People like sin
I watched a fascinating programme on BBC last week about the Group B rally cars. These were the madness years of rallying (early 1980s) when manufacturers were allowed to submit cars with little or no resemblance to production cars and virtually no other rules. This was coupled with one of the most popular spectator sports in the world and in some countries with no spectactor control at all (see picture). Crowds parted at the last minute to let these leviathans through. Deaths were inevitable, and deaths there were. Spectators and competitors. You can watch the programme on the iPlayer for a bit here.
I remember being enthralled by the sport at the time. The danger and the sheer recklessness of it all was captivating to a teenage boy. But looking back coldly, it was madness. Everyone could see it. But what interested me most is that in the present-day interviews with the drivers and team bosses, there was very little regret. Drivers said it was the best time of their lives. Team bosses went all misty eyed at the memories. These, for them, were the glory days. Never mind the carnage and the deaths.
They knew it was madness. They knew the dangers. But they went ahead anyway.
When we preach we need to not only convince people that sin is real and sin is bad but that sin is going to lead to destruction. That's why we need the whole gospel. I don't think it's particularly hard to convince people of (1) and (2). (3), however is much harder. The problem is not convincing people that sin is bad, but tearing people away from sin that they like. This is why the Holy Spirit's work is essential. In the world of rally, people knew the logic, they knew the dangers, but still they chose the path of destruction. In the spiritual realms, likewise, people will still choose the paths of destruction unless the Spirit convinces them that the word is true.
Reflect on Ephesians 2.1-3.
Prepared for death?
Had one of "those" phone calls on Sunday afternoon to tell me that a dear saint who had served as a missionary in Brazil for 40 years had been called to glory. She was elderly, blind and is now in a place which is "better by far." She was very dear to me, so the news of her death was saddening.
I remember Don Carson addressing a small fraternal I was at a few years ago telling us that the pastor's job was to prepare people for death. There's a lot of truth in that. But I want to extend it a little. After all, we must not "grieve as the rest of mankind who have no hope" (1 Thess 5.13). I wonder if we could define a pastor's job thus: "preparing people for their death, and the death of others." For the truth is that many Christians are unprepared for death – by which I mean the death of others. We are more influenced than we care to admit about the heart struggles that we go through when a loved one dies. We don't know how to think about the future properly, nor what it means to grieve with hope.
Perhaps we need to add that to the job description? How well prepared are your people for other people's death?
Radio 4 programme on women bishops
Interesting programme on Radio 4 yesterday including a very high quality section with Andrea Trevenna from St Nicholas' Sevenoaks. Listen here. Go to 16:38 if you want to skip context and go straight to her part. She's very strong on the authority of Scripture. She pretty much was the only person interviewed who mentioned the Bible.
Yes, it's only just finished, but here's news of the next Evangelical Ministry Assembly. We're moving, as you probably know, to the Barbican, which will allow for many more people to come. And our theme is driven by 1 Peter: Faithful – living and preaching in an alien world. We think it's a key issue. Here's the trailer. Pass it on and book the dates.
A call to empathy
Here's an email from a dear brother in Nigeria who's had to cancel his EMA trip because of the situation at home. I've anonymised the letter, but you'll get the main thrust.
My Dear Brothers, Its a pity that I am not able to make it to the EMA this year as planned. This is because of the following reasons: 1. Last Sunday, two Churches were bombed in Zaria. and one Church was bombed in Kaduna all in the same state. As a result so many lives were lost and violence broke out with more people killed. 2. The government therefore imposed a 24hrs curfew immediately. They tried to relax it on Tuesday and more killings happened so they re-imposed the 24hrs curfew. They relaxed it on Friday just for Muslims to go to the mosque. And they relaxed the curfew today Sunday just for the Christians to go to the Church. We worshiped today under armed mobile police guard. WE NEED YOUR PRAYERS BECAUSE WE ARE AT RISK DAILY.
"Continue to remember…those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" says the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 13.3). Just think about what he's saying there. "Continue to remember…." OK, I can do that. But "as if you yourselves were suffering?" The Scriptures call me to empathy, not just sympathy. They call me to put myself in my brothers shoes and to let that shape my memory and praying. This is a hard calling, and I'm not sure one we take all that seriously. It's rare enough to find Christians concerned for those around the world who are suffering, let alone putting themselves in their shoes.
How does one go about this? I'm not sure I know. I sat down with this email this week (the original is a bit longer) and read and re-read it. I tried to let it sink in (there's family news too about how the troubles have temporarily split this family apart). I tried to imagine my own family spit apart by a curfew. I tried to imagine my own church members laid out on a slab following a bomb attack. I tried to imagine preaching to a frightened, angry congregation. What would they have made of last Sunday's sermon. As I did this, I felt tears well up.
I think that may be as near as I can get to the Hebrews injunction for now. It is a good discipline though. One that moved me and got me thinking about the church Jesus loved more broadly. It made me thankful for the freedom I do enjoy. It helped me "continue to remember…."
One of the joys of Thursdays at the EMA is our international reception. Sadly this year there will some missing (those who couldn't get visas, and some others from Nigeria who feel it is a bad time to be leaving their churches at the moment). Nevertheless, it is always great to meet folk from around the world who make the EMA part of their programme. Sometimes they are overseas missionaries who are brought back by their churches so that they can benefit from the spiritual food that the EMA provides.
It's a humbling time. Many of these brothers and sisters know in greater and sharper clarity what it means to take up their crosses daily. Few have the resources available to us, so we try to give them some good deals in the bookshop.
But they all have something in common. They love Bible preaching. They see this as the God appointed means for growing his church. For some, such preaching is decidedly counter cultural, even within evangelical circles. Others face different temptations, but temptations to neglect preaching nonetheless. Yet they want to invest in learning to preach and in keeping going in preaching. We've definitely something to learn….
EMA 2012 Day One
It's first day at this year's EMA. Here's what's happening.
- Christopher Ash is kicking us off with an exposition of Psalm 55
- In the second session, Mervyn Eloff is speaking on the connection between the heart and preaching.
Our afternoon streams cover connected topics:
- Paul Tripp will speak on the heart and biblical counselling
- Glynn Harrison will speak on preaching to masculine hearts
- Mervyn Eloff will speak about the heart and transformation
In our final session Paul Tripp will lead the first of three session on Dangerous Calling. Essentially this is about preaching to our own hearts.
Pray for us, if you can.
And here’s one of me with Paul….
As the EMA nears (and for us, it's already started), here's my plea. Let's fight against the celebrity culture. We've got some good speakers whom we've invited because they're, well, good speakers. Not because they're celebrities. So leave your cameras at home. Pictures with the speaker? What's that about? And for those who are feeling a little righteous and smug, can I suggest there is a bit of celebrity chasing in all of us. It may not be the speakers, it may be the pastor of this big church, the director of that useful ministry, the author of that book. What I mean is, all of us need to guard our own hearts against such hero worship at such events. One of the great things about the EMA is that, though we reserve seats for speakers so that they don't have to stand (that's just polite), we don't coral them off in a special gated area. So, yes, you may find yourself sitting next to someone whose ministry God has blessed. But guess what, he's just a delegate like you, just a servant like you, just as in need of the gospel as you. And the EMA exists to serve us all. So please do pray for tomorrow and the next three days. Pray for usefulness, pray for hearts to be encouraged and challenged, pray for us all to be stirred, pray for equipping for the task to which God has called us. And fight with us the celebrity culture.
For those who crave disappointment…
…wisdom from Mrs R: "Oh well, there's always Andy Murray…"
Introducing Introducing books
This EMA sees the launch of a new mini series from PT Resources. We've edited the opening chapters of three of our Teaching… series into little books called Introducing Acts, Introducing Ephesians, and Introducing 1 Timothy.* The Teaching books are ideal for preachers and small group leaders, but we wanted to produce a resource which was good for church members. Thus each little book introduces the Bible book, gives some background, some insight into the main themes and how to read the book and concludes with an opening study. It's like having a detailed study guide on each book of the Bible. At the EMA they'll be on sale for £1. Why not grab some? We've done them so that if a church is going through, say, Ephesians, the study leaders can get Teaching Ephesians and then the group members could buy Introducing Ephesians and build up a little library that way.
*Editor's note – this Oxford comma was inserted with the help of Mr LG of Cambridge, England.