Friday, February 19, 2016

Pastor: How do you find the Sermon Sweet Spot?

Before you step behind the pulpit, or turn on your wireless mic, or fire up your iPad…
How do you know you have the right message?

Every preacher approaches their messages differently. We all have different methods and patterns and systems to help us create the final draft of our sermon. I’m not about to suggest there is only one way to do it (particularly because I use different methods just about every week); however, I am going to suggest three questions that might help you focus in on the most important things you need to say.


What has God said?

I don’t suppose this is a complicated question. What God has said is contained in His Word. I may be old fashioned, but I still think the content of every sermon ought to flow from the pages of the Bible.

If I want to preach the Words of God, I need to immerse myself in them. I need to study them, memorize them, meditate on them. I need to consult others to better understand them. Before I ever preach to others, I ought to have as clear an understanding as possible of what God has said.

Who are these people?

Not every congregation or audience is the same, and how I preach God’s Word to them ought to reflect who they are. Not everyone can always know exactly who their audience is, but if you are a pastor, you MUST spend regular time learning who the people are that sit in those pews every Sunday.

Every Monday I spend time reading notes, comments, prayer requests and praises from my brothers and sisters at The Gathering. They are kind enough to share their lives and thoughts with me by writing on the back of our “connection card” every Sunday. I try to email every one of them with a short note of encouragement so they know I enjoy hearing from them and want to hear more.

I also have other means by which I grow deeper relationships with the people in the pews. The method is not nearly as important as the outcome. If I am going to effectively preach to them, I must find a way to learn:
  • What is going on in their lives
  • How they are struggling
  • Where they have been victorious
  • When they have been disappointed
  • Why they are at our church
  • For whom they are burdened
How can I tell these people what God said?

I could easily spend 30 hours preparing for a sermon and then speak for an hour, dumping a massive amount of information on the congregation. I would walk away feeling good that I have taught and they have learned.

I choose to take the road less travelled.

For me, the most difficult element of sermon preparation is specifically crafting my words to particularly apply to my friends in the pews. I find it much more stressful to choose what I will not say, then to determine what I will say. Not everything I learn in my sermon preparation is what the people on Sunday need to learn. In fact, much of it is not what they need and could possibly distract them from what God truly wants them to hear.

(The Sermon on the Mount was NOT a 45 minute sermon!)

My general rule of thumb is as follows:
If I could preach this sermon to any congregation at any location; I still have work to do before I preach it to my congregation at my church.
Discover what God has said.Determine to whom you’ll be speaking.Discern what they need to hear from God.
Then trust the Holy Spirit to do the hard work!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It's Always A Good Idea To Bring Jesus Home From Church

Mark 1 recounts Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (at your own risk, insert joke about not wanting to see your mother-in-law healed).
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Having worshipped at Capernaum’s synagogue, Peter brought Jesus home and amazing things happened. It’s always a good idea to bring Jesus home from church!

When you bring Jesus home, amazing things happen!

Too often, we meet Jesus at church and then leave him there. He says some cool things, makes some memorable points, provides some inspiration and we thank him and head out, saying over our shoulder, “Thanks, Jesus. We’ll see you next week.”

Occasionally, we might bump into Jesus during the week at a prayer meeting or a small group gathering. For the most part, though, our interactions with him are limited to Sunday morning.


Imagine for a brief moment how your life might change if you brought Jesus home with you after church every Sunday. He could ride to work with you Monday morning; and as long as you don’t leave him in the car, he will join you as you do your job throughout the week.

He could go to your kid’s sporting events with you. He might even put a hand on your shoulder occasionally to remind you to represent him when you yell at the referee, coach or players.

He could be in the kitchen with you while you hash out a disagreement with your spouse. Would that change the way you listen? Would it keep you from interrupting? Would it remind you to speak with more loving words? Would you be more gracious?

He could be the first person you speak to in the morning and the last person you engage at night.


I imagine there is little question that Jesus would improve your life if you took him home from church. So maybe this Sunday, don’t leave without him!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The secret to defeating distraction and staying on mission

We are all living on mission. Sometimes our missions are big and important & sometimes they are small and insignificant.

DISTRACTIONS are the greatest enemy of accomplishing a mission.



Jesus mission was POINTING PEOPLE TO GOD.

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you...“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. (John 17:1,6)

Jesus accomplished his mission by:

RELIEVING PAIN & REVEALING TRUTH.

The disciples and the crowd misunderstood Jesus' mission and desired him to stay and become their Messiah. They offered him:

  • popularity
  • comfort
  • wealth
  • power
Jesus dealt with these distractions by sneaking away to pray.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

3 Questions To Ask When 2 Or 3 Are Gathered

Formalized small groups aren’t for everyone. Yet, the New Testament clearly commands us to spend time with one another, motivating and encouraging one another to good works (growth).

The following questions can serve as a template for two or three people to have coffee together or for a group of 15 to gather in a home. Wherever your comfort level may be, you should be spending time with believers. Use these questions and use that time to empower growth in one another.



What has God said?
Everything God desires us to know can be discovered in His Word. As we build into one another’s lives, one of the most important topics around which we grow is understanding what God has said to us. Whether you spend 15 minutes reading a passage together or 2 hours digging into one verse; discerning God’s message is critical for spiritual growth. If you aren’t sure how best to answer this question, consider the following ideas:
  • Choose a chapter from Proverbs (or another book) and read it together
  • Agree ahead of time to read a passage, and discuss when you gather
  • Choose one verse and memorize it together
  • Utilize a Bible study resource of some kind to guide your time
  • Use a Bible study tool such as the “SOAPY” study (click the link to learn more)
  • Choose a paragraph of the Bible and together rewrite it in your own words, use it to make a list or choose the 3–5 most important words
However you choose to approach God’s Word, make it the centerpiece of your time together. Hearing from God is the most important thing that can happen to you, ever. Having friends that assist you in hearing is one of the greatest blessings you can receive, ever.

What is God doing?
Whatever is going on in your life, God is doing something. He is not surprised, panicked, concerned or aloof. He IS working. Sometimes we need the counsel of others to help us accurately interpret our life’s happenings. Sharing with one another gives you a wonderful opportunity to see your circumstances from another perspective.

Spend time discussing your victories, your failings, your excitement, your anxiety, your opportunities and your difficulties. John Wesley’s small groups were designed to have these types of conversations. Perhaps you could modify some of their questions for your own use:
  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other
    words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the
    publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard?
    If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?
Wesley’s “bands” also used a smaller, more focused (and more intimate) list:
  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
  5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
These questions do not carry any magic. On their own, they cannot accomplish anything. However, these questions (or others like them) can guide your group to discuss their current situations and determine how God may be working in each person’s life.

How can we pray?
This question is fairly straight forward. You should pray together. Pray for one another, pray for those you know, pray for God’s Kingdom to be expanded.


If, on a regular basis, you spend time with other Christians exploring God’s Word, discussing one another’s lives and praying together; you *WILL find yourselves growing. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10 Foundational Truths About The Bible

This Sunday, I said that we can get the most out of our faith if we stay connected to God. Remaining connected to Him requires that we ROUTINELY spend time in His Word. Below are some basic truths about God's Word. If you are going to read the book, make sure you understand the book.


  • Since we are created and God is uncreated, we cannot know anything about Him unless He reveals it to us.
  • God reveals things about himself through nature (general revelation) and through His Word (specific revelation).
  • In His Word (the Bible), we can discover everything God wants us to know about Himself.
  • God revealed Himself in the Bible by inspiring regular men to write the precise Words He desired them to communicate.
  • The Bible is inspired, trustworthy and authoritative.
  • To be properly understood, the Bible must be read in context (as it was written).
  • The Bible is 66 individual books which all work together to tell one story.
  • The story of the Bible can be summarized as "Creation - Fall - Redemption - Reconciliation".
  • At the end, God will make all things new; and He will live among us.
  • The SOAPY study is a simple way to dig in to the Bible every day.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

You can get out from under that cloud of gloom!

Joel, the prophet, called on the nation of Israel to repent. Chapter two of his writings paints a frightening picture of the impending doom his countrymen faced. He predicted the advance of a powerful attacking army such as had never been seen before. He described those days as dark, cloudy and gloomy.

But he also reminded Israel that their God was still able to save them. “Even at this late hour” he said, “When things look so bad, our God can still save the day.” He reminded his friends that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and One who relents from punishing. 

“Even though we don’t deserve it” Joel preached, “God still may rescue us!”

He called the nation to repent. Old people, young people, even babies were to gather and cry out for salvation. This was not time for celebration. Joel told bridegrooms and brides to leave their ceremony and join the congregation in a nationwide appeal to God. “Spare your people, O LORD” they cried out, “Do not let your reputation be mocked. Do not let people say, ‘Where is their God?’”


The prayer Joel prescribed for Israel can also be prayed by you. You may not face an advancing hoard of Assyrians, or locusts, or a famine. You may however find yourselves in dark days, living under a cloud of gloom. Perhaps it is time for you to turn back to God, your Father and allow Him to step in and save you.

Use the prayer of Israel as a template of your own repentance.

A TRULY REPENTANT PRAYER IS ABOUT GOD’S GLORY:
  • Recognize that your sin besmirches God’s reputation
  • Look into your heart to discover genuine and authentic pain for the negative publicity you have brought to God’s name
  • Recognize that your salvation enhances God’s salvation
  • Let your repentance be a promissory note to repay God’s mercy and grace with your own public worship and witness.

“Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Everybody Hurts For Everybody

How do you respond when trouble hits? Do you get angry, fearful, resentful, anxious or depressed? Do you withdraw? Do you compartmentalize? Do you lean on others?

Everybody hurts sometime. REM said so. And our experience tells us so. We suffer and we've seen the people around us suffer.

Questions swim around in our mind when we wade through stormy waters:

  • Why is this happening to me?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • How is this going to end?


Rarely (or never) do we ask a more important question:

  • How might others benefit from my suffering?


Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Paul recognized that his desire to share the Gospel with as many people as possible would inevitably lead to suffering. (It did, he almost died on many occasions before he finally died) He also recognized that his suffering was beneficial for other people.

Somewhere along my own journey (I have no idea when), I read this passage and wrote the following notes in the margin of my Bible.

Everything we go through is in part for the good of others. Whether our situation is good or bad, it can be helpful for someone else. This is God's way of reconciling us not only to Him but also to one another. A question we should ask in every situation is, "For whom am I experiencing this?"... This could be a game-changer.