Just so you know what I’m worth
As a preacher, my worth is not derived from:
- the time I start in the office
- the time I finish in the office
- how early I get up to pray
- how good a preacher I am
- whether I can write a good set of Bible study questions
- the number of unbelievers in my contact book
- how regular I am at every church gathering and side meeting
- the number of books on my shelves
- the number of readers of my blog
- how many facebook friends I have
No, as preacher, as a Christian.
My worth is entirely and solely and eternally derived by being in Christ, joined in wonderful and mystical union to the eternal Son of God who died for me and rose for my justification. That is my worth. But it is not without effect and implication as a preacher. Being in Christ, I will:
- work hard and use my time wisely
- get up early to spend time with my glorious King
- strive to proclaim him clearly as I should
- write Bible study questions that will help others know him better
- seek to meet unbelievers to tell them about him
- try to be with God's people at every opportunity
- buy and read books that will build my faith and help me understand the Bible better
- in my ministry, encourage others to serve him well, perhaps through writing a blog
- keep in contact with other ministers, say through facebook
It's not so much WHAT I do, do you see? It's WHY I do it. It's my heart that always needs searching and changing.
No impressions in the pulpit OR what we can learn from Jimmy Saville
Preachers should not do impressions. Impressions rarely work as this rather hilarious Jimmy Saville clip from straight-laced Peter Donaldson doing the six o'clock news bulletin on Radio 4 shows. And yet, very often, we do end up preaching just like our heroes. A generation of free church pastors tried to be Lloyd-Jones just as a generation of Anglicans tried to be Stott. And those two generations have found, in general, that it doesn't work! These days the heroes to emulate are more diverse (thanks to the internet) but probably more listened to and accessible (thanks to the internet). That's not to say we can't learn from greats. But we should not seek to replicate them. The issue is, at its root, theological. Preaching is God's ordained means of making his presence known through the faithful exposition of Scripture by a man – that's you. That means your personality, your nature, your person are a key part of God's preaching plan. That is not to make much of you (you after all, a jar of clay), but to make much of him and display his power. When you or I try to be someone else we're cutting against the grain of the theology of preaching.
So, no impressions in the pulpit. Go listen to Peter Donaldson once more. Laugh. And then repeat to yourself. "No more impressions in the pulpit."
Sure you’ve got the torn curtain sorted?
One interesting aside from last week's conference was that Carl suggested that we may have got the torn curtain wrong (or at least, not wholly right). He explained that the tearing verb was only here and in Mark 1 when the heavens are torn at Jesus' baptism. That would imply not so much that we could enter the inner sanctum (after all, there is no temple any more), but that God breaks out! With the death of Jesus the presence of the living God breaks out and who does it reach first? The centurion, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" I like the idea! It was only an aside so no real time to explore and think, for example, how that fits with Hebrews 10.19.
Do pray for our brother David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church of Scotland in Dundee. He is very seriously ill with a heart infection which seems to have spread and it seems touch and go. David spoke at this year's EMA and has an important ministry at St Peter's and through Solas. But we also know that to be with Christ is 'better by far.' We are torn, of course, but pray for recovery and for sustaining of his ministry. St Peter's was McCheyne's church, and one of his hymns seems apposite (quoted last week by Dick on our Ministers Conferencce):
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o'er life's finished story,
Then Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then – how much I know.
Notes on 2 Peter 2
[From our Autumn Ministers Conference]
For a midweek Bible lecture it might be feasible to run through this shocking chapter section by section, verse by verse. For a Sunday series on 2 Peter, say, of 7-8 sermons, a selective treatment seems more appropriate (maximum 2 sermons).
Who are these men?
- Their methods are devious, e.g. v1
- Their message is heretical. e.g. v16
- Their moral behaviour is shameless, e.g. verses 2, 7, 10, 14
- Their motives are mercenary, e.g. verse 3, 14, 15
- Their ministry is dissatisfying, e.g. verse 19
- Their manner is arrogant, e.g. verse 11, 18
- Their mission is captivating/bewitching, e.g. verse 2, 14, 18
What an outline such as this demonstrates is not how to prepare a sermon (too many points!) but how applicable all this is to our times. Here is 'liberalism' in its outworking. It is also wearisomely familiar. Another way of thinking about this might be:
A debased currency
- A diminished Christ (or disappearing?)
- A diminished Bible
- A diminished ethic/integrity
- A diminished reverence
- A diminished understanding/tolerance
It is important to see that this chapter is not a fallible human diatribe, characterised by malice and exaggeration. This is a Divine verdict. And chapter 2 does not describe an unprecedented crisis, limited to a restricted area. There was never was, nor will be, a time when 'these men' will not be found as influential teachers among the churches. And these men are almost certainly not regenerate, but now apostates. The proverbial saying in verse 22 suggests that their natures had never been changed or renewed.
Preaching this passage one must always keep in view the tremendous doxology in chapter 13, almost unique in its focus towards Christ. "To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
Preaching and the Trinity – notes from the conference
Here are my rather garbled notes from Carl Trueman's session last night. An excellent apologtic for faithful preaching. Just a week and you can have audio/video as well!
- Words are the standard mode of God's presence. God is a God who speaks, this is foundational. God is often characterised by speech. Gen 1 and John 1 both reinforce this truth. The first divine action in the Bible is God speaking. God then maintains relationship with his creatures through speech (Gen 1.28 for example and on into Gen 2). Relationships with the living God are linguistic. God's speech makes him present in an obvious intentional way. The absence of God is described as a famine of words (Amos 8). Idols in the Old Testament are always marked by silence (Psalm 115). However, we also need to say that:
- The Spirit is the means by which God's presence comes in the created realm. This, of course, creates an immediate close link between Word and Spirit. This is clear throughout the Old Testament, and the Spirit does in the New Testament what he does in the Old. He is the agent of God's presence and activity. There are clear parallels between God's Word and his Spirit. Q89 of Westminster Shorter Catechism: How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. If you want a proof text then read Deuteronomy! So often the language used of the Word is indistinguishable from the language of the Spirit – e.g. 'living and active.'
Why does the doctrine of the Trinity give us confidence in preaching?
Where do you find a gracious God? Answer: in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The obvious follow up question is Where do you find the Lord Jesus Christ. Luther said, it is in the preached word of God. The word combined with the Spirit is the means of God's presence. So, we can have confidence that if we preach the word, Christ will be present by his Spirit. This view avoids the kind of mysticism where the Spirit and the Word are separated. 'I didn't feel my preaching went well.' That is neither here nor there. If we faithfully preached Christ, then the Spirit is there. The word of God written and spoken has an objectivity which is not determined by the morality or status of the preacher.
It also pushes us towards a Christ centred approach of Biblical interpretation. The Spirit's task is to point to Christ. Preaching that is Christ centred in its content will be Spirit filled in its delivery whether you feel it or not. Indifference to the word is no sign of absence of the Spirit – read Jeremiah! This truth also gives us humility. If our preaching is met with blessing it is nothing to do with us! This truth also gives us excitement. Our triune God has always existed in this dynamic relationship. Our preaching is the preaching of a dynamic God who does dynamic things. Preaching should be exciting! Things happen when preaching takes place.
Every time I teach Esther at Cornhill I am reminded of the dangers of unwarranted moralising, by a series of published bible study notes on Esther. The author of the notes assures us that ‘In the book of Esther we see the lives of several characters played out. There are those people who are selfish and prideful, seeking only personal recognition, and there are those who risk everything for others and choose integrity in the face of great opposition. Esther is a book about developing godly character.'
So, for example, the purpose of the study on Esther chapter 1 is ‘To show that respect between individuals is built through mutual regard and appreciation rather than through demanding respect or controlling another.’ And Esther 3 is about evaluating the advice we receive, the purpose of the study being, 'To discover how to evaluate the counsel we receive from others and to give good advice.’ The problem, as Barry Webb points out in his excellent 'Five Festal Garments, is that such moral conclusions have to be imported from outside the text.
I think our natural tendency away from gospel and towards moralising, is aggravated by bible studies where the unit of narrative is too small. We are faced with a short section of narrative and we feel we have to learn something definite from it – definite and distinct from what we are later going to learn as the narrative develops. And so, in desperation, we import some morality from outside. I learn two lessons. (1) Bible studies on Old Testament narrative are difficult and need careful handling/leading, and (2) make sure the chunks of narrative are sufficiently long to learn what the narrative itself is teaching.
OK, so some quotes are OK
Just been listening to a wonderfully heart warming sermon by Johnny Prime at the FIEC leaders conference. Having said that we should use quotes sparingly last week, Johnny proved me wrong with two apposite and helpful quotes. Here they are: Spurgeon:
“Today there is not very much gospel about; the church has given it up; a great many preachers preach everything but the living truth. This is sad; but it is a strong reason why you and I should teach more gospel than ever. I have often thought to myself – Other men may teach socialism, deliver lectures or collect a band of fiddlers, that they may gather a congregation; but I will preach the gospel. I will preach more gospel than ever, if I can; I will stick more to the one cardinal point. The other brethren can attend to the odds and ends, but I will keep to Christ crucified. To the men of vast ability, who are looking to the events of the day, I would say, “Allow one poor fool to keep to preaching the gospel.” Beloved teachers, be fools for Christ, and keep to the gospel. Don’t you be afraid: it has life in it, and it will grow; only you bring it out, and let it grow.” Charles Spurgeon
When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.
The brick Bible
Here's something we've used from time to time – the Bible in LEGO. Yes! I'm not kidding. The brainchild of Brendan Powell Smith, his site now has loads (and I mean loads) of Bible stories reproduced in LEGO. I've reproduced one picture as an example here with Brendan's permission – though please note you have to pay a small fee to use the illustrations. When our eldest was young we sometimes used an illustrated Bible – it helped get her keen on Bible reading in the tougher times. The text was all AV though, so it could be hard work. This is a similar idea – but in LEGO and it has served a useful purpose with our youngest during her not-so-keen-Bible-reading moments (there's a book version available from Amazon). I'm doing work on Numbers and many of the Numbers stories are available in brick form! Powell-Smith grew up in a church setting but is himself an avowed atheist. However, he is also keen that people read the Scriptures for themselves, and his pictures are true to the text – which also means that if the text gives you graphic violence (or worse!) you get it in the pictures too. To be fair, he does highlight on the website which stories contain material that may be unsuitable for some.
Worth a look. And a smile.
London evenings: video
If you would have liked to make it to the London evenings on Numbers but were unable, here is the entire content in video form. There are six videos – we had three evenings with two sessions per evening. If you missed it all, then we have some more London evenings in the spring with David Cook (on the book of Acts). Booking is now open – just follow the conferences link at the top of the page.
(Edit: The audio is also available here)