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Are You Betting on Your Faith? Where’s Your Commitment?

Reblogged from Words in High Def

Faith and Commitment

Gambling has never held much appeal for me. I will be honest and confess that I have certainly visited Vegas and pulled a few slot handles (or pushed buttons now), played some black jack and thrown dice in the spirit of entertainment. But since I hate to lose and I value my money, it’s never long before I find the stores to window shop or just people-watch.

There is a term in poker that I love; all in. This refers to a point in betting in which a player wants to continue but doesn’t have the full amount to match the bet. He pushes all his chips forward, betting everything he has. If he wins, he will be paid accordingly. If he loses, he’s out of the game and leaves the table. Buh Bye Now!

It occurred to me that many of us handle our faith like a poker game. We sit at the table as one who is actively invested, but we hold back a little in case this isn’t really a winning hand.

Some of us give a small percent, others a majority of our lives to God. But if we hold back even one tiny portion, we aren’t fully committed. We don’t fully believe. The Bible says we are to give our time, treasures and talent to serving God. This doesn’t mean every waking minute or every cent of our paychecks, but it means these things have to fit into the equation of how we invest. Have you checked those things lately? How much time do you spend mentoring a fatherless child or serving at a homeless shelter? If you are a talented cook, do you prepare food for those in need or teach younger women how to improve? Are you giving generously to worthy causes that support God’s care of people?

We hold back in other ways as well. We are supposed to treat our bodies with respect but I just saw a survey that revealed a majority of Christians don’t believe smoking or obesity are sins. If you’re actively doing it you couldn’t very well admit to being wrong. It’s easier to hold back and rationalize. I’m sure my life has many of these areas as well, so I’m pointing the finger in my own direction as I write this.

There are also those who hold back in secret. They are fully invested in front of people, but in private they live in a way that is contrary to who they say they are.

Jesus gave everything; his time, treasures, talents, dignity and even his life. It was entirely up to him and he willingly gave it all.  Such joy and contentment come from being thoroughly invested in God’s promises. Commitment.

What about you? Are you betting on your faith? When it comes time for the payoff (blessings and salvation) what will your take be? Are you holding back or are you all in?

Diane Markins

Sharon Garlough Brown – Barefoot Testimony

If you aren’t familiar with the writing of Sharon Garlough Brown, you just don’t know what you’re missing. Her Sensible Shoes series is soooo stinkin’ good! Take a minute to read her guest post below. Comment, especially if you’re a fan!

Barefoot Characters Have Powerful Testimony

“All that summer conceals, winter reveals,” author Annie Dillard writes. It’s a quote I read years ago, and it returns to me today as I look out my window at the stripped trees, their naked forms gray and stark against the morning sky. The lush green of summer is gone, and now we see the structure and shape of each gnarled, twisted branch. Winter is a season of vulnerable, courageous beauty. It’s the “Here I am,” maskless and open, waiting and watching season. And it whispers words of invitation and hope for those who have ears to hear.

As Barefoot, the third book in the Sensible Shoes series opens, Meg Crane is peering out her window on a winter morning, the bleakness of the landscape mirroring the sorrow in her own soul. An accusing voice rings in her head, telling her she ought to be more resilient, that she ought to be able to bounce back from suffering and move on. Meg has known people able to withstand pressure with remarkable equanimity, to stretch, bend, and adapt to suffering with grace, with hope. But, she laments, she has never been one of them.

While Meg ponders what it would mean to be “resilient,” her eyes land upon a certain tree in the neighbors’ backyard, a tree with a history. Here’s what Meg sees and remembers:

The gnarled wild cherry tree in the next-door neighbors’ backyard, visible from Meg’s window ever since she could remember, offered a picture of resilient hope. Years ago, when Mr. and Mrs. Anderson lived there, violent winds tore through West Michigan on a balmy summer night and nearly ripped the tree out, leaving the roots exposed. The next day neighbors gathered around it, some of them bracing the trunk upright with hands and shoulders while others stamped the roots back into the soil again. Mother chided them from an upstairs window: they were fools, making such a fuss over a tree. But Meg secretly cheered them on. The tree always leaned after that storm, but it lived, its lopsidedness testifying to resilience, its yearly blossoms to hope.

Resilient in suffering, not impervious to it. That was the silent witness of the stooped tree: not denial of the storm, but perseverance, character, and hope as a result of it.

Oh, for that kind of testimony.

I wonder what you see as you survey the winter landscape, not only the landscape of the physical world but the landscape of your own soul? Are there barren and desolate places you prefer to conceal? What would it mean for you to embrace the invitation of this season, to stand open and vulnerable and exposed before the God who sees you and knows you and loves you with an extravagant, embracing, unchanging fervor? And what might it be like to stand before someone else with a courageous “Here I am” posture of openness and honesty?

In winter I am reminded that there is a particular beauty in the wounded, imperfect lives of those who have weathered storms and stand, bearing witness to a resilient hope which perseveres and to a God who will make all things well.

Oh, for that kind of testimony.

Temptation Trail

*Temptation Trail Reblogged From Words in High Def

Can things be right on one occasion and wrong at another time? Pastor Allan Fuller, Mountain Park Community Church thinks so. He says, “Temptation is the wrong path to a good want.” What does that mean?

Well, for instance, sex is a good want. God created us as sexual beings with an intense desire for sexual fulfillment. But He has made it pretty clear that there is a right way to achieve that (marriage) and a wrong way (sexual gratification outside marriage).

There are many examples of this and I’m sure many come to your mind easily; better self image (the quick fix—like liposuction vs. cutting the junk food and hitting the gym), a job promotion (what are you willing to do to get ahead?), passing that final exam (is there a shortcut or way to cheat?).

Our lives are filled with choices and we filter those through our own matrix. That may include integrity issues, amount of personal sacrifice, and the impact of the gain. Sometimes our wants are intense and drive us, sometimes they are fleeting. Sometimes they are both, sometimes they are less intense but persistent.

When Sarai longed for a child she told her husband Abram to go sleep with her servant Hagar so they could begin a family using her as a surrogate. (Genesis 16:1) Having a baby is a good want, telling your husband to sleep with the maid to get one—well, I’d say that’s a bad way to reach your goal.

On occasion, things are not so clear-cut. I’ve had opportunities presented to me that seemed wonderful and were answered prayers but the timing wasn’t right so I had to pass. Years ago I was offered a glamorous job doing what I wanted to do but I was already over-committed and knew that if I accepted it my family would suffer. I tried so hard to tell myself that God had blessed me with this chance, but deep down I knew He had something better for me if I’d wait. No Thanks. The words would hardly come out of my mouth. I’m so glad they did though.

Things can go the other way as well. When my father-in-law retired and my husband took over the family business, he asked me to help him. I had never worked in this business or even this industry. I hated the idea and was tempted to give him all the reasons why it wouldn’t work. But I knew that was the wrong path for me to get my good desire met. I wanted us to have financial security and I wanted to feel like I was respected as a professional. Going off on my own path would have accomplished those things-maybe even faster-but I would have missed the chance to work as a partner with my husband and would have no idea about the inner-workings of our company.

What is Your Temptation Trail?

Temptation doesn’t always come in obvious forms. It can come in the form of friendships (if they are inappropriate), physical fitness (if true health is sacrificed) and success (if we claim the glory instead of giving it to God).

What are you aiming to get or longing for in your life? Are you pursing it on the Righteous Road or are you on the Temptation Trail? Just remember, you’ll likely get there either way, but the outcome and fulfillment may be dramatically different.

Create in the Image of Our Creator

It seems that we frequently forget to notice God. He is in every created thing, and yet often isn’t even acknowledged. I really enjoyed this reminder to notice God, His handiwork, and be challenged to do some creating of our own to honor and reflect his artistry.

Bold Living podcasts (on a wide variety of topics) are archived on my website. Diane Markins

Created to Create, Luci Shaw

(Excerpted from chapter three of Thumbprint in the Clay)

Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, with its moderate climate and good people, we are close to the ocean and to Puget Sound, bordered by tall evergreens and pebbled beaches and sandstone rocks.

I sit on a sun-warmed a sandstone shelf in Whatcom County’s Larrabee State Park, overlooking the Sound. I can feel the grit of the friable sandstone under my hand. The rocks arch over me like breaking waves, carved into intriguing crannies and hollows, and pitted with a kind of stone lace where wind and water have whirled tiny grains of sand within  concavities until the rock face becomes an example of pure, abstract art. It is for me a divine thumbprint, one of multitudes I can see if I pay attention. The rocks speak to me, palpable reminders of ongoing Creation.

 

. . .No one is watching.

            Surreptitiously I lean left, touch,

            test with my tongue the etched boulder

            by my elbow, and taste the sharp salt of storms.

            In that brief kiss I think I even sample

            the ochre-gray tint of sands that once

            laid down their duned lives

            to become these rocks of ages.

 

Rocks speak their own silent language. And each of the multiple pebbles and sea glass, still damp from a high tide, tells its own story of being ground and shaped by tides, and wave movement, and continued rough contact with each other.

But how infinitely more complex are our human means of interaction! Our complementary human genders, our generations and contexts. Each with a distinct and distinctive history, a story, an identity, a character, a personality, each with a way of seeing the world and expressing what we have seen and heard, each communicating, sharing, giving and taking, making war to protect our assets or assert our power, but also making art and making love. We are as varied and intricate and striking as stars or snowflakes. As internally rich and complex as geodes, or seeds that hold compacted within themselves all the components of growth that burst into the leaves and flowers, the colors and shapes that Carl Linnaeus was able to sort taxonomically, and name. As human beings we’re as different as Eve was from Adam, and as they both were from antelopes or elephants or eels.

I have come to believe, through observation and reflection, that beauty and variation are God’s way of injecting Grace into Creation. And that beauty doesn’t reside simply in what we observe, or the fact that we can see and take note, but in how we perceive. I’m convinced that it is in juxtaposition, in relationship, in design, in contrast and comparison and pattern that we discover beauty and meaning, building on what is there as we move forward into originating new beauties and meanings. Further, that we, as responders, are called upon to create in the image of our Creator.

Dr. Ben Carson Talks about God

When I was asked if I’d like to schedule an interview with Dr. Ben Carson to talk about his new book I wanted to cry because I’m not currently producing new shows (maybe he’d just let me ask him questions for my personal enjoyment? Nah). I was sent the book and they chose the following excerpt to share. If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Carson… don’t waste another second. He is -hands down- the most brilliant man I know of and uses his astounding brain for many wonderful purposes. I know you’ll want his latest book, especially if you have kids. Be sure to post a comment below and share this very direct post with your friends who think that only uninformed idiots believe in God (and be sure they read his bio!).

Bold Living radio show airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (search Diane Markins) from my website.  Diane Markins

“God” (Excerpted from You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G)

by Dr. Ben Carson

When I was a child, I imagined God as an old, old man with a long, white beard who lived in the clouds with a powerful telescope that could see through walls. He was always peering down to see what you did wrong and making sure you got punished for it.

My early image of him was that he was distant, uncaring, and harsh, investing most of his time and energy ensuring no riffraff got into heaven. I clung to some of that concept as I grew up. This is why I found myself in early adulthood being extremely conservative about everything — to the point of being puritanical. I was judgmental of others’ actions and attitudes, and I didn’t always enjoy life.

I have slowly matured and have experienced God’s help in many crises. I have come to realize that God does not want to punish us; rather, he wants to fulfill our lives. God created us, loves us, and wants to help us to realize our potential so that we can be useful to others. Gradually over the years, by regularly reading, studying, and depending on the advice in God’s Word, I gained a more accurate picture of God. As a doctor and a scientist, the more I learn about creation and especially the human brain, the more impressed I am with how incredibly smart our Creator must be.

I look through my operating microscope and marvel at the intricate complexities of creation inside a baby’s brain. Or I stand under the stars on a summer night, looking up at a universe made with such precision that you can set clocks by it. I see evidence everywhere of a brilliant and logical God who is unbelievably loving. What else could possibly explain why the all-powerful Creator of the universe humbled himself and came to earth to be spat upon, cursed, even beaten with a whip, before he was crucified and died on a cross for the very same people who did that to him?

A God that loving, instead of being quick to judge and anxious to condemn us for every little sin, is really an almost unimaginably forgiving God. I finally realize that God’s first concern is not about whether we abide by his rules or deserve his grace and forgiveness. His priority is right relationships. This personal relationship is all God has wanted from us since the beginning of time. It is what we were created for.

Eeny Meeny- Choosing a Bible for Your Kid

So many Bibles, so little time to choose! Our kids need God’s word and they need it to speak to them in a style they will fall in love with.  Jeannie Cunnion joined me on Bold Living recently to talk about Parenting the Wholehearted Child. Check out her new post about choosing the best Bible for your child. Don’t forget to comment to win a new Bible for your child. (I’ve got a few to give away!)

Bold Living airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (search Diane Markins) from my website.  Diane Markins 

Eeny Meeny- Choosing a Bible for Your Kid

by Jeannie Cunnion

If you’ve stepped into a bookstore lately to purchase a Bible you’ve probably noticed how very many choices exist. And while a vast selection of Bibles is a wonderful option to have, it can also be very overwhelming.

I’ve spoken to countless parents who have gone into a bookstore to purchase a Bible for their child but have left empty handed- not because they couldn’t find a Bible they liked but because they found too many!

And out of fear of buying the wrong kind of Bible, they just simply didn’t buy a Bible at all.

This is why I’ve partnered with Zondervan to launch their “How to Choose a Bible Campaign.”

And this is why I’ve dedicated an entire chapter in my book, Parenting the Wholehearted Child, to leading parents in engaging their children in buying and reading the Bible.

Our hope is to empower parents in choosing a Bible that is right for their children- because a key element in engaging our children in Scripture reading is using a Bible to which they can relate.

And our hope is to encourage parents in how they approach the Bible with their children- because a parent’s attitude about reading the Bible has a profound impact on their kids’ desire to read Scripture.

Oh how important it is that we remember that God’s Word is not primarily about us and what we should be doing. It’s about God and what He has already done through Christ Jesus. Reading the Bible with our children through that lens changes everything!

We are so passionate about encouraging parents to read the Bible with their children because reading God’s Word is one of the primary ways our children will come to know the heart of God.

This isn’t about making the Bible come alive for our kids.  It already is alive and powerful. (Hebrews 4:12)  In the words of R.C. Sproul, “I can’t make the Bible come alive for anyone. The Bible is already alive. It makes me come alive.”

This is about finding a Bible to which your six month old, or your six year old, or your sixteen year old can relate.

And we want to come alongside you to help you narrow your options, make informed choices, and find the right Bible for the children in your life!

So let’s begin with just a few of the questions parents can ask themselves when they are comparing different Bible options:

  • What is my child’s age/ reading level?
  • For what purpose will my child use this Bible?
  • Do we have a translation preference?
  • Does my child prefer items specific to their gender?
  • Is my child drawn to realistic images or cartoon style images?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can narrow down your choices to either a Storybook Bible or a Full Text Bible.

A Storybook Bible is a shortened, storybook style adaptation of the Bible that may include scripture references, photos, or illustrations. This Bible is ideal for preschoolers, pre-readers, and newly independent readers.

A Full Text Bible is a full version of the Bible which features special supplemental devotional or learning elements. Full Text Bibles are ideal for new readers to adult readers. The most widely used translations of Full Text Bibles are the NIV and the NIrV.

To further explore which Bible is best for your child, you will find answers to the rest of your questions a www.ChooseKidsBibles.com.

And here’s the good news! It is never too early and it is never too late to start reading God’s word with your kids.

Did you know that 90% of a child’s brain is developed by the time they are five years old?

Children’s brains are little sponges, waiting to absorb the truths about God’s great love for them. These stories teach our children that the Creator of the universe made them and loves them and is intimately involved in every detail of their lives. The stories reveal God’s faithfulness, his greatness, his goodness, and his grace. The Bible reminds our children that there is no detail too big or too small for our God. And most wonderfully, all of these stories point our children to the one great story woven from the very first to the very last sentence in the Bible — the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and his coming again.

While our young children cannot fully appreciate all the story has to offer, we must trust the story and the power of God’s Word. We are planting the seeds and the story will grow in meaning for them as they grow in their understanding of the gospel.

For example, several years ago, on one of the first beautiful days of summer, I packed up our cooler with lots of snacks and drinks and I took all three of our young boys to the beach.  We arrived at our usual spot with our beach toys, balls, and fishing nets.  And while I focused on making sure Owen, my two-year-old, didn’t drown in the ocean, which he was desperately trying to do, my seven-year-old son, Cal, found a group of friends and quickly joined in the quest to build the best sand castle on the beach.

Brennan, however, ran straight for the water’s edge, began throwing heaps of sand into the ocean, flexing his little muscles, and yelling, “Take that, you Philistines — I will defeat you!”

While I’m sure some people were looking at five-year-old Brennan like he’d gone mad, I couldn’t have been more proud. I knew exactly what Brennan was doing- he was pretending to be David defeating the Philistines in God’s strength.

He was acting out his favorite story in the Bible, the story of a young boy who became an unlikely hero when he fought and defeated the seemingly undefeatable giant Goliath—a story in the Old Testament that sets the stage for another, greater hero (Jesus) who would soon come to defeat an even bigger giant (sin and death). Indeed, God’s powerful Word can penetrate tender little hearts.

As we come alongside our children in reading God’s word and planting seeds of faith in their hearts, we will be so beautifully reminded of what the Lord says in Isaiah 55:11, “My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Open those Bibles, friends. Let it surprise you.  Let it wreck you. Let it empower you.  Let it heal you. There is so much grace, so much hope, & so much freedom just waiting for us and our children in God’s Word.

*Post a comment to win a brand new Bible for the kid in your life.

Put Love into Action

Pastor and mega-author Francis Chan wrote the foreword to Love, Skip, Jump by Shelene Bryan. He said, “Don’t be another person who wastes his/her life by trying to save it. Spend more energy saving lives than saving for retirement. Just comsider the possibility that you might live more if you risked more and gave more. Join my friend Shelene in doing something.”

In my interview with Shelene Bryan, she shares the story of how she began wondering if the kid she sponsored in Africa was actually getting any benefit from the money she sent… or if she even existed. So she did what any crazy, type A woman would do. She went to see for herself.

What she found would change her life forever. So much so that she found Skip1.org, a charity dedicated to providing food and clean water to children in America and around the world.

In the book she talks about how to: Love– with the heart of God, Skip– some of the comforts in life so you’ll have more to give, and Jump into the “Aventure of Yes.”

Shelene has never lacked passion, but through her first experience in Africa, her passion became God’s passion. As with most people who want more from life, Shelene is 100% sold out. Her story is riveting and her sense of humor refreshing.

Listen to the interview. Post a comment and share with friends so they will be inspired to say yes. You might even win a copy of Love, Skip, Jump. While you’re there, subscribe to all my podcasts on itunes and you can listen to the many fabulous guests and impactful topics from Bold Living with Diane Markins.

Bold Living airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or search Diane Markins) from my website.  Diane Markins 

Tea Offers Lessons for Faith – Jennifer Miller

Jennifer Miller is a pastor, author and self-proclaimed tea snob. Look at her post, listen to the interview and be sure to comment to win a copy of the book.[author_info]

Bold Living airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (search Diane Markins) from my website.  Diane Markins 

Tea Teaches Lessons of Faith

by Jennifer Miller

I am a tea drinker. I have tried to like coffee, but apart from the occasional almond milk latte, I can’t get into it. I guess you could blame it on my great-grandmother. She had a pot of tea every afternoon. She drank it like the English, with milk in it. I’m hard-core. I drink it straight.

That usually surprises people. I most often hear that they think tea is too bitter or that it just tastes “off.”

The funny thing is that I often hear similar complaints about faith when people find out that I’m a hard-core Jesus lover.

What is funnier is that my response to both claims is pretty much the same. How? How could brewing a good cup of tea have anything to do with your faith? Well, read on…

A good cup of tea starts with the tea itself. Typically, the leaves are dried on top of a stack of screens, each screen getting progressively smaller as you move down. The biggest pieces remain on the top, letting ever smaller pieces filter down through the screens until you are left with dust at the bottom.

The bigger pieces are going to be more expensive, but they are also the best tasting. Many people grab a regular bag of tea and don’t stop to look at what is inside. If you are brewing with dust, then it is going to taste like it.

The same is true for your faith. If you are offering the dusty parts of yourself to God, then that is how it will feel. But, if you offer up the biggest parts of yourself, then it is going to turn out the best. It is just more expensive. It will cost you more to have a faith like that.

But back to the tea. After you have chosen the tea you want to use, the next step is a proper ratio. You have to strike a good balance between the amount of tea and the amount of water. Most people brew with an imbalance which throws off the taste. Too much water and it is weak. Too much tea and it is strong or bitter. You want 1 teaspoon of tea per 6-8oz of water. That’s it. Trust me.

Have you ever stopped to consider the ratio in your faith? Is it balanced, or do you have too much of something or too little of something else? Maybe you have so much fear that your faith is overpowered. Maybe you have too little faith in the midst of your doubt.

Now, once you have the proper amount of tea compared with how much water you are going to use, you need to heat it up. Most people just boil it, which is 212o. That is too hot for tea. Yet, if you don’t bring it to a boil first, it will be too cool to properly brew the tea. If you are able to actually measure the temperature of the water, you want 195o for black and oolong teas. You want 175o for green and white teas. If you can’t measure the temperature, then bring it to a boil and wait a few minutes before adding it to the tea. That will work better than just using boiling water.

Temperature has a lot to do with faith too. In Revelations 3, Jesus said that he would rather us be hot or cold. He doesn’t want anything to do with this lukewarm business. The question is, are you hot enough to keep a strong faith?

So, we have the tea measured and the water heated. Now we bring them together and let time do its thing. Again, this is a pivotal point. Most people put the tea bag in the water and leave it there. Stop doing that! You can’t leave it unattended and expect it to taste good. Black and oolong teas steep for 3-5 minutes. Green tea is 2 minutes. White tea is 1 minute. Once time is up, remove the tea from the water.

Time. It is pivotal to our faith, too. Do we just set up our belief system and then leave it unattended? “I said the prayer to invite Jesus into my heart once.” Is that it? How can we think that we are going to have a solid faith, a proper connection with Jesus if we do the minimum or neglect the relationship.

One last note about the tea. You would think that’s all there is to it. We took out the tea and we are ready to drink it, right? Well… almost. We can still mess things up at the end. I see two specific bad habits all the time and they always make me cringe.

First, no dunking! In and out, in and out. How can the water draw out the flavor of the tea if you keep teasing it? Put the tea in the water and then hands off until it’s time to take it out.

That’s the moment for the second bad habit. No twisting or squeezing the tea bag when you take it out of the water. The tea bag is a filter. What is left inside after you steep the tea is not more flavor. It is the bitter parts that the bag was trying to keep out of your tea. When you twist and squeeze and wring it into your cup, you just put all the yucky flavored stuff into your drink. Just take it straight out and set it aside.

I guess that would be my last point about faith, too. Quit dunking yourself! Faith isn’t the hokey pokey. We can’t put a part of ourselves in and then take it out and think that will do anything for you. Especially if you do it over and over again. In and out, in and out. Pick one! Be all in or all out.

Also, don’t strangle your faith. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said that the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out our faith. Are you letting fear and worry take over? Are you letting greed, vanity, wealth, success, and all other forms of pride overpower your faith?

So, that is how a proper cup of tea, as well as a strong faith, is made. I challenge you to try both this week. You can even do both at the same time. Make yourself a yummy cup of tea and then just sit and enjoy it in the quiet stillness of the presence of God. Open yourself up to him and just listen. Give him a big piece of yourself in the proper ratio for a good amount of time with the right kind of heat without dunking or wringing it out.

Prayer – It’s What Gets Us Through the Trials

We all love a great sermon or speech…as much as we hate a bad one. Meaningful, engaging messages don’t just pop into the mind and out of the mouth. They take a boat-load of effort- and PRAYER. Prayer takes us through the trials of life too. Read this hugely helpful post and listen to what H. B. Charles says about his books It Happens after Prayer and On Preaching.

Bold Living airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (search Diane Markins) from my website.  Diane Markins 

On Writing Sermon Manuscripts

by H.B. Charles

The pastor left his sermon manuscript in the pulpit. When the janitor found it, he couldn’t resist the urge to read it. He was impressed, until he stumbled over a note in the margin: “Argument weak here. Start yelling!”

Old story.

Timeless truth: Passion is never a substitute for clarity. If you write yourself clear, you won’t have to yell to cover up a weak argument.

I am a manuscript preacher who cheats. Most weeks, I write a complete manuscript. Most weeks, I do not carry anything to the pulpit but my Bible.

I believe both practices sharpen the preacher – writing manuscripts and preaching without notes.

Here are 11 tips for writing yourself clear in sermon preparation.

  1.  This is not a cursory step. You should pray before and throughout your study of the text. And you should pray your way through sermon preparation. You need guidance in what to say and how to say it to your congregation.

Start with a sermon skeleton. Begin by determining the title, theme, central idea, outline, and other elements that make up the framework of the message. Establish the structure of the sermon. Then put meat on the bones.

  1.  You will never write a manuscript if you do not write a manuscript. Don’t procrastinate. Sunday is coming. Starting writing. Write for as long as you can. Get your ideas on paper. Don’t worry about how good it is yet. A bad page is better than a blank page. Just write.

Write it out word-for-word. Type out your introduction, explanations of the text, scripture references, applications, illustrations, and conclusion completely. “The Vacation Story” or “Charles Spurgeon quote” may suffice in your pulpit notes. Not here. Write it all out. After you start writing manuscripts regularly, this practice will also help you to gauge how long your sermon is.

Write for the ear. A sermon manuscript is not a term paper, theological essay, or potential book chapter. It is a transcript for a message you will deliver to God’s people. As you write, think about those who will listen to what you say, not those who may read what you write.

Preach it as you write it. Talk it out as you are writing it down. This will help you communicate clearly and effectively. Some words that are easy to write are not easy to pronounce. That long, run-on sentence that looks so beautiful on your computer screen may be a nightmare to say. Likewise, preaching it as you write it aids memorization.

Strive for clarity. Process your word choice, sentence structure, cross-references, transitional sentences, and illustrations as clearly as possible. If you do, style and creativity will take care of themselves. Clarity is its own style.

Craft transitional sentences. Car accidents often happen at intersections, during lane changes, or when making a turn. Likewise, moving from the introduction to the main body, from point 1 to point 2, or from illustration to application can be as dangerous as driving in rush hour traffic. So work on smooth transitions. Don’t say, “Let me say three things about the text.” Give them three reasons to pray or four ways to resist temptation or two benefits of trusting God.

Work around writer’s block. I rarely write a sermon from beginning to end. And I struggle to write my introduction and conclusion first. I write as it comes to me, which may be point two. If I get a mental block, I start working on another part of the sermon. This helps me to keep writing when a section is not yet clear.

Mark the manuscript for preaching. I put the main points in red font, sub-points in dark blue. Scripture references are italicized. Quotes are blue. Illustrations are purple. “Runs” are green. Hymn lyrics are orange. I highlight, underline, and change font sizes. This helps me memorize the message. Or if I have to preach from the manuscript, ideas, sections and transitions pop out on the page.

Edit maliciously. The manuscript is a draft until you preach it. Keep working on it. Explain technical words or choose simpler ones. Shorten your sentences. Take out cliché, well-worn words and phrases. Find a different way to say it. Use one cross-reference, instead of three. Cut out that section that was good study material but doesn’t fit in the message. Eliminate unnecessary repetition. Have the courage to leave some hard work on the cutting room floor for the sake of clarity, unity, and movement.

Facing Life’s Challenges with Faith, Friends and More

Hard times, challenges, struggles and disappointments are a certainty. When they hit us we need an arsenal to battle back to solid ground. I chatted about what we need to get through with Michele Howe, the author of Faith, Friends and other Flotation Devices.   Comment below to win a copy.

Bold Living airs on stations in various cities and for easy on-demand access, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (search Diane Markins) from my website. .Diane Markins 

Appreciation: A Truly Humane Art
by Michele Howe

“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out.”
Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends & Influence People

There is something wonderfully enigmatic about sensing that another person notices your efforts, weak attempts though they may be, and kindly expresses such recognition with even a single word of thankfulness. One paltry word, even? Yes. A mere word can make or break a person’s spirit, depend upon it. On any given day, individuals, young and old, from every life background have an inner (frequently unidentified) longing for a bit of expressed goodwill. All people have this need to realize a sense of validation for their accomplishments, their purpose, and their very person.

Cynics may grouse that there’s a fine line between appreciation and flattery. Well, it isn’t so. Flattery is simply verbal manipulation that benefits the speaker alone. The words may true or not, that’s not point. Appreciation runs deeper. It marks another’s actions or attitudes and sees the benefit in the attempts…no matter how insignificant. Real appreciation also alters both the speaker and the recipient, for the good. It spawns renewed vision, encourages continued efforts, and lights a fire for ongoing perseverance toward excellence.
Perhaps the most significant difference between flattery and appreciation is that one offers life (in abundance) while the other signals an inner death knell to the listener.

People instinctively know if they’re being schmoozed and it’s always unattractive. The question then is how to offer praise genuinely when someone is glaringly lacking from every visible vantage point. Drawing from Emerson, Carnegie reports, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” Wise words and utterly true.

In short, as we practice the art of identifying people’s strengths and offer words of consistent appreciation, we will take part in their success, which will naturally spill over positively affecting countless others. Today, begin focusing on the strong points of people and then commit to communicating daily sincere appreciation to all. These few powerful words, which cost us so little, will be treasured by the recipient long after we’ve forgotten them, and there’s nothing insincere about it.

Build appreciation into every personal encounter.

Adopt a learner’s mentality. With friends and strangers alike, view every person you interact with as someone you can learn something from…and then do it.

Focus on meeting the needs of others by learning what is important to them. Ask intelligent questions, listen carefully to their responses, and spend more time discussing your friend’s interests than your own.

See people with fresh eyes. Familiarity can bring with it a lack of gratefulness. Look closely at others’ gifts, talents, and abilities….and thank them for the difference they are making in your life and in others.

Be open hearted by sharing friendships. Welcome newcomers into your circle of friends and acquaintances with warmth. Genuine hospitality begins in each individual heart and works its way outward in ever-widening circles.