Who put that there?
Don’t you wish sometimes Scripture passages were not written as they are? There are often things I would have included if anyone had consulted me. And with my current preaching project – 1 Kings 18 – a large chunk I wish had been excluded. I’m fine with the story of Elijah and Ahab and the prophets of Baal. I think I’m just about getting a handle on that. But what is it with Obadiah? (1 Kings 18:2-15). Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to include that mysterious story?
Oh yes, it was the Holy Spirit. Hmm. I defer, of course.
My doctrine of Scripture is essential to me as a preacher. It must be; it needs to be. These words are inspired, preserved, kept, and interpreted by the Spirit of the living God. I’m very thankful for that because this truth is our only hope when it comes to listening to God’s voice. Without total and absolute inspiration in both inclusion (what is in) and exclusion (what is out) and even in tone, grammar, vocabulary and focus, where would the preacher be? Nowhere.
And that’s why my perplexing question needs to be knocked back. Obadiah? Who put that there? I did, says the God of all. And my job as a preacher is to communicate the truth that the Spirit of God has already made known.
And that, in this section at least, includes Obadiah.
Praying the Bible
I’m a bit like a scratched record when it comes to encouraging people to pray the Bible. Not a hissy mess – not that kind of scratched record; rather, I keep on saying the same thing over and over. And I’m not sorry. Prayer is a battle for me, as I guess it is for you. It’s also a battle ground for many people in our churches. We battle to find the time to pray, and then we battle to know what to pray for and how to pray for it.
Today’s post isn’t really going to help you with (1) but may be a help with (2) and (3). I find that some of the most enthusiastic pray-ers are also some of the maddest (can I say that?). In other words, enthusiasm is not always matched by content. Does this matter? I’m not going to knock enthusiasm, but I want to say that it does matter. Praying is – at one level at least – aligning ourselves with God’s will. And if we’re going to do that we need to know what to pray for and how to do it.
That’s where praying the Bible comes in. I have tried for many years to link my Bible devotions to my prayer time. The thing I learn in my quiet time I try to pray in for myself and for others who are on my list for the day. Strangely, this means that I’m not always praying for them the things I would naturally think of. But it helps me: it helps me pray in the truth for myself, because I’m thinking about how it might apply to others; it helps my preaching because I’m taking a single truth and thinking about broad application; it helps my pastoring, because I’m not overwhelmed with people’s felt needs.
All of which is to say that I’ve been using a really good new resource to help me. It’s Rachel Jones: 5 things to pray for your church. Frankly, any book that helps you pray the Bible is going to get a thumbs up from me: however, Rachel’s book is unique – it’s not just giving you Bible prayers, it is encouraging you to take Bible principles, name some people and pray the truths in. I’ve found it refreshing and useful and want others to use it too. There’s a quote on the back “brilliantly simple but hugely effective. Trevor Archer”. I’m guessing that is the book rather than Trevor – who is also brilliantly simply but hugely effective 😉
I agree wholeheartedly. Try it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Motives: “making a thorough search”
Part of putting sin to death is putting sinful motives to death. It’s hard, for we are not always good assessors of our own motives, nor do we want to put in the hard work of addressing this kind of sin. But we must. Otherwise we run the risk of being righteous for the wrong reasons, and we know what God’s word says about that (Matthew 6.1). It counts for nothing at all before God.
These sobering words have got me thinking about how precisely I tackle motives. Here’s what my friend and I are trying. This may seem a bit formulaic to you; but we’re hoping it might help us make progress. Each day, as part of our devotions, we’re taking just one thing from the previous day – one apparently righteous action or one word, and then we’re honestly and prayerfully trying to assess what good motives were at work and what sinful ones. Then we’re committed to confessing our sinful motives and asking God to deal with them.
So, maybe this is a little programmatic – and to be honest, it feels at the moment a little programmatic to me too. But we have to start somewhere and we know the place to start is in the heart. In his great work, The Mortification of sin, John Owen explains the danger of missing this great truth:
“This is a deceit that lies at the root of peace of many professors and wastes it. They deal with all their strength about mercy and pardon and seem to have great communion with God in their doing so; they lie before him, bewailing their sin and their folly, that anyone would think, yea they think themselves, that surely they and their sins are now parted; and so receive mercy that satisfies their hearts for a little season. But when a thorough search comes to be made, there has been some secret reserve for the folly or follies treated about – at least there has not been that thorough abhorrency of it which is necessary; and their whole peace is quickly discovered to be weak and rotten, scarce abiding any longer than the words of begging it are in their mouths.”
The great challenge of pastoral godliness
There are four types of Christian behaviour, it seems to me:
There are, firstly, good things done for good motives. This is what the Bible calls righteousness.
Then there are good things, but done for wrong motives. To all the world, this appears like righteousness, but as we shall see in just a moment, God’s word has a different assessment.
There are bad things done for good motives – in other words, times when acting in good faith, we just get things wrong, a word spoken with good intent, perhaps, but entirely the wrong thing to say.
Then there are bad things done for bad motives. This is what we generally call sin.
And therein lies the issue. Of my list of four, three are abhorrent to God. However, when it comes to putting sin to death, most of our focus – indeed, all of our focus – is on number four. I don’t want to ignore that. But godliness is more than outward behaviour. It involves inward motives – and this is a particular issue for pastors and preachers.
I was thinking about this today meeting up with a friend. We read just one verse – Matthew 6.1. “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
There’s nothing wrong with being righteous in front of others, but if we do it “to be seen by others” (with wrong motives for example), then Jesus is clear. What reward can we expect? None. Zilch. Zip. That’s a sobering assessment isn’t it? Particularly when it comes to how I act as a pastor and even the words and illustrations I use in my preaching.
The reality is, of course, more complex. I tend to do righteous things for mixed motives. I am somewhere between 1 and 2 on my list. But in so much as I am doing right things for wrong motives, I have to seek out this sin and with the Spirit’s help put it to death. That’s not comfortable nor easy. Frankly, I’m more at ease with number four on my list. But if I’m going to take Jesus’ word seriously, it’s a process that cannot be ignored. For me, or for you.
Pastoring dementia patients
I’m not normally one for simply posting links, but occasionally you come across something which deserves a wide hearing – this is one such post about pastoring dementia patients.
Worth a click and a minute.
Come, Holy Spirit
The parable of the soils (Mark 4) is pretty clear. Not all the soil on which we sow is good soil. In fact, sometimes the sowing of the word actually hardens people who have not been given the secrets of the kingdom. This parable is such a helpful one for preachers on many levels, but let me pick out one particular aspect which is clear. Preaching is a spiritual work. Of course it is mediated through men faithfully exegeting, applying and communicating truths. We must not ignore any of these or get so mystical that we get to the point where none of this matters.
But nor must we be so caught up in the work that we fail to ignore what is in plain view of Mark 4. Unless the Spirit gives life and gives the “secrets of the kingdom” to people there will never be understanding however good the sermon is. I’m reminded of the time William Wilberforce took William Pitt to hear one of London’s finest preachers. Wilberforce was amazed at the sermon and asked his friend Pitt what he thought. He was completely unmoved.
What does this practically mean for a preacher? It must surely mean this – that we need, in prayer, to confess our entire dependence upon the Spirit to bless our ministry. The preacher should be praying before and after his sermon, even during. Like Spurgeon, we should be climbing every real or metaphorical pulpit step crying out “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Faithful exegesis is just the start
What makes a good sermon? Very often, in our circles, we’re obsessed (rightly) with getting the text right. That has to be the starting point. Without faithfulness to the text, the sermon cannot be a good sermon. But it’s the height of naivety to think that’s job done. A good sermon will take the excellent exegesis and apply it faithfully as well. It’s a weak spot for many of us, which is why we’ve asked Bryan Chapell to come and help us at this Spring’s Ministers Conferences – still a very few places available.
But it’s good to be reminded that even then it is not job done, because we have to communicate what we have prepared. To use an extreme example, if we don’t say a word, what we have written on the page is irrelevant – we have to get from the page to the people. This is a softer skill than exegesis – if only there were a ten point plan or a seven step approach. But in reality, the ability to communicate is individual – and whilst there are things we can and should do, each preacher will be different. There is, then, a kind of preaching equation which looks something like this:
PREACHING = FAITHFUL EXEGESIS + APPROPRIATE APPLICATION + GOOD COMMUNICATION
I know things are a little more complex than this – but without (2) and (3) we should not kid ourselves that we have a preached a text.
Oh, and did you know (by the way) that preaching is a spiritual discipline? More of that tomorrow.
Leadership: the real deal
I’ve just returned from my pastoral road trip to Normandy, visiting the D Day landing beaches with a friend. It was great – the sun shone, the sky was blue and we had the various memorials and museums almost entirely to ourselves. 2017 anybody? There are parts of the trip that are always moving – the US cemetery at Coleville is one of these – the Commonwealth cemeteries are dotted around and smaller because not all the dead were buried in one place – but the US cemetery contains all, or nearly all, of the Normandy fallen – it’s a moving visit.
However, my favourite place is undoubtedly Pegasus Bridge. There is an excellent museum and a bust commemorating John Howard, the leader of the assault on the bridge which captured its objective in just 30 minutes, with only one casualty (Lt Den Brotheridge). His memoirs are very interesting. His command unit, made up of three gliders, rehearsed the landing for almost a year. In the event, it all ran like clockwork and he had to do very little leading in the thick of it. But his testimony is that real leadership was in getting his troops ready, not necessarily in leading them over the top. Over the period of training they got bored, distracted and leadership meant keeping them going even when they didn’t feel like it and keeping fixed on the objective.
We tend to reduce leadership down to amazing moments of skill, courage and persuasion. But in fact, Leadership 101 is just as much – if not more – about the ordinary. It’s about keeping people going in the routine and ordinariness of life, with their eyes firmly fixed on the objective. We tend not to exalt such ordinary leaders as much as the gung-ho valiant warriors, but it’s every bit a part of leadership.
After all, an elder must be able to manage his household well. That’s a pretty mundane measure at some level – I think about my own household and what that looks like day to day. There’s an awful lot of keeping going in there – and that is true leadership. Don’t knock it. Instead, desire it.
What? No food? I’ve got some ideas.
Quite a few people have noticed the absence of a meal option at this year’s EMA. That’s not a mistake. Sadly, the food supplied for a sandwich lunch kept increasing in price and remained average quality – £7 is too much for a sandwich when you can pick up a decent meal deal on the way in for £3. So, for those feeling as though the world has ended, here are ten things you could do with £12 (£4 saving per day over three days).
1. You could buy a quarter of a kindle. Get together with three other guys, buy the e-reader, load it up with some free stuff (Spurgeon, Calvin and so on) then send it to an overseas pastor. You will be doing him a great favour. Some publishers might even give you some free ebooks if you ask nicely…
2. Buy 12 evangelistic books, write in the inside front cover, and give them out in the place where you live – perhaps at the shopping centre, perhaps from door to door work.
3. Buy a bottle of wine/non-alcoholic alternative and some cheese from Lidl and invite your neighbours around. You could start by telling them how you saved up for the nosh and take it from there.
4. Buy a homeless guy a McDonald’s value meal. Every day.
5. Get a subscription to EN.
6. Get a one way train ticket to Nuneaton. (Nuneaton needs the gospel too).
7. Buy two tickets (depending on cinema!) for the new Risen! movie and take a friend.
8. You could gift aid the saving and make it into £15 then donate it to a charitable cause.
9. You could have two lunches every day and still take home £1 for a Sherbet Dib Dab.
10. If you were really desperate you could buy 12 copies of my new book on giving a Bible talk and give a copy to 12 guys or girls who regularly do talks in church. As I say, only if you’re really desperate…
Introducing Equipped to Preach the Word
Equipped to Preach the Word is a new resource we’ve put together as a series of videos and accompanying manuals to put resources into the hands of those who long, under God, to train up a new generation of faithful and effective Bible preachers.
Topics include: the nature and necessity of revelation, interpretation and application; apostolic priorities and practice; contemporary challenges in the culture and the church; careful reading and thoughtful analysis of Scripture; watching your life and doctrine; the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly.
This course helps you to train others to acquire and develop the necessary practical tools and skills to expound the Bible’s message. This includes both the preparation of the text and the presentation of the preaching, so as to connect that message to our contemporary cultures. The course seeks also to motivate the preacher to progress and perseverance, through spiritual encouragement, not only to be a skilled workman, but also to be maturing as a humble servant, whom God can use.
The combination of video teaching and downloadable materials for further discussion and practice exercises make this a flexible resource for training groups.
There is a worldwide need for the Word of God to be proclaimed and for Christians to be more deeply rooted in its truth. That is the heartbeat of Equipped to Preach the Word.
You can watch the trailer below or see here for more details (scroll down a bit for the manuals and introduction for leaders)