Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Reasons To Prepare And Not Use A Sermon Manuscript

As a lot of you know, I write a sermon manuscript virtually every week.

I am able to work several weeks ahead, so while I write one almost every week, it’s not the one I’ll deliver that coming Sunday. That one, of course, has been written several weeks earlier.

But what’s the purpose of a sermon manuscript? Why write so much of what you are going to say? read more

From Occupation To Pre-Occupation

I have lived through seasons of life where Jesus was an occupation.

I read the bible only to search for sermon material.  I prayed because that’s what preachers are supposed to do.  I served so that others in the church could see me serving. 

Maybe worst of all, when Jesus was little more than occupation in my life, I found myself easily frustrated with people, suspicious of their motives, and cynical about their potential. read more

RIP, Brad Stoffel

Two weeks ago, in the middle of the workday, I received a call from Brad Stoffel’s mother, Evelyn, conveying the sad news that Brad had died of natural causes at the age of 57.

Who was Brad Stoffel and why did the news of his death make me so melancholy?

Well, as I told Evelyn over the phone, my tennis rivalry with was “the dominant narrative of my childhood.” For years, Brad and I battled for the top ranking for our age group in Texas and at one stage he beat me fifteen times in a row. Several years ago I wrote a post about lessons learned from a losing streak that long and that painful, as well as a later reversal of fortune and standing. You can read that here. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Reflections From A Sunday Night Leader Gathering

This past Sunday evening something unprecedented happened in the life of Good Shepherd: 400 leaders gathered together to eat, play, laugh, sing (in English and Spanish), pray, listen, and weep as we unveiled a new seven year focus for our church. Here’s what the closing worship looked like:

Here are five reflections from the evening: read more

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage Launch: The “First Things First” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was closely connected to the Leader Gathering talk I gave later on Sunday afternoon;
  • Used a principle from Jesus’ teaching about discipleship and applied it to marriage;
  • Got the most raised eyebrows when I declared that “people don’t have marriage problems …”
  • Landed at this bottom line: Prepare yourself before you promise yourself.


Earlier this year, I presided at a wedding of a very nice young couple – the bride was Texan & I’d known the groom since he was six, so it was a win all around – and shortly thereafter the bride asked me a photo of the vows. She wanted to frame them & place them in a visible locale in their home. I thought that was a great idea, so I sent the photo as asked; here’s what it looked like (AV). During the premarital counseling, I had told the couple that they’d be declaring these vows alongside thousands if not millions of couples who had been reciting them for hundreds of years. A marvelous line of continuity (and, by the way, why I don’t have couples ‘write their own’ as if they’re the only ppl who’ve ever gotten married!). read more

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage Launch

Did you know that marriage is the first institution that God created?

Before he created synagogue, before he established government, before he ordained church, God created marriage.

Apparently, he regards it as an enormously big deal.

Yet can there be any doubt that marriage is in some peril in our day? It’s being renegotiated, redefined, and even rejected. read more


This is a repost of an essay from 2016 that generated quite a bit of … conversation! … when it first appeared in Ministry Matters, United Methodism’s largest online conversation platform. With a hint of nostalgia, here it is again:

I’m spiritual, not religious.

We hear it from skeptical family members, from tweed-jacketed professors, from latte-slurping elites, and we fall all over ourselves to agree, to affirm and to identify. In fact, on more than one occasion, when people respond to the news of what I do for a living with the spiritual not religious dictum, I have answered back with a bright-eyed, “that’s great! Same with me!”

Because is not Jesus the end of religion? Isn’t religion for people who are afraid of going to hell while spirituality is for people who have been there? Don’t we want to walk by the Spirit? When people tell us they are spiritual-not-religious, doesn’t that mean we need to change our churches to fill that gap and meet that need? Doesn’t the whole S-N-R parlance suggest that our family members, professors and sophisticates yearn for the liberating truth of Spirit-fueled faith rather than the shackles of man-made religion? It seems this modern phraseology and modern urges are prime territory for Acts 17, understand the culture, more U2 songs in church please!, relational evangelism.

In fact, let’s say it all together now, with feeling: I’M SPIRITUAL, NOT RELIGIOUS.

Except now I know that the spiritual-not-religious line is a canard at best, a load of bull at worst. Think of what someone — whether connected to church or not — is really saying when they claim that they are spiritual-not-religious:

I’m in this alone. I have a connection with God/Divinity that is unique to me. I will not be bound by rules that I find inconvenient or unappealing. My knowledge of sacred text will be limited to: “Don’t judge me!” (That IS in the bible, isn’t it?) I am unwilling to submit myself to the idea that there is a community of people who have wisdom, strength and hope that I need to make life work. I don’t have to hang around with hypocrites. Newer is better and younger is smarter. Best of all, I can make God into my image and thus never have to wrestle with the implications of what it means that I am made in his. My highest responsibility is to be true to me. read more

ReGroup, Week 4 — The “When You Believe Your Own Headlines” Sermon Rewind

Yes, a sermon rewind post on Wednesday, not Monday. I took Labor Day off. Not that I am believing my own headlines, mind you. Because Sunday’s sermon was about the dangers of doing exactly that. It touched on why prosperity is so much more dangerous than adversity. And it landed at a bottom line that seemed to speak to many people: You will SUSTAIN success when you MAINTAIN desperation. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Reasons To Attend Good Shepherd’s “Leader Gathering” On Sept. 8 At 5 P.M.

This Sunday, Sept. 8, we have a Leader Gathering from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Why should you come? Here’s five reasons:

It’s not a Leadership Gathering but a Leader Gathering because leadership is a principle and leaders are people. If you are reading this, you are a person.

People who love THE Good Shepherd through the specific community OF Good Shepherd will be there — people from all campuses, venues, and languages in one place at one time. Something tells me we’ll sing in more than one language. read more