How do we pastor one another?
Taken from Tim Chester's second session at last week's Younger Ministers Conference. How do we pastor one another:
- We pastor one another every day. This is certainly the biblical pattern and the way that Jesus conducts much of his ministry. This is why dishwashers (says Tim, not Adrian!!) are evil because they rob us of pastoral moments. They obviously don't have much washing up in Tim's house, because we can put the dishwasher on and still have washing up (and therefore pastoral moments). Sorry, off the point there. Make the most of everyday moments for teaching, encouraging and comforting one another.
- We pastor one another in community. The God given context for pastoral care is the church community – not the therapists session or even the pastor's study. Change is a community project. Hebrews 3.12-13.
- We pastor one another over a lifetime. Change takes a lifetime and so pastoral care takes a lifetime soon. Even if we can bring some understanding to a situation, changing hearts is a sometimes slow process. If we don't realise this we will soon become frustrated in pastoral ministry.
- We pastor one another with grace. Which means we cannot pastor one another if we are not pastoring ourselves – see Matthew 7.3-5. We need to pastor one another out of a strong sense of grace both to the one we are speaking to and to ourselves. Self righteous pastors are bad pastors. They can leave others crushed.
- We pastor one another with the good news. We don't say "you should not…". Instead we say, "you need not, because God is….."
Really helpful stuff. We'll have the video and audio up soon.
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Preacher, walk closely with Christ!
I taught two seminars last week on the importance of maintaining a close communion with our living God through his Son and in the power of his Spirit. It was based on a rather enigmatic sentence in 1 Timothy:
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this [literally, them, not sure why ESV has singularised this word] for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
So, two seminars on personal devotions or (and I hate the term) quiet times. For if a pastor is not cultivating a close walk with Christ with prayer and study of the word, then how on earth can he save himself and his hearers.
We honestly identified all the problems we have with maintaining close walk – laziness, distractions, blandness, boredom, small children, computers, tiredness, busyness – it was a useful exercise to be honest about the dry seasons we find ourselves in.
Ultimately of course there is only one answer to this. Our only hope is for a deep hunger and thirst for righteousness, which means a deep hunger and thirst for Christ and a desire to be close to him and, as the hymn says, lost in wonder, love and praise. If you don't have it, you need to (a) know that you need it and (b) cry out to God for it. No other solution.
But grace comes in ordinary things too. Just as the porn addict needs a filter on his computer as he prays for a changed heart, so a preacher can do some practical things as he cries out to God for a deep hunger and thirst. Here are 10 things that work for me. Perhaps there is some godly wisdom there?
- Read the Bible for your own soul first. Even it eats into prep time don't think that studying to preach is enough to feed your own soul.
- Read and pray with a pen in your hand – both to capture thoughts and jot down distractions to be dealt with later. I write myself a prayer every day based on what I have read.
- Use Bible helps judiciously. You're a pastor for goodness sake – don't get caught into the "I can only read the Bible with a commentary" trap
- Nothing beats an early morning. I learnt this reading chapter 20 of Book 3 of the Institutes which is some of the warmest stuff I have ever read on prayer. Google it.
- Pray for your people deliberately and by name. Better to pray for one or two well than 5 in a bland way. Don't focus on felt needs, pray in what you are reading for your people. Pray that what you are learning they will learn and tell them about it next time you see them.
- Tear up your prayer diary every few months. I find routine is a life-killer, so I have to tear up my routine and refresh it regularly.
- Singing to yourself is not a sign of madness. I sit in the morning with an open hymn book and take one a day (which, by the way, opens my eyes to some beautiful and lovely words from the past)
- Develop prayer as an attitude not a diary slot. We all know it. Practice it. A few minutes here and there. A cry when you reach a really knotty part of Scripture you're struggling to prepare.
- Don't be afraid to use helps in dry times. I find Valley of Vision a real help when I struggle to pray (I use the leather version, not much more, nicely laid out and it doens't fall apart with use)
- Cry out with honesty for your lack of thirst. Admit your sin. Repent of it. Use the psalms to align yourself with Christ once again.
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Pride is our greatest enemy
A second year Cornhill student recently asked me a very good question: ‘what sins are our Cornhill year group particularly in danger of?’ This Sunday I am preaching on the shortest book of the Old Testament at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon. To save you checking your Bible indexes, the shortest book of the Old Testament is Obadiah. Without wanting to preach my sermon here, it has struck me in my preparation that the book shows us just how much God hates and will humble the proud. Edom, against whom much of the book is directed, is condemned for ‘the pride of your heart’ (Obadiah 1.3), a pride which came from her trusting in her wealth (Obadiah 1.6), her friends (Obadiah 1.7), her wisdom (Obadiah 1.8), and her warriors (Obadiah 1.9). And yet none of those things saved her when, a century after Obadiah’s vision, God brought down proud Edom through an Arab invasion just as He had promised.
And so the answer to the Cornhiller’s question is, I think pride. Pride is a danger for all Christians, and as CS Lewis famously said, ‘pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.’ But it is a particular danger for those of us at Cornhill who are working hard to understand and preach the Bible. My biggest fear is that we produce people who can preach the Bible – but are proud about it. For as John Flavel once wrote: ‘They that know God will be humble and they that know themselves cannot be proud.’ As we start this summer term at Cornhill (what for the 2nd years will be their final term), please join me in praying that we at Cornhill would know that pride is our greatest enemy, and humility our greatest friend.
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You can change. No really. Even porn problems.
It's a beautiful morning in Leicestershire and we're sitting under the ministry of Tim Chester, author of You can change. He's talking about…change. Here are some highlights:
- do/don't doesn't work – Colossians 20-23. Rules lack any value, but we need to recognise that legalism is appealing. It makes change something we can claim the credit for. One of the primary reasons we don't live more holy lives is because we desire to be known as holy people. Legalists don't wear horns.
- 1 Thess 5.23. Change is God's work. Other therapies may help. But only God can bring lasting change because only God can change our hearts.
Tim explains how we should be encouraged that the Father is involved in our lives; the Son has broken the power of sin and the Spirit is working to make us more like Christ. "The combined efforts of the Trinity are at work to make us holy. Be encouraged!"
Tim has just outlined four "liberating truths"
- God is great – so we don't have to be in control
- God is glorious – so we don't have to fear others
- God is good – so we don't have to look elsewhere
- God is gracious – so we don't have to prove ourselves
Tim is then applying this directly to the issue of pornography.
- While porn promises refuge, the gospel says: God is great, he is sovereign over our lives.
- While porn promises respect, the gospel says: God is glorious, he is the one whose opinion matters
- While porn promises reward, the gospel says: God is good, he is our ultimate and lasting joy.
- While porn promises revenge, the gospel says: God is gracious, he gives us more than we deserve.
And for those really struggling in this area, Tim presents five practical stages:
- abhorrence of porn: a hatred of porn itself (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change
- adoration of God: a desire for God arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn
- assurance of grace: an assurance that you are loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus
- avoidance of temptation: a commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer
- accountability to others: a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle
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Jesus’ manifesto and our plumb line
We're away at the Younger Ministers Conference with a really good group of guys, eager to grow and learn and keep going in gospel ministry. This evening we've kicked off with William Taylor outlining Jesus' manifesto in Luke's gospel. It's good stuff. We started off in chapter 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
William is explaining how this is Jesus' manifesto and in the chapters that follow that we see this manifesto being worked out in Jesus' ministry. Jesus' actions, especially his desire to preach and proclaim is always in line with his manifesto and we could do a lot worse than preaching through these early chapters of Luke to make sure they are our manifesto too – or, to put it another way, this chapters can be our plumb line for ministry.
If you're interested, we've tackled this section in three parts:
- the priority of Jesus' word – he came on earth to be a preacher and teacher and this must be our priority too. Luke 4.43, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose."
- the power of Jesus' word – Luke 5.4-8, "at your word I will let down the nets" – Jesus is the one who can command the fish to come (and heal and cast out and cleanse and call etc)
- the purpose of Jesus' word – to summon poor sinners into Jesus' service. Even Peter responds to a theophany the same way most people do in the Old Testament: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord." But Jesus speaks a gospel word to him: "Do not be afraid."
So, here is our plumb line. How does your ministry measure up?
PT Cornhill – apply now and/or pray now
Here's the new full length promo video for PT Cornhill. Perhaps you have people in your church who would benefit from the course? Even if not, please do pray for this important part of our work and Christopher Ash (the Director of PT Cornhill) and his team.
Office shut today, so here’s a joke instead
It's a bank holiday today so the office is shut (I know, another one, though we do, overseas readers, have less than most countries….). Here instead is a preaching joke, purloined from the pages of Leadership journal.
What's the definition of irony?
A multi-campus live screened sermon on the incarnation.
A better royal wedding
As you might expect most of the PT staff are avowed republicans (ever heard of irony?) so tomorrow we'll all be playing golf rather than watching the royal wedding (yep, irony again). But whatever you might think of our delightful royal family and the pomp and cirumcstance that tomorrow's celebration offers, we have a better royal wedding to look forward to…and this time I'm invited!
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21.9-11)
We have a fitness for eternal life, a meetness for it, but we have no desert of it. We deserve nothing of God even now, in ourselves. but his eternal wrath and his infinite displeasure. What, then, does It mean? Why, it means just this: we are so far meet that we are accepted in the Beloved, adopted into the family, and fitted by divine approbation to dwell with the saints in light There is a woman chosen to be a bride; she is fitted to be married, fitted to enter into the honorable state and condition of matrimony; but at present she has not on the bridal garment, she is not like the bride adorned for her husband. You do not see her yet robed in her elegant attire, with her ornaments upon her, but you know she is fitted to be a bride, she is received and welcomed as such in the family of her destination. So Christ has chosen his Church to be married to him; she has not yet put on her bridal garment, beautiful array in which she shall stand before the father’s throne, but notwithstanding, there is such a fitness in her to be the bride of Christ, when she shall have bathed herself for a little while, and lain for a little while in the bed of spices — there is such a fitness in her character, such a grace given adaptation in her to become the royal bride of her glorious Lord, and to become a partaker of the enjoyments of bliss — that it may be said of the church as a whole, and of every member of it, that they are “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."
Rejoicing in the active obedience of Christ
As evangelicals we love the work of the cross. We rejoice in the fact that are sins and impurities are washed away – yes! All of them, wiped clean. But justified does not mean "just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned" – that is too simplistic. For the work of salvation is to pass to us the righteousness of Christ. Sin wiped clean makes me a moral nothing. Sin wiped clean and righteouness imputed makes me like Christ himself before the throne of the Father. We mustn't lose sight of this great truth which completes the picture. It dawned on me afresh as I read Hebrews 10 this morning and saw that Christ's sacrifice was acceptable to God because of his perfect obedience. It is this obedience that makes his death sufficient and "does away with the first [old covenant sacrifices] in order to establish the second."
Each morning I try to write myself a short prayer as an aide-memoire to what I have learnt; here is today's:
Precious Jesus, thank you for your perfect obedience to your Father in coming to earth and living as he called you to live. Thank you that your perfect obedience made your sacrifice acceptable and effective. I praise you for your holy life – that never a sinful word; never an impure thought; never a wrong action was ever yours. Thank you that despite temptation, you always took the Father's way. How wonderful that you never procrastinated or neglected to do the works of love. And I praise you that this righteous life, the life I read about in the gospels, is mine before our Father's throne. Thank you for the great salvation which has removed my sin and clothed me in your perfect righteousness. Amen.
This great theme is represented in all the major confessions, perhaps most explicitly in Q60 of the Heidelberg catechism: "as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me." But it features in few modern songs about redemption. One springs to mind:
All the claims of Satan's curse
Lifted through His offering,
Satisfied through suffering;
All the blessings He deserves
Poured on my unworthy soul.
(That's from Loved before the dawn of time). Perhaps we need more on this? Incidentally, Wesley's anthemic "Yes, finished the Messiah dies" captures it perfectly:
In Christ accepted and brought near
and clothed in righteousness divine;
I see the path to life made clear
amd all your merits Lord are mine.
Rubbish church names and why it doesn’t really matter
I've been preaching this weekend on Hebrews 9 and I am confirmed in my suspiscion that my church has a rubbish name. Theologically, that is. East London Tabernacle. Trouble is, there are only two tabernacles – the one that belongs to the "present age" (i.e. the tabernacle/temple of the old covenant – Hebrews 9.9) and the one that belongs to the "time of reformation" (i.e. heaven itself – Hebrews 9.10). Our tabernacle doesn't really fit into the pattern. Period. Our church was, essentially, a Spurgeon plant. He was big on taberncales.
Mind you, my last church didn't start off too well either. It started life as Zoar Baptist Chapel – that's zoar (Hebrew) meaning little (which it was) or…. insignificant (which hopefully it was not).
But in neither case does it really matter. The average Joe Punter doesn't understand tabernacle any more than he understands the nuances of Hebrew or, for that matter, why some evangelical churches are named after saints. These things don't mean what they would have done, even 50 years go. Now they're just names. Sure, our name may be theologically flawed, but for the majority of outsiders whom we are looking to reach, I don't think it really matters. In fact, around us, locals endearingly refer to the church as "The Tab." That means even less to them than tabernacle would and it is good to be well known in the community to have an affectionate name.
So our name is rubbish. But it really doesn't matter.
(BTW, the picture is of the old building, kindly reordered for us by the Luftwaffe).