Let Your Outline Tell The Story: Preaching Through Chronicles

When I arrived at 2 Chronicles 13 I decided to created an outline that told a story. Hopefully the story of the outline reflected the story of the narrative:

  1. We face a sinister foe (vv. 1-3, 6-9)
  2. But we belong to an eternal kingdom (vv. 4-5)
  3. Which means we are loyal to our God (vv. 10-11)
  4. And He fights with us for victory (vv. 12-22)

The outline points tell the story in broad strokes.

It is often possible to create outline points–major points–that follow the storyline of the narrative. You can do the same thing with an epistle. In that case the major points reflect the logical connections and flow of the argument of a paragraph or series of paragraphs.

When you preach 2 Chronicles 13 you have an opportunity to spend time with your congregation thinking about how God fights for us in our Christian experience. It’s one of my favorite themes of the Old and New Testaments.

Verse 12 reads, “Behold, God is with us at our head…” What a great opportunity to rally the faith-family around the concept of our Lord leading us in every spiritual battle.

And if you are inclined to read Chronicles Christologically, you could start with McConville’s statement:

“weakness is a positive advantage because it is a prerequisite of reliance.”

The Gospel includes the ultimate weakness of the Cross and the ultimate victory for all who believe. In 2 Chronicles 13 we lead the way in counting on our Lord to provide spiritual victory so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


You Need To Read: Preaching That Matters

This brief break from preaching through Chronicles–I know you’re disappointed–highlights a very helpful book. It’s

Preaching That Matters: Reflective Practices for Transforming Sermons by Lori J. Carrell.

First, Michael Quicke wrote the foreword. Michael and I met years ago through the Evangelical Homiletics Society. He is one of the most delightful persons I’ve ever met. Plus, he’s an excellent homiletician. His books are worth reading too.

But Carrell’s book is helpful for those of us who truly want to improve our preaching. It helps by providing so many snippets of interviews with pastors who wrestle with their preaching in light of attending preaching training sessions. You will find Carrell’s survey insightful, providing data from preachers and their listeners.

So, from time to time as I work my way through the rest of Chronicles, I will include some of Carrell’s insights that have helped me and may help you too.

Like, for instance, the preacher who says, even though he knows preaching is two-directional (the preacher communicates and the listeners must also think through what the preacher says):

“but my behavior when I’m preaching makes it appear that I don’t think anything is happening in the minds of my listeners” (p. 25).

So, when we’re preparing to preach and while we’re preaching we must keep in mind what may be in their minds when they hear what God is saying to the church.

Before Sunday, think about spending sermon minutes devoted to thinking about what your listeners are thinking. We send the message out; they, however, must receive that message. One way we work at preaching is making sure God’s message we preach isn’t distorted by the listeners. Look for things in your preaching portion that will get a reaction from your listeners. If that reaction is anything but genuine acceptance, do some work to reorient their thinking…

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


Preaching Both Folly and Wisdom: Preaching Through Chronicles

Due to the spiritual schizophrenia of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, when you reach 2 Chronicles 9:31–12:16 you preach both foolishness and wisdom. I found it to be one of my most difficult sermons in this Chronicles series. But here’s a strategy that worked.

Begin with foolishness and there’s plenty of it in 10:1-15a; 11:14-15 and 12:1, 14. Virtually every section contains some form of “go and do otherwise” examples from this king. His foolishness ranges from refusing to listen to wise counsel to unfaithfulness to the Lord Himself.

Then it’s easy to move to the cursed results of the king’s foolishness in 10:16-19; 12:2-5, 9-11 and 15. In those sections, God’s people experience division, defeat in battle, and are deserted by God. These sermon minutes are aimed at encouraging our faith-families to not follow the foolishness of Rehoboam.

Thankfully, the next section shows the king recovering some of his spiritual sensitivities. There is wisdom to emulate in 11:1-4, 16-17, 22-23 and 12:6. One critical concept throughout Chronicles is in 11:16-17 where people “set their hearts to seek the Lord….for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon.”

The sermon can end on a wonderful note of blessings found in 11:5-13, 18-21; 12:7-8 and 12-13. The highlight for me in this section is in 12:7-8 and 12-13 where the Lord extends mercy: “I will not destroy them…and my wrath shall not be poured out…”

And if you have the inclination to move to the cross, key on 12:12 “And when he humbled himself the wrath of the Lord turned from him…” Not so of Christ on the cross. And that’s the reason why we can experience deliverance in our world.

Anyway, that’s the way I handled probably my toughest preaching portion in Chronicles so far. I hope it helps you preach through the books so God receives His due in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


What I learned From Listening To Someone Else Preach

Due to sickness earlier in the week, my Elders strongly suggested I only preach once yesterday. That meant I had the privilege of listening to one of my colleagues preach. Like many of you, I don’t get the opportunity to listen to someone else preach live too often. I learned that:

  1. Our relationship with our listeners is an important part of preaching. My friend has great rapport with our faith-family and it showed in his preaching and our worshiping in the Word.
  2. Powerful illustrations can overpower the sermon point. He told a “killer” (literally!) story about Zwingli’s brutal treatment of Anabaptists. The next thing you say after the story is over is critical for regaining attention back to the message. That’s the time for a succinct, well-worded sentence or two of how the Text affects the listener’s relationship with God. If you don’t do that, the sheer force of the illustration can hijack the sermon.
  3. Don’t break eye-contact when you arrive at your key statements. You probably have them written down in your notes. You want to say them just right, but you also need to impress it on your listeners and that happens best while you’re looking at them.
  4. Work extra hard to maintain good energy while covering a long list of commands. In the preaching covered yesterday there were at least seven commands in a row. It is difficult, next to impossible to keep a congregation engaged as you explain each item. Carefully consider how you’ll pace yourself through the list. Think about an approach–cover each equally (say a minute and a half each?), focus on a few, or group some of them. Whatever you decide, remember how difficult it is to keep a sermon’s energy high as you move through the list.
  5. My mind wandered during the sermon. I know, right?! But it did. It’s difficult to keep our listeners with us as the minutes go by. It’s critical, then, to keep bringing them back, especially by reminding them of the big idea.

May these takeaways add to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),


P.S. For what it’s worth, that sermon was very good!

Preaching OT Prayers (part 2): Preaching Through Chronicles

That guy is still praying because 2 Chronicles 6:1-42 and 7:12-22 is a long section loaded with theology for our faith-families. Because of the length and depth of the section, I decided to divide it into two sermons.

In Chronicles kings like Solomon lead the way to a successful relationship with the Lord. In this section Solomon sets an example for us to follow. God intends for us to pray like this and expect God to answer.

Last week I summarized the prayer this way:

  1. God is accessible (v. 6:18)
  2. And attentive to our prayers (vv. 6:19a, 20, 21a; 7:15-16)
  3. For forgiveness and help (vv. 6:21b, 25, 27a, 29b, 30, 39; 7:14b). As you can see I usually make it a practice to lump together all the places in a preaching portion that deal with the same theme. Otherwise, moving verse by verse or phrase by phrase would result in numerous repetitions of the same theme.
  4. Because of our sin and its consequences (vv. 6:22, 24, 26, 28, 36)

Let’s add to that:

5. But we’ve got a problem (v. 6:23). The problem is that God repays “the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head.” It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to teach both the holiness and justice of God and His mercy in providing forgiveness.

6. And a responsibility (vv. 6:24b, 26b, 37-38; 7:14a). That responsibility is to humbly repent or “turn” back to God again.

7. To learn and live “the good way” (vv. 6:14b, 27b, 31). This section repeats or restates the concept of walking three times.

8. What makes it all possible (v. 6:14a, 42). I saved this thought for last because of my desire to always end with how, in this case, the Christ-event makes this theology true for us. God continues to keep “covenant and” show “steadfast love” to us who believe because of what Christ has accomplished.

If you take a look all eight points you can see how much disciple-making is covered in this prayer. Preach it so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching OT Prayers: Preaching Through Chronicles

When you reach 2 Chronicles 6 and 7 you have an opportunity to preach a strategic OT prayer. It’s one of the benefits of preaching through the OT. The OT prayers such as Solomon’s in this text contain important aspects of a theology of prayer. These prayers function for the church by teaching us about God’s character, the kinds of things we need from Him, and His ability to answer our prayers.

I organized the teaching this way:

  1. God is accessible (v. 6:18). The opening question shows that God dwells with us. These are excellent opportunities to teach God’s omnipresence and immensity.
  2. He’s also attentive to our prayers (vv. 6:19a, 20, 21a, 7:15-16). In this section Solomon prays what he knows to be true of God: “…have regard to the prayer of your servant…listening to the cry…”
  3. We pray for forgiveness and help (vv. 6:29b, 21b, 25, 27a, 30, 39; 7:14b). The Chronicler records 14 times where God’s people are unfaithful. I can’t think of another prayer more important to our spiritual lives than asking God for forgiveness. You can see from the verses how much of this section is devoted to what we need from God. You might have some fun with 7:14 since so many of our congregants have heard this verse quoted in terms of our country’s spiritual condition. There are lots of reasons why this verse shouldn’t be read and applied that way.
  4. We pray this because of our sin and its consequences (vv. 6:22, 24, 26, 28, 36). Verse 36 provides an excellent opportunity to teach the universality of sin (things like original sin and actual sins): “for there is no one who does not sin.”

Due to the length and importance of this section, I chose to spend two teaching times on it. Solomon leads the way so we will pray and God will answer. Consider preaching these prayers in Chronicles and contribute to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching An OT Worship Service (Preaching Through Chronicles)

One of my favorite places in 2 Chronicles is from 2:1–6:2 and 7:1-3. This lengthy Scripture records the building of God’s house. In the middle of all the details about materials and furnishing you will find a description of an OT worship service.

Consider structuring your sermon around the following (providing you have already taught a theology of the temple in previous sermons as I had):

  1. The character of our God (vv. 5:13b; 7:3b). It should go without saying that our worship centers on our God. In this section we find repeated, “For he is good…” Think about how we use this word in daily life–“that was a good meal, movie, book, or day”–and you quickly realize we’ve got some work to do explaining the goodness of our God. The other character trait of our God is his loyal love (the important Hebrew word, hesed). Nothing sets off a worship celebration like focusing on the goodness of our God.
  2. The glory of our God (vv. 5:13c-6:1; 7:1-2). In this section “the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” 6:1 describes “thick darkness.” There’s a mysteriousness about our God’s presence. Even in Exodus 24:9-11, for instance, when we read, “they beheld God,” we learn that, “There was under his feet…” So, we don’t really see God, but only what He was “standing on.” It’s good for us to remember that our glorious God who matters most, is present with His people. We’re never alone in this world. God is with us.
  3. Finally, our response to His goodness and glory is seen in 7:3. We read, “they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord…” Our worship always includes this same humble attitude, if not the same humble posture.

And if you’re wanting to read Chronicles Christologically, you certainly can remind your faith-family from John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory…” That vision of our glorious Christ continues to drive our worship services.

May we preach about worship in our worship services so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


We Made It Through Another Advent Season!

Heading into each December I experience mixed emotions when I think about  preaching. I am excited because Advent has great sermon potential. I am apprehensive because I’ve covered this ground many times before. Twenty-seven to be exact.

On top of that, God has blessed me with two relatively long pastorates (12 advents at The People’s Church in New Brunswick, Canada and 15 advents and still counting at Calvary Bible Church, Mount Joy, PA). But with that blessing comes the challenge of finding new things to preach.

If you struggle like I do sometimes trying to figure out what to preach during Advent, here are some ideas that may help for 2018:

  1. Early in my pastorate at CBC, a dear parishioner reminded me that the birth narratives never get old. She was trying to ease my angst about finding something new every year. It was a good reminder. The Gospel narratives are always appropriate. Like classic Christmas songs or movies, the birth narratives of our Lord never get old.
  2. Every year I look forward to receiving Advent devotional booklets from the fine faculties of Dallas Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Almost every year I receive direction for or confirmation of my Advent preaching plan.
  3. Church & Culture is a blog by veteran Pastor James Emery White of Charlotte, NC. Along with having a finger on the pulse of our society, he shares many of his Advent sermon themes. Having been at Meck’ for many years, White knows what it’s like to face yet another Advent season with the same faith-family.
  4. The Advent key words, hope, peace, joy, and love, make excellent series. The four Christmas concepts also provide latitude for us to preach on many Old and New Testament Scriptures.
  5. Finally, Advent provides excellent opportunities to explore major Christian doctrines. It’s a great time to read in depth theological works on theology proper, the Incarnation, the Trinity, Christology, Anthropology, and Pneumatology (this was my first year to include a sermon on the Advent of the Holy Spirit and the corresponding peace in John 14).

May God give us many more opportunities to preach during Advent so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching the Wisdom of Solomon: Preaching Through 2 Chronicles

Solomon certainly was a wise ole owl. His God-given wisdom is highlighted almost immediately in chapter 1 of 2 Chronicles.

As I entered 2 Chronicles, I chose to stay with the same theme, “Direct our hearts toward you, Lord.” Solomon leads the way by showing that God alone possesses the wisdom we need to live LifePlus. When you preach 1:1-17 and also 9:1-31 you will be encouraging your parishioners to follow Solomon’s example by seeking the wisdom God provides.

You might begin with the concept of the Source and special nature of this wisdom (vv. 1:7, 10). It is significant that the narrative begins with God telling Solomon, “Ask what I shall give you.” There’s so much theology in that question.

I asked our faith-family: “Wouldn’t it be great if God asked you that same question?” Of course, according to Matt. 7:7 and James 1:5; 4:2, God does tell us to ask Him for the same: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all…” This separates us from the average citizen who turns elsewhere for this commodity.

Next, you might want to spend a moment talking about the priority of this wisdom (vv. 1:8-9, 11). There were so many other things Solomon could have asked for (see the list in v. 11). Every one of those things was important to Solomon’s success, but he asked God for wisdom. Solomon truly was a fine example of Homo (man) Sapiens (wise).

Finally, wisdom has its benefits (vv. 1:12-17; 9:1-28). Chapter 9 contains this wonderful story of the Queen of Sheba arriving to see Solomon’s wisdom firsthand. Solomon’s subjects were faring very well in his kingdom and she was amazed at what she saw. Wisdom did that.

Proverbs 3:18 says, “she is a tree of life…” and 4:13, “for she is your life.”

And if you want to read Christologically, Matt. 12:42 says, “…something greater than Solomon is here.” God made Jesus “our wisdom” says 1 Cor. 1:30.

God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus will increase as you preach the wisdom Solomon received and Christ provides all who believe (Ephesians 3:21),


Preaching On Giving: Preaching Through First Chronicles

It’s great when you can preach about giving in the midst of an ongoing series through a book of the Bible like 1 Chronicles. You can say,

“Our study of the book of 1 Chronicles brings us to chapter 29 where King David teaches us about glad giving as a sing of or complete devotion to our Lord.”

Or something like that.

I was anxious to get to chapter 29 because v. 18 contained the phrase that became the title for our series: “…direct their hearts toward you.” David was asking the Lord to work in their hearts in such a way that they would never stop what they were doing. And what they were doing was “offering freely and joyously…” (v. 17).

Here are aspects of their giving you may want to consider for your congregants. Israel’s giving was…

  1. excessive (vv. 1-5a, 6-8). They were building a “palace” after all! The list, amounts, and quality of materials is impressive.
  2. eager (vv. 5b, 9b). Everyone was asked to give “willingly,” not of duty, but delight.
  3. wholehearted (vv. 5c, 9c). Their giving was an act of “consecrating” and involved their “whole heart.”
  4. glad (vv. 9a, d). They “rejoiced because they had given…” Here was a place where I confessed to our faith-family that I personally feel more celebration when I give toward a special project than I do when I write a check to the church each pay period. This section helped remind me of the joy of regular giving.
  5. worship-filled (vv. 10-22). This large section comes from David’s blessing the Lord: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty…” (v. 11). No wonder they gave aggressively! And you’ll love the perspective in v. 14 “…and of your own have we given you.” It’s all His to begin with!

Anyway, 1 Chronicles 29 is an excellent chapter to teach a theology of giving and I hope you’ll get that far into the book so that our Lord receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).