Posts Tagged ‘Billy Graham’

Billy Graham on Vinyl, Part 11: “Man in the 5th Dimension”

September 17, 2015

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In honor of Billy Graham, a hero of mine, I’m digitizing some of his sermons from long out-of-print records and making them available as MP3s. This sermon is found on an LP called Billy Graham Presents from his World’s Fair Pavilion “Man in the 5th Dimension” from 1964 (RCA Camden, CAL-813).

[Right-click here to download an MP3 file.]

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As you can tell form the title, this record is unlike all the previous ones in this series, which capture sermons and music from various Crusades. This is a soundtrack recording of the 28-minute film presentation that Rev. Graham’s organization made at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

Click to expand.

Click to expand.

The film is a beautiful apologetic for Christianity. As you can hear from the audio, Graham begins by discussing the scientific progress we’ve made in uncovering some of the mysteries of the universe. Nature bears witness to God’s handiwork, Graham says, and there’s no conflict between science and faith:

The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible never tries to prove the existence of God. It assumes it. The problem is, too often man tries to subject God to the analysis of the laboratory. But we cannot put God in a test tube and say, “Here is God,” anymore than you can put a mother’s love in a test tube and say, “This is a mother’s love.”

Of course, no amount of scientific progress can solve humanity’s main problem: the sin which alienates us from God. Graham goes on to lay out biblical history, beginning in the Garden of Eden and continuing through the letters of Paul and the promise of Jesus’ Second Coming.

He goes on to discuss great Christian thinkers through the ages from Augustine to Pascal to Tolstoy to some of America’s founders and leaders. He then asks well-credentialed men in fields of science, business, and medicine to offer their witness for Christ.

IMG_5249As usual, he offers an invitation to accept Christ at the end of the film, and he does so with great care. He includes the following words:

Jesus said, “Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” You must come to Christ with the trust and simplicity of a child. First, you must be willing to repent of sin. Repentance means you change you mind about God and your relationship to him. Repentance involves a willingness to change your whole pattern of living.

Notice I said a willingness. You may not have the strength or the ability to repent. But if you’re willing, God will help you to repent.

Second, you must turn to Christ by simple faith and accept him as Lord and Savior. Notice again I said by faith. If you wait until you can understand it all, you will never come. It must be a step of faith.

It’s like receiving a gift: the gift of pardon for the past and a new life for the future. Many of you have come with an emptiness and a restlessness in your heart and soul. Intellectually, some of you are not certain about the purpose and meaning of life. You’ve never really committed yourself to any great cause or purpose. You long to have something to believe in—a flag to follow and a song to sing.

Why not commit your life to Jesus Christ and let his love and authority dominate your life?

Others of you have been suffering from a sense of guilt. You would like to wake up tomorrow morning with a sense of forgiveness—to know that all the failure and sin of the past is completely gone; to have an exhilaration that only God can give to a person.

This tremendous change in your life could take place right here and now.

Our commitment to Christ is only a first step. But it’s a necessary step if you’re going to enter the kingdom of God. You could make this commitment at this moment. I’m asking you to do it now. Respond to that inner voice of the Holy Spirit that is saying, “You need God.” This is your moment, your moment of decision, the most important decision of your life. Let this be the beginning of your new life in the fifth dimension—the dimension of the Spirit.

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To listen to Part 10 in this series, with links to earlier sermons in the series, click here.

Wright on “treasure in heaven”

July 17, 2015

More than any other contemporary Christian thinker, N.T. Wright has reminded us that at the center of our Christian hope is future resurrection into God’s renewed, restored, and re-created world on the other side of death, Second Coming, and final judgment. Merely going to “heaven when we die,” he says many times over, pales in comparison and doesn’t do justice to the biblical message.

I agree for the most part, although popular Christian thinkers from previous generations—I’m thinking of Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis, for instance—often had this full-bodied vision even when they used the word “heaven”—as many do today.

Nevertheless, Wright is right that the popular imagination often pictures heaven as an escape from this world—as a place where we’ll float on clouds in some disembodied, ethereal place far, far away. This picture of heaven pervades many 19th century hymns that remain popular today—not to mention many dumb Hollywood movies.

I find these words from Wright about “treasure in heaven” in the story of the Rich Young Ruler helpful:

When Jesus says ‘You will have treasure in heaven’, he doesn’t mean that the young man must go to heaven to get it; he means that God will keep it stored up for him until the time when, in the Age to Come, all is revealed. The reason you have money in the bank is not so that you can spend it in the bank but so that you can take it out and spend it somewhere else. The reason you have treasure in heaven, God’s storehouse, is so that you can enjoy it in the Age to Come when God brings heaven and earth together at last. And ‘eternal life’, as most translations put it, doesn’t mean ‘life in a timeless, otherworldly dimension’, but ‘the life of the Age to Come’ (the word ‘eternal’ translates a word which means ‘belonging to the Age’).

Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 135.

Billy Graham on Vinyl, Part 10: “The Signs of the Time, the End of the World, the Second Coming”

June 17, 2015

Billy Graham Record

In honor of Billy Graham, a hero of mine, I’m digitizing some of his sermons from long out-of-print records and making them available as MP3s. This sermon is found on an LP called Billy Graham Crusade in Miniature from 1969 (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, BG-3345).

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This sermon, from a Crusade he preached in New York City in 1969, is the third in this Billy Graham series on the Second Coming, each one essentially different from the others. Here he refers to the nuclear arms race, racial tensions, student unrest, and scientific pessimism, combined with the “almost frantic quest for pleasure and having a good time” as the “shadow of the possibility of the destruction of the human race. And so the human race stands at this moment on the brink, on the threshold. Many of our leaders don’t know the answer.”

Now there are three elements even in modern theology… there is pessimism. Harry Emerson Fosdick was a pastor in this city for many years. In his sunset years he said this: “If one’s thinking is dominated by the gigantic events of our generation, we cannot avoid despair.” So we have a theology of despair. We have a theology of activism. And we have a theology of hope. I belong to that group that has a theology of hope, because my hope is not centered in this world, or in what man is going to do or not going to do. My hope is centered in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who the Bible says is going to come back some day and straighten the whole mess out. That’s our hope: in Christ!

Like Graham, I also belong to the group that has a theology of hope. I take no consolation in signs of “progress.” I’m not overly concerned with bleak headlines. The world will get worse before it gets better. But when it gets better, it will be unimaginably good.

Detail from back of the record sleeve.

Detail from back of the record sleeve.

Right-click here to download an MP3 version of this sermon.

Click here for the previous post in this series, which includes links to the other sermons.

Sermon 04-26-15: “Warts and All, Part 3: In Fear and Much Trembling”

May 5, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic We often judge ourselves against the standards of this world. And when we do, we often find that we don’t measure up. In today’s scripture, Paul talks about a different standard: the “foolishness of the cross.” How would our lives be better if we lived according to that standard?

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5

[To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3 of this sermon.] Have you heard the news? According to no less an authority than the Wall Street Journal, God is not dead after all. Is_God_Dead Some of you were around back in 1966, when Time magazine had its infamous cover story asking, “Is God Dead?” By the way, I liked what Billy Graham said to a reporter when asked if God, indeed, was dead: “Of course not!” he said. “I was talking with him just this morning!” The point is, fifty years ago the conventional wisdom of well-respected “experts” assured us that science would soon prove that God doesn’t exist, or at least as we learned more and more about our universe, we would outgrow our need for God to explain things, and belief in God would soon disappear. And now, as I just learned a few weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published late last year, entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God,” has become the most popular, the most widely forwarded article in the history of the paper. Among other things, the author, Eric Metaxas, convincingly argues that, far from showing that God doesn’t exist, astrophysics increasingly shows how incredibly unlikely it is that a universe such as ours, with a planet like ours that supports life the way it does, should exist at all. When I say “unlikely,” I mean this: astrophysics shows that in order for our universe to exist, it would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row—that’s a million million times in a row. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sinner’s Prayer and its evangelical despisers

March 23, 2015

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Here we go again… Several years ago, and not without irony, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, criticized the Sinner’s Prayer as a symptom of “that great Western heresy,” our individualistic focus in salvation. This week, Asbury professor J.D. Walt has joined her in the complaint.

To be fair, just because Jefferts-Schori said it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but given a choice between her and Billy Graham, well… I know whom I’ll trust. 

On the other hand, no one—certainly not Billy Graham—believes that this prayer alone saves anyone. It’s not a magical incantation. But it provides a way for a sinner to express his desire to repent of his sins, to trust in Christ, and receive God’s gift of salvation. Indeed, to put it in biblical terms, it’s a way for that person to do what Paul says we all must do to be saved in Romans 10:9—to confess Christ and believe. There’s nothing at all wrong with that! We don’t have to throw out the Letter to the Romans in order to accommodate the Rich Young Ruler. 

Is the person praying the prayer sincere in his desire to repent and receive Christ? Is the Holy Spirit, in that moment in which he prays the prayer, justifying him and giving him new birth? We can’t know, but it’s certainly possible—often even likely. 

This is why we believe such a prayer represents a beginning. We have to get started somewhere, right? Sometimes, as the example of the thief on the cross demonstrates, getting started is all anyone can do. Fortunately that’s enough.

I posted these words on Facebook, along with this comment:

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Video-based “Peace with God” gospel tract

March 12, 2015

I like what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has done with its old “Peace with God” gospel tract. At last night’s confirmation class for our youth, I showed this video, which comes from part of its presentation. For whatever it’s worth, I’m far more theologically sophisticated than I was when I was 14, but the classic “bridge” analogy still holds.

As Pope Benedict XVI said a few years ago,

if [humanity’s] first, fundamental relationship is disturbed—his relationship with God—then nothing else can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus’ message and ministry: before all else, he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady, and to show him—if you are not healed there, then however many good things you may find, you are not truly healed.

I’m relieved to say that my preaching over the past few years reflects this priority.

Billy Graham on Vinyl, Part 9: “The Cure for Loneliness”

January 20, 2015

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In honor of Billy Graham, a hero of mine, I’m digitizing some of his sermons from long out-of-print records and making them available as MP3s. This sermon is found on an LP called Jesus, My Friend Unfailing from 1986 (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, JMA0986).

In today’s sermon, from a Crusade in Washington, D.C., in May 1986, Rev. Graham preaches about loneliness, whose root cause is sin.

We are born in sin, the Bible says… The seed of sin started at the moment of conception. And it goes on and on and on and on, until, tonight, in the sight of God, you are a sinner. And the word “sin” means lawbreaker. You’ve broken the laws of God. And if you’ve broken the laws of God, you are under the sentence of eternal death. All that’s implied in the word eternal death—all that’s implied in judgment, all that’s implied in hell—is yours. Unless, of course, you repent of you sin and turn to the cross, where you can find wonderful forgiveness. Because, you see, God is a God of love, a God of mercy. He loves you. He has the hairs of your head numbered. He knows all about you. And he wants to come into your and take away that loneliness. And he wants to come into your life and give you new hope and new assurance, no matter what your condition is!

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From the back cover of Jesus, My Friend Unfailing.

He says that Christ, in his atoning death, experienced loneliness more severely than anyone.

Even at the end the scripture says all the disciples forsook him and fled. The crowd who on one day were shouting “hosannas” and throwing palm leaves down deserted him, and began to yell, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What loneliness he must have felt! Then they hung him on a cross, and his blood was flowing, and they taunted him, “Come down, come down, you’ve saved others. Save yourself!” And they said that, 72 thousand angels in heaven pulled their swords ready to go rescue him, and he said, “No! I love them. I’m dying for those people in 1986 in Washington, D.C. I’m dying for those people in generations unborn. I’ll stay here and bear their sins. I know they’ve committed every type of sin. I know they’ve broken the laws of God. But I’m going to bear their penalty and their punishment and take it upon myself. And the loneliness of that moment when he said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—no theologian quite understands what happened there. But in that moment God took your sins and mine and laid them on Christ. And he became guilty of our sins. The loneliness of it all! For you… and for me! And how anyone can reject the Savior I do not know. Christ hanging on the cross experienced the ultimate loneliness.

We also experience a kind of loneliness when we decide to place our in Christ.

And then, eighthly, there’s the loneliness of your decision. You cannot depend upon parents or friends. You must make this decision for Christ yourself. And that decision means this: that you repent of sin. And what does that mean? You say, “God, I have sinned.” Will you say that tonight? Sure you will! You know you have. Then the next part of repentance is, I’m willing to turn from my sins. The word “repentance” means change your mind. Turn. I’m going in one direction in my life… I’m willing, Lord, if you’ll help me—I can’t do it alone—but I’m willing to turn and change directions. And any attempt to deal with sin apart from that will not work.

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Graham’s words about “punk-rock kids in England” received well-deserved applause:

There was an article in the press about punk-rock kids in England. And this lady that was writing the article says, “They’re a generation of alienated young who are going nowhere and looking forward to nothing.” I don’t know. I’d say that they’re young people for whom Christ died, and he loves the punk-rock kids, and died for them, and he would receive them and love them.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button above or right-click here to download as a separate mp3 file.

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

Click here for Part 3.

Click here for Part 4.

Click here for Part 5.

Click here for Part 6.

Click here for Part 7.

Click here for Part 8.

Billy Graham’s “tree stump prayer” echoes the Virgin Mary’s famous prayer

December 19, 2014

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In this article from Billy Graham’s website, his grandson Will describes the most important crossroads that Billy Graham faced in his life. It occurred in 1949 at a Christian retreat center in California called Forest Home. Among other things, Graham’s confidence in his calling as an evangelist was shaken by a disastrous recent crusade in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Also, as the uncredentialed president of Northwestern College in St. Paul, Graham had to decide, for the sake of the college’s accreditation, whether to quit his evangelistic career to pursue an advanced degree.

Meanwhile, his good friend and fellow evangelist Charles Templeton, with whom he had ministered at Youth for Christ, did abandon his career in evangelism for the academy—at Princeton Theological Seminary. While there, he began doubting the Bible’s trustworthiness until he later abandoned the Christian faith altogether and became an atheist. Did Templeton know something that Graham didn’t?

This was the context in which Graham accepted an invitation to speak to a church group at Forest Home. Will writes:

One night at Forest Home, [Graham] walked out into the woods and set his Bible on a stump – more an altar than a pulpit – and he cried out: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck [Templeton] and others are raising.”

And then, my grandfather fell to his knees and the Holy Spirit moved in him as he said, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!”

The next day, the organizer of the retreat remarked that Graham “preached with authority” that she hadn’t seen in him before. Four hundred people made a commitment to Christ in response to Graham’s message. This marked the beginning of a new and fruitful chapter in Graham’s ministry.

While Graham’s “tree stump prayer” didn’t change the course of human history on nearly the same scale, it still reminds me of Mary’s prayer when the angel Gabriel tells her that she’s going to conceive and give birth to the Messiah, Savior, and Son of God. Like Graham, Mary struggled with God’s word. She was “greatly troubled” by it (Luke 1:29). She had questions about it that she was unable to answer: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Like Graham, hers was not a blind faith or an unquestioning faith. She was inquisitive. She wanted to reason it through.

Ultimately, however, she accepts it, not because it all made perfect sense to her, but because she trusted God, with whom “nothing will be impossible.” She took God at his word. And like Graham, it made all the difference for her—which is an understatement, of course. Ultimately her freely chosen obedience helps make all the difference for all mankind: because through her son we find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Inasmuch as I have trusted in God’s Word and committed myself to following it—in spite of my questions, in spite of my doubts—I can attest that it’s made the biggest difference in my life and ministry. God has proven himself; he’s rewarded my faith. And those questions and doubts get smaller and less significant.

Almighty God, make me faithful to your word the way Mary was: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NRSV). Amen.

Billy Graham isn’t wrong (or why even church Christmas concerts should include altar calls)

December 18, 2014
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Billy Graham isn’t wrong to emphasize the decision to accept Christ as Savior and Lord.

I have a Methodist clergy colleague and Facebook friend who tends to post things that make me feel both inspired and guilty—or maybe “convicted” is the right word. A post of his from this week was no exception. He said that while he enjoys seeing online photos from various church Christmas musicals, cantatas and programs—and he knows first-hand how much work goes into pulling these things off—he finds it perplexing that he rarely hears about conversions at these events. Is it because we’re not inviting people to respond to the good news of Christ’s incarnation?

Meanwhile, he said, Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek, Georgia, the largest United Methodist church in our North Georgia Conference, reported over 100 professions of faith during their recent Christmas program.

Over 100 professions of faith! During a Christmas music program!

I can’t comprehend that. I am, like most of my colleagues, one of those pastors who hasn’t offered an invitation to salvation at a Christmas program. Nor have I ever seen it done (at least since I was a child in a Baptist church).

Why? We are not betraying our Methodist heritage, or becoming more “Baptist” (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that fear expressed by clergy colleagues, I could at least buy a grande latte at Starbucks), if we offer an altar call at the end of our services. Revivalism is more authentically a part of our Methodist tradition than the ecumenically-minded liturgical reforms that mainline churches implemented in the wake of Vatican II.

I say this as someone who is not anti-liturgical. I have a great love for our denomination’s Anglican roots. I love the Book of Common Prayer. I appreciate that our movement’s founders, John and Charles Wesley, were lifelong clergy in the Church of England.

But inasmuch as the Wesley brothers were high-church, they were high-church evangelicals. They rightly understood that merely being baptized and confirmed, and going through the motions of liturgy week in and week out, without a corresponding change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit, is meaningless.

All that to say, even we Methodists need to be converted! Indeed, we need to be saved! 

And, yes, we understand that salvation is a lifelong process of inward change that begins with God’s prevenient grace—by which we are able to repent, believe in Jesus, and be justified—and continues throughout our lives through the Spirit-initiated process of sanctification. We understand that God has given us means of grace, such as the Eucharist, holy scripture, prayer, and worship, through which God sanctifies us. We understand that we are not fully and finally saved until we arrive safely in heaven on the other side of death, the Second Coming, and resurrection.

And more controversially, unlike most of our fellow evangelicals, Methodists do stress the possibility of backsliding. Even after we’ve been converted, we believe, God grants us the terrifying freedom to turn away from Christ, such that we lose salvation.

I think I’ve faithfully represented—in a very brief sketch—our Wesleyan understanding of salvation. I affirm all the doctrines underlying this understanding.

So I understand that salvation is much more than a one-time decision made in response to a preacher’s invitation at the end of a church service. I understand that leading someone to pray the “sinner’s prayer” is, by itself—apart from genuine conversion, without the corresponding change of heart wrought by the Spirit—insufficient for salvation.

I get all that. But for all the outrageous slander directed against pastors like me who affirm praying a sinner’s prayer (bless your heart, mainline Protestants!), would somebody please tell me a better way for someone to get started down the path of salvation and lifelong discipleship? What would you have someone do when the Holy Spirit has led them to accept for themselves God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ?

Everyone must ultimately decide for themselves whether they want this gift of salvation. Everyone must make a decision! That’s what the sinner’s prayer represents.

And this, in my mind, is the rationale for preachers like me inviting people to “accept Christ as Savior and Lord.” I have no problem with using this revivalistic language. Because it’s true—even if, in respectable corners of our dying mainline Protestant tradition, it’s unrespectable.

I couldn’t care less about respectability. We are facing a desperate need on the part of people to be saved. We Methodists have enabled them to avoid making a decision long enough. We’ve taught them—at least unintentionally—the damnable lie that simply going to church, getting baptized, going through confirmation, and being a “good person” is somehow enough.

I’ve been part of that problem, believe me!

Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

We Methodists keep saying, “There are yet four months.” Then, when four months pass, we say there are four months more. And so on. The harvest, oddly enough, never arrives.

As you can tell, I’m convicted.

Our church’s Christmas music program is this Sunday evening. It just so happens that even before I read my clergy friend’s Facebook post, my music director and I had built into the service an altar call for people to receive God’s gift of salvation. There will be people who come to that service—I have no idea who they are—who haven’t yet made a life-changing, soul-saving decision to accept Christ. I’m going to invite them to do so.

Will they respond? I don’t know. But I’m praying with all my heart that they will. Will you join me in that prayer?

On writing sermons: this old dog can learn a new trick!

November 26, 2014
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Nick and Jess from New Girl.

There was a scene in the show New Girl a couple of seasons ago in which Nick and his then-girlfriend Jess were confessing their deepest fears to one another. At one point, Nick said, “I’m not sure if I can actually read, or if I’ve just memorized a lot of words.”

I know what Nick means. A part of me has felt that way about preaching. Although I feel secure about my preaching now, there were many times in the past when I wondered if I really knew how to do it—especially when I considered how much longer it seemed to take me (and still does) to prepare a sermon than many of my friends who also preach.

I didn’t want to think about the art or craft of preaching too much because I was afraid I would be exposed as a fraud or lose the knack for doing what had previously come naturally to me. Inasmuch as I was a good preacher—I used to think—it came naturally to me. So why mess with it?

I still believe that we preachers have to be true to our own voice and style. I’ve never read or heard a sermon, for instance, by Fred Craddock, a former professor and homiletical hero at the seminary I attended, but apparently his “narrative style” of preaching, at which he excelled, has been aped by many preachers who don’t share his gift for it. Let’s please not try to be someone else.

Speaking of style, I now feel completely secure with the fact that I preach from a manuscript. There is currently a bias against this in preaching circles. We preachers are being more “authentic,” many say, when we preach extemporaneously, without notes, “from the heart.” Oh, please! I pour my heart into writing my manuscript, and I can preach from it without merely “reading” from it. This takes a lot of rehearsal time on Sunday morning. I saw Billy Graham preaching in a televised Crusade from the ’70s, and he was preaching from a manuscript. If it’s good enough for him…

My favorite contemporary preacher—no surprise, if you read this blog—is Tim Keller. I listen to sermons by him nearly every week. In many ways, he’s a classic three-point expository preacher (although he sometimes has more than three points). Whereas I’m always happy to share an insight or two from him, I’m surprised and pleased, given his influence on me, how little my sermons resemble his—at least structurally. I’m sure that’s for the best: if God wanted me to be Tim Keller, after all, he would have made me Tim Keller, not Brent White.

Having said all that, I have learned a few things about preaching over the years. This is probably why, when I read the sermons I wrote prior to about 2010, I mostly think they’re horrible. My wife tells me I’m wrong about that, but I’m not so sure. As I’ve discussed on this blog, I had an evangelical re-conversion some time before my ordination, around 2010. Among other things, this experience included falling in love with the Bible again—and falling in love with the gospel again.

In this regard, Tim Keller did show me how to be far more Christocentric in my preaching. As with Keller, every sermon I preach these days—on any part of the Bible, Old or New Testament—is ultimately about Jesus. I proclaim the gospel through every text. I talk about the cross in every sermon. Like Paul, I resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. This has made sermon preparation easier: at least now I know how my sermon will end—with my relating my sermon text to Jesus and the cross.

How the sermon begins… that’s still the tricky part for me!

Here’s something else I’ve been doing for the first time recently: I’ve been writing a complete outline of my sermon before writing my manuscript. This may seem like an obviously good thing to do prior to any kind of writing, but I’ve always resisted it—both in school and in sermon-writing. I told myself that the sermon would take shape on its own once I started writing. And it always did—just not before I took a couple of wrong turns along the way. This was inefficient, stressful, and impractical—especially if I wanted to have a life on Saturday and not work all day on writing a sermon.

And I do want to have a life on Saturday. This fall, for instance, I got season tickets to Georgia Tech football games for me and my son Townshend. I simply didn’t have the time for all the false starts, dead ends, and rabbit trails. I needed to have a pretty good idea of what I was going write before I started writing it.

And here’s what I’ve learned: whereas I used to tell myself that outlining sermons was a good way to “quench the Spirit,” the truth is I didn’t want to do it because it’s hard. It takes discipline. It takes great mental effort to organize my thoughts—to plan my main points, illustrations, and transitions in advance.

But what a difference it makes! I spend many hours researching the scripture, doing exegetical and interpretive work—which includes reading commentaries, studying words, jotting down ideas, thinking about how the text relates to current events or contemporary issues. Once I’ve done all of this work, I spend about two hours writing an outline.

My outlines tend to be very detailed. I could preach directly from them, except the sermons would be long and rambling. I say this because when I actually write the sermon, I always find that I have to omit a few things in the interest of time. But that’s a good problem to have. The benefit of preaching to the same congregation week after week is that I don’t have to say everything in one sermon.

The good news is that once I have an outline, the hard part is done. Writing the sermon becomes the easy and fun part.

This is what works for me. Any preachers out there care to add anything?