The parting of friends – a sobering story
I've just started reading a now-out-of-print book that a good friend bought for me. It's called "The Parting of Friends" by David Newsome and it was published in 1966. My copy cost 63s and I'm young enough to say I don't even know what that means. It's the story of the dissolution of the evangelical heritage in the Wilberforce family. It's esepcially a study of how many of those influenced by the Oxford Movement and those who eventually became Roman Catholics came from a strong evangelical background. All three Wilberforce children who entered Anglican ministry (Robert, Samuel & Henry) studied at Oriel College Oxford and married into strong evangelical families. But all were influenced by the downgrade to a greater or lesser extent.
I confess it's a period of history I know precious little about – certainly when it comes to the church (politics is another matter again). But I'm warned by my friend to be saddened and sobered by the speed of the change. What a contemporary issue! It's a change I see all around us today. Churches (and evangelical dynasties) that were one generation ago thoroughly orthodox have quickly changed – how quickly! I suppose it's encouraging to see that this is not a new phenonemon. However, evangelicals do not always do a good job of raising evanglicals, I observe. Thank God for the exceptions!
More on this as I read through.
Addendum: not so out-of-print after all: there is a new edition available through Amazon published by Gracewing.
Is your preaching consistent?
I know you hope, pray and work for excellence, but the bottom line is most of our preaching is a bit hit and miss. I wonder, though, if congregations really need consistent preaching as much as anything. I don't mean consistently bad, of course. But some assurance that when they come to church they will at least hear a resonable sermon? In other words, is a consistent level better than 50% above the line and 50% below?
Perhaps this is provocative, but I think that is an easier and more helpful ministry to sit under. It also allows the consistent preacher to push the entire bar up rather than just deal with the troughs.
How then does a preacher work at consistency? Here are some ideas:
- we all know that some sermons take longer than others. That depends on the man, I guess. I know an average sermon takes me 10 hours to prepare, but I also know that some take 12 and some take 6. It depends on a huge number of factors. So, here's the idea. Always plan your week for your worst case. If you know it sometimes takes you 12 hours, plan for 12 hours, even if it often only takes 10. That way, you've always allowed time to get up to a consistent level. Plan for 10? You'll be stuffed by the hard nut sermon that you just can't crack and your congregation will suffer too.
- seek feedback and measure it up against your preparation process. I often find that my best sermons have least effect and vice versa!! Asking others what they thought and what they found useful (not just technically, but in the way it came across) and then matching that feedback to how the week's prep worked out is a good way of working for consistency.
- start your prep before finishing the previous message. In a series I've already worked through a book and I try to start the prep for next week on the Friday. I find it informs the coming sermon and sharpens the one for the following week.
Of course, having said all that – and before the emails flood in – I'm not arguing for mediocrity. Consistency is not the same as medicority. Nor am I denying the spiritual aspect of preaching. Praise God – the effectiveness of sermons is about so much more than my effort or work. But to deny the human element of this means of grace is a false spirituality.
Every now and again technology astounds me. Sometimes it astounds me with it’s capacity for evil (like the current web of gossip, deceit and betrayal unearthed by Twitter), and at other times with it’s capacity for good. Last week I stumbled across technology which falls firmly in the latter category. It is the Tyndale Toolbar which has been put together by Dr David Instone Brewer at Tyndale House in Cambridge. I’ll let him tell you about the wonders the toolbar can perform in this 3 minute video he has made here:
You can download the toolbar here: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/toolbar
For any serious Bible teacher this is a truly remarkable resource and one that will open up so many of the best Bible tools on the web.
Does God have a bank holiday?
Yet another bank holiday in the UK and everything is closed. It got me thinking about what God does on his day off – not a bank holiday of course, but his Sabbath. Some very brief observations:
- the Sabbath day is clearly special. In Genesis 1 fish, birds, animals and humans are blessed, but not days 1-6. Only "Day 7" is blessed. Only that Sabbath is holy.
- the Sabbath day is unending. The day formula (and whatever else you may think about Genesis 1, there is surely no doubt that the days are supposed to look like days) is missing from "Day 7" – there is no day 7, just the beginning of a new age in which God rests
- the Sabbath day is not a day of inactivity for God. He "rested from all the work that he had done in creation" – but he is not in his deck chair. "My Father is working until now, and I am working" said the creating Son (John 5.17)
- the Sabbath day is forward looking. That becomes clear as we unfold a biblical theology of Sabbath, particularly as it is seen in the Hebrews 4 Bible Study. "So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his" (Hebrews 4.9-10).
Here's Calvin on the Sabbath and resting from our works:
Now this conformation the Apostle [sic?] teaches us takes place when we rest from our works. It hence at length follows, that man becomes happy by self-denial. For what else is to cease from our works, but to mortify our flesh, when a man renounces himself that he may live to God? For here we must always begin, when we speak of a godly and holy life, that man being in a manner dead to himself, should allow God to live in him, that he should abstain from his own works, so as to give place to God to work. We must indeed confess, that then only is our life rightly formed when it becomes subject to God. But through inbred corruption this is never the case, until we rest from our own works; nay, such is the opposition between God’s government and our corrupt affections, that he cannot work in us until we rest. But though the completion of this rest cannot be attained in this life, yet we ought ever to strive for it. Thus believers enter it but on this condition, — that by running they may continually go forward. (Commentary on Hebrews)
Hearing the Spirit
Christopher's new book Hearing the Spirit is now out. There will be plenty of copies available at the EMA, but for those who are unable to make it there, it's already on sale at 10ofthose.com here. It's an excellent, well-argued, appreciation of the work of the Spirit in relation to the Word, focusing in particular on John's Gospel. If you were at last year's EMA you will have heard some of it, but the argument is much more developed than those two short sessions allowed Christopher. Like The Priority of Preaching, this promises to be an important book for our understanding of the way that God works in the age of the church.
I've had the joy of reading it several times because our book publications are one of my areas of responsibility. I enjoyed it each time – it got me thinking; it stretched my thinking and it helped my thinking. Don't tell Christopher, but I'm pretty sure I can arrange for signed copies for £400 each…just send me a cheque.
Early Diary Dates
Booking is not yet open for our next season of conferences (it opens on 1 July) but many of our conferences now get booked up early so it helps with planning to have the dates in the diary now. So, here's a list of some of our most popular conferences together with dates for 2011/12:
- Autumn Ministers Conference with Carl Trueman, Dick Lucas and Charles & Tricia Marnham: 7-10 November 2011
- Women in Ministry Conference with Andrea Trevenna and Vaughan Roberts: 23-26 January 2012
- Spring Wives Conference hosted by Dick & Suzanne Farr: 5-8 March 2012
- Spring Senior Ministers Conference with John Dickson & David Meredith: 30 April – 3 May 2012
- Spring Younger Ministers Conference with John Dickson & David Cook: 8-11 May 2012
- EMA 2012 with Paul Tripp, Mike Reeves, Christopher Ash, Mervyn Eloff, David Cook & Glynn Harrison: 27-29 June 2012
- Summer Wives Conference hosted by Adrian & Celia Reynolds: 10-13 July 2012
BTW: you’re not the Messiah
Always a helpful reminder. Read Christopher's short and very sharp exposition of Psalm 131 here (May 2011 Evangelicals Now).
If a spiritual listening device were switched on in our churches, it would pick up a lot of noise, disquiet, anxiety in our hearts — about our jobs, or joblessness, our pensions, elderly parents, difficult teenagers, a troubled marriage, the aftermath of divorce, our health, upcoming exams, whether we will get married, whether we can have children… The list is endless. Can you put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I have a quiet soul. There is no noisiness inside me. Even in the midst of pressures and busyness my heart is at peace and still’?
Senior Ministers: New Music
We had Philip Percival with us last week helping with music and were able to learn three new songs, the first of which we even managed in three/four part harmony – amazing!
- Behold our God from the new Sovereign Grace Risen! album – lead sheet and piano score here
- We're not alone (or Never alone) by Philip Percival himself – sheet music here
- This life I live by Michael Morrow (EMU music) – sheet music here
All worth learning and singing.
Numbers 33: what do you do with a long list of names
Last week we spent some wonderful time with Iain Duguid in the book of Numbers. Here's some helpful stuff on Numbers 33 which might also help you with clear thinking about some of the other lists of names in the Old Testament:
On the face of it, Numbers 33 is one of the most unpromising texts in the Old Testament. It is a list of place names, but not just a random collection of place names. Rather, it is a list designed (at God's command) to shape Israel's perspective on her wilderness wanderings as a whole. When we look closely, there are three different kinds of places listed here. Some of the places where they stayed call to mind the Lord's faithfulness to Israel in providing for their needs in the desert. Others call to mind Israel's sinful rebellion against the Lord at a variety of points through their wandering. Still others are places where, as far as we know, nothing particular of note happened. Each of these categories has lessons for God's people.
(1) The people needed to be reminded of God's faithfulness along the way. (2) The people needed to be reminded of God's forgetfulness along the way. Curiously, you wouldn't know about the rebellion from the list itself. Whilst some mention is made of God's faithfulness along the way, none is made of the people's sin apart from the place names themselves. When God lists the wanderings, he chooses to pass over the sin in silence. (3) The majority of the time nothing happens at these places. They are the geographical equivalents of 'Tuesdays' – days which are often immemorble. Life is not a collection of highs and lows, but the majority of life is about the time in between and God is in those days and places too.
Why are there so many stories in the Bible or why the Old Testament is so long?
Some brief notes from Iain Duguid's second session: Why are there so many stories in the Bible?
"In our culture, stories are for children and for the beach in the summer. We tend to regard stories as fluff, or at least less than fully serious. So why does the Bible, the most serious book in the world, contain so many stories?"
Here are his answers:
- a good story has a universal appeal. Not everybody loves to read theology textbooks, but people love a story. The youngest child or oldest saint can grasp and enjoy a well written narrative. Narrative has the unique ability to be both simple and profound, ministering to people of all ages and conditions. No wonder the Bible itself is one grand narrative.
- stories help put flesh on abstract ideas. "You shall not grumble" is an abstract idea. Numbers 11 explains it well….in a story. The narratives of Scripture similarly show us what the character of God means in practice and not just in theory. This is also why the Old Testament is so long. How you do display God-sized patience except in a long series of stories?
- stories are able to convey the complexity of life in the world in which we live. Life on earth is rarely simple and unambiguous. We are bit players in a much larger story and narrative is well suited to that idea.
We've been gettng into Numbers (even Numbers 33!!) and these points have been shown to be true. You'll have to wait for audio and video (hopefully next week or so).