5 Bible Inputs To Grow, Grow, Grow

People grow in relation to what they eat.  At my stage in life (I like to think I’m at the lower end of mid-life) that growth happens entirely in an outward direction.  But in the younger years of life,  a child sprouts upwards as they eat.

The equation is as simple as it is double-edged.  A child who feeds well,  grows well.  The child who eats little doesn’t.

The same holds true in the spiritual realm. If we want to ‘stretch’  in our likeness to Jesus then the Scriptures must become our regular diet.

It is helpful to remind ourselves that the Bible is no ordinary book.  The 66 books which comprise it are nothing less than God’s words. These words are personal and powerful,  they are life giving and life sustaining.

You can easily last a week without reading a newspaper. But you cannot so easily neglect the Bible. Poor eating habits will eventually lead to spiritual malnourishment.

Yet even once we establish our need for Scripture a practical question arises:  How do we best feed upon God’s Word? What is our dietary plan?

Speaking at a recent conference, Rico Tice talked about reading the Bible on four different levels.¹ I am going to borrow his framework and develop it in my own way.  So here are five Bible inputs that will help you grow upwards in Christ.

Level One: Preaching

There is more to Christian living than sermons but there certainly isn’t less. According to the New Testament preaching matters. Paul’s dying charge to Timothy was to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). I have always found it striking that out of all the things Paul could have said,  he chose to emphasise preaching.

God’s people,  it seems,  are in desperately in need of preaching. They may not even know it but the Word regularly explained and applied is the means of equipping them for doing works of service (Ephesians 4 v 11-12).

It is possible that I may have heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. Most of them I cannot remember, but I know those sermons have shaped me in a thousand different ways. Without those sermons I would be much the poorer in my walk with Christ.

So, find yourself a church where the Bible is faithfully preached and go to that church every Sunday. Do it –  your soul will thank you for it!

Level Two: Group

Whether you call them small groups, life groups, community groups or cell groups, a smaller meeting of Christians can bring many benefits. In our church, we meet fortnightly in groups of 10 to 20 people.

Small groups have a number of important priorities² but one of them  is to discuss and apply the Bible. Unlike a sermon a small group is interactive. You have the opportunity to ask questions. You also have the benefit of hearing insights from a wider range of people.

So if you’re not part of a community group, consider joining one this year.

Level Three: One to One

In the last few decades the Church has woken up to the benefits of one to one discipleship. Whether it’s with an older Christian, a younger Christian or a non-Christian, opening the Bible one to one has meant benefits . It allows for an authenticity that is not possible even in a small group.

So why not consider meeting up someone weekly or fortnightly with the sole purpose of meeting to study the Bible.

Is there an older Christian who you feel could help disciple you? Is there a new believer who might benefit from your encouragement? Is there an unbelieving friend who you could lead through a gospel?

The Word one to one is a great plug-and-play resource for evangelistic one to one’s. Another useful book is David Helm’s One to One Bible Reading – A Simple Guide To Every Christian.

Level Four: Personal

This is the one we all know about: the ironically quiet time’ (which properly done is anything but quiet!).  How can we make the most of this time of hearing from God and responding in prayer?

Follow a plan

There are dozens of good Bible reading plans . The beauty of it is that you can choose the one that fits you best. Depending on the time you have available , here are just some of the possibilities:

  • One chapter a day plan. Alternatives between Old and New Testaments.
  • McCheyne’s 4 chapters a day (1 year to complete). Covers the Old Testament once per year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. Some people do it over 2 years at a pace of 2 chapters a day, rather than 4.
  • Professor Grant Horner’s plan (90 days to complete). This is for the slightly crazy people – or at least those who have more time on their hands! It is 10 chapters a day (yes 10!) and you need about 45 minutes per day to complete it. Needless to say, it doesn’t lend itself to in depth study. However, many people have actually found this plan helpful in short doses. It will give you a sweeping overview of the whole Bible.
  • Read at your own pace plan. Exactly what it says on the tin!

I would also strongly recommend the Olive Tree Bible App (android/ ipad).  Many of the plans above are already installed on the App.  I find it an easier way than paper to keep track of where I am.

What if I struggle to read?

 A lot of people find reading difficult. This emphasises why the likes of sermons, small groups and one to one’s are so important. However all is not lost if you really struggle to read.

Consider listening to the Bible. None less than David Suchet will read the Bible to you on BibleGateway! There are also similar Apps that can be downloaded for this sort of thing.

Level Five: Family

This final one is for mums and dads. If you have kids, you will want to establish some sort of  bible input in the context of home .  I know it isn’t easy to do and in my earlier years as a parent I struggled to maintain consistency with leading family devotions .

Nail down a time

We do daily devotions on Monday’s through Fridays. On Saturday we take a rest, and on Sunday we have church. Over the last few years the weekday mornings have worked best for us. We sit down at 5 past 8, at the tail end of breakfast, and spend about 10-15 minutes reading a bible passage, discussing it together (usually me asking the children questions) and then praying for the day ahead.

Other families say that mornings don’t work for them at all. Our children’s ages and stages come into it, as does the working pattern of the parents – so one size will never fit all.

It may be that after dinner in the evening is more appropriate. Or before bed. And for some families, daily devotions may not be a reasonable target (I know some families who do it once or twice a week). The key thing is to schedule something in and make it part of your routine.

Lots of good resources

Obviously, you could just open a bible passage and have a chat with your kids about it. But many parents feel inadequate in doing this. It is therefore a great boon to have so many great resources available to help us.

In our home  we have used The Big Picture Story Bible, the Jesus Story Book Bible, and are currently quite far through the double volume set “Long Story Short” and “Old Story New.” The Good Book Company also have a raft of resources.

A Year For Growth?

2017 is almost upon us. I wonder by the end of the year, how much you and I will have grown? The answer will be no doubt dependent on how much you eat.

 

 

¹ West of Scotland Gospel Partnership meeting, 3rd September 2016.

² We talk about SPACE. Scriptural focus. Prayer. Accountability. Community. Evangelism.

Preachers, Plagiarism And What To Do With My Peter O’Brien Commentaries

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was shocked and saddened.

To hear that some of Peter O’Brien’s commentaries were being ‘pulled’ by his publisher was a bit of a blow. If you are not aware of what I’m talking about, let me briefly fill you in on the story…

hebrews1The commentaries under scrutiny are Peter O’Brien’s treatments of Ephesians, Philippians and Hebrews. In many people’s opinion, these are some of the finest commentaries in their field. I have used all of them with enormous profit. I have preached through Hebrews and Ephesians with more than a little help from these rich and insightful commentaries. They are not just good – they are simply outstanding.

However on August the 15th 2016  Wm. B. Eerdmans released this bombshell:

Eerdmans editors compared the text of The Letter to the Hebrews (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2010) with various secondary sources and submitted findings to external experts for verification. Summing up the findings, Editor-in-chief James Ernest said, “Our own editors and our outside consultants agreed that what we found on the pages of this commentary runs afoul of commonly accepted standards with regard to the utilization and documentation of secondary sources. We agreed that the book could not be retained in print. Examination of the same author’s Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC, 1999) and Epistle to the Philippians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1991) found them less pervasively flawed but still untenable.

Peter O’Brien, apparently, was presented with these findings. He responded with the following admission:

“In the New Testament commentaries that I have written, although I have never deliberately misused the work of others, nevertheless I now see that my work processes at times have been faulty and have generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism. For this I apologize without reservation.”

From this statement – and what I can glean elsewhere – it appears that some of the ‘technical’ sections of the commentaries have been inadvertently (according to O’Brien) plagiarised from other commentators. I personally don’t find it much of a ‘stretch’ to imagine this being quite possible. One could easily imagine, perhaps, O’Brien taking copious notes from commentaries maybe decades before – and then later, when coming to write a commentary, losing track of where the original notes came from.

This is not to excuse the error. Rigour in checking sources is one of the requirements for any successful scholar. But even scholars are human. Quite possibly this is a case of poor scholarship, rather than a blatant attempt to ape someone else’s work.

The situation is sad in more ways than one. On a personal level, I have heard only good things about Peter O’Brien the man. I know friends who have sat under his tutelage at Moore Theological College in Sydney who speak of him in the highest regard. On the one occasion where I have heard him speak, I was impressed by both his grasp of Ephesians as well as his gracious manner. I can only hope that this incident will be viewed with charity as well as discernment.

It is also distressing from the point of view of the commentaries themselves. Because of what has occurred, the publisher has indicated that sales of the commentaries will cease. The remaining stocks will be mashed to pulp. This may be the right thing to do; I am not criticising it. But it is a desperate situation.

Can plagiarism be a problem for preachers? I’m pretty sure it can be. Indeed all this recent controversy triggered a memory for me…Quite a number of years ago, I found myself on the receiving end of some “sermon plagiarism.” A man from another country contacted me by letter, admitting that he had plagiarised some of my sermons and others of my colleague. An entire series had been listened to on the church website. The sermons had then been written down and preached word for word in the man’s own church. A guilty conscience eventually got to him and he confessed to his elders. He then wrote me a subsequent letter of apology.

I was shocked. In the first instance I was stunned by the fact that someone had bothered stealing my sermons! (if I was Tim Keller, I mightn’t have been so surprised!). But it did raise the troubling question, in the age of the internet how many preachers are actually preaching other people’s sermons? If they were put through the plagiarism checker, how many sermons would be in danger of falling foul?

I heard an anecdote from a preacher-friend who said he was visiting a church on holiday. He arrived in this random church, only to hear a sermon from John Stott. Not the actual John Stott, you understand. No John Stott’s Ephesians commentary was being preached from the pulpit! My friend knew the Stott commentary well enough to recognise it!

Now let’s be clear about this: every preacher is a plagiariser to some extent. We might call ourselves plagiarisers with a small p, rather than Plagiarisers with a capital P. In my own preparation, I am indebted to commentaries and sermons that aid my understanding and stimulate my thinking. Every sermon that I preach is in some measure the product of an extended conversation with others. Do I have an original thought in my head? Probably not.

However there is a difference – and it isn’t really a fine one – between conversing with other people’s material, and using it verbatim. That, fellow pastors, isn’t learning from others – that is stealing.

So practically speaking, how can we steer clear of this sort of thing? At times I feel this is easier said than done. Facing the pressures of a busy week, we can face the strong temptation to borrow a passage from here and another passage from there.

What will help us then to stay on the right side of the line?

  • Have a basic commitment not to plagiarise. Decide that its wrong, and never soften that conviction (even if its Saturday and your staring at a white sheet of paper!).
  • Be ruthlessly honest with God, yourself and others. 
  • Believe that God has called you to be in ministry. That means God must have gifted you for the task. (And  if you don’t feel you are gifted to prepare sermons, then why are you a full-time bible teacher?)
  • Put your study notes/commentaries away when you actually come to write your sermon out. This is what I do. It helps me find my own voice in the sermon.
  • Put things across your way. Yes, even if you are not as eloquent as a D.A Carson or a John Stott. You might not write or speak as eloquently as them, but at least it will be you who is preaching.
  • Let the congregation know when you are quoting. It is OK to borrow things – providing you own up. I have, on more than one occasion, told the congregation that I am using some other preacher’s headings. And there is no crime in saying:  “John Stott puts things better than I can when he says…”
  • Remember, its not a competition.
  • If you feel a strong temptation to plagiarise, or if you have plagiarised, seek immediate help. Pray about it. If its relevant, repent of it, and talk to your fellow leaders about it. Discuss it with someone you trust and ask the question: what is driving this desire to plagiarise?

There are probably others things that could be added. But these are at some of the tactics I am seeking to employ in a YouTube world.

And what about those Peter O’Brien commentaries?

I reckon I’ll keep them. I can’t escape the fact that I have found them incredibly useful. To throw them out would be like tossing out the best tool in my tool box – a tool that has helped me solve many a problem.

So they will remain on my shelf. But I suppose every time I open them, I will be reminded of the dangers of plagiarism.

Preaching Joshua Today

John Stevens has given an extremely useful unpacking of Joshua, and some thoughts about how to preach it here. http://www.john-stevens.com/2016/09/expository-thoughts-what-can-we-learn.html

I particularly enjoyed his conclusion:

“The book of Joshua therefore teaches us that we need a greater “Joshua” who will be fully faithful to God, who will lead his people into their promised inheritance, but whose rule will not be brought to an end by death.  We can rejoice that in Jesus this “greater Joshua” has come, and that he will accomplish our salvation and bring us safely into our inheritance in his eternal kingdom.”

Announcing ‘Announcing’!

The church I pastor, Greenview Church, is pleased to be part of the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership. In a few weeks time we are planning to have a conference with the theme: “Announcing – Introducing Christ to an Introspective Culture.”

announce

The main speakers will be Rico Tice (All Souls, Christianity Explored) and Richard Borgonon (St Helen’s, The Word 121). We will also have seminars on the topics:

  • Seminar 1 – From Christianity Explored to Life Explored – Rico Tice
  • Seminar 2 – Workplace Evangelism – Richard Borgonon
  • Seminar 3 – Addiction and Evangelism – Terry McCutcheon
  • Seminar 4 – Evangelism in Marginalised Communities – Norrie McKay
  • Seminar 5 – Evangelising Immigrant Communities

It is open to Christians from all churches who have an interest in seeing the gospel spread across Glasgow, the West of Scotland and indeed the entire land of the Saltire.

The venue is the Tron Church in Glasgow, and tickets can be found here. It would be great to see you!

Finally, here is a personal invitation from Rico where he explains how excited he is to be sharing a preview of the Life Explored Course with us….

 

 

The blood, the guts and the glorious Gospel

I’ll be thinking about Leviticus this week, morning, noon and night.

Literally.

I’m joining about 150 enthusiastic leaders and young people who will be investing a week of their lives, trawling through the glory (and gory!)that is Leviticus. (The camp/event is called Contagious)

Having spent many hours in prep, I feel like I have already been blessed. Though often feared and neglected, Leviticus is a marvellous book. By the end of this week, I am fully expecting to gain a much bigger view of sin, the atonement and my great High Priest.

To give you a flavour (or a reminder) of the riches of Leviticus, check out this brilliant video.

To hear some great sermons on Leviticus, I would recommend the sermons of Pete Woodcock, which you will find here. (Crosspreach, by the way, is a great place to find sound preaching).

 

Keep It Simple…

Over at Desiring God, a great reminder for us that preaching has a rather simple formula. See great things; then say what you see!

“…preaching is not fundamentally complicated. Yes, there are numerous factors to consider when thinking through what to say and how to say it, but I would like to suggest that all faithful, biblical preaching shares a single characteristic. It flows from the heart of a man who has seen great things in the Bible, has savored what he has seen, and stands before God’s people to say what he saw. Faithful preaching can be much more than this, but it shouldn’t be less.”

(Jonathon Woodyard, “A Simple Formula For Effective Preaching”)

Preach To The News

What is the preacher’s task? Does he communicate the contemporary news to his people, broadcasting current affairs from the pulpit? No. The herald of God – should he have the foggiest notion of his task – will endeavour to proclaim a news that is vintage. Indeed this ‘good news’ is millennia’s old!

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That the Word of God is relevant, but not recent, is a fact that should sit perfectly well with us. The preacher’s appointed task isn’t to relay the temporal, ephemeral, and often trivial. The words we speak are living and enduring. They will resound long after the current newscycle. They will echo in eternity itself.

And yet… Could it be that the news should actually be featuring more, not less, in many of our sermons? Having listened to a lot of preaching (including my own!) I would argue in the affirmative. True: the daily news should not drive the agenda in our expositions. But with reasonable regularity our sermons should be applied to the daily rag.

Let me pose the question like this: What does my sermon have to say to this week’s news?

Does this passage, for instance, speak to citizens who are suddenly living under a new prime minister, or who are facing the future within a new and uncertain political landscape?

Alternatively, how might this passage address the racial tensions which are being felt across the United States right now?

Then again: does our text have anything to say to people who are filled with fear and fury in lands like Turkey and France?

These sort of questions will take our application in new and helpful directions.

It is not possible, nor helpful, to aim our applicatory-sights on every news story. Nor is the pulpit the place to get ‘all political.’ We should keep our personal views out of the place where God’s views are meant to be heard. But the Bible has a message for the globe. The preacher who only ever addresses individual concerns will convey (however inadvertently) that the Bible itself is parochial.  The Bible is not so impotent that it cannot speak to political uncertainty or a terrorist attack.

The summary? Don’t be so foolish as to preach the news. Preach God’s Word to the news.

A Few Simple Ways That Most Of Us Could Instantly Improve Our Preaching

My preaching could be better, and so could yours. Here are just a few ways that we might improve our sermons.VRU2C8T6L1 (1)

Apply more  – The upsurge in recent decades of expository preaching has seen a welcome focus upon explaining the Bible. At the very same time, biblical application has been arguably in decline. Of course, application must be done biblically, carefully, and sensitively –  but application must be done. I would suggest that we shouldn’t wait until the sermon’s conclusion before we start showing the relevance of the text. Start early. Show people right from the off that the passage lands in the street where they live. And keep showing them throughout the sermon.

Don’t just make the obvious points – Many sermons suffer from stating the obvious. We preachers tell people what they could easily pick up themselves with only a superficial reading. Now its true, we do need to explain things simply. And yes, we must remind people of the truths they know. What I am suggesting, though, is that having spent hours studying the passage, we help people see some things which are less obvious. Don’t just explain the easy parts. Explain the hard parts. Could it be that some sermons aren’t very interesting because they don’t go deep enough?

Work harder at the logical flow – The best sermons are clear sermons. And one of the things that makes a sermon clear is the fact that its easy to follow. Putting a negative spin on it, some preachers are like butterflies. They hop from flower to flower but there is no obvious connection between each leap!  Preachers who speak with clarity are less like a butterfly, and more like a locomotive train: they progress sequentially from one station to the next, with a clear sense of direction and a steady sense of development. To help us strengthen this area, we should revisit our manuscript prior to preaching. We should review our manuscript and ask questions like: do the topics arise in order? Does every sentence, paragraph, and main point naturally flow from the one before?  In addition, periodic ‘summarising’ will also help our listeners follow the movement of the sermon.

Use everyday language – JC Ryle’s little book Simplicity In Preaching argues for plainness in a preacher’s language. Ryle talks about using simple Saxon words rather than words which come from either a French or Latin base. He also generally counsels us against using long words. Reading the newspapers, and simply talking to people, can help us in using everyday language, and not just the language of the commentators.

Tighten up your illustrations – Illustrations are great slaves but poor masters. Used rightly they can illuminate; used wrongly they can confuse. One preacher I used to listen to had a habit of using illustrations which were encumbered with details. Some of these details were tangential to the point he was making. The result: confusion! At other times his illustrations didn’t seem to even make the point he was drawing out of them. I noticed this about this brother, but I dread to think how often I have done the same myself!?  A further danger, peculiar to illustrations, is that they can shine a positive spotlight on the preacher. The “when I was doing my quiet time the other day…” illustration is probably not the most endearing thing to say to a congregation! Equally bad is “During our family devotions….”!  The church will naturally assume the preacher is engaged in these things, but when said (even in passing) such illustrations can appear self-serving.

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*I recommend the writings of Bryan Chapell on the subject of transitions.