5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #2

RadarScreen2The second of five radars may well be the most important and the most difficult to develop.  Yesterday’s radar considered one aspect of our textual study skills, but this radar is about our underlying assumptions about everything.  I think we should all prayerfully ask God to develop in us:

Radar 2. Hissing Radar (in your assumptions)

The most dangerous assumption we can make is that we are neutral and can think clearly.  Every one of us has spent our entire life swimming and soaking in the brine of a post-Fall world system that hisses constantly with The Lie of pseudo-godlike autonomy.  The serpent introduced skepticism about God’s word, God’s character, and invited humanity to dive into a totally new version of godliness.  This new godliness meant that we humans became the image of the god of this age – self-absorbed, autonomous and overly confident in our own independent capacities.  We live our lives deafened to the hiss of our serpent-shaped existence.

The Gospel doesn’t save us from one or two sins we have done, but from the absolute self-loving, God-hating, autonomy of our spiritually dead hearts.  The problem we have as believers is that we tend to think we are somehow now immune to the subtle influence of The Lie.

Our flesh has been pickled in the subtle but sour vinegar of that original Lie.  As we seek to grow, let’s pray that God will develop in us a radar that will hiss when our assumptions evidence that serpentine autonomous impulse.

Here are some quick flags to highlight areas this lie often surfaces:

  • God can be a source of resources for us, but always from a distance.
  • With suitable resourcing I can do the job myself . . . i.e. sanctification.
  • I can be a good Christian, but I don’t need any sort of relational closeness to Christ.
  • I don’t need you (where you is God, or you is other believers).
  • I make independent and uninfluenced decisions, and therefore I am alive.
  • If my preaching can offer practical guidance, then individuals can make the decision to apply the teaching and be successful at living their individual and independent lives.
  • Etc.

May God develop in us an early warning system that hisses whenever our assumptions are dangerously autonomous and self-glorifying.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs

RadarScreen2

To grow as preachers, I believe we need to develop several internal radars.  Think of a radar as an early warning system that beeps when there is an issue in the vicinity.  To be without any radar is to be dangerously naïve.  This week I plan to work through five radars we can prayerfully develop in our preaching:

Radar 1. Old Testament Radar (in your text)

Sometimes Bible writers flag up their use of earlier texts, “to fulfil what was written…”  Often they simply allude to, or hint at, biblical texts that are feeding into their thought.  Biblical writers typically assumed that their readers would have a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament, but most of us do not have anything like a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament.  Hence we need to develop the radar.  Unless we do, we will miss a lot of what is sitting in the sermon text before us.

I am not suggesting that every sermon should fully develop every earlier biblical allusion in the preaching text.  I am suggesting that a preacher who is unaware of how earlier texts inform and shape the preaching text will struggle to be a good steward of the preaching text.  The best preachers do not say everything there is to say, and they do speak with clarity and simplicity.  Please preach with clarity and simplicity, but with clarity built on the richest and most determined exegetical study already under your belt.  This means lots of things, but it must include a growing awareness of earlier texts assumed by the writer of the preaching text.

For example . . . think about John 3:1-16, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Nic knew his Bible, but was treated as unqualified for conversation about spiritual matters.  In the course of the conversation the text is picking up on Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 29, Numbers 21, and perhaps the overarching backdrop – Genesis 3 . . . (is Nicodemus dead and needing a new birth, or not?)

How do we develop this radar?  Two suggestions:

A. Read the whole Bible, a lot.  There is no tool that can compensate for a lack of personal intimacy with the Word of God.  Prayerfully and purposefully devour the Scriptures as if they are the most precious gift you have.

B. Double check you haven’t missed something with good commentators.  We need the benefit of the community of God’s people and good commentators are a real blessing.  At the same time, many do miss the influence of earlier texts and so shouldn’t be relied upon apart from A, above.

Tomorrow I will offer another radar I believe we all need to see developed in our lives.

 

Creative Christmas Sermon Options

Christmas Dog2Christmas services are just a few weeks away.  You might be getting excited, or dreading another Christmas and the need to generate more messages when the obvious options feel well worn.  Here are some other angles to consider:

Prophecies - there are some key Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, even Jeremiah 31:15.  Why not take an Old Testament approach to Christmas hopes this year?

People – maybe you have preached through Matthew’s opening chapters, but have you preached the four other ladies in Matthew’s genealogy . . . Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the one “who had been Uriah’s wife.”  Four ladies with question marks over their morality, rightly or wrongly, that set up the lady who has to be in the genealogy (also with a question mark hanging over her morality, wrongly in her case).  Or perhaps you might trace the Gentiles in the genealogy to show the greater scope of the Christmas hope?

Themes – why not track a theme this year that could be developed with one week in the Old Testament, one week in the Christmas narratives and one week later on in the gospels or epistles.  For example, consider the Immanuel theme from Isaiah 7:14-9:7, emphasized in Matthew 1, continued for our age in Matthew 28:20.

Less Obvious Passages – perhaps you might consider the less obvious Christmas passages, ie. those that aren’t in early Matthew or Luke.  You have the prologue to John’s Gospel, giving the other side of the story, if you like.  Or you have references like Galatians 4:4 and similarly Incarnation focused passages like Titus 2:11-14.

Christmas Titles – it would be interesting to explore the titles used in the Christmas narratives – Jesus, Saviour, Immanuel, King, etc.

Carol Theology – while some are keen to cut down the errors in the carols, there are some great truths encapsulated in the carols too.  Perhaps you could take Hark the Herald Angels Sing or another carol and trace the biblical background to a verse each week.  Different, but for some congregations this might be a blessing.  Remember that you are preaching the Bible, not the carol.

Contemporary Emphases - you could take key emphases in the world’s view of Christmas and present a positive biblical engagement with each one.  Gifts, peace, goodwill, family, etc.

November is here, Christmas is coming.  Let’s not have our pulpits filled with preachers trying to hide a creative fatigue over such a great subject.  Let’s take a new angle, dive into the Bible and preach with hearts spilling over!

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Webinar on Poetic Literature

webinar_bannerThis Thursday I am leading a webinar on “An Introduction to Poetic Literature” at 18:00 GMT.  It is free and if you would like to join, you just need to register on this page.

The Union Podcast Interview continues today as I am asked “How is Christ becoming man vital for our salvation?”  (I believe there will be five episodes this week.  I won’t post every day, but will list the links after the series completes.)

 

Incarnation Series Review

I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series.  I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation.  In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation.  And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series.  Then . . .

HindleyJohn Hindley

Let the Wine Flow! (John 1-2)

 

darrell_bockDarrell Bock

Lessons about the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

 

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener

Incarnation, The True Turning Point

 

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220Bruce Fong

Incarnation and Expository Preaching

 

OrtlundDane Ortlund

Life As It Was Meant to Be

 

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz

The Incarnation in the Old Testament

 

comontPeter Comont

Jesus Wept

 

murray__005_400x400David Murray

Rehearsal for Calvary

 

Frost webRon Frost

A Stirring Love

 

Rick McKinley

Where’d Jesus Go?

 

Podcast Interview

TEP-PodcastCover-233Glen Scrivener is a good friend of mine and the ministry I am involved in, Cor Deo.  Every year Glen joins us for a day during the full-time course and shares with the team about the Gospel and evangelism.  Back in 2012 he spoke at our Delighted by God conference in London.  Here is his latest episode of The Evangelists Podcast in which he interviews me about Cor Deo, about the book, Pleased to Dwell, and a little bit about Bible reading too.

Ron Frost – A Stirring Love

Frost webRon Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo.  He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International.  I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.  Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too).  Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ.  So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:

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Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.

“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us.  And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation.  His rising is for our good.  He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]

Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church.  The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”

Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament.  The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.

“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too.  Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us.  If God loves us thus, what must we do?  Meditate upon his love.  Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it.  Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]

Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top.   But does he have a point?  Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation?  This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love.  In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.

With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation.  God sent the Son to stir our response.  And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.

Sibbes makes the point.  We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.

David Murray – Rehearsal for Calvary

murray__005_400x400David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary.  He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.  David is the author of Christian Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page (USA Link).  You can read his blog, HeadHeartHand or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray.  David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 1 to 18 years old.  I am thankful to David for contibuting to our Incarnation Series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell. Here, David takes us back to the book of Judges and points our hearts to Christ:

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Judges chapter thirteen opens with the nation of Israel suffering under the reign of the Philistines. In the middle of this a woman is suffering under her own personal grief: she is barren.

Into this national and personal sorrow the Son of God appears as the angel (literally “messenger”) of the Lord appears to this woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine occupation. His appearance is such that she describes him as a man of God with a very awesome appearance, like the angel of the Lord. Neither the woman nor her husband yet realize that this is more than a man.

Manoah, her husband, prays that the messenger might return to give them more instruction on how to raise this promised son. God listens to Manoah’s prayer and the messenger returns to give them further instruction. During this second encounter, Manoah offers a meal to their guest, not yet knowing exactly who their guest is. The angel of the Lord refuses to eat, but tells Manoah to make an offering to the Lord.

A Wonderful Name

When Manoah asks the visitor for his name, he receives this enigmatic response: “Why do you ask My Name, seeing it is wonderful?” or beyond comprehension?

What a puzzling response. What sort of man claims that his name is beyond comprehension? Remember that throughout the Old Testament, names are very significant indicators of character. There is something special about this man with a wonderful name.

A Wonderful Act

As the flames begin to consume the sacrificed goat, Manoah and his wife are amazed to see the messenger step into the flames and rise up to heaven!

What was he doing?

As the pre-incarnate Son of God we may say that He was “practicing” or “rehearsing” His future sacrifice of himself, when in real human nature he would ascend heavenwards.

They immediately fall on their faces for they realized that this had been THE Angel of the Lord. As is often the case, this recognition often comes only after the Angel has departed.

A Wonderful Faith

Although a great fear takes hold of Manoah because he knows that no one can see God and live, his more believing wife comforts him with this thought: If God had really intended to kill them, he would not have accepted their offering nor given them the great promises he had.

It’s amazing to think about the Son of God’s ascension in the flame of this sacrifice as a picture of his ultimate sacrifice at Calvary. We often read in the Bible of God’s delight in the sweet smell of sacrifices to him. How sweet must Christ’s ultimate sacrifice have been: the perfect, spotless lamb. And yet how horrific the experience for Christ himself.

There He stepped not into the flames of a burning goat, but into the flames of an angry God. He did not just rise heavenwards in a few brief moments, but stayed in the fire until the divine flames burned themselves out on Him.

A Wonderful Question

No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, His name shall be called Wonderful. Who can fully comprehend the mystery of God manifest in the flesh, and sacrificed in flames? Yet, let us keep asking Him, “What is your name? Tell us more about yourself, that we may honor you.”

Jordan Scheetz – The Incarnation in the Old Testament

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz is Chair of Biblical and Exegetical Studies, and Associate Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam, NL.  Jordan has been a good friend for many years and I’ve always appreciated his passion for God’s Word and making disciples.  He wrote The Concept of Canonical Intertextuality and the Book of Daniel (2012).  In this series, marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Jordan looks at the rich Old Testament themes weaving together to point us to the Incarnation of the Messiah:

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The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures.

The focus on a direct descendant from David and Abraham springs from the promises made to David and Abraham, something seen throughout the Old Testament. David was promised a future descendant who would have an Eternal Kingdom and Abraham was promised to bring blessing to all nations through his offspring. The Torah closes with the expectation that still another prophet like Moses who speaks with God face to face needs to come. Isaiah looks to a time of immanu-el “God with us,” encapsulated in an actual person, not to mention the suffering of avdi “My Servant” who brings forgiveness, healing, and eternal life to God’s people. Jeremiah in the midst of intense judgment shines the rays of hope for a new covenant, one that not only can be read and seen but will be written on the hearts of God’s people. Ezekiel contributes to the expectations of Isaiah and Jeremiah by looking to a time when there will not only be forgiveness and inner transformation of God’s people, but that God would even put His Spirit within them. The Twelve, in the midst of intense judgment, consistently point to the reality that those who (re)turn to God will find Him to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, all in the context of the (future) Day of the Lord. The return to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah, as good as they are, point to a future time when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.

The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures.  The arrival of the Messiah brings together these seemingly disparate expectations in a person, the Messiah Jesus. In Him the fullness of these expectations from the Hebrew Scriptures culminate into the beginning of the Eternal Messianic Kingdom, where blessing, forgiveness, transformation, and eternal life collide in a person.

Everybody Hides

fortress2[Originally posted on Cor Deo] Psalm 46 is always a highly valued text in times of war.  Which is probably why, for a while now, we haven’t heard too much about it.  Maybe we should?

In the past the news of an impending threat would come in the form of a breathless messenger coming from the next town.  Today we live with constant video access to every corner of the planet.  The net effect of this constant stream of information tends to be that we carry on with our own lives while getting drawn into non-news and entertainment, but with true news having little effect on us.  But every now and then the news does get our attention.

If we are looking beyond what the mainstream media chooses to highlight, there are some very disturbing things going on.  And when the news is genuinely disturbing, perhaps it is time to break out Psalm 46 again.

Overview of the Psalm – The Psalm falls nicely into three stanzas, each marked with a contemplativeSelah to give us pause for thought.  The first stanza begins with a launching idea that is then picked up in a refrain finishing the second and third stanza.  As far as Psalms go, this one is clear and simple.

It begins with the big thought that God is our refuge and strength, an always accessible help in troubling times.  Consequently, we will not fear.  Then the writer lists a set of natural disasters that would rock anyone’s world – earthquake, mountains moving, raging seas, etc.  I don’t think he is pondering natural disasters, so much as describing a hypothetical upheaval of all that seems stable.  Even if the whole created order were to return to utter chaos, we will not fear.  This must mean that the nature and character of God is more trustworthy than even the solidity of the mountains and the boundaries of the seas.  Selah.

With the first three verses laying the foundational thought, the writer then becomes overt about the threat of war.  He describes the tranquility of the city of God where He is reigning and present.  And just as our hearts calm to ponder what it will be like to finally live with God, suddenly verse 6 stirs us with the news that all around the nations are going crazy like a raging sea and slipping mountains!  The hypothetical collapse of creation stability is the experienced reality when it comes to the geo-political changes in the world.  But, immediately our perspective is checked with the realization that one word from God and the whole planet could be melted.  Therefore, we do not fear.

The refrain is beautiful: The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  The LORD is the God who makes promises and keeps them – He cares about continuing to care for us.  He is strong – He is the God of angel armies.  If you have ever watched a well-drilled group of soldiers march past, it is intimidating.  Even a relatively small number.  Now imagine an angel, the kind that could kill 185,000 human soldiers in one night.  Imagine two.  Ten.  One hundred.  Imagine a number so big you could not count it, and that is the army of heaven, and our God leads that army, and He is with us.  Therefore He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

The final stanza offers an invitation to come and look at what God has done, and implicitly, to anticipate what He will do.  He ends wars that seem overwhelmingly threatening.  He topples powerful foes that seem to strong to resist.  And finally in verse 10, God instructs the raging armies and belligerent power-hungry rulers to stop!  Stand still.  Be quiet.  Hush.  And know that He is God.  He will be exalted by all.

The perspective shift is powerful.  The raging nations and growing armies and plotting terrorists and geo-political upheavals are all very small compared to the utterance of our God.  He is the God of angel armies and He is with us.  He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

When the threat really rises, everybody hides.  The question is, where do we hide?

Hiding Option 1 – The only good option is to run into the most powerful player in current history.  If it is clear who will win in the end, why not join them?  We know the end of the story, but often it is hard to not fear when the circumstances feel so grave.  Often it is hard to not fear when God doesn’t seem to offer immediate deliverance to everyone who is suffering for being His.  What if I have to face more than discomfort for my faith?  What if my life is threatened, is He still a fortress?  Think back to three men in Iraq two and a half millennia ago.  Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn’t in the moment of this particular trial, we won’t bow to your statue.  Were they foolhardy?  Or were they gripped with the greater reality that the all-powerful God of angel armies was with them, so that even in death, they had confidence that they would be with Him?

Hiding Option 2 – The most pervasive option around us today is often known as “hiding our heads in the sand.”  It is pretending there isn’t a threat.  I recently visited Auschwitz and was sickened to think that people could somehow be oblivious to the hideous evil of that place.  If only they had had social media and smartphones, then everyone would have known.  Actually, don’t people still hide from things today?  The media seem so committed to diverting attention – whether it be spinning a story, or shifting from genocide to Hollywood, the media are experts at making the potentially best informed of all time into a number and dumber generation.  But we can’t simply blame the media.  We can do it to ourselves.  We are more than capable of hiding from reality.

There may be other reactions, but these seem to be the big two.  As the news stirs fear within me, will I distract myself with little things and pretend all is well, or will I run into my fortress – the God of angel armies, the God who has chosen to be with me?