A Time for Preaching

August 12, 2014

By Dwight Moody

396770 10150605890179994 59547209993 11317436 641882711 n1 150x150 A Time for Preaching Ecclesiastes contends there is a time for everything, and surely this is the time for preaching.

Our homes, our communities, our nation, even our world is in dire need of the gospel of God, that God, in Christ, is redeeming the world, is at work in every circumstance to pull us forward into the future that Jesus called the kingdom of God.

But there is much evidence pointing in the other direction.

I cannot remember a stretch of days during which so many dramatic and dreadful things have happened.

• In Iraq, a murderous band of armed thugs is spreading genocide to every village and hamlet.
• Along our southern border, desperate children and youth are piling up in refugee camps, waiting for relief from the danger and drama back home.
• In St. Louis, yet another young, unarmed black youth is gunned down by an armed and uniform man.
• On the other side of the world Russian troublemakers stir up discontent in Ukraine.
• In California, a famous and beloved actor succumbed to depression and took his own life.
• And in a million private and unnoticed corners of the world people are struggling to feed families, worship God, resist addiction, find work, pay bills, escape danger, and defeat cancer.

For all of these signs of our times, a gospel word is needed: in the public arena and in the parish auditorium. Preachers are called upon to speak into these difficult and desperate situations the good news of the God: God lives, God loves, God acts, God forgives, God creates, God renews.

Yes, some would-be preachers take to their pulpits in these times to judge, condemn, rebuke, exclude, denounce, and warn. And I suppose there is a time even for these harsh words, but now it seems what the world needs is the love and mercy of God, the kindness and righteousness of God’s people, and the courage and confidence of God’s preachers.

Has God called you to preach? This is your time!

This is a time for preaching: for looking past the political, economic, social, and scientific explanations for all the turbulence; looking past the ideological divides that keep us from God and from one another; looking past the blame and bluster of superficial speakers, and lift up the promise of God: Nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God which is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.

These words of hope and healing are the leaves on the tree of life that grows on either side of the river of life; they are for the healing of the nations. And we preachers are the ones with the wonderful task of saying so. God give us strength. It is a time for preaching.

“Wait”–A Sermon We All Need

August 5, 2014

By Dwight Moody

MOody head shot 2014 150x150 Wait  A Sermon We All Need Very rarely, if ever, do I post a sermon in this space. Maybe that will change, beginning today.

Here is a sermon we all need to read and hear. It was preached last February by my long time friend, Terry Ellis. He was pastor of my home church in Murray, Kentucky, and then another church in Alabama, and now Broadmoor Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. He is a wonderful preacher, but this sermon goes deeper, wider, and higher than the vast majority of sermons I have read, heard, or preached. I needed this sermon and so do you.

I’m Terry. And I’m an alcoholic.

I’m quite sure that for the first half century or so of my life those are words I never thought I would say. The idea never crossed my mind. It is not something I ever considered. But here I am, an alcoholic. I’m not proud of that, but I’m also not ashamed. It doesn’t define completely who I am, but it does inform who I am. I am a grateful alcoholic, grateful for what God as done in my life, what God has taught me, and the hope God has stirred to life within me. So my sermon today may be words you do not need or expect to hear, but they are words I need to say. I hope you understand.

I want to begin by saying how grateful I am. I’m thankful for my wife Leslie. I put you through a very difficult time, and I am very sorry for that hard time. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. There was nothing wrong with the words you said. An alcoholic is not a good listener. I could use a dozen different defenses to keep from seeing the truth. But you didn’t give up on me. In fact, God used you to make the most important phone call you ever made. You called Leon on Monday night, November 5, and told him of your fears for me. He came the next day to the office and told me, “We need to get you well.” I don’t know why those words got through to me. There is no formula for what makes an alcoholic finally listen. But I do know this, Leslie: you set that in motion. Thank you.

I’m grateful for Broadmoor Baptist Church and our wonderful staff (who did disgustingly well without me). You sent hundreds of cards, letters, notes, e-mails. I read each one, often more than once. One of the chief ways God loves us is through other people. You sustained me through your love. You helped me to see in a new and deeper way God’s love and grace. What a gift! Thank you. I also want to say that I am sorry for putting you in this difficult position. I missed some funerals, some parties, the weekly interaction in which you needed your pastor. But you still believed in me. Thank you.

And I’m grateful for Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center: the counselors, a small group I met with daily, the other 55 or so men I lived with, and maybe most importantly the 6-10 guys I lived with in cabins; they saved my life. Literally. Now I’m betting you have never had a pastor who was able to give a personal testimony about rehab, but I can. I sum it up this way: it was the best experience I never want to repeat.

I learned so much there. I can sum up what I learned in a single word. It’s the title of the sermon: wait.

Wait. I’m not good at waiting. I read about a Russian comedian named Yakov Smirnoff. (By the way, I wonder about the irony of preaching a sermon like this and using a story about a guy named Smirnoff.) When Yakov Smirnoff came to the U.S. he was especially impressed by the grocery stores. He said, “I’ll never forget walking down one of the aisles and seeing powdered milk; just add water and instant milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice; just add water and instant orange juice. Then I saw baby powder. What a country!” (PT.com, “waiting on God”).

We love speed. We want instant whatever. We don’t like to wait. We try to speed up whatever we’re doing. Fine. I like efficiency. I don’t like waiting at traffic lights. A driver this morning couldn’t handle a turn right on red. Gonna lead me to relapse! I don’t like the lines at the DMV. It may surprise you, but I don’t like sermons that go on too long. The Methodists beat us to the restaurants. Speed is fine in many areas of life; but not in spiritual matters. If you’re trying to grow spiritually you better be prepared to wait.

One of the most familiar and beloved passages in the Bible teaches us this. Let’s read from the prophecy of Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” This is the Word of God.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are pretty rough. Isaiah the prophet of God pronounces God’s judgment on the people. Chapter 27 is called the Isaiah Apocalypse. That means bad things are about to happen. And they did. Foreign armies marched through the promised land. The nations of Israel and Judah fell. The people were despairing and dispirited. They wondered if God really cared. They knew God existed, but they also knew they were disappointed in God.

This may come as a surprise to you. Disappointment with God is no sin. We bring certain expectations to the table and when God doesn’t come through as we expected we are disappointed. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with God. Of course, it means there’s something wrong with us. But God can take it. God is not surprised. Nothing hurts His feelings. By the way, that omniscience thing is really true. God already knows what you’re thinking and feeling. That means God works best with an honest person. Just be honest. Get it out there. Tell the Lord how you feel. Then God can help.

Judah and Israel, the twin kingdoms, were disappointed with God. They had expectations. God didn’t come through. Again, it was their fault. They had followed a bad course and wandered away from God. They were in a spiritually vulnerable position, and they made a terrible mistake; they gave up hope.

Everyone of us reaches a point where we are spiritually vulnerable. The things we do to get there vary. The mistakes we make as a result vary. My mistake was always trying to make things happen. Always pushing. Always evaluating, measuring, comparing, believing I could do anything better. Increasingly I was unable to enjoy the present blessing because I worried about the future.

Now you must listen carefully. This church never put too much on me. Frankly, this is the easiest church I have ever served. Don’t think for a minute that my drinking was caused by too much pressure at work. That’s an easy and self-serving excuse. It sounds like I’m saying, “I just worked so hard I became a drunk.”

No. Here’s what happened with me. I gathered up disappointments, some lingering resentments from the past; and then self-pity set in. Then fears about the future. It all gets mixed up, and I became spiritually vulnerable. The chief spiritual problem I encountered, the chief character defect I faced, was my own pride. Again, it can sound very noble. “I just wanted to do the best I could for God and for you.” No I wasn’t. I was trying to do the best for me! More and more, everything around me became a measure of my own value. I can’t tell you when it began, only that I know it was years and years ago. But little by little and then all at once I was living mainly in my own strength, relying on my own will.

Never take for granted your relationship with God. You can be in church, you can read your Bible daily (even in the original languages), you can speak with the silver tongues of men and angels but if you’ve lost that vital connection with God then you will fall exhausted. You will become spiritually vulnerable. I did.

At one point about two years ago or so I began drinking wine. Listen carefully. There’s nothing wrong with wine. The Bible says that God made wine to gladden the hearts of men. Jesus’ first miracle was not turning water into grape juice. The vast majority of people can enjoy alcohol safely. God bless you. I can’t, and about 10% of the population or so can’t. I can never drink alcohol in any form safely again. Most of you can. Don’t worry about it. And you don’t have to lock up the cabinets if the pastor is coming over; you don’t have to refuse to drink in my presence. My problem does not mean you have to change your behavior.

When I started drinking wine it was fine and good. In the first half century of my life the amount of alcohol I consumed wouldn’t fill a single glass. But when I started, I enjoyed the effect. I drank to make me feel more comfortable about all the things swirling around in my head. It gave me a warm glow. It made me sleepy. It made me forget for a while. It numbed the pain I was experiencing and the pain I was creating. Then I relied on it. Little by little then all at once, I couldn’t stop.

For any non-alcoholic or non-addict, this part of our story is very difficult to understand. I used to think the same way. If you just don’t bend your elbow you won’t drink! Problem solved. An alcoholic’s mind and body are not like that. Alcoholism is a disease. It’s a different kind of disease for sure. It’s a mixture of genetics, environment, and choice. I have a gene that predisposes me to alcoholism, and when the stress rose I exercised my choice badly, and I could not stop.

I know this is very hard to understand. In fact, I think that unless you have an addiction it is extremely difficult to relate to what we go through in addiction. The best analogy I’ve heard is don’t eat for three days. Nothing. Then try not to think about food. This does not excuse my drinking, but it does explain an important part of it and why I can never drink safely again. There is a real insanity to an addiction.

Spiritually I entered into an increasing blindness to God’s ways. In fact, that is a major theme of the prophecy of Isaiah. The people in that day were willfully resisting the way God works. That’s what I did. I relied more and more on my own strength and insight. This happened long before I began drinking. Little by little and all at once I was living in my own strength and operating along the lines of my own self-will.

That is selfish, self-centered pride that edges God out. My resisting God was not a conscious, angry rejection of God. I still had spiritual knowledge. I still had spiritual convictions. I did not doubt God, and I was doing a lot of things right and well. But even a strong religious life is no substitute for a vital spiritual experience, a relationship in which I should have relied on God and been willing to WAIT on God.

So there I was in a shadowy world of increasing grayness, restlessness, and spiritual exhaustion, trying to fill a God-centered void with cheap chardonnay. Leslie described it as an unraveling. That’s a good description. I would say that I became increasingly hollow. Spiritually desiccated. Dry as that valley of bones. I was right there with Jacob and Israel. Where is God? I was living on memories.

So what was the answer for me? The same as it was for the first readers of Isaiah. Isaiah told them to look at God’s majesty, and that’s what I did. I remembered. I remembered because at Palmetto you have time to think. You’re out in the middle of a cow pasture in Rayville, that’s what they like to say. No cell phones. No tvs in the rooms. You have to learn to live again without ESPN.

I thank God for that cow pasture. It gave me a chance to look up. The night sky has always stirred me. The first month or so the planet Venus was bright and high in the western sky. You can feel pretty small under an open sky. It’s easier for me to remember that the everlasting God is the Creator of the ends of the earth and the whole universe. God does not faint or grow weary. God’s understanding is limitless. God is great, and I am not apart from God.

I began to hear the music of the spheres again, the celestial melody that God weaves into all of His stunning creation. God opened my ears and I heard that gentle voice.That’s the way the Lord has always spoken to me. A still small voice, easily obscured and easy to ignore. But I heard it again, and it was so good to know that God had never stopped singing. God was ready to give me strength.

What relief! The spiritual experience was back. The relationship was renewed. I’d been taught that I had to have that in order to be restored to sanity and health. I had it. It was back. By day 21 or so I was thinking clearly and God had restored me to a joyful faith. Thank God!

But there was more. We have a spiritual counselor at Palmetto, Stewart, and he told my therapist Phillip this, “Terry understands his addiction from the neck up.” I heard that and thought, “That’s right. That’s great! What else is needed?” Phillip was not impressed. I was confused. He said, “I really hope you get it. I really do.”

Get what? I had read the book, underlined important parts, and outlined it. I could quote page numbers so much it irritated people in my small group. Give me a text to study. Give me a paper to write. Give me a forum to discuss ideas. I love it all. So what have I not gotten? In therapy, in life, you don’t change unless you are uncomfortable. I was very uncomfortable, and I really did not know what to do. Apparently I could not figure my way through this problem.

We have a tennis court up there at Palmetto. Darren, the guy in charge, the fiery prophet of Palmetto, tells guys who are struggling with the whole idea of God to go out on that tennis court and 10:00 at night. Just stand there and look up and say “I’m willing.”

Well, I already believed in God. Heck, I have a Master of Divinity! I have a doctorate in theology! But I decided to go out on that tennis court late one night. I said, “God you’ve put someone in my life to help me, and he says there’s something important that I need to do. It goes beyond using my head. God, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know how to do that. I just know that I want what You want to give me.” Heaven was silent, but I had done everything I knew how to do. I’d left it in God’s hands.

That night as I lay in bed, a single word crystallized in my mind. Resign. Resign as director of my little world. Stop trying to be in charge. No matter how good I tried to make it out to be my efforts to lead a church or solve your problems in my own strength is nothing less than arrogant idolatry. I began to see how much I had been doing that. I realized that I was never in charge in the first place. God is. Always was. Always will be.

The only thing I’m in charge of is my attitudes and actions. Someone said, “You’re only responsible for what’s inside the hula hoop.” I could stop all that confounded pushing. The success of my life, the success of my church is not a matter of my own strength and understanding. It always was up to God. I can’t begin to tell you the weight that lifted off my shoulders when I let all that false responsibility fall away.

You see, I’ve been a man of action. Give me a problem, and I’ll tell you how to solve it. Get things moving! Get things done! Let’s rise up on wings of eagles, run and not be weary, walk and never faint. It’s comical really. All my striving, all of my embracing that illusion of control is just a smokescreen for impatience. That is not of God.

The key word is wait. Wait upon the Lord. Nothing good happens when I push in my own strength. Nothing. In fact, I will accept worldly mediocrity if it means spiritual excellence. I’ve served mammon too long in the form of self-generated accomplishments. I want God. I want God’s will. As long as it takes. God wants me to walk humbly before the Lord, not run proudly ahead of God. Usually that means I wait, and that’s ok.

That’s what we all really need in this far-too-busy world. Just wait. Do the next right thing, but don’t get in an anxious rush about it. That Hebrew word for wait literally means “to wind or twist,” as in a rope. It’s good to think of it as a lifeline that God winds at the right time and in the right way; and God throws it out to you.

He threw it to me in a cow pasture in Rayville. The good news is that wherever you are that rope is always there for you to take hold of. Just grab it, hold on, and wait. You know who holds the other end.

General Assocation of Baptists in Kentucky

July 31, 2014

By Dwight Moody

Moody Freddie Moody 150x150 General Assocation of Baptists in Kentucky All week long, the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky have been meeting in Lexington, at the Hilton Hotel. This is the same hotel that will host the 2016 National Festival of Young Preachers in Lexington, in January of 2016.

The General Association of Baptists in Kentucky is the primary gathering of Black Baptists or African American Baptists (I never know which descriptive phrase to use!) in Kentucky. I have attended much of this annual meeting; and when I have not been free to do so, other AoP representatives have (Elbonita Hawkins AoP’10, Allan Moody, Christian Smith AoP’10, and Keith Turner AoP’12).

It has been a wonderful experience for me. I have greeted some old friends:
Joseph Owens, pastor of Shiloh Church here in Lexington;
Richard Gaines, pastor of Consolidated Church also in Lexington;
Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephens Church in Louisville.
Nathl Moore, pastor of First Baptist Church also in Lexington; and
T Vaughn Walker, pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist in Louisville (whose young protégée J C Campbell AoP’10 preached at three of our National Festivals and served for three years on our Young Preachers Leadership Team).

Moody Moreland 150x150 General Assocation of Baptists in Kentucky Better yet, I made some new friends:
F. Bruce Williams, pastor of Bates Memorial Church in Louisville (whose member Terra Epps AoP’10 preached at our National Festival in 2011);
Robert Houston, pastor of First Baptist in Frankfort;
Freddie Moody, associate minister at Pleasant Green Baptist Church in Lexington (see photo, upper left); and
Jonathan Morehead, pastor of Hosack Street Church in Columbus, Ohio, (see photo, lower left); he is brother-in-law to my long-time friend (and AoP donor) Amos Jones, now a law professor in North Carolina–there is a feature story on Amos in the current edition of our magazine PREACHAPALOOZA.

Then there was the preaching! Thirteen sermons listed on the program! My white Baptists could take notice of this and follow suit! Last night, moderator C B Akins gave his “address” but it sure sounded more like a sermon to me. It was terrific, and I told him so!

I hope to go back tonight, when young Nathl Moore presides; he was a guest preacher for me at Georgetown College when I was Dean of the Chapel there a few years ago.

Lots of these ministers expressed interest in the Academy of Preachers, and I hope they take advantage of the opportunities we are offering their Young Preachers. After all, we will be in Lexington for the 2016 National Festival in January of 2016. The next planning meeting is in September, and all are welcome to come and help prepare for this great event (it will be our seventh national festival). Between now and then we will have a Regional Festival in Louisville next year.

It has been a good week. Thanks be to God.

Preachers of Influence

July 26, 2014

By Dwight Moody

MOody head shot 2014 150x150 Preachers of Influence My long time friend Mike Duduit, editor of Preaching magazine, has published a list of the 25 most influential preachers of the last 25 years. Duduit is an evangelical and his list shows his bias.

Of these 25 “most influential preachers” are three black preachers (Garner Taylor, Bill Jones, and E. K. Bailey), one woman (Barbara Brown Taylor), and one Pentecostal (Jack Hayford). Three others would represent mainline Protestantism (Fred Craddock, William Willimon, John Ogilvie).

And the rest?

All mainstream Evangelical or Fundamental: Graham, Swindoll, Warren, MacArthur, Rogers, Robinson, Stanley, Stanley, Stott, Criswell, Piper, Olford, Hybels, Driscoll, Kennedy, Wiersbe, and Keller.
The vast majority of Christians in American would not recognize most of these names.

Of these 25, six are dead and another 11 are largely retired from active ministry. So that leaves eight of the 25 still in active public ministry: Hayford, Warren, MacArthur, Stanley and Stanley, Hybels, Driscoll, and Keller. All of them fall in the Evangelical and Fundamental circles.

This list is more a commentary of Duduit’s circle of friends than an assessment on which preachers have shaped American religious or public life.

Even at that there are some powerful names missing: Bob Russell, T D Jakes, Jerry Falwell, Joyce Meyers, and Robert Schuller. And would not Joel Osteen be on that list somewhere?

And missing entirely are Catholic preachers; and social justice preachers; and liberal preachers; and Hispanic preachers; and preachers who started powerful movements, such as Gordon Cosby of Church of the Savior in Washington DC; or preachers who preached and wrote for powerful people, such as Peter Gomes of Memorial Chapel at Harvard?

Here is the most serious critique of Duduit’s list: at least seven if not all eight non-retired preachers on his list (see above) are stalwarts of the Religious Right. If these are the “most influential” preachers in America, why has their socio-religious movement failed to capture the imagination of the Christian community in America? Why has their version of what it means to be Christian in America not prevailed even among religious people?

I suspect Duduit has listed those who are most influential in his own circles, or those he wishes were the most influential.

Preaching continues to be one of the most influential practices in American public life. After all, it has been just three years since the nation dedicated the newest major memorial on the National Mall: not to a politician or a general, not to an entrepreneur or a lawyer, but to a preacher—not just any preacher, but one who continues to exert more influence on American society than any preacher on the list offered by Duduit.

I think we need another list of influential preachers. Will you help me construct it? Send your nominations to me at Dwight@academyofpreachers.net; or respond on Facebook at either my page or that of the Academy of Preachers. Together let’s create a roll call of influential preaching that is more faithful to the way that the way of Jesus Christ is actually lived in America.

Finding More to Preach About

July 23, 2014

By David Telfort, AoP'12

IMG 7871 150x150 Finding More to Preach AboutMy call to preach was confirmed in my sophomore year of college. I was in an internship at a financial firm and although I enjoyed my work I felt unfulfilled. I read a book that shifted my theological framework, “Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power Politics”. The book confirmed for me that God cares about our lives on earth as much as the desire that we make it to heaven. The book freed me to preach a gospel of justice, love and reconciliation. In the summer of 2011, through the Forum for Theological Exploration I was introduced to the Academy of Preachers (AoP). In AoP I found an organization that helps to refine and polish the gifts of communication God has given me.

Often meaningful messages do not reach their impact-potential because of the way they are communicated. During AoP’s preaching camp and my subsequent involvement in their festivals I learned effective ways of exchanging ideas. I learned that preaching is much more than exegesis of a passage. Preaching is body posturing, hand movement and identifying with one’s audience. AoP has pushed me to expand my idea of what preaching is and what it can be, beyond the bounds of my tradition.

When I think of my call to preach I think of my biblical namesake David. In 1st Samuel when he overhears Goliath taunting the Israelites and disrespecting God, David feels compelled to say something. We don’t know for sure but David did not seem to have dreams of being a famous warrior and an eventual King. Instead he is faithful in his duties as a shepherd and is moved in a new direction when God sees fit. In the same way, I never considered preaching to be a calling of mine. It was something I was drawn to. I reflected on my childhood in a working class community and felt that my observations of how the world works were not addressed in the church. Economic disparity, education inequality and racism were things I experienced but I never heard anyone propose what God might have to say about these issues. I heard a voice within me say, “Why don’t you?”

There are many people who are able to name what is wrong with the world but not enough who have the vision and boldness to propose solutions for change. AoP gives young people a platform to do just that. A platform to celebrate the Church and the things that it does well, but also push an institution we love and believe in. Each festival I attend gives me an opportunity to hear how well the Church is doing, but also vision for what the Church can be. This emboldens me as I continue my journey. I may not be sure of where I will end up, but wherever I go I have colleagues in the faith who strive to preach a challenging, redeeming and inclusive word pointing to Christ.

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