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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

ch:

Starting Out Right

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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.

ch:

Strength is Often a Who

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Jennifer and I had our final night of ministry here in Switzerland last night. I walked into it knowing my body was failing, and I’d have no voice by the end, so I asked Jenny to be prepared.

The band played amazingly well, and this was the most I’ve seen the Swiss dance yet! But sure enough, my fever, cough, and soar throat took their toll, so by the time I finished our 1.5-hour set, I could barely speak. I managed to squeak out a few lines for the expected message, and then passed the mic to Jennifer.

What followed was about 20-minutes of profound encouragement on the pursuit of intimacy with God and being more concerned with his heart than the condition of our own. You had to be dead not to be moved.

Like Paul, I’m slowly learning:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Cor. 12:10]

Sometimes the strength we’re looking for is the gift found in other people afforded only when we step aside.

Continued prayers are greatly appreciated as we fly for Madrid, Spain this morning. This is the first trip in years that Jennifer is at 100%, and Levi is rocking Europe like a champ. I, however, am far from being on top of my game.

Thanks for all your encouragement and prayer. You are the best readers ever. ch:

Scotland: Days 2 & 3

ch-ichat-logo.png Saturday found Jenny and I headed northeast, across the Firth of Forth (that’s “The River of Forth” to all you non-Scottish speakers) to famed St. Andrews. As in the recent pic, we met up with more of the Meldrum clan and toured the sites of the beloved town where David and Helen met during their time at university together.

From traipsing through cathedral ruins over 900 years old, to standing beside stonework indicating the exact places where Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake, to overlooking castle ruins, it was a wonderful and yet profound experience. Following a delicious open-air lunch of trout and mullet (no, not the hair-cut), I had the chance to walk on the fairway of St. Andrews’ “Old Course” (birthplace of golf) and have my picture taken on the Swilcan Bridge. (Kirk, Noel and Steve…wish you were here!). While anyone can play (for about $350+ per game), it’s only by chance that you’ll get a go at it; want-to-be golfers enter their names into a daily lottery (given the fact that so many people want to play). If you’re one of the lucky few, your name and start time are posted on a board. Fore!

We returned later that day and David, Philip and I enjoyed a beautiful walk through a nearby forest here in Dalkeith and explored a local abbey, now turned college.

I am completely amazed at the sheer amount of history here–something I could get caught up in for weeks and still only have scratched the surface. The very ground leaks with profound legacy and tradition. But the Christians here are quick to point out that they are not proud of it all.

Their founding and world-wide exportation of Freemasonry is something they are grievously aware of. And the tentacles of the occult, witchcraft and ancient druidism have left their mark. We’ve discussed, however, that while the US lacks the length of years to wager the same atrocities, we are guilty of our own exportation of filth, just in different avenues; namely our movies and TV programing.

Regardless of the negatives, the Kingdom of the Lord is forcefully advancing here and Jennifer and I are overjoyed to share in its movement–no matter how small our roll may be.

Sunday we had the honor of taking the entire morning service at the Full Gospel Church (AG) in Dalkeith. The sanctuary was packed out as a youth dance team started off with Matt Redman’s “Dancing Generation,” a song that I believe speaks prophetically of what’s on the horizon for Scotland as a whole. Jennifer and I led worship for the next hour, the people easily entering with us into the presence of the Lord; their obvious hunger and experience made them one of the easiest congregations we’ve ministered to in a while. We could tell they’ve been well taught and genuinely desire to see a move of God in their midst.

I preached a short introductory message on being hungry for Jesus to be revealed fully in our lives, so that “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) may have His way in the county here.

After meeting the people, and being truly showered with love and warmth, we returned to the Meldrum’s home for a delightful lunch (not before spraying the boys next door with high-powered squirt guns!). Here we dined with a new friend, John, who was recently miraculously saved and turned around from a hard life on the streets. This guy has such a tender and kind heart, proving that the Lord doesn’t wish that even one would perish, but that all would have eternal life!

Then, last evening, Jennifer and I returned to the church and spent a longer time in worship, singing prophetically over the people and watching the Holy Spirit meet with those present in marvelous ways. Once we felt the Lord wanted to move on, I shared on maturing in Christ, speaking out of Ephesians 4 and Philippians 3.

It’s clear that there has been a solid foundation laid in this church, and from everything David has shared with us, the pastor here, the people are very much ready for what God has for them next. While I was in the shower Friday night, the Holy Spirit spoke the word “building” into my heart and, unless God changes the direction, I really feel that we’re going to continue in the vain of taking your county for Christ. We want to see souls saved, the culture changed and the society at large affected by Believers who are being obedient to the Holy Spirit in their lives.

May the Kingdom of God be advanced because of the seeds we sow here and more so beacuse of His everlasting faithfulness!

Thanks for reading and for your continued prayers,

CH

Weekend Update

ch-ichat-logo.png It’s been a whirlwind weekend for Jennifer and I. Starting with the public school assembly at Indian River last Thursday, we’ve been on the road non-stop, speaking and leading worship everyday.

Friday afternoon we set up again at Thousand Island’s auditorium, this time presenting for the Middle School. After hearing of the enthusiasm and success of our presentation for the High School, Principal Debra Percy requested me to share for her students.

Christopher at TI I was the guest speaker for a very special assembly, one hallmarking the lives of Olympic athletes who overcame obstacles to achieve their dreams (no, I’m not an Olympian!). The students studied competitors from many different nations, culminating in a flag ceremony. This assembly also centered around their new reading program, one in which medals are awarded to students for how many books they read during the year (25, 35 and more!). I shared my own middle school woes of being marked as a "slow reader," a title that clung to me through the end of high school and kept me from ever reading my assigned books. After high school I was prompted by my friend, Jordan Sandquist, to read a Stephen Lawhead trilogy (The Song of Albion ), an act that would not only awaken the love of reading, but fuel my desire to write.

Many thanks Mrs. Percy to all the marvelous middle school students at TI!

As soon as the assembly was over, Jennifer and I rushed off to Niagara Falls, NY for our fourth annual appearance at the Regeneration Girls Retreat, hosted this year by St. James Jennifer at regeneration United Methodist Church. And I say "our appearance" lightly, as this one is really all Jennifer’s show; I’m just along for moral and musical support. You can check in with her site shortly as she’s drafting a re-cap of the weekend for all those who attended. Needless to say, it was the most powerful Regeneration yet, full of Jennifer’s worship leading, messages from Sherri McCready , and culminating in an awe-inspiring recreation of the Tabernacle.

Sunday morning I had the privilege of preaching at St. James for both the contemporary early service as well as the later traditional service. Jennifer lead more beautiful worship for both services. Our hosts, Rev. John Cooke and his saintly wife, Char, prepared a huge lasagna lunch and then sent us on our way in food comas (quite dangerous, actually).

On Saturday morning before the morning session I was having my coffee, sitting on the Cooke’s couch looking out their living room window. Their church sits directly in front of their house, and also in the shadow of Niagara Falls High School, the largest school in all of western NY. I began to stare at it, a looming monolith over four stories high, looking more like a modern factory or office building than a school. I’ve had the opportunity of sharing at the school’s Bible Club in years past and have performed many times on its stage. But sitting there I was impressed by how the brick church and the school seemed to overlap–how they almost seemed to be beckoning to one another; the school asking the church for help, the church offering its connection to the divine.

St. James and Niagara Falls High And in that moment the Lord reaffirmed the direction He’s taking us: we must reach the schools.

The State, even the private sector, has done us a great favor by gathering all the youth of our nation together 5 days out of every week in central locations across the country. For the Church to miss this imperative opportunity would be a travesty of the grandest kind, detrimental to the fate of our country as well as the individual souls of our children.

I thought the picture above said it better than I could.

We’re now picking up our little babies outside of Rochester and preparing to head back to beautiful northern New York. Spring is here and the work of the Lord is before us all, calling us to action.

"But the people who know their God will display strength and take action."

Daniel 11:32

Thanks for reading!

CH