Pastors, Preaching, Uncategorized

Preach like Mitch Hedberg

Preach like Mitch Hedberg? Yes… except for the getting high part. Don’t use illegal drugs before you preach, even if you know that third sermon point makes no sense.

Mitch Hedberg is a great example of how it doesn’t take much time out of your sermon to be funny and how even hilarious comedians plan their jokes ahead of time.

You can build comic relief into your sermon without making the sermon too long. Mitch Hedberg could make people laugh with one sentence. He also planned his jokes well, and I believe that anyone can be funny with some planning. Even pro comedians work hard at being funny before they ever hit the stage.

People Need to Laugh

Recently, a pastor somberly told me that he doesn’t like it when pastors use humor in their sermons because a sermon is too sacred to be funny.

I laughed hard. Then, I realized he was serious. Ironically, he was hilarious without knowing it. I thought to myself, “Good luck finding one person in your congregation who agrees with you, but you’re a natural deadpan comedian.”

You could make an argument that the greatest need your congregation has on Sunday mornings is to laugh. A substantial percentage of any congregation listening to your sermon has been beaten down by life during the past week. Even those who have great lives are probably at least worn down by the time Sunday rolls around.

Of course, the congregation needs to experience God on a Sunday morning, and I believe that people want to experience God when they enter the worship space. I also think they assume that will include helping them get back to what life is all about.

Like nothing else, humor has a way of cutting through all of the muddy emotions that build up throughout a week and revealing “the real us” underneath. After laughing, we feel more like ourselves. We’re more in touch with life. It’s cartharsis. Then, we’re more open to challenge, to change, to experiencing God.

Humor is Easy if Planned Well

Humor is too easy to not use it (if you plan it in advance). Humor is everywhere. It just takes some time and forethought to plan to use it in your sermon correctly. You can tell a funny story about something that happened that week or use self-deprecating humor, irony, comparsion, observational comedy about the absurd, an unexpected turn of a phrase, a funny photo or video, etc. Humor is all about surprise and irony. Avoid using canned humor (ex. email forwards) if possible. Instead, develop your ability to see the humor in your own daily experience and to communicate it.

Humor Makes Your Sermon More Effective

Humor also makes your sermon more emotionally effective. Laughing helps the congregation to relax between the serious points of the sermon and be ready for the next point. Imagine watching a movie that has no comic relief (the last Indian Jones movie, for example). It is unbearably draining. You want your money back… and we can’t afford for people to take their $1 back out of the offering plate (just kidding, big givers)!

A laugh gives the congregation a break from digesting heavy material. So, using humor approprately in the beginning, middle, and end of your sermon gives the congregation a chance to relax, and it also opens them to the next point you will make.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit

Beyond that, here is the most important reason to use humor in your sermon: Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, right? I’m willing to state that joy includes some laughter now and then. If joy is the norm of following Jesus, then sermons should include at least a little bit of laughter.

In fact, if you don’t consider yourself a “funny” person, I have to ask you a question. Do you have joy? If you don’t experience joy on a daily basis, then a deeper problem has been revealed. Joy includes seeing the humor in life and joking every once in awhile.

So, if you don’t think you can be funny, or at least be funny without adding lots of time to your sermon, check out Mitch Hedberg, the contemporary king of one-liners. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, I present to you, Mitch Hedberg…

A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap.

A lollipop is a cross between hard candy and garbage.

An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs.” Sorry for the convenience.

Dogs are forever in the push up postion.

Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!

Every time I go and shave, I assume there’s someone else on the planet shaving. So I say, ‘I’m gonna go shave, too.’

Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.

I bought a seven-dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.

I don’t have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who’d be mad at me for saying that.

I had a stick of CareFree gum, but it didn’t work. I felt pretty good while I was blowing that bubble, but as soon as the gum lost its flavor, I was back to pondering my mortality.

I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.

I like Kit-Kats, unless I’m with four or more people.

I like refried beans. That’s why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they’re just as good and we’re just wasting time. You don’t have to fry them again after all.

I like to hold the microphone cord like this, I pinch it together, then I let it go, then you hear a whole bunch of jokes at once.

I love blackjack. But I’m not addicted to gambling. I’m addicted to sitting in a semi circle.

I once saw a forklift lift a crate of forks. And it was way to literal for me.

I think foosball is a combination of soccer and shish kabobs.

I used to be a hot-tar roofer. Yeah, I remember that… day.

I want to get a vending machine, with fun-sized candy bars, and the glass in front is a magnifying glass. You’ll be mad, but it will be too late.

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Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

A Company of Thieves Christmas

A couple of friends and I went to the CD 102.5 Holiday Show this year at the LC in downtown Columbus.

One of the bands performing was Company of Thieves, a Chicago-based band. Their biggest single to date is “Oscar Wilde,” named after the Irish writer who critiqued Victorian society. The chorus lyrics simply go like this:

We are all our own devil
We are all our own devil
And we make this world our hell

Merry Christmas.:) I know it’s not exactly heart-warming, at least not on the surface.

The song is about living in a Victorian world of shallow high society and external comfort while trying to ignore our own problems and suffering in the world around us. It’s about pretending and denying reality.

At this time of year, when we read the familiar Christmas story, with metaphors of darkness and light, earthly kings and heavenly kings, we are reminded of the struggle between good and evil and pretending versus reality.

In the Gospels, King Herod lived in a palace, while the real King was born in a feeding trough. It is a very down to earth story, so to speak, acknowledging both the joys and the pains of real, everyday life. Even though we know this, our Christmas celebrations tend to be Victorian, overly sentimental, even downright schmaltzy.

Living in reality is about addressing the falsities in our world, seeing people and life from God’s perspective. We have a tendency to avoid dealing with reality, both globally and in our personal lives, and we pay a high price for it. From international conflict to office politics to family squabbles, we often avoid what would actually solve the problem.

For example, we often avoid the poor and those who are hurting in any way. At Christmastime, we’re reminded of the financially under-resourced, who like the real King, live in meager circumstances, and we know that our world is not as it should be.

During the Christmas season, we’re reminded of the lonely, yet our busyness distracts us from being fully present with those who would appreciate it the most. More personally, how much happier would you be if you dealt with your problems head on without trying to ignore them, even temporarily, in the hopes that they will go away? We can be our own devil.

The Christmas story is a feel-good story, but it’s not nearly as warm, fuzzy and naive as we make it. The birth narrative of Christ is a loud statement about how to live in this world, “See reality as it is, and stop pretending.”

Even though it’s challenging, for a moment this Christmas season, it would benefit us to ask, “What we are denying, how are we playing pretend, what are we covering up, what are we ignoring?” The temporary pain of the answer will be far outweighed by the joy of seeing life clearly and freedom from the problems that cause us greater pain.

The Christmas story shouts the GREAT news that we don’t have to be our own devil.

Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

A Pastor is Thankful for Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens passed away yesterday at 62 after a battle with cancer.

Hitchens was one of the most outspoken atheists in contemporary culture. As a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of God is Not Great, an atheist manifesto, he challenged religion with wit and a razor sharp intellect. Along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, Hitchens formed the so-called “New Atheists,” a sort of atheist revival following 9/11.

Some religious people villainize atheists as “The Enemy.” I disagree. As a matter of fact, it may surprise some to know that I have enjoyed reading these authors. I am thankful for the role that Hitchens played as one who questioned, not only relgious belief itself, but, more importantly to me, the practice of accepting beliefs without examination.

Hitchens and the other New Atheist authors simply question what many do not. While some of their points are straw man arguments against the worst examples of religious practice, they have also helped me to think about what I believe and why. They are often overly-provocative, but in a world of hype and anti-intellectualism, I appreciate anyone who makes me think.

Throughout history, people like Hitchens have protested evil committed in the name of religion, and because of dissenters like them, religious and government institutions have been challenged to reform. Specific to Church history, ironically, it has at times been the preaching of atheists that resulted in Christians acting more Christianly.  

Stating it as clearly as I am able, I believe that all religious people would benefit from being exposed to the thoughts of Christopher Hitchens. In a post-9/11 world, we realize that it is dangerous to hold beliefs that one has never questioned. More personally, my faith means far more to me now than it did before I allowed myself to test it.

Hitchens helped me to examine my faith. Someone as intelligent as Christopher Hitchens is hard to stump, but I like to imagine that it would make him scratch his head for a moment to hear that I am a better Christian because of him.

My Sermons, Pastors, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Listen to “The Night before Christmas”

This past Sunday, I gave a sermon entitled “The Night before Christmas.”

The Christmas story is much more fascinating and real to life than we give it credit for. The way that Luke describes Jesus in The Gospel of Luke chapter 2 makes a profound statement about the way you will choose to live your life today.

Luke 2 is impossible to understand without knowing something about Augustus Caesar. In fact, much of the early Christians’ understanding of who Jesus is came from defining Jesus in contrast to Caesar.

The material you will hear in this message is troubling to some Christians, but it shouldn’t be. If Jesus were born in 21st century America, we would define him in the best way we know how, and, because it’s the highest office in America, we would probably use the same language to describe Jesus that we use to describe the President of the United States.

So, the Christmas story asks the question, “Today, will you choose to follow Caesar or will you choose to follow Jesus?

Listen to The Night before Christmas.