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Marriage problems are really only symptoms

marriage problems are only symptoms

Our marriage “problems” are only symptoms of the actual problem in our relationships with Christ. In my own marriage, for instance, the “problem” looked like I did not have enough time for my wife and children, but that was only a symptom. The problem was that I would not obey the Holy Spirit’s conviction to put my family ahead of the church, make my wife a priority, spend more time with my children, etc. Plus, I was being consumed with anxiety, versus trusting Christ like I should have. In other words, the marriage problems I was experiencing were directly connected to my relationship with Christ.

A couple’s marriage problems can only be fixed by focusing on their relationships with the Lord

This is why any biblical marriage counseling must address the husband and wife’s relationship with Christ. Couples I counsel are often confused when they share marriage problems they are experiencing and I respond by asking:

  • “What does your time in God’s Word look like?”
  • “How is your prayer life?”
  • “Tell me about your involvement in the church?”

A wife will say, “I just told you my husband yells at me. Why are you talking about his time in the Word?” Because the hope is that as a husband reads God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving leader. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there would be no need for counseling). A husband can only become a new man through a relationship with Christ. Continue reading Marriage problems are really only symptoms

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Blessings of the Old Testament

blessings in the old testament

In yesterday’s Easter sermon, Genesis 22:1-4 A Father’s Love, I discussed the primary purpose of the Old Testament: leading us to Christ. Paul said, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal 3:24). After we’ve come to Christ, the New Testament contains a number of verses discussing the new relationship believers have to the Law. We are “free from the Law” (Rom 7:3), “dead to the Law” (Rom 7:4 & Gal 2:19), “delivered from the Law” (Rom 7:6) and “no longer under the Law” (Gal 3:25 & 5:18). In Romans 10:4 Paul said, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” and in Galatians 3:19 he said the Law was only “until the Seed (Jesus) should come.

You could read all these verses and wonder what this means for us as believers: “What should we think of the Old Testament? What should be our relationship to it as New Testament believers? Is the Old Testament as beneficial as the New Testament?”

Considering how much I’ve taught from the Old Testament, I’d like to hope it’s obvious to my congregation how much I love it, value it, and recognize its equality with the New Testament. The fact is, Scripture nowhere presents any books or verses – say nothing about Testaments – as being superior to another. The blessings God’s Word afford are afforded from anywhere in Scripture. Every verse accomplishes the following blessings…

  • Equips: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16, 17).
  • Cleanses: Christ…cleanses [the church] with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:26, 27).
  • Convicts: For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12).
  • Sanctifies: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).
  • Imparts faith: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17).

And the Old Testament also seems to have a special ministry to us in terms of containing “examples” that were “written for our admonition, learning, patience, comfort [and] hope” (1 Cor 10:6, 11; Rom 15:4).

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How I Develop a Sermon – Part IV: Adding Lessons

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Parts I, II and III discussed steps one through four…

  1. First, I read over the passage a number of times.
  2. Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.
  3. Third, I begin looking at commentaries.
  4. Fourth, I determine the number of verses to cover.
  5. Fifth, I add lessons

This step takes place throughout the week as opposed to one point in the process. There might be times during Step I when I’m reading over the passage and something strikes me as significant and worth emphasizing, so I’ll make a lesson for it. Then I put the lessons on an insert for the congregation to fill out while I’m preaching. I decided to try this for one of my earliest sermons at WCC and I’ve been doing it since. Here’s the interesting – and somewhat ironic – background…

My previous church, Grace Baptist in Lemoore, CA, is where I began paid ministry (first part-time, and when the church grew they hired me full-time). The senior pastor, Joe Gruchacz, who was also my mentor, used inserts with lessons, but I thought it was unnecessary – and honestly – somewhat silly. Why? Because I spent my Christian life at Calvary Chapel where I hadn’t seen that done, and I was convinced what CC did I should do, and what CC didn’t do, I shouldn’t do. My suspicion is Pastor Joe probably got tired of hearing me say, “That’s not what Calvary Chapel does!”

I also thought the best approach to preaching looked like reading a verse, explaining it, reading a verse, explaining it, etc. with very little organization or structure to the message. Early on Pastor Joe shared a quote with me from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“A sermon is not a running commentary on a passage. I emphasize this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard is expository preaching, but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching. They think it means making a series of comments, or running commentary, on a passage. They take a passage verse-by-verse and they make their comments on the first, then they go onto the next, and when they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon. But they have not; all they have done is make a series of comments on the passage. I would suggest far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon.”

Occasionally I preached for Pastor Joe and these words were meant as a criticism of what I was doing. I have to say this quote was perfectly fitting, it has really affected my preaching, and I’m very thankful Pastor Joe cared enough about me (and those I’d be preaching to over the years) to share it with me. Even though I still generally preach verse-by-verse and probably always will, this motivated me to ensure the material in my sermons was arranged in such a way that it wasn’t simply a “running commentary.” Part of that has been the addition of lessons that I try to relate to an overall theme.

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How I Develop a Sermon – Part III: Step 4 (cont'd)

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Part I discussed steps one through three…

  1. First, I read over the passage a number of times.
  2. Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.
  3. Third, I begin looking at commentaries.
  4. Fourth, I determine the number of verses to cover.

The two factors I take into consideration are the context of the verses (discussed in Part II) and the number of words in my notes. While some pastors’ notes contains statements or phrases reminding them what to say, my “notes” are a manuscript of the message itself and are much lengthier as a result.

Each week I write a letter to the congregation on the back of the bulletin and then I turn those letters into posts on my blog. Something interesting is I started this letter/post in July 2012, but never got around to finishing/using it until now. I have about thirty potential bulletin letters in a folder on my computer to use when I don’t have another topic to discuss. Usually I write about something happening in the church or the world, or I use something I took out of the sermon because it didn’t relate or didn’t fit. If I don’t have something along these lines to use I’ll pull out a bulletin letter I started earlier.

When I started this letter/post about developing a sermon 2.5 years ago I had written, “I try to keep the manuscript for my sermon to 4,500 words, which ends up being about forty-five minutes.” I have a spreadsheet keeping track of the information related to each of my messages (the date, title, verses covered, number of words in my notes, length of the message if it was recorded, setting [i.e. Sunday School, morning service, Wednesday night, devotional for an event]), and here’s what’s interesting: the manuscripts for my last twelve sermons have averaged 6,178 words. That’s a pretty substantial increase over the 4,500 words from a few years ago (and an even bigger increase from the 3,800 words I averaged in my first sermons at WCC a little over four years ago). BUT the actual length of my sermons hasn’t increased much.

I’m pleased with this because it means I’m being more disciplined when preaching, sticking to my notes, avoiding rabbit trails, etc. If I can get more material in my notes without changing the length of my sermons it means I’m covering more material in the same amount of time. While it’s great to be “led by the Spirit” – and there’s definitely the occasional addition to a sermon that wasn’t in my notes – I think it’s much better to have invested the time studying and use the material that’s been meticulously prepared, prayed over, thought about during the week, etc. than information preached off the cuff.

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How I Develop a Sermon – Part II: Step 4

How I Develop a Sermon - Part II

Part I discussed steps one through three…

  1. First, I read over the passage a number of times.
  2. Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.
  3. Third, I begin looking at commentaries.

Fourth, I determine the number of verses to cover, taking two factors into consideration…

First, the context of the verses: I want to keep appropriate verses together, conclude with verses that tie up a section well, hopefully not introduce another topic that can’t be exposited (explained) thoroughly, etc. Basically, I want to leave people with closure on a certain passage or topic and be prepared to introduce a new point or topic in the next sermon.

One of the real challenges is a chapter, a section within a chapter, or a few verses might have their own theme or point. Deciding what to elaborate on can be challenging. For example in the last sermon on the old and young prophet in 1 Kings 13, the young prophet committed the “sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16-17). Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) and some partaking in the Lord’s Supper in “an unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11:27-30) did the same. I had quite a bit of notes on all this, but I took them out for two reasons: they didn’t relate to the theme of the sermon and I didn’t have room for them.

The second factor in determining how many verses to cover is the number of words in my notes. As I add to my notes the number of verses I’m able to cover decreases. Since I add to my notes throughout the week, the number of verses I’m able to cover also decreases throughout the week; therefore, this step doesn’t take place on a certain day or at a certain point in the process; it’s really an ongoing “step” as I develop the sermon.

As those people who have attended WCC for any amount of time know, the number of verses I expect to cover usually ends up being much less than I actually end up covering. As a result, the passage I copy to Word in Step 2 usually lasts a number of weeks. For example, when I recently preached through Ephesians 5, I copied verses 25 to 33 to Word, but those verses were split up over six sermons, therefore lasting six weeks. When I copied 1 Peter 3:1-6 to Word (the verses discussing wives), the passage became three sermons lasting three weeks.

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How I Develop a Sermon – Part I: Steps 1, 2 & 3

How I Develop a Sermon - Part I

Since developing a sermon takes up so much of my week, I’ve often wondered what other pastors do and how much time it takes them. This led me to some articles discussing the preparation of well-known pastors (here’s one): John MacArthur and Mark Dever said they require 30 to 35 hours of preparation per week, while at the other end of the spectrum Mark Driscoll said he only needs 1 to 2 hours. It’s worth adding no other preachers even come close to approaching the minimal amount of time Driscoll said he requires. Most other prominent pastors – Matt Chandler, John Piper and Tim Keller – said they require around 14 to 16 hours per week.

This looks to one of the interesting realities associated with preaching: pastors prepare in vastly different ways. While I’m sure there are some similarities between great preachers (their familiarity with Scripture, diligence in studying, time committed to prayer, etc.), their actual sermon development looks very different.

Even though I’ve only been preaching consistently for the 4 years I’ve been at WCC (when I was at Grace Baptist I preached occasionally, approximately once every 6 to 8 weeks), the way I prepare has changed slightly and perhaps it will change even more in the future, but for the most part it has remained the same. I thought I might provide some posts discussing how I prepare a sermon. First I’d like to be clear though that I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong way to develop a sermon and I don’t think what I do is better than what others do. With that said…

First, I read over the passage a number of times.

I want to make sure I’m very familiar with the passage. Since it usually takes months to preach through a chapter (for example I preached on Luke 4 from 7/7/13 to 11/24/13 and Luke 5 from 12/1/14 to 6/29/14), most passages have been read numerous times.

Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.

Whether it’s for a sermon, Sunday School message, devotional or any other teaching, my notes always keep the same format: I put the verses in bold, my notes in normal font, and quotes in italics. This provides visual clues for me as I’m teaching. At the bottom of this post I copied some of the notes from my most recent sermon as an example.

Third, I begin looking at commentaries.

This is where I add the most to my notes, not just because of what I learn from commentaries, but because what I learn from commentaries leads me to think of other things to share/teach as well. As far as the length of time looking at commentaries, it usually takes one full day and sometimes runs into a second day. At this point my notes still look fairly unorganized and will later require a significant amount of organizing and editing.


Here’s a sample of my notes from my most recent sermon (1 Kings 13:19-32 False Prophets – Part II) simply copied and pasted below…

Now when the man of God – or the young prophet – was returning home from confronting King Jeroboam, another prophet, an older prophet, who was lonely and wanted to spend time w/ him invited him to eat w/ him. Please look at verse 15…

15 Then he (this is the older prophet) said to him (the young prophet), “Come home with me and eat bread.”

This is the second time the young prophet received an invitation to disobey the command God gave him. If you remember last week’s sermon, one of the lessons was about how we need to expect to be tempted to disobey the commands God gives us in His Word, and that’s exactly what happened w/ the young prophet. He keeps being tempted. But, look at verse 16…

16 And he (the young prophet) said, “I cannot return with you nor go in with you; neither can I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place (now notice this…). 17 For I have been told by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came.’”

This is a great response!

If you read the bulletin letter, one of the points I wanted to make is when we’re tempted to disobey, the temptation will come back stronger, and that’s what’s about to happen to the young prophet…

18 He said to him (the older prophet said to the young prophet…), “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (He was lying to him.)

One of the main points of last Sunday’s sermon is prophets lie, and there’s an example of it right here in Scripture.

Now almost everything we’ve studied up to this point leads us to verse 19 in the hope we won’t make the same mistake the young prophet is about to make…

19 So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.

He did exactly what God told him not to do. This is very sad, and it shows how terrible and deceptive false prophecies really are:

The young prophet had been strong enough to withstand Jeroboam’s invitation to eat and drink…

He was able to withstand the old prophet’s first invitation, which I’m sure would’ve been very attractive considering how tired and hungry he was…

But he wasn’t able to withstand the old prophet’s second invitation b/c of how strong the deception was, and in giving in he clearly disobeyed the command God gave him

It didn’t take long for the young prophet to find out the mistake he made and the punishment he’s going to suffer as a result. Look at verse 20…

That’s it! If by chance you’d like to see all the notes to this or any other sermon, please let me know!

Here’s Part II.

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Pastors are Prophets???

Pastors are prophets

If someone asked me what verse I believe most accurately describes what it feels like when I’m studying the Bible (as opposed to simply reading it) I would say 1 Peter 1:10, which says regarding the Scriptures “the prophets have inquired (or investigated) and searched carefully (or intently or diligently) to understand the truth in them. The prophets are pictured as straining to see the truth contained in God’s Word; they’re striving to understand what God has written so they can proclaim it to the people. I’ve always thought of the prophets almost like individuals standing in a dark room with very little light trying to clearly see what’s on the other side.

I don’t consider myself a prophet (as it’s listed as a separate office in Ephesians 4:11); however, prophecy is still part of the preaching of God’s Word according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, which lists three things prophecy does: He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. The Amplified adds, The one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired PREACHING AND TEACHING] speaks edification…” Unfortunately, we tend to think of prophecy as only predicting (foretelling) the future, but it’s much better to think of prophecy as proclaiming (forth telling) the Word of God.

This looks to one of the biggest changes to my preaching since coming to WCC almost four years ago: instead of focusing on simply explaining what verses mean (basically providing a running commentary), it wouldn’t be too much to say my greatest desire now is for people to feel like God is speaking to them through His Word during my sermons. Simply put, it’s my desire prophecy would be taking place. My prayer throughout the week is for people to hear from God through the Scriptures. Of all the feedback I could receive regarding sermons, nothing is more encouraging than, “I felt like God was speaking to me while you were preaching.”

My home fellowship and Sunday School messages will continue to be mostly verse-by-verse exposition, hoping to stir up discussion over what we’re covering, but for sermons my prayer throughout the week is always the same and it could be summarized as: “Father what do You want to say to Your people?”

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Traditions are terrible…right?

Marriage God's Way - traditions
This was taken at Burney Falls, CA, near McArthur, CA, where Katie and I grew up. It’s a tradition to take a trip back to our hometown most years.

The religious leaders added rules or “fences” to God’s Law. In Mark 7:1-13 they’re called “the traditions of the elders” five times by Jesus. They receive such a scathing critique it’s tempting to think, “Traditions are terrible!” But Paul said, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and he told the Corinthians,I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you(1 Corinthians 11:2).

That’s a pretty big deal to be praised by Paul, and they were being praised for the traditions they were following! In the sermon I talked more about what made the “traditions of the elders” bad, as well as what makes other traditions bad, but clearly all traditions aren’t bad!

Most of us had traditions in our families growing up. If you’re a parent maybe you still follow some of those traditions having passed them down to your children, and you’ve probably also started some traditions of your own. Cities have traditions: Woodland recently celebrated Planters’ Day. Countries have traditions. Schools have traditions. Businesses have traditions. Organizations have traditions. And of course churches have traditions…

Last week we returned from Family Camp. Before that we had the 4th of July party at the Donalds’. The first Sunday of every month we share a meal together in the fellowship hall. Baby dedications are a tradition (they’re drawn from Samuel and Jesus’ dedications, but they’re not commanded). The only commanded traditions are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Some traditions aren’t commanded, but they help us obey other commands. For example, fellowship is commanded (Heb 10:25), and home groups will hopefully become a tradition that allows WCC to obey God’s command regarding being in fellowship with each other. We’re commanded to know God’s Word (Matt 4:4; Col 3:16) and Sunday School is a tradition that helps us accomplish that in our lives.

What makes traditions bad? First, and most importantly when they’re given too much weight; when they’re treated like commands instead of traditions. Second, when they’re followed simply for tradition’s sake: it might not be what’s best, but it’s what’s been…a tradition.

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Just Enough Light

We had a wonderful week at Family Camp. Each year Dave Zumstein plans a hike that involves passing through a cave and it always makes me think of Psalm 119:105 [God’s] Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. When you’re in a cave you see what a perfect metaphor this is: your light really is a light to your feet. You can only see a few steps ahead. Fittingly this is how God seems to direct us only revealing the next step when we’ve taken the previous step. Consider the way God directed Philip in Acts 8 first telling him to go to Gaza (v.26) and then telling him to approach the Ethiopian’s chariot (v.29).

If you shine your light too far ahead you start stumbling, and that’s exactly what happened with the Israelites in the wilderness. They sent spies into the land, saw all the enemies they would end up facing and said, Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Num 14:3). The sad part is it was never God’s plan for them to see so far ahead: Deuteronomy 7:22 The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once. It wasn’t good for the Israelites to shine their flashlights so far in front of them.

Thinking about the future is an interesting balance in Scripture. The ant is applauded for its planning (Pro 6:6-8, 30:25), and Jesus said if we want to build we should first figure out if we’ll be able to finish and if we’re going to battle we should first determine if we have enough troops (Luke 14:28-32). Then there are other verses making it clear that even if we plan we should never speak too confidently about what the future holds: Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34) and James 4:13-16 condemns people who says they know what will happen the next day: Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. It seems God’s desire is for us to constantly trust Him for guidance.

Maybe most obviously and importantly, without lights we would’ve been completely lost and unable to find our way. We would’ve been scrambling around in the dark with no idea where we were going, a fitting picture of how we look without the light of God’s Word. Fortunately though “we have the prophetic word [which] shines as a light in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:19).

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Physical consequences of obedience or disobedience

Tuesday night I was at the young men’s study and Brendan covered Proverbs 3:8 which discusses obedience bringing “health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” I thought this was interesting because we don’t normally think of the physical benefits of obedience; usually we just think of obeying God affecting us spiritually, and perhaps mentally or emotionally. If we do think of the physical consequences of sin our minds immediately go to struggles with drugs or alcohol, but sin in general takes a physical toll on us. Listen to these words from David following his sin: “My bones wasted and I groaned all day long…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psa 32:3-4), “My strength fails because of my iniquity, and my body wastes away” (Psa 31:10), and, “There is no health in my bones because of my sin” (Psa 38:3).

This past week I was watching a health lecture on YouTube. The doctor was talking about ways to avoid disease, keep a strong immune system, stay young, etc. He went through the normal recommendations regarding nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc. Then he started talking about avoiding things like bitterness, anger, and even unforgiveness. He described what happens in our bodies when we get angry: capillaries restrict, the heart has to work much harder, hormone levels are negatively affected, we become less reasonable, and our bodies become slower to heal, and experience poorer pulmonary function. One study showed individuals with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack.

It was pretty hard to believe, but some scientists claimed chronic anger may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity as factors contributing to early death. The bible also tells us not to worry, and there’s plenty of evidence to show the physical harm in worrying. God’s Word is filled with tremendous spiritual, mental, emotional and physical ways to be blessed. Instead of milk it should say, “Obeying God does a body good.”