Archive for January, 2007

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Firm Foundations (part 1)

January 17, 2007

I have the great priviledge (which not everyone enjoys) of being part of a team ministry. Not only so, but as a fledgling preacher I have the blessing of sitting under the ministry of an experienced and gifted expositor.

Peter Grainger has been the Senior Pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel since 1992, faithfully preaching in a pulpit which has been previously occupied by the likes of Gerald Griffiths, Sidlow Baxter, Alan Redpath, Alistair Begg and Derek Prime.

Several years ago Peter released a book called Firm Foundations. The book “includes sermon outlines for over 150 sermons, introductions on preaching a whole book, a verse, a topical series, a psalm, Old and New Testament; and recommended books for further study. It is designed to help old and new pastors alike, and could also be used in personal bible study.”

In the excerpt below Peter Grainger explains how he prepares to preach. This is posted with his permission. To listen to Rev Grainger’s sermons, follow this link (more recent sermons can be downloaded). His latest sermon on Jeremiah 29 is typical of his high-standard fare.

Preparing to Preach
One of the questions I am most frequently asked about my role as a Pastor is, ‘How long does it take you to prepare a sermon?’ Most people are surprised by my answer, ‘At least ten hours and often as long as fifteen or even twenty hours.’ The assumption seems to be that, as with any other task, the person who performs it regularly will be able to complete it quickly – and certainly much more speedily than the ocassional ‘amateur.’

However, while the trained preacher may have a facility with the Biblical text and languages and a familiarity with the Biblical resources that others lack, none the less the task of sermon preparation is very demanding, and time consuming. The main reason for this is that preaching is unlike any other responsibility of presenting God’s Word to a congregation – and to the same congregation every Sunday (often morning and evening) for many years.

Such a task, if carried out faithfully and undertaken seriously, can never be a mere mechanical process, but is something living and vital which occupies my thinking and praying (and even sleeping!) moments throughout the week – and not just the ten to twenty hours of study.

Choosing the subject
The first task of the preacher is deciding which Biblical passage and particular subject to preach on. While the practice of preaching on unrelated topics every week and was favoured by famous preaching such as CH Spurgeon, the expository preaching method of preaching through a Biblical book or theme has much to commend it – especially in a long term ministry in the same church.

However, while the topic and passage for each sermon are planned beforehand, considerable thought and prayer is needed before deciding on a series and its relevance to a particular congregation. There is nothing worse than wondering, in week four of a two year series on 1 John, whether you have made a wrong choice!

The wise pastor knows his congregation and their needs and history, so he chooses his series prayerfully and carefully, often in discussion with other leaders in the church. So, for example, I began my ministry in Charlotte Chapel with a series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1-3 as a diagnostic check-list of the kind of church we were and what the Spirit was saying to this particular church at this specific point in history.

How long should a series last? This depends partly on the topic or book that is chosen but is also determined by other factors. While many have tried to imitate the practice of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who spend several years on one New Testament Epistle, I believe that the level of Biblical literacy is so poor these days, that newcomers to the Christian faith need a broader exposure to a whole range of Scripture over a shorter period (added to which very few of us have the ability of the Doctor to sustain such long in-depth series).

It has been our practice in Charlotte Chapel to adopt a particular theme and verse for each year which is usually addressed on Sunday mornings. So, for example, our theme for 1997 was “Building on the Rock” – a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount with the key verse of Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

This series of thirty-four messages took the whole year (allowing for special Sundays and seasons) but most series are much shorter – for example, the series on John the Baptist, “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”, which was only six sermons.

We also try to provide a balanced diet for the congregation, often having a series from the Old Testament in the morning and one from the New Testament in the evening, or an evening evangelistic series aimed at seekers, alternating with a morning teaching series directed towards Christians.


Next week, we follow up with part two where Peter covers further practicalities of how he prepares specific messages.

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Householders without Treasure

January 16, 2007

Today’s Classic Materials is a challenge from Charles Bridges’ classic book The Christian Ministry. Some powerful challenges here. Do we have substance in our sermons? Do the sermons we hear generally have ‘substantial’ content? And if so, how do we proportion the right amount so that we don’t leave the congregation overwhelmed?

“No powers of imagination, natural eloquence, or vehement excitement can compensate for the want of substantial matter. The ‘pastors according to God’s heart will feed the people with knowledge and understanding.’ But except there be a gathering proportionate to the expenditure, there can be no store of knowledge and understanding for distribution to the people.

Preachers of this stamp are generally known by their general want of variety. It is substantially not only (what it always ought to be) the same doctrine, but nearly the same sermon. If a new text may be expected, yet it is the repitition of the same thoughts, attenuated with regular but more wearisome uniformity.

They are ‘householders’, but without ‘treasure.’ The ‘old’ indeed they can readily ‘bring forth’ but where is the ‘new’?

This poverty of thought cannot be justly chargeable upon their resources. For there is no characteristic of Scripture more striking, than the diversified aspects and relations, in which it presents the same truths, fraught with fresh interest and important instruction.”

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Doing Family Devotions

January 15, 2007

Well its Monday, and for me, a welcome day off. But as far as family is concerned, there are no days off. In terms of bringing up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, no holidays. This is a priveledged yet difficult task for fathers. And I for one have much to learn.

Below you can read an article I’m taking time to ponder today courtesy of Irish Calvinist. Use it to reflect on how well you are being a pastor at home.

Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The Scripture is pretty clear on the fact that we have a responsibility to be training our children in the truth. Christian fathers in particular have a responsibility to be leading and training their families in the Revelation of God.

Many men struggle in the area of family devotions. It is kind of like evangelism, we know we have to do it but it is the doing it that is the problem.

Because I have echoed the Scriptures command for you and me to act like men and because some folks have requested that I talk about it, this is a quick guide to doing family devotions.

What follows is not an exhaustive how-to manual but rather some things that we do in trying to “teach them diligently” (Duet. 6.4) as God has commanded. Most of these things are things that we do, I am not saying that everyone has to do them, but rather supply suggestions in effort to be helpful.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Workman’s Toolbox

January 13, 2007

As we take a breather before Sunday, let’s look round the blogs once more with an eye on things for preachers.

Preaching
* John Brand, who preached two excellent sermons at our church last year, has started a new blog on preaching.
* Mark Driscoll has just completed a 12 part series on the life of Jesus. Listen or watch Vintage Jesus here.
* I just loved this article: the joy of expositional preaching (HT: The Thirsty Theologian)
* For those who have followed the series, Steve Weaver has completed his six part series: How I prepare an Expository Sermon. He finished just in time to get to the hospital for the arrival of baby number five (I’m not kidding)
* Some useful sermon quotes from the five15 blog
* A bible atlas together with Google maps? See here. (HT: Transforming Sermons)

Theology
* Nathan Busenitz is ready to readdress the charismatic question
* Reformation 21 magazine reviews what looks like an excellent book on the theme of assurance.
* Founders Blog on why Jesus should be the theme of Pastoral Ministry
* Something of interest to those who love John Owen – the intriguing question of his attitude to Ireland.
* What is likely to be a helpful book, Listening to the beliefs of Emerging Churches, is due to be released soon. For more information, click here. (HT: JT)
* Also four views on baptism (HT: JT)

Miscellaneous
* A free PDF version of John Piper’s new book When the Darkness will not lift is now available online (HT: JT)
* Speaking of Piper, read his recent compelling sermon: How to deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause. Applicable to all, but especially aimed at younger people.
* One of the most popular posts on WordPress this week: “Twenty ways to manage your Dos.”
* In the States, it begins again on Sunday. I can’t imagine it will be long before we get “The Gospel according to 24.” (HT: JT)

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The Case for Preaching (part 2)

January 12, 2007

Last Friday (on the Case for preaching part 1) we considered some voices from the past in support of preaching. This week, I’d like to turn to the bible itself. Does Scripture make a case for preaching? You decide.

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Old Testament

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Ex 9:16 – the first preacher?)

“In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the LORD had commanded him concerning them.” (Deut 1:3)

“The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets.” (2 Kings 24:2)

“So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo.” (Ez 6:14)

“My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.” (Ps 71:15-17)

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ” ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.” (Jer 2:2)

“The LORD said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them.” (Jer 11:6)

“Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 21:2)

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)

“Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.” (Zech 1:14)


New Testament

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea..” (Mat 3:1)

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mat 4:24)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Mat 24:14)

“Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”” (Mk 1:38)

“He appointed twelve—designating them apostles —that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mt 3:14)

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Is 61:1; Lk 4:18)

“So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” (Lk 9:6)

“He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:46,47)

“They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 4:2)

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5:42)

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4)

“When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.” (Acts 8:25)

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)

“But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.” (Acts 15:36)

“As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.” (Acts 17:2-3)

“When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:5)

“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 – Paul)

“Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31)

“God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you.” (Rom 1:9)

“That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” (Rom 1:15)

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15)

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor 1:17)

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe….but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:21, 23)

“Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:2)

“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5)

“But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil 1:18)

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Col 1:28)

“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Col 4:3,4)

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13)

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2)

“For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Pet 1:24)

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1)

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” (Rev 14:6)

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Montgomery Boice on Ephesians 1

January 11, 2007

Last week’s Workman Watch (Tim Keller on Luke 15) stimulated a lot of profitable discussion. Today I hope turning to James Montgomery Boice might be just as productive. As with last week: listen to the talk, compare notes, and if you’ve heard Boice before, share what you found helpful in his preaching.

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What was the opening sentence to the sermon? “I’m especially glad to be here to teach Ephesians this year because it seems to me that there’s probably never been a better time in the history of the church to pay attention to the teachings of this book; because this book of Ephesians – this letter of Paul’s – is a miniature theology of the church.”

What was the introduction about? The need to get back to the biblical view of how the church is built. Boice suggested that the problem with the modern church is that we are too man-centred in our ecclesiology. Ephesians, on the other hand, is about how the church functions to please and glorify God.

What was the main point? Salvation is all the work of the sovereign God: Father, Son and Spirit.

What was the sermon structure?
Literary Context - the book of Ephesians
Historical Context - brief description of Ephesus (a capital, commercial and corrupt)

1. Election (God the Father)
– election eliminates boasting
– election leads to holiness
– election encourages evangelism

2. Redemption (Christ, the Son)
-a definition of redemption
-an illustration of redemption from Hosea

3. Application (The Spirit)
– the Spirit works through the Word
– pointing to Christ

What illustrations were used? There weren’t many. An illustration of BB Warfield leafing through a hymn book and pointing out those which reference “redemption” – such is the prevalence of the concept. The Hosea redemption illustration was used at length and was ultimately applied to Christ, who bid above the world with the price of his own blood.

What were the applications?

One main application was to respond like Paul to these great truths in prayer: “Why does he pray if God works through it all? Because God works through means. And one of those means is our prayers….You know, some of us who are wrapped up in the great doctrines of grace, I’m not sure always pray as we ought. And here Paul is an example. And its challenge to us because Paul certainly understood these things (and looked to God for salvation from beginning to end) yet he prays, and prays fervently.”

Boice’s pre-eminent challenge is that we embrace a God-centred theology of the church: “Unless we have a kind of theology that says it is from God from beginning to end, until we have that, we really are not going to see the fulness of God’s blessing on our churches, and the kind of blessing we need. Nor are we going to have the strength in our theology and convictions to stand against a hostile world.”

What aspects of the preacher’s style did you find helpful? Perhaps most striking was the way that Boice drummed home the main point. This came out in the introduction, throughout the sermon, and strongly at the end. Helpfully, this was not vain repitition, but carefully crafted restatements of the central thought. Further, I appreciated Boice’s plain, unadorned style. He had no catchy introduction and illustrations were spare. It was a reminder to me that great preaching can be devoid of these things, providing the explanations are clear, vivid and full of conviction.

What was the final sentence? “We need a revival, a new reformation, but we’re not going to see it until we understand these things and can say from the bottom of our heart that only God receives the glory – and He certainly will!”

How long was the sermon? 51 mins, 22 seconds

What one aspect from Boice will I try to take over into my own preaching? Boice modelled for me how I might preach on a bigger section – especially one loaded with vast ideas (Ephesians 1!). The basic approach seems to be: isolate the dominant thought and furnish the sermon by selecting suitable supporting material from the passage. In this way, Boice still left us satisfied, without exhausting the passage in all its detail.

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How Stott Prepares a Sermon

January 10, 2007

I’m always interested in the preparation methods of others. While each preacher must ultimately find their own route to the sermon, much can no doubt be gained as we examine the rigourous methods of seasoned preachers.

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I was intrigued, therefore, to recently come across a summary of John Stott’s preparation steps (putting in short form what he expands on in Between two Worlds). Thanks to the website Xenos for this link which I’ve quoted in full.

I. Choose your text

A. It is best to rely on expository book studies for the steady diet of your people, because this ensures they will get “the whole counsel of God.”

B. However, the following may be occasions for special sermons:

1. Special calendar occasions: Christmas, Easter, etc.
2. Special external circumstances which are in the public mind.
3. Special needs discerned by the preacher or others.
4. Truths which have specially inspired the preacher.

C. Keep a notebook to scribble down ideas for sermons, insights, burdens, illustrations, etc. Record them immediately wherever they come to mind, because you will usually forget them later.

II. Meditate on the text

A. Whenever possible, plan out texts weeks or months in advance. This gives the benefit of “subconscious incubation”.

B. Concentrated “incubation” should begin at least one week before preaching. It should involve the following:

1. Read, re-read, and re-re-read the text.
2. Be sure you understand what it means. Do your own interpretive work. Don’t use commentaries until you have formulated specific interpretive questions which you have been unable to answer, or until you have completed your interpretive work.
3. Brood longer over how it applies to your people, to the culture, to you, etc.
4. Pray for God to illuminate the text, especially its application.
5. Scribble down notes of thoughts, ideas, etc.
6. Solicit the insights of others through tapes, talking with other preachers, etc.

III. Isolate the dominant thought

(This is the purpose of section II.)

A. Your sermon should convey only one major message. All of the details of your sermon should be marshaled to help your people grasp that message and feel its power.

B. You should be able to express the dominant thought in one short, clear, vivid sentence.

IV. Arrange your material to serve the dominant thought

A. Chisel and shape your material. Ruthlessly discard all material which is irrelevant to the dominant thought. Subordinate the remaining material to the dominant thought by using that material to illuminate and reinforce the dominant thought.

B. Your sermon structure should be suited to the text, not artificially imposed. Avoid structure which is too clever, prominent or complex.

C. Decide on your method of preaching for this text: argumentation, faceting, categorizing, analogy, etc.

D. Carefully choose words that are precise, simple, clear, vivid and honest. Write out the key sections, phrases, and sentences to help you in your word choice. Stick to short declarative and interrogative sentences with few, if any, subordinate clauses.

E. Come up with illustrations and examples which will explain and convict. Employ a wide variety: figures of speech, images, retelling biblical stories in contemporary language, inventing fresh parables, retelling true historical and/or biographical events, etc. Keep a file of these, especially if they do not come easily to you. Avoid making illustrations and examples so prominent that they detract from the dominant thought. Also, avoid applying them inappropriately or overusing them.

V. Add the introduction and conclusion

A. The introduction should not be elaborate, but enough to arouse their curiosity, wet their appetites and introduce the dominant thought. This can be done by a variety of means: explaining the setting of the passage, story, current event or issue, etc.

B. The conclusion should not merely recapitulate your sermon–it should apply it. Obviously, you should be applying all along, but you should keep something for the end which will prevail upon your people to take action. “No summons, no sermon.” Preach though the head to the heart (i.e. the will). The goal of the sermon should be to “storm the citadel of the will and capture it for Jesus Christ.” What do you want them to do? Employ a variety of methods to do this:

1. Argument: anticipate objections and refute them
2. Admonition: warn of the consequences of disobedience
3. Indirect Conviction: arouse moral indignation and then turn it on them (Nathan with David)
4. Pleading: apply the gentle pressure of God’s love, concern for their well-being, and the needs of others
5. Vision: paint a picture of what is possible through obedience to God in this area

VI. Write down and pray over your message

A. Writing out your sermon forces you to think straight and sufficiently. It exposes lazy thinking and cures it. After you are thoroughly familiar with your outline, reduce it to small notes.

B. Pray the God will enable you to “so possess the message that the message possesses you.”

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Theology on Fire!

January 9, 2007

Today’s Classic Materials certainly lives up to its name. It’s Martyn Lloyd Jones (in Preaching and Preachers) with his vintage definition of preaching:

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“There was an old preacher whom I knew very well in Wales. He was a very able old man and a good theologian; but, I am sorry to say that, he had a tendency to cynicism. But he was a very acute critic. On one ocassion he was present at a synod in the final session of which two men were preaching. Both these men were professors of theology.

The first man preached, and when he had finished this old preacher, this old critic turned to his neighbour and said, ‘Light without heat.’ Then the second professor preached – he was an older man and somewhat emotional. When he had finished the old cynic turned to his neighbour and said, ‘Heat without light.’

Now he was right in both cases. But the important point is that both preachers were defective. You must have light and heat, sermon plus preaching.

Light without heat never affects anybody; heat without light is of no permanent value. It may have a passing temporal effect but it does not really help your people and build them up and really deal with them.

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason!

Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. Reason concerning this Truth ought to be mightily eloquent, as you see it in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.

A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsover to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.”

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20 Reasons to Read (Good Christian Books)

January 8, 2007

“So what did you do over the holidays?” In any honest answer, I always have to include “reading.” Yes – like many pastoral colleagues – I am somewhat obsessed with books.

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My Christmas holidays confirmed it. Looking forward to a book free zone for a few weeks, I still managed to turn the pages. In the end, I concluded Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R Kent Hughes and ploughed my way through three other books (Daniel Doriani: Putting the Truth to Work; Gaius Davis: Stress; Karl Graustein: Growing up Christian).

And I’m still hungry for more. I’ve just started Anchor Man by Steve Farrar, whilst John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and Andreas Kostenberger’s God, Marriage and Family sit on my shelf like two pieces of choice steak.

What is wrong with me? Why is it that I find books so helpful? The fact is that many Christians (including some pastors) don’t seem to. At the very least, they need some convincing.

So I’ve drawn up a list. As I’ve pondered it, here’s some of the reasons why I read books and why I think you should too.

A couple of qualifications before I get started. Firstly, I remain convinced that reading Scripture is primary. Let me also add that I’m mainly talking about Christian books and most certainly good Christian books. Tell me what you think…

20 Reasons to Read (Good Christian Books)

1. You will grow in your knowledge of God, yourself and the world around you
2. You will gain a better understanding of the bible, the book of books
3. You will broaden your English vocabluary, helping you to express similar truths to your congregation in fresh ways
4. You will have an improved imagination and actively engage your mind in a way that probably won’t occur when watching TV
5. You will be able to sit at the feet of some of the great Christian teachers and minds over the centuries (even if you have few ‘living’ teachers to assist you)
6. You will be forced to cease from incessant activity and think
7. You will receive a historical perspective on current problems and spot present day blindspots
8. You will have some of your questions answered and confront other questions you hadn’t even thought of
9. You will be able to practically apply Paul’s command to think upon “wholesome” things
10. You will develop a sense of how arguments are constructed and be able to weigh both strong and weak arguments
11. You will enjoy spiritual input during the week, not just on a Sunday (if not a pastor)
12. You will (if a pastor) be able to enage with other issues beyond this week’s text, thus broadening your perspective.
13. You will be able to mull over a subject. You will be able to put the book down to think, chew over a sentance or re-read a paragraph. You will be able to exploring an issue at length, rather than brush over a topic too quickly
14. You will be better prepared for the task of evangelism, after reading clear presentations of the gospel by great communicators
15. You will be better prepared for the task of discipleship, having a good way to open up discussion about Christian life issues (what are you reading?)
16. You will be made aware of how Christians interpret and apply Scripture differently in various cultural contexts
17. You will gain information for your ignorance, inspiration for your weariness, and insight for complex problems
18. You will be better equipped to lead in your church, marriage and family
19. You will be stimulated, as in a good conversation, to new lines of thinking
20. You will be drawn to worship God, especially when the book centres on God not man

So…what are you reading?

(Note: article has been amended from 21 reasons to 20, since several kind readers have pointed out a duplicate reason)

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Workman’s Toolbox – Jan 6th 2007

January 6, 2007

As we draw to the end of the first official week of Unashamed Workman, its time to look around the blogs for things of interest to preachers:

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Preaching
* Steve Weaver tells us how we can download his sermons. He also continues his intriguing series on how he prepares sermons.
* Is it just me, or is Ed Young’s promise to launch a new sermon series by wrestling Hulk Hogan a little over the top? He’s serious.
* At the outset of a new year, Thabiti Anyabwile (with a little inspiration from Ligon Duncan) has an inspiring reflection for the new year especially aimed at pastors.
* Find here all of John MacArthur’s Grace to You sermons for 2006 – they are free, but you must register first. (HT: PJ Tibayan)
* A great quote courtesy of Expository Thoughts on why we should preach the Old Testament.
* Ryan Wentzel has some useful advice on how to listen to a sermon.

Theology
* I just love this post by Phil Johnston exposing the danger of taking a ‘balanced approach’ to every issue. Amen to cutting the tightrope!
* The new Reformation 21 is available with a focus on John Owen. (HT: The Conventicle)
* Over at Shepherd’s Scrapbook, Tony Reinke explains Humble Calvinism.
* The latest Nine Marks newsletter is now available: this month’s theme is friendship within the context of the church.
* Ligon Duncan reflects on preparation for corporate worship over at Together for the Gospel.
* Thabiti has two stimulating posts on the relationship between church and culture. (part one, part two)

Miscellaneous
* I have to link to my wife’s blog again. After all, she and her cohorts are Challies King for a Week.
* For those pastors who work with messy desks, here’s a post you’ll appreciate: Yes to mess. (HT: Justin Taylor)
* This newscaster clip has absolutely nothing to do with preaching, but is hilarious, whilst leaving you feeling sorry for the guy! (HT: Justin Taylor)
* At the outset of a New Year, John MacArthur helpfully groups Jonathan Edwards 70 resolutions into a more concise 10.

Finally…
on the first week of daily postings on this blog, thanks to those who have linked to me and increased Unashamed Workman’s exposure:
- Justin Taylor: not once but twice!
- Phil Johnson
- Milton Stanley
- Beginning with Moses
- Expository Thoughts
- Scriptorium Daily
- titus2talk
- Tim Challies!

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The Case for Preaching (part 1)

January 5, 2007

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We’ve all heard the criticisms. From the subtle jibe, “the preacher went on a bit this morning” (which persists no matter how short the sermon gets) to the blatant diatrabe, “preaching is an outdated form of communication.”

It seems that despite all the advances in 21st century education, attention spans are shorter than ever. Moreover, in an image conscious culture people cannot deal with an onslaught of words.

Apparently. But this blog – and an increasing number of evangelicals – takes a different view. We believe on the basis of Scripture that there remains a place for preaching. A pre-eminent place.

So over the next four Friday’s (see blog format) I’d like us to freshly consider the grounds for preaching’s priority. Most importantly, we’ll consider some of the biblical data that supports preaching in parts two and three. I hope these reflections might win a few converts to preaching’s importance. May they also encourage those who feel unduly threatened by that anti-preaching sentiment which often lurks in the evangelical shadows.

Today, let me simply offer some quotes from across the span of church history in favour of preaching. Chew them over. Tell me if you think they are overstated or underrated.

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“Only one means and one way to cure has been given us….and that is the teaching of the Word. This is the best instrument, this the best diet and climate; this one method must be used and without it nothing else will avail.” (John Chrysostom)

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“The highest service that men may attain on earth is to preach the Word of God. The Church is honoured most by the preaching of the Word of God, and hence this is the best service that priests may render to God.” (John Wycliffe)

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“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And when, while I slept, or drank Wittenberge beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such a damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.” (Martin Luther -on the Reformation)

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“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached from the heart and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s instruction, there, it is not to be doubted, a Church of God exists.” (John Calvin)

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“In every age of Christianity, since John the Baptist drew crowds in the desert, there has been no great religious movement, no restoration of Scripture truth, and reanimation of genuine piety, without new power in preaching, both as cause and effect.” (John Broadus)

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“I fear none of us apprehend as we ought to do the value of the preacher’s office. Our young men do not gird themselves for it with the spirit of those who are on the eve of a great conflict; nor do they prepare as those who are to lay hands upon the springs of the mightiest passions, and stir up to their depths the ocean of human feelings. Where this estimate of the work prevails, men even of inferior training accomplish much….The pulpit will still remain the grand means of effecting the mass of men. It is God’s own method, and he will honour it…In every age, great reformers have been preachers.” (James W Alexander)

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“The supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching. This is a day in which one of our great perils is that of doing a thousand little things to the neglect of the one thing, which is preaching.” (G Campbell Morgan)

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“…to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition, I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” (Lloyd Jones)

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“I confess to being…an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching both for evangelism and for the healthy growth of the Church. The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it less necessary.” (John Stott)

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“Regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered, that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable, authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scriptures with a new purpose, passion and power.” (Walter Kaiser)

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“Preaching the Word of God, teaching the Word of God is a critical function in the life of the church. And, of course, we live in a time when preaching is being depreciated and it is being set aside in favor of other forms of communication. But the essential reality for the church, that which basically dictates its strength or weakness, is the character of its preaching and teaching. You show me a church where there is strong biblical preaching and teaching, and I will show you strong people and strong ministry. You show me a church where there is weak biblical preaching and I will show you a church with weak people and weak ministry. That’s just how it goes because the Word of God is the food that makes believers mature and strong.” (John MacArthur)

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“If we hope to see genuine revival and reformation, there must be a return of power to the pulpit. Spirit-anointed preaching is the great need of the day. Let us labor to reestablish its priority in our churches. And let us pray for those whose job it is to fulfill the holy calling of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. May God grant us a revival of true preaching.” (Tom Ascol)

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“That is my longing for our day—and for you. That God would raise up thousands of broken-hearted, Bible-saturated preachers who are dominated by a sense of the greatness and the majesty and the holiness of God, revealed in the gospel of Christ crucified and risen and reigning with absolute authority over every nation and every army and every false religion and every terrorist and every tsunami and every cancer cell, and every galaxy in the universe.” (John Piper)

Finally, for a brief history of preaching, have a scan of this interesting article.

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Tim Keller on Luke 15

January 4, 2007

Its Thursday and so we kick off what I’ve called “Workman Watch.” This first sermon is from a preacher I very much admire, Tim Keller. The sermon is called “The Prodigal Sons” and was preached here in Scotland at the Tron in Glasgow.

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Let me give one disclaimer before plunging in: this will not be a detailed sermon critique. Most of these invidivuals have bags more preaching talent than I’ll ever have! What I do hope is to glean something from their examples of expository preaching.

Perhaps some of you might take time to listen to the talk and compare notes with me on what you found helpful. (Or if you’ve heard them elsewhere, do thrown in your tuppenceworth in the comments section.)

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What was the opening sentence?
The parable that we’ve just read is very famous, and is almost always called the parable of the Prodigal son; but Jesus does not call it that.”

What was Keller’s introduction about? Drawing out the point that if you focus mainly on the younger brother you will sentamentalise the parable.

What was the structure of the sermon?
1) That there are two worldly approaches to God which are wrong
* Moralistic approach (elder brother):
* Relativistic approach (younger brother):

2) There are therefore two ways to be lost and alienated from God
* Trying to be very good
* Trying to be very bad
But in both cases, trying to be your own Saviour.

3) There is only one way home

The main point? The only way to approach God is on the basis of sheer grace.

Did he deal thoroughly with the text? Keller works hard to bring the original context to life. For example, he shows at length how the original hearers would not have heard this parable in a sentimental way: “this parable was not told to warm our hearts, but explode every human category of what it means to approach God.” He also carefully explains from the preceding section how Jesus was aiming this parable at a dual audience: thus the tax collectors equate to the younger brother, while the Pharisees correlate to the older. Furthermore, Keller eventually covers the scope of the text, without unpacking every detail.


What aspects of Keller’s style was helpful?
The overarching thing that strikes me is Keller’s clarity. As I reflect on why this is so, I note a couple of things: 1) He puts his sermon signposts up front, even before his first point. This always aids to help with clarity. That said, the main points don’t reveal too much (the sermon is basically inductive) and therefore some suspense is retained. 2) Keller’s use of language is mainly plain and he is particularly adept at using terms which the unchurched person can understand. Nevertheless, he does use the odd big word. i.e. “moralistic and relativistic approach” might not be understood by an uneducated person. And 3) Dr Keller frequently uses restatement: saying the same truth in different words to aid the listener’s comprehension.

What was the application? A challenge for the individual: “There’s more of the elder brother in us than we like to think, and less of Jesus in us than we like to think.” A challenge for the church: “Why are tax collector types not as attracted to our churches as they were to Jesus?” ‘Is it because we are like the Pharisees’, Keller asks? Keller’s ultimate remedy is that we need to understand grace – and for that, we have to focus on the true elder brother, Jesus Christ.

What was the closing sentence of the sermon? “We will never stop being elder brothers in our hearts, until we see the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.”


If there’s one thing you could take from Keller into your own preaching, what would it be?
Its hard to isolate one aspect, but I think Keller challenges me as to how well I connect the two worlds of the bible and contemporary culture. Keller’s ability to study the bible is, of course, foundational. But its his use of the bible in a sermon like this to diagnose the culture around him that makes him especially helpful to listen to.

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For more free Tim Keller sermons, click here.
For Tim Keller sermons you pay for, click here.
Over at Reformissionary Steve McCoy has lots of stuff on all things Keller.

[Next Workman Watch - James Montgomery Boyce]

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