Archive for August, 2008


Keller Encoded

August 29, 2008

OK… the one we’ve all been waiting for: Tim Keller’s sermon notes (read the introduction here). True to the man, the notes are pretty sophisticated. Actually, its fun just trying to work out his code all the way through!! They’re actually ‘fairly full’ if you cut out all the abbreviations.

This could be a nightmare. Now I’ll probably start thinking about how I can ‘code’ my manuscripts too!


Suffering at the Sculptor’s Hands

August 28, 2008

‘When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man
When God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part
When He yearns with all his heart to create so great and bold a man
That all the world should be amazed,
Watch his methods, watch His ways:
How he ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects;
How he hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand,
While man’s tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands;
Yet God bends but never breaks when man’s good He undertakes
How He uses whom he chooses,
And with mighty power infuses him,
With every act induces him to try his splendour out,
God knows what he’s about…’
(C. Pierce, Quoted in When God Weeps)


Ray Ortlund Jr – Isaiah & the ESV Study Bible

August 26, 2008

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr is the pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville. Ray recently contributed to the new ESV Study Bible, compiling notes for the book of Isaiah. Here is a link to the Isaiah intro along with the first couple of chapters. In what follows, I put a few questions to Ray about Isaiah in the context of the ESV Study Bible.

1. Ray, I believe that Isaiah is one of the books you’ve given yourself to for special ‘lifetime study.’ What led to your interest in Isaiah and how have you invested in studying it?

Dr. Bruce Waltke introduced me to Isaiah at Dallas Seminary in 1973. I saw this lovely Christian man drawing insights out of Isaiah that left me spellbound. I had never seen the Bible perform like that, especially the Old Testament. God claimed me for a lifetime of serious Bible study. Isn’t it often the case that God uses a person to awaken us to spiritual riches that would otherwise go unnoticed?

I want to know the whole Bible as well as I can, of course. But it’s a huge book in every way, and life is short. So, alongside my studies ranging all over the Bible, my strategy is to focus on one Old Testament book and one New Testament book as lifetime personal projects. I have chosen Isaiah and Romans. Right now, in my daily Bible reading, I am plowing through Isaiah again with Brevard Childs’ commentary.

2. You’ve also compared Isaiah to a “classic that no-one reads any more.” It begs the question: are there some particular challenges readers face when confronting this prophecy?

Yes. But the challenges are part of what makes Bible study so satisfying. If it were easy, who would care?

For many people, the front-end challenge to enjoying Isaiah might be what Luther noted in his wonderfully blunt way – that “the prophets have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at.” Isaiah as literature can give the appearance of arbitrary disconnectedness. It’s part of the reason Delbert Hillers wrote, “The books of Israel’s prophets are among the most difficult in the Old Testament, and probably among the most difficult books ever written.” In addition, we have to consider hermeneutical/theological questions within the flow of the Bible as a whole, especially how Isaiah dovetails into the New Testament. Then there is Isaiah’s historical distance from our own time, though that may be the least formidable difficulty because the Holy Spirit makes sure that Isaiah remains hard-hitting in every age at the level of raw personal impact.

3. In what ways do you believe the ESV Study Bible notes will help the ‘average reader’ grapple with the book?

Two, for starters. One, the notes will help a reader track with the larger flow of Isaiah’s unfolding thought. The parts really do fit into a whole. It is satisfying and maturing to track with a book like Isaiah without quitting until we have that “Aha!” moment, given by God, when the prophet’s message finally breaks open with clarity and power. The introduction and notes are meant to set the scene for that discovery experience.

Two, the notes also attempt to answer the more detailed questions that a reader will ask. Getting an accurate answer quickly, at the bottom of the page, enables a reader to keep going with minimal interruption and keep reaching for that larger vision Isaiah wants to communicate.

4. In the study notes you say that “God himself is the center of Isaiah’s vision” and that everything else plays a ‘supportive’ role. What do you mean by this?

If Isaiah were the script of a play, the one character who never exits the stage is God. That fact alone is full of meaning and material to Isaiah’s message. The prophet himself appears only several times. Everyone and everything but God plays a support role in the unfolding drama. The book is “concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (1:1), but they are there to prove what only their Savior can do. Other nations appear (chapters 13ff), Assyria swaggers into view rattling its sword (chapters 36-37), Bel and Nebo are dragged on-stage as absurd props (chapter 46), but the Holy One of Israel remains center-stage throughout. He draws our attention to the Servant in whom his soul delights (42:1). He pours out his Spirit (44:3). He surveys the whole drama and says, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it” (48:11). He even commands, “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (2:22). Today we “regard man” far too much. It’s why we need this aggressively God-centered book of Isaiah.

5. Ray, you have previously preached through Isaiah. Did preaching through the prophecy make any impact upon the kinds of study-notes you included?

I love biblical scholarship. But I do ask that it help me trust the Lord more biblically and help me, as a pastor, help others trust the Lord more biblically. But to get to the point, yes, preaching through Isaiah changed me. It re-oriented my reading at the level of my deepest assumptions about what the Bible is even here for. I tried to write, therefore, not primarily with the questions of a professional scholar in mind but primarily with the questions of a regenerate, thoughtful layperson in mind. Isaiah wrote to help everyday people reason honestly with the Lord, trust firmly in the Lord, rest quietly in the Lord, wait patiently for the Lord, prepare the way of the Lord, remove every obstruction, and so forth. Okay. Now I know what to care about. I hope this sense of alignment with the prophet’s own intention comes through, with notes that are scholarly but not arcane, practical but not platitudinous.

6. So, what ‘prophetic message’ does the book of Isaiah bring to the church today?

I think Isaiah would have loved Calvin, who in the throes of decision wrote to Farel, “I am well aware that it is with God that I have to do.” We are always dealing with God. But little in the modern world makes us well aware of it. Isaiah became well aware of God. He came to realize how urgently relevant to all things is the One who says, “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (43:11). But Isaiah also saw that it’s the most natural thing in the world for us, without even realizing it, to redefine God in such a way that we can forsake him and still think of ourselves as good people.

That leads to Isaiah’s second prophetic message to us today. We are more wicked than we know. Isaiah himself went through a profound humiliation before God. He was a privileged man, and obviously a genius. People probably valued his opinions. But when he saw the holy King, he finally saw his own dirty self, no better than anyone else (6:1-5). But the grace of the King was feelingly applied to Isaiah, energizing him for a self-abandoning, God-glorifying life mission (6:6-8). As Charles Simeon wrote to a friend, “You have always appeared to me to be sincere. But your views of Christianity seemed to be essentially defective. You have always appeared to admire Christianity as a system; but you never seemed to have just views of Christianity as a remedy; you never seemed to possess self-knowledge or to know the evil of your own heart.”

Isaiah’s third and breath-takingly glorious message is that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He will preserve, purify and honor his people, drawing us out from all the nations as a glorious new humanity and, through the sin-bearing Servant, he will have us glorifying and enjoying himself in a renewed universe forever. No matter what terrors confront us in the world, no matter what sins we discover in ourselves, God will fulfill his saving purpose. “Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create,” God says (65:18).

7. Finally Ray, how did you find the experience of putting together your contribution of the ESV Study Bible notes?

It was one of the great privileges of my life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have gladly paid Crossway to let me do it. Fortunately, they didn’t know that.

I think of it this way. What if God, in grace, allowed me to set aside significant time to linger in thoughtful personal conversation with the ancient prophet Isaiah? What would I learn from that experience? How would I see things in a new way and be set free and change? Well, he did give me that privilege – in large part, through this Study Bible project – and I’m still there. I hope these notes that came of it, these jottings from the conversation as it were, make it easier for every reader to join in. God himself has promised to meet us there.

(Ray also blogs at Christ Is Deeper still).


Tim Keller on the Pastor’s Home

August 25, 2008

How true: “People will get mad at you if you do it right.”


The Test of Stress

August 25, 2008

So you know you’re stressed already. Here’s a chance to find out just how badly! You only need to adjust the dials on this 7-pronged stress indicator.

Apparently, I ‘occasionally’ feel the effects of stress…



August 21, 2008

(Glen. School. Day 1)


10 Marks of Thin Blooded Preaching

August 21, 2008

Michael Quicke highlights 10 marks of preaching that lacks courage.

1. Individualistic.
2. Aimed at head or heart but rarely at both.
3. Spineless theology.
4. Generic application.
5. Avoids conflict.
6. Low compliance.
7. Absence of process issues.
8. Solo role.
9. Cowardice.
10. Missionally defective.

Read the whole thing here.



August 20, 2008

My post last week entitled “A Few Things I’m Working On In My Preaching” generated a fair bit of discussion, and some were unsure of the whole premise. While I don’t usually recap on old posts, I thought I’d share a couple more reflections on it.

1) The post was only intended to be semi-serious. I think only James Anderson – the first commenter – picked this up. Could this be due to the fact that he is from the UK and therefore picks up on the slightly ironic humour? (Adding at the end of the post “this may take a while” was meant to convey this! I should have been more clear). I seriously don’t even begin to ‘measure’ myself against any of the preachers I mentioned, nor do I break into cold sweats worrying I will never be all that they are.

2) There can be a danger of emulation. Several people made this point and to some degree it’s a fair one. Its certainly tempting – for young preachers especially – to unconsciously imitate certain stylistic features of their favourite preachers: to try to ‘be‘ John Piper or the like. I call this ‘personality plagiarism.’ That said, while this is an oft talked about danger, I can’t say I’ve actually heard too many preachers ‘who were just like so and so.’ I rather imagine that many an ‘imitating novice’ has either quickly realised the folly of such copycat behaviour, or if not, have been soon-after clipped round the ear by some loving critic! Incidentally, this is one reason why I try to listen to a wide range of preachers: to help ‘disperse’ the overwhelming influence of any one preacher.

3) There are good reasons to have preaching role models. The previous point notwithstanding, I’m still a great believer in having preaching role models. Here are three reasons why.

i) No doubt many of the preachers in Scripture had role models they learned from. Are we to say that the disciples learned nothing about how to preach from listening to the Lord Jesus, or that young Timothy gleaned nothing from the apostle Paul?

ii) There is a difference between emulating a preacher’s skills and passions (eg. their ability with original languages and compassion for the lost) on the one hand, and their personality (eg. adopting similar voice patterns, phraseology) on the other.

iii) While the frequently touted phrase “just be yourself, preacher” can have some merit to it, one suspects that it could serve as a cover for laziness. Just ‘being myself’ is actually not OK – if being myself means ‘shoddy’ in grappling with biblical context, or ‘lazy’ in working to apply the Word to the world of my congregation. In this sense, I never want to settle merely to be myself, but to grow in who I am to the glory of God and the profit of his people.


Whatever You Do….

August 19, 2008

“Richard Baxter, a great puritan preacher, said of preaching, ‘whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest…You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them.’”

(Mark Dever, in The Message of the New Testament – Promises Kept, p390 )


Sermon Notes Revisited

August 15, 2008

Since sermon manuscripts has been a recent topic in the blogosphere, I thought I might link to a series of posts I did a while back on this very subject: “The Manuscript Maze.” I outline here the three main approaches to sermon notes with their corresponding pros and cons.

* The Manuscript Maze (part one)
* The Manuscript Maze (part two)
* The Manuscript Maze (part three)
* The Manuscript Maze (part four)


Other Toolbox This Week

New Chronological Bible
Westminster Seminary Teaches Preaching ‘Application’
Hard Questions on Church Membership
Praying for China’s Persecuted
Funny: Alliteration
Promo: ESV Study Bible
Don’t be Intimidated by the Big Guns and Their Bullets
Colin Smith – 3 Ways to Meditate on a Text
Audio: Debate on Baptism
Ferguson: Lamenting ‘God Told Me’ Theology
Main Points of DMLJ’s Preaching and Preachers
Preaching as Worship
Carey’s 11 Commandments on Mission
CJ Sermon Archive
Audio: The Pastor and the Academy
Training the Next Generation on a Shoestring


Mike Bullmore’s Handwritten Notes

August 14, 2008

Mike Bullmore’s sermon notes have now been posted by Josh Harris.

The most striking observation is that they are hand written; a close second, is the observation that they are hard to decipher! (to me, not to pastor Bullmore!). I’ve heard Mike Bullmore say that his sermon notes are hand-written because he writes better that way. There’s still something special about writing by hand, perhaps the slower pace and the opportunity to search for the right word, that he finds enriching.

From my limited observation Bullmore’s approach is increasingly distinctive in our technological age. Rightly or wrongly, the time consuming practice of writing by hand is often disregarded nowadays in favor of punching-keys.


A Few Things I’m Working On In My Preaching

August 13, 2008


…the exegetical carefulness of Don Carson
…the expositional clarity of John Stott
…the assiduous attention to context of Dick Lucas
…the cross-referencing knowledge of John MacArthur
…the ‘outlining’ skills of Warren Wiersbe
…the doctrinal precision of RC Sproul
…the bible-critiquing-culture abilities of Al Mohler
…the delivery of James Montgomery Boice
…the vocabulary of R Kent Hughes
…the simple yet powerful illustrations of CH Spurgeon
…the winsome yet pointed humor of Alistair Begg
…the applicational focus of CJ Mahaney
…the apologetical ‘side-bars’ of Tim Keller
…the sheer Scriptural coverage of Mark Dever
…the heart for the lost of George Whitefield
…the compassion for the flock of Charles Simeon
…the unbridled passion for God of John Piper
…the gravity of Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones

ps. This may take a while…