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Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

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)

Sin Exposing Preaching

Jeremiah in Lamentations 2:14 informs the people of Jerusalem about how:

The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading.

This strikes me forcibly as regards to the character of my preaching. Do I have a sin exposing preaching ministry? If not, it is very likely that my preaching is a means of harm to the people who hear me. To fail to address what is wrong in peoples’ lives is to fail to give them a way of rectifying their lives for good.

Jeremiah says concerning the prophets who had belonged to the people of Jerusalem that they had not exposed sin. This was not a matter of indifference because it had very serious consequences. The judgment of Babylonian captivity fell as a result. No exposure of sin leads to no repentance for sin and that in turn leads to judgment against sin.

In place of sin exposing preaching there seems to have been lifestyle affirming preaching. False and misleading is how Jeremiah describes their prophecies. We will always be on the slippery slope to falsehood and deception when we do not have the Word of the Lord at the centre of our preaching.

So let us be concerned, fellow preachers, about our preaching. Let us consider that we may be facilitating a descent into hell among our hearers because we have not preached the truth about sin, their sin, to our hearers. Love and passion must be involved in this. But preach judgement against sin we must.

If there is no preaching of sin there can be no meaningful preaching of the balm for sin in the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Praying And Preaching.

Am I better at praying or preaching? If you are a better preacher than you are a prayer then be careful. If you excel in your preaching over your praying then your preaching may not what it should be. Your preaching in such a case, rather than emerging from the energy of the Spirit, may well be being carried off because of the impressive oratorical skills that you possess.

Prayer gives the fuel for the exercise of our gifts. This is because prayer brings us to know and experience God. If there is no fellowship with God in prayer then everything will shrivel and perish in our ministry. That may not be visible to human eyes, but it will be visible to the unseen eye of our all-seeing God. We may be able to carry things off and show ourselves to be very impressive, but it will all be show.

This reminds me to mention the frightening assessment of our Lord who warns in Matthew 7:21-23:

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Impressive activity does not mean spiritual acceptability. Dare I say, many impressive preachers may well ultimately be in the “I never knew you” camp. And that is very sobering!

O Lord may I excel in knowing you through prayer.

Annoying Street Preachers

Oh to have more Spirit anointed suitable gifted servants of the Lord out in our town centres declaring the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus. The mandating of this ministry by the Lord is clear in  Proverbs 1:20-21 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square;  on top of the wall[d] she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.

What I want to address here though is the way in which this ministry is undertaken. The matter has recently garnered some publicity through the arrest of a preacher outside Southgate Tube Station . One report of the incident is here.

Immediately I want to make clear that I commend and admire street preachers for their courage in declaring the Word in the public square. However, it is the conduct of the preachers that I want to muse upon.

In watching the arrest of this man I am struck by the fact that there is plenty of truth, but little grace, I admire the truthfulness, but recoil from the gracelessness. We need to remember that the Saviour we serve was full of grace and truth (John 1:14b). Furthermore, the call of the Lord through Paul in Colossians 4:6 to us (including all street preachers) is Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

It is one of my concerns in respect of street preachers who have been arrested or taken to court, to consider in what way have they conducted themselves. It is easy for the Christian media and twitterverse to make headlines out of the arrest of a Christian preacher, but we should want to know what actually happened to lead to the arrest. Of course there can be times when police officers can be vindictive and wanting to humiliate the Christian preacher. However, very often they are responding to a complaint and seeking to reasonably investigate a situation.

The gospel is not recommended when we deliberately are offensive or conduct ourselves in a way that is just simply annoying.

A final point I would want to make is that as Christians we are called to be those who respect those in authority (see Romans 13:1-7. I feel the gentleman arrested in Southgate was less than respectful. To gently interact with a police officer about what he is doing and your “rights” is very different from his finger-wagging intimidatory approach.  Further, in this anti-authoritarian age we do the Lord’s cause no service when we brazenly display little respect for those in authority ourselves.

Prayer In Preparation.

What of prayer in preparing for preaching? I was struck recently at a seminar by Jonty Alcock of Globe Church, London mentioning about prayer being a continual thing in preparation.

It should not be that we prepare and then pray or pray and then prepare. Rather, praying should be a ongoing response to the engagement with God’s Word in preparation. As we study we pray:

  • For our understanding of the Word.
  • The suitable arranging of a message to declare to the people.
  • The clarity of the presenting of the Word.
  • The enabling of the Spirit in declaring the Word.
  • People to be there to hear the Word.
  • For individuals you know will be there
  • For receiving of the Word and a responding to the Word.
  • For this Word from the Lord to mould the people to effective godliness.

And as I pray the Word is being understood by myself and the message is being formed. Moreover I am being formed in the Word and with a heart for the people. So I am a messenger of the Word to bless His people.

The Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel holds sway in a vast number of churches. It can also easily hold sway in our churches and our hearts as well. The Prosperity Gospel is very attractive and very popular, but it is a false teaching which is very harmful to those who fall under its influence.

What is the Prosperity Gospel? It is the message which declares that if you become a Christian then you will have health, wealth and happiness. Moreover, if you become a really good Christian then you will have lots and lots of health wealth and happiness. Accordingly, in order to seek to prove its truth the leaders of church and ministries, where this message declared, must be very wealthy, very healthy and very happy.

What underlies the message? Three issues cause the message to deviate from the truth of the Bible. These are wrong perspectives on God, His blessings and His desires or His people.

  • God is seen as a nice God who always brings nice things into the lives of His children. So if you have unpleasant things in your life then that proves God is not happy with you.
  • His blessings are viewed in a worldly way. The way of the world is that I am happy and I get what I want. So God’s blessings are viewed in terms of a healthy bank account a fit an healthy body and happy circumstances.
  • God is interested in me having a happy and comfortable life

Whereupon we must ask if these perspectives are not right then what should be the proper view of God, His blessings and His desire for his people.

  • God is the true god I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord (Jer. 9:24b). God is not focussed on exercising niceness. He is focussed on exercising grace and truth. So we notice of our Lord Jesus as He entered this world that he was full of grace and truth (see John 1:14).
  • Our blessings are not to be measured according to the measure of this world. Our blessings are connected to another world. Our blessings are not in ourselves, but in Christ (see Eph. 1:3)
  • God is interested in me being holy and having all my satisfaction in Himself.

The agenda of the Prosperity Gospel is based on the agenda of this world, whilst the agenda of the true gospel is focussed on the world to come. In working out His agenda, so very often God gives His people very painful circumstances in this world. God’s people do suffer. The Book of Job in the Old Testament with all of its 1070 verses, is devoted to this theme. The question that underlies this book is: Does Job trust God for what he can get from Him (the worldly way) or does he trust Him because of who He is (the godly way)?

In the New Testament we immediately see how God’s agenda is different with the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus. At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1:12-13). The Spirit of God sent the Lord to a hard place with hard experiences. But note that angels came from another world to sustain Him in the hardship.

And then we see with Paul how God sent a thorn in the flesh. Whatever that was, it was not nice. Let us read Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 as he looks back on this experience:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul suffered so that he would know the power of God.

We need to have these things rammed into our beings. We so easily think that God is being good to me only when I have good things and He is only answering my prayers when I get what I want. Yes thank the Lord when you do have blessings from him. Every meal you receive, for example, is an indication of His blessing. But remember you may have far more to thank God for through Him giving you a broken leg or him giving you a difficult colleague at work. This is because we learn far more when circumstances drive us to God than when everything is comfortable and we trust in our situations.

In the light of these things. I raise three concerns:

  • So many people are thinking they believe in Christ, but they do not believe in the true Christ. Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins so that we might be like him. To believe that Christ died to bring great things to me is a lie and takes people to eternal hell.
  • When bad things come into their lives so many (so-called?) Christians treat it as a blip in life and can say nothing about it. But when good things they are gushing with happiness. The true Christian knows that God is good in both and can worship Him in and through both.
  • The false gospel of prosperity promises you contentment in what you have and fails. The true gospel offers you acceptance in Christ and eternal blessing in Him and succeeds.

So be finished with the teachings of the likes of Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, David Oyedepo and Enoch Adeboye. But more subtly be finished with any thought that God is only working good when I am passing exams or earning lots of money or achieving lots of things.

(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of September 2016)


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