Preaching Through Daniel (part 4): Let The Story Carry Theology


Daniel’s Gospel begins with a narrative. The narrative conveys theology for the Church. If I want to communicate Daniel’s theology in church, I need to faithfully preach the story.

In order to faithfully preach the story I have to pay close attention to the plot, the rising action in the story.

(While grading sermons for grad students at Lancaster Bible College or doctoral students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I regularly draw their attention back to the development of plot in a narrative. Students will often focus on either the climax or conclusion of the story and, therefore, miss the subject of the narrative.)

So, for instance, in Daniel 1:1-21 the plot surrounds a few chosen Israelites being trained for service for the foreign king. How Daniel handles this training conveys theology for the Church.

Christians have always been in a similar situation–living out our faith in a world where the ungodly are in power. Daniel’s decision to draw a line (“…resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” in v. 8) is an example for us to follow.

The key is to find a parallel between the subject of the plot and our Christian experience.

However, we don’t only follow Daniel’s example. I want to strive for a Christo-centric (-telic?) interpretation of Daniel. All Christians function like Daniel in the world because all Christians trust in their Savior. It is significant that v. 6 identifies Daniel and his three friends as “of the tribe of Judah.” These four point forward to another from the tribe of Judah. Jesus, like Daniel, lived in a world where the ungodly were in power. Like Daniel–and to an infinitely greater degree–our Savior kept His resolve to not defile Himself. And because He did, He died and rose again so that all who receive Him can become like Daniel in the world.

But, it all starts with the plot and all so God’s fame can grow in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach a good sermon, will ya?!


Preaching Through Daniel (part 3): Choose an Applicational Theme


I was hoping these posts on preaching apocalyptic books like Daniel would relate to preaching other books. So far, so good.

Post #1 showed how the beginning and ending of Daniel provide clues to its message to the Church. Often, the Author/authors of the books of the Bible signal their intention at the beginning and end of a book (try this with Revelation).

Post #2 showed how the narrative of Daniel (chapters 1-6) leads the way for interpreting the visions (chapters 7-12). Again, the same goes for the early chapters of Revelation that contain the letters to the seven churches.

Now, before you begin preaching a series through any book of the Bible, select an applicational theme for the book. Let that theme provide continuity for the series. Let that theme be the focus for the series.

For my series on Daniel I selected: Remaining Godly in an Ungodly World.

If you decide to use a theme for your series through a book of the Bible, consider the value of an applicational theme. Every Sunday parishioners will hear how Daniel, for instance, functions for the Church. They will hear how Daniel’s theology affects them.

This will be especially important by the time you arrive at the visionary material. The tendency is to get lost in the impossible-to-interpret material. Keeping the applicational theme in focus will keep the sermon aimed at worship, not speculation.

The other alternative–doctrinal themes–have less impact. They provide information only. In many cases the title of your sermon series is the first exposure to your sermon. Better to lead them immediately to an act of worship than to pieces of solitary doctrine.

Before Sunday, even if you aren’t preaching through a book of the Bible, see if your sermon title is aimed at application, not simply information.

And preach a good sermon, will ya, so God’s reputation grows in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through Daniel (Part 2): Story First, Then Visions


If you have read Daniel recently, you may recall that the book begins as a narrative or story. In my previous post I pointed out that Daniel gives us its purpose at the beginning and end of the book (the description of Daniel and his friends and also the description of all God’s people as they enter eternity).

In Daniel, the story comes first and then the visions follow. That means that the story forms the foundation for the meaning of the visions. Or, you could say it this way: the visions mean something in relationship to the story. The two sections are connected. And while the visions may be difficult to understand concerning their details, they function by urging God’s people to remain godly in an ungodly world.

There is no need to shy away from preaching the visionary chapters (7-12). And yet, as you can imagine, preachers are far more prone to preach chapters 1-6 (story) than to preach through the last six chapters (visions). That may be because we tend to separate the two sections.

Lord willing, in weeks to come I will move through the book of Daniel and show how these first two characteristics work:

1. The beginning and ending contain Daniel’s purpose (the same with Revelation)

2. The genre (type of literature) at the beginning of Daniel (narrative) provides the foundation for meaning for the visions. (In Revelation, the opening chapters containing the letters to the seven churches provide the foundation for meaning for the visions that follow.)

I hope this helps you if you are ever thinking about preaching through some of the apocalyptic books in the Bible.

Preach a good sermon, will ya?! And let’s do so so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through The Book of Daniel (What Was I Thinking?!)


I began preaching through the book of Daniel on the first Sunday in June, 2015. I was hoping Jesus would return before then, but He didn’t.

For the next several posts, I will be sharing some of the things I learned from preaching through a largely apocalyptic book. The posts may help if you’re planning to teach or preach through Daniel some day. They will also help if your teaching and preaching plan includes preaching any apocalyptic material. Apocalyptic books seem to share characteristics, like this first one:

Pay attention to the way Daniel begins and ends.

The focus and purpose of Daniel is found at the beginning and end of the book. This is important because all of the incredibly difficult-to-understand visions in the final six chapters find their meaning in connection with the focus/purpose found at the edges.

So, in Daniel 1:4 the “youths” are described as “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning…” Then, in Daniel 12:3 God’s people who will be delivered in the end are described as “those who are wise…”

Daniel is structured to signal all professing Christians to make sure that this description fits them. Those that remain godly in an ungodly world are the wise. These are genuine Believers. They understand what God is doing in the world and what He expects of them. These are the ones that know how to navigate a world where the ungodly are in power (more on that in another post). These are the ones that know what to do with information about the coming age of final salvation and final judgment.

Usually, I would end with a, “Before Sunday…,” assignment, but that will be a little more difficult with these posts. Unless, of course you’re teaching/preaching apocalyptic material. If so, check to see where your theme and purpose for the book comes from. Often the beginning and end will supply this critical information for biblical preaching so that God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach a good sermon, will ya?!


P.S. A Christ-centered interpretation will show how Christ is “made unto us wisdom…”


How to Avoid “Coruscating” Communication


Somewhere in my readings last year, I learned a new word. “Coruscating” means the fragmentation of light. It means to give forth flashes of light (as opposed to one beam).

Take another look at the image above. What happens to your eyes when you look at it? I found my eyes quickly moving to each individual light. I wasn’t focusing on any one light.

Think about this in  light of our sermons and what our sermons do to our listeners. If our sermons engage in coruscating communication, our listeners’ attention will be easily diverted to all those individual flashes of concepts or ideas. Throughout the sermon we shine a bright light on various exegetical fragments and draw listener attention there for a few minutes before moving on to the next one. We are not communicating the cohesiveness that’s built into the structure of the preaching portion.

I am entering my second week of teaching Advanced Homiletics for Lancaster Bible College’s Graduate School. Soon I will be listening to student sermons. If history repeats itself, one comment I will make repeatedly in my evaluations is:

“The sermon contained too many unconnected ideas.”

Before Sunday, check to see if you are doing the following to help your parishioners focus on God’s Word:

1. Use your outline to display conceptual unity. Check your major points to see if they communicate the unity of the passage.

2. Use the intention of the passage to display unity. Throughout the sermon, keep everyone focused on how your preaching portion functions for the Church (what listeners are to do as a result of hearing God’s Word).

3. Finally, keep everything connected to the big idea of the preaching portion so that all those individual beams of light point back to their source.

All three demand the use of clear, logical transitions, every step of the way. I suggest that you write your sermon manuscript with these transitions in mind so that your listeners always see how the ideas in the passage combine to create meaning and intention.

And all for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Preach a good sermon, will ya!?!

Is Your Preaching Getting Better?


A while ago the following sentence caught my eye. It’s from Pandora’s bio on the singing group, Hot Chocolate:

“An interracial English funk and soul group, Hot Chocolate scored a pair of huge hits in the 70’s but were otherwise more enthusiastic than skilled.”


This immediately made me think of what someone could say about me or any other preaching pastor.

I recognize that skill levels vary with individuals. It’s that way with athletes. There is LeBron James and there are other basketball players (older blog readers insert Michael Jordan). And it’s that way with preachers. I’m no Tony Evans or Tim Keller.

This week I begin teaching Advanced Homiletics to a class at LBC’s northern Virginia campus. I’m also in the middle of working with a Baltimore pastor in an independent study in Communicating Biblical Truth. So, I’m thinking a lot these days about how to teach hermeneutical and homiletical skills. As always, it forces me to think about how I’m doing. How skillful am I at…

  • fighting the good fight of faith? At fighting temptation? At displaying the fruit of the Spirit?
  • interpreting how Scripture functions for the Church? At theological exegesis? At understanding the human heart?
  • communicating God’s Word in church? At speaking, pace, movement, energy, urgency? At relating to the learners?

Take a look at those three broad categories. What does it take to become more skillful in these areas. It takes intentional, intense prayer. It takes purposeful reading. It takes consistent pastoral interaction (loving and listening).

God help us preach better so that He gets glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Preach a good sermon, will ya?!


Preaching in Relatively Emotionless Bible Churches

TDT_Feeling Your Feelings

Our preaching portion for this past Sunday evening began, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1). So, I began the exposition with that concept. Our Lord is returning and we are going to join Him.

Nothing happened.

Preaching without notes means that, when I’m not looking down at my Bible, I’m looking at congregants. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when I see them responding; it’s a curse when I see that their emotions are turned off.

Over the years I’ve half-joked with our faith-family something like this: “Let’s be careful. We’re a Bible Church. We know things; we don’t feel things.”

But, tell me how it’s possible for a Christian to hear about the coming of Jesus and not feel something! That tells me that my job is not just to teach what the arrival of Jesus means. I have to also urge them to feel it. I argue that if they don’t feel something, that says something about their faith.

Some of it’s habit: we’re in the habit of learning without feeling. Some of it is apathy created from living in America where we have things so good most of the time. Watch the reaction of young people when they hear about the arrival of Jesus. Then watch the reaction on the faces of elder people who are battling terminal illness. Circumstances do tend to affect the way we feel our faith.

It’s like when someone says, “I sure hope Jesus doesn’t come back until after our wedding.” You understand their sentiment.

Before Sunday, see if there are places in your preaching portion where an emotional response is the natural result of saving faith. Along with explaining the doctrine, think through what you can say to help switch their emotions on. Some congregants will beat you to it. Feed off them as you urge the faith-family to feel what they know so that God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

And preach a good sermon, will ya?!


How Do You Handle All The English Translations Your Congregants Carry?


Our parishioners have lots of English versions of the Bible to choose from. On any given Sunday I can count on our faith-family members to carry ESV’s, NIV’s, NASB’s, KJV’s, NKJV’s, and NLT’s. And I’m probably forgetting some.

Most weekends, I try to familiarize myself with how those translations read. I want to know what my congregants are reading while I’m teaching. Sometimes the differences are minimal; other times critical.

My training at Dallas Theological Seminary and post-doctoral studies at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) equipped me to read Hebrew and Greek during my sermon preparation. This gives me a platform from which to understand why English translators are doing what they’re doing. Sometimes I pass that information on to our folks.

But that can create a problem. My attempts to explain why, for instance, the NIV is not the “best” translation of that word/phrase/verse, can give the congregants holding that translation the notion that their Bible isn’t reliable. I don’t want to do that.

In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Fred Craddock writes:

Some parishioners will need help with such textual variants lest the mood of uncertainty about the text become erosive to faith. The preacher and the teacher want always to give the Bible to the listeners, not take it away (p. 289).
How can we explain the different English translations of our Sunday preaching portions and still instill confidence that this is God’s Word?
  1. Remind them that translators are wrestling with original-language sources that read differently. Sometimes, just knowing that helps. Sometimes.
  2. Show them why their particular version works. Avoid saying, “Your version is wrong!”
  3. Tell them that choosing between these exegetical options is all good: “It’s okay. Relax.”

Before Sunday, check to see if you have any places in your preaching portion that require this kind of interaction. Give them confidence in the Word of God and contribute to His glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

And preach a good sermon, will ya?!


“Some scholars believe…”: Harmless-Sounding Sermon Segments

Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang), Gunung Leuser National Park, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang), Gunung Leuser National Park, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Two Sundays ago, I preached on Hebrews 9:22-28. Verse 28 reads, “so Christ…will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Before that, I preached through the book of Daniel and encountered phrases like, “it would be for a time, times, and half a time” (12:7) or, “Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days” (12:12).

No, I’m not a sucker for punishment. I just happened to be in a series that forces me to explain and apply some very difficult Scripture.

But that makes me susceptible to saying things like: “Some scholars believe that before Jesus appears the second time on earth, He will…” Or, “Many believe that what the angel was saying is…” Or, “Others believe that the 1,335 days mean…”

At first these kinds of phrases might appear harmless. I means, let’s face it, what harm can it do to give congregants exegetical or interpretive options? The more I’ve thought about this habit of mine, the more I’ve come to think that those minutes are not as harmless as they look. Those minutes…

  • take me away from my primary task of announcing truth and urging faith and a worshipful response.
  • eat up precious time that I usually wish I had as the sermon comes to a close.
  • muddy the waters and distract listeners from their worship-response.

Before Sunday, examine your notes and see if such harmless-looking minutes exist. Decide whether those minutes help you complete your responsibilities to watch over souls.

And, for the sake of God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21), preach a good sermon, will ya.


What I’m Learning About Preaching From American Idol Judges


I admit it. I enjoy watching competitions like American Idol and The Voice. Partly because I love to hear good singing. Partly because the judges teach me about effective communication to contemporary listeners. Even though I focus almost entirely on the hermeneutical side of homiletics, I still try to think about effective communication.
There are many similarities between good singing performances and good preaching (notice I did not add, “performances,” because I do not like to think of preaching in terms of a performance).
So over the years, over and over again, I hear the judges tell a contestant:
“You need to make a connection with the audience and the way that happens is by losing yourself in the lyrics and telling the story so it’s believable. When you feel what you’re singing about, your audience will feel it too and believe your story.” Or something like that.
Do you see how this applies to preaching? A preacher losing himself in his sermon and telling the Story so it’s believable? A preacher feeling what he’s preaching about and conveying such feeling that his listeners find themselves believing it too?
Now, let’s ask ourselves what happens when we preach without doing this. How do you think we connect when we preach without losing ourselves in the message or without conveying the fact that we believe the Story? Not very well.
One of the authors in, Preaching the New Testament, included Jana Childers’ observation found in her book, Performing the Word: “In her view too much contemporary preaching lacks passion and does not sound like the preacher believes what he is preaching” (p. 236 of Preaching the NT).

I can tell you that many young preachers in my classrooms over the years have heard me say something very similar about their sermons. I wonder what the judges would say about my preaching.

Before Sunday, be sure your faith in the message allows your to lose yourself in the sermon and tell the Story in a way that’s believable. Feel what you’re preaching about and convey that emotion to your congregants.

For the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21), preach a good sermon will ya?!