Category Archives: Preacher’s Personal Life

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 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.

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Peter Comont – Jesus Wept

comontPeter Comont is  the Senior Pastor of Trinity Church Oxford, a new church plant in heart of the city of Oxford.  He is involved with several initiatives to teach, train and nurture the next generation of leaders including Living Leadership, the Porterbrook Seminary and the South Central Ministry Training Course.  Peter and I met at a conference in Asia several years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations during those days.  In today’s Incarnation Series guest post, Peter offers us a really helpful reflection on the subject of the incarnation, God and what constitutes an authentic Christian life:

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During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus wept (John 11:35)

For the writer to the Hebrews the tears of Jesus are important.  His incarnation was not just bodily, whilst somehow his mind and heart remained serenely immune to suffering.  Rather he identified with our human condition in all its dimensions, including the emotions.

That full identification was important for our justification as the writer to the Hebrews makes plain.  Jesus became fully human to stand in our place as both a priest and a sacrifice for our sins  (e.g. Heb 7:26-27).  But in Hebrews 5:7 the mention of Jesus’ tears emphasises that his priestly role also involves a profoundly emotional connection with us.  In Jesus, God comes alongside us in all the rich complexity life.  Because of his tears he is able to ‘deal gently with us’ (Heb 5:2).  Because of his tears others knew he loved his friend Lazarus (John 11:35-36).  The tears of Jesus are witnesses to a deep emotional connection between God and man.

Some theologians like to talk about God’s impassibility, suggesting that he does not suffer or feel pain.  Though this may have some truth to it in a limited technical sense, the Bible’s picture of Jesus, – who is the ‘exact representation of [God’s]  being’ (Heb 1:3) – points in a different direction.  Christians believe in a God who is deeply and emotionally engaged with all the joys and trials of our world.

The Bible also describes the Christian life in deeply emotional terms.  There is joy (e.g. John 16:24), but there is groaning too (Romans 8:18-27).  To be adopted as sons of God means to be united with Jesus, as we cry out Abba father (Romans 8:15 cf Mark 14:36) experiencing the same range of emotions that Jesus displayed on earth.  Both the joy and pain of our life now can be true manifestations of being united with Jesus.

Jesus shows us that an authentic Christian life is not shorn of emotion, nor is does it need to fear painful emotions, because they are both part and parcel of our present life as adopted sons of God.  Thank God that the Son of God wept.

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Bruce Fong – Inspirational Incarnational Influences on Expository Preaching

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago.  It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures.  We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus.  Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com.  As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.

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Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people.  These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth.  The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf.  This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.

When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases.  He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.

First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human.  He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place.  The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.

Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking.  His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed.  He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world.  In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.

Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”.  This was a sacrifice.  He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity.  Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His.  Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.

Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death.  He lived among the people, embraced them and served them.  Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.

The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us.  Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.

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Darrell Bock – Lessons About the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

darrell_bockToday’s guest post in the Incarnation Series is from Dr Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.  As well as Darrell’s great commentaries on Luke and Acts that I have appreciated so much over the years, be sure to check out The Table – a weekly podcast on God, Christianity and Culture.  His latest works are the co-authored Truth in a Culture of Doubt (UK Link, USA Link), and Truth Matters (UK Link, USA Link).  I am grateful to Darrell for offering this succinct post on the Incarnation in Luke 1-2 as we mark the release of Pleased to Dwell.

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God keeps his word. In Luke 1-2, this is the theme that surrounds the incarnation. Jesus’ birth is shown to be part of a divine plan that involves both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus’ birth is shown to be superior to John. John is a prophet, while Jesus is Son of God. As hard as some of what the angel says to Mary is about how the child will be born, the refrain is that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Three hymns sing out the refrain that God keeps his Word. Mary’s hymn speaks about how God lifts up those who fear him in line with covenantal promises made to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah’s hymn highlights God’s visitation to his people showing mercy to the fathers and keeping the covenant (Luke 1:68-75). Simeon’s hymn affirms that the psalmist’s eyes have seen the salvation of God when he sees the baby Jesus (Luke 2:30). The child is light, revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32), for God has kept his word to deliver his people.

We tend to forget when we think about the incarnation that the arrival of Jesus is part of a plan God had and that he represents the keeping of promises and divine commitments made long ago. This is why Luke 1:45 says of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” John 1 calls Jesus the Word, but Luke 1-2 argues that in Jesus God kept his word. God is faithful. Underneath all that is the incarnation that comes from God stands God’s faithfulness to keep his pledge and to perform his word.

The coming of Jesus means God can be trusted to care for us for in Jesus’ coming that is exactly what God has done––just as he promised he would do. As God is trustworthy, all that is left for us is to trust his promise and live with hope.

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John Hindley – Let the Wine Flow: The Incarnation in John 1-2

Mail AttachmentToday’s post, by John Hindley, launches our Incarnation Series.  John is pastor of BroadGrace Church in rural Norfolk (England) – www.broadgrace.org.uk.  John authored the really helpful Serving Without Sinking (UK Link & USA Link) and has another title coming out next year.  He is an Acts 29 Europe church planter, is married to Flick and has three little ones.  I haven’t met John yet, but hope to soon as I hear good things about the Christ he has preached to student groups in this part of the country!  Pleased to Dwell finishes in John 1, so why not start there with this post from John Hindley?

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 ‘“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.’ – John 2v10-11

From what John says, I estimate that Jesus made around 600 bottles of the finest wine as the first sign he did. The first miracle Jesus did was to save a wedding party from fizzling out. This comes after John has stressed the wonder of the incarnation. When you read John 1, the great introduction to the gospel climaxes in verse 14, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.

John is setting up his gospel to display the wonder of the eternal God, the Word, the One from the Father’s side becoming a man so that we might be drawn into the family of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By the end of John 1v18 we are left amazed and wondering what such a God-man will do. Then John shows us Jesus gathering a ramshackle bunch of disciples, creating furious mayhem in the Temple, confusing a leading theologian, sitting in the dust by a Samaritan well, healing without consideration of religious custom and feeding hungry crowds. John lifts us to the heavens in his portrayal of Jesus in chapter 1, and then shows us an incarnate Christ who is very… human.

The miracle at Cana is perhaps the most strange. This first sign seems almost flippant. The issue is not a paralysed man or grieving widow, there is no demon confronted or sinner comforted. The issue is an embarrassing lack of wine at a party. Jesus response seems almost reckless. Verse 10 tells us people had already been drinking. Jesus seems more concerned that the party goes well than he does about the risk of drunkenness. This wedding points forward to his great marriage of his Bride on the cross and the coming wedding supper when he returns, as made clear by this being  the ‘third day’ in verse 1 and  not yet ‘his hour’ in verse 4.

But more simply, this Word made flesh is a God who wants to be with us. A God who wants to draw up a stool alongside us, pour us a drink and know us, love us and draw us to himself. I have not thought enough about the incarnation, but what I see shows me a God so good, so close, so loving and so generous that I want to think more, and know him more.

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Introduction to Incarnation Guest Series – The Incarnation In September?

Pleased to Dwell v3This month I will be offering a first on this site – a series of guest blogs from a variety of great contributors.  This month marks the UK release of my new book, Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus).  So I decided to ask some friends to offer a brief post on one aspect of the Incarnation of Christ.  I am thankful to each one that is writing in this series and hope that it will help stir our thinking about the importance of this vital subject.

This week we will have guest posts from either side of the Atlantic, with John Hindley and Darrell Bock looking at one Gospel each.

For more information on Pleased to Dwell, please take a look at TrinityTheology.net.  It is possible to pre-order in North America and to order in the UK.  I also have links to several vendors (all of which will give a percentage to our ministry support fund).  Enough about the book, let’s ponder the Incarnation together!

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What does the Incarnation have to do with preaching when we are not in December?  Everything.  Unless, of course, we are talking about some kind of preaching that is neither biblical nor Christian.  Biblical preaching preaches God, and we can only know God in the person of Christ.

Every Sunday of the year people need to hear from preachers who are captivated by Christ.  As Mike Reeves puts it in his new book, Christ Our Life:

“No wonder the gospels record so many who were amazed and astonished by him, as if they were witnesses to a volcano: his presence was an apocalypse, a cataclysm, an earth-shaking upheaval of all things.  God with us!” (22)

The Incarnation is not the whole story of the Christian faith, but it is critical to the whole good news that we get to preach each week in our churches.   According to Robert Letham:

“The incarnation is the indispensable basis for union with Christ.  Since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spirit. In itself, the incarnation of the Son of God does not unite us to him, for by itself it does not accomplish salvation. . . . Christ’s union with us in the incarnation is the foundation for our union with him, both now and in the eternal future.” (Union With Christ, 40-41)

So whatever passage we may be preaching,  may our listeners always listen to a heart gripped by the good news of the God who has stepped into our world!  We need to keep our hearts pointed toward Christ, and we need to point our listeners outside of themselves too.

It is too easy to reinforce the fallen tendency to fix our gaze navel-ward . . . top tips, great suggestions, keys to successful effort-based religion.  But the Gospel is a call to each one of us to lift our eyes from the death of self-absorption, and to look to the One who fully reveals the Father’s heart to us:

“We get spiritually bored.  But Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for eternity.  Our boredom is simple blindness.  If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.  In every situation, for eternity.” (Christ Our Life, 9)

Isn’t that a great thought?  The Father has always been totally and completely satisfied in Christ.  But somehow we find Jesus boring?  Either there is something wrong with Christ, or with the Father, or maybe the problem is with me.  Would it not be a great way to start the week: with our hearts crying out to God, that by His Spirit He would give us a greater glimpse of His Son this week?  With that kind of week behind us, bring on the opportunity to preach again next Sunday!

Let’s be sure to keep our internal orientation appropriately pointed outside of ourselves.  We will only ever find life, and love, and joy, and peace, and satisfaction, and rest, and meaning, when we look to Christ, who is our life.  We might easily affirm that life is only to be found in God, since He created us.  But that can still feel distant.  Praise God that because of the Incarnation, we look outside of ourselves, but not into some speculative realm of darkness.  God is not distant.  We look toward the God who became one of us, to dwell with us, because he so wanted to reach us and draw us into a wonderful union with Him forever.

The Father shared the Son, and the Son came and shared his relationship with His Father.  What more could we ask?

So as we think about Christ, it is not “that Christ is a model;” — he may be that, but more importantly, “first and foremost he is the Saviour of the helpless.  And his salvation is not about God, from a distance, lobbing down some sort of help, some ‘grace'; here, God graciously gives us himself and his own life.  God is the blessing of the gospel.  God with us.”  (Christ Our Life, 38)

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10 Thoughts on Reading – II

Reading2Continuing this quick list of ten thoughts on reading . . . since many of us know we should read more and we want to read more:

6. Read selectively.  Too many people are in a stalemate with book buying.  They won’t buy a wonderful book recommended by people they trust for them at this exact moment in life . . . why?  Because they have some half-finished books.  Don’t despise the meal cooked for you now because there are leftovers in the fridge that you aren’t enjoying.  It makes no sense to be held captive by false guilt over not finishing a book (if it wasn’t good enough to keep you engaged, let it go to your shelf!)

7. Buy chapters.  Just to reinforce number 6, think of buying chapters rather than whole books.  If you found chapters 2 and 3 were stunning, but you’ve gotten bogged down in chapters 4 and 5, don’t stress about finishing chapters 6-10.  You bought 2 and 3.  That’s great, they were worth it.  Now move on, don’t stop reading!  An unfinished book is no shame.

8. Discriminate between recommendations.  When certain people tell me a book is good, I will almost certainly buy it.  When other people tell me a book is good, I will smile politely and thank them, but tend not to click “buy.”

9. Read with variety.  So you’ve read everything from that one author, that’s fine.  But have you read anything weightier, or technical, or historical, or from a different tradition, or something by someone not in your camp?  Have you read a light paperback on your primary ministry area?  What about a heavier textbook on it?  How about something non-Christian?  And fiction?  Mix it up.

10. Give books away.  Don’t just celebrate a great book, buy more copies and give them to people who you know will appreciate them.  Let your growing love of good books be a ministry, rather than merely a personal development strategy.

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10 Thoughts on Reading

 

Reading2There are a lot of people in churches who believe they should be reading more than they are.  They know that there is a unique enrichment available from good literature, but struggle to take advantage.  Here are 10 quick suggestions that may be helpful:

1. Small blocks of time add up.  If you read for twenty minutes per day, then you will start to move through quite a few books a year, even if you are a typical slow reader.    If you aim for two hours a day, then you will probably not make through the week!

2. Location! Location! Location!  If you try to read at a busy desk with emails and twitter pinging, then you won’t really read.  Get that twenty minutes, or whatever, in a place where you can focus.

3. Redeem the time.  Be ready to grab more minutes when you are in a waiting room, standing in a line, eating your lunch alone, or wherever.  Lots of time can be lost wishing you had a book with you (my kindle app on my phone is for this purpose only).

4. Beware frittered time.  Cumulatively it is probably scary how much time is wasted on social media and half reading half decent stuff online.  I maintain that even reading good stuff online is not as nourishing as reading the same authors in a book.

5. Read appropriately.  Some books are designed to be skimmed.  Others require some effort.  Preview a chapter, look at the headings and conclusion.  Use a highlighter in heavier books.  Enjoy skimming light stuff and boring down deep into quality material (and learn to spot the difference!)

We’ll finish the list tomorrow…

 

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Sunday Feedback – III

Feedback2Here is the end of the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you receive right after preaching.  Remember what we saw in part 1.  The most valuable affirmation will combine elements of time, thoughtfulness and transformation.  When you get those, treasure them.  Make a note.  Keep a file.

When you get Sunday affirmation, be thankful, but don’t get carried away.  One of these ten reasons could be the main reason for it:

8. The “trigger words” mechanism.  People like to hear what they value.  Let’s say you preach a very poor message – biblically weak, unclear in organisation, unengaging in presentation, irrelevant to those present – but you use an illustration that mentions someone’s pet issue, what will they say?  “Preacher, that was a poor sermon, but I loved that your illustration mentioned my pet issue?”  Typically not.  Once those lights flash in their evaluation grid, you have become a hero!  The feedback will be skewed.

9. The “Satanic test” reality.  You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statement from Spurgeon (I think), who was affirmed very favourably after preaching and responded with, “Madam, the enemy has already told me that!”  Nice anecdote, but it could be true in our situation too.  The enemy is not a fan of being obvious because it doesn’t tend to work so well.  Better to build up a preacher so their focus shifts from dependence on Christ . . . so we need to beware on a spiritual level what post-sermon feedback does to our hearts.

10. The “exit gauntlet” logistics issue.  If you are at a church where the preacher stands at the back and shakes everyone’s hand, then you have a couple of issues to face, actually, three.  One, most people will feel obligated to mutter some pleasantry to get past you.  Two, some people who actually want to talk to you won’t be able to because others are lining up to leave.  Three, because people don’t want to hold you up, they may feel obligated to step out into a rainy car park and thus end the time of valuable fellowship in the church.  Standing at the door may not be the best idea!

And there are probably some more . . . what would you add?

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Sunday Feedback – II

Feedback2Continuing the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you get right after preaching . . .

4. The “church culture” mechanism.  Different churches have different cultures.  Some will automatically affirm and honour the preacher in a laudatory manner.  Other churches will engage the preacher about life and family with barely a mention of the message.  Try to discern a local church pattern before getting excited or devastated by what you hear.

5. The “surrogate leader” reality.  Sometimes a person will gravitate toward a preacher because they yearn for the spiritual leadership and sensitivity they perceive in that preacher.  Perhaps their own husband is very weak, or perhaps their Dad is absent . . . it could be a middle-aged wife or a teenage boy, but sometimes the praise and feedback is more about what they don’t have in their life than about what you brought in your sermon.

6. The “single preacher” reality.  I’ve been married for fifteen years, so I feel out of touch on this one, but . . . if people respond to perceived spirituality when they know you are married, and if there is a lack of spiritual, godly, single men in the church (which there is), then I suspect preaching as a single man will get some feedback from the odd one or two that is more fishing than genuine feedback.  Just saying.

7. The “life appreciation” reality.  This is more likely in your own church than in one you visit.  It is where a church member really values who you are as a person – you love their family, show interest in their teenage son, buried their grandmother, or whatever.  They appreciate you.  Your preaching may be dire, but they want to love you and so affirm your sermon because that is easier than explaining what your presence and love means to them.

We’ll finish the list next time.

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