We're looking for a part time Internationals Administrator to come and work with our PT Cornhill team here at our London office. We enjoy and benefit from welcoming international students to Cornhill, but as you will know if you follow the news, sponsoring visa students is neither straightforward nor painless. We think it's worth doing and the Internationals Administrator who works three days a week plays an important part in that provision. Perhaps you have someone in your church or know of someone who may be interested. Please ask them to email firstname.lastname@example.org for an information pack.
On an associated note, next week we have not one but two inspections relating to our international visa status. We think we've got everything ship shape and in order, but please do pray that we will pass these inspections with flying colours so we can continue to serve the church of Jesus Christ in this constructive way. Thank you for praying.
Would it have mattered if Jesus was married?
The BBC have been reporting that Jesus may have had a wife. Their headlines and intro are written with some licence, however, given that even the professor who is hawking the 4th Century coptic manuscript says, "It is not evidence, for us, historically, that Jesus had a wife. It's quite clear evidence, in fact, that some Christians, probably in the second half of the 2nd Century, thought that Jesus had a wife." Not quite what the headlines are saying. But does it matter? (Since I wrote this blog post, the BBC have sensibly changed their online headline).
Simon Gathercole has written an excellent piece out of Tyndale House (see here). But here's a slightly different question, and one I challenge you to think about. Every now and again these issues come around and I think it is helpful to think about them constructively. We all agree that Jesus the Son of God is at the heart of our faith. So here is my question. It will test your Christology. It will help you see how robust your Christology is. Discuss it at next week's elders meeting or Monday morning staff meeting.
Would it have mattered if Jesus was married?
Here's the standard Catholic answer: Yes. Catholics argue that as Christ gives us his whole body in communion, then had he been married there would have been someone else to whom he gave his whole body and the eucharist would have been diminished. What do you think?
Perhaps your answer (or lack of it) may make you think you're going to put down all those self help and biblical counselling books and read something worthy on Christology. That would be no bad thing.
Secondary issues are not non-issues
We often talk about secondary issues. That's sometimes helpful terminology when we're talking about gospel partnership and evangelical distinctives. It's not entirely unbiblical either – "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters" – disputable translating the word dialogismos. But it's very easy to make a fundamental mistake about these issues – that they are unimportant. Paul's teaching in Romans 14-15 should set us straight on that. For a start, there is a clear understanding that these issues have a right and wrong about them (that, surely is partly the point about being weak and strong in faith).
For a start, some disputable matters become points of identity for a church. Take baptism. I'm ready and willing to argue the case for baptism as I see it in Scripture. But I understand that some of my brothers hold equally convinced differing positions. One of us is weak. One is strong. I'm not going to let that break fellowship, but equally, a church of which I'm a minister must have a position to which it holds. There are numerous other examples. And for those of us in ministry, we must know with some conviction at least, what we think about women's ministry, baptism, ecclesiology and church government – and here's one we ignore at our peril – the place of Israel in the purposes of God.
I think that could increasingly be a point of disagreement amongst Christians. It is often an emotive one. I want to believe that we can differ on what we think and not fall out. But it's naive to think that a secondary issue is a non-issue. Not so.
Furnishing your heart
I see the boy Lewis has been blogging some Flavel. Good. He's always worth reading. For what it's worth, here is a dose from a book I've been sent – although it is actually a quote, I believe, from 'Saints indeed' also published as 'Keeping the heart' by Christian Focus.
If you would thus keep your hearts as hath been persuaded, then furnish your hearts richly with the word of God, which is their best preservative against sin. Keep the word and the word will keep you. As the first receiving of the word regenerated your hearts, so the keeping of the word within you will preserve your hearts. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let it dwell, not tarry with you for a night, and let it dwell richly or plentifully, in all that is of it, in its commands, promises, threats, in all that is in you, in your understandings, memories, consciences, affections, then it will preserve your hearts.
This morning is our big EMA 2013 planning day. It's exciting and nerve racking all at the same time. In the last five years, nearly 2,500 different people have attended the EMA (2,390 to be exact). Our move to the Barbican is, in many ways, a step of faith, but the extra capacity means that we will, for the first time in a long time, be able to accommodate everybody who wants to come.
Here are some other interesting stats: In the last 22 years our database goes back, one person has come every single year, 4 have come every year but one, 12 have come every year but two and 10 have come every year but three.
In terms of denomination, no church group has dominated proceedings. In the last ten years, free church atendance has peaked at 46%, Anglican at 51%. Most years, the figures hover around those levels. Increasingly, we see visitors from overseas, whom we're delighted to welcome. Churches bring mission partners home for a break and the EMA proves a great chance to refresh. Last year 10% of our delegates were serving in overseas contexts.
We hope and pray for more of the same at our new venue. See you there. And why not start thinking now about whom you could come along with? Attending a conference with someone who lives close by is a great way of encouraging and building gospel partnerships. There's probably a minister serving near you who needs that kind of encouragement.
Christianity Explored evangelistic tract
Last Sunday I had the joy of baptising a man who had been converted after reading a Two Ways to Live tract. There are plenty of us who have every reason to be thankful for that resource. I still keep a stack in the car to give to people – especially the little pocket ones. But here's an evangelistic tract that's a little different and I love it – let me tell you why.
It's new from the guys at Christianity explored – A6 landscape – five simple pictures and accompanying text. The text is clear and unambiguous. And here's why I like it a lot – it works through (at a high level, of course) Mark's gospel. I think that gives it a biblical flow and consistency that other tracts don't always have. You can explain the gospel lots of ways, of course. But I really like the idea of explaining the gospel the way the gospels explain the gospel. Mark knew what he was doing when he wrote his gospel down.
The back pages offer the reader the chance to read through Mark's gospel online for free "It takes about two hours." Good idea. There's no prayer to pray at the end that many tracts have. I understand why that is, though, interestingly, in the case of my friend last Sunday, praying that prayer meant an awful lot to him. However, the booklet tells you how to pray so the omission doesn't matter. So presentation – excellent. Content – superb. I love this little tract. It focuses on Jesus, explains who he is, what sin and hell are, how his death saves and what place the resurrection plays. It's Mark in miniature.
My only minor gripe is that the online Mark text is from the ESV whereas the text in the booklet is NIV. I guess this is for copyright reasons. And I suppose the ESV gospel text isn't too clunky, but for someone new to the Bible, I wonder whether the NIV might be better?
Duplicity (4) – some remedies
What is the answer to duplicity? First some truths:
- God does not want us to be like this. He loves as individuals before he loves us as preachers. He wants us to know him and walk closely to him. He wants his Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
- It is not sustainable to be ministering to a congregation if we are dry and barren. In the short term, perhaps it will. But in the long term, it will not work. And so, we mustn't think we are doing the congregation any favours if we hide the truth from them.
- The pastorals are clear that, in the long term, the kind of duplicity I have described, is a bar to ministry. I say that not to frighten, but to elevate the issue to one of the utmost seriousness.
But here are some more gospel truths:
- Jesus has died for sins, including the sins of self-deception, lying, being cold towards him. He nailed these to the cross.
- Though we may quench the Spirit, I don't believe that we can throw out the Spirit who dwells within us. We are his, joined to Christ
- Jesus is not just interested in our salvation, but in our sanctification. Unlike the church (!) he is not simply interested in numbers through the door, but in a people whom he makes holy, a "radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish."
Practically, here is my wisdom, for what it's worth. Preachers need others around them. I think this works best with fellow elders, but if your ecclesiology prohibits this, then find ways to deliver the same accountability structures. These men – let's call them elders for the sake of it – need to be pastoring you. You need to be honest with them. They need to be caring, compassionate, direct, clear, godly – all of this themselves. They need to understand when you're struggling and help you through. They need to be discreet – not telling the rest of the church you are struggling. They need to commit themselves to pray for you – every day, I think, if they really believe the value of local church ministry.
You have such a Saviour. Do you have such people?
Duplicity (3) – I love the Bible
The preacher spends all his time in the word of God. He loves the word of God. He meditates on it day and night. He treasures it in his heart. He delights in its decrees. He does not neglect the word of God (all Psalm 119). He is paid money to do this. What could be better.
Or is this a more recognisable pattern?
Read the passage. Ask "How is this going to become a sermon?" Grab a piece of paper right away. Jot down ideas. Perhaps do this diligently. Big idea? Theme sentence? Aim? Outline? Introduction? Illustration? By Friday, it's taking shape and by Sunday the people get a good sermon. Monday. Start over.
No one knows. They assume that if you're giving them a good sermon, then you're fingers are covered with the ink of the text and the words have gone deeply into your heart.They assume that the message they are getting on Sunday is just the tip of the iceberg of your Bible study during the week. "If this is the message," they think, "imagine what other treasures he has mined this week!" Yes, you say to them – I separate out my devotions from my prep. That much is true. But what you don't say is that your devotions are rubbish if they exist at all. It's just been a prep week. Again. Again.
And, like prayer, this is not a failing you care to admit to. This is not something you will announce from the pulpit. At first you are ashamed. Then you convince yourself that your sermon prep is your devotion and that's fine. It must be sinking in. Until you review your spiritual progress over the last twelve months and you realist that you have not grown at all; in fact, if anything…..
How can I explain this so accurately? Well……
Tomorrow, some remedies.
Duplicity (2) – My prayer life is great
The pastor prays. Always. Have you noticed? He prays before his sermon, perhaps. He prays at the end. Maybe if he is leading a service he prays during it too. He attends the prayer meeting – it's his job. He prays. If there's a silent moment, he steps in. Gosh, people think, this is a godly man. What a pray-er! And public praying is always effusive. I mean, the pastor is praying on behalf of the congregation, so he doens't load his prayers with groans and cries. He prays big. He prays positive. And the people think, this man is a man of prayer. Perhaps they even say that to him – I remember once someone saying to me, "I tell people our pastor is a great man of prayer" – imagine the pride!
And then he sits at home and prays…nothing. His prayer folder gathers dust. He sits down in his study and presumes on the grace of God. He knows that God is gracious. And so, if prayer is hard and dry, God is still gracious. He finds it harder to get up in the morning. Early mornings are out. Never mind 6am, he struggles to make 8am. He prays well with others, but on his own..
And he daren't tell anyone. He daren't let people know that he struggles to talk to his Saviour. He knows it will be a ministry killer. So he maintains the illusion and slowly, gradually, he convinces himself that this is normal and he doesn't need to take remedial action.
If you wonder how I can nail it so accurately and effectively, well……
Later in the week, some remedies. But for now, just the diagnosis.
I spent some of the weekend reading a book that made be sad. It was Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race helpfully dispatched by amazon on publication day. It tells the story of professional cycling and doping – or more precisely, the story about Lance Armstrong (who won the Tour de France an amazing seven times in a row) and doping. It's not pleasant reading – not only because it blows apart sporting achievements that I loved watching as a spectator, but because Armstrong himself comes across (and this may be skewed by the book, of course) as a self-absorbed, self-deceiving, arrogant idiot. I'm pretty sure that the excesses of then are not being repeated now – the cyclists of the early nineties climbed the major hills loads quicker than they do today – and there are not many sports where performance goes backwards. I'm not so naive as to think that people don't push the boundaries of what they can get away with, but it does seem that is a different attitude now than there was then.
However, this is not a blog about professional cycling. It's a blog about preaching. So here's the thing. As I read, what saddened me most was the duplicity with which most of these riders conducted themselves. Hamilton himself said that if the whole team had taken lie detector tests, they would have passed, because they convinced themselves they weren't cheating. As I thought about this and then thought about my own heart, I reflected on the capacity for self-deception. How easy it is to convince others, and in doing so convince myself, that everything is OK, or better, everything is glorious. I think preachers are particularly good at doing this. They know that to stand in the pulpit and say "I've had a rubbish week/month/year. I'm struggling to pray. I've lost my love for Christ" is the kiss of death for ministry. So, we say nothing. We convince others and we often convince ourselves.
I want to blog about this a little this week. Because this duplicity is deadly to faith and deadly to ministry. Part (2) tomorrow when we'll get into specifics.