Pastoral integrity and Job 22
I’m enjoying Job in my personal devotions at the moment, making much use of Christopher’s new commentary which is superb. I’ve got to chapter 22, Eliphaz’s last speech, and it’s a ripper. In it, Eliphaz basically calls Job to repent. You have definitely sinned, no arguments (vv1-11), he says. God punishes sinners and he’s punishing you (vv12-20). But repent, he urges, and God will bless you (vv21-30):
- God will give you his presence
- God will hear your prayers
- God will grant you prosperity
- God will make you a blessing to others
Within the context of the Old Covenant, it all sounds very plausible. There is only one problem, a problem that we know about because of Job 1-2. Job has not sinned. He is innocent.
To call on a penitent believer to repent of sins he is not aware of is to compromise his integrity. The well-calibrated conscience, informed and convicted by the Spirit of God, will prompt the believer to repent day by day of the sins of which he or she is made aware. But to press this believer to repent of sins he has not committed is a grotesque rape of his integrity.
Earlier in the chapter, Christopher has put it like this:
I well remember a leader at a Christian youth event choosing this as a passage for a Bible study and how our hearts warmed to the invitation to make God our gold, to find delight in him and enjoy his blessings. But when we read this text in the context in which Eliphaz says it, we will see that it is not a spiritual invitation to intimacy but rather the pastoral equivalent of rape.
Strong stuff. But important nonetheless if we are to maintain pastoral integrity.
How to get and retain the attention of your hearers
Just re-reading Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students in order to write a contribution for a book and I’m gripped once more by Spurgeon’s chapter brilliantly titled “Attention!” In it, he sets out how to obtain and retain the attention of our hearers. Here are the headlines. Make of these what you will, but there is a lot of godly wisdom here….
- Make sure there is plenty of fresh air. “The next best thing to the grace of God for a preacher is oxygen.”
- Always say something worth hearing
- Let the good matter you give them be very carefully arranged.
- Be sure to speak plainly.
- Attend to your manner of address.
- Do not say the first thing that comes into your head.
- Do not indulge in monotones.
- Vary your speed and voice.
- Do not make the introduction too long.
- Do not repeat yourself.
- Do not give a complete summary of theology every time you preach.
- Avoid being too long (do not go beyond 45 mins!!).
- Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit.
- Be prayerful! The attention of your people can only be achieved by their being led by the Spirit of God into an elevated and devout state of mind.
- Be interested yourself.
- Use a good number of godly illustrations.
- Surprise people. Do not say what everyone expected you to say.
- Make people feel that they have an interest. “I never did hear of someone going to sleep in the reading of a will in which they expected a legacy.”
- Don’t let people wander around. “Deacons and sextons trotting over the place are a torture never to be patiently endured and should be kindly but decidedly requested to suspend their perambulations.”
- Be yourself, clothed with the Spirit of God.
Next week’s EMA
It's just over one week until this year's EMA. We're starting Tuesday this year to allow me to see the Tour de France in London. Sorry, that should read, we're starting Tuesday this year so we don't get caught up in all the London Tour de France stuff. There's still (just about) time to book. Take in the cylcing as well, why don't you? But can I ask you – whether you are coming or not – to pray?
- Please pray for those who are coming. Pray for divine appointments in God's word and divine appointments in friendships. We dearly desire the EMA to build ministers of the gospel in both our formal sessions and in the informal ones.
- Please pray for those who are not coming. Let me explain. There are – sadly – evangelical ministers who would have delighted to be at the EMA in the past, but for whom evangelical ministry is less exciting that it used to be. For these, things have slipped and they have followed a path away from orthodoxy, sometimes morally, sometimes theologically. Please take a moment to plead with God for mercy for such people. And pray that we would be kept from this door.
- Please pray for the speakers. I'm sure – in fact I know – all the main speakers and seminar leaders would covet your prayers. Please do remember them.
- Please remember those who are making it happen. Rachel, our wonderful conference manager, almost single handedly organises this and our other conferences. No, you can't have her. Please pray for her and for her team including stewards, Bookstore staff and musicians.
- Please also remember to pray for Barbican staff, all – as far as we know – unconverted. Please pray that as they listen in on our sessions, God might be at work in them.
Rejoicing in the holes in the ground
I've spent this week preaching on Ezra at one of our conferences. Even though this is now very familiar territory for me, it still feels fresh, exciting and challenging. For example. Chapter 3 describes the beginning of the temple building project. There's lots here in the detail – for example, the fact that the Israelites build the altar before they even start work on the temple. But let me point you to chapter 3 for a really helpful application for those that minister in church. There are deliberate echoes here with the first temple construction.
Same month. Same materials. Same source. Same workers. Even the same song. "He is good, his love towards Israel endures for ever." Check out 1 Chr 5 and you'll discover that this is the same song they sung first time around.
Only, here's the thing. First time around this song was sung when the temple was complete. This time around, the party begins only when the foundations are dug. Foundations are pretty unimpressive. The stones are not dressed. The wood is not planed. It's not particularly special to look at holes in the ground.
I know I'm cutting a few corners here, but temple building leads us to Christ, which leads us to think about New Covenant temple building where the people of God are being built into a spiritual temple with Christ Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone. And here's the challenging application. We need to cultivate a spirit where even the foundations are a cause for great rejoicing. Every small step. Every conversation. Every sermon. Every small step towards conforming to the likeness of Christ in us and others. Every resistance against temptation. Every kind word. And so on.
These things don't appear glorious to the world. But every small step takes us nearer the completion of the temple and so is a cause for great rejoicing rather than the self pity we ministers sometimes indulge in. Yes, we long for greater days, but in the meantime, even the holes in the ground should bring great delight.
So, will you sing with me?
He is good. His love towards [us] endures forever.
Lots of books are variations on a theme. Good variations, but variations nonetheless. I'm a fan of such books if they have something new and useful to say, a new insight or angle that helps us as we see to know Christ better. But What's your worldview by James Anderson is something completely different. It's a book – yes – but with a difference. Part 1 takes you through 21 questions. Depending on your answer to a particular question, the book directs you to another – all with a view to working out your own worldview. These are then detailed and examined in Part 2. I came out as a theist! Phew.
Seriously, this is a useful book. The two parts can work on their own or as part of an evangelistic questionnaire. I can see this as a book which is both fun (being different) and informative. I would happily give it to – and discuss it with – my non Christian family and friends. It's short, punch and well written. Look out for it at the EMA. It's RRP is £7.99, but available at the EMA for £7.
More EMA books. Bonus plus time at the EMA
And there's more… of course there is. We've got 1,250 titles, of which something like 250 are new.Here is another that I'm very excited about. It's Krish Kandiah's Paradoxology. It's a Hodder book and you don't always see Hodder books on your camp bookstall. That's a shame, because this one is great. Krish has captured the paradoxes of the Christian faith in his typical, easy-to-read style. Whilst accessible, though, it is still meaty. It's also very orthodox in case you're wondering. But here's the thing. Unlike other apologetic books, Krish doesn't seek to explain away or argue against these paradoxes. Rather, he says, they are at the very heart of our Christian faith and we should both know them and actively cherish them. It's a book, in other words, to help you worship. I see that it was reviewed in this month's EN by Martin Salter who also, I'm glad to say, likes it. It's normally £12.99 but we'll have it at the EMA for £3 off. You see: it's worth coming just for the books. Everything else is bonus plus.
This year's EMA sees the launch of some new books which are so good I want to mention them in advance. One of these is DayOne's superb new coffee table book Evidence for the Bible. I've been privileged to see some proofs of this book and it's a monster. I love that the DayOne website even has a new category on it "Coffee Table Books". Each page of this book by Brian Edwards and EMA regular Clive Anderson is devoted to a particular find that backs up the Bible's story.
Of course, ultimately, believing the word of God is a question of faith (Heb 11.2), but – given that it is true – we should not be surprised to find treasures in the historical world backing up the Bible's authenticity. This book works in two significant ways:
- first it encourages believers. Read this book, flick through it, dip into it and you cannot help but be encouraged to see how what you have long believed to be true is backed up by archeological finds. It should be on a Christian's coffee table for that purpose!
- second it challenges unbelievers. I can see that working in a couple of ways. Have it at your house and people will dip into it. Are you a doctor? Put it in the waiting room. Or you could actually buy someone a copy. I think it will be effective as an apologetic tool – much like you might give someone a Keller book.
It's beautifully produced and illustrated and I'm very happy to commend it. It's normally £25 (and good value for what it is at that). For £18 at the EMA it's a steal. Buy two!
EMA: What I’m excited about…
This year’s EMA really excites me. That is, in part, because the subject matter is something that I think I need to learn more about and grasp. After all, God has called me to be a preacher and – for a time and in his goodness – someone who helps train others to preach. Therefore, it is essential that I understand and believe and hold onto the relationship between preaching and the revelation of God’s glory in the church. I’m convinced this is a much misunderstood (or not even considered at all) subject. Put bluntly, I don’t think preachers can afford not to grasp this and how it affects our preaching, our prayerfulness, our leadership – in fact, every area of church life. So, I’m particularly looking forward to Sinclair Ferguson’s two sessions on this important topic. But I’m also eagerly anticipating Vaughan’s pen portrait of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and, in particular, how he understood the ministry of the Spirit in relation to preaching. Vaughan’s pen portraits are a highlight of past years for me: Simeon, Whitefield, Schaeffer. He has the kind of mind which is able to sift large amounts of material and carefully bring out what we need to know but have missed, what we’ve spent too much time overemphasising, and what practical lessons we need to implement. I thought his Whitefield was a masterclass in this. Some may think that tackling MLJ is a poisoned chalice. But I think we will find that this one off session is particularly good. There’s still plenty of space and time to book, so why not free up the three days now (8-10 July) and I’ll look forward to seeing you and us growing together.
The importance of how we preach
It is easy to forget that it is not only important to say the right thing when we preach, but also to say it in the right way. By that I mean not so much choosing our words carefully and structuring our sermon well (although those things are important), but rather speaking and behaving in the pulpit in a Christ-like way.
Sinclair Ferguson recently reflected on the sobering fact that, on some level, over time, the members of his congregation would come to identify him with the person of Jesus. That is, because he stood before them week-after-week and year-after-year as a speaker of the word of Jesus and as an under-shepherd of Jesus, their impression of what Jesus is like would inevitably be shaped to some degree by their impression of him, their pastor.
For those in pastoral ministry, that is a sobering thought indeed. And I’m quite sure that Dr Ferguson is right.
There are lots of implications for our preaching that we could draw from that observation, but let me just highlight one for the moment: we need to make sure that in our preaching ministry – and particularly in our demeanour in the pulpit – we reflect the love of Jesus. It is a particular disease, I think, of younger Reformed pastors (and I write as a younger preacher myself) to be so concerned about drumming the truth into the people under our care and so concerned to spur them on in godliness and fruitfulness that we lose sight of the love and patience that the Lord Jesus shows to us, his slow-to-learn and slow-to-grow people. We see that extraordinary patience and grace time and time again in Jesus’ interactions with the disciples throughout the gospels. And we so need to learn the art of pastoring from him, the great Shepherd of the sheep.
As I reflect on one or two preaching ministries that I know and that have been particularly well received and fruitful over time, I am struck by the way in which the preachers in question have made it clear to their people that they love them – that they are for them and not against them.
If you are a preacher, do you reckon that your congregation sense that you are for them and not against them? And what kind of impression of Jesus are they forming as they sit under your preaching ministry?
We're busy this week getting ready for three conferences, including the EMA. And so it's time to start telling you about some of the things coming up at the EMA. Take music for example: we're singing a mix of well known and new songs (with the bulk coming from the first category), old and new. All chosen for their gospel rich content. Over the next few days I will trail some of the new ones. Why not have a look and then when you come to sing them they will be at least a little familar. Here's the first – it's the Sovereign Grace version of Augustus Toplady's Now why this fear and unbelief? It's a superb hymn and eminently singable. We've sung it on a few conferences and it's also easily to learn. Give it a go. Or, better still, give it a go with us at this year's EMA. See you then. By the way, you don't need to play it or sing it in quite this way to make it meaningful! I'm sure you know that….