To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

If I Had Time……

The scenario goes like this: the preacher has a limited amount of time to present his material and so he says things like:

  • We only have a short time,
  • If we had more time we could go into these issues some more
  • There is a lot more that could be developed here if we had time.
  • This passage requires a lot more time for the understanding to be fully explored.
  • My time is nearly up

The list could go on with other statements of a similar ilk. And you are left thinking that in mentioning about having limited time you have, you are actually using up your valuable time in the mentioning of it.

So why not just get on with your message use every bit of time that you have to helpfully convey the message of the passage and edify the people.

Give Them A Guilt-Trip

It is something that I have often heard in preaching and it goes something like this: “I don’t want to make you feel guilty….” The background to the statement is that the preacher is preaching to the end that they want the people to respond to the love of Christ and not because they feel guilty about some trait or behaviour.

However, if you start looking in the Old testament you will soon be finding that the prophets, in particular, are wanting to send the nation on a guilt trip. By way of example if you read through Hosea 4-14 you will find that the material is presented within the frame of an indictment against the nation of Israel for their turning form the Lord and His ways. So we read The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. (Hos. 12:2)

And read Micah 6:2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel.

And again in the writings of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5-15 there is a listing of charges by the Lord against His people.

This all leads me to ponder upon the issue of the appropriateness of preaching so that the people of God are knowing and feeling their guilt. I ask, if the Lord was doing such through His servants of old why should we not be doing the same today? So go, fellow preacher, to preach to make the people of God know their guilt.

However, this determination to preach to the end of producing guilt should never be without the colourings of grace.

If we preach guilt as simply failing to meet the standards of righteousness required by God, then we preach a message that engenders lives of drudgery among the people. Such people are ever seeking to reach the standards of a divine being who is a detached king whose regulations we must adhere to as His submissive subjects. And there is not much pleasure and joy in that!

However, there is a grander biblical motif in which to preach guilt and that is of the divine marriage. Most beautifully this is expressed in how the people of God are the bride of Christ. Let’s dwell upon that. In marriage if one of the spouses fails to give due honour and attention to the other then they are guilty of relationship crimes. The one they are called to devotedly share life with is spurned for selfish purposes. For such a person we want them to feel their guilt.

And so it is when we preach the Word. We want the people of God to know that any breaking of their devotion to their beloved bridegroom in heaven is turning against the One who has devotedly loved them and committed Himself with eternal, self-sacrificial, blood shedding love. We want to make the people feel their guilt over this outrage.

When we are  aware of our guilt as His adulterous children we repent and return to our Lord. All the while through our estrangement the marriage bond stands and so our cuckolded husband does not sue for divorce,  but rather He stands ready to welcome us back into the enchantment of the harmony of sharing life with Him. This we once again enjoy through the blessings that flow from repentance.

We need to preach this kind of guilt because it is appropriate in the context of Saviour’s determination for us to be blessed in enjoying the goodness of being with Him.









Preaching Heaven And Hell

We should never preach heaven and hell without preaching God and sin. Heaven is only heaven because God is there. Hell is so very terribly hell because it is the eternal experience of the consequences of our sin.

To preach heaven on its own is to be like a spiritual travel agent. A travel agent describes a place so as people are persuaded into buying a ticket to get there. It is all based upon emotionally persuading people that this is the best deal available and they need to go for it. That is what the preacher who just preaches heaven does. They present heaven as the ultimate holiday destination and a must to be enjoyed. This approach is never engaged in in scripture.

To preach hell without saying it as a place of judgement for sin is to be a scare-mongerer. We present the ghastliness of hell, and truly it is ghastly beyond what words can convey, purely as a means of frightening people. What we should do is present the ghastliness of sin before a holy God.

We may have very good motives in adopting the approaches just mentioned, after all we want people to be heaven bound and not hell bound. If these are not our motivations then there is no love in us and, in a sense, there is no humanity in us. However, good motives are not enough. Such approaches depend upon our rhetorical skills to entice to heaven or deter from hell.

Inherent in these approach is the tendency to depart from the scriptural portrayal of heaven and hell and engage in speculation in order to gain an effect. So we conjure up vile images for hell and virtuous images for heaven to achieve our ends.

The corrective is always to be rooted in scripture for our approach to these matters. So we preach God as wholly beautiful in all His trinitarian, Father, Son and Holy Spirit magnificence. The consequence of such preaching is the awareness that heaven is only heaven because God is there.

Similarly hell is presented as the just vengeance of God against sin. Hell is an understandable place when we realise how vile an offence and sin is against a beautiful all loving holy Lord God.

We must be careful that our emotions in preaching flow out of a heart in tune with scripture. So our passions for being in glory with the Lord flow as we appreciate our God and our passions of alarm and concern flow when we present the vileness of sin. Yes we should be emotional in preaching, passions should flow. But they flow not because we are great thespians, but because God, through the Word of God, has got a hold of us.

Anyone who has attended drama school can whip up a fervour as regards to heaven and hell. But, only the Spirit anointed preacher can bring people to appreciate God and his ways. And through that, by the Holy Spirit, to see life transformation.



Don’t Pad Out Your Sermon

One of the great dangers in preaching, particularly when you are new to the experience, is that of padding out your message. You feel that you don’t have enough material and will not go the distance and so you add extras in to the message.

I have written here about the issue of pruning in preaching. In that instance there is the problem of having gathered too much detail into your sermon. In speaking of padding out your preaching I am dealing with the reverse problem. Although they very much bear on the same issue; that of making sure you have the appropriate material in your preaching.

All messages need to properly be developed so that they are suitable for the context in which they are preaching. Giving consideration to this is all a proper part of preparing. I have written here about the issue of contextualising preaching. Having navigated through all the issues of preparing properly then there is the need evaluate that you are presenting a message which is suitable.

If we conclude rightly or wrongly, that we have too little material, there is a tendency to pad out our message so that we fill out the time. This leads to extraneous material getting into the sermon and the sermon becomes clogged with all sorts of stuff which take away from the message God has given you. It is better to be too short than to be too clogged.

There are no doubt many fine balances here. But we need to fight against the issue of unnecessarily bolstering a sermon. Develop the sermon fully, but don’t pad it out.


Knowing Their Character

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it (2 Tim. 3:14). In this scripture Paul is supporting his insistence that Timothy keep with the Word of God by reminding him about who he had learned that Word from, This instructs us that the character of those who teach us the Word gives extra reason for us to believe that Word.

This is not to say that if the Word is brought to us by someone who we know to be an infidel, or afterwards proves to be an infidel, that we reject the Word. Our Lord said in Matthew 23:2-3 that The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. The Word must be obeyed because it is the Word of the Lord.

Nevertheless we should be doing what we teach. The Word that we teach should be modelled in our lives. This is a big issue for parents and all who teach the Word to others. But it is also a critical issue in our witness generally. It is the power of a godly life which lives out the gospel, that gives credibility to that same gospel when it is shared with others. And thereby there is effective ministry which attracts people to our Lord. It may even be that someone’s sweet testimony for Christ led to you seeking the Lord.

The implication of this is that we must be aware of our proneness to hypocrisy and be vicious in rooting it out in our lives.

This also has implications for the manner in which we conduct our affairs before God. We live in an age of the all-pervasive internet and social media. It has became easy in this digital age, to meet in cyber churches or to get our spiritual food from our favourite Bible teacher online. In such a situation we very likely have no knowledge of the charachter of those who are teaching us. It should not be this way. Knowing the charachter of our teachers is a God-ordained way in which he verifies His message.

This, therefore, gives strong impetus to the need for us to be based in local churches. And in those churches we need to have leaders who do not “ivory tower” themselves. We need those who move among the people so that their lives can be seen. Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 about Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. The leaders were among the church in Thessalonika and that is the way it should be. If you are a church elder you need to be among the people so people can see your character.

This also cautions us against churches becoming to big. If church members are not interacting with those who teach them because the church is simply too big, then means should be put in place to resolve this situation. That may mean refining the organisation of the church,or planting another church.

I Use Commentaries

I am often left in a bit of dismay after reading books on sermon preparation. This is because the usual formula which is presented, is  that you work on the text yourself first and only then turn to commentaries as a cross-check. I know this is a crude generalization, but I do find this approach deflating. The reason for my deflation is because this is not the way I tend to do it and I am left feeling that I have got it wrong. However, when I come to my senses and ponder on the matter I do feel there is a legitimacy in turning to commentaries first. So here are a few observations;

  • In looking at the text, commentaries immediately put me on the right track in understanding the text. I am not left to drift down some cul-de-sacs of my own making. They direct me to immediately get into the text.
  • This means that you generally need a range of commentaries to consult. Through this, you get different perspectives which can help in assimilating the meaning of the text. It would be wrong just to be in the thrall of one commentator.
  • Some may say that you are not depending on the Lord through His Holy Spirit to direct your understanding. What I would say is that God has given these  writers the gift of understanding the text; the Holy Spirit has guided them. In a sense, we are standing on giant’s shoulders.
  • I still have to come to an understanding of the text; I cannot just leave myself in the hands of others. However, these others are my helpers in understanding the text.
  • There must be discretion in choosing which commentaries to use. We must go for those who have a high view of Scripture and are suitably gifted to explain it.
  • For me, in ploughing the text into my mind for preparation, I am continually reading these commentaries through. Thus I trust under God, I am coming to understand what is God’s mind in the text.
  • We always need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to give us illumination. Commentaries compliment the Work of the Spirit; they are not a substitute for the Spirit.

In making my observations on the use of commentaries, I realize that everyone has to choose an approach which works for themselves. There is a danger of pontificating that my way is the “only” way to prepare sermons. This can be so intimidating. In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are we producing sermons which are exegetically accurate, bring out the meaning of the text and are being used of the LORD. May the LORD bless you if you are a preacher whichever way you go about preparing.

(Originally publishes at venabling on September 5 2013)

Preaching That Floats

There is a certain type of preaching that is biblically sound and acceptable to the people of God, but it just floats. This type of preaching exegetes the bible in a faithful way. It originates in scripture and therefore is expository. But it lacks bite.

Such preaching is very acceptable to the carnal believer who does not want to be challenged by the Word. Such people are living insipid half-hearted Christian lives. And, sadly, they convince themselves that this is acceptable because they never hear any preaching of the Word that disturbs them. The Word never gets beneath their skins. Rather, the preaching that they do hear gives a regular massage to their compromised torsos and they go away thinking all is well.

The problem is that the preaching is just left to float into the air above the congregation. What is missing here? It is the “You are the man  (2 Sam. 12:7b) that Nathan uttered to David. Previous to this as Nathan the prophet, brought the Word to David he had happily engaged with the blandishments (as he perceived them) that were being brought to him. But then Nathan hit him with the challenge. He dug the Word right into David’s soul. David could no longer be detached. The Word was upon him.

We need the “you are the man” in our preaching. We need to go for people’s hearts; we need to go for their sins. Do we love people so little that we will content to offer them up wimpish orations which would not disturb a seeded dandelion?

Think of Peter preaching the first two sermons of this gospel age. In both he brought the Word home to His hearers with challenge. So in Acts 2:40 we read With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Then take a look at Acts 3:11-26 and listen to Peter preaching. I feel the words are so pointed and evocative you can almost hear him as you read. Acts 3:14-15a records him saying to the assembled Jews You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.

Brothers, I know that so many of the Lord’s people just want the Word to be left floating. But really this is not good enough. A preaching that challenges the people to follow the Lord’s way is a loving ministry because it wants the best for the people. Take a look at Acts 3:11-26 again and you will see that Peter is only being so direct because he longs for them to come to repentance and faith; he wants the best for them. So let’s drill the Word down into people’s hearts. Let them know that there is a God in heaven who hates sin. Let us tell them that the ointment of God’s grace, sealed in the blood of Jesus, is sufficient to heal all the wounds of their sin.

And if you feel that this might make you unpopular, brother preacher, then remember you are not in a popularity contest. Rather you are called to love the people under your care and do them good through the faithful preaching of the Word.

(Originally published at venabling on July 29th 2013)

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