Treasure Shifts

TrippI am currently enjoying Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.  This is my book of the year, so far, and once I finish it I will be sure to review it on here.  There is so much good stuff in this book, but just as a taster, here is a list of five “treasure shifts” that can occur in the heart of a pastor/preacher (this is straight quotation from Tripp):

1. IDENTITY: Moving from identity in Christ to identity in Ministry.

In pastoral ministry, it is very tempting to look hirzontally for what you have already been given in Christ. . . . Rather than the hope and courage that come from resting in my identity in Christ, my ministry becomes captured and shaped by the treasure of a series of temporary horizontal affirmations of my value and worth.  This robs me of ministry boldness and makes me all too focused on how those in the circle of my ministry are responding to me.

2. MATURITY: Defining spiritual well-being not by the mirror of the Word, but by ministry.

Biblical literacy is not to be confused with Christian maturity.  Homiletic accuracy is not the same as godliness.  Theological dexterity is very different from practical holiness.  Successful leadership is not the same as a heart for Christ.  Growth in influence must not be confused with growth in grace.  It is tempting to allow a shift to take place in the way that I evaluate my maturity as a pastor.  Rather than living with a deep neediness for the continued operation of grace in my own heart, I begin, because of experience and success in ministry, to view myself as being more mature than I actually am.  Because of these feelings of arrival, I don’t sit under my own preaching; I don’t preach out of a winsome, tender, and humble heart; and I don’t seek out the ministry of the body of Christ.  This allows my preparation to be less devotional and my view of others to be more judgmental.

3. REPUTATION: Shifting from a ministry shaped by zeal for the reputation of Christ to a ministry shaped by hunger for the praise of people.

. . . My heart begins to be captured by the desire to be esteemed by others, the buzz of being needed, the allure of standing out in the crowd, the glory of being in charge, and the power of being right.  This makes it hard to admit I am wrong, to submit to the counsel of others, to surrender control, to not have to win the day and prove I am right.  It makes it hard to accept blame or to share credit, and it makes me less than excited about ministry as a body-of-Christ collaborative process.

I will finish the list tomorrow.

(NB. This list is found on pages 105-107)

Andy Stanley’s 7 Guidelines part 3

411J3RGXsVL._SL500_Continuing a quick jaunt through Andy Stanley’s guidelines for preaching to unchurched people, from his chapter on preaching in Deep and Wide.

Guideline 4: Give ’em permission not to believe . . . or obey.

Since the New Testament addresses believers with instruction, we are accountable to each other.  But for some reason “Christians love to judge the behavior of non-Christians.”  (This is strange considering Paul addresses the issue in 1Cor.5:12-13.  So are we surprised when the world struggles to accept the judgment of people and a standard they have never acknowledged in the first place.  Ok, I need to quote a bit more, following Col.4:5-6…

Like you, I’ve heard way too many messages addressed at nonbelievers that were full of salt seasoned with grace.  That’s part of the reason so many unchurched people are just that: unchurched.  I think we would be wise to extend Paul’s advice to our preaching.  When addressing unbelievers, it should be all grace with just a pinch of salt.

So while there are expectations of believers, non-believers should be given an out.  They are welcome guests, but they are not the target of instruction.  And when they are given an out, then they may well lean in to discover more of how things work within this family they are visiting.  In fact, they may even respond to invitation.  But if they feel like they are being judged, critiqued, attacked or commanded, then there is a good chance their response will be less than favourable.

The next one will need more than the word count I have left, so I’ll keep you hanging until tomorrow, but it should provoke some thinking!

Wide View Application 2

WideViewLast time I suggested that too narrow a view of a passage can lead to burdensome and non-gospel application.  In narratives we need to make sure we are seeing God’s role and the humans as living in response to Him (both in faith and rebellious self-trust).  In epistles we need to read the imperatives in light of the doctrinal gospel sections that inevitably have preceded the commands and applications.

Last night I was at a prayer meeting where we sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” . . . an old hymn with a few great verses:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.

If our love were but more simple we should take Him at His word; and our lives would be illumined by the presence of our Lord.

So to avoid imposing a “strictness” God would not own, we must preach good news and not turn it into burdensome law.  Here are a few thoughts to keep stirring our thoughts:

1. In narratives like the gospels, observe the growth in faith among characters as the stories unfold.  The same is true in other narrative sections of the Bible.  We are not given much concerning most characters, but what we are given enables us to get a sense of their trajectory towards God in faith or away in rebellion.  Tracing that broader story can help to make sense of a particular pericope (individual story).

2. Be careful to identify the link between doctrine and application.  It is often more of a “this is what a life looks like that is gripped by that truth” rather than “so you must now do this!”  Is the application an implication?  Is it a natural outworking?  Is it an appropriate response?  These are all very different than a self-moved obligation.

3. Turning response into responsibility is to turn gospel into legalistic burden.  Many really struggle with this, but it is so important.  A captured heart that is stirred will flow out in far greater commitment, sacrifice, integrity, holiness, etc., than a person pressured to obey by the apparently self-moved determination of their own will.  If the heart is not stirred, then the motivation will still be about love, but a misplaced love that is a weaker motivator.  That is, if it isn’t love for Christ that stirs a person, then maybe they will obey commands out of love for self in respect to conformity to community expectations – a love-driven action, but not in response to the greatest love of all.

Three Possibilities Preaching Psalms

OpenScroll16PsalmsAs I am reading through the Bible I am currently in the Psalms – what a great book!  Sadly, for some, Psalms seems to be preached only as filler material in the summer holidays.  There is so much potential for preaching in the book of Psalms.  Let me offer three possibilities opened up by preaching from this book:

1. You can introduce new treasure to people.  People tend to be familiar with some Psalms.  Probably 23.  Perhaps 24, 1, 110, 121, 127, 51, 8, 73, 37, 27.  But what about Psalm 36?  Or 33?  There is a whole host of Psalms that tend to get ignored in the annual audition for three filler sermons.  And don’t just stick to the filler sermon approach.  Why not preach Psalm 34 at the start of a series on 1Peter?  It certainly was in the mind of the apostle as he wrote his epistle.  Why not preach Psalm 118 in connection with Easter?  It might add a new set of thoughts to the Easter considerations since Jesus would very likely have sung that with his disciples at the last supper.

2. You can connect with a different group of people.  It may be a stereotype, but some have suggested that engineers enjoy epistles.  They like the truth statements, logical flow, direct discourse.  So if that is the case, who might appreciate the Psalms?  Artists?  Sure, and there are more of them than we tend to realise in every congregation.  How about the suffering?  Certainly.  Psalms connects with different people at different times in the complexities of each personal biography.

3. You can offer a more vulnerable sermon.  When David wrestles with spiritual realities, why not be more open that we do too?  Personal sin struggles, doubting God’s goodness, tendency to trust in ourselves, feelings of extreme fatigue, etc.  We don’t preach to preach ourselves, but we ourselves do preach.  The Psalms opens up the possibility of greater vulnerability from the preacher, and hopefully stirs vulnerability in the congregation.  The Psalm writers didn’t treat God as delicate or fragile, they blasted their prayers at Him.  Perhaps we can stir greater prayer in churches that tend to pray religiously, and Psalms would be a worthwhile workshop for that kind of goal.


Popcorn2This week I may be a bit quieter than usual on the site.  I am working on notes for the European Leadership Forum that is coming up in May.  It is a privilege to be involved in the Bible Teachers Network there and your prayers are appreciated as I finish off the teaching notes for that event.  Meanwhile, here’s this week’s Cor Deo post, simply titled Popcorn?

Impossible Application

PenPaperAs we preach the Bible we have to make sure we don’t simply offer historical and theological instruction.  Part of our responsibility is to present what difference the message should make in a life.  We need to give a sense of what this truth looks like dressed up in everyday clothes.  But therein lies a challenge.

How do we present practical application without promoting an outside-to-in simplistic copyism in the church?  Here are some thoughts:

1. The human fleshly tendency will be to perform in order to maintain autonomous distance from God.  I know that we tend to think of fleshliness as rebellion alone, but we need to see how the flesh can also play up to a religious role.  The essential impulse remains the same as it did in Genesis 3 – I can be like God.  This is why we need to be so careful in our preaching.  Simply pounding the pulpit and demanding greater morality does not avoid the problem of rebels becoming religious, but still keeping God at arms length.  The older son in Luke 15 matched his brother in viewing the father as employer and purveyor of benefits, and went beyond his brother in resisting the father’s extreme desire for relationship.

2. Practical preaching can give people lists of things to do, but not address the heart issue.  Notice that I wrote that it can, not that it must always do that.  I think preaching should be practical.  But if we think that adding practical suggestions to historical explanation amounts to good expository preaching, then we know neither our Bibles nor our listeners very well.  We need more than practical instruction.  We need heart transformation.  And that requires an awareness of the difference between response and responsibility.  Consistently presenting responsibility to people will not auto-generate any sort of responsiveness in people.

I will continue the list tomorrow…

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards, A Life

51QLzAKPcZL._AA160_Written by George Marsden, 2003, Yale.

Mammoth?  Maybe.  Magisterial?  Absolutely.  Marsden’s 505 pages plus notes on the life of Edwards is an absolute joy to read.  He neither falls into the culturally critical Edwards bashing of years gone by, nor into the presentations of Edwards as if he fit every theological mold of his tradition.  He certainly avoids the bizarre agenda of separating Edwards’ genius from his vibrant faith.

The Edwards offered in Marsden’s work is the Edwards of history, a man profoundly gripped by the glory of the triune love of God, a man who remained resolute in his disciplined life of study and ministry, yet who progressively grasped the captivating wonder of God’s gracious intratrinitarian love and grew beyond a self-determined resolution approach to spirituality.

I won’t give Edwards biography here.  However, for anyone who has only seen Edwards through the caricature of a single sermon title, Marsden is a must read.  Bridging the historical worlds of puritanism and enlightenment, Edwards is a massive figure in theological, philosophical and modern church history.  Marsden gets the Augustinian heritage of Edwards, shining light on the emphases sometimes perceived by some to be imbalanced, yet showing Edwards to be a brilliant mind coupled with, and guided by, a captured heart.

Since I suspect it is mostly preachers who visit this blog, let me suggest that we do well to spend time with the greats by means of good biography.  Marsden has also written A Short Life of Edwards, which is not an abridgement of this work, but another biography cast in an entirely new way, as it were.  I look forward to reading that now that my thoroughly marked up copy of A Life is no longer next to my reading chair.

Edwards is intriguing on many levels, and from many angles: Revival, Calvinism, Augustinian Trinitarianism, puritan theology, church polity, academic institutional history, philosophy, cross-cultural missions, religious affections, hermeneutics, and so on.  Take the time to get to know Edwards with this biography and you will find your own life and ministry stirred in many ways, all beneficial.

Not wanting to give away the ending, let me share the final paragraph anyway:

How can the creator of such an unimaginably vast universe be in intimate communication with creatures so infinitely inferior to himself? . . . Edwards’ solution–a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes–can be breathtaking.  God’s trinitarian essence is love.  God’s purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures.  The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it.  They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil.  They will not be able to view Christ’s love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections.  Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it.  Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from their preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations.  They will be drawn from their self-centered universes.  Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created.

(To buy Marsden’s work in the UK, click here.)

The Preacher’s Clock: Anticipation

clock2For the last couple of days I’ve been pondering issues of procrastination and preparation.  But it is also important to consider anticipation.

Anticipating Future Preaching – The whole issue of preparation cycles is important.  Robinson taught us that a five-day cycle was not long enough and he was right.  This is only exacerbated by delays as you can end up with a message on Saturday night that has one night and one breakfast time to be embedded in your life as a preacher.  That is hardly long enough to scratch the surface of personalizing experience of the message or forming any sort of conviction.  You may know the material, but only in the head.  A longer cycle allows for the Bible passage to do some work in you and on you, the preacher.  But it could be argued that even a 10-day cycle is not really long enough if the goal is to let the message become part of your own life and experience.

This is why it is helpful to anticipate preaching for weeks or even months.  Obviously you can’t be preparing months worth of sermons in any detail at all.  However, knowing that a series is coming ahead of time does allow for an initial reading, some initial prayerful pondering, etc.  I am considering preaching through Colossians later in the year.  Awareness of that series, even without any sort of extensive study, can influence my life and thinking now.  By the time the series comes, there should be some deeper rootedness in my heart and life.

Anticipating Future Interruption – Any talk of schedules and delays must also lead us to ponder the possibility of future interruption.  Could there be a pastoral crisis, family illness, broken kitchen appliance, car trouble, unexpected guest or excessive administration between now and the sermon.  I suspect there might be.  That is why we need to build in margin to the schedule, rather than cramming things into every corner and relying on a smooth run through the week.  This isn’t easy for most of us, especially when it means saying no to ministry invitations, but there is no other way to avoid seasons of overwhelming stress than to say no to things before the crisis emerges.

Biblical Girders 4

GirderWhere does each girder go?  The Bible has a superstructure that holds it all together.  So the thematic element of the promised seed in Genesis 3:15 will work its way through multiple books and become overt in places like Galatians 3 at the other end of the canon.  But this poses a challenge.  How much should we be preaching Galatians 3 when we are supposed to be preaching Genesis 3?

Many preachers would see no problem with springing from Genesis to Galatians since that is the fulfillment and the clarification of what is first stated in the Garden of Eden.  I am certainly not going to criticize the impulse to preach Christ and it would be strange to leave listeners wondering who that seed might be (unless such suspense were part of a bigger teaching strategy).

On the other hand, I do wonder if we can collapse themes forward too easily and lose some of the strength of the steel at that point in the biblical story?  If the Bible were a building, then Genesis would be the foundation.  Steel starting there does go through the whole structure and holds the whole together.  Themes of creation, of relationship, of fellowship lost, of divine grace and rescue, of divine promise, etc. all work their way from Genesis on through the Bible.  That  steel girder seen in Genesis 3:15 later on turns out to be the spire at the top of the whole structure, the pinnacle of it all.  It makes sense to let folks know the significance of that, but at the same time it makes sense to help people see the importance of the foundation.

That is to say, instead of immediately looking up to the spire that caps off the whole building, when we are preaching in Genesis lets be sure to help people see how the foundation fits together, how the hope offered by God’s grace in the seed of the woman is such a striking promise in the context of a spurned relationship in that first senseless human rebellion.  That passage is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, etc.  So let’s preach Genesis 3, not just bounce off it to go straight to the spire.  At the same time let’s not get our noses in the foundations and let people miss the grandeur of the whole.

It isn’t either/or, it surely needs to be both/and.  And with that both/and, I think it needs to be honouring to the earlier text in its own right, not just a token glance.


Biblical Girders 2

GirderLast time I wrote about biblical girders, the superstructure of the Bible that folks in churches tend to hear very little about.  While not seeking to diminish the well-known passages, let’s consider whether we can help people know their Bibles better by bringing to their attention the existence and importance of some of the biblical girder passages.

Biblical Covenant Passages – A strong case can be made for seeing the biblical covenants as a skeleton on which the Bible is built.  God’s promise and subsequent covenant with Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12, then 13, 15, 17 is critical.  Then there’s the Mosaic content in Deuteronomy 27-30 (how often do we stumble across “who will ascend?” or “who has descended?” allusions in the New Testament?)  Then God’s covenant with David in 2Samuel 7 and 1Chronicles 17.  And, of course, the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the latter part of Isaiah.  Being unaware of these covenants is crippling if someone is wanting to grasp the Old Testament, or the development in the New Testament.

Biblically Quoted Passages – Some passages are quoted with a significant frequency.  Sometimes the quote is actually just an allusion, but that doesn’t diminish its significance.  Sometimes it proves the writer assumed hearers would spot it more easily.  God’s spoken self-revelation in Exodus 34 runs like a refrain through the Old Testament.  Psalms 2, 69 and 110 get their fair share of airtime once you get to the New Testament, as does Psalm 118 in reference to Jesus and Psalm 8 plays a key role in Hebrews.  Genesis 15:6 comes out three significant times, as does Habakkuk 2:4.  The lesser known part of Isaiah 6 does some heavy lifting, as does the allusion to Daniel 7.  And in the passion of Christ, where you might expect lots of references to Genesis 22 (Abraham & Isaac), instead you find lots of Davidic Psalms and Zechariah quotes.

Structurally Significant Passages – Some passages seem to serve a key purpose in the structure of a book or a section.  Joshua 1 serves a key transitional function between the Torah and the Kethubim.  Psalm 73 seems to provide the hinge for the turn in the flow of the whole collection.  John 11-12 offer a significant transition in John’s Gospel.

There are many more that could be listed.  The point is that many of these are less familiar to most people in the church than David’s slaying Goliath, or Naaman dipping in the Jordan, or Daniel in the den of lions, or Jesus calming the storm, or Paul in prison in Philippi.  All important, but in terms of grasping the flow and message of the whole Bible, perhaps there are too many gaps at critical points.