Wednesday, October 25, 2017


The preachings in the Acts were under such circumstances as to preclude any studied preparation. The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons. An old and honoured servant of the Lord, in answer to the question, What shall I study? said, Study well these four words, "The flesh profiteth nothing"! The preachings in the Acts were "water of the rain of heaven"; the streams flowed down in copious blessing. How definitely the Apostles presented Christ as crucified, risen, and exalted at God's right hand! How wonderfully they quoted and applied the Scriptures! How pointed and powerful was their dealing with men! There was a spiritual naturalness, if we may so say, a simplicity, freshness, sobriety and order in all that they said which made manifest that they preached the glad tidings "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven". All true ministry is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it tends to promote fruitfulness in the land. (C. A. Coates, An Outline of Deuteronomy, pp. 123–124, emphasis added)

"The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons" – a good friend shared this quote with me many years ago, I mentioned it in passing to Rodger, who did the spade work to dig up the source. (Thanks, Rodger!)

That quote has haunted me for at least a dozen years. I find myself asking, "am I prepared?"

I've had the privilege of fellowship in a couple assemblies where unplanned and unscripted meetings were the rule, rather than the exception. The assembly would have the Lord's Supper Sunday mornings, followed by a Bible Reading. In the evening, there was an "open meeting," where one or more brothers were expected to stand up and give a word. The rule was "two or at the most three" (1 Corinthians 14:26–35). They were never picked beforehand, and it was assumed they didn't have notes. We would gather to hear from the Lord, and whoever felt led to stand up and speak was expected to do so. Unless someone came through town specifically to minister the word, there were no prepared messages.

I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry. A whole weekend of unplanned meetings. If I might say so, those meetings were short on planning, but long on preparation.

These days I remember the Lord in an assembly where the speakers are asked beforehand to speak. I really miss those unplanned, unscripted meetings.

It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode. The problem is, people don't need to hear me, they need to be drawn to Christ. When we speak in the assembly, it should be as an oracle of God (1 Peter 4:11). That's easier said than done.

I've heard some amazing sermons that clearly took a whole lot of work. But the ministry that has seemed to me to be the most powerful has consistently been "extemporaneous". There is something qualitatively different about ministry that's given with a great deal of thought, but not a great deal of planning.

H. E. Hayhoe gave a talk on Isaiah 5 in 1969 ("Outline of Scripture"). It's worth a listen (or five). He makes a statement to the effect that, "we learn Scripture by meditation, not by study." That statement has affected me deeply.

Notice how it parallels CAC's claim that we want prepared preachers, rather than prepared sermons. It's not that we need to learn, it's that we need to be transformed. Scripture working in my mind and my heart is very, very different from Scripture analyzed and pushed into sermon notes.

It's possible people groan when they realize I'm standing up to speak in the assembly. It's possible they all wish I'd spend more time writing notes and referring to them. But I've made a point of preparing to speak with prayer, rather than with study. (I suppose, in a way, this blog is a sort of a scratch-pad where I can work things out in writing. It's possible I'm being a little less than honest with myself about that.)

Of course I'm not advocating speaking in the assembly without preparation, but I am absolutely advocating being prepared by spending time in the Lord's presence, rather than having good notes. That puts a much sterner responsibility on us: the responsibility of constant prayer and meditation, so that we can honestly say we're always prepared.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Seeing and Eating

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; and they saw the God of Israel... they saw God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11)

The elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. The story doesn't tell us what He looked like, which seems to be the common theme. As far as I can tell, only Daniel (Daniel 7:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26–28) describe what God looks like. Isaiah saw God in the temple (Isaiah 6:1–13), but he only describes the angels. Even the description in Revelation 4:1–7 only describes the One on the throne in vague terms, while it describes the creatures around the throne in detail.

But scripture tells us twice that the elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. I tell my Sunday school class, when Scripture repeats something, it's for a reason. The Spirit of God doesn't ramble on like I do, every word has a purpose. So Exodus 24 is emphasizing the point, that they saw God.

John 1:18 tells us, no one has seen God at any time. I take that to mean, not that no one has actually seen God, but no one has seen God completely. The story in Exodus 33:18–23, corroborates this: when Moses asks to see God's glory, he is denied. But he is allowed to see God's goodness.

(John 1:18 goes on to tell us that Christ has declared God. Perhaps that's why the two prophets called "son of man" (Ezekiel 2:1, Daniel 8:17) are allowed to describe God, while the rest are not. Certainly the Son of Man has declared Him (John 3:13).)

I think about Exodus 24 frequently when we're gathered to remember the Lord. We see that the elders of Israel are called to go apart from the camp (v. 1). They saw God (v. 9), they ate and drank (v. 11). We, too, are called to leave, to come into the Lord's presence, to see God, and to eat and drink (1 Corinthians 11:20–34). Of course it's our place to gaze on the glory of the Lord all through the week (2 Corinthians 3:18). We're not called to contemplate Him only once a week... but we are definitely called to gather together to eat and drink and remember Him.

I ask myself, do I really do that? When I gather in the little meeting hall here, I definitely eat and drink... but do I see God? Do I get a really good look at Christ?

Rodger reminded me that our eating and drinking is an announcement of the death of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:26), and that the death of the Lord is connected in Scripture with the end of everything here (Galatians 6:14). Do I allow myself to casually announce that, week after week, without really entering into what it means?

1 Corinthians 11:29 warns about eating and drinking without discerning. I'm not sure that's entirely the same thing, but it is all to easy to eat and drink without seeing first.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worship and Remembrance

Worship and remembrance are closely connected in my mind. It might be worthwhile to spend a few moments thinking about them.

1 Corinthians 11:23–24 come to mind when we talk about remembrance. The Lord's supper was a matter of special revelation to Paul (v. 23), suggesting some importance in the mind of God. He quotes the Lord as saying, "this do in remembrance of me" (v. 24).

The sign on the outside of the meeting hall advertises that "The Remembrance" is at 11:00 AM Sundays. That's an appropriate name.

We sometimes talk about worship in connection with the Lord's supper, but I don't think Scripture does.

We worship the Lord Jesus because He is eternal God, "God over all, blessed forever" (Romans 9:5). We worship Him because all things were made by Him (John 1:3). It was the Son who laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands (Psalm 102:25).

But when He calls us to remember, we see what might be a deeper truth. The Son who created us, came here to die for us. It's not simply the Creator-creature relationship, it's the Redeemer-redeemed relationship.

We remember that He poured out His soul unto death for us (Isaiah 53:12). We remember that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). We remember that He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), that His soul was made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

These things ought to touch our hearts.