Archive for September, 2007

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‘Preach The Word’ Audio

September 28, 2007

The first “Preach the Word” seminar took place on September 15th 2007 in Harper Memorial Church, Glasgow. Whilst sadly unable to make it myself, I have already been blessed by the audio they have made available. Dominic Smart, a gifted expositor from Aberdeen gave the talks.

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(Photo courtesy of Preach the word)

“God uses preaching like nothing else” (audio)
- pdf outline
Exposition of Acts 8:26-40 (audio)
- pdf outline
Dominic’s Notes on Sermon Preparation pdf

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Other Toolbox This Week
Respectable Sins: Jerry Bridges New Book
On Sermon Subscription Series
Review: Its all in how you Tell it (Haddon Robinson)
Not Indespensible, Pastor
Taylor, Duncan and Thomas Discuss Forgiveness
A Friendly Discussion With Expository Thoughts Over Apostolic Hermeneutics
Reading the Psalms With Wenham
Challies – Five Years!
An Exercise For Preachers
Interview With Iain D Campbell: Watching Life and Doctrine
Piper Video: How Failed Kingship in Israel Ultimately Glorified Christ
Hate Commitees?
Who are You Preaching To?

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Minor Reconstruction

September 27, 2007

Almost a year into Unashamed Workman, I’ve decided to make my first substantial change to the blog format. If you make this blog a regular stop, you will know that I usually blog six days – Monday through Saturday- with an exclusive focus on preaching. For sake of better balance and slightly reduced workload (blogs are a lot of work!!) I’ve decided to make two significant changes.

1. Posting will reduce to only five days: Monday to Friday. Stats tell me that a lot of you only check in on weekdays anyway.

2. Without diminishing the predominant preaching focus of Unashamed Workman, I’m hoping to dedicate one of the five days to pastoral matters. Though even more of a novice in this area than in preaching, it is fundamental to any preacher’s ministry to learn how to pastor the flock, both in the pulpit and beyond. Partly because this will help me to reflect more in this area – and partly since so few Christian blogs touch on pastoral matters – I hope this minor alteration might modestly attempt to begin plugging a huge gap.

So here is the future format:

BEYOND THE WORKSHOP (Monday)- all things beyond pastoral ministry. Focusing on our role as people, pastors of our homes, husbands etc.

CLASSIC MATERIALS (Tuesday)- Some helpful quote, usually on the theme of preaching

UNDER CONSTRUCTION (Wednesday): – This is where I reflect on my own preaching. Sometimes this will involve discussing an issue, other times it will be an interview, still at other times we will review a sermon.

BUILDING MAINTENANCE (Thursday): – The Pastoral Care focus.

WORKMAN’S TOOLBOX (Friday): – Rundown of the week’s links, especially suitable for preachers

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Four Application Questions

September 26, 2007

Yesterday, one commenter mentioned how challenging application can be and how few preachers do it well. As usual, Bryan Chapell has some helpful suggestions in this regard. In broad terms he says that preachers must ask four crucial questions.

1. What does God require of me? (Instructional specificity)

“…a preacher must discern the biblical principles reflected in the text that were directed to the people of that time and then apply them to the people of this time. These universal principles are then applied by giving instructions consistent with and derived from the text that direct believers in present actions, attitudes, and/or beliefs.” (Christ Centered Preaching, p 215)

2. Where does God require it of me? (Situational specifity)

“Think through the types of people – young parents, harassed clerks, lonely teens, new believers, tired saints – whose situations require scriptural guidance, comfort and challenge. Preachers cannot speak to all groups every week, but since people confront no temptation but such as is common to all, speaking to specifics will have relevance to each person.” (Christ Centered Preaching, p 217)

3. Why must we do what God requires? (Motivation)

“Guilt drives sinners to the cross, but grace must lead us from there or we cannot serve God. Christ-centered preaching keeps redemption by grace alone as central to the message of sermons as it is to the scope of Scripture. This is necessary because there is no more powerful motivation for holiness than loving God in response to the revelation of his redeeming character and eternal promises.” (Christ Centered Preaching, p 220)

4. How can we do what God requires? (Enablement)

“The how of application includes practical steps that will aid obedience (flee places of evil, seek mature counsel, count to ten) and the use of the means of grace (prayer, study, fellowship) but it implies much more because these activities too may be perceived as the human efforts that bribe God for blessing rather than the free provisions from God that enable us to walk in his wisdom and presence.” (Christ Centered Preaching, p 222)

Another excellent book which teases out the whole subject is Daniel Doriani’s Putting the Truth To Work: The Theory and Practice of Application.

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Ferguson’s Final Two

September 25, 2007

Its the final pair of Sinclair Ferguson’s Ten Commandments for Preachers. Thanks to Reformation21 blog for the original posts, found here and here. So what are the two final commands? Learn how to transition and love your people.

9. Learn how to transition. There is a short (2 pages) but wonderful “must-read” section for preachers in the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God. Inter alia the Divines state that the preacher “In exhorting to duties . . . is, as he seeth cause, to teach also the means that help to the performance of them.” In contemporary speech this means that our preaching will answer the “how to?” question. This perhaps requires further explanation.

Many of us are weary of the pandemic of “how-to-ness” we find in much contemporary preaching. It is often little better than psychology (however helpful) with a little Christian polish; it is largely imperative without indicative, and in the last analysis becomes self and success oriented rather than sin and grace oriented. But there is a Reformed and, more importantly, biblical, emphasis on teaching how to transition from the old ways to the new way, from patterns of sin to patterns of holiness. It is not enough to stress the necessity, nor even the possibility, of this. We must teach people how this happens.

Years ago I took one of our sons for coaching from an old friend who had become a highly regarded teaching professional. My son was not, as they say, “getting on to the next level.” I could see that; but no longer had (if I ever had!) the golfing savoir faire to help. Enter my friend, and within the space of one coaching session the improvement in ball-striking was both visible and audible (there is something about the sound of a perfectly struck drive—or home run for that matter!).

This is, in part, what we are called to effect in our handling of the Scriptures—not “this is wrong… this is right”—but by our preaching to enable and effect the transition.

But how? For all its criticism of the pragmatism of evangelicalism, Reformed preaching is not always skilled in this area. Many are stronger on doctrine than on exegesis; and often stronger on soul-searching than on spiritual upbuilding. We need to learn how to expound the Scriptures in such a way that the very exposition empowers in our hearers the transitions from the old patterns of life in Adam to the new patterns of life in Christ.

How do we do this? To begin with by expounding the Scriptures in a way that makes clear that the indicatives of grace ground the imperatives of faith and obedience and also effect them. This we must learn to do in a way that brings out of the text how the text itself teaches how transformation takes place and how the power of the truth itself sanctifies (cf. Jn. 17:17).

This usually demands that we stay down in the text longer, more inquisitively than we sometimes do, asking the text: Show me how your indicatives effect your imperatives. Such study often yields the surprising (?) result: depth study of Scripture means that we are not left scurrying to the Christian bookshop or the journal on counseling in order to find out how the gospel changes lives . . . no, we have learned that the Scriptures themselves teach us the answer to the “What?” questions and also the answer to the “How to?” question.

Do we—far less our congregations—know “how to”? Have we told them they need to do it, but left them to their own devices rather than model it in our preaching?

Some years ago, at the end of a church conference, the local minister, whom I knew from his student days, said to me: “Just before I let you go tonight, will you do one last thing? Will you take me through the steps that are involved so that we learn to mortify sin?”

I was touched—that he would broach what was obviously a personal as well as pastoral concern with me; but perhaps even more so by his assumption that I would be able to help. (How often we who struggle are asked questions we ourselves need to answer!) He died not long afterwards, and I think of his question as his legacy to me, causing me again and again to see that we need to exhibit what John “Rabbi” Duncan of New College said was true of Jonathan Edwards’s preaching: “His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.”

The ministry that illustrates this, and that understands what is involved in how preaching transitions its hearers from the old to the new, will have what Thomas Boston once said about his own ministry, “a certain tincture” that people will recognize even if they cannot articulate or explain why it is so different and so helpful.

10. Love your people. John Newton wrote that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they knew “I mean to do them good.”

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study; it means that my preaching will have characteristics about it, difficult to define but nevertheless sensed by my hearers, that reflect the apostolic principle:

What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 4:5)

We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us (1 Thess. 2:8)

In Jesus Christ, the church’s One True Preacher, message and messenger are one. He is the Preacher, and also the message. That is not true of us. But, in union with Christ (and we preach “in Christ” as well as live and die “in Christ”) a coalescence of a lesser sort takes place: the truth of the message is conveyed by the preacher whose spirit is conformed to the grace of God in the message. How can it be otherwise when preaching involves “God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20)? “A preacher’s life” (wrote Thomas Brooks) “should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.”[1]

A “Preacher’s Decalogue” might be helpful; but at the end of the day we are nourished not by the commands of law but by the provisions of God’s grace in the gospel. It is as true of our preaching as of our living that what law cannot do, because of the weakness of our flesh, God accomplishes through Christ, in order to fulfill his commands in us by the Spirit.

May it be so for us! Then we will be able truly to sing:

Happy if with my latest breath,
I might but gasp his Name
Preach him to all, and cry in death
Behold, behold the Lamb

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And the Winner Is…

September 24, 2007

Apparently I’ve won an award. It seems that The Christian Blog & Web Awards 2007 (hosted by Premier Radio, London) have dubbed our humble webzine the “Most Inspiring Leadership Blog.” Quite encouraging when you consider that the leadership subject is preaching!


(Photo courtesy of Krish Kandiah)

For the complete list of winners (and some pics of what looks to have been a swanky ceremony) see the following links.

- Christian blog awards: rundown of the winners
official photos
Krish Kandiah’s report
– Unfurling Flower blog posts its report
Another report

ps. Thanks to who ever nominated me, and thanks for the award. Do I get one of those nice trophies?!

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Woe To Us?

September 24, 2007

Last night, in the second half of a sermon on Luke 11:29-54, I considered with our congregation why Jesus sometimes says ‘woe’ to leaders. The context, you remember, is Jesus confrontation of the Pharisees and biblical law experts. For the sake of simplicity, I boiled down the reason for Jesus’ grief (‘woe’ is a deep groan of lament) to the following four problems.

- their hearts are impure (v 39-42)
(“God wants clean hands and pure hearts. But often it is much easier for busy leaders to keep their hands clean than their hearts clean”)

- their heads are puffed up (v 43)
(“It is a sober and necessary task for every leader to periodically ask ourselves the simple question: are there evidences of pride in my leadership?”)

- their words are deadly (v 44-46, 52)
(“Its one of the worst things, isn’t it, about a church who’s minister is unsaved. Its bad enough enough that he himself isn’t a Christian. But what hope for his congregation when he does not preach the gospel?”)

- their wills oppose Jesus (v 47-51, 53-54)
(“Is this not the epitome of woeful and wicked leadership, when it comes to the point where we outright oppose the person of Christ?”)

This was a particular challenge to myself as a leader. Listen to the whole sermon here.

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Reformissionary – How I Prepare To Preach

September 22, 2007

This Saturday’s Featured Toolbox comes from Steve McCoy [correction] (of Reformissionary blog) and highlights his sermon preparation steps.

Other Toolbox This Week

Hercules Collins on Lazy Preachers
Hearing Is Not Like Reading
Weaver – I Need Preaching Too
A New Song from Newsong
Martin Luther As A Preacher
Gospel Coalition Books RSS
Good Books for Young Believers
Three Pastoral Concerns in 800 Words
Know What You Preach, Or Sit Down
In Praise Of Proclamation
The Pastor’s Role In Missions
Thoughts On Recycling Sermons
More To Ministry Than Preaching
Read More and Read Better
New Genderblog
Jesus, I’m NOT ‘In Love’ With You
Piper and Driscoll Video: Scripture and Preaching
10 Reasons to Read Calvin’s Institutes
Find Illustrations
When Cross Referencing Is Wasteful
Taking Preaching to the Next Level
Pastor’s Bookshelf Review

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Changes Afoot

September 21, 2007

In the near future, I’ll be highlighting a couple of changes to the format of the blog. Don’t worry, it won’t be anything major. However, I hope that a few tweaks here and there will bring a better balance to UA’s content. But before I roll out the changes in a week’s time, I wanted to mention a timely quote from Mark Lauterbach that has confirmed some recent thinking.

As I read various blogs about ministry, they seem to focus entirely on preaching. The calling of a pastor certainly involves preaching — and preaching sets the tone and controls the atmosphere of the church. Well fed sheep nourished with well considered messages from the Word of God is crucial. Let us preach well! It is urgent to do so. If this is not done, all else is out of whack. But Peterson reminds me that ministry is more than preaching.

Preaching is easy compared to walking into the lives of people with Gospel centered counsel and questions. I have no memory of lying awake in the middle of the night because of a sermon to come. I have tossed and turned many times for the sin of people in the church and its tragic effects on their lives and on the congregation.

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Bullmore – “Giving Ourselves to God’s Work

September 21, 2007

Mike Bullmore is the preaching-pastor of Crossway Community Church. This week I listened to his sermon, “Giving ourselves to God’s Work.” Here is a brief review of the sermon and things I learned from it. By the way, you can listen to Mike on a weekly basis here.

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What was the opening sentence?
‘Well this morning I’d like to ask you to take your bible and turn to two places with me.’

What was the introduction about?
Explaining the context of Haggai by walking through the first few chapters of Ezra, focusing on the rebuilding of the temples over a period of 16 years. He also highlighted the main players in these early chapters: Zerubbabel, Joshua the high priest, the people, and the prophet Haggai.

Roughly, what was the sermon outline?

a) Context of Haggai: Ezra and the rebuilding of the temple.
b) Key Theme: God’s people should give themselves first and fully to God’s Work.
c) Key Question: In what is your energy and your time and your resources invested?
d) Reasons why we should give ourselves to God’s work:

1. Because when we do, God is made much of (Haggai 1)
2. Because when we do, God is present and at work (Haggai 2)

What aspects of Bullmore’s style did you appreciate?

a) Accesibility. Bullmore really made his sermon accessible to people who had little biblical knowledge. He took time out to explain the structure of the Old Testament as a whole (and gave a memory device to aid in this) before taking time to unpack the immediate context of Haggai.

b) Good Application Questions. For example, “If an objective observers looked at the last three months of your ‘spending’ [in the currency of your life], what conclusion would they come to? What about your time commitments? What about your level of comfort? Ask yourself this question: is there something that is keeping me from giving myself first and fully to the work of God…And if there is something, ask yourself: what is it, and why?”

c) Prominence of Scripture. I found it interesting that Bullmore deliberately neglected to mention his points before first reading the Scripture. He would say, “let’s learn the second reason. Haggai chapter 2 says….” Following this, he would then state his second point. By doing this, a certain prominence was given to God’s Word by showing that he was clearly getting his thought from the text.

d) Restatement. Like many preacher’s who are strong on clarity, Bullmore has a great knack of rephrasing both his points of explanation, and especially his application. On some ocassions, Bullmore is virtually asking the same question four or five times, but it has powerful effect because he ‘clothes’ it differently each time.

What will you remember in a week’s time?
Actually, the sermon title. “Giving ourselves to God’s Work” is the single theme that dominates the whole sermon, and Bullmore preaches it in such a way that it will be hard to forget it!

What one aspect of Bullmore’s preaching will you seek to adopt into your own?
Perhaps Bullmore reminds me most of the need for clarity in delivery and unity in sermon purpose.

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A New Craze?

September 19, 2007

Have I started a new craze?

John brand is asking Edward Lobb 10 Questions for Expositors.

Benjamin Magness is doing the same, this time with Rodd Sadler.

Both interviews are insightful, and well worth reading.

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Finding Your Own Voice

September 18, 2007

We draw near to the conclusion of Sinclair Ferguson’s Preacher’s Decalogue. Part one and part two of this series can be found in its original setting at the Reformation 21 website. Today, the seventh and eighth commands: “using the plain style” and “finding your own voice.”

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(Photo courtesty of Elmer Duncan)

7. Use “the plain style”. This is a familiar enough expression in the history of preaching. It is associated particularly with the contrast between the literary eloquence of the High Anglican preaching tradition and the new “plain style” of the Puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries. William Perkins’s The Arte of Prophesying served as the first textbook in this school.

But this seventh commandment is not insisting per se that we should all preach like the Puritans. Indeed acquaintance with the Puritans themselves would underline for us that they did not all preach as if they had been cloned from William Perkins! But they did have one thing in common: plain speech which they believed Paul commended and should be a leading characteristic of all preaching. (2 Cor 6:7, cf. 2 Cor 4:2).

There are many ways this principle applies. Do not make eloquence the thing for which you are best known as a preacher; make sure you get the point of the passage you are preaching, and that you make it clear and express its power. True evangelical eloquence will take care of itself. Despite Charles Hodge’s reservations, Archibald Alexander was in general right in urging students to pay attention to the power of biblical ideas, and the words used in preaching will take care of themselves.

The “masters” of clear style can teach us here. Paradoxically, in this context, two of them were themselves Anglicans.

C. S. Lewis’s counsel on writing applies equally to preaching: Use language that makes clear what you really mean; prefer plain words that are direct to long words that are vague. Avoid abstract words when you can use concrete. Don’t use adjectives to tell us how you want us to feel—make us feel that by what you say! Don’t use words that are too big for their subject. Don’t use “infinitely” when you mean “very”, otherwise you will have no word left when you really do mean infinite!

In a similar vein, here is J.C. Ryle’s counsel: Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.

Of course, there are exceptions to these principles. But why would I think I am one? A brilliant surgeon may be able to perform his operation with poor instruments; so can the Holy Spirit. But since in preaching we are nurses in the operating room—our basic responsibility is to have clean, sharp, sterile scalpels for the Spirit to do his surgery.

8. Find your own voice. “Voice” here is used in the sense of personal style—“know yourself” if one can Christianize the wisdom of the philosophers.

That being said, finding a voice—in the literal sense—is also important. The good preacher who uses his voice badly is a rara avis indeed. Clearly affectation should be banned; nor are we actors whose voices are molded to the part that is to be played. But our creation as the image of God, creatures who speak—and speak his praises and his word—really requires us to do all we can with the natural resources the Lord has given us.

But it is “voice” in the metaphorical sense that is really in view here—our approach to preaching that makes it authentically “our” preaching and not a slavish imitation of someone else. Yes, we may—must—learn from others, positively and negatively. Further, it is always important when others preach to listen to them with both ears open: one for personal nourishment through the ministry of the word, but the other to try to detect the principles that make this preaching helpful to people.

We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them, or their gifts. Instead of becoming the outstanding expository, or redemptive historical, or God-centered, or whatever their hero may be, we may tie ourselves in knots and endanger our own unique giftedness by trying to use someone else’s paradigm, style or personality as a mold into which to squeeze ourselves. We become less than our true selves in Christ. The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless. So it is worth taking the time in an ongoing way to try to assess who and what we really are as preachers in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

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Previously:

(1) Get to know your Bible better; (2) Be a man of prayer;
(3) Don’t lose sight of Christ; (4) Be more deeply Trinitarian
(5) Use your imagination; (6) Speak much of sin and grace

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Recharging

September 17, 2007

Sunday can be a traumatic day, can’t it? So two things that soothe my soul most come Monday is listening to God-exalting music and sermons.

On the music front, my wife has been blogging this morning on the Stuart Townend CD we’ve been enjoying of late.

When it comes to sermons, two regular pitstops of mine on Mondays are the Parkside services (with Alistair Begg), and Martyn Lloyd Jones weekly broadcast.

So friends, where do you stop to refuel?

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