Rugby, red zones and the holiness of God
This morning I started teaching the first year Cornhill students the book of Leviticus. Whilst God’s holiness is clearly one of the most important themes in the book, there is a difference in the way it is talked about. So in chapters 1-16, the focus seems to be more on what we might call ‘zonal’ holiness, whilst in chapters 17-27 the focus is more on ‘character’ holiness. We tend to be more familiar with the former than the latter.
As we’re in the midst of the 6 Nations rugby tournament (come on, England!), I used an illustration from the king of sports to show the Cornhillers the difference between zonal holiness and character holiness. In rugby, ‘the red zone’ is the area of the pitch between your opponents 22 metre line and try line. That is the key area in terms of attack and defence. And in the Bible – especially in Exodus & Leviticus 1-16 – zones are very important. So God is the One who inhabits the red zone, the holy zone. And when God chooses to meet with His people, those places become holy. Places like Eden. And Sinai. Which is why God had to put strict limits on who can enter the zones He establishes. Or as Hebrews puts it, ‘the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood’ (Hebrews 9:6-7). And when we understand that, how glorious it is to read later, that ‘we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). So brothers and sisters, through the blood of Jesus let us enter and enjoy life in the ‘red zone’.
Prayerful dependence in preaching
There's a lot of nonsense written (and spoken at conferences) about what PT believes about preaching. Generally speaking, we don't respond to it. But for those who are a little doubtful and for all who are not, here's an excerpt from Christopher's forthcoming book about how the Spirit continues the work of Jesus in making the Father known. It's his conclusion about prayerful dependence in preaching – and every preacher should be convicted:
A prayerful dependence upon the Spirit is bound to affect the way we preach and teach. There will be about our preaching something of the spirit of one who has been listening and who is praying as he preaches. There will be an earnestness and passion. He will be doing much more than just a cold explaining of the Bible text. But we must not mistake an apparently passionate style with the ministry of the Spirit. For the Spirit is Sovereign. We cannot enlist his support by preaching in a particular style, just as we cannot guarantee his work in our hearts by listening with a particular technique or in a particular place or manner. He blows where and when he wills and we cannot constrain him. Our prayer is not a kind of magic wand to bring the Spirit. Magic, after all, is a way of using supernatural power with me in charge; I wave the wand. But I am never in charge of the Spirit. Our prayer is to be a genuine expression of heartfelt and utter dependence upon him to work, for until and unless he opens blind eyes and softens hard hearts, the Father will not be made known. Charles Spurgeon used to advise his students to prepare as though it all depended upon them, and then to do what he did as he ascended the pulpit steps, saying under his breath the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.”
Christopher's new book will be published in the summer.
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The ability of Jesus
Just reading through and studying Hebrews at the moment. It's amazing stuff. Moreover, Peter O'Brien's excellent Pillar commentary is a good guide through. I've got to the end of chapter 4 and O'Brien reminds that "Jesus is able to….." is a key idea in Hebrews. Nothing to do with preaching, perhaps, but good for our souls to reflect on the supreme and superb ability of Jesus:
- For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested (Heb 2.18)
- For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4.15)
- He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness (Heb 5.2)
- Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7.25)
Here is the video of the preachers Q&A from the Preachers Weekend. The answers are particularly geared towards those with an occasional ministry, such as elders or lay people who preach from time to time. Vaughan Roberts and Adrian Reynolds answer. Unfortunately, the still from the vimeo site makes it look like I've got constipation. I can assure you – it gets better!!
The book of the dead and the absence of grace
Both Christopher and I have recently taken our wives on hot dates to go and see dead girls – not as odd as it sounds, I'm talking about the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum. It's almost over (sadly) and there are no more tickets on sale (although there is a free iPhone app which is pretty neat). It's a very well thought out exhibition; well narrated and incredibly informative – and all stuff from Bible times and, sometimes, directly applicable to Bible people.
But, independently, what struck us both was the moment of judgement when the heart of the dead man or woman is weighed in the balance. In particular:
- it's a deceptive process. The Book of the Dead inherently recognises that the heart will not pass the test. The weighing is not good vs bad with the victor the one whose heart weighs more good than bad. The weighing is more accurately a measuring against the measure of absolute truth and justice (represented by a feather in this picture). No less than perfect will do. So, the Book of the Dead provides spells which the dead person can use to fool the gods into thinking the heart is purer than it really is. There's a lot that's biblical about that in an unintentional way. Unlike the thinking of some religious optimists, judgement is not a good vs bad weigh-up. It's a measure up against an impossible standard. But it's sadly unbiblical too – there's no spell will get us past our creator Judge.
- it's a graceless process. There's no grace. Period. It's alarmingly numbing. I looked at the beautiful pictures which the curator told me through headphones were beautifully drawn etc. But it's bleak. Thank God for Jesus and thank God for grace.
London Preachers Day: Saturday 5th March
There's still time to book up for our London Preachers Day this Saturday. Focused towards the ministry of occasional or lay preachers, we've already run this day in Bath and Colchester (above) where it has been very well received. It's a low cost, high impact training day here at our offices in Willcox House. You can book online here.
Vaughan and Adrian at The Preachers Weekend
We've just had our Preachers Weekend where Vaughan Roberts and I each spent a day taking delegates (occasional preachers and teachers) through their prep on two passages then preached those sermons before doing some work together on what worked and what didn't. It worked really well as an approach and we thought you might like to see the two example sermons from our guys. Neither was the finished article, but they give some idea of what we got up to.
Rubbish Sitcoms and Easy Sin
Mrs R and I have just finished watching BBC's new sitcom made by the creator of Friends. It's called Episodes and it's been showing on BBC Two on Monday evenings. It had one or two funny moments, but on the whole it's fairly crude with far too much bad language. Don't know if there's going to be a second series, but I don't think we'll be watching. However, it did teach me something.
Although supposedly happily married, the characters played by Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are easily tempted. In fact, Tamsin Greig ends up having a one night stand with the character played by Matt Leblanc. It's all very sad and casual. But here's what I learnt – marital unfaithfulness is an easy path. Those of us who are in ministry must never think it could never happen to us and we must be very careful of ourselves.
In particular, we must not underestimate the sexual allure of leadership to others. I remember a fat ugly pastor once telling me that though he was the ugliest pastor in the world, women still found him attractive because he was at the front. I concur – there's truth in that bald statement (take it from a fat ugly pastor). Sin is crouching at our doors because of our sinful nature. Pray that God will give you strength to keep the door shut.
Faith and Obedience
At our preachers weekend conference this weekend just past, I picked up a copy of the tribute book for John Piper: For the fame of God's name edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor. I'd held off getting this book for sometime because (a) it's not cheap and (b) being a good Brit, festschrifts make me feel a little uncomfortable, I just squirm in my seat a little. However, reading through the contents I realise that this is actually a series of essays on really important subjects, not least Wayne Grudem's contribution: "pleasing God in our obedience."
It seems to me that there is a great danger that we get so excited about grace that we completely misunderstand it. According to Ezekiel 36 the new covenant gives us hearts which delight to obey – this is grace at work, something that is echoed in Titus 2.12. It explaina why the New Testament is full of commands. These commands could be legalism or justification by works if taken in the wrong heart, but the regenerate heart where the Spirit is at work makes these commands part of our living for Christ.
Wayne Grudem explains this carefully and thoughtfully – as well as the reason why we don't talk enough about obedience:
I suspect the main reason for the neglect of this doctrine in evangelical circles today is that pastors and teachers and writers are afraid of compromising the great doctrine of justification by faith alone. If we can please God by works, doesn't that sound like justification by works? No, it does not, or else the New Testament authors would not put so much emphasis on telling Christians to please God by their obedience! The key to understanding this is to distinguish clearly between justification (on the one hand) and sanctification and our daily relationship to God as Christians (on the other hand).
Why Psalms are not like hymns
I have been reading Michael Lefebvre’s enormously stimulating book Singing the Songs of Jesus [Christian Focus, 2010]. It is full of thought-provoking and perceptive comment on the value of the Psalms and – in his well-argued view – why we ought to sing them as well as read and preach them.
In one chapter (chapter 5) he addresses one reason why we struggle to sing the Psalms, which is that we expect them to function pretty much like our hymns and songs. To do this, he argues, is like trying to hammer a screw into a piece of wood. Hymns and songs tend to be declaratory, giving us conclusive statements, typically of praise and affirmation of the greatness of God. But the Psalms do not function like this.
True, they often end with praise, and the whole Psalter is structured to end with a paean of praise. But the characteristic motion of the heart in the Psalms is not declaration but rather meditation. They force us to engage and feel the conflicting emotions, affections, perplexities and struggles of faith and in so doing, lead us finally to affirmation and praise. So, for example, ‘the Psalms are designed to help people who don’t always feel like praising begin by meditating on the mess the world is in, and only through a full and robust process of meditation, to come out with praise.’ Lefebvre argues that we ought not to jettison this often painful process of meditation and settle for the conclusion in our hymns and songs. So, he says, we need to sing the messiness of the Psalms. It will do us good. I agree.
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