A Quick Study in Titus

You may find this series of seven short videos in Titus to be helpful. If you subscribe to the Cor Deo Online channel, you will see that a series in Jonah is currently being released too.

Book Launch Video!

Now that The Little Him Book is officially launched, here is a video interview to introduce the book. As before, any help in getting the word out about this book is really appreciated. I am hoping that people will get creative with giving this as a Christmas present this year … after all we have experienced in 2020, we all need to get our eyes back onto Jesus!

And here are some brief video endorsements too:

In the UK/Europe, please go to http://is.gd/himbook

In the USA, please go to http://10ofthose.com/mead

8 Benefits of Effective Transitions

It is easy to put a lot of energy into explaining the passage, applying the message, adding interesting illustrations, and so on. But what about the transitions? These little moments can be treated as automatic, but by neglecting them we miss a vital part of sermonic effectiveness.

What potential benefits do the transitions have as tools in our preaching arsenal?

  1. Clarity of Sermon Structure – You may have a very clear, balanced and organised outline, but without good transitions, your listeners won’t know! The transition is the cleared air that allows for the structure of the message to be clear. And when the structure is clear, the listeners get all the benefit of organised thought.
  2. At Pace: Breathing Space – After a few minutes of your preaching point, especially if it has been growing in intensity or pace, the transition allows everyone to take a breath. Some preachers may be ponderous, but others like to charge ahead at full steam. Listeners may appreciate energy and enthusiasm, but they also love to take a breath.
  3. Slower? Evidence of Progress – If your style is more ponderous, don’t underestimate the value of giving listeners a sense of progress. Maybe you tell them at the start that you have three points . . . the transition and its focus on moving to the next point may be exactly what some listeners need to hang in there!
  4. Re-entry Points for Listeners – Whatever your pace, listeners do get lost during the progression of a sermon. Someone drops something, a phone buzzes, a thought occurs, a helper from the childcare taps a shoulder, a siren passes . . . and people lose track of the message. The transition is a great moment to mention the main idea, review progress, and invite listeners back into the message.
  5. Restatement of Main Idea – Any opportunity to reinforce the main idea is worth considering. A handful of transitions in a message are as good a set of opportunities as you could ask for!
  6. Change of Pace – Sometimes you have a point that takes a fair amount of background or explanation, but the message needs to speed up. The transition allows for a deliberate change of pace and injection of momentum.
  7. Review of Message – As a message progresses the transitions allow you to review what has been said so far. This can really help the listeners to be ready for the later points and conclusion of the message.
  8. The Next Point – Maybe this is the most obvious benefit of all, but I have saved it for last. A transition allows you to take your listeners from your previous point into your next. It is like having a passenger behind you on a motorcycle. Take the turn too quickly and you lose them. Slow down, transition well, and they come right along with you into the next point!

Transitions are underrated. Focus on them and your preaching will improve!

10 Reasons You Can’t Cancel Christmas

With everything that is swirling around in this turbulent winter, there are lots of rumours about Christmas 2020 being cancelled, curtailed, or at least more complicated.  Maybe you are trying to work out how to do church without the normal December schedule of carol services and special events. Maybe you are ordering all your presents online for the first time, or just wondering if you will be able to spend time with loved ones at all this year.

Even if Christmas could be cancelled, the Incarnation cannot.  And that is a reason to rejoice, whatever our circumstances.

Here are ten implications of the Incarnation – ten realities that cannot be cancelled, but must be celebrated in 2020 just as in every other year:

1. Revelation.  As the Christmas story draws to a close in Luke 2, we see Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus into the temple courts, where they encountered Simeon.  He took Jesus into his arms and declared that he was now ready to die, for he had seen God’s salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles…” (Luke 2:29-32) Because Jesus had come, Simeon was ready to go.  Nothing could top that moment.  Let’s pray that the wonder of the revealing of God’s saving person and plan would shine bright in our hearts this winter.  We have Jesus; what more do we need?

2. Response.  Walking through Luke’s narrative will show us many realities to celebrate as we think about the Incarnation.  In Luke 1:13 we see Zechariah stunned at the sight of the angel standing beside the altar of incense in the temple:  “Your prayer has been heard…”  Maybe this was a prayer from years earlier, maybe even decades had passed since he had prayed about having a son, but God is a God who hears prayer and responds to it.  Let’s pray in the midst of dark times, confident that God hears prayer and responds to it.  That first Christmas demonstrates to us that God hears, God cares, and God is more than able to respond.

3. Invasion.  Zechariah was stunned to hear that his wife would be giving birth (a miracle!), and that their boy would have a key role to play in God’s plan (greater still!), because he would prepare the way for the Lord himself (the greatest news!!).  After centuries of silence from heaven, now this!  Not just an angelic visit.  Not just a miracle birth.  But the moment when the Lord himself would invade this world (see Luke 1:17).  Let’s pray that we would not miss the significance of the hinge of history – the moment when God the Son stepped into this world on his great eternal rescue mission!

4. Reign.  After Zechariah we see young Mary, startled by the angel bringing her the glorious notification.  In the midst of all he told her, we read these words: “the Lord God will give to him the throne . . . and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33) The Son of God wasn’t just touching down for a brief incursion.  This invasion would lead to a kingdom, a kingdom that, unlike human governments, would not be temporary.  Let’s pray with confidence that our King is on the throne, and will be on the throne, forever.  The story of human empires rising and falling will conclude with one perfect human reigning over a kingdom that will never fall!

5. Union.  Mary was perplexed, but the angel soon explained that she, a human, would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High and so her child would be both human and divine.  She would give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:35).  This is the middle link in a glorious chain – first the union of God with God (the Trinity), then the union of God with man in man (the Incarnation), which makes possible our glorious union of humanity with God in Christ (Union with Christ).  Let’s pray that we would live in the light of these three great unions – the blazing light of Christian truth in a dark and broken world.

6. Recognition.  Mary celebrated the wonder of God’s mercy toward her and to all who fear him in her famous song.  He who is mighty “had looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:48). God is so high, and yet he recognises the realities of the smallest and weakest of his people.  Let’s pray in light of Mary’s celebration, because God recognizes the vulnerability we feel and the humility of our circumstances.

7. Remembrance.  Mary finished her song celebrating the big picture.  Long ago, God made promises to Abraham and the Patriarchs.  Thousands of years later, God kept his promises (Luke 1:55).  Our God is a God who makes promises and keeps them.  Let’s pray with confidence that God has a plan that he is working out in our world, and nothing will stop him from keeping his promises.

8. Redemption.  After John was born, Zechariah emerged from months of enforced silence to celebrate this great moment in salvation history.  He launched his song of celebration with “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…” (Luke 1:68) The invasion of God the Son into this world to set up his kingdom would involve a daring rescue mission.  He had to redeem his people, enslaved and trapped in this sin-stained dungeon of death.  Let’s praise God every day for the way he redeemed us, buying us back from death and bringing us to himself!

9. Illumination.  Zechariah’s final words in his great prophecy speak of the tender mercy of God that gives sunrise from on high – in this dark world, we so need the light that Christmas brought into our world.  We sit in darkness and the shadow of death, but the Incarnation gives light (Luke 1:78-79).  The world feels darker in 2020 than it has for many years, but let us pray that the light brought by the Incarnation would shine in our hearts and through us into a dark and dying world.

10. Peace.  As we step into the familiar territory of chapter 2, we find those shepherds sitting in the dark field as the angels burst into song praising God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  So much has changed this year.  But nothing has changed.  God is worthy of all glory, and the peace that broke into our world back then is still just as real today, as we continue to live in anticipation of the total peace that only Jesus’ reign on Earth will bring.  Let’s pray that our hearts would be peaceful this winter, and that God would be glorified by more and more people coming to know what it means to be those with whom he is pleased!

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Pleased to Dwell introduces the glorious biblical truth of the Incarnation.

Hold It Together!

One of the challenges we face when preaching epistles is the challenge of coherence. We need to hold it together!

In a narrative, it is typically clear that all the details are working together to tell a story (though not always, it seems, for some preachers!) Sometimes an apparently disconnected detail can actually help us to understand more clearly what is going on in the story, if we will only take the time to wrestle with the detail.

But in epistles, we sometimes find a dense set of theologically rich and eminently preachable truths. And the temptation will be to select and present some of them. But here is the problem: authors of biblical epistles didn’t compile random lists of theological phrases. They wrote coherently. Their content flowed logically and sequentially.

When you are preaching a paragraph in an epistle, be sure to invest study in the flow of thought and not just the theological meaning of details. How do the sentences flow from one to the next? How does this paragraph fit with what has come before and where the author goes next?

Biblical authors were not drunk. Plus, the inspiration of God’s Spirit also reinforces our expectation of coherence. They were not random. It does make sense. It is our job to make sense of it, and then, in our preaching, to make sense of it for others. Our job is more than that, but it should not be less than that. When you have a text to preach – hold it together!

Now Shipping in the USA!

I thought The Little Him Book wasn’t going to be available in the US until early 2021. I was wrong! It is now shipping – perfect timing for Christmas.

Let me also introduce you to 10ofthose.com – this is a company that I have loved watching grow in the UK and am really pleased it is now also in the USA. Their vision is to make great Christian materials available at a low cost so that instead of just buying a single copy (which you can, of course), you might be motivated to buy “10 of those” to give away to friends (various multi-buy discounts available).

This link takes you to my affiliate page and anything you buy on your visit to the site will drop a few cents toward our support. Thank you!

So please do get hold of The Little Him Book and let me know what you think. It is a little book (perfect stocking stuffer), and it is all about Him (perfect gift for family members, for your small group, for church staff as a thank you, for your pastors, etc.) Reviews on 10ofthose, Goodreads, Amazon, etc. are all greatly appreciated (as are direct recommendations to friends, on facebook, twitter, etc.)

If you are in North America – https://www.10ofthose.com/us/affiliates/mead

If you are in UK / Europe – https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/partners/pouredout

Thankful to Mike Reeves and Michael Card for their kind endorsements of this book!

A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation

A few years ago I wrote Pleased to Dwell, an easy-to-read introduction to the glorious subject of the Incarnation. As we are coming to the end of November, I thought I might mention it in case you weren’t aware of it. It is written in 24 short chapters that walk through the whole Bible and make a great companion to the advent season. (Also, if you are preaching this Christmas, there are many sermon ideas implicit throughout the book!)

A friend from seminary shared the book on Facebook and added this comment, “May I recommend this for your reading this season? Not only gives an overview of the entire Bible, but especially gives fresh insight into Jesus coming to earth.”

Another friend, from my church, made this comment too, “I really enjoy this book and read it most years in December.”

Anyway, I thought I’d mention it just in case it might be helpful to some. It should be easy to find a copy online, and if you are in UK/Europe, you might like to grab a copy from 10ofthose.com.

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PS With all the talk of cancelling Christmas2020, here is a new video from Cor Deo in which I take a quick look at 10 Incarnation realities that no crazy year can cancel!

Refreshing the Routine

It is so healthy to have good devotional routines.  Maybe you have benefited from the same morning routine for years … get the coffee, read your Bible, spend time in prayer, etc.  If you love the rhythm and wouldn’t change any of it, then please ignore this post with my blessing!

Sometimes it can be healthy to freshen things up, and that doesn’t have to wait until the 1st of January.  Why? Because it doesn’t have to be an annual commitment.  What matters is your personal walk with Jesus, not your success or failure in maintaining a specific habit.  If an element of your rhythm grows stale, talk to him about it and make adjustments.

Here are some ideas that might be helpful:

1. Separate devotional Bible reading from devotional Bible study.  You will benefit from both, but combining them is not always the easiest.  We can end up going too slow for reading, but too fast for meaningful study.  Maybe the reading part can pick up the pace, while the study part allows you to dwell in a book you are motivated to study for a while. (And once the grass looks greener for feeding in another Bible book, move over and study in that pasture for a while.)

2. Dust off the memory muscle.  It wasn’t too long ago that we used to store phone numbers in our own memory, but the combination of internet and smart phone has effectively retired the memory muscle for too many of us.  Why not pick a chapter, or even a book of the Bible, and enjoy committing it to memory (it allows for meditation throughout the day, as well as spillover benefits for preaching, etc.)  One thing I have found helpful is to write out and then review using just the first letter of each word.  (Eg. John 3:16: F G s l t w t h g h o a o S, etc.)

3. Print and mark a complete Bible book, or section.  We aren’t restricted to holding a bound Bible and wrestling with whether to underline in it or not.  It is not unrealistic to copy and paste the text of a Bible book, adjust format to give us the space we need, and then mark it up in great detail – get to know every detail, every repeated term, identify the flow of thought, note every significant detail observed or noted from commentaries, etc.  I remember visiting a friend’s house who had the entire Gospel of John, marked up, and lining the wall of his bathroom!

4. Foreign language Bible reading for biblical fluency.  Maybe you have studied an original language, but only use it at the sporadic puzzle solving level (where you look at the text and hunt for subject, verb, and then create an English language rough interlinear…and then don’t use the language again for a while).  Or maybe you haven’t studied Hebrew or Greek, but can get by on holiday in French or Spanish.  Perhaps you would enjoy taking a few minutes each day with the Bible in that language (French, or Greek, or whatever).  Make it your goal to be able to read a section fluently – familiar with the vocabulary and grammar enough to read it through without auto-translating into English in your head.  Instead pondering the meaning, enjoying the rhythm of the language, and relating to God rather than wrestling with a lexicon.  This would take a little bit of work, but it can be devotional and relational in a surprisingly short amount of time.

This list could go on forever, we could mention journaling, or prayer walks, or adding in reading with a helpful Puritan, or finding a companion for regular devotional teaming up, etc., but those are my top four refreshment suggestions today.  What have you found genuinely helpful to help make the morning read the Bible and pray time more meaningful relationally?

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Coming Soon: The Little Him Book

It is now just four weeks until The Little Him Book releases in the UK (early 2021 in the USA – click here to pre-order the book in the UK). My hope is that this little book that makes much of Him will be a helpful tool for many. Who might appreciate it?

  1. Christians wanting a brief and refreshing read about Jesus to stir their hearts to worship again. It could be used as a prompt for personal devotions, grab a quick chapter at lunchtime or as a light bedtime read.
  2. Young Christians wanting a brief and engaging introduction to what the Bible teaches about Jesus. They need to know about him, and the right response is a life of worship. This little book can help with both of these goals!
  3. People asking questions about Jesus. This may be a helpful evangelistic tool for people who may have some exposure to church, but have not yet grasped the significance of Jesus. As with any evangelistic tool, read it yourself to decide who it might be suitable for as a gift.
  4. Preachers wanting ideas for a series about Jesus. Don’t just preach this book, the Bible is better, but maybe this book can give you a jump start on an engaging series for your church.
  5. Youth Leaders wanting the bones of a series of short talks. Don’t just read the book out, but use it to help you formulate 10 brief talks for your youth group (and why not give everyone a copy of the book too?)
  6. Parents wanting an engaging read for family devotions. You could read each chapter out loud in a few minutes – they are easy to read and non-technical. And if you like to sing together, there is a suggestion at the end of each chapter!
  7. Book givers! You may be a dying breed, but if you love giving books to others, then this could be a great book to stock up on. Buy a stack and give away at Christmas, at special events, as an encouragement to a struggling friend, or to someone getting baptised, or to your pastor to thank him for his ministry.

Thank you to everyone who helps get the word out about this book release. Your RT’s, likes, shares, etc. on social media are all appreciated. And thank you to everyone who buys a copy or copies to pass on to others. I really appreciate your help.

New Resource for Lockdown

Here in the UK we are about to head into another national lockdown.  When we entered the first one back in March I decided to launch a series of short videos – Pursuing God’s Heart.  They were simple Bible reading highlights to offer encouragement to my church and any others that wanted to join in.

Now as we enter Lockdown #2 I am excited to launch a new series of resources.  I am calling it Pursuing God’s Heart Yourself.  These short videos demonstrate how seven portable principles can turn our Bible reading into Bible feasting.

We are working our way through these seven principles in church at the moment, using the book of Jonah.  Click here to see a brief introduction to the seven principles:

And today I started the first series of videos – inviting you into the little book of Ruth over the coming days.  I don’t cover every verse in Ruth, I’d encourage you to do that yourself.  My goal is to cover all the principles and show how they will help you feast in the book of Ruth.  Click here for the first video in the series. (Apologies that I can’t get the image to link for some reason!)

If this series might be helpful to others, please do share the videos and encourage others to take advantage of this new tool.  The hope is to go through the principles several times.  We will start with Ruth, then we will go through them again in a different Bible book.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could emerge from the next few weeks or months having feasted on God’s Word, loving Him more and living for Him more fruitfully in this needy world?

(For part 2, click here … for part 3, click here … for part 4, click here)