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Why did Jesus teach more about hell than heaven?

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?

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3 Encouragements for Homeschooling Families

I was recently invited to speak at the Annual Home Educators’ Day at the Capitol, and a few people asked for my message. Following are the three encouragements I passed along to homeschooling families…

Homeschooling Encouragement 1: The responsibility to teach and train children is on the parents’ shoulders.

Encouragements for homeschooling families
At the Capitol with former WA State Representative Jason Overstreet, who is now president of Christian Homeschool Network. I’m thankful for his ministry and heart for Christ.It’s not on the shoulders of the government, public school, or even the church.

Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 

The “You” is parents, and this teaching is supposed to go on all the time, when you:

  • Sit in your house…
  • Walk by the way…
  • Lie down…
  • Rise up. 

When I taught elementary school as soon as the bell rang I sent students home for the day, but as homeschooling parents educating is never done. God wants us teaching and discipling our children around the clock, every day, all day.

Continue reading 3 Encouragements for Homeschooling Families

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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!

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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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Barry Branaman: a great friend and mentor

Barry Branaman
Barry with his wonderful wife Kathy on the day of his graduation from seminary in 2009.

When people discuss their blessings, they’ll usually mention spouses, children, friends, health, finances, etc. If you asked me to discuss my blessings I hope I would mention the godly men God has put in my life. One of the most important is Barry Branaman.

He was a mutual friend of Elwyn and me when I taught in Marysville, CA. I met Barry through his two daughters who attended a young adults’ Bible study I started attending. He became my mentor soon after I became a Christian. The first Bible study I ever led took place in his living room under his supervision. He rarely said anything, but it was a constant source of encouragement and comfort to have him present. I knew he could answer any questions that I couldn’t.

Barry taught me to make time for people.

I spent many hours in Barry’s living room talking to him about the Bible. People have told me that I ask a lot of questions, and I would agree; however, Barry was the person God put in my life at that time to answer all the questions I had as a new Christian…and there were a lot. If I had to single out the one person who helped me understand the Old Testament it was Barry.

Barry taught me about stewardship.

I told a story in a sermon about Barry helping me see our possessions as a stewardship. When I thanked Barry for letting us use their home for our bible study, his simple response was, “That’s what it’s for.” With Barry everything he had was for serving God’s Kingdom. When Katie and I visited California in December 2012, we stayed with Barry and his wife Kathy. From the moment Barry and I saw each other I felt like no time had passed. He was as gracious answering my questions then, as he had been eight years earlier.

When I moved to Lemoore, CA in 2004 I remember standing in Barry’s kitchen telling him goodbye and that I really loved him. In return he gave me A Harmony of the Gospels, which I just took off the bookshelf behind my desk to read the note he wrote inside:

“To Scott,

May the Good News ever grace your heart and lips, thoughts and life. may the love of God always surround you and keep you in all ways. May your service in Christ be ever for His glory. May the Holy Spirit be your continued guide and Comforter, “empowerer” and keep.

Your brother forever,

Barry”

Barry still speaks.

On Thursday I received the news that Barry Branaman passed away at the age of 59. Last week’s sermon was about finishing strong, and Barry is an example of a man who did that wonderfully. I’m very thankful God blessed me with such a great friend, mentor, and brother in Christ. I’m much better for having known Barry, and by “better” I mean I have a deeper love for God and His Word because of him.

Hebrews 11:4 says, “Abel still speaks even though he is dead” and that could be said of Barry. I learned so much from him that when I’m teaching the Bible, often I’m passing along what he taught me.

If you knew Barry Branaman and would like to share a memory about him, I’m sure it would be a blessing to anyone who reads this post.

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Coaching our kids in t-ball with my best friend…

Some months back when Elwyn was considering whether to take the kindergarten teaching position here, I remember walking in the house telling Katie, “He’s not going to move to Washington.” He had been offered the job, but before we got off the phone he told me he was staying in Marysville, CA. The whole situation was so sudden, and involved so much change, and required so much to be done in such a short period of time that for anyone it would seem almost impossible. Plus you factor in Elwyn had been in Marysville for almost twenty years: he had a routine, he was very well-respected by a school and community that knew and loved him, he told me he could walk into his classroom each day without preparing anything because he had been doing it so long, his job was completely secure, he was making good money, etc. Plus, he had a wife and two small children who would be seriously affected by the decision if it didn’t go well. It was a huge decisions to consider, BUT God had opened all the doors. A number of “fleeces” had been laid out, and God had answered in the positive regarding all of them. Still, what was being required of Elwyn and his family was so much that I could understand why he was waiting to come for the following school year. I was very disappointed, but it made perfect sense.

Then something happened that I’ll never forget. Forty-five minutes after telling me he wasn’t coming, Elwyn called me and told me he was coming. It was a wonderful, emotional moment. When your best friend tells you he’s bringing his family to be part of your family (and church), and you consider all it’s expecting of him…and he happened to be the person God used to see you become a Christian…and now you’re going to be his family’s pastor, it’s hard not to get emotional…even for a guy like me who never gets emotional :).

Elwyn said he had one requirement though. It wasn’t, “Be a great pastor to me and my family” or “Let’s make sure our families hang out once per week” or “Please introduce us to some other families so we have some friends” or “Can you get some people to help us move in?” it was, “I’ll move there if the two of us coach our sons together in T-Ball.” I have coached football, wrestling and girls’ basketball, and as of Saturday afternoon at 10:30am, Elwyn and I became the proud co-coaches of a Woodland T-Ball team, with Brooks, Ricky and Rhea as three of our players. Do we have any idea what we’re doing? Not at all!

Elwyn purchased this jacket for me, which happened to be the same jacket he'd purchased for himself. He's a Michigan fan; hence the colors.
Elwyn purchased this jacket for me, which happened to be the same jacket he’d purchased for himself. He’s a Michigan fan; hence the colors.
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Rules for the Classroom…or Life

Rules for the Classroom...or LifeIn a recent sermon I mentioned my “Team Expectations” (aka classroom rules) from when I taught. Katie shared them on Facbook saying “They could also be rules for the home or life in general.” In response to some requests for them, here they are exactly as they were posted in the back of my classroom with brief explanations below each…

MR. LaPIERRE’S TEAM EXPECTATIONS

1. Be honest – don’t ever lie for any reason.

The world acts like lying is no big deal. Lying is even expected in some circles (politics). But lying is one of the six things God hates according to Proverbs 6:17. I wanted my kids to know that.

2. Be humble – don’t brag or be prideful.

Also included in this rule is what I called, “subtle brags” or bragging when you’re acting like you’re not. In real life it looks like being the hero of your own stories, and on Facebook it looks like:

  • I’m so glad there are still nice people in this world. An old man just came up to me and said, ‘You sure are beautiful!’”
  • I’m so completely exhausted, but what a blessing it was to spend the entire day helping my friend move.”
  • Posting shameless selfies. If the majority of your profile pictures are just your face…from a few inches away…and you swap that picture out for another picture of just your face from a few inches away then this is probably you.

Proverbs 27:2 Let another else praise you, and not your own mouth, a stranger and not your own lips.

3. Be nice – say and do things that help your teammates: compliment, encourage, clap and cheer for them.

Kids are naturally competitive and jealous. The solution is to encourage them to rejoice when others succeed.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Encourage one another and build each other up.

4. Do not say or do anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

Usually this is worded like, “Do not say anything mean.” The problem with that is the word mean is subjective. All year you’ll have to listen to kids saying, “I didn’t say anything mean” or “I didn’t mean to be mean.” But when another kid is crying they can’t say, “I didn’t hurt his feelings.”

Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any abusive language come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.

5.    Apologize if you hurt someone’s feelings…

  • even if it was an accident
  • even if someone hurt your feelings too, because you still need to apologize for your actions
  • and do not use the word “but” or make any excuses when you apologize.

I could write a completely different post about apologizing (and maybe I will), but for now I’ll just say most people don’t know how to apologize. If your apology sounds like, “I’m sorry BUT…” or “I’m sorry YOU…” it’s not an apology; it’s an excuse disguised as an apology.

I wanted to start teaching kids early the right way to apologize. If people have hurt you and you were looking forward to an apology but heard, “I’m sorry you’re mad” then you probably wish that person had a teacher with this rule.

James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other.

6. Do not shift blame to someone else for your actions – YOU are completely responsible for all of YOUR actions.

99% of the time when kids get in trouble, the first word out of their mouths is the name of another student or the pronouns he, she, or they:

  • “Brian pushed me first.”
  • “She was talking to me first.”
  • “They told me I could.”

It began at The Fall when Adam and Eve were confronted:

  • Adam said, “The WOMAN whom YOU gave me, gave me the fruit” (Gen 3:12).
  • Eve said, “The SERPENT deceived me” (Gen 3:13).

In a few words, Adam blamed God and Eve, and with nobody else to blame Eve said, “The devil made me do it.” The moment sin entered the world and man received a sin nature, with it came the terrible habit we all have of shifting blame.

I wanted to try to prevent that in my classroom as much as possible.

7. Do not whine, moan, groan, complain or roll your eyes.

We all do this – myself included – and the people who say they don’t are breaking the first rule.

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing.

Classroom pic

classroom

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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.