Tuesday, 3 April 2018

R.Scott Pace- Preaching By the Book

I received a review copy of this book from B and H Academic I don't have to give a positive review. 

Dr Pace's aim is set out on the front cover, Developing and Delivering Text Driven Sermons, it's a very short book. It's shorter than I imagined it to be, some of the reviews suggest it is a useful book for beginning preachers and for seasoned preachers. I agree it is useful for the beginner with many handy tips and as someone in between I definitely found lots of useful tips. Not sure how useful this will be to the seasoned preacher though. 

One of the first ones I liked was Dr Pace urges us to ditch our  'familiar outline'  instead of following the pattern set out in the text itself . He rightly says, 'the structure of the sermon should mirror the literary structure of the passage.' p11 Similarly he reminds us 'The Bible includes a variety of literary genres that require the reader to identify the type of writing in order to interpret it accurately.' p.26 We must be prepared to let the genre of the text dictate the structure of the sermon. 

Like John Stott, Dr Pace argues that preaching is dialogue rather than monologue, 'our preaching should be characterized by a conversational style that is clear and personal. This acknowledges the spiritual reality of the ongoing dialogue between God and his people as his Spirit speaks to hearts through the Scriptures.' 

Another useful reminder Dr Pace offers us that we need to be careful when presenting our own vulnerabilities that we don't over do this, 'while this may be helpful and our openness can help facilitate transparency in our congregations, frequent examples of our failures can begin to erode our credibility as God's spokesman.' Going on to say, 'it can begin to undermine the gospel if our frequent and familiar failures unintentionally call into question' The Gospel's 'effectiveness to redeem, renew and restore our brokenness.' I thought this was such an excellent point and something to be aware of.

Dr Pace says as we prepare we should causally read the text completely. I'd use a different term, but I know what he means but we should never read the Scriptures causally. I'd agree with each step he offers in preparation.

The bit that I thought was disappointing was the final chapter, which I thought was going to be about the sermon conclusion but was actually about appeals. I've never seen appeals done well, to me they seem we are doing the Spirit's work for Him. These don't come out of the text itself. 

That said this is a useful introduction to preaching and worth the couple of hour investment to read it.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Resurrection not mildly important

To Shamelessly borrow and alter a phrase from C. S Lewis (he wouldn't mind at all) The resurrection if false is of no importance, and if true of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is mildly important. On this the whole of Christianity stands or falls but even more than that, if true then we have a hope beyond our wildest dreams if we trust in Christ.

In John's Gospel we are told that before it was light Mary Magdalene was at the tomb, ready to dress it some more. Mary is still following, not at a distance but as close as she possibly can. Early in the morning in her grief and bewilderment she comes to the tomb and she has some expectations of finding the tomb exactly as it should be with a corpse and the stone rolled in place. That is the way it is for all of us, our tomb could say, no exit. Death up until this point had always been very final. Even when Jesus raised people from the dead- it wasn't expected they had beaten the grave, just delayed the inevitable.   Did Mary expect to meet an armed guard? We don’t know but they have seemed to have fled the scene already. We know that she and the other women are wondering how they are going to get access to the tomb if they cannot roll away the stone. Yet when she gets there she finds the stone rolled away and she flees the scene not in worship at the empty tomb but in horror. Now I have probably watched all of the Jesus movies from the 50’s up until the 70’s. The one that best conveys the empty tomb is Franco Zepherilli’s Jesus of Nazareth. In the movie in one of the final scenes one of the leading Jewish scribes rushes to the empty tomb on hearing that Jesus body has gone and we see what he sees. An empty tomb with grave clothes on  a stone bench we with him look in closer and close but all we see is the empty bench and the linen clothes, he is a fictional character but he looks at the empty tomb and says, ‘now it all begins’ but that is not enough for Mary, Mary already grief stricken is dumbfounded , bewildered and heartbroken by the empty tomb. The resurrection in not on her radar, how much she had heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection we don’t know, but she was around she must have heard something. Yet even his closest followers who had heard everything missed it. She flees the scene to find Peter and the beloved disciple two of Jesus inner circle. In her grief the empty tomb is not enough to convince her of the resurrection!  Sunday has arrived but Mary doesn't know! 

v.11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two Angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary ran away from the tomb to the Apostles and she follows them back at some point. When the disciples looked in there were no Angels for them to see. Mary sees the Angels, the Greek is very clear she looked intently and yet it seems like she doesn’t see them at all. They ask her why she is crying and one commentator said, ‘Yes why is she crying, if she finds what she is looking for. The corpse of Jesus, we are all lost for eternity.’ In Scripture any time an Angel appears the first words it says are  ‘Do not be afraid’ and the reason they say this is because people are usually so afraid they are about to die of fright. Mary in her grief is almost oblivious to their presence. She replies again the same thing, they have taken away the body of my lord and I do not know where they have laid him. There is no more words from the Angels and Mary turns around immediately maybe they point behind her, or maybe she hears a sound that distracts her although this seems unlikely in her grief as she is distracted enough to miss the presence of the Angels even when she is talking to them. Its Sunday and Mary doesn’t know.
She turns around and sees Jesus, We are back to irony now, John tells us that now she sees Jesus which is true but even though it is the risen Jesus in front of her, her grief is so big she cannot see that it is him. Maybe there is something different about his appearance, Luke especially seems to suggest that. Maybe its just that it is early in the morning. Maybe her eyes are watery from all the tears and her head is in a mess. Or maybe Jesus looks so different, but she is kept from recognising Him. It’s Sunday and Mary doesn’t know. Seeing Jesus she is unaware that there is no need for tears. Jesus speaks to her, Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? She supposes him to be the gardener and proceeds to ask the Risen Jesus if he has moved the body and then very tenderly he says, ‘ Mary’ throughout the text John has used the word Maria for Mary now Jesus speaks with the word Miriam. She speaks so very tenderly using her name. This woman who loved Jesus immensely is given the privilege of being the first person to witness the resurrection. Jesus didn’t go to the elite, not even the elite in the Apostolic band but a woman in grief, a woman who had loved Jesus to the uttermost. The reason for Mary being the first witness to the resurrection was because she was the one in the most need. She was grieving more, hence while the Apostles were hid away in locked rooms she was out in the dark weeping and seeking the body of Jesus.   She replies Rabboni, Some commentators say this word is used only of God as teacher and that this is a theological confession. However John tells his Gentile audience that this word means teacher. We don’t need to find confessions to Jesus as God as John is full of them. In deed when he appears to Thomas that is his confession, My LORD and MY God, of better, the God of me and the LORD of me. It is an intimate moment when this grieving woman finds that her grief is ill founded, Jesus is alive. 
He is Risen! It’s Sunday and finally Mary knows. The text suggest that she grabs hold of Jesus, she gives him the biggest hug in the history of humanity! She thought  she had lost him that He was gone she had been looking for the living amongst the dead. She didn’t know that the grave could not keep hold of him as death had no power over Him. That he is the LORD of live and that he laid down his life only to take it up again.
She is given an amazing privilege to be the first witness to the resurrection, yet she cannot cling to him. She cannot keep it to herself, and be the last witness- it's vitally important for all our sakes that we share what we have witnessed. When I was 15 I met the risen Jesus, not bodily but nonetheless it was very real. He changed her life, He changed my life- we need to be sharing this glorious good news. The resurrection is vitally important. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Good Friday- Resurrection Sunday but what about Saturday

Isaiah 53 tells us of the Messiah v.8 'He was cut off from the land of the living- the living one, in the abode of the dead. Though he died with the wicked, including the thief on the cross, Jesus was given a 'rich man's tomb at his death v.9. We are told in the Gospel that this tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, the King of Kings, who as the Son of Man (another divine title) had nowhere to lay His head even in death lay in a borrowed tomb, Just a borrowed tomb for the King of Kings and creator of the whole universe. This is the true Sabbath, God resting on the Jewish Sabbath, laid in State. 

The aroma in the tomb would be filled with the smell of the spices that the women had wrapped Jesus in. This speaks of two things, firstly, their devotion to Him, though the men had fled and were in hiding these women took time to wrap his body in burial clothes and spices, they were devoted to him. Giving of their time and money to serve Him in death. Yet it also speaks of their lack of faith, some of the women had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and had heard Him repeatedly say that after three days he would rise again- they are preparing His body so that it doesn't decay. 

Where was His Spirit? While His body lay in state where was His Spirit? The Faith teachers are on record as saying Jesus went into Hell and suffered punishment from the demons. You may have read in some versions of the creeds that He descended into hell- this is a mistake-he descended into death is what the creed means.  You'll not find the idea of Jesus descending into hell Scripture. As I mentioned yesterday the cry of the cross was a victory cry, "it is finished" or it is "accomplished" Also you'll that Jesus tells us the thief on the Cross that He would join in Him in paradise that very day. He went home but without His body, it's the intermediate state for Him. 

One final thought, the disciples. 
The disciples seem to have missed that Jesus said He would rise after 3 days but remember that the Religious leaders heard Him say that He would rise, they didn't believe him of course but they put His body on guard just in case.  Judas  who was instrumental in Jesus death was one of the twelve just a few days before, now in remorse (not repentance) had taken his own life and a Christ-less eternity. Peter perhaps filled with remorse as well, after all he too betrayed his best friend, denying he even knew him. All of them who a couple of nights before we prepared to die with Him now hidden away in great fear. Yet if we are to enter into their grief we must realise they didn't have ears to hear. They hadn't heard him when He told them He would rise. So they are grief stricken thinking that despite all they had seen and heard Jesus was a Messianic pretender. If only they had listened, they would be waiting with baited breath for Sunday Morning it seems to them that death has conquered and is therefore Lord. They unlike us were in a state of complete hopelessness. Believing Jesus would have made them hopeful and expectant. For His Church waiting for His return we too should be waiting full of hope and expectation. 

May God Bless You this Saturday!

Stephen <><

Friday, 30 March 2018

Jesus puts the Good into Good Friday- we should dwell there awhile?

Isaiah writing 8 centuries before Good Friday writes, ' Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed, we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us have turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53- 3-6

 Philip Bliss writes Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full redemption- can it be? Hallelujah what a Saviour. 

It's Friday- the worst of all days- man's long war against God, culminating in man putting to death God, Jesus who will judge the nations in righteousness enduring a kangaroo trial , Justice unravelling at the condemnation of the Just one. The very one of whom the whole cosmos cries Innocent and the only one of our kind who has ever lived a life without sin, condemned as the worst of sinners. Though He is Innocent yet He is condemned as a criminal,   It's Friday- The sheep have scattered the Shepherd is all alone- no more crowds crying out and waving branches for Him. He comes to bring reconciliation at that moment is the loneliest man on the planet. He sweated drops of blood at the very thought at this dreadful moment. The darling of heaven adored by all myriads and myriads of heavenly ones delighting in Him since their creation now facing the wrath of God alone. How right are the words penned by Stuart Townend, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen one- bring many sons to glory. The true Son, the beloved of the Father is abandoned as He who is without sin becomes sin for us.
Though He is the LORD of Life, yet dies the death of deaths. God of very God but baring the wrath of God.

Yet it is the best of times because His cry "it is finished" is a victor's cry. The curtain is torn in two as the price is paid for us sinners to have a relationship with God. The holy one bows His head and dies- He who is eternal, dies the death that we should have died, facing the punishment for sin. He is forsaken so that we can be forgiven.  Treated as a sinner so we can become a son. 

It's Friday let's dwell on it for the day.

Stephen <><

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Cross of Christ

'I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzche ridiculed as "God on the Cross". In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who is immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in many different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world and I have had to turn away. And in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs, wretched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. "the cross of Christ is Gods self-justification in such a world'. P.T Forsyth cited in John Scott's Cross of Christ.

|'ve read a few quotes of Forsyth's shall have to read him. 

God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Robert {not the} Bruce

Robert Bruce who was a descendant of his more famous namesake and also descended from James the 1st of Scotland, he was a nobleman and was born into a Roman Catholic family. He was converted at University and became thoroughly reformed. Despite being a noble man and offered a title and an estate he turned these down for the call of the gospel. His Roman Catholic mother was deeply offended by his becoming a Protestant and disinherited him. Nonetheless he forsook it all for the sake of his calling.

Perhaps due to their being slightly related, Bruce was initially a favourite of James the 6th even being involved in the coronation of the Queen.
I've wanted to read him for a while as he was 'internally exiled' to Inverness, by James the 6th of Scotland and 1st of England. As the king had embraced Anglicanism and wanted Bruce to be an Anglican. The Inverness he was sent to was a hotbed of Roman Catholicism unlike Inverness today which has many, many churches many of which are evangelical at least historically. He was by far the most popular preacher of his day, seeing many thousands of people converted. This didn't stop when he was removed from his parish in Edinburgh but even in the Highlands people would come from miles around to hear him. Turning from indifferent or hostility to loving and appreciating his ministry.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

5 things I admired about Billy Graham

It's  been a few days since the death of Billy Graham, many people in reformed circles have shared my concerns about his ministry for the length of it, such as appeals, relationship with ecumenicalism etc. Now is not the time to get into that, rather to reflect on the life of the  most influential evangelical of the C20th. I'd like to share some things I admired about him.

The first thing I admired is that he loved God and the Gospel. I have listened to him a fair bit over the years and he majors on the major, I've  just listened to him preach  'I will boast in nothing but the Cross' and that sums up his life. He was an old fashioned Gospel preacher, forget the appeals and just listen to the message, he glories in the Christ and in His Cross, not seeing any other means of us getting back to God, loving the fact that in the person of His Son, God has reached down to us. He quotes from the Bible throughout his message, knowing the Scriptures well.  I have been in lots of churches across the UK and I often meet people who were converted under his ministry.

He scandal free life- Billy Graham has been involved in controversy because of his love for truth, such as standing up against segregation in America or Apartheid in South Africa, so he was no coward but in his own walk there has been no scandal, he loved his wife, and put means in place to avoid any temptation or any appearance of evil. 

His humility- Another thing that comes through especially when you see the televangelists is Billy Graham was a humble man, he knew that he was a sinner, he must have known how well regarded he was, packing stadiums around the world having the ear of the Queen, Prime Ministers including Churchill and his own Presidents yet despite all that he comes across as so self effacing, call me Billy he said to his friends and to acquaintances alike.

Training- Whenever the BGEA were in town they would train the counsellors from the local churches to be ready to walk people through when someone had come to the front. Setting up a partnership with local churches so they would be equipped to do the work of discipleship when BGEA left town. They came to my wife's home town and they were there meeting with folks months before the 3 day event itself. Not only this but the BGEA has used it's to resources to train other evangelists around the world, equipping people for the work to continue. 

He loved others- part of his appeal is that he clearly loved people around him. This came out of his humility but he seemed to reflect the nature of His Saviour when he met people he gave them his attention. Seeming to want to give the benefit of the doubt to all people, I think this is where he had clay feet and it is what gets him into trouble with conservative evangelicals but it's because he loves. He saw the log in his own eye so ignored the speck in other people's eyes. 

I for one am grateful for the powerful Gospel preached by this man, raised up by God for his generation and I am praying that God would raise up more men to preach this glorious gospel.

God Bless
Stephen <><