The key to Zechariah
There are some books in the Bible which come alive when you realise something really quite simple about them. This is not a kind of 21st century gnosticism, but rather the good old fashioned reading Scripture with Scripture. You see, when you realise that the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah got the Exiles building again, then you realise the key to understanding the sometimes difficult visions and prophecies of Zechariah is to ask:
What is it about what Zechariah saw/said that got them building again?
It's a simple question and one which not only makes the book come alive, but unlocks much of the apparent mystery.
Our friend, Spencer Shaw, pastor of Emmanuel Church Chippenham and a member of the FIEC Council recently preached through Zechariah, you can listen online here. Sadly no online resources (yet) from PT on this rich and rewarding book. But here are two commentaries that I found enormously helpful and careful in their exegesis and application:
- Iain Duguid – Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi in the EP Study Commentary series. Brief, but careful, considered and still thorough with useful application ideas. Iain is speaking at the 2011 Senior Ministers' Conference
- Rick Phillips in the new series from P&R, the Reformed Expository Series. More detailed and technical, but some great insights and help.
Why I’m a preaching home-boy
Preached a week ago last Sunday on Zechariah 5-6 and yesterday on Zechariah 7. Hope and pray it went OK. I don't think these are passages I could ever have preached anywhere other than at home church. Sure, I could explain them OK to strangers, but that is not preaching.
- In difficult apocalyptic literature you need to know people well enough to know what they will understand and won't.
- Knowing people also shapes application sharply, or it should. Sure, the preaching of Zechariah 5-7 got the people building again (see Ezra 5.1-2). But we need sharper application than simply "you get building too…!" Ezra 4 details the opposition that the exiles faced. Zechariah 5-7 needs to be preached in the light of the opposition we face.
- Chief among the "mighty mountains" (Zech 4.17) that God needs to level is indwelling sin (which, I think, is the significance of the woman in the basket in Zechariah 5). Again, knowing people and knowing how that sinfulness manifests itself is key to sharp application. Similarly, false religion rears its ugly head in Zechariah 7. There it is fasting. It may well be fasting for our people today, but if we don't know how we will preach well…?
I'm a preaching home boy. That's where it counts.
BETTER (a.k.a. Hebrews)
I'm just doing some thinking on planning a sermon series on Hebrews. There are two main ways to do this:
- a slow(ish) work through this incredibly rich and deep book. I reckon that would take at least 20 weeks, possibly much more. That is my natural inclination for a sermon series. It could quickly become John Owen-esque, though!
- However, in the case of Hebrews, I'm not sure that does justice to what the author is trying to convey. Essentially, this is a letter which exalts Jesus as the supreme one, superior in every way to what has gone before. As you read through, there are some key ideas which the writer argues (sometimes from different viewpoints). So an alternative is to take these key ideas. I've put down where I've got to so far (though these are unlikely to be the finished article). This is not my natural inclination!
Following the latter will mean that some really purple passages are given little time – but in this case, as we try to convey the meaning of the book and what God means by it, I think that is OK. Any series would do this to some extent (unless, for example, you were to take each faith character in chapter 11 as a one week sermon).
But what about those long passages. My own inclination, for what it is worth, is that it will tough for a congregation if I decided to preach, say 4.14-5.10 & 7.28 as a whole sermon. I think, though I'm not yet sure and haven't done all the study yet, that I would be inclined to take a part of that and make it my sermon on that theme. It seems to me that, on the whole, congregatations struggle with very long passages as texts for sermons. I may be wrong, of course.
So, here is my work in progress. By the way, the word "better" comes from a facsimile of Frances Ridley Havergal's Bible (she of hymn writing fame). On the page containing Hebrews 1 she has crossed out the word Hebrews and replaced it with the word BETTER. I like it. Good name for a good book.
- A better name (1.1-4)
- A better status (1.5-2.18)
- A better builder (3.1-19)
- A better rest (4.1-13)
- A better priest (4.14-5.10 & 7.1-28)
- A better hope (5.11-6.20)
- A better covenant (8.1-13)
- A better sacrifice (9.1-10.18)
- A better confidence (10.19-39)
- A better faith (11.1-12.3)
- A better kingdom (12.3-29)
- A better mission (13.1-25)
Why bother with expository preaching?
Lennox in The Times
Today's Times carries a long interview with John Lennox. Worth a look if you can get beyond the paywall, or you may have do the old fashioned thing and buy a print copy. I can only (for copyright reasons) cut and paste an excerpt.
Stephen Hawking is wrong to assert that God did not create the Universe, says Christianity’s new poster boy John Lennox
In September, when The Times made international headlines with the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had concluded that God had not, after all, created the Universe, it should have been a blow to John Lennox. The 67-year-old Oxford University maths professor has in the past few years emerged as academia’s lead champion of Christianity against the post-9/11 “New Atheists”. He has three times debated their leader, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, two years ago at the university’s natural history museum in what some hailed as a rerun of the great 1860s evolution debate between Darwin’s supporter Thomas Huxley and God’s Samuel Wilberforce.
But now the war was being fought on a new front — physics — by a scientist whom Lennox had admired since their student days at Cambridge.
Yet Lennox says that it wasn’t a blow. “No, not in the slightest. It was fascinating. I thought, ‘What new arguments does he have?’”
This, one might say, is the Oxford mind at work. For others, however, the shock was real enough. A “simple believer in the Christian faith” e-mailed Lennox to say that he had driven into a petrol station and seen the headlines. “He said it hit him viscerally. It knocked him for six.” Perhaps it was for him, then, that Lennox has now written in retaliation God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway?, a short book that he will give us a sneak preview of on Monday with a lecture at the University of Dundee.
We meet at Green Templeton College, Oxford, for which, among his other jobs, Lennox is pastoral adviser. The first thing to say about him is that he is extraordinarily nice. He is plump and beaming and untidy, a father of three and grandfather of four. There is huge warmth in his Northern Irish accent, as well as what appears to be a genuine interest in others. The second thing is that he extremely clever. As a young father teaching at Cardiff University he subsidised his salary by translating Russian, a language that he taught himself as he went along. He also speaks French, German and some Spanish. Maths, on which he has published 70 peer-reviewed articles, he regards as just “another language”.
He has just returned from a lecturing tour in America. Maths or God, I ask over lunch in the college.
“God,” he says although anyone who has struggled with his bookGod’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? will know that a knowledge of advanced maths might prove very useful when discussing God with him were he mean enough to shift the debate to the origins, divine or otherwise, of amino acids.
What’s wrong with preaching?
Just over eight years ago, one of our former directors, Willie Philip (now minister at St George's Tron) wrote a little booklet Concerning Preaching. In it, he suggested that a useful Satanic attack might get us to focus too much on preaching, or at least too much on the wrong aspects of preaching. I've just re-read it this morning and it is still a particularly relevant assessment. You can download it for free here, but in summary, Willie suggests that there are three subtle (or not so subtle?) shifts in focus in the world of evangelical preaching:
- A shift from content to form where we have become so obsessed with how we preach that we have forgotten that what we preach matters
- A shift from the vertical to the horizontal in terms of what is happening when we open up the Scriptures – "we forget the presence of the living God himself"
- A shift from the corporate to the individual
More like this:
IX Marks Book Reviews
The November/December IX Marks eJournal has some thorough book reviews on the theme of the mission of the church, including those of:
- Generous Justice by Tim Keller
- The Mission of God's People
- The Mission of God, both by Chris Wright
- Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen (this one looks particularly good, but is not out in the UK until January)
- Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms also by David VanDrunen
- The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash (a good review from Alistair Begg)
Makes interesting reading, even if you don't agree with all the conclusions. Worth a look.
Bringing the Psalms back into use
I’m just finishing a teaching series on the Psalms at Cornhill and have been very struck by how God has given us the Psalms to teach us how to pray and to praise him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little booklet “Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible” makes the point that we need Jesus to teach us how to pray (Lord teach us to pray) and that one of the main ways in which Jesus teaches us to pray is through the Psalms which are supremely his own prayers.
But the Psalms have fallen into disuse in many of our churches, so that we neither know them nor learn how to pray them. It was very encouraging to hear from Greg Strain (Spicer Street Chapel, St Alban’s) that for the past 150 Sundays they have focused on one Psalm each week in their Sunday morning meetings. They say a few words of introduction about the Psalm, and then the leader reads the Psalm, after which they all sing a paraphrase of the Psalm (often from the Praise! hymn book). After that the Psalm is used as the basis for the main corporate prayer. After 150 weeks, Greg tells me that they’re about to go back and start again at Psalm 1 and that this time they will all read the Psalm together aloud. Greg has told the congregation that they’re going to keep going through the Psalms until they’ve memorised them! Greg comments to me that they have found this very very helpful and that the Psalms “are teaching us to pray”. And also that “(corporate) praying is shaped by Scripture every week and yet is different every week”.
Why Vaughan comes to conferences
Here Vaughan explains why he comes to PT conferences and books early! Our next ministers conference is in May for younger ministers (3-6 May) with Tim Chester and William Taylor and then the senior ministers conference (16-19 May) with great OT scholar Iain Duguid and Hugh Palmer. Listen to Vaughan's advice and book now! Please note that the younger ministers conference is almost fully booked.
Ministry and Marriage (1)
Here we are at the ministers conference and we have had two very good, thorough and challenging sessions on ministry and marriage with John and Ann Benton. For starters here are ten questions for men to ask themselves how difficult they are. Score 0 if you never do this; 1 if you rarely do it; 2 if you sometimes or often do it and 3 if you always do it.
- Assume that at the drop of a hat, she is willing to accommodate anybody or do anything
- Accept an away preaching engagement on her birthday or your anniversary
- Opt out of family life except at mealtimes
- Omit to communicate stuff from leaders' meetings which affects her
- Use what time you have off for personal pursuits
- Make jokes or tell stories at your wife's expense in a sermon
- Use headship as an excuse for selfishness
- Say yes to any request even if it overrides family plans
- Expect and use sex for your own consolation only
- Ignore or belittle her behind-the-scenes work
Be honest! Under 10, well done. Over 20, you are in trouble.