Duplicity (3) – I love the Bible
The preacher spends all his time in the word of God. He loves the word of God. He meditates on it day and night. He treasures it in his heart. He delights in its decrees. He does not neglect the word of God (all Psalm 119). He is paid money to do this. What could be better.
Or is this a more recognisable pattern?
Read the passage. Ask "How is this going to become a sermon?" Grab a piece of paper right away. Jot down ideas. Perhaps do this diligently. Big idea? Theme sentence? Aim? Outline? Introduction? Illustration? By Friday, it's taking shape and by Sunday the people get a good sermon. Monday. Start over.
No one knows. They assume that if you're giving them a good sermon, then you're fingers are covered with the ink of the text and the words have gone deeply into your heart.They assume that the message they are getting on Sunday is just the tip of the iceberg of your Bible study during the week. "If this is the message," they think, "imagine what other treasures he has mined this week!" Yes, you say to them – I separate out my devotions from my prep. That much is true. But what you don't say is that your devotions are rubbish if they exist at all. It's just been a prep week. Again. Again.
And, like prayer, this is not a failing you care to admit to. This is not something you will announce from the pulpit. At first you are ashamed. Then you convince yourself that your sermon prep is your devotion and that's fine. It must be sinking in. Until you review your spiritual progress over the last twelve months and you realist that you have not grown at all; in fact, if anything…..
How can I explain this so accurately? Well……
Tomorrow, some remedies.
Duplicity (2) – My prayer life is great
The pastor prays. Always. Have you noticed? He prays before his sermon, perhaps. He prays at the end. Maybe if he is leading a service he prays during it too. He attends the prayer meeting – it's his job. He prays. If there's a silent moment, he steps in. Gosh, people think, this is a godly man. What a pray-er! And public praying is always effusive. I mean, the pastor is praying on behalf of the congregation, so he doens't load his prayers with groans and cries. He prays big. He prays positive. And the people think, this man is a man of prayer. Perhaps they even say that to him – I remember once someone saying to me, "I tell people our pastor is a great man of prayer" – imagine the pride!
And then he sits at home and prays…nothing. His prayer folder gathers dust. He sits down in his study and presumes on the grace of God. He knows that God is gracious. And so, if prayer is hard and dry, God is still gracious. He finds it harder to get up in the morning. Early mornings are out. Never mind 6am, he struggles to make 8am. He prays well with others, but on his own..
And he daren't tell anyone. He daren't let people know that he struggles to talk to his Saviour. He knows it will be a ministry killer. So he maintains the illusion and slowly, gradually, he convinces himself that this is normal and he doesn't need to take remedial action.
If you wonder how I can nail it so accurately and effectively, well……
Later in the week, some remedies. But for now, just the diagnosis.
I spent some of the weekend reading a book that made be sad. It was Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race helpfully dispatched by amazon on publication day. It tells the story of professional cycling and doping – or more precisely, the story about Lance Armstrong (who won the Tour de France an amazing seven times in a row) and doping. It's not pleasant reading – not only because it blows apart sporting achievements that I loved watching as a spectator, but because Armstrong himself comes across (and this may be skewed by the book, of course) as a self-absorbed, self-deceiving, arrogant idiot. I'm pretty sure that the excesses of then are not being repeated now – the cyclists of the early nineties climbed the major hills loads quicker than they do today – and there are not many sports where performance goes backwards. I'm not so naive as to think that people don't push the boundaries of what they can get away with, but it does seem that is a different attitude now than there was then.
However, this is not a blog about professional cycling. It's a blog about preaching. So here's the thing. As I read, what saddened me most was the duplicity with which most of these riders conducted themselves. Hamilton himself said that if the whole team had taken lie detector tests, they would have passed, because they convinced themselves they weren't cheating. As I thought about this and then thought about my own heart, I reflected on the capacity for self-deception. How easy it is to convince others, and in doing so convince myself, that everything is OK, or better, everything is glorious. I think preachers are particularly good at doing this. They know that to stand in the pulpit and say "I've had a rubbish week/month/year. I'm struggling to pray. I've lost my love for Christ" is the kiss of death for ministry. So, we say nothing. We convince others and we often convince ourselves.
I want to blog about this a little this week. Because this duplicity is deadly to faith and deadly to ministry. Part (2) tomorrow when we'll get into specifics.
Autumn Ministers Conference
I'd like to invite you to our Autumn Ministers Conference, held at Hothorpe Hall in Market Harborough from 12-15 November 2012. This year we're joined by Doug Moo leading workshops and preaching from Colossians/Philemon. Alongside Doug, Professor Glynn Harrison will be speaking about preaching to blokes and Vaughan Roberts will also be speaking. There'll be extra stuff planned as well as our preaching workshops – a chance to sharpen ourselves in the great task of preaching God's word, but also to develop support networks, praying for and encouraging one another. If you've never been, why not come along with a friend as these conferences are a great way of building and cementing local gospel partnerships. You can book online here. We look forward to seeing you. If cost prohibits you from attending but you'd like to come, please get in contact with the office and we may be able to help.
I have just started reading The Lost World of Genesis One reviewed in EN this month. Too soon to say what I think of it. However, the early chapters did get me thinking about what we mean when we talk about the Bible being true or literal. The trouble is that this is a concept that is fundamentally understood by those who comment on evangelical Christiansity and even those who don't understand these things from within. To understand the literal meaning of a passage or text does not mean to read it at its more obvious level, nor at its apparent face value. Literal, in terms of biblical interpretation, means to understand a passage as it was originally intended to be understood. That's why reading a text is not just about, well, reading a text, but rather working at it, seeing what the author originally intended.
We don't often ask for things on this blog. That's deliberate. So you won't find any monetary appeals (though we're always welcome when people support the work). However, we're about to begin a new academic year (because of Cornhill that's just the way our years work) and we do covet the prayers of God's people as we endeavour to serve the church. So please do pray for
- our Cornhill course, starting next Monday. It's full again, and this term under the watchful eye of Robin Weekes as Christopher takes a sabbatical. He's joined by new boy Jonathan Griffiths as Cornhill tutor. Pray that those who teach (primarily Robin and Jonathan with input from David Jackman, me and one or two others) will be godly, careful, wise and faithful. Pray for students, please and their placement churches. We continue to long to see the training course doing good.
- our conferences. This comes under my remit, helped by Rachel Brabner, our conference manager. We always long that conferences will serve people well and encourage them to keep going with preaching – so as we plan and deliver a new season of conferences, pray that would continue to be the case.
- our resources. Again, this is my responsibility. Do pray for recent titles and upcoming titles and our work on revamping the website as well as making as much material available as possible.
The minister’s Bible
We started a new series at church last Sunday evening taking us through the Bible story genre by genre and equipping church members to 'read the Bible for all its worth' (to borrow a well known title). I think it's going to be good – not our idea, by the way, but borrowed with thanks from David Cook, with us on his latest trip. As part of the evening service we read out a slightly modernised version of a prayer from the Valley of Vision. At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, I do like that book! Here's the prayer. Good for every minister. Good for every Christian.
O God of truth, I thank you for the holy Scriptures, their precepts, promises, directions, light. In them may I learn more of Christ, be enabled to retain his truth and have grace to follow it.
Help me to lift up the gates of my soul that he may come in and show me himself when I search the Scriptures, for I have no lines to fathom its depths, no wings to soar to its heights.
By his aid may I be enabled to explore all its truths, love them with all my heart, embrace them with all my power, engraft them into my life.
Bless to my soul all grains of truth garnered from your Word; may they take deep root, be refreshed by heavenly dew, be ripened by heavenly rays, be harvested to my joy and your praise.
Help me to gain profit by what I read, as treasure beyond all treasure, a fountain which can replenish my dry heart, its waters flowing through me as a ever-flowing river drawn on by your Holy Spirit.
Enable me to distil from its pages faithful prayer that grasps the arm of your omnipotence, achieves wonders, obtains blessings, and draws down streams of mercy.
From it show me how my words have often been unfaithful to you, harmful to my fellow-men, empty of grace, full of folly, dishonouring to my calling. Then write your own words upon my heart and inscribe them on my lips; So shall all glory be to you in my reading of your Word!
Something special for an eight year old
Reformation Heritage Books produce some very nice gift books and I've enjoyed reading through Lady Jane Grey – a Christian biography for young readers. It's a hardback children's book and whilst not cheap, is beautifully produced and illustrated. (And, do my eyes deceive me, it is Smyth sewn – how about that!) I really like this book, it's a faithful account of England's nine day queen which doesn't cover over the brutality of the period, but explains it simply and clearly. Moving on the gospel too, repeating her execution speech words: "I look to be saved by none other means but only by the mercy of God and the merits of the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ." I am looking forward to reading it with my eight year old daughter – I think that's about the level. Simonetta Carr has written others in the series.
Why a good start should not be important but is
I've enjoyed a few weeks away and noticed how many of the good books I read began well. Can you spot the openings? Click through for the answers. (I realise, by the way, that releasing my summer holiday reading habits is a dangerous business, but I'd just like to point out that this wasn't all I read!)
- Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
- Everything comes to an end
- His children are falling from the sky
- Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again
- The thud of a big gun woke Ian Fleming from his doze.
Doubt you got them all, but then my reading tastes are a bit eclectic. The point is that the first line often draws you in. It hooks you.
So should it be with sermon introductions. They need to faithfully introduce the sermon, I think. You can't just tell your best one-liners. But they need to hook and intrigue and tell listeners – this is one for you.
But here's the thing. They shouldn't have to. In an ideal world, our hearers would be so hungry for the word of God that we could begin like John Owen, "The apostle in these verses carries on in his previous design." But the sad reality is that our messages have to accommodate to the fact that people are not hungry as they should be, they need to be persuaded to listen. And therefore, a good start is important. Don't write it first (before you know what direction the sermon is going to take). But do take care over it.
Best books on preaching (10)
I've saved one of my favourites till last. Peter Adam's volume is the theology of preaching and it warms my heart. This is such a dense, packed book that it requires slow reading to take in all the gold that is found here. It's not dry and dusty theory though. Adam backs it all up with practical help and advice. It was formed from material origianlly given at Moore College Sydney and later delivered on our ministers conferences (incidentally, Peter is speaking at our Spring conferences next year, why not book a space now?). It's now republished in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by our friends at IVP. Better cover. Same excellent book.