Forrest Gump-ing Your Way to a “Good” Sermon

This week officially begins preaching season for me. I am very much looking forward to the opportunities that have come up so far, particularly being able to get back to see my friends out at Brussels Community Bible Chapel this Sunday and at Poplar Hill Christian Church at the end of the week (both were kind enough to have me take the pulpit multiple times last summer). As I began to move from the pew (or high school auditorium seat in our case) to the lectern, one of the things that I was completely unprepared for before I started preaching was what it takes to put together a “good” sermon.

What does it take—How much time, study and prayer? Can a guy holding down a full-time job with a lovely wife and two young kids who require my attention (which I love to give), serving in his local church, maintaining a daily blog and writing a book even do it without losing his dang mind?!? (Jury’s still out on that last one, by the way.)

Perhaps the most helpful thing you can know based on my experience is there is no magic bullet to crafting a “good” sermon. Sometimes it feels like you’re Forrest Gump; you just happen to be in the right place, at the right time to be a part of something really cool that God is doing. That said, in an effort to remind myself as I prepare a message for this Sunday, I thought I’d share a little of what sermon prep looks like for a guy like me. I’ve broken it up by day of the week. I hope it’s helpful:

Monday. Pray. Search for passage from which to preach. Pray more.

Tuesday. Settle on text. Read repeatedly, work out “big idea” for message & sub-points. Pray.

Wednesday. Toss everything from Tuesday, possibly choose new text and start again. (This happens probably 2 out of every 3 messages I give). Pray a LOT.

Thursday. Work on the flow of the message—transitions, illustrations, etc. Check commentaries to ensure no heresy. Pray, pray and pray some more. Allow wife to read. Consider starting over again.

Friday. Wrap up any changes that wife suggests or that show up as I read over the manuscript. Keep praying.

Saturday. Fret and realize my complete inadequacy for the task. Pray more. Read notes again. Try to get to bed early (but most likely stay up too late).

Sunday. Pray. Eat breakfast. Pray while driving to the church. Pray with leadership at church. Preach. Nap.

That’s typically what my sermon prep “schedule” looks like. I’m pretty odd though in how I work. Often I find myself working out everything all at the same time—so I’m studying the text, writing the manuscript, and frequently praying “Lord, don’t let me say something completely stupid or inadvertently wicked.” I’m sure that’s not the best way to do it, but this is what life allows at this point. What my prep schedule has taught me is that “good” preaching relies on the Holy Spirit and on God’s Word far more than anything else, because at the end of the day, it’s only the Word and the Spirit that are going to transform hearts and renew minds.


Question for discussion: Preachers, what advice would you give to aspiring preachers?

Everyday Theology: You Need To Feed Yourself

Who is responsible for a Christian’s spiritual health—for his or her growth in the faith, in understanding the Scriptures, and progressive increase in personal holiness?

The answer might seem obvious. It’s you, right? If you’re a Christian, you need to take ownership of your growth in understanding the Scriptures and pursuit of holiness in Christ.

But is it your responsibility alone?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a pastor say something like this:

“It’s not my job to feed you—you need to feed yourself.”

And, if I had to be honest, nearly every time I’ve heard it, it’s made my skin crawl.

Why? Well, consider John 21:15-17 with me:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep…” (John 21:15-17 ESV)

In this passage, the restoration of Peter, Jesus asks him three times:

“Peter, do you love me? Do you love me more than these other men? Do you love me?

Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, so three times Jesus asks this question. And each time, Peter responds “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Now look at the response that this love brings. Three times, Jesus gives Peter this command:

Feed My lambs.

Tend My sheep.

Feed My sheep.

This command is so imperative that Jesus gave it three times in response to Peter’s profession of love—so what does He mean?

At the risk of being obvious, Jesus means exactly what He says: “Feed My sheep.” [Read more...]

Alistair Begg: From a Foreigner to King Jesus #TGC11

Alistair Begg spoke next on preaching Christ from the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1-4).

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

A few of my notes follow:


What makes Ruth sparkle so much is the background in which it’s set. The time of the Judges at the very least was a time of instability. But in that you see God at work through a wealthy man, foreign worker, and a thrice bereaved widow.

Who could ever imagine that Naomi’s predicament would lead first to the conversion of her daughter-in-law, the birth of David and ultimately the coming of Christ.

How can we effectively preach Christ from these chapters? Learning to do this is the journey of a lifetime. But our listeners should be able to follow the progress of our thought that leads them to Jesus, especially in the Old Testament narrative. We come to the text with certain assumptions, [among them]:

  1. God has provided both the record of redemption and the interpretation in Holy Scripture.
  2. The proper Christian use of the Old Testament is an urgent need.
  3. We will be helped if we read the Bible from back to front. It will be easier to find the tributaries if we start at the mouth of the river and move our way back from there.
  4. The message of Ruth cannot be understood without the coming of Jesus.
  5. The Old Testament Scriptures can and should mean more to us than they did to the people of the Old Testament for we live in light of their Christian fulfillment.
  6. The genre of the text should determine the way in which we illustrate the coming of Christ. The way in which the story is crafted is so wonderful in that it gives the sense that there is something more to this if we’ll just read further.

Three charcoal sketches:

  1. Three women on the road to somewhere. It starts out with three women on the road back to Judah. The backdrop is one of poor choices and judgment. And on this road, we see Ruth’s conversion. When Orpah turns and goes back to Moab and Ruth stays, what motivates it? She believed. God does not believe for us. We believe. And Ruth believed. She entered through the narrow gate.
  2. The title of a man. At this point, the author introduces a new character, Boaz. In chapter 2, Ruth has been learning the Law of God, and she knows that God provides for the poor. “Let me go into the fields,” she says, “behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” The word “favor” points us in the direction we need to go. And it so happened that she found herself in the field of Boaz who happens to be of the clan of Elimelech. And a short while later, we see Naomi up to her tricks. “Did you know that Boaz is our kinsmen redeemer…?” Boaz as the redeemer has the right to intervene in the circumstances of Naomi and Ruth. He has the right, the prerogative, to take on their needs and all their troubles, to take them on and bear them as if they were his very own. Paul points us to the mystery of Christ and the Church, where He takes on the troubles and needs of His bride, and makes them His own.
  3. Look at that little bundle. We might want to talk about the birth of David’s grandfather or that the hills where they stood and it would be where the shepherds would stand and hear angels sing at the coming of Christ; and we might focus on the images of grain and punch right through to Luke 15, where we see that fellow who says, “In my Father’s house there is bread to spare, and yet I go hungry. I shall arise and go to him.” These nudges are to point us to the provision of God. The author keeps pointing out that Ruth was a Moabitess, and that she was naturally excluded from the covenant. But God in His mercy, extended His blessing and brought her into covenant with Himself.

Orthodox Heads and Unorthodox Hearts

If God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin. He that hath not so much sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have so much more as to move him to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; because a passion may be more easily wrought, than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of the sorrow. Indeed, we may here justly begin our confessions; it is too common with us to expect that from our people, which we do little or nothing in ourselves. What pains do we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled!

…I must needs say, though I condemn myself in saying it, that he who readeth but this one exhortation of Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus, and compareth his life with it, must be stupid and hard-hearted, if he do not melt under a sense of his neglects, and be not laid in the dust before God and forced to bewail his great omissions, and to fly for refuge to the blood of Christ, and to his pardoning grace. I am confident, brethren, that none of you do in judgment approve of the libertine doctrine, that crieth down the necessity of confession, contrition, and humiliation, yea, and in order to the pardon of sin!

Is it not a pity, then, that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads? But I see we have but half learned our lesson, when we know it, and can say it. When the understanding hath learned it, there is more ado to teach our wills and affections, our eyes, our tongues, and hands. It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep, and have talked so long against hardness of heart, till our own has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Kindle Edition)

20 Things God Does When He Saves You

A helpful breakdown of 20 things that God does when He saves you, courtesy of Norm Millar, Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel London.

When God saves you, He…

  1. Regenerates you, moving you from spiritual death to life. (John 3:1-8)
  2. Redeems you, buying you out of slavery to sin. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
  3. Justifies you, declaring you innocent in His sight. (Romans 5:1-9)
  4. Sanctifies you, setting you apart as holy. (1 Cor 1:2,30)
  5. Forgives you of all your sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
  6. Cleanses you, removing from you the stain of sin. (Hebrews 9:14)
  7. Reconciles you to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
  8. Seals you with His Spirit as a guarantee of your future hope. (Ephesians 1:13)
  9. Indwells you, sending the Holy Spirit to live in you. (Romans 8:9)
  10. Adopts you, making you His child. (Romans 8:14-17)
  11. Baptizes you into Christ’s body, the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
  12. Illuminates your mind so you can understand the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
  13. Makes you a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  14. Reveals you as one of His elect. (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:29-30)
  15. Grants you eternal life. (John 11:25-27, 1 John 5:11-13)
  16. Names you an heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  17. Grants you an inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3-4)
  18. Declares you a saint. (Romans 1:7, Colossians 1:2)
  19. Grants you new citizenship, making your home heaven rather than this world. (Philippians 3:20)
  20. Makes you a slave of Christ, a slave with the greatest, most glorious Master that any could ask for. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)

Praise God for the assurance that comes from these great truths.

Complete message audio: : (Download to listen later.)

A Christmas Question: Are You Born Again, Little Children?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

If this child who now lies before the eyes of your faith, wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem’s manger, is born to you, my hearer, then you are born again! For this child is not born to you unless you are born to this child.

All who have an interest in Christ are, in the fullness of time, by grace converted, quickened, and renewed. All the redeemed are not yet converted, but they will be. Before the hour of death arrives their nature shall be changed, their sins shall be washed away, they shall pass from death unto life. If any man tells me that Christ is his Redeemer, although he has never experienced regeneration, that man utters what he does not know; his religion is vain, and his hope is a delusion. Only men who are born again can claim the babe in Bethlehem as being theirs…

Is it so with you, my hearer? For recollect, you may be very different in the outward, but if you are not changed in the inward, this child is not born to you.

But I put another question. Although the main matter of regeneration lies within, yet it manifests itself without. Say, then, has there been a change in you in the exterior? . . . For, mark, my dear hearer, there must be a change in the outward life, or else there is no change within. . . .  The proof of the Christian is in the living. To other men, the proof of our conversion is not what you feel, but what you do. To yourself your feelings may be good enough evidence, but to the minister and others who judge of you, the outward walk is the main guide.

At the same time, let me observe that a man’s outward life may be very much like that of a Christian, and yet there may be no religion in him at all . . . Take care that your outward life is not a mere stage-play, but that your antagonism to sin is real and intense; and that you strike right and left, as though you meant to slay the monster, and cast its limbs to the winds of heaven… [Read more...]

A Christmas Question: For Unto Us a Child is Born

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Christmas Question
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6

As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God’s Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father.

The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remains among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.

A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then were he not divine. Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, “for God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.”

He was not born in this world as God’s Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

This morning, however, the principal object of my discourse, and, indeed, the sole one, is to bring out the force of those two little words, “unto us.” For you will perceive that here the full force of the passage lies. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…”

Is It So?

Is it true that unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given? It is a fact that a child is born. Upon that I use no argument.

We receive it as a fact, more fully established than any other fact in history, that the Son of God became man, was born at Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. It is a fact, too, that a Son is given. About that we have no question. The infidel may dispute, but we, professing to be believers in Scripture, receive it as an undeniable truth, that God has given his only begotten Son to be the Savior of men. [Read more...]

Sermon Audio: Submission in a Rebellious World

On November 21, I had the privilege of once again preaching at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. The message, Submission in a Rebellious World, was preached from 1 Peter 2:13-25.

My original notes follow: [Read more...]

Beware the Self-Absorbed Preacher

A strong warning from John Piper:

Here’s the transcript:

We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.

Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen.

This is really important for me to keep in mind as I am developing sermons (and blog posts). The challenge with illustrations is that sometimes the easiest place to find them (in our own lives) is exactly the place that leads us to (sometimes inadvertently) spend too much time talking about ourselves.

Preaching Between Two Worlds: Alistair Begg on Ecclesiastes 12

Back in September, Alistair Begg joined us at the Toronto Pastors’ Fellowship and shared the message, Preaching Between Two Worlds, from Ecclesiastes 12:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Begg also engaged in an enlightening Q&A with Pastor Paul Martin.

Powerful messages for preachers and wannabe preachers in these videos.

Take some time to chew on them today as you go about your day.

Parachutes and Pineapples

Over the last few months, after every preaching engagement there’s been a mix of emotions. Pleasure that no one walked out. Relaxation because it’s all over for the day… and a strange sense of sadness.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why for that last one until this weekend. See the thing is in all of these engagements where I’ve had the opportunity to minister with the Word, I’m in for the day—and then I’m gone again (until the next time, which might be months down the road).

What I realized this week is that I feel kind of sad that I don’t get to see what happens after I leave.

I don’t get to see people wrestling with applying the message to their lives. To see people grow and change and become more like Christ as a result (hopefully).

I want to be able to see the fruit

I was sharing this with a good friend of mine on Tuesday afternoon and he said, “It doesn’t take long to start to care about a congregation, does it?”

It really doesn’t. And this really surprised me because I didn’t expect it, I suppose. I didn’t anticipate feeling so deeply for people I don’t really know. And it kind of scares me, too, because it might mean something significant.

And it’s making me realize something else:

Parachutes are fun, but it might be nice to have some pineapples.

Sermon Audio: Bold Intercession

On October 10, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. Sunday’s message was preached from Genesis 18:16-33:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more...]

Lessons from Listening to Other Preachers

As I’ve been continuing to accept new preaching opportunities, I’ve been following Don Carson’s advice to young preachers which is listen to other men.

Lots of them.

Thanks to podcasts and the internet, this is easier than it’s ever been.

I’ve got an interesting mix of guys I’m listening to right now. Driscoll, MacArthur, Chandler, my own pastor Norm Millar, Joshua Harris, Josh Howerton, and a few other preachers. And it’s been really interesting to discover the things I’m learning from listening to other preachers. Here are a few:

A man’s arrogance comes through in his tone and grates against the spirit of his hearers. I was listening to one man recently (who is not on the above list) who—I don’t know what it is, but his tone just grated on me. I felt like I was being berated just listening—and I wasn’t even in the room. It truly grieved me. He came across as a man puffed up without reason.

What I am learning from this man is that my words must be heartfelt and honest and my spirit must be broken by the Holy Spirit before I get in the pulpit.

When Scripture is used only to prove a point, it cripples the power of the truth we speak. Listening to the same man, I noticed that he rarely ever used Scripture outside of an allusion or just to back up something that he was saying. It wasn’t that much of what he was saying was bad—in fact, some was quite good and true—but it lacked power because it wasn’t rooted clearly in the Scriptures.

What I am learning is that my ideas and opinions—even if they are true and align with Scripture—do not carry the weight and power of Scripture. Therefore, I must rely on the words that God inspired, rather than my ideas that may have been shaped by them.

A man’s love for his congregation is most apparent when he is speaking hard truth. The last thing I noticed listening to this same man was an appeal to have a personal relationship with Christ… without an explanation of why we need to have a relationship with Christ. The gospel was not present; our hopeless state as sinners, the Father’s appointing of the Son to accomplish our redemption and sending the Holy Spirit to apply it… none of it was there.

What I am learning is that if I love the people to whom I am preaching, I need to speak this hard truth—that we are far worse than we ever feared, but God is far more amazing and gracious than we could ever imagine.

These are some of the lessons I’ve been learning from listening to other preachers.

What lessons are you learning?

Think Hard, Stay Humble: Francis Chan on the Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride

Audio: : (Download to listen later)

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Francis Chan’s message at Desiring God’s 2010 National Conference, Think Hard, Stay Humble, is incredibly challenging and more than a little convicting for me as one who is very much a “love the Lord with all your mind” kind of guy.

A few standout remarks from the notes:

Some of you in this room think really hard through the Scriptures. My challenge to you is, How hard do you think about people? About the lost? When was the last time you wept for the lost?

It’s so easy to seclude ourselves from the world of lost people. We step out of it for a season to think hard about the Scriptures and keep going on in school to learn more, and we eventually get to the point where we realize that we don’t love the lost like we should. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t pursue learning, but we ought to be able to do both, to love people and know the Bible better.

John MacArthur wrote years ago, “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Some of you could be brilliant and worthless. You could be like a great basketball player that never misses a shot but always shoots at the other team’s basket. He’s a great shooter, but he’s killing the team.

Why did God gift you the way that he did? It’s for us, not for you. We should constantly be thinking, How can I build up other people?

Now here’s the big question that Chan’s talk has left me with:

Does my knowledge of God my study of theology lead to an increased love for God and for His people?

Am I “puffed up” by my knowledge of God—or does it break me?

Watch the message and leave your thoughts in the comments.