Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category


In her paper, ‘Christian attitudes towards financial partnership for advancing the Kingdom of God’, Mary Njeri makes a number of very perceptive observations of Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents – incidentally a an appropriate one for Tuesday of Holy Week).

  1. The motivation to be about the business of Kingdom investment is entering into the Master’s joy. He is a happy God and those who see that, and steward his gracious gifts now looking forward to that, he welcomes us into his inter-Trinitarian happiness.
  2. The motivation not to be about the business of Kingdom investment is seeing the Master as a ‘hard man’, a joy-sucker, a selfish taker, rather than the Good Sower that he is (cf. Matt. 13).
  3. The character of the non-investor is described as not only wicked but ‘lazy‘. I had not noticed this before. Njeri brilliantly connects this with the analysis of sloth by Tony Reinke in the DesiringGod book Killjoys. There, Reinke shows that laziness/sloth can be expressed in what at first seem very different ways – the sluggard (wanting quick fixes rather than working), the workaholic (working hard but not for the things that matter), and the zombie (sleepwalking through life addicted to distraction and triviality) – all united by a fruitless pursuit of leisure and comfort, a lack of love for the church, the poor and the lost, and a “boredom with God.” The wicked servant in the parable buried his talent in the ground because he was lazy – he had lost his appetite for God’s joy. Whether he was lying in bed or whether he was rushing about madly working every hour to build his career or whether he was going through the motions of life checking his smart phone every 30 seconds – he was not excited about the Master and his Kingdom. And the warning is close to home. As Njeri says, “We are [largely] a desire-less church, unenthusiastic about the kingdom of God. We are caught up in just fulfilling our earthly obligations and then having the rest of the time for our comfort.” The answer is meditation on points 1 and 2 above.

This Tuesday may the Lord, by his Spirit, open our eyes to His Joy, the joy set before us;
may He work in us new desire and fresh grace to labour with all His strength for the fame of His Name;
may He give us creativity and ambition and energy to maximise His gracious gifts for eternal profit;
until the return of the Son.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

You can read Njeri’s whole article in Issue 5 of Conversation Magazine available in hard and also in soft copy…

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

If you’d like to get investing in Kingdom work today and multiplying disciple-making disciples, then why not consider partnership with iServe Africa, locally through MPESA or EFT or internationally through the iServe Africa UK Trust or the Crosslinks iServe Africa Project Fund.


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Why rest?


It was lovely to send a few days away together at the iServe Re:Fresh Retreat recently. But why rest? Isn’t it a luxury? Isn’t rest for wimps? Can’t we rest when we’re in the ground?

It’s a big issue in our context. Kenyans have a well-deserved reputation of being extremely hardworking. It is very common to get up two hours before light, have a long commute, long hours, evening or weekend classes, an additional part-time job, heavy family responsibilities, Saturdays working, Sundays packed with church, social and financial groups, little if any holiday, two mobile phones constantly ringing, email like an ever-flowing stream, multi-tasking, never stopping, squeezing events into the day as if time is elastic.

Not resting has some serious consequences though. Physically you start getting more colds and flus. Eventually you burnout. It’s not uncommon to hear of brothers who have collapsed through exhaustion. Mentally it becomes increasingly hard to concentrate and make good decisions. Productivity goes down. Emotionally, tiredness often breeds grumpiness and irritability. It becomes very hard to maintain godly gracious relationships. And in terms of spiritual disciplines, the more tired we get, the harder it gets to read the Bible and pray.

What does Jesus say?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Twice Jesus promises rest. Rest. Sabbath. This is one of the very peaks of the Bible. The world had waited thousands of years to hear that word from the lips of its creator. Right at the beginning there had been that rest (Gen. 2:1-3), “God’s rest” (Heb. 4:3-10), rest in an intimate relationship with the Father and the Son. Sure there was ‘work’ in the garden (Gen. 2:15) but it would have been so far from what we normally think of as work as to be almost unrecognisable to us – no sweat, no stress, no sin to overcome, no tears, no toil, no frustration, no exhaustion. Easy work. Restful work! In fact the word for ‘work’ there is a priestly word usually used for service in the tabernacle. Adam was the first high priest in the first tabernacle and with no sacrifices needed presumably his service was simply praising God and enjoying the presence of God (and naming animals!).

Then of course there’s the fall from grace and exile from the Sabbath. Man is burdened with the heavy yoke of curse and condemnation and death and decay and toil and pain and sin. Throughout the Old Testament Sabbath is a hugely important theme. In the Law and the Prophets the whole issue of keeping the Sabbath is massively important. In fact the huge emphasis and the harsh penalties for disregarding it seem bizarre until you recognise the Sabbath as a) a reminder of everything they’ve lost (Ex. 31:17); b) a foretaste of the great coming rest (Heb. 4:9); c) an engagement ring given by God gave to his people (Ezek. 20:12). In the historical books of the OT we look on as it seems that Israel might find ‘rest’ in the Promised Land, it looks good with Joshua, we see the high point of Solomon, finally given rest on every side but at the same time we hear from Psalm 95 and the book of Ecclesiastes that the rest has not yet been entered and the burden is still lying very heavy, even on the king himself.

ecclesiastes 5

Then finally, finally, along comes a man, a king, who says that he will give us rest. Real rest. Sabbath.

But what does that actually mean? What does it look like? How can this help us practically with issues of work-life balance? I think there’s probably a present and a future aspect to this rest.

Present rest

The most important thing to notice about this rest is that it is all centred on Jesus. Rest is found in coming to him and being yoked to him. And because he is the one who intimately knows and is known by the Father (Matt. 11:27), to be yoked to Jesus is to be brought to the Father, to be brought back into the original intimate Sabbath relationship with God.

And it’s not by works. It’s for little children (Matt. 11:25). It’s a rest from our works (Heb. 4:10). No longer the heavy yoke of the Law (Acts 15:10) and the burdens of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:4). The easy yoke. Union with Christ. Sharing in his righteousness and joy and sufferings and glory.

And what happened to all the death and curse and heavy burden? Well there’s an omen in the surrounding verses – Matt. 11:18-24 and Matt. 12 are all about the rejection of the Son. The one who offers only life and rest to man is, perversely, going to be rejected. And paradoxically, at the very moment of his rejection, he will be taking all our burden, drinking all our curse, taking all our condemnation.

And we have that rest right now. Sasa hivi. We are yoked to Christ, justified by faith, children of God, no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And that helps us in very practical ways:

  1. I’m justified in Christ so I don’t need to prove myself. Research indicates (source: Interhealth) that the number one reason why millions of us don’t rest enough, don’t take holiday we are entitled to, don’t leave work on time, is that we are, on some level, seeking to justify ourselves. Maybe it’s our boss we’re trying to prove ourselves to, maybe our colleagues or employees, maybe our parents, maybe God, maybe ourselves. We instinctively link our status and significance to achievement and performance. For many people it has become a source of pride to have a crammed diary, to have the phone constantly ringing, to be able to say, “I’m really really busy at the moment”. Conversely, not to be busy is not be significant. I fear what people will think if they find me resting. I even fear what I will think of myself if I’m resting. The only way to attack this fear is to preach rest in Christ to ourselves. He has done it all. He has clothed me in his righteousness. It doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks of me, it doesn’t even matter what I think of me, the truth is I am the Father’s child and he loves me to bits. You might feel insecure about resting. You are secure in Christ. You might feel guilty about resting (or be made to feel guilty about resting) but the reality is you are not guilty, you’ve got nothing to prove.
  2. I’m not Christ so I don’t need to try to save everyone. Another reason for overwork and under-rest, perhaps a common one in our context among lovely godly servant hearted believers, is the desire to address everyone else’s problems, to meet every need in the extended family, to stand in the gap for every needy causes, and to hear the church adding to this the urgent call to transform our communities, change the world, save the planet. In many ways it’s a really good desire and I’ve been challenged so many times by the labour of love of many brothers and sisters in Christ whose desire to pour themselves out for others and take on extra jobs simply to be able to give it all away is a rebuke to me. And yet… it can tip over into an attempt to be Christ to people, a Messiah complex, a need to be needed, an attempt to be everyone’s saviour. It’s a very liberating truth to know that Jesus is the saviour of the world not us. He is the one who says come to ME and I will give you rest. We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) but we cannot bear everyone’s burdens and we certainly can’t bear their most significant burdens of curse and death. We are not going to save the world. Often the most loving thing we can do is to say, like John the Baptist, “I am not the Christ; I can’t sort out all your issues; but if you go to Him you will find real rest in Him”.

Future rest

We enter into the Rest now in the sense of union with Christ, justification and relationship with God, but the fullness of Sabbath is still to come. The burden of the penalty of sin and the condemnation of the Law has been wonderfully lifted off us, but the burden of our physical decay, our sinful nature, the frustration and futility of the whole Creation still remains. We have to wait until death (Rev. 6:11; 14:13) or, more importantly, the return of Christ for the real fulfilment of the Genesis 2 Sabbath Land in the New Creation where, like Adam in the garden, we will be with the Lord and joyfully serve him in praise and delight without curse or sin or pain or burden (Rev. 21-22). On that Day Jesus “will give you rest.”

How does that make a practical difference?

  1. We are not yet in the Perfect Rest so I need to physically rest now. Because we are still under the burden of the Fall to a large extent, in weak, perishable bodies, daily facing sin and frustration within and without, we do still need to make time to stop and rest or we will burn out and fail to go the distance in the marathon of gospel ministry. There is a super-spiritual attitude which says that as a born again Spirit-filled believer I can work every hour and go without sleep and go without food and it won’t affect me at all because the Lord will sustain me. But that is over-realised eschatology. In the New Eden there will be restful, joyful work but for now it is still hard toil. In the New Creation there will be endless day but for now there is still day and night and sleep as a reminder of our mortality. One day we will have glorious resurrection bodies but for now we need to accept our weak, groaning creaturely-ness and sleep 8 hours and take at least a day off a week and eat healthily and not flog our bodies into an unnecessarily early grave.
  2. We are not yet in the Perfect Rest so I need to keep an eternal perspective. We’ve been thinking a lot at iServe recently about the danger of a lack of eternal perspective, the lack of teaching on the return of Christ, the Now-focus of much of our preaching. Everything in us and in the world is pulling our eyes down to the here-and-now. And so our hearts end up desiring simply the things of this world, our gospel is neutered and we lack the great Hope which is supposed to sustain us in our pilgrimage. It needs great discipline to fix our eyes on Christ’s coming, a future beyond this world in the perfect Sabbath. And that (as we mentioned above) was part of the point of the Sabbath day in the Old Testament – a time for the people to stop and fix their eyes on the Lord and his coming and long for Eden and an eternal Sabbath. It’s not Law for us as NT believers to take a Sabbath every week in the same way it was for the OT people of God but I don’t see why we wouldn’t need the same discipline of taking at least a day every week to disengage from the world and consciously fix our eyes on our coming Lord and the glorious prospect of Rest with him.

(Some practical stuff of work-life balance from Interhealth here.)

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10,000 talents

I was preaching on Matthew 18 v23-35 the other day and had some very useful feedback afterwards that I hadn’t spent enough time explaining and bringing home the reality and nature of our vast debt. It was a fair criticism. And it got me thinking. Why is the debt so huge?

Kerviel10,000 talents = 200,000 years wages. In other words you would have to work for two hundred thousand years to pay off that debt! The closest example I could find was that of Jerome Kerviel – a trader in the bank Societe Generale who managed to lose the bank 4.9bn Euros (about 570 bn KES in today’s money – half the entire national budget of Kenya). It was the biggest banking loss of its kind in history. On 5 October 2010 Kerviel was convicted by a Paris court and found guilty of forgery, unauthorised computer use and breach of trust, sentenced to five years in prison and – amazingly – told he must also repay the full damages of 4.9bn Euros which the bank lost through his risky trades. It was reported that on the basis of his current earnings Kerviel would need about 180,000 years to reimburse Societe Generale in full. (The following day Societe Generale released a statement saying that it would not pursue full repayment.)

Why the massive individual debt in Matthew 18? In the past I have thought it signifies some combination of a) my debt of giving God what is God’s (cf. Matt. 22:21; 21:34-35), all the millions of times I’ve failed to give him the praise and glory and honour he’s due (Rev. 4:11), failed to live for him and bear fruit for him; and b) the debt of the unpaid penalty for all my sins and guilt reckoned in monetary terms (cf. Exodus 22; Lev. 5:14-6:7). So basically sins of omission plus sins of commission.

Maybe that is it. But now I’m wondering whether something deeper is going on in Matthew 18. Three things to note in the parable:

  1. The king is settling accounts with his servants (v23). Not simply his subjects. His servants. It’s a similar set up to Matt. 24:45ff; 25:14ff; Luke 16ff. The servant has been entrusted with at least part of the king’s fortune and estate and now there is an accounting. It is actually very like the Kerviel situation. How can you run up a debt of 4.9bn Euros? Because it’s not your money you’re playing with.
  2. “When he began to settle… one was brought” (v24). The accounting has only just started and straight away, the very first guy the king has to deal with has this astronomical debt. The first one. The first man. Could this be Adam? The servant of God, entrusted with the whole world, entrusted with the infinitely precious blessing of bearing the image of God.
  3. He and his wife and children and all that he has are ordered to be sold into slavery (v25). In other words, when he goes down he takes his wife, his descendants and all over which he has dominion down with him.

If this parable has at least an echo of Adam in it then maybe when it comes to looking at my own debt it’s not just reminding me of the extent of my sins (plural) but of original sin. Even if I live as righteously as Job, even if I am a newborn baby, I still carry this enormous debt as a son of Adam.

The eighteenth century preacher George Whitfield was convinced that knowing this debt was vital and often preached on it. In his great sermon on “Peace, Peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14) (well worth reading in full here):

…when conviction comes, all carnal reasonings are battered down immediately and the poor soul begins to feel and see the fountain from which all the polluted streams do flow… and to acknowledge that God would be just to damn him, just to cut him off, though he never had committed one actual sin in his life…  I am verily persuaded original sin is the greatest burden of a true convert; this ever grieves the regenerate soul, the sanctified soul. The indwelling of sin in the heart is the burden of a converted person; it is the burden of a true Christian. He continually cries out, “O! who will deliver me from this body of death,” this indwelling corruption in my heart? This is that which disturbs a poor soul most. And, therefore, if you never felt this inward corruption, if you never saw that God might justly curse you for it, indeed, my dear friends, you may speak peace to your hearts, but I fear, nay, I know, there is no true peace.

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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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prodigal god series

Just finished a series at church through some parables in Matthew:

  • Matt. 13:1-23 – The Prodigal Sower  (notes)
  • Matt. 18:23-35 – The Prodigal Banker  (notes)
  • Matt. 22:1-14 – The Prodigal King  (notes)
  • Matt. 25:1-12 – The Coming Bridegroom  (notes)

And while we’re sharing sermons – I’ve just been made aware that Munguishi Bible College has now put their Kiswahili audio sermon library online here – do check it out (currently just early Genesis and Luke 17 but growing fast).

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Dick Lucas has this extraordinary way of putting things in such a straightforward, brotherly, commonsensical way that it’s only when you later think over what might have at first seemed almost a throwaway remark that you realise that it represents the tip of an iceberg of research and wisdom, that, if taken seriously, has devastating force. E.g.:

Training for Christian leadership is probably a false trail; Jesus taught his intimate disciples to Serve, and thereby they became the apostles we know. (emphasis original, Foreword to Dear Friends, 2013, p9)

The world is very keen on leadership training. How to manage, how to get noticed, how to get to the top, how to handle conflict to your advantage. Every week LinkedIn sends me a seductive digest of ‘life hacks’, ‘the 5 things Donald Trump doesn’t do, ‘the 3 boardroom secrets that nobody knows’ etc. etc. And in the Church we can copy that – slightly Christianize it with a few verses scattered around – but basically it’s the same stuff – ‘the 5 strategic steps to 360 degree perpendicular church growth leadership’. Because we still, at the end of the day, a) think that the world has all the best answers and b) deep down have an unreformed view of leadership – we still think of leadership as an attractive prospect of being at the top with the power and the impressive title and lots of people running around at our beck and call.

At the iServe induction workshop we returned to Matthew 20:20-28 and asked:

  • How does the mother understand the Kingdom? Do we hear that understanding of the kingdom in our churches sometimes?
  • Why were the ten other disciples indignant?
  • What is the normal pattern of leadership among ‘the Gentiles’? How are status, power and position linked? How do we see this today in politics, in the corporate world, in the church, in the family?
  • What is so radical about what Jesus says about leadership in the kingdom? What has happened to status, power and position?
  • What sort of God do we have in Jesus?
  • How is Jesus both our salvation and our example? Why do we need both?

Jesus turns everything upside down and then shakes it – destroying all our categories, all the connections we make between identity, authority and position. Gentile leadership models are given no place in his Church. “It shall not be so among you.” A theology of glory and an economy of power is replaced by a theology of the Cross and an economy of service.

Harrison has pointed out before how even the term “servant leadership” can become just another tool in the Gentile leadership toolbox. From at least the 1970s even the secular corporate world has realised that servant leadership works but, although some have tried to keep a pure focus on servanthood (and hopefully in another post we can interact with Robert Greenleaf’s work on servant leadership), often it has become simply another management strategy; another means to an end. So we are aspiring leaders first and servants as an optional pragmatic second.

A biblical servant leader, in contrast, has the servant bit in bold type not the leader bit. The core identity is ‘servant’ – like all God’s people. Like God himself in fact (amazingly). ‘Servant’ does not qualify ‘leader’, rather ‘leader’ qualifies ‘servant’. And the way to train in servant leadership is (to come back to Dick Lucas and to Matt. 20) not to aim at leadership but at service.

Even the Son of man came… to serve


On the subject… iServe Africa is still seeking funds to purchase some land on which to establish a Leadership Centre (maybe we should call it a ‘Service Centre’ (but that sounds like the place you’d return a faulty appliance or have a car repaired)). Time is running out for this appeal so if you have a heart for seeing fresh graduates and others trained in the gospel, gospel ministry and biblical servant leadership please contact the office to find out how you can partner with the project. And here’s a video about it:

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What is vital?

the sower

I love it when I lead an inductive Bible study and I ask a fairly open question and people come out with answers that are far better than what I was hoping for – they’ve seen things clearer than I did in my preparation. It’s really exciting. God is speaking to me there and then.

We were having our induction workshop for the new apprentices earlier this month, having a session on The Priority of Preaching and particularly looking together at Matthew 13:1-23. As you might have picked up if you follow this blog closely I’ve been a big fan of that passage for several months and preached it or used it in various ways on several occasions. This time it was group Bible study. We looked at the sower, and the seed, and why not everyone receives the seed well, and what the effect the seed has when it does go in. Then we got to this question:

So what does this all tell us about how the kingdom is going to be established? What is vital in mission? What is necessary for true growth and fruit?

I’m expecting to hear – preaching the Word. And we got that answer – mission and gospel ministry must involve actually sowing the Word of God – but there were two other answers that were given first that I’d not thought of but are absolutely brilliant:

  1. Jesus. Brilliant answer! The group had seen that it’s the parable of THE SOWER (v18). It’s all about Him. If he doesn’t turn up there’s no sowing, no life, nothing. The Son needs to come from heaven to earth and die for us and be united to us and be our life. If there’s no Jesus we might as well all go home and give up. Our salvation is Jesus. This was a wonderful reminder to me of what/who is absolutely everything. When I say ‘the Word does the work’ I’ve got to be careful that I know and those I’m talking to know that it’s the Word of Christ. The Word is all about him; the Word leads us beyond itself to life in him; he is the one who does the work, through his Word.
  2. The Spirit. Brilliant again! The group had got the point that the hinge of the passage – verses 10-16 – is all about revelation. Some people have their eyes and ears opened, some don’t. To some the secrets of the kingdom are given, but some are hardened in their hardness. The natural man cannot receive these things, only the one who by sovereign grace is made a new man. The hearts of rock needs to be reborn as good soil. I was reminded of the Spurgeon quote:

We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” (quoted in Stott, I Believe in Preaching, 335)



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Up early for the third day of the Lweza fellowship for an exposition of Psalm 3.

After breakfast I rush us through Getting to the Heart of a Bible Passage. A few things came out of this:

  1. It’s worth working at finding the big idea of a passage.
  2. It’s worth taking plenty of time working on the big idea. We tried to do it in a ludicrously short time. Really you need hours.
  3. The big idea should not be too short (e.g. “God is good” – so it could describe any number of passages) or too long (with multiple ideas). Pithy but specific is what we want.
  4. The Theme of the Bible is Jesus and the Thrust of the Bible is the gospel call of repentance, faith, salvation and life in Him (Luke 24; John 5; 2 Tim. 3) so the Big Idea of any passage is going to have something to do with Jesus and the Gospel.
  5. The big idea of the passage is NOT (as I erroneously suggested) a ‘summary of summaries’ but much more about the LOGIC of the passage. I initially said that what you need to do is break the passage into chunks, summarise each chunk in a sentence, and then squish all those summaries together into a sentence. We tried that and it didn’t work at all. As Loots helped us see, it’s much more about the flow. The crucial thing is not getting a bit of each chunk in the Big Idea but seeing how the chunks work together. You won’t necessarily give the chunks equal weight. So in our example of Matt. 23:1-23 we started to see that the crucial chunk is Matt. 23:10-17.

Then we looked at Crossing from the ‘world’ of the passage to the ‘world’ of the congregation. Key points:

  1. It’s not about ‘making’ the Bible relevant but showing the relevance of the text. The relevance is there. It might not be relevance in the sense of addressing our felt needs. But it will be relevant to our biggest, deepest needs. In this sense, there’s not a huge chasm to leap between then and now. Yes we need to go ‘back to Corinth’ but when you get there you find that their context and problems and temptations look a lot like ours. It’s very interesting that Jesus quotes Isaiah’s 600-year-old prophecy to his contemporary Israelites and says, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you [first century Pharisees]” (Matt. 15:7). What God says to idolatrous Israel is basically what he says to the idolatrous church. It was written to them then but it speaks to us now in the present tense (Matt. 22:31).
  2. Application we don’t want:

    Random – ‘bolt-on’ clichéd applications rather than ones that flow naturally out of the text.

    Superficial – we see a command in a story (e.g. Matt. 19:18-19) and we leap on it and just preach that.

    Allegorising – reading a story as a parable (e.g. in Matt. 21:2 we are the donkey and need to be loosed).

    Spiritualising – e.g. reading the healings (Matt. 8:14-17) as spiritual rather than physical or reading the storm (Matt. 8:23-27) as ‘the storms of life’ rather than a real storm.

    Imitating Bible characters – sometimes we’re called to imitate someone other than Jesus (Matt. 18:3) but the focus of the Gospels is relentlessly on Jesus; the disciples are generally pretty useless (e.g. Matt. 26:30-46). And when it comes to Jesus – he is first and foremost our substitute and then he is our example – he dies for Peter and then Peter dies for him.

    Moralising – preaching a moral lesson rather than the Big Idea of the passage (which will be Christ-centred and gospel-driven). This is a massive danger in our application – that we get something about Jesus but somehow in moving across to application we drop the gospel somewhere on the way and it just ends up being all about us and what we need to do again.

  3. The Bible Timeline is crucial in applying rightly. How does the passage fit into the big story of Creation to New Creation? Where is the passage on the line? When it comes to the Gospels it’s interesting because we’re right on the cusp of the OT and NT. We’re in very unusual times – the last OT prophet, the incarnation, a time of miracles and salvation and seismic shifts. And when we look at the timeline we see that the relevance of the Gospel accounts (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) is largely a narrative/historical relevance. In a similar way to the 2nd World War is relevant to a 21st century British person. As he reads about the 2nd World War and the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands who died in France, he is not thinking “I am that man on the Normandy beaches facing the machine guns”, he’s thinking, “I’m glad that wasn’t me. I’m very grateful those guys did that so that we weren’t invaded by Nazi Germany, so we don’t live now under a totalitarian regime. I am free because they died.” That’s the main relevance. It’s a historical relevance.
  4. Think about how the Gospel is particularly cutting home in this particular passage. What particular misunderstandings and attitudes and behaviour is it addressing?

In the afternoon we had quite a lengthy discussion time thinking about Matthew 13:1-23, how we’d often heard it preached (sowing a financial seed etc.), what exactly was the big idea and, more generally, what were the tricky issues in our context in moving to application in preaching. It was a good time of group discussion, grappling with issues of human responsibility (“He who has ears to hear let him hear”) and sovereign grace (Matt. 13:11; 11:25). We finally came round to thinking that the latter was the determinative thing and the key to the section. And also that it is a wonderful thing in that it is all ‘top-down’, all grace, all about Jesus the Good Sower.

The day closed with a brilliant exposition by Shadrach Lukwago (Kiwoko Bible Institute) of Matthew 22:23-33 followed by a great discussion.

  • Everyone agreed this was crystal clear, demystified, transparent preaching of the text, we were just seeing the text itself and hearing it speak, electric, thrilling stuff.
  • Shadrach’s preparation process was basically just reading the text, again and again and again.
  • He didn’t use points or headings he just walked us through the passage but the main thrust was really clear: If you don’t know the Scriptures, you won’t know the power of God.
  • Great use of detail – the crucial present tense in v32, the way the passage finishes not with the Sadducees but with the crowds (v33).
  • In a church or evangelistic setting we would really need to work hard on our introductions and applications.

Two days to go…

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The second day of the Lweza fellowship started before breakfast with Piers preaching – 1 Kings 18:20-40 Will the real God please stand up? We saw that false religion involves:

  • A god who is impersonal and silent
  • Ritual words and mantras
  • Ritual procedures and customs
  • Zeal and enthusiasm but without knowledge

It’s powerful because it’s permissive, pluralist and man-centred. A couple of other details in the passage that I’d never noticed before:

  1. Elijah wanted the people to ‘come near’ (v30) – presumably because he wanted them to see there was no magic, no hocus pocus going on here (in contrast to the mystery of false religion).
  2. Elijah is a man like us. It’s never hit me properly before but Elijah really was an ordinary man just praying ordinary prayers. No fireworks. No secret righteous energy. No special power in him at all. The great miracle of the fire is entirely by God’s sovereign power. Top down. The great miracle of the rain is entirely Yahweh fulfilling his Word.
  3. God is interested in our hearts. Their hearts are divided (v21) and God’s great desire is to turn them back to desire him (v37).

After breakfast I led a session on Preaching the Gospel from Matthew. Is Matthew’s Gospel really about the gospel? I’ve become very excited over the last month or two as I see more and more that it really is!

Then Chris Yikii led us through the first step in getting from text to sermon – studying the ‘flesh’ of the passage – working hard, ‘burning candles’, reading, reading and reading again the passage to see what is actually there. It’s not rocket science but time-consuming and easily missed:

  1. What does the passage say? Pay close attention to the details, things like tense and whether the pronouns are singular or plural. And don’t run to the dictionary – Bible words have Bible meanings.
  2. Why does it say it here? We had an interesting discussion of context. Why is it that in life normally, we are understanding things in context all the time – reading emails and SMSs we don’t read a line out of context; turning on the TV we understand that we are joining a programme half way through and we try to make sense of what sort of programme it is, where we are in it and what’s being said. So why don’t we do that when it comes to the Bible? We seem to a) suspend normal rules of language; b) spiritualise and look for direct words to me; c) seek what we can use as a pre-text for what we want to do or say. When we ignore context there is no longer any control over meaning and the text can mean almost anything.
  3. How does it say it? What is the tone, the feel, the emotion. I love this in the Psalms where you get an ‘unnecessary’ “Oh” which just expresses pure desire or longing or amazement.


After lunch, Loots Lambrechts (Preach the Word) took us through a great session looking for the structure of the passage – how does it all fit together? The big thing I got from this – which has really changed the way I look at a passage to preach it – was his insistence on finding the logic of the passage, or, as he put it another way, finding the route down the hillside. This is so helpful. It’s very easy to be like a dragonfly, skimming over the surface of the stream picking out two or three nice truths. A lot of old style evangelical preaching in the UK did that. It’s not exactly wrong but it doesn’t get the flow and force of a passage. It doesn’t see the vital connections, the dynamic, the ‘line through’ and harness that energy. We want to be not dragonflies but fish that get right into the stream and go with the flow of the passage.

Sammy (iServe Africa) finished off the day with an exposition of Matthew 22:15-22. He showed us that the issue was not really taxes to Caesar at all.

  1. The conspiracy to silence Jesus
  2. The conspiracy is about the Kingdom – Sammy very helpfully put the passage in its wider context in Matthew. The parables preceding the passage (22:28-22:14) are all about the Pharisees resisting and rejecting the kingdom of grace.
  3. The conspirators are silenced – guilty as charged – They haven’t given to God what is God’s (cf. 21:34-36), they are seeking to kill God (cf. 22:38), they are left speechless (22:22) and set up for the great condemnation in chapter 23.

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Lweza town

Last month Sammy, James and I had the privilege of travelling to Lweza, Uganda to take part in the East African Bible Expositors Fellowship (EABEF). It’s been going for a few years and James went last year but it was a new thing for Sammy and me. I learnt so much I thought I’d do some (belated) daily posts…

Christoher YikiiSunday was a day of arrivals of participants – from Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and the three of us from Kenya. Chris Yikii (director of Biblica Uganda) – our wonderful host and conference organiser introduced the conference reminding us:

  • East Africa is not only a region economically but also spiritually – united in the influence and heritage of the EA Revival. Our prayer is for another regional revival.
  • As we sit in our sitting rooms, doing that strange work of leaning over a Bible text, sweating to prepare a faithful exposition, the Elijah syndrome is ever present (‘Only I am left’) but in coming together in this fellowship we remind ourselves “there are other sitting rooms” where like-minded brothers are also working hard on Bible texts.
  • We are all in need of sharpening. You never take off the L-signs in preaching ministry. And we need the encouragement of others to keep us from the danger of shifting and drifting – of “going where the sugar is coming from”.
  • Part of the point of this fellowship is not only to practise exposition ourselves but also to practise training others. There are skills to pass on but character and right passions are also important.
  • The average Ugandan is 18.5 years old so there is great potential in targeting the rising generation who are generally most receptive to the idea of expository preaching.
  • Many churches in our context are founded on antagonism and division because they have resulted from a split. The gospel is preached as ‘my’ gospel, defined negatively in opposition to ‘his’ gospel over there. We need churches founded on Jesus’ gospel – that look upwards and outwards not just across the road to an opposing church.

Picking up from there, James taught us on Building with the right foundations: the gospel. A few points that really hit me:

  • The gospel is historical – the promised, dying, rising Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Rom. 1:2-4)
  • The gospel is not just for conversion but for the whole life of faith – we think we need we need other things to maintain us in faith (7 habits, 3 steps, 10 keys) but what we need is to be reminded of the gospel (Rom. 1:15; 15:14-15). Every day of our Christian life is repentance and faith, repentance and faith. And every Sunday we need to hear death and resurrection, death and resurrection.
  • The gospel is not what our itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3) – we naturally want made up stories, speculation and rules (2 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-3) – so the gospel will constantly be under threat.

Then Piers Bickersteth led us through Preaching and teaching the whole truth – “an awesome privilege, a daunting prospect and a humbling task.” Highlights from the session:

  • We decided that there can be teaching without preaching (though all biblical teaching will be straining at the leash to preach) but there must not be preaching without teaching – we need content, we want to be arguing from the Scriptures for the necessity and supremacy of Christ (Acts 17:2-3).
  • “We must let the content and purpose of the Word shape the content and purpose of our preaching”. That is expository preaching. And it’s the purpose bit that really struck me. We are not only to preach the gospel from 2 Tim. 2:8-9 for example but also see why has Paul summarised the gospel at this point in his letter to Timothy? What is the gospel doing here in this letter? What issue is it addressing?
  • We are jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7) – we are completely unworthy of this task; and the more we preach the more we become aware of our sinfulness and weakness; but the gospel is the treasure.

In the evening we started our first in a series of participant expositions in Matthew. Sam Opolot (Living Word) bravely kicked us off with Matt. 14:1-14. It was a great encouragement to carry on faithfully and fearlessly regardless of circumstances like John the Baptist. We had a good discussion afterwards where it became clear:

  • It is very difficult to preach from the Gospels.
  • The big issue in Matthew 14 is the identity of Jesus – who is he? And we see Herod preferring to believe the ridiculous rather than the obvious.
  • John is followed by Jesus as Elijah by Elisha – we’re seeing the Cross foreshadowed in the treatment of the forerunner.

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