OK, so it’s pretentious, but it’s true
Pretentious, moi? I try to be a down to earth kind of bloke. After all, I grew up in Essex, went to a state school and can't speak Latin. But I do love Opera. Sorry, but there you are.
And it was this love that took the whole famille Reynolds to Glyndebourne last week. This is the first outing for the three likel Reynolds' girls (aged, 15, 13 and 6) to a live opera. We went to see Cinderella (or, rather, La Cenerentola by Rossni) starring a magnificent Jonathan Viera (Christian and active participant in last Easter's Passion for Life). It was truly wonderful.
Here's the relevant bit! We went to a children's workshop for an hour before the opera. It was incredible what a difference it made!
- They explained the overall plot so that we could understand where we were at any point and what was going on.
- They explained how this story was different from those we might have heard (no fairy godmother or glass slipper) so that we wouldn't be confused by things we expected to see.
- They showed very carefully how the genre of opera needs to be understood – it's not just theatre, it's operatic theatre (and half the reason why it takes 35 minutes to say "I've lost my shoe" – or in this case "I've lost my bangle")
It made me think of the value of teaching our people Bible overviews: so that they can see where they are and how things fit together. It made me realise the value of teaching our people to avoid common errors. There is no glass slipper. It made me appreciate the value of teaching our people to understand that the Bible contains different kinds of writing – don't expect the same from narrative that you do from song and so on.
My kids' workshop helped me enjoy the opera so much more. Some basic Bible handling skills can help our people enjoy sermons and Bible reading heaps more. And I know which is more significant.
10 books on preaching you may not have seen
Here are 10 stimulating books (which does not mean we agree with everything in them!) on preaching. So often, when it comes to preaching, the standard books are bandied around. But here are 10 you may not have seen:
- The glory of preaching by Darrell Johnson – a really good biblical justification of preaching, although with a weaker second half of practical application, stuff which you may have seen before
- Preaching with spiritual vigour by Murray Capill – lessons on preaching from the life of Richard Baxter
- Feed my sheep edited by Don Kistler – a great collection of essays on preaching from Mohler, Boice, Thomas, Beeke, Sproul – all the usual suspects. One of the best all round multi author books on preaching.
- Preaching and biblical theology by Ed Clowney – a great attempt early on to square what some saw as opposing forces. No longer in print, but second hand copies around.
- Princeton and preaching by James Garretson – an appreciation of one of Princeton's finest preachers Archibald Alexander. Heavily endorsed by Packer – good rich stuff.
- He is not silent – by Al Mohler – a simple justification of preaching in a post modern world
- Him we proclaim by Dennis Johnson – a call to apostolic preaching = preaching like the apostles. Challenging and helpful.
- Preaching with variety by Jeffrey Arthurs – one of my favourite books on preaching. Preach according to the genre!
- Preaching Christ in all the Scriptures by Ed Clowney – practical advice and sample sermons from the great preacher and theologian
- The art and craft of biblical preaching edited by Haddon Robinson – a huge collection of essays on preaching, some good, some not so. Rich vein though with contributions from our own David Jackman and Dick Lucas alongside many, many greats
More like this:
God 1, Enemies 0
Really moved reading Zechariah yesterday (which we are preaching through at church). I've got three sermons to prepare from later on in the series and I'm working through the book in my devotions. Here's yesterday's passage:
And I lifted my eyes and saw, behold, four horns! And I said to the angel who talked with me, "What are these?" And he said to me, "These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem." Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. And I said, "What are these coming to do?" He said, "These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it. (Zecharaiah 1.18-21)
Zechariah is speaking to beleagured exiles who have returned home and given up on temple building (Ezra 5) because of the opposition around them (Ezra 4). This remarkable vision paints a picture of what has been going on in the world. The four hours (four probably just means complete, like the four winds) have been strong against the people of God and have brought them to this place, where, it seems, it is God 0 Enemies 1. That's the half time score.
But the vision encourages them with news that it is not the full time score. The full time score is God 1, Enemies 0. Or, more realistically, God 10, Enemies 0.
And how is this certain turnaround victory going to happen? God is going to send a complete set of craftsmen. Not warriors. Not generals. Not armies. Not canon fodder.
They are not identified, though their role is. And, significantly, "craftsman" is the term used of the specialist builders of both the temple and the tabernacle. God defeats his strong enemies in battle through building. What a purple passage! What encouragement for everyone who is working on the great building project that is the church.
God 1, Enemies 0.
Chilean Miners testimony: “the glory belongs to Him”
A moving testimony in yesterday's Times (of all places). Worth a look:
The 33 miners entombed for 69 days beneath the Chilean desert were afraid and certain that they would die but they were saved after turning to God, their spiritual leader told The Times.
“Only the Lord could guide that drill to us,” José Henriquez, the group’s pastor, declared in his first interview since he was saved on Wednesday. For him the rescue, which was watched by a billion people around the world, was a miracle of God, not of technology.
He has worked for 33 years as a miner and has certainly led a charmed existence. He narrowly survived a mudslide that claimed scores of lives in 1986. In January he helped to save several miners overcome by gas and was rescued after passing out himself. In February he survived the earthquake that devastated central Chile, including his home town of Talca.
After the rockfall that trapped the miners on August 5, Mr Henriquez, a drill operator, took charge of the group’s spiritual welfare. He organised twice-daily prayer sessions and Bible readings, using 33 miniature Bibles that he asked to be sent down the borehole that was their lifeline. His companions have said that he played a crucial role in their survival.
Mr Henriquez brought “calm, God and unity to the most difficult moments. He was a leader without a doubt,” Raul Bustos, a hydraulics engineer, said.
Richard Villaroel, a mechanic, who admitted that he was waiting for death and had never prayed before, said: “He was the key man who kept us together through all those days.”
Carlos Parra, the pastor of Camp Esperanza, said that Mr Henriquez was “the unifying element”. “The moment of prayer, of his readings of the Bible, was the most special moment for the miners because it was the only moment that they all came together, at 12 in the day and at 6 in the evening they came together in this moment of unity,” he told The Times.
Mr Henriquez, 54, still wearing wraparound sunglasses to protect his eyes, spoke to The Times, without payment, while visiting the scene of his captivity in the Atacama desert near Copiapó on Saturday. He was the first of the miners to return. “I came to look in my locker to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind,” he joked. “It is a joy to be free … I wanted to see this place and see where my family spent so long waiting for me.”
As huge transporters carried away the cranes, drills and generators used in the rescue Mr Henriquez explained how his job was to spread the word of God to the miners. “This was my objective, the work that was entrusted to me,” he said. “Out of all the jobs I think the most beautiful fell to me.”
In the 17 days before they were discovered he and his colleagues were terrified, he said. Asked if they thought they were going to die, he replied: “Of course, we were very sure of that. We had to be realistic, and we realised … there was no way back.”
He said: “I think that some of them cried there, hidden away. That is something obvious.”
He admitted that there were arguments — “that’s like society everywhere, men are never in agreement … We had joys, we had difficulties, disagreements, agreements, a democratic way of resolving things.” He explained how the men would vote on matters of division, 16 plus one being a majority.
He insisted however that “to work in the hands of God you have to always put your problems behind you. So for this, I communicated the words of the Gospel and the seed was planted. Also the word of God has a power in itself, so who received the word of God received strength, and the Holy Spirit was there. He was ministering to us, He was reconciling us, He was healing us.”
Many of the miners found a faith they had not had before, he said. “We were singing to the Lord, we were doing what pleases the Lord. So everyone accepted Him, many of them reconciled themselves with the Lord, some of them made promises to Him.
“This is what the Lord is for, to strengthen the fallen, the weak … This was really the power of God in action in each one of our hearts because He strengthened the hearts of the men and when a man cries, a man screams to God, God answers the prayer.”
Like many of the miners and their families, Mr Henriquez has no doubt that it was God who saved them on August 22 when, against all odds, a probe found their refuge 700 metres (2,297ft) below the surface.
“The glory belongs to Him,” he said. “Any man is only a mere instrument in the hands of God. The resources of faith, this is what moves mountains.”
Later, when the Bibles were sent down the borehole, “we could start to administer the word with more certainty. We even did Bible studies, we did two sessions a day”.
He is excited about returning home “to resume our lives with our family” but his new celebrity gives him a worldwide stage on which to evangelise should he wish to. American religious organisations have approached him with offers of preaching in the US.
Mr Henriquez, who is married with twin daughters and a grandchild, said that mining was his profession “but if God tells me something else, well, the glory is for Him, doesn’t it seem to you? I don’t know where He will put me now, probably it could be somewhere else. Wherever, we are ready to praise His name in any place. This is our trust in Him and our inspiration and our joy”.
Reading apocalyptic books – God’s way
Just started reading Zechariah. Immediately floored by the vision of four horsemen (red, sorrel, white, dark red) standing by a myrtle bush. What on earth can it all mean?
It's possible, of course, to spend ages analysing such detail – and plenty of preachers and commentators do exactly that. But Zechariah is liberating because God himself interprets the vision through his angel. "I will show you what they are."
Here's the punchline. The angel makes absolutely no mention of the colours of the horses nor the shrubbery beside which they appear. Did you get that? God's own interpretation of the vision is that the details are pieces of colour and not central (or even essential) to the interpretation. How liberating is that! Not just for Zechariah, but for all this kind of literature.
Iain Duguid is a notable OT scholar, preacher and author and is leading our Senior Ministers Conference next year. Amongst his commentaries, is one on Zechariah. This is what he says about the four horseman and understanding the detail:
"The conversation that follows, which must be understood as giving Zechariah the essential message of the vision sheds no light at all on the significance of the various colours of horse or the particular variety of tree, and that suggests these details are not important. The approach…to interpreting and applying the visions takes its cue from that observation. We shall stand back and enquire after the clear import of each vision as a whole, especially in the light of the interpretative comments and oracles that are interspersed among the visions, rather than seeking significance in every minor detail."
Booking is already open for the Spring conference with Iain. Sadly, in this case, details are important and you can read about them here.
If the world were a village…
of just 100 people, according to the latest Crosslinks magazine:
- only 17 would be Western
- 33 would call themselves Christians but only 9 might be evangelical
- 40 would never have heard of Jesus
- 16 of them, even if they did hear, cannot read, so would not be able to read a Bible
- the 17 that live in the West would have over 50% of the wealth
- 56 are in such severe poverty that they are suffering from malnutrition
"But the world is not a village of 100 people. It is an ever increasing population well on its way to the 7 billion mark. The 67 villages who don't know Jesus are actually 4.5 billion people…who will have to face God without a mediator."
What are YOU doing about it?
The Big Sing
Next week I'm leading a seminar at the FIEC Leaders' Conference on the sometimes vexed question of music and singing. It has meant that I've spent some time with my head in Colossians 3.16-17 and I've been very encouraged with what I've found.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your heart to God" (ESV)
My question was, how does singing tie in with letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is tempting (and often done) to separate the two parts of the verse as two different issues. We (a) let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, which we do as we teach and admonish one another – i.e. speak the word to one another. We also (b) sing to one another – and isn't that nice! It all seems a bit disconnected to me.
And indeed it is. A bit of study is rewarding. Far from being a conservative evangelical doctrine of word encouragement and a few words of about singing – this verse has a oneness to is. Moo explains it best in his Pillar commentary on Colossians and Philemon. In fact, he argues quite cogently that the TNIV is the best translation here (all of which is interesting for the NIV revision coming out in 2011 which Moo is chairing). So,
"Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your heart" (TNIV)
No doubt we should (and must) encourage one another with the word. I don't doubt that. But specifically, in this verse, we do that by singing to one another! Suddenly singing takes on a primary importance in the life of the church – it is a ministry of the word, no less! There are all sorts of implications, of course, which I shall try to work out with the FIEC leaders – and take on board myself, for this is a ministry that every churchgoer exercises with amazing regularity.
Andy Gemmill joins Cornhill Scotland team
Here's an excerpt from a Cornhill Scotland news release:
I wanted to share with you some additional very good news for the future of the course, and for all of us here involved with Cornhill Scotland's work. Our work is expanding, which is wonderful, but also demanding, and so we are delighted that we can look forward to a new member of the team in the form of Andy Gemmill who will join us next year.
Formerly a physician, Andy joined the staff at St Helen's, Bishopsgate under Dick Lucas, then served as Assistant Minister at Spicer Street Church in St Albans, and for the last 12 years he has been senior minister of Beeston Evangelical Church in Nottingham, where he has had a remarkably fruitful ministry, including training many for future ministry.
Many of you will know of Andy's ministry, and also his extensive involvement in wider training initiatives, such as serving on the Executive of 9:38. His bible teaching gifts are extremely respected and widely appreciated, and as we look to strengthening the team for the growing work of CTCS in the present, as well as building for planned further developments in the future (look out for news next year!), we are so thankful to God that he has led us to Andy, and Andy to us! I could hardly imagine someone more perfectly fitted for the needs of Cornhill Scotland, being as he is a native Scot, who is coming 'back home' at last to help us in the work of building the church of Jesus Christ in Scotland (and beyond!).
As you can imagine, there will be quite an upheaval for the family as they look to a major changes in all sorts of ways, so please do hold Andy and Annie, and their family, in your prayers over this coming year of transition, and join us in giving thanks to God for this enormous encouragement for all of us here in Glasgow.
Dealing with the financial crisis
How should churches respond to the current financial crisis in terms of what they do and how they pay for stuff? That's a deep and complex problem – but I have been very encouraged to read Philip Jensen's address to the Synod in Sydney which deals with precisely some of those issues albeit at a denominational level. Some of the administration etc left me befuddled because I'm neither an Anglican nor in Sydney. Nevertheless, there is some wonderful godly wisdom applied there. It's worth a read.
Wearing appropriate clothing….and other sermon applications
One of the joys of being a coeliac is a regular visit to the local NHS hospital for a bone density scan. Yesterday's appointment was heralded with a letter telling me, right at the end, to "wear appropriate clothing." I wasn't entirely sure what this meant! Swimming trunks? Full Arctic gear? Smart casual, in the PT style? It made me think a little about sermon application – something that preachers are notoriously bad at. It's quite possible to have sermon application that is right but is almost worthless.
"Wear appropriate clothing" is absolutely and thoroughly right. There's no question about it. But as an application, it's next to worthless because it really tells me nothing. So, here are a few thoughts about application (in no particular order):
- don't be afraid of command. The NT is full of command. Indeed, properly understood, grace frees us up to obey (see, for example, Ezekiel 36.27). Perhaps exhortation is a better word than command, but our preaching should contain imperatives.
- having said that, it's always easy to make people feel guilty about the things they are not doing and then exhort them to do more. I think this is lazy and not always helpful even if it is right. Show people the means as well as the command.
- don't be afraid of being general. The best application does not have to be narrowly targeted. The best application is biblical. Here's an example – this weekend I'm preaching on Psalm 145: there are some great exhortations that arise from the text (e.g. to pass on the praise of YHWH from generation to generation) but the primary application is a call to come and praise him. There's a great temptation to think that such a call sounds weak and general and not rooted enough in the daily grind of listeners. But that suggests God got Psalm 145 wrong. Great application can be general.
- however, don't be general if the passage leads you to being specific. We can always reduce application to "read your Bible more, pray more, witness more." Few passages ever say this, even if this is often the means by which we walk more closely with the Lord.
- use biblical language to describe what people must do. There's some strong and evocative language used by Bible authors – make use of it. "Put on" and "Put off" are two great examples.