Why did Jesus teach more about hell than heaven?

Since my parents purchased a Prius, I paid special attention to Toyota’s recalls in 2009-2010. A number of people experienced unintentional acceleration, causing numerous reports of people losing control of their vehicles, and even a two-car collision on Aug 28, 2009 that killed four people in San Diego, CA. Customers were angry about the the defective production, but most people reasonably understand mistakes happen even at the highest levels of industry.

The actual outrage from people was caused by the subsequent revelation that Toyota was aware of the defect, but didn’t warn anyone. What if on February 24, 2010, when testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda would have defended himself by saying:

We thought it was unloving to tell people about the danger they were facing. We didn’t want to upset them.

While this seems ridiculous, surprisingly people apply this thinking to telling people about hell—it’s unloving, hateful, judgmental. The truth is, it’s loving, and this is why Jesus taught so much about hell. If people are heading off a cliff, the worst thing you can do is look the other way. Jesus did the opposite. He warned people!

Recent posts discussed the Blessings and Woes in Luke 6:20-26. Seems many preachers fall into one of two categories:

  • Those who only want to talk about God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and all the things God wants to do for them. Many of these individuals could be considered “health and wealth” or “prosperity preachers.” They only want to teach on the blessings.
  • Others who only want to talk about God’s justice, holiness, wrath, anger, judgment, and punishment. We call these “fire and brimstone” preachers. They only want to teach on the woes.

But Jesus taught on both. He discussed the Narrow Gate that leads to life, and the Wide Gate that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus He explained the comfort of Abraham’s Bosom and the torment of hell. He was a balanced teacher!

Or at least it seems that way at first… Continue reading “Why did Jesus teach more about hell than heaven?”

Sermons speaking to the needs of the body

Sermons speaking to the needs of the bodyI don’t think it’s a secret that I love preaching and teaching verse-by-verse. I spent my first two years at WCC doing so through 1 and 2 Samuel, and I’ve done the same through a number of books in Sunday School and on Wednesday nights (where I’m currently in Hebrews and Revelation).

After regularly preaching for the 4.5 years I’ve been at WCC (as opposed to the occasional preaching I did as an associate pastor at my former church, Grace Baptist, in Lemoore, CA), I’m feeling much more comfortable preparing sermons. Looking back over the last few years there are some things I wish I would’ve done differently, but one thing I’m thankful for are some of the detours I took (i.e. the sermons on “Inside and Outside” when Scott Steenbarger was in the hospital, “Encouragement for Discouragement” when I was discouraged, “False Prophets” when we had to discuss Mormonism, the Marriage & Family Series, the current sermons on “Trials and Testing”), as opposed to continuing straight through Luke’s Gospel. Our Associate Pastor, Doug Connell, has been an encouragement to me, and Katie as well regularly saying, “You’re being led by the Lord. Preach what God wants you to preach.”

There’s a point as a pastor where you look at the prayer list, become familiar with the lives of the people in the congregation, think about the needs in the flock God’s called you to shepherd and as you’re studying you feel overwhelmed. You think, “How can a sermon meet each of these people where they’re at and minister to them individually?” It really forces you to pray, “Father, these are Your people. You know what’s going on in their lives. You know what they need to hear. You know how You want to speak to them through Your Word. Please do so. Please help me to know exactly what to say in the sermon.” You have to turn it over to the Lord and trust that if you do your best to be faithful in your studying and preparation, God’s Word will accomplish its purposes. He will “not allow it to return void” (Isa 55:11) and He will “speak edification, exhortation and comfort” to His Church (1 Cor 14:3).

All that to say I’m not sure what exactly the sermons will look like the next few weeks, months or years on Sunday mornings, but I know they will continue to be expositional and I will continue praying each week that God will use His Word “for the edification of the church” (1 Cor 4:12, 26), and so each member of the congregation can “be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (Eph 4:12; 2 Tim 3:17). I would covet your prayers for that to happen as well!

How I Develop a Sermon – Part VI: Going over my notes with my wife

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Parts I, II, III, IV and V discussed steps one through six…

  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.
  6. Sixth, I begin “shaving” down my notes.
  7. The seventh step is, I go over my sermon with my wife…

This actually takes place two or sometimes three times per week, about two-to-three hours each time. My parents usually come over to watch the kids, but sometimes Katie’s brother Boyd or sister Molly (who moved to the area) help; it really is a family affair! We normally do this Thursday morning, and then I make changes the rest of Thursday and Friday, before going over it again on Saturday. If a third time is required (because perhaps it was a little rougher than expected on Thursday), we’ll try at some point on Friday. Going over my sermon with Katie serves a number of beneficial purposes…

I mentioned in Part III that my “notes” are a manuscript of what I want to say. Because we don’t speak the way we write (usually our writing is more formal), when I go over my sermon with Katie it allows me to change my notes from the way I write to the way I want to speak from the pulpit. I’ll add visual cues and arrange the information in such a way that it’s easier to preach: bullets, capitals, ellipses, spaces between lines or thoughts, etc.

One of the difficulties associated with preaching is it involves presenting information I’ve studied, become familiar with, etc. and as I explain it I’ll believe I’m doing so in a clear, understandable way…but maybe I’m not! One of the blessings of going over my sermon with Katie is she’s able to say, “Ummm…that doesn’t make sense.” Maybe I’ll say, “Okay, this is what I was trying to say” and she’ll say, “Well that’s not what it sounded like you said. What you just said is what you should say instead.”

Also, Katie might have verses or thoughts that she’ll share with me. The funny thing is when we start my sermon I’ll say, “I’m X hundred words over a reasonable length” and Katie will say, “Oh, I’ll help you with that” implying she’ll ruthlessly tell me parts of my notes that can be taken out – which she does – but she usually offsets that by the verses, stories, ideas, etc. she thinks I should add.

How I Develop a Sermon – Part V: Steps 5 & 6

????Parts I, II, III and IV discussed steps one through five…

  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, which I began discussing last week…

One of my weaknesses when I started preaching was my sermons were largely teaching with a lot of technical information, but little application. Katie has really helped me in this area as a result of our different preferences. I could listen to a sermon with little-to-no application and if the verses are clearly explained I’ll enjoy it, but Katie will be bored: “How is that going to help me be a better mother or wife?” And if a sermon is filled with application, but contains little exposition, she’ll be thrilled and I’ll be disappointed: “He read over those verses and hardly explained them?!?!”

This led to some interesting conversations between us when we first started going over my sermons together. At times I would consider the application from verses to be obvious to the congregation asking Katie, “Don’t you think everyone will take away that application from the explanation?” Katie would say, “No, you need to make it clear. Spell it out for us.” Over time I put more application in my sermons, trying to provide a balance with exposition/teaching. I want to make sure people have a thorough understanding of the verses, while also receiving application for their lives.

Sixth, I begin “shaving” down my notes. I’m almost always hundreds of words over a reasonable length for my sermons. This requires cutting out parts of my sermon: a painful, but beneficial process because it forces me to make every word count. There are times at the very end of my sermon when I’m looking back-and-forth between paragraphs struggling with what to remove or keep.

Here’s a quote by Mark Twain that really sums up what it feels like: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one.” He meant – and it’s what everyone has experienced when they’ve had  to be careful with their words – it takes more time and focus when we’re limited by space; when we have to be concise.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Missing a Sermon

Missing a Sermon

We’re beginning our Marriage & Family Series and I’ve asked the congregation a favor: “If you miss a Sunday please be sure to listen to the sermon on our website.” I’m making this request because sermons build on each other. While we’ve been in Luke it’s been important to know what took place earlier to better understand what will take place later, but during this series it’s going to be even more significant for understanding and spiritual growth to be familiar with the material previously preached. For example, yesterday’s sermon discussing the Greek words for love (eros, storge, phileō, and agapaō) will prepare us for this Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 5:25 which says, Husbands, love (agapaō) your wives, just as Christ also loved (agapaō) the church and gave Himself for her.”

I’ve said before that I pray throughout the week about what God wants me to preach, down to the individual words; my prayer could be summarized as, “Lord, what do You want to say to Your people through me?” In a recent post, Pastors are Prophets???, I discussed prophecy being part of the preaching of God’s Word. This is according to 1 Corinthians 14:3 which says, He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” The Amplified words it this way: “The one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose IN INSPIRED PREACHING AND TEACHING] speaks to men for their upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement and consolation. Unfortunately, we tend to think of prophecy as predicting (foretelling) the future, but it’s much better to think of prophecy as proclaiming (forth telling) the Word of God.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “[Jesus] gave pastors and teachers [to the church], for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The Greek construction of the words pastors and teachers indicates the terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry in teaching. 2 Timothy 3:17 says, “Scripture equips the man of God for every good work.” If pastors have the responsibility to equip the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with, it only makes sense pastors would shepherd or feed God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. My desire is for God to use me to equip WCC for ministry, which for the Marriage & Family Series will be the ministries of family and marriage. I pray God uses these sermons to equip the members of WCC for every good work in their homes.

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?”