How I Use Biblical Software To Prepare Sermons

I have been preaching for nearly forty (40) years and my research and study has been tremendously accelerated by the use of biblical software for almost half of those years. There is much debate today among preachers and scholars as to which is better; electronic books or paper books? With me, it all depends. Some of my resources are in both forms. Sometimes I like to sit and read with a physical book in my hands and then, at other times, I like to sit in front of my computer to do my studies, sermon preparation, and research. But I want to share in this post, how I use biblical software in the study, research and preparation of sermons and/or biblical lessons. I have tried several across the years, but the three that are my bread and butter tools are: Logos 7, BibleWorks 10, and WordSearch 11.

After much prayer and meditation, that usually begins on Monday evening, by noon Tuesday, I usually have made a general choice (unless I am in the middle of preaching a series) of what I am going to preach the coming Sunday. After selecting a biblical text, I read the text several times in several different (I read the text at least 3 to 4 times in at least five, sometimes as many as eight different versions) English versions of the Bible. I do this using the BibleWorks software. BibleWorks is excellent for doing this because the program allows you to arrange the various versions side-by-side or vertically to quickly note differences in the versions. There is also a tool within BibleWorks that will color-highlight the differences for you. I do this to get a general feel of the flow and meaning of the text. After completing this step, I then do the same thing; comparing the various Hebrew (if it is an Old Testament text) and Greek (if it is a New Testament text) Bibles that are available in BibleWorks. By the way, in BibleWorks, there are over 200 Bible translations in 40 different languages, over 50 original languages and morphology databases, with dozens of lexical-grammatical references, plus a wealth of practical reference works, all available in the standard package at no additional costs! It is during the comparison-analysis of the original languages that I also conduct my word-studies. My first goal is to establish the integrity of the text. I especially want to do this if it is a familiar text because I want to find out, as best I can, what the original author actually said and/or meant, as opposed to the popular or common ideas of what the author said and meant. The only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the text in the original languages. Now, if you have not studied the original languages, BibleWorks will greatly aid in overcoming that deficiency because, even as you look at the various English versions, you can hover your mouse over the English words and BibleWorks will display the corresponding Greek and Hebrew words and meanings in pop-ups and in the analysis window of the software. This information is available in an instant! It would take at least five to ten minutes per word to do this manually with paper books! Now, I use BibleWorks, primarily to establish the integrity of the text and for my initial word-study analysis, usually this process takes about a day of study or about 3-5 hours. As a pastor, husband, and part-time student, there are also many other demands upon my time. But usually the first day of study is devoted to establishing the integrity of the text; using BibleWorks as my primary tool.

The next phrase of study is where the Logos Bible Software comes into play! Although BibleWorks has an extensive selection of Bibles in English and in the original languages, there are still some that are available in Logos that are not currently available in BibleWorks, such as the Amplified Bible, for example. So when I first open Logos, I continue some of the work that I started with BibleWorks. This also includes consulting various lexicons and biblical dictionaries I have that are in Logos, but not in BibleWorks. In some cases, it is not a matter of these resources being available in one software and not in the other. In some cases, I purchased resources in the Logos format, rather than in BibleWorks because of how Logos cross-indexes and integrates the various resources. Plus, I’ve owned Logos longer than BibleWorks, so there are some things I know how to do in Logos that I have not learned how to do in BibleWorks. At any rate, I type the passage in and click go and within a matter of seconds, Logos pulls up every Bible, lexicon, dictionary, commentary and any other resources from my Logos library of resources that I have purchased across the years! As of the writing of this post, there are over 3,000 resources in my Logos library, representing an investment of over $13,000 in 15 years! The first tool I use with Logos is the Exegetical Guide. Type in the text and within a matter of seconds, every Bible (English, Hebrew, and Greek), lexical resource and Bible dictionary in my library is displayed; already cued or located at the text and the words of the text! Logos brings up in seconds what would take hours to do in paper books!

By the time, I’ve finished establishing the integrity of the text, using BibleWorks and Logos, it is usually late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The plan is to spend study time Thursday consulting what various commentaries say about the text. Now, by this time, I already have a pretty good feel of the author’s original intent and where I want to go with the text, but I consult commentaries to compare my findings with what other biblical scholars say about the text and also to gain additional insights. I was taught, and I strongly agree, that preachers should never consult the commentaries before the completion of their own personal work of research and study. Going to the commentaries first will short-circuit the development of your own investigative and research skills and severely compromise what the Holy Spirit wants to say to and through you to your listeners. But even in dealing with the commentaries, don’t just read the ones you agree with or the only the ones of your own personal theological slant. Read commentaries that challenge and as well as confirm your findings, thoughts and views.

Most of the commentaries I own are found in my Logos software (nearly 1,500 volumes). To access my commentaries in Logos, I click on the Passage Guide tool, type in the text, click go, and every Bible, commentary and any other resource in my library that deals with the text instantly opens to my text and/or pulls up pertinent information about the text; all in a matter of seconds! However, some of my favorite commentaries are only in my WordSearch software, such as The Preacher’s Sermon and Outline Bible, Barnes Notes of the Old and New Testaments and a few others. There are also times when I consult commentaries that I only have in book-form. As a side note, there are some books that I own in book-form that I have also purchased in various software platforms. Some of these, I purchased years before I became computer savvy and once they became available in software form, I purchased them again because of the ease of use and the speed of research the software provides.

Well, Friday is the day I usually write the sermon! Yes, I am (as my Daddy used to describe preachers who use manuscripts) a paper boy! I have detailed that process in a prior post (From the Mind to the Manuscript: 5/2/13) But I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what biblical software platforms I use and how I use  them. If you are serious about biblical studies; whether you are a preacher, teacher, or just someone who loves the Bible, I strongly suggest you look into investing into a biblical software program. Of the three I use, each one has strengths and weaknesses. There are some tasks I do in one that can’t be done (I have not learn how to do) in the others and there are some task that could be done by any one of them with equal ease. But as I use them, they don’t compete with one another; they complement one another. You can check them out at their various websites for pricing and more exact details. You can find out more about Logos Bible Software at: www.logos.com BibleWorks at www.bibleworks.com and WordSearch at www.wordsearchbible.com.

Don’t Let Facebook Replace Your Face!

FacetoFaceFacebook

Not long ago, an acquaintance was having a dispute with a family member. Now, the reason I know there was a dispute between them was not because of what I was told, but rather because they played out their dispute on Facebook! The funny thing about was that these two individuals lived in the same house! Instead of dealing with their situation face-to-face, they dealt with it on Facebook! As I looked at this situation, I began to wonder: How often is this same situation played out in the lives of so many other people?

It seems today that, in many cases, Facebook has replaced the face! Now, don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Facebook, Twitter, or any other online social media outlet! I think Facebook is a wonderful tool for social interaction. I have a Facebook and a Twitter account myself and most likely, some of you reading this article are reading it from my Facebook page or from a link that led you to it. No! I don’t think Facebook is really the problem; the problem is that some people substitute Facebook for their face! In other words, they make statements directed toward particular individuals or address issues on their Facebook page that they don’t have the nerve to address in person!

Facebook is a great medium for keeping in touch and connecting with people we are separated from by distance, but it only causes distance when we use it as a substitute for communicating with people we could and should talk to in person. When you have an issue with someone, the world doesn’t need to know about it! Don’t air your dirty laundry on Facebook! Now, I really would like to tell you this face-to-face, but since I don’t really know you and we are indeed separated by distance, I guess Facebook, Twitter, and this blog post will just have to do!

Spend Completely, Then Recharge!

iphone chargeRecently, my wife and I stopped by one of our local Best Buy stores and traded in our iPhone 4’s for the iPhone 5. As many of you know, when you get a new phone or tablet, the battery is already partially charged. Well, the first couple of days after our upgrades, we were busy and every time we charged them completely, the charge would not even last the whole day! Then, I remembered a trick I learned some time ago: In order to get the best battery life from your phone, your tablet, or any electronic device, when you first get it, you need to spend or drain the battery charge completely and then recharge! So, I told my wife not to recharge her phone after she unplugged it in the morning and to use it as much as she could during the day. Later on that evening, when the phones were showing about 30% of battery life left, I started playing some YouTube videos along with some other apps that I knew would quickly use a lot of energy. I played YouTube videos and the other apps on both phones until their batteries were completely spent and the phones died from battery drain. Then, I recharged both phones completely. Every since I did that, the batteries in our phones are lasting all day and even to bedtime without needing to be recharged! In fact at bedtime, after a normal day of use, we still have over 50% of battery charge left!

Well, I was thinking about that and I wonder could that be the reason why many people don’t get the best results in their lives? Could it be that they are constantly recharging without being fully spent first? Let me show you what I’m talking about: Most people are not willing to give anything their all. In other words, most people are always holding back in whatever they do. Whether it’s their job, their hobbies, or even recreation; they expend just enough energy to get by or just enough energy to attain a certain degree of success, but they never give it their all. As a result, they find themselves having to recharge often before the task is completed.

But why don’t people give it all they have? It could be that they are afraid that even after they give it their all; they will still fail! And so, they’re in a catch-22 situation: They don’t give it their all because they fear failure, but in most cases the very reason for failure is the lack of total commitment! So most of the time they end up expending just enough energy to get by and sometimes they don’t put forth any real effort at all! Sometimes it is because of the potential of embarrassment. They don’t spend it all (put forth a 100% effort) because they are afraid of being embarrassed by failure. Therefore, they go through life, playing it safe; only engaging in endeavors that don’t require their best effort or a lot of energy. Because of this, most of the time, life to them is boring; they are the walking dead, living on auto-pilot.

The Preacher says in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9:10): “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go.” (NET)  In other words; spend completely and don’t hold back! Leave it all out on the playing field because when the game of life is over, it’s over! Set high goals! If you reach for the moon and fail, you still might land upon a star! And even if you miss the star, you will still have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave it your best! You don’t want to get to the end of your life and have regrets, thinking about what you could have done or what you should have done.

And remember, after you have given it your all and after you are completely spent; it’s not over! You have within you the potential to recharge and come back more energized than ever because any long distance runner will tell you: “After you have given your best and spent all, there is always a ‘second wind!” So remember, to get the maximum potential out of your life; spend completely and then recharge!

BibleWorks Review #1 By Alex

This is my favorite tool for exegesis. I use this software primarily to help me establish the integrity of the text.

I am going to be posting a series on the various features and functions of BibleWorks 9. I am not sure yet how many posts I am going to be doing. I got the software recently, and plan on posting as I figure/discover new stuff with it. So, sporadically I will post a review a specific function of the software. I plan to launch around 10-15 posts. At the end I plan on posting an overview review of the software as a whole. Who knows, maybe Josh and I can launch a “counterpoint” series comparing BibleWorks and Accordance (Josh is a big Accordance guy).

Anyway, here is the first post. I will review a rather basic (yet complex) function, and that is an overview of the search engine on BibleWorks.

BibleWorks is a powerful bible software that is best used with searching throughout the Bible in a number of translations…

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From the Mind to the Manuscript

I posted earlier about my transition from using paper outlines to paper manuscripts to eventually preaching with an iPad. Now, I would like to share with you the process I go through of bringing the sermon from the mind to the manuscript.

Since I work every Sunday (preaching is work and I do it primarily on Sunday!), Monday is my Sabbath day. I spend Monday recuperating, resting, and relaxing from Sunday. Now, since I am presently a bi-vocational pastor (I work in the local school system also), this only happens true to form during the months that school is out. At any rate, the journey to next Sunday’s sermon does not usually start until Tuesday morning.

Usually, sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the Lord will drop a thought, an idea, an inspiration, a scripture text or an impression of some sort into my spirit in regard to the Word for the coming Sunday. From time to time, I preach sermons in series; in that case, it is just a continuation from the previous week. As an aside, when the Spirit dictates, preaching a series is a rewarding and challenging experience that I enjoy very much. The thought or sermon idea comes from a variety of places. Sometimes it is from a conversation, a news report, a current event, a personal experience, a devotional reading, something I read in a book, journal, newspaper or on the Internet, a scripture, or as the direct result of prayer. By the way, the whole process for me starts with prayer. When I stand on Sunday mornings, I want to be delivering a fresh word that was given to me by Him! Sometimes I start with a text and develop ideas, other times, I start with an idea and search for a text to support the idea. In order to be true to the calling, no matter how good I may think the idea is; if it has no scriptural support, if there is no scripture text or context to support it, it is abandoned.

Once the idea and the text are reconciled, the real work begins! The first task I tackle is the establishment of the integrity of the text. In other words, I have to establish what the text is actually saying. This involves determining, as best it can be determined, the author’s original intent, audience, and setting. This also involves understanding the genre (type of literature) of the text: Is it a historical narrative? Is it poetry? What is the context of the text? How does it fit in the chapter, the book, the Bible? What was the historical setting of the text? Now, at this point the primary resource I focus on is the Bible! If it is a New Testament text, I read the text in the Greek New Testament. (I took several semesters of NT Greek in college and in seminary) If it is an Old Testament text, I read the various Hebrew-English Inter-linear Bibles in my library (I took Hebrew in seminary also, but Hebrew almost “brewed” me! I hope my Hebrew professor doesn’t read this!). I feel that it is important to read the text in the Hebrew and/or the Greek because those are the languages in which the text was originally written. As my NT Greek professor at Mississippi College, Dr. G. Rogers Greene would often say: “It is important that you know or at least know how to handle the text in the original languages because if you don’t know what it meant, you can’t tell what it means!” There are several good Greek and Hebrew Inter-linear Bibles on the market that are excellent for this task if you have not studied the original languages. And of course, the Strong’s and Young’s Concordances are excellent tools to supplement an Inter-linear Bible. After laboring with the Greek texts or looking at the Hebrew Inter-linear Bible, I read as many different English versions as I can (KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, NRSV, Amplified Bible, etc.), noting where there are substantial differences in the Greek texts, and English translations. I then seek to reconcile those differences by using various lexicons and nail down historical context by using various Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias. All of this is crucial in establishing the integrity of the text! After the integrity of the text has been established, I read the text several times, over and over again! I soak the text in prayer, so that the Spirit might speak to me through the text. By the way, by the time all this is done, it is usually sometime Thursday morning.

I must at this point interject, that all this study was done manually by hand (actually pulling books off the self) some twenty years ago and I would not get through with my studies until late Friday night or Saturday morning! But! Thank God for the BibleWorks 9, Logos 5, and WordSearch 10 software programs I have invested in across the years. I started using BibleWorks with version 6, Logos with version 3.0 and WordSearch with version 7. Preacher, Pastor, Teacher, these programs are more than worth what you pay for them! Accordance is also a bible software program that is also very good if you use a Mac computer. With these software programs, I have been able to save, at least two days of study time!

Now at this point, after I have established the integrity of the text, read, read and re-read the text in various versions (I use BibleWorks primarily to do this), I then consult commentaries and various other secondary sources (I use Logos and WordSearch to do this). I recommend that you first establish in your mind what the text is saying BEFORE you consult the commentaries because if you consult the commentaries first, there is always the temptation to not seriously engage the text and allow the commentary to unduly shape you opinion. Also, be careful with the commentaries. I have read one commentary that said one thing and another commentary to say the exact opposite of what the first commentary said! Use the commentaries for thoughts, ideas, or viewpoints you might have missed or not thought of. Again, DON’T consult the commentaries first, consult them LAST!

Whew! Now that all that is done, it is time to write! All throughout the process, I have been writing notes, now it is time to pull and put it all together. I usually try to write out the manuscript on Friday afternoon or by Friday evening at the latest. I do an initial draft on my computer and then leave it to soak overnight. Then early Saturday morning, I edit and write the final draft and transfer it from my computer to my iPad. I read and re-read the sermon several times (actually I preach it to myself several times!). The rest of the day is spent preparing me! As a preacher, you need time to prepare a sermon and you also need time to prepare yourself to preach the sermon!

Now being a pastor and a husband this system does not work like clock-work every week! Family matters, wife’s “honey-do” lists, people get sick, people die, hospital visits, funerals and other things occur to throw a monkey-wrench into the schedule. Not to mention that in the middle of this, I prepare lessons for Wednesday night Bible study, and various discipleship groups that I lead. But this is the way it is done on an “idea” week!

If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments, I am an open book! If you are a preacher/pastor, I would also be interested in knowing your process.

Preaching with an iPad

I have been preaching with an iPad for two (2) years now and I love it, let me tell you why!

My Preaching Delivery Evolution: Outline-Paper manuscript-iPad

First of all, I am a manuscript preacher (my Daddy used to call them: “Paper Boys!) I didn’t start out that way, it just evolved as time went on. When I first started preaching in 1978, I would write out an introduction, do a 3-point outline with 3 sub-points and then write out my conclusion. I would take this single piece of paper to the pulpit with me, inserted in my Bible. Occasionally, I would get bold, commit the outline to memory and go to the pulpit with only my Bible.

I committed to using manuscripts exclusively in 1993. I was working on a sermon and I wanted to make sure I got to all the points, so for the first time, I wrote the sermon out completely: word for word. I did OK with memory and notes, but occasionally I would forget something or go “too long!” At any rate, when I first started using manuscripts, it was awkward, but the more I did it, the more I liked it! It kept me from going all over the Bible and was a more efficient use of preaching time for me. I started out hand writing my sermons (double-spaced) on yellow legal pad and taking the pages to the pulpit with me in a leather portfolio. Later on, after I brushed up on my keyboarding skills, I typed them double-spaced, landscape booklet form and stapled them together down the center. When I preached and turned the pages, it gave the appearance that I was turning the pages of my Bible (cool huh?)

The problem with the a fore mentioned process was across the years, I had accumulated boxes and boxes of notes and used a tremendous amount of ink, not to mention money spent on paper, ink and printers! And then, I bought an iPad 2 in April 2011!

Here is how I do it now:

During my research, I type my notes on my iPad, using the standard note application. That way I can access my notes on my iPad or my iPhone. When I type the actual manuscript, I use MicroSoft Word on my desktop or laptop (whichever one my wife is not using when I am ready to write). For reading comfort on the iPad, I use 22 point Chancery font, double-spaced. Once I have finished typing, I save the file in two places: In my sermon file folder on my computer as a “word” file and in my Dropbox as a PDF file. After I open it in Dropbox on my iPad, I send it to “Good Reader,” which is the application I use to read and deliver from. I like Good Reader because I like to turn the pages swiping from side to side as oppose to scrolling up and down in Dropbox. I also number my pages in Good Reader, so as to not lose my place should I accidentally tap my iPad screen.

In the pulpit with the iPad:

When I go to preach with my iPad, I carry it to the pulpit in a Portenzo brand case that actually looks like a book! (I don’t want to call too much attention to the fact that I am preaching from an iPad) It is a good practice to make sure the iPad is adequately charged with all sounds and notifications cut off. Just to be on the safe side, I also switch the wifi off or put it on airplane mode. I also lock the screen orientation to portrait so the screen will not rotate to landscape should I happen to pick the iPad up in the excitement of preaching!

Well, that’s the way I do it with my iPad! I thought about the iPad Mini, but I couldn’t justify spending that much money for what is essentially a smaller version of what I already have and besides that, my wife wouldn’t let me!

If you are using an iPad for preaching and/or teaching, leave a comment and let me know how you do it!