Wrestling the Text

I don't know how many times it's happened. I pick a text as the basis for a sermon. I think I know what the text is going to say, but as I study I find out that the text isn't interested in conforming to my ideas. The wrestling match begins.


There are only three outcomes to this wrestling match.

First, I can try to pin the text down and control it. This has simply never worked. The text is simply too powerful for me, and I'm always overmatched. (A lot of sermons are preached that don't say what the text says, but never because the preacher has conquered the text. The preacher can only slither away from the fight and pose as the winner, but we all know the truth.)

Second, I can look for a new text. I've done this, but the new text confronts me with the same problem. I just end up in a new wrestling match, but with less time. You can spend the entire week looking for a text you can control, and still end up in the fight of your life.

Third, the text wins. I'll wrestle the text. I'll stick with it long enough and maybe even think I'm winning. But eventually the text will overpower me and pin me down. I'll stand up and preach that Sunday a bit battered, as one who has been conquered by the text.

The third outcome is the only one that produces sermons worth preaching, or sermons worth hearing. We must be conquered by the text.

My prayer every week is this: Let the text win.

Saturday Links

Why Aren't We Missional?

Here are a few of the reasons I have observed in my own life, my church’s life for why we not living a lives compelled by the mission of God.


I'm not a fan of interruptions, but maybe I need to be, because interruptions are an opportunity to know the love of the Jesus who was interrupted for me.

The Introverted Evangelist

The point of this short article is that the introvert is designed by God, not by the lies of Satan. The lie of Satan is that we need to make other people like us, whomever “us” ends up being.

If you have introverts in your church, empower them in the ways God has made them.

The Roles of a Pastor

When you fail to emphasize the responsibility each church member has to own and live out their spiritual gift(s) daily, the pastor will inevitably feel the need to take the responsibility of all the gifts upon his shoulders. This is impossible and unhealthy.

Why the Afterlife Bores Us

Let’s talk about eternity. But it’s no mere “afterlife.” Instead let’s start thinking of this little puff of time, the next eighty or so years, as what it is: the pre-life.

7 Ways to Do a Bad Word Study

How can a lay person (or pastor) know whether a word study is legitimate? Here are some bad ways to do a word study, courtesy of Dr. Jennings of Gordon Conwell and Dr. Grant Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Mohler’s 10 Books Every Preacher Should Read

Each year I look forward to Al Mohler’s book survey for preachers for Preaching Magazine. “The 2012 Preaching Survey of the Year’s Best Books for Preachers” is no disappointment.

10 Sure Signs We’ve Lost Our Minds

Documenting the bizarre beliefs and inconsistencies that surface in contemporary discourse…

Being a Loser and the Freedom to Fail

There are so many benefits available in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The freedom to fail is a fine one, given how most of us feel like a failure.

Epic Quotes on Discipleship & Influence from Prof Howard Hendricks (1924-2013)

While working on a tribute, I first reflected on the sticky ideas that he planted in my mind through teaching and embedded in my heart through modeling. All but one quote below is straight from memory. There are literally hundreds more.

All That Remains

I went out for a walk with Charlene on Monday and came across the location of a prominent old church in Toronto called St. John the Evangelist [Garrison] Church.


The church began in 1858 and served the community, originally serving the soldiers and families associated with nearby Fort York. Later on it served residents who worked in local factories. The church became a leader in social outreach, and by 1931 it ran the largest free medical clinic in Canada. It ministered to pilots and staff from the nearby Royal Norwegian Air Force training camp during World War II.

After the war, the congregation dwindled. By 1963, the church was demolished and replaced by a multipurpose building. That building was demolished in 1985.

A plaque on the site reads, "All that remains here of the church is the cornerstone of the 1893 building, on the ground below."


The cornerstone of their church building became a memorial stone. Of all the things that made this church look great in its day, nothing remains today except for a slab of stone in a park. Anything more than that is known to God, and it will be revealed in time (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

"All that remains..." got me thinking. What will remain in our churches long after we're gone? Certainly not bricks or any of the things you notice at first. I pray that the bricks, stones, and activity won't tell the whole story. I pray to God that there will be more that remains.

Pray for More Toronto Church Planters

I love Toronto. It's a large city of 2.48 million people (5.5 million in the Greater Toronto Area). It's multicultural, safe, and ranks as one of the top cities in the world in terms of quality of life. It really is a great place to live and work. I love living here.


I love the Church in Toronto as well. I’m very excited about many of the churches in this city, and the pastors and church planters who love the gospel and who love this city the way that God does.

The fact remains: we need new churches. I’m asking you to pray for a movement of new churches in Toronto, along with the renewal of existing churches in this great city.

Five reasons:

The population is growing. It’s expected that Toronto will grow by another 500,000 people by 2020. The entire population of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is expected to be 7.5 million people by 2025. This is an opportunity for both existing churches and new churches. As the population grows, so does the opportunity for new churches.

They’ve just announced a new development of 1,100 residential units down the road from where we’re planting Liberty Grace Church. This is being repeated all over the city. Who will reach even 5% of those who are moving in?

The downtown core is growing. New condos are being built as people move back into the downtown core. There are more new high-rise developments in Toronto than in any other city in North America. Many churches have left downtown for the inner suburbs, leaving a huge opportunity. While there some established churches downtown, and many new churches starting out, there’s a need for more churches in the centre of our city.

There are entire neighbourhoods with no effective gospel witness. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. I believe we need a city parish approach: “several smaller communities around the city that put a priority on outreach in their respective neighborhoods” that are “networked together to share resources, admin support, and more, aiming to shape the spiritual climate of the city.” A few larger churches will not do the job. There are entire neighbourhoods in Toronto where there are no churches, or only a few churches that are not equipped to reach the entire neighbourhood by themselves.

The existing stock of churches is declining. Churches have life cycles, and there are many churches that have declined or died. Their buildings are being converted to lofts and condos. As the existing stock of churches declines, and the population continues to grow, there is a need for newer churches all over the city.

Newer churches and existing churches can help each other. Tim Keller writes, “The planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole Body of Christ.” Talk about win-win. As new churches are planted in Toronto and reach new people, older churches can experience renewal as they share in the vision for reaching the people of Toronto. Existing churches need renewal, and one of the best ways for this to happen is for existing churches to develop a passion for church planting.

We need new churches in Toronto! I’m asking you to pray that God will raise up a movement of people who love God, the gospel, and Toronto, and who are willing to devote their lives to making disciples here. Please pray for God to raise up a movement of church planters in Toronto.

Saturday Links

I got into a fistfight last week...

Well, I suppose you could call it a fistfight. I got hit about 10-12 times without landing a single punch myself. It’s been a while since I have been in a fight. As a police officer, I probably get into more fights than the average middle-aged man. But at 46, my reflexes are not what they used to be—so I got a little beat up.

The Dangers of 'Faking It' in Ministry

Your life may blow up, or it may slowly implode. But "faking it" in order to get through your ministry is like sailing onto the rocks. You make shipwreck of your faith and take a lot of other people down with you.

Can Christian leaders be weak?

I need to admit I am weak. The cross demands it. But it's a daily challenge. I put pressure on myself and receive pressure from others to be strong and have it all together. And every time I sense I am giving into that pressure, I know I am wearing a mask. I am not being honest.

How Can I Tell If I’m Called to Pastoral Ministry?

Here are several questions you should ask yourself as you ponder a call to pastoral ministry.

What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy mean, anyway?

How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip

What gossip is, what to do when you hear gossip from someone, and why gossip is so enticing

Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church

So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory.

8 Ways to Engage the Culture Around You

  1. Start conversations
  2. Hang out with people who enjoy the same things you do
  3. Volunteer somewhere
  4. Tell stories
  5. Get to know your community by asking questions
  6. Invite others to join you
  7. Pray with others
  8. Address physical and spiritual needs around you

Relax! You'll Be More Productive

By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably.