5 Steps for Effectively Preaching with Notes

You’ve seen those guys on TV, on TED talks, at big churches, and conferences. You know who I mean. They exude confidence as they stand on the stage and speak on a topic in great depth and at great length… without using notes!

Well, that’s probably not you… and it’s certainly not me.

Sure, you’d like to preach like Andy Stanley or Carey Nieuwhof, but if you use notes, you’ll find yourself preaching like NT Wright!!!

3 Bonus Benefits of Preaching With Notes

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  1. I provide copies of my manuscript to members who are hard of hearing. I’ve received a lot of appreciation for this.
  2. The person running the powerpoint knows exactly when to hit that key.
  3. If you’re struck with a stomach bug on Sunday morning, your fill-in has a sermon to preach.
  4. You’re less likely to say stuff you regret!
  5. Get the wording precise on those statements you think should be tweeted!!

Here are some tips to encourage the note-bound and guide those preachers making the transition to the blessed assurance of preaching with notes:

  1. Read Other People’s Notes
    That’s right, for all the teaching the prophets, apostles and Jesus himself carried out, all that remains are the notes from their sermons. Do you remember Apollos? Acts 18:24-26 tell us that Apollos was “educated, knew the Scriptures, and spoke boldly with fervor”. Guess what we don’t know about Apollos. There’s no record of his sermons, because he didn’t use notes! So start by studying the notes God’s given us. [Some people refer to these notes as the “The Bible”.] Ensure you pray as contemplate these notes.
  2. Outline Your Sermon
    Sure, some speakers can make their talk work with just a text and a destination, but that’s not you… or me. By outlining your sermon you ensure you lay the necessary foundation for the application. In our excitement preachers face the temptation to skip from A to C. We need to lead our congregations carefully through the logical progressions. This is also a good time to pray over the sermon you’re constructing.
  3. Write Your Sermon
    Truly the most vital element of preaching with notes is writing the notes. The notes must be written… or typed. They cannot be imagined or summarised with dot points. A crucial aspect of this step revolves around word choice. Writing notes allows the preacher to wade deeply into his lexicon to unearth the words and phrases which adroitly expound the topic in question. However, one should approach this phase cautiously as many an erudite speaker has lost his message through lexical decisions that leave the audience perplexed. The ultimate goal of this process is to select familiar words that communicate great truths efficiently. Prayer is recommended at throughout this step.
  4. Practice What You Preach
    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that practice is only for those attempting to memorise their notes. Practice allows the preacher to speak his sermon rather than reading it. We don’t want reading. The congregation doesn’t want reading. No one wants reading! Don’t worry, you’ll still be preaching from notes, but this step allows you to raise your eyes to the audience and make eye contact with those listening. During this step it’s valuable to pray for those who’ll be hearing the message, as well as to request divine guidance in its delivery.
  5. preachers 02Confidently Preach Your Sermon
    With your manuscript in front of you now you can speak clearly to your congregation. The presence of your notes doesn’t eliminate the option of speaking from the heart as the Holy Spirit moves you throughout the sermon. The notes serve as a compass to keep you on track. They remind you of phrases and word choices you’ve made during your preparation. And they demonstrate to the church that you’ve worked this week getting ready for Sunday.


Defining ‘The Way of the Lord’

The instruction “Walk in the way of the LORD” sounds like some solid Christian advice. This past Sunday I recommended it to our 2016 high school and college grad’s. However, I suspect that a quick survey of what it means to walk in the way of the LORD would produce a broad array of answers.

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  • The Way of the LORD leads through the cross.
  • The Way of the LORD is narrow.
  • The Way of the LORD refers to the church.
  • The Way of the LORD means obeying His commands.
  • The Way of the LORD requires following the Shepherd.
  • The Way of the LORD is easy and light.
  • The Way of the LORD demands sacrifice.

In various measures these are all correct.

Most Christians are probably unaware that God himself provides a definition of this term.

In Genesis 18:19 Yahweh describes why he chose Abraham: “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” (NRSV)

How can Abraham (and us) keep “the way of the LORD”?

“By doing righteousness and justice.”

I’ve never heard it defined that way. Okay, so I’ve never been asked to define “the way of the Lord”. It’s not a concept that all Christians know. Consider some of the other guiding principles Christians regularly recite:

  • The Golden RuleDo unto others as you’d like them to do to you.
  • The Greatest Command – Love the Lord your God with your whole being.
  • The Second CommandLove your neighbor as yourself.
  • The Fruit of the SpiritLove, joy peace, patience, kindness….
  • John 3:16God so loved the world…
  • The Beatitudes
  • The Lord’s Prayer

Perhaps you have other personal favorites, but “The Way of the LORD” isn’t on any list that I know.

Most churches I know also use a variety of items to measure the spiritual health of their members:checklist

  • Attendance
  • Giving
  • Volunteering / ministry involvement
  • Bible knowledge
  • Friendship with leaders
  • Prayerfulness
  • Absence of glaring sins and problems

I’ve never heard a church leader (including myself) describe someone as spiritually mature because they embody righteousness and justice.

I know many people have more detailed and accurate definitions of what God means by “righteousness and justice”, but here’s my working definition to start the conversation:

If we want to keep the Way of the Lord we’ll care for the vulnerable around us. We’ll look for the oppressed. We’ll care for those who are bit different from everyone else. We’ll reach out to those who struggle with life. We’ll stand up for those who aren’t treated fairly and aren’t given the opportunities they deserve. Righteousness isn’t limited to our personal innocence or purity. It means doing the right thing, the just thing, for others.

Who are the vulnerable and oppressed in your community? How is your life involved with theirs? Are you living righteousness and justice? Are you walking in the Way of the LORD?

You Can Make God Smile


Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  John 14:23

It often seems that when God wants to tell humanity what He wants from them He gives them laws. Think of the 10 Commandments. Consider that the first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Law. Ponder the Sermon on the Mount. Reflect on the imperatives of 1 Timothy 5. Law and requisite obedience loom heavy as we endeavour to live in a manner that honors God.

Surprisingly, the Hebrew prophets who mostly rail against Judah and Israel for their disobedience and rejection of God, also point us to values closer to God’s heart than obedience.

In Jeremiah 9:13 the prophet writes, “The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.” The consequence of this disobedience is described in v16 “ I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.

Despite this focus upon Judah’s faithfulness to God’s law we find an important insight in verse 23-24.

Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealthbut let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

In these verses God discounts wisdom, power, and wealth. I’m not sure if the parallel is intended but these three traits match up closely to the way God blessed Solomon in 1 Kings 3:10-15. In other settings God grants these attributes as blessings. However, Jeremiah’s context the blessings had become the objects of admiration, rather than the One who gave the blessings.

God then calls upon Judah to “know me“. He longs for his people to know Him, and he goes on to facilitate such knowing by describing Himself. God “acts with steadfast love (hesed), justice, and righteousness.” As a stand alone statement it’s good to know that these positive traits contribute to God’s motivation when He acts. This is particularly true in light of the earlier words of the chapter.

God’s final words in v24 give these 3 characteristics even greater significance. Steadfast love, justice, and righteousness are not just motivating traits, they’re virtues that God delights in! These are values close to God’s heart that make Him smile.

While God may bless us with wisdom, power and wealth, we must ensure we don’t idolise the gift rather than worshiping the Giver.

While God desires for us to keep His law, our relationship with Him is not founded upon obedience. I equate obedience with a parent telling a child to clean her bedroom or take out the trash. The chores build character, discipline and responsibility. There’ll be consequences if the chores aren’t done. But if children really want to make their parents smile, they’ll buy flowers, write a card, sing a song, or give a gift their parents value. It’s these latter actions that mean more to a parent’s heart.

So God tells his people what means the most to Him: steadfast love, justice and righteousness. When we integrate these values into our daily lives, God delights and smiles at us.

God smiles when we persist at loving the people in our lives who make it difficult.

God smiles when we stand with those who are disadvantaged, neglected and abused.

God smiles when we make choices to do the right thing treating others with respect and equality.

Yes, we can put a smile on God’s face when we build our lives around the virtues that delight Him.

Sadly, churches have too often given the impression that obedience is the value at the core of God’s being and the only thing He delights in. Jeremiah emphasises obedience, but gives greater priority to knowing God and His steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.


God Bless You

If you’re polite, you’ll say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.

If you’re from the Southern latitudes of the United States you’ll bless people’s souls as they’re in the process of embarrassing themselves.

If you’re an outgoing Christian you might end a conversation saying, “Have a blessed day”.

If you attend a church service near you, you’ll likely hear the word “blessed” about 27 times, with a particular concentration as the offering plate is about to be passed.

We use the word “bless” in a wide variety of settings with quite a larger range of meaning. Despite the common usage, if you’re like me you struggle to articulate the biblical meaning of the word.

As we begin this quest to understand the biblical concept of blessing, it’s worth noting that the Bible begins and ends with God blessing his children. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind. Once created the very next thing God did was to bless the people he created. Then in Revelation 22:14 God blesses his children who maintain their faith throughout their lives.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”   ~ Genesis 1:28

Blessing is not a cultural embellishment of socially defined politeness. Human life begins with a blessing from Creator God.

live-long-and-prosper-tee-shirt-cbs114bWe all understand that blessing is a good thing. (If you have time to kill, search for #blessed on Twitter and you’ll find a wide variety of blessings.) I suspect most people hear the word blessing and substitute thoughts such as: ‘Good luck’, ‘Live long and prosper’, ‘be happy’,  and ‘be successful’. In fact, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), one of the most familiar blessing passages in the Bible, quite a few Bible translations replace the usual opening of each line “Blessed are…” with “Happy are…”.

While happiness,health and prosperity are common elements of blessing, God has something much greater in mind when he blesses us.

I started contemplating the concept of blessing after reading a chapter in Harold Shank’s book Listening to His Heartbeat. As he provides his definition, Shank first cites Westermann’s What Does the Old Testament Say About God,

“Blessing is a quiet, continuous, flowing and unnoticed working of God which cannot be captured in moments or dates.”

Shank himself provides this summary (113),

Blessing is a theological way of describing all the provision, all the good, all the grace, all the mercy, all the love, all that God does for humanity. Blessing is being valued, worthwhile, and accepted.

Later Shank compares blessing and oxygen as he suggests that “Blessing is to the soul what air is to the body. Without blessing and air, life comes to a halt.” (114)

I don’t feel that I have any profound observations to add to these definitions. I guess I’d summarise this concept by emphasising that when God blesses his people he communicates to us that his heart’s desire is for us to experience his goodness. Not necessarily as we define goodness, but on his terms.

Theologically, when we say “God bless you” we say something like “may you experience and appreciate the presence and goodness of God in your life.” This perspective moves the focus of the blessing away from material accumulation to relationship with God.

In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman and immediately, as they wake and grow in awareness of the surroundings. As they breathe, see colors and shapes, feel temperatures and textures. As they’re filled with wonder, and just before they can contemplate fear, God blesses them. God tells them that from the depths of his heart he longs for them to experience and appreciate his presence and goodness, his love and his grace.

He blessed them… and his heart longs just as strongly for you.

I find that Laura Story’s song Blessings powerfully redirects our understanding of the concept away from “stuff” and toward God’s heart. In this video she speaks of some of her personal background to the song before performing it. I pray it will uplift you today.


The Gift of Presence

Back in the days when telephones were wired to walls, I had a cousin who would refuse to answer the telephone during dinner. He prioritised spending time with his family. He gave them the gift of his presence. Not just his physical presence, but his mental and emotional presence. For that time each day his wife and son knew that they were his #1 priority.

As mobile phones have proliferated the gift of conscious presence has become a scarcer commodity. You know a video strikes a chord when it has 50 million views on YouTube:

God has always valued this gift and throughout Scripture regularly promises his people the blessing of his presence. In Listening to His Heartbeat Harold Shank describes this gift as the “Divine With”. God promises to be with his people.

We see the precious  nature of the “Divine With” in the first chapters of the Bible. God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but sin resulted in them leaving the Garden of Eden. Although they leave the Garden, there’s no indication that God left them to their own devices at that point. That comes down in Genesis 4:16. After Cain kills Abel we’re told that, “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” The ultimate punishment for murder was to leave the presence of God.

In the new testament the “Divine With” gathers greater momentum. Matthew 1:23 introduces Jesus with the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us”.

As Jesus prepares to die in John 14:16 he promises, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.

Immediately prior to his ascension Jesus reassures his disciples saying, “surely I am with you always , to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Even the last words of Scripture in Revelation 22:21 contain the idea of presence, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

This promise continually reminds us that when we sit down at the table with God, we’re his #1 priority. When we’re driving our car, when we’re at school or work, when we’re tired, angry, sad, lonely… God is with us and at that moment we’re his #1 priority.

The repetition of this promise throughout the centuries reassures us that God’s longing to spend time with us emerges from deep within God’s heart. God’s presence provides me with tremendous comfort. As I write this blog I can pause and talk to God knowing here’s right here listening to me. I value his presence.

It’s tempting to end this post right here: warm and fuzzy. But as I revel in God’s presence I also appreciate that I share the same responsibility.

Job’s friends frequently serve as an example of people practicing presence. Job 2:13 tells us that “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

As God’s presence comforts us, we have the opportunity to encourage others with our presence.

In Matthew 28 Jesus makes his promise to be with his disciples in the context of telling them to go throughout the world meeting and speaking to people. In other words, as you give the world the gift of your presence and share the promise of God’s presence with others, I’ll be with you.

That, is the gift of presence.

What if You’re Not Joseph?

When I read a book more often than not I start placing myself inside the story. I begin to consider how I would react in that situation. Have I ever experienced something like this? Does the author describe my experience or something different? What if I’d responded differently to that person? Could I win where this character loses? Do I have abilities or training that would provide me a alternate outcome?

Superman 01When I enter the story in this way, it’s almost always as the protagonist, the hero. What would I do if I was Superman? Would I fight Batman? What are the other options?

We like being the heroes and stories give us that opportunity. Stories provide the opportunity to rewrite our lives with a better ending.

This is why we worry about kids that always want to be Lex Luthor on the playground. Who wants to lose all the time? Is he scheming up ways to become a better villain? Is there brooding darkness in his heart?

Since the Bible contains many stories we often find ourselves going through the same process. The run of the mill Sunday School questions encourage this thought process as teachers ask, “What would you have done if you were Judas?” “What do you think Samson was thinking?” “If you were Jesus, how would you have answered this question?”

When we read the story of Joseph, we naturally relate to him. When we struggle with life for no apparent reason, we tell ourselves “God has something better for me just around the corner like He did for Joseph.” If we make tough decisions because of our faith convictions we remind ourselves that “Like Joseph, God will reward me for this decision.

We convince ourselves that if we embody the faith of Joseph we’ll end up as the 2nd in command of the most powerful nation on earth, like Joseph did. Because, in the story we are Joseph.

But what if we’re wrong?

I know. It’s incomprehensible. But just imagine with me for a moment.

What if the character that represents us in the story is Benjamin? Or his brother Zebulun? What if there are only a few people in history that God treats like Joseph? What if most people are like Benjamin?

Joseph, his father and his brothers talk about Benjamin extensively, but Benjamin never says a word. He’s key to the story, but doesn’t actually do anything. Joseph protects him (along with his brothers) and provides food and a new land for his family. All Benjamin is required to do to accomplish God’s greater purpose is to marry and have children so that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can become a great nation.

If we’re Joseph our motto might be “God wants me to do great things for Him.”

Benjamin might say, “God wants me to be faithful for Him.”

Joseph summarises his life (50:20) saying “God’s using me to save many lives.”

Benjamin might say, “God’s using me to provide for my family.”

More of us will have lives like Benjamin than Joseph. God loves  us. God guides and protects us. God died for us. God simply longs for us to go through life faithfully honoring Him.

Jacob and his eleven sons needed Joseph. The people of Egypt and surrounding nations needed Joseph. Pharaoh needed Joseph. But Joseph needed his brothers. God needed all twelve of Jacob’s sons to fulfill his plan for the redemption of humanity. Joseph just lived in a brighter spotlight than Benjamin.

When we’re in a pit. When we’re falsely accused. When life’s tough. God hasn’t forgotten us. But God doesn’t necessarily have a greater responsibility in store for us. Sometimes His blessing is to give us the strength to get through the hardship in a way that maintains our faith and brings honor to God.

Are you okay being Benjamin?

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10a

Easter with the Prodigal

You know the story. The parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 is one of the most well known Biblical stories. It’s a simple story of redemption as a son leaves home but returns after frittering away his inheritance. The story captures our imagination because of the father’s response. The father asks no questions and welcomes the son home with a community banquet. The son receives grace, acceptance, forgiveness, and love when he’s done nothing to deserve it.

prodigal son

I’ve heard it suggested that we should more accurately title this story “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”. You see, the word ‘prodigal’ describes someone who is ‘extravagantly wasteful or lavishly generous’. The word emphasises adjectives like: reckless, extravagant, and lavish. While the son in the story recklessly blew through his inheritance, the father lavished him with grace and forgiveness.

As I read the story this time I noticed that the father in the story always loved the son. Even when the son thought he’d be better off without his father, the father granted him the freedom to pursue his own path. The father allowed himself to be vulnerable, susceptible to the pain of rejection. Although rejected by the son, he never returned insult for insult. His love was constant.

The story ends as the son celebrates his return. He celebrates restored relationships. He celebrates forgiveness. He celebrates safety. He celebrates acceptance. He celebrates a second chance. He celebrates…

The difference was not that the father now loved the son more. The son celebrates because he now appreciates the father’s love. He experienced grace. He felt the embrace of acceptance and value. It will take him time to fully grasp the depth of his father’s love, but he now lives a new life within his father’s embrace.

When I view the resurrection through this lens it reminds me that God always gives us the freedom to reject him. I’m reminded that Jesus death was necessary because I walked away from God. I don’t quite understand that equation, but I do understand that it communicates God’s love and forgiveness for me. As I examine the empty tomb I realise the prodigal grace that he’s “wasting” on me.

Perhaps the resurrection’s greatest revelation is not that God loves me, but that I begin to appreciate what it means to be loved by God.

So I celebrate. I celebrate God’s love. I celebrate God’s power. I celebrate God’s victory. I celebrate the grace and mercy God extends to me. I celebrate the hope I have to join Jesus eternally in his new life. I celebrate being accepted. I celebrate restored relationship and the forgiveness that makes it possible.  I celebrate…

…and I hope you do too. My prayer for you today is that you may experience the wonders of life within the embrace of God.