Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Preaching (page 1 of 8)

Spiritual Hunger

“… man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3b)

“… I recall a night years ago when my wife and I were in Argentina. We were traveling about in ministry and had come that day to a community in the interior of the country. We were with a couple from Canada and a missionary. We’d been given the opportunity to minister in a church on that week night. We arrived early and were informed of our assignments. I was to preach, my wife was to sing, the other couple would share their testimonies. Curious people began to gather. When the service started the large sanctuary began to fill up. We sang for what seemed like hours, clapping till our hands felt raw. All the while as we were in the front pew we could hear more people arriving and finding places to be seated. As our friends gave their testimonies I realized the seats must be nearly filled, for the men began bringing in benches and placing them on the platform behind the pulpit. People were led in and filled the entire platform until there was only room left in a small circle around the pulpit. Julie shared in music. Then it was time for me to preach. I rose with the missionary who would translate and as we made our way to the platform I resisted turning around to see how many had gathered. When I finally turned I saw every bench filled—South American style! There were more than twice the people on every bench than any American church could manage. The aisles were filled with a crush of people standing in every available space. I was encircled on every side by people who had gathered to hear God’s Word. Then I saw the two windows in the back of the sanctuary. Where panes of glass should have been, there was instead a montage of faces pressing close to hear. As far as I could see into the street people had gathered to try to catch the sound of God’s Word being preached.

Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what I preached that night. I do, however, recall the sight of so many people so compelled to hear what God says. And I remember the fear that I wouldn’t be able to speak for weeping over the privilege of bringing God’s Word to them.” (Revival in the Rubble, pp.169-170)

Coming Soon!

The third volume of the “… for Pastors” commentaries is almost ready for release. Please pray God will superintend the final processes and use this volume for His glory.

Here are some endorsements:

  • “John Kitchen’s Philippians for Pastors is thoroughly done, theologically informed, exegetically sound, and hermeneutically thoughtful. Suggestions for digging deeper and ministry maxims are sprinkled throughout the text. This commentary will make a fine addition to the library of any pastor or serious student of the Bible.” George Gianoulis, Professor Emeritus of Greek and New Testament, Crown College
  • “Dr. Kitchen’s outstanding Philippians commentary balances sound exegesis with practical pastoral insights and applications. Any pastor seeking to faithfully proclaim and apply the truth of Philippians will find this commentary extremely valuable.” Steven F. Pace, Senior Pastor, New Hope Baptist Church, Lancaster, SC
  • “There are easier things to find than a busy pastor conversant with the Greek New Testament. But rarer still is that pastor who not only can make his way through the original language but can comfortably weigh interpretive options and teach others. Usually, one needs to buy both an upper middle-level exegetical commentary, and a pastoral exposition, breathing a warmer devotional tone. Surprisingly, John Kitchen has managed to bring both together in this new commentary.” Matthew Fisher, Lecturer in Biblical Theology, St. Petersburg Christian University, St. Petersburg, Russia

A Revival of Joy

Revival means “to live again” or “to give life again.”

Apply that to joy—“to live in joy again” or “to give joy to life again.”

Sounds pretty good, huh?

If you agree, consider this tidbit from Nehemiah . . .

“… the joy of the Lord is your strength … And all the people went … to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Nehemiah 8:10b, 12)

See the double reference to joy and rejoicing?

The “joy of the Lord” could mean either: a) the joy the Lord possesses (it is the Lord’s own joy) or b) the joy the Lord gives (the joy the Lord distributes). I suggest Nehemiah has the latter in mind.

So how does the Lord intend to give or distribute this joy that only He can give?

Look at this in context. We have set before us in the middle of Nehemiah the pattern for revival among God’s people:

  1. God’s Word proclaimed to and understood by the people. (Neh. 8)
  2. Confession and repentance of the sin exposed by God’s Word. (Neh. 9)
  3. A new commitment to obedience. (Neh. 10)

Chapter 8, then, concludes by reminding us that all of this flows from joy—freshly out-poured joy! Such joy arises from experiencing God’s voice from His written Word with clarity and understanding.

Two principles emerge …

  • Strength is in direct proportion to joy.
  • Joy is in direct proportion to hearing God’s voice with understanding.

So what would be the pathway to joy?

The pathway to a revival of joy might look like this:

God’s Word heard with understanding → produces joy → providing strength to change and live differently

If I am weary and powerless, I need joy.

If I need joy, I need to hear God with understanding.

When you need joy, the world says, “Indulge yourself!” God says, “Listen to me.”

When joy recedes the world says, “Be yourself!” God says, “Draw near to me.”

The world diagnoses joylessness and prescribes listening to your desires. God spots your joylessness and moves toward you, inviting you to listen to Him.

So you want more joy? What does God’s Word suggest you do to revive joy in your life? How will you take that step toward joy?

Preaching Reality

When George Whitfield was asked for the reason behind his impassioned preaching he gave this reply.

“I’ll tell you a story. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1675 was acquainted with Mr. Butterton the [actor]. One day the Archbishop . . . said to Butterton . . . ‘pray inform me Mr. Butterton, what is the reason you actors on stage can affect your congregations with speaking of things imaginary, as if they were real, while we in church speak of things real, which our congregations only receive as if they were imaginary?’ ‘Why my Lord,’ says Butterton, ‘the reason is very plain. We actors on stage speak of things imaginary, as if they were real and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’”

“Therefore,” added Whitefield, ‘I will bawl [cry aloud], I will not be a velvet-mouthed preacher.” (Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitfield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, 239–240)

Preaching in Pain

In 1 Kings 18 we have the marvelous account of Elijah’s mighty encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What a victory! What a vindication of the Lord’s name!

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah’s breakdown. He is threatened by Jezebel and flees for his life.

On day #1 of his depressed flight, he prays, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (19:4)

On day #41 of the same distraught struggle (v.8) Elijah has reached Mt. Horeb and prays, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v.10)

At least the prophet is no longer asking God to kill him! But he isn’t much better off—full of self-pity, myopia, and wounded pride.

So here’s my question: If Elijah had been a local church pastor, what would have done on those intervening five Sundays?

What would he have preached on those Sundays? Could he have preached on those Sundays? With what spirit would he have done so?

The average senior pastor has to preach at least every seven days, if not multiple times a week. He doesn’t have the time or the freedom to process freely some of life’s harder issues without needing to stand before God’s people as “the man of God.”

How is the pastor to keep pastoring when in the way of Elijah?

Here are a few questions to continue our exploration of this difficult topic:

  • How authentic is a pastor to be in the pulpit?
    • To what degree and at what depth is a pastor to publicly acknowledge or share his own struggles—be they personal, spiritual, emotional, mental, relational or otherwise?
  • What is the precise calling of the preacher/prophet?
    • When does one’s personal struggle disqualify one from fulfilling a responsibility to faithfully preach the word of God?
    • Is a pastor in the midst of a personal crisis being faithful when he chooses to forge ahead in expounding the word to his people without dragging those struggles into the pulpit? Or is he being hypocritical in failing to acknowledge his own struggles and appearing to be something that he, in that moment, is not?
  • What role do the preacher’s emotions play in his faithfulness as a preacher? What about his doubts? His depression?
    • Are they irrelevant and to be ignored so he can be faithful to God and His Word?
    • Are they signally relevant and to be at least acknowledge publicly lest he be hypocritical and phony?

Paul could say to Timothy, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10)

How could Timothy have “followed” Paul’s “faith” and “patience” and “perseverance” and “persecutions and sufferings” without being witness to his struggle as well? And how could he have been witness to how “out of them all the Lord rescued” Paul?

How does the local church pastor “preach the word” and “be ready in season and out of season” to do so when those seasons include things like Elijah faced? (2 Timothy 4:2)

There are few easy answers here, but it would seem that wisdom is found somewhere in the tension of holding these two points together:

  • If I am struggling significantly, someone needs to know. That is not the same as everyone needing to know. In my struggles I need the fellowship of solid, mature believers. But the exhibitionism of “telling all, all the time, to everyone” is helpful neither to me nor my people.
  • My people need to see me struggling in faith. What I show them needs to be a model of how they too can handle honestly and authentically their challenges as those living yielded to God and under the authority of His Word.

I’m sure there is a great deal more to be said on this topic. Please feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts.

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