I was kindly sent an excerpt from Chuck Missler's book on Hidden Treasures in the Bible (you can read the excerpt here). The basic premise is that if you do a bit of mathematical jiggery pokery, hey presto! The camp arrangement when viewed from above (presumably from Moses Hot Air Balloon?) looks like a cross and the reason that Balaam was so terrified was that from his high vantage point he saw the sign to Jesus. It gets worse. David Ben Yakov's view is that this doesn't quite work as the numbers are not balanced, The cross would have a longer beam on one side than the other and how can a perfect God allow an imperfect sign. Never mind, he argues. Jesus was an asymmetrical man, with his heart to one side and therefore, the lopsided picture of the camp arrangement represents not a cross, but a man on a cross. Hey presto again!
It's all bonkers of course, and I hope you can see that. Heaven help your congregation if not. But it does beg the question of how we see Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures so here are a few random thoughts to bear in mind:
- Christ is always present in the triune Godhead. It is too easy to make a connection and say that the LORD (YHWH) is the Father. It's as though Jesus does not come into being until Matthew. We've got to be careful. There are places where the LORD clearly refers to the Father (Psalm 2, for instance). But otherwise, we need a broader view. Alec Motyer writes about this in the Baker Encylopaedia of the Bible, especially as it relates to the Incarnation: 'The incognito of Yahweh has finally been unveiled, not (as is often mistakenly thought) to expose him as God the Father, but as God the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit.'
- Christ is always anticipated in the Old Testament. This is the great value of a good Biblical theology. We understand where the Bible is heading and see how the patterns and flow build up to the great climax of the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ.
- Christ is often seen explicitly in the text. I guess this is what Missler is trying to spot. But Christ is not hidden. We use Scripture to interpret Scripture and to see how he is seen. So, in Numbers (for it is that book to which Missler refers), we have the rock from which the Israelites drank (1 Cor 10), we have the bronze snake (John 3), we have the star coming out of Jacob (Matthew 2.2?).
Be afraid, be very afraid of finding Christ by maths, constellation studies, strange dating schemes or tea leaves (just slipped that last one in) or even helicopter like birds eye view pictures of the tabernacle encampment. And in the meantime Missler and his pal Ben Yakov just might become Cornhill illustrations….
Spring Ministers Conference
Our two Spring ministers conferences are just around the corner. We've invited Peter Adam over from Australia to help us with both of them and we're greatly looking forward to his insightful ministry, this year focusing on the book of Revelation, its importance in church life and help for how to preach it. Even if you're not preaching Revelation soon, you will benefit from his help and spending time with other guys wrestling with church life.
Our ministers' conferences are always an encouragement to me. It's a privilege for those serving in the local church to get together to build one another up. Being in ministry, even in a large team, can be a lonely existence. Humanly speaking we need friendships with those who are serving in the same kind of setting in order to be able to keep going and stay faithful. So, we make sure our conferences are warm and friendly places to be. There is some work – though the preparation of tackling a book in a small group with one presentation per delegate is hugely outweighed by the benefit you get from it. We make sure there is free time. We make sure the expositions are for expositors and both speak to hearts and inform preaching. And the food…..oh my!
The Younger Ministers conference (2-10 May) has literally only a couple of spaces – first come, first served! However, for the Senior Ministers conference (29 Apr – 2 May) we've still got some room. Do think about joining us and why not ask a local friend to come along. I find this is a great way to seal and build local friendships. The time investment is worth the return. And it is yet another way, as I blogged last Friday, of making sure we keep on track. I hope to see you there.
Bible based vs biblical
Often, we tend to describe our preaching and church ministry as 'Bible-based.' That sounds worthy and noble. What more could you want when looking for a church or hope for when leading one? But are things quite that simple? A few years ago now we published a book of addresses from past EMAs including contributions from Sinclair Ferguson, Melvin Tinker, Johnny Prime and Mr Jackman. David's address was on just this subject and I was rereading it today. He argues that it is possible to be bible-based but not biblical. This is because it is possible to read the Bible and look at the Bible without listening to the Bible. Therein lies the difference. And the danger for every evangelical. David describes the potential for movement:
We can shift from being governed by Scripture in the contents and methods of ministry, to regarding the Bible as a possessions over which we have control, a source book that acts as a springboard for our more 'relevant' approach. In the end, what happens in the church is that we start to domesticate God's word, we tame it to suit our pulpit purposes. Evangelicals often talk about having a Bible based ministry, but from that base they can safely travel over the hills and far away! What we should be concerned for is a thoroughly biblical ministry, seeking for ourselves and for our churches to have what was memorably said of John Bunyan: that he had bibline blood. In order to avoid this situation, preachers need to maintain confidence in the word of God that is preached and in the preaching of the word of God. We need to regain certain inescapable priorities, not just an intellectual position, but as a bloodstream of our ministry.
And surely, we must never think 'that could never happen to me…' The road is littered with good evangelicals who seem to have lost their way. That's why the EMA is so important to us. One of its functions, at least, is to maintain the inescapably priority of preaching in the bloodstream of our ministry. It's been great to see guys booking on for the EMA who have not been for a few years. Whether you're a regular or not, do come and join us. We need one another to maintain these priorities.
Ash on Romans
There are many, many good commentaries on Romans. I'm studying the book at the moment, and for commentary use I'm using Murray (now replaced by Moo in the NICOT) and Tom Schreiner's volume in the Baker Exegetical Series in the main. But time and time again, I find myself casting a glance at Christopher Ash's two volumes in our Teaching series. They really are super for preachers. Having just come back from India, I also appreciate the value of these books as a main commentary for those whose English is not brilliant and for those just starting to get to grips with expository preaching. Which got me thinking? Have you overseas, English-speaking partners that you could send a set to? They would be a very welcome addition to any preachers' library, but particularly those African, Asian and South American preachers who perhaps don't have seminary level education and are just getting to grips with expository preaching. These are just the job. There are two volumes for Romans, Volume 1 and, er, Volume 2.
The story of Chris Huhne and Vicky Price is a sad one indeed. Both will now spend at least four months in prison (half the term) for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It's a tale with a twist because, as you will know if you've been following it, the only reason that it came to light is because Miss Price wanted to get revenge on her cheating husband. She certainly did that, ruining his career, but dragging herself down in the process. As a Times letter writer pointed out this week, there is an old Chinese proverb, 'if you're going to go for revenge, you'd better dig two graves.'
However, the proclaimer blog is not about moralising on the downfall of others. I don't want to do that. But I do want to point out that this is a biblical lesson that preachers would do well to hear. 'Do not take revenge my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, "it is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.' (Romans 12.19). In fact, the Apostle goes on to say, we should treat our enemies the reverse of the way they might expect to be treated, or that they have treated us.
Preachers need to hear this counter cultural warning. How so? For our preaching and our people? No, for our own hearts. For in ministry, it is easy to feel aggrieved and even angry at the slightest criticism, however minor (or valid). And we being to plot. We begin to wish that people who set themselves against us 'would get a taste of their own medicine' (sounds slightly less aggressive than revenge, doesn't it?). And when some misfortune overtakes someone who has had the temerity to criticise us, then we don't feel compassion for them (and all the other pastoral responses); rather, we utter a stifled "YES!" when no one else is listening. Sound familiar?
We shouldn't kid ourselves that revenge is not an issue for preachers.
And if we are intent on pursuing it, we should dig two graves.
Why justification by faith alone really matters
I've been thinking recently about Romans. That's mainly because we're preaching through it at church and I've been given some real plums (Romans 3.21-28 and Romans 5.1-11). What a joy to study these wonderful passages again. But it also means that I've been sitting under other people's ministry, from which I've benefitted enormously. This time around I've been really struck by the many and varied applications that Paul hitches to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Some of them are obvious (Rom 5.1 and Rom 8.1 are two great examples). But there are others too, less obvious perhaps but no less valid for it. For example the thrust of his argument in chapter 4 is one of the great missions passages in the Bible. It's funny really, that even in such dense theological argument (as many people see it), there are rich seams of application just there for the preaching.
But it's closer to home even than that. Here is a doctrine to be cherished in my own heart. No wonder the Reformers were delighted to see it, preach it, live it, die for it. It stands at the heart of the Christian faith and has enormous implications. But wonderfully, because of the finished work of Jesus, we will never be more justified before our righteous God than we are right at this moment. Isn't that an incredible truth? I'm praying through it this week, using Romans, and asking God to let it inform my life and my preaching.
C***c R****f Humbug
The Comic Relief Police are out in force this week. "Want to buy a pen for £1 for Comic Relief?" (Rymans, where PT staff enjoy their lunchtimes). No? You miserable so and so. Well, actually, the assistant didn't actually accuse me like that, but I could read the face.
- first, it seems somewhat irresponsible to give to general campaigns without first doing some groundwork. This is not a CR dig, but a broader point. There is little or no visibility of where your giving is actually going when you donate to general campaigns. That's OK for Christian organisations (and there are plenty of worthy ones that we support corporately and personally), but for those who are not, how do you know how your money is being spent? I think churches should be nurturing specific relationships, either with individuals or projects or trusted organisations. That seems a more appropriate way to give.
- second, more specifically, some of CR's projects may be Christianly dubious. That's because they give to alleviate injustice and they have a broader view of justice than you or I. Wherever your draw the line on this (and we may all have different views), there may be one or two projects (amongst a myriad of many good and worthy projects) which cross it. For example, in the most recent published list, CR fund the Gay and Lesbian Youth Parliament. Now, Christians should be reaching out with the gospel to people from all kinds of backgrounds graciously and generously, but I don't personally think that is where Christian money should be going.
You must make your own decisions, of course. But the Christian principles remain: Give generously. But give wisely too.
PT iOS app
Don't forget if you're on iOS (iPad, iPhone or new generation iPod) you can download the PT app for free. This will give you easy access to the audio material from our website and the blog. We're sorry that since iOS6 it hasn't been working, but it's up and running again. Crucially it will allow you to both stream and download audio to enable you to decide how best to access online material.
Ask your wife
It's interesting being on a wives' conference. Here are 100 women, all married for some time, all in ministry some time. What do you think would be the overwhelming answer if I asked them for their husband's besetting sin?
There are nuances of course. And there will almost certainly be root causes that lead to overwork. However, overwhelmingly this is the thing that comes up time and time again in conversations I've had with some of the wives here.
Without wanting to be too blunt and direct: sort it out! You will be able to rationalise and spiritualise it, of course. That's the danger of being a Bible man. It's often easy to justify those respectable sins biblically. But ultimately it will blunt marriage and ministry and it is not glorifying to God. Catch it before it's too late.
If you've time.
Ministers and pornography
You're a church minister. You regularly preach to your congregation about sexual purity, after al it comes up again and again in the Bible, especially in the NT epistles. You're a modern preacher and so you're able to talk frankly about sex, same-sex attraction and related issues. You are even clear about the dangers and pervasiveness of pornography.
But you're hooked yourself. And you can't tell anybody about it.
I've not got any statistics but I reckon (from anecdotal conversations) that's it more common than we might imagine or confess, especially in our circles. There's a shame attached, rightly of course, which makes us very wary about saying anything to anybody. What can you do? My plea is for you to get pastoral help. But here are a few other points:
- Name it for what it is. It is adultery in your heart (see Matt 5.28). Our teenage boys at school may be told it is about harmless release, but that is simply untrue, a lie of the Devil.
- Understand that it will require serious remedy (Matt 5.29-30). You are kidding yourself if you think you can fix this easily. It requires real heart change.
- That said, don't despise practical help. CovenantEyes is well known. We use a similar package called SafeEyes. There are other similar packages available.
- Smart phones make carrying this addiction much simpler. If that is the way you access porn and you cannot kick it, then trade your phone down.
- Work out the root sin. I think an addiction to pornography reflects the sin of discontent. Ultimately this is discontent with Christ. More practically, if you are married, this is a discontent with your wife. Worse still, when you start to watch pornograhy you begin to demand things in the bedroom that might be common online, but are not, I believe, natural in marriage: I include anal sex in this list. So the discontent spreads.
- Sharpen your prayers. Work out the root sin and tackle this in your prayers. Don't just ask God to help you fix the problem but change your heart and tackle the root sins.