Tuesday 23 April 2019

Preaching with passion and emotion

This current focus on my blog is about preaching. There seems so much to say. I am not putting myself forward as an expert, but as a minister my primary task is that of preaching the written Word, twice every Lord's Day. That means that ministers must be committed to the primacy of preaching theologically, but also the primacy of preaching in their weekly schedule, preparation and time management. That is perhaps a different subject.

My concern is that in the preaching that I hear in conservative circles, sometimes it can be dry and technical and with little emotion. It may be that people think that theology and emotion must not go together, but the very opposite is true. True theology must impact the heart and mind and therefore theological preaching must affect the preachers affections.

In reading Luke's Gospel after the resurrection of Jesus here are a range of emotions experienced by the disciples, both men and women.

24:4 "they were perplexed".
24:5 "as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground".
24:12 "[Peter] went home marvelling at what had happened".
24:22 "Some women from our company amazed us".
24:32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?".
24:37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit".
24:41 "And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling ... ".
24:52 And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy".

Perhaps we read the scriptures and do not allow the emotions of the people in the Bible to shine through. We are not talking about emotional excesses, something to be avoided. In the last two decades there has arisen an academic school of men who have begun to criticise the preaching of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards and to begin to pin all kinds of blame at their feet. It is as if these well meaning but mis-guided academics consider that emotionless preaching is of value. It is not.

Whitefield and Edwards are two worthy preachers in the history of the preach. Oh that the Lord would raise up such preachers again. Men with rock solid doctrine and rock solid theology, but with hearts aflame for Christ. we need preachers with emotion and passion in the pulpit. Whitefield would speak of the church's need for a "felt Christ". Martyn Lloyd-Jones would write of preaching being "logic on fire" or "theology on fire". We need it in our day; pulpits aflame with the tender love of Christ and warm emotion being poured out on the substance of Bible exposition! Amen.

Monday 15 April 2019

"Preaching and Preachers" by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake".

The subject of preaching is as vital for the church, as it is interesting. I would love these blog posts to cause a lively interest in the matter of preaching. There is a lack of true preaching and worse still there is a lack of desire for hearing true preaching. Preaching is the means by which the Lord has always primarily used to advance the church. Therefore the more we understand about it the better.

I myself am a preacher and I feel I have so much to learn. Want to be a better preacher and I lament the poverty of my own preaching currently and I would love to know something of the anointing of God in a fuller way when preaching. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of five marks of the preaching they heard at the first:

1. Our Gospel
2. Came not only in word
3. But in power.
4. And in the Holy Spirit
5. With full conviction (with fulness)

One of the classic books on preaching in print today, by a preaching maestro is "Preaching and Preachers". May I exhort all preachers to read this book or to read it again if you did so years ago. I am currently going through it again.

Chapter 6 is a "must-read" for those who are considering the ministry. Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) clearly does not believe in lay-preachers because the task is too important, I agree. MLJ explains in the first few chapters not only about the primacy of preaching but that there are two aspects to preaching: The preparation of the sermon and the delivery of the sermon. The two are distinct but obviously related.

Above all else, may we pray for Holy Spirit empowered preaching, a recovery of the sermon and the centrality of the pulpit in the church and full churches that honour the preaching of the Word of God. Let us also pray for the next generation of preachers in line with command of Jesus. Matthew 9:37-38 'Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" '.

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Preaching that gets through!

Preaching that gets through is a vital subject to consider. We need orthodox preaching that is filled with sound doctrine, but it needs to get through to the hearers. The church is not simply about the process of, as it were simply communicating the truth, but in communicating the truth in a way that the truth gets through to the hearers. There are several points that are necessary for this to happen. I am a preacher and I am aware that I need to constantly work at my preaching, its delivery and its preparation as well.

However, a key question I need to ask myself after preaching is: Did the message get through to the hearers? They should not be bored during the delivery or distracted by unnecessary comments or be side-tracked by irrelevancies made by me during the delivery. Of course we need the assistance and help of the Holy Spirit.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Preaching is more than a human task and listening also requires diligence as well. From the preachers part we need to constantly evaluate if our preaching is getting through and if not, to ask the honest question: why not? Am I as a preacher needing to adapt my style, to pray more earnestly for the preaching or to make wholesale changes? The last thing we want is to bore people in the act of preaching?

I find this topic a searching one. A key question for me is: why does some preaching get through to people and some does not? I am willing to learn, so If you have comments on this matter, please make a comment on this blog to help me to improve by God's grace as a preacher.

Monday 4 March 2019

Rediscovering Catechising

I began this blog to "sow seeds", in order to help people to move towards a clearer biblical and a Reformed approach to the Bible. It is amazing that today, we have two forms of Christianity at work within evangelicalism. One that takes the Scriptures (the 66 books of the Bible) as the final source of authority for doctrine and life; the other which adds many things to the Bible as a source of revelation.

For example a brother in the church in Sheffield explained to me that he was into prosperity teachings such as those promoted by Joel Osteen and others. One day he saw a TV program which included John MacArthur and Joel Osteen. They were challenged to answer about a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. Joel Osteen simply failed to give any kind of a clear answer; whereas John MacArthur nailed the answer with clear biblical evidence. This made this Christian think. He realised that doctrine matters.

Part of our dilemma in the Christian church in the West, has been our failure to catechise. This includes to catechise adults in the church, as well as children. At its core, to catechise means "to instruct using a question and answer method". We have the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms, both of which are now available in modern English without revisions. The Larger Catechism has 196 questions and the Shorter Catechism has 107 questions. There is also a children's catechism which is helpful as well.

The late Professor John Murray wrote this in 1962: "What was looked on as a necessary and beneficial practice by the early church and by the Reformers has now fallen into such disuse among Christian people that very few seem to have any understanding or appreciation of the subject. We believe it is to the discontinuance of this practice [of catechising] that we can trace much of the doctrinal ignorance, confusion and instability so characteristic of modern Christianity".

That was in 1962, and I believe that in 2019 things have not improved on the whole.

Why is catechising neglected? Could we begin to teach people to use the Shorter Catechism in the homes to discuss and memorise? Could congregations begin a catechism class for adults using the Larger Catechism? For those churches that have so called Sunday School Adult classes, could they be devoted to expounding the Larger Catechism instead of a general curriculum of Bible subjects?

Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ using questions to teach.

"And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:14-21.

May there be a rediscovery of catechising of adults and children in our own day!

Monday 18 February 2019

Introducing Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones to this Generation

Who has heard of Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones?
Who has not heard of Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

Your answer to this question may well reveal quite alot about you spiritually.
Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was born in Wales, he practiced medicine to a high level and was called by the Lord to be a preacher. He is most known for the pastoral and preaching ministry that he exercised at Westminster Chapel after the war years. Recently, I heard a wonderful paper by Rev Geoff Thomas on Lloyd-Jones and it prompted me to write a blog post to introduce a whole new generation to this man's ministry.

He was best known and remembered in my opinion as a preacher. A model preacher. You can listen to his sermons online at a dedicated website called: https://www.mljtrust.org/sermons/

It is kept up to date by the MLJ Trust.

He is also widely known as an author and his books have had a profound impact upon my own life. When I read his book "The Sermon on the Mount" in the late 1990's I realised that I had been paddling around in ankle deep water, as it were. This preacher opened the Scriptures up to me in that book and I have not looked back since. I believe that it is published by IVP. However, it is readily available online second-hand.

Two other books of his are the Roman series of sermons, now published. They cover Romans Chapter 1 to chapter 14. My favourite is his volume on Romans chapters 3 and 4.

What shall I say of his book "Preaching and Preachers". It is a classic!

May this current and next generation of Christians hear from this mighty preacher first hand through listening to his sermons and reading his books.

Monday 11 February 2019

Celebrating 24 years of marriage!

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken" Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Last week, Maria and I celebrated 24 years of marriage. We tend to let things slip by sometimes not mentioning these events, but a fellow minister, Johannes from Berlin Presbyterian Church, he exhorted me to make much of it. When I said 'why?', he explained that in a time when marriage is so down-graded in society, that this is an important milestone. We can only give the credit to the grace of God. First, for saving us as Christians and second for giving us a love for the Bible and each other. The grace of God and the enabling of the Holy Spirit are the glue to uphold a Christian marriage. It is the means by which you can be delivered from selfishness and stay the course.

Marriage can never be all bliss, because the miseries of this life affect all of us due the fall of Adam. However, trials turned to prayer are used to sanctify us.

So to the Triune God alone be the glory for 24 years of marriage! I count it an honour to promote a positive and biblical approach to marriage between a man and a woman and to express the joy of family life. May God recover a biblical understanding of marriage in our own day.

Monday 4 February 2019

Can we Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams

The obvious answer to the question "can we trust the gospels?" is "yes!!". However, this is an excellent book to buttress our confidence in the gospels, their uniqueness, their trustworthiness and the wonderful authentic record of Jesus Christ. This book is easy to read, it is well written and gripping. It has eight shortish chapters and it includes information such as "did the gospel authors know their stuff?". The answer is yes and they could not have known this information in the first-century without being first-hand witness. Peter Williams leads Tyndale House in Cambridge and he is an excellent scholar, including for the NT Greek manuscripts. He is the co-editor of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament.

Evidence such as their knowledge of places including small villages though which Jesus passed, could only have been given with such accuracy through first-hand testimony. I was thrilled to hear that there is information on one other historical figure in antiquity, equivalent to Jesus Christ; that is Emperor Tiberius who is one of the most famous of the Roman Caesars. Peter Williams names that sub-point section "Four is A lot" (pages 39-42) emphasising that four gospels compared to other historical figures in antiquity is a lot. We often take this for granted that we have so much material about Jesus of Nazareth and to do so is a mistake.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 states: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".

The Westminster Standards Chapter 1 emphasises the majesty of Holy Scripture in 1:5:

"We may be moved and induced [persuaded] by the testimony of the Church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

"The majesty of the style ... the scope of the whole" of Scripture is brought out by this book. It does prove the infallibility of Scripture, that is reserved for the Holy Spirit, but it enriches our appreciation for the transmission of the Greek manuscripts called the Gospels.

My advice is for people to buy this book, read it, enjoy it, and then pick up the gospels to read them again and be thrilled by the life, message and atonement of Jesus the Son of God.

Monday 28 January 2019

"On preaching sermons; on hearing Sermons" Conference

Last weekend the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England (EPCEW) and Wales held an outstanding conference at Hill Top Chapel Sheffield. It was an opportunity to learn and grow in our understanding but also the practice of preaching. Furthermore the conference emphasised the art of the listening to the Word of God read and preached. According to the Westminster Standards there are three outward and ordinary means of grace (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 88). They are the Word, the sacraments and prayer.

Of the administration of the Word there is a three-fold division given in the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 155-160 and these are "reading--preaching--hearing". Why not say this out loud to help you remember this? Question 155 reads.

Q. 155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace,8 and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

Question 159: How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory,6 and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

Question 160: What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

These questions make good meditation material. If you would like to listen to the sermons they can be found at www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

Mark 4:9 "And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Monday 14 January 2019

January 2019 Pastors Conference in Uganda

This week I fly to African Bible University in Kampala, Uganda for a pastors conference. I will be travelling with a young man from the church in Sheffield and meeting up with a fellow pastor from EPCEW (Rev Drew Goodman) who will join in the teaching on the last day on Friday.

This Wednesday to Friday, pastors will join together on the ABU campus and we intend to teach on the 15 most relevant chapters in the Westminster Confession. We would love to teach all 33 chapters but time does not permit. We have many books on the Westminster Confession and on worship donated by Terry Johnson to give away to these hungry men.

Do pray that the Lord would "open eyes" of pastors spiritually, that Christ would interpret the Scriptures to them and show the men the sufferings and glories of Christ, just like Christ did to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24).

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45-49.

We covet your prayers for long term fruitfulness. We believe that this teaching at this time to these pastors is a momentous occasion and opportunity. Do pray!!!!

Friday 11 January 2019

2020 Reformation Bible Conference, Sheffield

The 2019 conference has just been completed and what a blessing it was! It was a "taste of heaven on earth" with excellent teaching, fellowship and the singing was so strong, I thought that the plaster would come off the ceiling. The newly expanded Hill Top Chapel worked really well, so much so that it is hard to imagine how we coped with the old facility, but I guess that you just do.

If you would like to listen to the talks, they are on the Sheffield Presbyterian Church website and here is the link: http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/sermons

Or you could access them via Sermon Audio as well. Andy Young's talks on "Why Creeds and Confessions" was wonderful, as was his final talk on "The Sacraments". Andy is the minister of the newly planted Oxford Evangelical Presbyterian Church. If you are considering going to University why not choose Oxford or Sheffield and you can come and join the EPCEW churches there and bring your support?

Rick Phillips from Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville in the USA, brought wonderful warm ministry with great Scriptural clarity on the roles of men and women, the sovereignty of God, God the Creator and also a valuable talk on a Christian worldview of dating; most practical.

The Chapel was packed and probably 40% of the room was under 25. We do not aim at young people, but they come and we make no apologies for that. All ages, backgrounds, nationalities and social situations attend, for which we praise God. I explained that though this was the fifth conference it had gone so well that we should consider a sixth conference in 2020. We will discuss this as elders here in Sheffield, but I had people queuing up to urge me to have another conference next year.

For 2020, the dates would be Friday 3rd (11.00am) to Saturday 4th January (finish at 4.00pm) 2020. Please pray for the right speakers and the right topics, for the organisation and for the Lord to bring the right people. It is a free conference hosted by Sheffield Presbyterian Church, and we have an offering to go towards Church planting.

To the Triune God be the glory!

Wednesday 2 January 2019

2019 Reformation Bible Conference

This year's conference looks like it will be a spiritual feast. This conference began in 2015 and this will be the fifth conference. The purpose is to nourish the souls of Christians at the beginning of the year and it provides a great meeting place for like-minded believers. We have always had large numbers of young people as well from different parts of the UK. The format of the conference is based on straight-down-the-line preaching on topics of hoped for significance, from a biblical and reformed perspective. Each year the topics vary and here is the order of topics for 2019.

Venue: Hill Top Chapel, Don Valley, Sheffield S9 2AD (the home of Sheffield Presbyterian Church, www.sheffieldpres.org.uk).

Dates: Friday 4th and Saturday 5th January 2019.

The Programme

Friday 4th January
11 am - 11.30 Arrive, Tea & Coffee Served
11.30 - 12.15 Session 1: Andy Young (Why Creeds and Confessions?)
12.15 - 12.30 Break
12.30 - 13.15 Session 2: Rick Phillips
(The Masculine Mandate)
13.15 - 14.00 Bring Packed Lunch
14.00 - 16.00 Group Walk
16.30 - 18.30 Carvery Dinner at
Restaurant (around £5-£8pp)
19.30 - 20.15 Session 3: Rick Phillips
(The Sovereignty of God)
20.15 - 20.30 Tea & Coffee Break
20.30 - 21.15 Session 4: Kevin Bidwell (Christ in the Old Testament)

Saturday 5th January
9 am - 9.30 Arrive
9.30 - 10.45 Session 5: Rick Phillips
(The God of Creation)
10:45 - 11.15 Tea & Coffee Break
11:30 - 12.15 Session 6: Kevin Bidwell (Christ and the Gospel in Ezekiel)
12.15 - 13.45 Lunch Buffet Provided at
13.45 - 14.30 Session 7: Rick Phillips
(Christian Dating)
14.30 - 15.00 Tea & Coffee Break
15.00 - 16.00 Session 8: Andy Young (Understanding the Sacraments)

You are welcome to come even if it is at last minute. There is no cost and there is no registration, just come along (The talks will be on the Sheffield Presbyterian Church Website after the conference).