Will you please pray?
If you've attended a PT conference recently, chances are you've met Tom Forryan, the delightful pastor of Derby Road Baptist Church in Watford. He's a PT regular. You may have heard in the news that the church he serves was badly damaged in an arson attack on Saturday. It's devastating news. Please pray for Tom and the congregation. Thank you.
Talking about sex
I've been thinking about sex a lot. That didn't quite come out as I expected, but it did get your attention. Let me explain. For one reason and another, the subject of sex (and in particular how the Bible encourages us to think about sex) has occupied Mrs R and I as we've been teaching on some marriage enrichment courses and working with various individuals. In particular I've been thinking about how the world's view of sex can be both a help and hindrance.
One of the key changes that has taken place in the UK in the last 30-40 years is a greater openness to talk about sexual intimacy. This is good. And bad. It's good that something the Bible thinks is good and is explicit about, Christians feel freer to talk about in appropriate ways. And that ability to be biblically frank has come, at least in part, from the world. We should be grateful. But the paradox is that the way the world understands sex and its implications is not always so good.
There's still wisdom in the world. In fact, Suzi Godson (The Times sexual health columnist) often writes and counsels on sex and relationships from a Christian point of view (though she doesn't realise it, I'm sure). But much of what we hear is skewed and distorted.
Christians can't always sift this biblically. For example, I think it's good for Christians that women – since the 1960s – have been liberated in some measure. Sex is not just something for the husband; a necessary duty for the wife. Thank heavens we've got beyond that. But with that understanding has come a self-centredness about sex (it's only good if I enjoy it) that the Bible knows nothing of. In fact, and here is where the church is so different from the world, sex is service. Good sex – if I can put it like this – is sex your partner enjoys. That is 180 degree counter-cultural.
And though we sometimes talk about sex the way the Bible does, I wonder if we're sometimes more driven by worldly thinking. I can't remember the last time I heard sex described as something that will keep you from sin, but Paul is clear: "Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." The Prayer Book service recognises this: "Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body."
Or, as Luther puts it in slightly more succinct 16th Century language: "Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave."
We've got to know what the Bible teaches ourselves and be those who – when it's appropriate – teach it faithfully to others.
Christopher on marriage. In the US?
Christoper has written two books on marriage, a popular level one ("Married for God") and a more comprehensive, deeper volume – Marriage: Sex in the service of God. This latter volume is now 10 years old, but is still – to my mind – exceptional. It is a level above those popular level books which abound. So, if you need a good book on marriage, do yourself a favour and get this latter one. And to our US readers – sorry I don't think there's a US publisher at the moment. But if any publishers are reading this….. it's well worth a look. Both are published by our friends at IVP in the UK.
You may have seen that the ESV is free from Christian Audio for this month. Worth a download! Not free, but quite superb is Hodder's anglicised NIV which is slowly coming out in chunks, full version available in the summer (for example, gospels here). I love it. Here's my review from this month's Evangelicals Now.
NIV Bible: The Gospels. Enhanced audio book (kindle) (£4.99) or audio only file (iTunes)(£2.95)
There are many ways to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Chief amongst these are regular personal study and sitting week by week under faithful expository preaching. But it would be naïve to think that there are not other ways to let God’s word get into our bloodstream. I’ve found audio Bibles to be an excellent way of using time in the car or out walking to do just that.
We need to be realistic of course. For most people, listening to someone else reading the Bible is not a substitute for opening the written page and looking for ourselves. Nevertheless, I find listening to Bible reading an important part of getting to know God’s word better.
However, I have a confession. I want to hear an Anglicized version read in a UK voice. Perhaps I am revealing too much of my inner sinful prejudice, but having grown up in the UK, I find that listening to an indigenous voice the best way to take things in.
That’s why I was delighted to see that Hodder are gradually releasing a new audio version of the NIV read by David Suchet. I bought the enhanced kindle book – where you get the text and a button by each chapter which allows M. Poirot himself to read to you. His voice is well suited to the project. It is clear, careful and measured. You sense that this is more than a text to him.
I found the kindle experience slightly limiting. I could not plug my phone into the audio player in the car, for instance. Each chapter requires a new press of a button. But the audio files are also available as standard iTunes downloads – for just under £5 you get almost 9 hours of gospels. I think that represents pretty good value and I’m looking forward to making the most of this medium. I phoned Hodder to ask about future plans, and over the next twelve months or so you and I can expect the rest of the Bible to be released. Highly commended.
Book link: Stirred by a noble theme
If you've listened to or watched the audio from our Autumn Ministers Conference you'll know that David Gibb referenced a book on the psalms which had just been published. I don't think it was made that clear in the audio what it is was…. so in case you've been losing sleep, it was Stirred by a noble theme published by Apollos. Haven't read it myself yet, but from the table of contents it does look stimulating.
A preaching allegory from JMW Turner
I had a day off last week and the ever-effervescent Mrs R took me for my post Christmas treat to the JMW Turner exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. As well as having one of the best views of London (from the observatory, see here), this was a really good morning out. Turner fascinates me, and all the more so since attending the exhibition. His earlier works are fairly well known, but I hadn't realised quite how commercial he was. As he gained in success everyone started producing paintings like his, and his own paintings became less of a commodity as a result. So, he constantly tinkered with style: some of his later paintings are quite different (see left). One critic famously said that if the painting had been hung upside down, no one would have noticed. Harsh, but fair.
Thinking about preaching, as I always am, I began to see an allegory. The preacher has always to fight against the temptation to be novel. Rather, he is called to be faithful. This can sometimes be a stretch. Perhaps he sees other preachers doing just what he is doing (only slightly better?) and he craves the need to be different? He wants to remain (in business terms) a commercial success, so he rejects the old way and embraces new ways. Put like this, it sounds an extremely unlikely scenario. But seen in the context of a long term preaching ministry, I don't think (sadly) it's uncommon. I've certainly seen ministries like this.
The funny thing is, most people like Turner before – as my dad puts it – the mist descends. By moving away from faithful exposition we end up giving our people neither what they need, nor even what they want. Faithfulness as a measure sometimes seems a little unexciting to the world. But to the evangelical preacher, it is everything.
Practical Ministry Workshop
Hello Mr Preacher. We've got two spaces available at the May Practical Ministry Workshop. These are small (10 people plus David Jackman) working conferences at the lovely Oasts conference centre. The dates are 12-15 May. The small-ness is important as the chance to work together in a small group and to hear one another preach is a key element. Also key is the time to relax and recharge with informal evening time around the dinner table and in the lounge talking over ministry and life. These are precious days away. Do let Rachel know if you'd like one of these two spaces. A bargain at £228.
EMA seminars live today
Today we're announcing the EMA 2014 seminar streams. Each delegate (space permitting) can pick from one of the six streams running each afternoon. We've tried to tie them in to the main conference theme (Preaching and the glory of God) and to reflect that the EMA is a conference concerned not just with the preaching but also with the preacher. We hope you'll be excited about these as we are. Please note that the smaller seminars will only be available to those attending all three days because each day builds on the previous one. Take a look. And then book on. We expect the preaching masterclass to book up very quickly, so if you want that option, you may have to move fast.
Stream 1: The practical preacher
John Woodhouse will lead the main seminar stream in three sessions helping Bible preachers and teachers to address three fundamental issues:getting it right (understanding), getting it Christian (biblical theology) and getting it across (shaping sermons appropriately). Each day will include a practical panel to follow up and ask questions via twitter and text. John Woodhouse is the retired principal of Moore College, Sydney.
Stream 2: Teaching John
Christopher Ash will lead three sessions on preaching and teaching John’s gospel – a book which has the revelation of God’s glory at its heart. This will be a useful workshop stream for all those who might preach or teach John in the near future. Christopher is the Director of PT Cornhill.
Stream 3: Preaching refresher
Tim Ward will lead three sessions on preaching and teaching foundations. This stream will be ideal for those just starting out in a preaching or teaching ministry and as a refresher, for example, for missions workers returning home for a break. Tim is the Associate Director of PT Cornhill.
Stream 4: Preachers masterclass
David Jackman will lead a small (20 places) boardroom style seminar stream working at preaching for those with 15+ years experience in ministry. The idea of this stream is to ensure that experienced preachers continue to work at the task of Bible proclamation. Due to the size and nature of this stream, we expect places to fill quickly. David is the past President of The Proclamation Trust.
Stream 5: The glory of God and practical godliness
Mike Gilbart-Smith will lead delegates in thinking through how we cultivate godliness in our churches and in our own lives. What does discipleship look like in a 21st Century church. Expect help in your own walk with Christ and also in serving others. Mike is senior minister of Twynholm Baptist Church in central London.
Stream 6: The glory of God in the ministry home
The ministry home is a peculiar place. In one sense, it is just another Christian home. However, there are also particular pressures that come from living in the vicarage or manse. Over three sessions we will explore these pressures and seek to come up with some strategies for managing a godly and Christ-glorifying home.
Encouragement for preachers
It's Friday. That means Sunday is getting close. You're either well set (if you're that kind of early prep preacher) or just getting started (last minute preacher). Either way, Sunday can sometimes seem a little daunting. The passage is not as straightforward as you thought, perhaps. It's easy to make top level applications, but you know your people need some of the deeper, more focused applications that lead from the text, but you can't quite make your way through yet. Perhaps you know your delivery of late has been a bit poor, lazy even and you know you need to spend some more time thinking this through. The last few weeks haven't gone so well. There's been little fruit, as far as you can see.
In short, it's easy to be daunted by Sunday.
This morning, I'm preaching Ezra 5.1-2 and I'm encouraged all over again to see both the necessity and work of gospel ministry, The necessity is clear. Work on the temple building has stopped. And it is only the proclamation of God's word that gets it started again. The work is clear. This is a work of the word. The prophets are those who bring God's word. Now is not the time to trace the connection between OT prophecy and NT preachers. But there is one – in the nature of the ministry at least.
So, here is encouragement for preachers on a Friday. That work you are doing this Sunday is the God-ordained means of building the church. It's hard work at times, sure. Sometimes discouraging in the fruit it brings. But our encouragement comes not from the fruit of our labours but from the one who calls us to serve. This is a glorious ministry.
The preacher’s friends. Or lack thereof.
Who, would you say, are your friends? Not twitter followers. Not Facebook friends. But real life, tangible friends. The kind of friends you tell stuff to. The kind of friends you pray with. The kind of friends who stand by you even when you're not doing so well. Friendship is a deep and meaningful biblical category, but the truth is it can be hard for the preacher to have friends. It's hard to make friends in the congregation. Not impossible, as some would say, but hard nevertheless. It can be harder still to maintain friendships outside the church. No Sundays off for you to go and visit. And therefore the default position for preachers is often Norman-no-mates. It's a dangerous place to be, sub-biblical.
And those who are married can't get out of this one. I count Mrs R as my best friend. I cherish that. But a good marriage is still not a replacement for a friend (or friends) of the same sex.
Just before Christmas, the elders of our church read through Vaughan Roberts' little book on friendship called, ahem, True Friendship. It's short (95 pages) and I was told you can read it in an hour. Not true. It takes longer – not least because the teaching on friendship from Proverbs needs to be digested slowly, reflected on, prayed in and – in our case, at least – acted upon.
I realised two things as a preacher:
- first, I don't have enough friends of the type Proverbs describes
- second, the friends I do have, I convince myself operate at a higher level than they do. There is some cultivation required.
We were so moved by this that we bought everyone in the church a copy – you can do this because in bulk it costs only £1.50. Money well spent,
No more for now. I've got some things to sort.