Category Archives: Preaching

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:13-22

Using Day 3 of our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12

1:13-15 Now there was a day,
When his sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.

And a messenger came to Job, and said:

“The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were feeding beside them…
and Sabeans fell [upon them]
and took the servants
they struck them by the edge of the sword.
And I have escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”

  • This section starts the same as verse 6: “Now there was a day…” – the camera’s shifted back from heaven to earth.
  • The Sabeans literally “fell” – in the same way fire from God will fall from heaven in v16. The narrator emphasises that each , as horrifying as it is, was heaven-sent as previously decreed.
  • The Hebrew captures stammering speech: “I’ve been delivered… I alone… only me…” – and highlights the severity of the calamity

1:16 [While] this one [was still] speaking, [another] came and said:

“Fire of God fell from the heavens,
and it burned the flock and the servants and consumed them.
And I escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”

1:17 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Chaldeans appointed three captains (lit. heads)
and they fell upon the camels
and took them
and the servants they struck with the edge of the sword,

and I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.”

  • The key word in the Hebrew that connects all the calamities is niphal (), “it fell”. They were not just chance accidents, but they fell from heaven. It’s a difficult truth.
  • The narrator saves the worst news for last…

1:18-19 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Your sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house,
and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness

and struck the four corners of the house
and it fell upon the servants [actually, Job’s children].
and they died.

And I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.

  • “And they died.” The servant can’t bear to say what Job dreads: his ten treasured children have died.

1:20 Then Job arose.
And he tore his robes
and shaved his head.

And he fell to the earth, and worshipped.

And he said:
“Naked I departed from my mother’s womb,
And naked will I return there.
Yahweh gave and Yahweh took;
May Yahweh name be ‘blessed’.”

1:22 In all this, Job did not sin. And he did not give offence to God.

  • His actions are impeccable – he falls to the ground, he worships.
  • Yet his own speech verse 21 is ambiguous. Remember how barakh could mean “blessed” or “farewelled”, and how it’s been used as a euphemism for “cursing” God (see previous discussion).
  • Perhaps that’s why the narrator has to emphasise that Job does not sin or do wrong (v22).

My own reflections:

  • Suffering often occurs in a relentless cluster. Job barely has time to catch his breath before the next messenger announces disaster. Many of us in NZ have shared this feeling this week – Alert Level 2 introduced on Saturday, Level 3 on Monday, a Level 4 nationwide lockdown by Wednesday night. That’s what it’s feeling like for healthcare workers on the frontline – the next patient arrives, then the next one, then the next one.
  • We talk about blessings falling from heaven, but how comfortable am I with believing that our sufferings also fall, fall, fall, fall from heaven?
  • How will I respond when everything is taken away from me – work, study opportunities, freedom to move around? Job falls to the ground and gives a faithful answer (that’s enshrined in Matt Redman’s song) we can follow – “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Yet the ambiguity of barakh raises the possibility that those who suffer will not always stoically “bless” God. When troubles fall upon me, will I “farewell”, even curse God? Which route will Job take in the chapters to come? That’s the riddle of suffering.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:1-5

Using our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew.

A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes. Lord willing we’ll make some progress over the next four weeks.

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz – Job [was] his name.

Now this man was blameless
and upright;
and God fearing
and one who shunned evil.

  • The narrator emphasises that Job is blameless – literally, tām (תָּ֧ם) means something like “whole”. This is an account of a righteous sufferer.
  • Uz is outside of God’s promised land (possibly Edom). So Job’s story isn’t just for physical descendants of Abraham, but for anyone who experiences suffering.
  • Interesting that God invites readers to reflect on suffering not by way of proverbs or epistles, but by presenting a story. To become wise, we must walk with someone as they suffer. In this case, Job.

1:2 And it was born to him seven sons and three daughters.
1:3 And his possessions was:
seven thousand sheep
and three thousand camels
and five hundred yokes of oxen
and five hundred donkeys
and many, many servants (sing.; perhaps “a large workforce”)

And this man was greater than all the sons of the east.

  • This guy is rich – like the CEO of Air New Zealand, for example.
  • Yet we don’t have to be millionaires to be able to relate to Job; compared to the rest of the world, most of us live in the top 95% of the socioeconomic spectrum.

4 Now his sons would come,
and they would hold a banquet – each house, each man [in] his day,
and they would send out and call for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.

When the days of feasting completed its circuit, then Job sent [for them]
and he set them apart
and he would rise in the morning
and raised up an offering for all of them.

For Job said: “Perhaps my sons sinned
and ‘blessed’ God in their heart.”
Thus Job would do habitually (lit: all the days.)

  • The Hebrew in verse 5 literally says: “Perhaps my sons sinned and barakhed God in their heart.” The word barakh (ברך) has a wide semantic range (to bless, to greet/farewell), but it does not mean curse.
  • Perhaps the scribe didn’t want to write “curse God” on the page.
  • Perhaps the author is using barakh euphemistically.
  • In any case, this word will riddle us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God when we suffer?

My own reflections:

  • This is an account of a righteous sufferer, but every story of suffering poses unanswered riddles.
  • Life is not always as black and white as Proverbs. It is hard, uncertain and full of perplexing questions like “How will I keep afloat today? Why did all this happen today? Is being in lockdown or whatever God has given me a blessing or a curse?”
  • Job acts as a mediator for his children’s sin – his actions foreshadow a future Advocate who makes an offering for those he calls his own.
  • So there is no riddle with Jesus: He is the only one who is truly blameless, and made a perfect offering (his own blood) to atone for our sins.
  • I love Andrew Peterson’s line in the chorus of “Is He Worthy” – Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole? Jesus is that whole person that we need as our Advocate and Friend today.

Kiss the son? Thoughts on preaching Psalm 2:12

When preparing to preach Psalm 2 recently, I stumbled across a dilemma while translating the Hebrew text.

As the psalmist winds down from verses 10-12, there’s a couple of exhortations to the raging kings of the earth. “Be wise; be warned” (v10). “Serve the Lord with fear; rejoice with trembling” (v11).

Then in verse 12, the Hebrew text states:

נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר (nashku-var)

Which is translated in most English Bibles as “Kiss the son”. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be the correct translation, given that בַּר (bar) isn’t the Hebrew word for son: בֵּן (bēn) is, e.g. in verse 7 (“You are my son”). The idea of a son is at best implied in verse 12. So it left me wondering what to do with בַּר.

But it turns out another use of בַּר could be an adjective meaning “pure”. For example, Psalm 24:4 talks about the one with “clean hands and a pure heart (וּֽבַר־לֵ֫בָ֥ב)” (see also Psalm 73:1). So perhaps in the context of a warning to kings to kiss (i.e. pay homage), the psalmist adds: “and do it purely” – an adverbial sense. It flows pretty well from the earlier commands too: Worship with fear (v11a). Rejoice with trembling (v11b). Pay homage with purity.

So having found this exegetical insight, how do I bring the force of verse 12 back to an English-speaking church congregation who all have “kiss the son” in their Bibles? Well I didn’t mention the translation issue – it probably would have just bored or confused everyone! But I did say something like this:

So friends, what might it look it for you and I to sing Psalm 2 as Spirit-filled people? First, worship Him. Second, don’t betray Him.

There are two kisses that Jesus receives in the New Testament. One is from the sinful woman (Mary), who kisses his feet and anoints him with perfume (Lk 7:36-50) – do you remember that kiss? It showed whole-hearted devotion to her Messiah.

And then Thursday night comes, and Jesus receives another kiss. From who? Judas. A kiss on the cheek to say “take this one, and arrest him.” A kiss of betrayal.

Don’t do that, friends. Don’t say you love Jesus and then secretly keep doing what he hates. Don’t say to someone “I’ll pray for you” and then put them down behind their back. Don’t treat church as your own money-making scheme or power trip. His love is great, but his rage is too.

Don’t betray Him. Kiss the Son purely.

“The Angry Song”, a sermon on Psalm 2

This was my imperfect attempt to try get across the ideas from the original Hebrew, while recognising what was in their Bibles at Psalm 2:12 would be different. And preaching it this way I think lays down a more potent challenge: if God’s true King is Jesus the Son – how could we even entertain the idea of naming him on our lips while betraying him in with our thoughts and actions? That’ll preach for sure.

Jesus, Son of God, is King over all the nations. Let’s kiss Him purely, friends.

Two truths to hang on to when your pastor leaves


A few weeks back, I was asked to preach Acts 18 as part of Howick and Papakura Baptist’s  teaching series through Luke’s account of the early church. The preaching commitments had been organised months beforehand. But in God’s providence, I preached Acts 18 at Papakura Baptist the week after it was announced that their Pastor, Richard Cutforth, was the Senior Pastor candidate for HBC.

Being at Papakura, meeting people and hearing how they were doing was awkward, emotional and encouraging all at the same time. It reminded me of how we felt last year when three different men left Howick for various reasons – shock, denial, anger, grief, uncertainty, trust, resolve, acceptance (sometimes all in the same day!).

Before I got up to preach, the service leader did a quick interview. Tell us about your family. What are your plans for the future. Then…

“How have things been at Howick with the transition?”

As I looked out to meet the gaze of the saints at Papakura, there was a church family waiting to hear what this guy (from the church that’s taking our pastor!) would say about it all. The question behind the interview question was simply this: “What’s it like to lose your pastor?”

There are lots of helpful truths to dwell on when considering this subject. But I told them I could only share what it was like as a member of Howick going through something similar. God brought to mind two truths that’s helped me through our time at HBC without a pastor.

1. The church’s one foundation is Jesus.

One of the hymns we’ve sung a bit more at church this year is Samuel Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation“. The first line says:

The church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

Now I’m not saying that church leaders don’t matter. God gives elders and deacons, and other servant leaders. And with elders specifically, God calls them to shepherd the flock, to get amongst them (1 Peter 5). And when you love a pastor, it hurts to see them go. But at its very core, the church isn’t built on one man, or a group of men, but the Man, Christ Jesus. He’s the cornerstone and foundation of every gospel-preaching community.

Ultimately, Christ is the head of your church, my church, any true church. He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) that appoints under-shepherds to oversee His flock. God the Father has put everything: church leaders, ministries, results, everything – under the authority of Christ. That’s the big picture. Even without a pastor, the risen Jesus will sustain and nourish through the Word explained and applied. He’s left believers with the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (John 14:25-26). Jesus leads His church, because He died for her.

2. God has adequately equipped the saints to do the work of ministry.

In Ephesians 4:11-14 we read:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

So the goal of all our endeavours as a church is to present men and women mature in Christ (see also Col 1:28-29). But whose job is it? On first glance, we assume it’s the pastors that do ministry. It’s the gifted ones. That’s not what the text says though. The text says that their role is actually to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”.

I think sometimes we’re scared about being without a pastor because we hold on to the assumption that the paid staff pastor does the ministry, while the church receives and is ministered too. No pastor = no ministry. But that’s not true. The job of ministry, of building one another up in Christ, actually belongs to the whole church.

At Howick, one of the most encouraging things we saw when pastors left was how different people stepped up to serve. Our homegroups became training grounds for bible study leaders and outreach and discipleship. We’ve actually had more members join HBC this year than in 2013 and 2014.

Pastors and other church leaders will lead and facilitate ministry. But every church member is competent and equipped to do the work of the ministry.

Thoughts on worship leading versus preaching


Awhile back, our interim pastor asked me to have a go at preaching a Sunday morning message. It was as terrifying as it sounds, and I truly believe that God spoke His Word far more clearly than humanly possible that morning.

Even as I write this it’s a struggle. I want to draw as little attention to it because I struggle with pride and don’t want to feed this temptation. And everyone knows how annoying it is to see a young preacher “humblebrag” their own preaching… certainly couldn’t imagine Charles Spurgeon or George Whitefield getting on social media saying: “Just had the privilege of preaching sermon. Humbled. Link here. #unnecessaryhashtag”

So I hope this isn’t that kind of post. I’m really just journaling my thoughts about the difference mentally between leading a service and preaching a sermon – as a reminder to myself, but also while wondering how others who lead worship or preach regularly feel mentally in the lead-up to and following Sunday.

When worship leading

The anxiety and adrenaline accumulates during the week and peaks in the hour before the worship service. (I know this as I’m running around all stressed out 15 minutes before the service starts). This stress and tension is released song by song, element by element. As each part of the service progresses, I grow more and more relaxed knowing that my role in the service is winding up.

Once the church is dismissed, Sunday afternoons are a time to relax, unwind and share life with church family. Other than the odd comment or concern about a particular song, I’m chilled out by the end of the day.

When preaching

It’s actually reasonably relaxed during the week – sermon preparation is a self-directed, self-paced activity. Even on Sunday morning it’s not so stressful. The anxiety and adrenaline accumulate slightly later, from when the first song starts. It’s actually really difficult to focus on the sung praise, particularly in the song before the sermon “slot”. In my head I’m preoccupied with last-minute adjustments to my sermon notes. Tense and nervous. As I preach, some of that tension dissipates as God miraculously calms nerves, smooths out phrases and the Spirit works on the hearers of His message. The adrenaline flows freely.

But it’s after the service when the questions and comments come through. The stress and tension ratchets up as I think about what I didn’t say that I should have, and what I did say that I shouldn’t have. By Sunday afternoon there’s a big slump in my energy levels as the adrenaline from the morning wears off. I feel like hiding away in a room and talking to nobody else. The next few days I’m still pondering over what was preached: the content, delivery, the response, everything. Eventually the next thing comes into view and the stress of preaching dissipates.

This was all pretty new to me so I’m sure my experiences will change over time as I gain some more experience. For example, perhaps as God works on my fear of man, the post-sermon questions won’t be as daunting. And most importantly, I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself, that my identity isn’t in what I do – worship leading or preaching – but is ultimately found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the perfect Worship Leader and Preacher.