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.
Videos from EMA 2015- Identity Crisis
Over the next few weeks, starting tomorrow, we will be uploading the videos from our recent EMA. I’ll be writing a little about them here on the blog so please do come by and have a read and watch.
These brothers of mine – a review
I’ve not long finished reading a reasonably concise book about the church and Israel, called These brothers of mine by Rob Dalrymple. The book is clear and direct. The author has clearly held views about this most divisive of issues but they are presented biblically and – for the most part – winsomely. I guess his own background (US dispensationalism) helps. He knows where his majority of readers will be coming from.
Whether you like it or not, this is an important subject. It will become ever more so in UK churches as congregation members are exposed to a variety of views, not all of which are helpful. And of course what you think about land, temple and nation are, at heart, hermeneutical questions, and therefore ones which are very, very relevant to preachers.
I need to nail my colours to the mast, I guess. I’m with Rob. I think his conclusions are basically correct and he’s also right to reject the notion of so-called replacement theology. His approach is more Christological and I really appreciated his repeated assertion that many at both extremes (those who still see a place for physical fulfilment and those who see the church as replacing Israel) make far too little of Jesus. That is a point well made.
There are, however, some omissions. I thought ignoring the concept of rest/Sabbath in any discussion of the land was an oversight. Moreover, he is virtually silent on the Son of Man motif, which looms very large indeed in the gospels and in Jesus own self-designation. There is also no discussion of Romans 9-11.
The largest niggle, for me, however was that the book was wrapped up in Rob’s own story and experiences visiting the holy land. I found these interesting – moving even – but they had the effect of making the argument quite emotive. I can imagine someone who doesn’t agree with him (I have a few in mind) not getting beyond the introductory chapters.
So would I recommend it? Yes, I think I would. It’s the best book of its kind given its length and scope. I think O Palmer Robertson is more thorough (The Israel of God) and Sam Storms treatment of Romans 9-11 very, very helpful. But as an all-round fill in (especially for those who need to read up on this subject), this short book cannot be bettered.
When is a chiasm not a chiasm?
When it’s not, of course. OT preachers get obsessed with chiasms. Chiasms are common Hebrew poetic structures which, in very simple terms, put the heart of a passage at the centre – literally – with a corresponding pattern on either side – ABCBA kind of thing. I’m one of those preachers who finds some chiasms helpful (Malachi structure, I’ll save that for another day), but is wary of finding a chiasm under every rock, so to speak.
Some OT preachers seem obsessed with chiasms. And sometimes, this obsession, can lead you away from what you’re trying to see. Take Lamentations. It’s a mostly bleak book with one or two glimmers of hope. But to force it into a chiasm neither does justice to the text, nor retains the focus of the book. It makes the book, as John Mackay puts it, too optimistic. You can actually end up softening the blow by misinterpreting the structure.
All of which is to say that working out the structure of a text or passage, however short, is an important part of any preparation.
My summer reading list is probably unlike every other Christians for the simple reason that I don’t take any Christian books away with me. Well, I take a Bible of course, but no books on ministry, preaching, leadership, etc. None. Zilch. Zip. The reason is reasonably simple. I read a lot of books. AS, I guess, do many people in ministry. I do so with an eye on my own heart, with an ear for those who might benefit too, and trying to assess biblically and critically so that I can discern what is good and useful. The end point for such reading is often a recommendation or a review. I find it very hard, therefore to read and not think I’m in work mode. I simply can’t do it. So, for my own sanity Christian books stay home on vacation and I have a chance to catch up with all that normal stuff.
And what a catch up! There were a few trashy novels, true. Some had been read before. I’m too embarrassed to tell you which ones. There were some modern novels (The Lie, by CL Taylor, don’t bother, whereas The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, amazingly not an English book I found gripping). I revisited Charlotte Gray (so much better and deeper than movie) having read the non fiction She landed by moonlight – perhaps the most extraordinary tale I’ve ever read. We were on holiday in Normandy so I had to do Pegasus Bridge (just where we were staying) and D Day plus the other side of things in D Day through German eyes. I muddled by way through Vol 1 of Winston Churchill’s biography, though have to confess the thought of another 7 volumes fills me with some dread.
However, my breath was taken away by my favourite read of the holiday – Gary Imlach’s My father and other working class football heroes. I thought this was a really insightful look into the football of the 1950s and 1960s – not quite the glamour years that some like to make them, certainly not for the players. True, there was not the money grabbing commercialism there is now (at least not from the players). But imagine being on a kind of minimum wage and waking up one morning to find that your club has transferred you (without any input from you) to a team halfway across the country and two leagues down the table! That’s how it was, and reading this book is both insightful and profoundly moving as Imlach (ITV’s Tour de France host) explores his father’s career (he was a Scottish international) and discovers lots that he never knew. If you like football, you’ll enjoy this.
Another ministry casualty
Another summer. Another ministry casualty. Plus ça change….
So, you know the story and I’m not one for rehashing other peoples’ failures, nor speculating on what went wrong – in general we know far too little about such situations and would do well to leave the specifics alone. Nevertheless, there is a sober warning for everyone whom God has called into ministry. It is to take care lest we too fall. Our temptations and struggles will be different from those who have failed to finish. But we are naïve if we think that somehow we are immune from the Devil’s charms and the allure of sin.
It is so often sexual sin – but we must not consider that if we can fight that battle, we are off the hook. In fact, there are a whole raft of what Jerry Bridges calls respectable sins that ensnare us more subtly – dare I say, more dangerously.
Let’s turn it around – wherever you are in the ministry race (starting out, middle ground, near the line), what are you doing to make sure you will make the distance? It’s never too soon to start thinking, praying, planning, pleading.
Who sings Lamentations?
Who sings it? Duh. Jesus sings it of course. Here is my working hypothesis. The corporate nature of Israel’s destruction, captured uniquely in the destruction of the temple does not point to the church primarily or individual Christians, but to Christ, the true Israel and the Temple which would itself be destroyed.
Jesus sings Lamentations. This is Gethsemane lament. This is cross-song. This is the sentiment of the nation which seems finished, whose enemies gloat, where things seem so desperate there is no way out, but for whom the faithfulness of God is the hope that keeps the faith alive. He may be forsaken on the cross, afflicted and smitten, destroyed, but he will be rebuilt in three days.
Yep. Jesus sings Lamentations. Of course, we sing it too – but in him. This is our song because it is his song first. As much as we resonate with the afflictions of the Laments, it is in the scope and shape of passages such as Colossians 1.24 and filling up the afflictions of Christ.
Well, you may say, you get to the same applications in the end. Not true, I say. For an application which goes something like “their experience is our experience” is NOT the same as “their experience is our experience because it was Christ’s experience first”. That is a whole different sermon and one, I would argue, which is sharper, more Christ-centred, more likely to draw appropriate lines.
And I’m glad. I’m glad that, ultimately, Jesus sings Lamentations so that I don’t have to.
Who sings Lamentations?
My autumn study project is Lamentations. Hardly common preaching ground. But if we believe our own doctrine of Scripture, it ought to be as appropriate to preach Lamentations as others portions of the Bible. Anyway, between you and me, I quite like these unknown territories. It means my little knowledge can go a long way!
Anyways, here’s my main struggle with the text: how is it to be interpreted Christologically? In other words, how is Lamentations Christian scripture. As far as I can see, the commentators take two approaches. First, some see it in its historical context alone. As such, it’s the book that laments the destruction of Jerusalem yet sees a glimmer of hope in the promise of the covenant. That makes it Christian because it reflects the failure of the Old Covenant from a human perspective, but anticipates the new in Christ.
I don’t want to disagree with that at some level. Indeed, this historical take is surely the foundation of any Christian understanding. But it seems somewhat flat: what I mean is that there is really only one thing you can say about Lamentations: isn’t it great that Jesus has come! Well, yes. But there’s surely more colour, detail and significance about the text than that.
The second approach is to jump straight to Christians or (per Calvin) the church. The church sometimes feels bowed low and almost destroyed, but there is hope because God is the covenant keeping God! Or, as individuals, we sometimes feel right up against it, full of grief, but we must not despair. Both of these are worthy Christian sentiments, I guess, but I’m not persuaded….
I think someone else sings Lamentations. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out who.
Marriage and ministry
Well, I said, preaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum and for many of us, though not all, the context in which we serve is as both husbands and ministers. You don’t need me to tell you that brings with it its own set of challenges. That’s why three couples here – first David & Heather Jackman, now Wallace and Lindsay Benn and Mrs R and I – have started running short 24 hour stopovers for married couples in ministry.
We’ve already held one in Yorkshire and this half term we have two – one in Leicestershire and one in Wiltshire, the latter at the oldest hotel in the UK! They’re deliberately short and will not answer every question, but we want to use them to get you thinking, praying and doing. Mrs R and I are in our 25th year this year, and even now we hardly feel qualified to take such a day. But we’re driven by the importance of the subject and the desperate wish to see both marriages and ministries flourish. We see too many couples whose marriages have become a sham and where ministries have suffered (or, indeed, vice versa).
After some market research we planned them for half term holidays. You may think that’s a bit obtuse – but people told us that it was easier to arrange child care out of term time than in it. Plans are already in place for baby sitters and grandparents and it’s easy to sort that when the kids don’t have to be fitted into a daily regime.
So, we’d love to see you in October. Wallace and Lindsay have just a few spaces left in the Midlands. We’ve got a few more at Malmsbury. Either way, here’s an investment well worth making.