Strength through weakness


Seth Godin’s “text“: “Risking the appearance of weakness takes strength. And the market knows it.”

He has ten points of “application.”



Defer to others


Avoid shortcuts


Tell the truth


Offer kindness


Seek alliances


Volunteer to take the short straw


Choose the long-term, sacrificing the short


Demonstrate respect to all, not just the obviously strong


Share credit and be public in your gratitude


In what ways does this differ from Christian ethics and morality?

The difference lies not in the “text” or the “application.” The difference is in the areas of motivation and power. The Christian is motivated by Gospel-centered love not by market share. And the Christian is given the power to be weak through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

Visit Godin’s blog here.

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (1)

Ever since I read Brian Croft’s post on pastoring our children, I’ve felt convicted by how little or how irregularly I’ve followed up with my children’s own Bible reading. That conviction was deepened by a conversation I had recently with a father who told me that his six-year-old daughter had completed the McCheyne Bible reading plan last year.

We do have family devotions morning and evening at which we sing, pray, read a passage of Scripture and discuss it. We expect the children to read the Bible and pray before breakfast and before bedtime. I do regularly ask my two boys and two girls, “Have you read your Bible and prayed today?” And, when I remember, I do ask them, “What did you read today?”  However I don’t feel I’ve sufficiently guided them on what to read, or how much to read, or checked if they have read or understood what they read.

That’s not good enough.

So I’ve started a very simple scheme of Bible reading for my children, and I thought I would share it, because I suspect many Christian fathers (and mothers) feel the same guilt as I do. Perhaps others can use it or adapt it to their own situation. I’ll post it ahead of every week, and I’ll set it out so that it can be printed double-sided on one folded page to fit inside a Bible (download here).

1. Brevity. I want this to be do-able. It is more important to be reading small chunks of Scripture regularly than setting the bar too high and failing. Of course I wish my children wanted to read Scripture more, but if I can get them to spend 5 minutes with the Bible, morning and evening, then I will be happy. And hopefully they will develop a growing appetite for it themselves.

2. Variety. I chose Old Testament in the morning and New Testament in the evening. I also want to vary between narrative, poetry, practical, etc. However as my two girls are only 8 and 7, the emphasis will be more on the stories of the Bible.

3. Simplicity. The pattern is a few verses for reading, and either a verse to write out or a question to answer in the morning and evening. I’ve added a couple of extra questions for the Saturday reading that are a bit more personal and applicatory?

4. Accountability. Although this system is to help me be more accountable, I also want to make my children accountable. That’s why I ask them to write a verse and an answer a day. And its also why I ask them to bring me their work at least weekly, and try to have a brief discussion with each of them. It’s aimed at 8 to 10-year-olds, and what I’ve said to my two teenage boys is that they should look on this as a minimum. I’ve encouraged them to continue their own present reading.

5. Unity. One advantage of this is that we will all be reading in the same part of the Bible (my wife and I included). Whatever else we read, we will all have read these verses as a minimum. That means we can all talk about the same passage of Scripture at meals, etc. I hope this will give our family a spiritual unity as we journey on together.

All this has to be bathed in prayer if it is to be a permanent change and if it is to be a blessed change. I don’t want it to degenerate into a legalistic exercise where the daily and weekly routine just becomes a boring drudging “ought-to.” However, God does use the reading of Scripture to make sinners wise unto salvation. My hope and prayer is that eventually my children, and all our children, will no longer read because of external pressure or habit, but because they want to, because they have a passion for the Christ that the Scriptures testify of.

Update (Monday 11.20 am): for some reason the Posterous link with Scribd is not working at times today. But in the meantime you can download the pdf here.

Download this file

Electronic resources for sermon preparation

I started a lecture this week on “Electronic resources for sermon preparation.” That could be a never-ending lecture. However I tried to limit the resources to what would be most useful to first-year students and those just starting to preach. I have Logos and Bibleworks software on my Mac, and I use both for different purposes. However, if I was just starting to preach and I had to choose between the various Bible Software packages, I would go with Logos, especially now that Logos 4 Mac has been released.

UPDATE: Broken links repaired.

1. Bible Software

Logos 4
Watch the five videos at the top of the page
Manual for Logos 3:
Hundreds of free PBB books at Truth is still truth.
Use this blog to help you download PBB’s.

Bible Works
Brochure (pdf)
Accordance (for Mac)
Demo videos

Free Bible Software

Two hour training video
User created training videos

2. CD or Download Packages

Ages Software
How about all of Calvin’s commentaries for $20 or all of Spurgeon’s sermons for $20?
3. Online Resources

PERT: Puritan Electronic Research Tool
Enter chapter and verse to find books in PRTS library that have sermons on the text. You will find many of the older books on Google Books.

Swift Bible
Google Instant for the Bible

Bible Gateway
See verse in different Bible versions

Net Bible
Great for making progress in original language Bible reading

Sermon Audio
Prepare your sermon first before consulting this and the next two resources!
Use Bible Search to find sermons on book, chapter & verse,

Desiring God (John Piper) Scripture Index to Sermons

Grace to You (John Macarthur) Scripture Index to Sermons

Resources for New Testament Exegesis
This is provided by Dr Roy Ciampa of Gordon Conwell and also has useful links for OT Exegesis.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Huge number of online books and commentaries together with a Scripture Index search box that will search all the resources for references to that text.

See also Internet Christian Library

Complete Hebrew Bible in mp3
Download chapters of the Hebrew Bible to listen to

Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon

Sermon Quotations & Illustrations
You are best to find your own quotes and illustrations, but there are plenty websites out there if you do a Google search and use some discernment.

4. Blogs

I read blogs for five reasons:

  • For my own edification
  • To build awareness of what’s happening in the wider Christian world
  • To discover new resources
  • To know what my congregation is reading
  • To stimulate sermon ideas

These are the blogs I’ve found most useful for these purposes:

I read many more blogs, but these are the ones that best serve the five purposes outlined above. Some others that I find beneficial, and that would also be especially helpful to beginning pastors and preachers are:

Also worth keeping an eye on the evangelical portal of Patheos

Guidelines for interpreting Proverbs

Lecture 5 in my Poets and Prophets course offers some guidelines for interpreting single verse Proverbs (download pdf here). Here’s the outline:

1. Some Proverbs are general rules (with exceptions)
2. Sometimes we have to choose which of two or three Proverbs is applicable in a situation
3. God’s promises are on God’s timetable
4. Don’t over-interpret or over-apply
5. Look for links with previous and following Proverbs
6. Consider a topical approach
7. Extract the timeless principle
8. Use Proverbs especially with young people
9. The Proverbs reveal Christ in four ways
10. Remember to look for New Testament quotations and allusions

Proverbs Guidelines.pdf
Download this file

How to critique a sermon

Yesterday on Reformation 21 Paul Levy offered some helpful comments on the need for preachers to accept criticism. But how should sermons be critiqued?

Puritan Reformed Seminary’s Practice Preaching class begins again next week. In this class a student preaches in front of his professors and fellow students, then receives a critique from his listeners. Here’s some of the advice I’ll be giving to students who may be new to this experience of critiquing a sermon. Some of it may be helpful to others like elders, co-pastors, and pastors’ wives who may be called upon at times to offer critiques of a sermon.

1. Pray for the student who will preach. Keep the rota in your Bible so that when you come to pray each day, you will be praying for the next preacher. If you have not prayed for the preacher, you forfeit the right to criticize.

2. Listen for your own soul. Do not listen primarily to find fault. Try to hear the sermon as God speaking to you.

3. Look at the big picture.
Don’t get sidetracked by minor issues like pronunciation.

4. Don’t repeat what has already been said.
Only say something if it is something new. The student does not need to hear the same thing ten times.

5. Say one thing. You do not need to tell him every fault. And remember the student has already received significant critiques from the professors.

6. Try to be constructive and positive, especially if you are going to offer a criticism. It is easier for someone to hear criticism if they know you have goodwill towards them. Can you say something good about the introduction or the conclusion? (Don’t say “the best bit was the end!”) Were important words explained and illustrated? Was the structure based on the text and memorable? Was there good energy and eye-contact? etc.

7. Try to be objective. Ask yourself if what you are saying is just personal opinion and reflects your own preaching preferences and prejudices.

8. Be brief.

9. Do not mock or belittle. Be humble in your criticism. Realize that in most cases the student has poured himself into the sermon and poured himself out in it also.

10. Consider private critique. One of the reasons we have practice preaching class is so that everyone can learn from one another. Though I’ve never preached in this class (thankfully!) I’ve learned so much about preaching in it by listening to the critiques of others. However, if your criticism is very personal and not likely to benefit the whole class, then consider if it might be better offered privately.

11. Have regard for the stage the student is at in their education.
Do not expect a first-year student to preach like a fourth-year student. Be very gentle in criticizing those who have just begin to preach.

12. Vary your focus. Some students only mention hand gestures. Others highlight deficiencies in gesture or posture. Still others may have a laser eye for grammar. Try to look at different aspects of preaching each time, and don’t become a broken record (that shows my age).

13. Pray for the student afterward
. Often students will be licking their wounds a bit for a few days after practice preaching. Make a special effort to encourage such students in these sensitive days.

Perhaps those who have been on the receiving end of “critiques” might want to supplement this list?

Pastoral Picks

Ministry is hazardous to the soul
James Emery White reflects on the fall of another spiritual superstar.

Encouragement for “ordinary” pastors
“Ordinary pastor, be encouraged: Your faithful labor in the darkened forest of obscurity is heroic.”

How do I evaluate a church member I suspect is unconverted?
More wise words from Brian Croft.

Not depressed, just sad, lonely or unhappy
This thoughtful article from the BBC website reminds us of the need for great discernment and heavenly wisdom in tracing the many and varied causes of depression.

Learning from Francis Schaeffer
This looks like a book worth buying, and this looks like a series of posts worth following as Martin Downes reflects on Colin Duriez’s biography of Schaeffer. Here is one of the themes that Downes will be exploring.

Schaeffer was a man with an unseen ministry for most of his life, his public significance came very late on.  What can we learn from this faithfulness in obscurity, and in working with small groups of people, in an age where usefulness and importance is confused with the size of the church you lead and the conferences you speak at?  How did we ever get into the mess of thinking that the best men to follow are easy to spot because they occupy the biggest platforms?