So Close . . .

I just finished the first draft of my last chapter for my thesis.  This doesn’t mean that I’m finished.  However the marathon of words to pages is almost over.  I will trim, refine, and strengthen my arguements over the next little while.  But knowing that I have x amount of words committed to pages is a satisfying feeling.

So that’s coming along . . .

On Preaching pt.1 – Not An Expert

[i’m going to try to do a writing series.  this is something i haven’t done before, but this is the first part of a series On Preaching]


On Preaching pt.1

 Not an Expert

I will be the first to say that I am no expert on preaching.  To which you might say, then why am I reading this?  That is a great question.  And I will answer it with another question, who truly is an expert on preaching?  And here’s another question for preachers, are you an expert on everything you talk about on a Sunday morning?


You are not an expert on everything that you talk about in your sermon.

You are not an expert on

. . . parenting

. . . marriage

. . . money

. . . sex

. . . theology

. . . ____________

The challenge with being a preacher is that we get up on the platform every week and we are expected to be the expert on whatever we are talking about.  For the most part that expectation is our own fault.  We want to do come across as smart, educated and prepared on whatever topic we have to work through.

But how can we possible be experts on so many things?  Honestly?  How can we be experts on so many different topics?

This is a typical schedule for most preachers.

Sunday – Preach a sermon (one, two, three, even four times)

Monday – Recover from Sunday and get read for next weeks sermon

Meet with three staff members

Evening – Pre-marriage counseling

Tuesday – Morning – Staff meeting 9-11 (could go longer than that)

Afternoon – Work on sermon research and writing

Wednesday – Morning meet with missionary

Lunch Meet with some small group leaders

Afternoon – Meet with creative team.

Thursday – Morning – Prepreach sermon notes

before lunch – revise notes.  Go over them again

Afternoon – meet with a couple whose marriage is falling apart

Friday – Sabbath – Don’t work (Funerals and Weddings still happen on these days)

Saturday – See Friday (days off are good)

That’s a typical week.  That’s generous for amount of time that could actually be set aside for most pastors and their sermon preparation.

So let’s be honest preachers, we are not experts.  I am not an expert on preaching, and neither are you.  At best we are all on various stages of studentship when it comes to preaching.  We are all learning along the way.  Are we okay with that?  Are we okay with being honest with ourselves to say that we are learning as we go?  Are we okay with saying, that not every sermon is going to be the best sermon that we ever preached?  Are we okay with getting in front of our congregation and saying, you know what, I’m not an expert at this topic for this sunday, but here is what the Bible says, and here is how I read this and these are some applications that I think God wants me to say to you.

Are we okay with that?  Are we okay with not being experts?

If you are starting a Grad Progam

I’m nearing completion of my grad program.  1 Class and my Thesis are all that stands in my way.  If you are starting a program, I would like to give you some advice that I wish someone would have given to me.  Or maybe I should have asked for advice and listened to people.

First, take a lot of notes.  Notes about your reading, notes in your classes, notes about what you is changing in you in your program.  If you are like me, you started a grad program because you thought you were pretty smart already.  And if you are like me then you will realize as you get closer to the end of your journey you have way more to learn then you ever realized.  Taking good notes along the way will help you to reflect on the journey.

Second, get organized.  You need a system for how to handle all the information that you are collecting.  If you are primarily dealing with digital documents (PDF’s, word docs, powerpoint presentation) then develop a system for filing those documents so that things are easy to find.  I have a folder NU MATC docs.  Within that folder I have 4 Folders: Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, and Thesis.  In each of those folders I have sub folders For each semester of that year.  And then I have the classes that I took in each semester.  Finally I have folders like, Notes & Handouts, Research, Papers, Assessments.  If you want my notes from “The Meaning Of Christian Community” I can go right to them.  And that has proven to be incredibly helpful.

Getting organized is even more important (I have found) as you begin to work more independently.  No one is going to organize your thesis research for you, and you will have a lot of information to process, catalog, and access.  If you are not intentional then you will get yourself lost.

When you are working with your thesis research, title your notes in such a way that you can find a book that you read, and the notes on that book quickly. I use this title formula for all of my Reading Notes.  Author Last Name-Title Books-Reading notes.  I then file those in folders labeled, Article Reading Notes, Book Reading Notes, Web Reading notes.

The top of all of those documents has the bibliographic information.  Before you read anything from that resource, right the bibliographic information.  Do it.  Unless you plan on purchasing every book that you read for your thesis then you will not always have immediate access to that bibliographic information.  So get all of that info right on top of the document will save you a lot of time in the long run.  Trust me.

Third, Build a Research Rhythm.  You could also say create a realiable practice for research.  Where do you read with the most focus?  What kind of light do you prefer?  What kind of environment? What time of day?  These are all important questions and if you can begin to build into your day times when you know you can do your best research then you will be poised to work and focus.  I have found that if I just try to squeeze in some research time then I have to go back and review a lot more of what I’ve already done.  Not worth it.  If you are best poised to research at 4am then get up, make your coffee, and make it happen.  If you are a night owl (like me) and can stay up until 1am reading and writing then do that.  You have to figure out your rhythm and then play in that groove.

Four, write a lot.  You will end up writing much more than you need to.  But you need to write.  One of the great values of writing a lot is that it gets all of the bad ideas out on paper and out of your head.  So write.  Edit later, you never know what you might stumble upon if you write.  Capture your ideas when they strike and set aside the time to write them out.

Five, ask questions.  Your prof puts his or her email address in the syllabus for a reason.  You pay them to teach you and to answer your questions.  So ask questions.  If you need clarity on an assignment ask immediately.  Don’t assume that everyone understands the assignment, don’t assume that your question is dumb.  Ask questions.  There I times that I didn’t ask questions and I did way too much work, and then times when I’ve asked the right questions early in the assignment and saved myself a done of work and frustration.  Ask questions.

Six, invest in things that will help you.  Bible software has been a great help for me overall, but I’ve also really been helped by my e-reader, my iPad, my iPhone (i take pictures of pages in books that I file away for later).  And the latest things that has great potential to be a great help for me is a C-Pen.  It’s a pen scanner.  I’ve spent hours transcribing notes from the books that I’ve read.  Hours.  The C-Pen scans your books and put them in a text file that you can edit, copy and paste, and all that.  Awesome!  If you are looking to by one thing for your grad program I would advise something like the C-Pen.  It will save your sanity!

This is from the C-Pen:

The distinction of the Head from the body and the superiority of the Head over the body find concrete expression in the fact that proclamation in the Church is confronted by a factor which is very like it as a phenomenon, which is temporal as it is, and yet which is different from it and in order superior to it. This factor is Holy Scripture.

-K. Barth Church Dogmatics I.1 pg. 101

That is with underlines.  Pretty rad.  Go buy yourself a C-Pen.  You will be saved hours and hours of time.  Do it.

If you are starting a grad program then I think these would be helpful things to keep in mind.  But I do believe that everyone is designed to be learners.  All of these tips I really believe could be helpful for you and your learning practice.

Well . . .

Well . . . May ends today.  I did not hit my 70 pages goal.  I have about 50 pages in rough draft.  But I do have some outline and notes for that right now but me at about 63.  That’s pretty stinking close, and when I actually write out the outline and fill in the empty spaces in my notes it could put me well over the 70 page mark.

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me still, but this month has really helped me get a whole bunch of research done, and given me some direction for finishing my thesis.  It will happen!

I’ve also learned that I actually do like writing.

I love to play with ideas.  I like to see if I can prop an idea up on legs, teach it to walk and then see how far it can run.

I like to stretch my brain.

I’ve also learned that if you can break your giant project into a bunch of smaller projects then it’s much more manageable.  Be it writing, cleaning your house, paying your bills, or whatever else you’re looking at that is daunting.  Break it down.  Make the big project a bunch of smaller projects and just go after them one at a time.  Instead of writing one 100 page paper, I’m writing 5 papers all about 20 pages.  That I can do.  And I will.

It’s easy to see these projects and just get over whelmed.  Don’t let your fear of the size of the project keep you from finishing the project.  Get it done.


p.s.  this post was written for me as much as it was for anyone else.


Today, I am at nineteen pages for my fifteen to eighteen page chapter on an overview of the prophets.

The good news is that I have have done a lot of research and it has paid off with pages.

The bad news is that I know I am going to have to edit this chapter down.  It is very rough.

The good news is that when editing it’s always better to have to much content which you can trim up, than trying to expand sparse content.

The bad news is I hate to edit my own work.  I’m too emotionally attached to the text.  I have a tendency to to justify why I wrote all these words in the first place.

The good news, I have some folks who have said that they would be willing to help me edit.

So I’ve got that going for me.

It feels good to be going into this weekend with this many pages already written.  I know that there will be many many more long days and nights of reading, writing and editing, but I’ve started, and I am hoping to keep the momentum going.  So . . . with that I bid you farewell.  I have to write a conclusion to this chapter, and start up my research for the next one.

Writing and Fear

I’ve been researching like a maniac the origins and purpose of Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. I need to start writing about what I have learned.

The challenge for me with this writing project is that when I commit my words to paper I feel like I’m revealing my mind and my heart to the page and any future reader.

Writing is risky. But if I am going to grow as a writer I need to get over my fear and just start writing.

I’ve never thought that I would be afraid to write. The only way to get over this kind of fear us to write. So let’s do this. Let’s write.

What fear do you need to face? What have you been putting off? What is the first step that you need to take to overcome your fear?

Let’s do this.

Research, Writing And Conversation Partners

I write this as I am sitting in a Barnes & Noble Cafe.  I’ve spent the last two hours reading a book called Holy Laughter.  It’s a collection of essays edited by M. Conrad Hyers.  There are several thought provoking chapters in this text, and I’m glad I found it.  Over the past few months I have been trying to get my hands on as many texts by Hyers as I can, he has done a lot of work on Comedy, Humor and Christian Faith.  Hyers is rising as one of my primary conversation partners as I begin writing my thesis.

Whenever I am writing I am aware that I am not working entirely in my own mind.  But I am interacting with a world of ideas.  I often feel like I’m hosting a dinner party and the guests include, Barth, St. Paul, Nietzsche, C.S. Lewis, Marc Maron, St. Mark, Jesus, Jim Gaffigan, N.T. Wright and a host of others.  All of these people I have been reading about, listening to, and I’m trying to help them see how they are connected and similar to each other.

The challenge at such a dinner party is that a Nietzsche and Lewis really disagree on some fundamental beliefs, and so I feel like my nice dinner could explode at any minute with food flying and fists crashing into my face.

But on the other hand, the conversations that are possible when bringing all these thinkers together is enlightening and exciting.  And I want to tell people about the connections that were made between two disparate conversation partners.  The challenge is putting the synthesis of ideas that happens in my imaginary dinner party into words that are accessible to people who weren’t there.

That’s essential the challenge of writing.  Be it a sermon, a paper, a thesis, even a joke, if I can’t share the connection that are being made in my head, then all is lost, and the dinner party was a waste of everyone’s time.  Well not everyone’s time because so far Nietzsche has remained civil and Maron hasn’t alienated everyone else by dealing with all his own issues. And Gaffigan keeps the conversation light by pointing out the absurdity of seafood.