Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

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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Preaching has become the easiest thing to do in this country, trust me. You can just wake up and pick on something you like and can connect with people, then off you go! It’s a plus if you add just a little bit of charisma… and don’t forget that Hebrew or Greek vocabulary! Some fancy topic will always do the trick.

I think the reason behind this is that we as preachers always want the easy way out. Why should I spend so much time working on a text preparing my sermon? Why should I dare preaching through a book or a chapter or a passage Sunday after Sunday? Especially of the passage is hard to understand! But if ever we are going to see congregations grow into maturity in Christ then the Word of God must be faithfully preached from our pulpits. And that will mean hard work.

The aim of preaching is gospel transformation—in as much as we aim at the hands (get people serving) and the head (knowledge), the main aim really is the heart (transformed into His likeness- maturity). This is really demanding because ‘heart work is hard work.’

But because we don’t want to labour much, what do we do, go for the easiest thing- our hobbyhorses!

Just walk into a Kenyan Church, these are the topics that will most likely be covered throughout the year:

  1. Relationships
  2. Spirit of Excellence- academics, business
  3. Prosperity- possess your possession
  4. Domination (Principles of)
  5. Positioned for Greatness
  6. Money and giving
  7. Spiritual growth
  8. Spiritual warfare
  9. Cults and occults
  10. Mission month- hear stories from missionaries in the field & congregants have that woow feeling!!
  11. Embracing our ‘Kenyanness’ (One love Ke, We are One)
  12. Discipleship; Read the Word more, Pray more, be good (do’s and don’ts)
  13. Leadership
  14. Faith
  15. Restoration, Rebuilding Broken walls!
  16. Moving to the next level… Turning a mess to a message
  17. Wealth Transfer- from the wicked to the righteous
  18. Forgiveness
  19. Spiritual gifts; tongues
  20. Motivation; you can be a better you
  21. Vision- Church Building Projects
  22. Victorious Christian Living
  23. Sowing on wings like an Eagle
  24. The year of Jubilee (this is a big one… but 2013 is coming to end and it isn’t a year of Jubilee really!)

Perfect! That is a two-year preaching calendar for you (thank me later!)

You realise that the emphasis on Christ is less and less. What we hear is more of me-centred preaching rather than Christ-centred preaching. Me (the preacher and the listener) determines what is to be preached… it’s no longer the Word that guides our message but our message determines the scripture we’ll turn to as a back-up to our message!

I am not saying that this isn’t the right thing to do but there’s a danger that when we do this, we set the agenda instead of the Word setting the agenda. In the end, we’re only addressing people’s felt needs & not the most crucial need for a Saviour! And as 1 Cor. 1:23 says

But we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles

Christ crucified… that’s all we’ve got to preach. This isn’t the most appealing message that people wanna hear!

But because we aren’t doing that and we don’t want to be offensive, what happens is that the Bible (Word) is no longer in the driving seat, it’s been relegated to the back-left, or chucked out altogether. There’s a great danger here because a few years down the line, people’s ‘needs’ will have changed, their status improved but still they’ll be impoverished spiritually!

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Yesterday’s Church service was quite encouraging; not because the preacher had a Rhema word that spoke to my current prevailing situation or because we sung praise and worship until the heavens came down but because there was some faithful Bible teaching from the pulpit! In a country where we get less and less of the Bible being preached but more and more of preachers expressing their own agenda and using the Bible as a back-up, it’s only prudent that we marvel and rejoice when we see the Bible being taught faithfully!

The O.T text was Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel) and the N.T text was Matthew 19:1-30 (The Rich Young Ruler). The ongoing series for this month are on ‘Discipleship’ and on this particular Sunday, the topic was ‘Misconceptions of Discipleship.’ The first good thing is that the preacher stuck to the texts given, he didn’t jump about from one thing to another.

From the Genesis passage, there were two main points that were drawn out;

  • Humanity seeking Self-Praise- All men uniting to build a tower whose top reaches the heavens with one aim of making a name for themselves!

This is what man-made religion does; seeking glory and praise for man instead of giving praise and glory to God. It was helpful here for the preacher to draw out some relevant illustrations from the contemporary scene where we see so many false teachers whose aim is nothing but making a name for themselves! The application being we need to be weary of seeking to make a name for ourselves and that every effort we make in trying to ‘reach heaven’ by our own means apart from Jesus Christ are only but futile.

  • Humanity seeking Self-sufficiency & Security- Here, they built a city in order that they won’t be scattered/dispersed in the face of the earth.

The problem with their thinking is that it is exactly in contravention of the command that God had given to ‘go and fill the whole earth.’
They have forgotten that this is the duty of man and now want to have a city of their own where they can be secure from the dispersion. And oh, how often we seek our sufficiency and security from other things apart from God! It could be our finances, our wealth, knowledge, education, family or even church. We easily drift off the purposes God intended for us and form our own goals that we seek to achieve.

He was clear and precise and in 25 minutes or so, he had driven his point home.

Can we have more of this please?

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