Archive for the ‘Beyond the Workshop’ Category


Holidays and the Wide Angle Lens

October 22, 2007

Holiday ended on Saturday. Preaching followed on Sunday. Now its Monday – and after a week’s break – its good to be back. However, going away on holiday is part of what enthuses me about returning.


Previously I’ve listed some reasons why time-outs can be so beneficial:

1. I appreciate the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation
2. I relish unhurried time in the Word and prayer
3. I enjoy healthy exercise in the fresh air
4. I spend ‘quantity-quality’ time with my wife and children
5. I slow down to savor and enjoy life
6. I remember to eat well and on time
7. I distance myself from electronic devices which tend to steal my time and sap my energy
8. I build deeper friendships through prolonged conversations
9. I face different challenges than I do every other day
10. I better remember God, the gospel and the reason I ‘do’ ministry

Though all these blessings have been enjoyed this break, reasons 1, 4 and 10 have been especially poignant:

Creation – We didn’t see anything excessively spectacular but we took in a fair amount of beautiful scenery over a seven day period. A drive north through golden Scottish countryside, a glorious walk round a nearby Reservoir, and a stroll by the sea front were enough to fill the lungs with air and the eyes and soul with beauty. Regularly I see the splendor of God’s glory in His Word and His Son; its good too when I see His glory reflected in Creation.

Family – Its great to be a dad. There’s no richer human relationship than the one I have with my wife. Just being with my family – not so much anything we did – was a precious privilege. Holidays have a way of reminding me that this little group of people are my top pastoral priority. They are also a great joy!

Ministry – Sure, we spend most of our holidays trying not to think about ministry. At another level though, we find that only on holidays can we step back far enough to take a ‘wide-angle lens’ to the subject. This holiday, I have found myself asking why do I do ministry at all? In the bustle of church life ministry can easily be reduced for me to a set of responsibilities I perform or even a treadmill to endure! Yet God has graciously reminded me (not least by reading Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography by Iain Murray) that ministry is for the glory of God, pure and simple. It is about the salvation of sinners and the sanctifying of His people for his great Name. May God use me – even in small ways – for such great ends as these!


Laugh a Little

October 8, 2007

One site I occasionally visit is LarkNews, a spoof Christian news stories site. Since temperamentally I’m fairly serious, it usually does me the world of good to be encouraged to lighten up. Here are a few stories you might appreciate relating to preaching. Go on – you might even enjoy a laugh or two!

– Pastor’s Sermon Overburdened By Greek and Hebrew Definitions
– Virtual Pastor’s Please Picky Church Goers
– Vacationing Pastor Lets Powerpoint Lead Service
– YouthPastor Overestimates Preaching Ability After Wowing Main Service


Total Abandon?

October 1, 2007

Last evening we sat on the edge of our seats as OM’s Gary Witherall told the story of his wife’s martyrdom. Bonnie Witherall was working as a nurse in Sidon, Lebanon, when an extremist shot and killed her (you may remember the news reports). You could hear a pin drop as Gary described his rush to the scene on that dark morning to learn of Bonnie’s sacrifice.


Following her death, Greg Kernaghan paid the following tribute. It also serves as a challenge to our ‘cushioned-Christianity’ in the West:

Some people talk about being on the cutting edge; some actually live there. Fewer choose to dwell on the bleeding edge of humanity, where nothing is humanly certain except great need, where risk defies other definitions, where light shines the brighter for the enveloping darkness. Sidon in Lebanon is such a place, and Bonnie and Gary Witherall were some of those few.

I was privileged to stay with them just four days before Bonnie was murdered. They lived close to an area so fanatical and violent that it is off limits even to local police. They knew the risks, the potential cost, but they also knew that God had placed them there. Their daily life was defined by numerous friendships they had made in every level of society. They embraced the Arabic language and culture, yet made no effort as foreigners to hide. They were visible, available, approachable.

I know this, because the short time I spent with them was given to walking the streets and visiting people. It seemed that every few hundred metres a shopkeeper would rush out to greet them with kisses and proffer hospitality. We spent part of one evening in sidewalk cafes where, in retrospect, all of us were easy targets. Yet Gary and Bonnie were focused not on their own security but on embracing and helping others.

In the middle of Ramadan, Gary and I walked through the city until near sunrise. (He had already completed a prayer walk throughout the length of the country that took one week). If we weren’t visiting his friends one after another, he would be telling of other contacts he had come to love and was helping in practical ways. Some of these people had dangerous associations, but again Gary and Bonnie saw them as people in need.

Bonnie was committed to saving and improving lives. Her work at a church-run pre-natal clinic catering to Palestinian women was the joy and drive of her life in Lebanon. She felt honoured to have such an opening into families through this service. Only God knows how many lives of women and their babies have been literally saved through this work (infant mortality among Palestinians is four times that of the USA). Gary and Bonnie came to Lebanon to bring life-not take it.

It is difficult to understand who would despise such loving service enough to fire three bullets point blank into her head. Bonnie was killed for being who she was, for refusing to run from hatred and for bringing dignity to a suffering people that the world has ignored. It would be easy, even natural, for us to draw back from this atrocity; to lash out in hate against whole nations or peoples; to seek revenge; to stereotype one-fifth of mankind. But Bonnie and Gary would, I believe, call us to something perhaps difficult yet supernatural: to be different because God’s way is different. To increase our concern, prayer and action on behalf of all the peoples of the Middle East. To refuse to accept the status quo either in the Middle East or in our own comfort zones. To step forward and stand in the heart-breaking gap Bonnie has left. There will never be a better time.

Greg Kernaghan, November 21,2002.
(from OM website)

I commend Gary Witherall’s book Total Abandon, which is a riveting account of his story.


And the Winner Is…

September 24, 2007

Apparently I’ve won an award. It seems that The Christian Blog & Web Awards 2007 (hosted by Premier Radio, London) have dubbed our humble webzine the “Most Inspiring Leadership Blog.” Quite encouraging when you consider that the leadership subject is preaching!

(Photo courtesy of Krish Kandiah)

For the complete list of winners (and some pics of what looks to have been a swanky ceremony) see the following links.

Christian blog awards: rundown of the winners
official photos
Krish Kandiah’s report
– Unfurling Flower blog posts its report
Another report

ps. Thanks to who ever nominated me, and thanks for the award. Do I get one of those nice trophies?!


Woe To Us?

September 24, 2007

Last night, in the second half of a sermon on Luke 11:29-54, I considered with our congregation why Jesus sometimes says ‘woe’ to leaders. The context, you remember, is Jesus confrontation of the Pharisees and biblical law experts. For the sake of simplicity, I boiled down the reason for Jesus’ grief (‘woe’ is a deep groan of lament) to the following four problems.

– their hearts are impure (v 39-42)
(“God wants clean hands and pure hearts. But often it is much easier for busy leaders to keep their hands clean than their hearts clean”)

– their heads are puffed up (v 43)
(“It is a sober and necessary task for every leader to periodically ask ourselves the simple question: are there evidences of pride in my leadership?”)

– their words are deadly (v 44-46, 52)
(“Its one of the worst things, isn’t it, about a church who’s minister is unsaved. Its bad enough enough that he himself isn’t a Christian. But what hope for his congregation when he does not preach the gospel?”)

– their wills oppose Jesus (v 47-51, 53-54)
(“Is this not the epitome of woeful and wicked leadership, when it comes to the point where we outright oppose the person of Christ?”)

This was a particular challenge to myself as a leader. Listen to the whole sermon here.



September 17, 2007

Sunday can be a traumatic day, can’t it? So two things that soothe my soul most come Monday is listening to God-exalting music and sermons.

On the music front, my wife has been blogging this morning on the Stuart Townend CD we’ve been enjoying of late.

When it comes to sermons, two regular pitstops of mine on Mondays are the Parkside services (with Alistair Begg), and Martyn Lloyd Jones weekly broadcast.

So friends, where do you stop to refuel?



September 10, 2007

Do you have Martha-Syndrome? Surprisingly many undershepherds do. It is that age old of problem of doing so ‘many tasks’ that we have no time to spend with our Lord. Like Martha we are so busy serving Jesus, we have no time for Jesus.

As one who often struggles with this myself, Luke’s unique story (Luke 10: 38-43) was a great challenge last evening. Briefly summarized, here are three lessons I drew out for ‘spiritual workaholics.’

(i) Loving Jesus and learning from him is always top priority
Always, always, always. This is what Martha’s forget. It doesn’t matter that you’ve prepared a nice meal for Jesus if you’re always in the kitchen! Jesus wants more from you than what you can do for him. He wants you. Jesus didn’t die just purchase another worker for the kingdom. He shed blood to buy a relationship with you.

ii) Ministry itself can ‘distract’ from knowing Jesus better
If you’ve not found this yet, you will no discover it soon. One of biggest impediments to your fellowship with God is your work for God. It is often not bad things, but good things done inordinately that crowd out of the best things. We need to fight against ministry taking over.

iii) Time spent learning from Jesus is not doing ‘nothing’ but choosing ‘one thing’ of great significance
Spiritual workaholics don’t find the idea of doing nothing very appeal. So Luke 10:42 might be helpful: Mary chose “the one thing needed.” Devotional time is not doing nothing. Its not ‘time out’ – if by that we mean, a non-activity. It is a focused and rigorous and exclusive activity where we say, ‘Lord, for the next 30 minutes, I’m yours.’

So are you cultivating intimacy, or just filling your life with activity?


Ten Commandments For Our Day Of Rest

September 3, 2007

Over the last four years I have discovered certain ways to maximize my day off. I’ve also learned what will sabotage it. Find below the Ten commandments that I’ve made for myself to help me do the former.

1. Thou shalt not under any circumstances ‘work the job’ on this day. Alright, that can’t be so categorical. There are such things as pastoral emergencies. However, speaking from a context of a medium to larger sized church, I can say they are rare. In any case, the biggest tempter who will be luring you to work on your day off will be yourself. You must resist every temptation to work (or even plan) ministry on this day. For example, Nicki and I make a special effort to debrief on church things Sunday evening, particularly so we won’t have to discuss it on a Monday.

2. Thou shalt not neglect small and satisfying tasks. Despite my call not to work the job on a day off, it is often refreshing to do the odd small task. Recently I have enjoyed the stimulus of doing lots of work around the garden or little bits of interior decoration on the day off. Unlike my pastoral work – which is a never ending treadmill – these activities provide a finish line. I can start a job and enjoy the satisfaction of finishing it. Very therapeutic!

3. Thou shalt not neglect biography and other soul assuaging books. I’ll be honest: I often feel a little low on a Monday. Emotionally, the tank is usually empty on a Monday morning (or at least the re-fuel light is on). Following Sunday’s exertions, I frequently wake up feeling as though I’ve just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. And I have, in a spiritual sense. Yet its amazing how a biography of a great saint can assuage the soul or how a little injection of Spurgeon can fill me with fresh encouragement.

4. Thou shalt not ignore friends and family but enjoy the company of one’s nearest and dearest. We have found that a day off is often the ideal time to spend time with those who know us best and love us most. Though for some pastors, spending time with wider family might not be relaxing, for many this will be a welcome opportunity. The reason such fellowship is often relaxing is that one can truly be oneself with your family and closest friends. They don’t regard you as a pastor, just as plain old Colin and Nicki. We need that.

5. Thou shalt not fail to have unhurried conversation opportunities with one’s wife. Monday is the day I circle especially to discuss the state of my marriage with my wife. That sounds much more formal than it is but usually we simply have some discussion about how we handled things together over the previous week. Sins can be confessed. Encouragements can be shared of things managed well. Above all, there is real opportunity to grow in our knowledge of each other.

6. Thou shalt not neglect ‘getting away’ from the city for a change of scene and a breath of fresh air. For some people who minister in a more rural setting, this might be flipped on its head. However, particularly for those of us who live and breath in the context of a bustling town or city, the fresh air of an open countryside or hillside can do us a world of good. Walking is a frequent activity on our day off.

7. Thou shalt not neglect prayerfully watching over one’s soul and in hearing the Word of God. This includes for me listening to a sermon or seminar on a Monday. Strangely, after preaching to others I often sense an even greater need to be preached to. So I press the play button on my I-pod and say ‘minister to me.’

8. Thou shalt not fail to give quality attention to one’s children. This recognizes that on many other days and evenings it is impossible to give long, uninterrupted time to my children. On my day off things are different, however. Nevertheless, selfishness or a preoccupation with filling the day with other tasks can prevent me giving appropriate focus to the children.

9. Thou shalt trust God, who works even while we rest. Ultimately, taking a rest in any shape or form is an act of faith. Only an unbelieving heart – a heart that does not fully trust in a God who is always Sovereign and who always works – prevents us from this.

10. Thou shalt not blog. OK, I’ve just broken this one.


Praying & Planning to Prepare Preachers

August 27, 2007

On Friday I sent out 26 letters to young and middle-aged men. Following months of prayer and planning, I had written with the purpose of inviting these men to a preaching course in the New Year.


For some time now, our pastoral team has shared a burden to better train prospective preachers. But now we’re ready to act upon our convictions. I wanted to share some of the key emphasises of the course, both for your prayers and any input you might have.

1. The course will simply be a primer in preaching. Thus it will be fortnightly and only 8 sessions long. One goal of the course then, will be to teach some of the rudimentary elements of preaching.

2. The pre-eminent goal of the course is to assess whether the course-attenders in fact posses a preaching gift. If so, this course will be but a first step in developing their skills; otherwise, it will be a helpful confirmation that this is not how God is calling them to serve.

3. There will be theoretical and practical elements. There will be some essential instruction from the front but also practical involvement from the group. For example, over the course each attendee will gradually prepare a sermon on a short passage and at the end of the course will deliver this in a real church setting (complete with evaluation). I’m writing out to other churches for this very purpose.

4. There will be an emphasis in the course upon the character, devotional life, and work-ethic of the preacher, as opposed to merely the mechanics of sermon preparation.

5. There will be exposure to more experienced preachers. This certainly is one of the main ways I have learned how to preach: by watching, listening and imbibing the faithful ministry of older expositors. For this reason, the Senior pastor of my church will be involved regularly in the course and other experienced pastors who can answer questions and give advice.

Related articles
“Open Pulpits?” by Jim Gardiner
“10 Steps for Fledgling Preachers” (UA)


100,000 Hits – Ouch!

August 20, 2007

With some surprise, I notice this morning that my little blog has registered its 100,000 hit and counting. To say that this was beyond my expectations last January is an understatement! Jesus, as I was reflection upon last night, has a way of taking our five loaves and feeding 5000 people with it! (or in this case, even more!!) Thank you for reading. I hope to keep writing and linking sometime longer. And if you like the blog, why not let a couple of other pastor friends know about it?



Under Discipline

August 13, 2007

For reasons which I won’t delve into, this week has been a hard one for our family. By the providence of God I also happened to be preaching yesterday morning on Hebrews 12:4-13. We considered together the charge to “endure hardship as discipline.” What are the odds?!


Let me share a quote that I brought before the congregation. It reminded us all that in tough times it is far better to be under the Lord’s discipline, than his punishment:

“God’s punishment stems from his wrath against sin;
whereas his discipline stems from his love to his children.
Punishment is God acting as Judge;
discipline is God acting as Father.
Under punishment, the sinner pays for his sins.
Under discipline, Christ pays for our sins.
Punishment is God’s demand for justice.
Under discipline, justice is not in view….
Rather God intends to correct our faults and to develop holiness in us.”

(Steve Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, from his sermon God’s Loving Discipline)



August 6, 2007

We’re moving house today and tomorrow. 11 Midmar Gardens, Morningside exchanges for 41 Cramond Avenue, Cramond (South to North West Edinburgh). Its been a busy few months with house selling, redecorating and a new baby to boot!

In relation to all this, my own sermon last night on “Glorification” was even a good tonic for the preacher himself (as every sermon should be!). It was good to be reminded that houses and bodies and families, such as we have them, are not ultimate. We look forward to renewed bodies, and indeed, a renewed creation.

I may be offline for much of this week, but do listen to the sermon if you get the time.