This year’s EMA books
Our Friday selection next week are two crackers. First of all, we've got Carrie Sandon's Different by Design for £7. Carrie is the women's worker at St John's Tunbridge Wells. This is a book about gender. You may think you've heard it all before, but here is a British book written with our culture in mind and taking us through the whole issue of male/female biblically, warmly and clearly. I think it is well worth the seven spondoonies out of your wallet. It's also written carefully so you can give it to those who are thinking through these issues in your church. A good resource for your bookshelf in the "read and pass on" category.
Then we have Graham Benyon's new book on the heart and emotions. Get your tissues ready! No, seriously, this is a proper, well-thought through book on the emotions. It's very timely and fits in neatly with the EMA theme. I don't want to spoil it, but if you're a preacher you need to buy this book because (1) chances are you're a little repressed anyway and (2) there's a superb afterword for preachers. Clichéd I know, but it's worth the price of the book (£7). Enjoy.
This year’s EMA books
On Thursday of next week, we've got two more crackers. They're our two new volumes in the Teaching… series.
Simon Austen has written Teaching Ephesians for us. Simon is our Ephesians expert and this is reflected in his excellent handling of this well known book. I challenge you to read the book and not be moved to think about a preaching series through the letter. In particular, Simon superbly guides us through the way Ephesians speaks about the realities of the church being in Christ, not just as individuals. Plenty of us could do with this corrective.
Angus MacLeay had a heart attack. Then he recovered. Then he wrote Teaching 1 Timothy. True story. As part of his recovery process (for which we're all immensely grateful to God), his church leaders gave him time off to write and he wrote for us. Teaching 1 Timothy is a book written by someone with a pastor's and preacher's heart. You can tell. Again, it is a great insight into this important letter and moves us on from thinking it's all about church order….
Both are available at the EMA for £6.50 and even if you're not planing on preaching these books anytime soon, they're worth having on the shelf.
This year’s EMA books
The Evangelical Ministry Assembly is just around the corner, so it's time to tell you what books we'll have on special offer each day – these are our stage recommendations.
On Wednesday we've got The Gospel as Center, the collection of essays based on the Gospel Coalition's affirmations. It's a really great collection of short chapters. For the most part these aren't going to tell you much that is new. However, they will reinforce and remind you of the essential things, plus work through their application in church. I think this would be a great book to read, for example, with your leadership teams. It's a substantial hardback which retails at $23. We've got it for £8. Worth buying a batch for your church leaders.
Also on Wednesday, we're recommending Christopher's new book Pure Joy on the conscience. This normally retails at £9.99. We've got it for £7. It's got a nice cover. Oh, and it's a good book too. We don't tend to talk too much about the conscience and we're not really sure what we ought to think about it. This book should redeem that position. We've decided not to have a book signing table, but my top tip is to get it signed by Mrs Ash. 100 years from now everyone will have one signed by the author, but how many people will have one signed by the author's wife?! This is the way to protect your investment!
Two great reads. Good for your mind. Good for your heart.
It’s here – the PT app
Search for proctrust in the app store to get the new PT iPhone app. Audio downloads and streaming plus access to the blog. Make sure you've got it installed!
Why preaching is still the thing
Don't often post links to other places (I think there is more merit in being original than simply filling internet pages with links to links to links). However, in this case, I want to make an exception. Depending on what circles you move in, you may not have seen this. It is Matthew Hosier's (NFI elder) reply to someone who felt that preaching had had its day and we ought to be focusing more on discipleship. It's a statement, by the way, that I've now heard from several places in slightly different forms. Matt has a good answer. First, though, here's a taster of the question:
A friend of mine was attending a conference about ‘missional communities’ and while there tweeted, “We spend 2 days preparing a sermon that no one remembers 3 weeks later. Maybe we should spend that time making disciples.”
And here's his good answer. Every preacher should follow the link.
The obedience of the Lord Jesus
Robin Weekes and I had the same 'Eureka moment' during our Cornhill practice classes last Tuesday afternoon. At least we like to think it was a 'Eureka moment'.
Students were expounding Matthew's account of Gethsemane. Some majored on the wonderful truth that the Lord Jesus is here doing for us something we will not, and cannot, do for ourselves – hence the contrast of Jesus' watchful prayerfulness and the disciples' sleep. One of the students in my group perceptively took Romans 5:19 as a theological control: by the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous.
Other students majored on Jesus' command to 'watch and pray, so that you do not enter into temptation' and applied it to our own watchfulness in prayer to resist temptations.
In both our groups, as we discussed these, Robin and I had a sense of déjà vu, remembering pretty much identical discussions when students were expounding Matthew's account of the temptations of Jesus. In both passages, we agreed that the primary and gospel truth is that Jesus is doing for us something we cannot do for ourselves; his perfect obedience under the temptations in chapter 4 and the temptations in Gethsemane in chapter 26 is a wonderful and perfect obedience, and it is only by this obedience that we can be made righteous through the cross to which his obedience took him. While it is true that we may learn from Jesus how to resist temptation, and that we ought indeed to be watchful in prayer against temptation, this is not the primary application of the passages.
But what thrilled both me and Robin was the thought that the obedience of Jesus is signalled so strikingly as he enters into his ministry (in chapter 4) and as his earthly ministry draws to its close (in chapter 26). It is as if these vivid obediences bracket the total obedience of his life and ministry.
The real skill of preparation
Assuming you are the kind of preacher who spends some significant prep time studying the text (and if not, what are you doing?), then I think I've worked out one of the hardest parts of the exegetical work. It's not
- Hebrew or Greek
- working out the structure
- determining the big idea
- thinking through sharp and relevant application
- writing headings
- etc, etc
It's knowing what to leave out. I wonder if this is the real skill of preparation. I'm preparing a sermon on Gen 3.14-24 at the moment. It's for our evening congregation which means it has to be about 25 minutes and straightforward. Daily Express rather than The Times. And the text is full of stuff. Really full. And I can see, even at this early stage, that one of the hardest things I will have to struggle with is what to put in and what to leave out. I think that may even be harder than working out whether Rom 16.20 has any bearing on the curse….!
It's a preparation step that will ensure the sermon hangs together and works for those who are listening, so I dare not cut it out. But here's the thing. Neither can I short cut the rest of the preparation thinking that these kinds of issues will not make it into the final cut. How can I know what to put it and what to omit unless I've done the study work first of all to see how it all fits together.
Tsk. And my Dad thinks preachers just work one hour a week.
A preacher’s encouragement
I had the joy this last Sunday of preaching at a local church as a stand in when someone had pulled out relatively last minute. It was a small, but happy church. It got me thinking about where preachers find their encouragement. The world would find their encouragement in numbers, and many preachers think the same. There is a buzz preaching to a few thousand (something I've only done very occasionally). It is harder with a few dozen. We may have good and godly reasons for wanting churches to be bigger – after all, if my church sits 200, say, and there are only 50 in the pews, I might be calling out to God to save 150! That's no bad desire!
But the truth is most preachers are more affected by worldliness than that. There is a kick we get from a full church which massages our egos and makes us feel worthy. I spent almost 10 years ministering in a small (<100) church. I know how it feels and I know (oh, how I know!) the worldly temptations a preacher faces. Very early on I confessed to my Gamaliel that I struggled when the church was almost empty. I found it harder to preach.
'Ah,' he said. 'You're finding your encouragement in the wrong place. Your encouragement comes not from the numbers you have in front of you, nor even the response, but from the task you've been called to do.'
That's a pretty radical idea. After all, imagine you are preaching and there's a great response. Wouldn't you be encouraged? Wouldn't you whoop for joy if, say, there were many conversions? Of course. But if you do so independently of the God who is at work, then the logical conclusion would be that you should be full of discouragement if no one was moved. That's preposterous. No, a preacher's encouragement comes first and foremost from the doing the task he is called to do and knowing that God will do what he will do.
This is Ezekiel in action. 'And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear' (Ezekiel 2.7). Ezekiel had a tough gig. In fact, right from the start, God tells him that his preaching is going to have little or no effect. That would decimate most modern preachers. But no. For Ezekiel the task from Yahweh is what drives him on. So it must be with us.
It's also why, of course, Ezekiel starts with a glorious vision of God on his throne (looking like a man – I take this to be Christ). This, ultimately, is Ezekiel's encouragement. This is the God he is serving.
Preacher, you need to find your encouragement in the right place. Which means, like Ezekiel, you need a big vision of the triune God.
Some people missing from the EMA…
We're beginning to hear about some brothers who are being denied visas to attend this year's EMA. Last year we had one delegate who was refused entry and put on the next plane home. This feels a little unfair and certainly unfortunate for those who would love to come, but find themselves unable to do so. The EMA can be a lifeline for such people, especially if they feel lonely in ministry. Often they have paid out on airfares. Please do join us in praying.