Preaching Holiness – part 3

Holiness2This week we are chewing on matters of preaching and true godly holiness.  I won’t review where we have been already, but please do go back to the first posts if you missed them.

10. People need instructing in holiness, but never in a sermon severed from the glorious good news of the Gospel.  There are plenty of instructional sections in the New Testament epistles, for example.  Don’t go joyriding in an Imperative Harvester, but instead keep the instructions firmly planted in the rich soil of Gospel content within the context of their own Bible book.  We might take weeks to preach an epistle, but the original hearers heard them in one sitting.  So make sure you aren’t plucking instruction and losing the rich theological setting for them.

11. The preacher’s personal holiness matters beyond words.  This is more than conformity to high standards of integrity.  It also shows in your love, your joy, your peace, your patience, your kindness . . . oh wait, I see what is going on here (it’s back to the tangible reality of the Holy Spirit again!)

12. Holiness is not merely movement away from something, it is movement towards someone.  False holiness will come across as a sour reaction against everything, whereas true holiness involves movement toward God, and out of ourselves toward others.  Christlikeness involves being like Christ, who was no sour hermit.

13. We must think root and not just fruit in respect to holiness.  If we ignore the appetites deep within, then we can give the impression that holiness is something people should pretend to like (while really only obeying through gritted teeth because they would much rather be sinning).  The new inner relish given by the Spirit results in genuine hatred of sin and delight in God’s holiness.

14. The world should not be allowed to define holiness … neither contemporary culture, nor your parents’ culture.  While some let contemporary cultural values shape their own, others let the cultural values of a previous generation do the shaping. Be Bible soaked so that it shows in your life, your personality, your attitude, etc.

(Probably) the final part of the series will go live tomorrow…

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.

Monday Musings on Manipulation

Thought I’d follow up on Saturday’s post by sharing a quote I appreciated in the book I will name this week:

You must not fear to have affective goals for the sermon as well as cognitive goals.  There is nothing wrong with trying to move the listener.  It is not manipulative to seek to engage their entire being with the truth.  Manipulation is when the preacher overwhelms the emotions (or the mind for that matter), and creates a disorientation that actually takes the power of will away from the listener. (p.106)

I like that definition in some ways.  I like the recognition that manipulation occurs when disorientation is prompted by overwhelming.  I like the recognition that such overwhelming can be of the emotions and also of the mind.  When this occurs, something is taken away from the listener – somehow their decision making is controlled by an outside force, rather than by the appropriately shaped motives of their own heart.

Is the will ever truly free?  Perhaps not, but the heart must be free to supply the values that the mind and will rely on to make decisions.  Supplanting the heart with emotional hype, or with overwhelming intellectual astonishment, or even excessive pressure on the will itself (guilt-trip preaching) . . . are all a problem, all can be manipulation.

As a preacher convinced that my role is to speak to the heart, and not just the head, I must regularly wrestle with the issue of manipulation.  I must ponder the interaction of the soul’s faculties.  I must spurn any rhetorical technique designed to manipulate the listener.  I must consider what is biblically, ethically, theologically appropriate as one who has the privilege of speaking the Word of God into the lives of others.