Tuesday Toolbox – 18.12.12

In the midst of those many Christmas talks and evangelistic opportunities, this week’s toolbox has a festive flavor!

A Faithful Pastor (Part 2)

Following on from yesterday’s review of the account of the life and ministry of Richard Hobson here are a few nuggets drawn from the book which reveal this godly man’s view of his pastoral and preaching calling.

The privilege of preaching

“The privilege of preaching the pure gospel is the greatest pleasure of the true pastor; though its constant exercise for many years before a congregation consisting in large measure of those who have long been attending the same church demands anxious thought, thorough preparation, and deep devotion; entailing upon him, too, an ever increasing strain, physical, mental, and spiritual; but I am bound to say the experience of many years has convinced me that even more trying to the pastor is having sometimes to meet and deal with the idiosyncrasies and imperfections of his colleagues, of his dear fellow-workers, and though to a lesser degree, of his congregation, even where love is known to exist on both sides.”

Preparation for preaching

“Preaching always occupied a prominent position in St Nathaniel’s services: and that needed careful pulpit preparation.  For me Exodus 37:20 and 2 Samuel 24:24, were full of meaning, to which I felt God was calling me to give due effect in my ministry.  Yet it was with me as much as it was with the Apostles, ‘As ye go, preach.’  The preaching, the teaching, went on not only on Sundays, but daily all the year round: and not only in church, but in mission-rooms, in the open-air, and in the homes of the people.  Paul says, ‘I have taught you publicly, and from house to house’.

“My settled time for preparation was the forenoon of Saturday.  The first thing was to fix on the texts, if possible, early in the week; then to use every hour, or even ten minutes, for reading up the subject, taking notes, and arranging them: those I used in the pulpit for reference only.

“If I had a course of expository sermons, which was usually the case, the same plan was pursued, with the addition of having on the study table special helps to be read and noted.  I often found I could grasp more in half an hour when fresh than in two consecutive hours when wearied by overwork.  It was no uncommon thing for me to converse upon the texts during the week when visiting, which at times I found very helpful.

“When by prayer, study of the Word, and perusal of helpful literature, I had done my little best, there constantly came to my mind a disciple’s doubting question, ‘What are they among so many?’  Often have I asked the Lord that the little I had to set before His people might be so multiplied by Him in the distribution that they would be ‘filled’ by His feeding.  I always sought, in prayer and faith, so to apply my sermons to myself first, that when preaching them I could speak as of things I both knew and felt personally.”

Powerless Preaching

“An intelligent, attentive lady said to her minister, ‘I wish you would not give us such very long and difficult sermons.  I can and do follow you about half-way, and could carry away what you said, if you would stop then; but the next half wearies, if not puzzles me.’   His reply was, ‘Well, I am sorry to hear you say so; but I have a character to maintain as a preacher.  I preach to please myself.  I shall probably not be in this church always.

“Exactly; that, I fear, is more or less the aim of modern preaching; preachers want to be thought learned; they must all be, or seem to be, mighty clever.  They say the critics, or the would-be critics, will not listen to anything else.  To aim at being ‘a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat,’ is beneath such preachers.  Yet that is what Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so graciously are to those who are poor in spirit, as well as in this world’s goods; and the servant should not be ‘above his Master’.”

Bold Preaching

!I have always found the masses ready to hear plain speaking and to have their faults pointed out. In fact, they like a minister to hit straight from the shoulder provided he shows no animus”.

The Power of the gospel

“Let those who will, declare that the pure Gospel as evidenced in Evangelical religion is effete: I deny it.  If it has power to check and banish sin in all forms, to lift up the fallen, to purify the immoral, to make the thief honest, the liar truthful, the drunkard temperate, to heal the soul-sick, and convert the sinner, it cannot be effete.  It is a vital force, as it ever has been, when presented in its living power and purity to the multitude; as by the Master himself, by His Apostles, and by His true servants through all the succeeding ages, right up to our own time.”

Finally, on commencing what was to be his life’s work at St Nathaniel’s, Hobson drew up a plan of work.  It was comprised of 20 points, but here are just 6 of them

  • That from sin, poverty, and dirt, in evidence on all sides, even under the very shadow of God’s house, the Gospel of His free grace is the first and chief remedy.
  • That the one great aim in all church work shall be the spiritual regeneration of souls, and their sanctification, as seen in the life of faith, and of its outcome, good works.
  • That the work shall be missionary as well as congregational and pastoral; and that Lord Jesus shall be made known in the homes of the people, whether church, chapel, or Romish.
  • That to prevent there being drones in the church hive, the pastor shall not do work which might be done by others.
  • That extempore prayer shall be freely used in the pulpit.
  • That after a funeral all the mourners shall be affectionately urged to attend the next service in the church, when there shall be some seasonable words spoken from the pulpit, or a special prayer, or an appropriate hymn, or the Dead March shall be played.”

A Faithul Pastor

I am puzzled.  I served in Liverpool as a Pastor for a little over four years and got to know the city and something of its spiritual legacy quite well and yet I never came across the name of Richard Hobson.    Yet his life was, without doubt, one of the most remarkable ministerial careers the city, and perhaps the country, ever saw, in terms of its impact on the community and its gospel fruitfulness.   His was a story that was far too good to have been as overlooked as it has been.  Banner has reproduced Hobson’s own autobiographical account of his life and it is a long while since I read a life story that made such an impression on me.  In this post I want to review the book as a whole and tomorrow I’ll share some of Hobson’s insights into preaching and the pastoral ministry

Born and brought up in dreadful poverty in Ireland in the early 19th century and profoundly influenced for Christ by a godly mother and two Sunday School teachers, Hobson became an evangelist with the Irish Church Missions, developing an effective ministry among Roman Catholics, before studying in England and entering the Church of England.  From 1868 until 1901 he served tirelessly and selflessly in what was, when he began the work, a new outreach ministry in one of the most deprived and squalid areas of the city.   “Its area was, socially and morally, the lowest in all the south-east portion of Liverpool…One street was unfit, and even unsafe, for the passage of ladies.  Another was wholly given over to the ‘social evil’ and was known as ‘the little hell.’…Sixteen public-houses and two beer-shops pandered to the drinking propensities of the population.

Over those 33 years, beginning with a man converted at the very first Cellar meeting that he held on his very first day in the post, he saw many hundreds, and probably thousands, come to a saving faith, and individuals and a whole community transformed by the power and effect of the gospel.  As well as a consistent, usually systematic, expository preaching ministry, for most of his years in the area he spent six hours a day, five days a week and another three hours on Saturday, in house-to-house visitation, seeing close up the conditions in which his beloved parishioners lived, continuing to do so even when there was an outbreak of the deadly small-pox.

Hobson’s account is littered with testimonials and examples of men, women and children who encountered the Saviour under his influence and the growth of the work was astonishing.  Starting alone and from scratch, by the time he retired he was using – and filling – a large church building, several local mission halls and a ragged school, and was assisted by dozens, and maybe hundreds, of enthusiastic volunteer workers.

For several years, St Nathaniel’s was the spiritual home of the then Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, the two men becoming dear friends and Hobson preached at one of the funeral services following Ryle’s death.  Ryle himself summed up the size and impact of Hobson’s ministry in Liverpool in a paper he gave in 1862, just 14 years after Hobson began his work.  “In a plain brick church, holding 1,000 people, built thirteen years ago, there is a simple hearty service, and an average attendance of 700 on a Sunday morning, 300 in the afternoon and 950 in the evening.  In three Mission Rooms there is an average attendance of about 350 in the morning and 450 in the evening.  The total number of communicants is 800, almost all of the working classes, and nearly one half men…The practical and moral results of the Church work in the parish are patent and unmistakable…There are 1,100 pledged abstainers in the district.  There is not a single house of ill-fame, nor a single known infidel in the parish…The incumbent of this parish is a quiet, unpretending man…But of one thing I am certain:  he is a man who tries to preach Christ in the pulpit, and to visit his people in a Christlike, sympathizing way as a pastor, at the rate of seventy-five families a week.”

This “quiet, unpretending man” was undoubtedly one of the spiritual greats of our land, worthy of being honoured, and a reminder of the powerful impact of a godly life, lived by the grace of God, and committed to the preaching of the gospel of that grace, on the toughest and most godless environments.

I urge you to buy, read and be stirred by the account of this man’s life and ministry

Richard Hobson of Liverpool.  A Faithful Pastor

Banner of Truth      384 Pages            ISBN: 978-0851518459

You or We?

There are two kinds of preachers; those who predominantly use the second person pronoun in their preaching and those who usually use the first person plural pronoun. There are those who say, “You need to trust God in the difficulties of life,” and there are others who say, “We need to trust God in the difficulties of life.” Okay, I admit, there are some who say, “You and I need to trust God in the difficulties of life.” (Actually, there are too many who say, “You and me need to trust God in the difficulties of life”!)

So which is it? When speaking personally, should we use 2nd person pronouns or 1st person pronouns? Is it “you” or “we”?

I Get the You

I understand why some argue that preaching should be predominantly in the second person pronoun. They emphasise that preaching comes from another world. It is the voice of heaven penetrating earth. The minister is not sharing; he is declaring. He is an ambassador, a herald, speaking on behalf of Christ. In fact, when the minister preaches the Word of God, Christ himself preaches.

That being the case, in a sense, the Christian minister is not part of the congregation as a minister though he is part of the congregation as a Christian. The minister wears two sets of clothes; he is a minister who is speaking on behalf of Christ and he is a Christian who is being addressed by Christ through his own preaching. I think the minister of my youth believed this. At least that would explain why he would occasionally interject his sermons with, “And remember, Minister, you are also preaching to yourself.”

This means that when he is calling the congregation to holy living, echoing the Apostle Paul, he declares “You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips” (Colossians 3:7-8a). Mind you, while he does that, he must remember that he is one of the “you” God is addressing.

Second person pronoun preaching has a lot going for it. It follows the predominant pattern of New Testament epistles and it highlights the authoritative nature of Christian preaching.

 I Get the We

I don’t think we should use second person pronouns exclusively. Or should I say, “You shouldn’t use second person pronouns exclusively”?

The main reason I say this is because the New Testament epistles don’t. In Ephesians 2:3 Paul says we were by nature children of wrath. In Titus 2:12 he mentions that the grace of God trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. And the writer to the Hebrews, in his brief exhortation, swings between the second and third person pronouns, sometimes in successive verses (Hebrews 3:12-14).

First person plural usage helps the congregation to remember that the minister is himself subject to weakness (Hebrews 5:2). And because of that, though the minister comes with the authority of the Word of God, as an ambassador of Christ, he himself is under that authority. The Word read and preached addresses and challenges him too. He is not a guru who has mastered Christian living and has risen above the struggles and temptations of his followers; he is a fellow sinner privileged to strengthen his brothers and sisters through the ministry of God’s Word. The congregation doesn’t sit at the feet of the minister; the minister and congregation sit at the feet of Christ the Prophet who ministers to them by his Word and Spirit.

Personally Speaking, Use Both

I wouldn’t want to quantify the amount one should use the first or second personal pronouns. It seems to me that the preacher will find the balance as he is conscious of two things: he himself is a sinner desperately needing the grace of God in Christ and to be strengthened through the Word preached, and, that he speaks as the mouth of God, as one of his ambassadors.

I just finished Herman Selderhuis’ book, John Calvin: a pilgrim’s life, and was struck by how this dual emphasis shaped Calvin the preacher. Selderhuis writes: “Calvin thought that when he spoke as a preacher, it was God himself who spoke”. He supports his assertion with Calvin’s comment, “For of myself I have nothing to say, but I speak as if the mouth of the Teacher.” On the other hand, Selderhuis gleans that Calvin had enough self-knowledge to realize that he himself had to be subject to the Word as well from these words from Calvin: “When I climb into the pulpit, it is not simply to instruct others. I do not exclude myself, since I myself must remain a student as well, and the words that come from my mouth are to serve me as much as others. If not, woe to me!”

In boldly declaring God’s Word may we who are ministers be acutely aware of the need for that Word ourselves.


The Voice

If aliens ever visit our planet, I’m sure they will want to get a feel for Earth’s culture before just “popping in.”  Their investigation will lead them to an obvious conclusion:

Life on Earth is an endless singing competition. 

Right now a leading competition in the United States is called “The Voice.”  The premise is clever.  Celebrity judges listen to contestants without seeing them.  Seriously, the judges sit in red, cushioned thrones with their backs to the contestants.  If the singer’s “voice” is compelling enough, then a judge will swivel their throne around to look upon the performer’s face, which we are left to assume is perfect for radio.

The judge’s dramatic turn indicates two things:

  1. The contestant has made it to the next round.
  2. We will watch anything on television.

But here’s the twist: more than one judge can swivel!  Should such a stunning event occur, the future former recording artist gets to select a judge as his/her mentor.  As you can imagine, the aliens can’t stop watching.

To convince a hopeful to join their “team,” an interested celebrity judge must use his/her vast vocabulary to explain why such a voice warrants the judge’s condescension.  Here is a list of the usual pitches:

  1. “Your voice is just so unique.  You really bring a lot to this competition.”
  2. “Your voice is just so distinct. You really bring a lot to this contest.”
  3. “Your voice is just so dissimilar to the others.  You really bring a lot to this tournament.”
  4. “You look great.”

The bottom line is, singers with a unique voice – who don’t sound too much like [insert name of Grammy winner] will advance.  Why?  Because they have their own voice.

Those who sound like Adele will weep and ponder life beyond a competition that very few aliens will even remember a year from now, when they conquer us and force us to sing for them.

Preaching is not a reality show.  But preachers do run the risk of sounding a little too much like [insert name of Matt Chandler] for our own good.  “Karaoke Preaching” is fun for the preacher, but it is immature and it weakens the “voice” that God has given us.

Influence vs. Impersonation

We all have pastors who have influenced us.  I love a host of preachers, like John Piper … and I’m sure there are others.  After listening to his sermons for years, it would be dishonest to deny that his voice runs through my head when I prepare a sermon from Romans.

But it would also be disturbing if I stood up in front of the congregation every Sunday and laced my sermons with Piper’s well-hyphenated theological explosions.  In stead, the best thing to do is to let my preaching heroes lead me to the Bible.

In other words, I need to train myself to admire insightful exposition above quirky speech patterns.  The speech patterns might make a sermon enjoyable to hear, but it’s a preacher’s level of insight that I want to incorporate into my own preaching (footnoting when needed, obviously).

My Voice, in Flux.

Good authors read more books than they write.  Good musicians listen to more songs than they play.  Both good writers and good musicians are eager to encounter colleagues who make them grow.  They are constantly in flux, without losing themselves in the process.  Preachers who encounter more effective preachers on a regular basis will benefit greatly.

The hard truth is that my preaching “voice” might be authentically mine, and still be bad.  The “just be yourself” advice is great.  But we can take a misguided approach to how we apply good advice.  No one would suggest that we celebrate our tendency to mispronounce words.  Few would ratify that monotone delivery of ours, even if we claim Jonathan Edwards as our inspiration.  We must be willing and eager to tweak our “voice” if it needs tweaking.

Personally, I listen to far more sermons than I preach.  Why?  The obvious reason is that it is healthy for my soul to receive teaching from a trusted brother in Christ.  I treasure that.  But also because there are so many things about my preaching that need improvement.  Many other preachers have already made those improvements and they can serve as working models.

Finally, if there should ever be a preaching reality show, I am not totally without hope.  I have been told that I have the perfect face for radio preaching.  And, I’m confident that I can secure the alien vote.


Workman’s Toolbox – 11.12.12

With Christmas on the way, I was reminded of this great video:

Max McLean (that brother with the amazing deep voice!) gives us some thoughts on reading Scripture publicly and bible memorization.

An interview with John Piper on what he has learned over 30 plus years of pastoring. Was struck by this paragraph, where he encourages pastors to think:

“Outrun your people and your colleagues in thinking. That is, stay ahead of them in thinking through biblical implications of what is being said or proposed. Make a practice of thinking before a meeting. Think of as many implications of a proposal as you can. Think of as many objections to the proposal as you can. Think of good biblical answers to all those objections. Think of how much it will cost and how it will be paid for. Think of who might implement it. Think of the ways that it will bring joy—or temporary sorrow. Think about its relation to a dozen other things that people like or don’t like. Sit with your pencil in your hand (or your fingers on the keyboard) and doodle until you’ve exhausted the possibilities, or the time you have. Go to the meeting having thought more than any one else, and more deeply than anyone else. This is what good leaders do.”

RC Sproul reminds us about the true power of preaching.

Workman’s Toolbox – 4.12.2012

Scottish friends, did you know that Paul Tripp is coming to Scotland?  His marriage conference (held at Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh) can be booked through The Good Book Company .


Speaking of Paul Tripp, here is a very convicted post by him: 5 Signs you glorify yourself.

This is helpful by Peter Mead: 10 mistakes preachers make with narrative. I’ve made more than a few of these!

I really like Thabiti Anywabwile definition of preaching:  “God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.” Here is the latest post in his excellent series.

“Who do you think he is?” (a further Christmas text)

Following on from Colin Adams’ excellent article on what to preach at Christmas, let me suggest a further passage of Scripture, and some ideas on how to preach it. “The Genealogy of Jesus” with which Matthew begins his gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) is rarely used at Christmas. “What’s the point of a list of names?” the uninitiated might ask. And “How can I pronounce all those Hebrew names?” (the only time my reading of Scripture was followed by spontaneous applause was after reading through Luke’s genealogy!)

Matthew’s purpose

Of course Matthew, writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience, gives us his reason for beginning with the genealogy in his opening statement: to demonstrate the pedigree of Jesus Christ: “the son of David” (in the royal line), “the son of Abraham” (in the patriarchal line). And the genealogy at least demonstrates that Jesus is a  real human person with named antecedents – not some mythical figure. There is a story of a team with Wycliffe Bible Translators who completed the Gospel of Luke for the first time in a language – except for the genealogy. There was minimal interest in the story from the people group in question until the missionaries finally decided (believing that all Scripture is God’s breathed”) to translate the genealogy – a fairly simple matter of adapting the names using the sound-system of the language. The response when it was read out was astounding and the key to the reception of the gospel in that community.  In a group that prized their ancestors (and could name them many generations back) they realised that this Jesus Christ was a real person – unlike the mythological figures who featured in their own religion.

Surprising people!

But there is even more in Matthew’s genealogy. Kenneth Bailey, whose book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels” (SPCK, 2008) is a must for every preacher (especially at Christmas), points out that Matthew, written for Jews, includes four women in his genealogy and asks why:

Matthew 1 contains a genealogy of Jesus that few bother to read. But a second glance reveals some meaningful surprises. Amazingly, along with the men, Matthew includes the names of four women. Middle Eastern genealogies are expected to be lists of men.  Sirach began his list by saying, “Let us now praise famous men’ (Sirach 44-50) and Luke 3:23-38 is a list of seventy-six men without the inclusion of a single female. Along with a list of forty men, why does Matthew include four women?

And not just any old women! The four listed are all of dubious reputation or background:

  • Tamar (verse 3) See Genesis 38:1-30 – pretended to be a prostitute to entice her father-in-law and got pregnant and was almost killed  by him!
  • Rahab (verse 5) See Joshua 2, 6:24-25 – a Canaanite prostitute
  • Ruth (verse 4) See the Book of Ruth – a member of the Moabite nation, excluded from worship in Israel.
  • Bathsheba (verse 6) See 2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:25 – and Matthew won’t even write her name but refers to her as “the wife of Uriah” (a Hittite!)

Yet Matthew deliberately includes them in his genealogy. Why? Bailey answers his question:

“With such a list, Matthew gives us a clue about the kinds of people that the Messiah came to save. He was to be a Saviour for women and men who were both saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles. This genealogy is truly comprehensive. Many can look at the stories of these women and men and find some reflection of themselves.”

Matthew’s Gospel continues…

Little wonder then that Matthew’s Christmas story features foreigners who come to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) and concludes with the Great Commission given by Jesus to his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations (people-groups)” (Matthew 28:18-20)


Any preacher should be able to work out the contemporary relevance of this genealogy. One of the most popular shows on British television with 8 million viewers is “Who do you think you are?” in which well-known people trace their ancestry – with many surprising discoveries.

Some people find out that they have royal blood – others that their great-great-great-grandfather was transported to Australia for stealing a sheep! And many are moved to tears – as was even Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s “rottwelier” interviewer when he learned of the tragic background of one of his forebears.  Yet Matthew is not embarrassed to include people of dubious reputation people in the genealogy of Jesus – indeed he deliberately (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) includes them. Who do you think he (Jesus) is? Matthew tells you, beginning with the ancestry of Jesus Christ.

“Who do you think you are?”

Here is Christmas gospel/good news for everyone: no matter what your pedigree or background, no matter who you think you are. You can be included in God’s family through faith in Jesus. Here are some useful connecting Scriptures:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  (Galatians 3:26-29)

 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11)

 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:11-13) –

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons, through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Gospel opportunity!

Surprise your congregation (who are expecting wise men after shepherds last year!). More importantly, connect with the  visitors who only attend church at Christmas and offer the gospel of hope to rootless people who are “without hope and without God in the world”.

For further ideas,  see the videoed seminar “Preaching Christ at Christmas” on http://2tim4.org/index.php/2009/11/preaching-christ-at-christmas/  and contact me if you would like any of the PowerPoint presentations at peter@2tim4.org


Preaching Christmas: How Shall We Package The Gospel This Time?

Suspend your disbelief, pastor. December is about to arrive on your pastoral doorstep. No, I am not “pulling your leg.” Snow will soon be falling. Advent sermons will soon need preparing. Ere long we will stand before the old and young, the believer and  skeptic, proclaiming the message that Angels once declared!

So how can we make the most of this opportunity?

1.  Be sure the incarnation is thrilling your soul.

The very repetitiveness of Christmas carries with it an obvious danger. Quite frankly, preachers can become bored with the subject matter. I have heard pastors talk of ‘advent sermons’ much as someone might speak of tax returns: a necessary chore that comes round once a year. Some of us may never have said as much, but God knows, we’ve thought it in our hearts.

Yet to groan about preaching the incarnation is to reveal darkened minds and cold hearts!  What could be more interesting, fascinating, and exciting than the Word becoming flesh?  “God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” should fill our minds with wonder and our souls with praise!  If it doesn’t, we should get on our knees and open our bibles till our cold heart melts and our soul ignites in worship.

2.  Do not get original with your content.

Since there are a limited number texts from which we can preach Christmas, there is a temptation to become ‘creative’ in our expositions. Eisegesis is never more of a temptation than when preaching nativity narratives.

But the Christmas narratives do not need to be “jazzed up.”  Even as our hearts burn with wonder, let us keep cool heads and exegete our passage with the same careful precision as we would any other. Let us not be speculative, but exegetical. Let us not be original, but conventional. Let us preach the Word, trusting that the old, old story continues to have fresh force and impact!

3.  Keep “the packaging” of Christmas sermons fresh.

Being unoriginal in exegesis does not mean that there is no room for creativity in how we package our message. British preachers such as Rico Tice and Vaughan Roberts strike me as particularly good examples of how to be faithful with biblical texts but fresh in communicating it.

Our introductions and illustrations, particularly, should be bang up to date with the times in which we live.  We may be preaching about 6BC, but we are preaching in 2012. May we sound like it!

4.  Preach the full range of passages that address the Christmas theme

Although Nativity related texts are not numerous, pastors should utilize all that is available. Some preachers basically rotate around the shepherds, the wise men, and John chapter 1! But there are many more possibilities that we could consider. For example:

  • Genesis 3:15 (Christmas is promised)
  • Isaiah 7:1-17 (The virgin conception)
  • Isaiah 9: 1-7 (To us a Son is given)
  • Micah 5:2-5 (The ruler from Bethlehem)
  • Matthew 1:18-25 (The birth of Jesus)
  • Matthew 2:1-10 (Visit of the wise men)
  • Luke 1:26-38 (Angel’s announcement to Mary)
  • Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat)
  • Luke 2:1-14 (The birth of Jesus and shepherds visit)
  • John 1:1-14 (The Word became flesh)
  • John 3:16 (God so loved the world that he gave)
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 (rich and poor, poor and rich)
  •  Philippians 2:5-11 (The humility of Jesus)
  • Hebrews 1:1-3 (God’s final word)
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 (Why Christ Jesus came into the world)
  • 1 John 3:4-10 (The reason the Son of God appeared)

5.  Consider consecutive Christmas preaching

There is great benefit to be gained from preaching a series of consecutive sermons on advent themes.  I am presently preaching a series on Luke’s gospel and have deliberately started the series in November to coincide with the advent season. Similar series could be preached on the opening chapters of Matthew, Isaiah’s advent prophecies, or the various Christmas ‘hymns’ which Scripture records.

6.  Consider preaching individual texts

Despite comment number 5, I must say that some of the most powerful preaching I have heard at Christmas has handled much smaller amounts of material. The focus has fallen on a single verse which has been explained to the Christian and unbeliever alike (eg. Isa 9:6. Mat 1:21. 1 Timothy 1:15).

Consider such preaching. Especially in an evangelistic context, a single verse well explained and applied can be a powerful approach.

7.  Remember to preach the Christmas narratives as fact not fiction

Many unbelievers consider the nativity narratives on a par with fairy-tales. As Christians we know different. Yet as preachers we are presented with the difficult challenge of knowing how to preach to such a skeptical listener.  Several things must be borne in mind as we seek to speak to such skeptical listeners:

First, we must convey to such skeptics that we will not take our theological scissors to the supernatural elements of the text. We will not excise the virgin conception from the Gospels because it might make them feel more comfortable.

Second, we must preach the supernatural “Apologetically.’ This means recognizing the existence of objections, and responding to them in a reasonable manner.

Third, we should assure the skeptics that we have no time for extra biblical legends that have become attached to the Christmas story (such as the three wise men, and the doorstop drama at countless Bethlehem inns!).

Finally, and above all, we must convey an evident conviction that we believe that what we are preaching is fact.  For us –  if not for them – the Christmas narratives are to be found in the section of the library marked ‘History’.



Workman’s Toolbox

Here is a great video from Rico Tice that explains the Christmas message.

This is such a powerful article! Geoff Thomas shares seven things that are essential to any pastor’s ministry (Preaching – The Method).

1. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by unfeigned belief in the truthfulness of the Bible.

2. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by enduring tough times.

3. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by toil.

4. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

5. The work of the ministry can only be achieved in the defence of the gospel.

6. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by discriminatory preaching.

7. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by applicatory preaching.