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Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

Over the last few months I’ve been very struck by a theme in the New Testament that I don’t think I’ve properly recognised before:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me (John 8:42)

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23 cf. 14:15)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 cf. v16, v17)

…what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Cor. 16:22)

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Eph. 6:23)

Though you have not seen him, you love him (1 Peter 1:8)

I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first (Rev. 2:4)

The most wonderful gospel truth is not that we loved God but that God the Father loved us and gave his Son to be burnt up instead of us (1 John 4:10). And wonderfully, not only the Father, but Jesus himself loved us to death (Gal. 2:20) and loves us still (Rev. 1:5). Jesus loves me this I know…

But there is another, secondary truth which I fear I have downplayed in my concern to lift up the great gospel blessing of God’s love for us. That truth is that there must be a love for the Lord Jesus. Not a love for theology or a love for gospel ministry or a love for what Jesus brings with him, but a love for Jesus himself. This love is not mere emotion – there is an extremely common and tight connection drawn in Scripture between love and obedience – but neither can it be evacuated of feeling and affection. There is in love a desire for the presence of the other and a delight in the presence of the other (SoS 2:3,14; 3:1-2; 5:6-8; Psalm 27:4; 42:1-2). When my love has gone cold then there’s a big problem.

So I’m thinking this year…

How can I increase my love for Christ?

 

  1. Consider how far you have fallen (Rev. 2:5) – This will involve first looking through the spiritual wedding album, remembering the “devotion of your youth” (Jer. 2:2) and then acknowledging the slide – “followed worthless idols and became worthless” (Jer. 2:5) – the stupid double sin – “forsaken the spring of living water, and have dug cisterns, broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13) – and the disgusting spiritual adultery of forgetting the Bridegroom, giving lip service and pretend-repentance while really loving and running after others (Jer. 2:20-3:10). I need to recognise the tragedy and outrage of this fallen and debased state. As Richard Sibbes puts it, I need”to be first sensible of spiritual wants and misery. The passover lamb was eaten with sour herbs; so Christ crucified, relisheth best to a soul affected with the bitterness of sin.” (Third Sermon on the Song of Songs).
  2. Repent (Rev. 2:5) – As Peter Mead has shown, repentance is a relational thing – it is a turn from God-hating and, crucially, a turn to God himself. In Jeremiah, amazingly, after horrific spiritual adultery, the LORD Bridegroom says:

    “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will frown on you no longer,
    for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will not be angry forever.
    Only acknowledge your guilt—
        you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
    you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
        under every spreading tree,
        and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord.

    “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. (Jer. 3:12-14).
    So repentance will mean acknowledging/confessing my guilt and idolatry and adultery and returning to the incredibly forgiving, faithful-to-his-covenant Bridegroom.

  3. Behold Christ in the Word – “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). What are those first things? Well it could include a lot (probably most of the points below) but the very first thing we did was to look to Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God!” To put it another way, the first thing we did was to hear the word of Christ (Eph. 1:13; 4:22; 5:14 Col. 1:6). To hear is to see (Gal. 3:1). “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (SoS 2:14). I need to search the Scriptures to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6). I need to have that heart burning experience of the Emmaus road disciples as they saw Jesus not physically but in the (OT) Scriptures he opened to them (Luke 24). I need to dwell on awesome portraits of Christ like those in the Book of Revelation. I need to be dazzled by the Scripture pictures of Christ as creator, king, warrior, Holy One, radiance of the glory of God.  Before even considering God’s love towards us, God’s people “first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections).
  4. Savour his love – “your love is more delightful than wine.” (SoS 1:2). As Sibbes puts it, “love draws love” (First Sermon on the Song of Songs). This unconditional love which embraces the prodigal and the prostitute and the leper. This covenant love which unites me with the Son of God so that “My beloved is mine and I am his” (SoS 2:16). This sacrificial love with sweated in the garden and endured the searing pain of Godforsakenness. This love which actually, amazingly, genuinely desires and delights in the object of salvation (SoS 1:15; 4:1-14; 5:2; 7:1,10); which sees us as ‘lovely,’ ‘flawless,’ ‘overwhelming,’ ‘captivating’ (4:7; 5:2; 6:5; 7:5; 8:10) and actually wants to be with us for eternity (John 17:24). To the extent that we experience this extravagantly loving forgiving embrace, to that extent we love Christ (Luke 7:47). And we best come to experience this love corporately – “together with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18).
  5. Savour his name – “Your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!” (SoS 1:3) Notice the logic. The reason for the love is the fragrance of the Name. You know how you feel when the name of your best friend comes up in conversation. “The very naming of a good man casts a sweet savour” (Sibbes, First Sermon). How much more so of Christ. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds… As John Newton, that hymn’s author, explains, the ‘name’ stands for the whole person (Rev. 3:4,5). “The name of Christ includes the whole revelation concerning him, who he is, what he has done – all that we read of his love, his power and his offices make a part of his great and glorious name. The soul that is taught by the Word and Spirit of God to understand a little of these things receives such a sense of love and joy that the very sound of his name is sweeter than music to the ears, sweeter than honey to the taste.” (Newton, Sermon on SoS 1:3) So I would do well to return regularly, as many Scripture authors do, to the great declaration of the Name in Exodus 34:6-7. I would do well to delight in this character of our God as it is unfolded in the stories of Scripture. I would do well to meditate on the great ‘names’ of Christ in the Scriptures – The One Who Sees Me, The Shepherd, The Bridegroom, The Friend of Sinners, The Banquet, The Light of the World, The Life. And I would do well to listen most to the supreme declaration of the Name at the Cross. Newton again: “The precious vessel that contained this precious ointment was broken upon the Cross – the savour of his name, his love, his blood, poured out from every wound [in] his sacred body. See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingling down… When we desire a new savour of this ointment, let us turn our eyes, our thoughts to Golgotha. To behold him by faith as he hung bleeding and dying, with outstretched arms inviting our regards and saying, ‘See if any sorrow was like to my sorrow.'”
  6. Sit under Christ-ful preaching – “Everything that bears the name of preaching – if it does not diffuse the knowledge of this good ointment [the fragrance of the name of Christ] – is dry and tedious, unsavoury and unprofitable.” (Newton, Sermon of SoS 1:3). As Sibbes’ says, preachers, as the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28), are to “woo for Christ, and open the riches, beauty, honour and all that is lovely in him” (Sibbes, Second Sermon). Often I can’t, on my own, get my heart excited about Christ, but, in the company of God’s people, with a preacher opening the Scriptures and wooing for Christ, jabbing his finger in the Bible and saying “Look at this thing about Jesus; isn’t he amazing?!” – then I get excited about Jesus. And that seems to be the way God wants it to be.
  7. Partake in the Lord’s Supper – This is the other main, regular means of grace alongside the ministry of the Word, whereby I feed on Christ in my heart by faith with thanksgiving. This is where I’m reassured (as I recently read in a reformed confession I think) that as surely as the bread is pressed into my hand, so Christ has been given to me; as surely as I am receiving the wine, so surely Christ’s blood was shed for me and atones for all my sins. As Carl Trueman (if I remember rightly) describes it, just as in our marriage we live together and have a continual love relationship with our spouse but we still make special ‘dates’ where we can meet together and express our love for one another and grow in our love for one another and be reassured of our love for one another, so the Lord’s Supper is the time and place Christ has ordained as our ‘date’ where he promises to specially meet with us and reassure us of his love and inflame our love.
  8. Sing of Christ – As many have noticed through the ages, music and song have a special ability to express and inflame the affections. It is notable that the Song of Songs is… well a song! One of the best things for my soul is to be in the congregation of God’s people as we sing to one another and sing to God true words about Jesus. Let’s make the most of the songs that have been written down the ages and more recently that do what the Song of Songs does – address either ‘the friends’ or the Bridegroom and tell of His goodness. How sweet the name, When I survey, I stand amazed, There’s not a friend, Soon and very soon, Sovereign Grace, Emu
  9. Praise Christ – “We rejoice and delight in you; we praise your love more than wine.” (SoS 1:4) As C.S. Lewis would say, the latter (the praising) completes and increases the former (the rejoicing and delighting). As the beloved enumerates the specific, superlative, wonderful attributes of the Bridegroom (SoS 5:10-16) – her joy and love is increased. This works not only in prayer-praise and in song-praise but also in witnessing-praise to unbelievers. Have you ever had that joy of sharing with someone how wonderful Jesus is and as you do that you start thinking, Yes – this really is true – Jesus really is wonderful! Even if the other person wasn’t helped, I go away with a deeper appreciation of the good things I have in Christ (Philemon 6).
  10. Accept suffering as a means of refining love for Christ – God is sovereignly working to perfect us and the older authors (like Cranmer, Sibbes and Newton) recognise that much of that will be through the painful pruning of difficult circumstances. Through suffering he will work to loosen our grip on and weaken our affections for the passing things of this world that we might reach more for and rejoice more in Christ. What is required of us is an acceptance – a patient endurance (2 Cor. 1:6; Heb. 12:7) rather than an impatient rejection; a trust that this is a means of God inflaming my love for Christ.
  11. Be around people who love Jesus – I find this one of the most helpful ones. You’ll have noticed how the corporate, churchly dimension intersects almost all of the points so far. We grow in love for Christ among others who love Christ. As in the old illustration of a coal placed in the fire with glowing coals – the warmth and burning of others stirs me up to glow. To change the metaphor, the Proverbs speak of one man sharpening another. Often we think of this in terms of critical thinking but it is also true of love for Christ. Sibbes talks of “that which hinders the sharpness of the [spiritual appetite], that dull and flat the edge of it… and take away the savour and desire of heavenly things.” The evil and cold banality of the world and the company of those who have no interest in Christ dampens our love for Christ like a wet blanket. On the other hand the “company… of such as ‘labour for that blessed food that endures to life eternal’ provokes” us to a sharper appetite and greater feasting on Christ. I need this every day (Heb. 3:13) and especially need to make use of the Sabbath pattern to meet with God’s people and delight in him together.
  12. Pray – Perhaps this should be the first point. We need the Spirit of Conviction that we would see how far we have fallen. We need God himself to grant us repentance (Acts 3:26; 11:18). Otherwise, like the people in Jeremiah’s day we will not repent, we cannot repent (Jer. 13:23). We need the Spirit to remove the veil and open our eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ in the pages of Scripture (2 Cor. 3-4). We need to pray that God would enlarge our hearts, give us new desires and new taste buds to crave and enjoy Christ. Sibbes notes from SoS 4:16 that unless the Spirit of God blows on us we do not even want to pray for more of Christ. So let us pray desperate prayers for greater love for Christ – come to his Word and come to church praying for our love to be inflames – knowing that even that desire to pray is a gracious gift and token of his love.

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Kenneth Irungu, second year iServe Africa apprentice who blogs excellent stuff at Gospel Insights, reviews David Helm’s 9Marks book Expositional Preaching.

helm-expositional

In a generation of prosperity preachers who use the Bible, as Helm would put it, the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than for illumination, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is of much relevance. We greatly need such a book that exhorts every preacher, the beginners and the experienced, to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what they think might be there.

In a small book, which one can read in one sitting, Helm points out that all preachers should commit themselves to a preaching that rightfully submits the sermon’s shape and emphasis to the shape and emphasis of any given biblical text. He shows how preachers can declare God’s Word with clarity, simplicity and power always, as Simeon put it,

  • humbling the sinner,
  • exalting the Saviour and
  • promoting holiness.

The book has four chapters, with a well-crafted introductory chapter introducing Charles Simeon, a man who returned the Bible to the center of church life in England, and a conclusion chapter calling upon every preacher to hope that some good will be done by their preaching .

The first chapter of the book points out three common mistakes we make as a result of our attempts to contextualize biblical texts. It shows how we preach without doing an exegesis of the text (paying attention to biblical text’s original audience and its purposes) or having any theological reflection on the text (seeing how a bible passage relates to the saving acts of God in Jesus).

The other three chapters highlights approaches for preparing sermons that enable preachers to join Charles Simeon and other solid expository preachers in the faithful and fruitful work of biblical exposition. These steps include doing a biblical exegesis on the text, having a theological reflection of the text and then applying God’s word to today.

Helm argues that leaving a sermon at exegetical step makes it purely intellectual and imperative. He also notes that preaching a sermon after theological reflection without applying it to today ends up having spiritualized and dehistoricized preaching.

The author notes that prayer is key in expositional preaching. He urges preachers to pray in advance of preaching, in the act of preaching and after preaching is done. He calls us to be ever desperate for the power of Holy Spirit to attend our preaching for the power does not rest on us.

Helm concludes the book by warning every preacher from looking for more creative and artistic ways to make the sermon relevant. He calls the readers to see preaching as a duty bound to the text. He adds that the preacher should keep the eyes open and face planted in the text to be able to articulate the theme of the text and the aim of the author. He also gives an appendix of helpful questions that every preacher should ask during sermon preparation.

Another nice feature of the book is the line drawings throughout. These make it easier for the reader to understand the key points. He also uses his example and pitfalls to help the reader learn from his mistakes. Helm does so well in connecting one chapter to the other, with each new chapter having a recap of what has been learnt so far. He also repeats the key points to note as he concludes every chapter.

I highly recommend the book to young preachers, like myself, who are trying their teeth in preaching. It is a relevant book too to experienced preachers who want to remain faithful in their work. It is unfortunate that I can only say this little about this impacting book that should be on the shelf of every Bible preaching preacher.


 

AH: I agree with Ken and very much appreciate this book. Just one concern would be that it is very much from and to an American/European context so some of the language and a number of the illustrations sound very strange reading it in an African context. E.g. “Contextualization is a good dance partner, but she should never be allowed to lead… It’s like we want to spin her out away from us in exciting circles, showing off her long legs and high heels.” (p.40-41) As I said to Ken, we desperately need someone to write an African book on preaching Christ faithfully from the Scriptures.

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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We were very excited when Emmanuel Baptist Church ran the first Proclaim Conference in 2014. Now we’re particularly excited that the focus this year will be on Bible-driven preaching. If you can make it, get it in the diary and we’ll see you there. Here’s the invitation to pastors:

sponsor

Dear Friend/Church Leader,

Greetings from Emmanuel Baptist Church. We are writing this letter to invite you to our annual church leader’s Proclaim Conference (www.ProclaimConference.org). This year’s theme is: The Primacy of the Proclaimed Word | Handling and Hearing the Word of God and is focused on addressing the great need for biblically grounded preaching in our country.

The conference will be held Thursday 9am through Saturday 5pm, the 26th and 28th of May 2016, and the venue is Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC), King’ara Road, Lavington, Nairobi.

Our vision for the Proclaim Conferences is to equip church leadership to passionately and accurately minister the Scriptures to the churches they serve.

We are purposed to serve and strengthen the Church in Kenya by promoting robust God-­centered evangelical theology by: preaching from the Scriptures expositionally, modeling  healthy church life, providing quality biblical training resources, and by providing opportunities to develop ministry relationships and build healthy gospel-centered church networks.

For this year’s conference we will be examining the topic of expositional preaching. Dr. Mark Brock, Crossway Baptist Church, Bakersfield, California, and Pastor Ken Mbugua, Emmanuel Baptist Church, will be preaching the six general sessions. Other able and gifted men (lecturers, pastors, etc.,) will be teaching over 25 different workshops that address expositional preaching, discipleship in the church, theological training, and more.

Dr. Brock will also be conducting a separate pastor’s track on how to do expositional preaching in your church where Dr. Richard Ramesh’s book, Preaching Expositional Sermons will be given to all registered pastor’s track attendees on a first-registered, first served basis.

Please join us to learn, share, interact, and fellowship with these gifted pastors and careful theologians for three full days of workshops as they explain and explore the importance of faithfully preaching from the Scriptures.

The cost of the conference is Kshs 750/= per person if registered by 15/4/16. Otherwise, registration is 900/= per person; 1,500/= per couple for the entire conference (includes conference materials, meals during the day, etc) and can be paid at the entrance gate.

Finally, it is our desire to serve the churches of Kenya and their leaders, and we will be distributing the following resources to all registered attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  1. Proclaiming a Cross Centered Gospel, various authors
  2. Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today, Helm
  3. ESV Global Study Bible, Crossway Publishers
  4. Prosperity: Seeking the True Gospel
  5. Foundations Discipleship Booklet II (tool for one on one discipleship)

In addition we will have a large displays of new and used theological books for purchase. We will have very good prices on these books, so don’t miss out!

We look forward to serving you at this conference. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call 0708 802 375 or email: conference@eabst.org. You can also visit our Proclaim conference website, register for the conference, and check our Facebook page for more information.

Praying with you for the Priority of the God’s Word in our lives and ministries,

Kenneth Mbugua

Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church
King’ara Rd, Lavington, Nairobi

Entrusting the Word
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Many of us would want to say, as preachers, that our confidence is completely in the Spirit-breathed Word to do a genuine, lasting work in people’s hearts. It is the seed of the Word which brings the great harvest. It is the Word of God that is living active. It is the Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword. That’s why we spend hours and hours labouring to get our understanding right (knees on the floor, nose in the text) before we work on how to get it across. But how can we tell if we are putting our confidence in the Word when it comes to Sunday morning? A few suggested measures:

  1. Ratio of amount of Bible read to length of sermon. Paul calls Timothy first to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. In the 1662 BCP service of Morning Prayer as originally conceived, there would have been 7 or 8 chapters of Scripture read in the course of the service (including set Psalms and Scripture in the liturgy). That would be at least 30 minutes every Sunday (and possibly more with total Scripture length sometimes over 4000 words). In contrast the average length of the Homilies prescribed by Cranmer is around 3200 words (though some in the later second book of Homilies are considerably longer). Again, around 30 minutes. Compare that ratio of 1:1 with our more normal modern practice of a short reading immediately before the sermon.
  2. Placement of prayer. Is it before the reading or between the reading and the sermon? If I pray for our hearing of the Word before it is read then that implies that it will be speaking even as it is read. If I always pray immediately before the sermon then the implication could be that we’re only going to hear God really speak when I unpack what would otherwise be rather unclear and hard to understand.
  3. Ratio of introduction to body of sermon. How long does it take me to get into the passage itself? Introductions can be helpful in many ways but when it gets over a certain length then questions may be asked about whether I am really confident that the Bible is a) clear and b) gripping.
  4. Speed and expressiveness in reading the Scriptures versus speed and expressiveness in the delivery of my words in the sermon. For one thing we need to make sure that whoever is reading the Scriptures in the public gathering does it really really well. But even in the sermon itself there is a danger – that when I as the preacher refer back to a verse or quote Scripture in the body of my sermon, I read it very quickly, rushing through it as a footnote or a parenthesis, while in contrast, when it comes to my own words and phrases and headings and points, I go more slowly, with much more emphasis. What I am subliminally communicating is that the Scriptures are my launchpad – and a rather dry and dusty one at that – while the thing you really need to take away is my carefully crafted rhetoric or 3 points beginning with P. What if I reversed (or at least equalised) the equation and gave great attention to how I read the Scriptures – with real force and authority and expressiveness – stressing the key words that make the point? What if I aimed to have the congregation go away with God’s words ringing in their ears not mine?
  5. Number of cross-references, particularly corroborative and thematic. There is a place for cross-references, particularly Biblical theological ones connecting a passage into the big salvation story of Scripture, but generally, once the number goes beyond two or three cross-references there is an inverse relationship between number of references and our focus on and confidence in the text in hand. Particularly troublesome are the ‘this makes me think of…’ type of cross-reference or the ‘as it also says in…’ type. In contrast, a tight focus on one text communicates that there is plenty here; each passage of Scripture is clear and rich and solid.
  6. Relying on God’s words to do the cutting versus relying on additional illustration or application to do the cutting. It’s important to illustrate and apply God’s Word. It’s important that things are grounded in real life. But there is a danger that, as one brother put it, “we use the illustration to do the work and make the turn.” In other words the thing that brings the energy or twist or punch in the sermon is my story that I have made up or my clever incisive application. It’s a form of preaching that people love but the warning sign is when you get feedback like “That was so powerful. I would never have got that.” or “It was so clever what you did with that passage. You made it so relevant.” Another warning sign is it people are nodding off as you go through the text but then sit up for the second half of the sermon when it gets to ‘application time’. Let’s labour to preach God’s Word with the clarity and relevance that it innately has, but let’s make sure that it is the Word that is cutting to the heart and not my elaborate application bolted on the end. Let application be flowing throughout, straight from the text itself.
  7. Physical distance from the Bible. This is perhaps the easiest one for the observer to spot because you can literally measure it with a tape measure. I remember watching Dale Ralph Davis preach and his head never moved more the 30 centimetres from the Bible (which was incidentally his Hebrew Bible) as he passionately wrestled with and preached the Scriptures to us. I can remember another time with another preacher when the Bible was left on the pulpit as the preacher moved further and further away, and the further he moved physically, the further he moved in terms of content, until he was spouting complete nonsense. Certainly there’s nothing magical about the Bible and being close to it but if you want to ‘reason from the Scriptures’ (Acts 17:2) and if you want to show that your authority is the Word and you have nothing to say apart from this book, then it would make sense to stay glued to it.

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Thank you very much to our friend Pastor Michael Otieno (Bethesda Baptist) for sharing this:

Today I was studying and went through Banner of Truth Magazine, March 1994 and found this in ‘The Power of the Word Preached’ by Brian A Bernal:
“By ‘preaching’ I neither refer to that affectation of authority which bombasts auditors, nor the practice of sleepily commenting on the text in a general way (which neither rouses the preacher nor the people). Both of these are grievously common in our day. I rather speak of that careful exposition of the Scripture with relevant and close application of it, boldness tampered with humility, an application which chases the doctrine into the heart and woos and wins the soul to the liking of it.”

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EABEF 2015

Bernie preaching from the Word

Thanking God for the East Africa Bible Expositors’ Fellowship last week in Kisumu. Great joy and encouragement to meet with brothers from 6 nations, learning from Titus together, talking honestly, finding out about what God is doing through some great ministries across this region.

Some stuff I learnt personally from other participants, preachers and facilitators:

  • It is good to stare in the face the ‘brutal facts’ in our E African context that challenge faithful Bible teaching and the practice of hard lengthy labour on the text: 1) The attitude “I know the passage already”; 2) Congregations that are easily impressed, so I can get away with cutting corners; 3) Wanting to be popular / wanting to hold onto people who are deserting to the prosperity / hyper-pentecostal churches so I am tempted to copy what they are doing; 4) Wanting quick easy fixes; 5) Hobby-horses and the temptation of sermon recycling; 6) Taking too many preaching invitations; 7) Lack of deep, honest relationships where feedback can be given and received; 8) Poverty, especially in the rural areas, where the pastor has virtually no pay, where the congregation wants him to support them (rather than vice versa) and the pastor is overwhelmed by his own needs and those of others. In the face of these big challenges ways forward proposed included: a) Continual reminders of the great Saviour God whom we serve, his charge to ‘preach the Word’, and the absolute necessity and power of faithful preaching of Christ crucified; b) Continual reminders of servant leadership – serving others and not ourselves; c) Fellowships like the EABEF where we can be encouraging one another, spurring one another on, supporting one another spiritually, emotionally and materially; d) The need to think of many rural pastoral placements as mission placements where the pastors are sent, supported and resourced as mission partners by urban churches; e) The need to keep the focus on the local church – fellowships and para-church organisations simply as encouragers of the local church.
  • There is a great value in a multiplicity of teaching voices – where there is a great deal of theological consensus and unity in the gospel but at the same time some range of style, emphasis and perspective: a) because we don’t want to create clones of our own imperfect theology but rather provoke people to search the Scriptures for themselves; b) the plurality of elders (Titus 1:5); c) many counsellors (Prov. 11:14); d) avoiding guru status (Matt. 23:8).
  • From Determine Dusabumuremyi: Before we come to the mechanics of sermon preparation and delivery there is a need for a deep heart work in the preacher. He needs to be awed by the ‘theatre’ in which he preaches – presence of God and coming of Christ (2 Tim 4:1) – and humbled by the greatness of the words and task with which he has been entrusted – words of eternal life to raise the dead. He needs to soak in the passage until he is personally convicted and formed by it; seeing himself as first and foremost aThe 6 Cs of preaching terrible sinner receiving glorious grace (Isaiah 6). And then he needs to feel the divine indignation at what is crippling the church (cf. Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 4:19-20; 2 Cor. 11:2). So perhaps there is another ‘C’ – Captured by the Word – that produces the 5 C’s.
  • One of the big problems with the ‘hyper-grace’ movement (“Sin boldly”) is that there is no process of conviction and humbling. The exposition of Psalm 32 showed us not only the great, great joy of having our sins forgiven but also the way forgiveness is connected with a deep humbling in which I see the awfulness of my sin and feel the crushing weight and admit “I am a sinner” not in a bold, flippant way but in seriousness and sorrow, having been brought to the very end of myself, finding myself face down in a muck of my own creation, and then how the humbled, forgiven, beloved sinner is, as a result, a teachable, guidable disciple.
  • The area of specific application to attitudes and behaviour (the imperatives of the message) is just as weighty as the area of gospel truths (the indicatives of the message) and requires just as much serious thought and preparation as the latter. Because the gospel is so weighty the application is weighty. Though there is danger in being too specific, often giving examples, telling stories and painting pictures of what this might look like in practice can be very helpful here.
  • The focus of faith is the forward-looking confident hope and longing for the appearing of the crucified saving God-man (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Our unity is around the gospel not around a particular method of text to sermon.

Some resources and links:

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