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?”

The 7 Steps I Follow to Develop a Sermon

As I develop a sermon, it takes up 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. 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 develop a sermon by reading 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, most passages have been read numerous times.

Second, I develop a sermon by copying 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. If you’d like to see the notes for any of my sermons as examples, you can click on any of my messages and the notes are attached.

Third, I develop a sermon by 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.

Fourth, I develop a sermon by determining the number of verses to cover

I take two factors into consideration:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

My notes are a manuscript

While some pastors’ notes contains statements or phrases reminding them what to say, I write out everything I want to say.  Manuscripts typically average about 4,500 words, which results in 50-55 minutes sermons.

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

Fifth, I develop a sermon by adding 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 in Calvary Chapels 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!”

Try to avoid “a running commentary”

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.

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 develop a sermon by “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.

Seventh, I develop a sermon by going over my notes with my wife

This takes place two 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.

Since 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.

Discussion Questions

  • If you prepare messages, whether in the church or secular world, what approach do you take?
  • Do you have some advice for preparing sermons or other types of messages?

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?”

Pastors (shepherds) and how they equip (feed) their flocks…

Last Sunday evening we discussed church government with a focus on the interchangeable nature of the terms elder, bishop (also translated as overseer) and pastor, learning that all three refer to the same office, with each providing a different emphasis: elder emphasizes who the man is, his office or title; bishop/overseer emphasizes what he does in overseeing the affairs of the church, and pastor (literally: shepherd) refers to an elder who’s uniquely given a heart to tend to, care for, and feed God’s flock. Here’s the message if you’re interested.

The Greek word for pastor is poimen, occurring eighteen times in the New Testament: seventeen times it’s translated as shepherd, and only one time translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors (NOTE: despite the attention pastors receive, this is the only place they’re mentioned in the New Testament) and teachers, 12 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 two terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry of shepherding and teaching. John MacArthur said, “The phrase is best understood in context as a single office of leadership with the word translated ‘and’ meaning ‘in particular.’ Since pastor means shepherd, the terms go together defining the shepherding teacher.  It’s related to 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” The word especially shows not all elders labor in teaching, but some will have that ministry separate from the other elders and that’s the pastor-teacher.

What I kept thinking about this week is the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17: pastor-teachers equip the saints for the work of the ministry and 2 Timothy 3:17 says Scripture equips the man of God for every good work. If pastors have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work God wants done, then it only makes sense that pastors would shepherd or feed God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. This explains why the one time pastors are mentioned in Scripture, they’re tied to or united with the word teaching: that is how pastors or shepherds, best tend to and care for God’s flock: feeding them God’s Word.

Too Much Great Stuff in God's Word

Well, we’re concluding our brief series on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and we’ll be back in Luke next Sunday. The funny thing is when I taught Daniel’s Seventy Weeks before I did so in one sitting. I didn’t have an entire message on the Messiah being “cut off” in verse 24 (aka the Gospel on Easter Sunday), or an entire message on the ‘gap’ or Church Age or Times of the Gentiles between the 69th and 70th Week (two Sundays ago), or an entire message showing the tendency of the Jews to reject their deliverers and embrace false messiahs (last Sunday laying the foundation for this morning’s message showing the Jews embracing the Antichrist). In the past I just said, “Jesus was cut off for our sins…there’s a gap between the 69th and 70th week…and the Jews have a history of rebelliousness.”

Believe it or not even with all these extra messages there’s still so much more I’m frustrated about not covering! 2 Thessalonians 2 covers the Rapture, Antichrist and Abomination of Desolation. Revelation 12 and 13 cover the Abomination of Desolation as well as the Antichrist turning on the Jews halfway through the 7 years so they flee from him and are protected by God. The end of Romans 11 covers the Jews finally embracing Christ and I never really did those verses justice. Zechariah 12 covers the Great Tribulation, Battle of Armageddon and Second Coming (we covered Zechariah 11 on Wednesday night about the Jews rejecting the Good Shepherd [Jesus in verses 4-12] and embracing the Foolish Shepherd [Antichrist in verses 15-17] and that made me feel a little better).

All this reminds me of two things: first, the Bible is full of great stuff. One of the biggest problems you discover as a pastor is there aren’t enough Sundays (or Wednesdays) to cover everything. Second, when you see the way everything is so interrelated – even though the Bible is 66 books written by over 40 different authors over 1,500 years – you see it’s really one book written by one Author. That’s the only way to explain men like Daniel, Zechariah, Paul and John living centuries apart, but writing complimentary Scripture.

Get a study Bible. Read some each day. Read as a family. Don’t miss all this great stuff.

This past Sunday’s sermon, Daniel 9:24 & 27 Daniel’s Seventy Weeks – Part V: The Time of Jacob’s Trouble, can be found here.

Overwhelmed With God's Word

I spend twenty or thirty hours per week on my sermon for Sunday. I spend a lot of Wednesday studying for our midweek Bible study in the evening. If I’m covering Sunday School I’ll spend more time studying for that and if I have time during the week I might also study for our Sunday evening service. If I don’t have time during the week, I’ll study for Sunday evening after the morning service. My message for the evening service is usually much simpler and doesn’t require near the amount of work Sunday morning requires.

My point in sharing all that is I spend a lot of time studying God’s Word and as a pastor it should be that way. It’s not something to be patted on the back for doing; it’s what I get paid to do and it’s what God expects me to do; hopefully it’s also what my congregation expects from me. In my studying there are times, and I wouldn’t say they happen every day or even every week, but they happen often enough, where I almost feel overwhelmed at the things God’s teaching me from His Word. I’ll be studying and I’ll just have to stop and lean back in my chair to soak in and meditate on what I’m learning.

I’m convinced that the only people who aren’t excited about God’s Word, are people who aren’t investing it, because if you’re studying it, prayerfully, diligently, perhaps with commentaries and/or sermons, there’s no way for it not to take hold of your heart.

I know most people don’t have the luxury I do to study God’s Word as a profession. I am very, very blessed. It’s a tremendous blessing, privilege and responsibility to be a pastor. Now that I’ve been able to do this for a living, I don’t know what else I could do. Another profession would be terribly unsatisfying. It’s the feeling I started having toward the end of my teaching career.

You don’t have to be a pastor though to feel overwhelmed by God’s Word. Find a church that faithfully, systematically teaches God’s Word. It’s a travesty all churches don’t. Matthew 9:36 says, “When Jesus saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” This verse perfectly describes people in churches that don’t faithfully teach God’s Word: they’re scattered sheep without a shepherd.

So first, find a solid, Bible teaching church. And find a good study Bible. Get a journal, or do what I did for the first 7 years of my Christian life and write your notes in your Bible. Before you read, pray for God to speak to you through the Scriptures. That’s why it’s called God’s Word. It’s what He wants to say to you. Look forward to the times when you can be overwhelmed by God’s greatness, the greatness of His Word and His great love for you.