Tag Archives: exposition

listening well

I am sitting in a hotel in Philadelphia, ruminating on the calling of God to be a preacher.  Annually, I attend the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Charles Simeon Trust.

This is a come-and-wrestle-and-do-the-hard-work-of-text-preparation workshop  more than it is a come-and-see conference.  There is nothing like it… for my soul, for my sanity, for my sense of purpose.  To declare the immeasurable riches of God from his Word – what does THAT necessitate in my prayer life, in my preparations, in my pastoring a growing churchplant?

I delight to know that God is working through his Word at West Valley PCA, more than through our creativity, our ministries, our vision.  His Word, clearly given, communally received.  And yet, OOOHHH to be a more faithful, more intentional handler of the Word of God!

O, to be a man who “stands in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word, who has paid attention to his word and LISTENED”(Jeremiah 23.18).

Simon Manchester, the primary speaker of the workshop and senior pastor of St. Thomas’Anglican Church in North Sydney Australia – has met me in my spiritual exhaustion and struggle.  Thank you God.  His handling and humble care of the hard task of preaching has encouraged and exhorted me in a much needed way.  I have simply been too busy.  Too spent.  Too scattered.  And today,  I saw the beauty of the Word again.  The joy of plumbings its depths and pondering its questions, and prying its parts.   I pass on to you some notes scribbled in my journal:

A dissatisfied preacher (wrestling and churning and grappling with questions and textual understanding) makes for satisfied people.  A satisfied preacher (that was simple and easy and I know what to say) makes for dissatisfied people.

I beg you: SHUT UP and LISTEN to the Word.  An expository sermon is a “listening sermon” – which is quite different from a non-listening sermon (the preacher has not stopped, struggled and listened before speaking).

I must not be confused at WHAT I am to be doing.  I am preaching the kingdom!

An expository preacher and an equipped congregation “spiral upward” together in a glorious, healthy way.  In other words, the preacher studies hard and delivers a healthy feast from the Word… thus the people of God are equipped to live and sacrifice and to BE the church of God for the glory of God… so they protect and ask their preacher to continue to work hard and study and deliver healthy feasts from the Word (as opposed to pulling him in every direction)… so he does, and they are fed and fulfill the ministry… and so he prepares and preaches all the more… and so they are more equipped and expanding their ministry, through the Word… and so it SPIRALS UPWARD!

Thank you Simon Manchester.  Thank you God for this respite.  Thank you West Valley for caring with me about expository preaching.  May we spiral upward together.

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called to preach?

I recently had a friend lovingly say to me that “it must be hard to be called to preach.”  She was recounting a sermon I had preached a year ago, and the more she spoke, the more I realized that she had actually absorbed and hung on and believed the words declared from the text.  Humbly, I had to ask: What text was that from?  She recollected the particulars of Genesis 27 and how gospel application had come to bear on her life.  Then she said it – “it must be hard to be called to preach.” 

No, not really, it is just hard to believe what you preach.

That is where I am at.  Looking back over old sermons and recalling the power of God present at the exposition of his Word.  What times… seeing God engage and enrapture his people by nothing more than the apropos relevancy of his Word.  He is exalted as he exposes us whenever we expose his Word.  What a God.  It really is not hard to preach when the Word is so riveting and clear, but to believe what is in the text…  to believe it with as much passion as one speaks it!  O God, who can submit to such a spiritual task?!

I am excited that, beginning mid-September, I will be preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes again.  Due to West Valley PCA being in our early chaotic days of church planting, it seems wise to preach through a book I have already engaged from the pulpit.  I preached through Ecclesiastes at Harmony PCA in Tennessee 3 years ago.  What joy to do it again… for there is nothing but vanity if the gospel of God (revealed in his Word) is not clear for people who are as prone to emptiness as am I.

O God will I actually believe it as I re-engage it.  Could it be that the imprint of your relevant and authoritative truth will be slow to fade?  I pray so… sitting with your Word, being exposed by your Word… right now these are my hopes ABOVE standing to declare your word and exposing it for your people.  May I only expose the truth which has exposed me and the power of your gospel for the salvation of sinners and the transformation of all things!

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yes he did

I have a good friend who is a pca licentiate.  He filled the pulpit this weekend at Cornerstone pca, the mother church of West Valley pca… the church for which I am on staff for another 27 days and counting.  Yes he did… yes, he preached from the book of Numbers.  (quite a narrative book but rarely exposited)  What a text, what a sermon – and why did he have to preach such an obvious God-ordained text for my needs and fears and rebellion?!!

Numbers 14 is a narrative about God’s people on the edge of the promiseland, griping about why God should have just left them enslaved in Egypt.  Then Caleb and Joshua stand among them and declare a simple message:  “Do not rebel.  Do not fear.  The Lord is with us.”   The people didn’t want to hear the message of reminder, so they sought to stone them.  “But the glory of the Lord appeared.”  As my friend John preached: the fortunate thing for us is that whenever we are in the place of rebellion, the glory of God does not diminish.  The nature of the KING is unchanged. 

More than once in his sermon, John paralleled the promiseland to the “West Valley” – the target area of our church plant.  The application was startlingly simple and offensive – we have scouted the land.  We have done our demographic research.  We have sought the Lord for a vision of his kingdom through his local church…  BUT I feel like I am now standing on the edge saying, “Wouldn’t it just have been easier to not sought God for such a big vision.”  “Wouldn’t it be better just to fold up and not try – this churchplanting thing might crush us.”  “Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay at Cornerstone and not venture out on this faith risk.  Have you seen it out there?  There are giants in the land!!!” 

Then the message comes through.  The Lord is with us.  Do not fear.  Do not rebel, but step out in faith – for God has given us his glory such that he is ahead of us, behind us, over us and in us.  He has been faithful in the past – so move out in faith anticipating his faithfulness in the present!

Thankyou God for your Word.  Thank you for your Word preached.  Thank you for calling us to the edge to take us by faith into the unknown.  The time is now.  May I not rebel in fear.  May we not rebel in fear.  Show us your glory.

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A kingdom of humility, contrition and trembling

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2

Smack in the middle of a vision of the New Heavens and Earth – the beautiful restoration of God that includes his judgment and justice and KINGDOM – is a beautiful description of the people to whom God’s grace and righteousness will rest.  THOSE WHO HUMBLY AND CONTRITELY TREMBLE AT HIS WORD.

Here we are, on the verge of planting a church in the Lehigh Valley of PA.  The thoughts (and methodological books) pour into my head.  Be relevant.  Be faithful.  Be risky.  Be patient.  Be holy.  Be original.  Be missional.  Be Spirit-led.  Be this or that or this or that.  Many of those things I DO want!  But O God, I want  most for us to be your kingdom on earth! 

What will that be like, I wonder.  One thing is clear according to Isaiah’s kingdom vision.  The kingdom on earth WILL be a place where the Word of God revealed to man is CENTRAL to life and ethics and obedience and worship.  We are to be “West Valley Presbyterian Church that trembles contritely at the word of God.”  Nice.

Whether I am seeing this because I am on the heals of a workshop on biblical exposition, or I am resting in it because it is God’s purpose for me to discover the centrality of his Word while outside of a bunch of crazy Word-centered preachers… I am not sure – except I love the Word.  Yes, it is hard to read.  Yes, it is often uninteresting to our visual and emotive culture.  BUT, it is the living Word and revelation of the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my soul.  Is it not a powerful gift of grace around which ALL of our church plant should center?!

One thing I humbly had to confess at the workshop was this: I generally try to discern how the text of Scripture applies to me, or the congregation to which I preach.  But the problem with such a philosophy is that I am making myself, or others the center point of relating to God.  “How does this apply to ME?”  It is egocentric (though normal in our Western culture)!  The question is rather, “How do I apply my life to the Word?”  “How do I relate to the TRUTH of the text?” rather than “How does this text relate to my perceived reality?”

All I can say is that I can’t possibly imagine being in the New Heavens/Earth of Isaiah 66 and thinking, “How does this Kingdom fit into my reality?”  No, my reality will be defined by such a kingdom!  This is the reason that the kingdom is for those who humbly and contritely tremble at the Word – because IT IS the bar.  IT IS the barometer of reality.  IT IS the density of the gravity by which things float or fall.  How does my reality square with TRUE, GOD REVEALED REALITY?  That is humbling… it induces trembling.  What a grace – that those who are humbled and contrite and trembling at God’s Word are the ones to whom he will look in his kingdom (66:2)! 

SO, it must be Word-now, because it will be Word-then!!!  The kingdom is thus here and then through the Word revealed!

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Working on biblical exposition

In two days, I leave for a week-long journey to Chicago.  I get to see my grandma.  I get to watch the White Sox.  I get to hear gospel-centered preaching from my mentor, Paul Winters (Spring Valley PCA, Roselle IL).  I will be speaking to both the congregation and adult Sunday School of SVPC about our West Valley Church plant.  I will be meeting with former seminary proffs from TEDS.  I will be fundraising.  O, and I will be working on preaching.

One of the highlights of every year is attending the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Simeon Trust.  It was Charles Simeon who said of preaching,

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

That is a high calling.  The workshop this year will be focusing on the minor prophets – which is exhilirating, because I have thought about beginning our church plant sermon series with a minor prophet.  God knows what is in store for me to learn this week.  I certainly need the exposure to excellent biblical exposition.  I certainly need some peer review of my own stuff.  I certainly need to begin preparing to be back in the saddle (pulpit) on a weekly basis. I can honestly say about this ‘business trip’ – that it will be a pleasure next week to “go to work.”  It is through weeks like this that I discover that God does POWERFUL things when his servants submit our weak and pithy efforts to his disposal!

Thanks be to God for his LIVING Word that interprets us and keeps giving us the GOOD stuff for life and kingdom, here and forever.

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