Bilingual Preaching

hello bonjour

To be truly effective, preachers have to become bilingual—fluent in two languages. I say that even though I only speak English.

What are the two essential languages a preacher must speak? Not English and French (even in Canada). Not Greek and Hebrew (though learning to read both is a great help to any preacher). The two languages a preacher must speak fluently are grace and truth.

Jesus spoke both. The opening chapter in John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Word, the One who communicated the Father’s heart. John tells us Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). His words and actions were both gracious and truthful.

But while Jesus was equally fluent in the vocabulary of grace and truth, most of us are not. We typically have either grace or truth as our mother tongue.

Preachers whose native language is grace convey warm-hearted compassion through their words, tone and gestures. No matter what passage they are preaching, their words come accented with grace. In a pastoral way, they speak hope into broken hearts.

On the other hand, preachers whose first language is truth excel in emphasizing God’s revealed will. No matter what passage they are preaching, they explain God’s righteous standards and expose our failure to reach it. Like biblical prophets, they fearlessly call people to turn away from sin and turn back to God.

The problem is that most of us are not bilingual when it comes to communicating both grace and truth. We speak one without an accent; the other is somewhat foreign to us. As a result we fail to communicate the fullness of God’s Word.

Those who gravitate towards grace (I’m in this group) tend to unintentionally under-emphasize God’s holy demands. Over time, our listeners can become complacent and self-satisfied. On the other hand, those strong in trumpeting truth, can leave people feeling chastened and defeated. Without a regular reminder of God’s gracious provision, our hearers will try to muscle up in their own strength or will be tempted to give up when their strength fails.

grace truthHow does a preacher who is strong in one of the two essential languages learn to preach well in the other? While I’m still learning to speak fluently and forcefully in both grace and truth, here are some things that I’ve found helpful.

First, commit yourself to taking your tone from the passage itself. Look for words that indicate the author’s emotional emphasis and then follow his lead. If the passage has a pastoral feel, let that come out in your sermon. If it shakes people up with prophetic fervour, let your sermon do the same. Being faithful expositors means we not only convey the message of the text, we also convey it’s mood.

Second, listen to preachers who excel in the language you are trying to learn. I have found several expositors who effectively convey a strong prophetic edge in their sermons without giving up on grace. While I can’t clone them, I’ve tried to learn from them.

Third, remember that learning a second language takes practice and causes discomfort. You will feel conspicuous and awkward at times. You will be tempted to revert to what comes most naturally to you. But push on to become homiletically bilingual. Prayerfully rely on Christ to help you be Christ-like in preaching with both grace and truth. Like all who learn a second language, you’ll be glad you did.

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Prayer Update May 12, 2017

Graduation marked the end of our school year at Heritage, but the school’s ministry continues to move forward. Spring and summer term classes have already started. Our faculty and staff have gathered to assess the previous year and plan for the coming one. Our admissions team is busy reviewing applications of students who have applied to attend Heritage in the Fall.

I would ask you to join me in praying for three timely requests:apply

We are anticipating a strong incoming class of students for the Fall. Pray for the students who have already been accepted and are making plans to start courses in September. Ask the Lord would direct additional students to consider coming to Heritage to be equipped for life and ministry. (It’s not too late to apply.)

crossNext Tuesday, I will be giving a devotional message on the cross to a gathering of pastors in Oakville. Please ask the Lord to enable me to serve these ministry leaders by reminding them to keep “boasting in the cross” (Galatians 6:14).

Pray for Linda and me as we travel in the coming weeks, visiting a number of seminaries in the States and attending a conference for seminary presidents and wives. Pray for safety as we travel and divine appointments with leaders from others schools.

Thank you for your faithful prayers for Heritage and for us.

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The Preacher and Soul Care (Part 3)

 

soul careIn the two previous posts, I made the case that looking after the health of our souls is not a luxury, but a necessity, for all who preach and teach God’s Word.  This is true whether we preach to an entire congregation, teach a Sunday school class or lead a small group.

Soul care for a preacher or teacher involves making personal commitments to cultivating a healthy devotional life and personal holiness Here’s a third commitment I’ve found important.

I will preach the Gospel to myself every day–especially Sundays.

preach gospel to selfNo matter how committed we are to walking in humility and holiness, we will stumble at times. It’s impossible to walk through this fallen world and not dirty our feet and muddy our souls. Our sense of God will become obscured at times. We will lose the relish for spiritual things.

And yet, Sunday still comes as scheduled. It comes whether or not our sermons are ready. And it comes whether or not our souls are ready.

If I had to choose, I’d much rather step up to preach with my sermon unfinished than my soul unprepared. One of the worst burdens preachers can carry is the weight of standing to preach when we can’t honestly sing, “It is well with my soul.” Preaching with a sullied soul leaves you feeling like a poseur, not a preacher.

That’s why as preachers we must not only preach the gospel to others; we must begin by preaching the gospel to our own souls. On Sundays when our souls are clouded over by grief or guilt, we must preach the gospel to ourselves before we preach it to others. We don’t presume upon God’s mercy and grace, but we still preach it to our own hearts.

As preachers, we are right in seeing personal holiness as a prerequisite for faithful and fruitful proclamation of God’s Word. We must constantly heed Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). If we are to be “useful to the Master” we must be cleansed (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

But the subtle danger for us as preachers is that we forget our usefulness is still based on God’s grace. Jerry Bridges is right when he reminds us that on our worst days we are not beyond the reach of God’s grace and on our best days we are not beyond the need for God’s grace. Preaching the gospel to ourselves helps us remember God’s grace.

So when our sense of God is obscured by foolish or sinful choices, we must come back to the cross, claiming the gift of forgiveness Christ procured for us through His death and resurrection. When we are tempted to feel our sins and failures render us unworthy and unusable to God, we remind ourselves that we are forgiven not because of the depth of our sorrows but because of the death of God’s Son (Ephesians 1:7). We don’t earn our way back into God’s good graces. We come boldly, by faith through grace, to find grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Preachers need to preach the gospel. Starting with ourselves. Especially on Sundays.

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Drawing a Circle

We had a wonderful graduation celebration last Saturday morning.  The night before, we had a meaningful time of consecration at our graduation banquet.

Gypsy SmithAt the banquet, I told the students the story of Rodney Smith. Rodney was born into a family of gypsies in 1860.  His mother died when he was just a boy and his father had a tough time holding the family together. Without formal education, Rodney grew up headed for trouble; he frequently got on the wrong side of the authorities.

But at the age of 16, Rodney trusted Christ as Saviour and began preaching the gospel—something he would do for the rest of this life.  For over 60 years, he traveled the world, preaching at evangelistic events.  He preached to paupers and presidents (include Franklin Roosevelt).  He preached to students at Harvard. Thousands came to know Christ through the preaching of “Gypsy” Smith.

Linda is the one who told me the story of Gypsy Smith.  The part of his story that impacted her the most had to do with a “circle.”

It’s reported that when Gypsy Smith came to a new town to preach the gospel, he sometimes stopped on the outskirts and drew a circle in the dirt. Then he would step inside the circle and ask the Lord to begin a revival in that town—beginning with the man in the circle.  I’ve also read that when asked by someone how to be used by God, Gypsy Smith replied:  “Find a piece of chalk and find an empty room. Go into that room and shut the door. Draw a circle on the floor with that chalk, kneel down in that circle, and ask God to start revival right there.”

At our graduation banquet, we gave every student a chalkboard and a piece of chalk. Each student laid his or her chalkboard on the ground, drew a circle and stepped inside it. Then we had a time of prayer, asking the Lord to work in the cities and churches where they would serve. We asked God to do a great work—starting with the students standing in the circle.

Heritage College and Seminary is dedicated to training up men and women with the same passion for the gospel that was seen in Gypsy Smith. My heart rejoices when I think of what God will do through these consecrated and committed graduates.

Would you join me in praying for our recent graduates?  Pray that each one would be consecrated to Christ and useful in His service.  Pray for those of us who teach and train them for ministry–that we may be fully consecrated to Christ Jesus and useful to His purposes.

I’d also challenge you to join me and our 2017 graduates by stepping inside the circle and asking God to do a great work—beginning with you!

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Prayer Update April 28

Grad 2017Graduation weekend has arrived!

Today we officially launch into graduation events at Heritage.  We’ve prayed and prepared.  Now we are anticipating a wonderful weekend of consecration and celebration.

Tonight is our Grad Banquet, where grads from the college and seminary are joined by family and friends for a memorable evening.  After a buffet dinner, we will hear from valedictorian speakers (one for the college and one for the seminary).  Our academic dean will hand out a number of awards to graduates who excelled during their time at Heritage.  We’ll close the evening with a special time of consecration and commissioning.

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 29th) is Graduation Day.  This year we have 66 students graduating from the college and seminary–one of our largest groups ever.  Dr. Rick Buck, lead pastor at Emmanual Baptist Church in Barrie will be our guest speaker.  We’ll also hear from some of the talented musicians who have trained at Heritage.

On Monday evening and early Tuesday morning, students who are part of our SERVE Experience will fly out of Toronto for their summer missions trips.  Half the group is headed to Japan; the others will fly south to Brazil.

HeritagePlease pray that the Lord will be honoured in our graduation ceremonies.  Also, join me in praying that each Heritage graduate would be faithful and fruitful servants of Christ and His Church.  We evaluate our effectiveness as a school by the value we bring to the churches.

Thank you for being part of our prayer team throughout this school year.  The Lord answered so many of our petitions and worked in powerful ways in many lives!

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Praying to win in sports?

pray_hockeyAs we go deeper into the Stanley Cup playoffs, here’s a question that Christian athletes (as well as Leaf and Sens fans!) have to face: Is it O.K. to pray for your team to win?

My answer is that it’s a great idea for athletes to pray to win—as long as they keep in mind what winning really means.

When we talk about winning, we usually mean coming in first. We see winners as those wind up in first place and walk away with the Stanley Cup, a gold medal or a championship ring.

While this kind of winning is exciting, it’s not enduring. Today’s winners are soon forgotten. Do you remember who won the Stanley Cup five years ago? Or who won the World Series two years ago? When winning is defined as coming in first, it doesn’t last.

But there is a kind of victory that endures. There is a kind of winning worth praying about. Here are three ways Christian athletes can pray to win.

First, they can pray to win in giving their best effort. 1 Corinthians 9:25 observes that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” It’s a personal victory when an athlete gives his or her best effort in both practice and competition.

Second, they can pray to win against the temptation to cheat. 2 Timothy 2:5 reminds us that “if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” It’s a moral victory to play fair.

Finally, they can pray to win in bringing glory to Christ. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So shooting a puck or throwing a fastball can be done with a desire to bring honour to Jesus’ name. Christian athletes can compete with a passion to please Jesus and to bring Him praise. I admire athletes like Oral Hershiser, Reggie White or Tim Tebow who have aspired to honour Christ in the way they played.

Winning is not ultimately about coming in first; it’s about putting Christ first. When athletes have this attitude, they simply can’t lose.

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Prayer Update April 21

We are headed down the homestretch at Heritage.  Finals week wraps up today. Graduation is only a week away.

Would you help us finish well by praying for us?  Here are several timely requests for the coming week.roof

ROOF REPAIR:  This Saturday, we will have a team of men up on the roof replacing worn shingles.  We are grateful for those volunteering their time to do the important job. Please pray for good weather and for safety for all who are working.

summer

 

SUMMER JOBS:  Many of our students will be working at churches or Christian camps this summer.  Some are heading abroad on a summer missions trip.  Other students are still looking for summer jobs to earn money to for next fall. Please ask the Lord to guide and provide for each one.  (By the way, if you want to help refill our scholarship account to help worthy students, you can donate online here).

GRADUATION GIFTS:   Linda and I are working on a special (somewhat secret) project this week–a gift for the graduates.  We plan to give these gifts at the Grad Banquet next Friday night. Please pray we finish things on time (I’ll write more about this project next Friday).

Thanks again for being part of our prayer team.  We count on your faithful prayer support.

 

 

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