I’m thinking a lot about persevering at the moment because that’s the theme of the EMA coming up in just two weeks. It’s amazing how many times the theme has come up in my morning devotions – just again this morning as I wrote out Revelation 2.1-7. I try to write a little portion of Scripture out each day as it helps me absorb (and sometimes even remember) what I’m reading. I’m currently writing out Revelation.
Now, I know that this is a letter written to a church. But the challenge is not just for a church (though that is its primary sharpness). It is also personal. For churches are made up of people, and are led by leaders. So what is written to the church must sink into the lives and hearts of leaders.
And on that basis, this first letter of Jesus is sharp as nails. It’s full of perseverance. Jesus knows my “hard work and perseverance” to make it personal. He knows “I have persevered and have endured hardships for his name and not grown weary.” All well and good.
But such perseverance is empty and meaningless; worse, it is dangerous, unless accompanied by love (v4-5). It’s good we’re talking about perseverance and keeping going. There is a real risk of giving up which we must face up to. But perseverance without love is nothing at all. If I make it to the finish line but have lost my first love then there is no finish line. I’m deluded. Worse still, I’m lost.
Perseverance Plus. Definitely.
‘Faith Comes from Hearing’
My spare-time reading in the last couple of weeks has, I admit, been a bit niche: a book about Bob Dylan, which argues that he has always expressed strongly monotheistic convictions and thus that his apparent period of overt evangelical belief (c.1979-81) was not just a blip in his career. (You may, or very well may not, be interested to know that the book is Stephen H. Webb, Dylan Redeemed. Despite much derision from my nearest and dearest, my fascination with Bobology won’t die.)
The author, a Christian, veers off regularly into musings of his own, and one of them (I joke not) immediately made me think of preaching. On the last page he asks, ‘why is hearing so important to us? And why do voices have the power to command our assent?’ His answer: ‘In listening to any voice … we are prompted to hear the silence out of which speech comes, and if we are truly blessed, we can hear an echo of the first voice – God’s Word – that, by speaking the world into being, gave us silence so that we might hear.’
OK, there is perhaps a little iffy theology and philosopho-babble floating around here, but the basic point is fascinating and (to me) persuasive. There is something about simply listening to the voice of another that has the effect of stilling us, silencing us, so that we may simply hear. That is a vital truth to be reminded of – especially so for we Westerners who are constantly told that voicing our own opinions is our most inalienable right, and who have been schooled by our culture to have the greatest difficulty in simply shutting up and listening to another command our assent. (And the rugged individualism of evangelicalism is at least as worldly as it is godly in this regard.)
That’s the link to preaching. Even my all-too-skimpy reading of older writing on preaching reveals that Paul’s statement in Romans 10.17 that ‘faith comes from hearing’ has loomed pretty large. Dever and Gilbert, in the first chapter of their simply titled work Preach, make much of this – as, in his own more understated way, does John Stott in I Believe in Preaching (published in America as Between Two Worlds). The point being stressed for us in such thinking is not that the Word of God has a unique power in the pulpit that it does not have in the family devotion or the coffee-shop one-to-one. It is that to hear the Word preached is to be in the position of someone invited not first of all to discover for yourself or to ask an impressive question, but to respond with faith to a message which you simply receive and to which you yourself make no actual contribution. In such a context the form of communication matches the content of the gospel of salvation achieved for us in a way that a Bible study (for all its marvellous benefits) does not quite carry off.
I suspect that sharp questions need to be asked of a Christian who always insists that they prefer participating in Bible studies to listening to sermons. There might be some unobjectionable reasons for this preference, but I have come to feel that too often the real reason is unspoken and reveals a spiritual malaise: the person prefers to encounter the Word in a context in which they contribute more than just grateful faith – i.e. one in which they can retain a feeling of control. That may well reveal the presence of a self-serving heart that secretly desires to be justified by works, whatever it may notionally assent to about grace, rather than a heart that is content always to receive with empty hands.
EMA 2016 new songs
Each year we try to sing a mix of old and new songs at the EMA. This year we’ll be singing Dustin Kensrue’s Grace Alone. You can hear the song here. If you’ve accomplished musicians in your church, they’ll be able to pick up the song from chord charts available online. One thing you won’t be able to find though is the sheet music for those who need it. We’re very hesitant about learning something new that is not repeatable in church life, so you’ll be glad to know that we’ve scored out the music which, if you email us nicely, we can send to you. It goes with all the normal copyright restrictions, of course.
EMA 2016: just a couple of weeks to go!
It’s just over two weeks until this year’s Evangelical Ministry Assembly – Leaders who last – at the Barbican. We’d love to see you there and here are five reasons why we think it’s worth making space in your diary for this annual event.
1. The topic is important. Statistically, you’re more at risk of giving up than you might imagine. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young and seemingly invincible or experienced in ministry and a little more realistic – we all need help to make it to the finish line.
2. The fellowship is essential. Ministry, even within a team setting, can be a lonely business. We need the fellowship of others in ministry to be encouraged and to encourage. Standing with like-minded brothers and sisters spurs us on in the gospel.
3. The resources are unparalleled. This year’s Bookstore has some great titles, and you’re not going to see a handpicked store of this size targeted at those in ministry anywhere else in the UK. This year we’ve also got a new consultancy area where you can get free advice for your church in a number of ministry areas.
4. The solidarity is spiritual. The EMA is not a church gathering. Nevertheless, when people from different backgrounds get together in the context of the gospel, we proclaim to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms the manifest wisdom of God. This is an enormous privilege.
5. The habit is healthy. We need good gospel-forming habits, and taking time out to be spiritually refreshed is key. Maybe you don’t feel like you need that this year, but regular attendance is a good habit to form, ready for the more barren times.
Leaders who last. Tues 21- Thurs 23 June 2016 at the Barbican Centre, London.
You can book online here.
EMA 2016 Bookstore: open to the public
One of the highlights of the EMA is our Bookstore. Packed with over 1,250 titles (many of which are new this year) each one has been carefully chosen to serve those who attend. These days, it’s difficult to find a good Christian bookshop and those of you whose members live or work in London may like to know that the Bookstore is open to the public via the Barbican Terrace. It’s open during conference hours from 9:30 to 5:00 (3:00 on Thursday). Come along and browse and encourage your people to visit too. We’d love to see them.
Spring ministers media
We were packed out at this year’s spring ministers conference and had some excellent input. Here are the video links. The audio is also available for download on our website.
Bryan Chappell’s sessions are here, here and here.
Vaughan’s opening and closing expositions.
Simon Medcroft’s two sessions on 2 Corinthians here and here
Andrew Cornes’ sessions will follow shortly.
Wives’ conferences just around the corner
It’s just a short while until our summer wives conference (4-7 July) and we’ve still got some spaces left (though, sadly, no room in the crèche). If you’re in the first few years of ministry, or at college, your wife may well be very thankful Mr Preacher, if you were to enable her to come along. There are many reasons for coming to a PT wives conference and encouraging your wife to come, but surely earning your wife’s thanks is a win-win! We’ve got an experienced set of wives, both Anglican and Free Church, to help things along. There are not many better places than Hothorpe Hall in the sun. What about it?
Perhaps Monday-Thursday is a difficult stretch because of work, family or church commitments? If so, then you may be interested in our weekend wives conference. Held over the weekend of 7-9 October at the luxury Ettington Chase hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon we’ve condensed our standard programme into something that will work over a weekend break. Don’t worry – there’s still space to relax and unwind (and swim and sauna!) with our normal mix of Bible input, seminars and fellowship. It may be just what you’ve been waiting for…
Thanks for praying
Some of you were praying about our Home Office inspection which we needed to pass in order to be able to sponsor visa students. Thank you so much. We have to whisper it, at the moment, but suffice it to say your prayers were answered. There was a hilarious moment where the Inspector, checking that we encourage students to be law-abiding, sat in a lecture on Galatians 2 and heard that those in Christ were not under law, definitely not so. It required a bit of explaining. 😉
Why I’m not planning my funeral
“So, I’ve chosen all my funeral songs already” is a pretty standard refrain these days from believers. To which I always respond with the same question, “Why?”
I haven’t planned my funeral and will not and here’s why: it’s not for me.
You will realise, I trust, that I will not be there at my funeral. Others will be and they will be grieving, but they must do so as those who have hope, not as those who do not have hope. And the funeral must serve them, not me. It must help them grieve appropriately. It is not a tribute concert to the departed. If they want to sing a song I really hate and it helps, let them sing it. I will be joining in, in my glorified sinless state, from heaven (so to speak!).
Of course, the best way for them to grieve might well be for them to sing something that I loved. They may want a Bible reading that was particularly precious to me in my last days. All well and good. But the service serves the living not the dead. And as pastors and preachers we have to keep reminding those who grieve about this truth.
Perhaps this is for another day, but it also shapes the tone of the funeral. There’s a bit too much laughing and dancing at funerals these days, and not enough tears, if you ask me. But seeing as you didn’t, I’ll stick with what I know: if you are preaching at my funeral, don’t you dare ask my family “what would Adrian have wanted?” Because you know the answer already: whatever, within Biblical bounds, will help them grieve with hope.
Teaching 123 John
The first of our two new titles is now available. Mervyn Eloff has written a superb volume for us on Teaching the epistles of John. These are a rich seam for preachers (although 2 and 3 John are normally overlooked). Mervyn steers a careful course and helps preachers and teachers grapple with the text.
As with all these volumes, these are not full commentaries, but neither are they books of sermons. Rather they are books written by preachers and for preachers to help those whose task is preaching and teaching the “wonderful word of the Lord” as the hymn writer puts it. They’re written at a level that will serve you as a preacher, but also be accessible for, say, small group leaders if you’re doing a Bible study series.