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Category Archives: Personal growth

Planning a Sermon Calendar

During my days as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Carol and I attended Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX. Pastor Jim Rose met with seminary students and his wife, Phyllis, met with seminary wives to offer their insights and perspectives on ministry.

On one occasion, Jim Rose shared how he planned his sermon calendar three years in advance. Year one was what he was currently studying and preaching. Year two was what he was having his devotions in at present. Year three was what he was thinking about and collecting information about. We all marveled and wondered how you could ever plan that far ahead.

After 30+ years of ministry and almost 13 as a senior pastor, I find myself doing that very thing. I typically lay out my sermon calendar 3-12 months at a time. I give the list to our worship leaders to aid them in planning the services and picking appropriate music for the passage, if possible.

My approach to preaching is to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I am committed to expository preaching, explaining what the text means and how to apply it in daily life. As I lay out my calendar, I try to balance Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. With the Old Testament, sometimes I preach through a whole book and sometimes I focus on one character (Abraham, Joseph) and preach through the section of the book that deals with their life.

This past week, I laid out my plan for the next 18 months. I am currently preaching through the life of Moses (portions of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). We will follow that series with a study of the 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus, a vision series on the church (Revelation 1-3), 1 Peter, and the book of Joshua. Over the next year and a half, we will talk about character, marriage, leadership, culture, suffering, work, anger, how to live in today’s world, and much, much more.

One of the challenges in planning a sermon calendar is what to with Christmas and Easter, namely, how to avoid repeating yourself. My approach is to use a 3-4 year cycle of messages. While I do repeat myself, it’s not every year. Christmas/Advent: (1) Mary, Joseph, Wise men, Shepherds; (2) Anna, Simeon, Mary’s song of joy, Isaiah 9:6; (3) Isaiah’s prophecies, Isaiah 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 40:1-11, 52:13-53:12; (4) 7 “I AM’s” of Jesus. Palm Sunday: (1) Matthew 21:1-11; (2) Matthew 21:12-22; (3) John 12:12-26. Easter: (1) Luke 24:1-12; (2) Luke 24:13-35; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:1-19; (4) Luke 24:36-49 (I will add this one in future years).

Having a sermon calendar aids me in a number of ways. It ensures I don’t just tackle easy, familiar, favorite topics. I have to preach the next paragraph in line. It provides a sense of balance over time. It exposes me and the congregation to the entire word of God rather than one slice (gospels, epistles, etc.). It helps me to know where I’m going. When other staff take my place when I’m gone, they continue the series by taking the next passage, which helps maintain continuity as well as giving the congregation a different “voice.” It also reinforces the conviction that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I’m grateful for Jim Rose’s model and encouragement. I’ve found it to be very beneficial.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Ministry, Personal growth, Preaching

 

Marking time

In what seems like a former life, I was in the marching band during my high school years. Our band director was a Navy veteran and a stickler for marching with precision. We drilled for hours on end to perfect our stride and formations. Performing in halftime shows was fun and marching in parades was enjoyable, though exhausting. But what I enjoyed the least was marking time, simply marching in place while waiting for the signal to go forward.

To my chagrin, I hate to admit that not much has changed. Though far removed from my high school years, I still don’t like to mark time. I don’t like standing still. Waiting is one of my least favorite things to do. I want to move forward and accomplish something. Rather than mark time, I want to make progress. I want to be productive.

Perhaps this is why I identify with the story of Moses. I can put myself in his sandals as he waited forty years as a shepherd in Midian before God appeared to him in the burning bush. I can guess how he felt while Israel took one more lap around Mt. Sinai and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent the bulk of his life marking time.

And yet, Moses developed a unique relationship with God during those years of waiting. He was known as the one who spoke with God face to face. He begged God for his presence and caught a brief glimpse of his glory. Though he did not travel far geographically, he traveled deeper into the heart of God than many others have done.

Rather than chafing when God sends me into the wilderness, I need to use the time to get to know him better. Rather than feeling frustrated when I find myself marking time, I need to seek God’s presence. I must learn to wait in a productive manner.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2017 in Moses, Personal growth

 

On Target

A world renowned archer had a sterling reputation for hitting the target every time. On the eve of a major competition, a young boy stumbled upon his practice session. Rather than aim at a target, he let the arrow fly and then painted the target around wherever it embedded itself. A bullseye every time!

Rather than aiming at nothing and hitting it every time, I want to live with a sense of intentionality. I want my life to count for something and to make a difference. This is the meaning of the name of the blog, “On Target.”

On Target began as a newsletter while I was the Pastor of Christian Education at the College Church in Wheaton, IL (1986-89). About once a month, I wrote to those who served in the Christian Education ministries. Sometimes it was a devotional thought, sometimes an idea for teaching and learning, and sometimes an upcoming training event. When I became an Associate Pastor at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, I continued to write On Target for our Christian Education team and missionaries.

Life became busier when I became a Senior Pastor in 2004 and I stopped writing for a period of time. However, there were things God laid on my heart to communicate. My wife suggested I try writing a blog. In April 2008, On Target joined the blogosphere on the World Wide Web. This past week, On Target took on another form as the weekly radio program of First Central Bible Church. On Target can be heard on Sunday mornings from 6-7AM on RealOldies1250.

Like my life, the blog version of On Target is intentionally eclectic. Sometimes I write a devotional thought. At other times, I share cartoons or humor. On occasion, I review books I have read. Periodically I post photos of places my wife and I visit. Occasionally, I write about my family and their adventures. Once a week, I post a synopsis of the sermons I preach.

The idea of living an on target life is significant for two reasons. One is that we all naturally miss the target God desires us to aim at. Romans 3:23 explains, “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” To sin means to miss the mark, to fall short of the goal of God’s standard of perfection. Fortunately, God provides a solution. Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We simply need to acknowledge that we are sinners and ask God to forgive our sins, come into our lives, and make us part of his family.

The second reason for living an on target life is that it gives us a sense of purpose. The apostle Paul expressed this idea in Philippians 3:12–14.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I want my life to be On Target. I want to accomplish something and make a difference. Through new life in Christ, I can hit the target that God has laid out for me. In so doing, I will bring glory to God.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2017 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

The secret to revival

Why do those who want victory over sin struggle to say “No” to temptation? Why do those who want to walk with God seemingly spin their wheels and go in circles? Why is it that those with the greatest of intentions never move forward? Why is revival so elusive when it is desired so deeply?

The book of Ezra describes a revival that took place after the Jews returned from a 70 year exile in Babylon. Cyrus, the king of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple (1:1-4). Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple (chapters 1-6) and Ezra rebuilt the people (chapters 7-10).

The secret to the successful revival lies in a simple three-word phrase, they “made a beginning” (3:8). Good intentions were not enough. Permission and encouragement was not enough. Passionate desires were not enough. Revival would never break out until they “made a beginning.”

Once they made a beginning, they laid the foundation for a new temple (3:8-14). Opposition rose up to test their resolve (chapter 4). They had to restart the work (5:2). They completed the temple and worship was restored (6:13-22). A beginning was needed to start and complete the building project.

Making a beginning was also needed for personal revival. Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra (1) made a beginning (set his heart) for (2) personal study, (3) personal obedience, and (4) teaching others to do the same.

The secret to a successful revival is taking the first step. Revival seldom breaks out until we make a beginning and set our hearts to study, obey, and share God’s word with others. Granted, we need to follow it with further steps of obedience and bathe the revival in prayer. But it never begins until we make a beginning.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Scripture

 
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Watch out for sinkholes

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Personal growth, Quotes

 

The intersection of faith and life

Yesterday afternoon I had a difficult and disappointing phone conversation that was the culmination of five months of dialogue with an insurance company. I was angry about my perceived mistreatment. Why did they put me through a five month ordeal if this was going to be the outcome? Why did they make me jump through so many hoops if it was going to turn out this way? It’s not fair! I want justice!

I decided to blog about the encounter. I would catalog their many and varied sins, and broadcast my slights for all the world to read and heed. I would do my best to shame them.

Then I remembered I recently gave our church leaders a handout on how to deal with criticism and complaints. If I followed my own instructions regarding the guidelines of Matthew 18:15, I needed to deal with the company privately rather than publicly. I was also reminded of what I taught while in Russia last month. I explained to the pastors and leaders that Romans 12:19 instructs us not to seek revenge, but rather to leave it in God’s hands.

Rather than tell the world, I wrote a letter to the company expressing my frustration. Rather than attempt to publicly embarrass the company in a blog post, I wrote this post confessing my embarrassment at discovering I am still rather self-centered, selfish, proud, and ill-tempered when I don’t get my own way. SIGH!

Romans 7:15, 24-25 (ESV)    For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Introverts Speak Out!

At a TED talk in 2012, author Susan Cain delivered a powerful and helpful address on “The power of introverts.”

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

You may not agree with everything she says, but her thoughtful presentation will make you think about the issue. As an introvert myself, I found it very encouraging.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Videos