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Stop Preaching About All the Good People In the Bible!

Old BibleThere are no “good” people in the Bible – at least not in the theological sense – except for Jesus. Everybody else is wrecked and ruined by sin and desperately in need of a Savior. So the way we have traditionally approached character-based sermons has a tremendous flaw. Here’s the traditional approach…


  1. Tell the story of a Bible character.
  2. Highlight the good stuff they did.
  3. Challenge people to follow their examples.

I’ve done plenty of that kind of preaching in my life in ministry, and I wish I could go back and re-preach them all from a totally different perspective. There are some major flaws with this kind of preaching. First of all, it’s moralism. It gives the idea that we can, in our own power, actually DO the good things we see the characters doing. But we can’t. We don’t. We fail repeatedly.

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The Pleasure and Power of Preaching with Sincerity

imagePaul addressed the issue of sincerity in preaching on several occasions throughout the New Testament. One such instance is 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” As I have reflected on this verse, it’s given me some comfort to know that the issues that plague modern Christianity also faced the apostles. I’ve also found an important value in preaching – sincerity.

Sure, there are false teachers, hucksters, and impostors in pulpits across the land today. There were in Paul’s day too. It’s nothing new. But the contrast to this trend is a revival of sincerity in the pulpit. Preaching has been defined by D. Martin-Lloyd Jones as “the communication of God’s truth through human personality.” So we preachers get to represent God’s truth through our very personality. The prayer, “hide me behind thy cross, O Lord,” doesn’t reflect an accurate understanding of what preaching is all about. God has called me to represent Him as only I can, and for you to do the same.

So sincerity is a key to effective communication. You can’t fake sincerity for obvious reasons, but you can certainly do a self-test to ask the tough questions…

  • Do I really believe what I’m saying?
  • Do I live what I’m asking others to live?
  • Am I preaching as me, or as Billy Graham?
  • Am I wearing a mask or being transparent?
  • Am I preaching at people, or having a teaching conversation?

I greatly appreciate fine oratory. Two generations ago and further back, oratorical skills were at the top of the list of qualifications for great preaching. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, if preaching can be viewed as a creative art, then we certainly ought to make it pretty for God’s glory. And words are certainly the tools of our trade, so we should study them and utilize the power of them. Nevertheless, preaching is still a conversation that takes place between a preacher and each member of his congregation. It ought to come from the heart.

One of my own heroes was W. A. Criswell, who often referred to himself (making light of what others were already pointing out) as “a holy roller with a Ph.D.” I’ve listened to hundreds of his messages over at WACriswell.org and I can tell you, this genius of a man involved his emotions in the communication process, as should we today. It’s part of sincerity – bearing all.

Sincerity is one of my own core preaching values as well as somthing I continually have to fight myself for. And it can’t be faked. So how do you bear your honest heart for a greater impact in communicating the gospel?

Believe the truth

It’s my strong opinion that those who do not trust the entire Word of God as the whole, pure, and perfect book that it is, should not be in a preaching ministry. Period. We may not understand it all, but we can certainly take God’s Word at face value if we’re going to claim to represent it.

Prepare Well

Preparation prevents faking it in the pulpit. One HUGE rule of preaching is “don’t just make stuff up!” So study, prepare, work hard. Every Sunday is a test of your dedication and commitment to the Word.

Preach With Few, If Any Notes

This adds time and energy to preparation. You not only have to compile material and arrange it in a way that makes sense, but you must commit it to memory. If I’ve studied well, the sermon flows from the heart rather than having to leap off of the page. Having said that, some of the greatest preachers in history have been those who utilize manuscripts, so this is admittedly my own angle and not prescriptive for everybody.

Make Eye Contact

See the eyes of your people when you preach to them and you’ll see a piece of their heart as well. Of course, preaching without notes helps this process a great deal, but even if you use notes, glance at them and then return your attention to those from whom you’ve asked attention.

Tell Your Story

Every sermon represents biblical and doctrinal truth, but it also says something about your life, so tell your story. Your testimony and experiences mean a great deal to your congregation. They know you more by hearing about your personal life, so let them in and they’ll trust you more and respond well when you have to apply the truth in highly convicting ways. And, humorous and painful stories create highly teachable moments with our fellow human beings.

Live It Out

Jesus embodied all of God’s truth. He “tabernacled” Himself among us. He is God wrapped in human flesh. We ought to follow in His steps and be God’s truth, wrapped in flesh. Sermons are not just taught on Sunday, but demonstrated daily as we are observed by those who listen to us. We live life in a fish bowl, to some degree, so put on a show – not the kind where you act like a believer, but where you become a trophy of God’s marvelous and powerful grace.

Love Your Listeners

One of the things I pray before every sermon is “Lord, help me love people as I preach.” It’s easier to get messy in ministry when we love people the way God does. And what we say matters to people only when we’ve loved them in saying it.

Do It All Over Again

Sincerity goes along with consistency. We must be sincere week in and week out. There must be a pattern. Sadly, one mistake can blow our testimony for a long time into the future, so we must live consistently, prepare consistently, and preach consistently.

Sincerity matters in preaching. It’s a key value, a core component of effectively representing the gospel and communicating God’s truth in this present age. In fact, we need it more than ever!

A Totally Unexpected Christmas Sermon Series

I’m quite excited that after much studying, praying, agonizing, and wrestling, I finally caught a vision for a fresh series of messages for the three weeks leading up to Christmas this year. I’d share the graphics but I don’t own the original. You can find it at Graceway Media.

UnExcpected Christmas Sermon Series

The promo copy…

I didn’t ask for THIS! I didn’t see THAT coming! What in the world am I going to do NOW?

God had been telling the world to expect a Savior for hundreds of years, but when an angel told a virgin it was time, it was shocking news that changed the world. Been there? When you’re coasting along and suddenly your whole world gets flipped upside down? The Christmas story teaches us how to expect God’s best when the unexpected happens in life.

Mary: When the Big Opportunity Comes Along (Dec. 7)

You feel like the last person God should choose for this, but in His overwhelming grace, He picks you! What do you do? You praise Him and prepare for His blessing.

Joseph: When the Bomb Drops In Your Life (Dec. 14)

Everything was rocking along just fine until you discover the scandalous secret that could wreck all your plans. What do you do? You obey God’s voice, trusting that He knows what He’s doing.

The Shepherds: When You’re Invited to the Party (Dec 21)

You’ve felt insignificant and unnoticed pretty much your whole life. But God has had His eye on you the whole time. Now He’s invited you to the party, and into His forever family. What do you do? You accept!

God, Help Us to Grow Deeper Roots!

Roots

I’m overwhelmed with anticipation about what God is going to do in the life of Grace Hills Church in the next nine weeks. This coming Sunday, we’re starting a new series of messages called ROOTS: It’s Time to Grow Deeper. It’s based on the New Testament book of Colossians, and as I waded into the study of this ancient text, I was pretty moved by the similarities between the church at Colosse and our own church family.

Paul writes the letter, but he didn’t plant or pastor the church. There’s no indication he’d ever visited with the church, but their reputation as a faithful body of believers was so strong that he had heard great things about them, even from a Roman prison.

Paul heard about their faith from a young man named Epaphras, who was apparently an early church planter and helped start the church in Colosse with help from Philemon (yep, the recipient of Paul’s letter to Philemon). Colosse was a somewhat small town, but an urban and trade center of its time, which reminds me a lot of Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas, the home of Walmart and vendor offices from every major brand sold on Walmart’s shelves.

It’s a highly Christo-centric book, meaning that Jesus is the star of the show, the main character, and the chief subject. The Colossian church, as a younger body of believers, was a target for false teachers, which already existed in the ancient church. The Gnostics had swept through with a philosophical twist on Christianity that proclaimed that salvation was available only to those with special knowledge and that all matter was evil. Because of this, the Gnostics denied that Jesus was ever human and instead, gave Him a position as a kind of middle-level angel, created by God and bestowed with great authority, but not God in the flesh. Their errors were very similar to the teachings of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses today, two movements whose existence is based entirely on belief in a Jesus who is less than the perfect and eternal God-man of Scripture.

So the ancient Apostle Paul wrote a letter to an ancient church that was much like ours, and his words are going to have deep meaning for us over the course of this nine-week message series. I’m praying for several things to happen and I’m asking you to pray with me.

  1. I’m praying that people would find Jesus and put roots down in a relationship with Him. In a culture where people are blown around by every kind of empty philosophy, may people find the Truth and the Grace of the Gospel as the ultimate answer!
  2. I’m praying for people to become more deeply rooted in the life of Grace Hills, particularly by starting and joining small groups and by finding a sweet spot to serve. Overwhelmingly, we find that people “stick” and grow when these two things happen.
  3. I’m praying for people to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus through prayer, worship, and by developing stronger personal Bible study habits.
  4. I’m praying that, as a church, we will go deeper into the mission of Jesus for northwest Arkansas. It’s time for us to put down deeper roots in our community. While we will never be defined by a building, we do want to have a stronger physical presence in northwest Arkansas.

Here’s an overview of the nine messages (which is always subject to adjustment along the way)…

WEEK ONE: Deeper Into the Gospel

Key Passage: Colossians 1:1-14

Big Truth: It doesn’t get any deeper than the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for sinners. As we go deeper into the good news, we bear fruit, gain wisdom, get closer to God, and our lives are filled with joy.

What’s Next? Commit to going “all in” in your commitment to the gospel. Decide to settle for nothing less than the full blessing of the joy and the wisdom God offers through His good news.

WEEK TWO: Deeper Into Jesus

Key Passage: Colossians 1:15-20

Big Truth: Jesus is way more than a mere man of history or legend. He was and is and always will be God, and He invites us to go deeper in our understanding and knowledge of Him and in our relationship with Him.

What’s Next? Evaluate your life and see how much Jesus “fills” every aspect of who you are. Decide to make Him the center and priority of your life.

WEEK THREE: Deeper Into God’s Power

Key Passage: Colossians 1:21-29

Big Truth: Not only can we grow deeper into Jesus, Jesus wants to be deeper in us. That is, He wants to fill every part of who we are and empower us with all the wisdom and knowledge we need in life.

What’s Next? Express gratitude and praise for Jesus, and live in God’s power, not your own.

WEEK FOUR: Deeper Into Truth

Key Passage: Colossians 2:1-10

Big Truth: There are things in this world that are more dangerous than physical threats. They are the false teachings and the “ism’s” that seek to lead our minds astray from truth. But in Christ, who IS the Truth, we can put down roots to stand strong.

What’s Next? Become a student of the Word. Commit to soaking in God’s truth on a daily basis.

WEEK FIVE: Deeper Into Grace

Key Passage: Colossians 2:11-23

Big Truth: Legalism and performance-based living is killing most of us. There’s a better way, and it’s the way of diving deep into God’s grace.

What’s Next? Root out legalism and leave it behind. Start living in God’s grace and showing it to others.

WEEK SIX: Deeper Into New Life

Key Passage: Colossians 3:1-11

Big Truth: Because of the gospel, and because God’s grace is at work within us, we can leave behind the destructive habits of our old life and begin, in God’s power, to live new lives with new values and new habits.

What’s Next? Adopt the values that God has for His children and decide to live them out by depending on God’s grace and power.

WEEK SEVEN: Deeper In Relationships

Key Passage: Colossians 3:18-4:1

Big Truth: When God’s truth, grace, and power are at work in us, we will be better husbands and wives, moms and dads, and employers and employees. God’s grace affects every relationship.

What’s Next? Go deeper with people and decide to let God’s grace work in your family and other relationships.

WEEK EIGHT: Deeper Into the Mission

Key Passage: Colossians 4:2-5

Big Truth: God has called His church to pray the world to Jesus and love the world to Jesus, which means getting outside our comfort zones to build genuine friendships with people who haven’t met Him yet.

What’s Next? Commit to loving the least, the last, and the lost around us and join God on mission with the gospel in your life.

WEEK NINE: Deeper In Thanksgiving

Key Passage: Colossians 4:6-18

Big Truth: We have so much to be thankful for!!

What’s Next? Say thanks to God!

Please join me in praying for God to draw people closer to Himself as we hear truth from His Word in the next few months!

The artwork for this series is adapted from a piece from Graceway Media.

This Coming Weekend: How to Have Hope Every Day

Easter offers us hope for the forgiveness of sin and for eternal life. But there is more! God offers us some huge reasons to have hope every single day! In part two of Why We Hope, coming up this Sunday at Grace Hills, we’ll look at the three big gifts Jesus gives today to help us live with hope every day no matter what:

  • His Word (the Bible)
  • His Spirit (the Holy Spirit)
  • His People (the Church)

We’ll define and discover how to take full advantage of each.

You can always help us spread the word by visiting our Facebook page and clicking “Like” on the current weekend preview video.