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Archive for Preaching


Jars of Clay

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On Sunday I will begin a new sermon series titled, “Jars of Clay.” The goal of this series is to demonstrate how God uses our weakness as a platform to display his surpassing power. For example,

Moses said, “I am afraid.”
Deborah said, “I am unqualified.”
Gideon said, “I am uncertain.”
Samson said, “I am self reliant.”
Nehemiah said, “This is hard.”
David said, “I am inexperienced.”
Jonah said, “I don’t understand.”
Paul said, “I am weak.”

In the lives of familiar characters and stories, we’ll discover how God enables us to serve in the midst of the cracks and imperfections of our lives. I hope you’ll check in from week to week and find encouragement to let the treasure of Jesus shine through your jar of clay.

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The Impact of Sermons

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“The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.”–Jonathan Edwards

One of the challenges to preaching is placing an inordinate amount of pressure upon the content that is delivered. Preachers aspire to make truth memorable, if not quotable. After spending hours pouring over manuscripts in preparation and ultimately delivery of the sermon, preachers wonder why their words are forgotten by the time their congregations unfold their napkins for Sunday lunch.

I think this is because we have misguided impressions as to the impact of one sermon. In reality, it is the cumulative volume of a body of work that has the lasting impact on the lives of church members.

Categories : Preaching
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Since my doctoral studies were in the field of preaching, I have read scores of books on the subject. Books on preaching sermons and how to preach sermons fall into two general categories. There are technical works written by professors that get into the nuts and bolts of the how to craft and deliver sermons. Then there are the practical volumes, written by pastors, that discuss how to approach preaching week in and week out.

Timothy Keller has published an encouraging perspective on pastoral preaching that focuses on how to go about preaching in a day that is skeptical about the gospel. He doesn’t delve into how to preach sermons, per se, but rather focuses on how pastors can approach preaching with confidence in an age of question.

Softening the message of the text is clearly not an option for Keller. He encourages preachers to have bold confidence in the text yet creatively communicate the written word with clarity and simplicity. The timeless message need not change. However, times have changed, and the wise preacher will learn how to convey spiritual truth in ways that are both understandable and compelling. Understanding the message of the text is important. Equally important is the need to understand our current culture.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who routinely preaches and teaches in a constant setting.

Categories : Books, Preaching
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Greatest. Sermon. Ever

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SERMONN.jpg Pete Cornell

Who is a good person? How does someone learn to become a good person? These were the kind of questions Jesus addressed in The Sermon on the Mount. This weekend in worship I’m beginning a new series out of the Gospel of Matthew based on this epic text. Check out the artwork for the series provided by our very own Pete Cornell.

Categories : Preaching, Sermons
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Overcoming a Bad Sermon

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Every pastor has had one or more Sunday worship service they would like to forget. The crowd was down, the room was hot, the music was blah, you name it. But for me the worst is when I drive off the parking lot knowing that the sermon just wasn’t great. Not even good. The content was weak, or the delivery was flat, or both. What do you do following a bad sermon?

1. Be honest about your preparation.
In my experience, content issues are directly tied to the amount of time spent in preparation. It can be tough to have a consistent block of time to do the necessary preparation because ministry needs are inconsiderate. You can’t choose whether or not your week will be free from a funeral or a hospital visit or any number of congregational emergencies. But its not just the content that suffers from lack of preparation. If you’re not confident in your content, you’re not going to be confident in the delivery of the content.

2. Face the music.
I have found that it is helpful to go back and listen to the audio or watch the video of the sermon. Taking time to evaluate the sermon gives one the opportunity to make improvements for the next week. And who knows? It may not have been as bad as you thought!

3. Resist the temptation to seek affirmation.
Every pastor knows who he or she can turn to for a needed word of affirmation, especially after a rough pulpit outing. Seeking affirmation from the fan base doesn’t solve the issue, it provides a false sense of security. Besides, deep down every preacher knows the truth about the sermon at the end of the service.

4. Get back on the bicycle.
If the sermon were an annual event, it would be tough. But you have 6 short days to have an opportunity to “make up” for it. You can’t wallow in embarrassment or disappointment. You’re on the clock!

5. Most importantly, don’t forget the role of the Holy Spirit.
My friend Gary Taylor used to say that God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. Just because you don’t feel great about a sermon doesn’t mean that God didn’t use it in a transformative way. If preaching was all up to us, we’d be standing in front of empty rooms each week. But its not about us. God’s spirit is actively involved in the sermon, and his promise to us is that his word will not return void. We have to trust that his Kingdom purposes do not hang on our sermons.

Categories : Preaching
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New Sermon Series

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This Sunday I will begin a new five week sermon series titled, “Contentment.” Here are the titles:

“The Man Who Needed Nothing” (John 4:31-34)
“The Problem with Contentment” (Exodus 20:17)
“The Pathway to Contentment” (Philippians 4:10-14)
“The Profit of Contentment” (1 Timothy 6:3-10)
“The Profession of Contentment” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

If you’re in Des Moines, join us for worship. If you’re not in Des Moines or participate in another church, feel free to listen to my weekly podcasts at www.fbcdsm.org.

Categories : Preaching, Sermons
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Post Cards from the Edge

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This Sunday I begin a new sermon series on the 7 Churches of Revelation titled, “Post Cards from the Edge.” Each post card that John wrote and addressed contained a powerful word that was true for the church then and remains true for the church today. Here are the titles and texts for the series.

February 2 “Post Cards from the Edge” (Revelation 1:9-20)
February 9 “Love” (Revelation 2:1-7)
February 16 “Faithfulness” (Revelation 2:8-11)
February 23 “Truth” (Revelation 2:12-17)
March 2 “Holiness” (Revelation 2:18-29)
March 9 “Spirit” (Revelation 3:1-6)
March 16 “Opportunity” (Revelation 3:7-13)
March 23 “Passion” (Revelation 3:14-22)

If you do not live in central Iowa you can listen to the weekly podcasts at www.fbcdsm.org. Of course I’ll be posting about each sermon during the days following each message.

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Thom Rainer posted the results of an unscientific twitter survey he conducted on the amount of time pastors spend in sermon preparation. Rainer is Southern Baptist, so I would assume the vast majority of respondents are from his tribe. Nonetheless, the results are interesting, including his interpretation of the data. You can find the post BY CLICKING HERE. It would be interesting to see how other evangelical groups, including mainlines, would respond to the same question. Further, it would be interesting to see if the preacher’s style (topical, textual, expositional, et al) would influence the allocation.

For me, an average sermon takes 12-15 hours to prepare. That amount of time is most influenced by pastoral ministry events such as hospital visitation, weddings, and funerals.

Categories : Preaching
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Two weeks ago I began a new sermon series on marriage. Marriage is a difficult topic to address, simply because more private pain is held from marriage and parenting than any other aspect of our lives. We’re not comfortable talking about our family struggles, and that isolation leads us to errantly believe that we’re the only ones who struggle with our spouses and our kids. So when marriage is addressed, congregants tend to think the preacher is speaking directly to them. Nothing is farther from the truth.

With that in mind, here’s how I’ve approached this series. First, I opted to steer away from the rhetoric of Paul and Peter. While their instructions can be very helpful, they are served without the context of story. It’s like purchasing an item that requires assembly without diagrams and illustrations. Rather than lean on Paul and Peter, I chose to develop a series based on the stories of marriages in the Bible and called it Love Stories. I believed and still believe it would be helpful to study marriage our of the story of marriages.

Another benefit of this strategy is the value of authenticity that Scripture has when it communicates the narratives of biblical characters. God presents his characters “warts and all,” and that is true of the marriages that are depicted. None of them are perfect and each of them have their particular struggles.

The other decision I made about this series was that I would team teach it with my wife, Lisa, to provide a complete voice. As a man, I am influenced by my maleness which colors everything I say about marriage and family. This is one of the interpretive challenges that Paul and Peter have. We are led to believe Paul was single at the time of his writings, however, in order to have achieved the status of “Pharisee of Pharisees,” he would have had to have been married. We don’t know if Paul’s wife died or if their was an unfortunate divorce, but for what its worth, I believe he at one time had been married. We only know of Peter’s marital status because Jesus healed his mother in law from a fever (Matthew 8:14ff), but we know nothing else of his experience. The point is that Paul and Peter, even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, give one perspective. To create a “whole voice,” Lisa agreed to share the platform with me for four weeks to preach these four sermons. It has been positive and helpful, and our congregation has been grateful for the color and insight she adds.

We have shared in the preparation as well as the presentation and have done our best to create balance and authenticity. I believe its been effective without becoming gimmick.

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I stumbled upon this great post via Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog this afternoon and thought it was pretty good. While it is primarily focused on how educators can teach writing, I thought it had some great insight for pastors and teachers in the church. You can find the article HERE. Enjoy!

Categories : Preaching, Teaching
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