All posts by JT

Christian. Husband. Dad. 911 dispatcher. Baseball fan. Horror nut. Music nerd. Bookworm. Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year.

Book review: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley

8 Hours or Less

8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster
by Ryan Huguley
Moody Publishers, 2017

Sermon prep books are plentiful—so plentiful, in fact, that it would be nearly impossible to read them all and still have time to prepare a sermon for the coming Sunday! Ryan Huguley’s offering into the subject matter, 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster, lays out a plan to attacking sermon prep for a few hours each day, Monday through Friday, along with an additional hour Sunday morning before delivering the lesson. The concept is simple, but will not fit everyone’s personality. Some find it difficult to do a little here, and a little there, as Huguley suggests. Still, his recommendations can be stylized to a preacher’s individual habits, making for a more efficient use of study time.

Young preachers who have yet to find their footing may benefit more from Huguley’s 8 Hours or Less than veterans who have developed firmly established routines. I could have used this book fifteen years ago as I struggled from week to week wondering, “What will I preach on Sunday?” I would personally rearrange and combine some of Huguley’s daily tasks so that they are not stretched over the full week, but the idea of setting deadlines for each task would have helped a great deal.

After defining what a faithful sermon is, Huguley breaks his schedule down into six areas: “Build the Frame” on Monday, which involves prayer, deep textual study, consideration of commentaries, and the actual building of the frame; “Open the Door” on Tuesday, inviting trusted co-workers in Christ to give feedback on where you plan to go with the sermon; “Sweat the Intro” on Wednesday, crafting an introduction that will capture the congregation’s attention; “Land the Plane” on Thursday, focusing on the conclusion to the lesson; “Fill in the Frame” on Friday, fleshing out the outline with illustrations and applications that show the people the relevance of God’s Word in their lives; and “Finish Strong” on Sunday, which includes additional prayer and final edits to your notes or manuscript.

Huguley recognizes that this method, which works for him, may not work for everyone. “So eat the fish and spit out the bones,” he writes. “If you find that something I’ve recommended does not work for you, don’t use it.” There are some good suggestions, and some worthwhile encouragements, but it is not likely that everything in 8 Hours or Less will fit your style.

Purchase 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.

[Disclosure: Moody Publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book to Handling Aright in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed belong to the reviewer, and a positive review was not required by the publisher.]

Try and Take Over the World

          Pinky and the Brain made their television debut in 1993 on Animaniacs. They were a pair of genetically enhanced lab mice, one of whom is bent on world domination. The running gag has the dim-witted Pinky ask, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” His counterpart answers, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try and take over the world!”
          Shouldn’t our goal be the same while we live on this earth? No, we are not looking to selfishly seize all the power, but should we not try to lead all of our friends and neighbors to the truth? Leading other to Christ, allowing Him to rule our decisions and theirs, so that we are all a part of the family of God…what more nobler goal could there me than to “try and take over the world” with Christ’s love and mercy?
          Christ told the eleven, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Did they do that? Paul says the faith “was preached to every creature under heaven” just a few decades later (Colossians 1:23).
          We have so many tools for evangelism at our disposal today, from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter, but don’t forget good, old-fashioned, face-to-face, “Hey, what are you doing on Sunday? We’d love to have you worship with us, and we’ll go grab some lunch afterwards.”
          Do you know someone who might be interested in a Bible study? Even if you don’t feel prepared to lead such a study, you can set one up with another member of the church and learn by sitting with them as they teach. This is a Scriptural: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
          As you go about your week, think of Pinky and the Brain. “What are we going to do today, Christian?”
          “The same thing we do every day, brother, try and take over the world…for Christ.”

We are the Children of God

1 John 3:1-15

I. WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD

    A. Taylor: “A love we don’t deserve, yet in which we may delight” (1 John 3:1; John 3:16; Romans 5:8)
    B. The world does not approve of the Christian life, nor do they acknowledge God as the Almighty (1 John 3:1; John 15:18-19)
    C. The promise of being like Him (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 51-53, 57; Philippians 3:20-21)
    D. Hope – a blessed assurance, an eager perseverance (1 John 3:3; Romans 8:24-25; 1 Peter 2:21-22)

II. THE CHILD OF GOD AND SIN

    A. The sin in view here is continual and habitual – not occasional weaknesses
    B. Christ came to take away our sins (1 John 3:4-6)
    C. The righteousness here is continual and habitual (1 John 3:7-8)
    D. Love for sin is 100% incompatible with devotion to Deity

III. THE SIGNS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

    A. We are a family – we must love one another (1 John 3:10-11)
    B. The unrighteous example of Cain (1 John 3:12; Genesis 4:1-8; Hebrews 11:4)
    C. Lanier: “Godlessness is always upset by godliness” (1 John 3:13; 1 Peter 4:3-4)
    D. Do you love your brother? (1 John 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

A Study of Revelation: Revelation 2-3 (Letters to the Seven Churches)

Revelation chapter 2-3 (Letters to the Seven Churches)

General consistency in the messages to the seven churches:

  • Who the message was from
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Actions/attitudes that required repentance
  • The promise to those who overcome

2:1-7 – The church at Ephesus
Commended for their works, labor, patience and intolerance of evil (cf. Ephesians 5:8,11; Acts 20:28-31; 1 Timothy 1:3)
BUT…they left their first love (cf. Luke 9:23; 14:26, 27, 33; Matthew 6:33; Colossians 1:18)

2:8-11 – The church at Smyrna
Recognized for their works, tribulation, and poverty
“Faithful unto death” (KJV, ESV) – degree, not duration
“Ten days” – ten persecutors from Nero to Diocletian’s reign of terror

2:12-17 – The church at Pergamos
Faithful despite persecution
BUT…some held the doctrine of Nicolaitans and Balaam
Compromise with unscriptural practices and beliefs was condemned then, and is equally wrong today

2:18-29 – The church at Thyatira
Recognized for works, love, service, faith, and patience
BUT…they allowed Jezebel to lead some astray
If we do not stand against false doctrine when it first appears, it will become more and more difficult to remove as it becomes accepted by those within the church

3:1-6 – The church at Sardis
Only “a few names…who have not defiled their garments”
BUT…the church, despite its reputation, was dead and still dying (cf. Matthew 6:1-6)

3:7-13 – The church at Philadelphia
Nothing but good – “have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name”
Encouraged to hold fast, persevere

3:14-22 – The church at Laodicea
No commendation
Apathetic – lacked zeal – they didn’t care – made Jesus sick
The Philadelphians were told that Christ had “set before you an open door”; but in Laodicea, that door had been closed and Christ was on the outside knocking – The choice was left to the Laodiceans whether they would open that door

Review
1. What false doctrines were being tolerated, taught, and practiced by some of these congregations?

2. Christ’s promises are for Christians who ___________________.

3. To what does the following statement refer: “And you will have tribulation ten days” (Revelation 2:10)?

4. What does God require of all men, everywhere, including Christians (Acts 17:30)?

5. Why is apathy such a dangerous attitude for a Christian?

6. If Christ wrote letters to local congregations today, would you be counted among those who are worthy or those who need to repent?

7. Explain how the denominational image of Christ knocking at the door of the sinner’s heart is misguided, taking into consideration Revelation 3:20?

A Study of Revelation: Revelation 1 (Introduction)

Revelation chapter 1 (Introduction)

Through this study, we will attempt to gain a greater understanding of the nature of God and the triumph of His goodness
“Hard to understand” but not impossible (2 Peter 3:16)
Context – try to read and understand as original recipients would have
We are approaching this study from the “early date” point of view – written before 70 AD, much of the symbolic language has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem

1:1-3 – Refutes that the signs/symbols apply to modern-day events
“Signified” (1:1) – “transmitted in code by signs and symbols”
Immediacy – “things which must shortly take place” (1:1); “the time is near” (1:3)

1:4-8 – God brings grace and peace
The Father’s eternal nature – “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4)
The Holy Spirit – “seven Spirits who are before the throne” (1:4) – seven often represents completeness (cf. Isaiah 11:2)
Jesus Christ – “the faithful witness” (1:5) – whatever He has said is true – “Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8) – His eternal nature
Jesus “loved us” (John 15:13) and “washed us from our sins in His own blood” (1 John 1:7)
“Made us kings” (1:6, NKJV) rendered “made us to be a kingdom” in ASV 1901 (cf. Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9)
“Coming with the clouds” (1:7) – does not refer to second coming (cf. Matthew 24:2; 24:30) – refers to judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD

1:9-20 – Description of Christ
Seven golden lampstands (1:12) = seven churches (1:20)
John’s relationship with Jesus

  • Spent three years with Him in the flesh; inner-circle disciple
  • Witnessed the transfiguration (Matthew 17)
  • Witnessed Christ’s ascension (Acts 1)

Description of Christ – “One like the Son of Man” (1:13-16)

  • Royal garment indicative of monarchial dignity
  • Girdle symbolizes the High Priesthood of Christ
  • White color of His head and hair speaks to His purity
  • Eyes like a flame of fire – His omniscience
  • Feet like refined brass – nature of the truth of His message
  • Refining process – the trials that shaped Him (Romans 10:15; 1 Peter 1:7; Isaiah 1:25)
  • Voice like many waters – rhythm and harmony of utterance

Seven stars (1:16) = seven angels/messengers (1:20)
“Sharp two-edged sword” (1:16) – Hebrews 4:12

Review
1. What is meant by “things which must shortly take place” and “the time is near”?

2. What does the word “signified” indicate?

3. To what event did “He is coming with clouds” point? Where else do we see this same phraseology used?

4. In what three ways was John the “brother and companion” to the seven churches?

5. What phrases in this chapter emphasize God’s eternal nature?

Are you excited?

          As Jesus and His disciples traveled from Judea to Galilee, the Lord stopped at Jacob’s well in Samaria to rest while the disciples continued to the city to purchase food. It is recorded in John 4 that He conversed with the Samaritan woman, explaining to her that God seeks people to worship Him “in spirit and truth,” and revealing to her His Messianic identity. The Lord was so engrossed in this conversation, that He refused the food the disciples brought back to Him. He told them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
          The woman was so excited about Jesus that she left her waterpot behind, going back to the city and declaring, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
          Twenty-first century Christians need to be as excited about the words of Jesus as this first century Samaritan woman. We need to be telling of His love and grace and mercy and forgiveness to anyone within earshot.
          The Scriptures tell us that “many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” She was willing to tell others what she knew, and lead them to the Lord. When the Samaritans came to Him and learned from Him, “many more believed because of His own word.”
          What can we learn from this? Start by putting it into your own words. Who is Jesus? What has He done? What can He do? Then, as your friends’ interest is piqued, lead them to learn from “His own word.” Help them learn about the redemption offered by the Father to all through the blood of His Son, using the Scriptures.
          Everyone needs the gospel. Everyone needs the blood of Christ. Everyone needs someone to be excited enough and to love them enough to teach them the truth.

The Life of a Godly Mother

1 Samuel 1-2

I. FAITHFUL IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

    A. Instead of running from God, we should run to God when faced with struggles in life (1 Samuel 1:3-7)
    B. The Scriptural challenge to remain faithful (1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 6:13; Hebrews 10:23; Revelation 2:10)
    C. Faithfulness will not be forgotten by God (1 Corinthians 15:58)

II. BELIEF IN THE POWER OF PRAYER

    A. When faced with a struggle beyond her ability to solve (1 Samuel 1:9-16)
    B. Blessings from prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; 21:22; James 1:5-8)
    C. According to His will (1 John 5:14-15)

III. KEEPING PROMISES TO THE LORD

    A. Hannah kept her word (1 Samuel 1:11,19-28)
    B. Stern warning against broken promises (Ecclesiastes 5:1-5)
    C. Recognition of God’s power (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Book Review: Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams (2006)

The story of when and how Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized and became a Christian

Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith
by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams
Leafwood Publishing, 2006

The crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer came to light while I was in high school, and I had a morbid curiosity in who he was and what he did. I recall many of the articles and interviews, and also remember hearing about his death in 1994. What I never heard about as a teenager, however, was his conversion to the true faith. It was not until I was involved in full-time ministry about a decade later that I learned that Jeffrey Dahmer obeyed the gospel.

The convicted killer had received correspondence courses from Christians in Oklahoma and Virginia, and after completing the courses, he determined that he needed the blood of Christ to cover his sins. He indicated his desire for baptism. Shortly thereafter, a minister in Wisconsin named Roy Ratcliff was dispatched to see to Mr. Dahmer’s spiritual needs. After discussing the issue with him and determining that he understood the purpose of baptism, and that he was truly remorseful and repentant, brother Ratcliff agreed to baptize Jeffrey Dahmer. He was a man the world saw as a monster, but brother Ratcliff saw him as a lost soul in need of God’s grace.

In the epilogue of his book, Dark Journey, Deep Faith, brother Ratcliff writes, “The greatest thing I learned from Jeff is that he was a person with needs, just like the rest of us. He was just as disturbed about his crimes as everyone else. He had fears and concerns and dreams and hopes as we all do. He was a person, not a monster. He needed God, and when he found God, his life was enriched and blessed.”

I was impressed with brother Ratcliff’s book and the tender way that he dealt with the question posed on the book’s front cover, “Can God forgive even Jeffrey Dahmer?” He met with brother Dahmer weekly for seven months, studying various topics and Bible verses, and sharing stories about their lives. There was no doubt in brother Ratcliff’s mind of brother Dahmer’s sincerity, nor of God’s ability and desire to forgive his sins.

Brother Dahmer expressed some concern about his ability to take the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, as well as the fact that the chapel services offered at the prison included instrumental music. He said, “Well, I just want to do everything right. I’ve lived my life in the wrong ways long enough. I just want to do what is right as far as God is concerned.” This shows a mature attitude toward God’s Word and the need for obedience to His commands.

From some of the statements brother Ratcliff makes concerning these matters, I imagine he and I have some differing views on the authority of the Scriptures and the prohibitive nature of the Word’s silence on the matter of instrumental music. He addresses the danger of legalism—and I agree that there is a danger, but I do not agree with his particular definition of legalism. That issue aside, however, I get the sense that brother Dahmer understood what Jesus did for him on the cross, and the necessity and purpose of baptism as a response to that. I rejoice that brother Ratcliff was able to see to that need, and made a commitment to study with brother Dahmer on a weekly basis until his death.

Dark Journey, Deep Grace is partly about Jeffrey Dahmer. It is partly about Roy Ratcliff. But more than either of them, it is about the immeasurable grace of God.

Purchase Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams.

Missed Opportunities

          A twenty-first century poet wrote, “Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”
          Regret is not a fun feeling. Many regret past actions, and sinful behaviors should cause a type of regret that leads to repentance and reconciliation with God. With God’s grace and mercy covering our sins, we can move beyond regret to serve Him faithfully, learning from our mistakes and helping others to avoid the same.
          There is another type of regret, however, that is more difficult to move beyond: the regret of not doing something. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” We can allow our missed opportunities to paralyze us, weighing us down with regret, or we can use them as motivation to act the next time God gives us an opportunity.
          The greatest thing you can do for anyone is to teach them about Christ and the salvation He offers. Have you ever missed an opportunity to tell someone about the power of His blood? I have, and I regret it. But I cannot allow that regret to prevent me from grabbing the next chance I have to lead someone to the truth.
          The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). The famous Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei advised, “Stop worrying about missed opportunities and start looking for new ones.” Where will you start looking? Who will you share the gospel with this week?

Fairweather Followers

The Oakland A’s were the best team in baseball in 1972, defeating the Reds four games to three in the World Series. Returning to the airport in Oakland after the deciding game in Cincinnati, the team was greeted by a throng of adoring “fans.” The players, however, said it was the first time some of them had seen the team in person. Third baseman Sal Bando said, “It was a madhouse. You couldn’t walk through the place. The fans were hysterical. We wondered where they came from, because they’d never been at the ballpark.”

How will Christ react to His many adoring “followers” when He returns? Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Oakland’s attendance in 1972 was just under one million, 14th among the 24 major league teams. A championship team should not be in the bottom half in attendance, but it seems that the people of Oakland just didn’t expect the A’s to continue winning.

“Fairweather fans” will root with all their might when their team is winning, but switch allegiance as soon as there is trouble on the field. Sadly, the same is true in many congregations. “Fairweather followers” will never miss a worship service while they agree with the elders and preachers, but as soon as they feel someone stepping on their toes, their fidelity falters. Their attendance slips, they miss opportunities for fellowship, and may even start badmouthing the church to their friends.

When things aren’t going well, when temptations hit harder, when we feel all alone—that’s when we need the church the most. Work on developing a faith like those in Hebrews 11; don’t be a “fairweather follower.”