Category Archives: Specific text

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?

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Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text

Preaching and Paradigms

PAradigmWhen we preach, we don’t simply present a truth, make an offer, or demonstrate the relevance of an ancient text.  Every biblical passage is a heavenly assault on the unquestioned assumptions of a fallen world.  That is to say, we don’t really live in a neutral world with some evil “out there” and some good information in the Bible.

The truth is that our entire world is upside-down.  Every cell in this universe is corrupted by the fall.  Yet we love to live in the myth that we are objectively evaluating a normal reality.  Then when extremes come before us, we are the arbiters who can discern what is extreme and what is not.  This results in people listening to the Bible and trying to find something relevant, rather than hearing the absolute revolution it speaks into our fallen, me-first, self-loving, circumstances-determine-mood, world.

So when we preach, what are we doing?  Sure, we are presenting the truth of the passage.  We are inviting people to meet the God who reveals Himself in His Word.  We are showing that the ancient text is more relevant than anything we hold to be truly contemporary.  But we are also bringing a heavenly critique of all that we believe to be normal.

Tomorrow I am preaching Psalm 46.  It is a wonderful Psalm of comfort for people fearing the destabilization brought by human enemies.  The LORD of hosts is with us, He is our fortress.  That changes everything.  He will utter and war will be defeated forever.  Here we are, understandably concerned by what we see going on in the world, perhaps even fearing for our future and our children’s future.  But the Bible challenges assumptions we don’t even recognize, and as we encounter the message of a passage like this one, we find our whole paradigms recalibrated to the reality we can’t see.

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Sowing to the Spirit?

Sowing-Spirit-281x300In Galatians Paul makes multiple references to keeping in step with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, etc.  What does this mean for your listeners?  What does this mean for you?  This post, hosted on Cor Deo, is a short introduction to a vital, yet neglected, subject.  Please click here to go there.

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With Me: Luke’s Easter Narrative

3CrossesbI have just written a blog that underlines one of Luke’s tools in his Gospel writing – he loves to use pairs.  Actually, he uses them for two reasons and if you are preaching from Luke this Friday or Sunday, you should be aware of this key feature in his wonderful Gospel.  To read the article, click here.

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Filed under Genre, Homiletics, New Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text

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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Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, New Testament, Old Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Review, Specific text, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 2

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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2. Know why it is important to preach wisdom

With the exception of the Psalms, wisdom literature is very often neglected by Bible teachers and readers alike. Why is this, and what do we miss out on when we neglect wisdom literature?

Firstly, we miss out on the necessity of reflection. Now of course, all scripture requires us to reflect on it, and to meditate on it. But think about it for a moment, I was preaching recently on Luke 14 and an incident of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. It was a narrative passage, and so none of us in the room had much of a problem with what the passage was saying in the immediate sense – a sick man came to Jesus on the Sabbath, and Jesus healed him. I suspect that sadly, not everyone hearing that sermon believed that the miracle actually happened, and sadly, not everyone understood the significance of what Luke was saying about who Jesus is, but do I think that at the very least, everyone present understood the passage in it’s immediate sense – that Luke says a sick man came to Jesus and that he got healed by Jesus.

But imagine now that I am preaching this Sunday on Proverbs 30:18-19:-

18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,

four that I do not understand:

19 the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

and the way of a man with a young woman.

What is the immediate meaning of this passage? What is it saying, in order for us to reflect on it? That’s a bit harder, isn’t it? And I suspect that many of us stop reading at this point, and flick over to Philippians to find something with a clearer immediate meaning. But this is the point – wisdom literature underlines to us the necessity of reflection. This proverb is inviting me to stop what I’m doing, to reflect, to take time to think about what this could possibly mean, what the connection is between these four “ways” and in doing so, to get a little wiser.

Many of us don’t like reflection. We live in the internet age of social media and immediate information, preferably in 160 characters or less. But wisdom literature defies that approach to life and demands that we slow down, maybe even that we stop what we are doing, and that we consider. Sadly one of the reasons why we neglect wisdom literature, is that we have lost the art of reflection.

Think of the book of Job – it’s a long book. Who of us hasn’t struggled through some of those passages and wondered if it will ever end? Again it’s tempting to turn forward a few hundred pages in order to find something a little easier to understand – but that is kind of the point and it’s all wrapped up in the genre itself. We might be looking for an easy answer to the problem of suffering, something we can post on Twitter or Facebook, but God refuses to give us that kind of answer, He gives us a proper answer, He gives us the book of Job. And it is a cosmically-proportioned book, to discuss a cosmic struggle.

So let’s know why it’s important to preach wisdom. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the specific challenges.

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, New Testament, Old Testament, Preaching, Specific text, Stage 1 - Passage Selection, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose

Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – 1. What is Wisdom?

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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We’re going to think this week about preaching wisdom literature. It’s a big subject, so let’s pitch right in and ask, how can we improve our preaching of this important genre? Firstly…

1. …Understand what wisdom is.

What exactly is biblical wisdom? Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question, is to look at a passage – not in one of the wisdom books ironically – but a very important narrative in 1 Kings 12. Solomon, the archetypal wise king, has died and his son Rehoboam is taking the throne. The people of Israel come to him and say “Your Dad laid a heavy burden on us in taxes and so on, so lighten it for us.” What is Rehoboam going to do?

He starts well – he gets counsel. First, he listens to his father Solomon’s old advisers. They tell him “Do as the people say and they will serve you totally.” Next he takes counsel from his old school buddies, and they tell him that he needs to stamp his authority on this people, make a statement, show them that he is not to messed with. “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thigh… he disciplined you with whips, I will discipline you with scorpions.” That ought to do it – that’ll show them who’s boss. So who is Rehoboam going to listen to? – And here’s the point, because for a Hebrew reader, this decision has “wisdom” and “folly” written all over it. Solomon’s counsellors are older, they are experienced in helping to run a country, they have spent a lot of time with wise King Solomon and they would have learned from his wisdom. Rehoboam’s old school pals are young, have no experience of running a kingdom, and not much experience of life, either. To the Hebrew mind, it’s a ‘no-brainer’. A wise man is going to listen to the wise old counsellors and the foolish man is going to listen to the foolish young counsellors. Which will Rehoboam do? Will he show himself to be wise or foolish? I’m sure you know, and the rest as they say, is history.

And this is invaluable to us in understanding biblical wisdom. For us Westerners especially, when we think of wisdom our minds go very quickly to intelligence. We tend to think that the cleverer, the more educated a person is, the wiser he/she will be. But that is a Western idea, not a particularly biblical one. I imagine that Rehoboam’s young counsellors had a good education, but they were still foolish by way of their youth and inexperience. Many of us live in a culture which is obsessed with the idol of youth. We are drawn to young people with new, fresh ideas. But again that is a Western idea, not an expecially biblical one. In biblical cultures, older people were held with higher regard than younger people because of their years, their experience and hence their relative wisdom. Of course there are exceptions – you will find foolish old people and wise young people in the Bible – Solomon himself, as a young king recognised his need for wisdom and asked God for it – and that’s a big theme in Proverbs for example, of enabling the young to get wisdom. So let’s understand what wisdom is – it is not intelligence, education or information. Wisdom is the knowledge of God and how to live in His world. 

And tomorrow we’ll actually look at some of the wisdom books. I promise.

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Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 1 - Passage Selection, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose, Stage 4 - Passage Idea

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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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 5 - Message Purpose