Quote of the Day: John Calvin

“Since the Lord commands us to ascend the pulpit not for our own edification, but for that of the people, you should so regulate the style of your teaching that the Word may not be brought into contempt by your tediousness.”

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Christ in the Psalms

Last Sunday I preached at Highgrove Church on the topic of ‘Songs of the Saviour’, looking at Jesus Christ in the Psalms:

I was keen to read quite a bit of scripture as part of the talk and honed in on Psalm 22 and Mark 15. As part of this, I also reference the following (by no means exhaustive) references to the Psalms in the gospels:

Sufferings of Christ

  • Stone the builders rejected: Ps 2:8; 118:22-23 – Matt 21:42
  • The Garden of Gethsemane: Ps 40 – Matt 26:42
  • His close friends would betray him: Ps 41:9
  • Jesus’ last few words “into your hands I commit my Spirit” quote Ps 31:5.
  • His bones will not be broken: Ps 34:20
  • He will rise from the dead – “you will not let your faithful one see decay”: Ps 16:8-10

Glories of Christ – the God depicted in Psalms fit Jesus like a glove

  • Kings bow down to him: Ps 72:10 – Matt 2:11
  • Descendant of David: Ps 89:3-4; 35-36
  • Beatitudes blessed are the meek: Psalms refer to the meek Ps 37:11
  • Jesus calms the storm: Ps 107:29; 65:7 – Mk 8:24; Matt 8:26
  • As Jesus is clearing the Temple, the disciples remembered that it was said in Ps 69:9: “zeal for your house will consume me.”

I sought to avoid giving the impression that these are ‘proof texts’, but rather convey the frequency with which the gospels draw upon the Psalms as it processes what is going on in and through the life of Jesus. The frequency with which Jesus himself quotes or draws upon the Psalms cannot be ignored. Interpreting scripture through the lens of Jesus does not mean that we read every passage as pointing to Jesus. But that the story of Israel, and our story, only begins to make sense as we read scripture with new eyes. The story only hangs together with Jesus.

… the New Testament continually uses the book of Psalms to fix our gaze upon the excellencies of Christ, upon [his] majesty, beauty, and glory.

– Michael Morales

Powerful Preaching


I stumbled across a really helpful article that outlines four principles for effective preaching:

This is the last of a series of posts where I have built and expanded on these a bit, adding my own thoughts that reflect how I would like to grow and develop in my gifting.


Powerful

Get on fire for God and people will come to watch you burn“, advised John Wesley to a discouraged youthful minister who, seemingly, could not attract a crowd.

Let’s be clear: powerful preaching is not ‘powerful’ because because the preacher has a booming voice, has got him or herself worked up into an emotional frenzy, or because of a demonstrative charisma. Powerful preaching is found in the power of the gospel to transform lives (Romans 1:16). If we are to see God’s power work through our preaching it must be “preceded by, accompanied with, and followed by prayer… It is prayer that makes God real to us – His holiness, His power, His love.

That said, a key area I would love to grow in is to combine the ability to bring the timeless Word of God in my preaching with a prophetic edge that is able to also bring the ‘Now’ Word of God. That is not at all to diminish the fact that God’s speaks today through his Word (hopefully that’s demonstrably my view from reading these posts!) but it is to recognise that there can be prophetic insight (words of knowledge etc) in how we apply that Word to our hearers.

Powerful preaching sets the spiritual temperature in the room rather than reflecting it. In my preaching, I want to be a thermostat and not a thermometer. In this there are no short cuts. To set the spiritual temperature you must first have caught the fever. If you are on fire for God, people will sit up and take notice.

Can listening to a podcast replace ‘live’ preaching?

The advent of the iPod and smartphone era has led to a tonne of great preaching content being made available on the inter-web. Listening to some of the best preaching in the world is as easy as clicking a few buttons in your web browser or smartphone.

I listen to my fair share of podcasts – 51 subscriptions currently – that I dip in and out of from time-to-time.

The proliferation in the availability of great preaching on the web is something I feel blessed to have access to but there are also some things about it that bother me. As I reflect on the relative merits of listening to sermons online, I think there are a number of pros and cons:

Pros

  • Online sermons reach people and places that preachers cannot. If you can’t get to church because of old age, health issues, or work you can still ‘catch up’ on what you may have missed in your community that week and feel part of things. If you serve regularly in children’s ministry, for example, it can be a valuable way of keeping up with the series whilst you’re serving in other ways.
  • The availability of podcasts has also meant that it is easier than ever to listen to some of the most gifted Bible expositors out there. I know that I have benefitted from listening to the reflections and techniques used by other gifted preachers which has helped me to communicate more effectively.

Cons

  • There is a lack of accountability inherent in listening to sermons sans church. Engaging with scripture as a community involves accountability and challenge – we are encouraged to reflect and apply what we are learning in small groups to not just be hearers of the Word, but doers. Relationships are a key element of spiritual formation. In contrast, you can easily listen to a podcast online and not interact with another human being. We can’t do the Christian life on our own. I want to sit under theWord of God alongside those God has called me to journey with in my church family.
  • Perhaps most importantly for me, listening to talks online can’t replace the ‘Now’ Word of God. Listening to talks online have many merits, but nothing can replace the immediate relevance of the Holy Spirit working through the preacher to convey the Word of God to the congregation in a particular time and place. Have you ever heard someone raving about a talk, only to listen to it later yourself online, to be disappointed by what you hear? I think there is something important about being there in person to sense what God is saying through his Word, that simply isn’t present after the fact.
  • Linked to this, it can easily slip into being a cerebral exercise that can reflect and feed a thirst for knowledge, but gives you very little context within which to apply it. As Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.” God is not looking for podcast junkies, but for people hungry for him and thirsty to apply the Word of God to their lives.
  • Related to this, listening to highly talented preachers via podcast – divorced from your own church context – can easily feed a culture of celebrity in the church and become ‘consumeristic’. With podcasts, you can pick and choose to listen to preachers or talks you are interested in hearing, and just as easily avoid subjects or passages that you want to avoid because you find them difficult or challenging. That is not a healthy diet.

Used well and discerningly, listening to podcasts can enrich your spiritual life and feed you deeply. But it is a supplement and not a replacement for ‘live’ preaching. Use it carefully to enhance and not detract from your spiritual formation.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

Personal Preaching


I stumbled across a really helpful article that outlines four principles for effective preaching:

Over the coming posts I plan to build and expand a bit on these, adding my own thoughts that reflect how I would like to grow and develop in my gifting.


Personal

“First, open Scripture and experience God’s words for yourself. If it does not come alive to preachers’ heads and hearts, to their eyes, ears, and senses, it is unlikely to come alive to listeners. There are no quick fixes and no shortcuts…Spiritual authenticity occurs when a preacher’s personal walk with God enables public worship to flow from private worship…shallow spirituality leads to shallow preaching…Hearers recognize spiritual authenticity in a preacher.”

Michael Quicke, 360-Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word, 115, 116 (2006).

One thing that I am releasing more and more is the urgent need to get excited about the passage I am preaching on – this stems, of course, from a conviction about the centrality of the Word of God for today. John Piper speaks of when he became “passionately thrilled” by what he was seeing in the Bible as a young man and that this was the thing that led him into preaching ministry. I know that I am most effective when I have been captured by what I have read in the scriptures and am seeking to pass on to others what I have learned and applied to my own life.

John Stott talks of the main objective of preaching being to “expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly that Jesus Christ is perceived in all his adequacy to meet human need.” The preacher should experience no less than revelation for their own life, and pass this living word from the living God to the living people of God.

Julian Freeman talks of hearing a preacher (lovingly) talk about his ‘large’ grandmother:

She was always cooking, he said, but never ate with the family. He couldn’t figure out, as a child, how she could be so large if she never ate. Then, one day, he watched her in her kitchen. As she cooked, she snacked. All day. This preacher said that we, as preachers, ought to be like his grandmother. We must be constantly snacking on the food that we’re preparing for others. When I do this, I think my sermons are more personal, more practical, more warm, and easier to hear. I just don’t do it enough.

I want to be personally gripped by what I discover in the scriptures. To soak in the text, drink deeply of it and be changed by it, and then work hard to find ways of unpacking this so as to act as a bridge between the the truths I have uncovered and the lives of the congregation. Truly effective preaching gets the preacher out of the way and allows God’s Word to speak by the Holy Spirit to God’s people.

Do we have to mention Jesus?

John Koessler’s take on whether every sermon should mention Jesus:

Jesus is not the express focus of every text of Scripture. But all Scripture gives evidence to the truth that is ultimately expressed in the person and work of Christ… When we examine Scripture, we do not look to find Christ in the text. We look at the text through the lens of Christ.

In other words, yes.

Practical Preaching


I stumbled across a really helpful article that outlines four principles for effective preaching:

Over the coming posts I plan to build and expand a bit on these, adding my own thoughts that reflect how I would like to grow and develop in my gifting.


Practical

As Spurgeon once urged, Jesus said feed my sheep not feed my giraffes. I don’t think anyone who has engaged with Spurgeon’s preaching could claim he was anti-intellectual, but he was certainly focussed on ensuring that his listeners could engage with the Word of God and knew what it meant to go away and live differently in the light of what they had heard. Food should not be put so high that neither lambs nor sheep can reach it.

The desire to be ‘clever’ and ‘memorable’ in our preaching can distract from the task of helping people to grasp hold of what the Word of God says, and help them to know how God would have them put it into practice. Adrian Reynolds’ contention is that it doesn’t matter if people don’t remember your sermons:

We are tempted, I would suggest, to measure our ministry in terms of how much people can remember of it. And when people say to us “I remember your three points” we get a inward glow. But in fact, the measure of God’s word preached is whether people change and if spiritual habits that were unnatural become the norm, become instinctive. We need to pray that our preaching would be effective and not so much that it would be memorable.

Preaching a simple message is not the same as preaching a shallow message. “Have a nice day” is a shallow statement that you can do little with. “This is the day the Lord has made” is a simple statement that is packed with meaning. If we spent our whole lives trying to implement the bits of the Bible we did understand we would have more than enough to keep us busy. Thank the Lord it is not up to us and that we have God the Holy Spirit working within us!

I think it was Rick Warren who said that “you only believe the part of the Bible you do.”  That’s as true for the preacher as for the listener. You’ve got to practice what you preach. And when you preach, keep it practical.

Purposeful Preaching


I stumbled across a really helpful article that outlines four principles for effective preaching:

  • Purposeful
  • Practical
  • Personal
  • Powerful

Over the coming posts I plan to build and expand a bit on these, adding my own thoughts that reflect how I would like to grow and develop in my gifting.


Purposeful

Preaching should always be purposeful. Its purpose should always be to so present Jesus Christ that people will come to know him, love him, serve him, and yield their lives to him completely.

This doesn’t mean that the preacher should go on a scavenger hunt to “find Christ” in every verse or passage as much as having a grasp of the gospel such that it forms “the grid for our understanding”, and attitude towards our reading of, the Bible. Jesus and his gospel are to be our guiding “hermeneutical posture.”

God’s purpose for each one of us is to be like Jesus – in the way we think, in what we say, and in how we live. The written Word leads us to Christ the living Word. Preaching should help you to encounter Jesus, and to empower you to live your life for him by the power of God’s Spirit.

Because of this preaching should demand a response.

I want my preaching to help people to move beyond being informed to being transformed by not only closely considering God’s Word, but actually remembering it and putting it into practice (James 1:23-25). Rick Warren, reflecting on 2 Timothy 3:16, says that

“The purpose of Scripture is to change our character (“be complete”) and our conduct (“thoroughly equipped for every good work”). Since that’s the purpose of God’s Word, that’s what our goal should be when we preach the Word as well.”

We need to be equipped as preachers – and take seriously – our role in interpreting scripture faithfully and in ably communicating its truth. But unless we help people to apply it to their (and our own) lives then we are falling short of the purpose of the Word to transform us to be more like Jesus.