David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego and the founder and speaker for the Turning Point Ministry, both on radio and television. Most recently he served as editor of the Jeremiah Study Bible, produced by Worthy Publishing. Executive Editor Michael Duduit recently visited with him, the second interview Preaching has featured with this well-known pastor and preacher.
Preaching: The Jeremiah Study Bible recently was released. Why a study Bible?
Jeremiah: Of all the people, I probably would have been the last person to have wanted to do this. First of all, there are many study Bibles out there, and I often argued with myself about whether it would be something I could do that would add any value to anybody. I was encouraged by friends and publishers to do it, so I started to take it under consideration and think seriously about it.
The way we did it was to take every sermon I’ve preached, every book I’ve written, every study guide we’ve done, and we digitized them all and put them into a massive data bank. Then we went into that data bank and extracted the material, and with a team of scholars we turned the material into notes and began to build a study Bible. The more we did, the more excited we became about it because, as you know, every teacher has their own voice, everybody has their own way of doing things. So we came up with a little mantra that we built this around: “What does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean for you?” So it was really back to the old observation, interpretation, application thing.
Preaching: How long did this project take?
Jeremiah: It was about a two-year project, and really intense during the final 18 months. At times, we wondered if it really would happen. There are 8,000 notes in this Bible, and more than 50 full-page articles on subjects which we deem to be essential, things people should understand such as justification by faith. There’s another article about angels, one on spiritual warfare, one on the virgin birth of Christ. We wanted to salt these articles throughout the text wherever they fit best so people would not have just note information, but additional information on very important issues they face as followers of Christ.
Preaching: As you went through the process, looking at the content and material, were there any things that were refreshing new discoveries or some rediscoveries of things you hadn’t thought about for a long time?
Jeremiah: I think what really struck us more than anything else as we did this was that this study Bible would have notes that would talk about the issues that are in the text, but it also would have some application that you don’t often see in a study Bible. That’s the “What it means for you” part of that question that I mentioned earlier. As we went back and read that, we felt as if there was a uniqueness in this Bible that we hadn’t seen in other study Bibles. We didn’t start out with that in mind; it just ended up as we read back through it that it seemed to be happening.
One guy read it and said, “Dr. Jeremiah, when I went through the study Bible, I heard your voice.” That was what we were trying to d Take the things we’ve done—the teaching and preaching—and translate it in a way that it could be instantly accessible to people who have studied this Bible.
Preaching: I know your own personal commitment to expository preaching. Do you see this as a tool that would be helpful to other pastors who are trying to do biblical exposition?
Jeremiah: Yes, I do. I think this will encourage them to do that. There’s this mantra out there that expository preaching is not relevant and it’s not interesting; but it is as relevant and interesting as the Bible is, and there’s no more interesting book in the world than the Bible. So we believe that when people are studying to preach, I’ve (told) pastors, “There’s probably a few sermons in there. You guys grab them.” They’re not written-out sermons, but they’re the notes that create sermons.
There’s another part of this, and that is the extended website we created to go with this that will be encouraging to pastors. We built what everybody around here calls the JSB Website, the Jeremiah Study Bible Website. Throughout the Bible, there are many QRC codes; if you snap on them, the Internet comes alive for you. At the beginning of every book, there’s one of these, and throughout the Bible there are others.
Let’s say, for instance, you’re going to study the Book of Mark. You snap on this one at the beginning of the Book of Mark with your smartphone, and the first thing that comes up is a page showing you the additional content that’s available online from that book: Things to Read, Things to Listen To, Things to Watch.
One of the guys was telling me I have 64 sermons based on the Beatitudes or The Sermon on the Mount, and they were able to get 7 percent of that into notes in the print Bible. So, there’s a lot more online, a lot of good application. When you click on this, the first thing that happens is I’ve recorded a video introduction to every book in the Bible, which is friendly and easy to understand: This is what this book is about, this is why you should read it. That’s the first thing you see.
Then there’s all this additional information that’s printed. Then we’ve gone through all these years of preaching and selected key messages that we have on CD that are specific to texts in that book, which you can access online. We also have many DVDs of messages because we’ve been doing television for so many years.
When a person goes to the Book of Mark, he or she is going to get a video introduction, a lot more information that we couldn’t get in the study notes, and access to all the additional resources that will help them not only understand the Book of Mark but hopefully make them want to teach it, preach it and share it.
The beauty of it is this doesn’t have a period at the end. We will continue to add to this website as we go along, making it increasingly robust; it will be a treasure trove for people who have this Bible.
Preaching: That sounds as if it’s going to be an amazing resource for teachers and preachers.
Jeremiah: You know, my kids at home say, “Dad, that’s really cool.” They think it’s cool, but it’s a whole lot more than that. I’ve got two guys working on it full-time to make sure we get as much in there as possible and make it available. We hope it will be a blessing to a lot of folks.
Preaching: With your interest in biblical exposition and doing expository preaching, as you talk with other pastors, what do you say to encourage them to focus their own preaching ministry on biblical exposition?
Jeremiah: I’ve had lots of conversations with guys about that. The other day, a guy who is a really bright, young leader and good scholar is planting a church, and he’s really into topical preaching. Of course, I’m not down on topical preaching or anything, but he asked me, “Why do you think I should be doing exposition?”
I said, “I can look at more than 40 years of doing this, and this is what I want to tell you: You can do your topical preaching, and you’re going to help some people; but if you want to put people’s roots deep down in Scripture, you’re going to have to teach them the Word of God, and you’re going to have to do it in an expository way. Otherwise, their roots will be shallow, and when they face the challenges that are inevitably in front of us all, it’s going to be very difficult for them to have much stability.” I believe that with all my heart, and I’ve witnessed it, as you know; we both have in our culture.
Preaching: You’ve been doing biblical exposition for many years, but have you seen your preaching change in any way from the time you began preaching until now?
Jeremiah: Well that’s interesting because I’ve had a fresh look at that doing this study Bible. I had to go back, and I hope I’m a little better at it than I was in the beginning. When we did this study thing, I had to go back and read some of the things I did at the start, and I thought, “Oh my goodness. My poor people,” but the method’s still the same.
I’m a little better at doing it and learning how to do it just because I’ve done it so consistently, and I think maybe I work harder now on the application part than I’ve ever done because the interpretation and observation is pretty standard. You do that, and it is what it is, and it says what it says; but how do you bring that into the culture of today? That’s the challenge. Of course, that’s done with illustrations, quotations and stories we work hard to get to connect the text with where people are. So I think I work harder at that.
When I first started, I worked harder at the interpretation, but I’ve done that for so long I’ve got it pretty well in hand. Now it’s a matter of: How do I make this come alive for the people who listen to me every week?
Preaching: I share the sense you have that in our culture today, perhaps the most critical thing we do is application, and it’s probably the hardest thing we do. Don’t you think?
Jeremiah: Oh, absolutely. I’m preaching in the Book of Mark, and I just covered the section on the Transfiguration, which was quite surprising to me. I asked our people, “How many of you have heard a message strictly on the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ?” Most had not. I had touched on it years ago in teaching the gospels, but I was trying to get a hold of this and say, “OK, what does this mean today that the Lord was transfigured on Mount Hermon?”
I was reading a book by Richard Stearns called Unfinished: Filling the Hole in Our Gospel. As you know, he wrote The Hole in Our Gospel; the sequel is Unfinished. He told a story in that book that connected to the Transfiguration, and…when I read that book I came right out of my chair. I told our people, “This is the kind of story as a pastor you usually read the week after you’ve preached the passage and wish you’d had it.” This time, it came ahead of time.
The story is about how on Mount Hermon there’s a cave that has been explored that seemingly has no bottom. In the classical days when Jesus walked on the earth, it was believed the cave was the opening to the Underworld, where the demons and Satan existed. Of course that wasn’t true, but that was the myth about that cave—that it actually was the gates of Hades. Interestingly enough, it was on the spot on which ultimately the Temple of Pan was—and on that spot Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Just above this spot is where the Transfiguration took place.
Richard Stearns says, So Jesus walked up to the doors of the Underworld and in their face said, “I am the living Son of God, and I stand here in the place where you think you’ve got something going, and I want you to know Who I am.” I don’t have the exact story in front of me, but it was such a vivid illustration of the supremacy and sovereignty of the Savior and how that came out during the Transfiguration for these bewildered disciples as they stood there on this mountain, having a conversation with a prophet who’d been gone for 900 years, and Moses, who’d been gone for 1,500 years. He is declaring Himself to be the Son of the living God. That story made that message…that’s the hardest work a real expositor ever does in my estimation.
Preaching: As you’re preparing a message and thinking about your congregation, is there any kind of process you go through or any tips you can offer about how you think through the application of a particular message?
Jeremiah: The first part of the preparation for me is really trying to get the material organized, get the information [ordered so] it can be unpacked in a meaningful way. That’s the challenge. During that time, what I’m always thinking about is, “Where does this touch our people?”
The other thing that’s true is I’m still pretty much connected with the people I preach to; I see many of them every day. I work with them, I meet with them, I hear their stories and challenges. I don’t know who said this, maybe I read it in a magazine, but preaching is really living in two worlds: It’s living in the world of the Bible, but also living in the real world of the people who are going to hear the Word of God.
I think whenever a preacher is removed from either one of those, he loses his ability to do what God has called him to do. So I live in both worlds. I have children and grandchildren all around me who keep me refreshed about the things people are dealing with, even in other generations. When I see something in the text, it often will bring to mind an experience I’ve had or heard about or talked about. I think it’s just programming your mind to be sensitive to that, which is so critical.
It’s not just getting in a room, shutting the door and saying, “OK, what does this say, and what does it mean?” That won’t get you very far or keep you in the same pulpit, because it has to be: “What does it mean to them?” or they don’t want to hear it.
Preaching: What do you enjoy most about preaching?
Jeremiah: I have to honestly tell you I still love it. I love the part I hate, and sometimes I hate the part I love. I tell everybody preaching is the hardest thing. There’s this grind that’s part of it that you have to get through before you get to the fun part. I’ve learned to love that—to start every week with a fresh sheet of paper and the text that’s next in the teaching and just pray, saying, “Lord, where is this going, what does it mean and how does this live today?” Whenever I am faithful to that process, even in the midst of the challenges I have—and I have a busy life—I find God never fails to meet me at that point.
I have 40 years of hearing His voice in my heart every time I open Scripture, teach it and study it. Of course, the hard thing about it is you build your capital all week, then you spend it all in one day and you’ve got to start all over. The beauty for me is I spend the capital in one day, but we found a way to keep extending the benefit of it through radio, television, books and articles so that it isn’t all spent in one day. It continues to bear fruit.
Preaching: What’s your process of preparing a message as you head toward Sunday?
Jeremiah: I’m preaching through the Book of Mark right now, and I try to stay a quarter ahead [or what] the passage is going to be that I’m going to speak about on a particular Sunday. Of course, as you get into this in a deeper way, that changes; some of the borders get changed. You decide to add something you thought was going to be part of next week’s material because it fits better with the material you’re studying this week. So, that’s where I start. I think if you don’t do that, if you don’t at least have a general plan of the big picture going forward, it’s pretty hard to stay focused and fresh. I do that first.
Then about the middle of the week before—not immediately before but a week and a half before I’m going to speak—I try to get a closer picture of this and make sure I’m really in the right space and have the right verses and the right subject, and that there isn’t something I missed in terms of how this fits in the total. Then I start to study, organize and read to get some thoughts about how it fits together.
For instance, I just finished preaching the passage in Mark about the father who brought his son to Jesus who was mute and deaf—that passage that’s so famous where the father said, “Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.” As I was studying that, reading it and trying to get my hands around it, something dawned on me: That passage was organized on the basis of the conversations that were going on between all the people. Words such as greeting, said and spoken, and I realized the passage fit together based on the conversations. So, I built the structure of the message on the conversations, on the words. There were 10 different kinds of words in that passage that made the whole story tellable.
That’s what I did when I preached [that message]. I tried to find an organizing principle in the text. Sometimes it’s not there as you wish it were, so you have to deal with it as it is, but most of the time there is an organizing principle to the text, so that’s what I do next.
Then I clean that up and make sure I have all the ancillary verses I need to bring the points together. Then I work hard to find any way possible to get the illustrative material. I now have a guy who helps me with that, and that’s been such a blessing because obviously four eyes are better than two. When I give him where [I’ll be going during] the next quarter, he can begin to think about what we should be looking at and reading, and it makes it even richer for us both.
Preaching: How long would you say you typically spend preparing a message?
Jeremiah: That’s the most often-asked question I get—and the most difficult question I ever have to answer—because it’s [similar to] someone asking me, “How long did it take you to do your study Bible?” I tell them, “Forty years.” That’s really true. When you’re preaching a passage of Scripture and when you’ve been doing that particular thing for a long time, what I’ve noticed as I’ve been doing this in recent years—the beauty of it—is as I’m studying a passage, other things I’ve studied are refreshed in my mind and come to bear on the passage. That wasn’t true before because I didn’t have that bank when I first started. However, I’ve been doing this so long that when I study it, it brings freshness to other things that I’ve remembered.
I never do anything I haven’t totally transcribed and is all-accessible to me, so I can get that material from other studies I’ve done. For instance, in the gospels especially, many of the stories are recorded in at least three of the gospels, so that material becomes relevant if you’ve already done some research on words and things of that nature.
I really don’t know what to say about what the total number is because I don’t think I’ve ever really sat down and clocked myself. It’s my consuming passion for the whole week, as much as it can be. In recent days, I’ve been spending a lot of time on an airplane. Whenever I’m on an airplane, all I do is study. I find it to be such a joy to be isolated from all the other challenges in my life, so I spend the better part of my week, whenever I can find a moment, working on messages. Is that 10 hours…15 hours? I don’t know what it is, and I’m sure it’s different for every message.
Preaching: You mentioned you’ve been at this for a long time, and you’ve learned a lot about preaching along the way. If you could go back and talk to yourself as a beginning pastor and share some insight or knowledge you’ve learned along the way, what would you go back and tell yourself?
Jeremiah: That’s an interesting question because my wife and I just had this discussion yesterday. We’re here at this conference and this study Bible just came out, and I signed the first copy of it yesterday to a person I’d never met before. I wrote a little note that this was the first copy of the study Bible that I signed. We were talking out it last night, and I said, “Honey, there are things that happened in our lives that probably have made this moment possible. If I hadn’t done those things, I doubt this moment would have been possible.” She said, “What do you mean?”
I told her that when we moved to California in 1981, I had been preaching before that for 12 years as a young pastor. I had been putting together somewhat of an outline and getting up and preaching really, really extemporaneously…I told her it was fear when I came out here that [prompted me to] change that.
I was going to the church where Tim LaHaye had been for 25 years, Henry Morris was going to be sitting in my congregation every week, and Duane Gish, who is part of the ICR, and other teachers and leaders who are colleagues. I realized that through the years, because of the way I had done things, it was easy to get careless with words, so I made a commitment when I moved to California that though I would try to preach as extemporaneously as I could, I never would preach unless I had totally scripted the sermon word-for-word before I spoke. From 1981 to this day, I have done that. I have written out in longhand—now on my computer—every single sermon I’ve ever preached as close to word-for-word as I could make it, and it’s caused me to work on words and get better with words; but it’s also caused me not to be careless with words.
To care about every word I speak, I think, is what’s made it possible for me to do what I do on radio and on television. More than anything else, with the many books and the study Bible I’ve written, if I could go back and do it again, I would have started and not missed those first 12 years doing that. I believe it’s been an incredibly important, and at the same time very difficult, discipline for me. Yet it has borne such fruit in my life and in what I do.