Stanley and Jones Preach Communication

Stanley_and_Lane_review_08312016Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. 2006. Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multinomah Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my last year at Iowa State, out of obligation I took a speech class. At the time, it seemed like a wildly irrelevant class—why does an economist need to learn how to give a speech?  By the time I reached seminary, preaching was not only on my mind, I credited my preaching experience as an elder with helping me to understand my call as a pastor. In a world so desperate to know the love and salvation of Christ, where else can you get 20-40 minutes of people’s undivided attention—especially knowing that your own kids could be sitting in the front row?


In their book, Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley and Lane Jones focus on seven points needed to communicate effectively. In the first part of the book, they outline the seven points in a truck driving analogy. In the second part of the book, they drive down into the seven points in more detail.

Seven Points

The seven points are:

  1. Determine your goal—what do you hope to communicate? (33)
  1. Focus on a single point—if you provide too much information, your audience will not remember anything (39).
  1. Make a map that helps you travel from information to relationship (44). Stanley talks about ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE as the map or outline of how to structure a sermon.

This ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE map requires some unpacking.  The ME section explains who you are. The WE section moves from what I am thinking and feeling to what we are thinking and feeling. The GOD section introduces biblical truth into the discussion. The YOU section is about application—what are you going to do about this biblical truth? The final WE section casts a common vision (48-49).

  1. Internalize the message—“until you can deliver it with no notes, from memory, then it’s not your message” (52).
  1. Engage your audience emotionally—“You have to connect with your audience around a real need in their lives. Something they feel.” This involves reminding the audience of “tension that they already feel” (58-60). You look for memorable points and go slow on the transition points to keep people engaged (63-64).
  1. Find you voice. Stanley and Jones observe: “You are not talking to people. You are talking at people.” Your voice is the authentic you—present, vulnerable, the real you. The goal of finding your voice is to be able to take people on a journey, rather than give them a sermon (70-72).
  1. Find your traction. Delivering a sermon on time every week is hard if you get stuck in the preparation. Stanley and Jones suggest a checklist of questions: 1. What do they need to know? 2. Why do they need to know it? 3. What do they need to do? And 4. Why do they need to do it? (80)

In parsing the first point, Stanley and Jones observe that pastors have really three primary approaches in preaching:

  1. Teaching the Bible to people;
  2. Teaching people the Bible;
  3. Teach “people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible.” (94-95)

Expert multiple choice test takers always go for the longest answer—Stanley and Jones clearly favor the third approach. Their incentive is captured in this brief statement:

“How would you communicate this message if your eighteen-year old son had made up his mind to walk away from everything you have taught him, morally, ethically, and theologically, unless he had a compelling reason not to? What would you say this morning if you knew that was at stake?” (98-99)

Stanley and Jones’ point is compelling and one of the points of the book that I remember most vividly.


Andy Stanley[1] is the founder of North Point Ministries in the Atlanta area, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and he author of numerous books. Lane Jones[2] is also of North Point Ministries and a graduate of  Dallas Theological Seminary and a Christian author.


Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones is a book recommended to me by my pastor when I started entered seminary and began preaching for myself. The book is engaging, easy to read, and proved to be a great help in preaching.



[2] Getting to know Lane Jones (

Stanley and Jones Preach Communication

Also see:

Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control 

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Assurance of Salvation in Jesus Christ

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon given in Spanish at El Shadai DC, in Manassas, VA July 7, 2019.


Good afternoon. Welcome to El Shadai DC. For those who do not know me, I am Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author. I live with my wife in Centreville, Virginia.

This afternoon we begin a new sermon series on the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. In a world with so much uncertainty, only Jesus Christ does not change or let us down. Today we are going to start with the passage most famous for this subject, John 10, and I will focus on the nature of eternal life.


Let’s pray.

Merciful father.

All praise and honor is yours for you hear our prayers, comfort us in our afflictions, and give us life eternal.

We confess that we not worthy of your affections and we thank you for teaching us to love.

Draw us now to yourself. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illuminate our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.


Today’s text comes from John 10:27-30. Here the word of the Lord:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


Who knows someone who accepts no responsibility for themselves and is a constant pain in the neck? Unfortunately, for every one of us a different face comes into view. Normally, when I see someone who annoys me, I tell my kids: there goes another person who Christ died for (2X). This is a private joke in my family that gets frequently repeated.

This joke points to a image of Christ that is the opposite of a person who lacks fiber and is, as they say, a free spirit. By contrast, a shepherd is someone who lives with the sheep in the field and protects them from coyotes, wolves, and lions with only a rod and staff. This is respectable work, but it is also dirty and dangerous. It is an image of physical and emotional strength and is our picture of a natural leader.

Who is the perfect image of a shepherd in your life? (2X)

The First Sentence: Intimate

In the first sentence of our text of the day Jesus uses the image of a good shepherd to demonstrate that our relation with him is intimate. He simply says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Those that are saved listen and follow like sheep. This sentence is interesting because it is laconic—Jesus uses a minimum of words to describe deeply profound concepts—laconic.

In the middle of this sentence is an unexpected phrase: I know them. We expect: they know me. In context, we expect: My sheep hear my voice, and they know me, and they follow me. By means of this unexpected phrase, Jesus makes an important point.

Here we encounter unexpected familiarity—our heavenly shepherd knows us personally. God knows us sufficiently well to call us by name. This inference is credible because in real life, good shepherds call their sheep by name.

The Second Sentence: Secure

In the second sentence of today’s text, Jesus promises eternal life and explains that our relationship with him is secure. He says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It is impossible to understand this security without understanding first eternal life. Permit me to focus the rest of my time on this concept of eternal life.

Eternal Life

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul uses his famous metaphor of the body of Christ. (2X) Listen for the word of God:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Here Paul is speaking about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thought, we frequently speak about the soul that today we refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thought, this word soul implies the body, mind, spirit, and the people that we are in relationship with. (2X) When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our life which is the means by which we come into relationship with God. Our souls change forever. Much like we become the body of Christ (as the church is described), we also become united with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with other believers from the past, present, and future. Because God is eternal, being one with God implies that our identity is also eternal. It is also complete because God knows us just as much internally as externally whereas our family and friends only know us from external things (2X).


For those not accustomed to this notion of a shared identity and the soul, what happens to your identity when your mind becomes taken over by a disease such as Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you lose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? No way. When you encounter a person with Alzheimer’s, their identity is retained by the people around them who care for them, order their favorite meals, and tell their stories to other people.

It’s no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by the many people who have known us, but, in the case of Christians, by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily re-create us complete with our identity, our souls, because we have a complete relationship with God.

Parting Words

In this explanation of eternal life, our relationship with God determines if we experience the assurance of salvation or not. When Jesus said: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It is clear that no one can interfere in our relationship with God. But, we must accept Christ into our hearts and give him priority in our lives every day. Everything else has been made possible by the blood of Jesus. (2X)


Final Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, Good Shepherd, Holy Spirit,

All honor and glory are yours because you love us and value our lives more than anyone else.

We confess that we do not deserve this attention and love.

Thank you for the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us a faith that will persist loner than any stress in this life. In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Assurance of Salvation in Christ Jesus.

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Permanencia en Cristo

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018por Stephen W. Hiemstra,

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermón dado por El Shadai DC, Manassas, VA, 7 de Julio, 2019.


Vamos a empezar.

Buenos tarde. Bienvenido a la iglesia El Shadai DC. Para aquellos de ustedes que no me conocen, me llama Stephen W. Hiemstra. Soy un autor cristiano y vivo con mi esposa en Centreville, Virginia.

Esta tarde empezamos un nuevo estudio sobre la seguridad de salvación en Cristo. En un mundo con tanta incertidumbre tenemos solamente Cristo que no cambia y no nos defrauda. Hoy día voy a empezar por el pasaje más famoso de este tema, Juan 10, y voy a enfocar por la vida eterna.


Vamos a orar.

Padre misericordioso:

Toda la alabanza y el honor son tuyos, porque escuchas nuestras oraciones, nos consuelas en nuestras aflicciones y nos da la vida eterna.

Confesamos que no somos dignos de tus afectos y te agradecemos por enseñarnos a amar.

Dibújanos ahora a ti mismo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, abres nuestros corazones, iluminas nuestras mentes y fortaleces nuestras manos en tu servicio. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.


El texto de hoy viene del libro del Juan 10:27-30 (NVI). Escuchen a la palabra de Dios. Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen. Yo les doy vida eterna, y nunca perecerán, ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano. Mi Padre, que me las ha dado, es más grande que todos; y de la mano del Padre nadie las puede arrebatar. El Padre y yo somos uno. La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.


¿Quien conoce alguien quien no acepta responsabilidad por si misma y constantemente es una pena de la cabeza? Disfortunamente, por cada una de nosotros esta pregunta trae otra cara en vista. Normalmente cuando veo otra persona que me molesto digo a mis hijos—Ahí va otra persona por la que Cristo murió. (2X) Esto es un chiste privado en mi familia que se repitan frecuentemente.  

Este chiste punta a una imagen de Cristo que es oposite de la persona que falta fibra o es, como se dice, un espíritu libre. Por contrario, un pastor es alguien que vive con las ovejas en el campo y les proteja de coyotes, lobos, y leones solamente con una vara y cayado. Este es trabajo respeto, pero es también sucio y peligroso. Es una imagen de la fuerza física y emocional y nuestra pintura mas básica de un líder natural.

¿Quien es la imagen perfecta de un pastor en tu vida? (2X)

El Primare Frase: Intima

En laprimara frase de nuestro texto de hoy Jesús uso la imagen de un buen pastor a explicar que nuestra relación con el es intima. El dijo solamente: “Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen.” Los que han estado rescatado oyen y siguen como ovejas. Esta frase es interesante porque es lacónica, Jesús uso pocas palabras a describir conceptos muy profundos—lacónica.

En medio de esta frase es una fase inesperada: yo las conozco. Escuchen a la frase otra vez: “Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen.” Esperábamos que dijera: me conocen. En contexto esperábamos: Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; me conocen y ellas me siguen.” Por medio de esta fase inesperada, Jesús hace una punta importante.

Aquí encontramos una familiaridad inesperada, nuestro pastor celestial conoce nos personalmente. Dios nos ama suficientemente a aprender nuestros nombres. Esta inferencia es creíble porque en la vida cotidiana, buenos pastores conocen sus ovejas y llaman las por su nombre.

El Segundo Frase: Seguro

En lasegunda frase de nuestro texto de hoy Jesús prometa la vida eterna y explica que nuestra relación con el es seguro. Dijo: “Yo les doy vida eterna, y nunca perecerán, ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano.” Es imposible a entender la permanencia de la vida eterna sino entender primera la vida eterna misma. Permítame enfoque el resto de mi tiempo por este concepto de la vida eterna.

La Vida Eterna

En su carta a la iglesia de Corinto, el apostal Pablo uso su famosa metáfora del cuerpo de Cristo (2X). Escuchan a la palabra de Dios:

De hecho, aunque el cuerpo es uno solo, tiene muchos miembros, y todos los miembros, no obstante ser muchos, forman un solo cuerpo. Así sucede con Cristo. Todos fuimos bautizados por un solo Espíritu para constituir un solo cuerpo —ya seamos judíos o gentiles, esclavos o libres—, y a todos se nos dio a beber de un mismo Espíritu. Ahora bien, el cuerpo no consta de un solo miembro sino de muchos. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Aquí Pablo es hablando sobre la naturaleza de la iglesia, pero una segunda interpretación es posible.

En el pensamiento cristiano, hablamos frecuentemente sobre el alma la que hoy día se refieren como nuestra identidad. En pensamiento hebreo, la palabra implica el cuerpo, mente, espíritu, y la gente con quienes tenemos una relación. (2X) Cuando llegamos a Cristo, el espíritu santo viene en nuestra vida, por medio que venimos en relación con Dios. Nuestra alma cambia para siempre. Mucho como somos un cuerpo en Cristo (como se describe la iglesia), somos también uno con Dios, quien es eterna.

Ser uno con Dios implica que nuestra identidad es ahora se tiene en común con otros creyentes del pasado, presente, y futuro. Porque Dios es eterna, ser en unión con Dios implica también que nuestra identidad es ahora eterna. Esa es también completa porque Dios conoce nos tanta interna como externa, donde nuestra familia y amigos conocen nos solamente de cosas externa. (2X)


¿Para aquellos de ustedes que no están acostumbrada de esta noción de identidad compartido y el alma, que paso a su identidad cuando su mente es ocupada por una enfermedad como alzhéimer? ¿Dejas de ser una persona? ¿Pierdes tu identidad por rasión que ya no recuerda quien eres? ¡No señor! ¡No señora! Cuando te encuentras una persona con Alzheimer, su identidad es retenida por las personas a su alrededor que los cuidan, ordenan sus comidas favoritas y cuentan sus historias por otras personas.

No es diferente cuando moriamos. Cuando moriamos, nuestra identidad es retenida no solamente por tantas las personas quienes nos conocían, pero también, en caso del cristiano, por el Espíritu Santo, quien es eterna. Dios que nos creó del polvo puede recrearnos fácilmente, completar con nuestra identidad, nuestras almas, porque estamos en una relación completa con Dios.

Por Fin

De esta explicación de la vida eterna, nuestra relación con Dios determina si nos permanecemos en salvación o no. Cuando Jesús dijo, “ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano,” eso es claro que nadie puede interferir con esta relación entre nosotros y Dios. Pero, debemos aceptar Cristo en nuestros corazones y da lo una prioridad en nuestra vida cada día. Todas las demás fue hecho posible por la sangre de Cristo. (2X) Amén.


Vamos a orar. Padre celestial, Buen Pastor, Espíritu Santo, Toda honor y gloria es tuya porque tu nos amas y valoras más nuestras vidas que nadie. Confesamos que no merecemos esta atención y amor. Gracias por venir durante la vida y sacrificio de Jesucristo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, danos una fe que permanecerá ya mas que cualquiera estreso de esta vida. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.

Permanencia en Cristo

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Sermon: A God Who Listens. Monday Monologues, May 6, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a sermon entitled: A God Who Listens.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Sermon: A God Who Listens. Monday Monologues, May 6, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Fully Present

Stephen W. Hiemstra,
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

A sermon presented in Spanish at El Shadai church in Manassas, Virginia, August 2, 2018.


Good evening. Thank you for coming.

This evening we begin a study of Christian service. Because we are created in the image of God, we want to do all the things that we see in God. Therefore, just as God is always present in our lives, we need to be fully present in the lives of those around us.


Let’s pray.

Merciful God,

We praise you for creating us in your image and loving us as your children. Be especially present with us at this time and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our praise and give us the strength to be fully present in the lives of our families and the other persons around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


The scripture for today comes from the Book of Mark 10:46-52. Hear the word of the Lord:

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

One answer is to listen actively to the stories of a person, something quite rare in our postmodern, too active, and narcissistic life.

One Saturday, when I was a Chaplain in Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington, there was a lot of noise in the emergency department. There were people in every room and every gurney. The staff was running in every direction and patients were screaming and crying. In the middle of this chaos, there was one man who was especially noisy and bothering the other patients.

As I came to see what was going on, a nurse came and asked him for a urine sample. In the middle of the room, he unzipped his pants and gave her a urine sample on the spot. Immediately afterwards, he returned to his

gurney and began again to cry loudly. He had an athletic build, a hint of a mustache, and was about forty years old. It was obvious that he was drunk.

“Good afternoon,” I said. “I am from pastoral care. Do you have a minute to talk?”


“How come you are so sad this afternoon?”

“My brother died at the age of forty of alcohol abuse, just like my father.”

“When did your brother die?”

 ¨Five years ago.¨ (2X) ¨So, now you are forty and you think that you also are going to die?¨ I asked speculating.

¨Yes. Today is my birthday.¨

After the revelation of this emotional anniversary, we hugged and began to identify alternatives for dealing with his addiction to alcohol. I remember this visit not only because of all the drama, but because another chaplain before me had could not establish a connection with this patient and failed to have a serious discussion. The connection in this case began when I realized that this patient was experiencing a type of story known as an emotional anniversary.

Today’s scripture

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

The story of Jesus and the bind man, Bartimaeus, includes at least two surprising elements.

The first surprise is that Jesus stopped and talked to Bartimaeus.What celebrity stops to talk to a random person? Jesus did. (2X) The first step in being fully present in the life of anyone is to stop and talk to them. Do you talk to the invisible people in this life who no one else notices? (2X)

The second surprise is that Jesus asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Note that Jesus does not assume that he knows the answer to this question. He offers Bartimaeus respect as an adult and does not view him through his disability as a blind man. (2X)

Bartimaeus’ answer is also interesting. His request to receive healing from his blindness indicates that he has faith. By contrast, “a man lamb from birth” in Acts 3 asked the Apostles Peter and John only for alms (Acts 3:2-3). I believe that the Bible records Bartimaeus’ name because his faith surprised Peter and the other disciples. For us, Bartimaeus’ request seems perhaps obvious because Jesus and this story are just too familiar.

What do we learn from these verses? We need to stop and talk to the invisible people around us and listen carefully to what they say. (2X)

More Discussion

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

In my pastoral training to be fully present meant for the most part to listen to someone actively. Look directly into their eyes and let them tell their story. Only ask questions of clarification occasionally.

If these directions seem easy, they are not. The objective of active listen is to understand the emotional content of the story. (2X)

Author, John Savage, recommends to listen especially for the type of story being told. This story within the story reveals the emotional content that is being communicated.

In the story of the patient in the hospital, the story within the story was an anniversary—in his family the men died at the age of forty due to alcoholism. An anniversary is a story connected to a date on the calendar. Perhaps someone important died or had an serious accident on a particular date. In the story of the patient, the date was a birthday. The most famous date at the time of Jesus was the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt which they celebrated as Passover each year.

Savage (1996, 95) indicates four other types of stories.

1.    A “I know a man who” story. In this case, the person under discussin is normally the person speaking because the subject matter is too sensitive. In the Bible, we read:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”(2 Cor 12:2)2.

2. A transition story has three parts—the past, the present, and the future. A hospital visit is normally a transition story. University studies are also a transition with three parts.

A transition obvious in the Bible is the story of the Exodus when the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, went into the desert for forty years, and afterwards entered the Promised Land (Bridge 2003, 43). It is interesting that the people of Israel learned to depend on God during their time in the desert.

3.    A story from the past with current meaning. This is the typical story from the Bible, but this type of story gets special mention in the context of the Lord’s Supper where we read:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(Luke 22:19)

4.    A reinvestment story. This is a story like economist becomes pastor. That was then; this is now. In the Bible we see this type of story in the conversion of Paul from a persecutor of the church into an evangelist for Christ.

Finally, after we hear one of the five types of stories being described, the next step is to ask a question to clarify. In my story from the hospital, I asked:

“Okay, now you turned forty years old and think that you are going to die too?” I asked speculating.

The answer to this question will indicate if you have been listening sufficiently well.


What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life?

Every one of us can stop and listen more closely to those around us following the example of Jesus with Bartimaeus


Let’s pray.

Holy Father,

Thank you for your forgiveness and presence in our daily lives. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength to listen more closely each day to the people around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen


Bridge, William. 2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Presencia Completa

Stephen W. Hiemstra,
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Un  sermon presentó a la iglesia El Shadai en Manassas, Virginia, 2 de Agosto, 2018 (English).


Buenos noches. Gracias por venir.

Esta noche empezamos un estudio del servicio Cristiano. Porque somos creado en la imagen de Dios, querremos hacer todas las cosas que vemos en Dios. Entonces, como Dios es siempre presente en nuestras vidas, necesitamos estar completamente presente en las vidas de las personas acera de nosotros.


Vamos a orar.

Padre Misericordia,

Alabamos que creaste nos en tu imagen y ama nos como tus niños. Sea especialmente presente con nosotros en este tiempo y este lugar. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, bendice nuestra alabanza y damos el fuerzo a estar completamente presente en las vidas de nuestras familias y las otras personas acerca de nosotros. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.


El texto de hoy viene del libro del Marcos 10:46-52. Escuchen a la palabra de Dios.

Después llegaron a Jericó. Más tarde, salió Jesús de la ciudad acompañado de sus discípulos y de una gran multitud. Un mendigo ciego llamado Bartimeo (el hijo de Timeo) estaba sentado junto al camino.Al oír que el que venía era Jesús de Nazaret, se puso a gritar: —¡Jesús, Hijo de David, ten compasión de mí! Muchos lo reprendían para que se callara, pero él se puso a gritar aún más: —¡Hijo de David, ten compasión de mí! Jesús se detuvo y dijo: —Llámenlo. Así que llamaron al ciego. —¡Ánimo! —le dijeron—. ¡Levántate! Te llama. Él, arrojando la capa, dio un salto y se acercó a Jesús. —¿Qué quieres que haga por ti? —le preguntó. —Rabí, quiero ver —respondió el ciego. —Puedes irte —le dijo Jesús—; tu fe te ha sanado. Al momento recobró la vista y empezó a seguir a Jesús por el camino.

La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.


¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

Una respuesta es que escuchar intensivamente a las historias de una persona, algo muy raro en nuestra postmoderna, demasiada-activa, y narcisista vida.

Un sábado, cuando fui un capellán en el hospital Providence en la noreste parte de Washington, hubo mucho ruido en la sala de emergencia. Hubo personas en cada sala y por cada cama. Personal fue corriendo en cada dirección y pacientes fueron gritando y llorando. En medio de este caos, hubo un hombre especialmente ruidoso y molestando a los otros pacientes. Cuando me acerqué para ver qué estaba pasando, una enfermera vinó y le pidió una muestra de orina. En el medio de esta sala, se bajó la cremallera de los pantalones y le dió una muestra de orina en el acto. Inmediatamente después, regresó a su cama y empezó otra vez a llorando muy ruidoso. Le aparece muy atlético, tenía un toque de bigote, y tuvó más o menos cuarenta años de edad. Fue obvio que estaba borracho.

¨Buenos días,¨ dije. ¨Vengo de cuidado pastoral. ¿Quiere un momento de conversación?¨


 ¨¿Porque estas tan triste esta tarde?¨

¨Mi hermano murió a la edad de cuarenta años del alcoholismo al igual que mi padre.¨ 

¨¿Cuando murió tu hermano? ¨ 

¨Antes de cinco años.¨ (2X) 

¨¿Entonces, ahora usted tenia cuarenta años y piense que va a morir también?¨ Yo pidé especulando.

¨Si. Hoy día esta mi cumpleaños.”

Después de la revelación de este aniversario emocional, nos abrazamos y comenzamos a identificar formas de lidiar con su adicción del alcohol. Recuerdo esta visita no solamente por toda la drama, sino también porque una otra capellana ante de mí no pudo establecer esta conexión y se fue sin tener un encuentro serio. Esta conexión empezó cuando realicé que este paciente fue experimentando un tipo de historia conocido como un aniversario emocional.

Escritura de Hoy

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

La historia de Jesús y el ciego, Bartimeo, tiene al menos de dos elementos sorprendo.

El primero sorprendo es que Jesús detuvo y hablar con Bartimeo. ¿Qué celebridad se detiene para hablar con la gente común? Jesús hicó. (2X) La primera paso en siendo completamente presente en la vida de cualquiera persona esta a detenerse y hablar a ellos. ¿Hablas tú a las invisibles personas en la vida, las que nadie reconocimiento? (2X) 

El secundo sorprendo es que Jesús preguntó a Bartimeo: ¨—¿Qué quieres que haga por ti?¨ (Marcos 10:51) Nota que Jesús no asumo que el supó la repuesta de esta pregunta. El ofrezcó a Bartimeo respeto como un adulto y no veó a el por media de su discapacidad como ciego. (2X) 

La repuesta de Bartimeo es también interesante. Su petición de receiver curación de su ceguera indica que el tiene fe. Por contrasto, un hombre lisiado de nacimiento” en Hechos 3 pidió a los Apóstolos Pedro y Juan solamente por limosna (Hechos 3:2-3). Creo que la biblia registró el nombre de Bartimeo porque su fe sorprendó a Pedro y los otros discípulos. Para nosotros, la repuesta de Bartimeo es tal vez obvio porque Jesús y esta historia están demasiado familiar.

¿Que aprendimos de estés versículos? Necesitamos a detenerse y hablar a las personas invisibles alrededor nos y escuchar cuidosamente a cuáles que deciren. (2X)

Más Discusión

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

En mi formación pastoral a estar completamente presente significa por la mayor parte a escuchar a alguien activamente. Mira directamente en los ojos de una persona y permítalos a decir su historia. Sólo plantear las preguntas para aclaración ocasionalmente.  Si esta dirección parece fácil, no es. El objetivo de escuchar activamente es a entender el contento emocional de la historia. (2X)

El autor, John Savage, recomendó a escuchar especialmente para el tipo de historia que se cuenta. Esta historia en la historia revela el emocional contento que esta seriando comunicado.

En la historia del paciente en el hospital, la historia en la historia fue un aniversario—en su familia los hombres muerta por edad de cuarenta años de alcoholismo. Un aniversario es una historia conectado con un dato del calendario. Tal vez alguien importante murió o tuvó un accidenté grave por un día particular. En esta historia del paciente fue un cumpleaños. El dato más famoso por el tiempo de Jesús fue el Éxodo de la gente de israel de Egipto cual se celebra como Pascua cada año.

Savage (1996, 95) indica cuarto otros tipos de historias:

1.    Una “yo conozco a un hombre quien” historia. En este caso el hombre subido discusión es normalmente la persona que habla porque el tema es demasiado sensitivo. En la bíblica, leamos:

¨Conozco a un seguidor de Cristo que hace catorce años fue llevado al tercer cielo (no sé si en el cuerpo o fuera del cuerpo; Dios lo sabe.¨ (2 Cor. 12:2).

2.    Una transición historia tiene tres partes—el pasado, el presente, y la futura. Una vista del hospital es normalmente una transición historia. También los estudios en la universidad son una transición con tres partes. Una transición obvia en la biblia es la historia del Éxodo cuando la gente de Israel salió de la tierra de Egipto, ir en el desierto durante cuarenta años, y luego entró en la tierra prometida (Bridge 2003, 43). Interesante es que el pueblo israel aprendí de depende por Dios durante su tiempo en el desierto. 3.

3.   Una historia del pasado con significado para el presente. Eso es su típica historia de la biblia pero se menciona específicamente en el contexto de la Cena del Señor donde leamos:

¨También tomó pan y, después de dar gracias, lo partió, se lo dio a ellos y dijo: —Este pan es mi cuerpo, entregado por ustedes; hagan esto en memoria de mí.¨ (Lucas 22:19)

4.    Una reinversión historia. Eso es una historia como economista sea pastor. Eso era entonces; esto es ahora. En la biblia vemos este tipo de historia en la conversión de Pablo de un persecutor de la iglesia a una evangelista de cristo.

Finalmente, cuando nosotros oímos un de los cincos tipos de historias seriando describir, el paso próximo es a plantear una pregunta de clarificación. En mi historia del hospital, yo pregunté:  ¨¿Entonces, ahora usted tenia cuarenta anos y piense que va a morir también?¨ La repuesta de su pregunta indicara si tú has escuchada suficiente bien.

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien?
Cada uno de nosotros puede detenerse y escuchar con más atención a quienes nos rodean siguiendo el ejemplo de Jesús con Bartimeo.



Padre Santo,

Gracias por tu perdón y por tu presencia en nuestras vidas cotidiarias. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, darnos el fuerzo para escuchar más intensivo a las personas alrededor nos cada día. En el preciso nombre de Jesucristo. Amen.


Bridge, William. 2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Presencia Completa

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Gibson: Preach God’s Word in Season and Out

Gibson_review_08232016Scott M. Gibson. 2001. Preaching for Special Services. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the more perplexing challenges that pastors face is always being on call. Recently, the pastor on duty at a luncheon I attend got caught up in traffic; I found myself presented with an unexpected mic. For a plodder, someone who always works from a 5-year plan, these special occasions can be especially challenging.

In his book, Preaching for Special Services, Scott Gibson writes:

“A pastor must be able to step with ease into a number of different speaking venues. In addition to a regular preaching schedule, you as a pastor face an endless parade of special occasions at which you are asked to speak.” (Back cover)

He goes on to cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV) The purpose of such preaching, he says, “is to give a clear, listener-sensitive, biblically based word to men and women who are sometimes eager and often desperate to hear it.” (18)

In this short book, Gibson focuses on 4 special occasions that make up the core of his  6 chapters:

  1. Preaching for Special Services
  2. Wedding Services
  3. Funeral Services
  4. Baptism and Infant Presentation Sermons
  5. Preaching at the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
  6. Speaking on Other Occasions

The foreword was written by Haddon W. Robinson who taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for many years and is famous for “big idea” preaching.

The idea in “big idea” preaching is to identify the subject of a particular passage of scripture, usually a pericope,[1] and its complement. The subject is what the author is talking about and the complement is what is said about the subject (19). In special occasion preaching, Gibson emphasizes the need for brevity and clarity where the preacher must be clear about the biblical text, clear about the audience, clear about the occasion, and clear in what they say (21). Tall order on occasions where the circumstances may limit the time available for preparation.

Why preach on special occasions? Outside of the obvious response—because you are asked—Gibson offers this response:

“Preaching at these times allows the preacher to speak the word of God to those gathered, to round out the worship, to bring focus to the occasion.” (17)

When I am asked, I refer to these special occasions as difficult transitions in life where God is especially present to those who call on him. Of course, preaching helps us reflect on God’s presence and his special presence.

If you are like me, this is the sort of book that gets bought and remains on the bookshelf until a special occasion arises when a good reference comes in handy. In my case, I am working on a wedding so let me review Gibson’s comments about weddings.

In each of his presentations on special occasions, he reviews the history of the church’s customs with respect the particular occasion. Gibson notes that in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, weddings were celebrated with an epithalamium, which is a poem celebrating the wedding—kind of like Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Gibson’s comments about weddings in medieval Europe are interesting:

“Preaching took place at the synagogue or at the wedding feast.  The preacher was the groom, the father of the groom, or the father of the bride.” (27)

In my case, I am both a volunteer pastor and father of the bride.

Gibson sees the wedding sermon as: “a window to understanding God’s design for marriage.” (30). In particular, the marriage is not simply a covenant,[2] but a covenant before God, having both his oversight and blessing. Gibson furthermore sees the wedding service having both theological and practical objectives, celebrating the mystery of marriage (32). The wedding sermon should use concrete language, be brief, clear, personal, and have central idea (35-37).

Scott M. Gibson’s Preaching for Special Services is a helpful reference for pastors and aspiring pastors. Others who speak occasionally may also find it interesting. Although I had a wedding in mind in reading, other chapters helped me prepare sermon notes in advance of writing.


Robinson, Haddon W. 2001. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

[1] A periscope is a unit of scripture with one unified thought, usually a story or parable, which is often no more than 10-20 verses.

[2] Here a covenant is more than a business partnership, but, taking the business analogy, it is more of a merger where compatible corporate cultures often determine the long-term viability of the merger.

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Lowry Preaches Plot; Reveals Gospel

Plot_12122013Eugene L. Lowry. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Orig pub 1980). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In Greek, John’s Gospel begins: Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1 BNT). The English translation reads: in the beginning was the word. By contrast, Spanish follows the Vulgate and translates λόγος, not as a noun, but as a verb: in the beginning was the verb. This translation is generally interesting because Hebrew is a verb-based language which makes it easier to tell a story.  It is specifically interesting because Jerome observes John’s choice of Εν ἀρχῇ mirrors Genesis 1:1 reminding his reader of the creation account.  Creative work requires creative words–action verbs, not passive nouns.

In The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry likewise sees a sermon as a narrative event rather than as a content transmittal (12, 90-91). The narrative event discovers content and meaning rather than merely reporting it. Lowry explains: the sermon is a bridging event in time, moving from itch to scratch, from issue to answer, from conflict to resolution, from ambiguity to closure born of the gospel (118).  Motion, not information, drives the sermon.

For Lowry, the sermon does not so much tell a story as adopt a narrative structure. He outlines this structure in five moves: (1) upsetting the equilibrium, (2) analyzing the discrepancy, (3) disclosing the clue to resolution, (4) experiencing the gospel, and (5) anticipating the consequences (26). Lowry’s craft is displayed in how well he unpacks these five moves.

In the first move of the sermon, for example, the preacher upsets the equilibrium by introducing dramatic tension, conflict, or ambiguity. Lowry’s illustrates this move with the dilemma presented in the film High Noon (1952). In the film, tension arises as the marshal has promised his pacifist fiancée to retire only to discover that a band of desperados just released from prison have vowed to take revenge on his town.  Here is the dilemma:  if the marshal retires with his fiancée, he is a coward; if he stays, he breaks his promise (57).  The backstory on the film is that only a decade earlier a pacifist America had sat on the sidelines in the early stages of World War II.  Just like the film helped Americans relive their dilemma, Lowry’s sermon strives to help the congregation feel the tension.

Eugene Lowry is the William K. McEvaney Emeritus Professor of Preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology of Kansas City. This printing commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Homiletical Plot. The forward is written by Fred Craddock, another well-known homiletics professor and author. The book itself divides into three sections—the sermon as narrative, the stages of the homiletical plot, and other considerations. These sections are preceded by an introduction and followed by an afterword which reflects on how things might have changed over preceding 20 years.

Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot is a short book and a good read. Why is an average Christian interested in reading a preaching (homiletics) text?  Because the Word of God is meant to be read out loud, the gospel itself lies within the ambiguity and tension of the narrative event.  That makes homiletics a key to biblical interpretation. Consequently, Lowry’s book is more than just another preaching text and is worthy of careful reading.

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The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

Slave Ship, Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA,  August 24, 2003


Good morning!

A key point when we face pain and suffering is that God remains with us.  We are not alone.

The prime example of this principle comes in the story of Daniel[1].

Now after Daniel survived a night in the lion’s den, King Darius was astonished that Daniel was still alive.  So, he summoned Daniel into his throne room and asked Daniel why the lions had not eaten him.

“It was easy, your Excellency,” Daniel said. “I went around and whispered in each lion’s ear — ‘After dinner, one of our elders will say a few words.'”


Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Amen

 Psalm 51:10-12 RSV


Let’s start this morning with a little mind experiment.  Think of someone that you respect.  What is special about this person?  Are they strong? Are they good looking?  What led you to respect them?  Chances are that many of the people you have in mind have suffered serious pain in their lives.

Larry’s Funeral

In July I attended a funeral of a colleague, Larry.  Larry was special.  No one was a stranger around Larry.  Larry had the glow.

At the funeral people talked about Larry’s lust for life and his joy.  Larry was known for his singing.  He was known in the office because he remembered co-workers’ children and asked about them.  About third of the church was filled with colleagues of Larry from other parts of town.

At the funeral, people talked about Larry’s strength.  He was a father and a grandfather.  He could throw a football an entire city block—twice the distance of his own brother.  What really stuck out at this funeral was the long list of testimonials—Larry clearly touched many lives.

Why do I mention this?

Larry was black and confined to a wheelchair for the time that I knew him.  Underprivileged, handicapped, and killed at age of 48 by the disease that crippled him, Larry was no stranger to hardship.  In spite of everything, he persevered in winning the golden crown award in the fellowship of saints.

Challenges Grow Us

We respect people that overcome difficult challenges.  In his book, Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey reports that leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, and Queen Victoria, were all either orphaned at an early age or experienced severe childhood deprivation[2].

Why God?

The problem of pain sums up with the question:  If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering? In shining light on this question, I will divide my comments into three parts.  First, I will look at the nature of pain.  Second, I will review Biblical views on pain and suffering.  Finally, I will conclude with a few words of wisdom.

What is Pain?

Pain communicates.  When we put a hand on a hot stove, our hand seems to shout:  get me out of here[4].  When we do something stupid and suffer ridicule from our friends, we experience a different kind of pain.  In the physical world or a social context, pain demands immediate attention.  It teaches us what to do and what not to do.

In discussing the spiritual side of pain, it is helpful to distinguish avoidable from unavoidable pain.

Avoidable Pain

Avoidable pain challenges our intelligence more than our faith.  When we drive without a seat belt and have an accident, God is not normally blamed.  Instead, the wisdom of wearing a seat-belt becomes painfully obvious.  Not all avoidable pains in this life, however, are equally obvious.


The relationship between sin and pain is well understood.  Sin occurs when we do something that we should not do.  The obvious case is murder.  The immediate consequence of murder is the pain of imprisonment or death.


Iniquity is more insidious than sin.  Iniquity occurs when we fail to do something that we should have done (Proverbs 3:27).  Iniquity can not only produce pain, but also a consuming guilt and shame.

When I think about iniquity, I remember a puppy that we had when I was in high school.  This puppy was very enthusiastic and slipped out of the house one morning as I was walking to school.  That morning I was late and the puppy did not catch up to me until I was quite a distance from home.  Upset with him, I sent him home.  Obediently, the dog immediately ran across the road and was struck dead by a passing car in front of my eyes.  I had done nothing wrong, but what I failed to do cost that innocent puppy his life.

More than sin, iniquity challenges modern society.   Consider, for example, the effect of technology on our ability to work 24-7.  As work fills our lives with good things, we have less time to raise our children, care for our elderly parents, and commit time to God.  The workaholic has no special proclivity to sin, but finds iniquity a constant challenge.

The Learning Process.

In the example of the workaholic, it is ironic that something good (like work) should lead to something bad (like iniquity).  This problem arises because the normal learning process breaks down.

Psychologists describe learning as responses to positive and negative stimuli.  We are attracted to positive stimuli and we avoid negative stimuli.  In other words, if it feels good, do it!  Or, as my doctor always tells me, if it is hurts, don’t do it!

The learning process breaks down when a positive stimulus is associated in the short run with pleasure and in the long run with pain.  Such phenomena are described as social traps.  Smoking, alcohol or drug addiction, cheating on our spouses and compulsive attention to work are all social traps.  In each case, the immediate gratification of our desires leads us where we would not normally choose to go.  Because the learning process breaks down, social traps require spiritual instruction.

Unavoidable Pain

Because God gives us the freedom to make decisions, bad decisions can generate avoidable pain.  The problem is that we cannot always avoid pain caused by other people’s decisions and the natural world has rules that all of us must respect.  Accidents happen.  Unavoidable pain is accordingly a consequence of free will and life in the natural world (Lewis, p. 34).  Still, the tendency to blame God for our pains has been with us since the time of Job.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis (p. 90) describes suffering as: any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes.  Like Lewis, I use the terms pain and suffering interchangeably because of personal experience.  When my wife, Maryam, began her battle with breast cancer eight years ago, her surgery and physical recovery were completed within weeks.  The immediate pain went away.  The scars on her soul and mine, however, never completely healed.

Perceptions of Pain

During World War II, anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher noted that only about one in three soldiers injured on the battlefield requested morphine while about four out of five civilians with similar injuries made this request.  This led him to conclude that physical injuries and the perceived pain are not directly linked (Yancey, p. 177).

Beecher’s conclusion makes sense because morphine calms a patient’s anxiety.  We can infer from Beecher’s observations that soldiers and civilians differ in their morphine use primarily because their sources of fear differ.  For the soldier, a trip to the hospital meant that he would likely survive the war.  For the civilian, the trip to the hospital meant pain and potential disabilities.  In effect, the soldiers’ joy in leaving the battlefield came associated with physical injuries that would terrorize a civilian.

Because fear magnifies our pain and suffering, pain management and a full recovery require that we deal with the spiritual side of healing.

Biblical Views of Pain and Suffering

God works to grow our faith and relationship with Him.  Sin thwarts this objective but God typically does not immediately punish us.  The point of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was to redeem us from God’s judgment and to bring the hope of eternal life—the Good News of the Gospel.   The Biblical view of God’s relationship with His creation can accordingly be interpreted as an antidote to the pain and suffering of the natural world.

The Beatitudes

To understand how Christ’s earthly ministry could end with the cross and the resurrection, it is helpful to begin with the Beatitudes—the happy attitudes.  In Mathew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
(Mathew 5:3-4 NIV).

Notice that Jesus starts his sermon with suffering[7].  What could be more ironic than: happy are those who suffer?

Billy Grahm on Pain

In his book, The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham describes the mourners in the second Beatitude as those who mourn of their own spiritual inadequacy before God[8].  This is not a spirit of self-pity.  Rather, it is someone who has sensed the presence of a Holy God and found the comparison with self unbearable.  Mourning of spiritual inadequacy is accordingly followed by mourning for repentance (P. 20-21).  More to the point, we are all born under sentence of death, mourn under pain of death, and need the comfort of redemption.  Suffering accordingly plays a key role in our understanding of Christ’s redemptive ministry.

Pain And Suffering As A Wakeup Call

The Beatitudes give us hope that redemption, not suffering, is at journey’s end.  It is accordingly not surprising that the Bible disputes the common notion that God uses pain to draw attention to our sins.

The clearest example of this principle is found in chapter 9 of the book of John.  When Christ heals the man born blind, he answers the question of sin directly: who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered:  Neither this man nor his parents sinned, …but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:1-3 NIV)[9]As in Christ’s ministry to the blind man, the point of our pain and suffering is not to draw attention to sin but for God to build a stronger relationship with us (Yancey, p. x).

Spiritual Warfare

In the Bible, great pain accompanies great joy.  In Mathew’s account of Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph flee in the middle of the night to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to murder the Christ child[10].  Although we love to celebrate the joy of Christmas, the original Christmas story was marred by genocide and the stench of death.  Great pain accompanies great joy[11].

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Consider the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven.  During the period when he was losing his hearing, Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony, the Choral Symphony, taking the text from Friedrich von Schiller’s poem, Ode to Joy.  On its opening night in 1824 Beethoven conducted the orchestra. The music was so beautiful that some of the musicians cried.  Yet, Beethoven heard none of it.  He was so deaf that when the symphony ended a member of the orchestra had to get up and draw Beethoven’s attention to the audience who had already begun to applaud.  Had Beethoven given into depression in his deafness rather than looked to God for inspiration, the world would have been robbed of one of its greatest musical treasures.

Beyond Pain

Just like we must look beyond the pain of crucifixion to see the joy of the resurrection, we must look beyond the suffering in our own lives to see the perfect future that is in Christ.  Just as James writes:

Consider it pure joy, my friends, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-5 NIV).

This Biblical view of pain accordingly turns the stimulus-response world of human psychology upside down.  Normal learning is disrupted because a positive response (that is, joy) follows a negative stimulus (that is, suffering).  In Christian psychology, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.  This is why Paul writes: but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Words of Wisdom

In confronting pain and suffering, we are not alone.  We are not alone!  As the Apostle Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39 NIV)

Like Daniel in the lions den (Daniel 6:10-24), we testify to our faith by how we cope with pain and suffering.

Why Me?

The temptation in time of great adversity, of course, is to turn inward[13] and ask:  Why me?  The consequence of turning inward is that we end up blaming God for our problems and we become slaves to fear.

Stressful Year

During about a 12 month period in 1992-93, I lost my job, my son was born with a kidney defect, and my wife went through her first battle with breast cancer.  This was the hardest year of my life and I reacted by retreating into my work.  Out of deep seated fear, I worked every waking hour to learn new skills and to advance my career.

Initially, this approach worked.  I found a better position and was later promoted.  As time passed, however, the office situation changed.  Technical skills became less important and I found myself less able to adjust—I lacked self-confidence and fear prompted me to turn ever more inward.  It took me almost a decade before I was able to trust God enough to pull out of my shell.  While these years were not exactly wasted, I vowed before God that I would never again let myself become a slave to fear.

Where is God Leading Me?

Instead of asking why me, a better question to ask is:  where is God leading me?  Focusing on God’s plan for our lives is not only better theology; it diverts our attention away from our suffering and directly reduces our pain.  The change in attitude is also critical.  We are no longer victims of our own fears, but servants of an almighty God who are both willing and able to cope with the adversity.

An important byproduct of our own suffering is an increased capacity to minister to those suffering around us.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

The strength that we gather from a life at the foot of the cross therefore allows us to be available to those who suffer around us.  Can you listen?  Can you empathize?   In the words of Paul: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi [14]

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved;

For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.

(Romans 15:13 RSV).


[1] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel.

[2] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel. Zondervan:  Grand   Rapids, Michigan.  P. 141.

[4]God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  Lewis.  P. 93.

[7] It is interesting that in the much shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Luke 6, Luke also highlights these two among the four Beatitudes he lists.  Mathew lists nine Beatitudes.

[9] Likewise, Job learns to depend on God in adversity (McGee, pp. 188-89; Job 42:1-3 NIV).  Similarly, Paul write:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).

[10] Mathew 2:16-18. Exodus 1:15-22.

[11] Similarly, in speaking of the second coming in Romans 8:22, Paul describes it as the pain of childbirth which is immediately sweep away by the joy of holding a newborn baby.

[13]If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:10.  Also, Cloud and Townsend, p. 216.

[14] Graham. p. 24.


Cloud, Henry and John Townsend.  1992. Boundaries.  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  University of Michigan Press:  Ann Arbor. 1980.

Graham, Billy 1955. The Secret of Happiness, Garden City, NY:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain.  MacMillan Publishing Company:  New York.

McGee, J. Vernon.  1991. Job.  Thomas Nelson Publishers:  Nashville, TN.

Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond Freedom and Dignity.  New   York:  Bantam Books, Inc.

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Walking in the Wilderness, Luke 15:11-24

By Stephen W. Hiemstradesert_sign

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA


Father Almighty. Make your presence known to us here this morning. Grant us wisdom, grant us consolation. In the power of his Holy Spirit, inspire the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard, in the precious name of Jesus, amen.


Who here enjoys risks and uncertainty? (2X)

Unless you have a gambling habit you probably prefer stability, not risk or uncertainty. Unfortunately, life is often marked by many stressful changes.

Over the past year, I worked at Providence Hospital in Washington DC as a chaplain intern. In working with patients in the emergency department, I started seeing hospital visits as a special type of change called a transition.

A transition has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Initially, patients come to the hospital with a problem and focus on the things that used to be. In the middle, patients receive their treatment and worry about how things will work out. In the end, almost all patients return to their old lives. At this point, the question is: what comes after the hospital?

This last question is inherently spiritual. For patients who came to the hospital because of a poor lifestyle choice, a better question is:  what will be different when you leave the hospital? (2X)

In life there are many transitions. During periods of uncertainty my prayer typically is:

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)


The book of Exodus tells of a great transition in the history of the nation of Israel, the departure from Egypt and entry into the wilderness, and, then, the departure out of the desert and the entry into the Promised Land.

Listen to what Moses said to Pharaoh:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16 ESV) (2X). Where does Moses see the people who serve God? Ironically, it is not in Egypt, nor in the Promised Land. Rather, it is in the desert where we more often encounter God. This is because in the desert we are more likely to look for God and depend on him, exactly during these stressful periods of risk and uncertainty. It is in the middle of a transition.

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Jesus tells the story of a man who had two sons. The younger son came to him one day and asked for his inheritance in cash. He then left town with the money and began living with style. This reckless lifestyle did not last long and soon the young man had to get a job. Not being one to plan ahead, he was forced to accept a degrading job for Jews – feeding pigs. As the son’s mind began to wander, he began to reflect on how good things had been with his parents and he decided to return home. When his father found out he was coming, he went out to meet him and wrapped his arms around him. As the son began to apologize for his horrible behavior, his father would hear none of it. He took his son, cleaned him up, brought him some new clothes and threw him a party (Luke 15:11-24 NIV).

We all often behave like the younger son. Things must be really bad in the desert before we arrive at our senses and recognize that we need our Heavenly Father. The good news is that our Father is waiting for us, will forgive us, and will take us back into the family. Amen.


Heavenly Father. We thank you for your care during transitions of life, but especially in times of uncertainty. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength for the day and hope for the future. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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