Here we come, Wales
Dick and I are off to Newport tomorrow to work with a small group of pastors in South Wales. We love doing things like this, even though it means crossing the border (only joking!). In fact, it's under two hours on the train from London.
I'm the lead out man with Ezekiel 1, and then Dick is leading two sessions on 2 Timothy. Dick's teaching on 2 Timothy includes this assessment of the reasons why Timothy and his ministry might go astray:
- satanic deception (2 Tim 2.26)
- widespread moral breakdown (2 Tim 3.1-5)
- poor Bible handling (2 Tim 2.15)
- sinfulness (2 Tim 2.19)
Isn't point 3 arresting. We all know that we must present ourselves as "one approved" but it is not just for our own sake. God forgive that we should ever think of ministry in this way. This injunction is not just so that I would do my best, like my dad might have said to me before I went into an exam. No, it is for the sake of the church, for the sake of God's people, that we must carry on working hard at Bible ministry.
Autumn ministers conference
Before the summer kicks in (I wish!) why not take a moment and book a place at our Autumn Ministers Conference. This year we're excited to be joined by Doug Moo, the NT scholar and church elder/preacher. It's worth coming just to see how tall he is…. But seriously, these times away together and precious and important in keeping us going in ministry. The dates are Monday 12 – Thursday 15 November. I look forward to seeing you there. Book online here.
Numbers 11-12 and a prayer for purification
Preaching to the wives this morning on Numbers 11-12. It's pretty numbing stuff. I finished this wonderful prayer from Valley of Vision:
Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.
Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to Thee, cast myself on Thee, trust in Thee, cry to Thee, be delivered by Thee.O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but Thou art substance, all things are quicksands, but Thou art mountain, all things are shifting, but Thou art anchor, all things are ignorance, but Thou art wisdom.
If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do Thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost. If I sin wilfully, grievously, tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian.
Where do ministers get their fellowship?
Several of us are away at our Summer Wives conference and having, I trust, a happy time: Carolyn Ash preaching from the psalms, I'm doing Numbers. Rachel is doing the organising and, wonder of wonders, Mrs R is here too, part of the leadership team. Conferences like this are an important part of the pastoral care of a ministers wife; likewise our ministers conference serve a similar purpose for men. Here is a chance to spend time with those who are also in the unique ministry position that those who are not find very hard to understand. I suggested in my talk today, for example, that ministers and their wives are quite possibly most at risk of neglecting the gospel in the church. That will surprise many church members.
But it also needs to be said that the ministers primary fellowship, and that of his wife, needs to be in the church itself. The church is the thing in God's purposes and the minister or wife who seeks all his/her fellowship outside the church is cutting against the grain of God's economy. It requires wisdom and careful thinking of course, to make it work, but it must be the THE place where we find our solace and help. That's how God's made things. Roll with it.
An important pastoral reality
We heard sad news this weekend from the family of one man who attended the EMA and a good friend to us – his youngest daughter was killed in a car accident aged just 18. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. It also is a timely reminder of an important pastoral reality – you can't pastor your people through a tragedy unless you have pastored them before it. I don't mean that you need to know someone in your church in order to be able to minister to them when crises hit. I mean, rather, that the unshakeable attributes of God which provide our ultimate comfort in the darkest days need to be learnt beforehand. Then, when the darkness hits, they are laid hold of by faith. But you cannot say to a grieving family, say, 'let me tell you about God's sovereignty' or 'let me tell you about God's goodness.' These are truths we need to teach our people so that they are prepared for the dark days. The crises may reinforce, cement, secure the truths – but I don't think it is pastorally possible to start talking about them and applying them in the midst of the tragedy if you have not done so before. If our preaching in the good times does not prepare people for the rocky path ahead then we are no sort of pastor.
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.
Diagnostic questions for pastors
As part of his third day preach on 1 Peter at the EMA, Paul Tripp asked these searching questions.
- Have you lost sight of the fact that you deeply need all that you preach?
- Have you become less than open to the essential sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ?
- Have you come to expect of others the perfection you think you’ve achieved?
- Do you assess that you are qualified to have more control over your ministry than any pastor should ever have?
- Have you lost your sense of need for daily meditative communion with Christ?
- Are there places where you have come to take credit for successes that only grace can produce?
- Do you feel entitled to what you could never earn or could ever achieve on your own?
- Are you now less than watchful and protective when it comes to temptation and sin, than you should be?
- Do you tend to load more on your ministry shoulders than you can responsibly handle?
The horse and its rider
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.