Murray Capill on faithfulness and application in preaching (The Heart is the Target)

Am I preaching well? Is my preaching hitting the mark? Expository preachers will often answer these questions in terms of biblical faithfulness. A biblically faithful sermon is a good sermon and a biblically faithful ministry is a sound ministry. Results, the argument goes, are out of our hands. It’s God’s Word and he can use it as he pleases. We know it will not return to him void but will accomplish its purposes. So, for our part, we just need to be faithful. The potent question that needs to be asked of this argument, however, is, faithful in what? Faithful in explaining the original meaning of the text, or faithful in discharging the duties of a preacher? If it is the former, an exegetically sound sermon is indeed a good sermon. But if, as we saw in the introduction, a sermon is God speaking through the preacher to people today, then faithfulness must be not only to the text but to the preacher’s calling to proclaim the truths of the text today. Preachers must be faithful in teaching and rebuking, training and correcting, testing and convicting, encouraging and exhorting. They must faithfully interface biblical truth with the realities of life, as understood from a rich and full reservoir. They must faithfully press God’s Word against heart, mind, conscience, and passions. They must faithfully speak to the saved and the unsaved in their varying heart conditions. They must faithfully fire arrows deep into people’s hearts, engaging every homiletical skill with which God has endowed them.

(pg. 250)

Of course, we will often come away, after our best efforts, feeling that we preached a dud. But, thankfully, God’s Word does not return to him void, and he is able to use even the poorest of sermons to bring about gospel fruit. Such is his grace. But preachers must not presume on his grace. We need to work as hard at applying biblical truth to people’s lives as we do at understanding and explaining what the text meant for the original hearers. We should undertake this work believing that God is pleased to own such preaching and is able to endow it with great power to accomplish his purposes.

(pg. 258)

I was going to say that Capill’s The Heart is the Target was the best book on application in preaching that I have read but then realised that actually I have never read any other preaching books which focus only on the application side of preaching. (So I guess that does make it the best book on application in preaching I have read) Nevertheless, even with it’s specificity, it is still easily one of the best and most helpful books on preaching overall that I have read. The work is clear, well written, simple but not simplistic, and dripping with thoughtfulness. And as I read the introduction (nodding my head in agreement) and later finished the book, something which particularly resonated with me was his challenge of what is passed off as ‘faithfulness’ in preaching within reformed evangelical circles – mere explanation of a passage. This book has the rightful push-back, reminding preachers of their responsibilities to work hard at application, and then providing the framework to help with that.

How can or should The Heart is the Target be used?

  • For first-time preachers it probably should be read after or alongside another book on preaching that lays out in a step by step way some of the exegetical framework elements first.
  • For young preachers (like me), or experienced preachers, here is a truly encouraging book to dive into as we consider how better to be faithful preachers of God’s Word. At the very least Capill’s work will provide ample categories to provoke prayerfully creative thinking through of application for the latest passage you might be preaching on. Read the book thoughtfully, get to the end, print out the sheets and stick it on the wall in front of where you do your sermon prep. Voila.
  • Furthermore, because tacked on application is a weakness not only of sermons but of bible studies too, I wonder if his list of application questions (summarised at the end) could likewise be used to aid bible study groups to think through how a passage should be applied to us.

If you’re a preacher, I’d heartily recommend it. Gift a Kindle copy to your pastor or bible study leader – that’ll be for his good and yours.

Application doesn’t need to be the forte of topical preachers while remaining the nightmare of expository preachers. It doesn’t need to be confined to a few closing remarks. It doesn’t need to be predictable and hackneyed, nor does it need to be moralistic and damning. There are endless ways of presenting life-giving applications from God’s Word—applications that are compelling and engaging, heart-oriented and grace-filled, practical and penetrating, varied in intensity and focus.

(pg. 257)


A congregational confession based on the 10 Commandments

Last year we had our annual university students conference with five main talks from Deuteronomy. One of the last sessions was to have a confession based on the 10 Commandments. As I looked for existing confessions online I could not find much, the best was the ‘Corporate Confession at the Worship God Conference’ led by Bob Kauflin. In the end, I wrote our own. It is much longer, and formed a lengthy part of the liturgy that night. I offer it here for anyone who might be looking for further working examples of a congregational confession based on the 10 Commandments. I expect that theological and language alterations may need to be made as appropriate. It is better suited for a conference due to it’s length.

10 Commandments confession

I am praying that this is edifying but it will take concentration and contribution from all of us if it will work.
In light of God’s law we’re going to confess our sins with prayerful reflection.

There are four speakers in this:

1. Italics = service leader.

2. Bold = Group 1, left side of the congregation (readers of God’s Word).

3. Normal font = Group 2, right side of the congregation (confessors on behalf of all of us.)

4. Underlined = All say


Let’s stand.


(Leader:) Father we confess that Your law is holy, just and good; that it was given to Your people Israel that they might dedicate their entire lives to You the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

We realise that Your law is powerless to help us obey You or to change us, and so we thank You for the gracious sending of Your Son to bear the curse of the law and for the gracious sending of Your Spirit to give us new hearts to love and obey You.
Father as we hold Your law up to our lives, with the help of Your Spirit we acknowledge that:

(Group 1:) Your first and second commandment say: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
AND “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters below.”

(Group 2:) You are the one true God worthy of all our thanks and praise.
And yet we have had other gods that we have worshiped and adored besides You or alongside You.
Likewise, we have often created You in the image we desire, rather than humbly worshipping You as You have revealed yourself.

(Group 1:) Your third commandment says: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

(Group 2:) We have misrepresented You to the world, both in our speech about You, but also in our lives which are intended to bear proof of Your Name.

(Group 1:) The fourth commandment says: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

(Group 2:) Your work of salvation has given us true rest.
Yet often this is not reflected in our busyness, or our worries, or even in being able to stop working for one day of the week.

(Group 1:) The fifth commandment says: “Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

(Group 2:) Yet we have often not shown proper respect to those You have placed over us in authority, and as Your representatives.

(Group 1:) The sixth commandment says: “You shall not murder.

(Group 2:) Yet in our angry and destructive actions or words or thoughts we have often not treated others as fellow image bearers of You.

(Group 1:) The seventh commandment says: “You shall not commit adultery.

(Group 2:) Yet at times we have not upheld the sanctity of marriage, and sex, and relationships as You designed it for our good.

(Group 1:) The eighth commandment says: “You shall not steal.

(Group 2:) Yet we have often displayed both a lack of trust in what You have given us, and a lack of love in caring for what You have entrusted to others.

(Group 1:) The ninth commandment says: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

(Group 2:) Yet in our words, instead of bearing truth we have uttered destructive falsehood.

(Group 1:) The tenth commandment says: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

(Group 2:) Yet, we know our hearts.
We recognize that often we to fail to rejoice with others over what You have given them.
Instead we lust for the possessions and circumstances of others, displaying a lack of trust in You to provide for our needs.


(Leader:) Father as we gaze into Your Holiness that Your law reveals, we are struck by our sinfulness – we have not loved you or others as we should.
(All:) Lord have mercy on us!

(Leader:) Your people of old longed for your salvation, to be rescued from their sin.
Their eyes grew weary looking for what You had promised.
Knowing their sin they cried: ‘When will You comfort us?’


(Group 1:) But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
(Group 2:) Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
(All:) So we are no longer slaves, but sons; and since we are sons, God has made us also heirs.


(Leader:) Father, we praise and thank you for the great love You have shown to us in Jesus.
(All:) Because of Your grace to us in Him, please forgive us our sins.
Please comfort us in our struggles with sin.
By Your Holy Spirit please help us to love You with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind.
Help us to love others as we love ourselves.


[The service leader:] Friends, the declaration of Scripture is that those who confess their sins to God, who trust in Jesus, their sins have been taken care of.

Have you done that?

Your sins have been forgiven.


As we sing the next set of songs:

1. For those of you weighed down with sin, be reminded of the forgiveness found in Jesus.
2. For those of you who know the forgiveness in Jesus, sing with joy, oh sing with joy to our great God!

Song: Come ye sinners.

Song: Avulekile Amasango eZulu

A moment’s reflection:

“Run and work, the law demands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. A sweeter sound the gospel bring, it bids me fly and gives me wings.” (John Berridge, – 18th C)

Song: Christ is Risen (Matt Maher)

Sayers on “Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?”

Typical straight shooting DLS:

“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us.
Why madam, did He not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why, sir, did He not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery?
You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are nonetheless repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular that those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for, in that case, it would make precious little difference to His creation if He wiped us both out tomorrow.

~ Dorothy L. Sayers, ‘The Triumph of Easter’ in Creed or Chaos?, p. 12-13

Nager – to swim

One, two, three, breathe

one, two, three, breathe


Hand reaching

probing, straining forward

a plunged dip

the v

creasing the surface of the water,

and with each pull of the other,

propelling this body forward

head and shoulders as a bow

in a quest to break new ground

through this liquid haven.


Head down, encased eyes viewing the

myriad of colours underwater

shards of early morning sun

piercing the outer watery shell and dancing

on the floor of the pool,

the lively lights broken solely by the ripples

of fellow swimmers likewise straining forward

only to return from whence they came.

I despair of preaching

I’ve been re-preaching through a sermon series that I first did less than a year ago, and yet I seem to be rewriting half of it. ‘How did I possibly think that section would be helpful to say?’; ‘Oh this is so convoluted!’

Simultaneously (to add even more insult to injury), we’ve been working through some parables in campus bible studies that I’ve preached on before and I keep going, ‘Well I never saw that when I preached on it – how did I not see that?’

Over some despair and discouragement that has been creeping in, I have been reminded of more important (!) facts:

  • I am reminded of the richness of God’s Word, that even as I come back to a passage that I have preached before, I have much more to learn. I don’t mean hidden levels. Rather, the graciousness of God showing more or something that I hadn’t seen before. There is a beautiful richness to His Word which invites a coming back for more.
  • I am reminded of the need for humility. ‘I nailed that passage!’ ‘No, you didn’t, you fool! Not even half.’ We’re humble listeners and learners before we’re able speakers and teachers. And we don’t get to ‘own’ a passage, rather the Truth of a passage gets to own us as God works in us.
  • I am reminded of the necessity of prayer. ‘Who can understand these things? Who is worthy of them?’ ‘Oh Father grant us understanding by Your Spirit!’ We need God’s help in these things: let us pray. We must pray!
  • Lastly, I am reminded of God working through weakness. And that includes the weakness of preachers and teachers of His Word: their limited (they don’t know everything) grasp of what His Word is saying and their sometimes inadequate abilities to communicate it as well as one would like. There is much about preaching that can and must be worked at, but praise God that He works powerfully through weakness.

I [almost] despair of preaching, save for remembering God’s sovereignty and goodness in these things. He is able.

‘Father, make your Son known, make Him known!’


Surf and Rap: two new releases this week!

‘Serving the Creator of the waves’ – Rusty Moran’s story


Aussie big wave surfer Rusty Moran:

I’m not in control. When I tried to push surfing into the background for a bit and focused a bit more on serving God the creator of the waves rather than the waves themselves and my own dreams of becoming the best in the world at big wave surfing… God sort of opened up my eyes to see […] there is so much more to life than just chasing what you’re after. God had this plan that, because we chased after our own stuff all the time (we’re sinful – that’s what the bible calls it), we need God to come down and rescue us. We’re not going to reach up to God cause we’re just like me, chasing after our own deal all the time…

Watch the clip here.

Rusty Moran pic


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New album ‘Crimson Cord’ for free from Propaganda via Noisetrade here


I haven’t finished listening to the album yet, only just pressed play now. But other works from Propaganda, namely ‘Art Ambidextrous’ (here) and ‘Excellent’ (here) have been wonderful high quality Christian Rap. All of these likewise available for free (worthy of a tip perhaps?)

Looking at the current album, featured included artists such as Braille, Lecrae, Lee Green, Andy Mineo and JGivens.
Go on, give it a listen!

 Propaganda image from:

A boundary and a freedom


Your Word, a boundary

A thousand elite forces surrounding, guarding, posted and encamped

A sure and trusty advisor, sage for situations, it beckons ‘Come and be wise’

Your Word extended, hands which are gentle, caring, and of strong support

Knowledge of You, replete with the constancy of faithful love

A place to situate my trust for it is the Word of God

Here is truth, understanding of right and wrong, and of what is pure and good and certain

A steadiness to see, to remember, the story which encapsulates my own, bigger, broader – that of God

Your Word it motions ‘Come and have life in Christ’

It bits adieu to a worldly way washed in the foamy scum of moral uncertainty, incertitude

It bids this adieu for it is a firm and fixed boundary of God and His goodness.



Your Word, a freedom

A delightful invitation to participate, to try and fail, and try again, secure to do so

Hands unshackled, feet shod ready for movement in this world, a going and a doing

To love and serve and initiate, to creatively be Yours in the present, and with the people around

It beckons ‘Come and die. Oh and have a go at loving with the love of Christ which you know so well’

Thoughtful engagement with the perishing, with the structures established, and with God’s people

Not every situation set in black and white; instead an entrusting that we operate as one of His

Incredible! Caught up in the plans of God and stationed to be his workers of righteousness

Before us is opportunity to be His in this world

Out we go, forward, the beating love of Christ in our hearts,

Our beings scanning like a radar, eyes open looking for the prospects before us.

Opportunity to live as the summoned people of God set free to be his in this world.