Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Preparing for Preaching

I was asked the other day by a friend who does not attend my church how I went about planning and preparing for sermons. Approaches probably vary from preacher to preacher, but in case you are one of my curious church members or you are looking for tips on how to prepare for your own preaching/ teaching responsibilities, here goes…

Firstly, I preach expository which means I take a specific passage of Scripture, explain it, apply it, and rejoice in it! My goal in preparing to preach is to make sure the main point of the text becomes the main point of the sermon and then to make sure I communicate that clearly and memorably. What the Lord does with it from there is His business. In choosing a sermon text it is helpful to remember that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) so you can’t pick a bad or useless text. I try to preach through one book at a time but I typically break it up with a short series (2-4 weeks) on a specific theme that I will cover from other passages (still expositionally). For example, currently I am preaching through Matthew’s Gospel but I’m planning a four-week series on Church Health in March that will cover three texts from Revelation and one text from 1 Corinthians. I’m also planning to preach three or four biography sermons over the next year. For this I’ll take a specific text or a couple key texts and explain them using the biography of a key historical Christian figure as an illustration and example of application.

I’ve dedicated a few days now at the end of 2008 to forecast the general direction of what I’ll be preaching over 2009 (especially the first 6 months). I also put together a “worship card” which I pass out to my congregation as a reading guide and outreach tool. This lists about ten to twelve Sundays with the sermon title, text, and memory verse for each week. Do I have all those sermons written? No. Besides some general and preliminary research I will do in advance, the bulk of my preparation comes the week before I preach the sermon. On Tuesday I really start digging into the text and taking notes. On Wednesday I will cull from commentaries and other sources and put together my outline. On Thursday I will polish it. Thursday and Friday are dedicated to preparing my Sunday evening sermon which is a bit less “preaching” and more “teaching”. The reason I don’t write these things out weeks ahead (I used to do that) is because I want to preach fresh and from the overflow of my own devotional life in the Scriptures. These aren’t merely rehearsed speeches. So there you go- my sermon prep in a nutshell.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What does the President read?

You may not be a President Bush fan or supporter but a recent article by Karl Rove about our President’s love for reading inspired and convicted me. Despite what the oh-so-knowledgeable Hollywood celebrities might tell us, our president is no dummy. You might not agree with his policies and you are probably not impressed with his public speaking skills but let’s be fair to his intelligence and learn something from him. I love to read but I need to read more and sharpen that skill. One of the greatest obstacles to reading is watching TV. Watching the television isn’t all bad but it must be done with moderation otherwise we can easily become poor stewards of the time and brain power the Lord has given us. So I have gathered a stack of books beside my bed (about ten or so) that I’m intent on reading by the summer. Ready to take up the challenge and expand your mind? You'll be enriching your own life and those who you influence.

Here is the article from the Wall Street Journal on President Bush’s reading discipline- prepare to be impressed.

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, December 22, 2008

What I learned from Charles Simeon.

Charles Simeon was born on September 24, 1759 and went to be with the Lord on November 13, 1836. During his life Simeon was the pastor of Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years and was also a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. Over the last few days I’ve read a short biography of his life by John Piper (in his book, The Roots of Endurance). I would strongly encourage you to study the life of Charles Simeon as a lesson of faithfulness and joy. Simeon’s joy was not robbed by the difficult circumstances that are inherent in this mortal life. His faithfulness was not shaken because His faith was in a majestic God. Here are a few things the Lord taught me through Simeon…

1. Simeon was a man of deep conviction and resolution. He committed to celibacy to make an uncontested commitment to the church of Christ. That is a unique calling and a rare form of endurance.

2. Simeon possessed a pervading joy. Here was a guy who was rejected by his congregation for the first twelve years or so of his ministry and he rarely had a negative or pessimistic thing to say. You can’t fake it that long. His joy was in Christ and that lifted his mind and heart above the humiliation.

3. Simeon was strong on doctrine in one hand and strong in love in the other hand. When doctrine or theological position divided him against another he was still loving and kind without wavering on truth. In this he also refused to be pigeon-holed with regards to a label so not to create unnecessary division.

4. Simeon was enduringly faithful to his Lord. Few today endure the kind of humiliation and rejection that Simeon faced among those inside and outside the church. Most would give up. We are a quitting, moping, and easily bruised generation. Simeon saw that his calling was not to be popular, beloved, or successful by any earthly standards. He was called to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and he strove for that end alone.

What a testimony Charles Simeon is for us and the transforming work of Christ! Only Christ could produce these qualities in a sinful human being. He certainly wasn't perfect- far from it. Furthermore, Simeon's story is not about his works. Simeon is a testimony of what could happen in our lives if we would daily and wholly submit ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't Waste Your Graduation

It was a real blessing to take part in the commencement ceremonies last Friday at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. If for no other reason it was a gift to my wife who endured the last couple years as I was finishing my degree. One of the most encouraging moments was when our seminary president, Paige Patterson addressed us during the rehearsal and challenged us with Proverbs 12:27.

“A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence.”

Dr. Patterson used the illustration of the proverb to challenge us to continue our pursuit of studying and applying God’s Word. I don’t want to get lazy or complacent. That would be a waste of all the work put in thus far. I also want to keep all the study in perspective. It is for application- for ministry. So I was convicted to lay out some goals for the coming year in how I can keep from wasting my graduation. Here are my initial goals for 2009 (the first few months anyway) to carry on my studies and the application of my studies:

1. Read biographies on John Wesley, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Jonathan Edwards
2. Teach a course on sharing the gospel
3. Share the gospel at least once a week in a one-on-one conversation.
4. Finish preaching through Matthew’s Gospel
5. Preach a mini-series on church health.
6. Preach a mini-series on worship.
7. Read through the Bible with my wife.
8. Read through the Book of Acts during January with my church.
9. Preach four biography sermons (John Calvin, Lottie Moon, Martin Luther, and either John Wesley or Charles Simeon).
10. Spend more time with other pastors for fellowship and prayer.

How about you? What are your goals for pursuing a deeper knowledge of the Word and for applying that knowledge? If you don’t aim for anything you won’t hit anything either.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Degree for my Wife

I love my wife and I want to take the opportunity to thank her in as many public ways that I can for enduring with me and supporting me through seminary. This Friday I’ll receive (Lord willing and to Him be the glory) my Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Many weeks I came home late on a Monday or Tuesday night because I was in class all day at the Houston campus and making the three-hour round trip. Many nights I was huddled around a computer working on a paper or buried in books doing my assigned reading. Blair, you were completely understanding and patient. Your words were always motivating to me and you kept my eyes focused on the prize. Thank you so much for being my help-mate and for being a godly wife. You deserve to have a degree conferred on you for all your endurance and labor alongside me. I love you babe! Now when do you want me to start on that doctorate??

New Booklet on Prayer

So often I hear people talk about prayer as though they are "wishing upon a star". There is no hope, no expectation, and no real trust in a God who is both good in nature and great in power. This presents a great burden in my heart because I want Christians to enjoy the gift of prayer and to unleash the power of prayer in their lives. A few weeks ago I preached a two-week series on the subject of prayer. I've been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew on Sunday mornings at my church and so I dealt with the issue of prayer when I came to Matthew 6. As a help and teaching tool I've compiled those notes and some other study into booklet form. Here is a link to a PDF version of that booklet.

Unleash the Power of Prayer by Jeremy A. Bradshaw

Monday, December 8, 2008

Preaching and Teaching Resource

If you are like me and have a weekly responsibility to teach or preach then you will really appreciate a helpful resource to improve preparation. I am always looking to improve my Bible study skills and to enhance my pulpit and teaching ministry. Whether you have a regular opportunity to teach or preach... or if you are hoping to have opportunities to do so, then here is a link chock full of articles, audio files, and video by some of the finest teachers, preachers, and theologians today.

"Unashamed Workman"- Sermon Preparation

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let the Men be Men

Last week I wrote about gender roles in the church. This was a recap from the series I have been teaching through on Sunday nights at Memorial Baptist Church (on hiatus until Jan 4). We need men to be the men God had called us to be. I’m so thankful for the godly women of my church and those who have had such a profound influence on my faith, but they should never be burdened with the spiritual headship that falls to the responsibility of Christian men (Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). Here is a video by pastor and author Voddie Baucham that nails the effects of secular feminism’s influence on the church.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Don't Waste Your Pulpit

Here is a very affirming video to me and I hope encouraging to you as well. Faithful preaching of His Word is what the Lord has called me to- simple as that. My frustrations in ministry often arise when I forget that and think that other ambitions and goals are more significant.

HT: http://mercyswimming.wordpress.com/

Don't Worry, Be Happy... in Christ!

Sunday morning I preached from Matthew 6:19-34. There are really multiple sermons to be found in this text and it seems at first glance that Jesus was addressing two distinct subjects. In verses 19-24 Jesus addresses the issue of loyalty by commanding His disciples not to store up treasures on earth but rather to store up treasures in heaven. He explains that the treasures on earth are passing away while the treasures in heaven last. Jesus also draws a line in the sand and tells His disciples they have to make a choice. We have to make a choice- God or mammon. Mammon was an Aramaic term with a derisive tone. It referred to material possessions when they have become god-like to the person possessing or seeking them. Will we treasure man-made gods which pass away or will we treasure God in Heaven?

Jesus shifts gears with the statement “for this reason”. So what follows in chapter six is an application of what preceded. Jesus commands His disciples not to worry or to be filled with anxiety. Worry, anxiety, and stress are in direct relationship to what we treasure. If we treasure things of this earth which are passing away we will be suffocated with anxiety. When the thing you treasure is threatened or taken away anxiety is born and that often gives birth to things such as bitterness, constant nervousness, and depression. If we treasure Christ more than anything else and cherish Him as our source of satisfaction and delight then how will anxiety have a place to be born? For Christ is eternal. He is not threatened. He is not passing away. In fact, when a Christian is ever-anxious it robs God of glory and calls His character into question. Our worry shows that we treasure things of this earth more than God which attributes more value and glory to the things of the earth. Our worry casts doubt on God’s goodness and His ability to provide for His children. We must be on guard of worry by treasuring Christ above all things. Jesus teaches (v. 33) to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This is not to say that Jesus is a celestial sugar-daddy who will grant us all our selfish desires if we are just obedient. Jesus is saying that if we set our hearts wholly on Him all our desires will be satisfied in Him and worry will have no home in us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Filling the Pulpit

One of the blessings of my life has been the godly men who the Lord has placed in my path for instruction, conviction, and encouragement. Keith Meyer is one of those men. Keith is an associate pastor in the area and has been a pastor at two or three congregations. He’s recovering from triple-bypass and will be preaching in my place while I’m out of town in a couple weeks (graduating from seminary). We visited today and I walked away with another Meyer-nugget. He said with regards to the pastorate and the local church, “My call is not to fill the pews but to fill the pulpit.” That’s a great statement. So often I can get frustrated by the lack of so-called success or visible response in my ministry. A lot of pastors and lay people do. Keith wisely reminded me that it is faithfulness that we are called to, not success. The Holy Spirit will do what He wills once the Word is unleashed. We are called to simply unleash that Word. I can no more get people in the pews than I get them into Heaven. That is in God’s hands. I can however drive people out of the pews if I fail to properly and obediently feed them the Word of God week in and week out. How blessed I was by that encouraging word today, and I’m eager for my church to be blessed in two weeks by my friend Keith Meyer as he again faithfully fills the pulpit.