On Preaching – by H.B. Charles Jr.

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition in Youngstown, Ohio. At the workshop we were all given a copy of a book by H.B. Charles Jr., simply called On Preaching. I heard H.B. speak at the 2017 TGC national conference, and he recently preached at T4G, so I am certain his name will be familiar to many of you. H.B. Charles is an outstanding expositor of God’s word, and this book is a distillation of his pulpit wisdom and skill. It is interesting to note that On Preaching began as a series of blog posts, but I am delighted that H.B. had the vision to turn them into a book. In light of that, you won’t be surprised to hear that this is not an in-depth treatment of preaching, but it is a highly practical sketch.

 

On Preaching is broken down into 3 parts, and 30 short and easy to read chapters. Part 1 deals with Preparation for Preaching and looks at such topics as training, finding time to study, using a sermon calendar, and the all-important aspect of prayer. Part 2 concerns the actual Practice of Preaching. Here, H.B. dives into some of the nuts and bolts aspects of preaching including such topics as outlines, titles, introductions, transitions, illustrations, conclusions, and preaching without notes. Finally, part 3 looks at Points of Wisdom for Preaching. Such things as being yourself, developing your style, being consistent, pulpit plagiarism, and being a guest preacher are covered in this section. As you read through this book, it will become clear that H.B. has thought a lot about preaching and particularly, what makes for good preaching vs. mediocre or even bad preaching.

 

Perhaps the best two chapters in the whole book are the first and the last. In chapter 1, aptly titled Preach the Word, the author powerfully reminds us that we are to preach God’s word and not our own. Much of what accounts for modern preaching is really not preaching at all. Why? Because the preacher has substituted his own word for God’s word. H.B. writes, “Paul’s charge to Timothy is the Lord’s charge to every preacher: Preach the Word! This divine command obligates us to preach; moreover, it specifies what we are to preach: the Word. The importance of preaching rests in its content, not in its function. Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.” Amen! The book concludes with a chapter titled The Bottom Line in Christian Ministry. The author reminds preachers that we have been charged, by God, with this most important of all tasks. Therefore, “The goal of Christian ministry is that you may be approved by God.” In a similar cord, he writes, “Make it your ultimate goal to hear the Master say, ‘Well done.’”

 

There are no shortage of preaching books today, but for both the seasoned expositor and the beginner, On Preaching is chalked full of wisdom and advice that will aid in your development as a preacher. In both the macro and the micro areas of preaching, I am certain this book will help you think through your craft in order to better communicate the Word of God to your listeners. Reading this book only fueled my desire to become a better preacher and I think it will for you too. In short, I would highly commend On Preaching to you.

The Preacher’s Prayer

Week in and week out, the preacher has a tough job. In fact, it is an impossible job apart from work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, preaching, from start to finish (even after the sermon has been preached), must be done in prayer. I have been in pastoral ministry for about 10 years now and the more I preach, the more I realize the vital place of prayer when it comes to the preaching task. The preacher is completely dependent upon God. As Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is true of everything, including preaching.

But what should the preacher pray? Last year I stumbled upon a podcast from an outstanding preacher by the name of Steve Lawson. I have adapted it slightly, but he recommends praying the following prayers as you prepare to preach the Word.

  1. Lord, prepare my heart before you. May I submit myself to the teaching of this passage of Scripture.
  2. Lord help me to be disciplined and diligent as I prepare and craft this sermon. Help me to give myself to this task wholeheartedly.
  3. Lord help me to see the riches contained in this text of Scripture.
  4. Lord, help me come to the right interpretation of the text. Help me to be taught by the Holy Spirit of God.
  5. Lord, help me in the organization and construction of this sermon. Help me to pull together the various parts of this passage so that it might be clear and understandable.
  6. Lord, press this message to our hearts (both me and my listeners) and ignite a passion in our souls. Help us internalize this message and apply it to our lives.
  7. Lord, grant me an effective delivery and the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  8. Lord, help my hearers to be attentive and receptive to the message. Help them to fight off distractions that they might clearly hear your Word.
  9. Lord, may this message accomplish your eternal purposes. Thank you for the promise that your Word will not return void and will accomplish all your purposes (Isaiah 55:11).

 

 

 

Directions for Life

Last week found me traveling up to Buffalo, NY for our District Prayer Conference. Having been up to Buffalo a couple times, I pretty much know the way. I could bore you with details about which particular highway’s I took, but I won’t do that. Let me simply tell you that I opted for a way that was longer, but a way where I wouldn’t need the GPS. It also kept me on major highways where I could cruise along at a good clip which is my preference. Well, it just so happened that a couple days after I got back from the conference, I actually looked at the map. Most people look at maps before they go on trips, but not me this time, and I realized there was a way I could stay on major roads and still cut close to 20 miles off my trip. It was the best of both worlds, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed in myself, but I’ll know for next I head up that way.

This got me to thinking about life in general. As Christians, we know that God has given us a roadmap for life. This map tells us everything that we need to know, yet all too often we rely on our own intuitions, our own wisdom, and our knowledge. Like me on my trip last week, sometimes we get by with this strategy. It might take us a little longer to get where we want to go, but with a little effort and skill and even luck, we are able to enjoy success in this world. The problem is that over the long haul, this strategy of ignoring God’s instructions for life is doomed to fail. Plain and simple, it cannot succeed.

Of course, the roadmap for life I am speaking of is the Bible, God’s Word. Following His instructions might not always be easy and convenient, but it is guaranteed to help in the present and secure our eternal happiness. Dear reader, do you find yourself consulting yourself more than God? In this day and age, there are so many ways to live life independent from others, but you and I know that island living is a recipe for disaster. My encouragement to you today is to seek God with all you heart (Matthew 6:33) and to seek Him through His Word. You will find the directions for life and you so desperately need and long for. Happy travels!

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).

Treasuring God’s Word

Imagine if the US Constitution was lost. I don’t think that would ever be possible, but just imagine that somehow it did happen. Or, for my fellow Canadians, imagine if the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was lost. In both cases it would be a great tragedy because most everyone recognizes the value and importance of these documents. In ancient Israel, however, something similar happened about 600 years before the time of Christ. The Book of the Law was literally lost for a time. Now, if you have read 1 -2 Kings, this will not surprise you because the kings and the people tended to go their own way without any question of – what does the Lord require? By and large, God’s chosen people did their own thing and his put them on a certain path to judgment. The northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722BC and the southern Kingdom of Judah would eventually fall in 586. But around 622 something of great significance happened – the Book of the Law was found and read before King Josiah. His response is worth reading. “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11). Josiah knew that his people had fallen far short of God’s standard (see also Romans 3:23). FYI, the Book of the Law was essentially a copy of what we call Deuteronomy. It was a summary statement of the Torah and had a similar governing function akin to the Constitution or Charter.

So what ended up happening? Judgment could not be averted but the prophetess Huldah did offer these words of hope: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord” (2 Kings 22:18-19). In 2 Kings 23, we go on to read that Josiah initiated several reforms that essentially banished idol worship. He heard the word of the Lord, and he responded appropriately and judgment would not come until a couple decades after Josiah’s death.

Sometimes I think we forget what an amazing gift God has given us. We have in our possession the very word of God in written form. What a wonderful thing – God’s revealed truth has been given to us! But we Christian’s have a tendency to be like Israel. In our busyness, the Scriptures get pushed aside and they don’t govern and guide our lives as they should. And ultimately, we don’t humble ourselves before God like Josiah. In all this, we are the one’s who end up losing. As David writes in Psalm 119, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the paths of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!” (Psalm 119:33-40).

Obviously, David delighted in the law of the Lord. He wasn’t content with a few crumbs here and there. No, David feasted on God’s Word, meditating on it day and night (Joshua 1:8). He knew that the Scriptures direct us in the way of life because they point us to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. But what about you? Do you treasure God’s Word? Is it your guide and compass? Or, is it simply and afterthought in your busy life? Truly, God has given us an amazing gift in His revealed truth – may our lives reflect that reality.

Consecutive Expository Preaching

Over the past several months, I have preached from several different genres of Scripture – Gospels, Epistles, and Prophets. I typically pick a portion of Scripture and then work through it verse by verse, emphasizing the authors intended meaning. This is called expository preaching. For the most part, however, I have not preached consecutively through a chapter or section or book of the Bible. At long last, this past week, I committed myself to preaching through chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Peter. Last Sunday I preached on 1 Peter 4:1-6 and this Sunday I will tackle 4:7-11. Obviously, this is a modest goal and is certainly nothing new in the history of the church. The great reformer, John Calvin, used consecutive expository preaching to preach through much of the Bible and recently, John MacArthur finished preaching verse by verse through the entire New Testament. These are just two of a slew of preachers who have successfully employed consecutive expository preaching. Perhaps you are wondering, what is the value of such a method? Christopher Ash has taken up this question in his recent work The Priority of Preaching. In the appendix, he gives seven benefits to consecutive expository preaching. They are as follows:

Consecutive expository preaching safeguards God’s agenda against being hijacked by ours.

“When we do topical preaching we (as it were) hold the microphone in front of God and ask him the questions of our choice.  We hold the microphone there just long enough to hear his answers, and then we take it away.  We do not want to take the risk of letting him have the microphone; after all, he might want to tell us all sorts of things we may not want to hear.  To do consecutive expository preaching gives God the microphone.  We hand it over to him and we listen while God tells us what he wants us to hear.  He sets the agenda for our teaching and learning.”

Consecutive expository preaching makes it harder for us to abuse the Bible by reading it out of context.

“One of the great blessings of a consecutive expository series is that we may take our hearers to the book we are studying, get them firmly grounded in it, and then quietly walk through it.  We relate the different parts of the book to one another, so as to build up a far clearer and more accurate understanding of the message of the book as a whole, and each part within the whole.”

Consecutive expository preaching dilutes the selectivity of the preacher.

“My heart sinks when I am asked to preach a topical sermon.  Someone writes and says, “Please will you preach on the topic of Christian assurance?”  Help!  What must I do?  I ransack my mental map of the bible trying to forage from it anything that might be relevant.  I only have limited time, so I cannot systematically read the Bible through from end to end.  So what happens?  I pick the bits of the Bible that I happen to know and love that might bear on this subject.  And I try to put them in some coherent order and the give the talk.  I may also enlist some help from reference books.”

“But when I tackle a consecutive exposition, I know what I have to do.  Whether I like it or not, whether I am familiar with it or not, I know what I must read and re-read and pray and work and worry away at this week’s passage, like a dog at a bone, seeking to preach what this passage says and not what I happen to want to preach about.”

Consecutive expository preaching keeps the content of the sermon fresh and surprising.

“There are some preachers for whom you know in advance what they are going to say.  If their Bible passage seems to be at least vaguely about prayer, you will get their standard prayer talk.”

“The gospel is richer and fuller than those truncated versions.  Every passage in the Bible is there because it contributes something unique to God’s revelation.  And when a preacher asks himself, “What does this passage contribute?  Why is this truth told in this way to these hearers?” then there is a sense of healthy surprise and freshness in the preaching.  It is always the same gospel, but never exactly the same sermon.”

Consecutive expository preaching makes for variety in the style of the sermon.

“Our preaching ought to take not just its content but also its tone and style from the passage.  We ought not to preach Job in the same manner as we preach Romans.  And if as ministers we are taking the tone and style from our different Bible books, then there will be in the style, manner and tone of our sermons a refreshing variety.  I realize that many of us struggle with this, and our sermons do tend to revert to a default style; but consecutive expository ministry can help to free us from this.”

Consecutive expository preaching models good nourishing Bible reading for the ordinary Christian.

“Consecutive exposition says to the ordinary Christian: you too can take Philippians and read quietly through it day by day.  You can take Philippians as a project for your personal times of Bible reading and prayer.  Live in Philippians for a while.  Read it all, and then read it bit by bit, connecting it up.  This is a model for Bible reading that will nourish and sustain.  Good topical preaching may give a Christian a fish, but good expository ministry will teach him how to fish.”

Consecutive expository preaching helps us preach the whole Christ from the whole of Scripture.

“Part of what brings depth to Christian discipleship is a growing awareness of who Jesus Christ is and what he means so that the word “Jesus” really does connect to the person Jesus.  The only access we have to the authentic Jesus is from the whole Bible, which is the Father’s testimony given by the Spirit to the Son.  It follows that we may expect to grow in our knowledge of Jesus as we are taught the whole Bible.  Christians who are only ever exposed to part of the Bible are only ever exposed to a truncated Jesus.  Our job as preachers is so to proclaim Christ that we may present people mature in him (Colossians 1:28-29).

 

Longing for God

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” (1 Peter 2:2)

So what exactly is “pure spiritual milk”?  The apostle Peter makes it clear that we are to have an intense longing for this milk, but we know he is not literally referring to the “milk” that we drink. The answer is, the Word of God. Without an intense longing to hear from God through his Word, you will only remain a spiritual infant.  You might be a faithful pew sitter who remains involved in the church, but without God’s Word, you will never “grow up” in your faith.

Part of the problem is that all too often Christians are taught to be content with little.  Instead of being told to come to the feast and eat to your heart’s content, we have been conditioned to take in spiritual crumbs here and there and then think that’s enough. But the scriptures give us a much different picture.  In Psalm 37:4, David writes, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Or as the prophet Jeremiah explains, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” Indeed, there is a feast, but the question is, do we want to partake of it?

Over the past couple weeks, Steph and I (especially Steph) have been reminded of the intense longing babies have for breast milk.  They desperately want it and they are not afraid to let everyone in their zip code know that. In short, babies love milk! And that’s a good thing because it makes up 100% of their diet. We also have to keep in mind the matter of frequency. With pets, you can feed them once or twice a day and that’s enough. You give them a little dog-food or cat-food and some water and they’re good to go. But newborn babies are a different story. Before we had kids, I had no idea that babies need to be fed so often, but several feedings a day are necessary to keep the baby healthy and growing. If you only fed a baby once or twice a day, you would starve them. They might survive for a while, but they would never grow as they are intended to grow.

Does that mean I am saying we should read our bibles several times a day? While that would not be a bad thing to do, it’s not always realistic. I will say that you need to have a hunger and a thirst for God’s Word and you need to satisfy that thirst on a daily basis. There needs to be a consistency in your walk with the Lord. You need to find time ‘daily’ to dig into the Word and listen to God. Just as the baby who is well fed is going to grow rapidly, so too is the Christian who has a daily feast of God’s Word. The Psalmists really capture this type of “longing” that Peter is encouraging:

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2) “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  (Psalm 63:1) “As the deer pants for the flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)

It’s my prayer that you will be able to identify with these Psalms and that God would give you an intense longing for His presence.  Just as a baby longs for his mother’s milk, so too do we need to long for our Heavenly Father and the manna that only he can provide. The choice is yours – either you can be satisfied with the crumbs the world offers, or you can feast on what only God can give you through His Word.

Discipleship in the 21st Century

The digital explosion has changed the world forever. There are now about 2.3 billion people who have access to the internet and over 800 million people who are on Facebook. There are countless gadgets and devices now on the market that 15 years ago would have sounded silly. Even something like a blog (weblog) would have sounded like a strange concept back in the 90’s.

It’s amazing how the internet has shrunk the globe. It never ceases to amaze me the people who find their way onto this blog. In just the last week alone, there were visitors from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Taiwan, Brazil, Poland, Iceland, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Ghana, in addition to North America. Obviously, the internet has been used for a lot of very bad things, but God has also used this tool for the furtherance of the gospel.

Let me give you an example of redeeming technology for the purpose of discipleship. Recently, a good friend of mine by the name of James had an idea. He wanted to be able to study the bible together with some brothers in Christ, one of them being yours truly. The problem is that James lives in Calgary, I’m in Ohio, and our friend Bruce is in Vancouver. James’ solution to this problem was to open a blog and download the Psalms onto the blog. Our plan is (we are just getting started) to read the Psalms together, comment on what we are learning, and sharpen one another in the Lord (Proverbs 27:17). This is a really simple idea, but it can be effective. Any time Christians use technology to draw them into the Word of God, it’s a good thing.

Just so you know, I am not in favor of the growing digital church (multi-site) movement. If you are not part of a church, then join a solid, Bible-believing, gospel-centered church. It’s great to have brothers and sisters around the world in Christ, but these  types of relationships should never substitute for involvement in a local church. The Bible tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

There are all kinds of ways the digital explosion is being used to spread gospel truth around the globe. I praise God for that and I pray that the people of God would continue to find creative ways to practice discipleship. Whatever the medium, the bottom line is this – we must sit at the feet of our Master (Luke 10:39) and listen to His teaching and be empowered by His grace (Titus 2:11-14).