My Sermon Preparation Process

How I Use iPhone Apps to Study The Bible and Prepare to Speak

I share the following workflow for three reasons. The first is that I get a lot of requests about how I prepare my messages, and people seem genuinely helped when I explain my methods. The second is that it speaks to study in general; not everyone is a pastor or teacher, but everyone, especially Christians, should be students of scripture and of life.

The third is that I believe I’m in the cross-over generation from print Bibles to digital Bibles, at least in leading and developing first world nations. This is important. I grew up reading my Gideon hotel-stolen NKJV until it needed rebinding, and my leather-bound NIV Rainbow Study Bible. But as I traveled more (specifically flying), the sheer weight and size of my Bibles and notebooks became an impediment. As the iPhone, and then iPad made it easier to chose how I could pack, my study habits also started to change. They became more efficient, and therefore more powerful.

Superior tools allow a craftsman to do better work. The generation behind me often finds digital sterile and cold, some might even say “un-anointed.” But the generation coming after me needs to be even more immersed in the written Word. I’m sure there may have been similar despondency when people could actually bring a Bible into their home for the first time. “But how will we know what it means if the priest isn’t here to teach us?” Or how about the glaring hurdle of having to learn how to read?

The point is, if there are new tools available to us that proliferate the accessibility of scripture and allow us to understand more than ever before, we need to champion them, if nothing more than for the sake of those coming after us.

When preparing a sermon for a church service, I first have to begin where I want to end: my audience (their needs and contextual appetites), my time frame (if I’m at New Life, we have four services each with a 20-25 minute window for the message; if I’m at EDEN school in France, I look at 3-hour blocks), and obviously my goal (what I want them leaving with). Without these, I tend to ramble, over prepare, and think more about what I want to say than what God wants to say. Remember, constraints can either limit you or serve you—the choice is entirely yours.

All of my messages begin (and mostly end) on my iPhone. It’s always with me, so convenience is key. It’s also the place I do my largest amount of Bible reading. I use four different apps for different reasons.


Bible by YouVersion: This is the easiest and simplest app to read from for me. The social connectivity attributes are nice, but not really the reason I’m there. When I need to copy and paste scriptures, this app places them in my clipboard with the reference in parentheses at the bottom. I have it loaded with ESV, NKJV, NIV, KJV and NLT.


PocketSword by CrossWire: This is the mojo, the magic sauce Bible app for me. I use it for one thing: Greek and Hebrew (Strongs modules) in the KJV (the only version they appear in). When I want to research and break down the words (something all good teachers and preachers need to be in the practice of), PocketSword is my go-to app.


Lumina by Bible Studies Foundation: This NET translation of the Bible comes hyperlinked with 60,000 translation notes created by 25 translation scholars from Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Great for digging a little deeper into those hard-to-understand passages.


Bible+ by Olive Tree: I tend to make most of my in-Bible notes and highlights in this app as it “feels” the most like reading my favorite print Bibles. I typically read out of the ESV here. Pasting copied sections strips out the references, so if I want to grab something I like, I jump back to YouVersion.



The other reading app I use most (paired beside Evernote, which I’ll hit next) is Kindle for iOS. In here I’m gleaning from whatever non-fiction or essays (PDFs) I’ve downloaded. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have enough time to extract everything out of the Bible that you need, so you better eat from the hands of others who’ve used their entire lives to share something worth digesting.


Since I’m one of those preachers who believes that everything needs to be rooted and end up in the written Word, most all of my ideas launch out of verses that speak to my life experiences, world happenings and what I believe God is trying to say to people (my audience, in particular).

As a result, when I’m reading in one of my Bible apps, I’m bound to open Evernote within moments. Evernote is my catch-all of choice. From pics and drawings to links and syncing, it’s my jam, and arguably the best on the market.

I have an “Academics” stack that contains most all of my more heady content, and within, my “Messages” notebook. I allow this notebook to be very fluid. It not only contains finished content, but also “content in process.” Or as my Dad uses in his three ring binders, his “Sermons Working” tab.


Here’s a shot from a message I preached last Sunday at L’Eglise Sans Frontiers in Longuyon, France:


When I’m traveling or under time constraints, I preach right out of Evernote from my iPad or iPhone. But if I have time, there’s one extra step that I take. Fair warning: this is for geeks, nerds, designers and people with any level of OCD.

I import my content from Evernote into InDesign to create a good looking PDF.

I learned from designer Nathan Davis to value the added step of creating a beautiful looking PDF as it has a way of internalizing the content more thoroughly. This added process, while sometimes time consuming, is a great way of embedding the message deeper into my gut where it moves from notes I have to read verbatim to a message I can proclaim intuitively. And when I need to transition from teaching to preaching while onstage, this key component is essential.


My father, Peter, taught (and challenged) me to love scripture. And he still prepares his messages using his wonderful leather-bound Bible and 8″ three-ring notebooks filled with his handwriting. What he passed on, however, we’re not his methods, but his love for God’s Word. Regardless of how you learn, study, preach or teach, make sure that you’re more focused on imparting than on your process: few people will remember how you did it, but everyone will remember what you did.


En France: Update

Jennifer and I’ve had a wonderful time here in northern France for the last several days. In the mornings I’ve been teaching the students at EDEN discipleship school, followed by various activities in the afternoons, and nights of worship in the evenings.

I’ve been lecturing on redefining the gospel “according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:2), and its resulting impact on the function of evangelism. The discussions with the students have been wonderfully inspiring, and I’m excited to see them unleashed on local villages later in the week as we find creative ways to demonstrate sacrificial love personified.

As always, it’s not the places that we visit that leave a lasting impact on us, but the people we meet. Here are some of their faces.

Follow the pics here and here.

Beaucoup d’amour,












China Bound


Tomorrow morning at 3:30am, I begin the long voyage to China. I’m excited to see a new land, one which I’ve read so much about. But I’m sad to be leaving my family, and will miss deeply.

For the interests of security, my mission will remain simply that I’m going to encourage leaders dedicated to shaping China’s future.

I’ll be back on the 24th, eager to see my wife and kids, and to share all the exciting news from the trip with those nearest me.

“Souls or I die.”

–William Carey

Thanks for lifting me and my team up.


Starting Out Right


This shot of “new believers cards” collected during tonight’s altar call at the BCY event in Syracuse, NY says it all for me.

All I desire for 2013 is more souls won to Jesus. Keeping that at the forefront helps put everything else in perspective.

I was honored for the opportunity and privilege of sharing the Gospel with some amazing teenagers who heard heaven’s call to wake up and walk into the light.

Happy New Year everyone. Let’s endeavor to esteem and promote Jesus this year more than ever before.


The Process (Message)

This morning I preached out of my pain. I can’t explain it any other way. It was God appearing strong in the midst of my weakness. And I was humbled to be used.

I was also the first among the congregation to be convicted of the core content – essentially preaching to myself. In need of renewed perspective, in need of renewed motive.

I promised to put my notes on my website after a few people asked for them. If you’d like to watch the message, our wonderful production team has made it available here.

For his fame. ch:

The Process

• Life very often seems to be composed of one pressure after another. But what if these pressure had far less to do with Satan, sin, and ourselves than we thought?

Luke 19 • The Parable of the Ten Minas

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.[a] ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

The Process: Pressure Points

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

• The pressure of the Master’s hand was meant to qualify his servants for greater responsibility.

• Instead of rising to the challenge, we often will blame our Master as the cause of our irresponsibility.

• Don’t put off your future fortunes by failing to miss the point of your present pressures.

The Process: Getting Qualified

Genesis 37-50 • Joseph: from the pit, to the prison, to the palace.
Luke 22:41 • Jesus: embracing the will of his father

• The Father is not nearly as interested in our happiness as he is in our fulfilling of his purposes for us. Joseph could not be entrusted to bless Israel until he could be proven to serve Egypt. Jesus had to be faithful to the Father before he became faithful to the Cross.

• If the Lord is truly sovereign, then he’s intimately aware of our circumstances, and not only knows the way out, but knows why we’re in.

2 Timothy 3:1,2a,4b

1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2a People will be lovers of themselves, 4b lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

• For Christians that love pleasure, circumstances dictate happiness.

• For Christians that love the Father, only relationship provides satisfaction.

The Process: Born to Resolve

Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson

• The very things that try to destroy us are refining us to tackle the issues we were born to resolve.

The Process: Accepting A New Perspective

• If life was about making us happy then he would have to make our wills superior to his.

• Our greatest lessons are not learned in our successes, but in the trials that lead to our success. God is far more interested in the process of developing us for future usefulness than he is getting glory for “blessing you” in the present.

• This kind of Kingdom perspective can only come through adoption and impartation: adoption by choosing to embrace the perspectives of Christians more Godly than you are; impartation by meeting with God and letting him deal with our hearts.

The Process: Meeting With God

Realign your motives:

1.) If you’ve been more focused on resolving frustrations than you have finding contentment in God within your frustrations.

Realign your perspective:

2.) If your perspective is more temporal than eternal.

• What if you only came into your inheritance on the other side of this life? Could you wait that long?

Psalms 84:10
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Are You Being Difficult? (Message Notes)

20120329-062943.jpg[Photo courtesy of Costa Deir]

When I get enough requests for the notes of a message after I preach it, I put it online because a) it’s easier than remember all the people I’m supposed to email, and b) there are probably more people that wanted it than asked (and some who weren’t there that would probably be encouraged by it).

These are my notes from last nights message given to 33 Live at New Life Christian Church in Watertown, NY. ch:

Are You Being Difficult?

1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

2 Timothy 3
[The New International Version]

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

6-7 These are the kind of people who smooth-talk themselves into the homes of unstable and needy women and take advantage of them; women who, depressed by their sinfulness, take up with every new religious fad that calls itself “truth.” They get exploited every time and never really learn.

[The Message]

• In this passage, days aren’t made difficult because of Satan, the Church, or your parents. They’re made difficult because of peoples’ conscious behavioral choices.

Three just ways, pulled from the list above, that you may be making life difficult for yourself and those around you:

1.) Disobedient to parents: utter rejection of basic authority.

RESULT: We disqualify ourselves form sitting in places of authority.

• A CiCi’s Pizza employee with a great idea but a bad work ethic doesn’t get heard. Their immoral treatment of time and property overshadows their perceived insight.

• Obedience precipitates promotion. If you want to be heard, you need to be teachable.

2.) Rash: making decisions quickly based on what we feel instead of what we know is right.

RESULT: The Lord cannot entrust us with valuable people or valuable decisions.

• It seems some teens in America are allergic to hard work, and hardships. As Christians we begin to question the “God said…” moments in our lives the moment things get tough.

• It’s in the trials of fire that we most grow.

3.) Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God: choosing what feels good to ourselves rather than what pleases God.

RESULT: God’s will becomes an after thought, and we base our theology and methodology on whatever is most popular.

• Refunding shipping on my XBox games sold on eBay.

• Accepting the general A-moral view of what the world says about homosexuality.

How to be the answer for difficult people:

Kingdom-minded Christ followers will be lovers of others, constantly generous, boastful of Jesus’ works, humble, deferring, obedient to their parents, grateful, holy, 3 full of love, forgiving, encouraging, full of self-control, gentle, lovers of the good, 4 transparent, patient and wise, consumed with the welfare of others, lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasure— 5 behaving with Godly actions and demonstrating His power. Have everything to do with such people.

6 They are the kind who never take advantage of people or situations, and who help ease the burdens of those who are loaded down with sins, and help those swayed by all kinds of evil desires get pointed toward Jesus. 7 They are always learning because they chose to come to a knowledge of the truth.

[CH’s Inverted Version]

• The people that are most like Jesus are the most fun to be around. So make sure you’re surrounded by them, and let them rub off on you until you’re resolute enough to rub off on others.

• Let the Holy Spirit sift you through circumstances. He loves to use them to make you more Christlike.

• What are you going through right now that is challenging you in one of these areas? Don’t run from the situation or resist God’s desire to make you more like him.

• The very things that try to destroy us are refining us to tackle the issues we were born to resolve.

• Don’t put off your future fortunes by failing to miss the point of your present pressures.

• If you’ll allow the Holy Spirit to have his way in you, you’ll start to be very difficult indeed – for the Devil.


The Bumblebee and Qualifications


Yesterday Luik accompanied me to Jefferson Community College in Watertown, NY where I addressed the Intro to Business class. Having him beside me was a great encouragement (and let us have a Daddy/Son date to CiCi’s afterward, followed by some indoor rock climbing at Black River Adventures).

During the final Q&A section of my “lecture” (how tedious sounding!), I addressed a question that lead into the subject of what makes us qualified to do what we’re doing.

Certainly, I want my doctor to have gone to school and be qualified to operate on me.

But often the people that accomplish the most in life are sometimes the least “qualified.”

In my address, I mentioned Igor Sikorsky – father of the modern day helicopter – and his famous if not endearing quote about doing what we should not be able to:

“According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee can’t fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know anything about the laws of aerodynamics, so it goes ahead and flies anyway.”

Most of what I’m doing today I’m technically unqualified for. I’ve never been to college for music, art, pastoring, film, design, literature, creative writing, business development or franchising, let alone fathering or parenting. By all secular accounts, I shouldn’t even be allowed to operate a candy bar stand.

But I don’t know that I shouldn’t be able to do this stuff, so I just keep doing it anyway. (Thanks Igor).

This is certainly not a cop-out for getting an education; but an education should also never be a cop-out for hard work and diligence. (Nor is entering into a mammoth amount of ambiguous debt my recommendation either).

Qualification has far more to do with experience than it does with approval. Test results and certificates approve us, but only time and our capacity to embrace correction truly qualify us. ch:

BCY Winter Retreat: Day 3


Why is it that good things go quickly, and the mundane inches along?

Our final day at Camp of the Woods was bittersweet. In a little over 36-hours, all of us had formed new friendships, spent powerful times in God’s presence, and been challenged to love people like Jesus.

My final message was on Daniel’s call to faithfully serve a totally godless king and culture. The cost was often his silence, and potential death. He also put his own desires to rest, including the tendency we have to rejoice when wicked people meet their demise, as well as not trying to usurp those over us especially in their absence.

Instead, Daniel was responsible for leading the Bible’s most demonic and egotistical king to the Lord when the king returned from insanity.

Are we that faithful to serve people above self-righteousness?

When it was finally time to leave, little Evangeline had the hardest time; she has her father’s gift of making fast friends and getting attached. She sobbed for a good 30-minutes despite our best efforts to calm her down.

I feel extremely honored to have been a very small part of a powerful weekend where God clearly showed up and breathed life on all of us.

It’s a privilege to serve Jesus no matter what the context; make sure you relish the invitation to act – it will go quickly. ch:

BCY Winter Retreat: Day 2


Yesterday was quite possibly one of my favorite days of 2012 yet.

When you see God do so much, and you have the privilege to experience so much with your family, you can’t help but feel blessed.

It went down something like this:



Quiet time with God.

Jennifer speaking to girls; me speaking to guys.

Air hockey, 1980’s arcade games, and soccer in the rec center.

Snow tubing at Camp of the Woods.


Indoor rock climbing.

Snow tubing at Oak Mountain.




I preached on what it takes to contend with God for souls, and Jesus’ ultimate example of forgiveness. Pastor Rich Ryfun held an powerful altar call for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

And then I collapsed in bed. ch:
















And Out of Season


Sunday morning I did a very bad thing.

It was the final keynote address to the teens gathered at the Watson conference and I introduced Pastor Joseph Gilchrist as the speaker.

Why is that so bad?

Because he found out he was speaking as I introduced him.

While Joseph is a dear friend and brother in the Lord, he’s also someone I mentor. And as such putting him in safe but precarious situations is part of my job.

There is no teacher like experience.

We can prepare, practice, and plan all we want, but we as humans learn things faster and more deeply in moments of real-world, first-time pressure than we do in any classroom.

God understands this too. That’s why we normally don’t get a heads up when testing comes. It simply arrives. And how we respond under pressure is who we really are. (Thanks to Joseph’s dad, Pastor Kirk Gilchrist, for burning that one into my head).

God is after our authentic response and our genuine growth. He’s not into the superficial, the temporary, or the transient. He wants long-term development enough that he’s willing to risk short-term setbacks.

So how did Joseph handle it? After a minute of humorous shock – which he played very well – and a brief moment of strategizing, he pulled it off in style and shared a powerful message on one of his trademark themes “Going Public” for Jesus. Everyone was inspired and challenged to resist the fleshly urge to remain selfish with the Gospel.

I’m very proud of him and believe he’ll make a better Youth Pastor than I ever was.

Be on your guard, you’re probably “out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) in some area that’s about to get called on. ch:

Expanding Our Dialog


Last night was more than just a good opportunity to serve a wonderful youth ministry in a sister city; I love me some BCY in Syracuse.

It was a great opportunity to keep the ball rolling.

I see bold youth ministries across the country stepping up to the plate of addressing the topics of sex, homo-and-trans-sexuality, and marriage, like never before.

If your ministry isn’t, it must.

The conversation has already started. If you’re not talking to a teen about these subjects, you can guarantee someone else is.

And if anyone should, shouldn’t it be Christians who are directly connected to the Inventor of sex and marriage in the first place?

I love just how much God has to say about the subject, and I’ve made my notes available as a free PDF download in yesterday’s post. Communicating truth that’s utterly, painstakingly drenched in a long-term demonstration of love is essential toward rescuing broken, disenfranchised teens and restoring their identity.

I also have some guest bloggers coming up that I believe will be incredibly poignant.

When we do things God’s way, we always get the best results.

Keep talking; keep learning. ch: