The Joy Of Preaching Returns

It was a joy to preach to the “embodied” church again after mostly doing pre-recorded or online services in most of the last two years. Most of the members have begun to return to the worship gatherings since the government gave the green light and loosened restrictions recently. The timing was good too, for the holy week, Good Friday and Easter services. Most of us were happy to be back and to be able to chat after the service and have two hours lunch fellowship to catch up with people.

The young people have returned too and that is a great comfort to me. During the off and on, back and forth of constant change from online to in-person services, and vice-versa, young people got frustrated and tired. Restricting meals to two persons killed the joy of being with other young people. Now even five or more can sit around a table and have a meal in the coffeeshop or hawker center.

Rising enthusiasm

There was excitement in the air and people were generally enthusiastic about worship (now they can sing with masks on), and receptive to the message. Preaching to real people I know and not a totally online audience is refreshing. You are able to see how listeners are responding to what you are saying. You can sense whether you are connecting the truth with their lives, whether they were attentive or lost in other thoughts, eager or jaded, wanting more or saying with their body language, Please end. Preaching is not all about delivering all you have prepared. You can make immediate adjustments to the content, adding new inspired ideas or completely cutting off a whole main point.

During the Easter sermon I preached from Matthew 28 about the two Marys. I never intended to dwell on their devotion to Christ. In my notes were two main ideas: how God keeps his word and is trustworthy; and the different responses of people (the two Marys, the religious leaders, the soldiers who guarded the tomb) to the greatest event in history: Christ’s resurrection. I found myself speaking about the devotion of the two Marys. I ended up expanding on this line of thought as the Spirit gave me words to speak. A whole main point was added on the spot. It was a pleasant experience of the Spirit’s hand upon me.

This freedom to add and subtract is a healthy freedom. It is not a license to ramble. It gives space for God to inspire and lead me in surprising ways. This can be risky, but exciting. It makes me feel that God is actively involved in the delivery of the message, that he cares enough about his people to intervene to enhance and enrich whatever I have prepared.

Giving space to God

Two things help me to give space to God to move and inspire new thoughts in the sermon. One, I do not use powerpoint presentation. This way I do not feel a need to complete and use everything I have prepared. I can change the order, the content, and the length of the message without distracting the people listening to the Word. I have other reasons for not using presentation slides for sermons but it is not the subject here.

The second thing I do is to preach without looking at my notes too much. I have all the main truths, background information, illustrations, applications thought through, and the main stuff are in note form. I memorise the main points and the illustrations and applications that belong together with each point. I go over them in my mind, rehearsing them mentally. Then when I am on the pulpit, I trust the Spirit to guide the delivery. Some information I researched is unused, some I had read about but discarded, the Spirit brings to mind. I trust that what was subtracted was not meant to be heard, and what was added was meant for someone to hear. If I get stuck or got lost along the way, I go back to my notes and look at the underlined main truths to re-calibrate the route to the destination.

The joy of preaching

Preaching is more fun now that it is not so frequent and I have no other pastoral and administrative cares to attend to. I remember that when I was pastoring, a lot of good intentions, commitments and promises made to people and ministry got buried or neglected by other important and urgent tasks, by my own inner turmoil, or were simply forgotten. Usually I gave the highest priority to preaching preparation, including prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”, was the apostolic priority (Acts 6). I did not always succeed in this, because urgent ministry matters overwhelm important matters. If a funeral suddenly falls on your lap, or there is an administrative deadline to meet, I found my sermon preparation challenged. I no longer have these things to distract or harass me as I prepare my messages, praise the Lord!

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Advent Sermons: Have a Mary Christmas

“Pastor, do you have any sermon ideas for Advent 2021?” Advent begins on Sunday, 28th November and ends on 24th December, requiring a sermon series over four Sundays. I had posted a blogpost a few years back that was well-received about sermons that addresses the needs of seniors in church and this may suit you this Christmas season. You can access this HERE.

For this blogpost, I would like to suggest a fresh sermon series for Advent 2021 about Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary, as a model of Christian discipleship and feminine godliness is too often left neglected and forgotten in the dark church storeroom layered with centuries of dust. Haven’t we gotten over the Protestant reformation suspicion of all things Catholic? Is there such a deep unconscious fear of criticism from the pew if Mary is talked about too much from the pulpit? The Protestant pulpit need to talk more about Mary for she is the greatest model of godliness that can inspire, comfort and strengthen the silent majority of our churches (most churches have more females than males). Most pulpits are manned by males, and the dominant examples held up are male Bible heroes, and probably we pastors have forgotten that more than half of our listeners are faithful women starved of a female model of godly femininity, discipleship and leadership that they can easily relate to and identify with.

Enough of polemics, my suggestion is to keep each sermon compact, practical and focused on one main truth, since most services are hybrid (on-site as well as online), and it is challenging to keep the attention of people online with lengthy sermons. 

This series is for all the ladies (adult and teenagers) in church, though it certainly is suitable for all God’s people, including the men. Perhaps it’s time for men to do the extra work of trying to relate, draw out and apply biblical truth for themselves from a sermon series that uphold a woman as an example to aspire to. 

Receiving God’s Word as the Final Word

Of course, the main point that St Luke was eager to point out to his audience in the passage Luke 1:26-38 was the deity and sinlessness of Jesus. However, there are many facets of Mary’s response to God that we can dwell on and gather fruit. In this case, it was her amazing child-like response to the angelic announcement. Her response was one of child-like faith in God’s word, in defiance of human logic and experience, the natural order of human conception, of God’s past ways of blessing infertile couples, and of the expectations of her culture. She accepted God’s word as final, and though she could never understand how the Holy Spirit would accomplish it, she did not doubt the angel’s explanation as to how a virgin can conceive! She took God’s word as the final word. “Blessed is she who believed, for there would be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). The blessed life is one of believing and not doubting the love and power and word of God. It believes God’s word about any topic on beliefs, values and morality is final despite what others say, what science says, what the media says, what circumstances says. Herein we must stand as the people of the world gets blown here and there and everywhere by the winds of relativism. Everything must bow before God’s final word.

Living Courageously

According to a Cambridge review study, women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men due to differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations, coping strategies, and other factors about which you can read HERE. Therefore, the issue of living with courage the way Mary lived out her faith has a high relevancy for women.

Marriage were arranged for teenagers in those days so Mary was a teenager when she had that supernatural encounter with the angel and believed those words spoken to her. It was this faith that sustained her and gave her the courage to live in the face of shame, suspicion, misunderstanding and disapproval – things that greatly affect teenage girls today. Teenagers and women experience such anxieties too and perhaps more so with social media amplification. They may also face such challenges with their families, workplaces and schools. Members will be encouraged, when their pastors uphold Mary, a simple village teenager, as an inspiring example of a godly woman, who used the shield of her faith in God, to defend her from the onslaught of fiery missiles aimed at her by the evil one.

As a sermon illustration, an inspiring example of a young Singaporean young woman in missions who faced fearful situations in the missions field with an attitude of faith can be found HERE.

Openness to God

Mary’s openness to God is one of the secrets of God’s blessing on her life. She had her eyes and ears open to discern what God is saying and doing through life’s many interactions, both supernatural and natural. Whether it was an angelic encounter, Elizabeth’s testimony, the reports of the sophisticated magi or lowly shepherds, or the exclamations of Anna the elderly widower, and Simeon an elderly visitor to the Temple, or her husband Josephs’ dream, or her child’s words, she received these as messages from God, and pondered over them throughout her life, letting those words orientate and regulate her expectations and direction in life. We need this kind of willingness to listen to God no matter how he chooses to communicate with us, as long as it is in line with God’s character and revelation of himself in the Bible. Such openness and meditation upon God’s communications with us enable us to walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is, and keeping ourselves filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:15-18).

A Blessedness That Includes Suffering

The Christian life is a balanced life. Mary was told that she was highly favoured and she was blessed among women. In addition, Simeon told her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 34,35). Joy and pain would both be part of her life. It is also part of any believer’s discipleship. There is no doubt about this. It is clear that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places because we are in Christ. These are primarily spiritual blessings, but God is generous and cares about our physical and material well-being too. However, we have to see that suffering is also a part of the whole package. “Those who desire to live godly lives in Christ will suffer persecution”(2 Tim 3:12) and we should not be surprised when a “fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19). 

Mary was greatly blessed, and indeed spiritual blessings like her special calling, and material blessing of providence, provision (like the magi’s gifts) and protection (escape from Herod) marked her path of discipleship. However, she was also familiar with suffering. The difficulties she encountered with Joseph at the beginning, giving birth in unhygienic conditions away from home and family support, the refugee status she lived with in Egypt after they fled from Herod, her widowhood, saying goodbye to Jesus, hearing rumours and slander about Jesus during his ministry, rejection from her community in Nazareth, and the “sword” that pierced her soul when Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and when she saw her son crucified by the Romans. Grief, sorrow, opposition, rejection, criticism, judgement, misunderstandings, ostracism, disgrace and shame – she went through all these as part of being “greatly blessed among women” – an example of balanced discipleship. So too must the women in our church learn to accept this balance in their discipleship journey.

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“Pray” and “Preach”

I awoke one morning with some inspired thoughts. Over the years I have learned to pay attention to these. Sometimes they are suggestions to do something. When I had to preach more often, there had been sermon ideas or outline alignments or fresh perspectives. This time it was to improve the menu at the top header of my blog. It is to make more resources more visible and available to readers.

One is a section of links to blogposts I will write about prayer helps. Most of us struggle with prayer, as I have. Over the years I have tried many things to freshen and deepen my fellowship with the Lord. Some helped a lot. Some didn’t. I want to write about these practical suggestions so that those who want can try them too. If the suggestion leads to life, continue in it. If it does not, stop and move on.

The other section is about preaching. I have read an average of at least two books on preaching per year. It was something I loved doing. I would invariably be excited by some insight I gained or some method or skill I would try out. So I have decided to revisit some of these books I have read, and reflect on what can be gleaned, and reproduce some useful extracts from them. I hope pastors, both experienced and newbies, will be blessed and inspired to freshen their preaching as they read the blogposts. Hopefully, they will go on to buy and read the whole book too.

Do have a look at them by clicking on the relevant buttons in the header banner.

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Saying Goodbye To Solemnising Marriages

I was allowed to download wedding photos of Jeremy and Eleen Ling. They are the last couple whose marriage I would solemnise in my forty years of pastoral ministry. I was surprised I became sentimental as I viewed photos taken by Eirik Tan of me presiding over my last marriage ceremony. 


It made me wonder: if this is the last, whose marriage was the first I had solemnised? I could not remember. I looked at my old photo albums and there were quite a number of photos of couples whose marriages I solemnised, and a few of me at the pulpit giving the exhortation, and only one of me doing the solemnisation: Peter and Susan Ting’s wedding. I could not jog my memory no matter how hard I tried. Even my wife was clueless.

One picture in particular stood out. It was a picture of me and my mentor and predecessor, Pastor Johney, laughing about something at a wedding that he had solemnised. Priceless picture.

The old photos put a smile on my face and I decided to take some snapshots of a few and sent it to one or two persons. These photos made me look at a younger skinny me with a full head of hair, and sometimes with a mustache.


In recent years, I have noticed photos and videos of my balding head in wedding photos, and I winced each time. It reinforced my conviction that it is time to make a final walk down the aisle and lay down my book of Marriage Service. 

I am glad my successor of the English congregation, Pastor Alvin Lim, will be taking over this solemn responsibility. Besides MDiv, and counselling degrees, and experience in marketplace and church leadership, he has a full head of hair! However, the application process was delayed and that is why I was still doing this despite my retirement.


The early years of giving wedding exhortations were tense because I was too eager to make an impression, to capture the audience’s attention by making the message interesting, with humour, stories and quips. Trying too hard to be memorable. 

In the later years, I realized that I need to keep the main thing the main thing. The vows and declaration are the most important climatic moment and all other components of the marriage service: the songs, the videos, the processional music, the message, must be subservient to, and should not outshine the apex of the ceremony. I began to develop spartan homilies of ten minutes length based on a Bible text that the couple want to make into a key reference point for their marriage. I want the focus to be on the solemnity and power of the vows.


Doing this duty has its challenges: holding marriage preparation sessions, giving priority to the dates chosen by couples and working my schedule around them; preparing wedding exhortations; going through a rehearsal; and getting dressed and conducting the ceremonies. Despite this, I have always found it a joy to do weddings. Funerals are draining emotionally. Weddings are totally different. You get immersed and infected with the joy that is oozing everywhere you look. You cannot help but be flooded with the goodwill and happiness of everyone around you.

Now as I say goodbye to solemnisations I feel thankful for the privilege of being a part of what would be one of the most significant event in a married couple’s life. I grieve, but I am so thankful to God for the privilege in the last four decades. 

What has been your experience of Christian marriage services? What were your loves and loathes? What is for you the most important component or part of the whole service? What are your greatest frustrations during this disruptive pandemic year that has past?

If you happen to know that you are the first couple whose marriage I solemnised, do let me know in the comment box or drop me a WhatsApp note. Thank you.

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Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward

I was given a warm welcome at the sanctuary on Sunday. It was my first time preaching in my home church after six months of rest. I was glad to do so. Sadly, there was no on-site congregation, as the pastoral team had decided that the sustained spike in Covid 19 cases, and the government tightening of rules made it wise for them to return to streaming the worship service without on-site congregation. 

Initially, I was informed to wear a mask while preaching. I tested different masks at home because if the sound was muffled, people will switch off rather quickly. I found a mask of spongy material that did not muffle my voice. However, by Saturday night I was informed that the authorities allowed speaking and singing by two singers without masks on if there is no on-site congregation. I felt such relief, because the mask is a barrier to effective communication.


It still felt awkward preaching to an empty church. Later when I checked out the recording online, I could see that my preaching was smooth and the awkwardness I felt was not disruptive nor disturbed the flow of the delivery. 

I counted five in the worship team and seven in the audio and media team. I felt for them. They have been fantastic in their commitment and stamina. They are so professional in their attitude and spirit even though they are all volunteers. I praise God for them, especially Zephaniah who leads the media team and Ethel who leads the worship ministry. The Lord will not forget the works they have done in his name and for the church. 


I noticed the traffic was lighter than usual due to the government’s strict directives to curb the spread of covid 19, especially the rule of no dine-in and social groups limited to only two. Human traffic at malls and restaurants would be affected too. A lot of businesses would be affected besides malls and F&B and entertainment establishments. I feel for the business owners. 

This setback is three steps forward and two steps backward. Before I retired, the church was streaming services with no on-site congregation. Then things improved and the church returned to on-site worship of our three congregations of 50 to 100, office staff meetings and prayer meetings and even prayer retreats. It was two steps forward and I even solemnised a wedding with a hundred guests in attendance. Then suddenly this frustrating announcement of a pull back to stricter Phase 2 precautions. Of all days, on a Friday. Which meant the stressed pastoral staff had to make a judgment call, and implement and communicate all the changes in 48 hours. They cancelled the on-site congregation worship on Sunday. I feel for the pastoral team. It can be draining, discouraging and frustrating to rapidly respond to all these sudden changes. Two steps backward. 

I also feel for those who had already planned wedding receptions and dinners on Sunday, two days before the announcements. The ups and downs, and back and forth, that wedding couples face will make what is meant to be one of their happiest memories, a nightmare, and their honeymoon a pity-party. Lord, have mercy and brighten these couples with a quiet peace and joy to sustain them in the midst of discouragement and helplessness.


Regardless of how we feel, we have to believe in the face of all this mess that “the Lord sits enthroned over the flood” (Psalm 29:10). Floods can be chaotic and disruptive and destructive but the Psalmist saw God as Sovereign over uncontrollable forces. We are still one step ahed from where we were during the circuit breaker lock-down. We have much to give thanks for compared to other countries struggling with larger populations and lesser resources and weaker governance. Therefore, stay calm and keep praying and walking in the Spirit. Rejoice in the Lord, and not in the sad situation we find ourselves in. Rejoice that He sits enthroned over the flood. 

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