A Simple Gospel Invitation to Give Your Life to Jesus

There are so many ways to word an invitation to people to become Christians…

  • Repent and believe…
  • Admit, believe, confess…
  • Invite Jesus into your life…
  • Ask Jesus to be your Savior…
  • Give your life to Jesus…
  • Believe and receive…
  • Commit your life to Jesus…
  • Ask Jesus into your heart… (which can mean so many things)

I’m from an area of Kentucky where some fringe Baptist groups put up billboards that say things like, “You don’t accept Christ. Christ accepts you.” And of course, that clears things right up, right? 

I recently wrote about Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel, in which McKnight offers a ton of clarity about what the “gospel” really is. It isn’t a plan of salvation or a Reformation-era articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel is, according to McKnight (and I wholeheartedly agree), 

It’s to the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted to God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message that someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.

This explanation really leaves us with a big question, though. When we’ve presented the gospel, what’s next? What kind of invitation do we give? To what kind of commitment to we call our listeners? I loved this follow-up piece on McKnight’s blog offering a pretty thorough answer…

What do you say, then, when you are calling people to … here the words matter but I don’t want to parse them at this point … decision? The Sinner’s Prayer is neither here nor there; it’s not the point; it can be the right thing for the right person but it can (too) easily become a magical potion for some evangelists and for some responders. We need to begin at the core of what the proper response to the gospel is:

1. Remember, gospeling is not fundamentally about pleading, persuading, pleasing, or getting folks to decide. Gospeling is to announce something about Jesus. The rhetorical bundle of revivalism, which I have sketched in The King Jesus Gospel, is not the gospel of Jesus or the apostles, and it is bundle of rhetoric designed to persuade and plead and to precipitate decisions. This bundle has convinced many that the bundle is the gospel. It’s not. The revised edition of The King Jesus Gospel has a chapter on how this bundle developed and who is responsible for it.

2. The gospel itself awakens, through the power of God’s Spirit, folks to respond. Don’t forget this: our calling is to witness and declare; God’s Advocate, the Spirit, awakens and draws people to God. God’s Spirit is at work in all and for all.

3. The appropriate gospel message about Jesus is a message that generates this question: Who is Jesus? The proper response then is to repent, to believe, and to be baptized. Confession, yes, of course — inchoately or not — but all of these can be wrapped up into the notion of surrender. I make no apologies for these terms repent, believe, baptize — they are rugged, pervasive terms in the apostolic writings, the source of Christian theology.

4. What we are to do is point people to Jesus in his dimensions, and each dimension summons to a different dimension of the response of surrender to Jesus: we ask them to look to him, to love him, to live before and under and through and by and in him, to call them to give themselves to Jesus and to what he calls us to do. God’s Spirit is at work; God’s Spirit works repentance and faith and leads to baptism. When we get ahead of the Spirit, we run the risk of aborting new birth.

5. What do I say? “Give yourself to Jesus!”

Via Scot’s blog, Jesus Creed.

And there you have it. Our role is to represent our saving King, to tell his story and allow the Holy Spirit to produce life in those who hear. Yes, we ought to let people know that they can, should, and must respond. But our emphasis doesn’t have to be on getting anyone to say certain words. Rather, we’re inviting people to come with us as we follow the King. 


  1. Tell the saving story of Jesus.
  2. Trust the Spirit to bless his gospel and to quicken the dead to life.
  3. Invite people to give themselves to Jesus.

I’m a Pastor who preaches almost every week, and every single time, I do these three things. It’s not enough to ask people to behave differently. We must call them to believe in Jesus and become his followers. So make the gospel clear in every single sermon. 

Have you, in light of who Jesus is, given your life to him?

The After Effects of a Spirit-filled Prayer

Does prayer make any difference? Absolutely! And prayer makes a difference because the living God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside the one praying. Further, when God’s people get together and pray as a community, amazing things happen!

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those before-and-after photos advertising the latest weight loss and fitness program. The Bible gives us a pretty neat before-and-after picture of the early church. Before the Holy Spirit empowered the church at Pentecost, the apostles are waiting, hiding, and hoping. And they’re praying.

Then Pentecost occurs. The fire falls. The Spirit empowers. And things begin to happen. Thousands are saved and added to the church. Miracles occur. Healing takes place. The impact is so tangible that the church leaders start getting in trouble for bringing attention to the crime of the unfair crucifixion of Jesus. Peter and John heal a crippled man at one of the Temple gates and it lands them in jail where they take a beating and are sternly warned not to speak any more in the name of Jesus.

Upon their release, instead of cowering away in fear, the Bible says this…

As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the LORD and against his Messiah.’ “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:23-35 NLT

So they ran back to the church and instead of figuring out a way to hide in the shadows, they pray. For boldness. Does it work? The Bible continues…

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Note that key phrase. After this prayer

And six things happen. I believe these same six things happen when God’s people pray in concert together before God. When we cry out for boldness, for courage, for empowerment… When we refuse to cower in fear but instead courageously carry the gospel to our culture…

  1. People get filled with the Holy Spirit. (v. 31)
  2. The Word gets preached with boldness. (v. 31)
  3. The church remains unified on mission together. (v. 32)
  4. The world hears about the hope of the resurrection. (v. 33)
  5. God’s blessing and favor is upon his people. (v. 33)
  6. The community is changed by infectious generosity. (v. 34)

So, before we pray Spirit-filled prayers, we wait. We wonder. We remain in a holding pattern. We might want great things to happen. We may dream of all that could occur. But it’s after we pray Spirit-filled prayers that God gets involved and begins to work in miraculous ways.

When we’re sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit and allow him to guide our petitions to the Father, God delightfully responds with amazing answers.

To put it simply… no prayer, no power. And the reverse is true as well… more prayer, more power.

This is God’s economy. He has chosen to do certain things in response to prayer. Movements gain momentum and miracles occur when we follow God’s prescribed method of really getting things done. I’m a big believer in having healthy systems and well-planned strategies. I love order and organization. But all of our planning is just wishful thinking without the breath of God infusing us with his power.

What to Do When You Bombed Sunday’s Sermon

Preaching, as a Pastor, is hard. It’s not hard to get up and say something inspirational. It is hard to get up and rightly divide God’s Word, build a bridge from an ancient culture to our own, and then to call people to an appropriate response to God’s revealed truth consistently week after week.

Sunday, I kind of bombed. Most of the congregation probably couldn’t tell it, partly because they’re so stinkin’ nice, but I knew driving home I had missed the mark. For my own benefit, and for the benefit of pastors who may read this, I wanted to use a blog post to explore where I think I went wrong.

You must understand that every pastor prepares messages a little differently. I plan a year of preaching in advance using a spreadsheet, then write an overview of each series a couple of weeks before it begins. On Sunday night, I start reading and soaking in the primary passage and theme for the following Sunday. On Tuesdays, I study hard and usually by Wednesday, I have an outline. I purposely wait until Saturday to turn it into a publicly presentable outline and slideshow so that I can meditate through it as I get it ready for others to hear.

My message on Sunday was a tough one. We’re in a series called Simply Jesus, which explores the roles of Jesus as prophet, priest, friend (who sacrifices himself for us), and risen king. My goal in this message was to explain how Jesus perfectly fulfills the responsibilities of our High Priest before God – how he grants us access to God’s presence, offers himself as a payment for our sin, and prays on our behalf before the Father.

I started by mentioning the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and then plunged into Jesus’ priestly prayer offered in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John. And that’s where I think I missed some marks. For example…

I failed to really explain the content of the passage well.

I was trying to cover too much ground – to preach a lengthy passage filled with details in a single sermon forced me to skip over a lot of content that was not only good, but which probably raised some good, powerful questions in the minds of my listeners.

John 17 can easily be broken into multiple parts. Jesus first prays for himself, then for his eleven remaining disciples, and then for all believers who will ever follow him in the future. The chapter should probably have been used as a three-part message series. Or, I should have used a different, shorter passage altogether for a single message, perhaps from Hebrews 7 where Jesus’ priesthood is explained a little more succinctly.

I think I probably left the congregation with a vague familiarity with Jesus’ prayer rather than an intimate awareness of its depth.

I failed to make relevant applications.

I brought out of the first portion of the passage that Jesus was asking God to use the “hour” in which he would be crucified and raised from the dead to bring glory to himself. I could have turned my attention, then, to your crucial hour of decision. But I failed to make that jump.

In the second part of the prayer, Jesus asks the father to sanctify his disciples through his truth, his word. He mentions “the world” nineteen times in the chapter and asks God to protect us. I spent time in a bit of a rant about the problem with dividing sacred from secular and how we really ought to be sacred in the middle of the secular. It’s an okay point to make, but it’s not what my particular congregation really struggles with. I should have, instead, talked about the kinds of threats that come to our spiritual growth from the culture, and how we can root our lives in God’s Word as a primary defense.

And in the third part of the prayer, Jesus asks the Father to keep all future believers unified in love. Again, I ranted a little about how this isn’t really a call to non-denominationalism or to institutional unity, but rather to a spiritual kinship shared by all believers around the world. It would have been a great opportunity to explore the specific ways we can show love for one another within the body of Christ. But again, I failed to make that jump.

I failed to drive home a single appeal, a single call to action.

I’m a firm believer that a simple presentation of the gospel and an appeal to trust in Jesus ought to follow every message ever preached. But I also think every message demands its own specific call to action. I gave several on Sunday – pray for some lost people, trust that Jesus is praying for you while you hurt, and be accepting of people like a family taking in a newly adopted child.

All of those are good calls to action, but it’s always most powerful when we take the one big idea of the message and ask people to offer one response to God.

I’m not embarrassed, and I’m not beating myself up as I write this. My tendency is usually to start thinking about how I’m going to make course corrections next week, and that’s where my mind is today. This is partly because, as my wife reminded me on Sunday afternoon, nobody bats a thousand, we all experience failures and setbacks, and most importantly, God can use even the weakest of messages to work miraculous change in the hearts of people.

And that’s what happened Sunday. A man whom I deeply appreciate approached me quickly after the second service with a question. “You mean, Jesus prays for me? I’ve never heard that before…” and tears welled up in his eyes as though he’d never realized that Jesus is personally attentive to his deepest pain before. I affirmed his newly discovered understanding of Jesus’ personal compassion, then prayed with him.

It may have been a weak sermon, but it was a good day!

So what’s next? What do you do when you just didn’t preach your best message? Here’s what I like to do…

  1. Pray about it, thanking God that he is glorified in our weakness and trusting that he can still work miracles.
  2. Move on. Learn from it. Focus on next week. There are many more people to reach with God’s truth. Keep going!

Next week, I get to focus on Jesus as the best friend anyone could imagine having, who laid down his life for us so that we could be brought into an intimate relationship with the Father. And I can’t wait to see how God uses his word!

Jesus, the Prophet, Came Preaching

Jesus was more than a mere prophet – he was the sinless Son of God, the human-divine sacrifice for our sins. But he is a prophet nonetheless, and the greatest prophet the world has ever known.

We like to think of Jesus in any kind of role except that of preacher and prophet, but preaching was a primary component of his earthly ministry. He was a truth-teller and herald of the good news and eternal truth of God.

Mark, who was first to write an inspired biography of Jesus, jumps right into Jesus’ adult years and gives us a summary introduction to Jesus’ ministry with these words…

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

Mark 1:14-15 NLT

Jesus’ ministry was, of course, more than just words, but he started his ministry with words, uttered vital words from the cross, and gave even more words of empowerment after his resurrection. Preaching the good news mattered a great deal to Jesus, and preaching the good news is still the primary ministry of the church two thousand years later.

Preaching, as a communication method, may sound outdated and unpopular, but that’s only because of the traditional baggage we attach to it. The fact is, human beings are still deeply moved and motivated by the art of spoken word, even in our visually-stimulating media-rich culture.

From campaign stump speeches to TED talks, we listen to words conveyed through human personality.

THAT Jesus preached matters greatly to how we serve truth to the world today, but WHAT he preached matters even more. And this is where I believe we misunderstand him most.

Jesus didn’t just preach “good news” TO people.

His message wasn’t motivational fluff. It wasn’t self-help gibberish or mystical, pithy sayings. It was good news, but there was a call to action. Specifically, there was a call to repentance based on the good news. Jesus expected his listeners to consider changing their minds about God, about sin, about themselves, and about their way of life. He called them to a radical commitment to believe and trust in him.

When we simply preach good things without any call to repentance, we make the good news seem a little too good. Don’t change. Just stay where you are and God will overlook the deep brokenness within you.

On the other hand…

Jesus didn’t just preach “repentance” AT people.

My big problem with most street corner preachers is that they claim to speak a bold message of repentance – turn or burn, get right or get ready to hell – but what they really do is skip the good news or skim over it at best and head right for the call to action.

When we skip the good news and start our presentations of the gospel with “You’re a sinner… own it… admit it… repent of it… or else…” then we make the good news seem… not very good. In fact, the gospel is the best news anyone could ever hear, and we should present it so.

What, then, was Jesus’ message?

Jesus preached the best news the world has ever heard with an invitation FOR people to turn from sin, trust him, and have their lives changed forever!

Jesus started with the wonderful news that the deliverance broken humanity had been waiting for so long had finally arrived. And more specifically, the messiah for whom Israel had been waiting so long was finally being presented. Sin and the grave would soon be defeated. The King of all kings would be coronated over a Kingdom into which all who would believe in and follow him would be included.

The gospel is really, really good news for broken sinners. Luke is a little more specific about one of Jesus’ earliest messages. One day in the synagogue, Jesus announced the purpose of his ministry by quoting Isaiah…

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”

Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Do you hear that? Because of Jesus, you can be rescued from povertyreleased from slaveryrestored in your sight and your soul, and redeemed from all oppression! Addictions can be broken. Diseases lose their power. Demons have to flee. Cruelty and tyranny won’t last. The gospel is good news!

One of the reasons we doubt the power of the gospel is because we fail to understand that God’s Kingdom is both now, and not yet. Deliverance is both gradual and eventual. Victory is sure, but it is only enjoyed partially, until the King returns to be worshipped by all.

And as Jesus preached the good news of the ultimate deliverance from sin’s curse, he also called his hearers to respond. His calling to repentance and faith is both a command and an invitation. It is the required response of sinners to the gospel, and it is the offer of a good Savior to the broken.

Biblical preaching is both a presentation of the good news of Jesus and a challenge to embrace it with the whole heart and mind. Both are necessary in our faithfulness to the great commission of Jesus to his church.

If all you can do is yell at people about their sin, don’t call it gospel preaching. And if all you have the courage to do is speak the positive things of Christianity without any call to repentance and faith, don’t call it gospel preaching.

I’m a big believer in being creative, in striving to communicate well, and in adapting our presentation methods to each new generation. And I think the content of Scripture ought to be presented in a way that connects with the brokenness and deep-seated needs of its audience. But at the end of the day, here is the non-negotiable core of all good preaching – preach the good news of Jesus, and invite people to embrace him by repenting of their sins and believing in him alone.

3 Vital Lessons from One of the Best Leaders I Know

I’ve hung out with megachurch pastors and I’ve read plenty of books and biographies of great leaders. But there is a hero from whom I’ve learned more about relational leadership than anyone else – my wife, Angie Cox.

I’ve learned about preaching, administration, and creative communications from all kinds of well-known people, but Angie has been my primary source of wisdom about what matters most – influencing people to grow. I’m sharpened, challenged, and shaped daily as I observe her, hear her heart, and see her in action.

Let me just recount some of the ways she’s powerfully and directly impacted my life:

  • When I was an out-of-church and spiritually half-dead teenager, she brought me to her church where I began to grow again.
  • When I was a quiet, young, inexperienced and very introverted college student and pastor, she helped me come out of my shell.
  • When I have struggled to believe that God could use me for his purposes, she’s reminded me that he can indeed.
  • When I’ve gone home discouraged and distressed, she’s picked me up and re-affirmed her support for me.
  • In the darkest corner of my spiritual journey when I felt like giving up on myself and everything else, she showed me so much grace it changed my life forever.

For over a decade of ministry, she played the pastor’s wife part the best she could (and she had a great role model in her own mother!). But the last five years have been altogether different. It’s been a new kind of journey as I sit in awe and watch her as a church planter and ministry leader. Not just my wife. Not just the “pastor’s wife,” but as a leader in her own right.

She’s helped launch small groups, planned women’s events, gathered people with leadership potential around our dining room table, counseled with the hurting, and trained others to counsel the hurting. She’s had crucial insight on every big decision we’ve made as a church. She’s stopped me from doing and saying dumb things, and she’s challenged me to take risks in faith.

She named the church, adopted the local school we serve, launched our women’s ministry, and started and later handed off our kids ministry to other leaders. She dreamed up our big annual week of serving the community, made contact with local nonprofits, and has helped pick an amazing staff.

She’s also helped lead worship and she’s taught by my side on stage, but she humbly avoids the spotlight and shies away from the pressure to be more vocal. She avoids competing with others who may desire position, and genuinely wants the very best for everyone on the team.

I wanted to pass along to the rest of the world some of the best lessons I’ve learned by observing Angie.

1. To really lead people, you’ve gotta love People.

Love paves the way for leadership. No amount of good organizational strategy can compare to the power of doing life with people, soul-on-soul. I can’t tell you how many times my wife has slipped away to take a phone call only for me to hear her crying softly with the person on the other end as she encourages and ministers to them in their point of need.

She’s reminded me dozens of times that people matter way more than paperwork, that routine tasks are secondary to the big mission, and that if we aren’t doing what we’re doing for Jesus, then it isn’t worth doing at all. She weeps over the broken and longs to help everyone she can, and her quiet example reminds inspires me.

2. Leadership is very little about what happens on the stage.

Being a polished speaker doesn’t make you a great leader. Great leaders tap some people on the shoulder and invite them to sit around a table. I’ve watched as Angie has invited others to go away on retreats to talk about leadership, to attend conferences, and to gather as leaders to challenge one another.

I’ve watched as Angie has asked people to take on an area of responsibility, then walked them through the process of getting started. She dreams big in terms of the future and she demonstrates a passion about getting people prepared for it.

She’s an amazing speaker and teacher – more than she realizes, by far – but doesn’t seek the stage for her own glory. She’s never asked for a title and is often reluctant to accept the opportunities that have come her way.

3. Spiritual Leadership is Leadership That Is Uniquely Spiritual

I’ve been doing ministry long enough that I can coast for several weeks, or longer, in my own ability. That doesn’t mean I’m leading well, but I’m leading adequately without spending a great deal of time in preparation. Angie reminds me regularly, though, that I really don’t want to lead in my own power and ability.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started to make a decision impulsively and she’s given me pause with the question, have you heard from God about this yet? And I’ve never seen anyone agonize more over the weight of speaking at an event on a spiritual topic than her when she’s preparing to do so.

Christian leaders must stay sensitive to the voice of God. Angie has taught me to desire a consistent prayer life more than consistent preaching success.

Many of the people who are finding their way to Grace Hills now have no idea just how much Angie has influenced their lives from behind the scenes. And many of those now enjoying opportunities to lead may not realize that it was Angie who did the hard work, with limited resources, of paving the way for others.

She’s not a Pastor, but if she were, she’d be a way better one than me. She doesn’t speak from the stage regularly, but I’m convinced that if she did, she’d do a way better job than me any day. She’s not directly in charge of the church’s staff, but if she were, we’d probably be way ahead of where we are now.

I want the world to know what Angie is too humble to say about herself – she’s the real brains and heart of this operation. She’s essential. I couldn’t do this without her. We wouldn’t be the church we are without her. And the future looks brighter to me than ever because she’s by my side, living out an amazing grace story.

Angie, you’re really the best leader I know, and I hope you keep it up. I’ll just keep on trying to act like I actually know what I’m doing while watching you!

4 Reasons to Plan a Year of Preaching – 2016 Edition

I’ve spent the last month or so mapping out the next year of preaching. That doesn’t mean I’m preparing a year’s worth of sermons in detail or that I won’t make changes along the way. Sometimes a congregation experiences unexpected transitions or cultural events, and sometimes God just makes it clear that what was planned isn’t the best message for the moment. So I’m flexible, but I want to think ahead.

I believe annual sermon planning is vital for several reasons.

1. To balance what the congregation is being fed.

When I map out a year of sermons I try to be intentional about balancing certain factors, such as:

  • I want to teach from both testaments and every major genre of literature – narrative history, prophecy, poetry and wisdom, the gospels, and the epistles.
  • I want to touch on all of the major areas of systematic theology – bibliology (the Bible), soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (the Holy Spirit), anthropology (mankind), ecclesiology (the church), etc.
  • I want to talk about all five purposes of the church, and of life – worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.
  • I want to plan series designed to reach seekers, ground new believers, and take seasoned saints deeper into the beauty of the gospel.

I recognize that many readers will be strong advocates of expository preaching, as in, preaching through books of the Bible. I’m no stranger to this method. I spent four years at one church preaching every passage from Genesis 1 through 2 Samuel (yes, even Leviticus). One of my great preaching heroes, W. A. Criswell, made this method famous when he spent 17 years and 8 months preaching through the entire Bible at First Baptist Church in Dallas.

While I deeply honor the book-by-book approach, I don’t think it’s the only way to preach effectively or biblically. When I preached this way, I often tended to become too mechanical in my preparation and delivery. Thematic-series preaching has allowed me to stay fresh, get creative, and challenge myself as a Pastor in a much greater way, which brings me to the second reason planning my preaching a year ahead is important.

2. To give our team a chance to get creative together.

Nothing replaces preaching as the primary vehicle for the delivery of God’s truth, but preaching can certainly be enhanced and supplemented with various other kinds of elements such as videos, illustrations, object lessons, intentional song selection, poetic readings, and more.

My preaching calendar is visible to my teaching team and to our worship leaders so we can think ahead. And it’s also visible to other ministry leaders for another reason…

3. To keep our congregation focused on each theme intensely and collectively.

Our Community Pastor, Danny Kirk, who often teaches parts of our series’ on Sundays, writes small group studies in advance that our group hosts can use in their meetings to dive deeper into the content of the message from Sunday. Our Student Leader adapts that curriculum for Jr. and Sr. High students, and our Kids Director designs her curriculum for kids’ worship to flow with my sermons as well.

And because kids, teenagers, adults, and small groups are all on the same page, families get to talk about their shared spiritual growth together.

4. To give a dozen opportunities for members to invite people.

Almost every series lasts one month. The first Sunday of each month, then, becomes a bit of a “kick-off” point where we get to say something like, “Come and join us for a new teaching series about…” This gives us twelve opportunities to publicize something new, to launch new groups with a new curriculum, and to be creative with graphics and environmental elements.

So, what am I preaching in 2016? Here are the sermon series I’ve slated so far:

January: Free Indeed!

This is a series based on Jesus’ promise that all who trust in his truth would be made truly free. It’s a series about the spiritual bondage we can find ourselves in, and how to break free! Primary passages will include John 8 and Galatians 5.

February: Like vs. Love

Are you looking for likes while longing for love? In our tech-saturated, social media centric world, we can fall into the trap of living for the approval and smiles of others while missing the deeper biblical kind of love available to us from our Creator, who is Love. Primary passages will include 1 John, John 13, and 1 Corinthians 13.

March: Simply Jesus

Who is Jesus, exactly? There are plenty of viewpoints and opinions, but if you want to know the real Jesus, you need to read what he has revealed about himself in his word. This series looks at the three “offices” Jesus fulfills – prophet, priest, and king, and also talks about how this King is our best friend as well. We’ll look at John 17, Acts 2, and various other Scriptures.

April: Ghost Story

What happens AFTER Jesus’ resurrection? A whole new age begins. The New Testament is, in part, a Ghost story – the record of the Holy Spirit empowering the church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

May: In the Ring

We’ll spend the month of May on marriage, dating and engagement, single hood, and relational issues. Once you put a wedding ring on, you’re stepping into the ring to battle for the best marriage possible.

June: Are We There Yet?

This is a “summer vacation” series that follows some of the major transitions and lessons from the wilderness wanderings of Israel.

July: Sabotage

This is a series based on the life of David. David illustrated that we are our own worst enemies when we give into temptation, give up to depression, and give ourselves over to pride. The main point is that we all need to look to Jesus for redemption and restoration.

August: WE > ME (We’re Better Together)

WE are always better and more effective than ME. You don’t have to do life alone. God meant for us to be in relationships with other believers. So we’ll tackle a few of the “one another’s” of the New Testament and prepare for a fall season of reaching out to our community together.

September: God of the Prodigals

You’ve heard of the story of the prodigal son? There were really two prodigals in the story. One traveled away and one rebelled at home in his heart. “Comeback Sunday” is part of this series, where we invite people to come back home to God again.

October: The GOD Experience

One of the most influential books of the last quarter century (and in my life personally) was Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. This series is based on that book, but is termed in a new and fresh way. The bottom line is that God is always at work in, around, and through us and he invites us to join him in that work.

November: Inside My Head

Our direction is determined by our habits, which are formed from our thoughts and attitudes. With November being the month of Thanksgiving, we’ll talk about the power of bringing our thought life under the Lordship of Christ so we can think more purely, more positively, and more purposefully.

December: The Advent

Behind the scenes, in our home, we’ve being lighting Advent candles. Next year, I want to challenge our church to resurrect this family-around-the-table practice. We’ll preach about the coming, the appearing, of the Lord Jesus and how Christmas is a celebration of his first coming and an anticipation of his second.

I’m believing that God is going to use 2016 to do great things in the lives of his people. I want us to grow larger through evangelism, broader through ministry, stronger through worship, closer through fellowship, and deeper through discipleship. We’ll launch new services, perhaps new campuses and church plants, and we’ll hear from God through his magnificent, awe-inspiring Word!

Whatever You’re Preaching This Sunday, Talk About THIS!

Preaching is a sacred task. We who shepherd congregations are entrusted with the assignment of opening God’s very own words to his people, week after week, and translating ancient truth to today’s people. We are to preach so as to build up (edify), to hold up (encourage), and to fire up (exhort).

I’m burdened that so much preaching today remains in its ancient context and fails to be interpreted to our current cultural circumstances. I agree with Chuck Swindoll that boring preaching is a crime, and I wish more pastors would come to the pulpit not only prayed up, but touched with the feelings of their flock. In a given year of preaching, we ought to at least touch on every major area of doctrine, each genre of Scripture, and address the major points of pain and need in people’s lives from Scripture.

I do this by preaching thematically in shorter series’ but it can also be accomplished through an expository framework equally well. But this isn’t really a post about what topics, themes, or books of the Bible you should be preaching from. It also isn’t about preaching about current cultural crises which, while highly appropriate at times, shouldn’t be the general shaping influence of our pulpits long term.

This is a post about one of the most neglected topics in preaching – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I once hosted a revival service and invited a man to preach whom I had known in the past as a very talented guy. I had heard him expound the Scripture and explain the gospel well, but his life and ministry had changed significantly since my last contact with him. The revival wound up as a series of really good motivational speeches with no mention of Jesus, of the cross, or of any way to be saved and changed by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Tragically, this happens weekly in pulpits around the world. In various kinds of churches there are various kinds of messages given and various approaches to preaching taken. Some address issues of social justice and others offer practical help in the areas of family and finances. But too often, Jesus is absent, or receives an honorary mention at best.

I believe strongly that modern preaching suffers from a lack of relevance, but I believe relevant preaching is a pointless waste of time if it doesn’t ultimately center around Jesus and drive toward the gospel.

Whatever you’re preaching on this Sunday, preach the gospel! Present Jesus. Adorn the doctrine of Christ. Make it clear that King Jesus is the star of the story and is ready to save anyone who calls out to him and make an appeal in every single message for people to place their trust in him. There is an urgency about this issue that I can’t express in a single blog post. Jesus matters more than anything else you could possibly preach this weekend.

Yes, preach about finances, but always point your hearers toward the ultimate Giver of life. Yes, preach about marriage, parenting, and relationships, but always point the audience toward the Father who is gathering a family to himself. Yes, preach about addiction and brokenness, but always point people toward the Healer and Great Physician. Yes, preach about the cultural issues of our present hour, but always point people toward the timeless Creator and Savior who came and just the right time in history.

As I write this, I’m preaching a three-part series of messages called Margin. We’ll use pieces of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to address our deepest anxieties about time, money, and relationships. We’ll talk about how we need some space and solitude in our day for the sake of our sanity and our spiritual growth. We’ll talk about dumping our relational baggage from past hurts so we can have healthier friendships and marriages now. But…

Each and every one of those messages will ultimately point people to find their salvation, their healing, their rest, their confidence in Jesus, who died to forgive our sins and rose to lead us as our King!

I’m an advocate of being very sensitive to the seekers among us, but I’m even more an advocate of exalting the Savior to every seeker. I love cool sermon graphics, clever titles, and services that are crafted to communicate ancient truth in a modern context well. But we can have “church” on Sunday and everyone can go home happy and still on their way to hell if we who preach neglect to offer forth the most life-changing truth of all – the good news about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and eternal reign.

Whatever you are preaching this Sunday, talk about the gospel. The world needs it desperately, and God has called you to be the messenger of this sacred good news.