New Sermon: “If You Had Been Here” (John 11)

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Here is my latest sermon from Grace Pasadena, entitled “If You Had Been Here”. It’s taken from John 11, and is about walking with Jesus through grief and loss. It was a heavy sermon and I pray I did it justice.


A New Sermon, and a Snapshot of My Process

Here is last Sunday’s sermon, entitled Walking in the Wilderness, from Matthew 3:16-4:11.

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A few people have asked about my weekly process for sermon preparation, so I thought I would share.

  1. I budget 8-10 hours during the week for prep. In the early days of preaching, it usually took twice that.
  2. On Tuesdays, I budget 3-4 hours for exegesis, consultation of commentaries, etc. I create a word document where I dump all I of my thoughts on the passage.
  3. On Fridays, I budget 4 hours for composition. Here I am trying to organize my scattered thoughts, distill a clear central idea, draw up an outline (usually three movements), and come up with at least two compelling illustrations, in 5 pages of uncluttered prose. I send this sermon draft to a dear friend who then comes over and talks me through what worked and what didn’t. This last component has been so valuable to me.
  4. On Saturday evenings, I budget 1-2 hours to revise and to practice the sermon. I want to listen to how it sounds, and get a feel for the flow of the text. I want to be familiar enough with it so that I’m not too tied to my manuscript on Sunday. As I go over it, I underline key phrases and write key words in the margin to trigger my memory.
  5. On Sunday mornings, I budget an hour to look over the sermon once more, and to take a prayer walk so I can offer the sermon to the Lord.
  6. I currently preach from a standard size three-ring binder. In the past, I tried preaching from a half-size binder for about six months, preaching without notes for about four months, and preaching from an iPad (using Good Reader) for about a year and a half. Since moving to California, I’ve gone back to the binder.
  7. I experience the act of preaching as a very personal, vulnerable, and (in my best moments) worshipful activity. Most of the time, I want to hide or disappear after I sit down. Thus, I am so thankful for the opportunity to take Communion directly after the sermon each week, and that the climax of our service is not the sermon, but the Lord’s invitation to the Table. No matter how well or poorly I feel like I did with the sermon, at the Table we are tangibly told that God is with us and for us, and He is known to us “in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)

First Five: If you could only save five books, what would they be?

When we started planning our move to California, we initially thought that we would only be able to bring what we could fit in our little Honda Civic plus six suitcases (Mel and the kids flew). This meant downsizing 15 (lawyer) boxes of books down to 3. We ended up taking a (much larger) second car, and bringing more like 5 boxes of books. But still.

As painful as it was, there was something exciting about starting with those three empty boxes and choosing which books were important enough to make the move. Here is a picture of the first five books that I put into the box.

IMG_2097Since the move, I’ve added many important books to my library. But I think I would probably stand by these books as the “first five”. They have marked me deeply, shaped my imagination, and – like all classics – they reward continual re-reading.

Your turn: your house is on fire, and you can only save five books. What are your “first five”?

Braving the New World (Wide Web): An Essay!



People often wonder exactly what it is that a PhD student does.

We read. And we think. And sometimes we write.

Sadly, much of what we write is unreadable, filled with specialist language and academic jargon. It’s mostly for our own benefit, a recorded reflection of internal processing.

Every once in awhile, however, we write things of general interest. I may have lost all perspective, but I think/hope that this piece falls into the latter category.

In any case, here is a piece that I wrote for the Fall edition of God and Nature magazine. It’s an essay that explores all the different ways that Christian thinkers engage social and entertainment media.

Braving the New World (Wide Web): Mapping Theological Responses to Media

TL; DR? Here are the last three paragraphs:

“Media (particularly social media) makes more information available to us that ever before: it is quite literally fed to us through our myriad “feeds”. The glut of information facilitates the opportunity to feed on information and feel emotion without having to take meaningful, committed action.

C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters that the goal is of the tempter is to elicit feeling without action.  The more humans are led to feel without acting, the harder it will ever become to act, and then the harder it will become even to feel. Our endless options so often catalyze our emotions but paralyze our action. When this happens, we grow numb.

One of the only antidotes for this is a community of committed action, where flesh-and-blood connection can take place between hurting bodies. Indeed, increased contact with the difficult aspects of the human condition may alleviate some of the unrealistic expectations that we place on technology. Media culture threatens to obscure, trivialize, or paralyze us through by drowning us in the 24-hour news cycle. Yet thoughtful and engaged presence, especially among the least of these, can give us all a healthy glimpse of the real. There is simply no substitute for this.”

Expectation and Encounter: A Sermon on John 2:1-11

Here is a link to the sermon I preached last Sunday at Grace Pasadena. Honestly, I wasn’t very happy with the final product. But I have often found that the sermons I feel are the weakest are the ones that God uses most surprisingly. In any case, it conveys some important things that have been particularly important to me lately: things I need to hear. I’ll post the closing paragraphs here:

“I have a very wise mentor who once said to me that there are two truths that he clings to, two things he knows about God: God loves me, and I can’t control him. He loves you. You can’t control him. Since he loves you, you can anticipate his showing up and working in your life. Since you can’t control him, all your expectations may be frustrated. A sword may pierce through your soul, too. But sometimes, in the powerlessness of having all your plans fail, there is a peace. You are lost enough to be led, to let yourself be loved.

We want control, comprehension, cognition. But God rarely gives this to us. What he offers us instead is participation, participation in the mystery of His life and His plan. What He offers us is Christ, in whom God is clearly seen. And he is enough. Jesus exposes our expectations, he expands them, and ultimately he exceeds them. What he is doing is often different than what we expect. But what he is doing is always better than we can imagine.”

Passivity and Participation: A Sermon on Jonah 1

With the end of my comprehensive exams, I’m trying to post here more often!

In that spirit, here is a link to my sermon today at Grace Pasadena. I’ve preached this text several times in different contexts, but have never posted a sermon. A major shoutout is due to Dr. Dennis Magary for opening up the book of Jonah for hungry seminarians back in the fall of 2005. Magary’s Hebrew Exegesis class remains at the top of a short list of the best classes I’ve ever taken. I think I learned more about preaching in that class than anywhere else (other than the experience of preaching itself). I pray that I did justice to the text, and those who listen will be blessed.