Poor Man's Preaching: Why The Richest You'll Sound is When You Sound Like Yourself

I remember the first moment I ever heard Rob Bell preach. I was seventeen and just committed to studying pastoral ministry in college, and I was enchanted by his teaching. His church was skyrocketing. He just started these video teachings that were super hip. And deep within me was a desire growing to hear more about God. It was the blissful moment when you’re the first of your friends to discover a new band.

But I showed up to bible college only to find that I wasn’t the only one listening to Rob Bell. Everyone was oozing pathos during chapel. Practice sermons were punctuated with rhetorical questions just like Bell’s. Even tough guys were caught inflecting their voice to sound just like his raspy plea. Everywhere I went I met the poor man’s Rob Bell.

If Bell himself could have observed this, there’s no way he would have denied the existence of Hell, because that’s exactly what the culture of preaching had become… a preaching hell. 

I’ve noticed since his departure from pastoral ministry, nobody is trying to reproduce Bell. Instead, this ghetto is filled today with thousands of copy-cat preachers who don’t have enough assurance in their own style and their own voice so they parrot top podcasting preachers.

So, to the Stanley-Driscoll-Judah-Chandler-Levi-Furticks out there… try preaching your message as if you were trying to copy you. You actually might connect well with yourself.

And that's what will connect well with everyone else. 

Of All People: Responsibility, Religion and Racial Reconciliation

This post is adapted from my message “Of All People” given to Bethel Hobart/Portage on July 24, 2016. Listen now.

Reflecting back on the days before we started dating, Kristin often mumbles, “I can’t believe I married Dan Jacobsen… of all people.” It’s that second bit that really gets my attention. The first part I can understand. I’m obviously a charming, handsome catch of a man. But then she qualifies it… of all people. Ouch?

In the gospels, Jesus does the same thing. Remember when Jesus is confronted by a lawyer and asked how to inherit eternal life? As Jesus responds, “What does the Law say?” it’s almost as if he’s says to the lawyer, “You, of all people, ought to know the law.” When the lawyer responds correctly, "love God, love neighbors," he asks Jesus a follow up... “But who is my neighbor?”

And to this question, Jesus tells one of the best known stories in the world. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well, probably... A Jew travels from Jerusalem to Jericho and is surprised by thugs who beat him, take his stuff and his clothes, and leave him half-dead without any help. Along the way a priest sees the man and doesn’t help out. Surely, of all people, the priest should have done something! Then comes a Levite, who probably saw the priest ignore the man and thought to himself, “If he, of all people, didn’t stop, why should I?” 

Finally, it's a Samaritan, of all people, who saw the man and had compassion for him, taking care of him. The Jews had little to do with Samaritans, so much so that when Jesus asks the lawyer the question about who was a neighbor to the man, the lawyer can’t bring himself to say the words “the Samaritan.” Instead, the lawyer generically responds, “The one who showed mercy.” 

It’s almost as if Jesus is telling the lawyer “If you want to inherit eternal life, you must love God completely and your neighbors thoroughly. This is so high a task, it seems humanly impossible.” Which is why, in the midst of this law-soaked story, Jesus infuses a message of grace and mercy. Jesus responds to law with grace. This is what he always does.

I find it so encouraging that in response to the demands of the law, Jesus tells the story of all people. What I mean is this… All of us have been dead in sin, left in a mess on the side of the road, and needed someone to see our need. It was Jesus who came to serve us, and he sacrificed himself for us, and spent his life to redeem us out of our debt to sin. Only by grace are we alive in the spirit. Christians, of all people, know this kind of grace and mercy. 

Because of this, here are three ways Jesus calls Christians to live as gospel neighbors...

At the core of this passage is the question, “What’s my responsibility in this life?” However, people who have been changed by the gospel are freed from parsing the particularities of the law and recognize the question isn’t “what’s my responsibility?” but instead they simply declare, “I’ll take responsibility.” What was it that compelled the Samaritan to take responsibility for the man? It was compassion and mercy. Of all people, he would seem to have the most reason to cross the road, except mercy and grace say “I’ll take responsibility.” 

Many people think the church is the place that does acts of mercy and grace. But when we deflect responsibility to the church as an agency to act with compassion and mercy, we’re crossing over the road and leaving people that God has positioned us to love. And this works itself out best when we aren’t limited to serve just others in our church community. Do you know the best way you can share the gospel of Jesus with your antagonistic atheistic friend? It's not through well rehearsed philosophical arguments... (This was the lawyer's tactic with Jesus and it didn't end well for him). The best way to share the gospel is to "Go, and do likewise." 

Racial Reconciliation
We can’t get around this fact: for centuries this story has been called the story of "The Good Samaritan." His race is a part of the title! Jewish pride was put in its place as the needs of a fellow Jew were met by a Samaritan. Here's the big idea: we ought not be defined and limited in our fellowship and in our mercy and compassion for one another that we only serve those who look like us or sound like us or believe like us or think like us. Gospel neighboring crosses racial roads to come together. 

Who owns the responsibility to champion racial reconciliation in the world? It can’t be the government. It can’t be the schools. Jesus says it's his followers, of all people.

Be Coached: 5 lessons I've learned from a ministry legend.

One of the greatest sources of blessing in my life is family. I love the family that Kristin and I are growing. I'm super thankful for the way my parents led my family growing up. And I'm thankful for each of their parents, too. I could write a book for any of my grandparents, but I've just spent the past 48 hours with my Grandpa Wiersbe, whose dedication to God serves as an example for me in all the right ways.

My grandpa is a rockstar, honestly. He pastored a few churches, starting when he was a seminary student. He's written scores of books, well over 100. As I left his house today, he handed me two new books he published this year... TWO! I hear him quoted in sermons all the time. He's been on the radio nationwide, and internationally. When I meet influential pastors, they tell me epic stories about him. And, on top of that, if you asked me to name the most humble man I know, it's unquestionably him.

So yeah, I'm proud of my grandpa in a childish "my grandpa is cooler than your grandpa" sort of way. But I'm also sincerely thankful that I can look up to his example instead of having to learn from him "what not to do."

Just a few things I've picked up from him over my last visit...

The most important part of your ministry is the part nobody sees.
This morning I was up way too early to catch a flight back to Chicago, and on my way to the bathroom I noticed he was at his desk in his office reading the Bible and praying. Nobody sees this. But when you ask him the rhythm of his life, it begins like this every day. And this isn't a "I have to say this to get this part out of the way" type thing. It's the bedrock and solid foundation of the Christian life, from which flows all ministry and relationships. 

Pastors are first and foremost servants.
I've suspected this forever, but it's encouraging to hear someone say this and mean it. Too many of us pastors are divas, drivers, or dictators. Enough said. 

Ministry never ends... in a good way.
He made the off-hand comment that his greatest joy today is knowing that "his clan" is all over the world making an impact. He has mentored friends and pastors who are preaching Jesus locally, nationally, and globally. He's coached so many people personally, and is itching for opportunities to do more of this. 

Money is the wrong motivator.
As a part of his desire to serve and mentor pastors, I set up a video conference call between him and some of our Bethel pastors. He was so blown away by the technology and mentioned that some people were encouraging him to start an online coaching ministry which he could use to make more money. And when he said that, he rolled his eyes and said, "As if that was ever a motive for ministry..." Then he added, "What ever happened to simply serving Jesus and helping people?"

But what currently struck me as encouraging and comforting was this...
Praying, Waiting, and Caring
"All your problems get solved when you pray, wait, and care for people."

Why the next President will save America

Let me be completely upfront about one thing… I'm happily entertained by Donald Trump. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been intrigued with him. For me, it started at a family hangout months ago when someone made a joke about him that was met with resounding, “Hey, wait a minute, he’s the only one with the guts to say what everyone else is thinking!” And I was confused. People like Donald Trump. 

And I’m reminded: American politics are surprising and crazy. 

Here are three thoughts to keep us sane during this primary and election season...

The next President will save America.

Hyperbole? Consider the situation... we’re coming off eight years of a very different type of President, with a nation of millennials who don’t know who they are or what it takes to earn what we have, producing a national identity-crisis. Strong leadership is the only way forward. And the next President will have the opportunity like Washington and FDR to set the broken bones of our country straight. The only hope we have is a President that will tackle immigration, health care, education, foreign policy, a broken tax code, etc. But he (or she) will do it. They will save America.

The next President won’t save America.

OK, to be honest, as I’m growing older and having watched a few of these election cycles come and go, then evaluated the Presidencies that follow these elections, the more I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter who is in the White House... big corporate spenders and lobbyists will have their way. All the more, we’re a nation of immigrants who work hard and want to succeed, and we’ll do so in spite of who is in the oval office. I used to think the President was powerful. Now I realize he’s just the guy who has to deal with the problems, and hope something gets done. So no matter who we elect, one thing’s for certain, we’re sending someone to a dismal island where they’ll age in stress and fatigue, burdened by the idea of progress.

The next President can’t save America.

This is the truth. While I love America and our political system of democracy, I don’t look to the person in the Oval Office as my identity or my true leader. I look to him (or her) as simply my President. The one who has been imperfectly chosen by us imperfect citizens through an imperfect system to run an imperfect country trying to "form a more perfect union.” And while every term or two, the name on the desk might change, I’m reminded that the guy I’ve already placed my trust in is ruling already from a higher office with more wisdom and a whole heck of a lot more power than anything found on this earth. So no matter what happens in Washington, my guy’s already sworn in as the King. 

So here’s to a season of being informed voters. And here’s to a season of not being swept up in the false emotionalism of politics where we lose our minds.