July 5, 2018

Preaching By The Book

The title drew me to request Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons (Hobbs College Library) from B&H/LifeWay Bloggers. As God-incidence would have it, the book became available right when I needed help – fast!

With no pastor in sight, my church needed people willing to do sermons during the Sunday worship service, and I got volunteered. To be honest, it took no coercion because God had already been preparing me for something. I just didn’t know what.

In a way, preparation begin decades ago when a Sunday School teacher urged me to read the Bible every night. I did, and, as an adult, I kept reading and studying God’s Word. But then, a couple of years ago, God drew me to reading one translation of the Bible after another and another. I wondered why, but with no idea, I kept on reading.

About the time I’d finished reading most of the major versions, our small rural church was informed we’d no longer have a pastor, but we could stay together if we wanted. We did. Although none of us had received theological training, several members agreed to take turns leading the worship service each week until we can become a full-fledged church again. Meanwhile, some plan to give personal testimonies. Some will seek a retired pastor who’s willing to come occasionally. And some will do “Bible talks” during the sermon slot.

Despite my reluctance to get up and “preach it,” I realized God had been preparing me to expound on the scripture readings determined for that week. But how to prepare the talk itself was somewhat a mystery. And then this book arrived.

Divided into three sections, Preaching By The Book covers:

Part I. The Foundation
1. Inspiration
Speaking the Truth
2. Investigation
Surveying the Truth

Part II. The Framework
3. Interpretation
Studying the Truth
4. Implementation
Synthesizing the Truth

Part III. The Finishing Touches
5. Introductions
Drawing Them in
6. Illustrations
Drawing Them Pictures

7. Invitations
Drawing the Net

8. Conclusion
Final Thoughts

Name and Subject Index

Scripture Index

With the Bible and the chapter “Inspiration” as my guide, I read how “the Spirit of God who inspired the Scriptures enables us to interpret them, fills us to proclaim them, opens the hearts of the listeners to receive them, and supernaturally applies them to their lives.”

Edified by those words of reassurance and the statement, “God has always worked through the power of his Word!” I believed God could and would steady my voice and my knees and give me the ideas and examples with which our church family could relate. He did.

As this handbook explains: “If we define theological truths with who God is, doctrinal truths can be characterized by what God does.” With that biblical concept clearly in mind, there’s less danger of presenting a set of lifestyle principles or psychological “how-to’s” as the emphasis remains on what the Bible says and shows us about God, ourselves, and others.

Although I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s called to serve from a pulpit, I do have a couple of suggestions for future printings:

Don’t assume the pastor is a man.

Don’t assume people still come to church as they did for centuries! Instead, be aware that churches are closing because the congregation didn’t go to the people.

Don’t assume an altar call to give one’s life to Christ is the only cause for calling!

The traditional altar call is crucial, of course, in a revival meeting or on holidays when visitors are more apt to come, but Sunday after Sunday, regular attendees may need an invitation to come up for prayer, intercession, or renewed commitment to help in various ministries.

Most important, “Final Thoughts” recollects the seven vital steps discussed in the book and recapped in the paraphrases here:

1. Prepare with prayer.
2. Get very familiar with the scripture you’ll be using.
3. Ask God to give you insight and help you discern the meaning.
4. Examine key words and concepts in the Bible passage.
5. Build a bridge from the historical text to contemporary context.
6. Apply the text in practical steps people can follow.
7. Consider your audience and timeliness of the occasion.

As the “Conclusion” assures us, “God’s faithfulness to accomplish his will in his ways through his Word… provides us with all the assurance we need to proclaim boldly his truth and, by faith, to trust him confidently for supernatural results.”

Count on those words as God’s pledge to you – even if, like me, you would rather be behind the scenes or slinking down in a pew than in a pulpit. Honest!

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

Preaching By The Book, hardcover

June 18, 2018

Leading a Major Change in Your Ministry

When B&H/LifeWay Bloggers offered a review copy of Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg for my always-honest review, I ordered the paperback book eagerly since my church is going through unexpected changes, requiring those of us who regularly worship and study to step into leadership positions or close our doors.

I discussed our situation in a previous post, “Rejoicing in misery?” but frankly, I hope you won’t be compelled to go through such drastic changes for similar reasons. We had little choice, so deciding if we should make a big change wasn’t the problem we faced. Our need was and is for practical advice on how to lead our church family through a difficult time.

Although this book does offer ways that lead us into leading, those steps are not the primary focus as the title suggests. If, however, your church fellowship has begun to suspect a need for change, this book can help you discern what changes might be needed and when it’s time to put those decisions into action. For example:

“The key diagnostic questions are:

1.Is the change essential to the mission?
2.Is there shared urgency about the change?
3.Is relational trust high enough to sustain the change?
4.Is the timing right for the change?
5.Am I willing to see the change to completion?”

To show how those concerns might be dealt with, the author discusses transitions in his own church life and reminds us that major changes cause grief -- something our church family is still experiencing as we pray for God to lead us through each step, whatever that might be.

Mary Sayler, ©2018

Leading Major Change in Your Ministry, paperback

June 16, 2018

Armor of God: Gearing Up for Team Jesus

Armor of God: Gearing Up for Team Jesus

Gear up! Dress out! Put on the armor of God, and get in uniform for Team Jesus (as prayer-a-phrased from Ephesians 6.)

June 1, 2018

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

Sermons aren’t meant to be lullabies or long songs that drone on and on, lulling people to sleep! The idea of a weekly message is not to offer advice or tell people what to do but to show the relevance of God’s Word as you work and pray for a Christian faith community of Christ-like love.

These tips will help you get to the point, be concise, and, most important, encourage Christlike lives and actions.

May 25, 2018

Living with a loved one’s memory loss

It comes and goes.
It’s disturbing. It’s worrisome.
It happens in some degree to almost everyone.

Whether we experience memory loss in ourselves or someone close to us, the saddest part is a loss of identity or recollecting past experiences that made us who we are.

But we are who we are.
We’re still here.
We can still say, “I am!” “You are.” “S/He is.”

To lessen the grief or frustration that inevitably occurs:

 Pray! Seek God’s wisdom and guidance.

 Slow down. Be willing to wait, to listen.

 Talk with a trusted doctor about tests and options. A physician may need to establish a baseline to chart progression or regression before prescribing accordingly.

 Become a health advocate. Check with a pharmacist or physician to see if herbal aids to circulation, such as Gingko biloba, can be safely used with medications. Some Internet sites provide reports of potential conflicts, which often occur when herbs and drugs are used for the same thing and/or taken too closely together.

 Assess a typical day’s nutrition. Plenty of water (6 to 8 glasses), foods rich in omega-3, B vitamins, zinc, and other minerals and vitamins can help to improve memory. White flour products and sugar cannot!

 Allow ample time to rest. Adequate sleep gives the body time to restore itself and replenish cells.

 Encourage activity. Physical exercise increases circulation. Mental challenges such as word puzzles or games can help to stimulate the mind.

 Lower the frustration level by avoiding explanations. If a loved one asks the same question over and over, answer as briefly as possible without going into detail. A simple “yes” or “no” may be all that’s needed.

 Avoid complicated conversations, pronouns, and vague references.

 Keep sentences short, sweet, and simple.

 Some days will be better than others. Enjoy times of reconnecting, however short they seem.

 Use touch when appropriate. A hug, a kiss on the cheek, a hand held, a loving phrase, a soft tone, a timely prayer can embrace, bless, and strengthen your loved one and you.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

May 7, 2018

Rejoicing in misery?

Our 130-year-old church is being closed.

This isn’t for lack of love or money, interest or prayer, but for lack of children, lack of growth, and an increasing lack of members as people die off or leave our retirement area to go into assisted living.

We’ve prayed. We’ve pleaded with authorities in our denomination, which will remain unnamed as this situation is reportedly happening in many other denominations as well.

We’ve written letters. We’ve passed around a heavily signed petition in hopes of keeping our doors opened, and we’ve failed.

This became apparent yesterday after worship service followed by an emotionally-wrenching 3-hour meeting with church decision-makers. So, when today’s Bible verses from Bible Gateway told us to rejoice, I did a double-take!

No, we have not been rejoicing, but oh, what joy we’ve had in Christlike fellowship with one another for a blessedly long time! What we must remember now is that, even though our church home will soon be a thing of the past, the need for deliberate, concentrated, consecrated rejoicing is ever-present and meant to go on and on.

We have been praying for God’s will to be done, but we haven’t wanted to give up. And so, what we must remember now is the need to relinquish to God our wants, our loving family, our presence in the community, and our heritage, knowing that we can trust God to take care of us. Regardless how grieved or frustrated we are, we can choose to let go of the past and thank God for this present day and the ever-amazing presents of Christ Jesus, which He surely gives.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says it all:

Keep on rejoicing!
Keep on praying!
No matter what happens
thank God,
for this is God’s will
concerning you
in Christ Jesus

Amen. So be it.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, prayer-a-phrased these Bible verses from many of the translations found on Bible Gateway.

April 2, 2018

4 after Easter poems - Mary Harwell Sayler, Christian poet and writer

4 after Easter poems 

May these poems bring you into a life of hope, redemption, forgiveness, and the resurrection power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

March 29, 2018

Resurrected with Christ Jesus


It was finished.
There was nothing left to do
but take down Jesus' body
and hide it quickly
from mind, from view.
The terror of the tomb
closed the matter,
once for all,
wrapping sin
for its descent
into down-falling darkness
where never light had been.
Even from the Upper Room
no one had known our own
souls would be exhumed.
But Christ arose.
And with Him angels rolled
away the tombstone,
shroud, and doubt –
releasing all
who wanted out.

© 2014, 2016, Mary Harwell Sayler – poem included in book of Bible-based poems, Outside Eden

March 26, 2018

Were you there? Gethsemane

Impassioned by Christ

Gethsemane –
and i am a pebble
pressing against His knee
as He kneels in the garden.

i am a stripe on His back
when He’s beaten
thirty-nine times.
Yes, count them –

thirty-nine times.

i am a thorn
in His crown,
a nail
in His palm,
a cave
where, lifeless,
He’s lain.

i am a hollow
space, an empty
shelf, an unoccupied
absent at His revival –
but filled
with passion
at His arrival.

i am forgiven.

I Am Risen.

by Mary Harwell Sayler from poetry book Lost in Faith


March 22, 2018

A picture worth a countless word

When Bea (not her real name) suddenly appeared at church one Sunday, we could see she’d had a rough life. She freely told us as much the following Wednesday when she showed up for Bible Study.

Sometime that morning, Bea said she’d been going to AA meetings but didn’t know how to get beyond the source of her drinking problem – childhood abuse. As she succinctly put it, “My dad was mean.”

Rather than trashing her deceased father or offering advice, we shared snacks and discussed God’s Word, giving Bea a chance to get to know us. Then we asked if she'd like for us to pray for her, and yes, she did.

After asking God to give us the prayers to pray, we gathered around Bea with each of us putting a hand on her upper back or shoulders, inter-connecting and establishing our group as one body. Then we took turns praying whatever God brought to mind. Tears came and joy – a sign that something deep had begun to receive God’s healing.

Before our group dispersed that morning, we explained how forgiveness was not a feeling but a choice to obey God, and how such an act of obedience would foster her healing. Bea saw the sense of this but feared she'd never think of anything but how hateful her father had been for much of her life, especially since she would have no opportunity now to confront him. Not knowing what else to do, we assured her that healing can take time, but God would continue to work in her life, and we promised to keep praying for her.

Throughout the week, Bea remained in our prayers, and the next time we saw her, we were amazed! Her face had unwrinkled itself, and she looked ten years younger! When we told her so, she said she’d tried really hard to find a way to think kindly of her dad but just couldn’t. And then, she came across an old photograph of him as a very young man – long before abusive relationships began.

Keeping that picture in sight and mind has helped Bea respond to a nonthreatening version of her father she could forgive and welcome into her life. But, oh, how blessed our church body has been to hear of such a perfectly brilliant idea and a God-inspired picture in need of sharing!

March 9, 2018

God's crazy love for us

In my Bible study group this week, we discussed Luke 20, which includes the parable of the tenant farmers, who wanted to keep everything for themselves.

As the story goes, the Owner of the Vineyard planted vines then let the land out to vine-keepers, while He went away for a while. When harvest time arrived, the Owner (aka God) sent servants (aka prophets) to collect some of the fruit, but the farmers beat the servants and sent them away empty-handed.

God then sent more servant-prophet-messengers, but they, too, were treated horribly and sent away. When the same thing happened a third time, God sent His Own Son.

By then, however, the renters-tenants-ones-who-didn’t-own-anything agreed they wanted the land for themselves, so they killed The Son Who Owns and Inherits All Things.

The bottom line of the story is typically told with the parable’s ending, which focuses on the wrath the Father-Owner-of-All must now unleash on the leasers. But studying the story this week and looking it up again in various translations on Bible Gateway, I can’t help but recall something I’ve heard elsewhere: The definition for crazy.

Crazy = doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

Our all-wise, intelligent-to-the-max, infinitely brilliant, perfectly Holy Lord God cannot possibly be crazy, but, from all biblical accounts, our Holy Father God is crazy in love with us.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2018