Resolved: Preach Christ

resolved2Here’s another resolution to throw into the mix as we head into another year.  How about making a prayerful determination to preach Christ, rather than the tempting alternatives?

Here are some tempting alternatives that are worth dumping in favour of Christ:

1. Don’t preach issues – It is tempting to be contemporary and to buy into the idea that what people really value above all else is contemporary relevance.  Of course the Bible is relevant and Christ is relevant, but that doesn’t mean your preaching should be salted with relevance like meat in a medieval barrel.  Some preachers are so concerned about being up-to-date that they lose sight of what they have to offer those sitting before them.  Relevance is important, but it is not the primary and central goal in preaching.

2. Don’t preach tips – Of course God’s way is the best way and lives gripped by the Gospel tend to work a whole lot better than lives lived according to the values of the world.  And yes, the Bible does include a lot of insight into living life, both legitimate and moralized.  But our job is not to be the weekly top tip provider for a people totally absorbed with successful living.  There should be a huge difference between our preaching and the self-help guru folks may pay a fortune to hear on Friday night.  The gospel will transform lives, but we are not called to be known as life coaches.

3. Don’t preach pressure – With all the best intentions we can easily undermine the work of the Gospel in the lives of those we preach to each week.  That is, we want them to be thriving spiritually and in life.  We know the damage sin can do.  So we will always be tempted to twist arms and pressure people to conform to an outward Christianity.  It makes church life easier if all messes are hidden and people act appropriately.  But pressure preaching assumes that listeners can fix themselves and that we can achieve God’s goals without any meaningful involvement from Him.  There will be moments where we seek to appropriately apply the pressure of God’s Word, but that is not what defines us as true Christian preachers.

4. Don’t preach yourself – Over the years our own flesh has this amazing ability to get used to being the centre of attention.  If you are naive enough to believe the polite comments you receive after preaching are objective evaluations of your ministry significance, then you can easily start to buy into your own hype.  Please don’t.

5. Do preach Christ – The Gospel is not a self-starting life-change program, it is good news that involves us introducing listeners to God in Christ.  Don’t preach self-help programs, or church programs, or Christian morality, or even Christianity . . . preach Christ.  Make 2015 a year marked by a weekly introduction to a heart-capturing Saviour!

Preaching Holiness – part 4

Holiness2This week we have been pondering the preacher and the theme of holiness.  There is so much more that could be said about each point, but hopefully we have had something to think and pray about.

15. Every sliver of unholiness will be judged and purged.  We really have no clue of how good that will be!  (That includes the unholiness of “older brother” religiosity . . . which means more of our lives will get there “as through fire” than we probably realize.  Nevertheless, what an utter relief the purging of all sin will bring to ransomed souls.)

16. When we make holiness sound like sour pickled vegetables we don’t motivate anyone to think beyond this life.  The New Creation will be wonderful in many respects, not least because of the total absence of sin and pain and tears, as well as the presence of Christ Himself.  Too many in our churches still have lingering images of sterility and fun-free hymnathons.  The Bible gives a lot of future glimpses to motivate us in the present.

17. Jesus was holy and magnetic, often our version of holiness is anything but.  The truly holy person is fully alive.  At the same time that person will be profoundly attractive and deeply offensive.  (And if the Gospels are an indicator, then such Christlikeness will be attractive to needy people, and offensive to religious people.)

18. The great threat to holiness in the church is not just the worldliness of culture, but also the pseudo-holiness of church culture.  Just as a weekend of binge behavior in a degraded society is horribly empty, so too is a relationally empty performance devoid of meaningful engagement with God and others (sometimes polite conversation can be empty too).

19. Preaching for holiness cannot be restricted to applications of conduct, nor even of conforming the mind…it must seek to engage and stir the heart.  It is not what goes in from the outside that defiles a person (i.e. religious duties and traditions), but what spews forth from the heart.  So preach in such a way as to engage the heart.  Informing the mind and pressuring the conduct will never suffice when the heart of the problem is the, uh, heart.

20. The overwhelming use of the term “Holy” in the New Testament is in reference to the Spirit of God.  Let’s be sure that our preaching is pursued with a thoroughly biblical and growing understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in respect to our sanctification.  Too much Christianity still ignores the Spirit or turns Him into some sort of battery pack (either highly visible or highly invisible).  It is by the Spirit that we are united to Christ.  True relationally rich holiness is our privilege in the Gospel!

21. If you long for greater holiness in the lives of people in your church, don’t preach for “holiness.”  Instead, pray and preach for spiritual vitality in their relationship with Christ.  If we, and they, will love God, then what we want to do will be profoundly holy.  The Gospel does a work on our wants!
So much more could be said, but let’s pray for the beauty of God’s holiness to pervade our lives, our ministry and our churches . . .

Preaching Holiness – part 2

Holiness2We are pondering God’s holiness and our preaching.  Let’s continue the list of thoughts:

5. The Gospel is not just a solution for the guilt of our un-holiness, it also includes a recipe to generate true holiness.  Often preachers offer a way to get rid of the guilt, but leave listeners feeling that the pursuit of holiness and their ongoing commitment to Christ’s cause is a burden planted firmly on their shoulders.  The Gospel isn’t simply about forgiveness of sin, it also includes the transformation of the human heart and the wonder of union with Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit).

6. The compulsion stirred in a Gospel-gripped heart is infinitely stronger than our most vehement tirade.  We will always be drawn to the notion that our pressurized guilt trip will bring about change, but only because we don’t fully understand humans or the Gospel.  Peer and preacher-pressure may manufacture diligent religious duties, but a delighted heart will give anything for the One loved.  Preach Him that others might love Him.

7. Show me a heart that truly loves Christ, and I will show you a life that is growing in holiness.  If the people in our churches could just catch a glimpse of the wonder of God’s pure love in Christ then the result would be incredible growth in holiness.  Our privilege is to seek to know Him more and offer Him more effectively.

8. True holiness momentum comes not from the pulpit, but from the stirred heart.  So preach and present the One who stirs hearts.  Our task is not primarily to instruct and constrain.  It is to present and invite.  Offer the most compelling Christ that you can and you will barely scratch the surface of the richness of the One who for all eternity has brought infinite delight to the heart of the Father in heaven.  We could always do better at preaching Christ.  Let’s stop wasting time and energy preaching performance and give ourselves to the Christian minister’s great privilege.

9. What spills from the preacher’s heart on Sunday must first thrill the preacher’s heart during the week.  If our lives are too caught up with the business of the church enterprise instead of prayer and ministering the Word, then we may give leadership speeches, but we won’t be preaching Christ out of the overflow of our own hearts.  In this sense, holiness momentum is generated via the pulpit, but the starting point is private delight in the wonder of Christ.

More tomorrow…

Preaching Holiness

Holiness2Holiness is a huge theme in the Bible.  It should be a huge theme in our preaching.  Sadly, what is often preached about holiness seems to fall woefully short of the richness of the biblical reality.

I remember hearing one preacher say confidently that what our nation needs is to be moralized.  I suspect he didn’t understand what he was saying.  Moralizing is a danger in preaching, not because we don’t want to see society transformed, but precisely because moralizing won’t do the job.  Pressuring people to conform to certain standards won’t generate holiness in our churches or our land any more than pressuring a tone deaf choir to sing in tune will lead to sweet music.

Here are a few key thoughts to ponder on holiness and preaching:

1. People don’t make themselves holy, God’s Holy Spirit makes people holy.  It is so tempting to pressure people to conform to some standard, but we must preach out of a conviction that God changes lives.  The clue is in His title, the Holy Spirit.  This reality should influence our pre-preaching prayer, our content and our manner in the pulpit.

2. When we only present holiness as being “set apart from” something, it can sound so sour and empty.  What passes for holiness in many churches is so sour and strange that it seems a million miles from the wholeness of life and love we see in Jesus as we read the Gospels.  True holiness is not pinched, it is fully alive.  True holiness is not a barrel of vinegar, it is a feast of true and abundant life.

3. God’s holiness is not sour, it is infinitely beautiful and attractive.  When we present God as a celestial killjoy, we misrepresent the God whose abundant heart created and infinite generosity created unfettered joy and vibrant life.  God’s holiness is not the sterile hygiene of an operating theatre, it is the fullness of the rich loyal love He enjoys within the Godhead…

4. God’s holiness is not balanced against His love – it is the reality of His loving Triunity.  Too often we offer strange balancing acts that seem somewhat foreign to the presentation of Scripture.  God is not infinitely loving, but only 50% that way.  It is not true that He is love (but also something else, with the “but” being an adversative).  God is love.  And that love is perfectly faithful, loyal, pure, just, righteous and holy.

The list continues tomorrow…

Glen Scrivener – Incarnation: The True Turning Point

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener is an evangelist with Revival Media.  He writes about evangelism and theology at ChristTheTruth.net and his evangelistic book, 321, comes out in the autumn: three-two-one.org  Glen visits us at Cor Deo for a day during each season of the programme to talk gospel together with us and it is always a real help.  As we continue this series to mark the release of Pleased to Dwell, here is Glen on the significance of the Incarnation for the Gospel and how we communicate it to others.

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The centre of evangelicalism is the believer’s “choice for God” – that’s Diarmaid MacCullogh’s opinion, Oxford’s Professor of Church History. When he made this claim during his “History of Christianity” on the BBC, I howled in protest, throwing pillows, shoes, the cat – anything – at the TV screen. Surely the professor has it backwards. It’s God’s choice for us, right? Surely it’s Jesus – the Chosen One – coming down, not us – the mighty decision makers – choosing upwards.

But as the episode unfolded I realised that it wasn’t the Professor who had gotten it backwards – it was evangelicalism. MacCullogh was just being honest. He was describing the movement as it is – not as it ought to be. And who can deny that, on the ground, the actual centre of gravity for global evangelicalism is “our choice for God”?

Think of sermons on Luke 15 and ask where our attention lies today. If an evangelist preaches a “message of salvation”, where will the emphasis be? More often than not, we focus on the prodigal in the pigsty. The sinner must make “a choice for God.” Compare this with the theology of the early church. Where would they see salvation in Luke 15? Primarily they would speak of Christ’s opening parable. God the Son is the Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep. Through His incarnation, He takes up our humanity, through His death He takes responsibility for our sins, through His exaltation He marches us – now perfected – home to the Father.

We must learn from the incarnation that salvation is a case of “God coming down.” Therefore, where is the turning point in our relationship with God? Is it our turn to God – praying the sinner’s prayer, for instance? Surely, more profoundly, it’s God’s turn to us in Jesus. Where is the renovation of our human nature? Is it our decision to get right with God? Surely it’s Christ’s decision to hoist us on His shoulders and carry us home. If this is true, what kind of evangelists ought we to be?

Gospel Dimensions 3

TapeMeasuresIn the last two days I have made some suggestions as to how a limited view of God and humanity will tend to undermine our preaching.  What about our view of sin?

1. When we see the problem as partial rather than total.  How often have we heard, or said, that if God’s pass mark is 50, then even a 49 is still falling short of the glory of God?  Therefore even the most “perfect” performer of self-righteousness can be caught out because they must have at least stolen a biscuit when they were small or a paperclip from work in recent years.  Perhaps we say imagine a perfect white sheet of paper, then put a dot of ink on it . . . no longer perfect.  Heaven is perfect, etc.  This is all true, but dangerously untrue at the same time.  Hypothetically a person could be a 49/50 performer, but in reality, nobody is.  To put it another way, we are all zero out of 50 because self-righteousness is not the goal.  Sin is not about independent performance according to a standard.  The standard reveals our independent performance and abject failure.  The independence is a huge part of the issue, so our paper is not mostly white, it is completely covered in blotched ink.  And that ink comes in two colours:

2. When we see the problem as naughtiness.  Naughtiness is like blue ink.  It is the colour of the younger son’s track record as he crawls back wearing swine deodorant from the far country.  But naughtiness is not the extent of sin.  It is one manifestation, but it is not the whole deal.  The Bible does not say we have all been naughty and fallen short of the performance levels of God.  Independent self-righteousness is red ink.  You may prefer red, but it still covers the white of the page when splashed liberally onto it.  Our righteousness is like filthy rags before a God who longs for hearts to not be far from Him.  Some human sheets are mostly blue.  Some are mostly red.  None have any white showing.  I am trying different ways to say the same thing: our sin is far worse than we realise!

3. When we see the problem as a hindrance rather than death.  Broken will?  Clouded uninformed mind?  Slightly marred record?  Sin goes deeper than all of this.  The heart of the human sin problem is the human heart.  That is where we are dead toward God, dead in our self-love, dead because life is found in relationship with God.  And we cannot fix our own hearts.  Fully dead in sin, and fully unable to do a thing about it.

If we present sin as petty naughtiness, then we will preach the good news that a petty God is willing to put up with our paperclip theft.  Hardly the gospel.  And if we preach a shallow or superficial portrait of sin, then we can very easily offer a gospel of heavenly benefits to people whose hearts remain far from Him.  Is this not an anti-gospel?

Saturday Short Thought: Glorious Gospel

In a little while I’m heading to London to speak at a Cor Deo Delighted by God conference.  Our subtitle for the day is Glorious Gospel.  I am excited to hear the other sessions and to ponder together just how glorious the gospel really is.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is how glorious our God is, and what kind of gospel He has given us.  Too often the presentation of the gospel I hear is less than glorious.

It seems like a negotiation between a willing sinner and a reticent God.  The sinner is willing to say some words in order to gain a significant package of benefits.  And God is open to some sort of a contractual deal, but really is essentially resistant without the intervention of a kind lawyer working for us.

This is such a corruption of the truth.  God’s initiative is critical, and the extent to which He has gone to overcome the resistance of the human heart is stunning.  And as for the language of contracts, let’s dump that in the grip of His fatherly embrace!

The gospel is wondrously glorious, but it’s the kind of glory that involves His being high and lifted up, in absolute self-giving humiliation.

Let’s be sure we don’t preach a watered down, or petty, or negotiated gospel.

PS We’d really appreciate your prayers for today’s conference to go well!

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Next Week: The 10 Biggest Big Ideas

In the classroom Haddon Robinson said more than once that there are basically eight to ten big big ideas in the Bible.  He never gave us a list, but I’ll offer mine starting on Monday.  What would you include?

Beware the Power of Propagated Rumors

There are always troublesome trends around, even in the church. They may be ideas or vague concepts, but they creep in and stick around for a while. Perhaps books are written to support them, but something published is not something certain. Maybe it’s time to put your finger on the pulse of your church and see if there are any ideas drifting around. In some cases we don’t need to address them, but simply be careful not to propagate them in our preaching, either by attitude, inference or reference. In other cases we need to step in and overtly correct with direct Bible teaching.

The heretical understandings. For example, how many people in our churches have the idea that the Trinity can be explained by the illustration of water, ice and steam (a modalistic explanation) or three friends in one group (a tritheistic explanation). If there is heretical thinking, look for appropriate moments to clarify the truth.

The fashionable trends. Not everything we disagree with is outright heresy. Often they are theological fashions and trends. Perhaps an idea pushed in a book that is imbalanced or narrow. Perhaps an idea emanating from a certain “camp” in Christendom. Perhaps an idea pushed on us from pressure groups outside the church. Fashionable “trends” that I’ve heard lately would include the idea that eschatology is other-worldly, always “retreatist” in orientation and therefore irrelevant. The blanket statement that foreign missionaries are no longer needed in other countries. The notion that Paul hated women. Or that any social concern among Christians means they have given up on the gospel. Or the opposite idea that Christians concerned with evangelism have no concern for people. I want to be careful not to add weight to any of these ideas, no matter how popular they might be in some circles.

We don’t have to address every issue going on in broader Christianity. But we should be aware of any way in which a passing comment, or perceived attitude, might continue to propagate ideas we don’t support. And we should have our finger on the pulse enough to recognize when an idea is becoming imbalanced, or worse, when a heresy is becoming acceptable.