Happy New Year from Philippians…
Happy New Year!
This morning I've started to try to memorise Philippians using Tim Brister's handouts (H/T Tim Challies). I'm not finding it easy, though I know it'll be worthwhile. Part of my difficulty is that the cut outs are all in the ESV. I love the ESV for studying, but it can be a pig to read, and it is particularly clunky at Philippians 1. (Gordon Cheng says he is reading the ESV to his seven year old without problem, but I think he must have wunder-kids, all strength to him!).
I'm tempted to swap my memory notes into the HCSB that I'm enjoying reading along with a friend who is doing the same. Here's the two passages for this week, first in ESV:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The same passage in the HCSB:
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Hmm. Not actually heaps better – verse 4 is simply tricky to translate well as there are so many clauses.
Simplicity in preaching
My attention has been drawn to this short piece pleading for simplicity in our preaching. I thought it had a number of helpful observations and practical common sense.
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Happy Christmas, and NO to EMA cuts
Not sure why the good students of the UK might think we are cutting the EMA. We're not. And booking is open!!
May we wish readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year and a deep and abiding knowledge that Jesus is both the man who will save his people from their sins and Immanuel – God with us. See you in the new year.
Women in Ministry 2011
If you're a woman in ministry in a conservative evangelical world, you may feel a bit uncared for. After all, we spend ages explaining and thinking through what we mean by women's ministry or women in ministry, but then we just leave you to it!
That's why our Women in Ministry conference is a key part of our conference calendar. Next year it will be held at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire from 17 to 20 January 2011. Speakers include Angus Macleay, Kate Selby and Kirsty Birkett – a really great line up.
- If you're a woman in ministry, do think about joining us – you can book here.
- If you're a church leader and you employ women in ministry, why are you not encouraging and building them by sending them along? Invest in this important area of ministry!
As you read this, I will probably be on final approach to Inverness (see picture, although I'm guessing it's not going to look quite like this on Monday!!). I say probably because more snow is forecast, who knows….?
Anyway, Vaughan Roberts, Sam sam the media man and I are off to see Christian Focus our publishing partner. PT jointly publish titles with them:
- Our Teach the Bible series is now growing, with a few new titles planned for launch in 2012. So far we've launched Teaching Isaiah, Teaching Amos, Teaching Matthew, Teaching John, Teaching Acts, Teaching Romans, Teaching the Christian Hope and Spirit of Truth. More info here. Look out in 2012 for some new volumes from both OT and NT books.
- Our Practical Preacher series currently has two titles: The Priority of Preaching and Bible Delight both by Christopher Ash. We hope to add a third in time for next year's EMA. Watch this space. More info here.
We've started to translate some of the books into Russian with (hopefully) more languages to follow.
It would be relatively straightforward to preach passages without thinking how they fit together. Here's a good example. Hebrews 1.1-4 is a stonking description of the supremacy of Christ. Hebrews 1.5-14 is a good OT exposition of how Jesus is better than the angels – and seeing as angelic supremacy is not a particular problem to tackle today you could just turn that into a sermon on angels. Then have a week's break and preach Hebrews 2 on how Jesus is the perfect man.
That misses the logic and flow of the passage, though. The overall theme is the supremacy of Jesus. No doubt first century Jewish converts thought that angels too were exalted beings and so chapter 1 is necessary to put this right. No, angels are actually servants of men! Now, follow the flow. Wasn't Jesus a man too? OK, I understand that he is better than the angels, but bringing him down to another human hardly asserts his supremacy, does it? True – hence chapter 2 which shows us that Jesus is not just another man….
That, I think, is the flow of thought, and it gives more substance to the preacher who tackles Hebrews 1-2. I think he's going to preach a better sermon as a result. At least, he should….
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Well, it is Christmas….
H.T Tim Challies
It’s all in the headline (NOT)
An interesting case coming out of the European Court of Human Rights this morning. It involves three women from Ireland who travelled abroad to have abortions because they weren't able to have them in the republic. I know that abortion in Ireland is a contentious issue, but what also interests me is the way the media report this case.
Basically, two of the women lost the case and the third won because her life was in danger and the Irish constitution (as I understand it) allows abortions in those circumstances. The court ruled that the woman's rights had been breached not because she was not given free access to abortion but because the state failed to provide access on the basis that its constitution ruled. In other words, this is not a case about abortion per se, but a case about a national state not doing what its constitution requires. Nevertheless, the BBC website headline is telling, if not misleading:
Well, this is a blog about preaching, not about abortion, important a topic though that is. But preachers can give headlines that are also misleading. In fact, we can talk about Christianity this way too. After all, Jesus implores us to count the cost of following him (Luke 9.23-27) but how many evangelistic talks does that make it into? Few, I guess.
Paul's testimony is clear: "we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor 4.2).
How accurate are your preaching headlines?
Q&A to end Cornhill
This week is the last week of the Cornhill term before Christmas. This afternoon that means that four members of staff are going to form a panel and answer some submitted questions. One, unsurprisingly, is about baptism. Amongst the staff we have persuaded paedo-baptists and persuaded credo-baptists (I count myself amongst the latter). Fortunately for me, the question is framed in such a way that I can answer it "I don't." I'm guessing that won't be enough of an answer though!
It's a complex subject wrapped up in how we understand covenant (and, in particular, the Abrahamic Covenant). No time for that here, right now. But it's worth pointing towards two excellent resources for those who are unclear or undecided about this issue. So, here are two excellent books, one from each camp. I think it's worth reading the argument of the two views from inside the camp, rather than a caricature presented by those who disagree with the position.
- For paedo-baptism, I found The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge and published by P&R to be thorough and well argued. It includes contributions from Joel Beeke, Richard Pratt and RC Sproul.
- For credo-baptism, the best resource I have read is Believer's Baptism edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright with contributions from Mark Dever, Andreas Kostenberger and Timothy George. It is published by Broadman and Holman.
It should go without saying that sitting on the fence on such a key ecclesiological issue (though certainly not primary, I would suggest) is a poor place for a church leader to be.
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How to avoid being a sermon hack
OK, I hope you spotted that this was a spoof – a little bit of irony. But it hurts, because it's rather close to the mark for many of us. Here's my antidote – five tips for avoiding being a sermon hack. This time, irony-free.
- Don't take on too much. I don't just mean the admin of pastoring, I mean too much preaching. Some exceptional preachers can cope with preparing three messages a week. I would suggest they are few. If your preaching schedule has made you into a hack, don't accept it, rework the schedule. Be honest with your church leaders (they would much rather you were!). If a sermon takes 10 hours of thorough preparation, it's unlikely you'll be able to do three a week. It's pretty unlikely you can do two a week for a sustainable period of time.
- Read and study a passage before. Our esteemed Jacko (David Jackman to me) suggests reading through a book in personal devotions six months before preaching it. I think that's good advice. Let it be deep in your heart and mind before you come to study it for preaching. I also think you should start thinking about your next passage before you have preached the current one – because just as you want to relate backwards in a Bible series, you should be thinking about how it relates forwards. I used to set aside a few hours on a Friday when Sunday's message is coming together to think about the following week.
- Use commentaries selectively. Frankly, I find devotional type commentaries derived from sermons pretty unhelpful, not because they aren't brilliant and contain useful insights, but because I can't read a Stott book and then not preach his sermon! I leave them until the end. So, for me, Tyndale over BST and NICOT/NICNT over NIV Application. Work it out yourself.
- Work on the big idea carefully. This is a key step which sermon "experts" often overlook. You may not realise it, but if your sermon (supposedly expounding the passage) and the passage don't match up, then the message is seriously undermined. I was reminded in a Cornhill sermon group last week of what a significant difference it makes if the preacher has grasped the main thing. Don't be formulaic about this. The last thing we want is formulaic preaching. But recognise that the hard work of asking "what is this passage about?" is a key step in preaching well. "This is sweaty, difficult work, but it has to be done" (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching p70).
- Pray. Duh! We don't believe in works, but as Stuart Olyott pointed out in last year's Resource Guide, the ministry of the word (Acts 6.4) "is an and". Of course, God has been gracious to you and me when we have been prayer-less – but let's not presume on his grace.
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