I shed a tear. You may too.
I'm not ashamed to say that yesterday two things brought a lump to my throat and a little tear to my eye (not a full blown blub, you understand):
- Elections in Egypt. I saw a lady queuing to vote being interviewed on the BBC. "How long have you been waiting?" asked the reporter. Quick as a flash, she replied, "About 30 years." This is a significant moment in Egyptian politics/history and Christians and churches must be praying, not least because the outcome (known in about two weeks) could have significant impact on gospel witness in that historic country. Make sure you are praying this Sunday…
- A newsletter from friends in South Asia. They have gone for 18 months to learn the language and culture so they can minister to the large Diaspora back here in London. They've been gone 8 or 9 months and I miss them. But what brought a tear to my eye is that in this honest newsletter they admitted that they are all (kids too) desperately homesick. They're determined to keep going, but it's hard. Ministry is hard. If you went into ministry thinking otherwise, then you're a fool. We can get seduced by the fact that ministers in this country have been well looked after (relatively speaking) for the last few hundred years. And, praise God, there are still kind and generous donors who make sure ministers are cared for. But it is not the norm around the world, and it is certainly not the spiritual norm anywhere. Ministry is suffering, and if you don't feel it, perhaps you ought to pause and ask yourself, "What, exactly, am I doing wrong…?"
Credo, spaghetti and swords
I always find Credo magazine a stimulating read. And, for the misguided (!) amongst our readership, it doesn't wear its credo-baptist credentials on its sleeve too much. Latest issue is here. I thought Greg Gilbert had some particularly insightful things to say about preaching through Ezekiel:
Get a good handle on the structure of the book. Most Christians tend to think about Old Testament books—especially the prophets—as just a mash-up of various images and poems that aren’t really going anywhere or doing anything as a whole. It’s like a bowl of judgment spaghetti with a few Messianic meatballs thrown in here and there! But that’s a wholly inaccurate view of them. The prophetic books are more like swords than spaghetti. They have a weight, a shape, a point, and a thrust. They’re doing something, and they all have a tight—and sometimes brilliant!—structure to them. Spend the time necessary to drill that structure into your mind, and you’ll have a much better time studying and teaching them because you’ll know where you are in the “argument” or “story” of the book. Second, look for the Messiah! He’s there in every book and in every passage, sometimes even in places you don’t expect him. If you keep in mind the whole story of the Bible and how it all moves like a river toward Jesus, you won’t be so prone to get lost in moralism.
Younger Ministers 2012 -David Cook
David Cook's three sessions on preaching based on Acts were great. The last session, in particular, was gold dust and even if you skip the other two is worth downloading. The audio is online here or you can watch him through the medium of video….
Cornhill Summer School: 2-6 July 2012
Our Cornhill Summer School is filling up. This is a week of learning for anybody involved in teaching the Bible and those who want to learn how to do so. Click here for more information. It's great for students in your church or for those who do occasional preaching or teaching. The school is hosted by Christopher Ash with input from all of us here in the office. All those who come say they leave refreshed, enthused and equipped to teach the Bible to others. Who, in your church, would benefit?
Sorry seems to be the hardest word. Try a little restitution.
Have you noticed how difficult some people find it to say 'sorry'? Take Joey Barton. I know. I must. It was a thrilling end to the Premier League last Sunday – perhaps there's not been anything like it since that great day in 1989 when my team won the title against all the odds. The matches had it all – including a sending off. Joey Barton (for it is he) is a thug. I don't think, legally, I can get into trouble for that. He has, after all, served a jail sentence for assault. Yesterday his team (QPR) did better without him after he was sent off for an elbow to Tevez, a knee in the back for someone else and a head butt on Kompany. Any of those three would have earned him a red card on their own.
His initial response seemed to be indifference. He didn't, he tweeted, give a ****. All that mattered was that QPR stayed up (i.e. were not relegated). The news today is that Joey is a bit more contrite. Here's his response. See if you can see what's wrong with it:
Right, enough about yesterday. I apologise to everyone offended by it. If that's not enough for some, so be it. Life is too short.
This, remember, is an apology. It sure has the word in the sentence. But the second phrase 'everyone offended by it' is a giveaway. Joey's cross he got caught and cross that some people are offended by what he did – implication: he's not. It's no apology, yet it's the way that many people – politicians, sports stars, celebrities, say they're sorry.
It got me thinking about church life. I hope you don't have Joey Bartons in your church, but we're sinners and so we do do things that cause upset. In some ways, it doesn't matter whether we're in the right or the wrong. Our aim is not to please ourselves but serve others. And when we step over the mark, sorry is needed. In fact, delving into OT law (remember that?) we might sometimes need to go further. For the principle there is not just 'sorry' but restitution. Put things right. And then some.
If our covenant communities are going to be real communities we cannot afford to apologise like Joey. Preacher – take the lead.
Two ways to live iOS app
I've long been a fan of Two ways to live. It's short, pithy, clear and contains the essentials and heartbeat of the gospel message. Even if you don't use the outline in book form, having it in your head is, I find a great help in evangelism. Of course, it is important to know what these sorts of outlines/tracts are not. It's easy to pick holes – for example saying that TWTL should make more of the church into which we're saved. Perhaps. But that is to miss the point of what they are and what they are to achieve. Personally, I want to use it as a tool to talk to someone rather than something I give to a friend and think 'job done'. It opens the door to conversations.
So, I'm pleased to see an iOS app for iPhone and iPad. I like it. In fact, I like it a lot. I can see how using this on my phone or iPad with a friend could be really useful. It's the same material packaged for the modern age. Matthias are working at including enhanced content (video testimonies etc). That would also make it a good app for those who want to go off on their own and find out more. It's in English, Spanish and French so far, plus two languages I can't read but I'm reliably informed are Chinese and Japanese. Take a look in the iTunes store.
My only niggle is that it is not free. I understand that these things cost money to develop and that if you were to buy a TWTL booklet it would also cost you money, but I want people to come across it accidentally and read it by following through links, not just to read it when it is 'gifted'. That's a very minor complaint though. Overall? Brilliant. And it will be made even better with the enhanced content. Don't forget you can still make use of the online version by following the link above. The internet version also adds the children's version, 'Who will be king?'
Marriage petitions: both/and
We don't normally promote petitions – it would be very easy to get into all sorts of political debates about which Christians, in good conscience, hold differing views. But the question of marriage is critical. It's a creation ordinance; scarred by the Fall, for sure, but not, thank God, destroyed. And so, Christians should desire to see it upheld. Many of you will have already signed the Coalition for Marriage petition (currently standing at half a million signatories). I have. You should consider it too. Sign here. (If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it may interest you to know that a group promoting same sex marriage have set up a very similar looking website with a similar address – I won't paste the link.). The coalition for marriage is consciously non-religious: I think that's a very good thing – it's not just Christians who think highly of marriage.
But that does mean there are certain Christian arguments which also need to be heard. Another group Keep Marriage Special are fulfilling that role – sign their petition too. The two are not mutually exclusive.
To those UK readers who get frustrated about the price of ebooks
ebooks, as you may know, are subject to 20% VAT, whereas print books are not (funny how they always end up similar prices). You may be interested to know that one legal firm (Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP) is pursuing a case for removal of VAT "based on the EU principle that products which are similar from the customer’s perspective must have identical VAT treatment". Don't hold your breath. But watch this space.
Stop using illustrations
Well, some anyway.
My heart always sinks when I hear the words "I'm not sure whether to use this illustration or not….." in a sermon. Mrs R tells me that at that point she always wants to stand up and shout, "Don't do it, preacher!" Nine times out of ten I agree. So, here are two top tips for when you're not sure whether an illustration works (i.e. whether it illustrates the point you are making) or when you're not sure whether you should use it or not.
2. I said, don't.
Put it this way. If you're unsure of your illustration's effectiveness, you're unlikely to sell it to the crowd. A preacher who can't explain his explanation is a sorry sight and runs the risk of undermining his message. And if you're not sure whether it is appropriate, it almost certainly isn't – rather it sounds as though it is going to distract your listeners, or at least some of them. If you're not sure, don't use it. Think of a better illustration. I don't think preachers should be shock-jocks.
Learning from Peter the preacher
Just sat through a great session at our younger ministers conference with David Cook on preaching in Acts. Audio and video up soon, but for now, here are David's conclusions on Peter's three sermons (Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 4):
- 'cut me and I bleed the Bible' – Peter's sermons are infused with the Bible throughout. This is our task, to proclaim Christ from the Scriptures.
- engagement – we respect both the Bible and the people we are preaching to. Answer the questions that the text encourages us to ask.
- courage – too much preaching today uses phrases like 'perhaps' or 'maybe' or 'may I suggest' – these are never present in Peter's preaching
- gospel – Peter never loses sight of the gospel in his preaching
- Peter doesn't rush to imperatives. E.g. first command in Romans is Rom 6.11. Go to indicatives first. Who is God and what has he done? Imperatives derive from the indicatives.