Christmas Preaching

Mondays are usually reserved for what I’ve called “Tools of the Trade,” a list of helpful articles about preaching, pastoral life, and the church. I did not find enough to fill a whole post this past week, so I thought I’d share resources of a different kind.

The tradition in which I grew up devoted most, if not all, of December to Christmas preaching each year. The Incarnation is certainly a subject worthy of annual review. Whether it requires four or five weeks is often a matter of personal preference. I would say this – it does seem odd that we give a month to Christmas and only a week to Easter. But I wonder if that’s because there’s a greater degree of sentimentality attached to the story of Jesus’ birth. Regardless, the invasion of God into our world is certainly worth talking about.

Noted scholar Roland Bainton tells us this about the preaching practices of Martin Luther: “Martin Luther’s Christmas sermon is not one sermon. He preached on the nativity for a period for 30 years, and often a dozen times a year, beginning with Advent and carrying through to Epiphany. And sometimes we have three versions of one sermon.”

The most logical passages to preach from are in Matthew and Luke. John 1 can work well as a Christmas sermon, as can Philippians 2 and a number of the prophets.

Despite the amount of biblical material, I will confess that I didn’t always look forward to seasonal preaching. I’ve found that other pastors are of the same mind, whereas others think quite the opposite.

Whatever your own disposition toward Christmas preaching, there are some great resources that both provide some ideas for how to approach the season as well as some great quotes. In addition, if you have someone do a reading on Christmas Eve, some of these resources contain readings that are appropriate for that context.

Nancy Guthrie gives us Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The book is described as an anthology of readings from 22 past and present preachers. Highly recommended!

Paul Tripp has an Advent devotional called Come Let Us Adore Him. Anything Paul Tripp writes is worth reading.

John Piper also has a devotional for Advent called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. If you are familiar with Dr. Piper’s work, you could tell he wrote that just from the title.

Check out Love Came Down at Christmas, a collection of readings by Sinclair Ferguson. Then there’s a new Advent devotional by Christopher Ask titled Repeat the Sounding Joy.

If you want to go back in time, look at the book by St. Athanasius, called On the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis wrote the introduction. The Kindle copy was 99 cents on Saturday.

For reading that’s a bit deeper, consider Songs of the Nativity, by John Calvin or Daniel Doriani’s The Incarnation in the Gospels, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series. Check out Graham Cole‘s The God Who Became Human, part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology, a series edited by D.A. Carson. You might also want to look at Stephen Wellum’s book on the doctrine of Christ, titled God the Son Incarnate.

Whether you preach one Christmas sermon or several weeks worth, I trust that God will prosper your preaching and build the faith of your people during this holiday season!

For Your Christmas List

Laura and I don’t watch a lot of network TV, so when we watch we don’t see commercials. However I do catch my share during football games, and it appears that people give each other cars and trucks at this festive season. My guess is that your budget won’t allow the exchange of new BMWs, so let me give you a list of books that you might want to include on your Christmas list.

I’m going to give you the Amazon links, but don’t forget to check out the good folks at You may find their prices lower. I’ll also acknowledge that I haven’t read some of these, but have recommended them based on the author, reviews, or what I’d have on my list.

The best book on helping people that I can remember reading is Ed Welch’s Side By Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love. This is a must read for pastors and would be worth working through with your elders or staff.

Fifteen Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is a compilation of advice put out by The Gospel Coalition. By about two months into your pastorate you’ve probably said, “They didn’t teach me about this” a few times.

Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. You actually might want to pick this up now for $3 in Kindle format. Hopefully you give great attention to your preaching. This encourages and helps you give great attention to pubic prayer. Hughes Oliphant Old wrote this one.

The late John Stott wrote several books on preaching. The Challenge of Preaching is an abridgment of an earlier work. That earlier work is the classic Between Two Worlds. In a past blog post I recommended reading at least one book each year on preaching. Either one of these would be worthwhile.

I love listening to Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He’s a great preacher, and wrote a helpful book on preaching called He Is Not Silent: Preaching in A Post-Modern World.

One other book on preaching that I enjoyed was The Archer and the Arrow. Geared more for beginning preachers, it’s worth reading no matter how long you’ve preached. Philip Jensen is the author, and he challenges us with these words: “My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.”

While dealing with preaching to some extent, Jonathan Leeman’s book Word Centered Church is a challenge to build all of what we do in our churches around the Bible. I remember this being a very encouraging book, especially if you are looking at gimmicky churches growing while you seem to plod along.

Leadership is a challenging task, and Australian author Craig Hamilton has written a well-regarded book called Wisdom in Leadership. I love the subtitle: “The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve.”

Reformation Theology is both a book on theology and a book on church history. I’ve been reading through it and it is quite engaging. Matthew Barrett edits this compilation. Dr. Philip Ryken says, “Dr. Matthew Barrett has assembled a first-rate team of pastors and scholars to write an anniversary volume of the Reformation that promises to receive a welcoming readership across a wide spectrum of the evangelical community. At a time when some are suggesting that for all practical purposes the Reformation is ‘over,’ Barrett’s Reformation Theology offers a needed corrective by showing the relevance of the Reformation for healthy church ministry and the Christian life today.”

Also on the subject of church history is Michael Haykin’s Rediscovering the Church Fathers. It’s on my list of soon-to-read books.

I bought this book, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Captone by Brian Tabb yesterday and look forward to reading it. While I hold to a specific eschatological position, I hold it a bit more loosely than I used to. One of the reasons for that was my own experience of preaching through Revelation several years ago. Looks good!

Finally, while not a book, you can get a year’s subscription to Christianity Today for $15 that also gives you access to all of the articles from CT and Leadership Journal from the last several decades. Don’t hesitate, though, because this price won’t last for long.

Have a great weekend of ministry! See you on Monday

Ministry With the End in View

Most of you are young and you have a lot of time left to minister. But I can assure you that time flies, and sooner than you think you’ll be doing more looking back on ministry than looking ahead.

On this side of eternity we’ll never be able to fully assess the impact we made. But God is gracious, and sometimes gives us glimpses of how he worked through us. Those are the things that will bring you joy when you look back on a lifetime spent in ministry.

But how does that happen? In this post I want to encourage you toward “ministry with the end in view.” Let me explain.

By choosing to minister with the end in view, I’m talking about preparing your people for eternity. This is what Paul did. He wrote, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29 ESV).

I believe the primary – not the only, but the primary – means to “ministry with the end in view” is a matter of how we choose to preach. That phrase “that we may present everyone mature in Christ” is more than just making sure that people are believers.

We are to preach so that our people come to maturity in Christ. Preach so that they are “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7, ESV). Preach so that they have “. . . the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 1:18-20 (ESV).

You’re not going to do this with sermon series that could be lighter-fare Sunday School topics. You know – the “Five Steps To . . . “ or “Ten Keys to . . .” preaching that seems to be so prevalent today. Preach the text, point your people to the Gospel, and explain how that relates to their lives.

If you do that, your preaching will have “the end in view.” You don’t have to ignore the so-called “practical” themes. In fact they’ll often come up when you preach through a book of the Bible, paragraph by paragraph even. But in the end, if your people can balance a checkbook or live debt free or sketch out a detailed chart of the end times, but they have never understood the meaning of the work of Christ in their lives other than that he’s their ticket to heaven, then somewhere “the end” was sacrificed for the here and now.

But if you choose to focus on ministry with the end in view, you may get an email like this. It will remind you that despite mistakes, despite your own weakness, and despite being perfectly ordinary, God used you where it counted.

“I truly consider you as the single most influential person in my life as it relates to understanding the gospel. Little to do with me but everything to do with what Christ did for me…or, our changed lives is not the gospel but rather it is the gospel first that changes our lives. Not sure these were your words directly but for sure recall growing in my knowledge of the simple yet profound difference through your teaching and leadership.”

This ordinary former pastor treasures those words. Along the way God pointed me toward a more Gospel focused ministry, and I take no credit for that whatsoever. But I do take it as a responsibility to pass on, and that’s what I am doing with these words today.

Brother pastor, make sure that you minister with the end in view. And may God bless you as you work for the faith and maturity of your people.

Tools of the Trade for November 25, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I’m a bit late today, but here are some links that are worth looking at. I hope you had a good weekend of ministry.

People in your church are hurting. Here’s one of those articles I’d put on the literature table.

Simonetta Carr, writing for Core Christianity, tells us why people ignore church history but shouldn’t.

Burk Parsons, from Ligonier Ministries, talks about the value of creeds and confessions.

Pastors burn out. Do you know the signs? Do you know what you should do when it happens? This is worth the read regardless of how you are feeling at the moment.

While most pastors are hard working and burnout can be a problem, being lazy is also a potential problem.

Here’s encouragement for those of you ministering in small towns or rural areas.

How do you find God’s will? I’ve heard and read a lot of well-meaning suggestions that, to be honest, don’t have really solid biblical root. Aimee Joseph’s article may be really helpful.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably reading Tim Challies’ blog. Here is his review of a new book for preachers.

“We’re giving up Wednesday night services. We’re giving up Sunday night services. We’re shortening the preaching on Sunday morning. Is it any wonder that our churches are so weak?” Steve Lawson talks about the importance of preaching in this short video.

Tim Challies provides a service for believers by giving us a list of Kindle books on sale almost every day. Thanks, Tim! One of the books he linked to this morning is a must read for you as a pastor, and if you can find a way to get How to Walk into Church into the hands of your people, your church will be better for it. It’s 99 cents for you today. Don’t hesitate.

Have a great week. I hope to see you Wednesday.

Tools of the Trade for November 11, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

First, a huge thanks to all our veterans for your service and sacrifice. If you’re a reading this and have served in our military, please know that you are appreciated.

Here are some good reading (and listening) materials for this week:

Gavin Ortland addresses the question, “Is Evangelicalism Out of Touch with Church History?” on a podcast.

Maybe you serve in a small community. Here’s some encouragement for you in a book recommendation.

Chopo Mwanza, a pastor in Zambia, tells us about six kinds of members who build up the church. He also tells us about four members who tear it down.

How much humor should we include in our sermons? Here’s an article that offers some helpful suggestions.

There are times when our people just don’t seem to connect with wanting to read the Bible. Of course, pastors never have that problem, so you’ll want to pass this on to those who might.

Here’s another article encouraging those of you who minister in small communities. And if that describes you, thanks for being faithful!

“Why I’m A Better Pastor for You Than Keller or Piper.” It’s true.

A number of your people probably have family members who are not believers. This is a helpful article to share with them.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go to seminary, but here are some good reasons why you should go if you can.

This video might save your ministry if you are a new pastor.

From Tabletalk Magazine comes an article on humility in ministry.

Do you get uptight about whether or not you are successful? Read this and then listen to John MacArthur’s superb sermon from 2010’s Together for the Gospel

Give Them Something to Eat

To whom did you preach on Sunday?

You may answer, “I preached to my church.” But who was there?

In the back there’s a man who’s been coming for decades. But you’re not sure that he’s really grasped the Gospel. A few rows in front of him sits a family. On the outside they look, well, normal. But he has been flirting with a woman at work, and the marriage is headed for trouble.

Close to the front is a single woman. She sits by herself this morning as usual. A row or two in front of her is a family with a teenager. He’s disinterested and he has no problem showing it. His parents are worried. His choice of friends concerns them.

There’s a group of older ladies sitting together, as they do every Sunday. Their health is slowly declining, and there are fewer of them than there were a couple of years ago.

There’s the girl in the back who is a new believer. She brought her young children, but her husband has no interest. In fact he’s getting tired of the changes in the woman he married.

There’s a man who will find out this week whether he’s going to survive the job cuts at work. There’s a woman who’ll find a lump that wasn’t there a few weeks ago.

These – and many others – sit in our churches each week. They may be going through deep struggles, or they might tell you that life is good right now. Most of them have normal strains and stresses, joys and sorrows.

What do you have to give to them? All those people in need?

One day Jesus is teaching a large group of people. The day moves toward dusk. It’s time for the evening meal. The disciples want Jesus to send them away so they can get some food. And Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”

The disciples protest. Where are they going to find food to feed them? Look at the crowd. Tired old people. Children getting fussy. Too many people. Too many needs.

We all know what happens. The loaves and the fishes. Jesus miraculously provides for the needs of the crowd. But he also provides something for the disciples too.

Their task is not about earthly food, but spiritual. And those who follow in the footsteps of the apostles – the preachers and teachers – are charged with feeding spiritual food to our people. Big church, little church – it doesn’t matter. Whoever is sitting out there needs to hear from God.

Jesus says “Give them something to eat.” But we can’t. Not on our own.

No amount of eloquence, no clever video, no carefully crafted exposition will reach the hearts of the needy people in our churches without the work of Jesus. That’s what Jesus is teaching his disciples and what he is teaching us in this story.

When you preach or teach this weekend you are insufficient in yourself for the task. We are only sufficient through Christ.

But the good news is that through Christ we are sufficient. And through our feeble efforts Jesus will feed his people.

Tools of the Trade for November 4, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

November already! Where has the year gone?

Here are some worthwhile articles to read or share for this week.

There were some excellent Church History/Reformation Day resources, including this podcast by Michael Reeves on “What Do Protestants and Roman Catholics Disagree About?”

Gavin Ortland talks about the relevance of church history to modern believers.

John Piper answers the question, “What Did the Reformation Give Us?”

Finally, an article by the late R.C. Sproul on the justification by faith that is well worth reading and sharing.

Some articles for pastors in particular:

3 Blind Spots of the Younger Christian Leader

5 Ways to Build Trust as A Pastor

Stop Comparing Yourself to Well-Known Pastors

Shepherding Abuse Victims

This article looks at our aims in preaching: Simple Encouragement.

Here’s a book that Tim Challies pointed to that is $2.99 for Kindle and $3.49 in hardcover. The title is On Being A Pastor, edited by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Act fast before the price changes.

9Marks had an article on 9 Suggestions for Better Member’s Meetings. I loved the first one: stop calling them business meetings.

Here are some articles for pastors and those who teach or lead groups.

7 Things to Avoid When Teaching Bible Study

How to Help Others Understand and Apply the Bible

See you Wednesday!