Monday, October 25, 2010


God takes His Word very seriously.  So does the Enemy, as I learned this week.  I don't think it is an accident that my son who usually sleeps through the night, screams for hours on the night before I speak.  I don't think it is an accident that my basement only floods on important ministry days or that my computer quits working two days before I speak.  There is something about preparing a sermon that involves suffering.

This week was going to be unique.  My plan was to get my sermon outline done early.  This would allow me to spend some more time with my family over the weekend.  Amazingly, my outline did come together early.  I went right to my PowerPoint and laid out the bulk of it by mid-week.  "An easy week," I thought.  I was wrong. I had forgotten the single most significant aspect of sermon preparation: the crucible.

I have never had a sermon come together absent of struggle.  I can study, outline, and PowerPoint the heck out of a sermon.  But, it never gets refined until the night before.  Several times, I have finished a sermon early and  tried to practice it.  Thursday sermons are always flat and boring until Saturday night.  Something happens Saturday at around 8:00pm.  Intense desperation over the realization that I can't write good sermons leads to surrendered prayers.

There is something bout knowing that in a matter of hours 1,000 people will sit down to hear you preach a sermon that currently sounds like page 247 of the Lorain County Phone Book.  They have taken time out of their week.  They are hungry for truth.  Mess it up, and you just wasted 1,000 hours of time that could have been spent doing anything else.

I'm not saying I'm not prepared.  I'm saying that until the Holy Spirit shows up, a sermon is just words.  

Putting hours of study and preparation into a sermon can give me the false sense that it is my sermon.  I think God likes to remind me that I can't do anything without Him.  That's why my sermons don't have any fire until Saturday night.

So, here is my process for putting together a sermon:

  1. Ask God to show me what He wants preached. 
  2. Study the passage. This means reading it over and over until I'm soaked in it.
  3. Make observations. I create a list of things I see in the passage.
  4. Pray again that God leads me to the most important thing I'm supposed to preach.  
  5. Identify the "Big Idea."  I write down the one thing that I believe God wants me to communicate. People will only hear one point.  Everything else is just sub-points.  
  6. Pray again that God leads me to write the outline He wants.  
  7. Create an outline.  Big Idea + Observations=Outline.  The Big Idea dictates how I organize m supporting points.  
  8. Create a PowerPoint.  The PowerPoint is the most important tool for organizing your presentation.  It can make sense on paper without making sense coming out of your mouth.  As I create every slide, I figure out what I am going to say or do to get me to the next slide.  
  9. Practice the sermon out loud.  I actually preach through my sermon (sometimes several times) until I feel confident about every point and transition.  This is also the point when I feel like I have written the most boring sermon in history.  
  10. Acknowledge that I do not know what I am doing and need God to breath into this sermon.  This has never happened to me before Saturday night.  This is where I pray like crazy and ask for a miracle.  
  11. Receive the Holy Spirit.  This is when everyone else is in bed asleep.  Its just me and God.  This is when the most powerful illustrations, applications and sentences come out of my mouth.  They can't be mine, because I've been thinking about this all week and none of it came to mind until now.  
  12. Sleep...if possible.  Sometimes this is when the Enemy fights the most to keep me from resting.  
  13. Wake up and feel terrible, nervous, tired and desperate.  This forces me to pray more.  I also use coffee and/or 5 Hour Energy to lubricate my heart for the Holy Spirit to work. 
  14. Run through the sermon one more time.  
  15. Acknowledge that I need God and ask Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.  
  16. Preach the sermon and watch God work.  
By the way, I was privileged to hear several people apply the sermon immediately after church yesterday.  I was privileged to lead one of them to Christ!  Praise God! 

Jim, I don't know how you do it every week.  

Sweet Spot Serving and the Glory of God

Yesterday, I spoke on Discovering Your Servant Profile or ("sweet spot").  Had I more time, I would have liked to speak even more about the glory of God in our serving.  This video and song addresses the nature of God's glory as He weaves his poetry into the story of our existence.  The result is our redemption and His glory.  If you are grieving today, please watch this video.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Questioning Your Faith

What would you let God do with you if you knew no force of Hell could stop God from accomplishing His will for the Church?  

We are far too timid for followers of the God who spoke the universe into existence and created the fire of suns with mere words.  I grow weary of cowardice and comfort when God said no force of Hell would stop Him from building His Church.  Today I was shaken by my own forgetfulness of God's promises, and I was inspired by Jesus words to Peter in Matthew 16.  

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. --Matthew 16:16-18

I noticed three profound facts about Matthew 16:16-18:

  1. This conversation started because Peter realized that Jesus is God. (Matthew 16:17) Our capacity to understand what God will do is directly associated with our faith in Him.  
  2. God promised that He would build His church, not us. (Matthew 16:18a)  Our role is to obey Him and watch Him make it happen regardless of our weaknesses.  
  3. God promised that all Hell wouldn't stop Him. (Matthew 16:18b)  The Enemy might try to foil our human plans, but He can do nothing to hinder the work of Christ.  

 I believe that if we believed Jesus we would...

  1. Pray with confidence
  2. Worship faithfully (individually on a daily basis and corporately on a weekly basis)
  3. Fight to preserve every relationship we have.
  4. Tell our pre-Christian friends how much they need God.
  5. Serve regularly in the church and the community.
  6. Give sacrificially to God's work in the church and the community.  

Our obedience in these areas is indicative of our faith in who He is.  What would happen if we really believed nothing could stop Him from building His church?  I'd love to see that kind of faith in action.  I'm pretty sure it looks like an overflow rooms for prayer meetings, an overflow of people sitting on floors to worship God on Sunday, an overflow of volunteers in every ministry, an overflow of giving that forces the church to find new ways to use God's money, an overflow of volunteers in every community organization in the region, and an overflow of people surrendering to Christ that forces us to send mature believers away to make room for the new Christians.  Until I see that happen, I will continue to question our faith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living and Suffering

"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I am on a bit of a Bonhoeffer kick right now.  I am intrigued by the concept of a man who would willingly surrender his life for the gospel as he sought to deliver the oppressed.  When I think of the daily stresses of life, the losses great and small, the hopes realized and crushed, I find great comfort in knowing that this is how God makes disciples. We aren't born holy.  We are born evil and broken into perfection.   Just as we think we are doing well, avoiding sin and doing good, God reminds us that Christianity isn't just about being good.  It is about being like our Savior who was well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

This week, I have spoken to several friends who are in the midst of trials.  Their trials aren't brought on by their own sin.   They are simply facing great pain.  As is often the case, they are doubting their way to increased faith.  One friend told me that in his hurt, he wondered for a while if there was any benefit in being a Christian.  Then he said, "Who else is worth of worship?  He's the only thing worth living for."  That's a great response to suffering.  I'm honored to have friends like that.

Do you have any stories of suffering and increased faith to share?  A few good stories might really encourage my friends.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Losing the Gospel

"A servant of God has but one Master. It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised." --George Muller

This Sunday begins The Adventure of Greatness at Open Door.  Together, we will take our next step in Christlikeness through Spirit-led service.  Jim did a great job setting up the series by asking one of the greatest questions a leader can ask: "Do I seek to serve or be served?"  I've been thinking about this question today, and I've realized something as a result.  

There are two distinct mentalities among Christians: 

  1. Those who follow Christ for blessings (friends, money, connections, eternal life),
  2. Those who follow Christ for God's glory as they live in relationship with Him.  

I used to think that self-centered Christianity was limited only to what I saw on TBN, "the health and wealth gospel", as it is called.  It was easy for me to cast judgement on the makeup, big hair and expensive jewelry as I boldly proclaimed that the gospel was all about me getting into heaven.  For me, not sinning was a good way to not offend God, but there wasn't much else to Christianity.  

God renovated my view of the gospel with Romans 1:16-17 when it says that in the gospel, "the righteousness of God is revealed."  I was surprised that it didn't focus on the fact that in the gospel the blessing of eternal life is revealed (though that is also true).  My paradigm realigned when I realized that while the gospel has many benefits for me, it is ultimately about God's glory.  

When I lose site of God's glory, I lose site of the gospel.  

Consider this.  The gospel is the story of God humbling himself, becoming a servant and dying the most humiliating death possible in order to pay our sin debt (Philippians 2:5-11).  This is how God chose to bring himself glory.  This is how He reveals himself.  

I don't want to lose site of God's glory.  I want the thought of His greatness to consume every breath, every thought, every step.  I want Him to get the glory when I step out of bed, when I kiss my wife, when I talk to my son and when I go to work.  I don't want to forget that every moment is for His glory, and as such every moment should be used to glorify Him by serving others.  It's all about God's glory.  

If you haven't signed up for the Adventure of Greatness, its not too late.  Click here to join a Life Group and the Adventure of Greatness.    

Friday, October 1, 2010

Four Things to do When You Feel Overwhelmed in Leadership:

Last week, I felt myself sinking into the chaos of good things (new ideas, new leaders, new ministries, new initiatives).  I take shepherding very seriously.  I don't want to miss one opportunity to see a person take their next step toward Christ.  I don't want to see even one leader burnout, because they weren't getting support from me.  I want to make sure that I am doing everything possible to make disciples.  Sometimes doing "everything possible" can be overwhelming, and I was feeling the pressure last week.  

So, in an attempt to preempt desperation, I spilled my guts to a few teammates and asked for prayer.  Along with prayer, Pastor Jim gave me a suggestion that I won't forget.  He told me to write out all the things I am responsible for (ministry, family, etc.) on a piece of paper and lay it out before God.  I did.  Since then, I have had one of the most effective ministry weeks in the last 2 years.  God is good!  

As a result, I have a few suggestions for anyone in the position I was last week:
  1. Consecrate your work to God rather than trying to work yourself out of the hole. I'd been trying to work myself out of the hole, but the e-mails, ideas, needs and great commission never stops.  God was reminding me that He needs to be in control of ministry, because I will never be.  I gave back to Him what was already His.  
  2. Get organized.  Map out the next steps for every area you oversee.  Keep it somewhere you will check often. I started using Google Smartsheets to organize ministry and Gmail to organize my e-mails.  Google is the electronic equivalent to Mary Poppins.  I'm pretty sure I could hear "Spoon Full of Sugar' play as I watched my e-mails organize into threads to be archived, deleted or answered with ease.  Seriously, this thing is awesome!  
  3. Hold your leaders accountable to their commitments, even if they are volunteers.  Leaders feel valued when they are held accountable.  It is a very real way of saying, "What you do matters."  
  4. Trust your leaders to take on more.  God doesn't want you to do more than you can.  If He has given you responsibilities, He has also given you leaders to help you get the job done.  Look around.  They are already there.  
It is a good thing that Christ has promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18).  I'm just here to obey as He does the building.

So, what do you do when your responsibilities seem too much?  Have I missed anything?