Category Archives: Sermons/Advent

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon. The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week.  I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocatea–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners.

While in seminary, I once heard a Presbyterian pastor preach the equivalent of three sermons in 55 minutes. I remember thinking, “If he finished now it will be a great sermon.” 40 minutes went by, and I thought, “If he finished his sermon now it will be all right.” After almost an hour I turned to my wife and said, “I pity his congregation.” Mistakes happen. Preachers lose track of time and people are generally very forgiving. But when this is a frequent occurrence it becomes a detriment. Preachers may turn into apologists for the Puritan era when they preached two-hour sermons. My response to this is very simple: “You are no John Owen!”

Question #4: Will my people hear a message about a great God or a convenient God? Sermons that do not lead people to serve God more faithfully have not fulfilled their purpose. The sermon needs to urge people to live more like their Lord and God. They can contemplate God, study or learn more about God (these are important), but if they leave uncertain as to how to serve their God more faithfully, the sermon has not pierced deeply enough. God’s people need to be consecrated by the Word of the Lord, pierced by the sword of the Spirit into action. Communicating only details about God can leave parishioners with a convenient God that demands knowledge but no sacrifice.

Question #5: What can I teach that will increase my people’s knowledge of the Bible? Every preacher must know: your people will remember between 1-5% of your preaching ministry throughout their lives. There is no statistic about this, the evidence is borne by daily experience. Exegesis of a verse in Hebrews will be forgotten perhaps before the sermon is over, but hermeneutical principles will remain if they are communicated succinctly. One common interpretational phrase I have used in many of my sermons is, “The Holy Spirit does not waste his breath.” This phraseb communicates that every detail of the text matters. I want my people to know in every sermon that every word in the Bible is meaningful and put in there for a reason. Many other principles will encourage God’s people to love their Bibles and learn more about it in their own studies and meditations. They may not remember my careful exegesis, but they will remember that the text is to be cherished.

Question #6: Do people follow me from point A to point B and C? I have heard my share of disconnected sermons over the years. Sermons need to have a message that is connected throughout. Themes and illustrations need to be connected to the central message. If illustrations have no purpose in the development of a sermon or if they are only used to get a laugh, people will inevitably leave confused and uncertain of the illustration’s purpose. Preachers need to be very aware of how point A connects to point B. Paragraphs need to smoothly transition, otherwise, you are beginning a new sermon altogether, and people are left wondering what the main point is. This is why manuscript preparation can help with transitional statements. On my last sermon, I repeated this phrase several times, “The future belongs to the child.” In fact, I generally title my sermons after my main point.

Question #7: Is this sermon going to connect to particular concerns of my people? I firmly believe that sermons need to connect in some way to everyone, from the young convert to the university professor. The more you preach, the more you begin to see people in your congregation with unique needs. When a pastor says “I have no one in mind when I preach,” he is likely ineffective in his preaching. Pastors are shaped by their conversations, counseling, and context. People I pray with and meet each week come to mind when I make applications. Of course, we need to be careful not to use the pulpit to deliver a privatized homily. A sermon on divorce the week after a congregant was divorced is unwise. Preachers need to consider the need of his own flock. For instance, “Does my congregation have a tendency to pride in their intellect or status?” A preacher is always preaching locally, though he can minister broadly. New Christians need to see their pastor’s words as applicable and rich to their own unique situation and this requires a good dose of wisdom and knowledge of particular needs in the congregation. Pastoral application becomes richer when there are pastoral encounters and engagement with the people. It is important to note also that we have our failures and shortcomings, but these should not keep us from addressing them corporately.c

Question #8: Is my argument persuasive? The sermon ought to leave the listener convinced that the Bible’s claim is right and true. Arguments can be phrased differently in every sermon. Some arguments will be demonstrably more persuasive than others. The preacher’s role is to give enough context and substance, so the main point becomes attractive. Persuasion is a difficult skill and needs to be considered again and again, which is why sermons need to be revised several times before they are delivered. One common problem is pastors trying to persuade people to death. Sermons are not commentaries. A preacher does not need to make his congregation turn to several Bible passages. A sermon is not an informal Bible study. Make your point. Make it desirable and succinct and move on.

Question #9: Where is the Gospel? A Gospel-less sermon is no sermon at all. Ask yourself, “Where is the Gospel?” Will my people be saved from their sins and misery after hearing this word? Will they find hope in Messiah Jesus? Will the broken-hearted see Jesus with greater joy? Will the single mom find refuge in Jesus and his Kingdom? Preachers cannot end a sermon in the desert. The Gospel is promised land. The sermonic journey takes the parishioner from darkness to light; death to resurrection.

Question #10: Is my application too general? Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” My closing question is a question about how my applications speak to my congregation. There are a thousand ways to speak the truth, but not many ways to speak the truth in love. Application is truth in love. Love your congregation by applying specifically and carefully. It is one thing to say Trust God, it is another to say, Believe his promises in the middle of your cancer. Generalities sometimes are inescapable, but try to escape them as much as possible when applying the Word. If there is one part of the sermon that deserves great concentration, it is in the application of the Word to God’s people. Pastors should read good counseling books. Pastors should know their people well in order to apply God’s truth in love (see #7).

You may consider each question every Sunday, and after some time these questions will be a natural part of your sermon preparation each week. Not all sermons are created equal. Just delivering content is not the goal of preaching. Preaching is an art, and we can all learn to grow.

  1. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)
  2. I think first used by James B. Jordan  (back)
  3. I hope to address pastoral fears in another post  (back)

Sermon: The Advental Call to Obedience and Worship, Part II

People of God, this is the last Sunday before Christmas. As we prepare to be consumed by joy as families and friends gather together, we are also waiting to be consumed by the biblical narrative, which presents a King born of a Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and given for the sake of the world. But is earth prepared to receive her King? Is every heart prepared to give Him room?[1] The reality is the world is not that all aware of who Jesus is. They seem ready to receive any number of messiahs, but the true Messiah remains on a manger somewhere in mythical tales. If the world is to receive her king, then they must see him as he is. You may remember the story in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children see Aslan for the first time.[2] Lewis writes that “people who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that something cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”[3] The Incarnation is the appearance of something good and terrible at the same time. Jesus is both the God/Man who comes to deliver his people and the God/Man who frightens his enemies. The King does not come masqueraded as man, he comes as man. His words strike fear and passion; love and purity.

When Jesus comes, he demands loyalty. When Jesus comes the people do not remain passive towards him. They either react in absolute allegiance or in absolute hatred towards God. Continue reading Sermon: The Advental Call to Obedience and Worship, Part II

Advent Sermon: The Advental Call for Peace in the Church, I Thessalonians 5:12-13

Sermon: People of God, this is the third Sunday of Advent. Our hope and expectation is increasing as Messiah nears us in the biblical story. Advent means “coming.” One of the elements we stress during this season is that Jesus came for us at his Incarnation, born of the Virgin Mary.  But we also stress that Jesus comes for us again and again. He comes today to be with His people; to comfort and guide us. He is the rod of Jesse who will free us from Satan’s tyranny who will also disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.[1] He comes under the law, born of a Virgin Mary, He comes today to renew us in covenant, and one final element of His Coming is His final coming to judge the living and the dead; to introduce a world of sinless bliss and everlasting resurrected life. In summary, Advent celebrates the facts that Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again. Advent has a past, present, and future.

We have discussed the past and present, but today and next Sunday we are going to focus on a double-layered coming of Jesus: a past and future coming. We are actually going to focus on the epistle section of the lectionary. Our attention in the remaining weeks of Advent will be on I Thessalonians 5.

Our passage is the conclusion of Paul’s address to the church in Thessalonica. The context of this epistle is that Paul sent Timothy with the church. Paul had visited the church in his second missionary journey, and as he writes he longs to be with them again. The Church in Thessalonica is the anti-Corinth Church. What I mean is that while the Church in Corinth was castigated and rebuked for her sinful behaviors by Paul; here, the great apostle is delighted by the work of this church. Timothy brought back good news of their faith in chapter 3:6. Paul says in chapter 1:8 that their faith has gone forth everywhere. People have heard how you have turned from idols to serve the living God (1:9). This church has become Paul’s glory and joy (2:20). But as in every church, especially in that first century context, there was discouragement. Loved ones had died and now they were left wondering what would happen to them. Paul here emerges full of conviction. Paul is the resurrection prophet. His word is one of hope and encouragement. He repeats his message of hope that in the coming of the Lord the world will begin to see the light. In chapters four and chapters five, Paul comforts the saints with the announcement that Christ is coming. Paul’s argument is that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too will He come for us. The point is that you should not grieve as the pagans do. They have no hope; they give in to their lustful passions; they deny the living God and live as they please. But that is not how we are to live in the light of the coming of Jesus.

Let me add one other contextual point before we are introduced to our passage. The Bible teaches many comings of our Lord. A quick glance through the Bible and you will quickly realize that God comes again and again to judge, to bring mercy and grace, to comfort, and on and on. God is in the business of coming. He is not a God who watches the world like we watch a movie; rather, He comes to the world because the world is His movie; His story. He shapes it in whatever way He sees fit. God is always intervening in history. We are to pray that God intervenes not only in our lives for our good, but also in the world for the good of the world. Continue reading Advent Sermon: The Advental Call for Peace in the Church, I Thessalonians 5:12-13

Sermon: Mark 11:1-10; Advent

Text:  Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesussent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”6And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sermon: People of God, we are a people of time. Time is not meaningless to us. Time is not a countdown to doom; rather it is a countdown to restoration. By observing the Church Calendar, we are attempting to recover a richer, more biblical sense of time. Celebrating Advent and Christmas is a way of redeeming time. “To celebrate Advent is to take a stand against the corrosion of modern life.”[1] Time moves towards a goal. In this Advent Season time is moving towards the coming of Yahweh’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. This is why N.T. Wright says we live from Advent to Advent. In other words, we live from Christ to Christ. This is good news for us, but it is “bad news for idolaters, tyrants, and petty oppressors. When Jesus comes, the mountains melt like wax and flow like water; the valleys are split; for He comes to judge the earth.”[2] Christ is the center of human history and our attention in this season will be on the Comings of Jesus and His great coming into the world in human flesh.

This morning we examine a narrative from the Gospel of St. Mark. In Mark there is a well-known coming of Jesus. We call it his Triumphal Entry. The Triumphal Entry is one of the few events in Jesus’ life that is mentioned in all four gospels. It is highly significant as we elaborate on the nature of the Comings of Jesus. In many ways, the Triumphal Entry is a glorious picture of Christ’s first Triumphal Entry, as He entered this world, born of the Virgin Mary. There are two connections in this Triumphal Entry of Christ with the Advent of Christ into the world as an infant.

The first connection is found in verse 9. The crowds are shouting “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is an unmistakable expectation for the coming of the King. The crowds are expecting our King to come. They rejoice at His Advent. Similarly, in Luke two there is an expectation of the shepherds for the arrival of the King; there is also the expectation of Herod who did not rejoice in the Advent of Christ, but who feared the Coming Messiah. There is a connection of expectation uniting these two Advents. When Jesus comes He comes to bring blessings and peace to those who wait for Him and fear for those who wish He would never come. Continue reading Sermon: Mark 11:1-10; Advent

Advent Sermon: Matthew 3:1-12; The Gospel of Repentance

Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Kinsman. Amen.

Sermon: People of God, you may be familiar with Leo Tolstoy’s short story entitled: “Where Love is, God is.” The story is about a man named Martin, who after losing his son to an illness “gave way to despair so great and overwhelming that he murmured against God.”[1] He wanted to die; he became hopeless. He had nothing to live for. One day an old man confronted Martin’s view of life. He said that the reason Martin despaired was because he wished to live for his own happiness; to which Martin replied: “What else should one live for?” The old man answered: “For God…He gives you life and you must live for Him.” What Martin discovered as the story unfolded is that in the gospels you will find how God wants you to live.[2] In the gospels, Martin will be restored.

As we navigate the gospel of Matthew this season, we too will find restoration; we too will find how God wants us to live. And what we discover this morning as we look to chapter three of Matthew is that the way to begin this life of restoration is by living the  life of repentance.

The bringing in of a new world order will require a new way of life; a life of repentance. Martin Luther stamped his distaste for the abuses of the church in the 16th century in his 95 theses. But how often do we remember Luther’s first thesis; the one who made the top of the list. It reads as follows:

“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[3] Continue reading Advent Sermon: Matthew 3:1-12; The Gospel of Repentance