Tag: Spiritual Formation

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.

Looking for God in the Wrong Places

He sat at his wits’ end in a cave. As quickly as his success had entered the scene, rejection banished him to the wilderness. We can easily discern God’s will when all the pieces line up. It becomes a different story in the face of opposition coupled with our exhaustion and burnout. There he sat debilitated by his fear and loneliness.

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I remember reading this passage as a seventh grader. That awkward time when nothing falls into the middle; you experience life in the extremes of elation and despair. Looking back to those experiences seem mild today but critical at that present moment.

Elijah at his wits’ end and the seventh grade me wonders how God responds. Then God asks a question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)

He let’s loose. He reminds God of his loneliness in the cave. It seems that with all the activity from the previous passages – the miracle on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-45) and the banishment from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-2) – had caught up with Elijah.

Have you been there? The circumstances of life leave you alone at a cave. When you finally have a moment to stop, you look for God. Hoping for an answer, He asks a question. We really want God to fix our circumstances and radically change the situation. Most times God moves a little slower than we would like.

Questions allow us to share what’s really on our mind. Then again questions frustrate us when we want answers. Perhaps, in the moment of crisis, God knows we need less impetuous action and more thoughtful waiting. If anything, questions slow us down.

God asks Elijah to wait for His presence. Not the invitation that a seventh grader in crisis wants. Not the direction an exhausted prophet hopes to receive. Not the command exasperated parents desire in the chaos of child-rearing. Not the advice for those in conflicts within relationships. Not the professional consultation to implement in our jobs. Waiting seems so unnatural in these moments.

Then God sends an earthquake, but He’s not in the earthquake.
Then God sends the fire, but He’s not in the fire.
Then a whisper. Yes, a mundane and ordinary whisper. He’s in the quiet (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Elijah, seventh grade me, and the rest of us can look for God in the wrong places – we want the quick and efficient miracle to our crisis. Often, His best work comes when He asks us to wait. Examine our motives. Recalibrate our hearts. Then we can begin to see clearly.

As we begin the week, you might find yourself in a cave like Elijah. Take the time to wait for Him. Perhaps, He wants to work in you before working in your crisis.

Have you ever experienced a time like Elijah, when God called you to wait? What was that like and what did you learn from it? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ksenia Kudelkina.

Reads of the Week | 01/23/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

6 Bible Verses When You Feel Stuck in Life by Jeff Martin

Jeff makes a remarkable observation here:

When we shift the focus of our prayers from our will to his, things change. Our eyes start to open to new possibilities. This year could hold the fresh start we’re looking for—and it starts with realigning our hearts.

All Christians are Biased Voters by Christena Cleveland

The political season is upon us. Cleveland shares about how our views come from biases. This article invites us to listen to others and calls us to humility.

6 Tips for Cultivating the Practice of Reading Scripture by Joel Green

Green provides six suggestions for reading Scripture. He gives us a glimpse of the Bible shapes our lives in personally and in community with each other.

Why Some People Take Breakups Harder Than Others by Lauren Howe

Not just breaking up, but How examines our internal narratives. This piece opens people to see a redemptive reaction to rejection.

The Founder of TOMS on Reimagining the Company’s Mission by Blake Mycoskie

Mycoskie shares how he recaptured the “why” of TOMS, rather than focusing on the “what” and “how.” A fantastic insight for people who lead organizations.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

Intentional Conversations for Spiritual Growth

Intentionality matters. As humans, we need the reminders, calendars, routines, and to do lists. These tools invite us to prioritize. They help us focus the attention of our lives. Having healthy intentionality frees us up rather than stifling us.

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One of the most helpful pieces of wisdom in my life comes from Dallas Willard, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but opposed to earning.”

To grow spiritually in our hearts includes taking steps towards growth. We do not earn Jesus’ love from engaging scripture, prayer, spiritual disciplines, and living in community with others. These practices create space for us to experience grace from God.

Not only does spiritual growth happen intentionally for us personally, but it also happens intentionally in our relationships. Often, we can attend small groups or meet with our closest friends without ever discussing our spiritual lives.

What do we discuss instead? Our conversations end up focusing on the surface. The topics can range from the weather, sports, movies, and what we saw in social media. They can go deeper into our jobs and relationships with our friends, spouses, or kids. Conversations with these topics build trust and get to know others, but they do not go deeper into the activity of our hearts

A question that I get asked frequently is, “How can I go deeper in my relationships?” Just like the intentionality in our personal spiritual growth, intentionality matters for our spiritual growth with each other.

Growing together in community intentionally looks like…
Listening to others and being heard.
Speaking the truth in love and accepting the truth in love.
Encouraging others and receiving encouragement.

How might conversations on spiritual growth start? Here are four intentional questions to begin a conversation on spiritual growth with a friend. You may want to setup a time to meet for coffee. Then you might want to email them these questions to prepare for them and yourself:

1. How is God at work in your life?

Consider this question big picture. A person can point to how engaging scripture, a book, and pray have helped them recognize God at work. It might mean looking at the circumstances and other relationships in their lives to see repeated themes.

2. What’s your greatest challenge to your heart?

Talking about our hearts recognizes our attitudes, motivations, and feelings. Focusing on surface situations can cause us to look for everything outside of us to change including others. Asking about the challenges of our hearts helps us discover the “why” of what we say and do. Taking inventory of our heart makes our blind spots visible.

3. How might God be leading you to grow?

The first two questions require observation. A question like begins to take the observations to point towards growth. We can think of a thousand ways to grow, but this question asks for a specific way. Many times God leads us to growth by pointing us to one area. A question like this helps us update each other on spiritual growth and gives us an opportunity to follow up.

4. How can I pray for you?

We can belittle prayer for each other. After having an intentional conversation on spiritual growth, we now know how to pray for each other. Pray in the moment, but also pray throughout the week. Text and email to let your friend know you prayed for them.

What other intentional questions for spiritual growth would you add?

Photo credit by Kevin Curtis.

Closer Than You Think

Chapel ran from 10:00-11:00 a.m. five days a week. It was October 2008 at Valley Forge Christian College. I found myself contemplating graduation. Asking the same questions most every senior asks; Am I headed in the right direction? What am I going to do for the rest of my life? What does the next chapter entail?

Z_3fs657-3zPoo1LYdktH-DDf1mt9VqcTCfVQMZdkLs,TdsAAsGJa_3h2GSMxBo8bLvyo-kDpwrl2211kYMYr4Y,967KnJUMn55FyPb9fEVP0GBovG1WlnuyERHnTWPAlX0Do you ever have an internal conversation like this? You debate with yourself about all the fear, anxiety, and doubt surfacing from the soul. Sometimes the questions haunt us more than the truth we know to believe. If a person shared the same thoughts from their own internal conversation, then we could easily encourage or answer the question. Yet, our answers for others do not always calm our conversations of the soul.

The worship leader sang “Enough” by Chris Tomlin. My head fell into my hands. I started to play out the scenarios for the future. When we plan our scenarios, we either paint the bleakest picture or the extreme best case possibility. Rarely does this practice underscore reality. In the midst of this tumultuous dialogue, a question arose to the conversation. What might God say to you right now? 

A question like this causes a person to stop. Perhaps, you like me wonder where God is in the first place. We walk through life experiencing the detours and delays. Plans get thwarted. Disappointment seems to become the norm. We want believe in His grace, wisdom and sovereignty. We believe while also wanting Christ to help our unbelief. 

I attempted to listen as my mind wandered listening to the worship leader. For just a moment, I began to confront the fear, doubt, and anxiety within my soul. Another question emerged; What if God is closer than you think? These internal conversations can expose the lies and enlighten the truth. The Gospel communicates to us the good news of God near to us. Christ, who not only walks with us, but has the credentials of humanity. A Savior that is closer than we could ever imagine.

Chapel closed. Since October 2008, I have learned to come back to the question, What if God is closer than you think? As you begin this week and the internal conversations emerge from your soul, this question can redefine your perspective.

Starting this Monday morning of work with tons of projects and pressure…
What if God is closer than you think?

Facing the future full of unknowns coupled with anxiety…
What if God is closer than you think?

Feeling stuck within the mundane and ordinary of life…
What if God is closer than you think?

And with all the doubt, pain, and struggle of being a human arising from your souls…
What if God is closer than you think?

Today, let us respond to our questions with questions. May we live with reality knowing the Savior is present with us. What questions have assisted you in your journey of following Christ? 

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

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