Author: Rob Morton

Applying the Passage (Rob Morton)

I run at least three Bible studies/Growth Groups every week. I think the hardest part is the ‘application’ part. We’ve studied a passage together, thought about what it means, and then we start discussing how this Bible text applies to us today. How should we change in light of this passage? What do I do now?

We face a few dangers at this ‘application’ point:

1) We run out of time, and don’t think about application at all!

2) We mis-apply the passage. For example, we think that Jesus telling his disciples to go out two-by-two, and not to take supplies, is how our church must do evangelism today.

3) We make general/vague application that won’t really change much. For example, “I think we should all just read our Bible and pray more…”

Reading the Bible carefully is hard work. Applying the Bible carefully is hard work. That’s okay – it’s worth the effort! But I thought in this blog post I would throw out one idea that might help at application time. We use it in almost all of the Bible studies I’m part of. It involves asking three basic questions.

i) First of all, we need to step back. Look again at the passage and ask this important question: What am I learning about God here? (By the way, I think this is THE most important question in Bible study).

ii) Secondly, consider whether this fact about God is still true today. How so?

iii) Finally, think about how to complete this sentence: “If this fact about God is still true today, how does this impact people now, and impact our relationship with him”.

That’s it. Pretty basic, but it just may help move the group discussion forward. So let’s try it out on a passage: Psalm 1.

i) What am I learning about God here? Well, Psalm 1 teaches me that God delights in those who do not walk in the company of sinners and mockers, but instead delight in his law/words. He offers such a person blessing and security because he is ‘watching over’ them. Those who reject God’s ways and God’s law will perish.

ii) Is this fact about God still true today? Yes, I think so. Jesus is just as clear that all people face a choice – we are for God or we are against him. In Mark 8:34-38 Jesus similarly outlines two paths before his hearers. And God still ‘watches over’ his people today – which doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing! The rest of the Psalms and Jesus are honest about that. But he does offer them blessing and security in Jesus. Likewise, those who stand opposed to Jesus, those who reject and mock, still face God’s judgement in the end.

iii) Since this is still true, how does this impact people today and our relationship with God? Well, for God’s people, it means we find assurance in God’s ‘watching over’ us. When we suffer for doing God’s will, obeying his words and law, we need to see that God ‘watches’. He knows our situation, and he will put every wrong right. So we don’t need to take matters into our own hands and become vengeful. For non-Christians, they need to see that there is a very real choice to make. Psalm 1 motivates us to choose by outlining both the rewards as well as the dangers of rejecting God’s ways. As a church we should be honest both about the blessings for God’s people, as well as the dangers of rejecting God and his words.

Who Wants To Be A Leader? (Rob Morton)

I opened my Bible to 1 Timothy 3. I am supposed to lead a short devotional from this passage for our church leaders’ meeting next week. I intended to study all about “overseers”, their qualifications and their task. But I only got as far as verse 1!

“Here is a trustworthy saying: if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task”.

Why does Paul write this? Why does he start the sentence with an emphatic “Here is a trustworthy saying”? Why does he need to reassure Christian people that church leadership is worthwhile, and worth committing themselves to?

A quick scan of 1 Timothy helps us see why some may have been reluctant to “set their hearts on being an overseer”. The church had endured its share of troubles. False doctrines were taught by false teachers. Controversy was promoted! Some, including a few prominent church members, had walked away from Christianity all together. Others had shipwrecked their faith, and been put out of the church. Perhaps chapter 5 is even telling us that some members were making unsupported accusations against the leaders of the church.

Who would be foolish enough to want to lead that kind of church? Imagine moving to a new town and visiting a church like that – you wouldn’t even bother to hang around for coffee afterwards!

There are many reasons why Christians can be reluctant to step up and consider serving a church by becoming a leader. The time needed to commit, lack of confidence, wanting to avoid conflict, laziness, not meeting the Bible’s qualifications for leadership, not knowing what leadership involves, being happy to let someone else do the work, not caring enough about others, not seeing the task as urgent, etc. But Paul wants to stress that whoever desires to step up into church leadership desires a good work. He is speaking specifically about elders here (whether we call them presbyters, bishops, pastors, etc). But anyone who desires to serve and lead in a church desires a noble task: Sunday School teachers, Youth Group leaders, Bible study leaders, etc.

Leadership in the church is a noble task because, in the words of 1 Timothy 3:5, it means “taking care” of God’s church. It means doing what is good for others. It means serving other Christians, even if that costs us something. Jesus taught that. Check out Mark 10:35-45.

  • Let’s pray for our faithful church leaders, beginning with the overseers. Those who do well are worthy of honour (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • Let’s ask God that many more Christians will ‘step up’ and desire the noble task of serving through leadership.
  • Let’s pray especially that young Christian men and women (are you one of them?) will consider committing themselves to the gospel and the church, to growing, to serving, and to leading others by “taking care” of them.

Average Sermon on Good Friday (Rob Morton)

On one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, Good Friday, the preacher was just average!

I was preaching last week at our Good Friday service. The passage was John 10:1-18. In the passage, Jesus tells his hearers that he will lay down his life for the sheep, thus looking forward to the cross. My aim was to consider Jesus’ death, and why he had to die at all.

But the sermon was just average. Not heretical. Yet not memorable either. I think three things went wrong:

1) Shorter preparation time. I usually struggle to preach sermons a full week apart! Obviously preaching on a Friday means less time during the week to prepare, and I think it showed. Next Easter I need to start working on the sermon a week earlier – no small feat for a last minute person like me!

2) Knowing who to aim at. On Good Friday, our congregation was made up of our usual attenders, visitors from other local churches, and various guests who don’t usually attend any church at all. So, was the sermon aimed at Christians, non-Christians, interested seekers, dis-interested guests, or all of the above? I wasn’t clear on that in my own mind. There is a difference between explaining and applying a passage to a mature Christian of 60 years, and investigating the same verses with a sceptic.

3) Trying to do too much. For various reasons, I decided to preach for only 20 minutes. In those minutes I attempted an interesting introduction (which I ended up cutting!), giving a theological context (God as shepherd in the Old Testament), a literary context (John 10 must be understood with John 9), a cultural context (how sheep farming worked in Jesus’ day), explaining two images (the gate and the good shepherd), talking about why Jesus had to die, and relating it all to Easter! Needless to say, it was a bit of a mess.

I think if I could do it again, I would only preach on one verse: verse 11. That way I could focus on one image, the Old Testament links, and consider why this shepherd would have to die for his sheep. Much more realistic for 20 minutes.

All in all, I gave the sermon a 5 out of 10 – because I’m generous. If you are a Bible teacher, it might be worth considering how you could have done it better. I think we honour God, and practically love our congregation, by always trying to improve in our preaching.

Passing It On (Rob Morton)

2 Timothy is full of gems for Bible ministry. “All scripture is God breathed…”, “Preach the word…” and “…do the work of an evangelist” are all famous phrases found in 2 Tim.

We began looking at 2 Timothy last month in our growth group. During study number one we read the book right through. (It only takes about 10 minutes). And something struck me. 2 Timothy is not just about Bible ministry, it’s also about training people to do Bible ministry.

You see, in chapter 1 verses 13 and 14, Paul tells Timothy what he wants him to do: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you…”. But in 2:2 Paul tells Timothy how to do it: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. Here is advice to multiply! Not just “preach the word”, but “preach the word to people who will preach the word to other people, etc”.

2 Timothy is worth a read if you are involved in Bible ministry: preachers, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, parents and home group leaders. It challenges us not just to faithfully teach the Bible, but to think hard about how we can help other people become Bible teachers.

· Could you invite someone to lead alongside you, and pass on the skills of Bible teaching?

· Could you meet one-to-one with someone to help them prepare Bible studies or Sunday School lessons?

· Could you start a ‘preachers club’ at your church?

· Could you get together with other dads or mums and talk about how to read the Bible with your family?

· Could you pray for, or financially support, someone training for ministry?

New Zealand desperately needs many more Bible teachers and gospel speakers. How can you pass it on?

Ministry envy (Rob Morton)

I have a confession. I am prone to suffering from ‘ministry envy’. From time to time, I look around at other pastors, or other Christian leaders, and I become jealous. I envy their success. I envy the reputation they have. I envy the opportunities they have.

Ministry envy is, as the name suggests, a sin. At the core of my problem is a lack of trust in God, and a lack of thankfulness. God, in his providence, has placed me where I am and given me the opportunities that I have. He made me not-quite-smart-enough to pull off a PhD and become a well-known author. He made me not-quite-eloquent-enough to become a world renowned preacher. He made me not-quite-pretty-enough to have my face on a church billboard on the Auckland motorway! And yet, he made me for himself, and he made me to serve him. For this I should trust God. And for this I should be thankful. But sometimes I am not, and I find myself wishing I was different/more/better/bigger/faster/stronger.

This blog post is autobiographical. I know. And although I don’t like the idea of ‘public confessions’, I felt as if I needed to write it. Why? Because I suspect I am not the only person who struggles with ministry envy. I suspect other pastors and ministers, other Bible study leaders, other Sunday School teachers also struggle with ministry envy from time to time. Join the club. You are not alone.

The antidote, I think, is to remember and celebrate the goodness of God. Is God good? Has God been good to me? Whether I am ‘successful’ in ministry, or just an ordinary ‘plodder’, is it still true that God is good to me? What verses, and Bible stories, and hymns and songs remind me that God is good? And how can I thank him for it, instead of doubting his goodness and wishing for something ‘better’?