Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: The Church by Mark Dever

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
by Mark Dever
published by B&H, 2012
softcover, 166 pages
reading level: easy
available at Amazon and WTS

This little book serves as a helpful introduction and manual on the nature, form, organization and function of the local church. Dever sets the stage for the importance of the doctrine of the church (and this book) in the preface when he writes, "The doctrine of the church is of the utmost importance. It is the most visible part of Christian theology, and it is vitally connected with every other part." (page ix) His primary goal is to see churches reflect the glory of God. He divides the book into three parts: What Does the Bible Say?, What Has the Church Believed?, and How Does it All Fit Together? Throughout his book, Dever makes the case for a Baptist church congregationally governed, led by elders, populated with regenerate members, that makes disciples for the glory of God.

I highly recommend this book.

Friday, May 4, 2012

How I Prepare to Preach Longer Passages of Scripture

Currently, I'm preaching through the Gospel of Luke chapter by chapter. It is hard work and I was surprised that preaching this way is slightly different than the way I learned to preach smaller sections of Scripture. Certainly the main principles remain, but I have to approach the text and prepare the sermon differently than if I were preaching only a paragraph or two.

In preaching preparation, it is easy to get bogged down in the details. Word studies, historical backgrounds, and theological rabbit trails can render a sermon covering 60 verses nearly unpreachable. I've had to learn to approach my preparation differently when I preach long chapters. Here is what I do:

1. I read the chapter at least 10 times. More is better. I don't pick up a pen and paper. I don't try to make notes. I don't underline or highlight verses. In this first step, I just try to immerse myself in the text and try to understand what is being said.

2. After I read the text, I start making preliminary notes. I try to summarize in one sentence what the theme of the chapter is. I try to get to the big idea the chapter holds.

3. Once I feel confident I know what the chapter is about, I start consulting outside resources to confirm my observations or help me see what I've missed. Most commentaries are too long and too involved for the kind of sermon I want to preach. I don't need to get bogged down in technical details. The best first stop resource are study Bibles. I read the ESV Study Bible notes, NIV Study Bible notes, Holman Christian Standard Study Bible notes, and the MacArthur Study Bible notes. These great resources solidify what I've already observed, fill in some holes, and point me toward areas that need further study.

4. Once I've got a good grasp on what the chapter is about and have taken note of any particular questions or issues I need to work through, I pull out the bigger commentaries. I try to read just one shorter commentary completely (like the Tyndale New Testament Commentary). Then I skim other commentaries to see what they say about particular questions that come up in my mind about key verses or themes.

5. I also do word studies on two or three key words.

6. Once I have done my study, I go back and make sure I understood the meaning of the passage, refine my one sentence summary and begin outlining the passage for preaching.

7. I flavor the sermon with appropriate illustrations and anecdotes. I continually bathe the whole process in prayer. On Sunday, I step up and preach.

And then, on Sunday night, I open my Bible once more and begin reading the next chapter and repeat the process.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Bible Reading Plan for 2012

Daily Bible reading is an essential discipline in the Christian life. Reading the Bible is equivalent to eating food and drinking water. To help me read systematically, I use Bible reading plans.

Over the years, I've used a dozen or so different Bible reading plans. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don't. Almost always, I fall into the trap of "I'm-reading-just-to-get-through-this" and it becomes nearly unprofitable (reading God's Word is never totally unprofitable, but it certainly doesn't take root in my life the way it should when I'm merely rushing through to make a reading goal).

This year, I'm using a different approach. My goal is to read through the Bible twice in 2012. That means reading 8 chapters a day. However, instead of being a slave to "8 chapters a day," I read as much as I can. I discipline myself to read at least 1 chapter. After that, I read as much as I can. Some days, I can read 12 chapters. Other days I get one chapter in. Most days, I'm somewhere in between (last night was 3 chapters). Whatever I do read, I refuse to feel guilty over what I don't read and rejoice in what I do read.

I am also using a new Bible, underling key or significant verses as I read. When I am done with my reading, I will journal my thoughts and reflections on the day's reading.

I started in Genesis and am currently in Exodus. But I don't feel like I must read through the Bible in canonical order. I will start at the beginning of a book and read it straight through. After being in the Old Testament for a while, I have no problem jumping to a New Testament book and reading it. Ultimately, I want to read every book of the Bible. The order I read them in is not all that important.

I hope you are reading your Bible daily and systematically. What plan are you using?