Archive for April, 2008


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.”


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’.”


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!


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.


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)


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?


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.


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!


A Young Scottish Preacher on Preaching

April 17, 2008

Scotland desperately needs faithful preachers. For this to happen, we need to see younger men taking up the mantle and unashamedly preaching the gospel.

One such ‘young gentlemen’ is Tommy Wright, a student on the Glo Bible College course and regular preacher around Lanarkshire. For the record, Tommy Wright is spending the next fortnight shadowing our work here at CC. Here’s a few questions I put to him:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Tommy Wright and I live in Motherwell with my wife Fiona and my little boy Caleb who is two and a half years old. I have been a Christian for ten years, having grown up going to church in Motherwell and making a conscious decision to follow Christ when I was sixteen years old. Liberty Community Church in Bellshill is where we as a family now attend and worship having become members before Fiona and I got married five years ago. I am currently studying at Gospel Literature Outreach (GLO) in Motherwell on a 1 year ‘Training for Service’ course having taken a year out from my job working in social care for the Church of Scotland. As for the future after GLO, I’m honestly not too sure. I’m quite willing to do something different if I am called to do so but at the same time am willing to return to my job if that is what the Lord requires. Who said guidance is easy?

What is your impression of preaching in Scotland today?
I must say that over the past year I have been really encouraged by the amount of preaching events etc that have been organised and held within Scotland. It would appear that churches are once again beginning to recognise the significance of preaching, thus seeing the need to train and equip. This is a welcome shift away from a church culture which I believe because of its low view of preaching either failed to develop preachers or produced preachers who were more like entertainers rather than men of the word. Thankfully there are still some faithful men of the word who should be with us long enough to see the next generation take up the mantle.

What first attracted you to preaching?
To be honest I would have to say that I never actually aspired to be a preacher or ever thought that one day I would preach. I gradually got introduced to leading bible studies and preaching when I was around seventeen or eighteen during my time at Roman Road Gospel Hall in Motherwell. When I began to realise that maybe God had gifted me in the area of preaching that was when I sat up and began to take more of an active interest. I recognised the importance of preaching the word of God not only for the growth of the church but also for the salvation of the world. Having the opportunity to study God’s word and be involved in helping others to see the relevance and significance of it is something that continues to thrill and excite me.

Do you remember your first preach?
I do know if I remember my first preach but I remember the first time I was up front giving my testimony at a little church in Harthill. I was sixteen years old and had been a Christian for around six months. I was so nervous that I kept forgetting what I wanted to say, with people from the congregation even having to finish my sentences. If someone had told me at that point that within two years I would be up preaching I would honestly have laughed, or the way I was feeling may even have cried.

What help have you had in developing your preaching?
Even although I would never have seen myself sharing my testimony up front again never mind preaching I was given further opportunities over the next few years to both lead youth bible studies as well as preach. I think that being given these opportunities as well as others throughout the last number of years have been key to firstly recognising the gift as well as continuously trying to develop it. Being encouraged by fellow brothers and sisters to attend preaching conferences, read books as well as to embark upon the GLO course has also been fundamental to the development of my preaching. My wife Fiona has also been instrumental often helping me to recognise and correct mistakes that neither I nor anyone else have picked up on as well as encouraging me not to give up even after preaching what seems like the worst message ever. I genuinely thank God for my wives patience and guidance.

Any thoughts on how you’d like to continue improving as a preacher in the future, and what steps to take to make that happen?
Two particular areas (there are many more) where I would like to develop and improve would be with regards to the length of my preparation time and the speed of my delivery.

At the moment I find that it can take a matter of weeks (although not solidly of course) to prepare a sermon from start to finish. This to be honest is because I am learning more about as well as trying to apply good hermeneutics as well as homiletics. To do it right obviously takes more time. My aim would be that before long I would have developed a comfortable method for not only studying a passage but also developing and preparing my message. A key thing which I believe would help me in this area would be the addition of more preaching dates to my diary. Currently I probably only preach around ten times in a year, with sometimes there being a gap of a few months between dates. Preaching more regularly would hopefully allow me to gain some momentum and become more confident in what I am doing.

Latterly as I have had the opportunity to preach in England and Wales as well as through translation whilst in Italy, I have realised that the rate at which I speak whilst preaching is too fast. More recently I have tried to consciously speak more slowly from the very beginning of my message in order that as I progress and get more excited I will be speaking at a more reasonable speed. This is still very much a work in progress.

Continuing in prayer, attending preaching conferences and training events as well as continuing to extend my reading on the subject should hopefully help me to develop further in the future.


T4G (For Those Who Can’t Be There)

April 17, 2008

(photo courtesy of Tim Challies)

Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry
(Ligon Duncan) Download*

Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church

(Thabiti Anyabwile) Download*

The Sinner Neither Able nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability
(John MacArthur) Download*

Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology
(Mark Dever) Download*

The Curse Motif of the Atonement
(R.C. Sproul) Download*

Why Did They Hate It So? The Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement (Al Mohler) Download*

How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Sacrifice (John Piper) Download*

Sustaining A Pastor’s Soul (CJ Mahaney) Download*

(Audio courtesy of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Listen online from this page)


Just Pick A Book, Any Book…

April 15, 2008

I’m sure many pastors who have agonised over ‘what to preach next’ might be somewhat startled by the following quote. Mark Dever writes,

“Generally, I do not choose a series of expositional sermosn because of particular topics that I think the church needs to hear about. Rather, I assume that all of the Bible is relevant to us all of the time. Now, I trust that God may lead to some particular books, but very often when I’m working on a text and reading through it in my quiet times the week before preaching, and working with it very seriously on the Friday, there will be things that I find in it that I didn’t expect to find at all.”
(Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p 40)

So what do you think: should we be less intentional about what we choose to preach on?


Acts – The Spreading Flame

April 14, 2008

The Spreading Flame, our new series in the book of Acts, took light a week past on Sunday. In the next few days I am due to prepare my first sermon for it. In preparation, I have been tracking down resources to aid my trek through this rich but sometimes difficult book.

(Photo by ChromaticOrb, Creative Commons License)

Here’s what I have come up with so far. If you know of other online commentaries, articles, or helpful sermon series, do let me know and I’ll update the below list.

Online Commentaries
Commenting on the Commentaries of Acts – Gerald Cowen
John Calvin (vol 1)
John Calvin (vol 2)
John Gill
David Guzik
Matthew Henry – Exhaustive Commentary
IVP Commentary – Acts
Bob Utley

Commentaries to Purchase
Bruce, FF, Acts, NICNT, 1990
Bock, Darrell L, Acts , BECNT, 2007
Boyce, James M, Acts, Baker, 2006 (expositional)
Hughes, R Kent, Acts: The Church Afire, PTW, 1996 (expositional)
Longenecker, Richard N, Acts, EBC, 1981
MacArthur, J, MacArthur NT Commentary: Acts (volumes one & two), Moody, 1904 (expositional)
Marshall, H, The Acts of the Apostles, TNTC, 1980
Stott, J, Acts, BST, 1994
Wiersbe, W, Acts: Be Dynamic (1-12) & Acts: Be Daring (13-28), BE Books (expositional)

Sermon Manuscripts
Steve Cole
Bob Deffinbaugh
Dan Doriani
John MacArthur
PG Mathew
Phil Newton
John Piper
Robert Rayburn
Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards & JC Ryle
Dr. Derek Thomas

Sermon Audio
Mark Dever – “The Message of Acts”
Dan Doriani
Steve Lawson (miscellaneous)
Phil Newton
John Piper
Dr Derek Thomas

William Barclay – A Comparison Between Paul’s Missionary Preaching and his Preaching In the Church
FF Bruce – Luke’s Presentation of the Spirit in Acts
FF Bruce – The Speeches in the Acts of the Apostles
The Purpose of Acts – D.A Carson and Douglas J Moo
David S Dochery – The Theology of Acts
Donald Guthrie – Recent Literature on Acts of the Apostles
Howard Marshall – The Resurrection In Acts of the Apostles
HN Ridderbos – The Speeches of Peter in Acts
Jerry Vines – Evangelistic Preaching in Acts


Some more excellent online articles
R Kent Hughes, College Church (sermon audio)
Mike Campbell – Redeemer Church, Jackson, Mississipi (sermon audio)
S Lewis Johnson; Believer’s Chapel, Dallas (sermon audio)
Dan Duncan; Believer’s Chapel, Dallas (sermon audio)
Mark Dever, Capitol Hill: Acts 1-2, Acts 3-5, Acts 6-9, Acts 9-12, Acts 13-15, Acts 16-20, Acts 21-28.
Commentary of Paton James Gloag; volume one, volume two
(HT: David Reimer)


Reviewing the Reason for God

April 11, 2008

Appreciation to John Percival, my former colleague and Associate Pastor of St Peter’s Barge, Canary Wharf, London, for permission to post this helpful review.

Review of Tim Keller’s, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism, Dutton, New York, 2008, $24.95

If you have longed for a book to give a sceptical friend or to help you think about your faith in a deeper and more culturally engaged way then this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

Keller will be known to many as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Traditionally the graveyard of American evangelicalism, Keller has planted a church in the middle of the city among the types of people who have always been thought of as the hardest to reach: the urban, the young, the sceptical and the postmodern. One feature that makes this book so rich and unique is the way that it reflects his experiences.

Keller starts with the concept of doubt and invites both believers and sceptics to examine and confront their doubts: for the believer, being honest about personal and cultural objections to faith; for the sceptic, being willing to question deeply cherished beliefs.

The book is split simply into two halves. The first half seeks to deconstruct doubt, and looks at the seven most common “defeaters” to Christian belief that Keller has encountered: the exclusivity of the Christian claims, the problem of suffering, Christianity as a moral straitjacket, the track record of the church, hell, science, and whether we can take the Bible literally or not. The second half seeks to build a more positive case for Christianity and examines the clues for God in creation and human nature before covering the more traditional turf of sin, redemption, and resurrection, finishing with a characteristically winsome appeal for our response.

What separates this book out from its predecessors is firstly Keller’s style. His writing is disarming, honest, and compelling, and is interspersed with real life anecdotes from the many people who have come to him with questions. The second thing to note is that Keller brings arguments to bear on his subject matter that will be new even to many Christians. He consistently engages with the toughest contemporary nuts to crack (even addressing issues such as social justice and human rights) and it is not without significance that his book has been described as a modern day Mere Christianity. Keller would no doubt shirk from the parallel but acknowledges Lewis’s influence (along with that of American theologian Jonathan Edwards) at many points.

This is great stuff from start to finish. Whether you are a sceptic seeking answers, a believer struggling with doubts, or just seeking to be better equipped to share your faith, then this is the book for you. Keller’s stated aim is to make a case for Christianity in general, and he does this humbly and truthfully in a way that would be especially accessible to the thinking outsider. Significantly, this book is distributed by a secular publisher; it has already made the Top Ten list of New York Times’ bestsellers, and it is gratifying finally to have a Christian book that engages with the likes of Dawkins et al on their level and in their natural habitat. Let us pray that many people buy this and read it: the more the better.