Archive by Author

What Does Good Preaching Look Like?

I heard a while back of a course on preaching at Greenville Seminary in South Carolina where the students spend a semester working through some sermons of men generally regarded as the best living models of preaching in the world today. The class analyzes the sermons – they put them into test tubes, so to speak, and distill the essence of what makes their preaching so profitable and edifying (there’s a useful idea for a book!). I haven’t taken the class, but I want to suggest three aspects of great preaching. I realise there are many more, and these may not be the top three. In fact, they may not actually be three separate things at all, but rather three different ways of looking at the same thing.

Christ-exalting

Great preaching must exalt Jesus Christ and have him as its centre, since he is the centre of Scripture. In all things he must have pre-eminence – and this surely applies to preaching no less than anything else! Since the Spirit’s great ministry is to glorify and illuminate Christ, it follows that preaching especially blessed by the Spirit will be preaching that exalts Christ.

We have been blessed in recent years by a […]

I believe in the (cryogenic) resurrection of the dead

I just heard on the news this morning that in a landmark ruling a judge in England granted the dying wish of a 14 year old girl with cancer to have her body cryogenically frozen until the day when medical knowledge is sufficiently advanced to revive and cure her. In a letter to the judge she wrote,

‘I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.’

Isn’t it tragic that the very thing this girl was longing for was exactly what is being held out in the gospel? Isn’t it tragic that she put her trust in a quasi-scientific fairy tale for her hope of resuscitation life rather than the resurrection life the Lord Jesus Christ achieved when he rose from the dead on the third day? Isn’t it just so unspeakably sad that someone would put their […]

‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

I’m sitting in Terminal C in Newark airport waiting for the (increasingly delayed) departure of my flight to Belfast. I have earplugs in my ears and an iPad on my lap as I try to redeem the time. I’m on my way home from the annual Pastors’ Conference organised and hosted by Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, and thought I would write a few words by way of reflection on this year’s conference, which took as its theme faithfulness in ministry.

It’s a vital biblical emphasis isn’t it? Going the distance, come what may; and not just staying in the ministry until the end, but to do so without compromising the biblical convictions we began with; and not just staying the course without compromise but growing in zeal and knowledge and love for God and his people. How many Pastors long for a success in ministry that has less to do with faithfulness and more to do with the kind of status symbols pursued by the people of the world: big numbers, a high profile and far-reaching influence. Not that it’s impossible to desire these things for good and holy reasons, but more often the temptation is to want them […]

Why kiss your bride through a veil?!

I’m in the middle of teaching an intensive introduction to New Testament Greek for the ministry students at our seminary this month. It’s a pretty heavy month (though moreso for the students!): 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 4 weeks, followed by 2 hours every week for the rest of the academic year, to give them the basics of a language that no-one speaks any more. Why? Is it just tradition? Or a sadistic desire to inflict the same pain that previous generations of ministers had to go through?

Our passion for teaching ministers the original languages of Scripture is rooted in the Reformed Church’s unswerving commitment to the Word of God as it came from pens of the inspired authors. And it came from their pens in Hebrew and Greek. The Westminster Confession of Faith (I.8) puts it like this: ‘The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all […]

Some thoughts on visiting Niagara Falls

This time last month our family had the privilege of visiting Niagara Falls and spending 24 hours looking at the cascading water from every possible angle, on both the Canadian and (American readers will be glad to hear!) the US side. I didn’t manage to post this last month, since we were caught up in the busyness of sightseeing (sorry, Barry!). So, belatedly, here are a few random thoughts that occurred to me while we were admiring this wonder of God’s world…

We went on the boat trip to the bottom of both waterfalls (you should definitely do this if you visit). As you sail into the horseshoe of the Canadian Falls you are flanked by these two towering walls of water (57 metres high) on either side and it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to think yourself into the shoes of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. If it is an awesome spectacle to be in the midst of all that water tumbling down naturally, what must it have been like to walk between the walls of water divided supernaturally by the hand of God?!

The sight of so much water thundering in a torrent started my mind running […]

How to Read Revelation

Of all the many and various obstacles that stand in the way of people reading and profiting from the book of Revelation, perhaps one of the greatest is the bizarre, head-scratching imagery of the book. But there is a key that will unlock this closed door—and it’s a key you’ve had in your pocket all along. It’s called the Old Testament.
There are more OT references in Revelation than in any other NT book. Just how many there are exactly depends on how you count them and what you regard as an OT reference. The of range estimates varies from 394 up to more than 1,200. Whatever the precise number, you can’t go more than couple of verses without finding an allusion or an echo or a quotation from the OT.
So if the imagery in Revelation seems strange to us, I think it’s mainly because we don’t know the OT well enough. One like a son of man among the lampstands, the four horsemen riding different coloured horses, the mark of the beast, seven trumpets, seven plagues, the new heavens and earth, a great red dragon, the new Jerusalem adorned with precious stones… The OT must be the first place we […]

The Flow of the Psalms

Here’s a question for all my fellow Pastors. If you’re preparing to preach on Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ in Mark 8.29 and his subsequent misunderstanding of the nature of the Christ’s mission, is it necessary to think about the two-stage healing of the blind man in verses 22-26? Do you need to spend any time wondering about the central, pivotal place Peter’s confession has in the Gospel of Mark as a whole, or its relationship to the opening verse: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ’? Hopefully your answer to these questions is something along the lines of ‘Duh! Of course.’

OK, very good. No prizes for getting that right! But how about this one: if you’re preparing to preach on Psalm 107, do you need to think about Psalm 106? Or Psalm 150? Do you think about the relationship of this psalm to the other psalms in book 5 of the Psalter? Did you remember that the Psalter is divided into 5 books? Do you spend any time thinking about how Psalm 107 fits into the structure of the rest of the Psalter? Or do you just take Psalm 107 out of its vacuum-sealed container and go […]

One Hundred Times as Much

I was teaching from Mark 10.23-31 in a seminary class this morning, and it came home to me with fresh power while I was teaching. So I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot and put something down on paper – or at least on the screen.

Jesus says in vv29-30 that anyone who has had to leave house or family or lands for his sake and the sake of the gospel will receive one hundred times as much back. What does he mean?

Let’s be careful not to spiritualise away what Jesus is saying here. He’s not talking about treasure in heaven, because first of all he says ‘now in this time’;  then he spells out that he is talking about things in this life – the very things that had been sacrificed: ‘houses, family and lands’; and then he goes on to say that in the age to come the person will also receive eternal life – so the ‘hundred times as much’ is something different from eternal life, something that is for this age.

And let’s be careful not to take these words in a crass literalistic way either, as if this is teaching some sort of health and […]

Better than Potter

Fans of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter stories are counting the days until 12.00 am on 1 August, when her script of the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be published online. Her seven books about the boy wizard were a publishing phenomenon across the world, blazing a trail for many other authors to follow with varying success.

Now please don’t get me wrong: I am not in any way endorsing the content of the Harry Potter books. The Bible is very clear about what our attitude should be as Christians to magic. I am not suggesting that anyone should read these books. The only point I want to make here is that if you have non-Christian friends who are gripped and excited by the storyline of the Harry Potter books, you should encourage them to read the Bible. Here’s one way you might do it…

(In case you don’t know the bare bones of the Potter saga, there is a dark wizard called Voldemort who wants to take over the world by (magical) force. The only one who can stop him is a boy about whom a prophecy was made, predicting that he would have the power to destroy the […]

A Word in Season

Many Christians believe that God still gives words of knowledge and prophecies just as he did in the days of the apostles. They are excited to think that God would speak directly to their circumstances. Compared to the immediacy of such revelations, the weekly consecutive exposition of God’s word can seem something of a straitjacket.
But how many times have you found in your daily Bible reading that the passage assigned for the day is exactly the word from the Lord that you need? How often has the next passage to be preached by your pastor spoken right into your situation in a way that could only be because of the supernatural ordering of things by the Holy Spirit. Is this not an even more miraculous evidence of the Lord’s power than a prophecy – that the Lord can arrange a series of sermons or readings months in advance so that exactly the right passage comes before exactly the right person at exactly the right moment?
We’ve seen this many times in our congregation, but most recently just last Lord’s Day. A week ago a three-year old boy in our congregation was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukaemia. What was the passage ordained […]