Sermon Prep 101

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message (God speaking to Jeremiah).

Jesus was masterful in using visual illustrations—common, everyday things—to illustrate the biblical truth He wanted to teach. God does the same thing with Jeremiah. 

God instructs Jeremiah to simply go to the potter’s house and watch. Jeremiah obeyed: “I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working” (v. 3). It was after taking in this scene that God could speak to Jeremiah a sermon illustration. Jeremiah says, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (v. 5). 

Not only did God help Jeremiah prepare his sermon with a visual illustration, but God also prepared Jeremiah for the follow up conversation. God knew how the people would respond to Jeremiah’s message, and He again gave him the words to speak ahead of time (vv. 12-17). 

God knows His sheep better than we do. He knows what they need to hear, and how best to make His message stick. Jesus said, 

“I have never spoken on My own authority or of My own accord or as self-appointed, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me orders concerning what to say and what to tell. And I know that His commandment means eternal life. So whatever I speak, I am saying exactly what My Father has told Me to say and in accordance with His instructions.” (John 12:49-50 AMP) 

We pastors and evangelists dare not try to prepare a message on our own! 

Samuel Johnson prayed something that I pray every time I sit down to prepare a sermon: “Almighty God, my Heavenly Father, without Whose help labor is useless, without Whose light search is in vain, invigorate my studies.” 

Seeking God’s help in our sermon preparation should be our very first action every single time. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

The Supreme Jesus

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Last week here in wintry Michigan we had a couple of snow days (for those of you in non-snow states, that means the roads were too dangerous even for us Michiganders, so the schools were closed). Students and teachers too “work” very hard for snow days. By that I mean they try a bunch of tactics that are supposed to increase the likelihood of school being called off—like flushing ice cubes down the toilet, wearing their PJs inside-out, or even sleeping with a spoon under their pillow. 

But I’ve also noticed it’s not just praying for snow days where people employ some tactics they think will help things go their way. Like saying, “Pretty please with sugar on top” when trying to get special favor, or athletes not saying anything at all to a teammate who’s on the brink of something historic, or business people saying, “Wish me luck” before going into the big meeting. And even Christians who end their prayer with, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” to help make their prayer answerable. 

In case you haven’t noticed, just saying that phrase is not some magical, abracadabra formula for success (for some very notable examples of this check out Matthew 7:21-23 and Acts 19:13-16). 

But still, Jesus does specifically say, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). 

This is where context is king. In John 13-16, Jesus is giving His final instructions to His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion. They are clearly anxious about His departure because chapter 14 opens with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” 

In this passage of John 14, Jesus is giving the disciples the basis for their confident hope in Him. He tells them that He is THE way to the Father (they don’t have to look for another path), and He is THE revelation of the Father (He will make the Father’s will crystal clear to them). 

Jesus tells them that He has been doing His Father’s work, which is verified by the evidence of the miracles—or we could say the answers to His prayers (v. 10-11). Jesus wants His followers to pray this same way, live this same way, and see even greater things done in His name (v. 12). 

So we can infer from this that praying in the name of Jesus essentially means two things:

  1. We pray in harmony with the character of Jesus. That means that we pray prayers that Jesus Himself would pray. If you cannot imagine Jesus asking for what you’re asking for, then it’s not in alignment with His character. 
  2. We pray in faith in the supreme authority of Jesus to do what we ask. Jesus is Supreme over everything else. To pray in His name means we look for answers from no other source.

I think the key to understanding this is found in the small preposition Jesus uses 12 times in this passage: IN. 

Jesus is IN the Father, the Father is IN Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is IN us. This means that we are also IN the Father with Jesus! 

Which means we don’t have to try to be like Jesus or to merely imitate Him, but we let the Holy Spirit sanctify us into the character of Jesus. 

When I talk to my Dad I don’t have to remind myself that I am his son—I just am his son. I don’t have to carefully calculate how I’m going to make requests of him. I know his heart, and I know my inseparable relationship with him, so I just talk to him. 

Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that when Jesus does a miracle, He doesn’t pray the way that we typically pray? When the man with leprosy came to Jesus, He merely said, “Be clean.” I think we might have bowed our heads, closed our eyes, placed our hands on him and said something like, “Dear heavenly Father, if it’s Your will bring Your healing touch to our dear brother. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.” But Jesus knew the Father’s heart was to heal this suffering man, so Jesus simply spoke the words. His statement was a prayer that resonated with the heart of His Father, and that prayer was immediately answered. 

The Holy Spirit is sanctifying you to pray this same way: 

  • He wants to mold your heart to be passionate for the things of the Father—John 5:17
  • He wants to transform your mind to think the Father’s thoughts—John 16:13-14
  • He wants to soften your will to be yielded to the will of the Father—Matthew 26:36-44 
  • He wants to settle your emotions to be at peace in the Father—John 14:1
  • He wants to even change your vocabulary to the very words Jesus would use—John 12:49

(read the above verses by clicking here)

When your heart, mind, will, and emotions are being sanctified, the supremacy of Jesus will naturally be at the forefront of everything you feel, think, do, and say. Then you will be naturally praying in the name and character of Jesus for God’s glory to be seen. 

Praying in the name of the Supreme Jesus means that we pray IN God’s will FOR God’s glory. 

To see all of the messages in our series called Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus, please click here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Awesome

Jesus told us that we could pray in His name and expect amazing things (see John 14:13-14, 15:16, 16:23-24). This does not mean that simply adding the phrase “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the end of a prayer unlocks a secret code. Rather, it means that the more we understand just how awesome our Savior is, and that He is the Key to God’s storeroom, the more we will being to align our prayers with the will of God. 

Jesus desires for His Father’s glory to be seen on earth through the answers to our prayers. The writer of Hebrews opens his letter by reminding us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). 

We will be working our way through the Book of Hebrews to learn just how awesome the name of Jesus truly is. As we do so, my prayer is that your prayer life will flourish into something far greater than it has ever been before! 

Join us beginning this Sunday for our series on prayer called Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus.

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, check them out here:

Thursdays With Spurgeon—When God Seems Distant

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

When God Seems Distant 

     You may possibly be in such a condition that every promise scowls at you as though it were transformed into a threat. When you turn over the pages of the Book once so full of comfort to you, it seems withered into a howling wilderness. … 

     Even those promises that you have been accustomed to offer to others in their time of need appear to shut their doors against you. ‘No admittance here,’ says one promise. Unbelief puts its burning finger right across another. Past sin accuses you and cries, ‘You cannot claim this word, for your transgression has forfeited it.’ So you may look through the whole Bible and find nothing upon which your souls may rest. … The fault is not in the promise but in us. …  

     Why does our gracious God permit this? Perhaps it is because you have been living without Him, and now He is going to take away everything upon which you have been in the habit of depending. Another reason may be that He wishes to drive you to Himself. … The prodigal was never safer than when he was driven to his father’s bosom, because he could find sustenance nowhere else. And, brothers and sisters, I think our Lord favors us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after the Savior more. …

     When everything goes well with us, we frequently run a long way from God, but as soon as we are overtaken by trouble or see a lion in the way, we fly to our heavenly Father. I bless God for the mire and for my sinking in it, when it makes me cry out, ‘Deliver me, O my God, out of the deep mire, and let me not sink.’

From The Believer Sinking In The Mire

David said, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). And in another psalm he elaborated on this by saying, 

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:6-8) 

God allows shaking so that we will recognize that He is the only sure foundation. The only things that shake and prove themselves to be untrustworthy are those things not standing on God. So if God seems distant, ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there are any idols in your heart. If there are, repent from trusting those and return to God alone. 

After this, the next step is to silence the voice of the enemy. Jesus said satan’s native language is lies and slander. As Spurgeon said, the enemy of your soul would love to tell you that God’s promises aren’t for you—that somehow you are disqualified from claiming them. 

We need to take every thought captive, and if those thoughts don’t line up with God’s Word we tear them down with the truth in Scripture. Once again, the Holy Spirit is our Counselor to remind us of the truth and assure our hearts that the promises are still for all of God’s children. 

As the words of the old hymn remind us:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail
When the howling storms of doubts and fear assail
By the living Word of God I shall prevail
Standing on the promises of God

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

All Talk But No Action

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

What people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. I’ve already discussed the words of the Magi and King Herod the Great, but all of these men also interact with another group (Matthew 2:1-6). Matthew calls them “all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.” 

This group was commonly called the Sanhedrin. It was an influential body of 70 + 1 leaders (Numbers 11:16), whose influence was felt in the temple in Jerusalem, in the synagogues in small villages, in King Herod’s throne room, and in the palace of the Roman governors. 

Notice that Matthew says “chief priests” in the plural. At the time of the birth of Jesus, Caiaphas was high priest and Annas his father-in-law was the former high priest. In the time of the early church, Annas is again called the high priest (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 4:6) 

Even under the Roman government the Sanhedrin held tremendous power…

  • they were experts in the Mosaic law and its application (Matthew 22:35) 
  • Jesus said, “the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses” (Matthew 23:2 NLT) 
  • Jesus also said they had storehouses of helpful knowledge (Matthew 13:52) 
  • they decided who would get to use their authority (Mark 11:27-28; 1:22) 
  • they were keepers of the traditions and became “indignant” when those traditions weren’t followed (Mark 7:5; Matthew 21:15) 
  • they were exorcists (Mark 9:14-17; Acts 19:13-14) 
  • Jesus said these leaders would be instrumental in His death (Matthew 16:21) 
  • they had their own armed guards and prisons (Mark 14:43; Acts 4:1; 5:18) 
  • yet they were afraid of the opinions of the people (Luke 22:1-2; Mark 11:31-32) 

(check out all of the above Scriptures by clicking here)

Jesus said they were “the official interpreters of the law,” yet they oftentimes interpreted the law to benefit themselves. 

When Herod asks them where the Messiah is to be born, they quote Micah 5:2 as saying, “a Ruler who will be the Shepherd of My people Israel.” But the word they use for “Ruler” means a leader with authority, or a governor (the same word is used for Joseph in Acts 7:10). Remember Herod’s violent temper and his insane suspicion? The word these religious leaders used gave them an “out.” They were almost saying to Herod, “When the Messiah does come, He will be a governor, which means there’s a good chance that He would report to you.” This “tame” interpretation was an attempt to keep them in the good graces of King Herod the Great 

But Micah himself uses the word for “Ruler” that means one with absolute dominion. Jesus will be THE Sovereign King. 

After hearing that this long awaited Messiah had finally been born in fulfillment of the prophecies, take a look at their response—

  • they said   . 
  • they did   . (even though Bethlehem was only 6 miles away!) 

How sad! 

But I think this is because they believed themselves to be “in” with Jehovah because they so carefully kept the rules. They didn’t need a Messiah to save them because—in their minds—they believed they were already saved from God’s punishment. 

Keeping religious rules doesn’t save anyone. 

Honoring age-old traditions doesn’t save anyone. 

Only coming to Jesus saves anyone! 

A key prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:2 says that the Messiah will save us from darkness and shadows. What exactly are these? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the law and rules are merely shadows of the True Substance. God said through Isaiah that relying on the rules keeps us trapped in meaningless religious traditions. But Jesus came as the Light and as the Substance that set us free. His death and resurrection made it possible for our sins to be forgiven (see Hebrews 10:1-7; Isaiah 1:11-14, 18).

Rules don’t take us into God’s presence, but Jesus does. Not just talking about Jesus, but coming to Jesus as our Savior and Lord. 

People will talk about Jesus—even you may talk about Him. That doesn’t do anything. But when we do more than talk—when we come to Him to follow Him as our Ruler and Shepherd—then we find forgiveness and freedom. 

Let’s not just talk about Jesus, but let’s be actively obedient! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, you can find those messages by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

When Jesus Talked With Just One Person

When Faith Frodsham was teaching at the Peniel Bible Institute, she wrote home to tell her father Stanley about her frustration over the small size of her class. She wondered if she was really being successful with such a small class. 

Stanley Frodsham wrote back:

“We received your good letter yesterday. Don’t get discouraged by the small size of the school. The Lord spent much time ministering to the ones. Read the third of John and see His ministry to one soul. Then in the fourth chapter His ministry to another. Then how wonderful it was when He had just an audience of one, Mary, who sat at His feet. With six students you have six times the audience He had.” 

Success is not about big numbers, but about quality time invested faithfully and for God’s glory. 

I wrote my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter to address this misconception which discourages so many pastors and other ministry leaders. If you are involved in ministry, I truly believe this book will give you a new encouraging perspective. 

Get more information at http://ShepherdLeadershipBook.com

The Best Commentary On The Old Testament

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Frequently, people will ask me what commentaries I consult when I’m studying for a sermon. Occasionally, I will consult a commentary—but only after I feel I’ve exhausted my own biblical studies. I discussed some thoughts from Charles Spurgeon on the use of commentaries in a previous post. 

But let’s look at this from another angle: Before there was an Old Testament and a New Testament, what did those who lived in the days of Jesus call what we now refer to as “the Old Testament”? They called it Scripture. 

Here’s a clip from a recent sermon where I discuss more in-depth why our New Testament is really the best commentary we have on the Old Testament:

I invite you to check out a couple of other resources: 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Quieting The Storms

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” —Anxiety & Depression Association of America 

A multitude of factors go into someone’s anxiety: genetics, temperament, brain chemistry, life experiences. In addition to those factors, we have to keep in mind that humans are a three-part being—with a body, mind, and spirit—and a disease in one area does affect the other two areas. 

All of this means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety. But there is one Healer: 

  • He may supernaturally heal your body, mind, or spirit 
  • He may direct you to a medical doctor, a mental health professional, or a spiritual counselor 
  • But always, He will walk through the challenges with you, strengthening you, and preparing you to minister to others going through a similar struggle (Psalm 23:1-6; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) 

David wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” (Psalm 56:3). Notice that he said “when” not “if.” David knows what you probably know too: we can be easily consumed by our anxiety, doubts, and fears. But David also knows (and I hope you do too) that at those moments, we can go to God as our trustworthy First Source. 

One of the dictionary definitions of anxiety is a feeling of disquiet. All of the conflicting thoughts make it hard to concentrate, the abundance of noise makes it difficult to talk to yourself, let alone talk to God. 

I’d like you to consider another psalmist’s words. Look at the first half of Psalm 94:19—

  • When anxiety was great within me… (NIV) 
  • In the multitude of my anxious thoughts… (AMP)
  • When doubts filled my mind… (NLT) 

The setting of this psalm is one of lots of disquieting voices: a desire to see the wrongdoers punished, listening to arrogant words, getting fed up with boasting words, seeing good people being trampled, hearing foolish words uttered about God (vv. 1-8). 

Experiencing anxiety is not sinful, but I do think that we grieve God’s heart when we immediately run to other sources for relief instead of going to our loving Heavenly Father first. After dealing with the disquiet in the opening verses of Psalm 94, the psalmist says, “My anxiety level was sky high!” But then notice how that verse concludes—

  • Your consolation brought me joy (NIV) 
  • Your comforts cheer and and delight my soul (AMP)
  • Your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer (NLT)

Jesus told us about our Comforter who would always be with us (John 14:1, 16-17). A little further on in these same remarks Jesus also said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NKJV). 

I like that phrase, “Be of good cheer.” That phrase is just one word in Greek, and sometimes it’s translated “be of good courage.” In every single instance, it’s only used by Jesus and it’s only used when He comes close to anxious people (Matthew 9:2, 9:22, 14:27; Mark 6:50, 10:49; Luke 8:48; John 16:33; Acts 23:11). 

A furious squall battered the boat, almost swamping it. The disciples were—to say the least—disquieted! In their anxious state they notice Jesus peacefully sleeping. They wake Him up with, “Don’t You care that we’re drowning?!” Jesus stands up and says to the storm, “Quiet. Be still.” 

Recall that one of the descriptions of anxiety was being disquieted. That prefix dis- means to be separated: our anxiety would seek to distance us from God’s presence, to make us feel like His help is too far away. But when we go to Jesus, He alone can say, “Quiet” to our disquieting thoughts. He can remove the “dis-” and bring us close to Him. Only His peace can X-out the noise of the storm and bring you to a place of quiet rest. 

After Jesus said, “Quiet. Be still,” notice this: “THEN the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39). And the great thing is this: Even if another storm begins disquieting us just a few minutes after the calm, we can go to Him again. There is no limit: We can continually go to the Eternal Source of peace, to the only One who can speak, “Quiet” to our anxious thoughts. 

Please follow along with us as we learn more about X-ing out our anxieties. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Confident, Bold, and Joyful

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Zechariah pronounces more messianic prophecies than any other biblical writer, with the exception of Isaiah (and he wrote 66 chapters!). These prophecies are fulfilled in Christ’s First Advent, and promised for His Second Advent. Check these out for yourself…

(All of the biblical references for the above chart can be viewed by clicking here.) 

(All of the biblical references for the above chart can be viewed by clicking here.)

Why is it so vital that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies? 

(1) The historicity of these fulfilled prophecies gives us a confidence for the future. 

These fulfilled prophecies assure us that God is sovereign over all history. There are no accidents, and God needs no help from anyone else in fulfilling what He has promised. As a result, no world event—no matter how big it may seem—should be able to rattle us! 

(2) The authenticity of what God has done gives us boldness for today. 

When God does the miraculous, He authenticates His Word. This authenticity has always made God’s people stand out (see Genesis 41:39). It’s also why people recognized Jesus as the divine Son of God (John 3:2; 9:30-33). So we can live with the boldness to know that what God says He will do, He will do! 

(3) The exclusivity of God’s promises and fulfillment of those promises gives us joy for our testimony. 

Only Jesus could have done all of this (Luke 24:26-27, 44), so only Jesus can fulfill what is still remaining to be fulfilled! We can have supreme joy in knowing that only Jesus is our hope of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 

It’s vital that we know this is true so that we can live confident, bold, and joyful! Our confident boldness and our bold joy both glorify God and attract seekers to Him. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series looking at the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access all of those messages by clicking here. 

You may download a PDF version of the above charts by clicking here → Zechariah prophecies for the First Advent or here → Zechariah prophecies for the Second Advent

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

By His Stripes

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Have you ever heard this truism: The person with an experience is never at the mercy of the person with an argument? 

There are, sadly, many who deny the reality of God’s divine healing for today. They may say God healed in the past, but that age has passed, or they may simply deny all supernatural activity. I have the best reply to these skeptics or deniers—and you may have this same reply: God does heal today; I know this is true because He has healed me! 

Our truth statement about this says: “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.” Let me break this down into three parts. 

(1) “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel.” After that word “integral” I’d like to insert the word “indisputable.” When God does the miraculous, it is an undeniable proof of His love and power. A great story to prove this point is when Jesus healed a paralytic after He forgave him of his sins (Luke 5:17-26). 

Notice how the people responded: Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. This glory to God has always been the reason God performs miracles (see Mark 6:7-13; Acts 2:43; Acts 3:9-12). 

(2) “Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement.” I like to remember that the word atonement means “at-onement” and stands opposed to disease which I like to say as “dis-ease.” Sin is our ultimate dis-ease—the ultimate separator—so Jesus took care of both our spiritual dis-ease and our physical dis-ease when He died on the Cross for us, just as Isaiah prophesied. That’s why the New Testament also shows us salvation and healing frequently being linked together (Acts 10:38; 8:4-8). 

(3) “And is the privilege of all believers.” ALL believers, not just a select few and not just those who lived at the time of the first apostles. 

Divine healing has been—and always will be—an integral and indisputable part of the gospel precisely because it exalts God as THE Healer. 

Many people today still believe what the disciples of Jesus believed: Disease is a consequence of personal sin. In addressing this misunderstanding, Jesus said that disease was “so that the work of God might be displayed” in the life of the one about to be healed. He said something similar while at the graveside of Lazarus, before he raised that dead man back to life (John 9:1-38; 11:4-45). 

Sometimes God heals us now, but ALWAYS He heals us in our glorified bodies (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 5:1-9; Revelation 21:4). Our patience and hope in our future, ultimate healing glorifies God in the present. 

By faith in Jesus we can claim that “by His stripes we have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The verb tense Peter uses means we have been healed, we are being healed now, and we will be ultimately healed in Christ’s eternal presence. Whether we are healed here or not, we can live knowing that His healing power always brings Him glory and always draws people to Him, so don’t hesitate to keep on asking Him for His healing touch on your body and soul. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series exploring our foundational beliefs, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

%d bloggers like this: