Tag Archives: Preaching

Indestructible Faith

This has been a crazy week…if there was ever a time when my message impacted my life and my life spoke into my message this is it.

My faith has been severely tested and yet I have been blessed because of the free gift that God has given me. And he offers it to each of us. If you don’t have faith, can I encourage you to listen to this message? It’s just 34 minutes of your life…what harm could it do? God gave me the blessing of Psalm 46 for this time and I share it with you as a gift. For those at Carnoustie Community Church on Sunday thank you for a special day.

So, the fourth message in my series of Characteristics of A Genuine Faith: #4 “Indestructible Faith” from Psalm 46. You can download the mp3 file here.

faith

Advice to a new preacher

I have recently been speaking with a good friend who has the opportunity to preach his first sermon. I started to think about all the things that go through my mind when I approach a passage and the pulpit. I thought I would share them with you. So, John this is for you brother!

  1. Preaching simply means to herald – like the angels at Jesus’ birth we are to deliver a message. Its not our responsibility to come up with the message, but it is our responsibility to deliver it in a way our hearers can understand.
  2. Get their attention from the first minute. If you don’t get them then you have to work harder later on. Use your opening minutes to anchor your sermon in the contemporary world. A good introduction is often the hardest part of the whole preparation and I leave it until last. If possible tie the introduction and the conclusion together with the same illustration. But don’t force it, sometimes it works other times it won’t.
  3. Delve into the passage until its message has gripped you and its truth has overwhelmed you. Begin to jot down what you are learning from God. Most of it will not be that profound, but as you work on it, true insights will start to form – make these the focus for your illustrations and application.
  4. Always give a piece of yourself in each message. Preach as Spurgeon said “as a dying man to dying men”. Let the people see that it cost you something to bring a message to them from God.
  5. Strive to be logical in order to convince the mind, but not so much that it becomes a lecture. Strive to move their hearts but not so much that it feels like manipulation. Strive to bring them to a point of confrontation with their sin, but not in a way that sets you above your hearers.
  6. Exegesis, application and passion – like salt, pepper and chilies (!), each must be mixed in the right combination to make the perfect curry. Too much application and your sermon becomes too shallow and man-centred, too little and it becomes abstract and distant. Too much exegesis and you turn your hearers into pupils, too little and you turn yourself into a dictator. Too much passion and your hearers switch off from discomfort, too little and they don’t believe that you believe what you are saying.
  7. I often feel like preparing a sermon is like giving birth (I imagine!). Sometimes it feels like you are making little progress, but persistance and prayer almost always leads to a breakthrough and the effort bears fruit (even if you have to restructure your entire message with a week to go!).
  8. Always seek to hear God’s heart for your text, not your own voice. What does that mean? Well, don’t fit your neat application into a text that it doesn’t fit. Always exegete first (understand what the passage really says), then ask yourself what that means for today. Ask the questions the people in the street are really asking – what would the guy next to me at work think of this? Would he understand it?
  9. Beware of formulas and systems – don’t copy anyone, but learn from the more experienced. No one is so good that you can copy everything or so bad that you can learn nothing.
  10. Strive to live your life ready at each moment to step into the pulpit to stand before God and his people. The cleanliness of personal godliness will bring a secret strength to your message and an obvious anointing before your hearers.
  11. Start with you and the bible only – no commentaries or study guides. Delve into the text on your own before consuling other people’s thoughts, however esteemed they may be. Your bible and prayer are the two greatest weapons in forging a sermon of fire. Other people views can be helpful but they can also distract and divert the development of your thinking.
  12. Immediately after you have preached your heart out beware of the twin devils of pride and self-pity. Give each sermon as an offering, ask God that you might not be raised up by pride or cast down by failure. Your message is a fragrant offering, offered up and then gone forever. Do not seek to hold onto it.
  13. Before you begin spend a moment in silent prayer dedicating yourself to God asking him to make you a flame of fire in his hand.

For a preacher, speaking to people on God’s behalf is the most amazing thing you can ever do – to stand before them with a message from God will demand every ounce of your effort, gifting and character. It takes years to get to the point where we understand ourselves and our calling well enough that we begin to put the pieces together in the right order. But we never stop yearning and streatching for more power, more of the Spirit, more heart-piercing application. It is the hardest task I have ever done, and the most thrilling. If this passion begins to grow in you, then even though it be as small as a grain of sand it may be the beginning of a gifting to teach. Don’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge, just start and you’ll find your own rhythm of preparation and delivery.

Look forward to hearing your message!

14 Lessons from the Crucible

 14 Lessons from the crucible – walking with the Lord in the furnace of secular employment

Warning: I have written this in the pressure of intense work situation and am still working through some of the issues raised. It’s pretty raw, be patient with me if you are further along the path my brother or sister, I am just a beginner on this path asking questions. Also, forgive me if it’s more personal than my usual reflections, I believe we need to debate some of the issues I raise in a mature and godly manner, I am seeking to do just that in this piece. I welcome your comments and additions.

Let me cut to the chase: in my early 20s I thought I was going to be a missionary, in my late 20s and early 30s I became convinced I was being called to ministry of the word, thinking that the pastorate was ahead. In my mid to late 30s I have finally realised that God is wanting me to stop planning my future, but instead be his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose. Whatever might happen in the future it is up to him to use me as he decides, whatever and wherever that might be.

As I grew up I imbibed the unspoken assumption that full-time vocational Christian ministry was God’s best for me, and for anyone else for that matter. I subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, sought to direct my life towards that goal. It was not hard to seek this path, as I have found this principle to be assumed and encouraged by the vast majority of our Christian books, sermons and teachers. However, at each stage of my life I have experienced the various means of God’s guidance to pull me back to the workplace.  Sometimes it was circumstances, sometimes it was a growing inner conviction that this was where God wanted me, sometimes it was the conversation with godly Christian friends and family. Yet, through it all, as I spent year after year in the workplace I still had the underlying assumption (and hope!) that one day, in some way, God would finally release me to serve him “fully” and glorify him more completely by devoting some, if not all, of my time to Christian ministry. This was particularly the case as I didn’t “feel” called to the workplace, rather the opposite, I felt called to ministry.

However, over the last 18 months the more I have tried to serve God the less time he has given me to do it. Or so I thought. I had to step back from responsibilities at church, reduce my preaching commitments and dedicate myself more fully, completely to my work. The little time I had left was given to trying to protect time for my wife and young family. I have not been there for friends, I have not been there for the prayer meetings nor the bible studies nor the evening service. I am only at church on Sunday mornings and I wait for them as an oasis of Shalom; the beauty and peace of fully dedicated time to be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people. These times have become ever more precious to me.

So, last year I wrote what I was learning about ministry of the word within a mundane job.  How things have changed in 12 months! Now I am at the opposite extreme –responsibility, pressure, flat out and exhausted. I have finally started to realise that God has made me a certain way, for a certain purpose and that this is to do strategy and to preach the word. For these two things I exist on this planet.

Slowly, imperceptibly, God has broken this assumption in me. No longer do I see a spiritual vocational hierarchy when I look through God’s eyes. I see people, made in his image, with his variety of gifting and capability, made to serve him in a multitude of ways, across every vocation and discipline. I see those that have searched their heart and fulfilled their calling and those that are yet to find it. I now see that the most menial of tasks, done for the glory of God and in obedience to his call, can be the highest form of service that you or I can offer him (if that is his will for us). I know we say we believe this, but in reality do we?

Obedience is the key, it is the secret jewel of Christian usefulness and confidence. It is better to obey than sacrifice the ancients said and Jesus repeated. It is most blessed to obey – the most blessed path possible, wherever that obedience leads you.

Here are 14 things I have learnt and am continuing to learn, but before you read them please consider what I am not saying. I am not saying that “it doesn’t matter what you do, because all activity is equally worthy”. Neither am I saying that full-time Christian vocational ministry is not valid, needed, necessary and absolutely God’s best for many of us. I have too many pastors, pioneer missionaries and evangelists for friends to be unaware of the mighty responsibility and urgent need of this awesome calling. Don’t think I am wanting to swing the pendulum the other way and say we don’t need anyone full-time. What I am challenging is the assumption that this is always the best way for all of us (particularly those involved in word ministry) to serve him and other paths are second best. Perhaps you never had this assumption – praise God!

  1. Obedience is more important than any perceived increase or decrease in ministry effectiveness. For some the calling of God can actually mean they move away from opportunities for direct Christian service, for others it will be the opposite. We should not automatically equate either direction with increasing faithfulness, sacrifice or obedience. The meanest and most mundane work can be our most glorifying service when done as an offering to the Lord.
  2. For the many Christians, their highest calling will be the workplace and home. This should be recognised, affirmed and encouraged. They are as much called to their jobs and homes as the mission field. But it is not a competition between vocations – each in its uniqueness and splendour is treasured by God.
  3. The calling to the workplace is as valid, important and God-honouring as the calling to the pastorate or mission field. For some their highest calling will be to guard the theological strongholds, translate tribal languages and protect the flock from continuous attacks from without and within. But the calling to the workplace is not a lesser calling, or God’s second best. The workplace can lead to incredible usefulness in God’s hands – e.g. the construction supervisor Nehemiah, the civil servant and administrator Joseph, the beautician and model Esther, the government official Daniel, the politician William Wilberforce, among many others…
  4. My cross-cultural ministry begins on Monday morning and finishes on Friday evening. I am immersed in a pagan society all day every day, seeking to live counter-culturally without retreating into a ghetto or being weird in order to be noticed. Every religious habit or sacred ritual needs to be examined to see if its  essential or a cultural barrier. Every character trait is laid bare, examined and tested in real time by a watching world.
  5. The best way to glorify God with your life is whatever he has gifted and called us to do. For some this will be vocational Christian mission and ministry, for others it will be the workplace and home. Are we willing to spread wide the application of the challenge to glorify God with our lives? Are we prepared to affirm the calling of those who have little time to give to church meetings?
  6. The desire and gifting to do Christian ministry do not constitute, in themselves, a call.  I believe the internal call of God must be married with an external call from without. Both a calling to be his vessel and a calling to a location, resulting from the right doors opening at the right time.
  7. There is no spiritual vocation hierarchy. It is perhaps not said outright, but there is no doubting its presence – there are those in our churches who do ministry with a capital “M”, and then there are the rest of us. What does our definition of “ministry” include? Is it restricted to word ministry (preaching, teaching and evangelism) or maybe we also include service to the poor, sick and suffering (pastoral)? Yes, we also include those who serve as professionals abroad in some distant land. But, what if you see yourself as a professional in a cross-cultural, anti-Christian community in your homeland? Is that really ministry? Yes, some vocations require greater sacrifice and others bring greater earthly rewards, but through it all it is the obedience that is important not the activity. However, the majority of the application from Christian books and sermons gives the impression that working for the church or missions (either paid or voluntarily) is superior in God’s sight to working in secular employment. The impression is that service to God begins when one engages on church work in the evenings or weekends.
  8. Post-Christian countries like the UK will only be reached when this truth is finally believed by the church and impacts how it trains, equips and supports those in the workplace. This generation will only be reached when we intentionally present and affirm the workplace as a valid, important and glorifying to God vocation to our best young men and women – our most promising leaders. We will only affirm it if we really believe, not just say we believe it.
  9. For secular, anti-Christian cultures, bivocational ministry may actually the best possible model to reach society. I believe that being in full-time secular employment gives greater opportunity for cultural interpretation, insight and engagement than being in full-time Christian employment. New models for ministry training and church leadership are needed to reach, train and commission the next generation of church planters and leaders from those within the workplace.
  10. There is no such thing as “lay” ministry, no sacred / secular divide, no clergy / laity division. Yes, there is such a thing as people being appointed to a particular role and function within church leadership, nevertheless, uniting everyone is the priesthood of all believers and each believer is a holy temple called to their own role and place of influence.
  11. The role of a pastor is the absolute highest calling for pastors. The role of a teacher is the absolute highest calling for Christian teachers. The vital thing is to know for sure in our hearts that we are in the calling we are meant to be in.
  12. There has never been more expected of employees, more asked by employers and more penetration of people’s private lives by the pressure to always be “online”. The training, equipping and encouraging of leaders in the workplace has never been more difficult, with long hours, long commutes and little spare time. Yet few churches really see this as a vital ministry ground or are set up to support and affirm those in this position.
  13. The prayerful assessment of our true calling and our purposeful obedience no matter what the cost would overwhelm our mission agencies and pulpits with new candidates. There is a desperate need in our nation for the next generation of pastors. There remains an ever-present black abyss of millions of people who have never even heard the name Jesus all over the world. I am convinced that so few really examine their own calling that a wholehearted affirmation of the importance of all our callings would lead to a great increase in those stepping forward for pioneer missionary and pastoral leadership.
  14. We do not choose our calling – we only choose to fulfil it or not. Our calling may be a fulfilment of our (God-given) desires or it may be a restraining force on our desires – compelling us to submit to the Lord and follow him despite what we would like to do. Like David who desired to build God’s temple,  we can have good desires to serve God, but they don’t always mean we will see them fulfilled.

I say all this, not as a dispassionate observer, but as someone who has wrestled with their own calling for so many years. It was CT Studd, that great missionary who said: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” What does our inner mind say to ourselves when we hear this? Is it only preaching, bible translating, pastoral visits, bible studies and evangelism that CT is talking about here? “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not men” was what the apostle Paul said. Are we brave enough to really believe that this includes ALL of life?

I have been a reluctant servant for so many years, wishing God would free me up to preach, when my time was being soaked up by work. I now see that I must obey his plans for me no matter how much my heart yearns for another path. I am serving him as he wants right now. I can either serve him fully where I am now, or continually fight against it.  I do believe one day that things will change, but I am no longer seeing the present as (only) “preparation” or a means to an end. I am resigned, submitted, my will is defeated, whatever path I am led on…I am his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose.

Father, help us know the path you have for each one of your children, lead us on those straight paths and use us in whatever way you deem fit – not our will but your will be done. Remove our stubborness and pride and self-sufficiency. Make us truly humble and submissive to your Soverign will, for we know it is the best possible journey and leads to the most blessed destination – unity with our maker now and forever,  Amen.

Running on Empty

Yesterday I spoke at my home church, Central Baptist Church, Dundee in my series of Postcards from the Prophets on Elijah at Mount Horeb from 1 Kings 19 titled “Running on Empty”. In it I sought to outline Elijah’s external persecution and internal despair along with his encounter with the whispering God. Through it all I sought to understand what Elijah’s experience can teach us in our trials and challenges in the UK today.

The slides are available here and sermon online here or to download here. During the service I also read out an article I wrote last year called “We need the tears of the prophets for a broken nation” – available here.

The God Who Is There

I recently spoke at my church on the next in my series on Elijah. This time Elijah is facing the prophets of Baal, King Ahab and the people of Israel at the top of Mount Carmel. Its a classic passage from Israel’s history and I focussed on 1) A guilty silence (ie the people who refused to respond to Eljah’s challenge for faithfulness), 2) An impotent enemy (the prophets of Baal who couldn’t get their God to show up) and finally 3) The testifying God. On this final point I spoke about how God used the method of fire from heaven to testify to his presence throughout Israel’s history, but challenged us to whether we allowed God to change his methods? I gave a brief apologetic to explain how the UK has no place for supernatural events and why believing in miracles such as these is so hard for people today. I explained how Francis Schaeffer sought to understand and explain these changes back in 1968 in his book The God Who Is There, and what that means for us today. I finished by looking at 1 Timothy 2.5+6 as Jesus is presented here as God’s final testimony – better than fire from heaven, for as God’s character is revealed so his testimony is refined. The sermon is available here as a download, or online here, and slides here.

The Outlaw and Obadiah

In the evening last Sunday I preached on Elijah meeting Odadiah, the fourth in my series of Postcards from the Prophets and used this encounter to ask some questions about a Christian’s view of civil disobediance, including looking at Martin Luther King Jr and Oscar Schindler. You can access the sermon here and the slides here.

Famous Last Words

Here is the second in my series of sermons on Postcards from the Prophets, taken from Genesis 49.8-12 and Jacob’s prophecy concerning Judah.

In this message I focussed on how the final words of Jacob to his son Judah were remarkably fulfilled hundreds of years later and why this is relevant to us in the 21st century.

The slides are available here and the audio here.

25 Things I’m Learning About Ministry of the Word within the Mundanity of Work

As I stumble out of bed for another early morning commute to work I wonder, again, why God has put me on this never-ending treadmill. For many years now I have struggled to balance two compelling, and sometimes conflicting, visions – the one is a calling to the ministry of the word, the other is a strong conviction to be rooted in secular employment. As I struggle through how these two visions work themselves out in the daily grind of work I have learnt many important lessons:

1. The mundanity and struggle of work reflects the consequences of the fall (Genesis 3.17). Shouldering the burden of this is never going to be easy.

2. It is good to provide for your family and not to be a burden on others, it also gives you the privilege of being able to give to others.

3. Many types of work can be beneficial to society (even if sometimes the connection can be a bit intangible). Most of my career has been spent helping well off senior managers make better decisions…but eventually wealth creation filters down through society.

4. Secular work grounds us in the reality of the daily grind that 99.9% of the world are engaged in. The working world has changed drastically in the last 10 years – being part of this world helps us engage with others and ensures we feel their pain before we open our mouths.

5. Work can be satisfying and fulfilling when you are doing something you enjoy – but often you won’t be, so see #8.

6. Work stops you from becoming lazy and having opportunity to sin. Not having any free time and being constantly tired means you never have the opportunity to waste time or have idle hands. Doesn’t feel like much of a blessing, but worth noting.

7. Working in the professional services industry teaches you how to keep your promises, develop strong relationships, deal with conflict and go above and beyond others’ expectations. All these are vital skills needed to build a health church and can only help in ministering to others in a broken world.

8. The daily grind of work teaches us how to be obedient to the one whose servant we are. When we stay where we are only because we believe that is what we have been told to do, against all our desires, then we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant, let him do with me as he wishes.”

9. Being a professional person gives us credibility with some people who would not give a minister two seconds. Unfortunately, today the role of the church minister has become ostracised from society. 50 years ago the church was at the centre of the community and life revolved around the church, now it is seen as a forgotten relic of a past time. Ministers struggle with overcoming this barrier to reach people, Christians in secular work have no such barrier and can gain a hearing (provided they have something to say!).

10. Holidays are necessary. Trying to prepare sermons during your holiday is not a good idea. Often in lay preaching opportunities to preach only come during the pastor’s holidays – resist the temptation to burn the candle at both ends as it inevitably has a serious impact on family life and health.

11. God sees your desires, time is not running out, God is in control, He will guide you. Although sometimes everything inside of you says the opposite, trust God to open doors in his timing. Be the best where you are right now. Work hard and be content, as well as you are able. The burning passion for ministry can lead to discontent and frustration, instead use it to lead to greater submission and yielding. Learn that “it is good for a young man to bear the yoke…to bury his face in the dust” (Lamentations 3.27).

12. Preach every sermon as if it really is your last, you don’t know when the next opportunity will come and if he will call you home before.

13. Don’t be afraid to repeat a sermon in a different church, the emotional drain of preaching is hard enough to recover from on the Monday morning, let alone preparing a new sermon every time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare so that you do not burn yourself out – find what level of ministry you can cope with and recognise that the changing demands of a young family will impact this too.

14. You are not indispensable to the work of the Kingdom. Elijah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus spent years in the wilderness as God prepared them for ministry. It is not wasted time – see #7, 8, 11

15. Do not get comfortable. Live as though one day you will take a 50% pay cut, manage your family with that perspective in the front of your mind. Pray for an open door for bivocational ministry.

16. Your children are your most important mission field, even after a long day and a long commute, don’t give in to exhaustion when its bed time. Give each of them one to one time with you and the Lord every night, whenever you are around.

17. Take opportunities to develop your gifting wherever you can. Write, read, study. Use your commute – if you are on a train study theological texts and if you are in the car listen to iTunes podcasts such as The Daily Audio Bible, or theological courses from Reformed Theological Seminary (see iTunes U). The longer the commute the more time you have to study every day.

18. Be a person of integrity in all aspects of your working life. Build a reputation for integrity and honesty despite the challenges.

19. Recognise that changing jobs and churches will happen from time to time, and that each time it does happen you are back to square one. Make sure your motivations for career progression are subjected to the test of the Spirit. Ask yourself: Is this job the right move for me, my family, my church? However, recognise that the logical or sensible decision is not always the right one – remember Abraham was called out of Ur, leaving all his wealth and career prospects behind, a decision contrary to all human wisdom, but obedient to his God.

20. Put down roots. Moving churches, houses & jobs every 1-2 years (as is often the case these days) can make you a spiritual nomad. Pray for God to help you put down roots so that you can have the opportunity for ministry in the local church and develop relationships at work that go beyond the superficial.

21. Find an outlet for your ministry of the word – for me it has been writing and preaching, for others it will be any number of things. Find a way to serve others in your community, sometimes this will be at work in the business world, as that is where we spend most of our time. Do something constructive to encourage you that in some tiny little way you are contributing to the progress of the kingdom of God.

22. Don’t forget how important exercise and physical activity is to having a healthy mind. Being involved in ministry while also working doesn’t leave much time for anything else, if you are also gradually becoming less fit then this is a recipe for a mid-life breakdown. Work on having a healthy body so that you have enough energy and drive for everything else you do.

23. Serve in the church as much as you can, while recognising your limitations. Don’t constantly feel guilty for not making the evening service or the prayer meeting. Give what you can cheerfully, liberally, graciously and then recognise the limitations on your service. Allow God to give you the joy of being a cheerful giver of your time, money and gifting.

24. Preach the gospel free of charge. Don’t allow anyone to take away your boast of preaching the gospel for no other motivation than for the love of God and desire to help others. Do not accept a preaching fee while you are in full-time employment (this is my philosophy of ministry, I recognise there are other passages to balance (e.g. “the worker is worthy of his wages”) and I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic on this).

25. Look for others to encourage in the ministry. Next to entering the ministry yourself, the greatest privilege you can have is to encourage and prepare others for being a full-time minister of the word. Look for other Christians in the secular world who have never had the opportunity to develop their gifting and, where possible, mentor and guide them in their development.

I’m sure there are many more – that’s 25 to get us going, anyone want to suggest number 26?

Anyone think I need a holiday? 😉

New preaching dates

After a busy start to the year I have taken a break from preaching over the last two months. From July I will be back into preaching again as I try and find the right balance between family, work and ministry commitments. So, I have added a couple of new dates to the preaching calender – https://martynlink.wordpress.com/sermons/. Hopefully I’ll be able to post these sermons once the recordings are available.

Jesus As Saviour

Here is a sermon I preached at Tayside Christian Fellowship on the 13th February 2011. It was the first in a series they were doing on Jesus – Saviour, Lord and King.

The sermon is titled Jesus As Saviour and was taken from Colossians 1.9-14, the audio is available here.