Archive for the ‘Preaching’ category

More Thoughts on Sermon Manuscripts

September 9, 2011

Since my last post, I have enjoyed considerable feedback on the use of a full manuscript in preaching. I thought I’d comment on some of the questions I’ve been asked, including practical inquiries.

1.  Preaching from a full MSS is not for everyone. But even if it is not for everyone, I would argue that it is a good and helpful exercise, especially for young and developing preachers.  It will be helpful in your thinking/processing, writing, and eventual delivery.  I don’t know if I will preach from a MSS for the rest of my life, but I certainly have found it challenging and helpful at this particularly developmental stage.

2.  Speaking of delivery, that seems to be the main drawback from using a full MSS in preaching.  That certainly is a challenge, but the opposite could also be the case.  Consider two comments from my last post:

I have been preaching for about 12 years now, and have only recently begun to manuscript. I resisted for a long time, fearing it would make my preaching wooden and dry. The truth is, it’s done the opposite. I’m finding myself saying things in fresh ways, rather than falling into the rut of saying the same things the same way. I’ve also found that it has brought so much clarity and focus – the process of manuscripting (and the editing!) has really helped me sharpen the content of my sermons. – Bill Streger

But the ironic thing is: For me, it’s works the other way. I use a full manuscript, because I can communicate more naturally, directly, passionately and engagingly WITH a full manuscript than without. I know it’s a personal thing, but if I have notes or nothing (yes, I’ve tried it), half my brain is worrying about whether I’ll forget something important, where I’m up to, etc., which means I can’t relax. With the “safety net” of a manuscipt, I can put all my thought power into what I’m saying, and all my energy into engaging with people. – Stephen Shead


Preaching, Manuscripts, and Fraternal Critique

September 6, 2011

“Pharaoh, let my people go!”

That’s a joke my mother uses on occasion with my friends regarding my first sermon preached.  Admittedly, it was not that great, and I did preach everything I knew in the Bible in one sermon.

Prior to coming to Grace, I had eight years of Bible college and seminary training and six years ministering as a youth and college pastors in local churches.  With that training and experience, you would think I had a lot of practical training in preparing and delivering sermons.  But the fact of the matter is I had no formal training in college and one class in seminary in which I preached one 20 minute sermon.  Although I preached many times, I still felt woefully unprepared for the fundamental task of pastoral ministry.

Then I came to Grace and immediately began to be helped by my fellow pastor and churchman Tom Ascol.

The first thing he did was pay a lady to transcribe my first message at Grace word for word and spend two hours working through the 17-page document full of grammatical errors, pointless commentary, and incoherent argumentation.  It was one of the most grueling and embarrassing things I had ever done.  The scalpel (Tom’s red pen) dissected and performed surgery and fully exposed areas of incompetency in my preaching.  While it was almost unbearable, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to my preaching.  In fact, it was what I need 12 years ago that neither Bible college, seminary, or two church positions offered.

I have heard it said from experienced practitioners like Tim Keller and others that it takes a pastor five years or more than 200 sermons before he finds his voice/style and feels comfortable in his own skin.  In the day of podcasting and sermon downloading where church members can listen to the best preachers evangelicalism has to offer, the pressure to perform and excel in preaching is daunting.  If you can listen to Matt Chandler on Monday, David Platt on Tuesday, Mark Driscoll on Wednesday, John Piper on Thursday, and Mark Dever on Friday, then for the that church member, the young and inexperienced preacher on Sunday morning feels “karaoke”. Only a church stubbornly committed to making disciples, including disciples in the pulpit, can celebrate amateur preachers and pitting them against more polished, seasoned practitioners in the pulpit.

As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel.  Every sermon I preach is evaluated.  Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc.  In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded.  The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.


The Canceling Power of a Divine Kiss

August 29, 2011

Yesterday I preached a message entitled “A Celebration of Grace”.  It was the conclusion of a 4-part series on grace from passages in the Gospel according to Luke.  My final text was a very familiar text to Christians, commonly called the “parable of the prodigal son.”  Two particular readings affected me greatly this past week.  One was reading Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God.  I highly recommend it.  The other reading was a sermon by Charles Spurgeon called “Prodigal Love for a Prodigal Son” or “Many Kisses for Returning Sinners.”

Spurgeon’s sermon focuses on the father’s love for his prodigal son as communicated in his multiple kisses upon his son’s face.  At several points in his sermon I was wrecked by God’s love and pursuing grace, but one that I found particularly illustrative and encouraging was the portion below.  I referenced this portion in my message yesterday and thought it would be fitting to post it here as well.  Be encouraged in the kisses of the father for your past, for your present, and for your future!


This poor young man, in his hungry, faint, and wretched state, having come a very long way, had not much heart in him. His hunger had taken all energy out of him, and he was so conscious of his guilt that he had hardly the courage to face his father; so his father gives him a kiss, as much as to say, “Come, boy, do not be cast down; I love you.”

Oh, the past, the past, my father!” he might moan, as he thought of his wasted years; but he had no sooner said that than he received another kiss, as if his father said, “Never mind the past; I have forgotten all about that.” This is the Lord’s way with His saved ones. Their past lies hidden under the blood of atonement. The Lord saith by His servant Jeremiah, “The iniquity if Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.”

But then, perhaps, the young man looked down on his foul garments, and said, “The present, my father, the present, what a dreadful state I am in!” And with another kiss would come the answer, “Never mind the present, my boy. I am content to have you as you are. I love you.” This, too, is God’s word to those who are “accepted in the Beloved.” In spite of all their vileness, they are pure and spotless in Christ, and God says of each one of them, “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honourable, and I have loved you. Therefore, though in yourself you are unworthy, through My dear Son you are welcome to My home.”

“Oh, but,” the boy might have said, “the future, my father, the future! What would you think if I should ever go astray again?” Then would come another holy kiss, and his father would say, “I will see to the future, my boy; I will make home so bright for you that you will never want to go away again.” But God does more than that for us when we return to Him. He not only surrounds us with tokens of His love, but He says concerning us, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” Furthermore, He says to each returning one, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.”

Whatever there was to trouble the son, the father gave him a kiss to set it all right; and, in like manner, our God has a love-token for every time of doubt and dismay which may come to His reconciled sons. Perhaps one whom I am addressing says, “Even though I confess my sin, and seek God’s mercy, I shall still be in sore trouble, for through my sin, I have brought myself down to poverty.” “There is a kiss for you,” says the Lord: “Your bread shall be given to you, and your water shall be sure.” “But I have even brought disease upon myself by sin,” says another. “There is a kiss for you, for I am Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that heals you, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” “But I am dreadfully down at the heel,” says another. The Lord gives you also a kiss, and says, “I will lift you up, and provide for all your needs. No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly.” All the promises in this Book belong to every repentant sinner, who returns to God believing in Jesus Christ, His Son.

The father of the prodigal kissed his son much, and thus made him feel happy there and then. Poor souls, when they come to Christ, are in a dreadful plight, and some of them hardly know where they are I have known them talk a lot of nonsense in their despair, and say hard and wicked things of God in their dreadful doubt. The Lord gives no answer to all that, except a kiss, and then another kiss. Nothings puts the penitent so much at rest as the Lord’s repeated assurance of His unchanging love. Such a one the Lord has often received, “and kissed him much,” that He might fetch him up even from the horrible pit, and set his feet upon a rock, and establish his goings.

Evangelize as Your Edify, Edify as You Evangelize

July 14, 2011

One of the biggest tensions regarding philosophy of gathered services is the issue of breadth and depth, or who should be the priority and focus of the ministry.  Obviously, everything we do should be first and foremost with a focus and passion for the honor and glory of God.   But the question we are usually asking is this: “Should our gathered services be evangelistic, focusing on unbelievers, or edifying, focusing on believers?”

Yesterday, Tim Keller answered the question by referencing Martyn Lloyd’Jones by saying “both.”  Keller concludes:

The lesson I eventually learned from him was—don’t preach to your congregation for spiritual growth thinking everyone there is a Christian—and don’t preach the gospel evangelistically thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. In other words—evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

I agree with MLJ and Keller completely.


John Piper – Hallowed Be Your Name

June 16, 2011

This past Monday, John Piper preached a powerful sermon focusing on the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your name.” In the typical expository exultation style of Piper, you can sense the gravitas and the gladness of the text as we are brought face to face with the greatness of God. In my generation, I pray there would be many who would yearn and learn to bring God’s Word to bear upon God’s people with such weightiness.

You can read Piper’s sermon here.

Give Them the Gospel, Yes, But Give Them You, Too

June 7, 2011

I have always admired and sought to emulate the pastoral heart and compassion found in C.J. Mahaney. Speaking to a group of church planters, he implored them to love, love, love, and then preach to their people.  When I first watched this, the following verses came to my mind . . .

7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Getting Out by Tim Keller

May 2, 2011

From the 2011 Gospel Coalition National Conference. Tim Keller’s message on Exodus 14. EXCELLENT.

[vimeo 22669720]

4 Evangelistic Motivations for Paul: The Prospect of Eternity

February 1, 2011

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently shared with my church family how we are to be working together with God on mission (2 Cor. 6:1).  In that message, I laid out four evangelistic motivations from 2 Cor. 5.  The first evangelistic motivation for Paul is the prospect of eternity.

The Prospect of Eternity

In the first nine verses of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul describes our earthly bodies as tents and compares them to a building “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  Just a few verses later, Paul talks about  being “home in the body” and “home with the Lord.”  Clearly, Paul has eternity in view, and compares this life as but a temporary matter compared to eternity with God in our heavenly dwelling.

What are the evangelistic implications of having the prospects of eternity before you?  How does that affect how you view people?  As we teach our children, God gave us souls that will never die, though this tent (earthly body) is destroyed.  At some point, the pegs will loosen, the violent storm of death with overtake this earthly tent.  What will happen then?  As a tentmaker himself, Paul knew well of the frailty and temporary nature of a tent.  Even as he worked in his trade, with each new tent, Paul no doubt had on his mind the lives of men and women around him who did not know God.

It is very easy to go through the day with little thought about eternity.  We are caught up in the moment, rarely ever with the ability to have a sustained reflection on how this day fits in the scheme of our lifetime, much less eternity.  But when we have the prospect of eternity in view, we look at people differently.  We don’t look at them and see rich or poor, black or white, friendly or mean.  We look at them as saved or lost, forgiven or condemned, adopted or rebels.  And when this happens, eternal realities invade our thoughts and motivations so that we are left with yearning and burden for the “tent city” (if I may use that illustration) soon facing the prevailing the winds of death.

So the first motivation of Paul as seen in 2 Cor. 5:1-9 is the prospect of eternity in light of our human frailty. People think they are invincible; God says they are but a breath.  People think their lives have no eternal consequence and therefore should live for the moment; Christians feel the weight of eternity and plead for their souls of those who cannot plead for themselves.  People want to have conversations that settle on the surface; Christians settle only for the gospel penetrating hearts to the very core of their being.  And this because God has told us that being home in this tent is not our final dwelling place.  We are pilgrims, ambassadors, citizens of another kingdom–a kingdom that is established in the hearts of men when the eternal truths of the gospel are embraced by those who have found eternal life in the death-defeating death of Jesus Christ.

Fellow believer, our conversations ought to be singed with the prospect of eternity.  If we have nothing weightier to say than what people hear on television or read in the papers, then we are only driving the stakes of their earthly tent into the very soil in which their body will lay in judgment.  It is a wake up call for us who face a world making their bed in the deception of their self-determination.  May we who long to be “at home with the Lord find our usefulness in working together with God in bringing sinners safely home by way of the cross.

Working Together with God

January 31, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a message entitled “Working Together with God.”  I have long enjoyed meditating on 2 Corinthians 5, but unfortunately, my reading typically ended with 2 Cor. 5:21.  It is the next verse that has arrested my thinking of late, and as you probably know, there were no chapter divisions originally in the biblical text.  The following verse reads:

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

Is it not an awesome thing to think about–that God would somehow allow us to partner with him in working out his purposes of redemption as His ambassadors?!  I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people in my life, but everything changes in perspective when I realize that I have been called to join the one who works out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11) and perfectly completes every good work He begins (Phil. 1:6).

As Christians, this unique lifetime privilege is sealed with the unfailing promise already fulfilled and purchased by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because of that, Jesus does not simply leave us with a plan of salvation, but he provides us the power of salvation in the gospel (Rom. 1:16) which, when spoken, calls forth dead people to new life.  We have been given the protection and provision that God is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).  We have before us the perspective that Christ will build His church (Matt. 16:18), and nothing, absolutely nothing, can thwart the omnipotent voice of our Shepherd who calls out His own by name (John 10:27-28).

We are working with God in the most important, eternally significant thing in the whole world, and this work warrants not only the sweat of our brow but the sacrifice of our lives.  Apparently, it was a concern for Paul that the Corinthian believers would receive the grace of God in vain, and context leads us to believe that a principle way of determining this is through their participation (or lack thereof) in working with God as those entrusted with the message and ministry of reconciliation.  Paul was a great example that the grace he received was not useless:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Cor. 15:10).

Unlike anything else, the gospel of God’s grace produces laborers who endure and persevere, not because of inner will-power or self-determination, but because they have operating within them the same power that raised Jesus from the dead bringing renewal and abiding hope.

In my message a couple of weeks ago, I discovered four evangelistic motivations in 2 Cor. 5 that help us not to receive the grace of God in vain but rather spur us onward in our “working together with God”.  In the coming days, I hope to share them with you as an encouragement in your efforts to make Christ known as one entrusted with the one message capable to raise the dead, change the world, and satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

Justified Thanksgiving

November 24, 2010

* This is part three of three in a series based on a Thanksgiving sermon I preached this past Sunday based on Luke 18:9-14.  In this section, I argue that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the source of all acceptable thanksgiving.  Or, in other words, we should thank God for justification by faith!  For prior posts, see Part 1 and Part 2 (and this practical thought).

So what kind of thanksgiving is justified?  This is what I want to drive home to your hearts and minds this morning, so let’s take one final look into the text for the answer to this question.

Justified Thanksgiving

The setting for this parable (Luke 18:9-14) was that two men went to the Temple to pray. One went home justified, and the person who did was NOT the person you would expect.  Jesus turns things upside down, showing that the least qualified when it comes to self-righteousness is the most qualified to receive salvation because he knew there was nothing he could hope in except the mercy and grace of God.

The two men in this parable are placed side-by-side to show the stark contrast between religion based on performance and salvation based on grace. You see, not only do sinners need to repent of their sin, this parable shows that moral people also need to repent of their own righteousness.  This contrast is highlighted in three places: (1) locating the problem, (2) locating the source of righteousness, and (3) locating the primary concern.

(a) What did these two men see as the problem? Where was it located?  For the Pharisee, the problem existed outside himself.  He saw the sinful lives of others as the problem—extortioners, unjust, and adulterers.  But for the tax collector, the problem existed inside himself.  He could not stop beating his breast, knowing that the location of the problem was inside his sinful heart.

The problem with most people today is that they are far more prone to look at the sins and shortcomings of others than they do of their own.  Pharisees are always harder on others than they are on themselves.  But when it comes to their own sin, rebellion, and wickedness, they can’t stand to look honestly, closely, and thoroughly.  They can’t stand to have themselves exposed.  This is why the Bible refers to sinners apart from salvation in Jesus being in “the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13).  The “god of this world,” Paul says is actively working in the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4).  And as long as you think the problem is outside of yourself, the devil has you enchanted by his lies when you should be haunted by your present darkness.


The Quest for (Self) Justification

November 23, 2010

* This is part two of three of a series from a Thanksgiving sermon I preached Sunday from Luke 18:9-14.  This part focuses on the quest for justification (and its relationship to thanksgiving). To read part one, go here.

The most important word in this passage (Luke 18:9-14) is found in verse 14.  It is the word “justified.”  If you don’t get what it means to be justified and how one can be justified, then you will not understand the good news of Jesus.  That’s precisely the problem with this man’s thanksgiving.  He thought he was the good news, and his good deeds were supposed to be evidence of that.  But the fact is that his attempts of righteousness were not commendable to God.  They were damnworthy because they could never justify him in the sight of God.

And yet this is precisely the problem with the majority of people today. Martin Luther was right when he said that “religion” is the basic default of the human heart.  Perhaps this is where you are.  No, you may not see yourself as good of a person as this man in his radical devotion, but you are striving for that in hopes that God would one day accept you.  What makes the gospel such an offense to sinners today is that any contribution on your behalf to make you right with God is rejected by God himself.  Not even your best attempts will considered as evidence in your favor of being justified in His sight.


Unacceptable Thanksgiving

November 22, 2010

* This is part one of three of sermon notes I preached Sunday about Thanksgiving from Luke 18:9-14. This passage speaks powerfully to what I called “justified thanksgiving.”

This week is a special time in the calendar year.  We call it Thanksgiving—a time where family and friends come together to share meals, discuss their lives, and enjoy one another’s company. It is one of those times when we are encouraged to hit the pause button in what normally feels like a fast-paced lifestyle, like a train picking up steam month by month and beginning to lose control.  So we pull back the reigns, so to speak, and call ourselves to pause, reflect, remember, and give thanks.


Tim Keller at Urban Plant Life

November 20, 2010

Steve McCoy pointed us to some Tim Keller gold last week.  Here are eight newly formatted PDFs of Tim Keller talks from the recent Urban Plant Life Conference and Consultation in London.

You can get these and three more talks from Keller on MP3 as well.

While downloading these, I was reminded of a project that I undertook last year called the “Coach K Reading Group.”  I had a hunch that other people were, or at least were interested in, reading available articles by Tim Keller.  So I compiled about 14 of them and made a Tim Keller Reader and pitched it solely on Twitter.  The result was 74 people from 24 states and 11 denominations who joined in, where I moderated a live video conference chat every two weeks.  It was a really cool time of learning from Tim Keller, encouraging one another, and focusing on the mission of the church.  Looking over these articles makes me wonder if we can do something like that again . . .

Shai Linne on Expository Preaching

November 13, 2010

The first mark of a healthy church, as chopped up by the reverend Shai Linne . . .

The Bible Is NOT About You

August 26, 2010

For the past seven weeks, I have been leading a group of men in our church through Tim Keller and Ed Clowney’s class on Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World. The 35 MP3’s are available for free on RTS iTunesU, and a PDF of the class notes are available as well.  I have also been supplementing the men with articles, chapters, and essays on Christ-centered preaching from Chapell to Greidanus to Goldsworthy to Spurgeon.  It has really be a lot of fun to learn together how to expound Christ, apply Christ, and adore Christ in our preaching.

Below is a video which is a good summary of what Tim Keller means by Christ-centered preaching, followed by a summary transcript of the audio excerpt.  Do you, preacher, make your message all about Him? Are you, Christian, satisfied with Christ-less messages?