Category Archives: Preacher’s Personal Life

Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 5

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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Continuing the list of areas for special attention, so far we have had beware of self-improvement, beware of making promises out of proverbs, and preach thought units.  Last in the list:

4. Consider what it means to preach a reflective genre… reflectively. We have already seen that wisdom literature requires reflection. How might this impact our sermons in this genre? We need to give serious thought as to how we can encourage reflection in our listeners, even if it is only for the time we are standing up there preaching. Two thoughts on this; firstly avoid information overload. This is true for preaching any genre, but nowhere is it more important that in preaching wisdom.  Don’t bombard people with dozens of different thoughts or ideas; it doesn’t encourage reflection, it encourages confusion, headaches and people to stop listening altogether.

Conversely then, create space. Create space to work out illustration and application – “You cannot serve both God and money” isn’t a proverb, but it is a good example of a relatively short journey from original context to contemporary application. But wisdom like Proverbs 15:5 “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” will take some time to unpack. How does it apply for people who don’t have God-honouring parents? What about people whose parents have died or who no longer under their parents’ authority in the way they once were? Does this proverb no longer apply to them? If so, how? And what are the subtle ways we all try to squirm out of correction – wherever it comes from? Be creative, take time to explore this piece of wisdom from as many angles as you can. Finally, create space to think, respond, pray. Why not give people time to do this at some point in your sermon (and not necessarily just at the end)?

5. Identify the central issue of a book. This is crucial. In a book like Job, it is easy to forget that the central tension of the book is presented very clearly in chapter 1, Satan says to God that Job loves God not for who He is, but for what He gives Job. The accusation is that Job loves God’s stuff more than he loves God. And the tension of the rest of the book is, in many ways, an exploration of that accusation – will Job’s faith stand up to the accusation, or not? It’s important to work out everything which follows in light of this. In Ecclesiastes you have to go to the end of the book to find the central issue – (12:13–14) Keep this conclusion as your focal point as you drive those windy roads of Ecclesiastes!

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Conclusion

97LutherSo for the past couple of weeks I have been blogging through Luther’s lesser known 97 Theses.  Let’s finish them up and wrap up the series.

(93)-94. This holds true also of the saying that the love of God may continue alongside an intense love of the creature.

Luther refers to “a kind of subtle evil” in arguments that try to balance what he sees as mutually exclusive.  In this case, he wants to push away from some kind of balancing of love for God and love for non-God.

95. To love God is at the same time to hate oneself and to know nothing but God.

Loving God is seen as the opposite of sin, which is self-love and hatred of God.  When we reduce sin to misdemeanors and “sins” then we can easily lose sight of this.  At the heart of the human problem is the human heart and the problem is profound!  A lot of Christian preaching leaves listeners very content with their elevated view of themselves, and the teaching easily turns into top tips to be a better you.  We must not let humans be the residual focus of our preaching.

(96-97). Luther ends with two theses that urge the reader to conform their desires, using the language of will, in every respect, to God.  It is clear for him that Christianity cannot be about dutiful obedience running parallel to rebellious heart inclinations.  If we are His, then our will really should desire what God does.

I hope these posts have been helpful.  At the very least, may this nudge us to take a look at Luther’s 97 Theses and wrestle with what he was proposing for debate.  Perhaps his poking at foundational questions will make a difference to us in our understanding of Christianity, of humanity and of ministry.

It isn’t enough to educate and encourage conformity of external behavior.  That option may be tempting, but it isn’t what the Gospel is all about.  Too much of Christianity is shaped as much by unquestioned assumptions as it is by Scripture itself.  The devil would love to keep us thinking highly of ourselves and little of God.  Sadly, as preachers we can so easily fall into serving that hellish agenda.

May our hearts be drawn to Christ, and may our preaching offer the radical balm of the gospel to a profoundly sinful humanity.  People desperately need what they will never find in themselves or their own behavioural resolutions, but only in Christ himself.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 9

97LutherLuther’s 97 theses, for preachers. Give some thought to this one:

76. Every deed of the law without the grace of God appears good outwardly, but inwardly it is sin. This in opposition to the scholastics.

Was Jesus ever satisfied with external conformity? Or did Jesus go after the inner issues in the religious folks he spoke with? Strangely we can be tempted to settle for mere outward godliness in our churches. Why? Maybe because it is easier to pastor superficially? Thank God the Good Shepherd doesn’t pastor us this way.

77. The will is always averse to, and the hands inclined toward, the law of the Lord without the grace of God.

Amazingly, we are always going to be drawn by the lie of autonomy, of independence, even in respect to godliness. Instead of just speaking of others, let me ask us as preachers, do we ever lean toward good behavior in our own strength so that we can function with God at arms length?

78. The will which is inclined toward the law without the grace of God is so inclined by reason of its own advantage.

So are some people just more spiritually sensitive and “naturally” good? Not according to Luther. Unless God is at work, every one will be completely self-serving, however it may manifest itself.

79. Condemned are all those who do the works of the law.
80. Blessed are all those who do the works of the grace of God.

There are two types of people in the world, and in the church. It isn’t younger brothers and older brothers, at least not in the sense of the way we think of them. On the one side there are sons sat at the table in the embrace of their father. On the other there are older and younger brothers living in rebellion, hidden or overt, who want only the benefits of their father.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 8

97LutherContinuing my preacher’s journey through Luther’s lesser known 97 theses:

68. Therefore it is impossible to fulfill the law in any way without the grace of God.

The gravitational pull of a post Genesis 3 world will always pull us toward a morality that is bereft of the presence of God. This is the tendency we have: to try to be like God, apart from God. Let’s never settle for obedient compliance over genuine relationship with God by His Spirit.

69. As a matter of fact, it is more accurate to say that the law is destroyed by nature without the grace of God.
70. A good law will of necessity be bad for the natural will.
71. Law and will are two implacable foes without the grace of God.

I want to leave these theses rather than summarizing them. As a human being I am naturally in total opposition to God being God. Telling me to behave by his rules will only incite rebellion, or . . .

72. What the law wants, the will never wants, unless it pretends to want it out of fear or love.

Unless the person is fearfully self-protective, or loving self in some way. Thus the written code will gain a variety of responses, from younger brother rebellion to older brother self-righteousness, but nothing on this continuum is actually a good result. Seems hopeless?

73. The law, as taskmaster of the will, will not be overcome except by the “child, who has been born to us” [Isa. 9:6].

Our only hope is Christ himself. Apart from him we are deeply in trouble with a terrible foe. So as a preacher? I must, must, must preach Christ – the only hope. But if I reduce Christ and start to preach law in some way, the result will not be greater godliness.

74. The law makes sin abound because it irritates and repels the will [Rom. 7:13].
75. The grace of God, however, makes justice abound through Jesus Christ because it causes one to be pleased with the law.

Only the grace of God can create a new taste, a new inner relish…hang on, I am drifting into Jonathan Edwards now. God can do what the law never could, stirring the heart with a new appetite for good.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 5

97LutherLast time we surveyed 18 of the 97 theses, but now we need to slow down a bit . . . Luther deserves more than summary and survey here:

37. Nature, moreover, inwardly and necessarily glories and takes pride in every work which is apparently and outwardly good.

Until we see this, we will always be on the brink of moralizing in our preaching.  Surely it is better for people to live good lives rather than bad lives?  It is good for those around, but for the individual?  Their flesh will dictate a self-glorification through pride in anything good . . . thus rendering that good, bad.

So what?  We need to stop preaching as if people are close to God’s glorious standard, but one blotch makes for less than perfection, one miss makes for less than 100% . . . in reality nobody is at 99/100.  Even the best of us, apart from Christ, are absolutely bad.  0/100.  Every apparently good work is corrupted by misplaced glory.

38. There is no moral virtue without either pride or sorrow, that is, without sin.

0/100.  Something about our hearts is key here.  It is easier to preach for external performance, but we would do well to ponder where he was leading with this statement.  Pride?  Self-love.  Sorrow?  Self-love.  Self-love?  Sin.

39. We are not masters of our actions, from beginning to end, but servants. This in opposition to the philosophers.

Speaking of the heart, who is in control?  The supposedly self-moved responsible individual is in Luther’s sights.  He highlights his opponents as being the philosophers, but here he is going after common sense, or could we say, serpent-sense?

The weight of this statement is immense.  Every human lives the lie that we are free, independent and self-moved.  Apparently I am the master of my destiny, but Luther thinks not.  At the heart of the human problem is the human heart.  If we preach simply to apply imperatives to performance, then we may not only be falling short of preaching texts in context, we may actually be preaching biblical truth in a serpent-like way.  Serious stuff.

40. We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. This in opposition to the philosophers.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics teaches the common sense logic that we become good by practice.  Common sense cannot be assumed correct in a fallen world!  The Bible teaches the opposite.  God makes us righteous and then the fruit flows from that transformation.  It has always been hard to change a tree by adjusting the fruit.  Preachers often try.

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Worldly Church

Worldly-Church1-300x225Another recent post on the Cor Deo site:

On a normal street in a town near somewhere, there is a church.  I won’t describe the building in any detail because this may cause you to either disassociate yourself from it and start pointing the finger at others, or to feel like I am pointing my finger at your type of church.  Let’s just say it is a church not unlike yours or mine.

This post presents an analogy that may be more than a bit relevant to how we preach on sin in our churches.  Click here.

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Life-Giving Love

lifegivinglove-256x300Another post from the Cor Deo blog, this time from 1John:

As you read 1 John it is clear that John was profoundly marked by Jesus’ commandment in the upper room to love one another.  He grasped that this was more than a pragmatic suggestion, but that it went to the very heart of what it was to be a disciple of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

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Not Comforted by God’s Greatness?

grasshopper-300x204Here’s a post from January that was never linked to from here:

God is strong enough to handle whatever challenge you or I might be facing.  I think most of us readily believe that.  And yet His great strength sometimes is not the comfort we think it should be.  Why?

Click here to go to the post pondering Isaiah 40 and our need for comfort from God.

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The New Normal

The-New-NormalThis week I am catching up on posts I have written for the Cor Deo blog in the past few weeks.  Just in case you missed one . . .

Everyone assumes their perspective is a healthy and balanced one.  If we can see one person off in one direction, and another off in the other, we must be the one holding the privileged position of balance.  But maybe we need to take an often-overlooked factor into account.

This post ponders the impact of living in a post-Genesis 3 world . . . a reality that should impact every sermon we preach!  Click here to go to the post.

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