Tag Archives: Bible

Sheffield Fun

I know I said that I would update on my time here in Sheffield last night, but it turns out finding free time to sit down and write is quite tricky when you’re staying with friends!

After a busy day of thinking hard we got back to Iain and Liz’s last night to be told that we were going out to a Kurdish restaurant shortly for dinner. So after a brief sit down we were out again and at this wonderful little place which served fantastic Kurdish kebabs. I was absolutely stuffed by the time we finished eating and it was a real joy to meet the owner of the place, who is a good friend of Iain and Liz (hence why we went).

Then when we did get back for the evening, Iain and Liz went out to their home group and left me and Richard, who is also on the summer school and staying in the same place, to our own devices. This resulted in us having a long and winding discussion about all sorts of theological things (as if a working day full of Bible study wasn’t enough!), including predestination, the nature of God’s sovereignty, and the destiny of the Church.

Anyway, other than all the fun at my hosts house, we have been spending the last three days working our way slowly and carefully through the book of 1 Peter. I came expecting some specific training on preaching, but what we are actually doing as a group is careful study of the Bible, and that’s all. The day is broken up by lunch and a morning and afternoon coffee break, but the rest of the time we are simply reading a little bit and discussing it in detail, ironing out exactly what Peter was saying to the Church at the time, especially focusing on more difficult words and phrases in an attempt to fully understand accurately what Peter meant. Then some of our discussion is also focused on the question “how would you preach this?”.

It’s been an eye opening experience, and an immense amount of fun. In three days we’ve just managed to get to the start of 1 Peter chapter 4, and we might even manage to finish the book tomorrow (our last day here). I feel that my understanding of the book is clear, and I would be readily able to explain it to other people now which is excellent. More than that though, I feel that I have invested a week of my life into making great friendships with a group of likeminded people, with the express intention of understanding the Bible together. This has been such a wonderful experience, and the truths we have been studying have deeply effected me already, and I know will continue to long after this week is over. More than anything it has reawakened in me the desire to really properly study the scriptures, in particular with other people and not in isolation.

When I’m back in Leicester I really look forward to grabbing my friends and wrestling with scripture together with them.

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Preach the Bible

On any given Sunday it is not sufficient to claim your words are Biblical and true. You must also demonstrate that they are Biblically grounded and true by drawing them out of the text you are preaching.

If you don’t, then one of the two the following things happens:

  1. People don’t believe you – And why should they? Human wisdom is empty and meaningless compared to God’s, so unless listeners can see the truth in the words of Scripture they have no reason to trust what you are saying. The sad thing is you are probably saying true things which are found in scripture, but without that authority behind you words people will ignore you.
  2. People do believe you – Whilst the first option is sad, this is downright dangerous. If listeners are taking everything you say as gospel truth but can’t see how it comes directly from the Bible then you are cultivating disciples of yourself, not of Jesus. People must be shown that truth comes from Scripture, not from men. I pray that people would never quote me, I pray that they would see me quote scripture and do the same.

And if you are a listener, then you have a part to play as well. Weigh everything against Scripture, get your Bible open and keep it open, check that it really does say that on those pages. Make notes not just of what is said, but which chapter and verse it comes from.

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No life in the Bible

This little clip of Mike Reeves really got me thinking (once again thankyou Dave for blogging goodness!). In a post I wrote a little while ago, I said that:

The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

And the verse that Mike points to is Jesus saying just that.

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

There is no life in the words themselves, and so there is no life in the instructions you find in the Bible. The law does not bring us life.

So then what exactly are we supposed to do with the law? Well Jesus has answered that for us as well, the law is supposed to point us to him, where there is life. In Jesus we have the power to keep God’s law, outside of him we have no power at all. So when I said before that the Bible wasn’t a step by step self help guide, I wasn’t really being accurate. The Bible is a one step self help guide, and that step is towards Jesus, the only person who can actually help us.

So often I want the Bible to be more (or rather, less) than what it is. What I really want is the Bible to tell me exactly what to do to fix all the problems in my life, how precisely to become a better person. But when I read the Bible, it doesn’t offer me what I want, it simply points out my helplessness and turns me back towards Jesus.

Where the Bible contains an instruction, I have a choice. I can admit that I can’t really obey it and throw myself on Jesus, or I can pretend that I can obey it and fail miserably. My initial reaction is usually to do the latter, clearly the former is a better choice.

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Questions are where answers come from

In our training session yesterday it was pointed out that the normal approach to learning is to ask questions, and have someone who knows give you answers. The context was that this isnt how learning usually works in school. Normally the teacher who holds the knowledge is the one asking the pupils all the questions.

A consequence of going through education with this rather odd approach to questions is that people often arent very good at asking them. You need to practice asking questions to discover which ones are good, which ones are useful, and which ones arent so important.

In my experience this is one of the major barriers in Bible study. Unless I read a passage and ask sensible questions about it, I will really struggle to grow in understanding. If the only thing I end up asking is what does that word mean, then I might become a walking dictionary but I wont ever understand a passage in context. If the only question I ask is what did that mean when it was written then I wont ever see what it means now and how to apply it.

Those two questions are both really good, but they are much better together, and even better along with other questions. Here are 10 questions I usually find myself asking when I study the Bible:

  1. Where is this in the Bible? (big context)
  2. Where is this in the Book? (little context)
  3. Do I understand all of the words? (basic comprehension)
  4. Do I understand all of the phrases? (more comprehension)
  5. Who was the author, and who was the recipient? (historical context)
  6. What was the original intention of this passage? (authors purpose)
  7. Where is Jesus in this passage? (you should always be able to answer this)
  8. What is the main idea in this passage? (this might not always be the same, depending on your current circumstances)
  9. What does this mean in my circumstances? (heading towards application)
  10. How can I live this passage out? (application!)

I dont always consciously go through these questions, but sometimes I will, especially if Im struggling with a passage. When you get into the habit of asking useful questions though it happens naturally as youre reading.

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Don’t ignore the Holy Spirit

Sometimes I feel like charismatic Christians are in danger of ignoring the Holy Spirit. This might seem like an odd thing to say, charismatics are the ones who believe in the gifts of the spirit continuing today and are eager to hear from God through prophecy and tongues and so on. I dont think that is a problem, indeed I am eager to hear more prophetic words shared in my Church and I love it when people bring a tongue which is then translated. I do think though that openness to the charismatic gifts comes with a serious health warning.

The primary way we hear from God today is through the words in the Bible. This has been the case ever since Moses starting writing the first scriptures down and will continue to be the case until we are in heaven. For sure at various times God has used prophets to speak clearly to his people, but that has only ever been necessary because they werent actually reading the scriptures at the time (or they were reading them, but not understanding them).

No matter how wonderful the gifts of the spirit are, we must always look first to the Bible for our guidance, first to the Bible to hear from God. When we do receive prophecy we must turn first to the Bible to test it before we acknowledge it as true. I love the gifts of the spirit, but if people are using them as an excuse to put the Bible second then something is seriously wrong. The Spirit will always speak to us through the Bible primarily, lets not ignore him.

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Preaching should be applied, not theoretical

Application is one of the most difficult aspects of preaching to get right. It would be a travesty to avoid it altogether and leave people with nothing more than a lecture on good Bible interpretation. Similarly, it is fairly useless to go the other way and give people detailed steps on what to do next in their lives. The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

Failing to apply a passage at all gives people the impression that the Bible is irrelevant, doesnt really have an impact on their lives, and can safely be ignored. Applying a passage by handing people a to-do list gives the impression that Gods word is a self-help guide, and that with the right set of instructions we can fix all of our problems on our own.

Clearly both of these are mightily inadequate, so how on earth does a preacher give life changing application within a sermon? The key is to apply a passage in such a way that the hearers discover that they must respond to the Bible, but that their response must be via the cross. If there is some clear practical response to a passage, then it must be done in light of the cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed this is the only way we can truly respond to the Bible.

We mustnt leave people thinking that they have learnt a great deal about the passage and that is all. We must leave them with a sense that the passage demands some change in their lives, and that the change will come as a result of the cross, through the power of the Spirit. That means avoiding a specific to-do list, but it also means being really practical, giving clear examples ofhow a principle might work itself out in their lives, and most importantly it means bringing their focus back to Jesus.

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Preaching involves passion

I received a welcome comment on an earlier post about the hard work involved in preaching, which essentially said that preaching requires passion just as much as it requires preparation. I would like to take a moment to reflect on that.

First of all, what does passion mean? Passion is all about intense emotions, and in the context of preaching I think passion is having your heart yearn for what you are speaking about. As I have said previously, preaching is an emotional activity which should engage the heart, so I dont think for a moment that passion is a bad thing. However is passion really as important as preparation, as good as hard work?

If you have passion for the topic, but a poor work ethic then you will end up with a sermon that is highly emotional but probably thin on the ground in terms of Biblical content. You probably wont have dug into the passage deeply and much of what you bring will be personal and not Biblical. On the other hand if you work hard on a message but have no passion for the topic then you will probably end up with a great explanation of the Bible passage which will engage peoples minds, but you will almost certainly fail to touch their hearts. People will not see the passage working in your life if it hasnt hit your heart.

Which of those two is better? Well my inclination would be to say that preaching without passion is actually better, because when the Bible is taught well God uses it, regardless of how the preacher feels about the message. Obviously though, the ideal is to have both passion and good preparation. To let the word of God dwell in you richly and affect your heart.

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Preaching should be expository

I love the Bible, it is the inspired word of God and is the source of truth and the final authority for Christians. As a result preaching should be expository, which simply means that it should set forth, or explain the Bible. More specifically, exposition of a Bible passage means to clearly explain what the original author of that passage was writing about.

The reason this is so key is that when you are explaining the original intent of the author, you are explaining the truth. Whereas if you dont work at a passage and figure out what the authors intent was when it was written, then what you are explaining when you preach is simply your own personal thoughts and ideas. The obvious problem then is that you may not be speaking truth, whether this is your intentionor not, but this is not the biggest problem. The real issue is that even if you are saying stuff that is completely true, if you arent drawing that truth out of the passage, then you are teaching people that the Bible is not your final authority, and that what it says is not really important!

This is the point where you object because topical preaching is often good and wholly appropriate (especially in response to something specific in the life of the Church, perhaps a death in the family, or some city-wide event). And of course I believe that too! How I have defined expository should not restrict the form of a sermon, and certainly allows for topical preaching. It does however make a truly topical sermon much more difficult, because you bring the topic to the text instead of drawing the topic from the text, so picking your passage and working hard at the original intent becomes more difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Peter Mead has been very helpful to me in forming this idea of expository preaching, and anyone interested in preaching would do well to check out his blog biblicalpreaching.net

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