Been preparing on Revelation 22:17 but this hymn says it all better than I can. So true…

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

Kenneth Irungu, second year iServe Africa apprentice who blogs excellent stuff at Gospel Insights, reviews David Helm’s 9Marks book Expositional Preaching.


In a generation of prosperity preachers who use the Bible, as Helm would put it, the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than for illumination, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is of much relevance. We greatly need such a book that exhorts every preacher, the beginners and the experienced, to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what they think might be there.

In a small book, which one can read in one sitting, Helm points out that all preachers should commit themselves to a preaching that rightfully submits the sermon’s shape and emphasis to the shape and emphasis of any given biblical text. He shows how preachers can declare God’s Word with clarity, simplicity and power always, as Simeon put it,

  • humbling the sinner,
  • exalting the Saviour and
  • promoting holiness.

The book has four chapters, with a well-crafted introductory chapter introducing Charles Simeon, a man who returned the Bible to the center of church life in England, and a conclusion chapter calling upon every preacher to hope that some good will be done by their preaching .

The first chapter of the book points out three common mistakes we make as a result of our attempts to contextualize biblical texts. It shows how we preach without doing an exegesis of the text (paying attention to biblical text’s original audience and its purposes) or having any theological reflection on the text (seeing how a bible passage relates to the saving acts of God in Jesus).

The other three chapters highlights approaches for preparing sermons that enable preachers to join Charles Simeon and other solid expository preachers in the faithful and fruitful work of biblical exposition. These steps include doing a biblical exegesis on the text, having a theological reflection of the text and then applying God’s word to today.

Helm argues that leaving a sermon at exegetical step makes it purely intellectual and imperative. He also notes that preaching a sermon after theological reflection without applying it to today ends up having spiritualized and dehistoricized preaching.

The author notes that prayer is key in expositional preaching. He urges preachers to pray in advance of preaching, in the act of preaching and after preaching is done. He calls us to be ever desperate for the power of Holy Spirit to attend our preaching for the power does not rest on us.

Helm concludes the book by warning every preacher from looking for more creative and artistic ways to make the sermon relevant. He calls the readers to see preaching as a duty bound to the text. He adds that the preacher should keep the eyes open and face planted in the text to be able to articulate the theme of the text and the aim of the author. He also gives an appendix of helpful questions that every preacher should ask during sermon preparation.

Another nice feature of the book is the line drawings throughout. These make it easier for the reader to understand the key points. He also uses his example and pitfalls to help the reader learn from his mistakes. Helm does so well in connecting one chapter to the other, with each new chapter having a recap of what has been learnt so far. He also repeats the key points to note as he concludes every chapter.

I highly recommend the book to young preachers, like myself, who are trying their teeth in preaching. It is a relevant book too to experienced preachers who want to remain faithful in their work. It is unfortunate that I can only say this little about this impacting book that should be on the shelf of every Bible preaching preacher.


AH: I agree with Ken and very much appreciate this book. Just one concern would be that it is very much from and to an American/European context so some of the language and a number of the illustrations sound very strange reading it in an African context. E.g. “Contextualization is a good dance partner, but she should never be allowed to lead… It’s like we want to spin her out away from us in exciting circles, showing off her long legs and high heels.” (p.40-41) As I said to Ken, we desperately need someone to write an African book on preaching Christ faithfully from the Scriptures.


Reviewed by iServe Africa apprentice Daphne Kabeberi:

This book contains a lot more than I’d expected to find in it. I’d thought it would specifically be about African Christianity as a phenomenon, but I ended up receiving an excellent summary of the main Christian doctrines.

Unlike many theological writings, its simple language and style make it easy to read. It is divided into 18 chapters which first lay a foundation for believing the Jesus of the Bible, and then go on to explain the implications of this for sinful mankind and for the church that exists in a sinful world.

On any given topic, the book borrows from the whole counsel of Scripture and is therefore faithful to the overarching Biblical story of redemption in Christ. The author avoids taking any divisive denominational stand on the doctrines outlined. Instead, he tends to lay out various view points as long as they can be scripturally backed, which I found helpful.

At the same time there is a distinctive African perspective which means that this book fulfils the very real need of helping Christians understand the spiritual peculiarities evidenced in African contexts. It’s quite interesting that the author isn’t African, although he seems to have worked extensively and intensively in Africa.

The author does an excellent job of convincing the reader that every single African practice must be weighed up against God’s will for man as revealed in his Word. He teaches that Christians shouldn’t blindly follow tradition in matters like initiation, but rather realize that our highest loyalty is to God and our primary community and acceptance is to be found amongst fellow believers. Readers are reminded that only God can deliver us from evil, so it is sinful and counterproductive to attempt to seek protection through magic, necromancy, etc.

In conclusion, much as it’s primarily written to help those serving in African contexts to apply the Bible to their situations, it has very useful information for all contexts – even for unbelievers who would like to better understand Christianity. It is the sort of book any Bible scholar or pastor would want to have on their bookshelf as simple, handy reference material.


One of the big cultural differences I’ve encountered in Kenya is the perception of written communication. Each year, in the session on communication at our induction workshop for the new apprentices we ask for the advantages and disadvantages of oral and written communication. If you asked that question of a group of UK fresh graduates I’m pretty sure that you’d hear quite a lot of disadvantages of oral communication and quite a lot of advantages of written. In Kenya we come up with the reverse – lots of advantages of oral communication and hardly any advantages of written (beyond the fact that there’s a record).

It’s a challenge to the western mind to appreciate the sentiment of the elder John who would “rather not write with pen and ink” but “see you… and… talk face to face” (3 John 13-14). It’s a challenge to those of us who gravitate towards blogs and emails rather than picking up the phone or getting out and seeing people. Certainly there are great advantages in bodily presence, fellowship over food, really connecting. The great joy we look forward to is seeing Christ face to face. And there are advantages in the process of communication – body language and facial expressions helping us get the tone and mood more accurately, immediate feedback, the chance to work things through, clarify misunderstandings, negotiate, develop a conversation in new directions.

And I was reminded by our Eastern European sisters (whose culture may in some ways be closer to Africa than NW Europe) that coming and visiting someone to talk about something or request something, rather than writing an email, communicates effort and importance and humility. It is more costly and risky but at the same time harder for the person being visited/asked to say No!

So there are lots of advantages to face to face communication but as Harrison often reminds us and as Njeri reminded me a in a recent post, there are advantages to pen and paper too in this present age.

  1. Writing gives stability, consistency and longevity to a communication. As Njeri points out, how would we know anything about Athanasius and Augustine and Luther if they had never written? How much of the detail of Paul and his missionary journeys would have survived if Luke and Paul himself hadn’t written? Oral communication can carry words a long way over long time periods but over time it inevitably gets distorted and splits into multiple traditions and versions which all recite the history somewhat differently. You can imagine the confusion after a few hundred years when one story teller recites the teaching of Paul in one way while another recites it very differently. One says that Jesus said this, while another tells us Jesus said that. We end up with different gospels and little way to tell between them which is the true one. This is why the laws of nations are written down. Some of the earliest writing discovered is of legal documents. Imagine the chaos if law was passed on orally and each policeman and judge just had to remember the law as it was passed down to them with no fixed point to refer to (we may think that sounds rather familiar in our context but that’s another story). Similarly, when it comes to organisations, having written policies is what maintains consistency and impartiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Interestingly, when it comes to the Bible, although there was certainly some oral transmission involved at certain points, compared to most ancient narratives, God’s Word was written down very early, often by the eye witnesses themselves (Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24; John 5:46). Luke clearly wanted to move things from oral to written (Luke 1:1-4). The Bible is not just a bunch of amorphous ideas, like a jellyfish, shifting, without sharp edges – according to Jesus it is very important that every word in the original languages is persevered precisely, unaltered (Matt. 5:18 cf. Rev. 22:18-19). Our faith rests on the fixed rock of truth.
  2. Writing takes responsibility, accepts accountability. Recently a friend checked with the local government whether he and his organisation were complying with all the statutory requirements to operate as an NGO in a particular location. The council representative checked through the requirements and said, “Yes, you’ve done everything you need to do.” My friend asked, “Can you put that in writing for us? Just a note to say that we have done everything we need to do and are legal here?” To which the answer was, “Errrr, no – I’d rather not do that.” When you put something in writing and put your name at the bottom you take ownership of your words. Walter Chen: “Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility.” When we just speak words into the air we can deny them or edit them later. When we have written there is something to stand by. When God puts his word in writing he is taking ownership of it. “Thus says the LORD.”
  3. Writing indicates the seriousness and trustworthiness of a warning or a promise. This flows from the last point. When we say, “I’ll put it in writing” we are saying that we seriously mean what we say. A written warning in the workplace is a step up the discipline ladder from a verbal warning. A written commitment to pay back a loan usually has more seriousness (and legal currency) than a verbal agreement. A particular case in point is a Last Will and Testament (which if you haven’t done you should get done today!) which is a written document. As Luther realised, the whole Old Testament can be looked at as a legal Will – a set of promises that require the death of the one who made them for them to come into force (cf. Heb. 9:16-17; Matt. 26:28; Rev. 5:1-10).  Sentiments also mean more if they are put into writing too. “I love you” said to my wife is one thing. “I love you” written down for her in a letter or card and given means something slightly different, perhaps even more. Another way of looking at the Bible is as a love letter – God has put his love for us in writing.
  4. Writing gives time to think, structure, craft and REVISE. This is one of the great advantages of written communication. Once my words are out of my mouth they are gone. Once they are on paper I can screw up the paper and try again, or today just tap a few keys to delete a sentence, substitute a word, change the order and flow. I can read and check it. I can leave it overnight and read it again in the morning and find that it is far too harsh. Even better I can ask my wife to read it before I hit send! When you read the Bible you see huge amounts of careful crafting. Think of Lamentations – the way the poetry is so carefully organised with each verse starting with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That wasn’t something that someone came out with spontaneously. Or think of the New Testament letters, crammed with theology, where every word counts. When it comes to a carefully nuanced, precisely weighted communication, often writing is best.
  5. Writing develops clear, focussed thinking & communication. Harrison has reminded us of this a number of times. Prayer letters and reports have as much value for the writer as for the recipient. It is a way to discipline your thoughts. Walter Chen again: “Writing out full sentences enforces clear thinking.” Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking” (RT Chen). There is a vagueness and sloppiness and incoherence that you can might get away with in verbal communication that gets ‘found out’ very quickly when you are forced to put your thoughts on paper. As someone once said, when your thinking is confused, “Write yourself clear.” And – old advice – write something out in old fashioned pen and ink and paper before you hit the computer – that will get you even clearer.
  6. Writing can be re-read multiple times. This is a major advantage of written over oral communication. Isn’t it great to get a letter from a friend or fiancée and be able to read it over and over? My daughter loves to read her favourite books again and again. And for understanding: when I’m reading J I Packer or John Owen I often have to stop and read a paragraph again, maybe two or three times to get the full impact. Paul tells Timothy to think over what he is saying (2 Tim. 2:7) and he can do that because he has it in writing. He can read the words about the good soldier and the athlete and the hard-working farmer because he has the letter in his hands. He can pore over it, read it slowly again and again. And we can do that with the whole Bible (thank God for Bible translators).
  7. Writing gives opportunity to develop complex arguments and accurately cite sources. Oral communication can communicate quite complex ideas – think of a science lecture or a Puritan sermon – but there comes a point where a book is a better form. You cannot convey 20 points in a sermon and you certainly can’t show all the interconnections and implications and look at the issues from different perspectives and address all the counter-arguments. This is why book writing and book reading is so important. Think how impoverished our thinking and theology would be if there had never been an Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Dostoyevsky writing serious, long books. And particularly when it comes to scholarship and the academic exercise, writing allows you the format not only to structure complex ideas but also to give credit and evidence by citing very precisely the words and work of others, something that is essential not only to integrity but also to being able to check the truthfulness of our words.

So let’s long for face-to-face but let’s also keep writing…


Cutting wisdom from Carl Trueman:

I am increasingly convinced that pride is the root of problems among students. I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Timothy 1:5-7:
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
My friend made two observations about this passage. First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful. Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

Thus, what concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination. Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply a rubberstamp act as a putative internal call which an individual may think he has.

Further, such students whose first desire is to be teachers are more likely to try to catch whatever is the latest trendy wave. Orthodoxy is always doomed to seem uncreative and pedestrian in the wider arena; if the aim is to be a teacher, to be the big shot, then it is more likely that orthodoxy will be less appealing in the long run – though there are those for whom orthodoxy too is simply a means to being a celebrity.

If a prideful desire to be a teacher, to be a somebody, is the fundamental problem, then one other aspect which is increasingly problematic is the whole phenomenon of the internet. Now anyone can put their views out for public consumption, without the usual processes of accountability, peer review, careful editing, timely reflection, etc., which is the norm in the scholarly world and has also been the tradition in the more theologically responsible parts of the Christian publishing industry. The internet has few quality controls and feeds narcissism. Again, I have a friend, a minister in a North American Presbyterian denomination who says that, as he reads many blogs, his overwhelming feeling is one of sadness as he sees men seriously undermining their future ministry through the venom they pour out on others. I think he is right.

Of course, all young theologians and aspiring church leaders say stupid and unpleasant things. I still blush about comments I made fifteen or twenty years ago which now seem arrogant and offensive, and certainly unworthy of a Christian. But for those of us who are older, the sins of our youth are thankfully now long vanished from the public sphere; yet such sins committed today can live on indefinitely in cyberspace. I shudder for those who have not yet grasped this basic fact and who say some frightful things on the internet which will come back to haunt them the very first time a church googles their name as part of doing routine background checks on a potential ministerial candidate. But more than that: I shudder at the kind of self-appointed arrogance among ministerial candidates and recently-minted graduates which the internet can foster and intensify.

Paul’s words to Timothy seem prophetic in times such as ours. Students should cultivate pure hearts, good consciences, and a sincere faith. That way they will safeguard their theology from becoming idle speculation.

[interviewed by Martin Downes in Risking the Truth: Handling error in the church, Christian Focus, 2009, p. 31-33]

Related resources:


Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28


As Pentecost Sunday approaches I was reading through Acts in our church community group and was struck by this verse:

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)

For a disciple not to have heard about the Holy Spirit seems to be Not A Good Thing.

For those of us who are concerned to emphasise (I think rightly) the priority of preaching Christ and him crucified and who see the Spirit’s role mainly as (to use J.I. Packer’s expression) a ‘spotlight ministry’, drawing the attention to Christ not himself, this stress on the Spirit in Acts is an important thing to reckon with. Is there a danger that those of us who would think of ourselves as ‘conservative evangelicals’ might be so keen to distance ourselves from the excesses of hyper-Pentecostalism and unhelpful (or downright non-Christian) pneumatologies, that we might leave people with no doctrine of the Spirit at all? “If it’s not all about tongues, how do I know whether I have the Spirit?” I was asked recently. Where does the Holy Spirit fit into our proclamation and church and the Christian life?

Acts 19:2 makes me think:

  • Presumably preaching the gospel usually included mention of the Holy Spirit and his work. Acts 2 is a great example. The focus from beginning to end is on Christ but all the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: the exalted Christ has received his Father the Spirit to pour out (v33). (A gospel outline like 3-2-1 can be helpful in making sure we talk about the Trinity early on and don’t leave it till later as an embarrassing bolt-on.)
  • Presumably the invitation to receive Christ and to be baptised usually mentioned the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s what happens in Acts 2: baptism-forgiveness-Holy Spirit. Baptism is into the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). When Paul reminds the Galatians of their conversion he appeals to them as ones who clearly knew that they had received the Spirit at that point (Gal. 3:2) – that was not debate – that was obviously what had happened – he wants to remind them how they received the Spirit – i.e. by hearing and believing the gospel of Christ crucified not by Law keeping. It also seems the Galatians knew their Christian life had begun by the power of God’s Spirit (Gal. 3:3), the question is whether they will go on that way.
  • Presumably the early discipleship of believers would have been full of reminders of the gospel including explanation of the Spirit’s role in their salvation. You certainly see this throughout the apostles’ letters to the young churches. They are constantly reminding believers of what has happened to them so they grasp the enormity of it and live in accordance with it. Their focus is always on Christ and him crucified but wherever they talk about justification by faith and salvation through the blood of Christ, the Spirit is never far away. Ephesians 1: The Father chose you before Creation, the Son died for you on the Cross, the Spirit sealed you as you believed (cf. similarly 1 Peter 1:2). Titus 3:4-7: Father, Son and Spirit; justification and regeneration. Romans 8: stellar chapter interweaving the glorious gospel of Christ and the true work and marks of the Spirit.

Putting this altogether it seems that for the apostles to speak about Christ was inevitably to speak about the Spirit-anointed Christ. To speak about his death and resurrection would have inevitably led to talking about the Spirit who unites us with Christ to make the benefits of his death and resurrection ours. They would have left no one in any doubt that without the Spirit of Christ they are dead and that from their first breath of faith to their final good work, all would be the Spirit’s work in them. They would have talked about how God sent his Son to redeem us and the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts that we might be swept up into the Son and cry out to the Father as our Father. They would talked of our natural blindness and desperate need every day for the Spirit to open our eyes wider and wider to Christ.

Is that my message and life?