Archive for October, 2007


Piper on Freedom, Discipline and Text Selection

October 31, 2007

Along with my fellow colleagues we are already beginning to prayerfully think about our preaching series for next calender year. Here at Charlotte we tend to be very structured in our planning: organising what will preached, when, and by whom, at least 6 months in advance. I know that other pastors, however, are much more relaxed about scheduling their series, intervening regularly with stand alone topics.


In this regard, I was interested to read John Piper’s comments on the principles of ‘freedom’ and ‘discipline’ in text selection, comments he made during a sermon preached way back in 1980. By the looks of his preaching series these days, I assume Piper still holds to this. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Two principles have to be balanced out. One is that we preserve the freedom of the Holy Spirit to interrupt and alter our plans. We must not be so locked into a verse-by-verse exposition of this book that he cannot hit us with another text from time to time that we may need to hear even more. That is the principle of freedom.

The other principle to keep in balance with it is the principle of discipline. Preachers are sinners who, like all sinners, tend to preach what they like and avoid what they don’t like. So we must find a way not to be so selective. Luke tells us in Acts 20:26f. what Paul said to the Ephesians when he left and what I want to be able to say to you when my work here is done: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” A preacher cannot say that, if he rides one or two hobbyhorses while avoiding other teachings of Scripture. One of the best ways to fulfill the principle of discipline is to preach through a book of the Bible.

These two principles, freedom and discipline, are in tension because it is not always easy to tell whether a desire to interrupt a series comes from the Spirit or from a fear of the next text. But there is no escape from this tension and so all I can promise is that I will do my best under God to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and to declare the whole counsel of God.


Drawing Around Our Arrows?

October 30, 2007

Do you ever come across an illustration that is so good, you feel you just need to use it. Don’t. At least, not till you find the appropriate text. The following illustration by Michael Ramsden shows us the folly of what we are otherwise doing:

(Photo courtesy of Artist Wannabe, creative commons license)

“A young boy received a bow and arrow as a present from his father, and he immediately went outside to shoot it. A little while later his father went outside and saw that the boy had shot his arrows at several targets that had been drawn on the side of a fence. To his amazement each arrow had hit the bull’s eye.

The father was impressed and said to his son, ‘ I didn’t realise you were such a good shot.’ ‘Oh, it was easy,’ his son replied. ‘I shot the arrows first, and then drew the targets around them.’

When we use illustrations simply because they are good illustrations, we are drawing targets around our arrows. Right at the beginning of planning a talk we need to decide what the point, the target, is. Then we enhance the talk with seasoning in order to drive home the point effectively, keeping in mind that it takes different kinds of arrows to hit different kinds of targets.”

(Michael Ramsden, in Preach the Word, ed. Greg Haslam, p 498)


Managing Preaching’s Physical Demands

October 29, 2007

On Sunday evenings I feel near death. On Monday morning, just tired. On Tuesday, I’m gritting my teeth to climb the mountain again.

Preaching is exhausting work isn’t it? Not only the preaching act itself – which can leave you feeling as out of breath as a sprinter – but the preparation beforehand: rather like running a marathon prior to the main event!

(photo courtesy of

This is not something we should moan about, fellow preachers, since the call to word-ministry is a call to hard work (see 2 Tim 2). However the exertions of preaching are something we must manage, not least to sustain a long-term ministry.

So how do we manage preaching’s physical demands? Let me suggest, by managing several related areas:

1. Managing the diary

Its a common joke among our staff team that we’re hoping to switch to an eight day week. Every pastor knows that there are always more demands on his time than he can possibly meet. Yet how often do we attempt to fulfill impossible expectations? Our diaries are over full, and the next week ‘when things will be less busy’ never materializes.

The result is not only the neglect of our own family (who don’t see us except on holidays) but the neglect of our congregation. For unless we have exceptionally high energy levels, we will be walking into the pulpit tired. My own conviction is that the pastor shouldn’t climb the pulpit exhausted. How then can he preach God’s Word with accuracy, fervour and force, when his overworked body is running on half-power?

Going the Distance (How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry) by Peter Brain
A Busy Christians Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester
Time Management for Pastors

2. Managing sleep

Though the God of Israel will neither slumber or sleep, the same should not be said of the pastor of the church! But why is it important? Well, firstly because sleep is an admission of our submission to God and trust in His sovereignty (see Psalm 127). Reason enough! Significantly as well, though, sleep is also essential for the physical demands of preaching. According to one expert, lack of good sleep can contribute to problems with poor memory, erratic moods, nervous system difficulties and even a diminished immune system. Its not hard to see why such problems would have a negative affect on our preaching.

I recommend David Gunderson’s article “A Theology of Sleep” for more practical thoughts on this area. Some of his main recommendations are:
1. Fight to have pure motives when you think about how much or how little sleep to get.
2. Monitor your body and how much sleep you need.
3. Brace yourself for the rest of life by reminding yourself that the tension in this issue will remain.
4. Try and plan to get good, consistent sleep (e.g., ear plugs, consistent bedtime and wake-up time, quiet room, bedtime patterns, etc.).
5. Don’t feel guilty about sleeping!
6. It is not inherently selfish to ask someone to be quiet so that you can sleep (see Prov 27:14).
7. Beware of loveless sacrifices (1 Cor 13:3).

Also, The Theology of Sleep by Fred Sanders

3. Managing food

Though we should expect the spiritual resources God may offer us in preaching, we should not neglect his physical assistance. I, for one, can be negligent in this area. Not once or twice, I have left the house on a Sunday morning, remembering to grab a piece of fruit as I run out the door (and this is my breakfast!). We can be so consumed with feeding the sheep their spiritual food, we can forget the physical food God has given to sustain us.

This is not to say, though, that preachers should eat lots of food before preaching. Overeating can be as disastrous as undereating, leading to that heavy feeling which slows the body down when it needs to be firing up.

For more thoughts on this, listen to A Biblical Understanding of Eating by Robin Boisvert (Sovereign Grace conference)


Expository Preaching Seminars

October 26, 2007

Being on holiday last week means that its a bumper Workman’s Toolbox today. My featured item this week is some practical thoughts on Expository Preaching by Dr Robert C Stone (Hillcrest Chapel, Washington).

The series of notes covers the sessions: The Introduction to Expository Preaching, The Preparation and Process of Expository Messages, The Principles of Interpretation and A Potpourri of Expository Questions and Texts.

Other Workman’s Toolbox

* Audio: Daniel Akin on Expository Preaching @ Southeastern
* The Cross: Your Greatest Criticism and Affirmation
* On Writing Book Reviews: Reinke
* Bible Exposition – Verse by Verse
* Why I Preach
* 9 Marks Workshop – Online for Free
* Choosing Stand Alone Sermons
* Lloyd Jones – Specialize in Preaching Jesus
* Joel Osteen and The Glory Story
* Applicationed To Death
* Better Bible Study Throughout The Church
* Audio: Alistair Begg, the Basics of Expository Preaching part A
* The Basics of Expository Preaching
* Expository Thoughts – Your Favorite Series
* Resolve Update
* Geoffrey Grogan – Advice for New Preachers
* How To Identify A Reliable Carrier of the Word
* How to Know Whether Preaching is For Me – Christopher Ash
* Dawkins and Lennox – Dawkins Debate Audio
* Able to Teach? – Pure Church
* Glorifying God With Your Senses
* Interview with Geoff Thomas
* Mohler: Recovering a Bold Vision of Expository Preaching
* Where and When Does One Pick Up the Faculty of Good Preaching?
* Reflecting on How We Read the News
* Thabiti: Leaders, Are We Hospitable?
* Perpetual Preaching Student?
* The Day I Missed The Point: MacArthur
* Interview with Ron Gleason: Fulfill the Ministry the Lord Has Given You


‘Lord, You Promised I Should Never Thirst’

October 25, 2007

Because of several recent bereavements in my home fellowship, it has struck me again how quickly circumstances can change. Married persons (perhaps married for decades) can suddenly find themselves single, children can lose parents, and closest friends may become sorely absent. In short: loving relationship can be quickly substituted for loneliness.


While pondering this I was reminded of something that great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor wrote, when his wife was half the world away in England:

“How lonesome were the weary hours when confined to my room. How I missed my dear wife and the little pattering footsteps of the children far away in England! Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, “whosover drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.”

Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart thirst coming back, I cried to Him. O Lord you promised. You promised me that I should never thirst. And whether I called by day or night, how quickly he came and satisfied my sorrowing heart! So much so that I often wondered whether it were possible that my loved one who had been taken could be enjoying more of his presence than I was in that lonely chamber.”


Sitting on the Fence

October 24, 2007

On Sunday past I opened my sermon with reference to an inquest into the death of a climber. Christopher Parratt had scaled Snowdonia in Wales, following a popular mountain guidebook. Yet while he followed the guide’s directions – “Tryfan, the Easy Way” – he soon discovered that there was no easy way up this mountain. Tragically, he fell and died.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones, creative commons license, some rights reserved)

Putting the illustration in parallel, I then pointed out that in Jeremiah’s day there were ‘living guides’ who were proclaiming “Egypt, the Easy Way.” This advice proved not only to be misleading, but insofar as it was followed, it proved fatal.

After taking considerable time putting together this intro, I was slightly taken aback by a conversation I had afterward. Someone simply suggested I could have done without it! “The meat of the sermon was tasty enough” they said, “The illustration didn’t add much.”

Because of such comments (and others saying just the opposite!) I have swayed back and forth over the use of contemporary illustrations in sermon intros. Preachers these days seem either unrelentingly for them or against them. I’m both, depending on the particular sermon, or the way I roll out of bed!

To give an idea of the pros and cons, the Nine Marks blog discussed this topic recently. More against than for, Michael McKinley wrote:

“…I use an introduction about 20% of the time. I think people in my congregation generally like it when I do, but I don’t do it often for a few reasons (in no particular order):
— They take a lot of work to do it well (at least for me). I’d rather invest that effort in the text, plus my sermon already eats enough family time.
— They tend to make me look clever (look who’s read Dostoevsky!).
— They generally entertain, but rarely actually shed light or generate interest in a topic (though perhaps this is due to my incompetence).
— As a concession to reality, I don’t think anyone wants my sermons to be longer.”

Conversely, more for than against, Mark Dever responded:

Application and gospel-implications are the main reasons I do introductions as I generally (though not always) do them.

1. Application–I am trying to front-load the “so what” of the passage, in order to help Christians and non-Christians listen well, and to apply what they hear (rather than simply depositing it in a Bible-knowledge mental file that is un-integrated with the rest of their life).

2. Gospel-implications–by picking some foil of the point of the passage, and a foil which I intend to represent a popularly held idea, either by non-Christians listening, or some who are present but skeptical, or even unwittingly by Christians, I intend to tease out popular ideas that contradict scripture and model a way to approach them mentally, biblically, maybe even practically with certain questions or lines of thought that can be pursued with secular or unbelieving or confused friends at the office. (A sentence [fragment?] of Pauline proportions!)

The fact that both Dever and McKinley make valid points is probably the reason why I’m still sitting on the fence…


The Problem With Preaching in 2007 (No, 1730!)

October 23, 2007

“The application of their discourses is either short, or indistinct and general. They difference not the precious from the vile, and divide not to every man his portion, according to the apostolic direction to Timothy. No! they carelessly offer a common mess to their people, and leave it to them to divide it among themselves, as they see fit. This is indeed their general practice, which is bad enough. But sometimes they do worse, by misapplying the Word, through ignorance or anger.

They often strengthen the hands of the wicked by promising him life. They comfort people before they convince them; sow before they plow; and are busy in raising fabric before they lay a foundation. These foolish builders do but strengthen men’s carnal security by their soft, selfish, cowardly discourses. They have not the courage, or honesty, to thrust the nail of terror into sleeping souls.”

(Gilbert Tennent, speaking of many of his contemporaries; quoted in Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards – A New Biography, p133)