Cornhill fest, kind of
I looked around on Sunday morning at church and was encouraged to see the influence of the Cornhill training course here in our medium size part of non-conformity. There’s me, of course. But a few others. Our Youth and Community Pastor is also an alumnus. Then our Assistant Pastor is just finishing up Cornhill, plus we’ve another young man who has just applied. Then we have a teacher who helps out with one of youth groups, also ex-Cornhill. Our guest preacher was not a Cornhiller, but his co-pastor (whom he left behind preaching) is. Two other visitors completed the job lot: one whose father is an overseas pastor trained through a Cornhill bursary and another ex-Cornhiller who is a inner city pastor in Speke. Quite a crowd.
And none of them in chinos. That’s the thing about Cornhill. Sure, there’s a caricature which sees everyone who trains with us as churning out sermons that are all the same, but actually we work very hard to teach principles and apply them to people’s preaching rather than turning out clones. In fact, if you’d heard the preaching at our gaff on Sunday you would know that it is the case.
And it’s why I still believe that the Cornhill training course is an excellent preparation for ministry, whatever your background. We won’t squeeze your personality out. That goes right against our theology of preaching. But we will help you try to preach the Bible faithfully, engagingly, appropriately, in an applied, relevant way whilst still keeping you, you.
It’s just around now that people start seriously thinking about September and it’s not too late to apply. Nor is it too late for your church to think about whom to send. We’ll maybe see you this autumn….?
The hard road
When I left the world of business to become a minister, most people I knew thought I had taken an easy route. I’m still sure some of those close to me think that I work one day a week, dreaming up a few blessed thoughts in the shower on Sunday morning. You know, of course, that it is nothing of the kind. Ministry is hard. There are sins we didn’t even know we struggled with which come to the fore; there is almost constant attack from the evil one; and there is the knowledge that enemies of the gospel are waiting and watching for you to slip up. And that is without the people! Just read 2 Timothy!
In our small groups, we’ve been reading whole Bible books together. Last time around we read 2 Timothy and, to be honest, I was not really sure how it was going to go. For most ordinary church members the whole book (apart from a few purple passages) seems a little remote. Yet, right at the end of the reading, one of our elderly members said to the group: ‘it’s hard work being a minister, isn’t it?’ Yes! That is what 2 Timothy shows!
No one ever promised anything else. Here is Spurgeon on the struggle of ministry:
“All the way to heaven, we shall only get there by the skin of our teeth. We shall not go to heaven sailing along with sails swelling to the breeze, like sea birds with their fair white wings, but we shall proceed full often with sails rent to ribbons, with masts creaking, and the ship’s pumps at work day by both night and day. We shall reach the city at the shutting of the gate, but not an hour before.”
That is the reality of ministry which you may be only too painfully aware of.
But the glorious corollorary is this: ministering to Christ’s people is the most privileged, precious, wonderful, amazing, varied, delightful task I know or have ever known.
Hard, yes. Gritty, yes. Glorious. Yes, yes, yes. ‘If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness.’
The depth of faith
It’s been great to hear from Habakkuk this week with Peter Adam. At the moment, we’re deep into 2.4: ‘the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” – a translation, incidentally, that Mr Adam likes as faith can be the expression of a moment, whereas faithfulness is the continuation of faith.
Translations, aside, he’s been challenging us to think about what it means to live by faithfulness. Often, he says, we reduce this down to salvation. We might even reduce it down to a particular moment: ‘yes, I trusted Christ on 28 July 1981’ (which is when I did, by the way).
However, the righteous man or woman lives by faithfulness – the daily life of faith. How odd we often have faith in the God of salvation but not, for example, the God of creation or the God who sustains the world or the God who is head of his church. The true life of faith does not just trust God for our own journey to heaven but for all that he promises.
There is depth to faith which we often ignore. Pastorally we are so concerned that people get to heaven that we neglect to nurture faith in them in every area of life. And what is true pastorally is certainly true personally. The man of God, Mr Preacher, must cultivate in himself, with the Spirit’s help, a life of faith that impacts on every area of life and produces fruit in keeping with repentance.
Are you living by your faithfulness?
Learn to search
The real value of the enormous amount of information we now have at our fingertips is knowing how to search for it. And it’s in the intricacies of a search string that there is real power. To be honest, there are a whole load of features in my Bible software, as just one example, that I simply don’t use, nor do I want to. I need to do the hard work of exegesis myself rather than pressing a button and some algorithm coming up with all the answers. But my Bible software (which could, for you, be offline, online or simply how you use Google) is more than a repository. It allows me to search for genuinely useful things alongside dancing kittens.
So, for example, knowing how to search a Greek text for apo+dative is a really useful tool. It would take ages manually and most online and offline Bible tools will help you to do this. But it takes some time to learn that entering “g:apo WITHIN 4 WORDS @nd” is the way to get the answer. But it is (in Logos at least) and once you know that it ensures the software serves you, as a tool, rather than the other way around. The same can be said of Google searches or BBC News searches. The key to these tools is always to learn how to search. And then keep practising.
The inspiration of Scripture and us
Have you ever wondered why the Spirit inspires as he does? ‘But there is a place where someone has testified…’ (Hebrews 2.6). Why doesn’t the Spirit quietly (or even loudly) prompt the author of Hebrews, ‘Psalm 8.’ Wouldn’t that have been helpful? Wouldn’t that have avoided the need for footnotes? Possibly. But, Peter Adam has suggested this week, isn’t it also a wonderful insight into the way God works in the world more generally, including the way he inspires Scripture.
He is not a divine puppeteer. Not when it comes to Scripture, nor in any of his dealings with the world. He is, and always is, sovereign. But his sovereignty is not compromised by human responsibility and accountability. Indeed, it shows him to be relational and intimate with his people. For the puppet master who controls and dictates in a world where we have no part to play does not and cannot relate to us as Father. No. That is impossible.
But a sovereign God who works through us and in us in ways which are – ultimately – beyond understanding, establishes relationship and personal communication. And thus it is with Scripture. For if Scripture was God speaking directly, who could read it or hold it or stand before it or bear to listen. But, rather, Scripture is written down by human authors as they are carried along. And so there is divine accommodation and God’s voice can be heard, understood and obeyed.
Praise the Lord!
I kid you not. Peter Adam (pretty senior and conservative) has just done a rap on Habakkuk. Truly. No, really. When the video is uploaded, it’s worth its weight in gold. But not as good as the teaching from the book.
I preached my very first sermon on Habakkuk. The whole of it. Literally. I had moved to a church and university where the Bible was actually preached and I loved it. So, when the church asked me to preach, I over-reached significantly. I still have my notes which I keep for humility. It means that Habakkuk is close to my heart and reasonably well-known but even so I’ve found this week’s highlights wonderfully alive.
Take chapter 3. Out of Habakkuk’s desperate prayer of ‘How long?’ comes the beautiful song for Israel to sing that Habakkuk wrote, inspired by the Spirit. And at the head of this song is a wonderful response to what we see in the world. ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.’
If it is true that praying ‘How long, Lord’ is a good prayer for Christians to be praying – at all times – then it also follows that Hab. 3.2 is a song we should always be singing. For our longing needs to be expressed in terms of what we long that God might do. Ultimately, this means longing for the mercy of Christ: a mercy our world does not even realise it needs. But as we reflect on the judgements God has wrought in the past and as we call on him to bring justice today, we must pray this prayer asking him to remember mercy.
It’s rather easy for us as Christians to ask God to bring justice. That is a good prayer, but – in one sense – it is a terrible prayer. If God came today in wrath, we can hardly even begin to imagine what that might mean. So, all we as Christians can pray is ‘in wrath, remember mercy.’
Your daily prayer
I wonder if you have something you pray regularly? Peter Adam, teaching us this week, has told us that there are things he needs to pray every day because they are expressing sentiments that are so far from where he is at present, he dares not let up.
He quoted the example of a previous Bishop of Melbourne who said his daily prayer was ‘Let nothing happen today.’ Hmm. I guess that may be our unspoken prayer, but what is actually the prayer we should pray?
Personally, each day I write out the fruit of the Spirit and make one particular word the focus of my daily prayer for myself. But I wonder if even that is too general. Perhaps I need to be honest about my fears and failures and make those my daily prayer. Will you join me?
‘May this day be both by best day of loving and serving Christ.’ (Valley of Vision)
Praying Scripture (again)
I am sure I have mused on praying Scripture before. I am sure I shall
do it again. For, you see, I’m not all that good at it. Neither are my
people. And, I’m pretty sure, neither are you. The bulk of our praying
takes something like the form, ‘please bless so and so’ or ‘I pray
for…’ followed by a list of names.
I’ve been challenged by this whilst sitting under the ministry of
Peter Adam at this year’s Spring Ministers Conference. We’re looking
at Habakkuk. It’s pretty intense stuff. But one of the key ideas is
the encouragement that Peter is giving us to pray Scripture. How long,
has it been, he has challenged us, since we prayed ‘How long, Lord?’
You can’t really read Habakkuk and not be moved to pray this prayer
So how might you or I make this work? How about trying this: do your
devotion and pick out one application from the reading. Use the Bible
words to pray for yourself and then pick up your prayer list. Now
apply the same truth for each person you pray for. I don’t mean to
simply repeat the Bible verse as a mantra, that would seem little
better than just saying, ‘please bless…’ Rather, work through what
the truth means for each person on your list and pray that in.
I’ve found that praying like this is a richly rewarding and pastorally
useful exercise. It brings me nearer to my people. It gives me a deep
desire to see them flourish as Christians.
Why not give it a go?
Free ESV Study Bible
Diversity and God
I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity, not least because I’m leading a seminar on it at the EMA. We tend to talk about diversity in terms of completion: i.e. diversity somehow and in some way completes us, or even – we sometimes imply – completes God. Have you ever stopped to think about this? Why does God love diversity? Is it because we need each other in all our multi-faceted differences in order to be the people God wants us to be?
Logically, that doesn’t stack up as a primary reason. Is a white-only church in a white-only area which can never hope of being multi-racial (at least at present) somehow substandard to one which is cosmopolitan? That hardly seems right, even if there are benefits to being sharpened by people with different cultural expectations.
So how does diversity work, then? What – primarily – is its function and usefulness? I’ve just been reading Garry Williams’ excellent book “His love endures for ever” – possibly the stand out book of the last twelve months for me. This is what he says:
“God does not love the diversity because it brings him something he does not already have. He does not need the rich life of creation, because he himself lacks it richness. The necessity runs the other way; creation needs its rich life because its creator already has the richest life. If the creation is to reflect God properly then it needs to have a rich diversity for the very reason his divine life is already so rich and full.”