persevere and sacrifice precluded for him to clearly understand the power that comes from persistence in seeing things accomplished and built up. His dad would often say, “If god is in it, we can do it!”

When he left home at 19 as an evangelist, he quickly understood that with every calling that there comes a measure of equipping from God. However, the equipping process will often be accompanied by a certain measure of pain. This principle came to bear for him in Santa Rosa, New Mexico just off of I-40 when a propane tank malfunctioned and an explosion set his fifth-wheel trailer on fire and he lost everything except for the clothes on his back. At the time, his wife was not travelling with him and she managed to round him up a suit from the Salvation Army and some borrowed shoes from a grandfather for him to wear. He commenced on the trail as an evangelist and it took a bit for him to recharge his budget to buy some more clothes so he was reduced to wearing this single uniform of clothes for a number of days.

The deep blow came shortly after his beginning but fortuitously he came to a revival at Riverbank, California. It was there that having lost everything he had that God began that plan that either makes or breaks ministries. He related to me that many nights after the services were over that he would go back into the sanctuary of the church and spend long hours in prayer during the night. The prayer was more about brokenness and the shaping of a preacher’s soul than they were about doing the “big” things for God. But he also related that during this time of deep feeling and rending of heart there came an anointing into his life that still to this day has remained a constant source of strength for him. Even now when he goes back to that church in Riverbank, a lot of nostalgia accompanies him.

During that time of consecrating prayer, he would prayer with a sense of fervor for God to place him into contact with good men who could mentor him as a young evangelist. He was not disappointed with the outcome of that prayer because during that time, God paved the way for him to come into contact with four men who had the ability to shape his life.

Jerry Green -- He demonstrated a lot of faith and always had a positive approach to life. He appeared to never have a “down” time in his life and ministry always believing the best would turn out.

Steve McMullen -- This man demonstrated a pastor who prayed. He prayed much for the saints in his church and for an atmosphere of the Spirit to continually work in the church. Throughout his travels as an evangelist, he found no other pastor to pray more than did Brother McMullen.

Tim Copeland -- Being a former evangelist, he influenced him as a soul-winner and a man given to evangelism. He taught home Bible studies and his Saturday’s (all day) were given to visiting and seeing people in an effort to get them to come to church.

Phil White -- Brother White sort of took him in as a younger brother. He learned much about character from him and the importance of sticking to principles and not violating or compromising your calling for a political advantage. Jason told me that he has never met a man who has the uncanny ability to provide leadership to a church with the eye on the future. He always looks at the impact of a decision for where it is going to lead the church 20 years from now.

As for his peers in his life, they have had the ability to influence and help him. His closest friend is Ben Weeks and they are frequently on the phone discussing aspects of Scripture and angles on sermons. Shannon Stanley is another friend who lives in nearby Bossier City, Louisiana. Jonathon Stringfellow was a former evangelist who preached in the church in Texarkana a number of times. Steve Pixler is a pastor and close friend who has encouraged him more than anyone to lean toward expository teaching. I round out the crowd although I am a latecomer having reconnected with Jason about 3 years ago.

As with all of the former men I have blogged about, Jason also listens to preaching via MP3 and sometimes even cassette tape (remember those?). He told me that he enjoys listening to older preachers who tell of the difficulties of life that God has helped them to overcome. The following men are those whom he regularly listens to now.

J. T. Pugh -- This is perhaps his favorite preacher. He told me about the greatest sermon in his mind that Brother Pugh ever preached. It is a message entitled “Don’t Fool with a Fool.” It was preached at the POA in Alexandria, Louisiana quite some time back. It is a sermon about Nabal who almost destroyed David. Saul could not destroy David with all of his hate-motivated actions but Nabal and his recklessness of a fool almost entrapped David.

Charles Grisham -- Jason told me that more than anything he appreciated Brother Grisham’s ability to love truth and preach it with a good spirit and attitude. This is challenging to do for those who have strong conservative leanings but Brother Grisham always seemed very real, genuine, and concerned.

O. C. Marler -- The two messages that stand out from Brother Marler are “Living in Troas” and “Walking in the Rainbow.”

J. W. Harrell -- From both of our thoughts, Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas is going to have a huge reward for his impact on the life of many a preacher. Two sermons that stand out are “A Perceived Slight” and “A Thief Called Familiarity.”

Jack Hyles -- This is his favorite from a non-Pentecostal standpoint.

As with the earlier blogs concerning study, any preacher worth his salt is going to have good books. As far as commentaries are concerned the “Exploring” series by John Phillips is the primary commentary. However, Jason also related to me that he reads a number of older sermon books by G. H. Morrison, Hubert L. Simpson, T. Dewitt Talmage, Alan Redpath, J. Sidlow Baxter, Clovis Chappell, Harold Kohn, Roy Angell, J. Wallace Hamilton, and Arthur Pink (in bite-sized pieces). As far as pastoral ministry is concerned a book that has been read and revisited numerous times is a classic written by J. H. Jowett entitled “The Preacher: His Life and Work.” I highly recommend all of these authors and they are easily obtained (for the most part) by using the numerous internet sources that feature used books.

As for general books, he tries to set goals and attempts to read at least one book a week. He has collected a fair amount of books by Harold Bell Wright who was a prolific writer of fiction more than 50 years ago. He is probably best known for “The Shepherd of the Hills” and to a lesser degree “The Calling of Dan Mathews.” Other books that HBW has written contain excellent lessons in morality and the power of making good choices are crucial seasons of life.

Other books fall in the genres of biography, the medical field, nature, and war particularly those dealing with leadership during war. He is currently reading the book “Team of Rivals” about the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln. He also mentioned reading books that are about or by Jews, particularly Chiam Potok who gets into the world of Hasidic rabbis and their very rigorous and disciplined training. I was recently exposed to the writings of Potok (The Promise, The Chosen, My Name is Ashur Lev) and was shocked at the intensity of which the author writes and explores areas that had been almost foreign to me.

He also listens to Jim Rohn’s lectures on leadership and personal growth. Malcolm Gladwell’s books concerning sociology have been some good venues also. This is evidence of those who get off the beaten path with their thoughts and ideas.

While he did mention to me that he listens to a various sermons, he has found that he gets far more out of reading than he does listening. When he was an evangelist, he listened to evangelists preach but when he assumed the role of a pastor, he became more interested in building strong and solid people. This will not and cannot happen with the flash-bang preaching that evangelists are often known for. So the role of the pastor has changed his preaching style and content.

Steve Pixler had a big influence on him concerning pastoral preaching. He encouraged Jason to focus in on expository preaching which will benefit the church in the long run. He has found that a lengthy series in 1 Corinthians has been beneficial. When he is finished with this, Jason told me that he is preparing to go into the book of James. There are two particular men that he looks to for direction in this kind and style of preaching have been Crawford Coon and the aforementioned Steve Pixler.

When he was evangelizing the frequency of the preaching often led to physical weariness but a very keen spiritual sensitivity. But as a pastor he discovered that there is much more that goes on in church life than just what occurs in the pulpit. Through exposition of Scripture many issues of church life are dealt with simply as the Scripture unfolds itself in the preaching event. As for the series in 1 Corinthians, marriage, Christian liberties, communion, the resurrection, giving, and headship/authority are all things that have been discovered.

As far as pastoral ministry is concerned, there is a trap that many fall into. It is the busyness of the church and an over-committed schedule. Far too often the ministry is attempted with little regard for God. A pastor who attempts ministry without relationship with God will inevitably find that over the long-haul he will give into burnout, weariness, and mental and spiritual collapse that will lead to disqualification from effective ministry.

As far as a routine, three mornings a week the church has corporate prayer at 6 AM of which he takes part in. Usually after this he spends time reading the Bible and just musing over Scripture. It is often during these times that particular thoughts will leap out and they usually end up becoming sermons. On every Monday, Jason is already looking toward Sunday to get in tune for it. His prayer is “God help me preach tings when we need them.” Timing is everything!

He also has a Moleskin that he carries around to write down things that have struck him from Scripture. I asked him to give me a couple of things that he has written down but has not developed yet. These are the seed thoughts he gave me.

2 Samuel 19 -- Joab could not understand why David was so distraught over Absalom’s death. The threat to the Kingdom was now dead and David’s kingdom was about to find a restoration. The point of the message will be that no matter how big the success or victory may be, if the succeeding generation is destroyed in the process it is all very empty.

2 Samuel 16:5-13 -- Shimei is cursing the king and his response is basically to just let him curse. There are some things in life that you just have to let them curse.

Coming Back To the City -- Upon David’s return back to the city of Jerusalem there were four people who met him. 1) Judah -- Of course the meaning in the name is praise. A king is always going to be worthy of worship. 2) Shimei -- He had a checkered past but now has been forgiven. He was the man who was mistake prone but has been given a second chance. 3) Mephibosheth -- He was the man who had been wounded and was now returning to meet the king. 4) Barzillai -- He was the man who thought he had waited too long. These four will meet the king when he returns; the man who is a worshipper, the man who has been given the second chance, the man who has been wounded, and the man who thought he went too far.

When I asked him to give me one last thought, it put a good exclamation point on all we had talked about. He felt that men in their late 30’s and early 40’s needed to take an active role in the lives of those ministers who are in their 20’s. The tendency of the 35-45 year old crowd is to become self-absorbed in building their own lives and ministries that they do not start looking to contribute until they are in their late 50’s and early 60’s which by then may be too late. Those of us in this age group do have something to give it is just a matter of doing so. We can befriend younger preachers and be a listening ear for them. Give them an opportunity to preach and show kindness to them. Furthermore we can involve them by giving them resources and then asking them what their thoughts on these things are.

All of these thoughts struck home to Jason when he pulled out his cell phone recently and started scanning through about 150 names of men with whom he is friends with and discovered that none of them were less than 30 years in age. These sorts of moments can be epiphany moments for all of us if we will allow them to happen.

Now go thou and do likewise. . . .

The Links:

The discipline of Study.

Jeff Arnold.

Scott Graham.

Ben Weeks

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...