Month: August 2016

Just a Little More

“Don’t wear your cleats to practice. Bring your running shoes.” Coach Jamie, my high school soccer coach, would announce these dreaded words. It signified what he lovingly termed, “Conditioning Practice.” As opposed to a regular practice, these practices meant running and sprinting. Followed by more running and sprinting. A few ab workouts and pushups rounded out our session in the humid August weather of Upstate New York.

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We loathed these practices. Coach would press us to compete against ourselves, putting in just a little more effort and energy every drill. By the end of practice, each of us had experienced a small degree of satisfaction in making it through this conditioning. When the humid August sun turned into the cool October breeze, our team could run with any opponent we face.

Grace reminds me of conditioning practice. The moment we think we have sufficiently exercised grace, we find ourselves in relationships and circumstances that need just a little more than we thought.

Consider what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” It’s as if Jesus says, “Just when you thought you gave enough, double it.” Not necessarily the Bible verse we stitch onto pillows or make into bumper stickers.

Jesus calls to exercise an unnatural amount of grace. We do not extend it by sheer willpower or gritty determination. It comes from experiencing the forgiveness and acceptance that He has given us. The more we realize the grace we have received through Christ, the more we can come to extend it to others, even when it’s a little more than we think.

So today, you might encounter opportunities to offer a little more grace…
Listening to a person who needs five more minutes in a conversation.
Answering ten more additional questions.
Waiting fifteen more minutes than you would like.
Perhaps, even walking a literal extra mile.

Grace like conditioning practice prepares us to offer more each opportunity with the realization that Christ has given us infinitely more than we can ever think or imagine.

Who will you extend a little more grace today?

Photo credit by Christian Widell.

7 Tips for Listening to Sermons

I sat across my wife, Robyn, at Sunday lunch a few weeks ago. As we started to eat, she turned to me and asked, “Could we talk more about the sermon this morning and each week?” The question seemed straightforward. Then she added, “I would like to hear what you think and some Sundays we rarely mention it after service.”

Recalling the last few Sundays at lunch with Robyn, my mind raced from the morning sermon to the next part of the day. She rightly pointed out a missed opportunity. We could share about areas God challenged us to grow in a setting both of us experienced.

Listening to a sermon invites to a community conversation and can deepen our understanding of a passage. It allows us a chance to talk to each other about spiritual matters in our lives because we can respond to a shared experience. It calls on us to process how the Bible relates to our lives.

You may want to understand the Bible in deeper and more significant ways. You might desire to have a more meaningful dialogue with others about following Jesus.  Listening to sermons can bring these opportunities to you. Here are seven tips to for listening to sermons:

1. Take Notes.

In the last couple weeks, I have started taking notes on YouVersion. This app allows churches to input the points from the speaker. I have found myself focusing on what the speaker says about the point, rather than trying to write out the point. Other people using the app like having online storage rather than paper.

Whether you use paper and pen or an app, you retain more by taking notes. You can go back to your notes during the week or in conversation.

2. Focus in on the Reading of the Passage.

When the speaker or pastor begins to read the Scripture, follow along. You may want to highlight or underline verses that you have questions. Certain words or phrases might jump off the page. I like to add a date of the sermon in the passage, so when I come back, I can recall it.

3. Recognize the Cues.

At certain points of the sermon, the speaker might signal an important insight in understanding the passage. Here a few cues to identify:

Definitions – The speaker unpacks the original meaning of a word in Greek or Hebrew.
Biblical References – Note the additional passages mention and the idea associated with them. You can go back later and re-read the passage.
Context – Consider the back story of the passage and what other events surrounded it. Why did the author write this? Who is the audience? These insights can help a passage become more relevant.

When you hear these cues, make note of it. You might even want to highlight the verse associated with it.

4. Utilize a Group Guide.

Often, churches will provide group guides for small groups. You may want to have one with you during service looking at the questions. After the sermon, you can even answer the questions personally before going to a group.

5. Post on Social Media.

Social Media invites us to a further conversation. A point or Scripture passage might have come alive. Posting can reaffirm the same point that others have heard. It adds to the community element. Share a picture on Instagram. Use the series #hashtag in a Twitter post. Check-In to the church with Facebook.

6. Re-Listen to the Sermon.

Take time to listen to a podcast or watch the video. You can do this in the office or when driving in the car.

7. Discuss the Sermon.

Just like Robyn encouraged me to do, talk about the sermon. You might listen to the sermon with a family member or friend. Use this opportunity to share and hear from them. Small groups give you an opportunity process the passage together. You can use these two questions to start a conversation:

What questions did you have?
What point stuck out the most?
What challenged you?
How will you respond to this passage?

What tip would you offer for listening to a sermon? Share in the comment section below.

Photo by Aaron Burden.

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