Friday, September 29, 2006

Slight Rant about Prayers before Sermons

Obviously I'm endorsing this! But here I'm not talking about preachers praying before they preach (which we must must must do) but the prayer before the sermon in a service.

Chatting with Sachy yesterday, we were wondering whether the way that (particularly in chapel) we pray before the sermon as opposed to before anything else can give the wrong impression. It is not as if we can do any of the things we attempt when we gather with any effectiveness or faithfulness without God's help. Why is preaching / listening to the sermon any different?

So we need to pray at the start - which has slightly fallen from being our practice here at college. But we could also pray before everything: it is fearsome to sing those great song words without sincerity, it would be awful to just say the confession and not mean it, and so on... And we should be dependent on God at every stage...

[So yesterday, despite singing 'Now in Reverence and Awe' directly before the sermon, the preacher (
whose sermon was outstanding, by the way) felt the need to pray again. If we needed to pray again, what was happening when we sung: 'Lord Jesus, let me meet you in your word' and 'Let your Sprit shine into our hearts and teach us' and so on? And today, despite the leader's original prayer (yes, we prayed at the start today) including the reading and explaining of the word, we still prayed again before the sermon; nothing wrong with that, of course, but it had been done already...]

What's the answer? Well, prayer is great, and it'd be brilliant if our gatherings included more and more of it. Also, the great news is that though (1) we cannot do anything good without God's help, and thus need prayer for everything, (2) God is gracious, loving that we praise him, serve him, etc whether or not we pray formally beforehand.

What is the solution in chapel or at church: it is really great to pray at the start, enjoying a communal expression of our total dependence on God. It is also great to pray before we preach - but might well have been covered in the opening prayer. If we don't pray at the start and do pray before the sermon, what does that say? Putting the extreme case: that we can approach God, confess our sins, hear forgiveness, sing songs, hear the Bible read etc etc without God's help, but need it now for his word.

Personally, I think it'd be great to have quick prayers before some of the songs, particularly the 'resolutions' songs, praying that we might mean them; prayer before our confession that we might mean it; prayer before our prayers that they might be right & true & good & faithful & pleasing to God & done in faith, and all that stuff... Do you see? We almost need to pray everywhere in a service... Give me only one prayer & I'll definitely stick it at the top of the whole thing, covering everything we're doing.

The thing is: wouldn't it be horrible if we gave the impression, however subtly, that the sermon was the only important thing in the gathering?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Jeffrey Meyers has a blog / web-page!

Jeffrey Meyers' web-page / blog here is going to be worth a serious look, if the other stuff I've read by him is anything to go by.

If you've not heard of him, he wrote the excellent and thought-provoking The Lord's Service on the Covenant Renewal shape for the gathering. It is by far the best introduction to Covenant Renewal, and featured highly in my dissertation last year (examining two diverse paradigms for the gathering in the light of Heb 12:18-25a).

Jeff Meyers is one of the many exciting theologians who have been influenced by James Jordan: Peter Leithart, Mark Horne et al... For more of James Jordan's stuff, have a look at the Biblical Horizons site here, or read his outstanding Through New Eyes (or do both!). Leithart's A House for my Name (an OT theology) and A Son to Me (a Samuel commentary) unpick, work out, make plainer and amplify some of the ideas in Jordan's Through New Eyes - which is a brilliant, puzzling and exciting book... I'm re-reading it at the moment, but it is so huge, and its concepts so far-ranging as to be a pretty hard & slow read (but that might just be me).

This post was going to be about Jeff Meyers, but a bit of other stuff has crept in. Never mind - it's all great stuff. Tole, lege! (Literally: 'take & read', but in the singular; not sure what the plural of that would be, but I'm sure someone will tell me.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bruce W. Longenecker 'The Lost Letters of Pergamum' (Baker, 2003)

This fictional book presents a series of letters between Luke and Antipas that have been discovered in Pergamum. Using this concept, we read of Antipas' first discovery of the claims of Christianity, as he reads through Luke's "monograph" (which we know as Luke's Gospel) and quizzes the author on it, as well as other things. In this way he comes into contact with some Christians (two very different groups, in fact) and ... well, I won't ruin the ending for you (though if you remember Rev 2:13, the very final ending won't be a great surprise!).

Negatives first:
  • I'm not sure that the concept is sufficient to keep the interest going. About half-way through I began to get a little tired of the whole correspondence idea. That said, knowing the ending, I was keen to see what BL did with it.
  • It is a little contrived to have bits missed out, and even estimated dates for the letters, when the whole thing's just a fiction anyway. Maybe I'm just being the fun police here, but the self-consciousness of that began to grate slightly.
  • I was mildly peeved that BL doesn't take the apostle John as author of Revelation - we are told that he had recently died (96) and this before Rev 2:13 could have been written. Not sure this adds to BL's book, and not sure I agree with BL!
  • There are some useful discussions of some of the themes within Luke.
  • There are some useful discussions of some biblical issues.
  • There is a reality about the NT world which I don't always have when reading the Bible.
  • The story is a challenging one, presenting some great Christian virtues in a very 'real' way so as to be just 'natural' in a way that they aren't - to me at any rate.
Towner's Thoughts:
  • Roo Standring has, I know, used this book with a n-Xn mate as a way into Christian things, and I think this might be a pretty good idea. Obviously there's no 'one size fits all' when it comes to choosing such books, but this might be one to add to your pile of 'books to give out to people who I get to the stage of being able to give a book to'.
  • This is a great way in to what life was like around 90 AD, partly because BL works out of Ben Witherington's New Testament History (in fact, BW is credited on the cover with BL). It is a great thing to be more familiar with the context(s) from and into which the NT was written.
  • I was worried that this felt more 'real' than the Bible. But then I do think that part of the success of, for example the DV Code is the format it is in. Might books like this be a way forward for us - like the Narnia series, for example?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Nuggets from John Dickson

I found these in the second Appendix to John Dickson's 'Promoting the Gospel' (Blue Bottle Books, 2005), which I will probably attempt to review [without using the word 'massively'] in the next few days. But I thought these were great, so here we go.

JD is showing how the stories in the Gospels offer a rich vein of answers to the most common questions & statements we hear from non-Christians. He calls them Gospel Bites.
Now, of course such answers are far from the end of our apologetics worries - but I thought they were helpful... The statement or question is in bold, JD's suggested answer in indented text.

I've done too many wrong things ever to be a Christian
Well then, you're exactly the sort of person Christ was most interested in. He was at the home of a religious leader (Pharisee) one day when a prostitute came in looking for him. She was so overwhelmed she burst out crying. Everyone there wanted to condemn the woman and thought Jesus would do the same. Instead, Jesus condemned his self-righteous host and turned to the woman and said, 'Your sins are forgiven'. He forgave her and she was a changed person because of it. Christ didn't come for the 'good' people. He came to restore and forgive those willing to admit they are anything but good. Have you ever looked into Jesus' life?
I haven't got much time for religion; it often seems so judgemental and self-righteous
You've probably got more in common with Christ than you think, then. He always criticised that sort of religious attitude. On one occasion he was eating a meal at the home of a religious leader when a prostitute walked in and wept at his feet. She was obviously looking to him for acceptance. The religious leader was outraged but Jesus actually defended this woman. He even offered this woman forgiveness and insisted that the religious leader was further away from God than this humble woman. 'Religion' might be self-righteous but Christ came to overturn all that stuff. True Christian faith is forgiving not judgemental. Have you ever read much about Christ?
I'm just not the religious type
Being the 'religious type' is irrelevant to true Christian faith. Jesus was always attracting and befriending people who were 'not the religious type'. On one occasion a Roman centurion came to Jesus for help. Centurions were about as far from the religious type as you could get in Jesus' day. They were called the 'godless' and were political enemies and occupiers. But this man came to Jesus recognising something unique about this teacher. Jesus welcomed him and promised him a place in the kingdom to come - all without being religious. Have you explored much of Christ's teachings?
I might not be perfect, but I'm a fairly good person
I appreciate what you're saying but doesn't it depend on what definition of 'good' you're using? Jesus was once asked by a religious scholar what was the single most important thing to do in life. He responded by saying there were actually two things - to love your neighbour as yourself and to love God with all your heart. Being kind and honest with people is only half of it. He insisted we also have to love our Creator. Would you say you're 'good' on Jesus' definition?

According to Jesus, our fundamental obligation in life is to love both God and our neighbour. Most of us would rightly criticise people who claimed to love God but ignored their fellow human beings. On Jesus' teaching, the reverse would be just as open to criticism. Treating people well while ignoring the Creator falls way short of what Jesus taught was our obligation. So, I guess it depends on whose definition of 'good' we're going to accept. Have you ever looked into Jesus' life and teaching?
You Christians are so arrogant as to think that you alone have the truth
I understand what you're saying but it's important to realise that Christians don't think they possess the truth; not at all. They simply look at Jesus' life and find themselves convinced by his teaching and deeds. I mean, Jesus was the one who said he had universal authority over the world. He was once asked by a friend about the way to God. He replied 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' Christians didn't make that up. You can't really blame a Christian for taking seriously the words of Christ, can you? What do you make of Jesus?


You ask: 'What makes a Christian so special?' Well, I think it boils down to a uniqu claim that Jesus made. One of his followers once asked him what God was like. You know what he said in reply? He said, 'If you have seen me, you have seen God the Father.' Jesus alone of all the great religious founders said that he himself was the revelation of God. People don't have to rely on religion or guesswork; they can just look at his life and see what God is like. Jesus is the 'photo' of God, if you like. For me, that's what separates Jesus from the other religious claims. Have you ever thought much about Christ?
What about suffering?
I don't have all the answers about suffering. But one thing I hold to, especially whan I'm going through hard times, is that the God of Christianity is not distant nor disinterested. In Jesus, God himself experienced human betrayal, horrible injustice and a gruesome death. The scene of his crucifixion, as described in the Gospels is very moving. He bears incredible insult and injury and continues to act compassionately. This, according to the Bible, is the God who rules all things. He willingly experiences what we experience. This God is able to sympathise with those who suffer not simply because he is all-knowing but because he has experienced pain first-hand. This helps me to trust God when I don't understand what he's doing in the world. Have you ever looked at Jesus' life and death?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vaughan Roberts & Tim Thornborough (eds) 'Workers for the Harvest Field' (Good Book Co.)

This is a massively useful book, primarily aimed at those considering some form of paid gospel ministry within churches or missionary organisations. As VR says in his introduction:
We all have different gifts. Some are suited to this kind of work, others are best used in other ways. We must resist the idea that some jobs are better or more 'spiritual' than others. But we should all be asking ourselves the question: 'What is it that I could do, as the person I am and with the gifts that God has given me, that would bring the most glory to God through the spread of the gospel?' For some that will mean staying where they are; for others it will mean a significant change of direction.
In other words, it is a balanced book, helpfully encouraging such questions, as well as the ones that naturally follow from them, and offering many great insights into what might come next & what life might look like. It is a book I have already recommended to many of the students I work with, and will be buying others for Christmas.

Even just a perusal of the contents page gets the blood pumping a bit in anticipation:

Section 1: What is gospel ministry?
1. What is Gospel Ministry? (Vaughan Roberts)
2. The Character of Gospel Ministry (David Jackman)
3. The Priority of Gospel Ministry (Richard Coekin)

Section 2: Varieties of gospel ministry
4. The pastor-teacher (Andy Gemmill)
5. The realities of being an evangelist (Roger Carswell)
6. Church planters for the harvest field (Tim Chester)
7. Gospel ministry overseas (Andy Lines)
8. Cross-cultural ministry in the UK (Andrew Raynes)
9. Women's Ministry (Carrie Sandom)
10. Youth and children's ministry (Roger Fawcett)
11. Building the urban church (Ken Moulder)
12. Student ministry (Nathan Buttery)

Section 3: Getting from A to B
13. Guidance (Christopher Ash)
14. Apprenticeships (Ian Garrett)
15. Theological Education (David Peterson)
16. Where do I go from here? (Peter Comont)

I. The other Lord's Prayer (Christopher Green)
II. 9:38
III. Routes to full-time ministry

Towner's Thoughts
1)This is a great book - I wish I'd been able to read it 8 yrs ago when I started thinking this stuff through.
2) The list of authors is top class, and the topics covered are (broadly) what you'd hope would be.
3) I love the real-life stories spread throughout.

1) If you read it straight through (which might not be its design) it gets pretty repetitive. This might be weak editing, or just not how the book's meant to be read.
It does just read as if a bit more focussed editing would have helped some of the authors get more into what they wrote.
2) Is there a slight Anglican focus, particularly in the last section? There's not appendix of routes to full-time ministry in the independent church. Might be a slight weakness here.
3) I've a few other small things, but

This is a book that needed writing, and is basically very well written (despite the hyper-critical & perfectionist Towner having a few minor quibbles). I was encouraged & challenged when reading it: I gained some new thoughts and remembered some great old ones...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

James Oakley on John Frame

This is great on Frame's three perspectives.

The whole blog (as much as I've read so far) seems exactly what we'd expect of the man Oakley & thus certainly worth regular perusal...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Music in Church (1) Thoughts for Band Leaders

The other day I was asked to give a few thoughts to the other guys who lead chapel bands here at college, and here is some of the more widely applicable stuff that I came up with...

1: Background
The band are serving God, so as band leaders, we are leading people in their service of God. We are, in fact, leading people who are serving God, who are leading people. So band leaders are leading a group of servants, or even serving a group of servants.

2: Foci for Band Leaders
There are two priorities, after which we can worry about all the fun & technical things we musicians like to play around with.

1 - Style
This covers both volume and speed, and the key with each is that it be appropriate to the words being sung, in the context within which they're being sung. Thus there is no one right speed or volume for a song, though there will be upper and lower boundaries. Rather the same song will demand a different tempo and dynamic if placed at a different point in a service. Consider singing 'God of Grace I Turn my Face' before or after confession. Obviously confession achieves something, so we would sing it much more confidently afterwards, celebrating what's just happened, whereas beforehand we might sing it penitently. Examples multiply, and it is the band leader's job to discern where we are in the service, and thus what is appropriate. Remember the speed called musicians' speed - at which the song is great fun to play and really hard to sing! Avoid it! Getting the speed & volume right is our first priority, since it best serves the needs of the congregation we're serving.

2 - Clarity
This covers introductions, entries and repeats, and the key is that it is easy for the congregation to follow what's being done with the song. First, the introduction must introduce, so that everyone knows the speed and comes in together; however fun anything else is, it isn't serving the needs of the people we're serving! The same thing applies in miniature to the gaps between verses, or after choruses, or wherever... And I'm all in favour of repeats - they seem a pretty biblical thing, particularly in songs (as even the briefest glance through the Psalter will vindicate) but they must be dictated by the words and/or consideration of where we are in the service, and have to be clearly led. Whatever's being done with the songs must be clear and easy to follow, so that the congregation are able to focus on Jesus, not on the musicians!

It is worth just highlighting one thing that binds these two observations together: the music must be subject to the words. We have the psalms' words, not scores, and (as I have said earlier, here) the music is a vehicle for the words, and as band leaders we have to be sensitive to this. the words define the speed, volume, and shape of a song (repeats etc...). Personally I think certain songs demand repeated sections. the most obvious to me is 'In Christ Alone' where the song can end very abruptly, and we can, as singers, miss the resolution we make. So I often repeat the second half of the last verse so that we can sing it again; during the last two lines that time through, the music will gently fade, as the congregation get to hear each other's declaration almost unaccompanied: 'here in the power of Christ I'll stand'. I think that works, I think it is what the words require... Again, examples multiply!

3: Practical Tips
What do I do in practice? These are some things I aim for:

1 - During the Practise
  • pray at the precise time you said the practice starts; that way you never drift into lateness (and our job's too important for that anyway) and never have to tell someone they're late - they know, because you've started!
  • try to be focussed; it isn't a jamming session, fun as that might be.
  • don't need to cover everything; this keeps the band on their toes!
  • work very hard at them watching you, getting them to check regularly throughout songs, and especially before repeats, new verses, etc...
  • don't worry about being directive: you are leading; obviously listen carefully, but the band is not a committee!
2 - Before the service
  • play for a few minutes before the service starts; no chatting at this point, no messing, nothing distracting - just set the tone a bit.
  • this is a good time to play a new song through, getting the tune into people's heads.
  • it might also be a good time to remind the congregation why they're there; pick a song to play that focuses on that.
3 - In the service
  • always be ready for the next song; set the music up after each ready for the next; this is service of the congregation, who might be distracted by long pauses (which are unnecessary anyway!).
  • if you have to stay up during other things, obviously be as un-distracting as possible.
4 - At the End
  • play something that fits the sermon / theme of the service / end-point; it is good to plan what you'll play, but often the preacher surprises me, and I have to change. People remember the last tune they hear, so this pick is pretty vital!
  • sometimes I'll play a new song here (that we've just learnt) if it fits the above, because then people remember it better.
  • thank the band, obviously.
4) Band Generalisations!
It seems to me generally true that the following characteristics hold. Apologies to those who consider this slander, but you'll probably recognise someone if not yourself...
  • Keys: we try to do it all; we don't need to! Listen to the rest of the band and get out of the way when you're not needed!
  • Drums: tend to be too loud, and tend not to be very good at setting speeds (though often great at keeping speeds once they're set).
  • Guitars: mix with keys is important; you're both playing at the same pitch, so need to coordinate carefully.
  • Bass: again, coordinate with keys; pianists often need to stick their left-hand in their pocket if they've got a good bass player!
  • Tune / solo instruments: don't all play at once (band leader needs to be directive here) and please please please don't play the tune - there's 100 people singing that already! Unless it is a new song, keep away from that, and play harmonies and fill the gaps when there's no singing - the ends of bars, the rests between verses, into choruses, and the like.
  • Vox: make sure you're particular focus is on leading in at the start of verses, choruses and especially repeats; this needs eye-contact with the congregation if at all possible: memorise the first few words, and look up! This might also mean good eye-contact with the band leader to check / confirm repeats and other things - but look to them early, otherwise you can't lead the congregation confidently.
5) And Finally
If you manage all that, you're doing a lot better than my average effort!

But failure hurts, and (particularly as musicians) we can feel it very keenly. This is where remembering the gospel is vital: we are saved by grace through faith, and our worth is defined at Calvary, where Christ decided to pay the price of his own blood to purchase us for eternity. No fluffed repeat or dodgy tempo can change that!

Monday, September 18, 2006

David Field on Christian Counselling

This post is outstanding (remember to ignore DF's self-depreciation).

Anyone know any books that fill in the (major) gap he observes?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Memories can Haunt or Humble

To say that Dale Ralph Davis' commentaries are excellent requires, as far as I'm concerned, about as much proof as the statement that God is Trinity. They are top-notch: concerned with the detail of the text, yet rigorously applied to real-life in a way that fires the heart as well as educating the brain. What more can I say?

I was massively struck this morning by DRD's examination of 2Sam 23:8-39, particularly vs 39. He says this on p. 256 of his 2Sam commentary (Fearn: Focus, 2001).
'Uriah the Hittite' (v. 39). That last name is loaded - with the raunchiest memories. But Hertzberg has suggested that the wickedness of David should lead us on to the grace of God. Our rubric for this section was: 'The Memories that can haunt us.' But they need not. Not if they humble us instead. This is the testimony of the chief of sinners in 1 Cor 15:9-10. There Paul asserts: 'For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called "apostle," because I persecuted the church of God; but by God's grace I am what I am...' There it is ... An indelible memory, but Paul alows it to humble him, for it is on the basis of this fact that he is (note the present tense) the least of the apostles and unworthy to be called such. And in this humility he moves beyond the despair of that memory to walk in the grace of God (v. 10a). This is not just for kings and apostles. When our most appalling memories are immersed in divine grace there is still a holy sadness, a godly grief, a broken heart, but the memories no longer haunt us.
Man, how come I'm only hearing this now? Praise God - in a week where I've been struggling with this precise issue, he uses DRD to show me the way. Honestly, not just these last few days but for ages and ages I've been worried about a right Christian relationship to past errors. They were predestined and are pardoned, but also matter massively, still affecting those you love, and others too... But where does one stand on such a spectrum? One end is almost flippancy - to which I want to say: yes they were predestined, but you're still responsible, or some-such thing. The other end is almost madness and despair: of course they matter, and their evil may still remain, but you are pardoned. It is hard to stand in the right place with stuff like that.

And for a while now I'd been beginning to understand how the gospel allows me to think of myself as lowly and weak, since there's no need for pride or position as a child of God - allows me to go around being gently surprised when things go well, because I am forgiven, have been made a child of God, and will be in Glory. I'd just not been convinced it was in Scripture, and thus DRD's stuff here is pure gold...

Memories can either haunt or humble.

Pray God I learn to choose the latter.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Timothy Laniak 'Shepherds After My Own Heart' (IVP/Apollos: NSBT 20)

This newest book in Carson's New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the biblical leadership model that is pastoral ministry, giving a full-orbed view of this much misunderstood term.

It's great strength is that it is a refreshing reminder to one called to be pastor-teacher of what the whole Bible says of that great word: pastor. It is word frequently undervalued, and this book captures much of the servanthood and grandeur within the concept - recalling the multi-dimensional nature of such a role, and presenting the challenges and responsibilities of such a calling.

Key chapters are on Moses and David. Moses who led YHWH's people through the wilderness, and David, that great shepherd of YHWH's nation. They are seen as leadership prototypes, models for leaders who come after them - as well as being 'themselves extensions of the divine Shepherd who leads the covenant community by their hands.' (75)

Three exhilarating sections follow. The first considers Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah looking to the promises of a second exodus. The second considering each gospel individually, focussing on the Shepherd-Messiah, his followers and that great exodus. the third examines 1Peter and Revelation, calls to follow and serve the Shepherd-Lamb.

It is worth reading for three reasons:

1) It sketches a massive Bible theme in an exciting way.

It not only makes us think about that great Shepherd, but encourages us to ask how such imagery should impact church ministry and how we think of church life.

3) As a minister (or one called to be a minister) it reminds me much of who or what I'm called to be.

In terms of shortcomings, two spring to mind:

1) It is too long - it feels like it has been badly edited (though far be it from me to criticise Don Carson and Phil Duce, each of whose little finger has infinitely more experience of editing than my whole body!). The book is over 300 pages - and feels like about 220 pages-worth. There's nothing wrong with slow and careful argument - and some other NSBT volumes feel all-too brief, and I long for their expanded editions [Webb's Festal Garments with much more in each of sections II and III; Peterson's Possessed by God expanded so I can get my head round it - maybe a 'Sanctification for Muppets' version is what I need there!]. Yet I got to the end and thought: great, but a bit too long.

2) I'm not convinced that the first section on Background, examining metaphors, shepherds in the ancient world and shepherd-rulers in the ancient world is necessary. Perhaps it could have been included in the body of the book where needed, and cut out when unnecessary to the argument. Not that it wasn't good section, but I'm not sure it was either NSBT or needed for the argument.

Anyway, even after those things, I do recomend this a constructive read for those in church leadership or eldership, and particularly those called as pastors to God's flock.

Maybe read it fairly quickly for the big picture - which is its really great gift to the reader.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Singing in Church (1) Song Choice

HT Sam Allberry for making me thing about this at this particular moment. I must do some posts about church music, so let's start here. Obviously I'll need to fill in some gaps of the theology at some later stage - other posts forthcoming - but for now:

How do you chose what songs to sing / not sing at church?

(NB: I'm not talking here yet about planning a service / choosing and order of songs / etc... just which songs to have on a playlist at church.)

I think that I think the key thing for music is that it fits the words. God hasn't given us the music to the Psalms, but the words. Music is a vehicle for the words' tenor, if you like (I'm not a linguist, but the way, but I believe this to be a useful distinction; tell me if not).

So, on looking at a song I ask some things like:
  • Is it true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is the tune singable?
  • Is the music playable?
  • Does the music fit the words?
  • Do other songs do it better?
The answer 'no' to one of these is not a straight veto - except the first. But then there are many many grey areas even on that one: can it be rightly understood? or: can it be misunderstood? are questions asked by the two different sides of that issue. For me neither solves the problem, because the former may be too generous, and the latter is impossible - the Bible can be honestly misunderstood, it seems to me...

But anyway, there's my one big idea, and those are the sorts of things I ask myself about songs.

Thoughts anyone?

Edit (4hrs after original post, having had another thought!)
Probably I'd add 'Is it biblical' to the list somewhere - because obviously singing something true from the bible is preferable to singing something true without the Bible's own phrases, illustrations, pictures, etc... (so I mean biblical in a different sense to the common usage analagous to 'faithful' or 'ture' or whatever - I just can't think of a better word right now!).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Defining Success

It is 7:45am. At 9pm, what would constitute today having been a successful day?

Generally it is my un-stated view that things such as
these would be the sorts of things I'd want to aim for:
  • getting somewhere through my to-do list
  • having had a quiet time
  • having done some decent work
  • not having been too rude / unsympathetic / n-Xn to anyone
  • having had a good blend of work & relaxation
  • etc, etc...
Which, having been written down, look precisely as they should: worldly, short-sighted, works-focussed, certainly not God-focussed, etc...

It is now 9:50pm (not sure that makes any difference, but there you go - I had to save this thought to finish off later, due to the delights of 4hrs considering Christian Eschatology, and various other aspects of term-time).

Is it not the case that a successful day is one spent:
  • loving Jesus, in conscious communion with him
  • focussing on heaven/Glory
  • fighting the fight of faith
  • contending for God's glory
  • obeying God's purposes
  • learning useful stuff
  • putting into practice what I've learnt, or at least beginning to
  • etc, etc...
No doubt you could write a better list here, but the point remains... So often I just have a wrong concept of success. I thus aim for the wrong thing(s), celebrate the wrong thing(s), and so on. I need to work on this. What does God most want for me from today? What is next on the list? and so on...

And, of course, Gospel-driven success lists are full of grace and mercy (see here).

As well as doing this ourselves, I guess we can encourage each other by longing for these latter types of success first and foremost - asking those questions and celebrating those 'yes' answers rather than just doing our slightly Christian version of everything the world runs after - running after Christian things in a worldy way, as it were...

But this bites in another way, I think. We need to make sure the urgent doesn't get in the way of the important. That means we need to plan, need to deliberately not do certain things, and certainly need a concept of our 'top ten' priorities against which to measure / consider our diaries. I've tried working up such a list, which is hard. But I'm trying not to use my business as an excuse not do do such hard work because I am convinced that I need to do it - if you see vaguely what I mean!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Ending of Harry Potter VII?

Ok, 3 posts today, but I didn't actually write 2 of them.

This is beautiful. Enjoy. (HT Fieldy, again!)

Awful Church Signs

This website is hilarious, if slightly worrying. Enjoy!

(HT Mandy's mate Byron.)


Yesterday those of us here on the Masters courses enjoyed a few hours together thinking and praying through some issues for the coming year's study. We were encouraged to think about our strengths and weaknesses, and particularly the sorts of things which get in the way of our doing the things we should be. We were then encouraged to make resolutions. In case these are helpful / encouraging / challenging / thought-provoking, here are mine:

1) Put being a disciple first and foremost.
The greatest barrier to any part of my Christian life is a weak or distant or un-prioritised relationship with God. So I need to put this top of any list. Living at the cross and resurrection is the nuclear power plant in the submarine of Christian existence as we fight the fight of faith. Time away from the cross and resurrection, away from prayer & meditation just cools down those reactor rods. Resolved: prioritise discipleship over everything else.

2) Do no more than God has equipped me to do, and that I can enjoy by faith with prayer.
This is hard because I've spent much of my life trying to do more than I should - or be more than I am - in my own strength. I've been (horrible thought) too busy to pray. What rubbish - it just means that I was too busy! (Read Tim Chester's book, which I've summarised and reviewed here, if this is a thing for you.) This means I'll have to do less, and have to say 'no' to some massively great & tempting things; it'll make my decisions even harder, but my life much more pleasing to the only One who really matters.
This was something I really struggled with particularly in my first year. I went to Spring Harvest Word Alive that year almost at the end of my tether. All that I thought I'd learnt at college was that I couldn't do Greek, couldn't do Hebrew, wasn't great at Systematics, was rubbish at writing essays, couldn't preach, etc, etc... So I went to Word Alive praying for some help, and on the last night the preacher used this illustration:

A young boy asks his father for some money because it is his dad's birthday in a few days, and he wants to get him a present. The father then passes over a £5 note to his 10-yr-old son. What does that man expect when he opens his present? Certainly not a £50 watch, nor a £15 book (nor, obviously, a 50p bar of chocolate). All he wants to see is something nice & thoughtful worth a fiver.

You are the boy; the father is God. What does he expect from you? Only to do what he has enabled you to do - no more (and no less).

Will you learn, with me, to get to the end of a long day and instead of pushing on with energy you don't have, to turn to God and say: 'Father, I think I've given you back your fiver today' and then relax?

HT Fieldy for (under God) leading us so well and devotionally through yesterday's Masters session.

I pray God continues to teach me to live these things...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oak Hall Talks Outline

Oak Hall is a great great idea. Praise God for the vision he has given to Ian Mayo and the many others involved over so many years, and for their obedience to Him!

I have just been in Engelberg (Switzerland) for two trips: walking in the hills all day, via a few cable cars and coffee shops, then preaching in the evening: winner! God has, needless to say, been great and faithful, speaking by his powerful Word - what a joy...

We studied Mark, and here's a vague outline of what I said:

Introduction (Mk 1:1)
i) Brief overview of Mark - three confessions: Mark's (1:1), Peter's (8:29) and the Centurion's (15:39), with the first half teaching on who Jesus is, the second on what he came to do.
ii) Brief explanation of each clause.
iii) Reminder of how serious it is to believe Mk 1:1 [remember Antipas in Rev 2:13] and what it looks like in our lives to say Mk 1:1 and live it.

Session 1 (Mk 2:1-12)
i) Everyone's greatest need is forgiveness of sin - the surprise in vv 1-5 is what Jesus doesn't do. It is better to be crippled on earth and saved for eternity than saved on earth and crippled in eternity. Application: we mustn't just 'do nice things for people' but must tell them the gospel; Francis of Assisi is just wrong when he says "preach the Gospel; if you must, use words"!
ii) What is sin? Rejecting God as Ruler of our lives. Sin leads to death.
iii) Jesus has God's power to forgive sins. Jesus does the visible to prove the invisible. Application: come to Jesus & be forgiven; tell your friends the Gospel - how horrible to lend someone a fiver, give them a meal at your house, or whatever, and leave them crippled for eternity.

Session 2 (Mk 4-5)
i) Kingdom parables (4:1-34). Chat through 1-20, hearing the challenge of vv 5-7 & great encouragement of vs 8. Word ministry leads to kingdom growth despite the majority response being rejection - here's a pattern for us individually and communally. Note similar themes of kingdom growth in vv 26-29 and 30-32. Is this just big talk? Haven't loads of people claimed extraordinary things?
ii) Jesus is the powerful King of the kingdom (4:35-5:43). Not just big talk - there's big proof. That's a King to trust in! Be encouraged: the kingdom will grow!

Session 3 (Mk 6:31-8:10)
i) Jesus is YHWH who feeds Israel (6:30-52). Looked at sheep/shepherd, desert, manna, mountainside and "I am" from Exodus. Jesus is Redeemer and God of Israel
ii) The Kingdom is Expansive (7:24-8:10). Not just for Jews, but Gentiles too. Gentile woman says 'please can I eat with you, King Jesus?' and he says yes! [Brief reminder of Jesus' compassion from 1:40-41.] He then heals and offers the Gentiles a Messianic banquet. Look how generous the King is! Look how expansive the kingdom is!

Session 4 (Mk 8:31-10:52)
i) Peter's confession = assent to all that we've seen from Mk 1-8. What do you think?
ii) Jesus must suffer (8:31). Four things are necessary: suffering, rejection, death & rising again.
iii) So must we too (8:34-9:1). Call to be Cross-carrying Christians: 3 demands (34), a reason (35-37), a warning (38) and a promise (9:1) [following NIVAC outline here]; we looked at each in some detail.
iv) Disciples must serve (9:33-35). Particular application to Christian leadership and positions of responsibility in church.
v) Bartimaeus is a model disciple (10:46-52). Sight: he has it. Faith: so he sees. Result: follows Jesus on the way - which is the way of 8:31, the only way for him and the only way for us too. Will you follow? Will you do 8:34?

Session 5 (Mk 15)
Why watch the Titanic, or Romeo & Juliet? We know the story. Ans: to see that director's emphasis. Need to be sensitive to Mark - there's loads of other stuff on the cross we don't see here...
i) Mark teaches by irony (15:1-32). Looked through the passage at the sad sad ironies, seeing how they teach us about who Jesus is, and why he came. Three cries to him on cross possibly the most poignant moments in this section: Build the temple - he is! Save yourself - he can't save himself and us! Give us a sign - he is the sign!
ii) The cry, the cup, the curtain (15:33-39). Cry of being under darkness of God's judgement. Can God punish the same sin twice? Cup drunk is cup of God's wrath. Who drinks your cup? Curtain is torn - no separation between God and humans. The Gentile centurion sees and enters that great house of prayer for all nations. You've seen: where are you?

Session 6 (16:1-8)
i) Peter had been a public muppet; he is called by name to follow. If you are or have been a Peter, get up and follow.
ii) Jesus leads out into Gentile territory; he is going before us back home, back to the mission field. Will you follow?
iii) Fear. You can be afraid of Jesus or everything else (4:39 cf 41, 5:3-5 cf 15, 5:33 cf 36). They did nothing because of fear. What will you do? Will you follow?