When I was in the 3rd Grade at Brown Elementary School I put my faith in Jesus. From that moment on I knew that I had a loving Savior, a Heavenly Father and a mortal enemy. Jesus became my obsession and Satan became my nemesis. I knew from early on I wanted to spend the rest of my life serving Jesus and ticking off Satan.
One time while walking down the hallway of Brown Elementary on the way to class I started thinking about how much I hated Satan for having kept my mom, and much of my family, spiritually captive for so long. I started thinking how he had blinded my eyes to the light of the gospel for nine “whole” years. I reflected on the damage he had helped to bring about in my own high-crime rate neighborhood.
When my mom turned on the news during dinner, I thought about the violence, crime and sin Satan was triggering and reveling in, not only in my family and neighborhood, but in the world at large. As I walked down the hallway thinking all that Satan had done to destroy the world and my family I did what any 3rd Grade Christian young man would do, I flipped off the devil. In my mind I was simply giving the devil his due…double birdies from my tiny middle fingers.
And I didn’t just flip off the devil once and then stop. I kept my middle fingers extended straight down toward what I thought to be his hellish home. With streams of elementary school kids walking by me in the hallway I’m sure there were a lot of scratched heads and strange looks, but I was too busy to notice. That was, until a teacher stopped me and asked me what the heck was going on. He saw my furrowed brow, my intense gaze toward the floor and two downward digits in the 6 o’clock position.
“What are you doing young man?” the teacher asked.
I looked up, disgusted by his interruption (of what I considered to be a holy moment), and responded matter-of-factly, “I’m flipping off the Devil.”
If I remember right he told me to stop and then kept on walking down the hallway. I’m sure he was wondering what kind of strange kid he had at his school.
He was right. I was strange. But I did have a very real God awareness and, therefore, a real Satan awareness too. The reality of God enthralled me and the reality of Satan enraged me. I was dealing with this rage in a way that wasn’t unimaginable for a kid who was raised in a verbally and physically violent family.
I hadn’t read Jude 1:8-10 yet, “In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.) But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.”
Suffice it to say that Jude would have spanked me for my insolence toward Satan if he were in the place of that teacher in the hallway that day…and rightfully so.
Of course now I know that Satan is not to be toyed with, trifled with or taunted. He is to be defeated by the blood of the Lamb and a humble reliance on the Lord. Those who mock him do so to their own demise.
But God had grace on a well-intentioned elementary-aged kid that day.
No, we shouldn’t flip off the devil with our fingers, but we certainly should upset him with our lives. We should live lives that so reflect Christ that others are drawn to Jesus. We should share the good news in such a way as to depopulate the kingdom of darkness and overcrowd the kingdom of light.
Do I still think about giving the devil the bird anymore? Not really. Now I’m more consumed with advancing the gospel of Jesus through an army of teenagers who are passionate about Christ and His Cause. I’m more concerned with giving God maximum glory than blowing out Satan’s flickering light.
But sometimes I’m afraid that, underneath all of my ministry activities, there’s still a little 3rd grader giving the devil the finger.
When you preach for a living mistakes are bound to be made. Sometimes it’s a sermon idea. It looks good on paper but when it passes from paper to preaching something get’s twisted. Or perhaps it’s an illustration that you think is going to work really well but it crashes at takeoff. Or maybe it’s a gaffe you made that you wish you could retract.
With this as a backdrop here is a list of sermon goofs, gaffes and illustrations that I have actually done/said/used in my preaching over the last twenty five years or so…
1. Gaffe: “We all make mistakes. We all have cracks in our armor. Pastor Rick and I have seen each other’s cracks.”
2. Illustration: Literally saying “he had one foot in the grave” at a funeral.
3. Goof: Preaching a sermon with a large price tag (that I had forgotten to remove) dangling from the left arm of my “new” suit (which I had gotten from Goodwill.)
4. Illustration: Eating a piece of hard, butterscotch candy in front of 5,000 teens while trying to make some spiritual point. I kept trying to preach while crunching the candy but my teeth were getting stuck together. Finally I just stopped and took the time to eat the whole thing and swallow it. It was 60 seconds of pure awkward.
5. Gaffe: “He had two huge tumors the size of grape nuts” (as opposed to grapefruits.)
6. Goof: On a preaching tour in India I was on stage facing the audience getting ready to preach my sermon. My interpreter told me at one point in the service, “As a guest speaker it would be good for the people to see you give in the offering.” When the priest walked out onto the other side of the large stage with a huge bowl I figured this was my cue. Getting up, I walked across the stage and dropped in a five spot. The priest smiled and nodded nervously. I walked back across the stage with everyone watching me. After sitting down my interpreter whispered in my ear, “Pastor Stier that was very good…but that was not the offering plate.”
7. Illustration: About 18 years ago I wanted to make a point to 75 teens at an event that God has given us spiritual weapons to overcome the “monsters” of fear that keep us from sharing our faith. A youth leader friend loaned me a fake gun that supposedly shot blanks. At a point in the sermon I had cued some guys dressed up in scary costumes (representing the monsters of fear) to come rushing in screaming. It was then I held up the “gospel gun” and shot in their direction. It didn’t shoot blanks after all. It was some sort of riot dispersement gun that sprayed the crowd with a cloud of mace or pepper spray or something bad. Not only that, but it backfired in my face and I immediately began to cough and wheeze…along with the rest of the audience. Suffice it to say we took a break as everyone rushed outside for air. Thank the Lord nobody got hurt (or sued!)
8. Goof: While being interviewed on a live Christian television show (that leaned Pentecostal) I was looking directly in the camera telling the story of a girl who trusted in Jesus at a Dare 2 Share conference. I saw a hand go up out of the corner of my right eye. It was the left hand of the well dressed older preacher who was interviewing me. Since he was sitting right next to me on the couch I assumed he was holding up his hand for a high five, so I turned and gave a hearty slap to his uplifted hand. It was then I realized that, as I was telling the story, he was lifting his hands up in praise to God. I suddenly realized that I had high-fived his praise hand…on live television. Everyone in the room was stunned and silent, except for the cameraman who was laughing so hard the camera was shaking.
9. Illustration: Trying to eat the guts of a bad cantaloupe while making the point that “it’s what on the inside that counts” or something like that. Oh yeah, it was in front of thousands of teenagers at a Dare 2 Share conference too. If I remember right I tried to clean off my tongue right after that with some kind of sanitized hand wipe which numbed my tongue and lips.
10. Gaffe: “Let everything that has breasts praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”
Actually I’ve had a few worse gaffes, goofs and sermon illustrations…but some things are not fit for print.
For ten years of my life I was a preaching pastor at a church I helped plant with my good buddy Rick Long (Grace Church of Arvada.) This weekend I’ve been preaching all three services at my old stomping grounds and it’s got me reminiscing. With this in mind here are 10 things I miss about being a pastor:
1. Working the foyer before and after the services (I worked that foyer like a politician running for office!)
2. The thrill and nervousness of having to come up with fresh sermons every week.
3. Awkward side hugs (actually I don’t miss those!)
4. Delegating the tough counseling situations to the elder who was giving me the hardest time
5. My mom yelling answers to my rhetorical questions right in the middle of my sermons.
6. Seeing people put their faith in Jesus every week during the services.
7. Working on staff with life-long friends.
8. The people: watching them go from new convert to disciple to disciple multiplier over the course of time.
9. Being a pastor that FULLY supports the youth ministry.
10. Sunday afternoon naps (it was my ritual after preaching 3 services!)
Would I ever go back to being a preaching pastor? No. To be honest I was way better at the preaching part than the pastoring part. But, preaching at Grace Church this weekend brought back some good memories of helping to lay the foundation for what is a great church today. I’m thrilled that Rick is doing such a great job as preaching pastor at Grace. He’s good at both parts (preaching and pastoring.)
As for me? I’ll stick to energizing a generation to evangelizing their world through Dare 2 Share. Unfortunately that still comes with awkward side hugs!
Jon Acuff (of Stuff Christians Like fame) describes what a Jesus juke is, “Like a football player juking you at the last second and going a different direction, the Jesus Juke is when someone takes what is clearly a joke filled conversation and completely reverses direction into something serious and holy.” Jesus juking, depending on the severity, can turn a light hearted conversation into a party pooper’s paradise.
This is exactly what you DON’T want to do when you are seeking to share the gospel with someone. You want to make a smooth segue into the subject of salvation in a way that the person you are talking with doesn’t feel, well, juked or spooked.
Last night on a plane ride home from Houston I was sitting in the exit row with another guy. He worked for the airlines and we talked about his life on the road, his workout routine (we’re both doing Insanity) and our families. When we were 30 minutes or so from landing, I was praying about how to turn the conversation spiritual without resorting to the juke. I remembered that earlier in the conversation he gave me some workout videos on a flashdrive to watch. The Holy Spirit used his gift to spark an idea. I said, “Hey, you gave me some videos, I’d like to give you one too.”
I gave him the www.lifein6words.com website and told him that on this site he could watch the best spoken word presentation of the gospel I’d ever seen. I told him about my friend Jason Petty (aka “Propaganda”) and how great he was at sharing the gospel via spoken word. He seemed genuinely intrigued and opened up to me about wanting to find a church. He told me that he really wanted to get his three year old daughter into church and that his wife wanted to find one as well.
Soon we were talking about the gospel in a very natural way. Before we got off the plane he told me he was really looking forward to watching the spoken word video by Propaganda.
As I reflect back on this conversation I see four things that happened to make a natural segue to the subject of salvation. Maybe these four actions will help you as well:
1. Just start talking.
Introduce yourself and be cordial. Ask questions, listen deeply and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Ask them questions about what they do for a living and for fun. Talk to them about their family, interests and passions.
2. Look for areas of common interest.
The conversation on the plane really started to ignite when we both started talking about the Insanity work out program. He was really into it and so was I. We compared notes, talked about trying to do Insanity in hotel rooms and how it would was disruptive to anybody rooming on the floor right beneath you. It was here when the ice was broken and he really started to open up and talk.
3. Pray for God to open your eyes to a way to bring up the Gospel naturally.
As we were getting to the end of the flight I was getting twitchy because I hadn’t shared the gospel yet. But I didn’t want to just grind the gears and yank the steering wheel toward the subject of Jesus (without using the clutch anyway.) So I prayed. As a result, God’s Spirit prompted me to remember the videos this guy had given me and that I could use these videos as a way to talk about the Life in 6 Words video.
If you pray, stay dependent on the Spirit and just start a conversation you’ll be shocked how many times there are natural salvation segues you can take to turn the subject spiritual in a very natural way. Ask God to open the door and He will. Here’s how the apostle Paul put it in Colossians 4:3-6,“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Paul’s goal wasn’t to puke the gospel onto everyone and juke conversations unnaturally toward Jesus. He wanted his conversations to be “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt.” He wanted to be as smooth as possible so that those he was sharing with would really hear the message of the gospel without being turned off by how he brought it up. For a great example of Paul making a salvation segue check out Acts 17:16-34.
4. Don’t chicken out at the last minute.
There have been many times in my life where that door of opportunity has been cracked opened and I slammed it shut at the last minute. Whether it was the social awkwardness of dropping the “J bomb” too early on someone or just opting out because of fear, there have been more times than I’d like to admit where I forsook an opportunity to share the good news. Yes, even “the Dare 2 Share guy” chickens out sometimes. I regret those missed opportunities deeply.
So seize the moment when God opens the door and turn the conversation toward Jesus in the most natural way you can. Even if your salvation segues are clunky at first, remember that “love covers a multitude of sins”…and awkwardness.
Every once in awhile I’ll play my own daddy version of the “Would you rather…” game with my kids. It’s built on crazy scenario options like “Would you rather eat a chocolate covered worm or a slice of moldy bread?” It’s fun to watch my kids struggle through this process of deciding between two less-than-appealing options.
This morning, as I was thinking about this, I wondered how many Christians (myself included) tend to choose the worst of two options. But in our “Would you rather” game we have one okay option and one way-way-better option. Sadly and too often, we choose the worst option.
Don’t believe me? Let’s play!
Would you rather…
Read a book written by the latest, trendy Christian writer or study the book written by God himself?
Share your faith with a stranger or support an evangelist financially to take care of the dirty work?
Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps spiritually or walk in a daily declaration of dependence on Jesus?
Give 10% of your income to God or give 100% of everything you own to Him?
Go to church every time the doors are open or be the church everywhere you go?
Take someone through a Bible study on mercy or take someone out to serve the poor (and share the gospel of course!)
Drive with humility and deference to others or put a Christian bumper sticker on your car but drive like you want (ouch!)
Talk about Jesus with other Jesus followers or talk about Jesus with your unbelieving neighbors?
Point made. Excuse me for pulling the beam out of my own eye and beating you for the speck in yours. May we choose the harder, better option…not to be accepted by God but because we are accepted by God!
What are some other “Would you rather…” questions that Christians could choose from?
This amazing blog post is from a teenager named Caleb who went to the Dare 2 Share conference in Chicago. I hope you are as impacted by it as I was.
“Last weekend I went to Dare2Share’s Follow Tour conference, along with dozens of other teens from our church. It was an amazing experience, as Dare2Share always is, but this year, is was different for me. I have my struggles, and at that point in my life they seemed like they would overwhelm me. I absently noticed that the logo for the Follow Tour was a pair of red shoes, with the words ‘all in’ written on them. Cool, I thought to myself. That makes sense. Little did I know that those two words–and those red shoes, would make a world of difference.
We arrived at the Sears Centre in Chicago more or less safely, and after putting on the bracelets that would stop security from tackling us when we tried to walk in, made our way inside to join thousands of other teenagers in worship. If you’ve ever been to a conference like this, you know what I’m talking about. The experience was incredible–thousands of voices singing together as one, all to Jesus.
As I stood there, worshipping, something distracted me. I had been wrestling with myself for the past week, trying to decide if I was doing these things for the right reasons. If I was being a Christian, worshipping, serving, not because my parents did it, or because my friends did it, but because I believed that Jesus had done what the Bible said He had done. I didn’t want to be singing to God because it was what everyone else was doing, I wanted to make sure that I was doing it because of what God had done for me.
The conference continued, and I struggled with that. Now, I grew up in a Christian home, as a pastor’s kid, surrounded from birth with the Bible and Jesus. I learned many different things about how to defend my faith, how to win others to Christ, and how to serve God and others.
But was it really my own? Did I own my faith? I asked myself those questions last weekend, and luckily I found an answer.
It was nearing the end of the conference, and Greg Stier, the founder of Dare2Share, finished with a message that impacted me tremendously. He began to talk about what the words, ‘all in’, really meant, and I found out the significance of the pair of red shoes that was the logo for the tour.
You see, Jesus went all in for us. He became human, humbling himself and walking among us. He put on his own footwear, a pair of dirty sandals, and did as we did. He felt what we felt, he hurt as we have hurt. And finally, after a long, brutal walk, which smeared his sandals with blood and dirt, He died for us.
Greg Stier called a kid up from the audience to come on stage. He asked the kid to take his shoes off, and to sit on a chair that had been set there for him. “You represent everyone here,” Greg said, pulling out a pair of red shoes with the words, “all in”, written on them–identical to those on the logo. “In a moment,” Greg continued. “I’m going to ask you to put these on, but first–” he looked out over the crowd. “–I want to ask everyone with red shoes to come up here on stage.”
As you all can probably see, I’m wearing red shoes right now. And I was wearing these at the conference too. For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘that’s me!’ I looked around at my friends, saying, ‘I have red shoes on!’
Finally, one of them looked at me and said, ‘Go!’
So off I went.
I will always remember running–and almost tripping–down the stairs to the floor of the stadium below. I will always remember running alongside dozens of others as we all headed to the stage.
I will always remember being surrounded by hundreds of others, all wearing red shoes, as we stood around or on the stage, watching as Greg turned back to the kid sitting in the chair.
‘You represent everyone here,’ the speaker said. ‘Are you willing to put these red shoes on, and go all in for Jesus?’
I wanted to scream YES! Luckily, I didn’t.
The boy nodded. ‘Yes.’
Greg put the shoes on him.
It all made sense. My faith was my own. It wasn’t my parents’ faith. It wasn’t my friends’ faith. God spoke to me that night in Chicago, and he asked me a simple question. “Are you all in? Are you ready to stop playing at your Christianity, and start to live?”
Yes, I answered silently as the worship band came on stage to finish out the conference with a final song. Then we worshipped.
I will always remember being surrounded by hundreds of others in red shoes, worshipping the Lord.
God calls us to go all in. He calls us not to worship him because we have to, or because everyone else is doing it, but because we are in awe at the sacrifice Christ went through for us. He calls us to put on red shoes–to willingly follow Him even though there will be pain, even though there will be heartache–and to go ALL IN.
So I ask you, are you all in? Christ died for you. Are you going to live for Him?”
You can view Caleb’s original blog here. I deeply appreciate him and his parents allowing me to put his excellent post on my blog.
Pray with me for the tens of thousands of teens, like Caleb, who made the decision to go “all in” during the Follow tour. Pray that God continues to give them the strength, wisdom and boldness to follow in the steps of Jesus and reach their friends with the good news.
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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy….” John 10:10
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
My heart is broken over the loss of life and massive casualties in Boston yesterday. Two bombs exploded and lives were changed in an instant. Three deaths (so far) and well over a hundred injuries ensued. Mass chaos followed. A city, a state and a nation are in mourning over this brazen act of terrorism.
The finish line of the Boston Marathon should have been a threshold of celebration, a testament to the hard work and perseverance of runners who accomplished the ultimate feat. But for many it became an asphalt emergency room. And tragically, for a few, it became a different kind of finish line…the final one.
Pray with me for the grieving families and recovering victims. Pray that the terrorist(s) is caught and brought to justice. Pray for the church to rise up in Boston and be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people of that great and historic city.
As the authorities desperately search for clues as to who was responsible for these bombings it’s easy to forget that there is another terrorist behind the human terrorist who actually lit the fuse. The murderer who committed this crime was influenced by an even darker spiritual force….the ultimate terrorist.
The ultimate terrorist snickers at every headline that amplifies his horrific handiwork. He thrives off infusing fear and terror into the hearts of as many as possible. This sadistic murderer runs a global network of unseen terrorists who do his bidding at every turn. This terrorist uses humans as pawns to steal, kill, destroy and terrorize.
There are no Navy Seals that can storm his compound to take his life. He’ll never be tracked down by the FBI or Homeland Security.
This terrorist, the ultimate terrorist, is Satan himself. He is the one who whispers in the ears of terrorist both foreign and domestic to pull triggers, make bombs and ambush the innocent.
We as believers can fight back. The great Apostle Paul tells us how in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
We don’t fight back with weapons built by human hands. We fight back with prayer. We fight back with divine love. We fight back by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Will you strap on your spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-20) with me in light of yesterday’s tragedy? Will you use your spiritual weapon of prayer to fight against the Prince of Darkness and uphold the people of Boston over the next several days? Will you reach out with love to those around you who are wondering why all this happened? Will you share with them, not two dollar answers to two million dollar questions, but the hope that Jesus offers in the backwash of such horrific tragedies?
If you are a follower of Christ then you are engaged against the ultimate terrorist. He came to steal, kill and destroy but Jesus came to bring life, true life. Let us share this life and hope with a world that is in desperate need of it…especially now.
1. Take someone to church with you, go to lunch afterward and ask them how they felt about the sermon (then dive in!)
2. Write someone a letter that gently segues to the gospel. Ask them what they thought about the letter later.
3. Invite neighbors to your home Bible study and love them into the kingdom.
4. Give someone a Life in 6 Words book and follow it up with a conversation.
5. Give someone a Life Book and follow it up with a conversation.
6. Initiate a conversation with the people you are next to on the bus, plane, etc.
7. Ask a waiter/tress how you can pray for them (when you pray before a meal) tip big and leave a gospel tract.
8. Forward the Life in 6 Words video to a friend and then follow up with “What did you think of the video?”
9. Get to know a Barista and ask them how you can pray for them, then tie in the gospel when they have time to talk.
10. Go to a park with your kids, engage the other parents in conversation and tie in where you take your kids to church.
11. Evangelize people who call you at home to try to sell you something (even if they don’t believe they’ll stop selling!)
12. Share Jesus with those who call the wrong number. (I led a lady to Jesus like this. It was awesome!)
13. Learn to ask, admire and admit
14. Invite the next Mormon missionaries who come to your door in and share Jesus. Offer them snacks (but not coffee!)
15. Start everyday with the prayer, “God, give me an opportunity to share the gospel today.” He will answer. Look for it!
16. Be on the look out for natural ways to make “salvation segues” in your everyday conversations.
17. Get your teens to the closest Dare 2 Share conference. Thousands have come to Christ through them!
18. Invite someone to an outreach meeting at church or in your community and then ask them what they thought of it.
19. Start a spiritual discussion group (school, neighborhood, etc) Gospel Journey is a great resource for this!
20. Take someone to a movie with spiritual themes then go out afterward and talk about it.
21. Watch The Bible Series with another family and use it as a way to bring the gospel up (shouldn’t be difficult!)
What are some other ideas you have for sharing the gospel?