If you’re afternoon is free, there are still 5 seats available for tomorrow afternoon’s preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, PA campus). The title is: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes! We’ll discuss this topic while working through the infamous narrative of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11.

Date: April 26, 2016
Time: 01:00-04:00 p.m.
Event: Spring Preaching Workshop
Topic: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes!
Sponsor: Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School
Venue: Charles Frey Academic Center
Public: Public

Why the Storyline Must Be Followed (part 4 of preaching through books of the Bible)


This past week I enjoyed the privilege of spending time with masters level students at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. Because I’m teaching an Advanced Homiletics class, we spend a lot of time in Old Testament narratives (as opposed to NT epistles).

One of the things I wanted them to think about was that because the Bible is literature, theology is conveyed in narratives through the storyline. So, take a detour from the storyline and you run the risk of losing the theology God conveys through the narrative.

Why would a preacher stray from the storyline in an effort to preach a narrative? One reason is because many of us continue to develop a sermon on the basis of what jumps out at us in the story. I call that the Jack-in-the-box method. The problem is we tend to interpret and apply what jumped out at us without linking it to the rising action of the narrative.

Another reason I’ve seen over the years is the tendency to identify timeless principles from the narrative and preach them in isolation from the rising action. The principles function on their own and the preacher gives the impression that the principles are conveying the theology, not the storyline.

So, before Sunday, if you are preaching an Old or New Testament narrative, see if you are allowing the storyline to carry the theology of the preaching portion. See if the rising action is the source of your sermon’s subject matter.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preach the Plot (part 3 of preaching through books of the Bible)

2014-12-20 20.09.36

If you ever try preaching through a long, Old Testament book of the Bible, I hope this series of posts will help. So far we’ve discussed

(1) selecting a theme to carry continuity throughout the sermon series;

(2) being prepared to go easy on the details so you can cover large portions of material.

In this post I want to remind you of how important the storyline is in a book like Judges (my current series). If you decide to preach through an  OT book that’s mostly narrative, it’s important to identify how the plot develops early on in the book. Because of the way stories work, the plot development most likely begins early in the book and is completed near the end of the book. All preaching portions in the middle somehow connect to this storyline.

For instance, the book of Judges opens with a command to go to war. Theological interpretation–how Judges functions for the Church–hinges on understanding our current battle to prevent the “Canaanization” of the Church (we could say, the Americanization of the Church: Christians adopting the thinking and practices of our culture).

God’s people have the stubborn tendency to worship idols. Someone has said that our hearts are an idol factory. I tend to think of our hearts as a worship factory–we will worship something.

However, seven times in chapter 1 we read, “…did not drive out…” Even though we learn that Israel “grew strong…” Davis described them as “a people clearly successful though certainly disobedient. Pragmatic success and spiritual failure.”

The sermon series will relate to this action of God’s people making sure they remain separate from the world (in a true, biblical sense of separation). Story after story show God’s people failing and God graciously intervening to keep them from becoming destroyed. He remains faithful to His covenant for the sake of His reputation.

So, be prepared to communicate the theology that runs through the storyline of your narrative for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Before Sunday, if you are planning on preaching a narrative text, check to be sure you have traced the storyline.

P.P.S. The image above is a slide that shows how the big idea is found in narratives. If you want more detail on finding the big ideas in narratives and other genres, check out my book, Preaching With Accuracy.

Anticipate Larger Preaching Portions (Preaching Through Books, Part 2)


One of the first things I encountered preaching through books of the Bible was considering the option of selecting larger preaching portions. I was much more comfortable with preaching small sections of NT epistles. But, when I decided to preaching equally from both Testaments, it became apparent that larger-than-I-was-used-to portions were needed.

If you’re wondering why many OT narratives and some NT narratives call for larger preaching portions, consider:

  • theology is being conveyed through a storyline, rather than through phrases in tightly packed NT paragraphs
  • many narratives can be restating the same theology

Here’s an example from the book of Judges, a series I began a couple of weeks ago. Judges 3:7 begins the Book of Deliverers, what most of us think of when we think of Judges. I chose to cover the first four judges (five if you count Deborah and Barak separately) in one sermon. That meant covering Judges 3:7-4:24 in a 45-50 minute sermon!

There are three broad themes in these deliverance narratives: (1) our evil (2) God’s anger (3) God’s grace that raises up a deliverer.

Hardly any details are given about the first and third judges, Othniel and Shamgar. The stories of Ehud and Deborah/Barak contain tons of interesting details (the devious plan that led to Eglon’s assassination and Sisera being killed by a savage woman, Jael). However, most of those details do not contain theology. They do contain storytelling value and preachers have to decide how much time to devote to them.

I chose to highlight some things like God’s plan to use an unexpected deliverer that was left-handed and from the little tribe of Benjamin. Also, it was shocking that an enemy was dispatched by a woman, not Barak. Or, you might point out the incredibly power of God displayed in Shamgar’s military exploits (killing 600 Philistines with a cattle prod).

Anyway, consider the need to take larger preaching portions than you may be comfortable with for the sake of God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



A couple of weeks ago I began the frightening task of preaching through Judges. In 6:22 Gideon realizes he has seen the angel of the Lord: “Alas….I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” Dale Ralph Davis comments:

“There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”

Judges (Beanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2000), 97

How to Preach Through Books of the Bible: Selecting a Theme

judges slide

One of the most difficult and rewarding facets of pastoral ministry is preaching through books of the Bible. I’m praying Christ returns before I have to preach through Ezekiel!

In this series of posts I want to share some of the things I’ve learned from 25 years of preaching through books of the Old and New Testament.

The first thing I do is select a theme for the series. Here are some I discovered:

  • Unfaithful People/Faithful God
  • So Great Salvation
  • God in Chaos
  • Broken Heroes

From Judges 2:19 I selected the theme: The Salvation Of Stubborn Hearts. I wanted to capture God’s gracious deliverance and our stubborn tendency to forget Him and worship idols.

The theme you select is important because it is heard and developed in every sermon.

One of the hurdles of preaching through books of the Bible is locating and communicating the relevance of each preaching portion in the book. The theme can be extremely helpful in showing this relevance.

If your theme is accurate–meaning it is found in the book and is a major, not minor, concept–then it becomes the foundation for the relevance of each individual sermon. So all the time it takes reading the book, figuring out how it functions for the church is well worth it. And selecting the theme for the series usually takes up a majority of my study time as I prepare for the first sermon.

I wish there was a foolproof method for locating such a theme. I have discovered that theme-worthy concepts are often found at the beginning or ending of a book. That’s a great place to begin looking. It paid off for me in Judges as I said above. I’m sure a theme could be developed from the famous, final words describing God’s people: everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.

So, if you plan to preach through a book of the Bible soon, spend some time selecting a theme for the series so our Lord receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching to the Wise (part 16 and final post on preaching through Daniel)


When I began preaching through Daniel, I selected an image very similar to these bright stars to represent the meaning of the book. Daniel 12:3 reads, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Daniel began by describing Daniel and his friends in terms of their wisdom. Daniel ends by describing all Christians in eternity in the same terms. And this is a key to the theology of the final chapter.

The chapter contains many descriptions of genuine Believers:

  • “everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (v. 1)
  • “many…shall awake…to everlasting life” (v. 2)
  • “those who are wise” (v. 3)
  • “those who turn many to righteousness” (v. 3)
  • “many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined” (v. 10)
  • “those who are wise shall understand” (v. 10)
  • “blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days” (v. 12) Good luck, theologically speaking, figuring that one out!

You can create another list of the characteristics of non-Christian.

Like Daniel, we’re still waiting for the end, for the final judgment. Daniel was told, “But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” (v. 13)

Each Sunday we preach to the wise and give them the same confidence. We get the privilege to remind them, whether it’s Communion Sunday or not, to tell them about the cross. About the time when the Righteous One was judged as wicked so the wicked could become righteous and rule with God (the significance of shining brightly in the sky forever).

Of course, you’ll have to make it clear that all that talk of purifying themselves and making themselves white assumes purifying and whitening by faith in Christ.

Anyway, I hope if you’re ever preaching in Daniel or through Daniel, some of these posts may help you preach for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Finding Theology in the Middle of a Series of Wars (part 15 of preaching through Daniel)


Since I began preaching through books of the Bible in the late summer of 1991, I can count on one hand the number of times I wished I didn’t have to preach the upcoming preaching portion for Sunday. Daniel 11:1-45 was one of those times.

The chapter is filled with a list of kings, kingdoms, and power struggles. It’s the larger campaign God’s people are caught up in. According to God’s view of history, human beings are not inherently good. Knowledge and technology will not bring about a peaceful world. According to their recent TV advertisement, IBM is Building a Better Planet. Not according to chapter 11.

I found the details of these kings and kingdoms too tedious to elaborate on. I also did not find any broad categories that conveyed theology.

And sometimes those kingdoms take aim at us (cf. vv. 28, 30, 31, 32, 41, 44). This prepares us for persecution of the godly. And Daniel is all about urging us to remain godly in an ungodly world.

Thankfully, vv. 27, 29, 35 (“time appointed”) show us the history of our world under God’s complete control. He limits the length of their rules. God predicts the future because He controls the future. There is comfort in knowing that. This bolsters faith so we can wait, worship, and work hard for the kingdom until He arrives to clean house.

What I was looking for in the chapter was a description of what God’s people would be doing in the end. I found that in vv. 32-35. Especially important in Daniel is the character trait of wisdom. That was important at the very beginning of Daniel and it comes back to the front as the book comes to a close: “And the wise among the people…” (v. 33). Then there’s, “and some of the wise shall stumble…” (v. 35). Those verses teach us through example.

Ultimately, God’s elect who overcome at the end do so because they follow their Savior who is described as wise in Isaiah 52:13, “my Servant shall act wisely…”

If you ever get to preach Daniel 11, I hope this brief summary will help supplement your studies.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation (Ephesians 3:21).


“Hell is unfair” (part 8 of What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!)


This is my last installment of allowing Linda Mercadante’s research to help us understand what many of our listeners are thinking while they listen to our sermons. The research comes from her book, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious. I have benefited from her interviews of SBNR and hope you have too. We tend to think that our listeners are immune from such thinking, but it’s in the air we breathe. We’re all affected by such thinking and the Church is moving, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly, toward such thinking. Biblical preaching is one way to keep the Church of Christ on course.

The final area we’re highlighting is the flat out rejection of a literal heaven and hell. Mercandante writes:

“They outright rejected the idea of a static heaven and a torturous hell. Most also rejected any kind of ‘winnowing’ process where some would go to a better place and some to a worse one” (p. 195).


“Guiding their judgments, again, were factors like the American ethos of ‘fair-play’ and equality, as well as the therapeutic ethos….a number felt that believing in heaven and hell, or in any kind of afterlife, was immature, childish, selfish, and/or a vestige of a superstitious past. Several felt almost ‘honor bound’ to reject such seemingly unpopular or unscientific views” (p. 196).

Or this direct quote: “‘I never believe that you have to make people behave because they think they will burn in hell if they don’t. That’s threatening them to behave, which is negative reinforcement, which I don’t ever think is good.” (p. 198).

There you have it. As you know, if you preach the Bible from cover to cover, eventually you will butt heads with such thinking. We cannot change their minds unless God graciously opens their eyes. However, we can kindly let some of our listeners know that we know they struggle with this teaching. We can be the best amateur, expository apologists we can be (seems to me I’ve read about a book with such a title, but can’t remember for sure).

Even our mention of such an intellectual/spiritual struggle helps our faith-families realize the fight we’re in for God’s reality in a world that champions human fantasy.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).




Preaching About Our Cosmic Battle (part 14 of preaching through Daniel)


If you’ve ever thought about preaching on spiritual warfare or the cosmic battle we are a part of, Daniel 10 might be your Text. The chapter reminded me how a supernatural battle rages on earth and in heaven. We are never not in this fight!

Verse 1 makes it clear that God and His saints are under attack (“…and it was a great conflict”).

The supernatural beings involved look like characters from the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy or Ironman (vv. 5-6 “…his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze…”). Then, there’s all these exalted figures: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia…Michael, one of the chief princes…the kings of Persia” (v. 13). Concerning the regions of Persia and Greece (v. 20), Longman writes, “[they] are revealed as more than just human evil…” The evil in our world cannot be adequately explained purely on human terms.

How often do our parishioners forget that the battle on earth is matched by a battle in heaven. We seldom realize that the battle in heaven affects our fight on earth.

Maybe most important in Daniel 10 is the assurance that in this angelic warfare, our God wins. Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as “…spirits sent to serve.” This chapter shows God in full control of this cosmic battle.

Like every other era in redemptive history, God’s people need to respond to God’s instructions given in v. 19: “‘O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.’ And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened…”

First, we can remind ourselves of our Captain. His victory is hinted at in Genesis 3:14-15 and clearly described in Revelation 12:9 (“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”).

Second, because God loves us in Christ (“O man greatly loved…”), we need not be afraid when the fight is fierce. With the peace of God, we can “be strong and of good courage.”

Third, that strength that we receive by faith (“…as he spoke to me, I was strengthened…”) will help us live well until our Savior returns.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).