For the last few weeks I've been trying out a new iPhone app designed by our IT manager here at PT, Andy Geers. This is the sort of thing he knocks up in his spare time (in fact it was a holiday project) to keep himself from getting too restless. I am one of those people (you probably are too) that is never satisfied with my prayer life and needs to constantly juggle things around to keep it fresh. I have a paper prayer diary and used to tear it up every few months just because I knew that if I prayed for Aunt Edna on Tuesday every week, even that kind of regularity would drive staleness into my praying.
So, I've enjoyed using PrayerMate although I have had to be adaptable. The app allows you to set up categories and then determine how often you want to pray for items in that category. You want regular prayers? Just a few items in the category. Church members (I'd love to be able to upload a list, but it's not quite that sophisticated) and a larger category means items don't come around so quickly.
But adapting has been good for me as it has ignited some freshness into praying. There is also the option to include Biblical prayers, which functions as another category, but I could cut and paste prayers from my Bible app.
It's an administrative tool of course. It's not going to make an unprayerful man prayerful. But as an administrative tool I've found it really helpful. It's replaced my little notebook and means, because it's on my phone, it's with me whereever I am. And at $2.99 (about £1.85) it's even cheaper than my little Molesekine notebook….. Follow the link above.
Sex, marriage and ministry
Another day. Another fall from grace. I'll spare you the details. But it is another marriage and another minstry ruined. Tears. Grief.
It brings into sharp focus a seminar that Mrs R and I ran at our recent summer wives' conference entitled Sex, Ministry and Marriage. In it we tried to outline the importance (well Mrs R did, I only stayed for part of the seminar) of healthy sex in a ministry marriage. For my part, I got to the man bit – and here it is. Sex is essential (not too strong a word – see 1 Corinthians 7.1-4) in any marriage, but it is brought into sharp focus in ministry marriages. Here are my six reasons why this is so (bear in mind that this was written for ministers' wives, but you will get the point):
- he needs reminding about his work. If, as I believe, sex is a picture of the intimacy that exists between Christ and the church (Eph 5) then, properly understood, sex should act as a reminder to a minister about the nature of his work – i.e. it is about Christ and the church. It is not about him.
- he must model godly marriage. Ministers must watch their lives and doctrine closely. By them he will save himself and his hearers. The minister's marriage must model godliness to the congregation. He is not perfect of course, but he must seek to teach others by his life and his proclamation.
- he faces very focused temptations. Satan will try to trip up the minister in this area because it always has devastating consequences.
- he has unusual female relationships. Even if the minister (and I hope this is true) does not counsel women directly, he will know things about them that would not be part of a normal relationship. He may be aware that there are problems in a marriage, childlessness, temptation, sin, a sinful past and so on. These bits of information make the relationships he has with women in the congregation unusual (though not wrong). That unusualness brings intimacy which can lead in all sorts of unhelpful directions.
- his position makes him particularly attractive. Leadership involves power (of the good kind) necessarily, Power of any kind makes a man attractive.
“I’m the fattest, ugliest pastor I know. But when I stand up the front, for reasons that are beyond me, I become strangely attractive to some women in the congregation” (anonymous pastor)
- he requires emotional and physical release. Many preachers can't sleep, especially on Saturday evenings. Sex is for mutual comfort as the prayer book says – and this includes the very scientific fact that it is both an emotional and physical valve.
“My husband preaches his best sermons when we have good sex the night before” (anonymous pastor’s wife)
The tender heart
I've just finished reading one of Sibbe's sermons kindly sent to me by Mike Reeves (one of next year's EMA speakers). It has been produced by Banner of Truth in one of those little pocket books and its 65 pages have thoroughly warmed my heart. It's one of the sermons that is part of a larger collection "Josiah's Reformation" which might at first sound unpromising, but is in fact a series of expositions on the relationship between God and Josiah because King J had a tender heart towards his people. The little booklet costs £3 full price, but you'll be able to get a discount. Last time Banner produced one of these I bought them as Christmas presents for nieces and nephews. It may be a bit early to think about that – but they do make nice little gifts to pass on. Here's a taster:
How many have melting hearts when they hear God blasphemed and the religion of Christ wronged? How few are there that yield to the motions of the Spirit! We may take up a wonderful complaint of the hardness of men's hearts in these days, who never tremble at the word of God. Neither his promises, nor threatenings, nor commands will melt their hearts…..
…But there may be another question asked, How shall men recover themselves when they are subject to this hardness, deadness and insensibleness?…As when things are cold we bring them to the fire to heat and melt, so we bring our cold hearts to the fire of the love of Christ; we consider of our sins against Christ, and of Christ's love towards us, dwell upon this meditation. Think what great love Christ has showed unto us, and how little we have deserved, and this will make our hearts to melt and be as pliable as wax before the sun.
Le Tour, c’est ça
OK, OK – this has nothing whatsoever to do with preaching (though I can make a connection….don't tempt me). However, I love cycling and I especially love the Tour de France. Not only is gargantuan strength, stamina and delicious team tactics the order of the day, but the backdrop is wonderful. As the Boston Globe puts it, this is the largest stadium in the world. My dream holiday is hiring a motorvan and following the tour around. I'm easily pleased.
For those who are not persuaded, here's a montage of photos, though I ought to warn you that the shot of George Hincapie's leg (for it is he) is really very unpretty. I know it's the reality, but it rather spoils the montage.
Booking is now open for the Autumn Ministers Conference. It runs from 7-10 November at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and is a good mix of teaching, group work and fellowship. This year it's a pleasure to welcome back (with some persuasion!) Dick Lucas to take the main expositions and then Carl Trueman to teach on Preaching the Trinity. Should be very stimulating. Charles and Tricia Marnham will be leading some sessions on parenting. Given the comments made by Carl recently, it will be good to have a FIrst XV reunion in Leicestershire. We might even get to throw a ball or two around….
It is interesting to read Vaughan's testimony on conferences. It's quite long, but worth repeating in full:
If you’re anything like me, then in the few days leading up to a preaching conference, you’ll be thinking, ‘Why on earth did I sign up for that conference?’ It is very hard to get away in the midst of busy lives. It’s hard for the congregation; there is always a crisis you are leaving behind. It’s hard for your family. But if you’re anything like me, then you will always get to the end of the conference thinking, ‘I’m so glad I came’.
I find that, almost without noticing, my standard in preaching declines. After you’ve been preaching for a little while you can always get up and speak – we all know it’s not difficult to have words coming out of your mouth. You can tell a few good stories and illustrations; you can have something that even looks as though it has something vaguely to do with the passage. But the standards have dropped. And this is not what your people need from you.
I always find it’s a tremendous challenge just to make sure I am preaching what the passage is saying rather than preaching something which is perhaps biblical and true, but vague and not rooted in the text.
So preaching conferences raise my game. I also find that they raise my game spiritually. In the midst of the busyness of life, rushing about, it’s great to spend time away from the front line and think ‘What do I need to change?’ in terms of my pattern of prayer, Bible study, godliness, relationships and all such things.
So if you’re like me and have had that experience, let me encourage you to book in the date in your diary early. There are plenty of other things that you can fill your time with, of course, but here’s one that will actually do you good. And, if you’re anything like me, you will find that if you leave it too late, you never have time.
Culture and (not) Christianity
Had a day off this week (it's one of the Ten Commandments, don't you know?*) because of a heavy up-coming weekend. Did some real culture-things (apart from watching some of the Tour de France (Come on Geraint!) which is the epitome of culture). First, in the morning, Mrs R and I went to the British Museum to see the new exhibition on relics and medieval Christianity. It was fascinating and a little depressing.
Fascinating for a number of reasons:
- I hadn't fully realised the extent of the relic worship. It was extraordinary and a sign of the state of the medieval church leading up to the Reformation
- I hadn't fully anticipated the art of the reliquaries. They were astounding. There can be beauty in heresy.
- I hadn't realised that Charles I was the only saint ever created by the Anglican church, though a brief look at Wikipedia would have told me this useless piece of trivia. He was un-canonised by Queen Victoria. (I rather like the fact that you can unmake a saint…)
- It was nice to be reminded of Luther's quote about Saint Barbara – and I paraphrase: if all the part of the skull of St Barbara were collected together she would have seven heads!
But it was also depressing: Christianity as presented in the worship and adoration of relics is so far from Biblical Christianity it made me want to cry. In fact, the exhibition dwelt very little on an assessment of this practice – it was descriptive rather than analytical. Nevertheless, that so much power, superstition and wrong thinking could be so prevalent made me realise how good the Reformation was all over again.
I had a similar experience in the evening at the National Theatre watching Emperor and Galilean – Ibsen's play about Julian the Apostate and his struggle with doubt, eventually rejecting Christianity and trying to bring back the old pagan gods. It was a riveting play (though long – 3½ hours). Again, it was both fascinating and depressing. It was only a play of course, though Ibsen did base it on extant writings of Julian. Nevertheless, the portrayal of institutionalised Christianity just a few centuries after Christ gave me some sympathy with Julian, at first, at least. How quickly the truth gets distorted!
[By the way, the play was difficult to take seriously when Maximus, played by Ian McDiarmid of Star Wars Emperor fame shouted out in his Emperor voice "Give way to the other side. Find your destiny." Sniggers all around the auditorium.]
In both cases I saw clearly what Christianity was not…..and it made me grateful for our little local church which, though being far from perfect, seems to have to have the big things right.
* this a deliberate dig at over-working pastors who should know better…..
The Three Commandments
Christ in the psalms
Following on from yesterday's post here's a more practical outworking of the messianic implications of the psalms. Let's take a simple psalm, say Psalm 1. We could argue a lot about structure etc, but let's for the sake of this post, assume that it is, as the oldies used to say, describing the two ways to live: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. How does that relate to what I posted yesterday.
I guess a sermon that had not really thought this through would apply the psalm something like this: "Make sure you are the righteous one. The wicked man will perish. Make sure you live." [I've heard it preached like this several times.]
This, though, is problematical on several levels.
- First, who is righteous? The psalms are going to unpack that idea a little. There is no one righteous, not even one.
- How do Christians receive the prosperity pictured in Psalm 1?
The second question is partly answered by understanding the psalm in its Old Covenant context, for sure. But both are answered more adequately by saying that this is a song sung by the anointed King. He is the perfect righteous man and he enjoys the prosperity that perfect fulfillment of the Old Covenant brings. As such it is a song we sing as those who are in Christ, the perfect man. There is no sense in which this is something we can sing about ourselves apart from Christ. That may not change the way you preach the psalm a whole lot – I guess you'd still want to outline the two ways. But, I submit, it will change the way you conclude and focus on Christ, the perfect man – and the benefits we enjoy being joined to him.
Understanding the psalms
The psalms are, without doubt, a treasure trove for the believer. But how do we preach them as Christian literature? My colleague, Christopher Ash, has some helpful pointers when he teaches this genre at Cornhill. Each of the psalms relates to the anointed King, the Messiah, he says, in one of the following ways:
- Songs about the anointed King: these are the messianic and kingship psalms which ultimately find their meaning in Christ. He is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
- Songs sung by the anointed King: these are the psalms which are ultimately about the anointed King: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
- Songs sung by us in the anointed King: these are the psalms which we can only sing because we are in Christ, and therefore part of his holy kingdom of priests. Apart from Christ we cannot sing the righteous man's songs.
To which I might cheekily add a fourth category:
- Songs sung about the anointed King's city: some of the psalms have as their focus the city of Jerusalem. If the psalms ultimately point us to Christ, we are greatly helped in understanding these psalms for their ultimate fulfilment must be in the joy and delight of the heavenly Jerusalem, Christ's own bride.
I'm preaching on coveting (or rather on not coveting) at Chessington Evangelical Church this Sunday. The secret to keeping the commandment is Christian contentment and I am always much moved by two very helpful books – my favourite Christian book, perhaps The rare jewel of Christian contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and a more modern retelling and reworking The secret of contentment by William Barcley. But here is something else I love – a quote from Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices:
His presence will make up the absence of all other comforts.
His absence will darken and embitter all other comforts.
Christ is all and in all, to truly gracious souls.
We have all things in Christ.
Christ is all things to a Christian.
If we are sick, Jesus is a physician.
If we thirst, Jesus is a fountain.
If our sins trouble us, Jesus is our righteousness.
If we stand in need of help, Jesus is mighty to save.
If we fear death, Jesus is life.
If we are in darkness, Jesus is light.
If we are weak, Jesus is strength.
If we are in poverty, Jesus is plenty.
If we desire heaven, Jesus is the way.
The soul cannot say, ‘this I would have, and that I would have.’ But having Jesus, he has all he needs—eminently, perfectly, eternally.