Archive for the ‘Jinsi ya’ Category

That’s exactly the kind of title that makes you stop scrolling, isn’t it? What if I said this blog is about preaching? How does that make you feel? If you are honest you might be a bit disappointed. You might even feel cheated because that’s not what you always associate preaching with. You wanted to hear about the secret behind public speaking and moving crowds. How to become the Luther King of our generation. To move crowds and influence people. Well, I want to make a case that preaching can do that and much more when it’s faithfully done. You can then apply the same idea as a Christian influencer whether in blogging or Tiktok.

I want to begin by saying that no speaker sets out wanting to be boring. They may have struggled in preparation if they did any of it. They may have wrestled with the text and question of relevance in their study. But no one wants to imagine theirs will be a boring message with little impact on the audience. I doubt any of us sets out to fail in persuading people.

We want the Truth but we also want it to move our audience. But how do you move people while being faithful in your preaching?

We want to move people with the Truth. We want them cut to the heart and ask, how can we be saved? We want to spur people to be excited to live for God and his mission? We want to warn them of coming judgement in a way that they feel compelled. If we are honest we admire preachers who move crowds even when we might take issue with their methods. And no one comes to a Sunday morning ready for a boring sermon. We want the Truth but we also want it to move our audience. But how do you move people while being faithful in your preaching?

Ask Why it Matters
You cannot be a good speaker if you don’t believe in your message. Likewise, you won’t make a faithful and relevant preacher if you don’t believe in the text at hand. Before you can preach it to others you need to preach it to yourself. And here I don’t mean give yourself a theological or doctrinal lesson. I mean preach it to yourself brother! Sit and ask what it’s saying, how it’s saying it and why that’s relevant. Have your Eureka moment not by discovering the Greek wording of it but by seeing just how relevant and practical it is to our faith and everyday life. And trust me it’s relevant.

Great preaching rests on showing us why the text matters and the secret is going back in time.

You see the beauty of expository preaching is that you have your work already done for you. Every passage we teach is actually a repeat sermon. There was a first audience who heard and applied that sermon. They were moved by it back then. This means all we need is to go back and ask why it mattered to them so it matters to us. Great preaching rests on showing us why the text matters and the secret is going back in time. But be careful not to remain back there. Before you stand in front of us make sure to travel back and apply it in real life. Preach that sermon to yourself and your world and if you can at least move with it you’ll have a friend cheering you in the congregation.

Find your Passion Switch
It’s said some people can sell you anything because they do it so passionately. The problem with some expository preachers is they can rest on just having the faithful script with them. They know the truth, they want to preach the right thing but give little attention to the delivery and landing process. But I guess for most of us who are starting out we just don’t know how to go about it. I want to say if we are compelled by the truth we will be compelling in our delivery of it. If the message had an impact on us we need to do the same for our audience.

While we can apply methods like storytelling, humour, helpful illustration and the like it all depends on how passionate we are about the truth in front of us.

We need to find our passion switch. To want to communicate the passage in a way that moves people. But this is not just about the methods. It’s about us and the truth. Think about how you told the news of your wedding, your graduation, your first job… There was an enthusiasm that made people want to listen. While we can apply methods like storytelling, humour, helpful illustration and the like it all depends on how passionate we are about the truth in front of us. Some people can talk all day about their jobs because they are passionate about them. Others won’t stop bringing football into every conversation. Why can’t we do the same with our preaching? Make the people in front of you see you value and love what you are teaching. Passionate speaking is infectious. Find your passion switch before you come out to preach.

Think about the People
Faithful preaching cares about people because God cares about them. You cannot love preaching and not love people. That’s like loving a party without people. Unfortunately, sometimes we think so highly of preaching than we do the people in front of us. We call ourselves soldiers of the truth but miss the recipients of the message. If that explains you and I then we should stop preaching and ask God for a love for his people first. Don’t go to that Sunday service with your points and illustrations if you’ve not thought of the people.

Jesus was a faithful preacher, he knew his text but what moved him to preach is the people.

What moves people is when the preacher is both faithful to the text but also faithful to them. I always admire the instances where the Gospel accounts note that Jesus saw the masses and had compassion for them. Jesus was a faithful preacher, he knew his text but what moved him to preach is the people. Do you want to be a great speaker and influencer? Think about your audience first. Ask yourself where they are at in their journey of faith. What are they struggling with? Do they need encouragement or rebuke? Faithful preaching is neither tied to the text nor the people alone. It’s tied to both. It’s faithful to the text but it’s also faithful to the people.

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I grew up loving stories. I loved listening to my uncle tell funny ones of the sneaky hare and the scary ones of giants and ogres. I loved reading any story I could find in our school textbooks and would pause everything for a storybook. There’s just something in a good story that not only excites the mind but grabs the heart. Stories can teach your most complex ideas and moral lessons in a very simple and yet compelling way.

When I came to the Bible even before I could say I was a believer those Old Testament narratives always got my attention. In Sunday school they informed our training curriculum. I wonder who in this country has not been taught about Joseph, Samson, Father Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel… And I think here in the African church the Old Testament remains an important text for many pulpits today. Our preaching is in many ways storytelling and there’s a lot of merit in that when it’s done well and faithfully.

But the problem with the stories in the Bible is they don’t end up where other stories end. In our African storytelling, a good story has done its job when the moral lesson is arrived at. You can actually change a few details to make the story do the work for you. You can change character names and give it a more modern feel. In the end, people don’t stand and say that would never happen. They ask, what I’m getting out of it. There would also be more than one lesson from a good story and it’ll work for any group of people.

The Gospel interprets Bible stories

But Bible stories are to be understood a bit differently because they are not just mere stories to draw out moral lessons from. As Christians, we believe them to be historical and they are not just crafted for moral lessons. God is the one telling his redemption story to us through them and he has a specific lesson for us as reflected within the grand narrative of the Bible. But more importantly, we need to remember that we are living in a different time today to when the story happened and was first told. We are in the era of the new covenant of grace not the old covenant of the law.

Here I find the book of Hebrews is really helpful in understanding the transition between the Old to the New Covenant. This is probably the one book every preacher must read and understand though I know I say the same for a lot more others in the New Testament. This is where the preacher gets his theology right as we see right from Hebrews 1:

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Hebrews 1 NIV

This is a great place to comment on how God speaks to us today. But another implication is that teaching the Old Testament to people in the New Covenant calls for us to ask, how does this passage point us to Jesus and his Gospel? That’s a good rule for teaching any passage in the Bible but even more important in the Old Testament. A better way to put it is, what is Jesus our New Covenant teacher, saying to us today in this passage about himself and what he came to do? This doesn’t mean we ignore what the Old Testament passage had in mind for the original audience but we cannot stop there as New Covenant believers. We must always come to that point when we ask, how does this point us to Jesus and the Gospel message?

Samuel points us to Jesus

For instance, if we read the story of the calling of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, we meet God speaking to a young boy while ignoring the old Eli who’s obviously failing in his job as a priest and parent. If we stop here we’ll get the lesson that God is about to replace the wicked priesthood of Eli and his sons. We’ll see Eli’s indifference to God and his voice. But if we stopped there in our preaching then we are likely to end up only with good moral lessons. Depending on our theology we can say almost anything at this point and there’s no way of saying some are more right than others if it’s all about our take from the story.

But if we read this story as New Covenant disciples we’ll see a lot more here. We’ll actually be amazed what Jesus is teaching us about himself and his Gospel this early in the Bible story. We’ll see that Samuel in many ways is like Jesus. We’ll remember the popular Luke 2:52 from Sunday school days. His encounter with the teachers of the law early in life will come to mind. But more than that we’ll see what Hebrews tells us, that Jesus is a better leader and high priest. He’s the one who is better than Eli and his sons who are wicked. But also better than Samuel because he won’t die. In Jesus, we have the perfect high priest who is sinless and eternal. The one who guarantees our eternal salvation and is always present to hear our prayers. There’s a good lesson for today’s leaders within the church to take away here. But even that is to be seen in the light of the Gospel and Jesus example, not from a good moral lesson perspective.

Now, I know this example makes it sound like it should be so easy and obvious, and yet that is not the case. I also know there’s a danger of reading narratives backward when we only want to see Jesus in the pages not wrestle with the details of the passage. I know the route to Jesus and the Gospel can sometimes feel too simplistic. I’m aware certain people can make sermons all about getting things theologically right and not living it out. That this can make the church sound like a theological school, not a discipleship training ground. I also know we’ll only preach specific passages better when we have the grand narrative clear in our minds. But I think this is a good place to start. We already know how to get the moral lessons out. What I am suggesting is we go an extra mile to pay attention to the story while also asking the big picture questions. To be biblical and Gospel-minded in our preaching we need to point people to Jesus and the Gospel.

Only the Gospel bears lasting fruit

The challenge when we leave people with moral lessons even good Biblical ones is that we leave it all in their hands. It’s upon them to change and become better disciples. But if we do that we are not only missing the grand narrative of scripture we actually set people up for failure. New Covenant believers know they can’t do it by their own might and grit. It doesn’t matter how committed and theologically right we are, we just can’t do it without our Father’s help. Only the Gospel of Jesus can bear the fruits we desire in our audience.

We need Jesus to bear the fruit he demands in us. We need the Father to kill the sin he hates in us. We need the Spirit to remind us of the small respectable sins we overlook. New Covenant preaching converts moral lessons to Gospel lessons. It calls for prayerful action, not just a determined response. It demands careful attention to the word but reminds its audience that they can’t actually do what it requires unless the Lord works it out from inside out. Faithful preaching goes beyond moral lessons, it points people to Jesus and his Gospel, to the only one who can truly change them from within.

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Fidel: This year we will be doing nothing but seeking to give you confidence in the Word of God. #Back2TheWord


And some more notes and links:

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2014-08-24 16.14.23

Thanking God for a good day yesterday. Here are the notes so far:

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?


Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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Bible study in Nairobi banda

So, if we think inductive Bible studies are a good idea in our context, what about some How-To tips… The following are adapted from Richard Coekin’s Potted Proverbs:

  1. Our big aim is to search the Scriptures together to see Christ and have our hearts captured by him: It’s not just about informing the mind. It’s not just about going away with a ‘challenge’ of things to do. It’s certainly not about proving ourselves to one another. It’s about helping each other feed on Christ.
  2. Be prepared to be flexible:  Get clear on the big idea and the aim of the passage and head for that. Thorough preparation means you can be flexible and can change/drop some questions as time and circumstances require while ensuring that you get to the main point of the passage and feel the impact of it.
  3. Sit comfortably but not too comfortably: Environment is important. If you are using a room check that it is adequately lit and ventilated, not too warm and not too cold – nor the chairs too comfortable, or people will be drifting off after a hard day at work. If you’re outside make sure it’s not too noisy or windy and you won’t be interrupted by people, animals or weather. Sit so that everyone can see one another.
  4.  Aversion to versions: In our context people will tend to have all sorts of versions (KJV is quite common as it’s out of copyright and so can be reprinted cheaply but it’s not an easy version to access). Different Bible versions can be helpful in your preparation for clarifying meaning but, ideally for the session itself everyone should have the same version, otherwise there is a tendency to get bogged down in arguments about words. One way to do this is to print out the passage from Biblegateway.
  5. DIY background:  We find the background together in the Bible – e.g. Acts 19 for Eph. 6 – rather than having a lecture from the leader or a commentary (which is incredibly dull as well as suggesting the Bible is not sufficient).
  6. Don’t forget the real world: We mustn’t pray at the beginning of the session that God would clear our minds of our worries and struggles so we can ‘focus’ on the Bible. We need to keep the real world in view. We must listen to the Bible on its own terms but we must also let God speak into our real lives and struggles.
  7. Rub our noses on the text: The aim of a Bible study is to… study the Bible. Keep forcing people back to the text: ‘Where does that come from in the passage?’ The answer should be in the passage not in the leader’s head (as in a game of ‘guess what I’m thinking…’).
  8. Keep up the speed: Set a time limit and don’t go over it. People are tired during the week and in the evenings. Try to get people through the whole of the passage. We also need time to apply and pray. With a group of more than three people this will almost certainly mean you don’t have time for everyone in the group to give an answer to each question (un-african but necessary!); just get one or two good answers and move on. You will also need to Trample on trivia: Only rarely should you let the group go into ‘freeflow’ on a subject. Squash red herrings with, ‘that’s interesting, but not that relevant to what we’re studying here’ or ‘can we save that discussion for another time?’ Keep a purposeful, steady pace not lethargic and plodding.
  9. Cross the ball, don’t score goals: Inductive Bible studies shouldn’t be monologues from the leader. Your aim is to lead people to discover the meaning of God’s word for themselves. Set them up with good questions, and let them have the joy of kicking the ball into the back of the net.
  10. Don’t cap it – leave it: This is an annoying and unhelpful habit.  A 90% answer is good enough – you don’t have to give the extra 10% of the ‘perfect answer’ that you came up with in preparation time. Just, say ‘That’s great’, and move on.  Make sure you are speaking as little as possible.  You don’t have to have the last…
  11. Get the What clear then move onto Meaning then move onto So What?: We need to get all the way from content to meaning to significance but we must be sensitive to the literacy level of the group. In some contexts you can get everyone clear on what the passage is saying in five minutes and then you need to move on to the ‘Why does it say that?’ questions or you’re boring people. In other groups you might need to spend 45 minutes just getting clear on what is actually happening in the passage – maybe reading it multiple times and asking a lot of ‘What’ questions before going on.
  12. Ask, Wait, Answer, Response: That’s the order. (1) Ask a question; (2) be content to wait for 30 seconds (even if it feels like an hour); (3) get the answer(s) from the group, (4) give some response as a leader so everyone know whether that’s correct or we need to think some more on this one; (5) repeat the process with a new question. The wait comes after the question not after the answer or the response (or you leave people hanging and it all gets a bit plodding). If group members are just not getting the answer a) ask the question in a different way; b) add in bits of the answer; c) admit it was not a good question and move on to another.
  13. We’re cross with cross-references: By and large avoid all cross-references – they only make the study unfocussed. Get people to understand what the passage is saying in its own context. The big exception is when another Bible reference is quoted in the passage – then you must look it up!
  14. Confess your sins:  The leader is not a guru but a fellow sinner. If a question doesn’t make sense we can admit it wasn’t a good question; if we’re asking for personal application we could make the first contribution/admission. Show them that you need to apply it to yourself first. E.g. ‘I find this command incredibly difficult to follow…’ Or model a change of mind: ‘I used to think that this meant…. but now that I’ve thought about it further I can see I was wrong…’
  15. Entice the Mice: Gently encourage (without embarrassing) the quieter participants – e.g. ask a simpler ‘What’ question.
  16. Bully the bulls: Do your best to keep someone from dominating the discussion. You can appeal to them privately to hold back, or if you can do it in lightheartedly but forcefully if necessary and appropriate: e.g. ‘This next question is for anyone but John.’
  17. Remember who you’re talking to:  1 Tim. 5:1-2.
  18. We need time to apply: People much prefer to talk theory. Don’t make application a 60 second afterthought. ‘What will this mean in practice at work tomorrow?’
  19. Get real, soft, and serious: Don’t accept generalities and vague applications. Do talk about our lives, feelings, desires, real situations and struggles. Do make sure that we feel the full impact at the heart level.
  20. Pray with both Bible and diary: Have a dedicated prayer time to pray about our response to the passage and make connections between what we’ve learnt and what’s coming up for people in the coming week. In may ways this is the ultimate test of whether the Bible study has been useful or a waste of time. If we’ve been studying 1 Peter 1:3-12, for example, it should make a big difference to how we pray about the struggles and trials we came to the group with.

Any other proverbs we can add?

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culturally specific looking Bible study group

Before we get into how to lead an inductive Bible study we need to question whether it’s worth doing, whether it’s an appropriate and justifiable method of gospel ministry in our context. Christopher Ash warns that:

An interactive Bible study is not culturally-neutral. To sit around drinking coffee with a book open, reading and talking about that book in a way that forces me to keep looking at that book and finding my place and showing a high level of mental agility, functional literacy, spoken coherence and fluency, that is something that only some of the human race are comfortable doing. Not everyone feels comfortable when the bright spark in the corner pipes up, “Ah, yes, but I was wondering about the significance of the word “However” in verse 3b. What do you think about that?” Some of us love that kind of seminar interaction, but many do not. For those who can do it, it may way be profitable; but many people can’t, and just feel daunted or excluded by the exercise. (The Priority of Preaching, p.28)

He goes on to mention that Bible study groups can also be places where “discussion substitutes for submission to the word of God” (p.29). Instead, he argues, preaching is pre-eminent as the culturally neutral way in which all people can come under the authority and grace of God’s Word. I would wholeheartedly agree with this.

The question is, does discussion necessarily mean a lack of submission to the Word? And is interactive Bible study necessarily culturally specific and exclusive?

Talking to Kenyan brothers, a few characteristics of Bible studies in our context seem to come out:

  • Many university students (largely through the work of IFES/FOCUS) are familiar with a more ‘Western-style’ inductive Bible study – going through 10 or more pre-determined questions, looking closely at a Bible text and discussing the meaning. This has undoubtedly been very helpful to many but can tend to be a bit academic and ungrounded.
  • Outside of university contexts it seems to be more normal to start with just one or two questions or a topic or a recap of the sermon to spark a free-flowing discussion. A Bible text would probably be read but there would be much less reference back to it or detailed analysis.
  • There is a spectrum in leadership styles from open-ended and lightly facilitated discussion (e.g. in middle class Nairobi) through rather more firm and didactic leading (in more traditional contexts) all the way through to what would basically a Bible talk by the leader with little interaction. In fact many churches would use ‘Bible study’ to mean the expository talk that happens early on a Sunday before the main service.
  • One of the challenges a few have noted is in terms of application. In a communal shame/honour culture it is difficult to admit weakness, faults and struggles in a group setting. This can mean discussion becomes rather abstract or applied to “them out there” rather than “me in here”.
  • Practical challenges – a pastor working in an informal settlement pointed out some to me the other day that most of his congregation live in a 10 x 10ft house space so would find it virtually impossible to host a Bible study group of 6-10 people. On top of this, those who have jobs often don’t get back home till 8pm or later in the evening so would not be able to get to an evening group.

Bearing all this in mind, I think a strong case can still be made for inductive Bible study groups:

  1. Group discussion is not particularly culturally specific. Most cultures, particularly non-western, value communal discussion. Certainly it might look quite different to the coffee-drinking, sofa-lounging, seminar style. There might be more respect for age and hierarchy. There might well be a need for everyone to participate and give their contribution on each question (and I’ve found that a really nice part of Kenyan Bible studies). Literacy may certainly be an issue but this is not insurmountable. Friends in Nakuru are leading oral Bible studies where Bible stories are learnt verbatim, recited, repeated back, corrected, interrogated, retold, questioned.
  2. Questions are very powerful. Jesus used questions regularly to point people back to God’s Word: “What is written?” “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26) “How/why is it written?” (Mark 9:12; Luke 20:17). While he did often proclaim God’s Word and give his definitive exposition (e.g. Luke 4:16-21; 20:37-38) he was also very happy simply to point to Psalm 110 and ask devastating questions (Mark 12:35-37).
  3. The Bereans of Acts 17:11 seem to be a ‘noble’ model for us. Their daily searching of the Scriptures was almost certainly corporate. They were checking what Paul had said against the Scriptures; checking that Paul had used the Scriptures rightly – not twisting them out of context; looking through many other Scriptures to see if they really did all point to Jesus’ suffering and exaltation as Paul seemed to be suggesting. This concept of checking preaching against the Word is hugely relevant in our context – in fact in every context – if it was a good thing to check the great apostle Paul how much more my preaching? How much false teaching could be stopped in its tracks if those in the pews were meeting throughout the week, searching the Scriptures for themselves, seeing if these things are so?
  4. There is great power in seeing something for yourself. The Bereans hear Paul as he preaches the necessity of Christ but it is when they see the same things for themselves in the Scriptures that they believe (17:11-12). Similarly in John 4 the Samaritans say, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world”. This is not to say that preaching isn’t hugely important in drawing people to Christ (as it was with Paul and the Samaritan woman); nor is it to say that preaching can’t bring instant faith – it very often will (Acts 17:4) but it is very important that faith consists in being personally convinced by God’s Word. In a context where an eloquent or respected pastor may be believed simply for his rhetoric or authority, inductive Bible studies may play a very important role – a place where people can see the wonderful truths of Christ for themselves in the Scriptures.
  5. Inductive Bible studies affirm the power and clarity of the Scriptures. As a preacher it is quite possible to leave the congregation with the impression that either a) this was a very obscure Scripture that no-one could possibly have understood without me but I have been able to bring something clever out of it; or b) this is quite a dull or lifeless Scripture but through my anointing, charisma, dazzling illustrations, and rhyming points I have made it a thing of power. With a good inductive Bible study we all go away thinking the Bible is actually very clear and we trust only in the power of the Word itself to change people – which is quite a vulnerable and humbling place to be…
  6. On the practical question of accommodating this sort of Bible study group – It does seem that the early church met in houses throughout the week, eating, praying, praising, talking about Jesus together (Acts 2:42-47; 12:12; 20:8; 1 Cor. 16:19). Many early Christians would have been very poor (e.g. the NT letters clearly address slaves) but often there would have been someone in the church like Gaius (Romans 16:23) who could accommodate a group. The building is not the important thing though – it could be an open space (Acts 20:20 “publicly”) or, as in the case of Christians in Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, even underground burial chambers!

What’s your experience of Bible study groups? How much is this a cultural thing?

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Things really warming up. Lots of Bible. Lots of nitty gritty. Enjoying it more and more…

Some surprising things about wisdom from Proverbs 8:

  • Wisdom is personal
  • Wisdom is out-going – seeks us as before being sought
  • Wisdom is delighting, delighted-in, loving, loved
  • Wisdom is supremely valuable, the source of life and blessing
  • Wisdom is prior to the world and creates the world – not a construct that arises from the world
  • Wisdom comes through words – not so much from age or mystical experience

Some taboos challenged:

Pray for our final day today:

  • That we would finish well and the apprentices would travel safely back to their placements encouraged and strengthened by the grace of Christ.
  • For Sammy, Ken Kamau and myself – to teach and preach faithfully.
  • For Romans 9, Job 38-42, and Ephesians 5 to really speak to us.

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Covered all sorts of stuff today. Praise God for teachable humble engagement with the Word. The theme that seemed to emerge through the day was about our wretchedness and Christ’s wonderful salvation.

“Daily I abhor my sin. Daily I adore my Saviour.” (John Stott)

“I remember that this: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.” (John Newton)

In the morning Bible studies we were encouraged by Paul’s Christian experience in Romans 7: “Wretched man that I am! …Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Then in Isaiah 6 we saw the prophet having a similar experience: “Woe is me!” (cf. the 6 woes in the previous chapter) as he see the Lord (Jesus) high and lifted up (cf. John 12) in the place of atonement.

In Job 2:11-3:26 we saw the wretchedness of Job – this time not a wretchedness from guilt but suffering as the blameless servant of God – an honest window into the dark night of the soul and ultimately a picture of Christ in Gethsemane with his useless comforters, of Christ on the Cross, enduring the forsakenness, the hopelessness of hell, suffering worse than death.

Christine introduced Augustine in 30 minutes and it came out clearly that most of the heresies the great pastor-theologian fought (Manichaeism, Donatism, Pelagianism) had an insufficient appreciation of human (and Christian) sinfulness (and there are certainly assumptions in that direction in our Kenyan context). Augustine, through his reading of the Scriptures and his own experience knew the true wretchedness of the human condition.

Then Harrison led the most meaty session of the day as we grappled with the doctrine of salvation, especially from Ephesians 2, seeing again the wretchedness of our natural state and the wonder of our sovereign deliverance in Christ – from hell to heaven. (Harrison’s paper on the doctrine of salvation written when he was an apprentice himself in 2006 is here).

After a Jinsi Ya on Interview Preparation Skills, Sammy gave us some very helpful guidance on being Steadfast in the workplace.

Finally we looked again at Ephesians and found that Paul’s mission was…

  • simply “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8);
  • inextricably linked with the Church – the spectacular wisdom of God, the body of Christ, the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:10);
  • inextricably linked with suffering (Eph. 3:1, 13).

Pray for today (Wednesday):

  • That these doctrines would not puff us up but do their real job of completely humbling us and turning us to rejoice in Jesus.
  • For James Wainaina, myself and others speaking on Pastoral Ministry, Shaping a Sermon and lessons from Luther and from the East African Revival.
  • That the apprentices would be seeing things for themselves from the Word.
  • That there would be plenty of relaxation and fun too (we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously!)

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Sammy shared this with us at the last Ministry Training on How (or When) to use a commentary:

Sammy teaching at MTC

When I learnt that there are certain writings known to us as commentaries, I was kind of, “Mmmh alright no more struggles in preparing sermons! I can copy-paste.” That meant I could simply ride on other people’s ideas. No more good and hard thinking. After all the commentary will do it for me. That was really bad thinking and bad practise too. Because with that kind of thinking, I never read the passage thoroughly – I just read once and went to open the commentary.  That made me lazy. I did not need a lot of time to prepare a sermon. What do you make of that?

Even worse, it’s very easy to read others sermons on internet and then copy-paste, pray and preach. That’s not good at all, is it?  There is no short cut to faithful preaching!

David Cook in Teaching Acts, has some very helpful wisdom:

Too often as preachers we let the commentaries do our thinking for us. Under pressure, we immediately go to the commentaries, without first thoughtfully reading the text itself. If that is our ‘method’, our preaching is likely to be a regurgitation of the commentator’s thoughts on a passage. The result is powerless preaching. Read the text thoroughly and thoughtfully, using different translations, and only then consult the commentaries for extra insights, clarification etc. (p10)

Listening to the text is the right kind of engagement with biblical text. It is a careful and methodical activity, but never a forensic exercise! In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson reminds us that we approach the inspired Word of God, not as cool analysts, but as passionate hearers! The former approach will have us taking a tool kit to the text; the latter (and right approach) will first find us prayerfully meditating on the text (Ps. 1) and then, appropriately and sensitively, picking up our analytical tools. In human interaction, we learn most by asking the right questions and listening patiently to the answers. The careful reader of Scripture will ask questions like:

  • What is the author saying?
  • Why does he say it like this?
  • Why does he say it like this in this context?
  • What did it mean to the first readers?
  • What does it mean now?
  • What should I do about it?
  • What pictures is he using?

All these are useful questions to guide reflection. Your own personal discoveries will lead to a more passionate presentation and a renewed freshness in your preaching.

Having engaged with the text in this way, it would then be appropriate to consult the commentaries. (p. 35)

So the first answer to how to use a commentary is – not until you’ve done many hours of passionate, prayerful listening.

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