Archive for February, 2008

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Multiplying Your Reading

February 18, 2008

I mentioned to our guys the idea of multiplying our bible reading, suggesting including additional readings of the sermon passage in our daily devotions and, if appropriate, when commuting (I often read future preaching passages on the bus). However the guy in this picture takes things to a new level: reading the bible whilst walking.

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(Photo by Ali K, Creative Commons License)

Any more out of the box ideas??

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Reading >>> Research = Oxgyen >>>Breathing

February 18, 2008

I suggested in the second lecture of The Preaching Course that the second basic component of research is reading. My introductory comment ran something like this:

If I may state the obvious: research of any text is built upon reading the text. We cannot re-search the passage unless we’re patiently reading it. As indispensible as oxygen is to breathing, so is reading to research – you require one to do the other. Therefore one of the skills we must begin to try and master is simply close, careful and critical reading of the text.

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How To Pray For Next Sunday’s Preacher

February 14, 2008

From Reformation Theology blog:

Our gracious God and Father. I approach Your throne today, knowing that it is only through the name of Jesus that I can stand before You. I thank and praise You for Your goodness in allowing me to do so. I recognize very well that I am unworthy of this honor, this privilege, apart from Your unmerited favor and grace. I come before You to seek Your blessing on the service on Sunday.

Grant that the Word will come to us with power and with great freedom. Be near to our Pastor and his family. Keep the family close as they serve You together. Protect them from dangers both seen and unseen. May our pastor know great wisdom as he plans his day and his week around the priorities You lay before him. May his schedule allow him much time to study Your word and to pray. May he know that he is serving You and all of us very well as he makes these a high priority. May our pastor’s family time also be protected. Grant that he would be free from all unnecessary busy-ness in ministry. Also grant our pastor sufficient rest and sleep.

Grant our pastor humility before Your Word as he finishes his preparations and grant that he may be filled with a holy dread and gravity as he stands before Your people. May he know what it is to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit. May we truly know what it is to sit under the preaching of the Word. Speak to us, we pray. Speak to our hearts through the words we hear. May we never be the same.

Be with those who will lead us in worship. Be near to those who will sing or play instruments. Grant that in all things they may seek to serve You. May songs be selected that will bring glory and honor to Your name. May they lead us in singing songs that celebrate the beauty of the Savior and sing of Your wonders, Your glory, Your triumphs, Your holiness, Your majesty and Your great gospel. Let everything that has breath in that place praise the Lord together. May our worship be a sweet and fragrant offering to You. Accept it Lord, though we know it is poor and imperfect. Accept it through Your grace.

Be with the men and women who will be serving this week – those who are responsible for hospitality, greeting and ushering; those who will work in the sound booth, in the bookstall, in administration, and with those who will minister to our precious children and youth. Even now Lord, please fill all of these people afresh with Your Spirit. We thank you for the servant’s hearts You have given to them. I ask that You will allow them to be a blessing to many this week, even to those who do not yet know You. May the service run smoothly and may Your hand be evident in all that transpires. May Your love truly flow amongst us. May each of us be sensitive to the needs of others.

Bless our church’s outreach this week, through the words we speak, the love we show and the help we give to others. Bless the proclamation of Your gospel both by word and by life. In Your goodness, bring many to repentance. Direct our conversations, and help each of us to be bold in sharing the good news of Christ with others. Use me and all of our church in outreach this week I pray.

Would you help all who attend to come to the Sunday service as true worshippers–as those who worship You in spirit and in truth. Remind us that the gathering of Your people to worship is something You have ordained for us. It is a holy and sacred time. Help us to take the Lord’s day seriously. Prepare my heart and each of our hearts even now for what You will say to us then. Grant that we may not come before you as frauds, standing in Your presence filled with unconfessed sin. Give us the strength and wisdom to reconcile ourselves to our brothers and sisters before we come before You in worship. Give us discerning hearts that we may see and confess our sin before You. Open our eyes to see and to know You in a new way. Help us to worship You, not only with our lips, but with our hearts, our souls, and all that we are. Accept the gift of worship we will bring to You. May it please You.

Be with our pastor as he prepares to preach Your Word on Sunday. Grant that his time of preparation will be fruitful and that You will stir His heart with the great news of the gospel, of the precious truth of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone. May all of us at our Church live in the power of this gospel always. Protect us from the devil’s lies and help us to never be bored by the wonderful doctrines of grace, but grant that they may be the joy and delight of our hearts. Open our eyes Lord to see just how Your glorious gospel affects each and every area of our lives. Grant that our pastor or any guest minister may preach with great power and passion on Sunday morning. May the preaching be God centered, cross centered and gospel centered.

Be with me Lord. Prepare my own heart for Sunday morning when You speak to us as Your people. I confess that already my heart is polluted with sin. As I think about worshipping You, already I wonder how other men may perceive me. Already I sin against you. Extend Your gracious forgiveness to me that I may come before You with a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Keep the truth ever before me that to obey is better than sacrifice. Help me to be obedient to You in all things. Fill me with Your Spirit. Grant that I may serve You by serving others.

Grant traveling mercies as men and women, boys and girls come to our Church on Sunday. Keep us safe this week and as we gather together in Your name.

We pray for peace and unity while we gather together. We ask that there will be mercy and understanding. We ask that there will be a great outpouring of your Spirit. We ask that you will bless us for the sake of the glory of Your great name.

I ask these things humbly and in the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that I may be expectant and observant in seeking answers to this prayer so that I may praise You for Your goodness. May we all seek Your presence and glory in it together as we worship You this week.

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The Preacher’s Private Prayer

February 13, 2008

Another great quote on prayer comes from the powerful English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I think it was R Kent Hughes who once expressed his surprise that few books on preaching contain a section on prayer. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students cannot face that criticism. Read below a most challenging portion from his chapter “The Preacher’s Private Prayer.”

“Your prayers will be your ablest assistants while your discourses are yet upon the anvil. While other men, like Esau, are hunting for their portion, you, by the aid, of prayer, will find the savoury meat near at home, and may say in truth what Jacob said so falsely, “The Lord brought it to me.” If you can dip your pens into your hearts, appealing in earnestness to the Lord, you will write well; and if you can gather your matter on your knees at the gate of heaven, you will not fail to speak well.

Prayer, as a mental exercise, will bring many subjects before the mind, and so help in the selection of a topic, while as a high spiritual engagement it will cleanse your inner eye that you may see truth in the light of God. Texts will often refuse to reveal their treasures till you open them with the key of prayer. How wonderfully were the books opened to Daniel when he was in supplication! How much Peter learned upon the housetop!

The closet is the best study. The commentators are good instructors, but the Author Himself is far better, and prayer makes a direct appeal to Him and enlists Him in our cause. It is a great thing to pray one’s self into the spirit and marrow of a text, working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as the worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut.

Prayer supplies a leverage for the uplifting of ponderous truths. One marvels how the stones of Stonehenge could have been set in their places; it is even more to be enquired after whence some men obtained such admirable knowledge of mysterious doctrines: was not prayer the potent machinery which wrought the wonder? Waiting upon God often turns darkness into light. Persevering enquiry at the sacred oracle uplifts the veil and gives grace to look into the deep things of God.

A certain Puritan divine at a debate was observed frequently to write upon the paper before him; upon others curiously seeking to read his notes, they found nothing upon the page but the words, “More light, Lord,” “More light, Lord,” repeated scores of times: a most suitable prayer for the student of the Word when preparing his discourse.

You will frequently find fresh streams of thought leaping up from the passage before you, as if the rock had been struck by Moses’ rod; new veins of precious ore will be revealed to your astonished gaze as you quarry God’s Word and use diligently the hammer of prayer. You will sometimes feel as if you were entirely shut up, and then suddenly a new road will open before you.

He who hath the key of David openeth, and no man shutteth. If you have ever sailed down the Rhine, the water scenery of that majestic river will have struck you as being very like in effect to a series of lakes. Before and behind the vessel appears to be enclosed in massive walls of rock, or circles of vine-clad terraces, till on a sudden you turn a corner, and before you the rejoicing and abounding river flows onward in its strength.

So the laborious student often finds it with a text; it appears to be fast closed against you, but prayer propels your vessel, and turns its prow into fresh waters, and you behold the broad and deep stream of sacred truth flowing in its fulness, and bearing you with it. Is not this a convincing reason for abiding in supplication? Use prayer as a boring rod, and wells of living water will leap up from the bowels of the Word. Who will be content to thirst when living waters are so readily to be obtained!

The best and holiest men have ever made prayer the most important part of pulpit preparation. It is said of M’Cheyne, “Anxious to give his people on the Sabbath what had cost him somewhat, he never, without an urgent reason, went before them without much previous meditation and prayer. His principle on this subject was embodied in a remark he made to some of us who were conversing on the matter. Being asked his view of diligent preparation for the pulpit, he reminded us of Exodus xxvii. 20. ‘Beaten oil-beaten oil for the lamps of the sanctuary.’

And yet his prayerfulness was greater still. Indeed, he could not neglect fellowship with God before entering the congregation. He needed to be bathed in the love of God. His ministry was so ‘much a bringing out of views that had first sanctified his own soul, that the healthiness of his soul was absolutely needful to the vigour and power of his ministrations.” “With him the commencement of all labour invariably consisted in the preparation of his own soul. The walls of his chamber were witnesses of his prayerfulness and of his tears, as well as of his cries.”

Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.

It is said of Alleine, “He poured out his very heart in prayer and preaching. His supplications and his exhortations were so affectionate, so full of holy zeal, life and vigour, that they quite overcame his hearers; he melted over them, so that he thawed and.mollified, and sometimes dissolved the hardest hearts.” There could have been none of this sacred dissolving of heart if his mind had not been previously exposed to the tropical rays of the Sun of Righteousness by private fellowship with the risen Lord.

A truly pathetic delivery, in which there is no affectation, but much affection, can only be the offspring of prayer. There is no rhetoric like that of the heart, and no school for learning it but the foot of the cross. It were better that you never learned a rule of human oratory, but were full of the power of heavenborn love, than that you should master Quintilian, Cicero, and Aristotle, and remain without the apostolic anointing.

Prayer may not make you eloquent after the human mode, but it will make you truly so, for you will speak out of the heart; and is not that the meaning of the word eloquence? It will bring fire from heaven upon your sacrifice, and thus prove it to be accepted of the Lord.

As fresh springs of thought will frequently break up during prepara-tion in answer to prayer, so will it be in the delivery of the sermon. Most preachers who depend upon God’s Spirit will tell you that their freshest and best thoughts are not those which were premeditated, but ideas which come to them, flying as on the wings of angels; unexpected treasures brought on a sudden by celestial hands, seeds of the flowers of paradise, wafted from the mountains of myrrh.

Often and often when I have felt hampered, both in thought and expression, my secret groaning of heart has brought me relief, and I have enjoyed more than usual liberty. But how dare we pray in the battle if we have never cried to the Lord while buckling on the harness! The remembrance of his wrestlings at home comforts the fettered preacher when in the pulpit: God will not desert us unless we have deserted him. You, brethren, will find that prayer will ensure you strength equal to your day.

As the tongues of fire came upon the apostles, when they sat watching and praying, even so will they come upon you. You will find yourselves, when you might perhaps have flagged, suddenly upborne, as by a seraph’s power. Wtieels of fire will be fastened to your chariot, which had begun to drag right heavily, and steeds angelic will be, in a moment harnessed to your fiery car, till you climb the heavens like Elijah, in a rapture of flaming inspiration.”

(Note: this is a re-post from Jan 07).

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The Most Neglected Component of Research?

February 13, 2008

Speaking at our first preaching seminar (Digging into the text pt 1) I suggested that there are three basic practices involved in research. Taking the risk of perhaps over-simplifying things, I said that biblical research involves the triad of praying, reading and questioning (the text).

Regarding prayer (perhaps the most neglected of the three?) I proposed that “the one who will speak for God in the pulpit, must firstly speak to God in the study.” In other words: prayer must permeate the whole preparation process. It should not merely be the emergency chord we pull for a few panicked moments in the pre-service vestry. Faris Whitesell explains such pervasive prayer better than I:

“The preacher must be a man of prayer. . . . He should pray for his messages . . . soak them in prayer, . . . pray as he goes into the pulpit, pray as he preaches insofar as that is possible, and follow up his sermons with prayer .” (from The Art of Biblical Preaching)

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Whitefield – Praying For A “Manner of Men”

February 12, 2008

The idea of a preacher being more than someone who performs a certain function, but a kind of person, is borne out well in the following quote from George Whitefield. Whitefield’s prayer, recently quoted by John Piper, would be one worthy to voice from all our lips:

“Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more . . . raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.”

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Relying on the Spirit with APTAT

February 11, 2008

One area Tim was prevented from developing further last session was the point, “Relying on the Spirit of God.” Tim had hoped to share John Piper’s A.P.T.A.T which for years Piper has utilised as a practical tool before, during and after the sermon. The basic outline is:

A – Admit my helplessness (John 15:5)
P – Pray for help (Psalm 50:15)
T – Trust a specific promise (Isaiah 66:2)
A – Act with confidence in God (Isaiah 55:11)
T – Thank God (I Thessalonians 5:18)

Its just a practical tool of course, not recorded in Leviticus. But I wonder what other preachers use to lean upon the Spirit’s help in the context of preaching?

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Living The Gospel Or Just Preaching It?

February 11, 2008

Last Thursday night, pastor Tim Bridges pointed out to our preaching group that its one thing to preach the gospel; another to live the gospel which we preach. Thus, he encouraged us to ask ourselves questions such as these (especially when we preach on these specific subjects):

Do you hope in God?

Do you rejoice during trials?

Is your life marked by perseverance, character, hope?

Do you have contempt for sin and compassion for those ensnared by it?

Do you believe the Gospel is the power of God to Salvation for everyone who believes?

Anyone?

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“The Preacher’s Priorities” – Tim Bridges

February 9, 2008

Find below the outline of Tim Bridges excellent session from last Thursday night: “the Preacher’s Priorities.” I’ve also added some of my favourite quotes.

I The Pervasive Priority
1) The Glory of God

“…‘glorifying God’ becomes a pursuit that consumes our lives…not a posture we assume when we stand in the pulpit.”

II Personal Priorities
1) ‘Live the Gospel’ before you ‘Preach the Gospel’.
“Resolved, to live so, at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.” (Jonathan Edwards)

2) Cultivate genuine affections for God.
“There is a big difference between knowing that God is awesome and being in awe of God.”

“Do not ‘perform the text’! Fight to be ‘pierced by the text’ so that affections displayed in public match affections in cultivated in private”

“No man preacheth that sermon well that doth not first preach it in his own heart” (John Owen)

III Pulpit Priorities
1) Preach with ‘desperate confidence’ in the Spirit of God.
2) Preach the Cross of Christ as the ultimate ‘context’ for your text.
“I take my text, and make a beeline for the cross.” (Charles Spurgeon)

3) Preach to be understood.
“It is a byword among us: ‘It was a very plain sermon’. And I say again, the plainer the better.” (William Perkins)

(By the way, Tim Bridges is the course co-leader and blogs over at the Conventicle.)

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Bunyan – What It Means to Be A Preacher

February 9, 2008

“A man, who had his eyes up to heaven, the best of books was in his hand, the law of truth was upon his lips, and he stood as if he pleaded with men.” (Description of a figure in a painting in The Interpreter’s House, Pilgrim’s Progress)

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– quoted by T Bridges, “the Preacher’s Priorities”

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PC Audio – “Digging Into the Text; part one”

February 8, 2008

It was a thrill to see The Preaching Course launch last evening. We thought some of you might like to eavesdrop in on some of the sessions.

First up is “Digging Into the Text pt 1” where I began to look at the subject of research.

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(Photo by rbrwr; Creative Commons License)

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Called To Preach #3 – How They Started

February 6, 2008

You might be interested to know how various well known preachers today got involved in the great task in the first place. After reviewing some previous interviews on the blog, I’ve collated a few below.

Thabiti Anyabwile

“I was asked to speak at a “youth day” event at a church in my home town. I thought it was going to be an event after the morning service with 20-30 teenagers in the church basement. When I arrived, I found out that I was the guest preacher for the morning service! I tweaked my planned talk from John 4 and did the best I could. A little lady came up to me afterwards and asked, “Where are you in your walk?” I had no idea what she meant and mumbled something like “I’m trying to grow in the Lord.” She clarified: “No… I think you may be called to the ministry.” I put that behind me thinking she meant well but was probably a bit overly enthusiastic. Soon after, a number of people began commenting in much the same way this little lady had, expressing appreciation for what they regarded as speaking gifts whenever I would lead a Bible study, small group, or some other address. So, it was through the saints that those gifts became evident to me.”

Tim Keller

“I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33.) During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.”

Voddie Baucham

“As a young college student, I went on a preaching mission with several teammates of mine. I was a relatively new believer and had no experience sharing God’s word. Two of my mentors guided me through the week and helped me discover my gifts in preaching for the first time. I felt as though something in me was awakened for the first time. I’ve been preaching ever since.”

Derek Prime

“Soon after my conversion in my early teens it was my turn to speak in a small young people’s group in the church fellowship to which I belonged. It so ‘happened’ that the pastor was present that evening and at the conclusion of the meeting he spoke to me in such a way that the secret thoughts and convictions I had had about wanting to serve God as a pastor/teacher were encouraged and confirmed. My Bible Class teacher soon after took me with him when he conducted services as a lay-preacher, encouraging me first to take part in some small way and then to preach. From that introduction an increasing number of invitations came to me to speak and preach.”


Derek Thomas

“As a student at Aberystwyth University, I was encouraged on several occasions to speak on behalf of the Christian Union at a retirement home. Then, I recall Geoff Thomas asking me to speak on a Sunday afternoon in a church a few miles outside Aberystwyth. There were three people present, one of whom was the organist who sat behind me! These were the dawning of my sense of exhilaration (and fear!) about being called spend the rest of my life as a preacher. That was thirty-five years ago and I’ve been preaching ever since.”

Conrad Mbewe

Initially, soon after I became a Christian in 1979, I just had a burden to share Christ in personal witnessing contexts with individuals. I did not realise that this burden would one day find expression in preaching to entire crowds. At that time I was a student at a local university in Zambia. From time to time, I would be asked to prepare the Bible study lesson and teach our Growth Group in our hall of residence. These were small groups of Christian students who got together once a week to study the Bible. I found that I could handle the text and draw out appropriate lessons. In due season, around 1982, one of the elders at church asked me to join him in leading the Bible study group that comprised the young adults in the church, especially those who were in college and university. In this period, I sharpened my skills further. Before I graduated in 1984, however, I was chosen as chairman of the university Christian fellowship, and that meant preaching at least once a semester. This was for the last two years of my undergraduate days. I found great fulfilment not only in teaching the Word of God but also preaching it. It was clear from the feedback that I was getting, that God had gifted me in this way. This was quite apart from a sense of call that I experienced in a very definite way at a very subjective level sometime in 1980. So, by the time I graduated from the university, my gifts in preaching were confirmed, and I was just waiting for the Lord to open a door into full time pastoral studies or full time pastoral work. In 1987, the Lord opened the latter door and I became a church pastor.

Vaughan Roberts

I never really wanted to do anything but be a pastor-teacher after I was converted in my later teens but, being very shy at the time, I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would think I could do it. Helping at camps for teenagers gave me opportunities to give short bible talks. That led to more invitations and encouragement from people I respected that I did have some embryonic preaching gifts.

Philip Ryken

By the grace of God, even as a small boy my heart was drawn to using my talents to the very best of my ability, and in a way that would bring glory to God. Pastoral ministry always seemed to be one way to be a faithful steward of whatever gifts the Lord had given me. I generally paid close attention to what various ministers were doing in the pulpit, and would sometimes imagine what it would be like to preach the gospel. As I envisioned it, this would be in a church where people were eager to listen and taking notes.

I can remember going out with my father for ice cream when I was in the eighth grade and talking about what I would do with my life. Pastoral ministry was one calling that we discussed, and I went in to speak with our pastor about what it was like to be a pastor, what books I ought to read, what was hard about the pastoral ministry, and so forth. It was not until college, though, that I became clear in my inward call. When Lisa and I began dating our freshman year it was already apparent to her that I was heading in that direction. In general, there was a growing sense that this and this only is what I was born to do: preach the Word.

Peter Grainger

My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all Methodist local preachers. As a teenager, I accompanied my father to the churches where he spoke and began by reading the Scriptures for him, singing (!), then leading and finally attempting to preach (around the age of 16).


Liam Golligher

“About the age of 12 I felt a great desire to preach the gospel. I started to read theology and to prepare short talks which I practiced aloud in the fields behind our house. I made a real impression on the cows I remember! Well from the age of 15 I started preaching to real people. I took on every kind of speaking engagement that came my way. I went into the weirdest contexts and spoke for anything from 5 minutes to 50 minutes. I mostly preached badly but I told myself, ‘there’s always next time!’ and I kept at it. I still preach badly but believe that I’ll do better next time. I believe you learn to preach by preaching. I’m still learning. The lesson I’ve learned is that call to preach stems from inward constraint and the confirmation of the church.”

Steve Cole

“When I was in college, I tried teaching the Bible and found, much to my surprise, people seemed really to be helped by it. I never actually preached to any extent, though, before I began in the pastorate 30 years ago.”