And that was Matthew

In Christmas of 2011, I began a 114 sermon series for The Grove. That’s 110 more sermons that I was told should be in a series. Yesterday, we said, to irreverently quote Jesus, ‘It is finished.’

At the end of things we did about 96 sermons in Matthew, our church grew in its discipleship and we are primed for an amazing season ahead.

For me personally, I am moving a load of my study books from the shelf next to my desk to the shelf in the library. It’s going to be so weird to not hear from and read these writers, who have been like a second voice to what I have been saying for almost four years.

I figured it would be good, since I once made a post about what books I was going to be using, to make a post about what books I did use. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else who likes doing 100 sermon long series.

  • ESV Study Bible: I did all my scripture outlines (where I usually write out the entire passage) from this. Then I checked the study notes. They are good, plenty of helpful info. They do make some assumptions that will help their positions so you have to be sure to check other opinions.
  • the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern: Written by a messianic Jewish man, and not a former NBA commish, this is a great commentary for understanding some of the culture surrounding the New Testament and to place emphasis in a place that is true to the original intentions of authors.
  • Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young: This book isn’t really a commentary at all, but it did have an extensive Scriptural index to help locate useful information related to the text I would be preaching. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped, which is probably more about how I wanted to use it, and not a judgment on the book itself. I will likely be putting it on the ‘to read’ shelf to go through it all later.
  • The Gospel According to Matthew by Leon Morris (Pillar NT Commentary Series): This commentary has been really useful for me as a preacher to make sure I am true to the original texts, but not much of the material was useful in the pulpit. It was definitely useful to make sure what I did preach was correct, but it has such a depth that it puts it out of reach for most readers (on the back cover it actually says it is for ‘serious readers of the Bible’ – like ‘serious’ is a special badge of honor 🙂
  • Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Series): This book is like a sunning narrative commentary with a pastoral view. Hauerwaus consistently gives fresh viewpoints. He doesn’t cover every single detail, but the areas he does cover are really interesting and novel.
  • Matthew for Everyone (Volumes I & II) by N.T. Wright: These two books are amazingly practical. Wright has a unique talent to take the complicated and challenging and make it simple but even more challenging to real life. These books are thin and easy to read making them really accessible. These are amazing commentary style books for anyone looking to give in depth Bible study a go.
  • Matthew by Daniel J. Harrington (Sacra Pagina Series): Harrington writes from a Catholic perspective which gives another fresh perspective from the majority of protestant commentaries. It deals with every single verse, giving light background information and a couple pages of commentary on each section. The format is also very easy to navigate so it became a go to text.
  • The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener (Eerdmans’ Socio-Rhetorical Commentary): This commentary, and the whole series, are favorites of mine. They deal with so much detail and cultural context, while managing deep and complicated issues in a way that makes it helpful for readers and teachers. It always has sidebars to give in depth understanding of people and systems of the time that make extra research a breeze.
  • The Gospel of Matthew  by R.T. France (The New International Commentary on the NT Series):  By far the best word by word commentary that is available on the book of Matthew. If I read this one first I would then read it again in a couple other books because if they didn’t have any idea what to write, the other authors basically copied France. So, this one is basically indispensable and incredibly helpful. Not everything I learned from this commentary made it into a sermon, but it definitely helped to make sure the things I was going to speak about where accurate and true.
  • Matthew by Michael J. Wilkins (The NIV Application Commentary Series): I like the NIV application series for being so practical and having ready made applications. This one wasn’t as useful for me as others from this series have been. It could be the way that Matthew is written or it could just be one that didn’t have much insight for me. I tended to not find this commentary as helpful for me, but others might like it.

2 days with Rob Bell part 6

This is part six of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.


A little bit of the afternoon on Monday was focused on the process and presentation of teaching, particularly in churches. It was presented with a little more application to other careers and roles as well, as the audience at the 2 Days event was not fully pastors. Rob Bell has already made several presentations on this subject, most of which can be found on the old YouTube, so it wasn’t tons of new info to me. So, just for ease of sharing I’m going to go point form just to get this down and maybe be helpful.

  • Adam had a loneliness problem before sin entered the world. Loneliness is a problem independent of the fall. This was just an incredible thought to me – that things were less than absolutely perfect in the garden of Eden from the very start.
  • You know you are prepared for your sermon/presentation when you can give a 10-second version, a 30-second version, a 3-minute version, and a 30-minute version. And it has got to be memorized as much as possible because any energy you spend on recalling is completely wasted energy for the people listening.
  • Structure feeds the spontaneity. Improvisation works when the fundamentals are mastered.
  • Deconstruction can create a lot of energy, but where is it even going? Tearing things down is loads of fun, but then what have you ended up with? A beautiful vision can actually take people somewhere great. It’s so much better to actually build something new, something resurrected from the old.
  • If you communicate on a regular basis, having a system of capturing moments of inspiration is essential. If you can, use Evernote to do this, it has organizational capabilities that make this simple and effective. Also, capture everything without judgment – editing can be done way later – get it into the file.

If you are interested in more of what Bell has to say about the sacred art of preaching, start with this youtube, then click through the links and watch the whole thing…

Forever and ever, Amen

Yesterday at The Grove, we spent time together in Matthew 6:5-15, which is some of Jesus’ teaching on how – and what – to pray. His teaching peaks with what we have come to call The Lord’s Prayer.

A few years ago I was participating in a worship service at a local Catholic church and, not being familiar with their liturgy, I was a bit lost. When it came time to recite the Lord’s Prayer together I got comfortable and began to re ire the pray with the regular members of the church. Until the last lines, it was going great. Then, disaster struck as I very comfortably finished my prayer with, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Amen”…. ALONE.

It ends up my friends at the local catholic church take the prayer in its older form, but didn’t bother to let a kid who grew up reciting the longer, additional text, in on the tradition.

As I was studying for yesterday’s sermon I learned that this ending about kingdom, power and glory doesn’t appear in the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel. This likely means it was a later addition. Probably, at some point, the ending was added on to give closure to the prayer, in a contextual way that would have made the most sense.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the Bible was changed; the church leaders responsible for the text and it’s translation were trying to ensure the text communicated its meaning in a culturally relevant way, so changes were made. What we need to be responsible about is understanding the text, it’s immediate or original intentions from its author and it’s historical treatments or translations by church leaders and thus inform our understanding of its intention and application in our current world. We do not receive the Scriptures in an ahistorical vacuum; we carry a tradition of faithful Scriptural translation in order to also serve future generations of Christ-followers who seek guidance in the Scriptures.

Concerning the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, we focus on the shorter and older translation as being more trustworthy as far as recording the words of Jesus. Yet, we are also informed, in a different way, from the added closing because it is true.

So, this all was too much to fit into a Sunday morning on prayer, but really important for Christians to know and be able to reasonable talk about – both within Christianity and with a watching world, with doubts about our practices involving prayer and the authority of Scripture.

Wesley on Preaching

John Wesley is the founder of Methodism (for better or for worse), from which the branch of Christianity I serve in grew. I found this great quote in Willard’s Hearing God book and thought it deserves it’s own post.

I do preach to as many as desire to hear, every night and morning. You ask, what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: to make them all like God; lovers of all; contented int heir lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, “O grave, where is they victory! Thanks be unto God who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Constriction and Creativity

The way that Jack White speaks about creating music and  songs is how I often feel about creating teachings and sermons.

Sometimes the heavens open up and things seem to just create themselves, but other times you put your head down and grind and hope that something good is going to come out of this.

When I think about preaching, I think about it as a performance art. When I proclaim the gospel of Jesus, I feel like I join a long line of (as the saying goes) poets, prophets and preachers who proclaimed with all sorts of creativity – yet all did so with constriction – from within, and from outside themselves.

Deadlines and structure are needed for creativity. If you give yourself all the time in the world, you’ll never build it, you’ll just keep designing it. If you have all the budget in the world you can buy cool, and fake it. When you don’t have all the resources in the world, we find out if you are authentic.

In authenticity, we find creativity. So, then, everyone is naturally creative. Especially preachers, but they must develop a box. Not a box for the presentation, but a box for the creation. Most seminaries teach pastors to prepare in the box and to present in the box, which does not develop creativity or authenticity. What needs to happen is structured development in creation in order to see growth of creativity in presentation.

I pray for many more preachers with revolutionary voices – who cry out with urgency and creativity. Who discipline themselves for the sake of others and honor the message by their commitment to authenticity and creativity.



Preaching Matthew

In December we started a 114 week teaching series in the gospel of Matthew. So, far it will take us into 2014. I anticipate it taking us all the way to the end of 2014, because we will take a few breaks (ie, the whole church will be doing the second BASIC series post Easter this spring).

Just to be of help to those who might be wondering, or those who might end up here through a search, or to Grove peeps who want to do some deeper reading, here’s the list of books and commentaries that I am using so far:


  • ESV Study Bible. It’s what I prepare my preaching straight out of. When I actually preach I have a black leather ESV for portability sake.
  • The Message Bible. I use this for perspective, and a lot for catchy sermon titles and ideas. That’s cheesy of me, I know.
  • the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern. I use this for all sermons I do from the New Testament, to help with contextualization.
  • Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young. Not a commentary in the technical sense, but Young gives thoughts on the various gospel stories.
  • The Gospel According to Matthew by Leon Morris (Pillar NT Commentary Series). This on is thick and deep and most of it is background reading that rarely makes it into the pulpit but makes sure I am online with what does make it.
  • Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Series). As one would expect this thinner commentary is theological in nature so it deals more with themes and movements in the gospel.
  • Matthew for Everyone (Volumes I & II) by N.T. Wright. This is the commentary series that I recommend first to most people. It is simple and to the point and helpful in seeing the story for what it is.
  • Matthew by Daniel J. Harrington (Sacra Pagina Series). This commentary comes from a Catholic perspective and I had not read anything like this before, so it sometimes gives me a whole new look at what the text is doing.
  • The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener (Eerdmans’ Socio-Rhetorical Commentary). This one is over 1,000 pages and is a detailed examination of the social context involved with the words recorded in conversations and speeches.
  • The Gospel of Matthew  by R.T. France (The New International Commentary on the NT Series) Another super thick and insanely detailed commentary. R.T. France translated the original text into English himself and then gives commentary on it. It’s amazingly detailed in the context of the time too.
  • Matthew by Michael J. Wilkins (The NIV Application Commentary Series). I always use the NIV Application commentaries because they are so diverse and they look at original meaning first and bridge that to the contemporary significance of the text. I don’t always agree with the conclusions, but that is a great way to cause growth for me!

Younger, Judges/Ruth

Over the past two months I gave teachings at The Grove on the book of Ruth. I like to share what books and commentaries helped me and might help someone else someday in the future.

K. Lawson Younger Jr. is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and contributed the volume on Judges and Ruth for the NIV Application Commentary Series. This is always a favorite series of mine because of it’s practical focus and applications to contemporary life. It may not be the most academic of commentaries, but it is really useful for people who preach or teach. I was really happy that the book treated Ruth well and didn’t just see it as an add-on after the book of Judges. Yet, there wasn’t much that I didn’t find in other texts and I didn’t find the application sections particularly inspirational. So this was an acceptable book, but not as helpful as other volumes in the series.