Preaching: Your book is called The Gospel of Yes. The subtitle is, We’ve Missed the Most Important Thing About God. Finding it Changes Everything. So Mike, what’s the most important thing about God?

Glenn: Like a lot of us, I grew up in a church where every Sunday I was told what not to do. Then we would get together the next Sunday and praise God we hadn’t done anything. For me and a lot of my generation, following Christ wasn’t so much about following Christ as it was avoiding sin. We all knew what those sins were. A lot of them were formed culturally, but we all knew what the do’s and don’ts were.

It became a matter of trying to keep enough points. If you came on Sunday morning, you got points. You came on Sunday night, and you got points. You also could lose points. You could lose points if you were talking to the wrong person, were on the wrong side of town, or did something to hurt your witness.

What you find out when you start living that way is that it’s easier to lose points than it is to get them. So the lesson quickly becomes: Don’t try to do anything. Just attend church and leave, and try not to mess up during the week. Jesus came to give us a lot more than that.

The good news of the gospel is not that you can find God. The good news is that God in Jesus Christ has found us. He comes, and He finds us; and He reminds us who we are, reminds us who He created us to be and starts this new creation work in us by revealing our ultimate worth in relationship with Him. He helps us understand our gifts and purposes.

If you understand that, it liberates you to live a life of great joy and passion, following Christ, becoming more like Him and letting the other things just take care of themselves.

Preaching: How does the message the culture gives us contrast with the message God gives us?

Glenn: This is one of my frustrations. The man on the street asks us, “What does God stand for? Isn’t God against everything? What do Christians stand for? Aren’t Christians haters, and they are against everything, too?”

The reality is, if you study Scripture, God said no very few times. In the creation story, there is one no in the Garden of Eden. The Ten Commandments were given as the people of Israel went into the Promised Land: “This is how you will live as My people.” There are Ten Commandments. Two of them are positive: Honor your parents; and keep the sabbath. What we are finding out about these two commandments is how brilliant they are.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are telling us that unless you can make some kind of peace with your parents, then you are stuck until you can work it out and put it in a place where it has some kind of meaning and understanding in your life. Even if your parents were very bad parents, you still have to find a way to make some sense out of it.

Keeping sabbath? How many secular magazines have you read lately where very smart people and respected leaders are telling people to turn their cell phones off for a day and unplug from the Internet for a day to give their souls time to recover? That’s the old idea of Sabbath. People say, “This is a new insight.” No, it’s not.

However, the world says God is against everything. He’s not. Jesus was asked what the two greatest commandments are, and He said, “Love God with everything you have; and love your neighbors as you love yourself.” Those aren’t negative commandments. They are very positive, and it’s very liberating to focus on those kinds of relationships. It really frustrates me that we’ve allowed the culture to throw us in this negative box, and we do not respond with the authentic message of the yes we have in Christ, the yes of what we’re worth, the yes we are called to do.

Preaching: I know that in addition to your regular Sunday congregation at Brentwood Baptist, you have a special weeknight service called Kairos for young adults. You draw a wonderful crowd of folks to that event. What does the message of The Gospel of Yes say for young adults in our culture?

Glenn: It hits everybody in two places, but it is really profound when you’re coming out of college, trying to find your life, and you’re on your own for the very first time. There is an authentic self-worth that comes from the gospel of yes. We live in a culture that says we need to work really hard to get self-esteem; we need to give each other self-esteem; everybody gets a trophy; even when you do badly you get a trophy.

Are you familiar with the “Antique Road Show”? The guy brings some junk out of his attic, and I always love this show because the guy thinks he has something. Then he hears back, “Ah, there are a million of these. It’s worth $2 or $3.”

Then there is the guy who has no idea what he has. The expert will hyperventilate and then tell the person, “This is the great artist who did this. I can’t even tell you what it is worth.”

The opening lines of Scripture tell us we are created in the image of God. It is because we are image bearers—bearers of the imago dei—that we are worth more than I can tell you. We have been signed by the Artist. At Kairos I tell them, “I wish there were a way I could flip you upside down and show you where the Artist signed you; and I would say, ‘See, this makes you worth beyond what I can tell you.'”

The other thing is, real estate people tell you something is only worth what somebody’s willing to pay for it. On the day the world demanded our price, Jesus laid down His life for us. That’s what you’re worth. That’s what determines your self-esteem and self-value. When you live with the understanding that you are worth that much, it changes the way you spend your time. It changes the way you go into a relationship because you don’t give your life away cheaply or carelessly, knowing you have such value.

The first time I told that story, a young lady came to talk to me afterward. She was crying to the point her shoulders were heaving up and down. She finally got the words out: “Things would be different if somebody had told me I was signed. Nobody ever told me I was signed.”

When you understand what you are worth, your life takes on a different significance. The other thing that happens is you understand you were created on purpose for a purpose. You are not a cosmic accident. You’ve been gifted, created and called to a particular place of service within the greater kingdom work Jesus is doing in His world. Jesus is redeeming the world, pulling it back into a right relationship.

Paul said God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ Jesus. The word reconciling is an accounting term. It literally means, “to make things add up.” We live in a world that doesn’t add up. In Christ, God is making the world add up, and we as His children—as His church—are called to be a part of that work of reconciliation, of helping people find ways to make their lives add up.

Preaching: During the past few weeks, we have experienced some terrible tragedies in our nation. We’ve got the Boston Marathon bombing; the tragic fire in West, Texas; the tornado in Moore, Okla.; the list could go on. In the face of that kind of tragedy and suffering in our world, how do we still find God’s yes?

Glenn: The interesting thing about the gospel is it doesn’t begin with good news. It begins with bad news. The bad news is we’ve messed up, and we can’t fix it. One thing we don’t understand about sin is how much damage it really does. It is hard when you sit with a young adult on Tuesday night or when you sit with one of your friends who has made a decision with hard consequences, and you can’t change it. You can’t fix it. The die has already been cast. The ripples are out from the rock in the pond, and the consequences are damaging other people’s lives. Sin has effected our world down to the molecular level. Bodies don’t work right; nature doesn’t work right because of the damage of sin.

That’s where the gospel begins: Something is broken and we can’t fix it. God took the risk a long time ago of giving us some measure of free will. We make choices, and these choices have consequences. It seems two young men in Boston made the choice to take a pressure cooker and make a bomb out of it, to set it in the middle of a crowd at the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Their decisions have consequences for those people who were wounded and those families who lost people.

The Bible never promises bad things will not happen. Evil people do evil things. Jesus promised us two things:

First, you never will be by yourself. Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is still with you. It has been an interesting education process for me these past two years. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and then we went through several months of my father’s declining health, losing him in April a year ago. The realities did not change. I still had to have surgery, and we still lost my father; but I was never by myself in either process.

The second promise is that no choice of ours is big enough or strong enough to frustrate the eternal and ultimate promises of God. The ultimate promise is that things will come to pass, and the victory will happen as the Father has planned for it to happen. He is good enough and strong enough to take whatever we put in His hands and make something good and lasting out of it.

So these things happen, and while they happen, the promise is those events in themselves will not defeat the eternal yes and the great purposes of God for us and His creation.

Preaching: How do you go about getting ready to preach? How does that process look for you?

Glenn: The first thing we do at Brentwood Baptist is plan our sermons a year in advance. We have regional campuses and ethnic congregations, so the preaching team will go off and plan what we will do a year in advance. Some people will say that’s a little too tight, when you also can do it three months, six months in advance.

I have found this plan to work very well for me, in that it keeps me from preaching out of reaction. If something happens to which I need to respond, then it has to be a strong enough event to move me off the plan. It will be a significant event, but having the plan allows me to find illustrations, newspaper articles, movie clips because I know I will be preaching on that topic in a couple of weeks.

Preaching: How does that planning process look that gets you the year-long plan?

Glenn: It’s easier than you think. First, there are some big rocks already in the jar. For instance, there’s Easter. You begin by deciding if you are going to preach to Easter so the resurrection is the climax of your sermon series, or are you going to preach from Easter so Easter begins your sermon series? This year, we began a sermon series on the life and ministry of Paul, and it began on Easter with his conversion. Then you’ve got Christmas.

There are holidays and rituals for every culture and community to which you need to pay attention. I was helping a friend, who preaches in inner-city Chicago, and I asked him, “What events are important in your church culture that we have to pay attention to or people will think we have neglected them?” He said, Black History Month. OK, that’s not as important in predominantly white Brentwood, but it’s huge to his church. So they did a sermon series on Black History.
So in your church, in what area of doctrine [does your congregation] need to grow? What book in the Bible have [your people] not seen in a while? These are things you think about during the year, and then you sit around and get quiet for a couple of days. From there, it lays itself out for you.

Preaching: Do you do that pretty much by yourself?

Glenn: The initial part is done by me. Then, once I think I’ve got a handle on the big things we need to hit in the coming year, I will bring in the preaching team and assign different things for [the team] to plan.

Preaching: Now move to Monday morning.

Glenn: On Monday, the only thing I do is read Scripture. The thing a lot of us do wrong is to go too quickly to the commentaries. If you’re not careful, you will allow the commentaries to take over your sermon. The problem is the guys who wrote the commentaries don’t know your people. One of the interesting things you have to do is exegete your congregation, as well as the passage. So, on Monday you spend a lot of time thinking about how your people will hear this, what will they pick up out of this, what they will object to, what they will not hear that I really need to press down on…

Tuesday, you do all your heavy lifting. That’s all your language studies, your research. Wednesday, I try to come up with an outline…more like a flow chart. Thursday, I do the first draft.

Saturday—I don’t care what you say—Saturday you’re going to work on it. If you’re as obsessive-compulsive as I am, there is always one word you’ve got to find or one paragraph that’s just not right. I try to do that early on Saturday morning.

Preaching: What do you enjoy most about preaching?

Glenn: There is something about being there when the Word does what the Word does—when the Lord uses you in a moment to say something in a particular way that will hit a person at just the right time to see [his or her] life transformed. That is the most exciting thing.

Preaching: Now, contrast that with this: What do you find most challenging about preaching today?

Glenn: The attention span of our listeners has been greatly influenced by social media, the Internet and television. We read the stories of how Wesley and Spurgeon preached for an hour or two. Our folks can’t listen that long. They are used to a 25-minute program, where the bad guys are caught or the issue is tied up in a nice bow at the end; and you have two commercial breaks in there. They just can’t pay attention that long.

Now, with social media, can you tell me Jesus loves me in 140 characters or less? So the challenge of going very deep in your sermon is really difficult. It used to be Sunday morning was your deal. You had to be ready at 11 on Sunday morning, and that was it. Now, with blogging and social media, you have to figure out a way to keep the sermon alive the whole week.

Preaching: How do you go about doing that?

Glenn: It has to go into your planning: Here are the things I will blog about the next week. Here is how I will keep it alive on Twitter. Here are questions I am going to ask to encourage conversation.

On one hand, you are thinking, “I don’t want to do all that.” On the other hand, you need to realize your people are already doing it with somebody. When I hired a young lady to be my research assistant, the first thing she did was order Oprah’s O magazine. It came into my mailbox, and I thought, “What in the world have you done? I can’t walk around here with O magazine!”

Her response was interesting. She said, “Oprah is the spiritual leader of your women, and you need to know what Oprah is telling them.” She’s doing it through the Web, the Internet and her magazine. So that kind of stuff is out there. You might as well be in conversation with your people.

Preaching: One last thing—what have you learned about preaching through the years that you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were first starting? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Glenn: Less is more, and more is less. I grew up listening to the great preachers you and I love, who could take you on a guided tour of hell and make your clothes smell of smoke. They were wonderful orators. When I started, I wanted to do that so badly, and I would have one sentence with 38 adjectives in it; but the simple truth—plainly told from a heart that loves people—is the most effective sermon.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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