‘Give me understanding.’ Some thoughts on small-group Bible studies

Here in Buccleuch we are getting ready to re-start our ‘small-groups’ with what I hope is a fresh appreciation for the part they play in our ongoing spiritual growth as a church. As elders and deacons we have been working through the Vine Project which calls on the church to make Word-based discipleship fundamental to our identity and our approach to life together.

At the same time, I have been reading a collection of essays by J.I. Packer entitled Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, in which many of the same convictions are to be found.

If you are cautious about attending or joining a Bible study group in your local church for any number of personal cultural or social reasons, let me encourage you to think through what Packer argues for. And if you are in a group and sometimes find yourself asking ‘why bother?’ then I hope it will be a positive encouragement to stick with it!

How does God give understanding of the Bible?

Packer’s essay entitled Give me understanding: The approach to biblical interpretation has as its starting-point the recognition that Christians are to be those who follow the lead of Jesus and the apostles in treating the Bible as inspired by God, entirely true, and therefore the final authority for what we believe and how we live.

That being the case, gathering together as Christians to receive God’s message of truth for life is a means for us submitting to God’s authority.

Later in his essay, Packer answers the question ‘how does God give understanding?’ by referring to Ephesians 3:16-19 where Paul prays that “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide, and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.”

God gives understanding of his Word and will to us through the Holy Spirit, and through the Christian community. It is this second element that is particularly important to consider in small-group Bible studies.

God gives understanding through Christian community

To use the language of Colossians 3:16, for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, for it to go down deep and appear beautiful and true to us, we are to be sharing and receiving from the message of Christianity found in the Bible so that wisdom is produced. Faith – and that includes our Bible reading and application – is not a solitary pursuit, but is practiced in community.

Packer appropriately concludes from his study of the New Testament:

The main means of learning from God is to hear his message preached and to involve oneself in the give-and-take of Christian fellowship in exploring the contents of Holy Scripture.

What are some of the benefits of small groups for our understanding of the Bible?

For Packer there are 3:

1. We are delivered from being tied to our own thoughts – all of us will have theological blind spots and hobbyhorses, and so studying with others will help keep our spiritual balance.
2. We are delivered from being tied to our own time – Packer includes in the learning alongside others the practice of reading the classics of theological writing so as to be rescued from what C.S. Lewis describes as ‘chronological snobbery’
3. We are delivered from being tied to our own heritage – we are all children of tradition, and tradition has the effect both of giving us life and narrowing our viewpoint. Learning to discuss the Bible respectfully with people who may not always share your tradition and understanding can be viewed as a threat. Better to see it as an opportunity to gain what is good from the experience of others.

So the next time someone invites you to a Bible study, or you feel the pull of a night on the couch rather than join your regular small-group Bible study, perhaps these thoughts will encourage you along.


Making disciples: taking a step

A Monday Night ‘Lightbulb Moment’

Every so often life brings along one of those ‘lightbulb moments’, where confusion gives way to clarity, and doubt gives way to clear direction. Monday night was one of those moments.

As church leaders for the last few months we have gathered together to work through material in a recent book called ‘the Vine Project’, which has the intention of helping churches develop a culture of disciples who make disciples.

Our discussion was based around how we are to go about making disciples of Christ, how do we help someone come to faith in Jesus and then to grow in understanding and obedience?

Maybe you have asked that question before, and pushed it to the back of your mind, assuming it to be the task of the ‘ministry professional’, or that it happens in a carefully organized program organized by the church. Perhaps you feel that you are still a young Christian so it is the job of someone more mature, or you don’t have all the answers so you would have nothing to contribute. If our thinking about discipleship moves it into the realm of the ‘super-Christian’ or even just the ‘competent-Christian’, it is perhaps unsurprising if few of us feel able to point others or lead others to Jesus.

Now for the lightbulb moment. Discipleship is about helping someone – whether they are Christian or non-Christian – take one step closer to Jesus. That’s it! Not converting someone in a single conversation (though that may happen and we should certainly pray for such moments). Not explaining the intricacies of Christian belief and practice so comprehensively as to produce full maturity instantly in another person. Discipleship is the practice of helping another person take even a baby-step towards faith in Jesus or growth in faith by our word and our example. Now that’s something we can all do!

The Principles of Disciple-making: 4 S’s

The vine project very helpfully demonstrated core principles that lie behind making disciples in the New Testament. I would summarise them as follows:

We Speak God’s Word

We want people to hear the gospel as the central message of the Bible, because it is the message needed both for salvation and for growth in Christian faith. This can happen in any number of ways: reading the Bible with someone, sharing an aspect of biblical truth in a conversation with a friend of colleague, reminding a worried child about God’s character by re-telling a story from the Bible, a note or message to someone with a passage of the Bible you feel will encourage or help them in a situation.

God works through his word. It is God through his gospel who changes hearts, minds and wills. To share God’s word with someone is to allow God to work through his word.

Speaking God’s word belongs to every Christian. Using the truth of the Bible and sharing the gospel with others is a key tool in helping a person move closer to Jesus.

We depend on God’s Spirit

To help someone live as a disciple of Christ – to learn Christ’s words and ways with an attitude of repentance and faith – requires the Spirit of God to be at work.

The Spirit inspired the Bible to be written and opens people’s eyes to see its truth and beauty. The Spirit gives a new heart to people so that they receive the offer of salvation. It is the Spirit that works within people to produce the fruit of a new life. And it is the Spirit who helps a weak disciple willing and able to share something of the love of God in word and by example.

Depending on the Spirit will see us put our trust in the Word of God and prayer. As we do this, the Spirit will work as we seek to help others move a step closer to Jesus.

We Serve under God

One of the remarkable truths of the Bible is that while God in no way needs us to do his work, he has chosen human beings as his agents for change in the world.

God is 100% sovereign and responsible for carrying out his plan of salvation. It is entirely by his grace, by his word, and by his Spirit. And yet at the same time, he works in and through the actions of God’s people in order to achieve his plans and purposes. Discipleship happens when we work, and God works. The final results are in God’s hands, but we are to be active agents. It is 100% us and 100% God.

Recognising that God uses his people to achieve his plans means every Christian is involved in making disciples. Our unique contexts, gifts and opportunities come together to allow us chances to help other people – whether Christian or non-Christian – move a step closer to Jesus.

We Stay the Course

To be a disciple involves a life-altering shift from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. But there is also the long, slow, steady change as we work out how to live out our new identity in this new kingdom. A disciples perseveres in following Jesus, staying the course, recognizing it is a marathon and not a sprint.

So when it comes to making disciples, we recognize that we are called to a life-long process of helping the people around us to respond to the good news of Jesus. And that process requires patience as we walk and talk with individuals in helping them to understand and apply the truth of the Bible to everyday life.

As we stay the course of the Christian faith, we will at the same time patiently share God’s truth and our lives with others, helping them to move a step closer to Jesus.

Putting it into practice

The basic point of ‘the Vine Project’ is to help churches and Christians see that making disciples is something achievable for everyone. Here are some example that will maybe help you reflect on your part of working with God to help other people move a step closer to Jesus:

  • You could share a verse or story from the Bible with someone in your church or among your friends and family that they would find helpful or encouraging
  • If you are a parent, you could pray to have an opportunity to both show and tell the gospel with your child over the next few days
  • When a topic of conversation comes up at work, school or university, you could pray for the Spirit to help you think of a part of God’s truth that might help someone think a little differently on a particular subject
  • As you think about who is in your church, you could think of someone to have coffee with, take a walk with etc. with the plan to talk about your faith and what you have been learning from the Bible
  • In your group of friends, you could encourage each other to try and find time to read the Bible and pray every day, and share your experiences afterwards
  • You could offer to cook a meal, baby-sit, or buy some flowers for a friend who is having a tiring time

I hope that lightbulb moment sticks with me! To see disciple-making as helping people take those small steps towards Jesus gives a great sense of freedom from guilt, fear, or a sense of inadequacy. To remember that God works by his Word and his Spirit gives both a sense of privilege and confidence that it is God’s work, and not mine.









Learning to Listen

Old things in a new way
I went to University as something of a culinary Neanderthal, the secrets of quality (or indeed passably edible) cuisine having bypassed me in preparation for the move away from home.
But one thing I knew: students eat pasta – every good student guide of the day told me as much! Simple, right? Sadly, in my case not exactly. Not being enlightened to the concept of pasta sauce, I settled on a more humble alternative: tomato ketchup. Not brilliant I grant you, but infinitely better than the times I tried to be fancy with green pesto but paid no attention to the jar and tipped the whole lot in at once. It was a brave person indeed that accepted an invitation to my home cooking!
I needed someone to have mercy on me and explain the wonders of vegetables and proper sauces to help me cook pasta.
If we were to stop and think about it, there are probably lots of things in life that we do regularly, but with a little help and training we could do much better.

Which brings me to sermon listening.

Sermons: A Passive or Active Experience?
If you have been around church for any length of time, you have come to expect a sermon, a monologue delivered by the preacher for anywhere between 20-60 minutes depending on one’s tradition.
For many of us, our natural instinct is to think of the sermon as a very passive activity (unless we are preaching of course!), it’s the point where the minister gets busy and the rest of us sit back and…

But not according to Jesus! In the concluding parable of the sermon on the mount, the story of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus prefaces it by saying, “everyone who hears these words of mine and put them into practice…” (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing is active and responsive. When someone is speaking from God’s word and with the authority of God, gospel transformation can take place even as we listen as we hear God’s call and respond in faith and obedience.

Again, in Luke 8:18 Jesus considers the importance of active listening, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.” Listening to the word of God preached is a life-and-death thing, a receiving-or-removing thing, depending how we listen.

Sermon Listening: Three phases
Holiday season is coming. So for anyone heading off on holiday, or anyone planning a one-off event, there will no doubt be three phases to that experience for most of us. Phase 1 is the planning and preparing, making sure everything is ready, tickets are located etc etc. Phase 2 is enjoying the holiday or event that you have been planning for. Phase 3 is the post-event reflections, whether that be sharing photos, story swapping, or something along those lines.

I would argue that listening to sermons well involves each of these three phases of preparing, experiencing and reflecting. Here are some practical tips for each phase:

Prepare (Phase 1)

Get to bed early! Pretty tricky to listen when your eyes require matchsticks to keep them open. That bit of self-discipline on a Saturday night to come to church fresh is worth it.

Keep your personal ‘quiet time’. If we have already heard from God in his word and meditated on its truth, we will be in a good frame of mind to hear God’s gospel truth together.

Pray with expectation. God promises to meet with us together, to speak to us through his word read and preached. So pray in that light. Ask God to shape you sermon by sermon, and pray for everyone who gathers that God would work powerfully through the sermon.


Experience (Phase 2)
Keep your Bible open. A preacher’s authority rests in the fact that he speaks from the Word of God. Follow through as a text is explained and applied. And remember too: the rustling of pages to find a different passage the preacher refers to is music to many preacher’s ears!

Take notes. In a notepad, on the news-sheet, on your phone, on the arm of the person sitting next to you (actually, best scratch that last one), wherever. Studies show that writing helps many people to retain and follow arguments better, plus it deals with the drowsiness of one too many slices of chocolate cake after lunch!

Be humble. It is easy to be a sermon critic, or to experience a sermon as some kind of performance art so that it never engages our heart. Allow God’s word to speak to us, even if that hurts, unsettles or disrupts our preconceptions.

Be generous. Most of the time in a church where biblical truth is valued, a preacher has slogged it out for many hours to try and communicate what is faithful to God’s word. But sometimes – and I can say this as a preacher – a sermon falls flat somehow or other. But even in that scenario, try not to write-off the sermon in its entirety, look for the nugget of gospel gold, even when that involves a lot of digging! Endeavour to be the person who will put up with bad sermons so long as they point to the glory of Jesus.

Be there! Turn up week after week so you know where the preacher has been and where he is going. Don’t content yourself with listening online, sermons are to be experienced live! By all means listen again to refresh yourself, and absolutely take advantage of world-class Bible teaching available to us online. But don’t neglect the teaching of your local church. Remember the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25 ‘Let us not give up the habit of meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’


Reflect (Phase 3)
This is where things can get tricky for many of us. Church coffee time, Sunday lunch preparation and hospitality, Sunday ‘crazy-kid syndrome’, pressures of life are all factors behind why sometimes a sermon never gets beyond the head to the heart.
So what can we do about that?

Talk with others. Share what was particularly striking. Ask questions together. Process and apply the truth over coffee, over lunch, while out walking etc. Reciting aids retention. Sharing together produces encouragement and a culture where spiritual growth takes place.

Talk to the preacher. Ask questions. Share your thoughts. Be specific on anything that was helpful or encouraging. Trust me, it will make their day.

Use the text devotionally. Sermons can be thought of as a one-off moment. But better yet is to go back to the passage and pray over it through the week, allowing its truth to get down deep and bring real change.

Put it into practice. As James puts it: ‘Don’t just listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22)

I hope thinking in terms of these phases will be helpful as you prepare to hear God’s word week by week.

For other thoughts on sermon listening, there are helpful contributions from Christopher Ash, Philip Rykenand David Murray here for you to enjoy

The Lord who is with us

Losing the Shepherd’s voice

I have recently begun reading Embracing God as Father by Daniel Bush and Noel Due, a theological and pastoral reflection on how the Fatherhood of God established by the Gospel creates a new identity for us as sons and daughters of God.

This morning I was struck by this reflection on those times of feeling besieged and under attack as a child of God:

‘The work of the devil among the people of God is like an unruly dog who has intruded on a sheep pen. The dog runs and barks until it gets the sheep in a frenzy, pinned up in a corner against the fence. He singles out one sheep at a time from the rest of the flock, leading it to doubt that it ever belonged to the flock in the first place. All the sheep can hear is the voice of the dog, and all they can feel is fear. They certainly can’t hear the shepherd – and will they be trapped forever? Perhaps the shepherd isn’t strong enough or doesn’t care enough to silence the intruder?

In those moments when the world, the flesh, and the devil come crashing down on us, when the feel the force of discouragements, doubts, and the accusing voice of the Devil, where do we turn?

A rescue from outside ourselves

Turning in on ourselves, attempting to summon up internal strength and resolve will provide no realistic chance of success. What is true for that frightened, isolated sheep pinned to the fence is true for all of God’s children: we need our Shepherd to rescue us.

In Psalm 46 there is chaos and turbulence facing the people of God. Distress and trouble may be around every corner, but yet the Psalmist expresses faith that there is a source of strength, a rescuer is at hand. The Psalmist’s repeated refrain sounds:

“The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:7,11).

The prophet Zephaniah sounds a similar note of hope in the LORD as the one who comes from outside to be the rescuer of his people. Writing to the city of Jerusalem facing the certainty of Babylonian oppression as a consequence of their turning away from God and his word, Zephaniah announces:

“The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; he has turned back your enemy” (Zephaniah 3:15).

Our strength and security rests entirely on the ‘with-ness’ of God the Father whose love for his children is complete and absolute. When trouble crowds in, we turn towards Jesus our Immanuel (‘God with us’), who entered our world of pain and struggle to be that rescuer from outside ourselves. In isolation and distress we receive grace and help from the Holy Spirit the comforter (John 14:16-18). We draw strength from God’s total commitment to be with and for his people. The gospel gives promise of a rescue from outside of ourselves, and this comes as good news to us in our weakness.

A saviour under attack for us

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the cross. We see Jesus facing an unprecedented barrage of physical, spiritual and emotional attacks. Hostile crowds baying for his blood. Religious and political rulers conspiring to humiliate and brutalise him. Betrayal from one of his inner circle having been prompted by the Devil. Bearing the awful weight of human and sin and rebellion though he had done no wrong. Experiencing a sense of complete isolation and abandonment as he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:34)

The answer to that ‘why’ question? Because Jesus volunteers for a rescue mission that takes him right into the heart of human sin and destruction. To be our saviour he must go into the very depths for us – our rebellion, our idolatry, our sin and shame – so that he might secure a complete deliverance for us and to bring us to God. Jesus becomes the forsaken son, so that God can receive by grace sons and daughters bought and set free by the blood of Jesus.

So when we are attacked and distressed, feeling like sheep without a shepherd, it is to the gospel that we turn. We place ourselves once more into the care of our God who is so powerfully for us, to the Saviour who has won the battle for us and is with us now and forever. He is the one whose love never fails, whose promise never falters. He is the shepherd who protects his sheep from each and every attack











Why all the secrecy?

Did that really happen?!?

So Oscars night. The most important night of the year for the movie industry. They eyes of the world turned to watch a host of A-list stars from the most critically acclaimed films of the year walk the red carpet and then look surprised/humble and congratulatory as their names are/ are not read out come award time.

And then things went awkwardly wrong! For a few brief moments, the La La Land team basked in their glorious achievement of being best picture of the year, only for the organisers to realise a wrong envelope had been delivered, and Moonlight was in fact the film which had taken the award.

Embarrasing, right? But nothing more than that.  “The craziest moment of Oscars history” as Emma Stone put it, but ultimately no damage done.

Other times, however, an identity mix up can lead to major problems. Which brings us to Mark’s gospel and one of its recurring themes.

Mark’s Gospel and the ‘secrecy’ theme

As we have been working our way through Mark’s gospel in church, Jesus’ ‘Messianic Secret’ stands out time and again. Whether it is people who have been healed, disciples who have witnessed great miracles, or even demons who have been driven out, there is the consistent refrain in these events that calls for secrecy (for example, 1:32-34, 1:40-44, 3:11-12, 5:35-43, 8:27-30). Why?

Jewish expectation at the time was for a mighty king, a warlord who would take political power, end the Roman occupation, and lead the Jewish nation into a time of peace and prosperity not seen since the reigns of King David and Solomon. Hopes had been raised and subsequently dashed as political revolutionaries prior to Jesus had come and gone. So when Jesus performs miracles that indicate the breaking-in of God’s kingdom on earth, we should not be surprised that the crowds’ expectations began to rise. Maybe he’s the one. Maybe freedom is just around the corner. You can imagine the thought process.

Yet Jesus calls time and again for secrecy. And that maybe surprises us. Surely Jesus would want people to hear and see these incredible miracles performed with the power of God as the Son of God? But Jesus wants his disciples, and those around him to be clear: while Jesus is God’s Messiah, his chosen and promised King, he is not that kind of Messiah. He is the not the King of popular imagination. Jesus needs his disciples and his church to understand what kind of king Jesus is.

Peter’s confession of Jesus in 8:29, “You are the Christ“, marks the turning point in the story. Having come to understand that Jesus is God’s King, now Jesus begins to teach his disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (8:31).

No longer does Jesus call people to secrecy. Now the truth is out. The reason for Jesus’ mission on earth is spelled out plainly in his teaching, and will be seen as he carries his own cross to face execution in perfect obedient to his Father’s will, and to the plan of salvation.

Amidst the confusion of the masses about the Messiah, Jesus wants to be absolutely clear: he is the King whom God had promised, but as king he is also the suffering servant, the one who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). That is why Jesus came, that is the reality that dominates Jesus’ life on earth. It is why preaching comes ahead of healing (1:35-38), and why he chooses the cross before the crown.

Jesus’ identity and our evangelism

This has significant implications for how we share the good news of Jesus with others. Jesus had no interest in attracting followers with the promise of healthier, wealthier lives. He wanted followers willing to carry crosses, dying to self-interest and receiving Jesus as Lord and Master. We need our friends and family to meet Jesus on his own terms, because understanding his identity informs how people then respond to him.

So we direct people to the glorious Jesus we meet in the gospels not so that people’s lives will become a little bit healthier or happier, but so they will have a transforming encounter with their Lord so that he might become their saviour. Jesus did not want to be known primarily as a healer or great teacher – though he is unquestionably both of those – but as the only saviour for sinners, the one who demands and deserves absolute allegiance because he is the Lord, and the one moves people to loving obedience because he is our suffering servant.

We want people to love the Giver more than the gifts. We bring the good news of Jesus to people so that they might love Jesus as Lord, God, Saviour and King. Anything less than that is to distort the real identity of Jesus and will prove of no eternal benefit to anyone in the end.


Holiness…like learning to ride a bike (sort of)



cyclingGod’s will in one word

“What is God’s will for my life?”

There are few questions in the realm of practical Christianity that provoke quite as much agonizing and soul-searching as this one. But did you know the Bible answers the question in a very straightforward way? (What, you mean I wasted all that time reading all those books and attending all those seminars?? Hopefully not.)

Here is Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3)

And here is Peter in a letter to scattered Christians beginning to face the brunt of Roman opposition:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

So there it is. God’s will for us is personal holiness. But if we are honest, not only is that possibly the answer we didn’t expect, more than likely it is not the answer we want either.

Recovering Holiness

The notion of holiness has fallen onto hard times. Used as an insult on those perceived to have a “holier-than-thou” attitude, the idea of directing our lives towards pursuing holiness hardly seems attractive.

J.I. Packer has written that ‘holiness is the goal of our redemption’, drawing directly from Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)

From the beginning, God rescued Israel and established a covenant relationship with them so that they might be holy, in other words, they were to be a nation reflecting God’s character in their national, religious, social and political lives.

Holiness is an essential for the people of God if we are to see the Lord Jesus and be with him one day(Hebrews 12:14). If God’s life has come into our life, if he is living in us, then we will necessarily reflect that light and that life in how we think, speak and act.

Jesus Christ gave himself to death on the cross so that we might be holy. His holiness gifted to us is what enables us to live in holy obedience to our holy God.

So if this is true, why is holiness so unattractive to us as a goal to pursue?

The Man of Holiness

Holiness as a concept can easily become distorted in our minds, or ignored in our day to day living. Sometimes we may feel that our efforts at holy obedience don’t matter because we are saved by grace alone, forgetting that saving grace is always accompanied by works of faith as evidence of salvation.

At other times, we may feel the gap between promise and reality is just too big and giving up and giving in to despair is our response. We know we are not who we are meant to be, we are not even who we ourselves want to be, but the effort feels too much and the result too small.

How can we respond to this?

One vital way is to look to Jesus in order to see how beautiful and compelling a life marked by holiness truly is. Give yourself time to admire a holy saviour who welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors, and shame-filled foreigners. Look to Jesus who was unafraid to confront sin and injustice among the religious establishment, yet was remarkably patient and gracious with earnest seekers of God.

When God calls us to live a holy life, he is calling us to see the wonder of Jesus and follow after him. Put in those terms, holiness is much less a burden and more of a delight.

Understand too that faith in Jesus unites us to him. That gives us our security. Even when I fail, my holiness does not fail because when God looks at me, he sees me as united to Christ in his perfect life and perfect obedience. And being united to Christ also give us our power to live in holiness. Jesus has broken the power of sin in our lives so that now we can say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to holiness.

Our holiness is dependent on our saviour Jesus. And that is beautiful news.

And now for the bike riding

Ever since our oldest boy Kasper was big enough to use his balance bike or go in a bike seat, one thing has been on his mind: “when can I go cycling with you mum and dad?” Now he has upgraded to a pedal bike, that wish is so close to becoming reality and it’s exciting for us all.

Because not only is bike riding a core life skill, it will open up a way for us to enjoy new things together. More places to explore, more time in one another’s company.

What has this got to do with holiness I hear you ask? Let me hand over to Rankin Wilbourne, the author of Union with Christ: the way to know and enjoy God (which is a wonderfully practical study on the doctrine of union with Christ well worth reading):

‘God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy. Now my child can ride with me.’

Sermons: portable or disposable?






It’s Monday. Whatever happened to Sunday?

It’s another Monday. While in real terms our experience of Sunday worship may be only 24 hours ago, there are times when it feels more like a lifetime. In the middle of an ever-increasing cycle of activities, responsibilities and experiences that shape our lives this week, what part does the 20-30 minute monologue delivered by a preacher have?

Maybe a better, more positive way to frame that question is: what part could it play in setting the tone for our week, helping us face those various responsibilities as people of faith who are strengthened by God’s gospel word delivered to us Sunday by Sunday? (Kind of a wordy question, but you get the gist I hope!).

Moving from disposable to portable

When we moved to our new house complete with garden last year, one item was top of my shopping list. A portable barbecue. Up until now, living in various flats, we had always settled for the disposable variety. The use once, let it cool, then chuck it away variety.

So pretty soon after settling in a trip to the garden centre secured the desired item. That was a glorious summer of freedom to grill at a whim, pulling out the barbecue when friends and family came to visit, a permanent fixture bringing joy (and a powerful charcoal tang) to our household.

Do you see where I am heading with this? It is easy to approach sermons as something disposable – a thing we experience and benefit from in a moment, but very quickly forgotten. Now don’t get me wrong, I am 100% convinced that God works salvation and transformation in a dynamic way as we encounter God through his preached word. It is a glorious thing that there and then God brings truth to bear on our hearts and minds in such a way that we grow in our discipleship and our apprehension of the privilege of being or becoming a child of God.

Portable Sermons

But what if sermons also became portable, something we took with us into our life that week, equipping and empowering us beyond Sunday worship to the times when life and faith collide?

What might that look like? It is something I have been thinking through over a little while and so what follows are suggestions that might spark our imaginations so that the sermons we listen to (or preach) might have more chances to speak to us and change us.

  • Listen again Modern technology makes it really easy to go back to hear the sermon again, to catch bits we missed or re-digest some of its teaching
  • Read and pray through Why not make the Sunday sermon passage part of our weekly pattern of Bible reading so that the truth stays fresh
  • Discuss in community Some churches encourage making use of Sunday Bible passages for that week’s family worship which is a great way for parents and children to consider and apply truth together. In Buccleuch we tend to use our midweek Bible studies to focus on applying the Sunday sermon so it gets processed twice
  • Write and reflect For those who take sermon notes, there is then the opportunity to look over them and pray over them during the week.
  • Take it and use it Be deliberate about thinking through how that particular message can be applied to life at home, work or among friends. If the passage issued a command, how will we obey it? If it spoke of the gospel, how will we live in it? If it spoke a rebuke, how will we repent and be restored by it? That kind of thing

I am sure there are plenty more ways than that for sermons to move from being disposable to portable. I hope making that switch will be as rewarding as my summer of grilling!