A pastor’s prayer
I’m just reading James Garretson’s excellent assessment of the life and ministry of Samuel Miller, one of the Princeton founders. This is the prayer from his journal after his ordination in New York in June 1793. I’ve been praying it too:
“O Lord, I have this day renewedly and, I hope, with some sincerity, given myself away to thee! I am now emphatically not my own. I am doubly thine – peculiarly thine! O Lord, accept of my dedication! Fill me with thy love; prepare me for thy service; help me to be more and more like Christ, and more and more to glorify Christ. O Lord, I have undertaken a charge which is too great for human strength. How shall I go in and out before this numerous and enlightened people? How shall I discharge the solemn and weighty duties which are incumbent upon me? Oh, the unutterable importance of having the care of precious, immortal souls committed to my hands! Father, give me knowledge, give me wisdom, give me strength, to perform my duties aright. Blessed Saviour, whom I trust I have chosen as the hope of my own soul, may I be strong in thee and in the power of thy might! Oh help me to love, and study, and preach and act like one habitually and deeply sensible that he must give account.”
Those of us who are complementarian in our view of men’s and women’s roles in the church have some confessing to do. Because we always feel we’ve been fighting a battle against egalitarianism (battle not a helpful word, really), we’ve often defined women’s roles in the church in terms of what we believe is prohibited in Scripture. I understand why we’ve done that, but we’ve made a huge mistake by not being more positive. For any kind of ministry should be primarily defined by what it is, not what it is not. If you went for a new job and they handed you a job description which listed 10 things you could not do, and none you could, you’d be aghast!
I don’t think we’ve really thought this through enough and the danger we will find is that women’s ministry in the church gets relegated to children’s work and some biblical counselling. Both of course are valuable ministries, but they are not the extent of what we believe about complementarian roles. Or they shouldn’t be.
I wonder, how does it work in your church? Have you really thought about this? Have your leadership teams sat down and considered this prayerfully and scripturally? More likely, I imagine you think this is a debate that’s been done already and we’ve moved onto other issues. But the paucity of good, thought through women’s roles in churches in the UK rather reveals that not to be the case.
It’s one of the key reasons we’ve appointed Carrie Sandom to be our new Director of Women’s Ministry – not just to help train those who come to us, but to be a help to the wider church in thinking these issues through. We have a great opportunity. Some wrong turns now could set us back years. How does it work, chez vous?
Zondervan NIV Study Bible Notes
It can’t have escaped your notice that Don Carson has edited a new study Bible linked to the NIV and focused on biblical theology. Rather confusingly, it is not called the NIV Study Bible – that rather middle of the road publication (I’m not a particular fan – sorry), is staying as is and will still be part of the line up. So this one is going to be called the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. A mouthful I know. For now, there’s no anglicised version, though Hodder tell me that will be on the way at some point. Nor is there, right now, print availability in the UK.
So, let’s get this right. I’m telling you about a book you can’t get yet, and which I can’t possibly have read.
Yep. That’s about it – only you can get it digitally and I’ve got it through my Bible software (Logos) so I can say first impressions are very positive. Of course, it’s almost impossible to review this kind of book without reading every note. Nevertheless the accompanying articles seem first class, and the books I’ve been concentrating on (Matthew and Numbers) have very good, focused notes. I think it’s going to be a winner…
Autumn Ministers Final Call
It’s not too late to book a space at this year’s autumn ministers conference with Richard Pratt. Richard’s material on the OT is worth its weight in gold and unless you are one of those curious preachers who chooses to avoid OT narrative (yes, there are some!), you need this kind of help – at least, if you’re anything like me. There are so many challenges in OT narrative, aren’t there? The old trouble used to be too much moralising. I think that has been replaced by a new mistake – flattening the OT to make it only say one thing. Of course, we need a better king. I get that. But do you really think the Spirit has given us the richness and depth of the OT narrative books just to tell us that one thing over and over?
No, me neither. And though that is the big picture into which everything slots – and praise God that this is so – there is so much more to OT narrative than that. If that’s all your people get then pity your people! Richard Pratt will be a great help with this, and with other input on Ezra and OT narrative in general, you will be well set up for a new sermon series, as well as enjoying the fellowship, fun and space for recharging that each of our conference affords.
See you there.
Matters of life and death
One of the most vexed questions for Christians today is how we apply the truth of what we know to a fast changing culture. This is especially true in the area of ethics. Things that were not even possible 10 years ago, and scarcely considered, are now on the radar. Christians have to react quickly and think carefully. That’s why John Wyatt’s one hour session at this year’s EMA was gold dust. John is a practicioner, which means every day he is having to put his carefully thought through theology into real life situations, and it’s well worth hearing his conclusions. Many people have valued his book, Matters of Life and Death (new edition soon, I believe). In the meantime, watch, take notes and share liberally.
Applying 1 Kings
It seems pretty clear to me that 1 Kings is all about the kingdom advancing. It advances despite messy and complicated situations; it advances through godly men and women and it advances even when enemies seem strong (I think you can work out my outline). But how do we apply that today? I think it is wrong – especially at the start of a 1 Kings series – to launch straight to the church. It needs to be Christological before anything else. The simplest way to do that, and the most faithful, is to say that we see the advance of the kingdom despite messiness, through godliness and even when the enemies seem rampant in the life and death of Christ. After all, as Adonijah looked impressive, didn’t death look impressive on Good Friday? Our experiences are parallel not because we’re ourselves are in the 1 Kings story but, supremely, because Christ is in the 1 Kings story and we are in him.
Bob Fyall’s new PT book is excellent on all this stuff, I heartily commend it. It’s worth getting hold of and having on your shelf even if you’re not planning a 1 Kings series soon. This one’s a keeper.
Knowing your Bible is key to OT narrative
One of the things that struck me about 1 Kings 1 is how the original readers’ Bible knowledge would have made a great difference to their reading. To us, the story is full of colour and detail but it doesn’t really resonate with the 2 Samuel story as it should.
Take verses 5 and 6. Have a read. Familiar? Not really; and yet, if we knew our Bibles well, we’d be screaming out 2 Samuel 15.1, “Absalom, Absalom, Absalom.” This story drips with parallels – Adonijah was, after all, “born after Absalom”. And handsome? Well, we know what to make of that. And that’s just a couple of verses.
Many of the characters have a 2 Samuel history: Bathsheba, obviously, Nathan, Joab (oh, what a history!), Beraiah, Jonathan (not that one) – all are not newcomers on the scene. And yet, to most 1 Kings readers, it’s all brand new. And the 2 Samuel promise crops up again and again, as you would expect.
Now, the simple fact is that we don’t have the same Bible knowledge today. That’s a shame and you and I should be thinking about how we encourage folk in that area. But you’re not going to change it by next Sunday and griping about it is not going to make it better.
So, here’s the deal Mr Preacher. You’re going to have to preach in such a way that you help people see those links where they’re important, without letting that dominate your sermon.
It’s a tough gig, this preaching business.
The curious case of Abishag
Truth be told, some by-path meadows are easily avoided. Others are just too tempting, like a cool lake on a hot day. Splash! In you go. I’ve heard of preachers who feel that they have to explore every such cul-de-sac in great detail, but I think that’s missing the point of preaching.
It is not the mission of the sermon to explain every detail in the text. That’s the part of preparation. It is the job of the preacher to understand why things are there and why they’re written the way the they are, and then to let that knowledge shape the sermon. It’s not the same as simply explaining everything (in fact, the preacher who does has generally been more lazy, even though he may convince himself he is being more thorough).
Which brings me to the curious case of Abishag, David’s hot water bottle in 1 Kings 1.1-4. What are we to do with her? I’ve read sermons and commentaries which spend pages (in one case, the entire sermon) making this into a treatise on sexual purity. It goes something like this – look what a godly king David is, even when you put a hot chick in his bed he remains undefiled.
That’s a lot of nonsense in terms of both what verses 1-4 are saying and also what they’re in the passage for. Why do we need to know about this young woman and her hot body (a common medical approach to coldness in old age, by the way). Well, think about it for a moment. Why does the author tell us that they sought a “beautiful young virgin”? Why that detail? It’s to make a point. True, David does not have sexual relations with her (v4), but the sense is surely this: he couldn’t. It’s not just that he wouldn’t.
David is an impotent king in every sense and what is happening in his bed is only a picture of what is happening in the kingdom. He does not even know that the entire royal household (bar one or two) have disappeared off to have an afternoon of mutiny. Some king! Some father (v6)! Some lover! Here then is a crisis moment for the kingdom. Everything is at stake because the great king has grown old, cold and powerless.
The curious case of Abishag is nothing to do with sexual purity and everything to do with the danger the kingdom is now in. Will the promises of God fail? I think you probably know the answer.
Such a story
I’ve just preached on 1 Kings 1, a privilege I found enormously stretching and satisfying in equal measure, sharpened as it was by the application connecting with my own heart in a way you hope sermons will, but don’t always. It’s a dense passage which got me thinking a lot about preaching OT narrative all over again.
The first challenge, of course, is picking your passage. In a book like 1 Kings, this is made more difficult by the battle to understand what constitutes a preaching unit. This terminology is not biblical, for sure, but the concept is – it fits with our doctrine of Scripture: that the Holy Spirit inspired these words for us for a reason, so that we might learn and grow. There is something that he wants us to learn, and I as a preacher have to try to connect with God’s mind and heart in order to do justice to the text. At the heart of good narrative preaching is therefore good narrative selection.
There are always other factors at play, for example how long the series is planned for. However, on the whole, the preacher wants to immerse himself in the text to be able to see where the natural breaks and units occur. And in this, Bible divisions are sometimes helpful, but by no means inspired or reliable.
In fact, in 1 Kings, you’d go wrong, I believe, by splitting the chapter into two (NIV) or four (ESV). “David in his old age (1-4)” might be a very interesting historical account especially when seen in the light of the curious case of Abishag (wait until tomorrow for that!). But you’d have completely missed the point of why this little piece of narrative is there.
For this chapter, it seems pretty obvious that it’s about the handover of the kingdom so you have to go from verse 1 (David is king) to the end, verse 53 (Solomon is king). That’s the right selection.
Me? I got given my text. Ha! As it happens, it was the right one, but the comfort for preachers is that in the goodness of God, even when you think the division you’ve been given is not the best one, it is still the inspired word of God that you are proclaiming, and there is still a sermon there.
Christopher Ash on John- EMA 2015, Identity Crisis
There were lots of highlights from this year’s EMA – but preachers and teachers will find Christopher Ash’s morning expositions particularly helpful. He preached from John 8-10 and our brief to him was to stir and encourage those in word ministry. He certainly did this. I once heard Christopher’s preaching fondly described as “understated passion” – there’s no doubt what Christopher feels and believes as he preaches, and it’s a good model of how passion and power do not equal noise and movement. Many preachers think they need to cover 10 miles in a sermon in order to do justice to the text, but Christopher demonstrates what we believe to be true – the faithful preacher expounds the text and then relies on the Spirit to bring his power and passion to bear. Enjoy and be blessed. I did and was.