Archive for March, 2007


“Test him. Quiz Him. Humiliate him…”

March 31, 2007

I’ve got a confession to make: this week I’ve been on holiday. This means I’ve been fasting from blogging and forward posting! It also means that there’s no Workman’s Toolbox for this week. Neverthelss, since many of you are still studying hard on Saturday’s – or meant to be! – I thought I’d offer a word of encouragement (hypocritical, I know!). Read below the unforgettable plan shared by an unknown parishoner on how to get that sermon prepared.

“Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-”Sir, we would see Jesus.”

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.”

(Quote from John MacArthur’s Preaching, p 285)


A Friday Question – Microscopic Preaching?

March 30, 2007

OK, so it finally got to me. After helping preach through Jeremiah in large chunks (on two ocassions, covering three chapters in a single sermon), I cracked. Faced in preparation with one measly chapter of 27 verses, I could no longer leap and bound across the text.

After some outlining work of Jeremiah 13 and identifying 5 sizeable sections, the penny dropped: I couldn’t do justice to each point. Even in summary….

So what am I now planning to do?

At the moment, I’m hoping to briefly summarise the five warnings of Jeremiah chapter 13. Then we’ll take the microscope to the first section (v 1-11). My thought is that we might be able to chew over our spiritual food rather than gulp it down. And, from the look of the passage, there’s enough danger of indigestion as it is, without adding to the likelihood!

Is it just me? Are there are ocassions when we fail to do justice to the text because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew? Do you think there can an optimum length for given preachers before they start to skim unproductively over the text?


David Jackman on 1 Peter 4-5 (pt two)

March 29, 2007

The latest Workman Watch has spilled over into a two-parter. There is a simple reason for this: David Jackman’s excellent sermon on 1 Peter 4 and 5 was longer than I anticipated. The benefit of this has been (hopefully) that you’ve had time to listen to the whole thing in the meantime. Here now is my full review….


How long was the sermon?
53 minutes 30 seconds.

What was the opening sentence?
‘Our series has been called “Good lives among the pagans” and this morning we come to the theme with which the letter closes “Suffering for the Lord”, and a very positive and strategic view of that suffering.’

What was the introduction about?
Martin Luther King’s reform movement which did good even though suffering. This is a somewhat close modern parallel to what Peter describes in this section.

What was the outline?

Part One – Strategies for Suffering
1. Don’t be surprised (4:12-13)
a) its for your strengthening
b) its for your glory

2. Don’t be ashamed (4:14,16)
a) you bear his name
b) you share his Spirit

3. Don’t be diverted (4:17-19)
a) keep trusting your Creator
b) keep delighting in his will

Part Two – Strategies for Shepherding
Good leadership (5:1 – 4)
Proper humility (5:5 – 7)
Resisting the real enemy (5:8 – 9)
Remaining steadfast (5:10 – 11)
Assurance of grace (5:12 – 14)

What aspects of Jackman’s style did you appreciate?
a) A lack of flashiness. There is nothing glitsy about Jackman, but he is an interesting, clear speaker. I appreciate this in an age when so many preachers are trying hard to be ‘cool.’

b) Jackman is literally fastened to the text from start to finish, and is especially gifted at pointing the congregation to the text.

c) The way that Jackman applied as he went along, almost point by point. In a more lengthy message (52 minutes) no doubt this is especially important. 50 minutes of explanation and a brief application at the end wouldn’t be good!

What will you remember in a week’s time?
Jackman’s point that what we do with our anxiety is actually a test of our humility.

What one aspect of Jackman’s preaching will you seek to adopt into your own? A greater faithfulness to the text, knowing that is “the gospel” which is the power of God for salvation, not my preaching style.


Hercules Collins on Sermon Preparation

March 28, 2007

Thanks to Steve Weaver’s post last week, we can reflect a little on Hercules Collins thoughts on sermon composition.

To what I have said I shall add some further helps by way of direction and instruction to those that are inclined to the ministration of the gospel.

Consider my whole method in speaking, 1. To the Penman of the Epistle. 2. To the Time when written. 3. The Occasion. 4. The Scope. Not that there will be always need upon every subject to take notice of these things, yet upon some subjects there may be need to take notice of some or all of them.

Secondly, consider how your text coheres and depends upon what goes before it, but stand no longer upon it than what may make your way plain to the text. Some have spent so much time upon a context, that by that time they came to their text the hour was almost gone, though they did not know whether they should preach in the same place again.

Thirdly, make an exact division of your text, if your text calls you to it, for that will be profitable in the helping of you to matter.

Fourthly, explain any difficult terms, but spend not time needlessly in explanation, if things are easily understood without it.

Fifthly, raise as many doctrines as the text will allow, and make what good use you can of every one of them, but insist most on the chief scope of the place.

Sixthly, your doctrine being laid down, prove it from the Word of God by two or three Scriptures at most; because in the mouth of two or three witnesses every truth is established. After you have proved it, then lay down the reasons and arguments of the point why and wherefore it is so. … Some persons lay down some propositions just after their doctrine. But whatever is done in that, may be done in an use of instruction. But that is at your liberty, whether you will do it in propositions, or an use of instruction.

And then, what use you make, let it be always natural from the doctrine, and draw as many inferences from it as it will bear; for they are generally very divine things.

Mark one thing, that all doctrines will not afford the same uses. There is, (1.) The Use of Information. (2.) Caution. (3.) Trial and Examination. (4.) Refutation. (5.) Instruction. (6.) Reprehension. (7.) Exhortation, with its motives and directions. (8.) Admiration. (9.) Consolation. Now you must consider which of all these, or any other uses, will be most naturally handled from your doctrine.


Sermons like “a bullet”!

March 27, 2007

For the last Classic Materials for this month of March I’ve chosen Haddon W. Robinson’s Biblical Preaching (Expository Preaching; UK). If you’re familiar at all with Robinson, you’ll know that a facet he always stresses the importance of identifying a text’s main theme. See what you think of his logic.

“Preachers, like their audiences, may conceive of sermons as a collection of points that have little relationship to each other. Here textbooks designed to help speakers may actually hinder them. Discussions of outlining usually emphasise the place of Roman and Arabic numerals along with proper indentation, but these factors (important as they are) may ignore the obvious – an outline is the shape of a sermon idea, and the parts must be related to the whole.

Three or four ideas not related to a more inclusive idea do not make a message; they make three or four sermonettes all preached at one time. Reuel L. Howe listened to hundreds of taped sermons and held discussions with laypeople. He concluded that the people in the pew ‘complain almost unanimously that sermons often contain too many ideas.’ That may not be an accurate observation. Sermons seldom fail because they have too many ideas; more often they fail because they deal with too many unrelated ideas.

Fragmentation poses a particular danger for the expository preacher. Some expository sermons offer little more than scattered comments based on words and phrases from a passage, making no attempt to show how the various thoughts fit together as a whole.

At the outset the preacher may catch the congregation’s mind with some observation about life, or worse, jump into the text with no thought about the present. As the sermon goes on, the preacher comments on the words or phrases in the passage with sub themes and major themes and individual words all given equal emphasis. The conclusion, if there is one, usually substitutes vague exhortation for relevant application, because there is no single truth to apply. When the congregation goes back into the world, it has received no mesage by which to live because it has not occured to the preacher to preach one.

A major affirmation of our definition of expository preaching, therefore, maintains that ‘expository preaching’ is the communicatio of a biblical concept.’ That affirms the obvious. A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot. Ideally each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.


Holiness in the Life of a Pastor

March 26, 2007

Personal holiness is something I’ve been thinking much about lately. Therefore, as I’ve been listening through the recent Desiring God Pastor’s Conference sessions, of particular challenge to me was Thabiti Anyabwile’s talk The Glory of Pervasive Holiness in the Life of a Pastor.


I won’t spoil the whole talk for you. Instead, I’d encourage you to listen to it prayerfully. But here are a few of the quotes that I’m still mulling over…

“Holiness is a gospel promise.”

“Enough with how-to sermons, unless its how to be holy as God is holy.”

“People tend toward two extremes: all commands are legalism or real, tyrannical legalism. Stand in this tension.”

“There is no room for coddling our pet sins. Disregarding this is a disregard of God.”

“We dwell among people who dangle on a web over the flames of hell. The driftwood of sin that the lost are holding onto does not float in the flood of judgement.”

“God does not reckon any among his own who do not groan in response to wickedness. If we do not hate sin we have nothing in common with God.”

“If we want to see God in our church, we must cultivate holiness so there is a place for him.”

Read the transcript, or download here.


Workman’s Toolbox

March 24, 2007

Find the latest Workman’s Toolbox links below….

* Expository Thoughts discusses some “common mistakes” in preaching the OT.
* Hercules Collins on how to prepare a sermon.
*Dan Philips, over at Pyromaniacs, chats about context sensitive preaching.
* The Thirsty Theologian isn’t happy about a new trend: video church.
* A superb list of links to Don Carson material. (HT: Irish Calvinist)

* Watch last week’s atheism debate between Alistair McGrath and Professor Atkins, which took place here in Edinburgh. My ministry colleague James Anderson also recommends a previous debate between Atkins and William Lane Craig.
* John Piper writes one of the best articles I’ve read for a while: The Morning I Heard the Voice of God.
* Max Lucado has been forced to step down from his pastor’s role.
* Yet another great series is underway from Thabiti Anyabwilie: The Pastor’s Heart in Paul’s Letters.
* Charles Spurgeon’s recipe for church growth.
* A useful article for your congregation: on how they should prepare for sermons.
* Mark Dever shares two painful lessons he has learned from another pastor’s fall. (HT: Justin Taylor)
* 12 ideas about how to become a better reader by Douglas Groothius (HT: PastorResourcesBlog)


A Friday Question – Commentaries?

March 23, 2007

Biblical commentaries. Some preachers love them; others, frankly, hate them. Some use them with abandon; others treat them with suspicion. But what do you think?

1. Are good commentaries an essential part of modern preaching preparation? What might we gain/lose by using them?

2. At what point and to what degree should we use them in our preparation?

3. Should we ever quote from a commentary?


David Jackman on 1 Peter 4-5 (pt one)

March 22, 2007

This week’s Workman Watch has spilled over into a two-parter. There is a simple reason for this: David Jackman’s excellent sermon on 1 Peter 4 and 5 was longer than I anticipated. The benefit of this, however, is that you can take time to listen to the whole thing this week and come back for next week’s installment. All I’ll do today is outline the first half, and leave you with some homework.


How long was the sermon?
53 minutes 30 seconds.

What was the opening sentence?
‘Our series has been called “Good lives among the pagans” and this morning we come to the theme with which the letter closes “Suffering for the Lord”, and a very positive and strategic view of that suffering.’

What was the introduction about?
Martin Luther King’s reform movement which did good even though suffering. This is a somewhat close modern parallel to what Peter describes in this section.

What was the outline?

Part One – Suffering

1. Don’t be surprised (4:12-13)
a) its for your strengthening
b) its for your glory

2. Don’t be ashamed (4:14,16)
a) you bear his name
b) you share his Spirit

3. Don’t be diverted (4:17-19)
a) keep trusting your Creator
b) keep delighting in his will


MacArthur’s Sermon Preparation

March 21, 2007

If you love biblical preaching, then whatever your millenial view (!) you will no doubt appreciate the faithful ministry of John MacArthur. The following is some rough notes taken from a session at the Shepherd’s Conference 2006 regarding how MacArthur currently prepares to preach. Having read MacArthur’s book Preaching, I know that this roughly corrolates.


4 days to prepare:

Day 1 (First 8 hours):

* Reads, re-reads, and re-reads the text.
* Takes out a legal pad a jots down some notes.
* Turns to the Greek text.
* Peruses some 20 commentaries on the text.
* Goes through cross-references.

Day 2 (2nd 8 hours):

* Mediates on what he learned on Day 1.

Day 3 (3rd 8 hours):

* Puts together his rough draft.
* Finds Biblical illustrations.
* Writes his introduction and conclusion.

Day 4 (4th 8 Hours):

* Writes his final draft, all of which is hand-written.

What I find interesting about this is two fold. First, the simple length of time that MacArthur takes to prepare. Its not as if after forty years of exposition he takes shortcuts! Second, I appreciate the idea that MacArthur takes a day simply to meditate on the text following all his reading. Perhaps this is a missing element in many of our preparations?

(HT: Galatians 4v16)


Hiding Our Wisdom?

March 20, 2007

For today’s Classic Materials we enjoy a short dose of William Perkins. No doubt this will please my good friend Christopher Ross (over at the Conventicle) who in his phD studies is practically ‘pastored’ by this Puritan giant! From The Art of Prophesying, our intriguing quote strikes a major blow against all attempts to persuade others by wise ‘erudition.’


“Now we must think about the actual preaching itself. Here two things are essential: (i) the hiding of human wisdom, and (ii) the demonstration or manifestation of the Spirit.

Human wisdom must be concealed, both in the content of the sermon and in the language we use. The preaching of the Word is the testimony of God and the profession of the knowledge of Christ; not of human skill. Furthermore, the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of God’s Word (1 Cor 2:1, 2, 5).

But this does not mean that pulpits will be marked by a lack of knowledge or education. The minister may, and in fact must, privately make free use of the general arts and of philosophy as well as employ a wide variety of reading while he is preparing his sermon.

But in public exposition these should be hidden from the congregation, not ostentatiously paraded before them. As the Latin proverb says, Artis etiam celare artem – it is also the point of art to conceal art.

The demonstration of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:4) becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone – even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers – recognise that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking, but the Spirit of God in him and by him (Mic 3:8; 1 Cor 2:4, 14:2). This is what makes his ministry living and powerful (Luke 11:27).

Such a ‘demonstration’ will come to expression either in speech or gesture. The speech must be spiritual and gracious. Spiritual speech is speech which the Holy Spirit teaches (1 Cor 2:13). It is both simple and clear, tailored to the understanding of the hearers and appropriate for expressing the majesty of the SPirit (Acts 17:2, 3; 2 Cor 4:2-4; Gal 3:1).

For this reason, none of the specialised vocabluary of the arts, nor Greek and Latin phrases, nor odd turns of phrase should be used in the sermon. These distract the minds of those listeners who cannot see the connection between what has been said and what follows.”


The Priority of Pastor’s Conferences

March 19, 2007

Most years, they are a highlight. Beforehand they are an effort. I’m talking about pastor’s conferences. Speaking from recent experience, there never seems enough time to squeeze them in. But upon arrival, we wonder how we’d survive without them.


Last year I had the priviledge of attending two: the Scottish Ministry Assembly in Glasgow and the EMA in London. This year, I may be struggling a little (baby arriving in June!) but I’ve still managed to clock my first conference: watching some of the Ligonier proceedings through the wonders of a live feed!

So what are some of the benefits?

1. High quality teaching from other pastors. In many situations, pastors hardly hear anything but their own voice in the pulpit. Now they have opportunity to hear God’s Word through somebody else. Its especially helpful that this is often from an extremely gifted expositor (in the last few years I’ve been priviledged to hear the likes of John Piper, Tim Keller, Vaughan Roberts, Dick Lucas, and David Jackman).

2. Highly applicable teaching for pastors. One of the values of pastor’s conferences is that the expositions are especially targeted toward the needs of pastors. I know of no other setting where the preaching is aimed so specifically to our needy group.

3. Wonderful fellowship with other pastors. Could this be the best benefit at all? To know we’re not alone. To know that others labour and suffer. And who can quantify the value of ideas shared around the lunch table or encouragement shared from someone who’s ‘been there’?

But tell me: do you always, as a matter of priority, go to a pastor’s conference? If so, which conferences have you most benefited from?