Archive for April, 2008

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General or Specific Application?

April 30, 2008

I can relate to what John Koessler, professor of biblical studies at Moody Bible Institute, writes about applying the sermon:

“With sermon application I struggle between two extremes. When my applications are too general, listeners affirm the truth of what I say without seeing that they need to act on it. As long as Nathan preached to David in parables, David could affirm the heinousness of the sin the prophet had described without referring to himself. It was only when the prophet moved to application and declared, “You are the man,” that David said, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

On the other hand, when my applications are too specific, it is easy for listeners to disqualify themselves by noting that they do not fit the specific conditions described in my examples. This kind of case study approach was often employed by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, allowing the Pharisees and Scribes to exempt themselves. One of Jesus’ purposes in the Sermon on the Mount was to help his listeners see the general principles behind familiar truths that had been particularized away. On the other hand, an overly specific approach to application can lead to legalism, a focus on the letter of the law without regard to its spirit. Effective application must be both general and specific.”

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John Ogilvie – Preaching With Passion

April 29, 2008

“We in New College [Edinburgh Scotland] have a particular link with Capitol Hill, in that one of our alumni, Dr Lloyd John Ogilvie, was for many years Chaplain to the US Senate. Since he retired from the Chaplaincy, Dr Ogilvie has founded the Institute of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Some years ago, a worldwide survey by Baylor University recognised him as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. We are glad to announce that from the evening of Saturday 26 July until noon on Monday 28 July in the Martin Hall he will lead a conference on ‘Preaching with Passion’.”

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Generic conference info can be found here. Info specific to Edinburgh here. If you don’t know much about John Ogilvie, this Preaching Today interview fills you in, along with how he goes about preparing his sermons over a three year period!

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Mark Dever’s Structured Meditation

April 28, 2008

When attending the Capitol Hill Weekender several months ago, I had the great privilege of joining Mark Dever for two hours as he carried out a “structured meditation.” Every week Dever grabs time with an alert, theologically informed chap in his congregation to think through how the sermon text applies to various groups within his diverse church.


(Photo courtesy of James.Thompson; Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Sitting in on this exercise was extremely insightful. First, it exemplified how to better use “the application grid”, something which I have used numerous times in the past. Furthermore, it evidenced the patient care that should be taken in this stage of the process: this truly was unrushed and thoughtful consideration of how the passage intersects with the congregation. Finally, I came away more fully convinced that this stage of sermon preparation is possible (and even productive) to do in collaboration with others.

Since returning from the States I have started my own practice of meeting someone for lunch and going through my own adapted version of the application grid. It has already made a real difference. Time and again I am struck by the lines of application that I hadn’t even thought of from my narrow, individual perspective.

An example application grid can be found here. A blank application grid here.

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Welcome… Little Brother Bridges

April 26, 2008

A heartfelt congratulations to Tim Bridges (my co-leader on The Preaching Course) and his wife Krisy on the birth of their second child last Thursday. Welcome to the world: Greyson Alan Bridges. Who knows Tim, perhaps another preacher in the making?

This weekend I’m reminded of the wonderful gift of my three own lovely children. None of us deserve children; they are a gracious and blessed gift from God. “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:4-5)


(Adams number one: Glen Andrew; 5yrs old in August)


(Adams number two: Rebekah Jane; 3yrs this June)


(Adams number three: Grace Sarah Margaret; 1 yr old in June)

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Illustrations – How Do YOU Capture Yours?

April 24, 2008

When tackling the topic of sermon illustrations at last week’s Preaching Course, I mentioned that I capture illustrations using an A-Z subject file on my computer.


(Downstairs, mainhall: where our Preaching Course has been taking place)

Using 300 hundred categories I note down stories, analogies and quotes that I may find useful for some future sermon. Contrary other’s experience, I have discovered that I rarely come across illustrations ‘just when I need them.’ This means that I must constantly store up in summertime for winter. Alongside the illustration file, my other illustration store is my own memory banks and experience!

So fellow preachers: I’d be very interested to know how you capture illustrations. What do you do?

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The Seven Commandments Of Illustrations

April 23, 2008

1. Thou shalt not overuse them.
It is definitely possible to have far too many sermon illustrations. The problem is that illustrations are like chocolate: good in small doses but overindulgence makes recipients feel sick and disorientated! Don’t feed the congregation too many!

2. Thou shalt not underuse them.
While I can think of some preachers who pass out too much chocolate, there are others who never offer so much as a chocolate button! Such sermons feel heavy, abstract and dense.

3. Thou shalt not fail to illustrate the point.
If your illustration doesn’t illustrate the point your making with a great degree of exactness don’t use it. One danger for preachers is to want to use some illustration simply because its ‘a good one.’ Yet the illustration may only relate tenuously to the point in question!

4. Thou shalt not make them overly long
I recently heard of a closing illustration that was between 12 and 15 minutes long. It was an epic. In my opinion, that’s just too long for an illustration. Overly long illustrations begin to dominate the sermon rather than serve the sermon. So we preachers should aim for brevity. How long should an illustration be? As long as it takes to tell it clearly, vividly and forcefully – that, and no more.

5. Thou shalt not misuse humour
First of all, if you are not wired with humour (and many of us are not!) don’t force the issue. No one’s called you to be a comedian but a faithful communicator of Gods Word. Don’t think you’ve got to use humour just because some great conference speaker you heard was ‘really funny’. On the other hand, if you are wired with wit, be careful. For example, there’s a difference between genuine humour (Jesus used it) and flippancy. Sarcasm may produce laughs but might simultaneously reveal some sinful attitudes in the preacher! My general rule is: never give an illustration which depends on the congregation finding it funny.

6. Thou shalt not be pastorally imprudent
The pulpit is no place to break pastoral confidences. Be very careful when you get into the territory of talking about that Christian ‘you won’t name’ or that ‘past church you attended.’ Often everybody knows what church you’re speaking about! Furthermore, with audio on the internet, the person at the last church can listen to your sermon. Therefore remember to ask people’s permission if you are using a story about them. And don’t forget: if you constantly break confidences, no one will take you into their confidence.

7. Thou shalt not use overly powerful illustrations
Some illustrations are just overly powerful. They are too good, too distracting, or raise too many tangential issues and questions. If you’re illustration will be ‘the only thing people remember’ don’t use it.

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Work-Tools In Disrepair

April 22, 2008

Unfortunately, my laptop has decided to stop co-operating with me. Blog posts may therefore be a little infrequent until the computer is repaired. I’ll post as and when I can manage. Patience required!

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