Q & R: Preaching and Study Guides for Everything Must Change (& Secret Message of Jesus)

Here’s the Q:

  First of all I am so grateful for your work and how it has changed my life and ministry over the years.  Second, I am writing to see if I could get a copy of the study guide for Everything Must Change and also the Preaching Guide Brian put together.  This book seems so timely right now and I am hoping to preach through it and lead a book study with my congregation beginning in August.  The links to the Preaching Guide and Study Guide no longer work on the website.  I would greatly appreciate your help.

Here’s the R:

First, I’m so sorry that over the years some of these links have disappeared during upgrades, platform shifts, etc. Among the disappeared files is the study guide for Everything Must Change. The good news is that the book itself has discussion questions at the end of each chapter.


I’m reposting below two preaching and guides I could find below – one for Secret Message of Jesus (the prequel, if you will, for Everything Must Change), and EMC itself. I hope they’re helpful!

As an author and former pastor, I’m thrilled when pastors and teachers find that my books can help them in preaching and teaching. I’ve been hearing encouraging reports lately on ways that The Secret Message of Jesus (Nelson, 2006) is being used to create sermon series about Jesus and the message of the Kingdom of God.
Here are some sermon ideas linked to chapters of the book.
Chapter 1: The Trouble with Jesus
“What if Jesus of Nazareth was right–more right in different ways than we ever realized? What if Jesus had a message that could truly save the world, but we’re prone to miss the point of it?”
Scripture: Luke 4. Trace Jesus’ first recorded sermon, and the dramatic response it evoked – first praise, then violent antagonism. Present Jesus as someone who refuses to be domesticated by our human frameworks or categories or “schools of thought” or ideologies. This sermon could stir curiosity and intrigue, leading into the following sermons.
Chapter 2: Jesus on CNN
“The Political Message of Jesus”. Place Jesus in relation to the 4 major “political parties” of his time (Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes), and make connections with today’s world.
Scripture: Luke 20:9-30. Notice Jesus’ dynamic interactions with the religious leaders, Caesar’s political and economic system, and the Sadducees in this passage. He deals with their addiction to power (9-19), money (20-26), and sex (27-38).
Chapter 3: Jesus Was Not A Christian
“The Jewish Message of Jesus.” Explore how important it is to place Jesus in his Jewish context and understand his work and message in their original context.
Scripture: You could trace the three uses of “Christian” in the NT (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and contrast their infrequency with the term disciple (used about 261 times in the New Testament). You could also contrast the view of Jesus we get by seeing him in light of his ancestors (Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets) … as opposed to understanding him in terms of his descendents, those who have “used” him for various purposes. In other words, you could show how Jesus should be primarily understood in relation to the story he was a part of, as the chapter suggests – and not primarily in relation to how we Christians have “used” him for better and for worse since.
Chapter 4: Jesus the Revolutionary
“The Revolutionary Message of Jesus.” Show Jesus not as an escapist – showing how to get away from earth and into heaven, but the reverse – someone diving into the issues of our world.
Scritpure: John 1 would celebrate this – that God’s movement was downward, to “become flesh and dwell among us.” This movement could be linked with the “downward mobility” of Philippians 2:1-11 and Revelation 21 (the New Jerusalem comes down – we do not go up).
Chapter 5: Jesus the Teacher
“The Hidden Message of Jesus.” Jesus doesn’t just tell you what to think … he teaches you how to think by engaging you in conversation, asking you questions, breaking down your preconceptions. “What could possibly be the benefit of Jesus’s hiddenness, intrigue, lack of clarity, metaphor, and answering questions with questions? Why risk being misunderstood–or not understood at all? If the message is so important, why hide it in evocative rather than technical language?”
Scripture: Any of Jesus’ personal interactions – John 3, John 4, Luke 18-19 – would work beautifully here.
Chapter 6: Jesus as Artist
“The Medium of the Message.” Present Jesus as an artist who creates works of short fiction – parables – to engage the imagination.
Scripture: Matthew 13 would be a natural text to work from, as would Luke 15:1 – 16:15 (this whole section, I believe, flows together).
Chapter 7: Jesus the Miracle-Worker
“The Demonstration of the Message.” Jesus communicates the Good News of the Kingdom of God in word and deed. Introduce the idea of prophetic action, and miracles as “signs and wonders” – prophetic actions that embody his message dramatically, a kind of performance art.
Scripture: Take any of the miracle stories – feeding the 5000, healing a paralyzed man, healing a woman with a hemorrage – and consider their “prophetic” meaning.
Chapter 8: Jesus and Evil
“The Scandal of the Message.” Explore the idea of “principalities and powers,” and see Jesus’ confrontation with them as further “prophetic actions” which convey dramatically the message of the Kingdom of God: it is a kingdom that expels evil, liberates from domination and oppression, restores sanity, and so on.
Scripture: Take the story of the Gerasene demoniac and see it as a “lived parable” for God’s expulsion of the occupying Romans. Or follow the story in Luke 11:14-28.
Chapters 9: Jesus’ Contagious Message
“You Can’t Keep a Secret”. Explore how Jesus deploys his disciples to extend his mission. Use the metaphor of a musician – who takes lessons so he or she can play (as a disciple) and then goes out to play and teach others (the idea of an apostle).
Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20
Chapter 10: Jesus 007
“Secret Agents of the Kingdom.” Explore the idea of Jesus’ disciples being agents, part of a secret movement plotting goodness. “Too often, when the story of the movement of Jesus is told, most of the focus is on the religious professionals. But what if their role is at best minor? What if the real difference is made in the world not by us preachers, but by those who endure our preaching, those who quietly live out the secret message of the kingdom of God in their daily, workaday likes in the laboratory, classroom, office, cockpit, parliament, kitchen, market, factory, and neighborhood?”
Scripture: Explore the images of salt and light in Matthew 5:1-16, and perhaps relate them to the qualities celebrated in the beatitudes.
Chapter 11: Jesus and Paul 1
“The Open Secret.” Show continuity between Jesus’ message and Paul’s message. Interpret Paul in light of Jesus, not the reverse.
Scripture: Do a survey of the kingdom in the book of Acts (1:3-6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-31), or explore kingdom language in Colossians 1, as suggested in this chapter.
Chapter 12: Jesus and Paul 2
“Hiding the Message in New Places.” Continue showing the continuity between Jesus and Paul.
Scripture: Use the story of Philemon and Onesimus, or the way of life described in Colossians 2-4, and show connections to the kingdom teachings of Jesus, as the chapter suggests.
Chapter 13: Jesus the Crossroads
“Getting It, Getting In.” Explore Jesus as one who calls people to decision, choice, commitment, and specify the kinds of commitments Jesus called people to. This sermon would go well with baptism.
Scripture: Follow the two choices presented again and again in the Sermon on the Mount, for example two treasures (6:19 ff), two ways of seeing (6:22 ff), two masters (6:24 ff), two priorities (6:25 ff), two ways of treating others (7:1-12), two gates and roads (7:7 ff), two kinds of prophets and disciples (7:15 ff), two ways of responding to his message (7:24 ff).
Chapter 14: “Kingdom Manifesto”
Get to the heart of Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount. “I should acknowledge that many people assume the sermon intends to answer one question–namely, ‘How does an individual go to heaven after death?’ This was my assumption as well for many years, but as I have reflection the life and message of Jesus, I have become convinced that Jesus is exploring a very different set of questions–namely, ‘What kind of life does God want people to live? What does life in the kingdom of God look like? What is a truly good (or righteous) life? How does this message differ from conventional messages?’ Rather than directing our attention to life after death in heaven, away from this life and beyond history, these questions return our focus to the here and now–and in so doing, they provide an essential window into Jesus’ secret message.”
Scripture: Give an overview of Matthew 5-7, or take a few (or many) weeks to examine the sermon in detail.
Chapter 15: “Kingdom Ethics”
Focus on spiritual practices and the development of character and integrity. Target the “unholy trinity of money, sex and power.”
Scripture: Explore this chapter’s themes from Matthew 6:1-18, and from the whole sermon on the mount.
Chapter 16: “The Language of the Kingdom”
Explore ways that we can and must translate Jesus’ metaphor of the kingdom into more fitting metaphors today. (The proposed metaphors could actually become a sermon series of their own – a week each on “the dream of God,” “the revolution of God,” and so on.)
Scripture: You could begin with John’s “translation” of the kingdom metaphor into metaphors of life (eternal or “of the ages,” abundant or “to the full”), light, and family. Or you could go to Paul’s phrase life “in Christ” or walking “in the Spirit” as a translation of life “in the kingdom of God.” This would open the way for exploring yet more translations in contemporary terms.
Chapter 17: Jesus as Prince of Peace
“The Peaceable Kingdom.” This is a needed – but difficult – message during war-time. It could be tied in heavily with quotes from Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, and others.
Scripture: The story of Palm Sunday would fit beautifully here (Matthew 21, Mark 11, especially Luke 19:28 ff), along with “Blessed are the peacemakers … turn the other cheek … love your enemies” in Matthew 5-7.
Chapter 18: Jesus and Inclusion (or Exclusion)
“The Borders of the Kingdom.” “If the kingdom of God were a symphony, it would welcome anyone who had a desire to learn to play music–from tuba player to piccolo players, from violinists to percussionists. It would accept beginners and master musicians, probably by pairing up the novices with mentors who could help them to learn. But it could not welcome people who hated music or who wanted to shout and scream and disrupt rehearsals and concerts; that would ruin the music for everyone and destroy the symphony. True, it would try to influence music haters to become music lovers, but it couldn’t accept them into the symphony until they wanted to be there because of a love of music.”
Scripture: Explore the relationship between Luke 9:49 ff and Luke 11:22 ff, as detailed in the chapter. Or contrast Jesuss inclusion of “sinners” with his conflict with the Pharisees (Luke 14, 15).
Chapter 19: Jesus and Hope
“The Future of The Kingdom.” This message would confront escapist/hopeless eschatologies, and would focus on God’s hope for creation. It would connect Jesus’ apocalyptic language with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 67-70, and emphasize God’s faithfulness to creation.
Scripture: Explore Acts 1, as discussed in the beginning of the chapter, or demonstrate the dynamic tension between the “already” and “coming” passages detailed in the chapter. The Book of Jonah provides an excellent example of the difference between a prognostication (to predict the future) and a promise (to help create a different future). Or show how Jesus’ words about “not one stone being left on another (Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, Luke 19:44; 21:6, and John 4:21 ff) were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 67-70.
Chapter 20: Jesus and Heaven
“The Harvest of the Kingdom.” This sermon would address the subjects of afterlife and resurrection.
Scripture: Luke 20:27 ff would be a natural text to use to contrast Jesus’ view with those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Hellenists, and Zealots. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:12 ff and 15:58 would be natural texts to work from as well – seeing that the promise of rewards is meant to make us more committed to doing “the work of the Lord” on earth, as would Matthew 25:14-46.
Chapter 21: “Seeing the Kingdom”
Help people learn to expect to see glimpses of the kingdom of God in their daily lives … and to embody glimpses for others.
Scripture: The theme of “seeing the kingdom” comes up in Luke 8:10, 9:27, and John 3:3. The miracles of healing blindness would also work well here. Revelation 11:15 would also be ideal – especially if you can play the “Hallelujah Chorus” at an appropriately high volume.
Appendix 1: “The Prayer of the Kingdom”
Help people understand the Lord’s prayer, so they can say it with more meaning and appreciate its radically and transforming message.
Scripture: Matthew 6:5-15 (and Luke 11:1-13) could be one message, or a whole series.
Appendix 2: “Why Didn’t We Get It Sooner?”
Present 8 reasons why we Christians have so often missed the point, and done so in tragic ways.
Scripture: Choose one of the stories of the disciples missing the point – sending away the children, arguing over who is greatest, and so on.
Appendix 3: “Plotting Goodness”
Help people imagine how to put the message of the kingdom into practice – especially through small mission groups.
Scripture: The story of the circle of friends in Matthew 9:1-8, followed by Matthew’s party in 9:9-13, would be a natural introduction to the power of small groups “plotting goodness.” The Mark 2:1-17 version of the story is even more dramatic.
In many of our churches, we have favored preaching from Paul over preaching from Jesus. In other churches, we exegete texts very energetically but we don’t focus primarily on the person and message of Jesus. I hope that this book will help us get talking about Jesus more and more. I believe that Dan Kimball is right: in his book They Like Jesus but not The Church, he says that unchurched people really are curious about Jesus and want to hear more from him and about him. I hope this book will help those of us who preach and teach to do just that.


I worked for 24 years as a pastor, and I always appreciated it when a book helped frame a sermon series. You may simply wish to use these ideas as prompts for a sermon series – or you may want to encourage groups and classes in your church to read the book as you preach from it.
One suggestion: don’t run out and preach this book the week after you read it. Let the book begin to move you into action, and then you’ll preach it less as ideas from a book and more as something that flows from your heart and soul. Perhaps the best approach would be to read the book, then get a number of your leaders reading it, then get small groups and classes reading it, and then preach it – with help from all the people who have been engaging with the content for some period of time.
The book is organized into eight parts which would make a good eight-week sermon series. Or each part could become a series of a messages in its own right.

The first chapter talks about the importance of hope – which could connect to a sermon that contrasts two different kinds of hope practiced by Christians: one is the hope of “leaving behind” the earth and its problems for heaven. The other is the hope of God’s transformation of this planet. Chapters 2-4 seek to show unintended negative consequences of the former kind of hope, which is, sadly I think, probably prevalent in many of our churches these days.
To critique the “gospel of evacuation” approach, you may wish to read or re-tell the stories from East and South Africa which I include in these chapters, perhaps using scenes from the movie Hotel Rwanda to dramatize the problem. To dramatize the “gospel of transformation” approach, scenes from the movie Amazing Grace and the story of Wilberforce could be equally dramatic.
For ideas about preaching the kingdom of God as a message of transformation (not evacuation), see my book “The Secret Message of Jesus” and the “Sermon Ideas for Secret Message of Jesus” at www.brianmclaren.net. Jesus’ metaphors of salt (that penetrates food) and light (that penetrates darkness) and seeds (that penetrates soil) and nets (that penetrate water) offer images of penetration rather than evacuation (Matthew 5:13 ff; 13:1-52). And Jesus’ “downward mobility” in the incarnation (John 1:1-18) is our model for the downward mobility of incarnational living (Philippians 2:1-16).
You might also focus on Matthew 24:36-46. This passage is often used by supporters of the “left-behind” or “evacuation” gospel, but it actually undermines their view. You could point out the following:
1. The passage is framed by the image of Noah and the flood. Being “taken away” (24:39) is not being taken away to heaven by the rapture, as the supporters of “evacuation” say – it is being taken away by the flood of judgment. So, the goal is not to be the one taken away – it is to be the one left behind!
2. Being ready for judgment does not mean withdrawal from this world into a religious subculture – waiting to be evacuated, as is commonly practiced: being ready means being involved “giving food” to God’s servants. The point is intensified in the following chapter, where wise people prepare for the long haul and plan to keep their lights shining bright in the darkness (25:1-13); they use their gifts to advance God’s interests in the world (15:14-30); they show concern for “the least of these” (25:31-46).
Another theme that could become a strong sermon would be to contrast three kinds of confidence. Excessive confidence (this is the style of the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus’ day) could be illustrated powerfully through John 7:25 ff, John 8:12-59, and John 9:1-41 (culminating in “you claim you can see” –9:41). Their excessive confidence leads them to be willing to kill (8:1-31, which interrupts this section). At the opposite extreme is insufficient confidence – this is the unstable person (James 1:6-7, Ephesians 4:14) who hears but doesn’t act (Matthew 7:24 ff, 1 John 2:3-6, James 2:14 ff) or who has the right words but not the right action (Matthew 7:21-27).
The goal is “a proper confidence” – a term from Lesslie Newbigin – that describes faith that leads to action, trust that leads to obedience (John 13:12-17, which contrasts powerfully with Matthew 7:24 ff) and love that leads to action (John 14:12-21).
The key idea for a sermon on Part 1 would be to suggest that there are two very different understandings of the gospel afoot in our churches today: one is a gospel of evacuation and the other a gospel of transformation. One gospel says that God has given up on creation and plans to destroy it, extracting souls for a disembodied existence in heaven. The other gospel says that God is faithful to creation and is at work to heal it and save it from human sin, and promises that any sacrifice we make to be co-laborers with God in God’s saving and healing work will be amply rewarded in this life and the next. One gospel offers little hope for the earth and its inhabitants in history, and focuses their hope beyond this life only. The other gospel is good news for all people (Luke 2:10) offers hope for both this life and the life beyond.

This section explains my understanding of the four global crises, pictured through three gears and a central drive shaft in the societal machine.
A sermon based on this section could work from the Old Testament as follows:
The three gears:
Prosperity System: Life in God’s creation as a garden (Gen 1-2) where we have work to do, gathering fruit – within limits – and later tilling the soil, which suggests bringing out unrealized capacities of God’s world. The fields of science and education are evoked by the naming of creatures (Gen 2), and soon the arts and crafts are also explored (Gen 4:21).
Security System: But people can abuse God’s creation – and abuse one another through murder, theft, slavery, and other forms of oppression – exemplified by Cain and Abel and the story of the Flood (Gen 4-6). So, in a world scarred by sin, people need to protect themselves from one another (Gen 14:1-16 captures this beautifully).
Equity System: The laws deal with practical matters to help God’s people live equitable lives. Deuteronomy 14-15 or Exodus 21-23 would provide an excellent sampling of the kinds of laws needed to preserve equity. “National health care” could also be seen as an equity issue in Leviticus 13-15.
The central drive shaft:
This is the importance of a good framing story – such as you find providing background for the Sabbath (Gen 2:2) and the ten commandments (Exodus 20:2) and all the calls in the Old Testament to remember what God has done. Leviticus 19:33-34 provide an important example of a proper use of a framing story: the fact that the Jewish people had been oppressed in Egypt was never used to legitimize revenge, but instead to increase compassion for people (the alien and stranger) who could be oppressed by the Jewish people.
The key point of a sermon on the societal system would be to explain the Good News of the Kingdom of God as the framing story God calls us to live by. This story tells us that God is king of everyone – a theme which could be powerfully traced through the Gospel of Luke: women and men (Luke 1:39-81), the rich and the poor (Luke 16), our friends and our enemies (Luke 6:27-36), the righteous and the sinners (Luke 15), the Jews and the Gentiles (Luke 7:1-10), humans and other living things (Luke 12:22 ff). So, God calls us to be reconciled with God and with everyone, and this reconciliation requires repentance (Luke 13:1-9) and happens through God’s forgiveness of us, which we extend to others (Luke 17:1-10). It calls us to discipleship – which is learning to live in the way of the kingdom.

This is in many ways the theological core of the book. In many settings, it would be wise to contrast two views of Jesus (from Chapter 10), but in other settings, it would be wiser simply to focus on the emerging view, leaving any critique of the conventional view implied only. Any critique of the conventional view should be done gently and respectfully, avoiding needless offense.
Resituating Jesus within his historical setting can be done with almost every passage of the gospel, because the details of the stories – the identity of the Pharisees or Sadducees or a Roman centurion or a Sidonian woman, for example – require us to give the social, historical, political, religious, and economic context. You might find this analogy helpful: imagine trying to explain Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without any reference to the Civil War. That would be what we often do with Jesus’ words – we try to understand and apply them without understanding the overriding historical context of the Roman empire.
As for Scriptures to work from, Chapter 12 is overflowing with them, and Chapters 13 and 14 give several more passages a close reading. There would be a lot of sermon material to work with in these important chapters.


This section does in a kind of high-altitude fly-over what the following sections will do in more detail: show how Jesus’ teachings relate to the framing stories and societal systems of his day and ours. There would be a lot of sermon material in the critique of our contemporary societal systems – much of which could be easily illustrated through films and popular music. (If you send in some suggestions via the blog section at deepshift.org, others can benefit from your discoveries.)
The key Biblical focus from this section would be the discussion of eschatology in Chapter 18, where I say, “Eschatology always wins.” My language of a “fake-me out first coming” may be too strong for some congregations to handle, but the issue needs to be made clear: if our understanding of the so-called Second Coming undermines or overturns the revelation of God in Christ through his actual coming, we have a serious theological problem. Central to this sermon would be drawing attention to the sword of Revelation 19:15 – which comes out of Jesus’ mouth. This is really one of the most important points of the book.
Matthew’s story of the Canaanite woman and its context (Matthew 14-15) would be a powerful way to convey some of the key issues of this section. The Scriptures presented in Chapter 22 would all be ripe for exploration in a sermon on the security strategy of Jesus. Also very significant regarding Jesus’ way of peace would be to exposit John 18, as was done back in Chapter 14.
The contrast between Dr. King’s approach and the approach of the other quoted leaders at the end of Chapter 22 could help congregations see two very different ways of applying the Scriptures to our contemporary situation. As that chapter suggests, I recommend avoiding getting paralyzed and polarized around old debates between pacifism and just war theory if possible, and try to lift the dialogue “above the line” (a phrase that will make sense to readers of A New Kind of Christian).
In times of war, it takes a lot of courage to deal with these passages. Only courageous, humble, and “prayed-up” preachers and teachers will be able to do so effectively, and even then, there will probably be bitter opposition because of the widespread and addictive “high” (or “warrior trance”) that war produces, as described in these chapters. One must be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.

It will be important, in preaching from this section, to carefully define theocapitalism so people know you are not attacking a more modest, non-absolutized capitalism. The structure of this section invites contrasting Law One of theocapitalism with Law One of Jesus’ teaching – and so could be either a four-part sermon, or four sermons – or more. The quotes and stories from Jesus – which fill Chapters 25 and 26 – would provide a lot of sermon material. Jesus had so much to say about wealth and its proper use – and this is absolutely essential teaching for wealthy Westerners in the 21st century!
This material could be developed into a retreat or class for business people in your congregation – again, if you develop it, please share it at the deepshift.org blog.

Chapter 27 would obviously fit well in a Christmas season sermon (or just before or after Advent), with a performance of Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus.” The information on the growing gap between rich and poor could also be useful when inviting people to give to special projects that will help the poor. (Please don’t use these for a building fund though!)
A well-known preacher and author recently criticized me by asserting that Jesus had no social agenda. I would hope that the Scriptures that fill Chapter 28 would set the record straight on that matter. Of special interest would be the explanation of stewards given in this chapter, and in Chapter 12. Also important in this chapter is the discussion of social or collective sin – a subject relatively few Christian seem to understand in our highly individualized age.
Much could be done by using Micah 6:8 as a framework for three sermons drawn from Jesus’ teaching – about walking humbly with God (which everybody agrees is good), about showing compassion (which more people are waking up to), and about doing justice (which relatively few seem to endorse).
The Bible has so much to say about poverty – and Jesus exemplifies this powerfully – that the seven categories for addressing poverty in Chapter 30 could be helpful in a sermon, when we say, “Yes, we want to help the poor, but how?” This kind of sermon could be especially good around the Christmas season, if we invite people to give to the poor either directly or indirectly, as explained in this chapter. With so much complaint (legitimate in too many cases) about “organized religion,” the idea of “religion organizing for the common good” could be useful for leadership groups, including denominational leaders.


In a sense, this section is a simple call to faith – to disbelieve one framing story and believe another. Jesus’ teaching about “faith that can move mountains” and his many post-healing affirmations of “your faith has saved you” would take on new meaning in this light (Matthew 17:20).
The “covert curriculum” discussion could help pastors talk about abortion as a symptom of a deeper issue, and show how that deeper issue is equally related to global climate change. This kind of category-crossing is especially important for pastors to do in an election year, when Christians can get sucked into partisan ideologies that divide and fill people with aggression and pride; in contrast, the message of the kingdom of God calls people to repent in humility and come together in reconciliation.
My decision to conclude the book with a call to faith rather than a call to action suggests, I hope, three things:
1. Without faith, our action won’t be sufficient or sustainable.
2. Required actions will vary based on context, but the faith issue is universal.
3. True faith will be expressed in action … and that action flows naturally when the faith issue is dealt with.
If you preach sermons flowing from this book, I hope you will invite people to faith – and then action. I hope that we, inspired by faith, will all be inspired to encourage one another “to love and good works.”