Please pray this week
Please do pray for the Evangelical Ministry Assembly this week. We’ve got about 1,300 people coming from about 750 churches. Some 250 have never been before and we’re especially praying that they will feel at home and encouraged. Please do remember to pray for our main session speakers – Simon Manchester, Don Carson, Vaughan Roberts, Jonty Allcock, Alasdair Paine and Dick Lucas. But more than that, please be praying with us that God would sovereignly use these few days together to encourage all who attend to persevere. Thank you for your prayers.
EMA Missions Project
It’s the EMA next week and each year we announce a missions project that we are hoping delegates will support. It’s absolutely vital that we keep looking outwards and avoid introspection and so a gathering like the EMA is an opportunity to express our gospel generosity matched by gospel vision.
This year, we’re sending resources to Kenya. Kenya is a large country with a huge proportion of the population self-identifying as evangelicals (some 25 million). But there are also 80,000 churches with untrained leaders and the prosperity gospel teaching is rapidly taking hold. Kenya is increasingly looking outward (much as Nigeria has in the past) and so there is a real risk of this false and dangerous teaching overtaking both Kenyans and many in East Africa who look to Kenya for Christian leadership.
We’re partnering with our friends in iServe Africa to distribute two key resources to help brothers fight in this battle. The Gospel Coalition International Outreach has generously given us copies of their new book on this pernicious teaching Prosperity? Hodder and Stoughton have matched this with low cost copies of The Proclamation Bible. This important resource contains an NIV Bible text and 120,000 extra words of essays, introductions and how to which will assist Kenyan brothers in preaching faithfully.
If you’re coming to the EMA, please consider giving generously to this project. If you’re not with us this year, you can still support this initiative by contacting us in the office.
On behalf of brothers in Kenya, thank you, thank you, thank you.
The Word and its words
According to my newspaper, we now have the Emoji Bible. It will help millennials read the Word apparently. I am working on the assumption that this is a spoof, or at least a very light-hearted attempt to create a news story. For example, inserting the anger emoji into strANGER is just plain daft. But it did get me thinking. I imbibe my Bible (is that the right word?) in different ways.
I use an audio Bible when out and about, especially walking or the rare occasions I commute to work on public transport. I love letting the text sink in as it does with audio books. I am listening to words.
I use an eBible to study, actually a big user of Logos software. I find it’s a great way to interact with lots of resources, original languages, Bible versions etc. I don’t buy paper commentaries anymore unless there is no Logos equivalent, enabling me to build up a portable, usable and extensive library. I am working with words.
I use a paper Bible to read and preach from (and make notes in). For sermon prep I print off a passage and write all over it. I am perhaps old fashioned in this way – but this is me: I love taking notes in meetings by annotating a PDF on my tablet, but my favourite writing instrument is a Pelikan fountain pen! I am reading words.
But in each case, it is words. Not pictures or emojis. This raises all sorts of questions, of course, especially around translation into limited languages or for those with limited understanding. Nevertheless, exceptions aside, the Word is made up of words. That is how it has come to us. That is how we must continue.
Why do you read?
When we moved the EMA to the Barbican, we had a major rethink about the Bookstore and, in particular, I gave some time to thinking through why ministers of the gospel should read. I guess we had, perhaps subconsciously, always thought in terms of providing a ministers bookstore. But what does that actually mean? The result was that we came up with our three categories of books. Some of these are more natural selections than others. I think we tend to use our limited time to read for ourselves, and often not for our own personal walk, but rather for ministry.
That’s certainly an important category, but not the only one. Here’s what we came up with.
We aim for the Bookstore to serve you in three different ways and have chosen titles for you:
– as followers of Christ: books that will help us understand what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34)
– as preachers and teachers: books that will assist Bible preachers and teachers to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)
– as leaders of congregations: books that will be good for our people as we seek to shepherd them wisely (1 Peter 5:2)
In fact, ministers of the gospel who are not reading in each of these areas will be at risk of being seriously deficient.
What book shall I preach on next? 10 things to think about
I’ve always found it slightly ironic that we evangelicals who quickly decry the kind of preaching which jumps around from text to text as being a bit mystical (“the word the Lord gave me”) freely choose books through which to preach. Given that any individual book has a dominant theme, we are still, therefore, selecting themes on which to preach at some level. The only way around this, it seems to me, is to begin at Genesis and keep going!
No, I’m quite OK with giving the pastor-teacher (together perhaps with other church leaders) the prayerful and thoughtful duty of selecting a book to preach. I happen to think the value of consecutive expository preaching is not that is completely eliminates the whim of the preacher, but that it mitigates it. But how to choose which one? Here are some things to bear in mind.
1. What kinds of genre have you been preaching recently? Good to give a range.
2. What testament have you been in? We believe the whole Bible to be inspired as Christian Scripture.
3. What gospel have you recently preached? There are four for a reason and they are worth returning to regularly.
4. What particular issues are pressing in church? Are these addressed by a prophet or an epistle?
5. What are kids doing in Sunday School? Can you tie in?
6. Have you covered key themes? Churches turnover very rapidly; we need to ensure as much as possible that people with us for a while have not simply had three years of Jeremiah?
7. What speed have you been going? Try speeding up or slowing down? For example, a series on the Lord’s prayer is a good way to slow things up.
8. What have you been challenged by in your personal devotions recently? This kind of series is going to be fresher than something you have picked off the shelf?
9. What do your other leaders say? They can have good insights into what the church needs.
10. What can you cope with? Some parts of Scripture are harder than others. The over-ambitious preacher makes trouble for himself.
There are others, of course. But these will get you started.
Praying for Muslims
We’re right into Ramadan – possibly the longest one for many years as it falls squarely across the summer equinox when the days are longest. It means the area of London where I live is unusually quiet during the day but surprisingly noisy after sunset (just when I’m trying to get to sleep). We live in one of the most densely populated Muslim parts of the UK which brings with it all kinds of challenges. One of them – at least – is reaching Muslims with the good news of Jesus who saves.
Surprisingly, more Muslims become Christians during Ramadan than other times of year. Experts think this may be because they are more open to spiritual things and are, indeed, searching for something elusive during this period – something that Islam cannot deliver.
It’s therefore a great time to be encouraging your churches to pray for Muslims, especially those in the UK. Pray for conversations! Pray for engagement! Pray for disenchantment! But above all, pray for salvation. It’s a big thing for a Muslim to convert from Islam to Christianity; dangerous, even in the UK. We’re using the WorldChristian Concern 30 days of prayer booklet and resources and you might like to as well.
Loving your wife, Mr Preacher
Last year, Mrs R and I took a marriage seminar in Huddersfield and a dear saint gave me a copy of a cherished article she had kept (and obviously photocopied many times). It is entitled 103 ways a husband may express love to his wife (how to convince your wife you love her) and 94 ways a wife may express love to her husband. (Typical, women get the easy ride, only 94).
It’s quaint and humorous. No.42 “Gently brushing her leg under the table”, No. 14 “Looking at her with an adoring expression” and the remarkably practical and forthright No. 17. “Shaving or having a bath before having relations with her.” It’s easy to mock these things of course, but there’s plenty of wise advice mixed in among the old-folksy stuff that some people I know (me?) might do well to follow.
In a sense, it’s all part of a piece. “Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” says Paul. Too many husbands I know obsess about what it means to be head of the house. Now, there is no doubt that husbands are head (I’m a firm complementarian) and they need to think about what that means. But “be the head” is not a command of Scripture. It is certainly a reality to be worked out, but it is significant, I think, that the command is actually “love your wife.”
That is the measure. And – to be frank – many ministry husbands could do with a dose of Mrs Saint’s 103 tips. They have spent too much time working out how they will be the head and not nearly enough time praying and acting on Paul’s marriage imperative.
How are you going to love your wife today?
Me? I’m going for no. 43. “Be reasonably happy to go shopping with her.” Now, that’s sacrifice.
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.